December 2007  

“Civic” Revolution or Workers Revolution?

Ecuador Needs a Workers, Peasants
and Indian Government

  Soldiers approach a barricade of striking oil workers in Orellana province under the government of
Alfredo Palacio, in March 2006. Today the equally capitalist government of Rafael Correa strikes at
the peasants of Orellana. (Foto: Dolores Ochoa R./AP)

Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers Party!
For an Andean Federation of Workers Republics!

Over the last two decades, Ecuador has found itself in an almost constant state of upheaval and revolt: workers and peasants struggles of the 1980s, indigenous uprisings of the ’90s and so far in this century the overthrow of presidents Mahuad (2000), Noboa (2003) and Gutiérrez (2005) by popular mobilizations. Yet after all this, practically nothing has changed in the direction the country is headed. It is still subject to the dictates of Yankee imperialism, the dollarization of the economy, the U.S. Southern Command’s occupation of the Manta Air Base, the domination of the multinational oil companies over the Amazon regions, the control of politics by traditional oligarchic clans, the omnipresent poverty and the forced emigration of over 10 percent of the national population. By all accounts, Ecuador needs a revolution. But the question is posed, what kind of revolution?

The current president, Rafael Correa, a bourgeois populist, has proclaimed himself a “Christian humanist of the left” while he declares a “civic revolution” to improve public morality and arrive at “profound, radical and rapid change of the prevailing political, economic and social conditions.” Exactly what this change consists of is not something he has addressed in detail. On the other hand, he ferociously opposes any class actions, particularly the struggle for a workers revolution to bring down the capitalist system. But this is exactly what Ecuador requires: a struggle for a revolutionary workers, peasants and Indian government, which would join with the neighboring countries in an Andean federation of workers republics, which in turn would be part of a Socialist United States of Latin America. Without this proletarian internationalist program, the infernal cycle of bourgeois military and “democratic” governments will continue, spelling unending poverty for working people.

After the expulsion of the self-styled “dictocrat” Lucio Gutiérrez from the Palacio de Carondelet (Ecuador’s presidential palace) in the so-called “revolt of the forajidos (outlaws)” in April 2005, the government of his vice president Alfredo Palacio González carried on with the same policies, implementing the measures dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States. Blocked by the opposition headed by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities and Peoples of Ecuador (CONAIE by its Spanish initials) and other Indian organizations through mass demonstrations and highway blockades, Palacio decreed a state of emergency in March 2006. Finally, in the November 2006 presidential elections, the economist Correa was elected, owing his victory to the support of various indigenous and leftist organizations in the second round of voting, on the base of his popular-frontist program.

So strong was the antediluvian right wing opposition to Correa that many reformist leftists, trade-unionists and Indian activists at first gave their support to the new president. Without a murmur of protest, they accepted that there would be no cushy ministerial posts for them in the new cabinet, as there had been in the government of Gutiérrez: they also submitted when Correa refused to place their names on the electoral slate of his PAIS (“Exalted and Sovereign Fatherland,” which spells “Nation” in Spanish) movement. Nevertheless, at the same time as he has distanced himself from the White House and Washington’s financial institutions and drawn closer to nationalist forces and regimes, in domestic affairs the balance sheet of eleven months of Correa’s “center-left” government is one of concessions to “modern” right-wingers and violent attacks against leftist demonstrations. Now with the defeat of Hugo Chávez in the Venezuelan constitutional referendum, Correa’s shift to the right will proceed at an accelerated pace.

There is point in accusing Correa of betrayal: he has always been faithful to his bourgeois program. Responsibility for the current political state of affairs for the Ecuadorian workers, peasants and indigenous peoples falls on a left that time and again has sought to tie itself to one or another capitalist politician, military figure or economist, sacrificing the working class in the interests of an alliance for class collaboration, a “popular front.” From the outset, we Trotskyists of the League for the Fourth International warned against alliances between the indigenous and leftist movement and Colonel Gutiérrez and his military lodge1, which at first pretended to be leftist but is now universally acknowledged as ultra-rightist; we warned against placing confidence in the “outlaws,” a bourgeois and potentially rightist movement2. Now, once again, we state that fundamental task remains the construction of a revolutionary workers party free of any political ties to the bourgeoisie.

Constituent Assembly and Repression:
The Correa Government Attacks the People of the Amazon

Doubtless, with his leftish rhetoric Correa’s election awakened great hopes among the impoverished working masses, as well as in the middle layers (the petty bourgeoisie), who were sick and tired of the corrupt governments of the traditional Ecuadorian parties, the so-called partidocracia. When he was sworn in as president in mid-January, Correa pronounced himself to be a partisan of “21st century socialism,” favoring “Bolivarian” regional integration with Hugo Chávez’ Venezuela and Evo Morales’ Bolivia, and announced the imminent calling of a Constituent Assembly. His PAIS movement did not run any candidates for the disgraced Congress, infamous as a sordid den of oligarchs and thieves, intending instead to shut it down with the forthcoming Assembly. Immediately a hue and cry arose from the parliamentary majority – headed by Álvaro Noboa’s PRIAN (National Action and Institutional Renovation Party), Jaime Nabot’s PSC (Social Christian Party), and Lucio Gutiérrez’s PSP (Patriotic Society Party) – amplified by the big media outlets, labeling the Correa government a “dictatorship.”

But then something unexpected occurred. Before the Congressional majority could reject his plans for a Constituent Assembly, the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal stepped in on Correa’s side. When the infuriated parliamentary deputies voted to depose the head of the Tribunal, a traditional right-winger, the court decreed the expulsion of 57 deputies from Congress. These were later replaced by deputies from the same parties, who approved the referendum for a Constituent Assembly. The population responded in favor of convoking the Assembly with a landslide majority, 81 percent of the vote. Once again, when deputies to the Assembly were elected on September 30, the candidates of the ruling PAIS alliance won 80 of the 130 seats. With this strong popular backing, Correa announced that henceforth, Ecuador would take 99 percent of excess profits from the sale of oil by foreign petroleum companies.

Bourgeois nationalist presidents of the region. From the left: Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Evo Morales (Bolivia). For an Andean federation of workers republics!
(Photo: Fernando Llano/AP)

Nevertheless, on November 30, the very day that the Constituyente was inaugurated in Montecristi (in the coastal province of Manabí) – the birthplace of Eloy Alfaro, champion of the 19th century Liberal Revolution – a brutal military crackdown was unleashed on the parish of Dayuma, in the Amazonian province of Orellana. The Amazonian rebels had the temerity to block a road, resulting in shutting down production at an oil well. For this action, the President labeled them “terrorists” and “mafiosi.” Correa declared a state of emergency in the region. The local population is demanding implementation of an agreement signed over five years ago, promising them a paved road, electric power and jobs, “but instead of asphalt, the people of Dayuma were given tear gas, gunshots, beatings and prison,” says a December 5 bulletin of the Coordinadora de Movimientos Sociales (Coordinating Committee of Social Movements).

News of the military attack produced consternation across the whole country. Reports from Dayuma speak of one peasant shot to death, some 27 people detained, and others “disappeared.” The great majority of the detainees are peasants, who emphasize that they voted for Correa in the elections,. They were dragged from their homes, barefoot, hands tied, airlifted by helicopter to the cantonal, Coca, held incommunicado and subjected to “robust” interrogation, as the thugs of Guantánamo put it (all the Dayuma detainees bear marks of torture). Some 22 people are still being held captive, among them, the prefect of the canton, Guadalupe Llori, who was immediately transferred to the national capital Quito, supposedly “for her own protection.” There is also an arrest warrant for the woman mayor of Coca. The workers movement must demand the immediate release of all the detainees.

But what’s most significant about this incident is what it reveals about the character of the government itself. It’s not the first time Correa has moved against protesters for obstructing oil production. At the beginning of March, peasants of the same Orellana province occupied the installations of Bloque Azul, which was being operated (illegally, according to the peasants) by the former Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras. (Since being denationalized by the government of Lula da Silva, the majority of Petrobras stock is held privately by Wall Street investors.) Five local residents were wounded in the ensuing repression. “I can’t comprehend how, under this government, the same forms of repression are being repeated as under the neoliberal regimes, and how the army has been converted into a gendarme of the petroleum multinationals,” commented Fernando Villavicencio of the Movimiento Gente Común (Movement of the Common People). But they were. And now it is being repeated.

First of all, we must reject the possibility it’s all a big mistake, that the president was “misinformed,” as some pro-government pseudo-leftists make believe. When deputies to the Constituent Assembly announced that they would address the issue of Dayuma, Correa himself threatened that if the Assembly, in which his partisans hold a majority, took up the case, he would resign. At a press conference on the capital’s “Mariscal Sucre” Airbase, he bellowed “the anarchy in Orellana has ended.” It is “time to restore order,” he added, insisting that “those bands of mafiosi have met their end, the sabotage, the blackmail, is over.” Besides calling the peasant fighters and Amazonian ecologists “terrorists,” even speculating about an intrusion by the FARC (the Communist Party-led Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), he insisted that the detainees remain in prison. So the question is, why is he demonizing and repressing his own followers?

The key is that Correa is a nationalist, a populist to be sure, but bourgeois above all. In place of the “neoliberal” policies of the “Washington consensus,” of the globalization that has resulted in the privatization of many social services and large industrial sectors in Latin America and the takeover of many companies by imperialist conglomerates, Ecuador’s economist-president is a partisan of the “developmentalist” policies associated with the figure of Raúl Prebisch (1901-1985) and his Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) who promoted a process of industrialization through “import substitution” on the continent from the 1950s through the ’80s. Today, leftist types criticize neoliberalism, but not capitalism, implying that they are looking for another capitalist “model,” particularly the one pushed by Correa.

The Ecuadorian president has fulminated against imperialism and ordered reprisals against companies that damage the country’s sovereignty. When the representative of the World Bank criticized his economic policy, Correa expelled him. When the Pentagon would not accept the annulment of its contract for occupation of the airbase and port of Manta by forces of the Southern Command, which uses it as a base for counterinsurgency operations in Colombia, Correa reiterated that he would not renew the contract, unless the U.S. gave Ecuador a military base in Miami in order to keep an eye on the military activities of the great power of the north. When Occidental Petroleum – known as la Oxy – which for many years dominated the production of black gold in the Amazon region, transferred the oil production rights for several tracts to a Canadian firm without the Ecuadorian government’s permission, Correa canceled their entire contract. Many leftists took heart to see a president who did not bow and scrape before the imperialist master.

Nevertheless, to hope for a “sovereign path of development” together with “Third World” capitalist regimes like Brazil or Chile, and with the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state, will not favor the Ecuadorian workers. Correa’s government could indeed build a paved highway in the Amazon, but not for the benefit of the region’s people. It would be part of his project to build a land route between the port of Manta and the Brazilian Amazon to facilitate exports to China. In fact, the repression in Dayuma followed right after the president’s return from his tour of the Far East, and just before his meeting with representatives of Petrobras to renegotiate their oil production contracts. He sought to show, by military force, that he was capable of enforcing his contractual commitments.

Spiced up with “socialist” phraseology, and due to his frictions with the predatory policies of U.S. imperialism, Correa’s cause has been embraced with gusto by opportunists of the reformist left. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these gentlemen have abandoned all confidence in socialist revolution (if they ever had any) to place their hopes in bourgeois nationalists like Chávez, Morales or Correa, and even in “neoliberals with a human face” like Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In the Venezuelan case, this is accompanied by the caudillo’s passing fancy for the historical figure and some of the phrases (but not for his program of international proletarian revolution) of the great Russian revolutionary and founder of the Fourth International, Leon Trotsky. But the “developmentalist model” of economics is no less capitalist than the “neoliberal” model. And in the class struggle in his own country, Correa is ready to strike against the workers as forcefully as any of the satraps of George Bush – as the courageous peasants of Dayuma have just experienced.

Fight for Permanent Revolution – Forward on the Path of Lenin and Trotsky!

In August Rafael Correa called together a conference in Quito on “the socialisms of the 21st century,” moderated by none other than his minister of “defense” (that is, of the bourgeois armed forces), Lorena Escuerdo, whose predecessor Guadalupe Larriva died in a suspicious airplane “accident.” It’s a curious “socialist” regime that dispatches troops to Haiti (the new Ecuadorian contingent consists of 60 soldiers and four officers) under Brazilian and Chilean command as part of a colonial occupation that is barely disguised by the blue helmets of the United Nations, freeing up the U.S. expeditionary force for the occupation of Iraq. Trotskyists fight to drive out the mercenary occupation forces from Haiti, including the Ecuadorian troops.

The undersecretary of war in the government of Rafael Correa greets Ecuadorian troops, part of the forces occupying Haiti under the aegis of the United Nations. Trotskyists fight to drive out the mercenary occupation forces.
(Photo: Ministerio de Defensa Nacional)

In his lecture at the Quito conference, the Ecuadorian president followed the line drawn by his Venezuelan counterpart, declaring that “21st century socialism is a work in progress and calling for it to be permanent,” as an official report of the presidential office put it. In order to avoid any confusion, Correa underlined that for this “socialism,” which he calls an “authentic intellectual product” of Latin America, “class struggle and violent conflict are impermissible in the 21st century.” He also maintained that “the elimination of private property is intolerable,” and argued for “the democratization – but not necessarily state ownership – of the means of production” seeking to “live well, in harmony with the natural environment, and with regional, ethnic, and gender equity.” For his part, the “leftist” president of the Constituent Assembly, Alberto Acosta, vows that “private property is guaranteed” (El Comercio, 5 December 2007).

So here we have the noble harmonious vision that leads the “socialist,” the “Christian humanist and leftist” president, to imprison Amazonian Indians and women protesting against the ravages caused by the brutal methods of oil drilling on their lands! But Correa is not alone. The whole spectrum of reformist leftists, from the petrified Stalinists of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador (PCMLE) to post-modern, post-Marxist academics, have traded in their socialist rhetoric for talk of “democratic revolution.” Thus, far from calling for a socialist revolution, with power passing into the hands of workers’ and peasants’ soviets, today they seek to inaugurate “participatory democracy” by means of a Constituent Assembly. For example, the North American socialist academic Roger Burbach writes:

“With the collapse of Marxism-Leninism and its central tenet that the bourgeois state can be transformed only through revolution and seizing state power, the constituent assemblies in South America raise important theoretical and strategic questions.”

–R. Burbach. “Ecuador’s Popular Revolt”. NACLA Report on the Americas, September-October 2007

The “democratic” slogan for the Constituent Assembly, which is in vogue all over the continent, cannot avoid the inevitable class conflict. Talk of “refounding” these thoroughly capitalist countries without bringing down the rule of capital is a fraud3. The only way to liberate the working masses from poverty and emancipate indigenous peoples from their age-old oppression, along with women, blacks and other sectors victimized by capitalism, is through socialist revolution4. In this struggle, the proletariat must serve as a tribune of the people, as Lenin indicated: it must put itself at the head of and be the defender of all the oppressed and exploited. And furthermore as Trotsky emphasized in his theory and program of permanent revolution, in the epoch of imperialism none of the great tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution can be realized short of the conquest of power by the working class, which will be obliged, simply in order to maintain its rule of soviet democracy (the dictatorship of the proletariat), to take up socialist tasks and extend the revolution to the heart of imperialism.

Ever since the ’70s we have experienced the gravely restricted bourgeois democracy that is the only sort of “democracy” there can be in semi- or neocolonial countries like Ecuador. The despised “partidocracia” that held sway over the last three decades replaced the bloody military regimes that preceded it. Governments of both varieties fully complied with the dictates of imperialism. If today the government of Ecuador allies itself with Lula’s Brazil, Morales’ Bolivia, Chávez’ Venezuela, and Néstor Kirchner’s Argentina, the result will be no different, since all of these are capitalist regimes. The current Ecuadorian situation is even more acute than the others. How will Correa’s government carry out “developmentalist” economic policies when the Ecuadorian currency is the U.S. dollar? At any moment the imperialists could flood Ecuador with greenbacks and set off skyrocketing inflation.

As we have pointed out, the government of Rafael Correa only wants to defend its own bourgeois class interests. If it must repress the Amazonian people of Dayuma to open the “Multi-Modal Manta-Manaos Corridor,” or shoot down peasant protesters in order to give preferential treatment to Petrobras in the Bloque Palo Azul oilfields, well, that’s capitalism for you. The real obstacle to a successful struggle against the enemy – the bourgeois governments, whether of the rightist oligarchy or the populist left – is found in the reformist pseudo-socialist and indigenous leadership. And what’s at issue is not a misguided strategy. With their program of class collaboration, they are easy prey for the tricks of the “neoliberals.” The economist Pablo Dávalos showed how imperialist agencies have literally bought these sell-out leaders:

“The World Bank came to create projects specifically for those social actors who could become key political leaders in the resistance to neoliberalism. The intention of these projects was to politically neutralize them, destroy their organizational capacity, and corrupt their leadership and political cadres, converting them into technocrats of development. For the indigenous movement, the World Bank created the Project for the Development of the Indigenous and Black Peoples of Ecuador (PRODEPINE), for the peasant and rural sectors it created the Project for the Reduction of Poverty and Local Rural Development (PROLOCAL), for the women’s movement it applied the Program of Gender and Innovation for Latin America (PROGENIAL).”

–Pablo Dávalos. “La politica del gatopardo”. América Latina en Movimiento No. 423 (Ecuador en tiempos de cambio), 20 August 2007

And for the labor movement and left-wing political parties (the PCMLE and Pachakutik, the party of the indigenous movement) there were the lures of ministerial posts with their juicy fringe benefits in the Gutiérrez government, until popular rebellion forced them to withdraw.

While there are many cases of individual corruption, there is a deeper, systemic problem. Only those who are dedicated to bringing it down can resist the discreet charm of capitalist state power. Reformists, including those who out of habit and a defective memory call themselves socialists or communists, seek to pressure the capitalist rulers. So what better way to gain influence than from the inside? This is their reasoning. Thus, while opposing “free trade” agreements with the U.S., Luis Macas, president of the CONAIE and former presidential candidate of the Pachakutik party, emphasizes that it’s not just a matter of voting against it, but of negotiating better agreements. From this viewpoint, its logical that he would end up voting for Correa for president. And the PCMLE, which remained in Gutierrez’s cabinet until it was forced to depart, doesn’t flatly oppose Correa’s repression in Dayuma, but instead offers counsel and a polite request that “the President of the Republic speedily resolve the current situation” (En Marcha, 15 December 2007).

We Trotskyists who fight for the program of permanent revolution insist, today as in the past, that the only way to liberate the workers, peasants and indigenous peoples, Afro-Ecuadorians and women, is by way of socialist revolution, not as a distant later “stage” but as the order of the day, resulting from the seizure of power by working class, supported by the poor peasants and Indians, raising itself up as a tribune of all the oppressed. To this end we seek to build a genuinely communist, revolutionary workers party, a Bolshevik Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard, forged in struggle against social-democratic and Stalinist reformism. While for bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalists the forced migration of Ecuadorians is nothing but a tragedy, for the proletarian internationalists it represents an opportunity. The hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorian workers now residing in Spain and the United States can infuse the workers struggle with an internationalist spirit in their adopted countries and in the land of their birth.

In the Old World of Europe and the New World of the Americas, from the semi-colonies to the belly of the imperialist beast, we fight to reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution. ■

1 “Dollarization and Massive Militarization: Ecuador Totters in the Capitalist Crisis” and “New Ecuadorian Government: Made in U.S.A.,” in The Internationalist No. 8 (June 2000).

2  See “Ecuador: The ‘Rebellion of the Outlaws’ – A Marxist Analysis,” The Internationalist No. 21 (Summer 2005). A Spanish-language compilation of articles from the LFI on Ecuador can be found in Cuadernos de El Internacionalista, July 2003.

3  See our article, “Trotskyism vs. Constituent Assembly Mania,” October 2007.

4  See “Marxism and the Indian Question in Ecuador,” The Internationalist No. 17 (October-November 2003)

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com