Is Latin America Proceeding Towards Socialism?


Class struggle has been rising in recent years, especially in Latin America. And, in accordance with this, the idea of socialism is gaining sympathy among toiling classes to a certain extent. This, at first sight, is surely very important and pleasing at a time when the whole world is in turbulence and in the grip of an economic crisis, when main political pillars in all capitalist countries have begun shaking and imperialist wars and struggle for hegemony between imperialists are rampant. However, we must bear in mind that this process contains certain risks as well. The bitter experience of regimes like the one in the USSR, which call themselves “socialist” but have nothing to do with socialism, and their eventual collapse made toiling masses confused and damaged their belief for socialism. It is crystal clear that communist movement needs extremely careful approaches, correct analyses and genuine revolutionary and internationalist perspectives in order not to make the same mistakes and to avoid from the same fate.

Today the fact that the concept of socialism is gaining sympathy among the masses again is utilized by reformist-nationalist-populist bourgeois left leaders in Latin America to come into power and to maintain their positions. Statesmen that has come into power anyway and are pretending as friend and leader of the people, and as leftist, are using a manifest discourse of “socialism”. This situation on the one hand causes reformism and left-nationalism to become popular and on the other hand prepares the way for an exaggeration of the potentials of such movements even by some Marxists and hence tailism. Without an awareness against any kind of petty-bourgeois socialism, no matter they are revolutionary or reformist, it would be inevitable to waste new opportunities for proletarian revolutions.

Class Struggle is Rising in Latin America

The process that has begun with the eruption of crisis in Argentina in the beginning of 2000s became one of the most important issues on the agenda of the bourgeoisie and left movement. The revolutionary upsurge that began in Ecuador and Argentina is followed by a general rise in workers movement in nearly all Latin American countries with different tempos and forms.

Latin America is the most active region of the world in terms of class struggles. This situation manifests itself with consecutive rebellions, general strikes, enormous rallies and mass meetings, soviet-like organizations, though embryonic, attempts of counter-revolutionary coups, successive resignations of capitalist governments and presidents. These are not all. We observe that people and parties calling themselves “left” or even “socialist” come to power in Latin America where almost all countries without any exception experienced military fascist dictatorships in the last 50 years. After Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil and Uruguay, now in Bolivia so called leftist or socialist figures and their governments has come into power. It is almost certain that also in Chile, Peru and Mexico leftist candidates would win the coming elections.

Latin America, like the other parts of the capitalist world, is witnessing a terrible poverty and misery that hundreds of millions of people are suffering, and luxurious lives of a handful bourgeois. The whole continent is in the grip of a sheer injustice, inequality, exploitation and misery resulting from capitalism. Even in Brazil that is assumed as the best in the continent, 22% of the population is poor according to the official figures. It is well known that in this country children are kidnapped and forced to work as slaves and prostitutes, or they are killed for their organs which are marketed by the “organ mafia” to the rich. While these are facts about Brazil which is the best in terms of the level of poverty, think about the situation in Bolivia where poverty rate is 70%. While people in Latin America suffer from hunger, misery and unemployment, millions of hectares of land are not opened for agricultural production, and thousands of factories are shut down just because they are considered unprofitable in capitalist terms. And all this misery takes place in a continent where fertile lands and vast forests reach out endlessly, and underground riches like oil, natural gas and other valuable minerals are abundant.

Reformists are defending that problems of poor labourers of the continent can be solved radically under capitalism by introducing social policies instead of neo-liberal policies. It is surely true that neo-liberal policies that have been implemented with no restraint since the beginning of 1980’s, and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, amounted to freezing and lowering of real wages, privatization, elimination of social services like health and education provided freely by the state, worsening retirement conditions and raising retirement ages, deunionization and contracting out etc. for the working masses all over the world, which made life harder and working-conditions harsher for them. However both this kind of economic policies and others which are presented as alternatives, i.e. those based on the “welfare state”, are no more than capitalist policies. In other words, exploitation of working masses and their falling into more misery result from capitalism itself and not from this or that policy of capitalist governments.

Replacing neo-liberal policies with more social policies will not eliminate exploitation of toilers and their misery. All they can do is to make that misery a bit more bearable. Therefore reformists not criticizing capitalism in its essence, and limiting their opposition only to criticism of neo-liberal policies and IMF are deceiving the working class. Reformist currents are not only leading the working class to blind alleys and disasters but they also serve bourgeois movements which pass off nationalism and xenophobia as anti-imperialism. We should bear in mind that at present this kind of bourgeois tendencies are very popular both in Turkey and Latin America.

“Left-populist” Governments in Latin America

Despite differences of their background, of the way they have come to power and of what they call themselves, all “left” governments in Latin America are nationalist-populist governments having nothing to do with overthrowing the bourgeois order. Some leaders of these governments may have really come from “streets”. They may have taken their seats in the governments of bourgeois state apparatus by not coming from traditional circles of bourgeois politics but from the militant struggles of working masses waged in streets. Lula’s government in Brazil and Morales’ upcoming government in Bolivia are such governments. Yet, men such as Kirchner pretending to be left and people’s friend in Argentina, who have come into power promising for realizing people’s hopes, have not emerged out of popular movement. As they proved their loyalty to the bourgeoisie they are painted with left colours and promoted to power by it as a result of pressure of popular movement. All these governments won the support of people or tried to do so trough criticizing the IMF and neo-liberal policies. However, what they do was only trying to alleviate the destructive effects of these policies by some token reforms. Morales who won the election and had said he would be the nightmare of US imperialism has not taken the office yet. But, even before the election, he already explained that he would create a nationalist developmental model “peculiar to Andes” and he would not abolish capitalism but reform it.

Since class struggle in Latin America is becoming intense, bourgeoisie is not only giving permission to reformist left governments in all of these countries but in some cases is cleaning the path for such governments. We should not be deceived by exaggerated comments like “order is being lost” in bourgeoisie media. As the imperialist bourgeoisie attacks these so-called socialists, they gain prestige on the part of masses. Growing prestige of reformists means the danger of wasting the possibilities of proletariat revolution in Latin America!

Growing Struggle in Venezuela and Awaiting Dangers

This danger has taken its most mature and developed form in Venezuela at present. Chavez government has appeared in a hybrid form, a mixture of two categories explained above. Chavez is neither a toiler-roots leader nor a bourgeois leftist who got his experience through seats in parliament. He is an ex-colonel who was dismissed from army due to an attempt for a military coup, and has not broken off relations with middle level officers. He came out of the institutions of the existing order, of state apparatus, and only after he was kicked out this apparatus he “joined with the people”. He is actually a typical personification of the tradition of left military coups that was very prevalent in Latin America. A leader who feels sympathy with the people, not turning his back against people’s sorrow and misery, but is in fact an elitist, who is in sympathy with popular movement but worries that it could advance too much, accepts aspirations of people for liberation but considers he is the one to save the nation. And this leader appearing in front of masses with his red shirt and beret is saying that he has finally found out that capitalism must be abolished; that they have to build a new socialism and this will be the “21st Century Socialism”. He is giving his hand to Cuba which is considered the fortress of socialism. He is saying that they would take Cuba as an example but pursue a different path. And with all this talk of socialism he acquires a great sympathy on the part of poor Venezuelan people. He does not hesitate to utilise respect of not only masses in Latin America but also of large sections of world left movement he has won due to this talk in order to give support to the other left governments of Latin America. In turn they pretend to be a friend of Chavez to utilise this willingly for currying favour with their people. According to Chavez whole Latin America is proceeding towards socialism in various ways. Lula, Kirchner, Morales; all are socialists! And in Chavez’s view it was not appropriate that masses in Ecuador rioted and overthrew Gutierrez, who had been brought into power by masses with big hopes, when they noticed that he betrayed them. Masses should have discharged leaders they do not like not by riots but by elections! After all, Chavez would build socialism under his control, together with his military ex-comrades in the army with legal steps of parliament and reforms!

With his radical discourse, fraternal relations with Cuba, red beret and shirt, Chavez manages to delude not only a large section of petty-bourgeois revolutionary movement but also some part of political groups which claim to be Marxist. These groups love to mention about “brave resistance” of Chavez against US imperialism. According to them, Latin America and whole world are seeking their own Chavez. They were overwhelmed when Chavez ridiculed Bush during a speech in UN. Let alone an open challenge, even verbal poking of US is regarded as anti-imperialism. Xenophobia and nationalism pass as anti-imperialism in Turkey as well. This is so crystal clear that even high officials of the fascist MHP (Nationalist Movement Party – the grey wolves) in Turkey can say that Chavez is an example of how a self-respecting statesman must be, pointing to radical talk of Chavez against US.

That Chavez enjoys a big support on the part of masses is of course mainly due to the reforms he is undertaking. These reforms are perceived as favours by poverty-stricken people in a country like Venezuela where half of the population live under the poverty line, official figures of unemployment rate is oscillating around 18%, a big majority of people can not benefit a health service in their lives, literacy is relatively low. In a country where people have not received anything but bullets from the state and army, it is of course understandable that they embrace a president who says he ordered army to fight hunger. However, the only thing that can be concluded from the plan to reform capitalism named “Bolivar 2000” is not how sincere Chavez is in his people-friendliness and socialism but what a big misery is present in the country.

As a matter of fact, though Chavez has expressed necessity to go beyond capitalism, he has not made any attempt to attack capitalist private property. Despite the “revolution” on process since 1998 when Chavez came into power, big monopolies, huge banks, huge transport companies and big land ownership still remain intact. Chavez amassing whole power in his hands, appealed toilers even arming against coup attempts backed by US, but he has not made any attempt to for arm the nation. In reality the only thing he does is to keep poverty-stricken masses under control with crumbs and big expectations. Yet these are regarded as a big step forward, radical social transformations and even “revolution” by some. It is a historical rule that reforms are always perceived as revolution by reformists.

As working masses lack a revolutionary Marxist leadership, it is inevitable they would be led to disasters by seemingly people-friendly/leftist people like Chavez. Unless radical changes arise in the world situation and serious upheavals appear in domestic class balances of Venezuela or in its relations with imperialists, it is even out of question that left-nationalist leaderships like Chavez’s can inflict a serious blow to the capitalist system of private property by taking Cuba’s way, let alone leading a workers revolution and heading for a workers state.

Yet, it seems that Chavez’s friendship with Cuba and his eulogies for “Cuban Socialism” have led many people to ask if a new Cuba can come out of Venezuela and expect it. For us this is not possible. But even if it could, a situation like this would not mean an important gain of the cause of emancipation of the working class. Since the bureaucratic regime in Cuba is a regime that must be overthrown by a working class revolutionary uprising and replaced by a genuine workers state. Yet, there is a general sympathy for Cuba among left movement. Different kinds of socialist groups advocate that Cuba is a gain for socialist movement and it must absolutely be protected. When talk of socialism that is popularized in Venezuela by Chavez’s speeches, who proclaim himself a friend of Cuba, comes together with common sympathy of Latin American toilers for Cuba, then Cuba, the fortress of socialism, appears as a model for the emancipation of toilers. This is very dangerous for communist movement. Since Cuba is neither socialist, nor a workers state. The regime in Cuba can no way represent a model from the standpoint of the emancipation of the working class.

History of 20th Century has witnessed the kind of bureaucratic dictatorship as experienced in Russia where the Soviet state founded by a proletarian revolution was overthrown from within by the bureaucracy, as well as another kind of bureaucratic dictatorships where the working class never gained power in any form. Many of the latter appeared when petty-bourgeois military leaderships came into power by an uprising and assumed the example of the Stalinist USSR. The means of production were nationalized, state monopoly was established over foreign trade and economic functioning was conducted via a bureaucratic central plan in bureaucratic states established in countries like China, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Cuba as a result of national liberation movements lead by this kind of leaderships. In other words capitalism was abolished! However, this was not, and could not be, sufficient for socialism and even for making these states worker states. Because, a state mechanism based on self-organization of the working class did not exist in neither of these countries. State apparatus was not organized as an organic union of sovietic workers organizations in these countries. Standing armies out of touch of the toiling masses and their direct control, secret political police organizations, courts remote from toiling people existed in all of these countries. Participation of workers in political life included only voting for candidates determined by the single ruling party in the best case. This kind of regimes in either the USSR after bureaucratic counter-revolution in the past or in Cuba as a living example at present, do not contribute to the cause of emancipation of the working class but do damage this cause with illusions they created and these regimes obstruct the workers movement in these countries.

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The USSR and “socialist bloc” do not exist anymore. Therefore, national liberation movements do not feel the necessity to declare themselves Marxist-Leninist. However the illusion keeps on existing. Lots of left groups prefer all kind of substitutionist views, in place of the idea that emancipation of the working class will be its own work. The idea that genuine proletarian revolutions for the emancipation of the working class and humanity are necessary and that Leninist revolutionary parties are necessary to accomplish this has been almost forgotten. Instead of building such parties, today many find it more attractive to strive to “push forward” the petty-bourgeois leaderships who describe themselves as leftists. Left juntas, ­ex-officers who attempted unsuccessful coups, peasant leaders, ex-trade union leaders etc. are expected to do favours in the name of socialism.

As for the confusion created about Cuba: though bureaucratic regime in Cuba eased some urgent and vital problems of toiling masses, the question is whether this kind of regimes advanced the universal liberation struggle of working class or not. For years, free public services by the state to satisfy the basic needs of the toiling masses in the USSR, have been presented as a great historical gain by the left movement and even as historical victory of socialism by some. What was the result? Reality is that such so-called gains are no more than hush-money paid to the broad toiling masses by the ruling bureaucracy. It was crystal clear that without such free services, riots of toiling masses which deprived of all kind of union and political rights could not be hindered.

The cause of the working class is not one of providing some free social services coupled with keeping the population under political pressure ensuring a formal equality on poverty. The aspiration of building a world without classes and exploitation, i.e. the cause of socialism, is the cause of equal sharing of not poverty but the whole wealth of the world, meeting material and moral needs and thus removing all kind of obstacles on the way of individual and social development of humanity. Therefore international communists defend that whole world needs not Chavezes, Castros etc. but Bolshevik revolutionaries. All toilers of the world need not crumbs handed by leaders who put “left-populist programs” into practice, not their hush-money, but proletarian revolutions which will make the cause of socialism a reality and a revolutionary Marxist world party that is a fundamental condition for the success of these revolutions. They want not crumbs but the whole world!

(Source: Marksist Tutum dergisi, no:10, Ocak 2006)