A new revolutionary ascent shakes the world

Alejandro Bodart, MST leader and ISL coordinator

There has been a change of enormous magnitude. In different regions of the planet, workers and the excluded are rising against their governments and the political regimes that sustain them. At the forefront of the rebellions and revolutions that are taking place is the youth, which the capitalist system in its decline is leaving without a future. It is much more than a new conjuncture: we are witnessing a change in the world situation.

In the month of October, there have been large scale rebellions in Ecuador and Haiti and an extraordinary revolution in Chile. Thousands of kilometers away, rebellions in Iraq and Lebanon announce the awakening of a new Arab spring. In Europe, heroic Catalonia takes back to the streets, and in Asia, the rebellious Hong Kong does not bow to the brutality of the Chinese bureaucracy. On the first anniversary of the emergence of the French “yellow vests” – the precursors of the changes that have since become widespread – the streets of Paris have relived the fire of those forgotten by the system. The powerful French working class prepares a general strike of undefined duration for December 5. In countless countries, strikes and mobilizations are on the agenda. Parallel to the global economic crisis that continues to deepen, profound political crises emerge in many countries in which the mobilization has not yet reached the magnitude of other latitudes.

The political and social polarization that the world has been experiencing for years, now clearly begins to show the mass movement and its struggles taking the offensive.

In this new edition of Permanent Revolution, we will offer conclusions from some of the most dynamic processes, in most of which the national sections of the International Socialist League are actively participating.

Global rebellion, new May of ’68, Latin American spring, the world on fire, are some of the journalistic expressions that the mass media is using to try to illustrate the new moment we are witnessing. There are manifestations of the change that is taking place on all continents, but there are two regions of the world that have become the epicenters of this new revolutionary ascent: Latin America and the Middle East. In both places, there is a prerevolutionary or directly revolutionary situation if we take Trotsky or Lenin’s definitions as points of reference. Therefore any spark, such as a rise in the price of gasoline, the metro or even a tax on the use of WhatsApp, is capable of unleashing a revolution.

The Middle East and North Africa have changed forever. The revolutionary uprising known as the Arab Spring brought down governments and regimes that subjected their people to permanent austerity and an iron fist for decades. Qualitative changes occurred, even in the countries where the rebellions were defeated. The engine of all the uprisings and semi-insurrections that have taken place is a combination of social and democratic demands. The revolutionary wave of 2010-2013, which started with the immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouaziz in Tunisia, quickly infected Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and Syria, and stimulated the struggle for self-determination of the Kurdish people. Another chapter took place at the end of 2018 and beginning of this year with new rebellions in Tunisia, Sudan and Algeria. We are currently witnessing profound rebellions in Iraq, Lebanon and now it is Iran’s turn, where a social uprising across the country is shaking the Mullah regime.

In Latin America, there had been no processes of the magnitude of what we are witnessing these days since the beginning of the century. Last year, the Nicaraguan youth and people rose against the austerity applied by the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship and was brutally repressed. In the middle of this year it was Puerto Rico´s turn. But the qualitative change in the region came with the rebellion of Ecuadorian peasants and indigenous people. It was followed by Haiti and now Chile, where a true revolution is tearing down the reactionary regime that the bourgeoisie has propped up since the genocidal dictatorship of Pinochet. Obviously, the continent has entered into a dynamic that can infect workers and the youth in other countries at any time. Colombia, for example, has joined the rebellion with millions on the streets and a historic general strike; tensions are red hot in Central America, and political struggles and crises at the top of the establishment are developing in the rest of the region´s countries. That is why even the mainstream bourgeois media warns about what they see as a new moment of unpredictable consequences.

Chile, an impressive revolution

“It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years.” This slogan summarizes the depth of the revolutionary process that began in Chile with the increase in the price of the metro, but which questions the Piñera government, the regime inherited from Pinochetism and, objectively, the semi-colonial capitalist system of this Andean country. From one day to the next, the role model proudly upheld by the most concentrated sectors of capital and right-wing formations across the continent flew up in the air. Macri´s electoral defeat had left the Lima Group – Trump’s spearhead in the region – battered; the Chilean revolution finished pushing it towards history´s trash bin.

With the youth at the forefront, dragging the majority of the population behind them and forcing the bureaucratic leadership of the labor movement to call two historical general strikes, with mobilizations of millions of workers, youth and people from one end to the other of Chile´s geography, self-organizing in popular assemblies and councils, with barricades and pickets, bravely facing the repression of an army armed to the teeth, a dual power in the streets has been defeating each of the maneuvers with which the government and forces of the regime have tried to divert the process toward a controlled institutional exit from above.

Currently, the spurious pact to try to save Piñera and whatever they can of the old Pinochet constitution, between the right that governs and the parliamentary opposition, including the Broad Front, which had promoted itself as a renewal to the left of the old political caste, opens a new political moment. The rejection of this new and evident betrayal is causing the accelerated rupture of important sections of the population with all the formations of the institutional left, which will bolster the emergence of new leaders in the labor movement and the youth and will expand the political space in which a revolutionary organization like ours can be strengthened.

Bolivia is part of the revolutionary wave

Imperialism, the Latin American right and their scribes tried to take advantage of the fall of Evo Morales to counter the revolutionary wave that shakes Latin America. However, the situation quickly evolved into a confrontation of the mass movement against the coup´s self-proclaimed government comparable to the rebellions that are shaking several governments in the world.

Beyond the opportunist debate among the most reactionary sectors that refuse to define what happened in Bolivia as a coup d’etat because they support the interim government of the racist Jeanine Áñez, and the false progressives that are determined to point to an unreal fascist advance everywhere to try to scare the mass movement and advance its possibilist policy and position as left wing of bourgeois-democratic regimes in the countries they govern or influence, there is a real debate on the left. Some groups refuse to define what happened as a coup and argue that Evo Morales was overthrown by a popular uprising. Others only recognize the action of the right wing coup and tend to hold an uncritical vision of Morales, to the point of proposing his reinstatement in power as the strategy.

We do not agree with either of those points of view. In Bolivia, there were three moments that combined to reach the current situation. The perception, right or wrong, that the Evo Morales government committed fraud to avoid a second round that he would have most likely lost, initially produced an uprising of sectors of the middle class, the student body and various social movements that broke with the government because of its pro-capitalist conversion and hostility toward all sectors that opposed its austerity and pro-market policies. All of this also explains the initial passivity of the rest of the labor, peasant and indigenous movements and the statements of the leadership of the COB and other movements asking Evo Morales to step aside.

After a couple of weeks, with Evo weakened and cornered by the uprising to the point that he accepted, first the OAS audit, and then a call for new elections – something that could have channeled the situation – the most recalcitrant right took advantage of the opportunity and decided to carry out the coup, first by inciting the confinement of the police and then convincing the army. Even in this second moment, the COB and the other social organizations, except for a minority sector led by the MAS, remained on the sidelines or supported the departure of Morales. Isolated and without support, Evo resigned and went into exile. The coup was completed and, after several days of power vacuum, the government of the extreme right proclaimed itself. This generated a third moment, which we are witnessing now and whose final result is still in dispute: the mass movement broke onto the scene again, forcing all the leaderships of the labor and indigenous movements to pronounce themselves against the new coup government “of the rich”. This new uprising, completely different from the first, produced a unique front of sectors influenced by Morales´ MAS and others, that make up a majority, which are critical of Morales but understand that they must defeat the coup plotters because, if they consolidate their power, they will be a dangerous enemy against workers and the indigenous movement.

Without recognizing these different moments and the complexity of the situation, it is not possible to adopt a correct policy to intervene in Bolivia. Today, revolutionaries have to stand beside the mobilized people until overthrowing the self-proclaimed government, which is counterrevolutionary. That is the axis that articulates our program. At the same time, we should not give any support to Morales and the MAS, who are ultimately responsible for marginal sectors of the extreme right having reached the government. And now, when it is necessary to help isolate and defeat those coup leaders, they are promoting a negotiation with them, which constitutes a new betrayal. Our orientation must include the call to intensify the struggle until the dictatorship is overthrown and continue it until a government of the working class and peasant organizations is achieved, which would be the only one capable of applying the anti-capitalist measures that are essential to respond to the Bolivian population´s needs.

The reasons for the change

There is a multiplicity of elements that explain why we have arrived at this new moment. In almost all the processes, the rejection of authoritarianism and the violation of democratic rights have been significant. But the determining factor has been the deepening of the global economic crisis and the consequences of the brutal austerity plans to pay debts and guarantee corporate profits that the different governments are applying. Stagnating and shrinking economies, obscene inequality, increasing unemployment, extreme job insecurity, deterioration of health care and education, inaccessible housing and the loss of any perspective for the future experienced by millions of young people around the world make up the explosive cocktail that begins to detonate and spread from one country to another.

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the illusions created by the imperialist campaign that said capitalism would bring “prosperity and progress” have disappeared. The deterioration of the standard of living, the loss of social and labor conquests, the destruction of nature, the exacerbation of sexism and xenophobia, drives millions to begin identifying the capitalist system as the origin of their misfortunes. In unlikely places, such as the US or Great Britain, the youth massively turns to the left and socialism.
The fall of Stalinism implied the collapse of the world order created by World War II. Without its counterrevolutionary associate, who played a key role in containing the workers and peoples of the world, American imperialism, far from strengthening – as different sectors of the left believed it would – began to concentrate all the world´s contradictions in its hands and weaken. The 2008 debacle was a qualitative leap in its deterioration and forced it to intensify its policy of economic counterrevolution against the mass movement to save banks and corporations. Currently, we are heading towards a new crisis that reflects the decline of US imperialism and the capitalist system as a whole. The rebellions that we are witnessing are the working people´s response to the barbarism toward which capitalists are leading humanity to save the 1% they represent.

Unconscious socialist revolutions 1

What we are witnessing in Latin America and the Middle East are profoundly anti-capitalist rebellions and revolutions. Part of their objectives are democratic and that is why, in addition to opposing governments, they also confront the regimes and their utterly anti-democratic and repressive institutions. But they are not essentially democratic processes: the mobilizations, above all, pursue economic and social changes that are incompatible with the framework of capitalism in its current phase of decay. In that sense, they are anti-capitalist, socialist, but unconscious, revolutions. Because the level of consciousness of the masses, though rapidly advancing, is still a step behind their actions and there are no revolutionary leaderships at the head of the mobilization.

They are rebellions or popular revolutions. The working class participates and has a more active role in each process, but at first it does so individually, not organized, dissolved within the popular movement. The dynamic of events overpower and push the bureaucratic leaders and that is why they end up producing very powerful general strikes, like the two that have recently been carried out in Chile, the one in Colombia, those in some Arab countries or those being prepared in France and in other latitudes. Yet the working class has still not clearly become the leadership in any process.

The masses turn to direct action because they have learned that nothing is achieved by institutional means. The semi-insurrections that occur end up producing situations of dual power, but, because the working class has not taken the leadership of the processes, no organizations have emerged to institutionalize it. It is a de facto dual power, in the streets, due to the strength and radicalization that the mobilization acquires. Yes, assembly processes and open councils develop, and some traditional organizations take new forms, but they fall short of becoming organizations of power.

In almost all the processes, a young activism is emerging, which, by having nothing to lose and everything to gain, is radicalized, manages to surpass the conciliatory apparatuses and expose them. This sector is clearly the vanguard of all the processes and the one that is not only is not afraid of repression, but has broken with the petty-bourgeois prejudice of previous waves that defended nonviolence and refused to adopt tactics of self-defense against the repressive forces. The youth stamps an extraordinary dynamism on all the processes and generates sympathy among workers and other sectors that are mobilized.

The politics of the revolutionaries

In this new world situation that we are going through, the slogan of a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly to reorganize everything in favor of the workers and the people has become important in many countries. It is the most democratic instance that bourgeois democracy can offer and it serves to enhance the processes and expose the treacherous leaderships, whether they refuse to take up the demand for fear of not being able to control it, or they are forced to do so and their refusal to take significant measures in favor of the majority is revealed.

The Constituent Assembly begins to be on the table when a political crisis opens the possibility of the fall of the government or begins to question reactionary regimes such as those of Chile, Spain and several Arab countries. When the mobilization is transformed into semi-insurrection and there are no dual power organizations, it is still very useful, though in this case, the call for the mass movement to impose it from below strengthens.

However, we cannot use it as our government slogan, like some leftist organizations mistakenly do, because even a Constituent Assembly convened in the most revolutionary period will be composed of a significant number of representatives of the bourgeoisie and reformists, who will most likely have a majority.

In times of political crisis and much more when revolutionary uprisings occur, our system of slogans must start by posing Down with the government. This slogan must be combined with Constituent Assembly and with a positive and class based solution to the problem of power: that workers must govern.

Our proposal on power will be abstract to the extent that dual power organizations do not arise. We must promote their emergence, support all forms of self-organization as embryonic as they may be – assemblies, councils, strike committees, etc. – and call for coordinating and centralizing them. It may happen that old organizations like work place committees or unions in the heat of the insurgence become new types of organizations. We have to pay attention to everything, because our policy has to be as concrete as possible in calling for workers and the people to govern through the most democratic organizations and more genuinely reflect the mood of the masses and their vanguard.

If the revolutionary left has representatives in Congress at a time when the fall of a government occurs, there are no dual power organizations and a Constituent Assembly is called to discuss the presidential succession, we can propose propagandistically that the representatives of the left govern provisionally, to dispute against the representatives of the bourgeoisie and propose the masses a class based and left wing alternative.

Only the emergence of workers´ democratic and centralized organizations, like workers’ councils (soviets), coordination committees, industrial cordones or the like, make it possible in a revolutionary situation to oppose those organizations to the institutions of the bourgeoisie and call for them to take power. Unfortunately, in the processes that we are witnessing, one of the most important weaknesses is the absence of organizations with these characteristics.

Another orientation that we should adopt is about self-defense. Since the emergence of the “yellow vests” and what we are witnessing in the current rebellions, a vanguard arises that is determined to confront repression. We must enthusiastically support the right of the masses to defend themselves and promote the formation of self-defense committees. In times of acute crisis, if there is organized self-defense and a correct policy, the creativity of the mass movement can divide, disorganize and defeat any army or police force, no matter how armed.

The semi-insurrections that are taking place in different parts of the planet develop out of mass mobilizations, most of them self-organized, that grow day to day, with barricades and clashes during hours of repression. Along with actively participating, we must raise the need for a general strike and its continuity until defeating the government and the regime. We must fight to impose the movement’s program, demand action from and denounce the union bureaucracy that will permanently try to contain the labor movement and prevent it from entering the process in strength and end up leading and determining the situation in favor of its interests.

The party and the ISL

Unlike what happened in the world between World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall, when several revolutionary uprisings ended up expropriating the bourgeoisie without the leadership of a revolutionary socialist party 2, and in some cases without the working class at the vanguard, at this stage of the class struggle, due to the scandalous turn towards an unconditional defense of capitalism and the bourgeois democratic regime of all petty-bourgeois, reformist and philo-Stalinist leaderships, from the point of view of the subjects that we need to advance towards socialism, we are as in the first decades of last century. Specifically, without the working class as the vanguard of the mobilization and without a revolutionary socialist party with mass influence in the lead, partial victories can be achieved, but it is impossible for a new socialist revolution to triumph.

At the same time, for the working class to end up transforming itself into the subject of the revolution, in addition to the mobilization that allows its consciousness to advance, a revolutionary party that can displace the bureaucracy and put an end to the influence of those who preach class conciliation and work consciously to prevent workers from taking power, is essential. For these reasons, the autonomist and anarchist currents that work against the construction of the revolutionary party play a reactionary role and we must confront them decisively.

The counterrevolutionary actions that Stalinist, social-democratic, neo-reformist, nationalist and populist currents are committing in the current rebellions, agreeing with the bourgeoisie to curb the revolutionary ascent or applying austerity and repressing where they govern, are revealing the need to build new political tools to millions around the world.

The new situation poses increasingly favorable conditions for the growth and strengthening of revolutionary organizations. Fearless youth, women who stand up for their rights and workers who organize general strikes are the raw material for building them.

Even the skeptics of the left, who until just yesterday proclaimed that it was the bourgeoisie that held a strategic control of the situation and that the world had turned to the right, now have to reluctantly accept that there has been a favorable change.

Those of us who formed the International Socialist League were convinced that the tensions that were accumulating over the years would reach an outcome like the one we are witnessing. All our national sections are at the front line of events. We invite you to join our organization. We need to grow more and more for a new society, without exploitation or oppression of any kind, fraternal, egalitarian, truly democratic, socialist, to be each day closer to becoming a reality.

1. See The Transitional Program Today, Theses XV, Nahuel Moreno.

2. These revolutions were carried out with nationalist Stalinist or petty-bourgeois opportunist leaderships and consequently degenerated into bureaucratic workers’ states.