Aug. 24, 2016
By W. T. Whitney Jr.
For a half century both the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) have held up as their goal peace with social justice. And until the 1980s the two Marxist – oriented organizations did so together; many FARC-EP members, and especially leaders, belonged to the PCC.
They shared strategic understandings, particularly the “thesis of combination of all forms of mass struggle,” which the PCC introduced at its 10th Congress in 1964, the year the FARC-EP was formed. (1) The idea was that armed struggle, the province of the FARC-EP, would accompany regular political agitation for rights, for change. That thesis fell by the wayside when, following the PCC Congress in 1980, “the way of a political solution” steadily took precedence over armed struggle. And relations between the two groups cooled.
Now the armed struggle of the FARC-EP is finished, courtesy of the agreement the insurgency signed August 24 with the Colombian government. Does the PCC deserve applause because its approach prevailed? Marxist theorists of an earlier age cast armed struggle as the last-resort mode for defending the revolution. Is the FARC-EP showing weak resolve as it gives up on armed struggle?
Commentary from Marxist – oriented participants in these struggles may add to our understanding of the historic agreement and of developments on the way. Their opinions, which may shed light on our questions, appear below in the participants’ own words, which surely carry an authenticity lacking in any summary devised by a distant observer.
Cause for Celebration
On August 25, the PCC’s Executive Committee took notice. Its communication reads in part: “The conclusion of agreements reached at the negotiating table in Havana is the most transcendental happening in the life of the country. Joy is legitimate; it’s the triumph of the way of a political solution, of constructive dialogue, and of the view that the signing definitively nails down the end of military confrontation between the government and the FARC-EP.
“ … The Colombian Communist Party sends congratulations for this achievement gained after four years of arduous and complicated talks culminating in a happy ending. The beginning of the most difficult part comes now, specifically the coming together of the people and a commitment by all to a Colombian society mobilized to monitor implementation of what was agreed to and carefully to assure that anticipated outcomes are realized.
“The first and most important task will be carrying out the plebiscite of October 2 and mobilizing patriotic citizens for backing the agreements that were achieved with a “Yes” vote. They open up horizons of democratic changes, of social reforms, and provide a stimulus to a future people’s intervention toward deciding a new direction for the country, and doing so through a primary constituent [assembly].” (2)
Class conflict and the balance of forces.
Carlos Lozano, director of the Communist Party’s Voz newspaper, wrote an article August 12 entitled “FARC: ‘Without an amnesty, there’s no signing of a final agreement.’” Excerpts appearing below illustrate Lozano’s key ideas on the matter: one, that the insurgency and government reached agreement as equal partners and, two, class conflict will inform struggles in the post-agreement period. The full Spanish – language version of Lozano’s article is accessible athttp://prensarural.org/spip/spip.php?article1996. He writes that:
“In the press conference after the signing of the protocols on August 5, Commander Carlos Antonio Lozada in straight-forward fashion stated that, ‘Without amnesty there’s no final agreement, and there’s no transfer of the guerrillas to the zones [where arms will be given up.’ The cock doesn’t crow any clearer, says the popular refrain. It’s obvious that agreements without amnesty and without a roadmap make no sense. There wouldn’t be any guide for their implementation. The national government must fulfill every commitment made at the table in Havana, as dictated by the bilateral nature of the agreements. There must be no delays or vacillations and certainly no concessions to the enemies of peace that President Santos and government spokespersons often want to slip in.
“It doesn’t generate confidence, for example, to minimize social investments in the national budget for 2017. They are indispensable for carrying out what was agreed upon in regard to agrarian development and other social gains. The same is true with adoption of the Army’s Damascus Doctrine, a plan for war in the “post-conflict” era. Continued non-fulfillment of the agreements with the Agrarian Summit (3) and with labor organizations has a similar effect … It seems that following the peace agreement, in the new democratic conditions, contradictions between capital and labor will accentuate and will stimulate popular mobilizations. It’s the dynamic of class struggle in social and popular confrontation with neo—liberalism and exploitation by capital.
“… The road of a negotiated political solution – this is proven – is the only possible one in the face of the failed military way. The government is mistaken when it thinks that the guerrillas are sitting at the negotiating table under conditions of defeat. The discussion takes place among equals; it’s conditioned by a rigid concept of bi-laterality.”
Jaime Caycedo serves as the Colombian Communist Party’s secretary general. His observations in response to preliminary agreements reached by the peace negotiators on June 23 and to the Constitutional Court’s authorization of a plebiscite for endorsing the final agreement appeared August 2 in the party’s Voz newspaper and its web site. After briefly noting these milestones, he presented an analysis which, translated, appears in full below. It’s accessible in Spanish at:https://www.semanariovoz.com/2016/08/25/razones-del-si-en-el-plebiscito-desde-la-lucha-popular/ According to Caycedo:
“Each point agreed upon implies a complex chain of measures taken to implement it, both politically and in the courts. And most of the time, institutions dominated by counter-insurgent power will be doing the implementing.
“As part of the campaign “Yes, Peace is Yours” (La Paz Sí es Contigo), we are defending a vision differing from the “Yes” campaign promoted by the government and so-called National Unity. The main challenge of the plebiscite is that for the first time the people will be intervening with their vote on the decision to move from war to peace. In the crude debate among factions within the bourgeoisie, agreement on a Yes vote involves much more than supporting the President so he might give a clue as to some commitments. Basically, it’s a manifestation both of the defeat of the military solution for counterinsurgency and of consolidation of the way of dialogue, of the political solution, and of agreements for overcoming the social and political armed confrontation, so traumatic and prolonged. Despite limitations, it’s a civilizing advance for the country. The challenge for the left and for advanced forces is to agitate for Yes while making demands for the people along with raising the flags of an authentic democratic opening and pressing social reforms.
“The government discounts the seriously negative effects of mistreating citizens’ demands and protests against unpopular measures. They include: the ZIDRES law (4), privatization of Isagén, (5) removal of public entities like ETB and GTI away from majority ownership by Bogota’s city government 6), the police code, reinforcement of ESMAD and its heinous criminal role (7), and the announced tax and pension reforms which will aggravate the situation of the middle class. Under that logic of class dynamics, the government and the Capital District (Bogota) are linked. However, one must not underestimate their estrangement, thanks to which dialogue may open up.
“The slogan of No at the head of Uribe’s ultra-right formations is in fact a utopian proposal for ‘renegotiating the accords’ in order to send ex-combatants to prison and prohibit their participation in political life. What they could not achieve on the battlefield they want to accomplish now through electoral play-acting aimed at blocking the course of the process. The uncertainty they provoke may lead to abstention from the polls. Their opposition to “pedagogy for peace” in favor of the Yes vote is grotesque, sneaky, and irrational.
“But some sectors campaigning on the left are offering a radically-mistaken short term analysis; they end up providing a favor to people specialized in torpedoing the political solution and dialogue. Their campaign is distracting and deceitful. The moderate and extreme right understands what is happening but marks their red lines on different points. Distracted forces on the left don’t understand the sense of the historical moment, nor do they calibrate the possibility that they may close the accords off from future use in struggles by the people.”
The role of armed struggle: revolution or reform
The FARC-EP, having long proclaimed Marxism as its north star, is now after 52 years giving up on armed struggle as its route to revolutionary change. In a recent article, quite long, Gabriel Angel, a FARC combatant and writer on political themes, deals with the accusation, real or imagined, that the insurgency has given up also on revolution and will be content with agitating for reforms within the context of regular politics. Angel’s article, dated July 5, 2016, appears in Spanish on one FARC-EP web site and in English on another. Here we present excerpts of his analysis, titled “Pathways for revolution and socialism are still being explored.” Parts of the English translation have been re-done for clarity.
Angel evokes a hypothetical criticism from the “radical left.” He envisions a charge from that quarter alleging that the FARC-EP, “champions of armed insurgency and violent revolution, have now become reformists, traitors and simple social democrats.” He continues:
“According to the accusers, the world is divided into two clearly distinguishable camps, imperialism and its lackeys on the one hand, and on the other, peoples in struggle to bring about the revolution and socialism. If these last haven’t been able to triumph, it’s basically because they’ve not applied the correct line drawn by Marxism-Leninism.
“… The line is clear, the revolution is a violent clash promoted by a peasant-worker vanguard that takes away power from the capitalist class through armed insurrection, which in turn results from a maturing of objective and subjective conditions. … The latter are the heritage of the most loyal followers of Marxism and are revealed in the works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin. They yield a set of immutable principles that should be applied without any variation. Capitalism is a decadent system that is about to collapse and therefore its fall depends solely on the audacity and coherence of the vanguard party. … [That’s why] the FARC-EP must send the Peace Talks and the signed agreements to hell, and instead call for the general uprising of the population.
“… With all the respect that these critics may deserve, we have to say that they are deeply mistaken. Revolution, like any other human activity linked to a dispute over state power, is first and foremost a political situation. And politics consists of gaining the support of others towards a political purpose. A victorious politician is the one who has an overwhelming number of followers.
“Therefore, a revolution will only be victorious when the great masses don’t just figure in the mind of spinners of dreams but appear in the reality of struggle. … As long as the evil bourgeoisie can rely on the acquiescence of majorities who, for whatever reason, prefer to take refuge in the shade rather than fight, then no matter how loud rebels shout or how noisy their guns are, it will be impossible to gain victory.
“Moreover, only a fanatic could deny that they rely on an enormous military and repressive apparatus, hold the reins of formal education, and are owners of the mass media dedicated to shaping people’s opinions. And they control scientific and technological knowledge, and by virtue of all this, they can impose a cultural hegemony that traps and shapes awareness.
“We think we’ve moved beyond old debates on Marxist dogma. For all of us, Marxism is clearly a valuable source of economic and social knowledge. We regard its invaluable dialectic heritage as a guide rather than a series of commandments. Abraham Lincoln liked to repeat that a compass shows us where north is and the direction we want to take, but it doesn’t show us the chasms, deserts, or the mud of the road.
“… In politics, it never will be enough to think that we alone are right and, more to the point, rely on that idea to drive us forward. Massive support from others will always be needed and that doesn’t happen through spontaneous generation, and not easily under the unequal conditions affecting the people’s movement as it confronts ruling – class power. To gain massive support requires conditions that allow us to reach out to people, talk with them, create class consciousness, organize and mobilize.
“…We still continue to live in a capitalist world as was the case in 1917, but it is wrong to consider that the situations of a century later must be examined with the same criteria that Lenin applied to his time and place. The system has developed much more, today’s world is more complex, the ruling classes have acquired their own counter-revolutionary experiences and even the proletariat is qualitatively different.
“… We live in the historical period that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and socialism in Eastern Europe, which opened the door to the globalization of capital and its neoliberal policies. We live in a moment of absolute arrogance of imperialism. Its capacity for plunder and its amply-demonstrated ability to subjugate people cannot be ignored. We are obliged to recognize the disorderly retreat of the revolutionary movement we are part of, but such an interpretation, we add, ought not to be understood as a recognition that it’s defeated … Fortunately, all over the world there still are people and organizations who haven’t abandon hope and are committed to upholding the validity of revolutionary causes and socialism
“… We regard ourselves as part of this wave that needs to be strengthened on order to advance. Coinciding with the revolutionary chaos that followed the fall of the Soviet Union, the Eighth National Conference of the FARC-EP launched its proposal for national reconciliation and reconstruction, which presented a more elaborate version of our old approach to find a political solution to the conflict, within the framework of democratic and anti-neoliberal proposals … We, revolutionaries, had to survive and it was essential to find a discourse that would find a response from the masses.
“People … in the capitalist countries experienced … the end of social welfare model, the closure of one factory after another and their transfer to the Far East, the tide of layoffs, privatization of basic services formerly owned by the state, precarious working conditions, bankruptcies due to liberalization and foreign competition, social decline, and overwhelming insecurity.
“These dire consequences of the neoliberal model played out in Colombia, where agents of the underground drug economy quickly seized the State, and initiated, in partnership with major sectors of the traditional parties, a violent onslaught against those who opposed their plans. The State itself became their ally in fighting the insurgency, providing legal and social status to paramilitarism.[We see] multinational financial investment in infrastructure, mega-mining, and agriculture for export … Millions of peasants were stripped from their land.
“A revolutionary organization as experienced and responsible as the FARC-EP understood what the moment required: debate over the validity of the revolution and socialism gave way to proposals dealing with this tragic reality. Responding to the deepest longings of the people, we arrived at an interpretation calling for the people to be prepared for struggle for the most profound transformations.
“ … But at a time when all voices of the establishment and significant leftist groups were trying to convince us of the need to demobilize, the FARC-EP took on intense military confrontation; we fought without hesitation against the state and its paramilitaries. We shed our blood and many valuable combatants gave their lives.
“….Indeed, it has been our armed resistance that gained for us the space of the peace process in Havana. It joined the outcry of millions of Colombians for peace and for the end of neoliberal policies threatening the very existence of the human species. In Havana we waged a political battle of historic dimensions to assert our idea of peace with social justice and democracy. The agreements signed so far show that.
“Since the beginning of the government of Belisario Betancur (mid 1980s), the FARC-EP has worked tirelessly to achieve a political solution to the internal armed conflict in order to democratize national life, defeat state terrorism, and direct our country towards a destination other than one imposed by savage capitalism. The proof of our make-up as consistent revolutionaries lies in our 34 years of intense military and political confrontation.
“To achieve a politicalsolution requires an ample dose of political realism, specifically of Marxism applied to Colombian conditions today….The FARC-EP will transform into a legal political movement, preserving our cohesion and historical unity with the purpose of broadly working with the masses of exploited people in Colombia, for the fulfilment and extension of all that was agreed to in the negotiations. … And, we have not abandoned, nor will we abandon, our ideological and political convictions for revolution and socialism.
“We think it’s impossible, what with the objective correlation of forces, to continue our armed struggle within new conditions of legality and guarantees [created through the peace process] … The giving-up of arms represents the culmination of everything achieved through their use and through the strength of the masses.
“ … Today’s revolutionaries are still exploring pathways for revolution and socialism. History does not stop; class struggle beats within stronger than ever. They say David really did defeat Goliath with a simple slingshot. We remember this story merely as a religious myth but do suggest they each had their own mass support. We remember too that it takes the right kind of mass movement to achieve victory.
Translations by the author
“Gilberto Viera – Pensamiento, Obra, y Vida,” Ediciones Izquierda Viva, Bogotá, 2005, p.64
A primary constituent assembly aspires to establish a new state and new political system; it’s different from a derived constituent assembly which reforms an existing constitution.
The Agrarian Summit, formed in the wake of an agrarian and indigenous strike in 2013, convened first in March 2014, and since has advocated for rural populations.
ZIDRES is the acronym for Zones of Interest for Rural, Economic and Social Development for which legislation was introduced in 2015 aimed at economic and social development of remote, little-used land, but which, according to critics, interferes with small farmers’ access to land and thus with the agreement on agrarian rights fashioned by the peace negotiators.
In January, 2016, the Colombian state sold its majority share in the Isagén energy corporation to a Canadian company
ETB is Bogota’s publically – owned telecommunications company which the mayor wants to privatize. GTI signifies Grupo Técnico Interinstitucional.
ESMAD is the acronym in Spanish for Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron, which functions as Colombia’s national police riot control unit.