Sunday, November 28, 2010

People’s Summit in Quebec issues call for antiwar actions

The People’s Summit Against War and Militarism, which met in Montréal November 19-21, was attended by 225 persons from a wide range of organizations. It issued a Joint Declaration endorsed by more than 70 organizations including trade unions, women’s and student organizations, civil liberties groups, and other social movements and grassroots community organizations in Quebec. The declaration is also supported by seven peace groups in English Canada, including the Canadian Peace Alliance. See the list of signatories.

The People’s Summit was called by the Montréal antiwar collective Échec à la Guerre (Stop War), which organized the massive antiwar demonstrations of almost a quarter million in the streets of Montréal in 2003, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In addition to opposing Canada’s war of occupation in Afghanistan, the collective campaigns against Canada’s military spending and military recruitment in educational institutions, and in support of war resisters in the military.

The People’s Summit opened with an address by keynote speaker Jean Bricmont, author of the book Humanitarian Imperialism, and was followed by a day of workshops and panels on the issues and campaigns facing the antiwar movement in the coming period. The participants agreed to publicize and obtain signatures for their Declaration, to continue actions in opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and to campaign for the holding of a wide-ranging public debate on Canadian foreign policy and the role of the Canadian army.

For background on the People’s Summit and the work of Échec à la Guerre, see “People’s Summit Against War and Militarism to be held in Montréal.” Following is the text of the Joint Declaration, which I translated from the French for Socialist Voice.

-- Richard Fidler

For an End to the Logic of War and Domination!

As Quebec organizations devoted to the defense and expansion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, here and throughout the world,

As citizens of Quebec yearning for peace and justice and anxious to develop international relations of co-operation founded on equality and solidarity,


  • Canada’s descent into an increasing spiral of war and curtailment of democracy;
  • Canada’s participation since October 2001 in a war of occupation in Afghanistan, sowing death and destruction under the pretext of a fight for democracy, security and women’s rights in that country, and which is now spreading into Pakistan;
  • the Canadian parliament’s vote extending that intervention at least until July 2011, in violation of the will of the majority of the population;
  • the ceaseless increase in the public funds allocated to this logic of war (in Canada alone, $58 million dollars per day in 2009-2010) to the detriment of social spending and genuine development assistance;
  • Canada’s complicity with torture, both of Afghans captured in combat and of some Canadian citizens imprisoned abroad;
  • the militarization of Canadian society, which entails increasing violence, especially against women;
  • the fear-mongering about a terrorist threat that is exaggerated in order to justify the war and the many measures of surveillance and repression eroding our rights and freedoms;
  • the pervasive public relations activities of the Canadian army in major sports, social and family events, and their recruitment campaigns in educational institutions, even the elementary schools;
  • the increasingly serious social and environmental effects of the wars and military training exercises; and
  • the growing militarization of the Arctic hand in hand with environmentally harmful economic projects and denial of the rights of the Indigenous peoples.


  • successive Canadian governments, both Liberal and Conservative, that have led us into this dynamic and justified the war with groundless arguments;
  • the major business interests, headed by the Business Council on National Issues, who see only opportunities for profits, especially for the military industry;
  • the political parties that implement war policies or oppose them only half-heartedly; and
  • the major media, which soft-peddle the opposition of a majority of the population to the war and do not report its tragic consequences for civilian populations.

3. WE CATEGORICALLY REJECT the false discourse of the “war against terrorism” and Canada’s direct or indirect military involvement alongside the United States in the context of a policy designed to extend their hegemony to the planet as a whole, characterized by

  • the many wars initiated and conducted in violation of international law, including international humanitarian law: Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Lebanon (2006), Gaza (2009); and others that are apprehended against Iran and North Korea, even with threats of nuclear strikes;
  • the hijacking of the UN Security Council, which does not condemn these illegal assaults or the war crimes they entail or the blatant projects of foreign control implemented by the aggressors in violation of international law;
  • NATO’s provocative expansion to the East and its dual transformation — as the armed wing of US hegemony intervening throughout the world, and as a proxy for the UN — thereby profoundly discrediting the UN in the eyes of world public opinion;
  • the threats and destabilization plans in regard to some countries that refuse to submit to the “New World Order” imposed by the United States; and
  • a renewed arms race, including the development of new nuclear weapons and the increased militarization of space.

4. WE CALL ON THE PEOPLE OF QUEBEC TO MOBILIZE to help reverse this destructive world dynamic, by demanding

of the Government of Canada:

  • the immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan;
  • a large reduction in military spending and the holding of a wide-ranging public debate on Canadian foreign policy, the role of the army, the military industry, and the arms trade;
  • an end to Canada’s military partnership with the United States, including Canada’s withdrawal from NATO; and
  • an end to its discourse instrumentalizing women’s rights and promoting the “responsibility to protect” in order to justify the war, and a firm condemnation of any intervention that is inconsistent with international law;

and of the international community:

  • the democratic renewal of the UN, and in particular full respect for its Charter, a stronger role for the General Assembly and a far-reaching reform of the Security Council, including abolition of the right of veto; and
  • the application of Resolution 1325 of the UN Security Council concerning the involvement of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace processes.

November 21, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

International Left Debates Cuba’s New Economic Measures

First published in Socialist Voice, November 1, 2010

by Richard Fidler
This issue of Socialist Voice draws attention to further commentaries on the implications of the sweeping economic and social measures announced by the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC) on September 13. We publish here excerpts from and links to articles by Jorge Martin, the international secretary of Hands Off Venezuela; Frank Josué Solar Cabrales, a social sciences professor in Santiago de Cuba; Helen Yaffe, a scholar in Britain who specializes in Cuba’s revolutionary history; and Ike Nahem, a leading activist in Cuba solidarity work in New York City.

The CTC statement was initially published on the back page of that day’s issue of Granma, the official Cuban CP daily newspaper. An unofficial English translation is available. Detailed regulations governing the implementation of the decision have now been published in the Official Gazette (Spanish only). See issues no. 11, 12 and 13 (labelled “Extraordinaria Especial”).

Jorge Martin’s article, “Where Is Cuba Going? Towards Capitalism or Socialism?” provides some detailed information on the measures and outlines some of the major economic problems confronting Cuba today as a result of the world capitalist recession. He concludes:

“A gulf will open up between the private and public sectors. In a situation where the state is not able to produce good quality industrial and manufactured goods, the private sector will tend to grow at the expense of the state sector. In other words, the capitalist elements will grow and the socialist elements will retreat. …

“The battle between the two trends will not be won by ideological speeches and exhortations but by capital and productivity. Here the crushing weight of the capitalist world economy will prove decisive.”

However, Martin sees hope in developments elsewhere in Latin America:

“In our opinion, the only real way forward for the Cuban revolution is revolutionary internationalism and workers’ democracy. The fate of the Cuban revolution is intimately linked to the fate of the Venezuelan revolution and the Latin American revolution in the first instance, and to the world revolution more generally.”

Cuban Communist Frank Josué Solar Cabrales, in “Which Way for the Cuban Revolution? – A Contribution to the Debate,” shares Martin’s concerns but sees some grounds for optimism:

“There are very positive signs. For example, the repeated references to the central role to be played by workers in the fight against corruption and inefficiency, as well as in economic discussions on the plan in each workplace. Also the appeals made by Raul [Castro] himself for a greater democratization of our Communist Party and the governmental and political structures. …

“There are also the debates, generated as a result of Raul’s speech, the debates at the congresses of the CTC [Confederation of Cuban Workers], the FEU [Federation of University Students] and the UNEAC [National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba], in addition to the constant appeals from the country’s leadership for a frank and open discussion between revolutionaries, as a suitable and healthy method for finding a solution to our problems.”

However, Solar Cabrales points to some “profound shortcomings we still have in that respect.”

“It is necessary that the choice of the way forward should come out of a broad national public debate on all the key issues, so as to incorporate the people into the decision. In that sense I consider as counterproductive the fact, first, that the results of the discussions that took place throughout the country following the speech by Raul on 26 July [2007] in Camagüey were kept secret, and second, that the measures derived from them were studied and determined by only a group of people in the leadership of the Revolution, without popular participation. I also think that the Congress of the Party should not be delayed any longer. The need for it is increasingly clear.”

Helen Yaffe is the author of Che Guevara, The Economics of Revolution (Palgrave Macmillan), a valuable account of Guevara’s thinking on the political economy of Cuba and, more generally, of societies attempting a transition to socialism. In “Cuba: the Drive for Efficiency within Socialism,” she contrasts Cuba’s present economic situation with the disastrous crisis it experienced as a result of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, once the country’s main trading partner. She cites statistics indicating a turnaround in Cuba’s current situation and is optimistic for “future advances.” The new measures, she says, are a sign that “prospects are improving.”

“The type of major adjustment currently proposed in the employment structure could not be risked in a period of vulnerability. Since 2007, the Cuban government has promoted debate and discussion at all levels of society in an effort to achieve national consensus about the need for such changes. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction to economic problems, it is likely that employment changes were in fact postponed until the present period in which prospects are improving and certain preconditions have been established.”

Yaffe dismisses concerns that the new measures will further increase the size of Cuba’s “informal sector” of those who are unemployed, under-employed or lacking steady employment. In her view, the opposite will happen.

“… only a small minority of Cuban workers will be self-employed. Their income will be progressively taxed, they will pay social security and be carefully regulated.

“The result will be to increase both government income and the provision of goods and services in certain areas, leading to price reductions and falling incomes for those operating in the informal sector. This, along with a continued rise in state-sector salaries, will reduce the relative benefit for individuals operating outside the formal sector.  Accompanying the employment changes is a restructuring of the education system to decrease the number of university students and increase technical training and manual skills.”

In “Behind the New Economic Measures in Cuba,” Ike Nahem likewise sees the mass layoffs of state employed workers and related measures as a step forward for the revolution and indeed for the world working class.

“There will be in Cuba no growth of mass unemployment – or as Marx put it a ‘reserve army of labor’ that suppresses the cost of labor power for capitalist employers – and the subsequent growth of poverty and destitution as is now becoming the norm in all of the advanced capitalist economies not to speak of dependent ‘Third World’ capitalist economies. Individuals let go from redundant, unproductive state and government positions will be able to return to university or technical schools for specialized training, with wage support, for new jobs in addition to those choosing to be self-employed, or join newly established co-operatives. Savings from the reductions in state expenses and budgets will go to preserve social services, modernize and improve free medical care and education, and so on. Cuba’s advances in implementing these measures and confronting its serious economic weaknesses is deeply in the interests of the world working class and is in reality a great aid in the developing struggles against capitalist austerity worldwide. …

“What the revolutionary government in Cuba is attempting to consciously and deliberately implement is a process that will lead to the numerical growth, social expansion, growing political weight of industrial workers, agricultural workers, and working farmers – private-family and cooperative. This will be greater than the inevitable rise in petty-bourgeois layers involved in retail services, brokerage, and speculation. These class demographic changes will emerge out of the accompanying decline (a good thing!) in the numbers of bureaucrats in state institutions and enterprises whose official jobs breed demoralization insofar as they register nonproductive activity which, in the framework of scarcity and economic pressure,  can foster corruption and thievery.

“The concomitant growth of petty bourgeois layers will undoubtedly foster relative social inequality, but, of course, this has been happening and reproducing anyway in the form of the so-called ‘black market’ and illegal economic activity unregulated by the workers’ state. And if labor productivity and the social surplus product increases, within the framework of the workers state, the material basis (and also the political basis) for advancing social equality will also advance. Increases in labor productivity and a radical expansion in agricultural output will allow for large savings in foreign exchange currency that can then be used for industrialization and the ‘light industry’ production of consumers products and quality services.”

* * *

Widely divergent analyses. Largely missing so far, in the international debate, are the hard facts on how the new measures are being implemented in Cuba and how the Cubans are responding to this sharp new turn by their revolutionary government.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mariátegui and the ‘problem of the Indian’ — a critical appreciation by Luis Vitale


Luis Vitale, a prominent Chilean revolutionary socialist and prolific Marxist historian, died in Santiago on June 27, 2010. Born in Argentina in 1927, he had moved to Chile at an early age and from the mid-1950s was an active militant in the labour movement and far-left parties, both in that country and in exile, until this century.

Vitale’s political engagement began as a member of the Revolutionary Workers Party (POR), a small party affiliated with the Fourth International. During the late 1950s and throughout the ’60s he was a leader of the Chilean trade union central, the CUT, including the period when it was headed by the legendary Clotario Blest. In 1965 Vitale helped to found the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), drafting its statement of principles.

Forced out of the MIR when it called for a boycott of Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular in the 1969 presidential elections, Vitale joined the new Revolutionary Socialist Party (PSR). Although he was by then working primarily as a university academic, he was active in the workers’ struggles in the militant cordones industriales as they fought to extend the revolutionary process. Following the military overthrow of the Allende government, Vitale was arrested, tortured, interned in a concentration camp for nine months, but eventually found his way to exile, first in Europe then in Venezuela, before returning to Chile in the early 1990s. In his later years, Vitale described himself as a “libertarian Marxist”.

During the 1960s, Vitale began writing what became his major work, the eight-volume Interpretación Marxista de la Historia de Chile. This was followed by a nine-volume history of Latin America and a host of books on a wide range of topics: social history, the Indigenous peoples; the “social protagonism” of the women’s movement; the environmental crisis; the labour movement; student and other social movements; popular music, etc. — a total of 67 books, 77 pamphlets, 188 learned papers and 209 articles! Many of these works are available on-line (Spanish only).

I have translated below Vitale’s appreciation and critique of the theoretical contributions on the Indigenous question of an early Latin American Marxist, the Peruvian José Carlos Mariátegui. It offers some insightful thinking on such questions as the relationship between ethnicity and class; Indigenous identity, autonomy and self-determination; and the relationship between Indigenous concepts of land and the environment. The paper reveals the vibrancy and relevance of the thought of both Mariátegui and Vitale in today’s context of increasing radicalization of the Indigenous peoples in anticapitalist struggles and political mobilization, and not only in Latin America. To his last breath Luis Vitale was a strong defender of the Mapuche peoples in Chile, and spoke out in defence of the Indigenous militants who are now on a lengthy hunger strike to protest their jailing on “terror” charges based on legislation from the Pinochet dictatorship.

My translation is made from the Spanish text. (See “Vigencia y limitaciones de Mariátegui”, under the heading Pueblos Originarios.) I have added a few notes, signed “Translator”, to those supplied by Vitale.

Despite his prodigious literary output, few of Vitale’s writings are translated into English. Three such articles, however, are available on line and I have referenced them at the conclusion of Vitale’s piece on Mariátegui. The first two, published in 1963, are strong defences of the Cuban revolution and its impact on Latin America. The third article, written in 1964, outlined Vitale’s view on the tasks facing the Chilean left in the years immediately leading up to Allende’s electoral victory.

-- Richard Fidler


* * *

Mariátegui’s Contemporary Relevance and

His Limitations Concerning the Original Peoples

by Luis Vitale

Presentation at the International Symposium on “AMAUTA And Its Period”,[1] Lima, September 3-6, 1997

To the memory of Enrique Espinoza (Samuel Glusberg), principal popularizer of the thought of Mariátegui in Chile during the 1940s and 50s

The backbone of Mariátegui’s thinking in the final ten years of his life was the National Question or, more accurately, in the words of Tito Flores Galindo, “this dual axis formed by Marxism and the nation meant that Mariátegui’s life was both a page in Peruvian history and a page in the history of socialism.... As a matter of fact, based on his particular articulation between Marxism and nation, Mariátegui managed to develop a specific way — Peruvian, Indo-American, Andean — of interpreting Marx and, as always, precisely because it was more Peruvian it became universal.”[2]

Without saying so in so many words, Mariátegui posed a revolutionary epistemological problem for his period, and it is still relevant for anyone seeking to fundamentally transform the present capitalist system, which is more neoconservative than liberal: Latin America from Marx, or Marx from Latin America? We know the standpoint of the Latin American Eurocentric Marxists of that time, alluded to by the amauta: “Neither imitation nor copy”.

For Mariátegui, the national question included not only the national anti-imperialist struggle but the Indigenous problematic, an innovation that broke with the orthodoxy of those who continued to cling to Marx’s initial thinking. While Marx certainly did not manage to systematize a theory, he did contribute some criteria on the national question in the epoch of bourgeois ascendency at the time when various nation-states of Europe were being formed. In reference to Latin America, Asia and Africa there is not a single word in the Communist Manifesto and other, later writings on the national question, because it was thought that this question would be resolved when the socialist revolution triumphed in the highly industrialized countries. In Europe this applied as well in the case of the self-determination of the Polish and Irish peoples, but in other cases in Eastern Europe it did not, for they were “peoples without history”, as Hegel said. And Marx was mistaken on the Latin American national question, when he referred to the independence struggles and in particular to Bolívar and the French invasion of Mexico under Maximilian. Lenin signified a qualitative leap with his thesis on the self-determination of peoples, but he made no reference to our America, focused as he was on “the Eastern questions” discussed in the Second Congress of the Communist International (1922).[3]

While not a Marxist, José Martí had a better understanding than any Marxist of the scope of the national question, explaining that it was not limited to imperialist oppression. Together with his Guatemalan compañera, he visited the communities that were heirs to the Mayan splendor, making such original appraisals that he can be considered the precursor on the national question for Latin America. And it still remains to investigate the possible influence on Mariátegui of the thinkers of the nascent and vigorous national and anti-imperialist current headed by the Colombian José María Vargas Vila in his anti-Yankee work Ante los Bárbaros, published in 1912, and his repeated calls for Latin American Unity in opposition to the Pan-American Union. Similarly, it would be strange if Mariátegui, who was well informed, was unaware of the writings of Manuel Ugarte, who in 1910 broke with the Argentine SP of Justo with his book El Porvenir de la América Española (or Latin America), and in 1911 began an extended tour of our America. In 1927 he addressed a Manifesto to the Youth: “América Latina para los latinoamericanos”, writings compiled later in La Nación Latinoamericana (Caracas: Ed. Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1978).

In addition to the investigative works of the Peruvian comrades on the national and continental context I would like to add studies that were condensed in volume V of my Historia General de América Latina (1890-1930), where in addition to the thinkers and Yankee assaults, I analyzed the social and economic structure, especially in the evolution of the workers movement, of the middle strata and the struggles of the peasantry and Indigenous movements of those times in the praxis of Mariátegui. The amauta must have derived renewed strength from the revolutionary cycle of 1910 to 1930, expressed in the Indigenous struggles in Ecuador[4] led by Quintín Lame in 1925, which coincided with the anti-oligarchy July [1925] movement in Ecuador; the “Prestes column” in Brazil; and in Colombia the battles of the PSR led by María Cano, the victorious strikes of the oil and railway workers (1926-27) and above all the banana workers strike of 1928, commemorated by García Márquez in Cien años de Soledad. Nor could Mariátegui have been unaware of the Venezuelan general strike (1928) against the lengthy dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez, and especially the epic achievement of Sandino.

The heterodoxy of the amauta enabled him, in the subject matter we are discussing, to initiate a break with the Eurocentric conception of socialist politics and unilinear history signified by the positivist idea of “progress”. From that perspective, he once said something that is very profound: “Unanimity is always unproductive.” (Temas de Nuestra América, Lima, 1900,[5] p. 19. The word “nuestra” he may have taken from Martí, who was the first to use it to differentiate this America from the United States of North America and to reaffirm the Latin American identity.) If this heterodox Mariátegui were to listen today to his uncritical apologists, he would say (paraphrasing Marx): I am not a Mariateguista.

Starting from the historical recognition of the contemporary native peoples and their role, Mariátegui was able to pose in a novel way an alternative society to capitalism, Indo-American Socialism, appropriate to the specific features of Latin America unforeseen by the theoreticians of Marxism: “While socialism has born in Europe, like capitalism, it is not specifically or particularly European.... Indo-America, in this world order, can and must have individuality and style.” Hence his eagerness to find the socialist roots in the “communism” of the ancestral Indigenous communities and his novel conception of the Myth as a social force in history, although he fell into an idealization of the Inca empire which clearly was based on a state with obvious social inequalities and governed by a military and priestly bureaucratic caste. The important thing, for Mariátegui, was that the Inca period constituted for the oppressed people a social myth after the Spanish invasion, raised with the best forces of history by the rebellion of Túpac Amaru, which curiously is not analyzed closely by the amauta.

Mariátegui could also rethink a new type of socialism, based on the specific features of the Latin American revolution because he knew how to analyze his dependent and basically agrarian country in which the Indigenous people and peasants constituted, together with the proletariat, the motor force of the revolution — or, in the present sociological terminology, the “new social subjects”, as Flores Galindo says.[6]

His intellectual legacy led him to incorporate in his philosophy of history concepts from ideologues as disparate as Bergson, Nietzsche and Sorel. Some say that Mariátegui did not read the latter until his travels in Europe. Our doubts were dispelled by Guillermo Rouillón and Alberto Flores Galindo, who have demonstrated the contrary. Mariátegui incorporated from Sorel such contributions as his dimension of the social myth, the criticism of the idea of progress, but more than that the antisystemic force of revolutionary syndicalism, even though this exposed him to accusations of anarchism. The orthodox, especially those of the Stalinist International of the 1930s, tried to characterize or pigeon-hole Mariátegui as a Sorellian, or as having amalgamated the ideas of Marx with those of Sorel, apparently unaware that the latter was, in the years immediately prior to the First World War, one of the first, along with Rosa Luxemburg, to be an unyielding critic of the trade union bureaucracy and the reformism of parliamentarist social democracy — questioning the verticalist conception of the party and fundamentally promoting revolutionary syndicalism as distinct from pure libertarianism or abstract anarchism. In this sense, we are of the opinion that Sorel pursued to their ultimate consequences certain considerations by Marx that the renowned Marxists of his time never dared to pursue “to the very end”. Still to be investigated is whether Sorel, on some key points, was more Marxist than many of the epigones. And it is precisely because he enriched historical materialism with the contributions of Sorel and other iconoclastic thinkers that Mariátegui was the most illustrious and heretical Marxist in Latin America.

However, this process of uninterrupted creativity in Mariátegui, suddenly cut short when he was 36, had some limitations that we will take the liberty of discussing before this select audience of Peruvians, more informed than I of the thinking of the amauta.

Interest in Mariátegui’s ideas resurfaced with the frustration that arose as a result of the crisis of so-called socialism and of what to the majority of the leftist spectrum was almost sacrosanct. The centennial of Mariátegui’s birth coincided with the culminating moment of the crisis, stirring the need to search for a new alternative. Even some left-wing Europeans — usually indifferent to or negative about thinkers outside their continent — were at pains to discuss Mariátegui and issues as remote from their anthropological and ethnocentric reality as the situation of the original peoples [pueblos originales] of our America. Having turned their backs to them over a long period, they now turned to apologetics and uncritical applause. Some Argentine communists went so far as to say, in April 1994, that “just as we rejected Gramsci, we also rejected Mariátegui”, without any self-critical acknowledgement that their old leader, Victorio Codovilla, was the architect of this intellectual interment.

Mariátegui’s limitations on the Indigenous question

I want to propose to comrades, especially Peruvian comrades, that we discuss some of Mariátegui’s limitations on this subject in the hope that this will facilitate us in at least two respects: one, to try to understand in his real dimension one of the most relevant thinkers of the 20th century, not only in Latin America but in the world; two, to contribute to the formulation of a strategic program of the original peoples of today’s world.

A discussion of the first point is timely because the resurrection of Mariátegui’s thought, after being buried for decades, has promoted a tendency to idealization. And strictly speaking, he, like any thinker, is limited to and conditioned by his epoch and, in the last analysis, his discourse reflects the period in which he lived. One of the factors conditioning Mariátegui’s thought was that in his day Marxism was beginning to be codified. Gramsci was one of the few who dared to break through the ideological fence by his defiance of anything that would impose geographical limits on his thinking.

Class reductionism and the concept of the vanguard

Mariátegui was unable — and it was virtually impossible in the theoretical context of the left — to escape class reductionism and the concept of “vanguard”, that is, the introduction from outside, by way of the Party intelligentsia, of revolutionary consciousness or ideas to the proletariat and other oppressed sectors, a conception that Lenin inherited from Kautsky. In this sense, Mariátegui is more orthodox than those who believe and are attached to the resolutions of the first four congresses of the Communist International — political categories that were at the base of his limitations when he addressed the topic of the original peoples.

His class reductionism permeates his writings, above all in his reply to Luis Alberto Sánchez: “The program we put forward is the program of labour. It is the program of the working classes, without distinction as to coast or mountain, Indian or mestizo.” Nevertheless he agreed: “If in the debate — this is theoretical — we have differentiated the problem of the Indian it is because in practice they are also differentiated.”[7] Anticipating the analysts of the ethnic-class relationship, he noted: “The class factor is complicated by the race factor in a form that a revolutionary policy cannot fail to take into account. The Quechua Indian sees his oppressor in the ‘misti’, in the white.”[8]

The ethnic-class relationship was deepened as the Indigenous, in substantial numbers, were forced to proletarianize or become small shopkeepers and landowners. Yet Mariátegui argued that the revolutionary process had to be hegemonized by the proletariat, as did the Marxists of his time, on the assumption that “the problem of the Indian has to have a social solution. Those who produce it must be the Indians themselves.”[9] The greater the number of workers of Quechua origin, the closer the relationship of ethnicity and class: “In Peru the masses — the working class — are four-fifths Indigenous. Our socialism would not be Peruvian, nor would it continue to be socialism, if it did not solidarize firstly with the Indigenous demands.”[10]

Self-determination and nationality

It should be noted that, notwithstanding this originality for his time, Mariátegui was saying that socialism had to solidarize with the Indigenous demands without saying explicitly that the original peoples could autonomously, without delegation to the party, themselves govern their process toward socialism. Therefore, his program lacks a strategic objective for the Indigenous communities, other than the problem of the land, respect for their language and culture, but not basically recognition that they are one (or more) people-nation, a nationality with the right to self-determination; a people-nation, like the Quechua, Aymara or Mapuche who cohabit in various “nation”-states: Peru and Bolivia (Quechuas), Chile, Argentina, Bolivia (Aymaras), Chile and Argentina (Mapuches). Mariátegui was unable to visualize this, but we can no longer continue to overlook his omissions as they concern the original peoples and, above all, in order to rescue some of the remains of this “orthodox” left that continues to try to impose its ideological terrorism on whoever dares to place on an equal footing (albeit not with such force, perhaps) the proletariat and the original peoples, peasants, other wage-earners in the middle classes, the women’s movements, ecologists, poor inhabitants in the urban peripheral zones, students, youth in general, liberation-theology Christians, pensioners, the elderly, homosexuals, lesbians and other social movements.

Mariátegui failed to clarify that the original peoples had to be autonomous in order to adopt their own politics and their own communitarian type of society inherited from the past and prior to the Spanish colonization and obviously prior to the Peruvian state and society. Because, strictly speaking, the original peoples are not Peruvians or Bolivians or Chileans or Mexicans, etc. although Mariátegui did not say this. That is, concretely, the Quechuas are not Peruvians, they pre-exist the Peruvian state. Behind this omission of Mariátegui was not only his conception of the nation-state but also his desire to formulate a national-political project led by the proletariat (represented by the single party), which, as we know, never respected Indigenous autonomy, with the exception of the Sandinistas after their self-criticism in 1982 in regard to the errors committed initially with the Miskitos.

The question of identity

Failing to recognize clearly that the Quechua and other original peoples are a nationality or a people-nation within the Peruvian state, Mariátegui became lost in a search for the Peruvian identity, going so far as to say that the Spanish conquest “frustrated the only Peruvianism that existed.”[11]

Wrong. The Quechua obviously did not express “Peruvianism” prior to the conquest nor do they now, although they are required to possess identity documents. In any case, Mariátegui lamented that the Quechua were kept at the margin: “[T]he elements of the nationality being developed were unable even to blend or unite. The dense Indigenous layer is kept almost totally outside of the process of formation of that Peruvianism that our self-styled nationalists are in the habit of exciting or inflating.”[12]

Mariátegui failed to pose clearly the right of self-determination of the original peoples because he was unable — perhaps owing to the ideological pressure of those who feared a supposed separatism of the original peoples — to appreciate that the Quechua had for centuries constituted a nationality. With this confused ideological “substratum” it was impossible to address clearly the problem of identity.

Above all, it must be observed, without reservation, that the original peoples, in their majority, have an identity that the Peruvians and other non-Indigenous inhabitants of Latin America, whether mestizos or whites, have failed to grasp. Not even the Blacks and Mulattos have the degree of identity of the original peoples.

Mariátegui realized the difficulties involved in achieving national identity and unity: “In Peru, the problem of unity is much deeper because the task here is not to overcome a plurality of local or regional traditions but to contend with a duality of races, languages and sentiments originating in the Spanish invasion and conquest of Indigenous Peru by a foreign race that has not subsequently fused with the Indigenous race, nor eliminated it or absorbed it.”[13] Nevertheless, Mariátegui continued to insist in many of his writings on the need for national unity with the Quechua and to form with them the Peruvian identity: “The Indian is at the foundation of our nationality in formation.”[14]

The formation of our identity as Latin American mestizos or whites is a process in permanent development. There is no sense that we are seeking in the Indigenous past an identity that we never had, although it is possible to encounter certain roots. The identity is made in historical continuity, in membership in a region, in linguistic idioms, in day-to-day life, in culture, in belonging to a social class. It began to be forged with the revolution for Independence and the rejection of European and North American aggression. Identity will be created in the anti-imperialist and anticapitalist struggle, as it is likewise reaffirmed in the movements challenging cultural dependency. In any case, that is no single identity. Let us forge a Latin American identity, and as a nation, that at the same time coexists with the Indigenous, Black and class and gender identity, and the identity of territory, whether of a province, a common region, or a city — identities that are never closed or finished in this process with its advances and retreats.

Land and Territory

Mariátegui makes no differentiation between land and territory, like the Latin American left to this day, and continues to insist that the Indigenous problem is solved with the grant of land or the recovery of part of those lands belonging to them before the Spanish and Portuguese invasion.

For the original peoples, territory is an essential category, and it means much more than the demand for land. In today’s terms, territory is the environment, that is, the intimate relationship between human and natural global society. Territory is the habitat of the original people-nation who continue to fight for its reconquest. It is the area in which daily life and communication in a common language are carried on. It is where we work and produce collectively, harmoniously integrating ourselves with nature without damaging it irreversibly.

For mestizo or white peasants land means individual ownership, whereas, for the original peoples it is collective possession (not ownership). Territory is the physical space of the original people-nation and therefore contains identity and culture, which is not only intellectual activity but also songs, dances, specific foods, games, sports and forms of sexuality. In this sense, the cosmovision of the original peoples can help to overcome the dualism between society and nature, the dichotomous criterion of the ideologists of so-called “western civilization”, as if human beings were outside of the environment — the ambiente, and not the medio ambiente popularized by the ecologists, because if the environment encompasses the whole of nature and society it cannot be medio.[15]

In any event, we speak only of “geographical environment” or “natural environment”. Which led — imagine that! — Marx, in one of his many strokes of genius, to say: “One can look at history from two sides and divide it into the history of nature and the history of humanity. The two sides are, however, inseparable; the history of nature and the history of men are dependent on each other so long as men exist.... My relation to my environment is my consciousness.”[16] And he added: “Society is therefore the perfected unity in essence of man with nature, the true resurrection of nature, the realized naturalism of man and the realized humanism of nature.”[17] In other words, the know-it-all European marxologists were not paying attention, because ecology could “alter” the axis of the class struggle. We have made this digression because, as we said earlier, we not only want to discuss Mariátegui but to contribute to the original peoples.

Nation state

Mariátegui failed to disentangle the ideological theorizations behind the concept of the nation state. I am not saying that he talked about the nation state as such, but that his arguments were based on no other conception of the state than the one used by the left of his day. Mariátegui wanted to break with Eurocentrism, but he did not manage to break with the Eurocentric conception of the state.

At no time did he make the necessary distinction between “nation”-state and nationalities. Today we have a deeper understanding of this differentiation, for it is obvious that within a given state there can exist various oppressed nationalities, as in the case of the Spanish state with its Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Andalusian nationalities, each with their own identity, language and ancestral customs. Something similar is happening with the Corsicans in the French state, the Serbs, Bosnians and Muslims in the former Yugoslavia and in other countries of Eastern Europe, especially in the former USSR with the Chechens, Ukrainians and other nationalities — problems unresolved by the so-called “actually existing socialism”. Not to mention the armed conflicts of the Tamil ethnic group in Ceylon [sic] or the Kurds in Iran and, above all, the ethnic wars in the heart of Africa.

Not accidentally, the ideologists of the ruling class coined the term nation-state to justify their subjugation of the pre-existing nationalities with the formation of the state, misnamed nation, as they did in the case of the Sicilians and other nationalities in the so-called “unification” of Italy in the mid-19th century. The concept of nation-state arose in modern Europe in accordance with a specific mode of production with a strong industrial and agricultural foundation and an expanding internal market, where the agrarian question was closely linked to the national question. As Pierre Vilar argues, until the early 19th century the state, as a political form, was confused with nationalism as a political ideology.[18]

Otherwise, the nation state — arising out of armed struggle and extolled by most of the left, especially when it is in power — is not a supreme value or an absolute principle, as Hegel thought. Rather, it is a product of history, the appearance and extinguishment of which is commensurate with the existence and end of social classes. So far, no society in transition to socialism has taken steps toward the gradual disappearance of the state, notwithstanding theoretical considerations presented by Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky and Che Guevara, with their thoughts on value theory, the consolidation of socialist consciousness, and women and the new man.

By adhering uncritically to the concept of the nation state, Mariátegui was ideologically blocked from recognizing the Quechua as a people-nation within the Peruvian state. In any case it was virtually impossible in Mariátegui’s time for some theoretician to envisage the multinational, multi-ethnic or pluri-ethnic state or a plurality of nationalities as the Sandinistas or, more recently, the social movements in Colombia, have managed to do. Not even the Zapatistas have raised this concept although they are clear about their identity; they do not use the concept of people-nation although they conduct themselves as such. Is it possibly a new disinformation subterfuge of Subcomandante Marcos aimed at avoiding negative reactions in the Mexican people to the potential separatism of the inhabitants of Chiapas?

While he clearly did not anticipate all the nuances of the national question,[19] Mariátegui was the first Latin American Marxist to incorporate the problematic, although he was more focused on the agrarian question. And he ended with an expression of historic significance: “The Indigenous community still retains sufficient vitality to be converted gradually into the cell of the modern socialist state.... Socialist doctrine can give a modern, constructive meaning to the Indigenous cause.”[20]

In light of the failures of the so-called “socialism”, a socialism without the inverted commas will have to reflect as to whether the future alternative society to liberal neoconservatism should integrate in our Latin American project many of the contributions of Mariátegui and the new social movements. It is not a question of amalgamating Mariátegui’s contributions — which go far beyond the Indigenous question — with those of the social movements, but of integrating them in a theory of revolutionary social change, which leads us to formulate one key thought: If today the revolutionary conception created a century and a half ago (1998 will be the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto) has proven insufficient, does this not suggest the need for a “refoundation” of the theory of the radical transformation of the present capitalist society to incorporate the contributions of Mariátegui, Che Guevara and the new and old social movements in order to take account of the specificity of Indo-American socialism?

If Mariátegui dared to enrich Marxism with the contributions of Sorel and the Indigenous praxis, we too should dare to incorporate in historical materialism — not as an addition or complement but as an integral part — anti-patriarchal and antisystemic feminism, subversive environmentalism, liberation theology, class-struggle syndicalism, counter-cultural workers and the strategic ideas of the original peoples oriented toward the multi-ethnic or plurinational state.

Mariátegui’s statement in 1925 is more relevant now than ever before: “And from the crisis of this skepticism and this nihilism is born the necessary compassion, strength, decisiveness of a faith and a myth that moves men to live dangerously.”[21] ... “The new generation burns with the desire to go beyond skeptical philosophy. The materials of a new mysticism are being prepared in the contemporary chaos.”[22]

This is our outstanding debt to the amauta. [End of translated article]

See also three articles by Luis Vitale, published in English:

Fidelismo and Marxism

Phases of the Cuban Revolution

Which Road for Chile?

[1] Amauta, a Quechua word meaning “elder” or “person of great wisdom”, was the name of Mariátegui’s newspaper. It is used here by Vitale to refer respectfully to Mariátegui himself. – Translator

[2] A. Flores G.: La agonía de Mariátegui, Int. de Apoyo Agrario, 3rd ed. (Lima, 1989), pp. 22-23.

[3] Sic, actually in 1920. – Translator

[4] An apparent slip. Quintín Lame fought in Colombia, not Ecuador. – Translator

[5] Sic – An obvious typo. Probably should be 1924. See Vol. 12 of the Obra completa of Mariátegui. – Translator

[6] Ibid., p. 191.

[7] Alberto Sanchez: Ideología y Politica (Lima, 1969), p. 233.

[8] Ibid., El problema de las Razas, p. 32.

[9] J.C. Mariátegui, Peruanicemos al Perú (Lima, 1970), p. 33.

[10] J.C. Mariátegui, “Intermezzo Polémico”, published in the magazine Mundial, No. 350, February 25, 1927.

[11] J.C. Mariátegui, “Realismo y futurismo”, in Peruanicemos al Perú, op. cit. p. 26.

[12] Temas de Nuestra América, op. cit., p. 24.

[13] J.C. Mariátegui, Siete Ensayos, p. 261.

[14] “Realismo y Centralismo”, in Siete Ensayos, p. 206.

[15] Vitale makes an important point here. Contemporary Spanish uses both the noun ambiente and the phrase medio ambiente to refer to “the environment”. But the latter term, by attaching ambiente to medio (which means, depending on context, average, half, resources, etc.) refers to something less than the totality of the environment as it is understood by Indigenous peoples. Medio ambiente, literally, can be taken to mean something like “the surrounding environment”, not the whole thing, and thus not necessarily incorporating humanity. – Translator

[16] K. Marx, The German Ideology.

[17] K. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.

[18] P. Vilar, Iniciación al vocabulario del análisis histórico, (Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1982), p. 171.

[19] To be clear, I use “national question” as it is currently used in political sociology and in the left. But in my opinion it is one of the many concepts of Eurocentric origin that the Marxist classics were unable to escape, adhering as they — and the vast majority of our Latin American theoreticians — did to the nation-state category.

Strictly speaking, it is a serious error to attempt to apply the nation-state concept to Latin America, long populated by millions of Indigenous people, since we have various nationalities among the original peoples. Furthermore, the nation-state in each country was precisely the one that seized their lands and overwhelmed their languages and cultures, except in the case of the Guarani. (See Aníbal Quijano, Raza, “etnia” y “nación” en Mariátegui: cuestiones abiertas (Lima: Amauta, 1993), and by the same author, “Colonialidad del poder y democracia en América Latina”, Revista Debate, March-May 1994. There is much to ponder in both essays, as in others by Aníbal.

It is urgent, therefore, to undertake a critical analysis of the conceptualization and traditional sociological, historical, political and cultural terminology, as the feminists are doing in respect to the male chauvinist semantic of the social sciences.

[20] J.C. Mariátegui, Obras, Vol. 2, p. 312 and Obras, Vol. 1, p. 213.

[21] J.C. Mariátegui, “Dos concepciones de la vida”, 9-01-1925, in Obras Politicas, selected and annotated by Rubén Jiménez (Mexico City: Era, 1979), p. 398.

[22] Ibid. p. 398.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Do Indigenous concepts help or hinder in fighting the World’s Climate Crisis?

 A Debate between Pablo Stefanoni and Hugo Blanco
Translated and introduced by Richard Fidler

[This exchange was first published in Socialist Voice, May 24, 2010]

The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth1, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April, has fueled a growing debate in Latin America over the validity and usefulness of traditional Indigenous value systems and forms of organization in resolving the pressing social problems of the region, not least the challenges posed by the climate crisis. We publish here two differing assessments.

  • Pablo Stefanoni is the editor of the Bolivian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique.
  • Hugo Blanco is a longstanding indigenous leader of the peasant movement in Peru and editor of the newspaper La Lucha Indígena.

The Cochabamba conference was called by Bolivian President Evo Morales in the wake of the disastrous United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen last December. It was attended by more than 30,000 activists from over 100 countries. They adopted a People’s Agreement2 that assigns responsibility for the climate crisis to the capitalist system and rejects the use of market mechanisms in combating climate change.

Conference participants were critical of the dependency of most semicolonial “Third World” countries on resource-based export strategies that devastate local environments while frustrating attempts at endogenous development in the interests of local and national communities. However, they identified the main culprit as the uneven development intrinsic to imperialism, a system “that has led the richest countries to have an ecological footprint five times bigger than what the planet is able to support.” And they concluded:

“It is imperative that we forge a new system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings. And in order for there to be balance with nature, there must first be equity among human beings. We propose to the peoples of the world the recovery, revalorization, and strengthening of the knowledge, wisdom, and ancestral practices of Indigenous Peoples, which are affirmed in the thought and practices of ‘Living Well,’ recognizing Mother Earth as a living being with which we have an indivisible, interdependent, complementary and spiritual relationship.”

Mother Earth, in the Indigenous languages of Latin America, is known as Pachamama. Prominent among the conference participants were Indigenous peoples, and their thinking and influence were clear in its decisions.

Evo Morales followed up the Cochabamba Conference by presenting its proposals in a major speech at the United Nations3 before the G77 + China, a group of the world’s poorest countries (plus China) that (as he put it) “are the least responsible for climate change and, nonetheless, the most affected by the dire impacts of global warming.” The other South American heads of state, gathered at the UNASUR conference in Buenos Aires on May 4, endorsed the Cochabamba People’s Agreement4, urged other member governments to join the effort “to open spaces on the subject of climate change,” and agreed to discuss further such actions at their scheduled meeting in Cancún, Mexico later this year.

The Bolivian government, along with its partners in UNASUR and the anti-imperialist Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), has sought to use tribunes like Cochabamba’s as a means to enhance consciousness and build international support that can help provide these oppressed and exploited countries with greater latitude to resist imperialism and develop their own people-oriented alternative development strategies. The Cochabamba Conference marked an important step forward in this process.

However, that is not the view of Pablo Stefanoni, whose newspaper is the Bolivian edition of Le Monde Dipomatique, the Paris monthly magazine that is influential in the broad left, including in the milieus that organize the World Social Forums. Stefanoni saw the Cochabamba Conference as a diversion from the pressing tasks facing Bolivia. In his opinion, its dominant Indigenous discourse, which he scornfully dismisses as pachamamismo, is an obstacle to efforts to free Bolivia from dependency on resource exports and “prevents Bolivia from being a serious player in the big international leagues.”

Hugo Blanco, responding to Stefanoni, offers a very different, positive assessment of the contribution of Indigenous thinking to the world struggle against the climate crisis.

Related reading: Ian Angus, “Cochabamba: Climate Justice Has a New Program and New Hope for Victory,”5 Socialist Voice, April 29, 2010



by Pablo Stefanioni
Rebelión, April 28, 20106

The Tiquipaya summit[1] — over and above the chickens, gays and bald men that were given such extensive media coverage, over what could be interpreted as a presidential slip[2] — revealed something of relevance to the future: The process of change is too important to be left in the hands of the pachamámicos. The affectation of ancestral authenticity may be useful for seducing revolutionary tourists in search of Latin America’s “familiar exoticism” and even more so Bolivia’s (according to Marc Saint-Upéry[3]) but it does not seem capable of contributing anything significant in terms of building a new State, instituting a new model of development, discussing a viable productive model or new forms of democracy and mass participation.

What is more, pachamamismo — a sort of stylish newspeak — serves to dissolve Bolivians’ profound yearnings for change in the deaf ear of a supposed alternative to Western philosophy, even though it is learned in such global spaces as NGO workshops, in the calm of Duke University or in the courses supervised by Catherine Walsh in the Universidad Andina[4] or the FLACSO Ecuador. In the last analysis, as becomes more obvious each time, we are presented with a global new-age Indigenous discourse with scant capacity to reflect the actually existing ethnicities. And, as in the countries of actually existing socialism, this “newspeak” can infinitely expand the hiatus between discourse and reality (why do they say nothing about extractivism and the reprimarización of the economy,[5] for example?), weakening the transformative energies of the society.

So, instead of discussing how to combine developmental expectations with an intelligent eco-environmentalism, the pachamámico discourse offers us a cataract of words in Aymara, pronounced with an enigmatic tone, and a naïve reading of the crisis of capitalism and western civilization. Or directly, in interpretative broadsides like that of Fernando Huanacuni, a foreign office official, who told an Argentine newspaper that the earthquake in Haiti was a small warning of the economic-global-cosmic-telluric-educational impetuousness of the Pacha Mama.

Do the politics of Edgar Patana [the elected mayor of El Alto and disputed labour leader] reflect a new spirituality? Does Isaac Ávalos [the senator and peasant leader] intervene in the Senate asking leave of Grandmother Cosmos? Or does Gustavo Torrico [the deputy interior minister] base his management of the police on the criterion that the rights of Pacha Mama (and ants) are more important than human rights?

In Europe there is much greater awareness of the recycling of garbage (including plastic products) than there is in our country, where in many ways everything remains to be done, and an informed and technically solid environmentalism seems much more effective than managing climate change on the basis of a supposed First Nations’ philosophy, often an excuse of some urban intellectuals for not addressing the urgent problems facing the country. Many of the official mistakes in the summit are not unrelated to its having handed over the theme of climate change to the pachamámicos, whose irresponsibility prevents Bolivia from being a serious player in the big international leagues. For many intellectuals, the Bolivian laboratory may provide enormous material for their own investigations, and many NGOs are delighted to fund all kinds of social experiments. But for Bolivians the cost of a new lost opportunity could not be covered by all the cooperation projects combined.



by Pablo Stefanoni
Rebelión7, May 05, 20107

My previous column in this newspaper provoked an irate reply from some comrades who (without saying so) consider themselves part of the pachamámica current, which — without any evidence — they seek to transform into a synonym for Indigenous and the sole ideological basis of the current process of change. In reality, indianismo did not exist in the Chapare, and in the Altiplano, Felipe Quispe talked less of Pacha Mama and Pacha Tata[6] than he did of tractors, the Internet, and rural development projects for the commune residents, in the framework of an Aymara nationalist project. Kataristas and Indianistas engage in politics; the pachamamicos the cult of the esoteric. I have never seen a blockade for vivir bien [to live well], although I could be mistaken.

Nor was pachamamismo the discursive basis of the Indigenous rebellions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as Forrest Hylton shows in relation to Chayanta (1927),[7] where the representative chiefs were demanding education and recognition of their authorities and lands in alliance with sectors of the urban left, their pleas laden with modern/western anti-slavery discourse. And in the Forties and Fifties the unions in many regions broke with the conservative role of the traditional authorities in the preservation of a neocolonial status quo.

Many of their categories, such as the chacha-warmi to mention only one,[8] do not stand up to historical investigation, and according to Milton Eyzaguirre have more to do with the imposition of the Catholic vision of marriage than they do with ancestral customs. Does decolonization mean returning to the two republics of the Viceroy Toledo?[9] In the last analysis, there are non-Indigenous pachamámicos and non-pachamámicos Indigenous — possibly the majority — so there is no basis for labelling just any criticism as racist. While it seems profoundly radical, its “philosophical” generality provides no clue to overcoming dependent capitalism, extractivism and rentismo,[10] nor to the construction of a new State or the need for “post-clientelist” forms of politics. While it has little impact in the Government, pachamamismo is a useful discourse for turning any serious debate into hollow “philosophical” rhetoric.

The debate over decolonization cannot overlook the tension between the survival of the ghetto (in the form of preservation of “ancestral” identity and culture or theories of the “good farmer” Indian or, directly, the good Avatar-like ecological savage) and assimilation: access to “universal” culture. Possibly, intermediate between both extremes, there might arise a successful road to decolonization and social and cultural mobility. (In some haciendas the landlords, not exactly supporters of pluriculturalism or multiculturalism, would only allow entrance to priests who would speak Aymara with their Indian tenants; otherwise the latter would learn Castellano and leave.)

Pachamamismo inhibits any serious discussion, for example, of what it is to be Indigenous in the 21st century. How can the Aymara owner of a fleet of minibuses in El Alto and convert to Pentacostalism be compared simply with the resident of a commune in the north of Potosí who continues to produce in the context of an ethnic economy? How is it possible to apply the communitarian model in a country that is majority urban and criss-crossed by all types of hybridization/migration/insertion in global markets, and the rise of an Indigenous/mestizo commercial bourgeoisie? And finally, who elected the globalized pachamámico intellectuals to speak on behalf of the Indigenous of Bolivia and the world? Yes, these are the words of a “mono-thinker”, but they may be worth a response.



by Hugo Blanco
Lucha Indígena, May 11, 20108

Pablo Stefanoni begins his article “Where is pachamamismo taking us?” by taking his distance from the stupid assessment that the right wing made of the Cochabamba Summit. It seemed that he would analyse the meeting, but apparently anti-Indigenous racism has blinded him and there is no serious assessment.

Let us see what Silvia Ribeiro, a researcher, journalist and coordinator of environmental campaigns in Uruguay, Brazil and Sweden, has to say about this meeting. She is an international lecturer on those subjects and has followed the negotiation of various United Nations environmental treaties:

“The response to the official call for this summit exceeded all expectations, both in numbers attending (35,000) and in content, making it an historic landmark in the international debate on the climate crisis. Faced with the maneuvers of the powerful governments in Copenhagen, Bolivia appealed to the grassroots of the world’s societies to demonstrate their positions and present them to the governments. In both respects it was an overwhelming success. And it strengthened the networks and interactions among the movements….

“A common basis was created for developing understanding, critical analysis and strategies in relation to the climate crisis, enriched by various perspectives from many cultures, peoples, and interest groups on the continent and around the world. The Cochabamba People’s Agreement reflects this.” (

A serious analysis would have begun by specifically evaluating the conclusions of the meeting, the People’s Agreement mentioned by Ribeiro. Stefanoni does not do that; the only comment he makes of the meeting in another article of his is that “the summit would be of little advantage if it served only to confirm the (deserved) international popularity of our President and to engage in emotional anticapitalism in a tumultuous collective catharsis.”[11]

Stefanoni says “Many of the official mistakes in the summit are not unrelated to its having handed over the theme of climate change to the pachamámicos….”

Who handed it over? Morales, following his correct intervention in Copenhagen, which precisely corresponded to the sentiment of the 100,000 persons who were protesting the inaction of the governments, was the only president who called the summit, not only for the Indigenous but for the people of the world.

No one has handed over the subject of climate change to the Indigenous. They are the ones who day after day are fighting and dying, as they have in Bagua, Peru, in defence of Mother Earth and against the environmental pollution resulting from the action of the big multinational corporations. Currently, the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador have shifted towards opposing Correa’s “Socialism of the 21st Century” because of his resource extraction policy. But these ecological battles are of no importance for Stefanoni; they do not amount to civilized ecology. “In Europe there is much greater awareness of the recycling of garbage (including plastic products) than there is in our country, where in many ways everything remains to be done, and an informed and technically solid environmentalism seems much more effective than managing climate change on the basis of a supposed First Nations’ philosophy….”

We agree with the criticisms by the compañeros of Mesa 18 [Working Group 18][12] of the continued resource extraction practices of the Bolivian government. They criticized the government specifically for not being, as Stefanoni puts it, consistently “pachamamista”.

Stefanoni says, among other things, “I have never seen a blockade for ‘vivir bien’, although I could be mistaken.”  In Peru, the environmental battles I mentioned are waged on behalf of “buen vivir” in opposition to capitalism’s teaching that we should “earn more money in the least possible time.” As a woman in those battles recently stated, “I am not going to eat gold.”

“The pachamámico discourse, on this and other points, simply takes the debates onto the terrain of philosophy, a discipline worthy of the greatest respect, except when used as an excuse not to address the burning issues that we must confront.”[13]

We agree that it should not be used as an excuse, but we are entitled to use it to defend Mother Earth, which is not what Stefanoni does when he demands that we abandon our Indigenous way of viewing the world — which, of course, is not his. We are entitled to maintain and develop our identity just as he has the right to maintain his vision of the world.

“The debate over decolonization cannot overlook the tension between the survival of the ghetto (in the form of preservation of ‘ancestral’ identity and culture or theories of the ‘good farmer’ Indian….”

First, let’s talk about the ghetto. The great majority of Indigenous are not and do not want to be a ghetto. (Of course there are exceptions who do have that reverse racist spirit, such as Felipe Quispe, who is respectfully mentioned by Stefanoni.) The Pachacuti party in Ecuador accepts gringos as members, provided they agree with its program. In Peru, we consider ourselves part of the broader mass movement. Morales invited everyone to come to the Cochabamba meeting (unfortunately, many of the Europeans who were in Copenhagen could not attend because their flights were cancelled due to ashes from the volcano in Iceland).

The best example are the Mayas of Chiapas [in Mexico], who have said “We are Indigenous, we are proud of it, we want to be respected as Indigenous. We consider ourselves brothers of all the poor people in Mexico and the world.” Bear in mind that the first international meeting to debate the theme “Against neoliberalism, for humanity,” much before the World Social Forums, was held in the mud of Chiapas in response to the call of the Zapatista Indigenous, and it was attended by representatives from 70 countries.

As to “the good farmer Indian,” of course this is true, we have an age-old heritage of farming that safeguards the soil. Indigenous agriculture does not engage in monoculture, which destroys the soil, nor does it use agrochemicals that likewise destroy the soil as does modern agro-industry which also uses genetically modified organisms and has discovered the wonders of the terminator seed, which cannot be used for reproduction. Indigenous agriculture, among other things, mixes crops and practices crop rotation, which conserves the soil.

“The process of change is too important to be left in the hands of the pachamámicos.”

Who wants to do that? The Indigenous movement, which is fighting for change, appeals to all the people to join in that struggle.

“The affectation of ancestral authenticity may be useful for seducing revolutionary tourists in search of Latin America’s ‘familiar exoticism’ … but it does not seem capable of contributing anything significant in terms of building a new State, instituting a new model of development, discussing a viable productive model or new forms of democracy and mass participation…. its ‘philosophical’ generality provides no clue to overcoming dependent capitalism, extractivism and rentismo, nor to the construction of a new State….”

The Indigenous community exists in any country in America with an Indigenous population: Bolivia, Chile, Honduras, Mexico, the United States, Canada. This community holds that it is the collectivity that is in charge (which does not mean there are no communities deformed by the capitalist environment surrounding them). It is, on a small scale, an organism of political power, struggling and coexisting alongside the power of the system.

Struggles against the system strengthen the community as an organism of power. I experienced this personally in the valley of La Convención, in Cusco, Peru, during the struggle for the land. We experienced it last year after the massacre in Bagua, when the police were afraid to enter many forest communities being ruled by the communal government.

We are seeing this strengthening now in Ecuador, as a result of the tension that exists between the Indigenous and “socialism of the 21st century.” In Cauca, Colombia, notwithstanding attacks by the government, the paramilitaries and the FARC,[14] the Indigenous organization is taken to higher levels of the community, and the communities are organized and are joining together.

The best example are the Indigenous of Chiapas, where the Indigenous have been governing themselves for more than 16 years in a collective, truly democratic form through “Juntas de Buen Gobierno” [Councils of Good Government], the members of which serve in rotation and are unpaid. The Zapatista National Liberation Army, which is also Indigenous in composition, does not participate in the government; its members are prohibited from being members of the councils. Its role is to protect the Indigenous communities from the attacks of the “bad government”.

The Indigenous do not “take” power, they build it from below in an authentically democratic form. They do not call it “socialism” because the “socialist” government in Chile has been jailing the Mapuche using Pinochet’s laws, and in Ecuador, as we said, they are struggling against “Socialism of the 21st century.”

Sooner or later, in Bolivia they will be confronting the government of the “Movement toward Socialism”, which is still not the Indigenous democratic government but an anti-imperialist government midway between the oligarchy and the Indigenous and Bolivian population in general, similar to the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela.

We hope that the non-Indigenous population will also participate in building the new society. We are excited by the existence of the “fábricas recuperadas” [occupied and worker-run factories] in Argentina. Probably there are other examples.

The use of the pachamámico language by government agencies and NGOs, which use it to hold back the movement and for other purposes, does not invalidate the Indigenous spirit, the Indigenous cosmovision, the Indigenous language, the Indigenous struggle. “Marxism-Leninism” was also used in the Soviet Union to massacre the workers’ vanguard, which does not invalidate Marxism or Leninism. The so-called democratic neoliberal governments do not invalidate democracy.

Translator’s notes

[1] The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was held April 20-22 in Tiquipaya, a town in Cochabamba Department, Bolivia.

[2] A comment by Evo Morales when addressing the summit was widely misinterpreted internationally. See

[3] See

[4] Catherine E. Walsh is director of the Doctoral Program in Latin American Cultural Studies, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Quito, Ecuador. See FLACSO Ecuador is the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, Ecuador section.

[5] Reprimarización, a Spanish neoligism sometimes translated as “re-primarization,” means forcing the economy to produce those low value-added items where it has an absolute competitive advantage — in Bolivia, for example, hydrocarbons extraction for export with little development of refining capacity or endogenous manufacturing.

[6] Respectively, Quechua for Mother Earth and Earth Father. Felipe Quispe heads the Pachakuti Indigenous Movement (MIP) and has also been general secretary of the United Union Confederation of Working Peasants of Bolivia (CSUTCB). See The Chapare district of Bolivia is the heartland of the Indigenous coca growers, whose union is headed even now by Evo Morales.

[7] See Forrest Hylton, “The Bolivian Blockades in Historical Context”,

[8] Chacha Warmi: the Quechua principle of two sexes, working together to attain equilibrium in the cosmos. Evo Morales describes his cabinet, which is composed equally of men and women, as an example. Three of the 10 female members are Indigenous social activists.

[9] The Viceroyalty of Peru was one of the two Spanish Viceroyalties in America from the sixteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Viceroy Francisco de Toledo laid the basis for Spanish rule in Peru from 1569 to 1582. He executed Túpac Amaru, the last Indigenous leader of the Inca state in Peru.

[10] Rentismo refers to economic dependency on royalties and taxes from natural resource extraction.

[11] See “Bolivia Avatar,”

[12] Mesa 18 was an informal working group at the Cochabamba summit, in addition to the 17 official working groups, comprised of people from social movements opposed to mining and hydrocarbon policies of the Morales government.

[13] “Bolivia Avatar”, op. cit.

[14] Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the oldest and largest insurgent grouping in that country. FARC guerrillas have been known to attack Indigenous communities.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Preparing a new International: ‘Anti-imperialism should be the common element that brings us all together’

From Socialist Voice, May 1, 2010

A LeftViews interview with Julio Chávez
Julio Chávez is a member of the international committee of the congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which is charged with drafting a specific plan of action to form a new socialist international. He was interviewed by Kiraz Janicke and Federico Fuentes.

The interview was originally published in under the title “The First Socialist International of the 21st Century.” It has been edited for Socialist Voice by Richard Fidler.

The proposal that President Hugo Chávez made regarding the formation of a Fifth Socialist International has attracted a lot of attention at a global level. We’re interested in your point of view, as a delegate and member of the International Committee of the Congress of the PSUV: Why propose a Fifth International and what is the importance of this proposal?

I believe that the proposal launched by President Hugo Chávez – to raise at this time a global debate on the historical relevance of the need; to call on all parties, movements and leftist and anti-imperialist currents in the world to have a full discussion – is based on the characterization and in-depth analysis of the crisis of global capitalism. This leads unquestionably to the conclusion that the only way to overcome the cyclical crisis of world capitalism is, in fact, by proposing a model or a path that is completely different from the neoliberal model, the predatory model, of capitalism. There is no alternative other than the path of transition to socialism.

We believe that discussion of a transitional program – a great debate – should be happening this year in Caracas due to the role that Venezuela is playing as the epicentre of the great transformations that have occurred since the beginning of this century, and which have motivated and enthused the peoples of our America, and also because of the leading role that Venezuela and President Hugo Chávez are playing at the global level.

We think it is necessary as well because of the aggressive policy of U.S. imperialism toward Venezuela: the installation of military bases, reactivation of the Fourth Fleet, and the media campaign of attacks and insults against both the revolutionary process and the leader of this process. For all these reasons, we believe it is appropriate to call for an organization which would have Caracas as the epicentre; for a great global debate about the need to advance on a proposal to overcome the contradiction between capital and labour.

The only option, the only alternative we see as viable, feasible as a historical project of life, is precisely the path towards socialism.

We believe, therefore – drawing on the experiences and our assessments of the four previous internationals, which had Europe as their epicentre precisely because of the industrial revolution and the great contradictions expressed in the context of rapidly growing capitalism, and which led to its highest stage, imperialism – that all these contradictions have been transferred to Latin America, and have created in Venezuela the conditions, the features, to make a call of this nature.

I repeat, it must become an organization that is permanent in nature, that is able to summon all the parties of the Left, social movements, prominent individuals and historical currents of thought. And not just specifically those raising the historical project of socialism; anti-imperialism should be the common element that brings us all together.

Of course we don’t just want one more event, one more conference. We’re making this call not just in order to open a discussion, a debate, to produce a document, but to actually set minimum agreements, to adopt a minimum transitional program, a policy of developing in all the five continents, based on the analysis of the current situation, a characterization of each particular region. We want to consider expeditiously the transition towards a model that overcomes the contradictions of capital and labour.

Why is anti-imperialism being proposed as the common element and not just socialism?

We say that this call has to have a broad character. It is possible that in some countries, such as in the Middle East, there are organizations and movements fighting against some expressions of imperialism and international Zionism as such but that are not socialist in essence, in the programmatic sense. But, undoubtedly, they are fighting imperialism.

That’s why we say that it could be that in some Islamic countries that do not have socialism as an ideological element – for example the case of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, which is anti-imperialist – that this element will be an element that will summon as many parties, organizations, movements in the world to join the battle, the confrontation with imperialism.

As well as all those who defend a model based on the world view of indigenous people, and the principles and approaches of scientific socialism, elements of regional and Bolivarian thought, the ideas of Mariátegui, of Martí, the tree of the three roots in Venezuela,[see note - editor] and all those who are part of a historical, philosophical current that defends the claims accumulated through many years of struggle by the peoples in this part of the world.

From this anti-imperialist perspective, this vision informed by the experience of the historical struggles of indigenous peoples, it is possible to summon as many parties, movements, and currents in the world, let us repeat, for a wide-ranging debate, a full discussion, and to agree on a plan, a minimum transitional program, to move concretely towards a socialist project at a world level.

An anti-imperialist project is the only way at this juncture, faced with the cyclical crisis of capitalism. Capitalism is not going to collapse by itself, but is in a process of readjustment, of realignment, of looking for the possibility of a second wind. We believe that at this juncture it is possible to consider an alternative, but it must be global and anti-imperialist.

There is a core document that we have been discussing within the congress, in the international committee of the PSUV congress. A document in which we have assessed and taken stock of what the four previous socialist internationals signified, the context in which they were called, of the proposals, the achievements that they made. And in view of the historical relevance, the policy of aggression against the Bolivarian revolution, and the processes of transformation that have been occurring in other countries, we believe it is possible to produce a document that contains all those elements.

We have even talked about the definition of the historical subject – those who are making the call, and the social movements, currents and parties in different continents and different countries who are engaged in a common struggle with us, which is the struggle against imperialism.

Therefore, we believe that through this approach and, of course, discussing the objectives of this call for a Fifth International – or as we also call it, the First Socialist International of the 21st Century, because there are some discussions with the Communist Party comrades who do not recognize the Fourth International, but we say it is not a question of numbers, but in any case it would be the first Socialist International of this century. And under these assumptions, by seeking to broaden the programmatic base, the doctrinal principles, with an agenda of topics to discuss, a program to develop, it will be possible to go beyond simply producing a document, and to produce an agreement that is expressed in very concrete policies, recognizing the reality of each continent, of each country, and this effort should lead to the articulation of a powerful global movement to allow us to move forward.

We can move forward on a debate, a discussion about what things we can agree on, opening the possibility that within the meeting there will also be a debate on the whole mechanism of coordination, of integration, beyond governments, because this is not a government event, we are talking about parties, movements, to develop an international policy which has internationalism as a spearhead of counter-hegemonic confrontation.

I think it is possible to discuss all these aspects in Venezuela, and we can then come out of it with a minimum program, a minimum plan of work, again, respecting differences, allowing us to develop a policy around different continents that would have a permanent basis, so that we have the possibility of regular meetings at a continental or regional level, to evaluate the progress of things, but it should also be binding for all organizations, movements and parties that make this call.

Here you have touched on a subject that historically has always been complicated, that is, the difference between diplomatic relations of governments and the relations of parties, particularly when some of these parties are also in government, like the PSUV, which was created following the call made by a head of state. This issue has been raised, for example, in relation to other governments with which Venezuela maintains good diplomatic relations but that are far from being socialist, where one understands that the State should have diplomatic relations, but where left-wing forces who may be interested in participating [in the Fifth International] are part of the opposition to these governments.

I think that right now we are having a very interesting debate in the ideological congress of the party. Remember that, three years ago, we had a founding congress and this is the first ideological congress. Coincidentally, we are right now finishing the discussion and debate about the programmatic basis for a party which is conceived for the transition to socialism. We are discussing the values, principles, statutes, and clearly we have been discussing and distinguishing that one thing is the government’s foreign policy and another thing is the international politics of the PSUV.

I think we’re making a clear conceptualization of these two positions where, undoubtedly, there are levels of convergence because we believe that the PSUV should be a space, a scenario where policy is discussed in order to be executed precisely at the level of government, in this case in ministries to which international issues apply, of course with the participation, the approval of President Chávez, who is leading the State’s foreign policy and is at the same time the party president.

There are things the government and our embassies cannot say, but the PSUV is more likely to express positions from an ideological point of view and this has been a large part of the discussion that has occurred in the national congress.

So I think we’re making good progress in differentiating the foreign policy of the government and the party, understanding the peculiarity that in this case the president is the president of the nation and, at the same time, the party president.

We have been careful not to get involved in discussions within other countries, to not take positions on issues which are up to the peoples of those countries and their governments to take.

But in any case, the PSUV is proposing to design, to elaborate a policy, an offensive that allows us to establish contacts at the global level with those organizations and social movements that have been doing solidarity work with Venezuela, which have been supportive of the efforts and initiatives taken by the Bolivarian revolution, with the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution, and this is giving us a chance to come together and network with many movements, with many parties and organizations in the world that share the historical project of socialism, the historical project to overcome the contradiction between capital and labour.

We believe we have made great strides in this need to differentiate what is the government’s foreign policy and what is the party’s international politics. Internationalism is enshrined in the statutes in the values and principles, because this is not a party that is thinking only about the transition that is happening in Venezuela.

We are talking about a party that has to assume internationalism, solidarity and to develop the necessary initiatives in terms of confronting imperialism and strengthening policy coordination with those parties, movements and organizations that defend anti-imperialist struggle.

I think we have made significant progress there. We do not believe that at this moment, just as we are finishing the first ideological congress of the party, that we have the party that we want, but undoubtedly, we have advanced, we have taken very strong steps towards building this powerful instrument within which we can discuss and debate the major issues, major policies, major decisions to advance the transition to socialism.

Has the document drafted by the commission been approved already or is it still under discussion?

The international commission was charged with the responsibility of drawing up a document. The document is circulating internally within the party; it is in the hands of the national leadership and, of course, has been raised for the consideration of the president of the party.

The document is circulating and there have been some comments, and when the president authorizes it, that is the basic document that will be released to encourage and motivate the discussion on the historical relevance and the need to summon all the parties and movements across the world that struggle against imperialism and for the construction of a socialist project.

Obviously, in a revolutionary situation, things cannot simply be determined by a calendar, particularly in the context of the offensive that imperialism has launched in recent months, but is there an idea, at least, of when the founding of the Fifth International will be?

Indeed there is a whole plan of different phases that has been submitted for consideration, where it has been proposed to call meetings at a regional or continental level, to create promotional teams, with a strategy for disseminating information so that it can be built from the bottom up.

It is anticipated that all these elements, the creation of an information system, making all the communicational elements that the revolution has been using, all these tools, all these resources, available to the revolution and parties worldwide, will be part of this plan by phases.

There is also the idea of holding various meetings, where there is even the possibility that our delegations will travel to other continents, other countries to discuss, to motivate, to create the conditions for starting to debate the issue.


Editor’s note: “The tree of the three roots in Venezuela” is expression peculiar to Chavismo. This appears to be a reference to Simón Bolívar, Simón Rodriguez and Ezequiel Zamora, respectively the founding indendence leader of Venezuela, a 19th century educator, and the liberal leader of the Federalists in the Federal War of 1859-1863.