Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador (PCMLE)

Latin America: The “progressive governments”,
the current situation and the people’s movement

Pablo Miranda

The first decade of the 21st century was the scene of the rise, through elections, of various “progressive governments” in Latin America. These governments came about under special circumstances, when the struggle of the masses and youth was recovering from the ebb that occurred in the 1990s, when the neoliberal policies were worn out and showed their inability to resolve the crisis, at a time when the prestige of the bourgeois institutions and the traditional political parties had hit bottom. These governments emerged with the support of the trade union and popular movement, of the political organizations and parties of the left, but they also expressed a realignment of the various sectors of the ruling classes, including the international monopolies, mainly from the U.S.

These governments proclaimed their opposition to neoliberalism, to the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., to the chains of external debt, calling for its renegotiation. Internally, they lashed out at those entrenched in power, at the traditional political parties, at corruption and selling-out. They proclaimed democracy, change, the revolution that they gave different names, “citizens”, “Bolivarian”, “Andean revolution”, “21st century socialism” in opposition to the revolutionary struggles and governmental experiences of the revolutionary Marxist-Leninists of the 20th century.

The arrival of these governments coincided with the rise in prices at the international level of the natural resources, raw materials and agricultural products produced in appreciable quantities in the various countries of the subcontinent. During this period the most serious international economic crisis since the 1930s took place, which began in the U.S., spread around the world and significantly affected the dependent countries, mainly in Latin America. However, in Latin America the consequences of this crisis were overcome relatively quickly, precisely because of the rise in commodity prices. In many countries of Latin America, such as Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Costa Rica, foreign direct investment, loans and the purchase of millions of hectares of farmland multiplied. In almost all of the countries, huge resources are being invested in gold, silver, copper, lithium and iron mining, as well as in oil exploration and exploitation. This aggressive penetration of international capital contributed to the growth of GDP, which appeared as the manifestation of the generosity of capitalism as a system and of foreign investment, and, in the case of the “progressive governments”, as an expression of interdependent development.

These circumstances were common among all the Latin American countries, regardless of the political orientation of their governments and expressed in sustained growth rates of an average of 4.5% for roughly a decade. However, in 2013 this growth fell to 2.7%, and for 2014, the World Bank estimates that it will fall to 2.2%.

Latin America has always been considered the backyard of the U.S., and the U.S. government defended that circumstance in the economic, diplomatic and military field. However, the other imperialist powers of Europe and Asia, the international monopolies are not ceasing their policy of capital export for the exploitation of natural resources, for banking and finance and even for industrialization. In recent years China has become a power in the export of products of light industry and one of the largest lenders.

In most countries that macro-economic development was expressed in large public investment, in modernizing of the economies, in an aggressive welfare policy directed to the poorest sectors of society, in the formation of an electoral base of support among the masses.

Most of these “progressive governments” proclaimed a nationalist discourse, combating neoliberalism and the oligarchies, and they succeeded in achieving a good deal of popular support at the polls. Some of them, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia talked of “21st century socialism” and presented themselves as an alternative to revolution and socialism, which they reviled as anti-democratic and failed.

Despite the nationalist discourse, including anti-U.S. imperialist discourse, the U.S. monopolies and their governments always understood that the capitalist system was not at risk; and that due to the disappearance of the USSR and its area of influence, these progressive governments had to remain in the sphere of the U.S. monopolies; this led to tolerance toward these regimes. This tolerance always included political and economic pressure to completely reintegrate them into their spheres. In Venezuela they are openly intervening in support of the reactionary political organizations, of coups, lockouts, street riots and terrorism.

These “progressive governments,” all representing the interests of a sector of the bourgeoisie, were able to form a group of countries that expressed their alignments: ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), and further, at the regional level UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States); at the same time they are putting pressure on the OAS.

The popular movement, the unions, teachers, youth, women, indigenous people and environmentalists who resisted and fought neoliberalism, which were forged in those battles, in essence to direct their actions into electoral contests and in all those countries they supported the alternatives that later became the progressive governments.

These new circumstances of an objective and subjective character significantly influenced the understanding, consciousness and state of mind of the working masses and the youth. The bombastic discourse of the “progressive” chieftains, the intense work of social democracy and opportunism, the fulfilment of a part of their electoral promises and the diatribes of reaction and the right in opposition to those governments affected the behaviour of the organized popular sectors.

They determined the need to support certain changes in the course of the economy and politics, to push forward the democratic and nationalist positions towards consistent positions. They agreed to postpone some of their own demands for the benefit of the general interest. Some sectors promoted the illusion that those governments and their projects would be the way to solve the problems of the workers and the development of the countries. To a large extent these events were a breeding ground for the development of reformist, pacifist and opportunist positions that are found in the mass movement.

On the other hand, the emergence of these progressive governments meant the defeat and breaking up of the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie, of the reactionary right and of classical social democracy. However, all the ruling classes understood that these regimes did not affect their fundamental interests and coexisted with them to benefit from their policies. In the case of Ecuador, for example, the chambers of commerce, all the big business owners and bankers were and are benefiting significantly; they obtained revenue and profits higher than those achieved during the governments of the traditional parties. In fact, the various factions of the ruling classes have not given up challenging the government for succession through elections. In Venezuela the reactionary sectors and the oligarchy as well as the U.S. have chosen the path of coups, of economic destabilization and even the mobilization of the masses for street fighting.

The existence of these progressive governments has generally led to the demobilization of the trade union and popular movement. The illusions in the modernization of the country, in some concessions to the demands of the masses; the impact of the welfare policies; the configuration, except for the government of Venezuela, of dissuasive policies regarding the futility of the trade union and social struggle, of threats and blackmail and, in countries such as Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia the implementation of repressive policies restricting trade union and social rights, the right to organize and strike, leading to the criminalization of the social struggle, the persecution and imprisonment of social fighters have caused a significant level of demobilization of the popular movement.

On the other hand, the emergence of these progressive governments meant the defeat and breaking up of the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie, of the reactionary right and of classical social democracy. However, all the ruling classes understood that these regimes did not affect their fundamental interests and coexisted with them to benefit from their policies.

The developmentalist and reformist policies are reaching their limit

The progressive governments in Latin America have existed an average of ten years. In this time, everything indicates that they are nearing the end of their cycle. There are several factors limiting the economic growth of these countries, including:

  1. Declining commodity prices.
  2. The beginning recovery of the economies of the U.S. and of Germany in Western Europe.
  3. The slowdown in the economies of the emerging countries, China, India and signs of recession in Turkey, South Africa and Brazil.
  4. The aggressive growth in foreign debt, mainly with China, and the high interest rates imposed by this new creditor, an average of 6%.
  5. The reprimarization of the economy. The great majority of Latin American countries, including those governed by the “progressive governments/1 are net exporters of raw materials, mineral resources and oil, agricultural and livestock products. These circumstances are well known in Brazil and Argentina, countries whose exports are mainly soy, meat, wheat, iron and copper. The other countries are “specialized” in oil, gas, aluminum, lithium, bananas, coffee, cocoa, soy and flowers.
  6. Everything seems to indicate that a new worldwide recession is approaching that will significantly affect all the countries in Latin America; that in this new situation it will not be possible for the price of commodities to recover. As we know, there are signs of overheating in the economies of China and India, which will not serve as shock absorbers as happened in the 2007 crisis.

These circumstances are significantly limiting the tax revenues and therefore limiting the possibilities of continuing to show the material and social achievements that can shore up the support from the popular sectors.

In Venezuela, for example, despite the great production and export of oil and the huge revenues from these sources, the government has not been able to solve the provision of foods of basic necessity and the resources for the daily life of the masses, not even to a moderate degree. In Brazil, whose macro-development put it in sixth place among the major economies of the world, great social inequality is evident, as is the poverty in the countryside and the slums; the aspirations of tens of millions of young people who have no access to either education or work, who have no prospects in life, continue to be unfulfilled. In Ecuador, despite the fact that in the last six years Correa’s government had income higher than that of the previous governments in 50 years, the problems of poverty, unemployment and underemployment continue to devastate the great majority of Ecuadorians, with an unemployment of 5% and underemployment of over 50%, according to official figures. In Argentina, the surpluses in the trade balance were transformed into their opposite, into deficits, and the working class and the laboring masses are seeing their incomes decline and unemployment growing. In Nicaragua and Bolivia the economic growth rates are at the lowest level.

Post neoliberalism will not overcome the evils of capitalism

It is clear that in Latin America, in essence, the policies and achievements of neoliberalism are exhausted and are essentially superseded. The question is, what policies are replacing neoliberalism?

Essentially, neoliberalism failed in its intention of overcoming the general crisis of capitalism, and more specifically the crisis of international finance capital. The essence of neoliberalism was thrown overboard due to the resistance and struggle of the working class and peoples; but also successive readjustments within the monopolies affected their intention, in their dispute over the appropriation and concentration of wealth, and among the various sectors of the ruling classes in each country. To face the international crisis of 2007 they aggressively utilized public monies, and indeed the role of the states was again decisive. The monopolies acted in their own defence through public policies both in the imperialist countries as well as in the dependent countries. However, labour flexibility and freedom of trade for the monopolies basically continue in force.

As we have noted, in Latin America, the emergence of the “progressive governments” set neoliberalism as their principal target, it expressed the discontent of the working masses and the youth and put forward some new policies. In the name of change they readjusted the pieces so as not to affect the system; the ruling classes, the big business owners and bankers preserved their interests and increased them, utilizing a smokescreen of investing significant amounts of tax money to promote public works, wage concessions and aggressive welfare policies. In the name of sovereignty and independent development, they renegotiated dependency with the U.S. and the European Union; China with its booming economy aggressively entered into that “re-engineered” global economy for its own interests.

In the final analysis, in most Latin American countries, but especially in those where there exist “progressive governments,” the policies of neoliberalism are being superseded, which does not mean entirely cancelled. In their place one can see a modernization of the economies, which goes hand in hand with important tax revenue. Public works are especially visible: highways, ports, airports, hydroelectric plants, hospitals and schools. In no country in Latin America have the interests of the monopolies and the oligarchy been affected; in no state have social reforms that were begun been consistently completed. In all the countries the process of capitalist accumulation comes from the exploitation of the working class and the other labouring classes.

In the case of the “progressive governments,” these post-neoliberal policies led to demobilizing the workers and popular movement, sowing illusions, dividing the trade union movement and in some cases trying to corporatize workers hand in hand with government action.

The popular movement in the new scenario

The awe of the masses regarding the democratic and patriotic character of the progressive governments in Latin America is fading. This is mainly because the essential problems of the masses have not been resolved, because the dependency of the countries of Latin America remains a reality.

Important events are taking place:

  1. The disenchantment of the popular masses and the youth regarding the solution of their basic problems and the illusions created by the material progress and development of the country.
  2. The unmasking of the developmentalist and reformist character of these “progressive governments” in most of the organized trade union and popular movement and among important sectors of the youth.
  3. In Ecuador much of the indigenous movement is involved in the struggle against the repressive and anti-democratic character of Correa’s government. In Bolivia, despite the multinational proclamations an important sector of the indigenous peoples are distancing themselves from the Morales government and are calling for their own rights.
  4. Demonstrations of discontent and dissatisfaction with the economic and social situation of sectors of the workers and mainly of the youth that are seen in marches, strikes and demonstrations to demand their rights. The march for water in Ecuador, the strike of teachers in Argentina, the mobilizations of the working class in Bolivia are part of these demonstrations.
  5. The mobilizations of the youths in 2013 that shook the streets of the major Brazilian cities are the highest expressions of the social and political struggle, with important ideological anti-system expressions. They are laying bare the achievements of the Workers Party government, showing them as serving capitalism and the big oligarchy and very far from satisfying the material and spiritual needs of the masses and particularly the youth.
  6. In other countries, those where the right-wing governments rule, the struggle of the working class, the peasantry and the youth for their rights, of the communities opposed to large-scale mining and for the protection of the environment, continue to develop in important degrees: the miners in Colombia, the workers in Mexico, the students in Chile, the communities in Peru, the peasants, teachers and students in Honduras
  7. Among the various organizations calling themselves left-wing, among the revolutionary parties and organizations, positions are being demarcated between reformist illusions and social change, between 21st century socialism and Marxist positions, between revisionism and Marxism-Leninism. The old revisionist parties joined up with the “progressive” capriciousness and are obsequiously on the side of the “progressive governments”; in the same camp are other political organizations of the petty bourgeoisie, as well as renegades from revolutionary positions. In the trenches of social change, of the revolution, on the side of the workers and peoples, in defence of their interests and rights, in the struggle to overcome capitalism are many of the organizations that defined themselves as left-wing in the past, new organizations that emerged in the class confrontation with the bourgeoisie and imperialism and, consistently, the Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations.
  8. The armed revolutionary struggle which took unequal forms in various countries of Latin America in the 20th century, which achieved victory in Cuba and Nicaragua and was defeated militarily in other countries, continues to be active in Colombia. This year the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) will mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the battles for the seizure of power; other forces such as the EPL (People’s Liberation Army) and the ELN (Army of National Liberation) are also persisting in the legitimate use of revolutionary violence.
  9. The theoretical and political debate between the left and the right, between revolution and reform, between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism is put forward and developed in all fields. That result will take place in theory and in practice.

There is the prospect of a new rise in the revolutionary struggle

The analysis of the economic and social situation, of the relationship of forces in the confrontation between workers and bosses, between the peoples and the oligarchy; of the contention between different factions of the monopolies and the imperialist countries; as well as the contradictions within the bourgeoisie in each country, allows us to foresee important political events in the near future.

  1. The working masses are facing in a determined manner the struggle for their wage demands and for stability, for the reconquest of their labour rights, and they are advancing in recognizing and acting as protagonists of change, for the revolution and socialism.
  2. The peasants are continuing their struggles for the defence of the water, for the land, in opposition to the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and European Union, against the large-scale open-pit mining.
  3. The teachers are developing the struggle for a civic education and for labour rights to new levels.
  4. The youth are joining the large mobilizations in massive numbers in defence of human rights, of the environment and nature, in defence of national sovereignty, democracy and freedom.
  5. The indigenous peoples are playing a leading role for national rights and are joining the struggle for social liberation.
  6. The theoretical political debate between the left and right, between reformism and the revolution, will intensify and the revolutionary, Marxist-Leninist positions will be affirmed in the consciousness and organization of the working masses and the youth.

The course of history cannot be held back. Capitalism is trapped in its insoluble contradictions, in the inter-imperialist confrontations and is besieged by the workers and peoples, and in Latin America great class combats will take place.

Pablo Miranda

Ecuador, March 2014

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