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Petras Wrong on the Resurgent Right in Latin America

with 13 comments

James Petras has come out condemning the resurgence of the radical right in Latin America. He blames the centre-left for failing to make inroads into ruling class power and instead acting like they were neo-liberals, balancing budgets and protecting the interests of international capital. Well, this is exactly what the history of Latin America is all about, the middle class co-opting the unruly masses into popular fronts until the right has had time to reorganise its strength and re-asserted its political rule.

The title of Petras article is the ‘Paradoxes of Latin American Development’. But there is nothing paradoxical about the phenomenon he observes. It is very clear. Center-left governments are bourgeois governments and will not seriously challenge private property. They are actually popular fronts designed to coopt the ‘left’ -workers and poor peasants -into the center, and stop it from taking power. But in order to convince workers that popular fronts can solve their problems, left wing parties must actually claim that the center-left is ‘socialist’. The more revolutionary the workers and poor peasants are, the more apparently ‘revolutionary’ must the left wing of the popular front be to succeed in deceiving the workers.

Petras should know his history. In the very country where the popular front has been most successful, Bolivia, all of its features are well known. The most revolutionary vanguard in Latin America’s history, the miners who adopted the Trotskyist Theses of Pulacayo and led the 1952 national revolution, could only be diverted from revolution by a so-called Trotskyist party – the POR Lora.

Instead of calling for a workers’ government in which the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie would have no place, the POR Lora labeled the MNR bourgeois government ‘petty bourgeois’ and said that it could be controlled by the miners by appointing more miners as ministers in the to government. The result was that the bourgeoisie were able to recover their power and drive back and defeat the revolution over the next decades.

In Bolivia today, a new popular front, that of Morales and Linera is backed and kept in power by the same POR Lora and other fake Trotskyists, as well as by Castroite union leaders. Meanwhile, the workers and poor peasants who are willing and ready to fight are kept isolated and diverted from mobilising while the center-left organizes yet another referendum and the right is freely attacking workers and organising to secede with 80% of the nation’s resources.

The problem is that Petras doesnt want to know this history because he advocated a vote for Morales in 2005 deceiving the workers and poor peasants who had forced Mesa to resign and the government to flee from La Paz to Sucre, and trapping them in the Morales/Linera centre-left popular front that he now condemns. This is because Petras does not acknowledge centre-left governments as popular fronts. He sees them as governments that can be pressured to the left by social movements and the unions who join such governments demanding ministers and policies that require strong measures to limit the power and wealth of the ruling class.

So instead of owning up to his own popular front politics for helping to bring about the reactionary situation in Bolivia today, Petras must always ultimately blame the masses for failing to put enough pressure on the popular front to force it to attack the right instead of doing deals with it. Petras feels particularly aggrieved at the moment, because having worked so hard to get all these center-left regimes in power, they are all betraying him. He has, rightly, condemned Chavez for calling for the disarmament of the FARC. It is time that Petras recognised that his politics are bankrupt because they rely on popular fronts and an exchange theory of capitalism.

Written by raved

July 2, 2008 at 5:57 am

13 Responses

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  1. I think reversing the 2002 coup in Venezuela, counts as more than holding time, until the right can take over.

    In Venezuela the concept of “socialism in the 21st century,” was invented by Heinz Dieterich, who has major sway over Chavez. The good news is that Alan Woods wrote a book, that answers the reformist argument, and Chavez is reading it.

    There is no arguing. It’s either socialism or barbarism. The oligarchy no matter how concillatory Chavez is towards him, has him in its sights.

    I agree with disarming FARC. They have no program to meet the needs of Colombia. Only agricultural reform and two stage revolution is a death sentence. They should disarm, and give their weapons over to working class organizations in the cities.

    Morales is a weaker leader than Chavez. Still his fights for constitutional reforms and against seperatism, need support. If someone better than Morales would arise, fine.

    Venezuela is in transition. There will probably not be elections for presidency next time. Either it’ll be a socialist republic or the oligarchy will be in power.

    I don’t buy calling reformist governments popular fronts. More accurate is probably transitional governments.

    Petras has been friendly with my comrades. They think of him as academic.

    Renegade Eye

    July 2, 2008 at 9:51 pm

  2. Gidday Ren,
    Taking your points one at a time.
    Who reversed the coup of 2002? The people. We need more independent mobilisation of the people, like the Sidor workers, in every workplace, and based on rank and file congresses, not misplaced faith in Chavez’ regime.
    I havnt read Woods book, but in my book his is a policy of pressuring Chavez as leader of a popular front. Its the same pressure politics that the POR used in 1952 in Bolivia, and it will lead to the same disarming of workers. In other words, Wood is acting as a left cover for the popular front. In reality the vanguard of the workers is far ahead of Chavez and he catches up only in order to put the lid on the vanguard. Sidor is a classic case.
    Against the oligarchy and US imperialism we have to defend Chavez without making any political concessions to him. Because, as our progam says, if you do that for a minute, you give up on building an independent workers’ revolution.
    Disarming the FARC is the politics of imperialism. We also disagree with their program which is ultimately a bourgeois program. But we support the FARC militarily in the same way we support Chavez regime against imperialism. As we argue, Chavez by calling for the disarmament of FARC is acting as an ally of EU imperialism in an attempt to play off what he sees as a more democratic imperialism against US iimperialism.
    Comparing the strength/weakness of leaders is part of popular frontism. It ignores Trotsky’s analysis of the role of semi-Bonapart leaders in Latin America.
    Its the same argument that POR used against Paz Estenssoro, that he was weak and incompetent in introducing reforms for the masses, when in fact his class interests prevented him from doing so, quite the reverse. You are saying that Chavez strength makes the difference, wheras to his credit Chavez has often said that his strength is that of the people who support him. Give him credit where its due he can read the people and steps in in time to meet some of their demands. That’s why Petras must in the end blame the people for not pushing the popular front hard enough to head off the resurgence of the right.
    Fiinally, the key point which is the telltale sign of dumbed down marxism – failing to recognise a popular front when you fall over it. Where did Lenin or Trotsky use the category ‘reformist’ government? This term begs the question of the class nature of the regime. The Chavez regime is not administering a workers state so it must be administering a bourgeois state. The best bolshevik (Trotsky in the 1930s) conception we have of the ‘populist’ regimes common in Latin America is the popular front, usually based on a ‘popular front party’ includes all classes including the progressive bourgeosie.
    Such as party was the PRI in the 1930s and the MNR in 1952, and the PSUV in 2008. The dumbed down POR called the MNR a ‘petty bourgeois’ party. Another attempt to fudge the class nature of the regime. But the worst thing about the 1952 betrayal was that it was complete. It succeeded in containing the first and only Trotskyist led revolution in Latin America, and the fake Trotskyists who played this treacherous role remain in place playing the same role today.
    As yet Venezuela falls far short of the revolutionary situation in Bolivia in 1952. The Trotskyists are not as dominant in the trade unions, the workers are not the only armed force (the bourgeois army has not split or collapsed). Only the level of illusions in Chavez are at the same level as the illusions of the POR in Paz Estenssoro. That is a very dangerous sign.
    Just as Woods is advising Chavez what he should do for the revolution, the POR were writing many articles and giving many speeches advising Paz on how to make the revolution. Meanwhile as Petras bemoans, the right renewed its forces for the reaction.
    If Wood’s book is onliine, I will review it.


    July 3, 2008 at 12:14 am

  3. Woods’s book is brand new. Our branch doesn’t have copies yet.

    Don’t you do entryism?

    The IMT’s entryism isn’t classical Trotskyist style. It is based on ideas of Ted Grant. He believed when the working class moves politically as a class within itself, it gravitates to the organizations it’s most familiar with, as unions, labor parties etc. Its first impulse is not to join the International Marxist Tendency or the Leninist-Trotskyist Faction. We have people in groups as the PPP in Pakistan, British Labor Party, Israeli Labor Party and even the Communist and Socialist Parties in France.

    Renegade Eye

    July 3, 2008 at 8:06 am

  4. Yes, entryism is a good tactic. It is very dependent on conditions. I think Grant turned the tactic into a strategy, particularly the entry of Militant in the British Labour Party.
    I advocated a tactical entry into the PSUV while it was in the process of formation, even though it was a popular front party. Not to kick out the bourgeoisie and the bureaucrats (this is popular frontism as it argues that a workers majority is sufficient to control the party. This sows the same illusions as the POR sowed in the MNR that lectured the minority how to reform capitalism for the majority with tragic results) but to break the workers out of it to form an independent party. My position was between Stalin Borges who called it a workers party, and Chirino who refused to go into it to fight for workers to break out of it. But to stay in it (which I assume Woods advocates) now that its character as a popular front party has been consolidated (i.e. when the workers claim that their majority can defeat the bourgeoisie) would in my book capitulation to the popular front.
    If Woods justifies long term entryism in the PSUV as a ‘bourgeois workers’ party, or social democracy, I think this is a fundamental mistake of the kind I talked about in the comment above, namely that the worst sort of dumbing down of Marxism in LA is not to recognise a popular front when you fall over it.


    July 3, 2008 at 10:44 am

  5. See this.

    The PSUV is in the Second Int’l.

    FARC: 1) Their presence justifies Plan Colombia funding for the “guerilla problem.”
    2) They have a Maoist two stage program combined with only a rural program.
    3) Their tactics make the oligarchy look good.
    4) They have no urban support.

    They should move to Bogota.

    Renegade Eye

    July 3, 2008 at 5:22 pm

  6. I have to study Bolivia in the 1950s. The Moreno people talk about it all the time.

    Renegade Eye

    July 4, 2008 at 1:31 am

  7. I read the Petras piece.
    Very diplomatic. At least he acknowledges that Chavez deals have always subordinated the building of a independent working class party at home (he should also add in Colombia, Brazil and Argentina where Chavez conciliates anti-worker regimes). But he doesnt explain the ‘structural’ explanation – a Bonapartism that tries to balance between imperialism and the masses where the local agents are secondary actors.
    The call for the party to be independent of the state is too little too late. The party/ state exists, thanks to endorsement by Petras et al. PSUV Second International? No it was formed by the state unlike social democracy that arises out of the labor aristocracy and bureaucracy. But even if the PSUV is social democrat how can the existing SD party/state be revolutionary? At most it would be a social democratic bourgeois government.
    The call for an independent party rings hollow since it is framed as a counterweight to the risks run by a ‘revolutionary’ regime. That looks to me like retrospectively baptising a social democratic party to put pressure on the bourgeoisie in the popular front.
    Also he is very dismissive of the Left Opposition position on Stalin’s bloc of 4 classes in China in the 1920s. It wasnt a moral critique of Stalin but a rejection of the menshevik popular front to ended in tragedy.
    What the FARC should do is be defended against Uribe and Imperialism. We do not put conditions on national bourgeois resistance to imperialism. Internationalists would be raising the same demands as elsewhere, armed, independent workers party leading poor peasants to smash imperialism and its local lackeys. But we don’t make acceptance of our program a condition of defending the FARC from imperialism. Anymore than we make this a condition of the defence of Chavez against imperialism. Or Mugabe.


    July 4, 2008 at 4:11 am

  8. See this.

    You put conditions on national, bourgeoise movements all the time. The alternative is slavish solidarity campaigns.

    Chavez gave the FARC a chance to deliver the hostages with honor, and they blew him off.

    Renegade Eye

    July 5, 2008 at 3:38 am

  9. See my post on Palestine as you make the same mistake as your leaders who can’t distinguish between a military bloc (this is very specific it is not a slavish solidarity campaign) and giving no political support, as in the case of Hamas.

    Chavez is pissed off at the FARC because the US/Uribe got to the hostages first. So he puts a condition on the anti-imperialist fight of the FARC (not serious of course, but the only one). Disarm and become populists like us. But the US/Uribe doesnt want populist competition it wants dead FARCs.

    Chavez as Petras says is negotiation his regime survival between US and EU imperialism. Its a short step from that to defending the Bolivarian revolution in one country instead as Petras almost brings himself to say, calling on workers in all the Bolivarian countries to bloc militarily with the FARC against US and EU imperialism and their popuilist stooges in Latin America.

    I’ll read the IDOM article you mention.


    July 5, 2008 at 10:45 am

  10. […] as wage labor or as direct producers. This is the classic underdevelopment theory today promoted by James Petras to name one prominent contemporary exponent. It is also the ideology that underpins the populist […]

  11. As Marxist revolutionaries our method of struggle is the method of the urban working class: strikes, demos, lectures, general strike, armed uprising when the conditions are ripe.
    The guerrilla method is the method of peasant based organizations. During a revolutionary situation our road is for tactical alliance with the armed guerrilla subordinated to the strategy of working class uprising.

    In the face of capitalist states we will defend the peasant based guerrilla against the persecution by the capitalist army.

    All the states in Latin America are capitalists. When Chavez is calling on the Colombian petite bourgeois revolutionaries to disarm, free the hostages for nothing while their comrades are in prisons and end their decades-long armed struggle, he exposes himself a leader of a capitalist state in alliance with the Colombian capitalist state and right wing regime against the leftist guerilla. It is as if he would call on the Palestinians to disarmed themselves in the face of the Israeli oppression.

    When the IMT is justifying this position of Chavez, they simply prove that they are traitors to the working class revolution. Their cheap tactic of end tailing a populist bourgeois politician presenting him as a great working class revolutionary is typical of Pabloism. Their cynicism of saying that the FARC would disarmed itself for the working class to arm itself is no more than a farce. The truth is always concrete. What specific working class organization Chaves is arming in Colombia?

    Yossi Schwartz

    July 12, 2008 at 7:28 am

  12. […] posture against the US ‘evil’ empire. The model for this is Latin America where national populism is an historical response to the domination of the US Empire and its direct intervention in regime […]

  13. Reblogged this on Situations Vacant.


    September 11, 2018 at 10:50 am

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