Latin America Burns between Revolt and Repression

For decades Latin America was the United States’ "backyard", although more recently it has also been seen as a den of "socialists". Today it is undergoing a deep crisis that spares neither the big countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, nor the small ones such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

Submitted by Internationali… on January 3, 2020

The entire South American subcontinent is on fire. Millions of people, workers, peasants and an ever-increasing proportion of a petty bourgeoisie in the process of proletarianisation, driven by hunger and poverty, have taken to the streets, and filled the squares in search of a political "solution" to their pressing basic needs.

The result is a shuffling of the cards on the South American table. For the most part it is left-wing governments of the “pink tide” which are being toppled or are struggling to keep going. Right wing forces are fanning the flames in the hope of coming to power. In the middle, the working class is moving, facing both the repression of incumbent governments, and the illusory, as well as impracticable, promises of the opposition forces. In the face of such an economic, social and political collapse, many bourgeois analysts are decrying the failure of the various paths to “socialism” that have characterised the economic and ideological path of many countries in the area, from Brazil to Venezuela, from Bolivia to Ecuador. Nothing could be further from the truth. The tragedy playing out in those latitudes is nothing but the consequence of a global crisis that started in 2008 in the form of a financial crisis of sub-prime loans. Its harmful consequences grind on both in the highly industrialised countries and in the "periphery" of capitalism, leaving no room for recovery in any country, and certainly not in those who have always lived in the shadow of this or that imperialism.

If we look at the economic composition of the South American countries, not with a magnifying glass but with a simple pair of glasses, we can see that under those leftist regimes, there has never been anything socialist except rhetoric about the underprivileged masses and the working class to ensure an electoral basis that allows this or that caudillo to remain in power.

This crisis exploded in the financial sector only because so much capital, no longer finding adequate profits in real production, had moved into speculation. Financial channels were so choked that the speculative bubble exploded, and through the complex meanderings of the financial markets, swamped the entire capitalist world. The only difference is that the bubble first exploded in the countries most affected by the crisis of the fall in the rate of profit, and only later in the periphery. While in the USA and in Europe the banking systems were saved using public, or rather workers' money, in the peripheral countries which don’t have this option, the crisis, although arriving later, is more virulent.

The financial crises that have devastated the national currencies of these countries have the same capitalist origins as in all the other advanced countries. The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange has lost 50% of its capitalisation. Inflation has risen to 54% but is set to rise further. In a few months, GDP has fallen by 35%.

In Argentina, to take another example, the peso has fallen by more than 50%. The outgoing government of Macri had to agree to a loan of $57 billion with the IMF in exchange for heavy sacrifices. Capital fled abroad and wages halved creating a food emergency and a poverty levels that far exceed the official statistics of 30% of the population. All are the consequences of the failure of a capitalist economy and not of a socialist experiment, and you certainly cannot say that is the case with a right wing government like Macri’s.

We can say the same about Venezuela, though the details are different. The political contest is between Maduro, Chavez’ chosen successor to continue the hypothetical Bolivarian road to "socialism", and the rightist Guaidò financed by the USA.1 The international economic crisis that, in this case, has hit a country rich in raw materials, primarily oil, is also behind this. This crisis within the crisis has brought a wealthy country like Venezuela to the world’s attention. With the price of oil falling, the allegedly socialist government immediately found itself in difficulties. In the good times it had not diversified the economy but based everything on the oil revenue that had allowed Venezuelan billionaires to export their "savings" to the US, and had given only crumbs to the Venezuelan people in terms of school and health care, to ensure a social base for their electoral purposes. With the oil "crisis" due to the low price of crude oil, poverty has increased exponentially, GDP has fallen by 37%, crude oil exports have dropped "thanks" also to the US embargo and inflation has reached 1 million percent. In this case too, whether Maduro remains or Guaidò comes to power, nothing will change, either in the economic structure of the country, or in the conditions of the working class.

In addition, a game is being played out in Venezuela between Russia and China on the one hand (funding of $4 billion from Moscow and $62 billion from China since 2005) and by Trump’s USA on the other. Trump is supporting his right-wing candidate to the tune of billions, even if we do not yet know the real figure that reaches Guaidò’s pockets in support of his political campaign. Despite the fact that Maduro managed to implicate him with drug dealers, and forced a top Venezuelan institution to cancel his self-proclamation as President, Guaidò organised a major demonstration against the government at the end of November, and remains the only candidate accepted by Trump.

On the right, the same goes for Chile, the world's leading copper producer. With the crisis and the reduction in trade, thanks to Trump's tariff policy, the Chilean economy, which is a monoculture totally focused on the extraction and marketing of copper, has collapsed, taking with it the rest of the country, which lived on the crumbs from the trade in this commodity. As in all capitalist countries, the crisis has favoured capital flight, speculation and corruption, just as in Argentina and Venezuela. The inevitable revolt provoked by hunger has involved miners, workers in related industries and two thirds of the population. The result is that despite the revolts, the right-wing government has not resigned and power remains in the hands of the strong man of the moment, the billionaire President, Sebastian Piñera. Of course, he hasn't changed the neo-liberal economic policies of his predecessors at all, so much the worse for the working class and, as we said, for substantial sectors of the petty bourgeoisie too. The discontent and anger thus continued to build up among these social strata, until a measure – in itself modest – such as the increase in the price of underground tickets, was enough to make the situation explode. Violent protests headed mostly by young workers and the petty bourgeoisie (students) led to street clashes with the bourgeois police and Army who have dusted off their usual, but always brutally effective, methods learned in the Pinochet era, to brutally suppress them.

In a similar storm in Bolivia, Evo Morales was first forced to resign and then flee to Mexico, leaving power to the right wing rule of Jeanine Añez, a pro-American senator who claims to, who knows how, put things right, if not economically then politically, by creating a new strategic alignment with Washington.2 Then there are the revolts of the starving in Ecuador and Colombia where Duque's right wing government is in power with US backing.

At the moment, the whole of Latin America is under fire from the permanent global crisis, which allows no economy, not even the strongest ones to escape its grip, a grip which has moreover been tightened by those very countries where the crisis started. In the most important countries of South America, imperialism is re-running an old, tragic script of pressure and interference. The United States aims to take back its own backyard, while Russia and China are trying to maintain the positions they held until recently with their great economic, commercial and strategic advantages.

It is the same macabre game they have played in the Middle East, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, intervening warily but without, at least for the moment, clashing directly. Instead they wage wars by proxy. In Latin America the tragic game has produced the fall of governments, through the exploitation of the hunger, misery and continuing impoverishment that has blindly moved millions of workers who find it impossible to live in a manner worthy of a human being rather than that of a stray dog. Unfortunately, they very often heed the sirens of the opposition parties and their most munificent imperialist backers against the incumbent bourgeois faction, hoping for a few crumbs from the table of the rich to give relief to the poor people, that is to say to the proletarians themselves who possess nothing and who can hope for nothing from the future.

Returning to the original axiom of the leftists who see in all this the failure or the violent interruption of the various "socialist" experiments in favour of the re-introduction of American imperialism into the South American area, a few things must be reiterated. First of all, from Brazil to Ecuador, from Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution to that of Evo Morales, there is no socialist experiment to be saved. In all the countries of Latin America the parties of the so-called left have done nothing but administer capitalist production relations to the best of the interests of the ruling class or of the caudillo of the day. Those who made themselves President for life, have allowed a small circle to enjoy the oil revenue (Venezuela), or an income from the trade in copper (Chile). Where the mineral riches are less substantial, older bourgeois schemes have carried on favouring both private and more often the state bourgeoisie, who have administered the few resources available at the expense of a working class reduced to the passivity of plebs, sensitive only to the aforementioned crumbs that could fall from the table of a rich bourgeoisie, fattened by speculation, corruption, and whatever they managed to extract from the exploitation of the working class.

It is also time to tell these same partisan analysts and "leftists" who think that US imperialism is the only imperialism, that Russia, China, with the participation, to lesser degrees, of Great Britain, Spain and France also operate in Latin America, equally exploiting its people and mineral resources. It is also a ridiculous error to label as “socialist” any regime based on state intervention in the economy and finance: whether in absolute terms, in the form of state capitalism, or in relative terms of state participation in the most important national companies. Statification in their minds is equivalent to socialisation, without taking into account the capitalist economic categories that underlie it. And it is for this reason that they only mobilise (verbally at least) in favour of the governments of the "left" against American imperialism and not against the other imperialisms which, by simply opposing the US, automatically become for them an anti-imperialism worthy of support.

That is also why they never grasp the fact that the current crisis is a crisis of the entire capitalist system. There is thus no right-wing imperialism that has to be fought and no left-wing imperialism that needs to be supported. Imperialism is all one and it does not have a right or a left that distinguishes it. The national bourgeoisies of both right and left both live on the exploitation of "their" raw materials and on the exploitation of the workers who produce them. Capital, whether private or public with state participation always has the aim of valorising itself and can only do so on one condition: through the exploitation of labour power. And finally, the principle must apply that when the masses move, take to the streets, clash with the (capitalist) forces of order, as in this case, they must not be directed towards another bourgeois or, even worse, imperialist outfit, but must be guided towards the only possible class objective: the destruction of the capitalist state under whatever ideological guise it adopts.

The essential premise for a revolutionary solution is a change in the relations of production that does not provide for the continued existence of capital, and its need for expansion. The solution lies in breaking the relationship between capital and the labour force, eliminating social classes, thus also income differentials, and the eternal gap between rich and poor. This is the slogan that must be launched amongst the working class and the desperate in Latin America as well as in the rest of the capitalist world. But for all this to have a beginning it is necessary that the masses have a political point of reference (the revolutionary party) in their movements, an adequate tactic (no compromise with the bourgeoisie of the right or "left", or with populism and nationalism of any kind), and a revolutionary strategy that has in its programme the constitution of a society without capital, and without classes. This means a society which respects the ecosystem by producing goods to satisfy the needs of the entire population, and not commodities for the benefit of just one part of it.

December 2019

  • 1For more background see and
  • 2Our comrades of the Internationalist Workers’ Group (USA) wrote this in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Morales. It can be found on their Facebook page.

    "Re: recent happenings in Bolivia

    Evo Morales lost a referendum vote that would have allowed him to run without term limits. After he ran and won anyway there were protests. And the military strong armed him into stepping down to preserve political stability. So, he did.

    Now, the unions and other appendage-organizations to MAS (Morales’ party) are calling on the right-wing opposition to step down by threatening to issue a call for a general strike and mobilizing their supporters against the government, whose seat is in La Paz, Bolivia’s capital.

    Naturally, a not insubstantial segment of the Left is twisting this into saying that workers are fighting to defend the gains they’ve achieved under Morales or, even worse, the absolute idiocy that they’ve set up dual power.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Morales’ was never (nor could it be, since it is impossible to use the capitalist state for socialist ends) a workers’ government. On the contrary, he has always been a faithful servant of capital. Indeed, Morales presided over the largest period of sustained economic growth in the country’s history.

    That growth was, of course, made possible by intensive capital accumulation through import substitution and the development of new extractive projects in the Amazon, which is to say by the savage exploitation of the region’s rich natural resources and local working class.

    There along, Morales redistributed some of the spoils of capitalist exploitation to the poorer sections of society through an (unprecedented in the country’s history, but actually quite modest) expansion of social safety nets which was fairly successful in reducing extreme poverty in the country.

    Although, it should be noted that these concessions were made by his government to pacify the working class, which had proven its combativity years earlier in 1999.

    This is what the ‘gains’ of the Pink Tide government in Bolivia have actually amounted to: in the achievement of temporary strategic concessions on the part of capital brokered by a developmentalist regime.

    All those on the Left who defend Morales today demonstrate an essentially liberal understanding of the ebb and flow of class struggle, wherein the latter can be reduced to the question of “which party is at the head of the capitalist state.”

    By contrast, the only possible gains for the working class would be the building up of its organizational strength and political independence from capital. Short of this, nothing else can guarantee the success of its emancipatory struggle.

    Workers can’t win their freedom by lining up to fight for their exploiters, whether they be on the Left or the Right. Neither Morales/MAS nor the Opposition; workers must develop their own independent fighting organizations to topple the institutions of the bourgeois state!

    Edit: This is not an official statement. There will be a more comprehensive piece with sources published soon. Obviously this piece does not address every issue since it is only a brief overview. Even then, this is perfectly consistent with left communist (class) positions. We are sticking to our statement and not changing our positions to cater to bourgeois politics.

    There were no confirmations on vote rigging (hence why we originally used the word “probably” and nothing definitive) so claims of misinformation as “spreading imperialist lies” are simply slander and misrepresenting our position. It is unnecessary to focus on either way, because it does not matter whether or not the elections were actually rigged. It was simply mentioned to explain the referendum process as background information and context. As communists, we are not concerned with term limits or rigged elections or debating the “legitimacy” of a ruler - they were only mentioned for context to explain the sequence of events which occurred in Bolivia.

    We maintain the viewpoint that it is possible to oppose a right-wing coup without supporting Morales. It is not one or the other, as internationalist communists we do not support social democracy or any imperialist faction. We condemn all sides and expressions of capitalism, whether it be social democracy or fascism (this is not equating them, simply stating a fact). We only support the working class - something that can be done outside of the confines of bourgeois politics and parliamentarianism.

    The narrative that you have to be either “pro-Bolivia” or “pro-US” creates a false dichotomy which is an obvious call to nationalism - something that we have always opposed. Framing support for the Morales administration as support for the “Bolivian people” includes both the Bolivian bourgeoisie and working class, categorizing them as one group that shares the same struggle - which does nothing but hinder class struggle in favor of nationalism. We support the Bolivian working class - as part of the global working class, we share in our struggle against the bourgeoisie. And what the working class needs is to self-organize and form independent organizations to fight against bourgeois state institutions - not critical support for a social democratic administration that will do nothing to further the communist programme. Workers of the world unite!"