Monday, June 30, 2008

XIV Sao Paulo Forum: Left parties debate the current historic conjuncture

IV Sao Paulo Forum: Left parties debate the current historic conjuncture

By Inés Hayes, with reports from Montevideo by Cristina Camusso and Julio Louis.

Dilemma: From May 22 to 25, the XIV Sao Paulo Forum was held in Montevideo, Uruguay. Under the banner `The Latin American and Caribbean left in the new time, richness in diversity’, 844 delegates from 35 countries in Latin America, Asia and Europe participated in this historic meeting. The first encounter was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1990. The debates over the crucial issues of the 21st century are embodied today in the governments which have emerged through the electoral road. The historic dilemma of reform or revolution once again returns to centre stage.

The Sao Paulo Forum was born in 1990 at the hands of the Partido de los Trabajadores (PT, Workers Party) of Brazil and the Partido Comunista de Cuba (Communist Party of Cuba). In the context of the disintegration of social and political struggle, the forum achieved an important task. Nevertheless, with the arrival of governments such as those of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, and the possibility of once again believing in socialism, the reformist and social democratic positions of some political organisations now clash with the dynamic embodied in new and old experiences of revolutionary organisations.

In this, the XIV edition of the encounter, it was possible to clearly distinguish the two positions. While these strategies are being debated within administrations such as those in Brazil and Uruguay, governments like those of Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Cuba start from the conviction that capitalism is intrinsically inhuman and has to be surpassed.

The opening of the forum was like a frozen snapshot. Almost as if it was an expression of desires, the Frente Amplio (Broad Front, Uruguay) opened the encounter focusing on the issue of governability, the construction of a more humane society, Latin American integration and the construction of another possible world based on more solidarity. Afterwards came the turn of the secretary of the PT, who put emphasis on the struggle against neoliberalism and on inclusion and integration.

The Cuban, Fernando Ramirez, changed the tone and climate of the encounter. Ramirez put forward the necessity of revolution and gave a historic outline of the situation of the continent when the forum first emerged 18 years ago. ``We are at the end of an epoch’’, he said. He was the first to mention Hugo Chavez and to talk about what the Bolivarian Revolution had meant for turning around the situation in the continent. Moreover, he assured that gaining access to government did not presuppose having access to power.

``We are witnessing an epoch of wars, of conflicts, of environmental problems and preventive wars by the United States’’, detailed Ramirez, mentioning the failure of Free Trade of Americas Agreement as well as the imposition of the free trade agreements in the continent. ``ALBA, Unasur, Petrocaribe and Petrosur are the real path forward’’, he emphasised. [ALBA is the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, an anti-neoliberal trading alliance led by Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia; Unasur unites two existing customs unions – Mercosur and the Andean Community – as part of a continuing process of South American integration; a Caribbean oil alliance with Venezuela to purchase oil at fair prices; Petrosur is a similar oil agreement involving Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.] Ramirez outlined in detail the way in which the United States was financing the coup-plotting plans in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia and underlined the importance of the unity of parties and movements: ``The struggle for socialism must be constructed by each one of our peoples’’, he concluded.

Integration versus unity

During Saturday May 23, the speeches in support of socialism gained more strength. José Renaldo from the Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista de Brasil) spoke of the structural crisis of capitalism and marked out Cuba as a permanent example [of the alternative]. Furthermore he highlighted the importance of Venezuela in once again placing socialism on the agenda and the necessity of counting on an anti-imperialist front in Latin America and the world. ``Unasur is a beacon in this sense’’, he assured

For his part, Ricardo Patiño, coordinating minister for policy in Ecuador, outlined the consequences of the Ciudadana Revolucion (Citizens’ Revolution) and the risky situation which Latin American finds itself in, denouncing the ``assassinations of Raul Reyes and other people in Ecuadorian territory’’ and said that [Colombian President] ``Uribe will have to prove that a country like Colombia possesses technology that no one else in the continent has’’. Patiño ratified what Correa had said in regards to establishing a Latin American regional organisation to replace the Organisation of American States, without tutelage and with Cuba. ``There is an attempt to destabilise Ecuador and regionalise the conflict through the use of preventive war doctrines. The Sao Paulo Forum should ratify its rejection of intervention and aggression against the countries of Latin America’’, explained the minister. Referring to the sovereign decision by Ecuador to dismantle the Manta US military base he said: ``There needs to be, on the part of the Sao Paulo Forum, a line of action, a collective labour to ensure that no United States base exists in our countries.’’

Moreover, Patiño highlighted the defeat of the right in electoral politics and the coup-plotting role of the mass media. ``Latin American unity has its central axis in Unasur. None of our countries will be able to triumph on its own: the socialist revolution must spread throughout all of Latin America’’, he concluded.

Following the potent speech by Patiño, there was an intervention by Roberto Regalado, member of the Communist Party of Cuba. ``We talk about neoliberalism but neoliberalism is the capitalism of our day’’, emphasised Regalado, confronting the positions of those who assure that capitalism can be humanised.

The Communist Party of Paraguay was also present in the forum. It argued in favour of its support for the recently elected president, Fernando Lugo, and pointed out the importance of the peasant movement. The Paraguay Communists assured that there was a programmatic agreement with Lugo, including over agrarian reform and the defence of Paraguayan sovereignty against United States’ intervention.

For their part, both the Partido Humanista and the Communist Party of Chile harshly criticised the Concertación government: ``[President Michelle] Bachelet and the [ruling] Concertación [alliance] are not involved in the Banco del Sur [Bank of the South], nor in Telesur [a new pan-Latin American TV channel based in Venezuela]. They did not allow Operación Milagros in Chile and the Concertación is intact, exactly how Pinochet designed it. One example of this is the repression against students and the [indigenous] Mapuche people, who are permanently attacked and persecuted.’’ The exposition was shorter than the others because the organisers of the forum signalled that their time had run out. ``It seems that the Concertación cannot be criticised here’’, said the speakers.

In concordance with a progressive viewpoint, Marco Aurelio Garcia, vice-president of the PT said that many different lefts exist, not just the reformist and revolutionary ones. He put forward the necessity of import substitution and the complementarity of sectors. ``This is a favourable moment for progressive countries’’, concluded Garcia.

Taking a Copernican shift, Osvaldo Peredo, member of the Bolivian MAS [Movement Towards Socialism] affirmed: ``We are embarking on a socialist project following the examples of Cuba and Venezuela.’’

Ortega: `Only socialism will make us free’

The closing speech, given by Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, was also a counterweight to the positions more focused on the immediate problems of government and electoral issues. Without equivocation he assured: ``There is no good empire and bad empire, there is no good capitalism and bad capitalism. We need to bring down the tyranny of global capitalism and the power of the empire. Elections can no be seen as an end in themselves, this is not the goal.’’

The death of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) leader, Marulanda, traversed throughout all of Ortega’s speech. ``Marulanda was an extraordinary fighter in a struggle which is rooted in the deep inequalities faced by the Colombian people. The terrorist is the Yankee government, the European governments, not only because they use military force, but because they have been practising terrorism in a systematic way, assassinating human beings with their economic policies and eagerness to concentrate wealth’’, he stated.

Ortega ratified the example of Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela and classified Colombia as the most destabilising country in Latin America. ``War and narcotrafficking are the big business of the United States’’, said the Nicaraguan president, who also warned of the interventionist activity of the Fourth Fleet of the United States, deactivated since 1950. ``We need to redouble our capacity to struggle, only socialism will make us free’’, he finalised.

The dilemma between reform or revolution was present throughout all the discussions and debates in the forum. The mark of this encounter will be the struggle between those forces who propose to moderate capitalism and that those that openly come out on the side of the construction of socialism of the 21st century


[Translated with permission from America XXI, Issue No. 39, June edition,]

Sunday, June 29, 2008

El imprescindible…

Por Kintto Lucas

1. “Hay hombres que luchan un día y son buenos. Hay otros que luchan un año y son mejores. Hay quienes luchan muchos años y son muy buenos. Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida: esos son los imprescindibles”, decía Bertolt Brecht…

2. Dentro de la lucha social y política, son pocos, muy pocos, los que se pueden encuadrar dentro de esas características y, casualmente, la gran mayoría de esos pocos no son figuras de primeras planas…

3. En esa lucha, quien siempre ha sido y seguirá siendo imprescindible es el pueblo en colectivo, no el pueblo individual de las personas…

4. Nadie es imprescindible, ha dicho el Presidente de la República , Rafael Correa, y es verdad. En la resistencia al neoliberalismo no fue imprescindible un buró político, mucho menos el actual de Acuerdo País, fue imprescindible el pueblo en las calles, y particularmente el movimiento indígena muchas veces cortando carreteras…

5. Para cerrar el paso al TLC y a la OXY no fue imprescindible la publicidad de Vinicio Alvarado, en realidad ninguna publicidad porque no había dinero y porque los grandes medios solo daban paso a las posiciones a favor del TLC y la OXY. Alguna que otra radio como La Luna y alguno que otro periódico, como Tintají, se jugaron enteros contra la OXY y el TLC, pero no fueron imprescindibles. Imprescindible volvió a ser el pueblo…

6. Para posicionar en el imaginario de los ecuatorianos y ecuatorianas el significado del Plan Colombia, cuya última muestra fue el ataque de Angostura, no fue imprescindible la consistencia y mirada jurídica de derecha del Director Jurídico de la Presidencia , otrora abogado de León Febres Cordero. Fue imprescindible la denuncia y la información tenaz y constante de muchos durante mucho tiempo…

7. Para que Rafael Correa llegara a la presidencia no fueron imprescindibles unas encuestas que decían que podía ganar en la primera vuelta. Fue imprescindible que el pueblo, asumiera el peligro real que significaba Alvaro Noboa y la necesidad de cambios profundos…

8. Para que los ecuatorianos y las ecuatorianas digan SI a la nueva Constitución, como no tengo dudas ocurrirá, no es imprescindible quedar bien con la Iglesia , con los grupos agroalimentarios (mandato agrario mediante) o con las transnacionales mineras, es imprescindible que el pueblo sienta que ésta es su Constitución, que la mayoría de los artículos representan el cambio y un quiebre con el poder tradicional, que la Constitución no es un cuento sino un proceso transformador, popular y democrático…

9. Cada día que pasa, con mucha lucha interna, con mucho debate, se va consolidando una Constitución transformadora, en lo ambiental, en lo económico, en las relaciones internacionales... Quedará en falta en algunos temas, pero hasta ahora es mucho más lo que está. Y como seguramente la comisión de redacción no trastocará el rumbo de lo actuado, tendremos una Constitución inmensamente progresista y transformadora…

10, Para eso fue y sigue siendo imprescindible que el pueblo estuviera presente en el trabajo constituyente, fue y seguirá siendo imprescindible la dignidad colectiva de muchos asambleístas (entre lo cuales, con todos sus errores, ha jugado un papel fundamental Alberto Acosta, similar al que jugaba en su pelea contra el neoliberalismo cuando muchos revolucionarios del presente estaban encantados con las privatizaciones) que se han jugado y han luchado por un texto transformador, y buena parte de asesores que supieron defender principios...

11. En el libro Rafael Correa Un extraño en Carondelet señalaba que era posible aceptar la ambigüedad del gobierno en muchos temas hasta la aprobación de la Constitución , pero en la Constitución no hay espacio para ambigüedades, y luego de aprobada la Constitución será el momento de las definiciones…

12. Unido el objetivo del Si al de una Constitución transformadora, no revolucionaria, pero si de quiebre, como la que se está forjando palabra a palabra, pelea a pelea, volveremos a ver que el único imprescindible volverá a ser el pueblo…

13. Como me decía alguna vez ese gran revolucionario de la América que fue Raúl Sendic, el pueblo es estratega. El pueblo, abriendo surcos, moviendo máquinas, tragando el polvo, juntando rabia, caminando a pesar de todo, siempre caminado, el pueblo es el único imprescindible…

14. Aunque falte mucho por hacer, hay que hacerlo, y aunque el camino está lleno de contradicciones, hay que caminar, y eso es bastante aunque sea muy poco... El SÍ a la Constitución será resultado del camino, pero sobre todo del pueblo en el camino…

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bolivia: Between Popular Reform and Illegal Resistance

This excellent report needs no introduction. It is taken from MRZine at

by Chris Sweeney
Two members from a rightwing Santa Cruz youth group were arrested outside the Trompillo airport on June 19 with a rifle, telescopic sight, and 300 rounds of ammunition in a purported assassination attempt on President Evo Morales. In an unprecedented and highly questionable move, the accused were freed the very next day by a Santa Cruz attorney sympathetic to their separatist cause. This potentially violent scenario is telling of the fractious nature of politics currently unfolding in Bolivia, a country plagued by extreme social inequality and political marginalization.

Three days after the alleged attempt, a referendum aimed at increasing the autonomy of the Tarija department from the national government was resoundingly approved, marking the fourth such victory for the departmental autonomy movement in Bolivia over the past two months. While Morales hopes to strengthen the central government in an effort to equitably redistribute Bolivia's resource wealth throughout the country, his opposition, a number of departmental political leaders, aspire to increase their autonomy from the central government in order to preserve the privileged status the country's elite have enjoyed for centuries. The stage is now set for a dramatic showdown that will undoubtedly shape the future of Bolivia, the choices offered to its citizenry, and their prospects for more meaningful lives.

Bolivia's Natural Wealth

Bolivia is rich in natural resources. According to the CIA World Factbook, the landlocked Andean country has more than 650 billion cubic meters of proven natural gas reserves, second only to Venezuela in all of South America. Bolivia exports over 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, making it the sixteenth largest exporter in the world. In addition, the country is home to a variety of mineral deposits, including zinc, tin, and silver. Consider also that Bolivia is a net exporter of crude petroleum, and the importance of the wealth of its vast commodity resources -- real and potential -- becomes abundantly clear. Possession of such valuable commodities should guarantee Bolivia prosperity on a national scale. However the reality for the majority of the population is far from this egalitarian ideal. Indeed, Bolivia is narrowly divided along geographic and ethnic boundaries by ideologies, language, race, cultural and fiscal policies that, until recently, have ensured that the majority remain impoverished while an economic and political elite few inordinately benefit.

Bolivia's Poor Majority

Bolivia's indigenous peoples, who account for well over half of the population, have been systematically oppressed for centuries. Living primarily as subsistence farmers in the arid western mountainous regions of the country -- the Andean Altiplano -- Bolivia's indigenous majority largely lacks access to basic educational, health, and economic opportunities. The Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress reports that over 80 percent of rural residents lack access to clean water and means of sanitary waste disposal. The 2007/08 UN Human Development Report ranks Bolivia languishing behind every country in the western hemisphere except for Guatemala and Haiti, with regards to life expectancy, educational opportunities, literacy, and GDP per capita. One may question how a country so blessed with natural riches can suffer such poverty.

The Rich Minority

Living conditions in the eastern lowlands, home to the country's mestizo (30 percent) and white (15 percent) populations, are dramatically different. Nestled in the corner of the Amazon, the tropical climate allows for much more arable land, evident by greater agricultural production as well as different land usage. In the east, large landholdings are not the exception but the rule. According to the United Nations Development Program, 25 million hectares of prime farmland is controlled by some 100 families. In comparison, the remaining 5 million hectares of farmland in the country are shared among 2 million campesinos. This lopsided pattern of land use is reminiscent of the hacienda system, the form of land organization utilized during the high days of Spanish colonialism.

The case of U.S. national Ronald Larson, who owns more than 140,000 acres of land in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, exemplifies the intensity uneven land distribution. The white landowner employs large numbers of indigenous farmhands, and although he is not an oppressive employer by any means, the fact that the existing land tenure system has tolerated a single individual being able to amass such extensive landholdings essentially guarantees the continuation of the rigid divide between rich and poor in Bolivia. Says one laborer: "We are not slaves, but we are not prospering. We just exist" ("American Rancher Resists Land Reform Plans in Bolivia," New York Times, 9 May 2008). As long as such vast tracts of land are held by a privileged few, the potential wealth hidden in Bolivia's soil will remain largely inaccessible to most of the population.

The large agribusinesses of the east have normally generated healthy profits, but it is what lies beneath the soil that traditionally has accentuated Bolivia's grievous earning gap. Most of Bolivia's natural gas and petroleum deposits are located in the wealthier and more educated eastern regions of the country, in such departments as Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando, and Beni. Until recently, profits from the exploitation of their resources have been unfairly shared sparsely with the rest of the country through an imperfect tax system. The revenues that the energy sector has generated in the east are largely responsible for the development of the bulk of the financial markets and business services located there. As a result, this region enjoys a much higher cross-the-board per capita standard of living compared to the rest of the country.

Evo Morales and Democratic Reform

The marginalization of the masses is now being challenged by a populist indigenous movement. Evo Morales was elected President of Bolivia on December 18, 2005, running on the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party ticket. As president, he has introduced a new economic model aimed at the equitable redistribution of the nation's patrimony. "Capitalismo Andino Amazónico" (Andean-Amazonian Capitalism) represents a pluralist approach to economic growth designed to give every citizen equal access to Bolivia's literal goldmine. Vice-President Álvaro Gracia Linera explains, "Industry in Bolivia should learn to coexist with forms of self-organization and commercial development owned in particular by the people in the Andes and Amazon." The Agencia Nodo Sur (South Node Agency) explains that Andean-Amazonian Capitalism is neither socialism nor neoliberalism, but a system catering to the contemporary realities of Bolivia which recognizes communal, state, and private forms of economic organization as being equal under the law.

One of Morales' primary objectives as president has been to implement a new constitution that protects the rights of all citizens. To this end, the Bolivian Constituent Assembly approved a relatively moderate constitution in December 2007. Still, its approval was highly controversial. Members of the opposition party claimed that they were physically prevented from attending the proceedings by pro-government social movements, such as trade unions and coca growers; the MAS maintains that those who were absent from the vote on the constituent assembly were so in order to boycott the proceedings. Regardless, the draft constitution contains two progressive measures that, if promulgated, should quickly serve to benefit the majority of Bolivians. First, it creates the strong central government necessary to ensure the equitable division of the nation's natural resources amongst the citizenry. Second, the proposed constitution will respect regional autonomy while protecting the rights of indigenous groups on a level equal to their mestizo counterparts, so as to promote a more pluralist national cultural identity. This arrangement is being contested by some orthodox politicians who fear that allowing indigenous groups to practice traditional customs, especially in those regions with a mixed demographic profile, will further splinter an already badly fractured political system. Other contested issues include agrarian reform and the division of natural gas profits through taxes.

Morales Makes His Move

While the new constitution awaits ratification by the electorate, Morales has not waited to make his populist vision a reality. First, he has nationalized the all-important energy sector. On May 1, 2006 -- International Workers Day -- Morales ordered the army to reclaim gas fields, pipelines, and refineries throughout the country. He announced that "the state recovers ownership, possession and total and absolute control" of Bolivia's vast natural gas reserves ("Bolivia's Military Takes Control of Gas Fields," Reuters, May 2, 2006). The government demanded that private firms relinquish at least 51 percent of ownership to the Bolivian state energy firm, Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB), within 6 months. Although the existing private companies and multinationals based in Bolivia were not pleased by the above moves, they for the most part accepted Morales' terms. According to the BBC, the 10 largest private firms operating in Bolivia signed new contracts accepting the government's terms just days before the predetermined deadline lapsed.

However the nationalization process was not as "absolute" as it may seem. Indeed, the appropriation of the energy sector falls in line with the mixed-economic model of Andean-Amazonian Capitalism. The new agreement provides for state ownership of hydrocarbons and control of their sale. Some private companies will continue to operate production facilities, and may receive up to 50 percent of the value of production, so long as they respect the stipulations of law. On June 2, 2008, Morales shifted control of the natural gas pipelines previously owned by Ashmore Energy International and Shell Gas to YPFB because the foreign companies had failed to be in compliance with government regulations.

The idea behind the new arrangement is to retain the efficiency of a private company while securing profits for state use. The dual involvement of state and private interests effectively balances productive capacity and social welfare, a healthy approach to achieving the national prosperity that is too often absent in South America. Although it may be unnecessary in the long run, a strong central government is viewed by many political scientists as being necessary for Bolivia at the present time in order to deconstruct the racial and cultural barriers which have divided society over the decades. In this regard, Morales is attempting to mediate between several competing groups so as to create a unified Bolivia. It is clear that the overall success of Bolivia takes precedence over the benefits to any particular party, regardless of its respective affiliation. As he explained during the nationalization of a processing plant formerly owned by Glencore International AG, a Swiss mining company, "Companies that respect Bolivian laws that do not steal money from the Bolivian people, will be respected. But if the companies do not respect the laws, I have no other alternative than to recover those companies" ("Bolivia to Nationalize Mineral Plant," Associated Press, February 8, 2007).

The Moon Rises in Bolivia

Morales' reforms, however, have faced stiff opposition. Indeed, the constituency of his popular movement is fiercely opposed by the far more affluent mestizo minority, as the redistribution of wealth and resources threatens the power maintained by this elite class. The country's so called "Half Moon," where most of the opposition forces are based, is made up of the four previously mentioned hydrocarbon-producing departments situated along Bolivia's eastern border. These departments particularly have taken issue with the aforementioned redistribution of wealth, claiming that the earnings from natural gas production, for example, should stay in the region where the resource was found.

The big political debate, then, revolves around who should have first draw on the profits from the sale of natural resources. The current hydrocarbons tax (Impuesto Directo a los Hidrocarburos), drafted in 2005, divides 12.5 percent of hydrocarbon tax revenues between the four aforementioned producing departments; 6.25 percent goes to each of the five non-producing departments; and 56.25 percent goes to the national government. Having the majority of profits going to the national government seems to be the most appropriate policy in a country sharply divided since Spanish colonial times along ethnic, economic, and political boundaries because it allows the government to address these problems with a unified approach. Indeed, critics of Bolivia's current situation insist that a strong, transparent and democratic central government is needed to achieve meaningful reform. Morales' administration has thus far filled this role surprisingly well, given the obstacles it has had to face and the tenacity of his political foes.

The Vote for Autonomy

Leading the opposition to Morales is Ruben Costas, the prefect of Bolivia's largest and wealthiest department, Santa Cruz. Costas spearheaded a referendum, held on May 4, 2008, calling for increased regional autonomy and voiding some of Morales' reforms to prevent Santa Cruz's copious wealth from being redistributed to the entire nation. Key provisions of the entirely illegal referendum on autonomy, which Costas' side overwhelmingly won, reserves Santa Cruz the right to negotiate its own contracts with foreign oil companies and gives it control over the possession, distribution, and administration of its own land holdings. According to Bolivian federal authorities, Morales is in favor of granting some autonomy to both departments and indigenous communities, however only if this condition is pursued through a legal constitutional framework and will preserve the integrity of the nation. The May referendum in Santa Cruz clearly did not meet this criterion.

Nevertheless, pro-autonomy forces received more than 80 percent of the vote in all of the autonomy-seeking departments. Santa Cruz's results were replicated on June 1 in the smaller departments of Pando and Beni and on June 22 in Tarija. However, the legitimacy of the Tarija vote deserves even greater scrutiny than the others. There, the department prefect, Mario Cossío, refused to recognize a similarly illegal vote organized by his opposition on June 15 that selected a sub-prefect and departmental councilor. Cossío's critics claim that his position, clearly guided by politics and not the law, further undermine the results of Tarija's autonomy referendum.

A Growing Problem

The Tarija case is characteristic of the situation being played out on a national scale. Competing political groups are attacking each other through illegal means and neither side is willing to negotiate with its respective opposition. If these counterproductive methods continue, with neither side conceding to the other, it could trigger the political disaster that has thus far been avoided. Secession was once merely a threat used by the Half Moon departments to bring attention to their cause, but it is once again gaining steam in various forms. In Tarija, for example, residents of the Gran Chaco region have expressed interest in splitting from their current department and forming a new one. The proposed "Chaco" department, which would be the nation's 10th such political division, is indicative of the multitude of political alliances currently at play in Bolivia.

"MASismo has failed," said the conservative Costas, in reference to Morales' political party, "We have set out on a road towards a new republic and modern state that will be forged in the four autonomous provinces, until this becomes the most decentralized country in Latin America" (Franz Chávez, "Referendum Gives Major Boost to Autonomy Movement," IPS). The primary point of contention between Costas and Morales is the question of to whom autonomy should be granted. Morales wants to recognize regional, departmental, and indigenous groups in a mixed political system comparable to his diverse economic model. Meanwhile, Costas is trying to divide the country strictly along political and geographic boundaries without granting indigenous groups any special powers, a concession which he opposes because it would undermine his administrative capabilities as well as those of nation's other prefects. Although Costas is essentially proposing a federalist society, he is careful to avoid the term because of the negative connotations it produces in Bolivia, namely its association with the Federal War of 1899, in which mestizo elites first allied with and then betrayed native Aymara indigenous groups.

The Legal System: A Political Reality Check

Regardless of their successes, the aforementioned referendums were blatantly illegal. Two months before the Santa Cruz vote, the Bolivian National Electoral Court (CNE), the nation's highest governing authority with plenary jurisdiction over elections, declared the then planned referendums unconstitutional. Admittedly, the CNE is loaded with Morales' supporters -- including its president, José Exeni -- but the ruling was also backed by the Bolivian Congress and other institutional bodies. Several international organizations have also sided with the government; the OAS and the EU both chose not to send electoral monitors to oversee the referendums due to their illegality, representing a strong show of support for the CNE decision. Furthermore, the results of the referendums also have been rejected by the newly formed South American Union, UNASUR. Up to now, the U.S. has encouraged dialogue between the involved parties, but has otherwise remained mum on the issue.

MAS, using some creative mathematics, has nonetheless claimed victory in the referendums, citing a 38 percent abstention rate in Santa Cruz, 46.5 percent in Pando, 34 percent in Beni, and 35 percent in Tarija, according to the Latin Daily News. When these numbers are combined with those who voted "no" to autonomy, it can be established that the referendums have been rejected by 52 percent, 56 percent, 40 percent, and 55 percent, respectively, in terms of the absolute percentage of the electorate. In addition, MAS has brought attention to numerous omissions on voter registration lists and other irregularities designed to assist the opposition in its illegal bid for autonomy.

It is interesting to note that Costas, Cossío, and Bolivia's other prefects were elected by popular vote, and not selected by the president as is stipulated by law. Thus, Morales could demand the resignation of the leadership of this regional opposition, but according to Dr. Martin Mendoza, a Cambridge political science professor, this would be far too controversial a step to take during these tumultuous times. Such an action could ignite the political tension into outright violence. At least one person died during the Santa Cruz referendum and many were injured there as well as in Pando and Beni during skirmishes instigated by the anti-Morales, ultra rightwing Youth League (to which the two accused in the assassination attempt belong). Instead of exercising his constitutional power to preserve his presidency, Morales has opted to leave this decision up to the people through a new referendum.

An Uncertain Future

Responding to the opposition, Morales has called for another referendum aimed at gauging national confidence in the President and all of the prefects. According to this template, the contested leaders must be affirmed by at least the percentage they received when voted into office. If not, their positions will be vacated and new elections will be held. This "confidence vote" -- which is legally sanctioned -- is scheduled for August 10th. Some experts, including Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the Cato Institute, have claimed that the recall vote is a ploy by the opposition to delay a vote on the new constitution. Indeed, Bolivian law stipulates that only one national referendum can be held in any given year, so the August 10 vote will push back a vote on the constitution until at least 2009.

However this move by the opposition could very well backfire. Many of the opposition prefects are no longer confident that they will survive the recall vote and have thus joined forces under the Conalde (national democratic council) to voice their disagreement. On June 23, the prefects from the four aforementioned departments, along with Manfred Reyes Villa from Cochabamba, publicly rejected the upcoming referendum. None of these prefects were elected by a clear majority and their newfound hostility to the legally-sanctioned referendum is a telling sign that they fear dismissal by their constituencies in August. Instead they have called for the renewal of "national dialogue," which although necessary to quell the worsening political turmoil, is in this case guided by self-serving interests and for that reason serves only to confound the problem.

Meanwhile, in a recent opinion poll, 55 percent of respondents approved of the president, a slight increase from April. For this reason, it is widely believed Morales will win the upcoming vote. He was elected by 53.74% of voters in 2005, an unprecedented victory in Bolivian politics, so it is unlikely that he will be ousted in August. What matters, then, is the margin by which Morales wins. A clear victory will further legitimize his government, strengthen the MAS party, and expedite the referendum ballot needed to approve the new constitution. A narrow victory, however, may serve to unify the somewhat divided opposition and give it new leverage against Morales. Even if he loses, there is no constitutional mandate to legitimize the ouster of the president in such circumstances, so Morales will likely be able to stall the impact of any vote until the next scheduled elections in January 2011, at which time it may no longer be relevant.

Chris Sweeney is a Research Associate for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. This analysis was published on the COHA Web site on 24 June 2008. It is reproduced here for educational purposes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Article by Bolivan VP Álvaro García Linera and its relevance for Nicaragua

Below is a link to a recently published article by Bolivian Vice-president Álvaro García Linera's on the problems of discerning the relationship of class forces, points of confrontation between opposed hegemonies, and ongoing contradictions in the indigenous-led Bolivian revolution. The article is based on a speech made in December, 2007 but only recently published by Bolpress. Veteran Canadian socialist Richard Fidler did the translation and prepared an introduction and notes. See: or

Below I am reproducing Fidler’s introduction and notes, followed by a commentary on the relevance of the article for analyzing the revolutionary process in Nicaragua.

Felipe Stuart

Catastrophic Equilibrium and Point of Bifurcation
by Álvaro García Linera

by Richard Fidler

The following article, based on a speech given in December 2007 but only recently transcribed and published, is an important statement by a leading member of Evo Morales' government on the political situation in Bolivia in the wake of the Constituent Assembly's vote on a draft Political Constitution. The draft Constitution is to be put to a popular vote for adoption later this year.
Álvaro García Linera, Bolivia's Vice-President, is a former leader of the Tupac Katarí guerrilla army, subsequently employed as a university sociologist. He is also a prominent Latin American Marxist strongly influenced by post-World War II European non-Stalinist Marxist currents inspired by the ideas of the Italian communist leader and political theorist Antonio Gramsci.

Gramsci, who died in 1937, was an innovative Marxist thinker who wrote extensively on the concept of cultural hegemony and its role as an ideological mainstay of capitalist societies.

Some readers may be surprised by García Linera's frequent invocation of Gramscian "hegemony" in the Bolivian context, as that concept is often associated primarily with Marxist attempts to explain the particular problems of mass consciousness as they arise in the complex class societies of the imperialist countries. However, there is a long line of thinking among Latin American Marxists influenced by Gramsci; it goes back to José Carlos Mariátegui, the Peruvian communist, who lived in Italy for a period during the 1920s and was acquainted with Gramsci's writings. These Latin Americans, like Gramsci, also drew on the early Communist International's use of the concept of hegemony in analyzing the relationship between the minority proletariat and the non-proletarian (largely peasant) masses in the colonies and semicolonies. That theoretical legacy was explained more than three decades ago by Perry Anderson in a seminal article in New Left Review, "The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci" (NLR 100, November-December 1976), which bears re-reading today. (See especially pp. 15-18.)

García Linera's title, in the original Spanish, is "Empate catastrófico y punto de bifurcación." He attributes the expression "empate catastrófico" to Gramsci.

The "empate" (blockage, standoff, deadlock, or impasse), as García Linera uses the concept, appears to refer to Gramsci's use of the concept of "equilibrium," often conjoined with the adjective "catastrophic," in his Prison Notebooks; it denotes a sort of stasis in the configuration of the class struggle, when neither of the major contending class blocs has the ability to establish its hegemony over the other, a situation that can endure (as García Linera says) for months or even years. See also the interview with García Linera in the Argentine on-line periodical Renacer: "Del empate catastrófico al desempate conflictivo."

Suggestions for further reading: "Neo-liberalism and the New Socialism -- Speech by Alvaro Garcia Linera," Political Affairs, January-February 2007; and Álvaro García Linera and Jeffery R. Webber, "Marxism and Indigenism in Bolivia: A Dialectic of Dialogue and Conflict," ZNet, April 25, 2005

Comment by Felipe Stuart

The months that have passed since the speech was first delivered resonate with examples of the theoretical generalizations that García Linera makes. It is a forceful contribution to our understanding of unfolding struggle in his landlocked country.

The problem of hegemony and relationship of forces, and points of
bifurcation that García Linera outlines have relevance for our current struggle in Nicaragua (always keeping in mind of course that every country presents these problems in unique and very concrete ways, and often in ways that are counterintuitive. It is therefore risky to directly extrapolate general processes from one country and apply them to another. Nevertheless, on a less fine-grained level one can’t help but see some lessons from García Linera for understanding Nicaraguan events since the 1990 electoral defeat.

That defeat of the FSLN in 1990 was more a referendum on war that a rejection of the goals of the revolution. Of course it was a historic defeat for the only course that could take the revolution forward. However, the question of the relationship of forces remained unresolved on many levels. The armed forces remained Sandinista.

As it turned out, the country could only be governed by three subsequent neo-liberal presidencies making deals with the FSLN leadership (governability, anyone?). For the entire period since the 1990 elections no one party has been able to govern without negotiating fundamental issues with the opposition. That remains true today, with the FSLN managing a minority government through an arrangement with the PLC called "the pact."

The first pact during this period was between the government of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro and the FSLN. It was arranged from the FSLN side by Sandinista Army General (now retired) Humberto Oretga and former Sandinista Vice-president Sergio Ramirez. This pact led to a crisis in the FSLN, and the organization of the Democratic Left tendency in the party, led by Mónica Baltodano, Victor Hugo Tinoco, and other compas (comrades). Daniel Ortega came on side by the time of the 1994 Congress, and these forces defeated the right-wing current led by Sergio Ramirez and Dora Maria Tellez (I was active in the Democratic Left current and well recall the Congress victory over the "pact makers" who now lead the MRS). Upon their defeat the vast majority of this right wing current, including the overwhelming majority of FSLN deputies in the National Assembly, split away and formed the social democratic Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).

Subsequently the FSLN, with Daniel Ortega by then back at the helm, formed a pact with the PLC (Liberal Constructional Party [headed by former president, Arnoldo Alemán). At first the FSLN participated in the pact from its position as an opposition party to two different Liberal presidents. Now in office as a minority government, the FSLN has continued this arrangement with the PLC, in order to be able to pass legislation in the Legislature. The longevity of this “special arrangement” has led not a few to fear that a bi-partisan structure will evolve in Nicaraguan politics where only the FSLN or the PLC will be able to capture significant support. That has actually been the situation since at least 1996.

The reality in Nicaragua is that there are two competing hegemonies in terms of electoral politics. On the ideological level the country is still under the domination of neo-liberal concepts and perspectives. Only a minority of the population identify with the original goals of Carlos Fonseca and the FSLN, but a significant minority, waiting to be called to action. There are also important generational gaps. No polls, to my knowledge, exist to verify where youth stand on broader ideological issues; however, my reading is that a majority of youth are bound to pro capitalist notions, but without pro-imperialist leanings. Only ongoing struggles can win the youth to a revolutionary nationalist and anti-capitalist perspective, or rather to the historic program of the FSLN. This must be developed through advancing a program based on concrete demands and proposals that expose the historic inability of capitalist solutions to the country’s impoverishment and imperialist domination. The FSLN government has brought to an end the nation’s semi-protectorate status, but that advance could easily be reversed if the FSLN loses the next national elections. What it cannot accomplish, if it remains trapped in the constraints of an imperialist-dominated economy, is genuine national liberation. That prospect must take the country deeper into the process of regional alliances with countries sharing the same goals, such as Bolivarian Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Ultimately the question of hegemony in Nicaragua can only be resolved on a regional scale and within the framework of a changing international relationship of forces.

The big difference between the Nicaraguan situation and the Bolivian is that the MAS government came to power as the result of a series of ongoing mobilizations prior to its electoral victory. Coupled with the revolutionary nature of the process in Bolivia is the establishment of indigenous majority rule, now under sharp and dangerous challenge from the oligarchy, mainly based in the eastern "Media Luna" part of the county. The Nicaraguan process lacks the factor of mobilization of the masses. Prior to the 1996 election victory, the FSLN acted to hold its base within an electoral framework and effectively demobilized the party ranks. This is now beginning to change through the formation of the Citizens’ Power Councils (CPCs) that are working at the barrio and district levels in cities, towns and rural areas of the country. The mass base of the FSLN in the CPCs, the unions, the student movement, and small and medium-size producers could be brought into the streets rapidly if efforts to topple the Ortega government become stronger or threatening.

We saw a demonstration of the scope, density, and power of this base in the few days immediately following the November 2006 election. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets and stayed there until it became clear that the USA would accept their party’s victory. The only possible way Daniel Ortega could continue to govern, if the rightwing succeed in uniting their forces in an attempt to checkmate the government, will be to lead a counter mobilization of the Sandinista masses.

This problem would likely lead to important sectors of the oligarchy and the US State Department to reconsider their options. A mobilization of the Sandinista base could be very dangerous for them. It could only occur around a program a radical demands against the privileges of the rich (radical tax reform, repudiation of a major part of the internal debt that resulted from a banking scam nearly a decade ago, and so on).

The above is only a thumbnail sketch of some of the problems of power relations at the political level in Nicaragua. I find that the García Linera article develops a set of concepts that could, with proper sense of proportion and relevance, be of great utility in analyzing class and national struggles in many countries of Indo-Black-Latin America. I should mention, as well, that the Bolivian V.P. García Linera has had occasion more recently to present talks and articles that describe the ongoing standoff between the oligarchy and the MAS government in more concrete terms. Let’s hope he keeps providing Bolivia’s popular movements and international supporters with his incisive analyses.

Felipe Stuart C.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Toni Solo on MRS anti-FSLN camapaign

Toni Solo, a writer for, has written a very hard critique of the role of the MRS and the ten international personalities who signed a statement of solidarity with MRS spokeswoman Dora María Téllez. It appears in the webzine DISSIDENT VOICE – a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice – at

Below is an English-language version of the statement along with the names of the signatories. The statement appeared in the June 16, 2008 El Nuevo Diario (Managua) under the title Dora María merece ser escuchada [Dora María merits being heard].

Solo's article and the statement from the ten intellectuals and personalities is best read alongside my article on the MRS-led campaign to topple Nicaragua's FSLN government that appears immediately below this item on this website.

I do not share the harshness and substance of his critique of the signers of the statement – he argues that they most likely are fully aware of the anti-Sandinista and pro-imperialist campaign being orchestrated by the MRS-Montealegre axis in Nicaragua, with the backing of the oligarchy’s mouthpiece, La Prensa. I think they are victims of a long process of disinformation about the FSLN and what is at stake in Nicaragua today.

Solo noted in another article that the MRS has been more successful in their international outreach and propaganda than the FSLN. I think this is true among jet-set intellectuals, in NGO circles (many of whose leaders and full-timers are part of a new middle class in the third world), and in the leadership of a number of “social movements,” particularly the women’s movement. The latter case is definitely shaped by the outrageous Nicaraguan law against abortion rights for women, a law that the FSLN supported and the MRS opposed.

An example of intellectual being hoodwinked is the ongoing international campaign against Cuba over the arrest and imprisonment of so called “dissidents” --- individuals who acted consciously in the service of the US Embassy and were well paid for their work. Many “intellectuals” who signed statements denouncing the Cuban government have come to regret their erroneous conclusions and actions in lending their support to the US-led disinformation campaign around those events.

I believe this will be the case with current events in Nicaragua. But the mountain of dead dogs heaped on the FSLN government by international and national disinformation campaigns is so high that it will take time to get to the bottom of many of the issues underlying the class struggle in Nicaragua, and its international ramifications.

Despite my disagreement with Solo on this question, I recommend the article for the valuable information it contains, particularly on aspects of the history of the MRS.

Felipe Stuart C.


English version:

Dora María merits being heard

The signatories of this pronouncement have, one way or another, shared Nicaragua’s history. During the Sandinista struggle against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza and afterwards during the years in which Nicaragua suffered the aggression produced by the interventionist policy of the Reagan Administration, we accompanied revolutionary Nicaragua with our positions and our actions. Many of us formed part of a broad solidarity movement.

From that time on we have gotten to know and admire the valour and commitment of Dora María Tellez. Her integrity, prestige, dedication and the risk caused to her life by staying on hunger strike for 13 days prompts us to make a pronouncement asking the Nicaraguan government to meditate well on the consequences of not paying attention to the demands she represents.

What led Dora María to once more put her life and health on the line is a clear demand : that political spaces not be closed and that a national dialogue take place to resolve the food crisis and the high cost of living which, like many countries, Nicaragua faces.

None of these demands is irrational and a government that wants popular support ought to respond to them.

We want to support this demand and this protest. Political representation is a right. It is a right to protest against mechanisms that shut down this space. Dora María is exercising her right. She represents a broad sector of Nicaraguan society that ought to be listened to. We ask for her right, for that of her comrades and that of all Nicaraguans.

 Noam Chomsky
 Susan Meiselas
 Ariel Dorfman
 Salman Rushdie
 Eduardo Galeano
 Hermann Schulz
 Juan Geiman
 Brian Willson
 Tom Hayden
 Bianca Jagger
 Mario Benedetti

Friday, June 20, 2008

Anti-FSLN opposition seeks unity to topple Ortega government

By Phil Stuart Cournoyer, Managua

On June 11 the axe of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) came down on the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS [1]) and the old historic Conservative Party of Nicaragua (PCN), now a tiny shell of its former self. The CSE unanimously decided to deregister both parties on the grounds that they had failed to fulfill the requirements of the national electoral law.

That law states that only registered parties can participate in Nicaraguan elections. It obligates registered parties to submit their statutes and the results of internal elections to the CSE. It also stipulates that parties must have organized structures and executives in most of the electoral districts of the country, with the exception of parties that only exist in the Caribbean Coast autonomous regions (RAAN and RAAS), such as YATAMA.[2]

The CSE explained its action based on infractions of the electoral law. Despite protestations to the contrary from the affected parties, the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America has justified the CSE decision, stating that it conforms to Nicaraguan law.[3] However, it is not necessary to probe into the details and legalese of these political actions to ascertain that the forced deregistration of the two parties, although pegged to the letter of the law, is a grave anti-democratic action, a political act made possible by an anti-democratic law, based on a long tradition of state control over political parties.

Appeal Court decision

In response to an MRS petition, the Managua Appeals Court has referred the CSE decision to the Supreme Court. This will likely mean a long delay before a final legal ruling is made.

By the ethics of disclosure, I should make it clear that I have been an FSLN full member since 1990 when I became a Nicaraguan citizen – and a historic collaborator of the Frente since 1978. I support the present Sandinista government, especially its anti-imperialist stands, but also many of its measures to alleviate poverty in the country. I also have many disagreements with aspects of government policies[3].

The CSE decision to deregister the MRS and the Conservative party constitutes, in my humble opinion, a serious political error and miscalculation by the FSLN and the PLC; both parties backed the CSE action.

All Nicaraguans should have the right to form parties and run in elections either as individuals or parties; or by what is called in Nicaragua “popular subscription” in which ad hoc groups of citizens were able to nominate candidates. The National Assembly removed that provision from the Electoral Law some years ago. The state or government should not be empowered to interfere in the internal affairs of political parties and organizations. Parties should not have to get state approval in order to participate in the electoral system.

Get the state out of business of regulating political parties

What is needed in Nicaragua is a clearly focused campaign to restore the right of the two parties to legality. The electoral law should be completely changed to get the state out of the “business” of monitoring and controlling the internal affairs of political organizations and parties. It should be noted, however, that no party with deputies in the National Assembly, the MRS included, have taken this clear stand.

Many individuals and organizations that support the government are in disagreement with this anti-democratic action and law. They include Dionisio (Nicho) Marenco, the FSLN mayor of Managua.

On the international level, as well, prominent pro-Sandinista figures have expressed their dismay at the decision to deny a political space to the two parties. The most powerful example of that phenomenon is a full-page statement in solidarity with the MRS protest, published in El Nuevo Diario, and signed by twelve prominent pro Sandinista figures including Noam Chomsky, Ariel Dorfman, Eduardo Galeano, Salman Rushdie, and Mario Benedetti. Their statement reveals a lack of detailed or accurate knowledge about what is happening in Nicaraguan politics at this stage, and also an inflated view of the actual appeal of the MRS and its leaders at this time.

Their reference to Dora María Téllez is an expression of solidarity with a thirteen-day hunger strike she launched on June 3, and ended on June 16, upon the strong insistence of her doctors. She began her hunger strike to protest the CSE decision.

However, in tandem with the hunger strike, the MRS embedded the key issue into its global anti FSLN strategy – one based on the analysis that the Ortega government is a family dictatorship under consolidation. Quickly their campaign, also backed by the Rescate Group[4], escalated into an offensive against the government based on the charge that is of the same ilk as the Somoza regime. Demonstrations and protests have been dotted with signs saying “Ortega equals Somoza,” and similar wild denunciations. The priority of the opposition is to unite to block the perpetuation of the “new dictatorship” – to topple the government through a process of mass protests and destabilization measures.

Uniting with the far and center right

The MRS-envisaged “united front” includes the forces of Eduardo Montealegre (the candidate of the US Embassy in the last presidential elections), the anti government newspapers La Prensa (pro-imperialist) and El Nuevo Diario (pro MRS), and other anti-Sandinista media. Also included are the Conservative Party and other smaller parties, and leaders and personnel of many internationally financed NGOs (who claim to represent “civil society”).

The decision to turn the defense of the MRS’s basic right to exist as a legal party into a broadside political campaign against the government is a major political error. It cuts out any possibility of influencing supporters of the government and the grassroots of the FSLN, the Citizens’ Power Committees (CPCs), many unions, and important indigenous movements. What we see is not a campaign for a democratic electoral law, but an alliance with the extreme right and the oligarchy’s newspaper, La Prensa. We know that those MRS allies (for the moment) are in no way friends of democracy, or the poor and the hungry in this or any other country.

MRS leader Edmundo Jarquín has acknowledged this orientation up front. Journalist Matilde Córdoba, in the June 18 El Nuevo Diario, reports that “Jarquín believes that it is ‘impossible to defeat the pact between the Sandinista Front and the Constitutional Liberal Party,’ without the support of liberals who are disenchanted with the attitudes of PLC leaders.”

MRS leader up front about uniting with “disenchanted liberals

“In Jarquín’s judgment it is necessary to give ‘political expression’ to the 700,000 votes obtained by the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance, ALN, whose presidential candidate was Eduardo Montealegre, and to the 200,000 votes obtained by the MRS.
“This goal will be reached when the oppositional political organizations unite, he said. ‘This will attract liberal leaders’…”

Some government opponents, including Mónica Baltodano of the Rescate Group (she is a National Assembly deputy elected on the MRS Alliance slate) and MRS leader Comandante Victor Tirado, also claim that the Ortega regime is a Somocista-style dictatorship. Baltodano argues that this dictatorship rests on an unseemly pact between the FSLN and Arnoldo Aleman’s PLC. In good old Nicaraguan vernacular she put it this way: “They [Alemán and Ortega] sleep in the same bed. At times one is on top, and the other is on the bottom.”

Meanwhile, MRS leader Edmundo Jarquín has called for intervention from the Organization of American States “to restore political pluralism in the country.”
The breadth of support for unity between the MRS and forces to their right among Nicaragua’s intellectual and NGO elite is impressive and instructive. The NGO elite, in essence, have become since 1990 a new sector of the well off middle class. This social layer is one of the most tightly-knit and class conscious sectors of Nicaraguan society.

Mejia Godoy brothers prohibit government from using their music

Nicaragua’s most famous composer-singer, Carlos Mejia Godoy and his brother Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy (also a well know and highly popular composer-musician-singer) have prohibited the government and the FSLN from using their music and compositions at official government or FSLN events. Both are the authors and composers of many of the most popular revolutionary hymns and songs of the long Sandinista struggle. Mejia Godoy was the MRS candidate for vice president in 2006. His musical properties are registered in Spain and he has threatened legal action if his ban is not respected.

These prohibitions have caused great controversy and resentment in Nicaragua. Some of the families of the heroes and martyrs who are the subjects of many of their songs, feel insulted and morally injured by the decision. A prominent example is the protest letter to Carlos Mejia Godoy issued by Germán Pomares Herrera – the son of two Sandinista heroes (Comandante Germán Pomares Ordoñez, who fell in combat in Jinotega, in May, 1979 and Julia Herrera, assassinated by the Somocista army in August 1975. Germán says he now feels that his martyred parents have been taken from him and are now the property of Carlos Mejia Godoy. The brother musicians may get their way in the Spanish courts, if this comes to a legal showdown. However, there is no way they can prevent the mass base of the FSLN and the Sandinista unions from singing and chanting the songs of this common heritage of the revolution. For people outside Nicaragua to appreciate the sense out outrage this decision has provoked, think how socialist and communist workers would feel if the descendants of the composer of “The International” banned them from singing this revolutionary standard at their party rallies or congresses. Is the song “Solidarity Forever” someone’s intellectual property and can we be prohibited from singing it or broadcasting it?

There is no reason to doubt that the goal of the anti-government forces is to bring down the government. MRS leader Víctor Tirado López made this clear in an extensive interview with La Prensa, in its June 15 Sunday supplement.

“The MRS,” Tirado said, “has to act to form alliances with all the country’s political and economic forces, under a collective leadership. We struggled in the sixties for a democracy, but it vanished, it slipped out of our hands…How did we win in 1979? – with the entire economic and political forces of the country alongside. Everyone united against Somoza! And, in a certain manner, the same phenomenon is now occurring, an alliance against the government.”

The more realistic PLC leadership believe a fight to topple the government is very unlikely to succeed. They have followed a course of seeking agreements with the FSLN and sharing power with it in various arms of the state. Att this juncture strong trend and pressure in Nicaragua exists to set up a bi-partisan system dominated by the FSLN and the PLC. However, that could change given the unstable situation in the country. This “tango” between the FSLN and the PLC is known pejoratively as the “pact” and its supporters are called “pactistas.”

Pact politics

Nicaragua’s political history often has involved electoral or power-sharing pacts between at least two big political forces. Often no one party is strong enough to govern the country without forming alliances with other parties. Today this is reflected in the composition of the National Assembly where the Presidency’s supporters are a minority. The Presidency and cabinet must bargain with sectors of the opposition in order to get any of its programs or proposed legislation approved by the Assembly.

All the major parties have been involved in pact politics since the 1990 electoral defeat, including the MRS. The MRS was part of the pro FSLN Convergencia until 2005, and hence an accomplice of the very “pact” that they now so vehemently denounce as the platform for a Somocista-style dictatorship. The Liberal parties, from their point of view, believe the Convergencia is a pact. Over the last six months the MRS has tried futilely to draw the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and its former leader Eduardo Montealegre (the favorite of the US embassy and a leading banker) into an electoral alliance for this year’s municipal elections.

That strategy has now been revamped and accelerated. MRS leaders hope they will get a mass response to its call to “take the streets, while the FSLN says it will outmatch the MRS and the Nicaraguan right wing not only in the elections, but also “in the streets.”

Adolfo Pastrán’s view

Independent journalist Adolfo Pastrán, no friend of Ortega or his government, concurs that the strategy of the opposition is to topple the presidency. In the June 12 “Informe Pastrán,”[5] he writes:

“The opposition demands a dialogue with the government of Daniel Ortega under democratic rules, but at the same time they want to topple the Presidency, accusing it of corruption, of misgoverning the country, pummeling and wearing it down without relief. They are looking for a way to proscribe Sandinismo from power. For that reason the most extreme sectors have pressured against an understanding between the FSLN and the PLC (of Arnoldo Alemán), instead of pressing for real political, economic and social changes from the National Assembly. Despite having a majority in the Assembly, they have no influence in or control of that state power because of their own infighting. This is the real political x-ray of Nicaragua.”

Nicaraguan writer Amaru Barahona took up the mythological comparison of the FSLN government with the Somocista dictatorship in a June 12 El Nuevo Diario article entitled “A grotesque parallelism.” He pointed out that the Somoza dynasty maintained power based on support from Washington, control of the armed forces (National Guard and the police), and the resort to “systematic violent repression against popular classes (assassinations, torture, jails) and a selective repression against middle class and business persons who sided with the opposition.”

None of those conditions are applicable to the Ortega government, he pointed out. “I ask myself, where are the assassinations, the tortured, or the jailed?”

There is complete freedom of press and media in Nicaragua. As in Venezuela, most media are privately owned and are virulently anti government in all their “news’ coverage and opinion pages or programs. The alleged parallel with the former Somoza regime does not make sense for a government whose first foreign policy decision was to ally with revolutionary Cuba, to join a solidarity, fair trade alliance such as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), and to support a revolution such as the Bolivarian process in Venezuela. The new government spoke out strongly against imperialist aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, and expressed its solidarity with liberation struggles from continent to continent. Those are hardly traits one observed in the Somoza dictatorship dictatorship.

Anti Sandinista propaganda poses some thorny questions

The MRS insistence on placing an equal sign between President Ortega and the dictatorial dynasty of the Somoza family is mis-educating and disorienting today’s youth who never experienced the Somoza regime or the revolution. If Daniel Ortega’s government is a dictatorship like Somoza’s, doesn’t that call into question the revolution and the whole Sandinista struggle? Ironically, this propaganda makes the Somoza regime look pretty good. Or, if you read it in an opposite sense, this hype also begs the issue of whether the opposition needs to resort to armed or illegal actions in our present situation. That question has been on the tip of the tongues of some leaders of the opposition. This undoubtedly is of considerable interest to the US State Department and its destabilization games and plans.

More falsification of reality and cheap politics

The MRS has opened another front in its current anti-government campaign. It is now blaming the Ortega administration for the growing hunger and misery in the country. You would almost think they had never heard of the steep rise in international oil and gas prices, the worldwide escalation of food prices, the recession in the U.S. economy, the sharp decline in the value of the dollar (commonly used in Nicaragua, especially in savings deposits), and the slowdown of family remittances from Nicaraguans living in economic exile in the United States. Perhaps they have forgotten the damage that ten years of war and seventeen years of IMF-imposed neo-liberal economic adjustment programs did to our country.

The MRS Alliance offers no programmatic proposals for the economy that are distinct from the government’s present course – except their notable hostility to the special economic relations with Venezuela. This form of cheap politicking only lays the basis for the right wing to take the reins. Unlike the MRS, the right wing forces do have an alternative economic program to that of the government. It is well known, since we have lived it for the last 18 years. If the opposition succeeds in toppling Ortega, it is the traditional right, and not the MRS or any other centrist formation that will come to power.

The FSLN government is a regime based on a capitalist economy, in a country dominated by imperialist trade and monetary relations. However, the Sandinista regime also acts in the interests of workers, farmers, and producers in some initiatives, and in the interests of capitalist investors in other ways. It defends the country against the worst depredations of US and European imperialism, and of the traditional oligarchy. And it allies Nicaragua with anti-imperialist forces globally and the movement for Indo-Black-Latin American unity.

At times the government or ministries act arbitrarily, and engage in contradictory initiatives conditioned by Nicaragua’s position as an impoverished and weak country. A typical example is trying to go both with ALBA and the “Free Trade” agreement with the USA (CAFTA); maintaining an ambiguous policy towards diplomatic and trade relations with China and Taiwan; and accepting, albeit not without protests, ongoing subservience to IMF/World Bank economic policies. The negative aspects of these contradictions are completely in harmony with the opposition parties’ outlook. What they fear are any initiatives to accept a course towards a Bolivarian 21st Century socialism, as evidenced by their hostility to Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian revolution

FSLN government is not a dictatorship

Our government is not a dictatorship. In fact, it is often hamstrung by its minority status in the National Assembly. To carry out even a minimal part of its commitments and program, it is forced to negotiate with and make concessions to opposition forces. The government’s decision to promote and base itself in Citizens’ Power Councils (CPCs) was partially vetoed by the pro-oligarchy majority in the Assembly. Nevertheless, the government pursued this opening towards more democracy in Nicaragua. The CPCs allow poor, voiceless and marginalized sectors a voice in how the country should be run. “Civil society” also includes them, and not just the well-heeled NGO directors and specialists, and university Ph.D. holders. However, poor and marginalized people (the “chapiollos) represent different class interests, and hence are scorned by the schooled elite ensconced in the NGO world. The same is valid for the union movement. It has never achieved the status of ‘civil society” in the eyes of middleclass appropriators of this concept. To become part of “civil society” in their outlook requires being stylishly coiffed and dressed, and in possession of a valid driver’s license and passport!

There is much to praise in the Ortega government, and also a lot that needs to be questioned, criticized, and when necessary, opposed [6]. But the hype about dictatorship only plays into the hands of those who take their lead from La Prensa – a “newspaper” that serves as the politburo of the oligarchy and mouthpiece for the US Embassy in our country.

The opposition anti-government campaign also offers succor to imperialist forces, above all Washington and its State Department. If successful, the hoped-for grand alliance will also strike a blow to revolutionary Cuba, to the Bolivarian revolution, and to the indigenous struggle in Nicaragua [the main indigenous organization – YATAMA – is strategically allied to the FSLN and the government – see endnote ii].

MRS leader slams alliance with Venezuela

Any doubters on that score should read the entire interview with Victor Tirado, cited above. Tirado slammed the alliance with Venezuela. The first mistake, he said, was “having made an economic axis with Iran and Venezuela…” Tirado accused Hugo Chávez of conditioning Venezuelan aid to Nicaragua, and Daniel Ortega of towing his line in order to keep the aid flowing.

That’s the same line as the US Embassy and La Prensa take on our relations with Venezuela and Cuba. The logic of Tirado’s position is to abandon anti-imperialism and revolutionary internationalism. This is a common trait among MRS leaders who have moved steadily to a right social democratic posture on most questions, especially international issues such as their lack of solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution or Cuba. They say they fear that active and concrete solidarity with that camp will provoke U.S. hostility.

Rescate Group takes a step backwards

The attempt to revive the united bloc against the dictatorship, which aims to win over Eduardo Montealegre and his voter base, is also a setback for the positive motion evidenced by the Rescate Group when, earlier this year, they openly criticized the MRS policy of an electoral marriage with Montealegre. They have been pulled back into a project based on collaboration with the most wretched flunkies of the US embassy, the so-called good Liberals – those who will not make to or make agreements with the FSLN.

The crisis around the decision to deregister the MRS tells us more about the opposition that it does the government. Keep tuned, because we can be sure there is worse to come.

[1] MRS – Movimiento para la Renovacion Sandinista/Sandinista Renovation Movement, an electoral party with deputies in the National Assembly. It won 200,000 votes in the 2006 national elections. It emerged as a social democratic split from the FSLN in 1995. Since that time it has taken different approaches to the FSLN. When the pro FSLN Convergencia alliance was formed, the MRS came on board and stayed until 2005. However, it participated in the 2006 elections as a separate party, and later tried to form an alliance with Eduardo Montealegre’s Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance party (ALN). It became the butt of jokes about being the caboose of the ALN train in the National Assembly.
[2] Yatama (Sons of Mother Earth) is the largest Indigenous party on the Caribbean Coast and is especially strong in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN).
[3] See “Caso MRS y PC es normal, Nicanor Moscoso, Presidente del CEELA" - El Nuevo Diario, 20 de junio de 2008, page 4A.
[3] Those interested in my analysis of the evolution of the FSLN and the performance of the FSLN government in its first year can consult my website. Many of my articles, even when first published on other sites such as MRZine, Links, Socialist Voice, Axis of Logic, and Venezuela News and Analysis, are posted and archived at Aye Nicaragua, Nicaraguita at
[4] Rescate Group -- the Movimiento para el Rescate del Sandinismo (Sandinista Recovery Movement). It is led by Comandantes Henry Ruiz and Mónica Baltodano, now an MRS Alliance deputy in the National Assembly.
[5] Pastrán Report, a daily Spanish-language summary of events in Nicaragua published to subscribers in digital form. The publication can be contacted by email at"
[6] Space does not permit me to go into that here, but a good list of such problems can be found in “What alternative do President Daniel Ortega's opponents propose for Nicaragua?” and “What’s the alternative if the opposition topples the government?” by Domingo Quilez at [ ].

Peruvian government attacks violently civilian protestors in southern Peru

This news item and its accompanying videos are foud at the peruanista website --

La Lucha Indigena, a canpesino and indigenous newspaper, directed by Hugo Blanco, has pointed out for over a year the state terrorist character of the Alan Garcia regime.

This report confirms that analysis in spades.

Felipe Stuart

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The videos you are about to see are a bit shocking. For 18 months the people of the Moquegua region (southeastern Peru) and the mining workers from that region have been seeking for peaceful negotiations with the Peruvian government of Lima.

The moqueguanos were trying to lobby against a bill sent by the Peruvian executive to Congress which could mean a reduction of the royalties paid by foreign mining companies - Southern Copper Corporation (USA/Mexico) in this case - which are very important for the Moquegua region after the extraction of their natural resources. But workers were ignored.So it was clear for the over 22.000 people of Moquegua - they are not delincuents as the press from Lima called them- that their protest had became necessary and legitimate. They began a hunger strike and blockade of a national highway, eight days ago.

The violence we can see in these videos is the result of the negligence and arrogance of the Garcia administration and the Peruvian right-wing politicians. They have attacked workers who are fighting for their legitimate interests with tear gas.

For remainder of new article and videos go to:

Monday, June 16, 2008

From Marx to Morales: Indigenous Socialism and the Latin Americanization of Marxism


My comments on this theme and article appear at the end of compañero Riddell's very much needed article "From Marx to Morales: Indigenous Socialism and the Latin Americanization of Marxism." They follow the Endnotes for the main article.

Riddell's article first appeared in Socialist Voice at

Felipe Stuart C.

By John Riddell

John Riddell is co-editor of Socialist Voice and editor of The Communist International in Lenin's Time, a six-volume anthology of documents, speeches, manifestos and commentary. This article is based on his talk at the Historical Materialism conference at York University in Toronto on April 26, 2008.

Over the past decade, a new rise of mass struggles in Latin America has sparked an encounter between revolutionists of that region and many of those based in the imperialist countries. In many of these struggles, as in Bolivia under the presidency of Evo Morales, Indigenous peoples are in the lead.

Latin American revolutionists are enriching Marxism in the field of theory as well as of action. This article offers some introductory comments indicating ways in which their ideas are linking up with and drawing attention to important but little-known aspects of Marxist thought.


A good starting point is provided by the comment often heard from Latin American revolutionists that much of Marxist theory is marked by a "Eurocentric" bias. They understand Eurocentrism as the belief that Latin American nations must replicate the evolution of Western European societies, through to the highest possible level of capitalist development, before a socialist revolution is possible. Eurocentrism is also understood to imply a stress on the primacy of industrialization for social progress and on the need to raise physical production in a fashion that appears to exclude peasant and Indigenous realities and to point toward the dissolution of Indigenous culture.[1]

Marx's celebrated statement that "no social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed"[2] is sometimes cited as evidence of a Eurocentric bias in Marxism. Karl Kautsky and Georgi Plekhanov, Marxist theorists of the pre-1914 period, are viewed as classic exponents of this view. Latin American writer Gustavo Pérez Hinojosa quotes Kautsky's view that "workers can rule only where the capitalist system has achieved a high level of development"[3] — that is, not yet in Latin America.

The pioneer Marxists in Latin American before 1917 shared that perspective. But after the Russian Revolution a new current emerged, now often called "Latin American Marxism." Argentine theorist Néstor Kohan identifies the pioneer Peruvian Communist José Carlos Mariátegui as its founder. Mariátegui, Kohen says, "opposed Eurocentric schemas and populist efforts to rally workers behind different factions of the bourgeoisie" and "set about recapturing `Inca communism' as a precursor of socialist struggles."[4]

National subjugation

Pérez Hinojosa and Kohen both take for granted that Latin American struggles today, as in Mariátegui's time, combine both anti-imperialist and socialist components. This viewpoint links back to the analysis advanced by the Communist International in Lenin's time of a world divided between imperialist nations and subjugated peoples.[5] Is this framework still relevant at a time when most poor countries have formal independence? The central role of anti-imperialism in recent Latin American struggles would seem to confirm the early Communist International's analysis.

Pérez Hinojosa tells us that Mariátegui recognized the impossibility of national capitalist development in semi-colonial countries like Peru. The revolution would be "socialist from its beginnings but would go through two stages" in realizing the tasks first of bourgeois democratic and then of socialist revolution. Moreover, the Peruvian theorist held that "this socialist revolution would be marked by a junction with the historic basis of socialization: the Indigenous communities, the survivals of primitive agrarian communism."[6]

Subsequently, says Kohen, the "brilliant team of the 1920s," which included Julio Antonio Mella in Cuba, Farabundo Martí in El Salvador, and Augusto César Sandino in Nicaragua, "was replaced … by the echo of Stalin's mediocre schemas in the USSR," which marked a return to a mechanical "Eurocentrist" outlook.[7]

Writing from the vantage point of Bolivia's tradition of Indigenous insurgency, Alvaro García Linera attributes Eurocentric views in his country to Marxism as a whole, as expressed by both Stalinist and Trotskyist currents. He states that Marxism's "ideology of industrial modernisation" and "consolidation of the national state" implied the "`inferiority' of the country's predominantly peasant societies."[8]

Cuban revolution

In Kohen's view, the grip of "bureaucratism and dogmatism" was broken "with the rise of the Cuban revolution and the leadership of Castro and Guevara."[9] Guevara's views are often linked to those of Mariátegui with regard to the nature of Latin American revolution — in Guevara's words, either "a socialist revolution or a caricature of a revolution."[10] That claim was based on convictions regarding the primacy of consciousness and leadership in revolutionary transitions that were also held by Mariátegui.

Guevara also applied this view to his analysis of the Cuban state and of Stalinized Soviet reality. Guevara inveighed against the claim of Soviet leaders of his time that rising material production would bring socialism, despite the political exclusion, suffering, and oppression imposed on the working population.[11] (See "Che Guevara's Final Verdict on Soviet Economy," in Socialist Voice, June 9, 2008.)

Marx's views

In Kohen's opinion, the Cuban revolution's leading role continued in the 1970s, when it "revived the revolutionary Marxism of the 1920s (simultaneously anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist) as well as Marx's more unfamiliar works—above all his later works that study colonialism and peripheral and dependent societies. In these writings Marx overcomes the Eurocentric views of his youth."[12]

Kohen identifies the insights of the "Late Marx" as follows:

History does not follow an unvarying evolutionary path.

Western Europe does not constitute a single evolutionary centre through which stages of historical development are radiated outwards to the rest of the world.
"Subjugated peoples do not experience `progress' so long as they remain under the boot of imperialism."[13]

Latin American thought here rests on the mature Marx's views on capitalism's impact on colonial societies, such as Ireland. It also intersects with Marx's late writings and research known to us primarily through Teodor Shanin's Late Marx and the Russian Road.[14] Shanin's book can now be usefully reread as a commentary on today's Latin American struggles.

Marx devoted much of his last decade to study of Russia and of Indigenous societies in North America. His limited writings on these questions focused on the Russian peasant commune, the mir, which then constituted the social foundation of agriculture in that country.

Russia's peasant communes

The Russian Marxist circle led by Plekhanov, ancestor of the Bolshevik party, believed that the mir was doomed to disappear as Russia was transformed by capitalist development. We now know that Marx did not agree. In a letter to Vera Zasulich, written in 1881 but not published until 1924, he wrote that "the commune is the fulcrum for social regeneration in Russia." The "historical inevitability" of the evolutionary course mapped out in Capital, he stated, is "expressly restricted to the countries of Western Europe."[15]

The preliminary drafts of Marx's letter, included in Shanin's book, display essential agreement with the view of the revolutionary populist current in Russia, the "People's Will," that the commune could coexist harmoniously with a developing socialist economy.[16]

Ethnological Notebooks

These drafts drew on Marx's extensive studies of Indigenous societies during that period, a record of which is available in his little-known Ethnological Notebooks.[17] We find his conclusions summarized in a draft of his letter to Zasulich: "The vitality of primitive communities was incomparably greater than that of Semitic, Greek, Roman, etc. societies, and, a fortiori, that of modern capitalist societies."[18]

In her study of these notebooks, Christine Ward Gaily states that where such archaic forms persist, Marx depicts them fundamentally "as evidence of resistance to the penetration of state-associated institutions," which he views as intrinsically oppressive.[19] The clear implication is that such archaic survivals should be defended and developed.

The Marxists of Lenin's time were not aware of this evolution in Marx's thinking. Thus Antonio Gramsci could write, a few weeks after the Russian October uprising, "This is the revolution against Karl Marx's Capital. In Russia, Marx's Capital was more the book of the bourgeoisie than of the proletariat."[20] Yet despite their limited knowledge of Marx's views, the revolutionary generation of Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Bukharin, Gramsci, and Lukács reasserted Marx's revolutionary stance in combat with the "Eurocentrist" view associated with Karl Kautsky and the pre-war Socialist International that socialist revolution must await capitalism's fullest maturity and collapse.

Shanin generalizes from Marx's approach to Russia in 1881 in a way that links to a second characteristic of Latin American revolution. "The purest forms of `scientific socialism' … invariably proved politically impotent," he argues. "It has been the integration of Marxism with the indigenous [i.e. home-grown] political traditions which has underlain all known cases of internally generated and politically effective revolutionary transformation of society by socialists."[21]

Here we have a second field of correlation with the Latin American revolutionary experience, with its strong emphasis on associating the movement for socialism with the tradition of anti-colonial struggle associated with the figures of the great aboriginal leaders and of Bolívar, Martí, and Sandino. This fusion of traditions emerges as a unique strength of Latin American Marxism.

Mariátegui captured this thought in a well-known passage:

"We certainly do not wish socialism in America to be a copy and imitation. It must be a heroic creation. We must give life to an Indo-American socialism reflecting our own reality and in our own language."[22]

Following the October revolution of 1917, Marx's vision of the mir's potential was realized in practice. The mir had been in decline for decades, and by 1917 half the peasants' land was privately owned. But in the great agrarian reform of 1917-18, the peasants revived the mir and adopted it as the basic unit of peasant agriculture. During the next decade, peasant communes co-existed constructively with the beginnings of a socialist economy. By 1927, before the onset of Stalinist forced collectivization, 95% of peasant land was already communally owned.[23]

There is a double parallel here with present Latin American experience. First, the Bolsheviks' alliance with the peasantry is relevant in Latin American countries where the working class, in the strict sense of those who sell their labour power to employers, is often a minority in broad coalitions of exploited producers. Second, survivals of primitive communism, including communal landholding, are a significant factor in Indigenous struggles across this region.

National emancipation

A third correspondence can be found in the Bolsheviks' practice toward minority peoples of the East victimized and dispossessed by Tsarist Russian settler colonialism. Too often, discussions of the Bolsheviks' policy on the national question stop short with Stalin and Lenin's writings of 1913-1916, ignoring the evolution of Bolshevik policy during and after the 1917 revolution. Specifically:

The later Bolsheviks did not limit themselves to the criteria of nationhood set out by Stalin in 1913.[24] They advocated and implemented self-determination for oppressed peoples who were not, at the time of the 1917 revolution, crystallized nations or nationalities.

They went beyond the concept that self-determination could be expressed only through separation. Instead, they accepted the realization of self-determination through various forms of federation.

They implemented self-determination in a fashion that was not always territorial.
Their attitude toward the national cultures of minority peoples was not neutral. Instead, they committed substantial political and state resources to planning and encouraging the development of these cultures.[25]

On all these points, the Bolshevik experience closely matches the revolutionary policies toward Indigenous peoples now being implemented in Bolivia and other Latin American countries.

Ecology and materialism

Finally, a word on ecology. The boldest governmental statements on the world's ecological crisis are coming from Cuba, Bolivia, and other anti-imperialist governments in Latin America.[26] The influence of Indigenous struggles is felt here. Bolivian President Evo Morales points to the leading role of Indigenous peoples, "called upon by history to convert ourselves into the vanguard of the struggle to defend nature and life."[27]

This claim rests on an approach by many Indigenous movements to ecology that is inherently revolutionary. Most First-World ecological discussion focuses on technical and market devices, such as carbon trading, taxation, and offsets, that aim to preserve as much as possible of a capitalist economic system that is inherently destructive to the natural world. Indigenous movements, by contrast, begin with the demand for a new relationship of humankind to our natural environment, sometimes expressed in the slogan, "Liberate Mother Earth."[28]

These movements often express their demand using an unfamiliar terminology of ancestral spiritual wisdom — but behind those words lies a worldview that can be viewed as a form of materialism.

In pre-conquest Andean society, says Peruvian Indigenous leader Rosalía Paiva, "Each was a part of all, and all were of the soil. The soil could never belong to us because we are its sons and daughters, and we belong to the soil."[29]

Bolivian Indigenous writer Marcelo Saavedra Vargas holds that "It is capitalist society that rejects materialism. It makes war on the material world and destroys it. We, on the other hand, embrace the material world, consider ourselves part of it, and care for it."[30]

This approach is reminiscent of Marx's thinking, as presented by John Bellamy Foster in Marx's Ecology. It is entirely appropriate to interpret "Liberate Mother Earth" as equivalent to "close the metabolic rift."[31]

Hugo Chávez says that in Venezuela, 21st Century Socialism will be based not only on Marxism but also on Bolivarianism, Indigenous socialism, and Christian revolutionary traditions.[32] Latin American Marxism's capacity to link up in this way with what Shanin calls vernacular revolutionary traditions is a sign of its vitality and promise.

I will conclude with a story told by the Peruvian Marxist and Indigenous leader Hugo Blanco. A member of his community, he tells us, conducted some Swedish tourists to a Quechua village near Cuzco. Impressed by the collectivist spirit of the Indigenous community, one of the tourists commented, "This is like communism."

"No," responded their guide, "Communism is like this."[33]


Related Reading

Hugo Blanco. The Fight for Indigenous Rights in the Andes Today [pdf]
John Riddell. COMINTERN: Revolutionary Internationalism in Lenin's Time [pdf]
John Riddell. The Russian Revolution and National Freedom



[1] "Alvaro García Linera, "Indianismo and Marxism" (translated by Richard Fidler), in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
David Bedford, "Marxism and the Aboriginal Question: The Tragedy of Progress," in Canadian Journal of Native Studies, vol. 14, no. 1 (1994), 102-103.
Hugo Blanco Galdos, letter to the author, December 17, 2007.

[2] Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, in Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969, vol. 1, p. 504.

[3] Gustavo Pérez Hinojosa, "La heterodoxia marxista de Mariátegui." Rebelión, October 30, 2007..

[4] Néstor Kohan, "El marxismo latinoamericano y la crítica del eurocentrismo," in Con sangre en las venas, Mexico: Ocean Sur, 2007, pp. 10, 11.

[5] See, for example, V.I. Lenin's report on the National and Colonial Questions to the Communist International's second congress, in Collected Works, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969, vol. 31, pp. 240-41; and the subsequent congress discussion and resolution, in John Riddell, ed., Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991, vol. 1, pp. 216-290.

[6] Hinojosa, "Mariátegui."

[7] Kohen, "Eurocentrismo," p. 10.

[8] García Linera, "Indianismo."

[9] Kohen, "Eurocentrismo," p. 10.

[10] Ernesto Che Guevara, "Message to the Tricontinental," in Che Guevara Reader, Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2003, p. 354.

[11] See, for example, "Algunas reflexiones sobre la transición socialista," in Ernesto Che Guevara, Apuntes críticos a la Economía Política, Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2006, pp. 9-20.

[12] Kohan, "Eurocentrismo," pp. 10-11.

[13] Ibid., p. 11

[14] Teodor Shanin, ed., Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and the "Peripheries of Capitalism," New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983.

[15] Shanin, Late Marx, p. 124.

[16] Ibid., p. 12, 102-103.

[17] Lawrence Krader, ed., The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx, Assen, NE: Van Gorcum, 1972.

[18] Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1989, vol. 24, pp. 358-59.

[19] Christine Ward Gailey, "Community, State and Questions of Social Evolution in Marx's Ethnological Notebooks," in Anthropologica, vol. 45 (2003), pp. 47-48.

[20] Antonio Gramsci, "The Revolution against Das Kapital"

[21] Shanin, Late Marx, p. 255.

[22] Marc Becker, "Mariátegui, the Comintern, and the Indigenous Question in Latin America," in Science & Society, vol. 70 (2006), no. 4, p. 469, quoting from José Carlos Mariátegui, "Anniversario y Balance" (1928).

[23] Moshe Lewin, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power, New York: W.W. Norton, 1968, p. 85.

[24] J.V. Stalin, "Marxism and the National Question," in Works, Moscow: FLPH, 1954, vol. 2, p. 307.

[25] See Jeremy Smith, The Bolsheviks and the National Question, 1917-23, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999;
John Riddell, "The Russian Revolution and National Freedom." Socialist Voice, November 1, 2006.

[26] See, for example, Evo Morales, Felipe Perez Roque, "Bolivia and Cuba Address the UN: Radical Action Needed Now to Stop Global Warming." Socialist Voice, September 26, 2007.

[27] Ibid.

[28] From a presentation by Vilma Amendra of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (Colombia) at York University, Friday, January 11, 2008.

[29] Address to Bolivia Rising meeting in Toronto, April 5, 2008.

[30] Interview with Marcelo Saavedra Vargas, April 21, 2008.

[31] John Bellamy Foster, Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.

[32] See, for example, speech by Chávez on December 15, 2006, summarized in "Chávez Calls for United Socialist Party of Venezuela." Socialist Voice, January 11, 2007.

[33] Blanco's remarks to an informal gathering in Toronto, September 16, 2008.

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John Riddell’s article “From Marx to Morales: Indigenous Socialism and the
Latin Americanization of Marxism” is a much needed contribution to today’s arsenal of Marxism for application in Abya Yala, or Indo-Black-Latino America, and logically for many other arena of global struggle against imperialist and capitalist depredation and exploitation. I hope it will be rapidly reproduced in other publications , and translated to Spanish by a native speaker of that language, and why not, into Quechua and other indigenous tongues.

In the course of my work in collaboration with Peruvian indigenous and campesino leader Hugo Blanco, a Marxist friend wrote, in the framework of an internet discussion list, a posting that expressed a concern that solidarity with indigenous struggles often passes over into idealist and ineffective nostalgia for a “return to nature,” for times past that cannot ever be again. He was concerned that we would end up denying "progressive" aspects of the history of imperialist expansion (such as the current revolutionary impact of the Black minority in the United States) by a misdirected effort to turn back the clock of history.

I responded with the following message, obviously edited to remove references to other individuals involved in a multi person exchange, and for space reasons.

Felipe Stuart C.

Neither Hugo Blanco nor I have argued for a nostalgic return to the good old days of an imagined primitive communism or even to the pre-Conquest days.

Hugo is very explicit on that question.

He says we do not want to return to the past. We want – he explains – to know and honor our past and take from it essential elements to struggle today for our future.
The essential elements he points to are the communistic traditions of social organization and the respect and love of nature – an integral cosmovision whose essential core can lay the basis for a new morality and cultural mode in the socialist transformation of our continent.

Mariátegui was one of the first Marxists in the western hemisphere to break from schematism, and to appreciate the contribution that indigenous traditions and culture could make to the anti-imperialist and anti- capitalist struggle in Indo-America, and to social transformation beyond capitalism.

I think Eurocentric Marxism and to some degree the Marxism taught by George Novack (a longtime leader of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party … lacks the benefit of Mariátegui’s contribution. We should recall that Mariátegui made this advance without the benefit of Marx’s ethnography notebooks and recent discussions of his nuanced and dialectical appreciation of the potential role of the Russian peasant commune. But he did have before him the revolutionary shift in Bolshevik policy on the nationalities question when they broke completely with pre-1917 schemas and embraced the national minorities, Islamic religious and cultural rights, autonomy for Soviet Jews, and so on.

Don’t get me wrong -- I deeply respect George Novack’s contribution and consider his writings to be indispensable tools in ongoing socialist educational work. Some of his writings on combined and uneven development are crucial to unraveling some of the tightest knots in understanding Indo-Afro-Latin American history, especially the false debate about feudal or capitalist social relations in colonial times. But a good dose of Mariátegui would have enabled George to avoid some pitfalls [a Google search for George Novack and/or Pathfinder Press will turn up quite a number of his books and essays].

The notion that the defeat of the ancient commune and the rise of class society were inevitable and progressive is one sided and ultimately false.

Ernest Mandel addresses that question in the Chapter on Labour, Necessary Product, Surplus Product of his major two-volume work Marxist Economic Theory. After describing the progressive functions of the “new possessing classes,” he makes the following observation:

“The technique of accumulation has been used to justify the appropriation of extensive material privileges. Even if it be historically indispensable, there is no reason to believe that it could not have been applied eventually by the collectivity itself” (p. 41, 1971 Merlin edition).

The shattering of the ancient commune and the forging of class society, exploitation and oppression, and the rise of the state were not inevitable.

Mandel also notes:

“The Marxist category of ‘historical necessity’ is moreover much more complex that popularisers commonly suppose. It includes, dialectically, both the accumulation of the social surplus which was carried out by the ancient ruling classes, and also the struggle of the peasants and slaves against these ruling classes, a struggle without which the fight for emancipation waged by the modern proletariat would have been infinitely more difficult” (p. 42, 1971 Merlin edition).

[We might now want to change his sentence to read: “the fight waged by the modern proletariat and subjugated semi-colonial and indigenous peoples would have been infinitely more difficult” (FSC)].

No serious modern thinker would express nostalgia for the conditions of existence of pre-class communal tribal life, or yearn for a return to such days. But, as Blanco argues, elements of that tradition survived and became central to indigenous cosmovision in Abya Yala (the Americas) and today are central to their resistance to imperialist and capitalist domination, and to their defense of nature against capitalist depredation.

Mandel makes an interesting point that relates to this discussion:

“It is only when the division of society into classes begins, when the social division of labour, and the need to justify exploitation appears, that ideology in the sense of ‘bad conscience’ can arise. The old mentality, based on primitive clan communism, slowly dissolves. But its vitality remains very great, and thousands of years have to pass before the last traces of these feelings of elementary solidarity disappear. It is, moreover, by utilizing these feelings of solidarity and co-operative discipline within a communistic society that the first ideologists in the service of the ruling classes endeavour to persuade the working classes to accept their situation of permanent inferiority. This is the ‘organic’ conception of society, which is worked out in order to justify a social division of labour identified with the division of society into rich and poor, privileged persons and producers, those who give orders and those who obey them.”

[At that point, Mandel offers an insightful footnote about Karl Polanyi’s fascination with naturalism. “A curious echo of this ‘organic conception of society is to be found in the writings of certain modern critics of economic liberalism, such as Karl Polanyi. The latter treats even slave owning society as a society which ‘integrated the individual into society’ and makes no distinction between the way a free member of a village community saw his position and the way this position appeared to a slave or a serf.”

We should also note that this line of thought is directly related to the historical role of religion. The rise of Christianity is propelled both by a social movement against slavery and oppression, and in a dialectical progression, the imposition of the naturalist ideology discussed by Mandel. But it remains to this day, also the “sigh of the oppressed”. Ditto for the Muslim faith, and many others.

The spiritualism of indigenous peoples is different. It is not ideological. It did not arise to justify or to camouflage exploitative and alienating social relations. Mandel also explains this difference very succinctly and well by in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 18, The Origin, Rise and Withering Away of Political Economy (Op cit., p. 690).

In today’s world of imperialist subjugation and capitalist destruction of the very material conditions of life (the environment), indigenous spiritualist cosmovision takes on a revolutionary potential when integrated into the international proletarian and plebian struggle for socialism.

I was puzzled by your court summary of how the Aztec empire was supposedly destroyed by a couple of hundred Spanish soldiers. Similar arguments are made about the defeat of the Inca, although it took the Conquistadores a bit longer and cost them much more to occupy the Andes. However, the military relationship of forces is only part of the explanation of the historical catastrophe of the European conquest, as seen from the point of view of the original inhabitants of Abya Yala. The main factor was not force of arms, but disease.


We do not weep or even sigh about the conquest, although sighs can be healthy and positive, and even weeping at times. But we do rejoice at the great and powerful resistance struggles. We do celebrate 500 years of Indigenous, Black, and Grassroots Resistance (I was one of the central organizers of the huge conference on that theme held in Managua the week of October 12, 1992 attended (it now seems ironic) by a young indigenous militant from Bolivia by the name of Evo Morales, and by Rigoberta Menchu who had just received the Nobel Peace award).

So I would like to turn your apparently ambiguous attitude towards indigenous tradition into an active pursuit of a great tradition, a cultural “rescate” (recovery).

I am reminded of the assertive words on the license plate in Quebec -- Je me souviens (I remember); or Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie. It has been put to song in dozens of interpretations and formed the basis of novels and stories (see

Is it reactionary for the Quebecois or the Acadien to yearn for the times before the British conquest?

When we do that are we yearning to go back to feudalism, indentured labor, and survival farming in a climate and geography we poorly understood? I don’t think that is what characterizes these cultural expressions, any more than Hugo Blanco’s arguments are part of a movement to go back to a “Native” world of times past. They are assertions of pride in and for the oppressed and suppressed culture, for the language and song of the oppressed, for our traditions, for our elders and ancestors, for the blood of our resistance to conquerors and imperialists then and now. For our liberation! …………. (fin)