[Marxism] Former FARC guerrilla killed, peace struggling in Colombia (ANF)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 10 05:35:53 MDT 2018

(History repeating itself?)

The drive to intensify capitalist agriculture to satisfy the American 
marketplace coincided with a general collapse of the world economy. From 
1885 to 1930, the Colombian government was controlled by the 
Conservative Party, which despite its founding principles, staked out a 
typically liberal development program. This involved strengthening the 
state, extension of the transportation and communications systems into 
the countryside, encouragement of foreign investment, etc. The Great 
Depression manifested itself in Colombia through a drop in export 
earnings. As unemployment in the advanced capitalist countries grew, 
coffee became less affordable.

A general sense of helplessness led to a Liberal Party victory in 1934, 
as the new president López Pumarejo called for a "revolution on the 
march," a Colombian version of the New Deal. The trade unions provided 
Pumarejo with one of his main bases of support, while the Communist 
Party served as his most trusted lieutenant within the union movement. 
Support for the Pumarejo government turned out to be disastrous for the 
labor movement as it relied on him to solve their problems rather than 
using their own independent power. Real wages fell between 1935 and 1950 
and social expenditures were virtually stagnant in the same period. This 
was a "New Deal" without teeth.

It was in the countryside, however, where resistance to the Liberal 
government was mounted most sharply. Peasants, especially in the eastern 
part of the country, sought to grow coffee on their own plots in order 
to take advantage of the continuing external demand for the stimulant. 
In many cases they occupied the land of large haciendas and pressed for 
ownership. The Liberal government tried to co-opt the squatters movement 
and bring it under control, just as the PRI in Mexico had done with the 
followers of Zapata. To some extent, this policy paid off as a layer of 
the peasantry won title to land and became less militant.

However, just like in the United States, a section of the bourgeoisie 
regarded Liberal Party reformism as Bolshevik and began to organize a 
counter-revolution. One of the main props of the Conservative Party's 
right wing assault was the Catholic Church, which viewed the "revolution 
on the march" as a threat to its influence on uneducated and insecure 
peasants. After 1935, paramilitary associations cropped up with the 
support of bishops and businessmen. Conservative Party intellectuals 
openly identified with Spain's Franco at this point and Laureano Gómez 
in particular promoted the concept of 'hispanidad,' a Colombian version 
of Falangist thought.

The concrete social and economic goal of the Catholic-Conservative axis 
was to break the back of the agrarian revolt, which they saw the 
Liberals as temporizing with. In particular they wanted to abolish Law 
200, which gave landless peasants the right to occupy and own land. 
These differences continued to divide the two parties, even after the 
end of the depression and WWII, as the lingering effects of the 1930s 
downturn combined with the structural imbalances of the Colombian 
countryside served to maintain class tensions. Poverty and unequal land 
distribution simply could not be resolved within the Colombian two party 
system, although electoral politics did provide a medium for the 
voiceless to raise their concerns.

As the Conservatives pushed relentlessly from the right, the Liberals 
began to cave in. Upon taking office in 1945, Alberto Lleras Camargo, 
Pumarejo's Liberal successor, immediately appointed three Conservatives 
to his cabinet as a concession. As the 1946 elections approached, the 
Liberal Party split into two factions. One, advocating compromise with 
the right-wing, was led by Gabriel Turbay. The other was led by Jorge 
Eliécer Gaitán, a populist who openly called for resistance to the 
bourgeoisie and a deepening of the agrarian revolt. He was hostile to 
the trade unions which he saw as a bureaucratic apparatus dominated by 
the Communist Party in bed with right-wing Liberals. The statements of 
the Communist Party of Colombia left no doubt as to their loyalties. In 
their newspaper, they declared in 1937: "Our post is at the side of the 
reformist government of López [Pumarejo] . . . Today we are not 
subversives. The only subversives are the falangist Conservatives. We 
Communists aspire to become the champions of order and peace."

Despite the CP's fondest hopes, order and peace were impossible. When 
Gaitán's wing of the party won control of the Colombian congress in 
1947, working class strikes and protests broke out in the cities and 
land seizures intensified in the countryside. The masses felt emboldened 
by the populist victory. Right wing paramilitaries lashed back at the 
popular movement and political violence would claim 14,000 lives by the 
end of the year. On February 7, 1948 Gaitán led a silent protest of 
100,000 people through the streets of Bogotá and delivered a speech for 
peace. Two months later, he was assassinated, thus setting off "La 
Violencia," described succinctly by Eduardo Galeano:

"The violence began with a confrontation between Liberal and 
Conservative parties, but the dynamic of class hostilities steadily 
sharpened its class-struggle character. The Liberal leader Jorge Eliecer 
Gaitán--known half contemptuously and half fearfully to his own party's 
oligarchy as "The Wolf" or "The Idiot"--had won great popular prestige 
and threatened the established order. When he was shot dead, the 
hurricane was unleashed. First the spontaneous bogotazo--an 
uncontrollable human tide in the streets of the capital; then the 
violence spread to the countryside, where bands organized by the 
Conservatives had for some time been sowing terror. The bitter taste of 
hatred, long in the peasants' mouths, provoked an explosion; the 
government sent police and soldiers to cut off testicles, slash pregnant 
women's bellies, and throw babies in the air to catch on bayonet 
points--the order of the day being 'don't leave even the seed.' Liberal 
Party sages shut themselves in their homes, never abandoning their good 
manners and the gentlemanly tone of their manifestos, or went into exile 
abroad. It was a war of incredible cruelty and it became worse as it 
went on, feeding the lust for vengeance. New ways of killing came into 
vogue: the corte corbata, for example, left the tongue hanging from the 
neck. Rape, arson, and plunder went on and on; people were quartered or 
burned alive, skinned or slowly cut in pieces; troops razed villages and 
plantations and rivers ran red with blood. Bandits spared lives in 
exchange for tribute, in money or loads of coffee, and the repressive 
forces expelled and pursued innumerable families, who fled to seek 
refuge in the mountains. Women gave birth in the woods. The first 
guerrilla leaders, determined to take revenge but without clear 
political vision, took to destroying for destruction's sake, letting off 
blood and steam without purpose."

This counter-revolution resulted in the murder of 300,000 people, one of 
the great bloodbaths of Latin American history. Was this bloodbath 
necessary? One of the things that is difficult to gauge in Colombia is 
the extent to which such excesses are a function of bourgeois 
"over-corrections" such as the kind that ideological frenzy often leads 
to. Would Colombia have been better off if the Conservatives had been 
open to the idea of allowing Gaitán's populism to prevail? Certainly he 
did not intend to abolish the capitalist system, but only to eradicate 
some of the more glaring injustices. In this, he was no different than 
Guatemala's Arbenz, or any other middle-class reformer who has emerged 
in the past half-century. Suffice it to say that right-wing 
anticommunism involves a level of fanaticism that once unleashed is 
difficult to bottle back up like a genie. When the history of this 
barbarian epoch is finally written, anticommunist fundamentalism will be 
recorded as much more demonic and violent than anything ever encountered 
in the middle ages.


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