Forwarded from Anthony (reply to Owen)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Aug 17 14:02:01 MDT 2000

Hi Lou: A few canceled classes, a jog around the park, and some food for
thought from your list have provoked me to write today.

More about the FARC and Colombia - in reply to Owen and others

Owen wrote a lot of things that point in the right direction in the
discussion about Colombia, although his contribution is very distant from
the Colombian reality.

I want to make a few comments about some of his statements. Owen wrote,

" These guerrilla groups are peasant armies. Their aim is not the
construction of a workers' state, but rather the solution of the peasant
problem; in other words, bourgeois-democratic reforms. If the Colombian
ruling class were to give in, and distribute land and suchlike to the
Colombian peasantry, all would immediately lay down arms. Indeed, they have
made it quite clear in the "peace process" that if they achieve "social
justice" (i.e. bourgeois-democratic reforms), they will surrender."

While generally true, this is a very big oversimplification from several
different angles.

In the first place the Colombian "peasantry" has been radically transformed
over the past half-century. The stereotypical landless peons working on the
large haciendas, or as tenant farmers, are a very tiny percentage of the
rural population. About half of the rural population is involved in
subsistence and small commercial farming, but frequently work in the cities
as well. The other half work in modern commercial agriculture, owners of
efficient medium sized farms, or skilled workers, and agricultural
proletarians. Many of the latter two categories work for the medium sized
farms, and many others work for large corporate farms (owned either by
national or international capital). Many members of the agricultural
proletariat live in towns or cities.(Especially in the cut flower industry,
Colombia's second largest legal export.)

The FARC's peasant army has a social base only among small parts of the
rural and urban population: most important are the very small farmers -
subsistence farmers, and very small and inefficient commercial farmers, and
most important among them are those displaced during "La Violencia" in the
1940's and 50's. The second group is the displaced people of today - about
a million strong, who have been driven from their homes by paramilitary
violence. The paramilitary organizations here are directed and financed by
the gremios (business organizations) of the medium and large sized farmers.

The FARC does not have a strong base in all rural areas, nor in all sectors
of the peasantry.

Secondly. The FARC has not said it will lay its arms down if there is land
reform. Nor can they. The simple reason is the murder of between 3,000 and
4,000 activists of the Union Patriotica a decade ago. The UP was an effort
by the FARC, the Communist Party, and various leftists in their orbit to
launch an electoral party as the vehicle for ending the armed struggle and
transforming themselves into a social democratic opposition party as the
Sandinistas did in Nicaragua. It was cut short by the most atrocious death
squad activity in Latin America since the fall of the Argeninte generals.

The FARC will make peace, if and when the government arrests and imprisons
the military leaders, agricultural businessmen, and thugs, who carried out
the last wave of terror. This is the real price of peace.

Third. The FARC is a big business. Money is the mother's milk of politics,
armed politics in particular. The FARC raises its money through three

1) "taxes" imposed on farmers, businesses, and individuals in a more or
less arbitrary fashion. If a business or individual is targeted for
taxation, they will be informed of the amount and method of payment. If
they do not follow through they will be threatened with death, injury, or
the "arrest" of a child or relative, or even of the "taxpayer".

The bourgeois press calls this kidnapping and extortion. The FARC has
"arrested" several thousand people in the last three years. More each year.
The arrested are not only members of the bourgeoisie, they include small
farmers and taxi drivers - and they include children.

No one knows how many people pay taxes to the FARC, but most big businesses
used to. Many stopped about two years ago, leading the FARC to increase the
pressure on the petty bourgeoisie.

2. Drugs. The FARC protects small farmers growing coca and opium poppies.
But the FARC also transports and processed cocaine and opium.

3. The FARC owns legitimate businesses, including factories, restaurant,
and bus companies. These are used to launder money, transport soldiers,
manufacture arms, and - as a source of income. Semana magazine (one of the
two big weeklies here) claims that the FARC is the third largest business
group in Colombia. The FARC neither denies nor confirms its participation
in the legal economy when questioned by reporters in interviews I have
heard or read. They merely assert their right to do so if they choose.

(All of the above information comes from interviews with FARc leaders
published int he Colombian press. It is not hearsay.)

Land reform is secondary.

Owen wrote,

"None of these armies will have the ability to seize power unless they have
the active support of the urban proletariat. Unfortunately, much of the
urban proletariat are not only not actively behind the insurrections, but
often are in fact hostile to them. If it were true that there had been a
big recent influx of rural peasants into Bogota from the countryside, then
there would be a strong link between the urban proletariat and the rural
petty-bourgeoisie and perhaps there would be a real chance of revolution."

There has been a very big influx of rural peasants into Bogota, Medellin,
Barranquilla and all of the other big cities of Colombia. About one million
in the last ten years. And they do form a base of support for the FARC in
the cities.

However, they are only a small part of the proletariat of this country.
Colombia's population is more than 70% urban, and there are about 40
million people in this country. In other words 28 million people live in
cities. About half of them can be considered part of the working class
(i.e. wage workers and their immediate families, and not petty bourgeois or
salaried professionals, or big bourgeois.) In other words the displaced
make up less than 5% of the urban working class.

If the FARC had a working class political orientation, that 5% could become
worker-militants, and could exercise political influence over the rest of
the working class. However, there is no evidence that the FARC has a
working class orientation, nor that the FARC base of support in the cities
tries to organize workers in any way other than as soldiers or logistical
support for the FARC in the countryside.

[The CP however, remains an important force in the trade unions. It is a
very conservative and frightened CP which organizes for-show only general
strikes, and runs municipal reform electoral campaigns. The exact nature of
FARC CP relations today is not clear to me, but whatever they are, they
appear to be conducted at the top - and not at the base.]

Own wrote,

"Yet in regard to this civil war, the Colombian working class have been
passive. But it is only they who directly confront the Colombian
bourgeoisie on a day-to-day basis, and they have been engaged in acute
class struggle with the ruling class - not least with the general strike of
last year. I throw my bags in with them, not the peasantry, as
revolutionary as individual peasants are."

I like the Colombian working class, too. But the general strikes here are
not the most important manifestations of struggle. For three reasons: one
is that they are carefully negotiated before hand with the government -
parade routes, etc. One day only. Another is that they are not really 100%
workers strikes - they are civic paros. A paro is a community work
stoppage. And in this case the "community" is an alliance of the bus
companies, who are being pressed by high gasoline prices and an effort by
one bus company (owned by President Pastrana's family) to put the others
out of business, with the unions. And, the unions are very weak in the
private sector. Even in sectors where the unions have been traditionally
strong, support for the general strikes has been weak: notably the bank

Owen wrote:

" Really, the only guarantee of success for the Colombian revolution is a
peasant-proletarian alliance - but with the working class in the driving
seat. I doubt very much whether the peasant armies have the capability of
expropriating the Colombian bourgeoisie; if, hypothetically, they manage to
take power, they will issue some radical bourgeois-democratic reforms, but
leave the ruling class in place. They have no interest in interfering with
the bourgeoisie, for they have no real quarrel with them. They just want
land, and when they get it, they will happily throw their arms over to the
Colombian State. There have been many such examples in recent Latin
American history. What I am worried about is that if they do attempt to
storm the city without active support or maybe even hostility from the
proletariat, the peasant bands will crush the organized working class. It
would not be the first time a petty-bourgeois movement has atomized a

Owen, the FARC is about as likely to storm London as it is to storm Bogota.
Stop believing the things you read in the bourgeois press, or for that
matter what wishful - but distant from the struggle - leftists write.

Owen concluded with,

" But I'm just a silly trotskyist cynic who doesn't know a real revolution
when he sees one, so maybe I should take Mac's advice and take some heart."

I personally think Owen should keep his Trotskyism, abandon his
half-serious cynicism, take heart, but not follow Mac's advice.

And to Owen's postscript,

" P.S. Didn't one of the FARC leaders recently go on a tour of Europe, dine
with the Pope, and say how marvelous European social democracy was?"

Yes, Raul Reyes.

Louis Proyect

The Marxism mailing-list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list