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CWI Latin America school: A continent on the brink
CWI Latin America school, photo CWI
Members and supporters of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) in Latin America met for a very enthusiastic and successful political education school in Brazil between 3 and 7 February.
Those who attended came from Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Venezuela and were joined this year for the first time by members of a group from Argentina, reflecting the growth of the CWI in Latin America.
TONY SAUNOIS, international secretary of the CWI, reports on a confident meeting that reflects the growth of the CWI in the continent.
The first two days of the school dealt with historical and theoretical issues to equip CWI members with a Marxist understanding for the struggle for socialism today.
The crucial lessons of the Russian revolution in 1917 and of the conditions that led to the rise of Stalinism in the USSR were discussed. This was followed by debate and discussion on the role of a revolutionary party and how to participate and intervene in the class struggle.
All these sessions began with an introduction at a plenary session and then broke down into workshops, which saw lively participation, especially by the newer and younger members present at the school.
As more people arrived, discussions followed on the world situation and the struggles and present conjuncture in Latin America.
The debate on the world situation facing the working class at the present time largely concentrated on the effects of the economic crisis in Europe. In particular, the crises in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal featured heavily, along with developments in Britain and Germany, and the role of the CWI sections in these countries.
The discussion underlined the importance of economic and social developments in China, which have an impact globally, but also on Latin America because of China's increasing economic influence in Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and other countries in that continent.
A theme of this discussion, and of all the sessions, was the political consciousness of the masses and how Marxists explain socialism and the need for a revolutionary socialist alternative.
The lively discussion on Latin America was opened with a general overview of developments on the continent. This was followed by reports from CWI members from Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil and discussion on these countries.
The following day the school heard reports from Chile and Argentina which were also followed by debate and discussion.
CWI Latin America school, photo CWI
The economy in Venezuela is deteriorating. President Hugo Chavez has recently devalued the currency which has consequences for the working and poor people in the country.
The 25% increase in the minimum wage announced by the government has not compensated for the massive price increases which have followed. In addition to this, an energy crisis is having a devastating effect. Many areas of Caracas only have access to water for three days a week and power cuts of up to eight hours a day are common! The government was warned of this crisis in 2003 but did little to take preventative measures.
There has been an increase in protests by workers and other sectors of the population. Over 800 demonstrations have recently been reported throughout the country. Unfortunately, the government has responded to these developments by increasing repression. Over 2,000 leaders or activists who have organised protests are currently imprisoned. Many of these are left-wingers, some of whom have supported Chavez.
Speakers from Venezuela raised the possibility of the forthcoming parliamentary elections being suspended if the crisis deepens. Chavez has declared that he wants a 75% majority or else it will mean "civil war".
The need to avoid falling into the trap of either ultra-leftism or opportunism was stressed in the discussion. It is essential for Marxists to warn of the counter-revolutionary role of the pro-capitalist right-wing politicians and at the same time explain the need for the working class to develop its own independent programme and organisations to take the revolution forward.
This can only be done successfully on the basis of genuine workers' democracy and control and not the top down administrative, bureaucratic and repressive methods used by the Chavez government.
CWI Latin America school, photo CWI
An approach based on building independent democratic workers' organisations is also required in Bolivia. The massive landslide victory of Evo Morales in the recent elections illustrated the support which exists for a transformation of Bolivian society.
In the last two years, Bolivia has experienced the highest growth rates of any Latin American country. This is largely due to the rise in commodity prices and also partly reflects the steps that the Morales government has taken to clean up the massive corruption which existed under the old regime.
At the same time Morales and the government leaders are not taking measures to confront capitalism and replace it with a democratic socialist planned economy.
Although in a less sharp manner than in Venezuela, some elements of a top-down approach are also being applied. Since the elections, some former members of the right-wing pro-big business PODEMOS have not only been taken into membership of Morales' party, the MAS (Movement for Socialism), but they have been imposed as MAS candidates in the forthcoming local elections. In Santa Cruz, even members of a far right, semi-fascist organisation have been taken into membership of the MAS.
In the right-wing dominated states of Media Luna, the MAS made important advances and the right wing were pushed back. In one of these states, Benin, the MAS won a majority. Yet for the forthcoming elections for state governor, the MAS has imposed a 24 year-old former 'Miss Bolivia' with no experience of politics, as candidate. These steps reflect how the Morales government is attempting to compromise with capitalism rather than take the necessary steps to defeat capitalism and landlordism.
Another aspect of recent developments has been that many of the leaders of the social movements and the trade unions are also now members of the Congress and Senate and maintain their positions in the leadership of the social movements. This is a clear attempt by the ruling class to control the social movements and incorporate them into the state.
It is important to stress the fragile nature of economic growth in Bolivia, which has given Morales some room to manoeuvre and grant reforms. If the economy goes into recession these reforms can be attacked, as has happened in Venezuela. But the powerful revolutionary traditions which exist in Bolivia and the massive support for accelerating the movement to change society, especially following the crushing election victory, can give rise to powerful revolutionary explosions.
One important feature of this discussion was the need for the CWI sections in Bolivia and Venezuela to stress not only the need to break with capitalism, but to establish a democratic socialist federation of Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador, on the basis of democratic workers' and peasants' governments.
This would allow the democratic planning and integration of these economies which would strengthen them and given an example to follow in other Latin American countries.
CWI Latin America school, photo CWI
The government in Argentina enjoys no such stability or support. In fact there has been a dramatic fall in support for the government and for the president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, elected in 2007 after a series of six presidents in as many years.
The economic crisis has been reflected by the sacking of the governor of the Central Bank by the government. At times now there are as many as 15 to 20 strikes a day taking place. The government has 80% disapproval ratings and, despite the fact that voting is compulsory, only just over 60% voted in the last elections. A massive political vacuum exists leaving the working class with no party of its own to defend its rights.
One aspect raised for discussion in this session was what governmental slogans and demands to propose in the absence of any independent political organisation of the working class.
The possibility of the military being prepared to organise another coup, given the collapse in support for the government, was considered in the course of the discussion. However, it was agreed this is not the most likely scenario at the present time.
A massive strike of 80,000 petrol workers involved violent confrontations with the police. But while strikes and other protests are taking place they are largely fragmented because of the failure of the CGT and other union confederations to unify the struggles and call a general strike. The old warning used by the Peronists: "with the leaders at the head of the movement or we will have the head of the leaders" is very popular, reflecting the angry mood that exists.
Much of the discussion regarding Chile centred on the outcome of the recent presidential elections. Despite the victory of Sebastián Piñera, a right-wing candidate, this did not reflect a swing to the right in Chilean society. Piñera stressed during his campaign that he was not the candidate of Pinochet and his victory is not perceived as such in Chile.
This result was on a lower turnout than previously, with the vast majority of young people not voting. That is despite big movements of the youth in recent years. Some older workers voted for the outgoing coalition as the "lesser evil".
José María Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister, has argued that Chile could follow Spain and elect Piñera for two terms in office. It is more likely that Chile could follow Spain by going from economic growth to a deep recession.
Aznar was overthrown by a rebellion against his government, largely because of its intervention in the Iraq war and attacks against the working class. Already Piñera's victory is provoking the 'whip of counter-revolution' as a new layer is contacting the CWI in Chile saying: "now we must do something as the right is in power".
This was the first school following the unification of the former Brazilian section of the CWI, Socialismo Revolucionario, with the former CLS (Socialist Liberty Collective) to form the LSR (Liberdade, Socialismo e Revolucao - CWI in Brazil).
Members had travelled from all over Brazil - Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Campinas, Goas, Porte Allegre and other important areas - to participate in the lively debates and discussions at the school.
In Brazil workers' struggles and the crisis of capitalism are in a different phase to the situation in Bolivia and Venezuela. Although attacks have taken place against the working class, Brazil has not yet been severely affected by the world economic crisis. In part, this is because deregulation of the banking system has not been carried through, which helps to protect its financial system from the full impact of the financial crisis. However, this will not continue indefinitely and new shocks in the world economy will have a greater impact.
The debate featured the important struggle inside P-SOL, the broad left party formed in 2004, for a left-wing presidential candidate and the formation of a United Left Front for the elections later this year. This has been a crucial battle inside P-SOL, in which the CWI in LSR has played a crucial role. It is increasingly likely that Plenio, a left potential candidate, will now be selected by P-SOL.
The election will not be easy for the left. Brazil's relatively strong economy has allowed Lula, the president and leader of the pro-big business Workers Party, to grant limited concessions to some of the most oppressed. Although these have been combined with some neoliberal policies they have resulted in approval ratings of 83% for Lula. His chosen successor, Dilma Rouseff, is gaining in the polls and could beat the traditional right-wing capitalist candidate.
This makes the need for a clearly socialist left campaign even more important. At the same time, other important developments, such as the formation of a new trade union centre later this year, are also taking place. These developments are of crucial importance in preparing the left activists in Brazil for the battles which will develop after the election and with the onset of a new economic crisis.
A vibrant discussion on the environment was one of the most popular sessions at the school. This issue is of crucial importance in Latin America.
In Sao Paulo, recent heavy rain has resulted in a human catastrophe at Pantanal, the largest illegal urban land occupation, flooded since the beginning of December. This occurred when the state government closed the flood gates to protect the main motorway in Sao Paulo. Thousands have had their homes flooded and lost everything.
A campaign and struggle by the local population was organised, the 'Movimento de Urbanizacion e Legalizacion do Pantanal'. From the beginning, Brazilian members of the LSR have played an active role in this struggle and have formed part of the leadership.
A protest outside the state government saw people bring snakes, rats and other animals which are now floating in the houses and streets of the flood zone.
Very lively commissions were also organised at the school on work among the youth, the trade unions, and women and on LGBT issues. Despite the baking heat, the sessions of the school often continued until 10 or 11pm.
The carnival season is beginning in Brazil and the sessions were followed by socials with dancing, usually led by comrades from Rio, who lead music and theatre groups in some of the favelas. All who attended the school left with confidence that the CWI will strengthen its forces in Latin America in the next year.
The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) is the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated.
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