The Future of Latin America and the Caribbean
(or How Trotsky Refuted Ronald Aronson 65 Years Ago)

by George Saunders


(March 8, 2005)—The world situation today is marked not only by the trigger-happy oil imperialism of the sole superpower, the murderous U.S. military machine at work in Iraq, with threats renewed daily against Iraq’s neighbors, Syria and Iran. What’s going on in the world is definitely not just fundamentalist Christians, led by Bush, against fundamentalist Muslims led by the likes of bin Laden, as is suggested by Ronald Aronson. Writing in the March 14 issue of The Nation, Aronson says: “In a world reconfigured by Islamist terrorism and the ‘war on terror,’ dreams of social justice are no longer propelled by mass social movements of the secular left.” Aronson apparently has not read the courageous statement by the head of the Iraqi oil workers union published recently in the Guardian (UK), despite death squad actions against trade unionists in Iraq’s oil industry. The Iraqi trade unions are precisely “mass social movements” inspired by the “dreams of social justice” of the “secular left.”

Transfixed by Bush’s monotonous reiteration, “It’s either us or the terrorists,” Aronson leaves much of today’s world out of the “reconfigured” picture he presents, which in essence merely echoes Bush rhetoric. The reality is that, besides the horrendous slaughter committed mainly by U.S. forces in Iraq—paralleling the massacres carried out by the Israeli armed forces in Palestine—there is also the growing revolt of Latin America. And it is a revolt inspired by “dreams of social justice” and “propelled by mass social movements of the secular left.”

Today’s Events in Latin America

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez has been repeatedly reelected by the impoverished majority over most of the past decade—and his government has been defended by repeated mass mobilizations of the workers and the poor. In the midst of his ongoing Bolivarian revolution he is now advocating “a new socialism for the 21st century” and recommending the ideas of Leon Trotsky, expressed in the book Permanent Revolution. In Venezuela, radical change is everywhere; some observers liken the situation there to the first years of the Cuban revolution; already some land and factories have been nationalized to meet the needs of the urban and rural poor rather than ensure profits for the wealthy owners of large properties. We recommend a recent article on Venezuela by Jorge Martín, with whom we do not agree on all points, but the information in his article is timely and useful.

Bolivia is experiencing an upsurge of mass struggle against foreign water and energy cartels, led by the 600 neighborhood councils, or juntas vecinales, of El Alto, a working class city of nearly a million people overlooking the capital city of La Paz. This mass social movement, definitely of the “secular left” and inspired by dreams of social justice, brought about yesterday’s resignation of the pro-imperialist Bolivian president, Carlos Mesa. For background on today’s events in Bolivia, see Gerry Foley, “Bolivia reignites…Latin American struggle” in the February 2005 issue of Socialist Action newspaper—on line at http://www.socialistaction.org/feb05_6.htm

Class struggle and mass ferment persist in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, Peru, and other Latin American countries; and in Colombia a decades-old civil war is still being fought. In Haiti, resistance against all odds by the Lavalas movement in the poverty-stricken urban districts continues despite the U.S.-engineered coup against the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and despite the military terrorism being inflicted by United Nations occupying forces in Haiti. Throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean, there is very widespread questioning, challenging, and rejection of “neo-liberal” capitalism.

And in Cuba, we see the survival and persistent revitalization of a revolution inspired by dreams of social justice and propelled by mass movement of the secular left. From this heroic island comes the voice of Celia Hart, daughter of two leaders of the July 26 Movement, the movement that led the Cuban revolution to victory. She too recommends Trotsky’s concept of permanent revolution, denounces Stalin’s crippled notion of “socialism in one country,” and confidently asserts that socialism is “the only better world” that is possible. And hers is not the only voice in Cuba that is reexamining and seeking to break free from the onerous influence left by Stalin and his heirs in the Soviet bureaucracy.

In light of all this, the following paragraphs, published by Trotsky 65 years ago, are remarkably prescient and pertinent to the world situation and the situation in Latin America today. They were published in May 1940 as part of the “Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution.” (The translation, from Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939–40, has been revised by checking against the Russian original in Byulleten Oppozitsii , the Russian-language “Bulletin of the Opposition” edited by Trotsky from 1929 to 1940.)

Trotsky’s observations that the colonial peoples must not wait for the workers’ movement in the advanced countries, and that workers need to take whatever action circumstances make possible, whether in colonial or imperialist countries, are reminders to us of the importance of advancing transitional demands in the labor movement in North America, building antiwar formations in the unions, and especially opposing the AFL-CIO’s cooperation with imperialism, such as its support to trade union bureaucrats in Venezuela who collaborated with the employers in repeated attempts to overthrow the elected government of Hugo Chávez.

This passage from Trotsky is also a strong refutation of the very nonrevolutionary perspective advanced by Ronald Aronson in The Nation. Aronson’s article, entitled “Impermanent Revolution,” reviews Isaac Deutscher’s three-volume biography of Trotsky, which has recently been republished by Verso Books after being out of print for a long time.

Aronson indicates that in his youth he studied and was inspired by Deutscher and Trotsky. But now he has outgrown these things and, while teaching at Wayne State University, has achieved such banal wisdom as that “force cannot create a humane society”—as if Marx’s and Trotsky’s ideas centered on the use of force rather than the conscious mobilization of the working class and its allies to create a society that can meet humanity’s needs, the alternative being that “globalized” capitalism will destroys earth’s biosphere, just as it is destroying the cradle of civilization in Iraq today..

Aronson’s travesty may be read online.

The May 1940 passage from Trotsky is as follows:


The Future of Latin America

The monstrous growth of armaments in the United States prepares for a violent solution of the complex contradictions in the Western Hemisphere and should soon pose point-blank the question of the destiny of the Latin American countries. The interlude of the “Good Neighbor” policy is coming to an end. Roosevelt or his successor will quickly take the iron fist out of the velvet glove. The theses of the Fourth International [“War and the Fourth International” (June 1934)] state:

South and Central America [with the wisdom of hindsight we would add ‘and the Caribbean’—G.S.] will be able to tear themselves out of backwardness and enslavement only by uniting all their states into one powerful federation. But it is not the belated South American bourgeoisie, a thoroughly venal agency of foreign imperialism, who will be called upon to solve this task, but the young South American proletariat, the chosen leader of the oppressed masses. The slogan in the struggle against the violence and intrigues of world imperialism and against the bloody work of native comprador cliques is therefore: the [Socialist] United States of South and Central America [and the Caribbean].

Written six years ago, these lines have now acquired a particularly burning actuality.

Only under its own revolutionary direction is the proletariat of the colonies and the semicolonies capable of achieving invincible collaboration with the proletariat of the metropolitan centers, and with the world working class as a whole. Only this collaboration can lead the oppressed peoples to complete and final emancipation, through the overthrow of imperialism the world over. A victory of the international proletariat will deliver the colonial countries from the long-drawn-out travail of capitalist development, by opening up the possibility of arriving at socialism hand in hand with the proletariat of the advanced countries.

The perspective of permanent revolution in no case signifies that the backward countries must await the signal from the advanced ones, or that the colonial peoples should patiently wait for the proletariat of the metropolitan centers to free them. Help comes to him who helps himself. Workers must develop the revolutionary struggle in every country, colonial or imperialist, wherever favorable conditions take shape, and through this set an example for the workers of other countries. Only initiative and activity, resoluteness and boldness can make a genuine reality of the slogan “Workers of the world, unite!”