John Liang

The Paradox of Colombia

(Summer 1958)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.19 No.3, Summer 1958, pp.109-110.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dance of the Millions. Military Rule and the Social Revolution in Colombia, 1930-1956
by Vernon L. Fluharty
University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh 1957, 336 pp., illustrated. $6.

The great paradox of Latin America is that while it yields up enormous riches, its peoples remain desperately poor. The more bountiful the riches, in fact, the more intense is the poverty. An unending stream of wealth pours forth from the good earth and its subterranean treasure vaults. Here most of the world’s coffee is grown. Exquisite woods are hewn from the forests. Oil in abundance is pumped from great underground pools. Base and precious metals, as well as gems, are mined. And this bare catalogue only begins to tell the story.

All this wealth is held in the grip of tiny groups of native property owners and foreign exploiters. Native governments, usually dictatorships financed and armed by the US, stand guard against the masses. Here is the basic explanation for the recent anti-Nixon riots which turned an intended “goodwill tour” by the US vice-president into a violent manifestation of ill will toward the representative of dollar imperialism.

Colombia, about which Fluharty wrote his book, is a typical Latin-American country. Home of fourteen million people, it is a fabulously rich land of half a million square miles, with a remarkably varied topography, in which snowcapped mountain peaks rear high above steaming equatorial jungle. Fluharty tells us all about the land and its resources, its racially mixed people, their class relations. His book is also a lively, often dramatic, narrative of the country’s economic and political history dating back to 1910.

Fluharty was a career officer in the US Foreign Service who held a post in Colombia for a number of years. At the time of his sudden death on January 7, 1957, when his book had already been completed, he was an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh. In view of this background, it is rather remarkable that he was able to write about American imperialism without enclosing the word “imperialism” in quotation marks, for it is the contention of the apologists of US imperialism that the beast simply does not exist except in the imagination of Communist agitators.

The central point of Fluharty’s book is the military coup of June 13, 1953 that elevated General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla to the Colombian presidency. In the author’s view, this was not just a typical Latin-American revolution in which one palace clique is replaced by another, but a veritable social revolution. The distinguishing factor was the entry of the masses onto the political arena. Rojas’ assumption of office marked the termination of a bloody five-year civil war that began with the Bogota riots of April, 1948, in which whole sections of the capital went up In flame. Ten years have since elapsed, a full decade. Yet class and social relations remain, essentially, what they were then.

What we have here, very obviously, is an incompleted revolution. After five years of turmoil, society settles back into the old pattern. The possessing class feels reassured. The masses feel cheated. Here is Fluharty’s picture of post-1953 Colombia – the Colombia that supposedly had undergone a social revolution:

“Colombia is predominantly agricultural; the whole society is still permeated with feudalistic thinking, with reverence for the Great Families, with the validity of the peasant-patron relationship. Half the national income is in the form of some type of dividend earnings from investment, which means a few relatively idle rich existing on the labor of the masses. Three per cent of the people control 90 per cent of the wealth, and the remainder is scattered through a 97 per cent composed of mestizos, mixed bloods, and Indians, whose lot is poor housing, no education, illness, and poverty, with the hope of living under such conditions to an average 39-40 years.”

The incompleted revolution, in Fluharty’s view, poses a dilemma. Liberalism, which arose under the conditions of revolution, is now dead – killed by its own hand. For the Liberal party, which emerged from the 1948-53 upheaval, unfailingly surrendered to conservatism (i.e., native-imperialist interests). That, of course, is the destiny of liberalism, though Fluharty didn’t realize it. But with liberalism “tragically” bankrupt (the adjective is the author’s), how is Colombia’s problem to be solved?

This, according to Fluharty, is the dilemma – “whether to turn back, to conserve the entrenched values of the past, or to move firmly toward a modern, balanced society in which the interests of all classes were equitably reconciled in a mood of mutual understanding. This is still the major dilemma of Colombia.”

In this illuminating passage is revealed the incorrigible bourgeois democrat. Fluharty spent many years observing and recording facts and finally embodied them in a book – just in order to advocate a reconciliation of class interests that he himself has shown to be irreconcilable. For how do you reconcile extreme poverty with extreme wealth? Fluharty’s idea seems to be that the lords of Colombia and their US partners and patrons should give up some of their wealth so that the masses may shed some of their poverty. It just never occurred to Fluharty that in Colombia and the rest of Latin America the solution of his “dilemma” lies not in futile preachments aimed at class reconciliation, but in the abolition of classes. That means revolution, the overthrow of the native ruling class and its imperialist partners, and the utilization of their properties for the benefit of all the people.


Last updated on 30.3.2005