Rules of the road

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March 13, 2006

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leftspot

Last night in the middle of the night the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE), which oversees the elections, suspended the recount without announcing a winner in the San Salvador mayor's race. The offical count had the FMLN candidate, Violeta Menjivar, winning by a little over 100 votes. The TSE is headed by an ARENA leader.

Both FMLN and ARENA announced that they won the mayor's race and neither has conceded, though the offical count says the FMLN won.

The FMLN called on their supporters to gather in the Plaza Civica to defend their victory if ARENA tries to steal the election. There have been thousands of FMLN supporters there for a couple days now. The media is reporting rising tension.

It is worth noting that two elections that the right wing stole in the 1970s were a key precursor to the civil war in the 1980s.

friend of a friend

Has the FMLN fully de-commissioned their armed forces?

When they adopted a parliamentary approach after the collapse of the Soviet bloc did they engage in a political reformulation internally regarding the path of struggle?

Do they hold that there is a difference between the state under capitalism and socialism?

Sorry to ask questions like this. I can't read Spanish so going through their documents isn't really an option unless somebody knows where translations can be had.

leftspot

Yes, the FMLN fully decommissioned their armed forces in 1992. Some stashes of weapons have been found buried since then that were not handed in and were presumably stashed away "just in case". But essentially the FMLN did decomission their arms and did dissolve their armed structures.

The FMLN had sharp internal struggle soon after giving up the armed struggle and becoming a 'legal' political electoral party.

The FMLN was made up of 5 different parties, which united in 1980 under the umbrella of the FMLN, but that maintained their separate organizations and structures throughout the war and 2 years into the 'peace'. Those 5 parties had different politics.

Two of those 5 orgs split away in 1994 to form the short-lived "Democratic Party" in a social democratic split. Much of the base of those two groups quickly returned to the FMLN when they saw that that was the wrong thing to do, but most of their main leaders never came back to the FMLN and have become outright right wing (Juaquin Villalobos) or totally inactive in politics. Though there are some important exceptions to this.

After those two groups split in 1994, the 5 different organizations inside the FMLN were formally dissolved and the FMLN became a 'single party'. From that point on the line struggles and splits in the FMLN have not neatly followed the lines of the 5 organizations.

The splits in the late 90s through last year were over whether to continue to be "revolutionary and socialist" as one side put it, or whether to embark on a new path that wasn't clearly articulated but that was essentially anti-communist and social democratic.

In the 14 years since the peace accords the amazing thing is that the revolutionary socialist side has won the internal struggles and the FMLN is still led by people who as far as I know consider themselves communists and who are committed to revolution and socialism.

They made an assessment in 1990-1992 that the war was unsustainable (due principally to weariness from the masses, and also due to external factors like collapse of Nicaragua and USSR, and the emergence of a unipolar US dominated world, as well as the internal factors we now know about, being the emerging social democratic line among a section of the FMLN leadership that essentially didn't want to win militarily and had totally lost their bearings politically).

Political education was not good in the FMLN in the 1990s. By dissolving the 5 organizational structures in 1994, they also lost the interal educational and cadre development that each organization practiced with their members. That is only finally being rebuilt over the last couple years. So the politics among the base are unevenly developed though firmly revolutionary and socialist.

I think they do understand the difference between a socialist and capitalist state. They understand clearly that they are running in elections to lead a capitalist state. And their program is not to build socialism immediately.

They support a line that it is possible to get elected within the bourgeois state and then start to build toward socialism and then mobilize the masses to defend those gains against the (inevitable) counterrevolution. They point to Chile under Allende as their main example of electoral socialism and also now talk much about and are very inspired by Chavez/Venezuela.

So I think their line is different than probably most people commenting on this blog, since the FMLN believes they can take power electorally and then from there build toward socialism.

Then again, they've never renounced armed struggle on principle, and I don't think anyone has said that the electoral struggle would be the be-all and end-all or that it would necessarily go on forever.

In other words they made a strategic decision based on a number of internal and external factors that there would need to be a period of legal, electoral struggle. But presumably the period could change, and strategies and tactics could change.

This is all speculation of course. For the forseeable future the FMLN is likely to continue to be a legal political party that competes in bourgeois elections and is active in building and supporting the mass movements. They are committed to socialism and to revolution -- meaning that their goal is to end capitalism and replace it with socialism; and they seem to understand that at some point there will be a rupture to move from capitalism to socialism.

Christopher Day

Thank you leftspot.

I'd actually like to see some more discussion of the "electoral road" being pursued so widely in Latin America. My history and instincts are that its a dead end, but I'm inspired by Chavez too and I am struggling not to be dogmatic.

Elections mean different things depending on your location within the imperialist world order. There are huge differences between the history of East Asia and Latin America that are often lost sight of when we use terms like "Third World." One of those is a (highly compromised) history of liberalism and nominal democracy going back to independence from Spain. Another is the proximity and degree of political penetration by the U.S.. Add to this the indigenous and African presence and distinctive patterns of agrarian development, and the model of peoples war so beloved of Maoists may not have quite the universal applicability that some claim. The Peruvian experience should force us take this possibility seriously.

Gramsci's (am I beginning to sound like a broken record) distinction between war of position and war of maneuver as phases of POLITICAL struggle (which BTW doesn't map very well with Mao's use of similar terminolgy for phases of MILITARY struggle), is helpful here.

The electoral road should not be confused with a naive belief that there won't be an armed confrontation in the process, but rather reflects the view that real advantages are to be had in making the state itself a terrain of struggle and to force it to reveal its class character. The question of the possibility of winning over sections of the military (a la Chavez), certainly changes the calculus.

the burningman

Chris writes: "the model of peoples war so beloved of Maoists may not have quite the universal applicability that some claim"

Well, it's March, not "may" in this case.

You think the Americas are heterogenous? Think about China or Nepal. You don't get more cultural particularities than in those parts.

As a correction, the Communist Party of Peru's model has not been the simple surround-the-cities approach. That's not even it in Nepal, btw.

Gonzalo argued that urbanization required a bi-parate struggle. Significant shantytown organizations were developed, with the truth often obscure such as the famous disputes in Villa El Salvador where the PCP took community council elections only to have their cadre denounced by the "leftists" who they displaced.

The Channel 4 documentary "People of the Shining Path" gets into much of that in a fairly accessable way.

People's War is fundamentally a political orientation, not a simple blow-by-blow template.

leftclick

I find myself in the same boat as Chris Day. I am also inclined to think that an electoral strategy towards socialism is a non-starter, but I'm trying to stay open.

The presidency of Chavez is something I'm trying to get a handle on. The left in this country is far too uncritical of his presidency [contrast this with the frequent vilification of Sendero Luminoso - so please, no hypocritical protestations that you are respecting Venezualan sovereignty]. Can Chavez's intentions and popular mobilizations transform the fact that Venezuela's financial leverage is oil? How will international competition affect the parameters of change? It is not a matter of his intentions, but what the material basis of his presidency will provide for. Day has, in another forum, raised the question of theoretical trends outside MLM so I ask, where is the deconstructive spirit here? Chavez is brilliantly successful now but what are the long-term undercurrents that threaten to undermine his project?

Criticism of Lula among the US left focuses too much on his personal characteristics but never asks whether the electoral road in Brazil has some of these built-in pitfalls. Instead all we hear about is corruption but never about the impossibility of restricting exploitation from even a "progressive" capitalism.

I wish all the best for the FMLN and the Salvadoran people but I don't see them answering the question, how can the material basis of a system be transformed by the system? I don't want to be dogmatic either but I don't see how it can happen.

yadadamean

Not to pick on him, but Christopher Day's methodology seems a little off. I've read him write that the RCP is stuck in a 60s political framework and that the Leninist Party is a product of a particular historical moment in Russia and is therefore not necessary today. And now, People's War is not applicable in Latin America? You can't declare things to be an anachronism if you don't have something new and better to replace it with. And don't say bourgeois elections and Hugo Chavez. Bourgeois Elections have been around for hundreds of years and Hugo has been tried before. Arbenz, Allende, Mossadegh, etc. Except they were probably far to the left of Chavez in terms of real social programs. Ask the 80% of Venezuelan working in the informal sector. Ask the shantytown dweller hawking Chavez T-shirts on the street in Caracas to World Social Forum tourists. As far as the RCP goes, take a look at the rest of the left. Most of the so-called socialist/communist groups are stuck in a 1930s or 40s timewarp. And most can hardly be called "revolutionary." Just cuz Avakian talks like a revolutionary from the 60s (which he is) is not a reason to dismiss him. Go into a Revolution Books in Berkeley and check out the Graffitti on the walls and the Tupac books. Then go talk to a trotskyist about the working class and the current world situation. You'll find out that the RCP has a much deeper understanding of who the revolutionary working class is in the U.S. (and understanding which has changed considerably since the 70s with globalization, immigration, downsizing, etc.), a much more dynamic understanding of the current contradictions, and a much more serious strategy for revolution. This is where the Leninist Party comes in. And this is a major reason why the RCP hasn't degenerated like so many others and why Cornel West called Avakian a "long distance runner in the struggle..." The Leninist Party and Maoist People's War are like burningman said: they are a model and an orientation, not a blow by blow template. You cannot pull out particulars to delegitimize a whole. You cannot declare something inapplicable without coming up with something applicable. No, Foucault is not applicable. As far as people's war in Latin America, the FMLN got the prestige it has today in order to win elections through People's War (despite bad leadership).

By the way, here's an interesting anecdote from my trip to Venezuela. While I was there we heard a speech that Chavez gave to a business and political delegation from the China. In the speech, he went on and on about Mao and how great of a leader Mao was (Chavez has very eclectic politics -- rhetorically that is. He'll talk about Marxism and his own radical interpretation of Jesus in the same breath). Of course this was all in the context of business dealings with the Chinese capitalists. He made a similar speech about Ho Chi Minh and the heroic Vietnamese resistence to U.S. imperialism as deals were sealed for Vietnamese sweatshop products.

The point is, although Venezuela, like the Zapatistas before, is the dominant attraction for the non-revolutionary left -- for those seeking some sort of "third path" or "otra" campana, in between revolutionary communism and the current capitalist disaster -- South Asia is where the real action is happening. In terms of poles of influence, the revolutionary upsurge in South Asia has been virtually off the map of the american left, or otherwise slandered, as in Harper's. Meanwhile, everyone wants to uncritically celebrate the leaders riding the crest of Latin American people's discontent. It's one thing to celebrate the upsurge from below, it's another thing to celebrate the leaders that demobilize it. Pay attention to Evo. See how far Chavez gets before running into the boundaries of the possible within the imperialist world economy (yes France, Spain, Russia, and maybe China -- are also imperialists). He may have good intentions, and pan-latin-american bolivarianism is kinda cool, but... what was that quote from Lenin (or maybe someone else) about good intentions? And always defend the people from U.S. aggression

Christopher Day

I sincerely share your skepticism. But I also know that history is full of surprises. I'm not looking for a "third path" between revolutionary communism and the current capitalist disaster. I'm looking for any path that brings this fucker down and brings us closer to real communism. I support what is happening in Nepal and I support what is happening in Venezuela. And I support the Zapatistas. The verdict isn't in on any of them though history is rich with warnings about the dangers surrounding all of them.

Hasta la victoria siempre!

indeed

I'm wishing for the best for all. The university of struggle is training a new generation -- so let's learn.

We've got hands, too.

That march in Chicago? Nepal. The survival of Cuba, whatever its real problems. The Zapatistas turning a deflating stalemate of encirclement into a civil counter-offensive.

Paris.

Wildness in the Philippines.

Chavez lecturing Chinese capitalists about the virtues of Mao and maybe not even knowing, really, what's happened there.

It's possible. Random ass shit is the way of it and I'm so ready for pleasant surprises.

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