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Workers Socialist Review

Magazine of the Workers Socialist League
Affiliated to the Trotskyist International Liaison Committee

Written: 1981 / 82.
First Published: September 1982.
Source: Published by the Workers Socialist League.
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Workers Socialist Review
No. 2, September 1982

The struggle in Central America
Resolution of the TILC, December 1981

Since this resolution was discussed, there have been several changes of facade. Following the elections in El Salvador, the Christian Democrat president Duarte – who was always something of a figurehead without real control over the army – has been ousted in favour of a nominee of Roberto d’Aubuisson, described by a former US ambassador as ‘a pathological killer’. In Guatemala a coup has brought Rios Montt to power. But essentially the same struggle continues, between the same forces.

In recent weeks several thousand Honduran troops have entered EI Salvador to aid the Salvadorean army. The Nicaraguan government has reported that substantial armed forces have invaded from Honduras; the US government admits that US transport planes are running regular flights to the border. Our criticisms of – indeed, more than criticisms: expressions of class independence from and hostility to – the Nicaraguan government and the FDR-FMLN leadership in no way diminish our unconditional solidarity with them against the aggression of US imperialism and its local agents.

Since the overthrow of Somoza, Central America has been the scene of sharpening struggles. Over the last year the Reagan administration has sought with ever-greater desperation to weaken and reverse the mobilisation of the masses in Guatemala and El Salvador, to promote a counter-revolution in Nicaragua, and to cow the Castro leadership in Cuba.

In escalating its military presence in the area and returning to the politics of the Cold War, the moves of imperialism in Central America are a sharper expression of its world-wide strategy. But the challenge to US military and economic supremacy is also most acute in this, its own ‘backyard’.

Imperialist Strategy

By mid-November 1981 Secretary of State General Haig had begun openly preparing the diplomatic ground for a possible blockade of Cuba and Nicaragua as well as direct military intervention in El Salvador. These threats – which have always existed – have become more insistent and acute. They have been met by a defensive mobilisation of military force in both Cuba and Nicaragua, as well as loud warnings by the regime in Grenada that they fear a US invasion.

Yet Pentagon war chiefs are cautious about actual intervention. US imperialism faces problems in moving from threats to actions, because of:

* The weakening of its power – reflected in economic crisis at home and abroad, and repeated blows struck against its political power, particularly since the Vietnam War.

* The opposition that it would face – for diverse reasons – from the American people.

* The increased importance for imperialism of its relationships with Third World bourgeois and military rulers, who in turn have become increasingly conscious of their own interests in some instances running counter to those of their US sponsors. This means that the US imperialists could not necessarily count upon material support even from the most pro-US and anti working class dictatorships in Latin America. It is this latter fact which acts as an obstacle to the use of the so-called ‘peace-keeping force’ of the Organisation of American States in place of US marines in El Salvador – a course which would otherwise be cheaper, diplomatically more acceptable, and easier to sell to public opinion than a direct US intervention.

As regards direct US intervention, the Pentagon knows full well that it would not today be a question simply of repeating the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. National liberation struggles have advanced in strength and scope, and the US would be forced to fight protracted anti-guerilla wars in the face of mass opposition. US imperialism has an unhappy precedent for such actions in Vietnam – and has no guarantee that it would be able, even much closer to home, to avoid a repetition of the same experience.

But despite the large obstacles in the way of the US mounting a military intervention in line with Haig’s threats we cannot exclude the possibility that the Reagan administration could resort to such measures. Sound the alarm and mobilising on an international scale against any such intervention is a major task in the workers’ movement of the imperialist countries.

We should recognise that within the USA the campaign against intervention is based largely on the antipathy to new foreign adventures in the aftermath of Vietnam. Though the campaign is publicly headed by liberal sectors, it has gained most of its impetus in Congress from an essentially conservative reaction. The task of mobilising a proletarian internationalist opposition to the war drive has been evaded by the leaders of the US workers’ movement.

Social Democracy

In this situation a division has developed within the imperialist bloc between the USA and sectors of the European bourgeoisie. These elements – expressing themselves principally through the Second International – have declared major reservations about the Reagan strategy for Central America, and produced an alternative strategy which appears to challenge it.

This difference is most obvious in the Franco-Mexican recognition of the Salvadorean opposition front, the FDR-FMLN. This is particularly important because Mexico is the strongest local capitalist state, of great strategic importance to the USA.

Social democracy opposes the Reagan stance of strengthening the existing local oligarchies and their military dictatorships – a policy which has led inevitably to genocidal civil wars. Instead the reformists look to concede political independence and an end to absolutist rule of the landed bourgeoisies, in a bid to forestall the complete destruction of the capitalist state apparatus and thus preserve the basic property relations within a reconstructed state-capitalist regime. It envisages nationalisations sufficiently extensive to provide an infrastructure and guarantee of the long-term extraction of surplus-value by imperialism.

This strategy is less immediately threatening to the masses than the US war drive and its arming of the dictatorships. But ultimately it is equally as pernicious – since it seems to fit in with the aims of national liberation struggle and to coincide with many of the proposals of the petty bourgeois nationalist leaderships of the guerilla organisations. These leaders themselves seek only to achieve formal bourgeois democratic freedoms. But they, like the Second International, fail to grasp that such freedoms are not realisable in backward capitalist states.

Social democracy is also fighting for the hegemony of the bourgeoisie in the national liberation movements. This means limiting the mass mobilisation and fighting ultimately for bourgeois control over the very workers’ movement upon which the nationalists and social democrats themselves depend to accomplish their schemes. The strategy of social democracy rests on the containment of the anti-imperialist struggle and the suppression in particular of its socialist element.

Mobilisation of the masses

Nicaragua: In Nicaragua the initial class alliance forged by the FSLN is now falling apart. But it shows no sign of being replaced by a workers’ and peasants’ government based on a strong working class leadership. Meanwhile the Sandinista regime continues to follow its necessarily erratic and crisis-ridden course as a petty bourgeois leadership which is organically threatened not only by the domestic bourgeoisie (as in the constant tirades of the La Prensa newspaper) but also by the working class (bringing from the FSLN the typically bonapartist response of prohibiting strikes and independent proletarian organisation).

The US offensive has succeeded in revealing to the FSLN that imperialism is not susceptible to diplomatic overtures, but fights constantly for its interests – though the form of its fight varies according to circumstances. Hence after failing to obtain indisputable bourgeois hegemony in the new regime, Carter’s administration embarked upon the campaign of economic and diplomatic sabotage which Reagan and Haig are now escalating into a full-scale offensive.

To the petty bourgeois leaders of the FSLN the choice now appears to be between two alternatives – neither of which is a proletarian revolutionary policy. Either:

a) they must submit to client status to imperialism – the terms of which they cannot hope to negotiate – at the expense of their prestige and positions in the eyes of the masses of Nicaragua, or

b) they must make a clean break with imperialism, nationalising the remaining decisive sections of the economy and aligning themselves clearly with the Stalinist bloc. This course – with material aid from the Kremlin – could conceivably go as far as the destruction of capitalism and the creation of a deformed workers’ state, in a rough parallel with Cuba.

The Sandinista leadership – despite their rhetoric – show no signs of internationalist action. But while they continue to hold back the masses and fail – despite imperialist accusations – to provide necessary aid to the struggle in El Salvador and Guatemala, the FSLN will dig the grave of the Nicaraguan revolution. But the masses of Nicaragua must be offered a third, revolutionary alternative, based upon a turn to the masses in struggle against imperialism. This means steps towards the mobilisation of the masses in Nicaragua to expropriate the capitalists, together with open support for other Central American struggles and public demands for aid from Cuba, the Soviet bloc and the international working class. It is for their failure to offer such a perspective and not through any abstract or dogmatic motivations that Trotskyists criticise the FSLN and call for the building of a revolutionary proletarian leadership – a Trotskyist party – in Nicaragua.

El Salvador: In El Salvador the puppet Duarte regime and the USA are losing the guerilla war simply by not winning it. Militarily the guerillas of the FMLN have recovered from the disastrous ‘final offensive’ of January 1981 and now effectively control a third of the country. But without external support they will be incapable of making a breakthrough and gaining state power in the short or medium term.

The FDR-FMLN alliance has been built on the Nicaraguan model. It is therefore intrinsically unstable even under war conditions. On the one hand the bourgeois reformists (Ungo, Mayorga and Zamora) seek a negotiated settlement in tandem with social democracy. On the other hand within the FMLN itself certain groups (notably FARN) constantly tend to the ‘short cut’ of a coup in alliance with dissident sectors of the military. This reveals their aim: an entente with imperialism.

Yet the bourgeois forces in the FDR have no significant social base. They rely upon the backing of the Communist Party, which is still attached to the unrealistic policy of a bourgeois-democratic revolution even though no indigenous bourgeois supports this policy. However in such conditions – as experience has shown – the petty bourgeois leaderships can act as the efficient agent for the creation of a new bourgeois order after a victory against imperialism. It is on this that Stalinists and social democrats rely. But they are also faced with a left wing in El Salvador which is much stronger than in Nicaragua, principally because the left organisations have developed out of the CP in strong opposition to it.

However the Salvadorean left has pledged itself to a programmatic platform which sets aside socialism ‘in the short term’ and lends itself openly to bourgeois reformism. While some forces on the left (FPL and BPR) call for a worker-peasant alliance and have a history of opposing the CP and bourgeois reformists, they do not fight for the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government. Nor have they sought to break the links with social democracy which offer a lifeline of support to the bourgeois reformists. Thus, although the political forces in the FDR-FMLN are more heterogeneous and potentially antagonistic than those contained in and organised around the FSLN, the tendency is increasingly towards bourgeois hegemony within a popular front.

Guatemala: In Guatemala the process of building the anti-dictatorial struggle has advanced more slowly. This fact has slowed down the revolutionary movement in the whole region, since Guatemala is the key state in Central America, possessing the largest population and most developed economy. Over the last year, the guerilla struggle has made a major impact with considerable successes against the forces of the dictatorship (evident in the fact that more officers have been killed than in El Salvador), and it has seen the operational unity of the various groups (EGP, ORPA, PGT, FAR).

But the concentration of the guerillas in the countryside has failed to protect the working class and contributed to its slow recovery from the major defeats of the 1960s and 1970s. The guerillas still adhere to the broad front strategy of the FSLN, despite receiving a cool response from the reduced circles of bourgeois reformists, and despite the fact that they are heavily based in the large rural proletariat. The Guatemalan struggle is however having a growing influence in Mexico, and forcing US military support to the dictatorship.

Honduras: In Honduras, less economically developed and more backward politically, the level of mass mobilisation has not yet reached the point of armed conflict on a national scale. Significantly a sector of the military considers that its best chance to avoid this is to offer reforms and establish a populist regime. The USA has pressured the high command into following the ‘Duarte formula’ of conceding elections and acquiescing to a civilian figurehead while the army retains the power. This solution is destined to failure, and will not protect the weakening Honduran oligarchy from the tornado that is sweeping the region.

The liberation fronts

Almost all of these mass movements are organised in the form of cross-class fronts in which a relatively small proletariat is allied with a very much larger peasantry and rural proletariat as well as bourgeois reformist elements. As pointed out above they follow the Nicaraguan model which in turn was influenced by the failure of Guevarism and by the turn of the Castroites to more traditional Stalinist politics of class collaboration. They are therefore not ‘natural’ alliances but the product of the crisis of political leadership in the region.

The small entrepreneurs, petty bourgeois and middle class, although they may depend directly upon the exploitation of the workers and peasants, are also oppressed by imperialism. They can therefore at times join with serious struggles against imperialism. But it is only the peasantry and the lower strata of the petty bourgeoisie who, together with the rural proletariat, can be solidly allied with the industrial working class through the whole of the anti-imperialist struggle.

In the cross-class front, beneath all the slogans of ‘unity’, there is therefore a constant and bitter struggle – taking place at present between on the one hand the bourgeois opposition (backed by social democracy) together with the petty bourgeois forces which solidly support it, and, on the other, the more radical petty bourgeois leaderships based upon the workers and peasants. This internal struggle determines the outcome of the anti-imperialist struggle, within a range of alternatives from the Zimbabwean experience to that of the Cuban revolution.

But a full victory of the struggle – though a socialist revolution subsuming the democratic programme – is possible only through the development of an independent proletarian revolutionary vanguard which can forge a strong alliance with the oppressed plebeian masses of the countryside and cities. Such a development presupposes the break-up of the existing fronts and the winning of the worker, peasant, and other plebeian forces from these fronts to proletarian leadership.

Policy towards the fronts

Such an independent proletarian revolutionary vanguard however does not exist. The forces from which it might be built are largely already organised in the left wings of the existing cross-class fronts. Small groups of Trotskyists attempting to lay the groundwork for a Trotskyist party must take this reality into account in developing their tactics.

From outside the struggle we can only suggest extremely broad outlines of policy. The basic principles, in our view, would have to be the following:

a) Maintenance of independent proletarian politics: a rule of ‘March separately, strike together’ in relation to bourgeois and petty bourgeois forces. This means for example that there can be no question of signing the programmes of the broad fronts.

b) Provided that they maintain their political independence and their own disciplined organisation, Trotskyists should be flexible in their means of reaching the masses. So long as they remain only small groups and not yet viable parties they must seek first and foremost to achieve maximum involvement in struggle with and alongside the left wings of the movement actually fighting imperialism. Abstract self-proclamation should be strictly avoided.

In El Salvador for example this would mean involvement in the FDR-FMLN, via the trade unions, local committees, military forces etc which are affiliated to it.

c) In the fronts, the task of Trotskyists must be to fight for the programme of permanent revolution and for the exclusion of the bourgeois forces. The illusory nature of such ideas as the political ‘subordination’ or subjugation of the bourgeois forces or of achieving proletarian ‘hegemony’ over them within the fronts must be patiently exposed. The reality is that the bourgeois forces will remain in the fronts only insofar as it is their programme and perspective which predominate – and that therefore they remain in the fronts only to strangle the struggle for socialist revolution.

Tactical intelligence would, however, be necessary as regards the form of the fight for our principles. For example the exclusion of the bourgeois forces may not necessarily be the most appropriate leading slogan at the first stage of the work of a Trotskyist group in a broad front, it might be more appropriate to bring forward demands designed to expose to left wing militants the gulf between their class interests and their so-called ‘allies’, in order to lay the basis of the polarisation of forces within the fronts.

But the political struggle must not be delayed until after the taking of power in the mistaken belief that the continued mobilisation of the masses can spontaneously and automatically displace the existing leadership and lead to the overturn of capitalist property and the emergence of a deformed workers’ state on the Cuban pattern.

It is indeed such a belief which lies at the heart of the USFI’s strategy for Central America. They voice only mild criticisms of the FSLN and refuse to try to build Trotskyist parties. This policy corresponds to a false understanding of the Cuban revolution and of the current attitude of the Stalinist bureaucracy towards developments in Central America as well as a capitulation to petty bourgeois reformism. The responsibility of the Trotskyist movement is to build parties that will provide revolutionary leadership – not to wait for the spontaneous evolution of petty bourgeois leaderships into ‘natural Marxists’ or to praise the actions of local agents of the Moscow bureaucrats. Indeed even the Cuban revolution and the assimilation of Castro’s petty bourgeois nationalist movement into the orbit of Stalinism confirms the necessity for the establishment of genuine workers’ power based on the organised strength of the masses and for a policy of internal extension of the revolution.

Revolutionaries must therefore fight on two fronts. On the one had they must support the anti-imperialist struggle against a growing imperialist offensive, and take an active part in this fight. On the other hand they must fight for proletarian hegemony. The latter struggle does not diminish the importance of the former. Yet it cannot be achieved simply by proclaiming a separate Trotskyist party outside the existing mass organisations. This would be a sectarian stance towards left wing and centrist organisations which are at present notable in many cases for their lack of definite political character and in some cases highly accessible to revolutionary ideas.

Socialist United States of Central America

Furthermore the task of forming a revolutionary vanguard in these struggles must take as its focus the impossibility of the consolidation of national liberation while it remains a struggle constrained within the limits of the nation state. Central America is a balkanised region, comprising small, disastrously-organised economies. A planned economy must be created through the fight for a United Socialist States of Central America.

In failing to give concrete military support to the other struggles in the region, both Nicaragua and Cuba are endangering the survival of their own conquests. And while Cuba – itself under direct pressure from the USA – has made perceptibly more emphatic verbal declarations of solidarity than those emanating from the rest of the Soviet bloc, the fact is that (despite the fabrications of the State Department and the illusions of the USFI) Castro is at one with the Kremlin leaders in promoting the counter-revolutionary politics of Stalinism and failing in the elementary responsibilities of anti-imperialist solidarity. The fight for principled revolutionary leadership and the building of Trotskyist parties in Central America involves a fight against illusions in Stalinism and its Castroite variant.

Workers Socialist Review Index (1981-84)

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