Forwarded from Anthony (response to NACLA & Colombia)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Dec 7 13:12:44 MST 2000

 "Mr Wilson, president of the United States, was right when he recently
paid homage to the Russian Revolution, describing it as a noble effort to
attain liberties. It would be good, however, if he would remember this
statement and bear in mind the clear analogy, the striking parallel, or
rather the absolute equivalence between that movement and Mexico's agrarian
revolution. Both are directed against what Tolstoy called 'the great
crime': the infamous usurpation of the land. For the land, which, like the
water and air, belongs to everyone, has been monopolized by a few
property-owners, supported by powerful armies and iniquitous laws."

Emiliano Zapata

Hi Lou: Thank you very much for posting the above quote from Zapata, and
for your long article reviewing the most recent issue of NACLA on Colombia.
I would very much like to read this issue of NACLA, and will try to get a
copy here, or when I get back to the shores of the USA in a couple of
weeks. In the meantime, I have a written a long comment on the
characterization of Colombia you presented in your review. Please post it,
whole or in pieces.


Andres Pastrana, President of Colombia, announced today that the "despeje"
would be extended another three months. He said the extension is
conditioned on the FARC "unfreezing" peace talks, and that he would reverse
the decision if they did not.

Time is very short for the peace process in Colombia: it will either result
in a peace agreement very soon, or there will be a massive escalation of
the war here.

NACLA's issue on Colombia could not be more timely, and neither could Lou's
review of it. Here, and not in brief, are my comments on Lou's article and
the situaiton in Colombia.

Part I. Actually Existing Dual Power in Colombia in the year 2,000

I think your characterization that there is a dual power situation in
Colombia is - with major amendments - correct.

"In reality, there can be no peace in Colombia as long as there is a
situation Marxists have described as "dual power".

However, I don't think you have captured the real nature of the dual power
that exists.

You write,

"In periods of deep revolutionary polarization, society tends to divide
along class lines with respective allegiances given to radically opposed
state structures. In the classic instance of Russia in 1917, the workers
and peasants oriented to the Soviets while the bourgeoisie and middle
classes defended the Constituent Assembly. "

I think it is not a true characterization, as you imply, that the oppressed
classes in Colombia have given their allegiance to the state structures of
the FARC in San Vicente de Caguan.

There is no evidence to support this view: the urban working class has
exhibited nothing in the way of action, organization, or even propaganda by
important organizations that would evidence its support of the alternative
"state structure." Not even graffititi in working class neighborhoods
supports the FARC (in fact its hard to find any anywhere that mention the

However, there is strong evidence that an important minority of the
peasantry supports the FARC.

But there is little evidence that this minority is growing. It may even be

In Colombia society divided along class lines in revolutionary
polarizations several times, and then the polarization ebbed through a
combination of a failures of revolutionary leadership, repression and
economic growth. I would identify those polarizations as being 1948, 1977
and the mid 1980's.

None of them resulted in dual power like the classic dual power situations.

The 1948 and 1980's polarization did result in a different kind of dual
power, which you begin to touch on when you write,

"The reason that Colombia does not readily present itself as this kind of
paradigm is that the insurgent forces seem fairly detached from the
traditions of October, 1917. Although the FARC began as the rural
detachment of the Colombian Communist Party, it has all of the
characteristics of a classic peasant insurgency.

"Through a combination of fierce repression in the cities and its own
talent for mobilizing the peasantry, the FARC has been able to seize
control over a huge section of Colombia, about the size of Switzerland. The
Colombian press calls this Farclandia and it behaves virtually like a state
within a state. It taxes all businesses, including those involved in the
cocaine trade, and delivers social services."

The area you are talking about is the "despeje" a thinly populated zone
vacated by the by the Colombian armed forces two years ago to facilitate
peace talks with the FARC.

The FARC did not "seize" this territory. It did weild considerable
influence in it before the army withdrew - but it never controlled it, and
still does not completely control it.

In fact the government organized elections in the town of San Vicente de
Caguan for mayor, and the FARC did not run a candidate. The Liberal Party
did, and so did "Oxygen" (an electoral movement of ex-liberals, ex-Maoists,
ex M19 who might be described as the "clean streets, honesty in government"
party.) Oxygen won. Most of the services that exist in the despeje are
still run by the central government. And the central government still tries
to collect taxes in the despeje.

The FARC does however operate as an independent state in the despeje - and
in other areas of the countryside not included in the despeje. It taxes,
operates some sort of judicial system, has a selective service, and offers
some very rudimentary services.

Dual power really does exist in the despeje - with the government and FARC
competing. Schools however, are still run by the government. But, real
power in the despeje lies with the FARC because the central government does
not enforce its laws or have an armed police or military presence, while
the FARC does have an armed presence through which it can, and does,
enforce its laws.

The FARC has not carried out any revolutionary measures in the area. Most
important - it has not carried out any land reform in the despeje, and
seems to have no intention of doing so.

The question is, what kind of state is the FARC building?

People who work in areas influenced by the FARC that I come into contact
with, including those who support the FARC coming to power, do not expect
the FARC to take any revolutionary measures in terms of land reform. Nor do
they expect any measures of nationalization. They are divided about whether
the FARC would stop the onslaught of privatization.

Reading and listening to the FARC's own statements certainly does not give
anyone reason to believe the FARC has any intentions of taking
revolutionary measures to resolve this country's crisis.

In fact, the FARC's actions - and your description of its actions -
resembles the construction of an alternative bourgeois state - or maybe an
alternative petty bourgeois state: not a revolutionary peasant state based
on land redistribution, and not a workers state based on the expropriation
of capitalist property.

Part II. The FARC and the bourgeois revolution: defending the property
rights, and the lives, of the poor.

What I believe the FARC represents to those who support it is - first of
all - a self defense force, and second the hope that there can be justice.

The two ideas are linked, and you could call them (heresy, but I think
true) - the rule of law and property rights.

The FARC defends people from being arbitrarily evicted from their land, it
defends people from being abused by big landowners, it defends women from
being beaten by their husbands, it defends shop keepers from robbers.

In Colombia "property rights" have not always been very well defined or
enforced. Especially not in the countryside.

Big landowners may have the title to thousands of hectares of land, but in
fact some of that land has been farmed for generations by the people who
live there.

What happens when the landowner's son wants to switch to rational
capitalist agriculture (like growing cocaine or rice) instead of raising
cattle and living in Paris? He evicts the people who have lived there, or
tries. ( I think your characterization of the 'hacienda' economy isn't
precise. Molano was writing about the acceleration of the transformation of
the hacienda economy into modern capitalist agro-industry under Misael
Pastrana - not the continuation of the hacienda economy.)

In other places small landowners have legal title to the land, and the big
landowner still tries to evict them.

The big landowner, or sometimes a drug dealer, sends the paramilitaries
around to tell the people in the neighborhood to leave or die. Sometimes a
real estate agent comes by first with an offer to buy the land.

In other places its not very clear who has legal title to the land, but the
rest of the scenario remains the same.

The FARC is the self-defense force of the small landowners and the also of
poor farmers who don't have title to the land. It is the protector of their
lives, and their property rights.

I think your excellent quote from Alfredo Molano on the evolution of the
FARC coincides with this assessment.

[( Property rights have not been much better defined in the cities. Barrios
de invasion exist in all cities. Sometimes well organized groups of poor
people - ussually led by a poltiical orgnaization, frequently a local
Liberal Party, sometimes a local Conservative party - take over an empty
piece of land and build huts. If they are not evicted, the huts are
transformed into brick houses over time, they vote for the leaders of the
"invasion", and city services like electricty, water, paved streets,
schools and even medical clinics and cultural centers are extended into the
neighborhood. Ussually the barrios are 'legalized' by some formal transfer
of property rights, after the fact.

On the other hand politically connected contractors simply take over a
piece of government owned land, and build houses, and sell them - illegally.

They even run for public office and win. (Moreno de Caro, a former member
of the city council of Bogota, and a candidate who dropped out of the
recent election for Mayor of Bogota is the person I have in mind.)]

The FARC has a base of popular support in the poor peasantry because it has
been their only defense against the large landowners and their paid bands
of thugs and murderers.

Part III. Peasant Revolutions and Dual Power

Marxism's "models" have mostly come from Europe. Capitalism a la England,
socialism a la Russia. And dual power like in Russia, too.

In fact dual power has arisen at many times, and in many places. The type
that arose in the Paris Commune, St. Petersburg in 1905, and Russia in 1917
is the exception rather than the rule.

The "classical" type of dual power exhibited in those revolutions was based
on two competing state apparati vying for power within the same territorial
limits. And with the revolutionary state organization led by, and based
primarily on, the urban working class.

Most dual power situations that have arisen throughout history are of a
different sort, where a new state - with or without the name - arises in
terrritory liberated by a peasant revolution.

You begin to get to the point when you write,

"In fact I would argue that the best prism through which to understand
groups like the FARC (and the ELN to a lesser extent) is the Mexican
revolution of 1910-1920 rather than Russia, 1917. If you read Trotskyist
Adolfo Gilly's "The Mexican Revolution", you will discover that Zapata's
forces stood in relation to the central government in much the same way as
the FARC does today."

The dual power of a peasant based state within the territorial limits of a
feudal, bourgeois state, or (perhaps even a workers state.)

The classic example of this I think is not Mexico, but China. Specifically
the Communist Party enclave in Hunan after the long March.

I think that virtually every peasant revolt in history has had such peasant
based states arise and then ussually disappear.

I think that many national liberation struggles have exhibited this type of
dual power in "liberated zones". El Salvador for example.

Part IV: Peasant Revolutions that went beyond a one word program

Historically the peasantry's program has been one word long: land. And that
ussually in little pieces (whether little pieces owned individually, or
little pieces like the ejidos of Mexico connected together in some form of
collectivity.) Land is a program that can be fulfilled, or at least
partially fulfilled, through the bourgeois revolution. Mexico, France,
England, and the United States (although in a quite different ways) are

However that does not mean that under the right circumstances the peasantry
can not go beyond its traditional program, and beyond the formation of a
new bourgeois state.

I think that China, and Viet Nam are instances where peasant revolutions
succeeded in passing beyond the limits of "land", and beyond the limits of
forming a new bourgeois state. They could do this because of their
connection not to their own proletariat, but to the Russian proletarian
revolution of 1917. (I think the social revolutions inYugoslavia, North
Korea and Cuba have many of the same features.)

Concretely this relation was embodied in four factors: the leadership of
those revolutions by Communist Parties; the links of those parties to the
workers states, primarily the USSR; the hostility of US, European, and
Japanese imperialism which pushed them toward the workers states. And, a
social consciousness that existed globally that an alternative to
capitalism, a better alternative, existed - 'socialism'.

Mexico is a case where the peasantry did not rise above the program of
land, and therrefore could not rise above the creation of a new bourgeois
state. And this lies at the heart of your excellent quote from Gilly.

"But the peasantry could not rise to a nation-wide social perspective nor
offer a revolutionary solution for the insurgent nation. A national
revolutionary perspective, counterposed to the goals of the bourgeosie,
could only have come from the other basic class in society: the
proletariat. Yet the proletariat lacked an independent leadership, party
and class organization."

But the Mexican revolution occurred before the Russian revolution, before
the formation of the Third International, before the "cold war", and before
the global conscisouness of the possibilty of something better than
capitalism - in another words before the conditions that allowed peasant
revolutions in China and Vietnam to achieve something beyond "land".

This is important for Colombia today.

The four conditions that allowed peasant revolutions to go beyond the
traditional program of the peasantry no longer exist.

No Communist Parties, no Soviet Union, No cold war, no belief in an
alternative to capitalism.

The FARC has achieved dual power, but has no program for social revolution:
not even the traditional program of land. And it has no self-consciously
organized proletariat - in Colombia or elsewhere - to provide it with a
vision and a program.

This is where the parallel you draw between the Mexican revolution, and
Colombia today is strongest.

Part V: Drugs and Kidnapping

In your review you did not touch on the subject of drugs and kidnapping. It
could be because the NACLA issue does not, or because you do not see it as
a central issue. Whether this is your ommission, or NACLAs, I think it is a
big mistake not to address the issue.

My personal opinion is that a revolutionary organization has the right to
sell drugs, rob banks, extort money, and do whatever is necessary to
survive and to take power.

Having said that, a revolutionary organization must also be intelligent and
careful about the risks involved with financing its organization. Money is
the mother's milk of all politics, including revolutionary politics. Money
is sort of like heroin. Once you put the needle in your arm, its hard not
to do it again.

The FARC turned to the drug trade and to kidnapping and extorsion to
survive. It faced a much larger, much better financed, much better armed
opponent. It had no international support - the Soviet Union was dying,
dead, and deader. China was allied with the USA in global politics. Cuba
was under attack and retreating. The Central American revolution was under
attack, and in retreating faster.

And the war on drugs offered the FARC a great opportunity. US policy, very
murky, first targetted the Medellin cartel (in favor of the Cali cartel)
and then targetted the Cali cartel. The result was not a diminuntion of
Colombian drug production, processing, and export, but a fragmentation of
its organization into smaller units. The decentralization of the business
opened the doors to new players. And anyone with an armed organization was
in a prime position to take advantage of the market opportunity.

The FARC (and the ELN later and less resolutely) took the plunge.

After more than a decade the FARC has emerged with something very unusual
for a modern guerrilla army: its own independent financial base. The FARC
does not need to rely on Saudi Arabia or Libya for arms and money. It does
not need to rely on the Soviet Union or Cuba.

In the process, the FARC has developed an internal organization - and
organizational culture - that is a lot different than that of the peasant
self-defense organization of 15 years ago.

The FARC owns airplanes. It has real uniforms. It is well armed. It is well
fed. It has four-wheel drive vehicles. It has lots of international
connections and bank accounts. The interview you quote with Simon Trinidad
illustrates this point.

Every revolutionary organization should have these things.

But these things have their down side. They also create cadre who are
self-interested money managers, who are used to flying not walking, to
driving in four wheel drive vehicles not marching through swamps.

I am sure that those of you who were members of the SWP, and certainly
those of you who think of the SWP publishing operation, know how the nuts
and bolts business side of party politics, can create corrupted corporate
minded cadre rather than selfless revolutionary cadre.

I am sure that those of you with some experience in a bureaucratic union,
know this better.

And I am positive that those of you with experience in the state apparatus
of any state bourgeois, workers or otherwise, know this second best of all.

And those of you who are in the corporate food chain, know it the very

Within the FARC's successful strategy of building a viable armed force,
lies the danger that it will seperate itself from its peasant base of

I believe that there are many signs that this is in fact happening. How far
this process has gone, how much further it might go, and how it might be
reversed are important questions that need to be answered.

Part VI: Is there any prospect for peace in Colombia?

You wrote,

"In reality, there can be no peace in Colombia as long as there is a
situation Marxists have described as "dual power". In periods of deep
revolutionary polarization, society tends to divide along class lines with
respective allegiances given to radically opposed state structures. In the
classic instance of Russia in 1917, the workers and peasants oriented to
the Soviets while the bourgeoisie and middle classes defended the
Constituent Assembly. When society confronts a situation of dual power,
peace can only come about with the defeat of one side. It will be in that
case either the peace of a victorious people or the peace of the graveyard.

While this statement certainly applies to the "classic" dual power
situations of the Paris Commune, St. Petersburgh in 1905, and Russia of
1917, I do not think that it applies to the peasant type of dual power we
are discussing. Of course, it depends on what you define as peace.

During the 1980's most of the left world wide supported the "peace process"
in Central America. And, they were successful. Today we have peace in El
Salvador and Nicaragua and Guatemala.

All Hail Peace!

The FMLN and FSLN have been transformed from revolutionary armed forces
into social democratic, or simply democratic, parliamentary oppositions -
and into commanders of a bourgoise army.

El Salvador and Nicaragua have been transformed from war torn, poverty
stricken, dependent countries, into poverty stricken, dependent countries
with the death squads still lurking in the nice neighborhoods.

All Hail Peace!

The same outcome has been the strategy of the United States for Colombia
for many, many years.

The obstacles to it do not lie in "dual power" - that existed in El
Salvador, and the Sandinistas held state power for a number of years - and
yet there is "peace" in those countries.

The FARC has no principled reason not to try to transform itself into a
parliamentary opposition party like the FSLN and FMLN. It is not against
bourgeois property, is not against parliamentary government, is not for
expropriaiton of land or capital.

And - for the same reasons - the bourgeoisie of Colombia has no principled
reason not to encourage it to.

Like I said, ah hell, peace!

Part VII: The real obstacles to "peace" in Colombia

I believe they entered into negotiations two years ago with a Central
American peace deal exactly in mind, but then ran into the practical

The practical obstacles to a Central American style of "peace" in Colombia
come from the FARC - which isn't stupid even if it doesn't have a program
of social revolution, from the paramilitaries, from the military, from the
landowners and from the Liberal Party of Colombia.

The FARC can not lay down its arms unless it is convinced its leaders and
members will not be assasinated when they try to go home. The Central
American Peace has been a little too flawed with assasinations of FMLN
leaders to go unnoticed. And the FARCs own experience with its previous
attempt to transform itself into a parliamentary force in the 1980's with
the Union Patriotica are more than enough to convince it not to lay down
its arms without real and ironclad guarantees of safety.

What could convince them?

Destruction of the paramilitaries and a purge of the Colombian military.
This is what the FARC has demanded at the negotiating table, and what the
government has been unable, or unwilling, to deliver.

How much political will the Colombian bourgeoisie has to do this is a good

Pastrana has cashiered several hundred army officers, and put several on
trial. Opposition within the military is very strong, and opposition by the
landowners who fund the paramilitaries is stronger.

However, the Colombian big bourgeoisie - and the international capitalists
- lose money every day the war continues. Hotels are empty, oil pipelines
and electric transmission towers get blown up, Coke and Pepsi delivery
trucks are delayed, burned, or stolen.

The big bourgeoisie here is mad as hell - not just at the FARC, but at the
paramilitaries, at the farmers association, and at the war. They want the
war to end. One way or another, whichever is quicker and cheaper.

They are however begining to think that escalation may be quicker and
cheaper. Negotiaitons have dragged on two years with no deal. And now the
FARC and ELN have escalated kidnappings of the big bourgeosie. The
President of Hyundai Colombia was "rescued" yesterday.

However, an important sector - the landowners, flatly doesn't agree with
any peace deal. They want the war to continue. Why?

They want cheap land. And they want revenge (they are the main target of
FARC justice, FARC taxes, and FARC kidnappings.). And they want to protect
themselves from being tried in court - they watch Pinochet, Fujimori, the
peace commission in South Africa, accusations and even trials of generals
in Argentina and say, "could that be me in a few years?"

Needless to say, the paramilitaries would be the big losers if there was a
peace deal. Some of them would go on trial. Their organization would be
seriously downsized, and those that remained would become common criminals
in the drug and extortion business.

Their existence depends on preventing peace.

The FARC has another, though less important in the long run, practical
problem with peace: money.

The FARC would certainly have to renounce all participation in the drug
trade and kidnappings in any peace deal. What income would replace that
lost from these businesses? Would the FARC be able to keep its accumulated

Where would the mother's milk come from?

(It could come from the World Bank, or from the Colombian bourgeoisie.
After all, Gorbachev has a nice little foundation to pay for his retirement.)

The hidden obstacle to peace in Colombia is the Liberal Party.

That party has been historically split into an "oligarchic" wing, and a
social democratic wing. It is barely united to win elections - a unity not
unlike the Democratic Party in the days of FDR.

Horacio Serpa is the leader of the social democratic wing of that Party,
and the official leaders of the whole party. He has even managed to
affiliate his party to the "Socialist International." He is probably the
most intelligent, witty, and charming politician in this country. The FARC
hates him and accuses him of having ties to the paramilitaries.

Serpa and the Serpistas would be the big losers if the FARC were to become
an FSLN/FMLN style parliamentary party. Why? The Liberal Party,
specifically Serpa's wing of it - already occupies that space. They would
lose votes to the FARC, and they would lose seats in Congress, mayoral
posts, city council seats - and worst of all, they would lose all of the
patronage that goes with those seats.

The flip side of the coin would be that the Conservative Party would be the
big winner. The Conservative Party in Colombia is fast losing its mass
appeal, which was based on rural bossism, and the Catholic Church. Church
attendance is spiraliing downward, and the peasantry is moving to the cities.

The Conservative Party can win elections only when the Liberal Party voter
base is split. Last time they did it with the help of Noemi Sanin - a state
department clone who used to compare herself to Fujimori, and with the help
of the FARC.

Next time the Conservative Party stands no chance of winning the elections
without a major change in the landscape. (In recent municipal elections
they even lost their one big city Mayoral seat in Medellin.)

Peace with the FARC would practically guarantee a Conservative Party turn

But, if that doesn't work - there's always war.

All out war led to victory by the Conservative Party could also turn the
Conservative Partty's prospects around. This is the Fujimori option. The
catch is, they would have to win.

Part VIII: Could the FARC take power? Yes

The question that we need to ask about the FARC (and ELN) is, "Under what
new conditions could the FARC participate or lead a social revolution in

I do believe that the FARC could become the leadership of a social
revolution in Colombia - even though that is certainly not its program or
its intention.

The fact that it is a well armed, well organized, and relatively well
financed self defense organization of the peasantry with territorial
control of part of the country - makes it the alternative government in the
case that the actually existing bourgeois state falls apart.

Certainly this is the view of many influential members of the Colombian
bourgeoisie, and the view in the US State Department.

How likely is such the prospect that the government of Colmbia will simply

I think it is very remote, as long as Washington is there to prop it up.
Look at Peru.

Another alternative for the FARC to come to power, a more likely
alternative, would be if Pastrana takes the Fujimori option.

What will the FARC do if there is all out war against it?

One option would be to return to its roots, and try to raise a peasant
insurrection. Another option might be to try to bring the urban masses to
its side.

How likely are either of these options?

Part IX: What about the working class?

The Colombian working class, and the working classes of Venezuela and
Ecuador are the real wild cards that have really not yet come into play.

The Colombian working class suffers from a 20% unemployment rate. But that
really overestimates the degree of unemployment. A lot of that figure
represents recent immigration from the countryside to the city. Still
workers feel the pressure of unemployment and are not militant when it
comes to trade union issues like wages.

This is especially true in the private sector. It is difficult to say what
percentage of private sector workers are really organized. Most
multinational companies operating here are strictly non-union shops. Many,
maybe most nationallly owned companies here have paper agreements with
unions that mean very little.

How actively workers participate in private sector unions is even more
difficult to tell, but one thing is certain - many of the younger workers
come from the countryside and have no tradition of trade unionism. This
makes them a volatile factor - capability of going from no participation -
or even anti-unionism - to militant activism, as has happened time after
time with new work forces.

(continued in second email)

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list