Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia

Issue section: 
(344)

James J Brittain, Pluto Press, £18.99

More trade union activists are assassinated each year in Colombia than in all the rest of the world. State troops and right wing paramilitary groups terrorise the urban poor and rural communities. Colombia has a history of colonial control, fascist government, democratic development and then an extreme model of neoliberalism.

Brittain charts the development of the peasant guerrilla movement, sponsored by the Colombian Communist Party, with roots as far back as the 1920s. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) has waged a war against the Colombian government for more than 50 years, based on armed struggle for territorial control.

The Farc is on the US terrorist list as the most dangerous international terrorist group in the southern hemisphere. Under successive US presidencies Plan Colombia has poured billions of US dollars into the regime.

The excuse for Colombia's militarisation is the production of coca for the export of cocaine, obscuring the integration of the drug cartels with the Colombian government, the multinationals and the US itself. Terror, from disappearance and genocide to chemical warfare, is used routinely to dissuade agricultural workers from supporting the Farc and urban workers from joining trade unions.

Brittain's central thesis suggests that the guerrilla movement has been the legitimate socialist liberation movement since its inception. A Canadian Marxist academic, he picks at Guevarian concepts, Gramscian philosophy and purist Marxist-Leninist formulations to present more a manifesto for the Farc than an objective strategic assessment. His ideological absolutism undermines the book's apparent academic rigour.

The proposal that Colombia exists in a condition of dual power between the state and the Farc-controlled rural regions understates the impact of other social movements, especially the growing organisation of the indigenous peoples, and obscures the enormous power of US-backed "counter-insurgency" and urban working class struggle. And there is little international context given or even links made to political activities in neighbouring Venezuela or Bolivia.

It offers little sense that Colombia has modern capitalist cities and industries. Socialist trade union movements have matured for generations and fought heroically against the privatisation of social welfare.

It is not for socialists to give oxygen to the imperialist assault on the Farc, but we can offer a more critical assessment of the strategy of a national liberation movement that places armed insurgency above collective working class organisation.