Revolution and Revolutionary Strategy in Latin America

The need for Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution is rather obvious in Latin America — a need which stretches from Mexico to Argentina.  While this need is different in the various countries the overall nature of the struggle for Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution is very similar. There is almost a general need for Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution in Latin America. The story of the revolutionary struggle in Latin America, since the twentieth-century, shows the necessity of such a Social Revolution and such a Socialist Revolution. For the Left of Latin America that struggle continues today.

Most Socialists in Latin America, and most people on the Left in Latin America, have noted the need for Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution in Latin America. Indeed for the last century and a half every serious Socialist thinker and Left thinker has noted the need for social change and social revolution in Latin America — specifically the need for a Socialist Revolution. This need for social revolution and Socialism in Latin America is what gives the Left its particular power and its particular strength in Latin America. Yet the Left in Latin America has, so-far, failed to achieve the victory of Socialism and Socialist Revolution in the states of Latin America. This is, of course, for reasons often outside the power of the Latin American Left itself — specifically the power of Capital and the Capitalist State in Latin America and the power of U.S. Imperialism. Yet if the Left in Latin America is to ever achieve the continent-wide Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution that Latin America needs then the Left will have to engage with the problems of making revolution and the problems of revolution and revolutionary strategy. There can be no Revolution in Latin America without a Revolutionary Theory.1) There can be no Revolution in Latin America without a Revolutionary Strategy.

The revolutionary struggle for Socialism in Latin America today is the product of both history and politics — both at the national level and the continental level. The distinctive nature of the revolutionary struggle in Latin America today means that any revolutionary strategy for Latin America has to be both particular and universal  for Latin America and the struggle for Socialism in Latin America. Particular in that it has to be adaptive to a number of different states and societies — from Mexico to Argentina, from Brazil to Venezuela, from Colombia to Peru.  Universal in that it has to be a universal strategy for revolution and Socialist Revolution across the entire Continent of Central America and South America.  Such factors mean that any Socialist struggle in Latin America also has to deal with a number of different histories and politics — especially in the case of the political organisation of the Left and of Socialists in the various states and countries of Latin America. All of these factors combine to make the revolutionary struggle for Socialism difficult in Latin America, but also vital for both historical and political reasons. The struggle in Latin America today, given the history of the nineteenth-century and the twentieth-century, has entered a vital phase since the turn of the century. This vital phase has also been shown by the fate and struggle of most of the great Socialist Revolutions and Left-Nationalist Revolutions which occurred in Latin America in the last century.  Any political analysis for Social Revolution or Socialist Revolution in Latin America needs to deal with the reality of politics in Latin America and the legacy of politics in Latin America. The struggle for Socialism cannot succeed in Latin America without a political struggle for Socialism.

The revolutionary struggle in Latin America has taken many forms over the last century. Today the revolutionary struggle in Latin America is primarily a political struggle and a social struggle. It is a political struggle and a social struggle because both are needed to achieve Socialism in Latin America — and both are vital.

The revolutionary struggle in Latin America is primarily a struggle by the Working-Class of Latin America. If Latin America is to ever achieve a Social Revolution or a Socialist Revolution today then it must be led by the Working-Class of Latin America. This basic fact is a constant of any Revolutionary Strategy for Latin America.

There once was a time when the revolutionary struggle in Latin America relied on Guerilla Warfare and Guerilla Struggle. Today that is no longer the case. Today only political struggle can achieve a revolutionary struggle in Latin America. Except for a very few cases that type of guerilla struggle is no longer possible or profitable in Latin America. There is also the reality that except for a few cases, namely the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Guerilla strategy was a failure and a disaster for Socialist Revolution in Latin America — one which resulted in counter-revolution and defeat. In Latin America today the revolutionary struggle for Socialism must rely on political struggles — and not military struggles.  If the revolutionary struggle in Latin America is to succeed it must rely today on political struggles by the Working-Class of Latin America. The failure of Guerrilla struggle to achieve Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution in Latin America, from Colombia to Peru, highlights the need for Political Struggle instead in Latin America. Only Political Struggle can achieve Revolution and Socialism in Latin America.

The revolutionary struggle for Socialism in Latin America has to engage with the politics and history of Latin America. This has always been true and will continue to be true for the struggle in Latin America. The politics and history of Latin America inform the struggle for Socialism in Latin America.

The revolutionary struggle in Latin America has a rich tradition and a rich history — going back to the revolutions of the twentieth-century. The Mexican Revolution of 1910, the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Chilean Revolution of 1970-1973, the Nicaraguan Revolution, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, are all examples for the Latin American Left to draw upon — and to learn from.

The social struggle for Socialism in Latin America is more developed in certain places and areas in Latin American than others.  This social reality is key to understanding the dynamic of the revolutionary struggle in Latin America — in that some areas are more politically advanced than others. In Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador the struggle for Social Revolution and Socialism exists at a different level than it does in other parts of Latin America — particularly in places like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia. This is because Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador have already undergone some form of Social Revolution since the Twentieth-Century. This division of the Revolution in Latin America is another legacy of past politics and past struggles in Latin America. For the revolutionary struggle in Latin America today it is vital to unite the working-class struggle in all these countries and to develop them towards Socialism itself. In the case of Venezuela, a key theatre of Social Revolution and Revolutionary Struggle in Latin America since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999, the Social Struggle there today is already beginning to enter a decisive phase. If the struggle for Socialism is to advance and develop in Latin America then there must be a struggle in all the countries of Latin America and all the societies of Latin America.2)

The political struggle for Revolution in Latin America today, however, must relate to the political reality of Latin America today. There cannot be a successful Social Revolution in Latin America today unless the Left engages with the concrete realities of the struggle in Latin America today. Repeating the politics and history of the revolutionary struggles from the past, even from previous successes, is unlikely to achieve revolutionary victories in Latin America today. Instead it is vital to develop a revolutionary struggle and a revolutionary strategy for Latin America which acknowledges the realities of politics in Latin America itself today. These will be different in the different countries of Latin America. They will, though, all share in common the common need to develop a working-class struggle and a working-class politics as the heart of the revolutionary struggle for Socialism in Latin America. The particulars of revolutionary struggle in Latin America are different across Latin America today, but they all share in common the need for a common working-class struggle and a common working-class politics. For the Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution in Latin America today the Working-Class is at the centre of the struggle, both for revolutionary politics and for Socialism.

All revolutionary struggles must contend with counter-revolution and counter-revolutionary struggles. In the case of Latin America the primary opponents of Social Revolution in Latin America remain the Capitalist states of Latin American and the spectre of U.S. Imperialism. Any struggle in Latin America will have to contend with these opponents and find ways of overcoming them. The recent reality of counter-revolution in Brazil, since 2016, and Venezuela, since 2002, shows how powerful the forces of Counter-Revolution remain in Latin America — at both a political level and a social level.  The history and politics of counter-revolution and coups in Latin America, since the beginning of U.S. Imperialism in Latin America, has always been a threat to social progress and social revolution in Latin America — as the history of the twentieth-century in Latin America also shows. So long as Capitalism remains a force in Latin America the struggle in Latin America for Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution will remain incomplete. Recent events and older events in the history of Latin America also show the reality of what occurs when revolution fails in Latin American societies — the reality of Capitalist dictatorship and Military dictatorship.  The working-class of Latin America cannot afford any further revolutionary failures.

U.S. Imperialism is the ultimate foe of revolution in Latin America, and the foe of revolution anywhere in the world. U.S. Imperialism is a factor in any revolutionary strategy in Latin America today, as it has been a factor in any revolutionary strategy in Latin America. It is important to stress that the reality of any Revolution or Revolutionary Strategy in Latin America has to be thought of in relation to the reality of U.S. Imperialism in Latin America. U.S. Imperialism has always undermined the struggle for Socialism in Latin America, and across the World. The difficulties of the Cuban Revolution and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela attest to this basic fact. The Revolutionary Struggle in Latin America must always remember this reality of U.S. Imperialism and seek ways to overcome it, either by struggle or by solidarity with the struggle of the Working-Class in the United States itself. If U.S. Imperialism is not confronted, head on, then there is no chance for the success of Social Revolution or Socialist Revolution in Latin America.3

A key area for Revolutionary politics and Revolutionary strategy in Latin American remains the political divide of Latin America — the need for Working-Class politics.  This divide, specifically in Latin America, means that the Revolutionary Struggle in Latin America still needs to develop a Working-Class struggle and a Working-Class politics — specifically for political struggle and political development. This aspect of the struggle in Latin America is a hangover from the twentieth-century and a reminder of the social problems and social divides in Latin American society, yet it also shows the importance of having a Socialist politics of political development for the Latin American Left. If the Left is to advance in Latin America it will have to develop a Social aspect of its Socialist politics — one which can appeal to the poor farmers and poor workers of Latin America. Failure to develop such a politics will only delay a key aspect of the social struggle in Latin America — the unity between the working-class and the rural farmers. Without unity between the worker and the farmer there cannot be either Social Revolution or Socialist Revolution in Latin America.  The Urban/Rural divide in Latin America, too, has always delayed the Social Struggle in Latin American history — it cannot be allowed to delay the Social Struggle in Latin America today.  The Urban/Rural divide is not unique to Latin America, the Revolution in Latin America or the Revolutionary Struggle in Latin America, but it is vital to the success of the Revolution in Latin America and Revolutionary Strategy in Latin America.

There have been many good writers, from the Left, on Revolution in Latin America and Revolutionary Strategy in Latin America. Indeed some of the best writers and thinkers on Socialist Revolution have either come from Latin America or have thought about the problems of Revolution in Latin America. This is because Latin America, itself, is a key theatre for the Socialist Revolutionary struggle of today. The thought of Che Guevara and Regris Debray instantly springs to mind whenever one thinks of the problems and politics of making Revolution in Latin America. Such Marxists and Socialists have always thought long and hard about finding ways of making the Revolution in Latin America.  Together they form one of the key sources of Socialist thought for Revolution in today’s world — for Revolution internationally and for Revolution in Latin America. If any strategy or politics for Revolution in Latin America is to be developed for today then it will probably require some aspect of the thought from the older Socialist thinkers of the twentieth-century — and from the Socialist tradition in general. The ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, Guevara and Mariátegui, can still help us today in terms of developing a revolutionary politics and a revolutionary strategy for Latin America, and for the Socialist Revolution in Latin America.

The struggle in Latin America shows the need for both political organisation and for social organisation. The Left in Latin America needs both political organisations and social organisations — Socialist Parties, Socialist Trade Unions and Socialist organisations. No victory for Socialism in Latin America can occur without such political organisation or social organisation — without Socialist Parties and Socialist organisations. Latin America has a history and a tradition of such Socialist Parties and Socialist organisations. For the Left in Latin America today it is vital that the politics, tactics and struggles of such Parties are resurrected for the struggle today. The Socialist Revolution cannot be won, anywhere, without a Socialist Party.4

How to achieve the Social Revolution in Latin America and the Socialist Revolution in Latin America is a question of politics and of strategy. It is also a question that the Left in Latin America will have to think hard and long upon, given the reality of politics today in Latin America and the experience gained from the successes and failures of the revolutions of the twentieth-century.  The nature of the revolutionary struggle in Latin America necessitates that the Left in Latin America think long and hard about the nature of the struggle, and how it connects to the international struggle for Socialism. Latin America, after all, is just one theatre of an international struggle for Socialism and this means that success or defeat there effects the struggle for Socialism everywhere else. The nature of American Imperialism in Latin America gives the social struggle a further reality and a further political problem.  All this means that unity amongst the Left of Latin America is vital for any future success for the Left of Latin America today or in the near future.  In many ways the nature of the struggle for Socialism in Latin America remains unchanged from what it was in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries — in that the Left of Latin America has to struggle against both national and international foes, against both the Capitalists of Latin America and the Imperialism of the United States. All of this makes the social struggle and political struggle in Latin America difficult — but not impossible.  The struggle in Latin America continues today, and it will continue until victory and the victory of Socialism.

  1. V.L. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (1905 []
  2. E. Guevara, Message to the Tricontinental (1967 []
  3. Defeating U.S. Imperialism will, ultimately, require a Socialist Revolution in the United States itself. This proposition is a difficult one. It will, ultimately, depend on the ability of the American Left to fight for Socialism in the United States itself. []
  4. This point has been demonstrated by the revolutionary struggles of the nineteenth-century and the twentieth-century – where such struggles required some form of Socialist Party or Socialist Organisation to succeed. It is likely that this will remain the case for any revolutionary struggle in the present century – the twenty-first century. []
G.LL. Williams is a graduate of the LSE and ANU. Read other articles by G.LL..