Colombia: Cast away illusions, resume the people’s struggle

Featured image: Protests in the National Strike. Source: CNN

Hereby we publish an unofficial translation of an article published in Nueva Democracia.

Last April 28 marked three years since the Great People’s Uprising of 2021, the peak of a significant wave of struggles, protests and uprisings that have shaken our country. This process revealed two problems of the ruling classes: the failure of their plans through the policies of the Duque’s government and Uribism, and the progressive and uncontrollable increase in the combative and independent people’s struggle, which made increasing use of revolutionary violence (of which the ruling classes are so afraid) to defend themselves and attack the State repression forces.

At that moment of instability of the regime, the “government of change” was the only one that could calm the storm of the people’s struggle without being a threat to the power of big capital, large estates and imperialism in the country, but on the contrary, your guarantor. As Alejandro Gaviria, former presidential candidate, expressed it at the time, “we are sleeping on the top of a volcano. There is too much dissatisfaction. “It would be better to have a controlled explosion with Gustavo Petro than to bottle up the volcano.”

The solution that the Petro government has given to the movement which it sought to appease has been a solution of promises and illusions: dismantling of the Mobile Anti-Rioting Police Squad (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios de la Policía – ESMAD), to make the agrarian reform, the release of the nearly 200 young people detained in the Great People’s Uprising and a set of reforms that pretend to be policies which benefit the popular classes.

Regarding the ESMAD the only change was the name and how looks. Regarding agrarian reform, in the words of Álvaro Uribe Vélez himself, Petro has achieved what he tried in his two presidential terms, but could not. That is, the enrichment (and therefore empowerment) of big landlords via land purchases and millionaire lines of credit. Meanwhile, after almost two years of the new government, the hand over of land to the peasantry has been minimal.

In any case, the mere promise of agrarian reform has had the effect expected by the ruling classes in a part of the peasant, indigenous and Afro masses: containing land seizures. An indigenous person from the Liberation of Mother Earth in the North of Cauca (LMT – a process whose distinctive feature has been the seizure of lands belonging to local big landlords and agro-industrial companies by the indigenous people), said that with the arrival of Petro to the government “we stopped the process, because Petro promised agrarian reform” and that this government “politically disarmed the LMT process.”

The release of young people detained during the Great People’s Uprising is another unfulfilled promise, as has been repeatedly denounced by Jhonatan Sabogal Collective, whose members have carried out several hunger strikes to demand freedom.

The remaining reforms reflect the struggle between the factions of the ruling classes that are disputing over business (although we have been told that the side of Petro and his reforms is the side of the people, dragging us into a false polarization between “Petrism” [Translator’s note: line represented by Gustavo Petro and his supporters] and the right, when the real polarization is between the popular classes and the ruling classes). Mass organizations must critically analyze what real concessions these reforms have and what corresponds to camouflaged anti-people policies.

The labor reform that failed, in the words of unionists which studied the issue, represented concessions in terms of labor legislation for the formal worker, but also an attempt to dismantle independent unionism while reinforcing unions with bureaucratic leadership, in which their senior leaders, instead of maintaining an independent struggle for rights, they gave millions (obtained from their affiliates) to the presidential campaign. Regarding the retirement pension reform, experts have denounced that it largely benefits private funds and it goes against the workers; Regarding the reform of Law 30 on higher education, it was widely criticized by a part of the student movement at the National Meeting of Higher Education Students held last year in Medellín, for representing in numerous aspects an embellished repetition of educational policies from previous governments.

With the health reform there is a lot to analyze. The EPS (Promotion Health Entities) have been a crime against the people. We oppose their continued role as intermediaries. But the fact that health funds remain in State hands is no guarantee that this represents a better service. The Social Security of the 80s, being State-run, did not represented a better service for its members. Today the public hospitals of the regions are used as bargaining chip for politicians and local bosses. Can we trust that granting the management of health funds to national and regional organizations will be a guarantee of improved health for the people? Certainly not.

The only way the people can achieve better health is by strengthening their capacity for organization and mobilization. Today the people must struggle against the EPS (private and public) to get their healthcare treatments. If the reform is approved, tomorrow you will have to organize to continue struggling for your right to health against regional and national powers. Nothing has fallen from the sky for the people, they had to conquer everything with their struggle.

In any case, through reforms, the current government has not been able to impose the interests of its faction as much as it would like. Now its talks about a constituent and once again demands popular support.

In the face of the discourse of change, the government’s promises and the calls it makes to the people to defend its policies, the following statement by Lenin (Russian revolutionary leader) fits: “Every reform in capitalist society has a double character. It is a concession that the ruling classes make to contain, weaken or diffuse the revolutionary struggle, to disperse the strength and energy of the revolutionary classes, to cloud their conscience, etc. Consequently, and without ceasing in any way to use the reforms to develop the revolutionary class struggle, revolutionary social democracy will not “take over” the ambiguous bourgeois reformist slogans.

Petro and his reforms attempt to give some concessions to contain and pacify the people’s struggle, to poisson their conscience with the illusion that through elections and the State, the people can change its situation. As history shows, everything that the State gives to the people has been taken away by popular strength, handed over by the ones from above fear to another explosion from those from below. We must use these rights taken away to continue strengthening class-conscious struggles and organizations, independent from the State, not to support the corporatism, reformism and pacifism promoted by the current government.

For sure Petro is going to break the vast majority of his promises and in a few months, he will come out and wash his hands. He will blame the prosecutor, the opposition, the contractors (as with the water tankers for La Guajira) or children which are not from him. He will go out and claim that his enemies didn’t let him do it or even blame the people for not bending enough to his reformism.

In any case, its main task, for which it reports to the ruling classes, has not yet failed: to stop the development of the combative popular protest, contain the rebellion of the people, appease the spirits and sow illusions of possible changes through the old institutions of the State. But it is a task doomed to failure, since they will not be able to contain the struggle of the masses forever.

We have not yet conquered the deepest demands of the Great People’s Uprising. Given this, there is an atmosphere of disillusion in a sector of the masses. A sign of this disillusion is the inability he has had to mobilize the youth who supported him in his campaign in his calls.

The recent marches against the government and its policies are another sign of this disillusion. The right was the one that promoted the mobilizations and it is this sector that is mainly taking advantage from them. But this does not deny that there, broad popular sectors took the streets to reject the reduction of their rights and the worsening of their living conditions (for example, truck drivers complained against the increase in fuel prices and a part of the health sector complained against a reform that worsens their working conditions). Which shows that not all those who went out to march are “fachos” or “uribistas.” [Translator’s note: fachos is a popular word for say to someone fascist or reactionary; uribistas are the supporters of the former Colombian reactionary president, Uribe].

Although one may believe the opposite, this disillusion that has been occurring with the government is very positive for the people. It gives us the task of reorganizing and reimpulsing our organizations and movements from the grassroots, in order to lead the struggle under our interests and demands, basing the hopes and possibility of achieving victory on our own forces and not on trust in laws and State officials. The central issue today is, as Lenin said for the Russian workers movement, to develop and to apply a class line within the popular movement.

That means, the popular movement, with its organizations, following its rich historical experience, has the task of taking the revolutionary path and through it, leading the struggle for rights. It has to propose its own agenda, its own program and its own slogans. It is from the bases that it musts define its demands and from the base, from below that it musts define its methods.

With this task we face, it is worth emphasizing that not every voice opposed to the government can be labelled as “uribista”, “rightist” or “facha”. We have the right and the duty to oppose any anti-popular measure by the government, even if whoever is at its head says sentences that seem to be pro-people. The more organized and firm we are, the more we will be able to lead the force of our nonconformity towards the struggle for our rights. The less organized and firm we are, the more they will be able to use our nonconformity for different interests than ours (from the “left” or the “right”).

Each government, including the present one, has attempted, by various methods to quell the rebellion and promote peace. Then it is also worth emphasizing that a very valuable historical lesson that we have learned and that is elevated to the category of law, is that only independent and combative struggle is what will give us the possibility of achieving victories. Our struggle does not fit within the narrow margins that this State wishes to impose us.

Several may be thinking that Petro was not allowed to govern and that is why the expected transformation could not occur, others may feel deceived and think that this is more of the same. Beyond that, today May Day, a date that belongs exclusively to the working class and the popular classes, we must reaffirm that the path of achieving our rights through laws, institutions and State officials is a failed path. On the contrary, the path of conquering rights through independent and combative popular struggle is the only path that has the possibility of success.

We cannot lose sight of the display of strength that we showed in the Great Uprising of 2021 and the heroic days that preceded it (21N, September 9 to 11). Within our people is where the strength to transform Colombia from its roots truly resides. It is up to us to drive that strength. We need to organize ourselves in an independent, class-conscious and combative way, we must discard the illusions that some solution is going to come from outside and return to the historic path of popular struggle.

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