Colombia and Ireland

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Tue Oct 26 19:43:50 MDT 1999

    You entirely missed the point of my first post, which is that those who
claim that the civil war that has been raging in Colombia for lo! these many
decades is essentially an intra-bourgeois struggle HAVE AN OBLIGATION to
tell the rest of us just WHO ARE the two sectors of the capitalist class
involved and what is it about their interests that has led them to such an
extreme struggle.

    For it is one thing to have a small group of bourgeois embark on a
military adventure as a means, for example, of pressuring a dynastic regime
to loosen up, as Chamorro and some of his conservative friends did in
Nicaragua in the 1960s, and quite another to wage a war for decades which at
least puts a question mark over the continued physical integrity of the
Colombian state.

    Moreover, I pointed out that simply saying that it is an intra-bourgeois
conflict DOES NOT SETTLE the matter of whether or not the proletariat has a
stake in its outcome. In the United States, the fight over whether or not
abortion is to remain legal is certainly an "intra-bourgeois" conflict. The
American capitalists and their representatives in Congress, the media, and
the Washington TV gasbag circuit are demonstratively divided over the issue.
Does this mean that the attitude of the working class should be to simply
shrug its shoulders and say, that's an intra-bourgeois conflict, its none of
our business?

    I cited the example of the U.S. Civil War to show that, in reality,
bourgeois civil wars are fairly transparent in terms of the material
interests involved.

    None of this, however, is of any concern to you since, clearly, your
standpoint is not a Marxist, materialist one, but an IDEALIST one.

    "The essential politics of both [meaning all three, the ELN, the FARC,
and the IRA] is reformist," you write. This is the bottom line of your
analysis. Moreover, you identify "reformism" with the struggle for reforms.
You say "in the past" (when? where?) Marxist should have extended "critical
support" to reformism, but NOW (why now?) the struggle for reforms becomes
"a palpable illusion." You imbue reformism with the attributes of a material
force in society, and moreover, identify it with the struggle for reforms,
which is absurd.

     Yet, having denounced the struggle for reforms, in the *very next
sentence*  you castigate me for failing "to consider the present concerns of
workers and farmers facing giant petrochemical transnationals, the IMF's
structural adjustment programs, endemic unemployment in Belfast and the
fluidity of the EU Common Agricultural Policy" -- without, of course, saying
one word concretely as to what those "present concerns" consist of. (I must
admit being intrigued by your denunciation of the "fluidity" of the CAP. I
do hope you will have time to enlighten us as to just what a Marxist Common
Agricultural Policy for the European Union would consist of.)

    "It is becoming clearer to me that a lot of flak on this list is
reserved in defence of nationalism.  There are some personal interests at
stake, I think."

I'm not sure what this last bit of innuendo is meant to suggest. It would be
much better for the sake of hygiene in the discussion if you just came out
and said exactly what it is you have in mind, so that it can be dealt with

    As for a lot of flak being reserved "in defence of nationalism" I don't
at all agree. A lot of flak is being directed at great nation chauvinism,
which finds expression not only in political positions that oppose the just
aspirations for national liberation of the masses in countries like
Colombia, but also in an arrogant know-it-all supercilious attitude of
certain Marxists towards revolutionary movements in the third world.


-----Original Message-----
From: bernie wool <bernard.wool at>
To: marxism at <marxism at>
Date: Tuesday, October 26, 1999 5:16 PM
Subject: Re: Colombia and Ireland

>George Pennefather wrote:
>>   In Colombia a civil war exists. It is a civil war that that has
>> nothing to do with the promotion of the class interests of the working
>> class. The FARC and the ELN are the principal guerrilla armies
>> claiming to represent the interests of the masses. But there is little
>> or no difference between these movements and the forces of the state.
>> Both are merely different expressions of the interests of the
>> bourgeoisie and thereby serve different functions in perpetuating the
>> existence of that class.
>> Clip
>Signals have gone out that we must not pay heed to George Pennefather,
>because what he writes is 'idiotic', 'drivel', 'sectarian', and
>ultraleft',  to quote Louis Proyect.  A more analytical approach emerges
>from Jose Perez.
>Clearly it is a mistake to equate guerrilla forces in Columbia with the
>Provisional IRA, the latter facing directly the oldest imperialist state
>from within the oldest colony, the first fighting against a bourgeois
>state in an ex-colonial and still semi-colonial country dominated by on
>the one hand 'mafia-capital' and the other transnational capital.
>However, that is not to say that it is wrong to question the class
>interests in either case, nor their politics.
>The essential politics of both is reformist.  While that would at some
>time in the past have encouraged critical support from Marxists, there
>comes a time when reform, whether within the British or Columbian
>states, becomes a palpable illusion.  To support it then becomes both a
>confusion and a barrier to the working class, and in the case of the
>Columbian peasant majority, to that too.
>It is one thing to cite Engels as an authority or to look back on the
>American civil war, as does Jose Perez, but something quite different to
>consider the present concerns of workers and farmers facing giant
>petrochemical transnationals, the IMF's structural adjustment programs,
>endemic unemployment in Belfast and the fluidity of the EU Common
>Agricultural Policy.  To rely on either abuse or rigid historical
>precedent to counter Pennefather's observations is a matter of
>theoretical poverty.
>The FARC/ELN may well have stated that its aim was to 'SMASH' the
>Columbian state, and was, like the Provisional IRA, engaged in a
>protracted, bitter war against the state.  But in both cases what is
>wrong with asking either group what it intends to replace the state
>with?  Nothing at all, because both workers and peasants will soon be
>asking those very questions, on the one hand over the Good Friday
>Agreement and on the other the rapprochment between FARC/ELN and the
>Columbian government.
>'The leader of the FARC comes from a deeply exploited peasant family,
>while the
>ELN has had a base in oil refinery workers for over a decade.'
>[Proyect].  So.......?  Some Provos and no doubt some FARC/ELN cadres
>have claimed to be socialists, because of their background, and needless
>to say claim revolutionary credentials.  But both replace the masses
>with themselves, and both manipulate popular sentiment. 'The FARC played
>an interesting role in a recent general strike against the monetarist
>policies of Pastrana, by seizing a power station.'  [Owen Jones]  Yes,
>it would be interesting to know what role the power station workers
>played in this, and how they responded to the FARC occupation.
>'No sector of the capitalist class is going to wage a decades-long civil
>war over purely tactical differences over whether or not to grant a few
>more concessions. The
>guerrilla's systematic and concerted effort to SMASH the state is proof
>the class forces and material interests at stake are much more far
>reaching.' [Perez]  If indeed Columbia is a semi-colonial country then
>the power of its 'capitalist class' is economically very limited by the
>much larger imperialist interests.  Are we dealing here with 'business
>sectors' or are we dealing with cliques up to the neck in corruption?
>If the latter is true, then of course such cliques will use all the
>military power at their disposal to prevent their rake-off falling into
>the hands of others and to save their necks!  After all, their influence
>extends into the military top-brass, and yet the guys with big
>epaulettes and flashy hats don't get wasted in the jungle.
>It is becoming clearer to me that a lot of flak on this list is reserved
>in defence of nationalism.  There are some personal interests at stake,
>I think.  What I haven't yet seen is anything that begins to address the
>implications of huge changes in the self-movement of capital -
>'globalization' - for the international working class.  There is a clear
>preference to see the class as divided among nation states, when
>increasingly there are signs of its own development of internationalism,
>and vastly more for its necessity.


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