Letter – Are we anti Latin American?
In your last issue, reviewing ‘The Truth About Trotsky’, you state ‘In 1937 Leon Trotsky, from his exile in Central America…’. Well, he was not exiled in Central America, he was exiled in Mexico. Unless of course you did that intentionally placing Mexico outside North America, thus implying that only the two English speaking countries, USA and Canada belong to North America, therefore Mexico as a Spanish speaking should be in Central America.
The shape of the American continent, from Alaska to Cape Horn, is that of geographical giant with a thin isthmus in the middle linking North from South America. In that sense, even if it burns the writer reviewing the book on Trotsky, Mexico’s place is in the North of the continent.
This brings me to a pattern in your constant depiction of anything political and ideological pertaining Latin America. And is that of a veiled attitude of dismissal every time it is mentioned.
I find this quite offensive – Guzman in Peru ‘was not a Marxist’, ‘Allende in Chile apart from nationalizing the copper, did very little’. AMLO in Mexico, Lula in Brazil, etc, etc.
As a Chilean who came here after being in prison from 1974 to 1976, I cannot help but to think of the typical position of those pseudo Marxists who love criticizing everybody else, without ever themselves doing anything practical for Socialism.
Salvador Allende was the leader of the Popular Unity government 1970-1973 which in itself is an achievement. The first Marxist to be elected by the vote in the Western Hemisphere, he showed that Chile could be transformed. First of all, the nationalization of the banks was the first measure taken by the Popular Unity, copper the second. Many of the big industry, especially textiles, were passed over to the Social Property Area. It created the ‘comandos populares’, which encouraged the participation at the municipal/local level of the working class, the same can be said of the ‘cordones industriales’ where all the big industries surrounding Santiago had been taken or expropriated and were now ran by their workers.
The Agrarian Reform was also a total success. It nationalized the largest privately owned land measuring over 40 hectares. Thus, not only economically benefited the rural workers of the countryside who became syndicalized but also the indigenous population of Southern Chile who for centuries had been reclaiming back their land.
Allende’s government lasted only for three year, but were filled with advances and hopes for most Chileans. In the last local elections before the coup, the Popular Unity had increased their votes supporting the government but, as Kissinger said, the CIA had to push for military intervention before it was too late.
As you can see, this is not an essay or article but a rough letter pointing out that you cannot make swiping statements as you do. I’m planning to continue reading Socialist Standard because it’s worth it.
Nigel de Vere, Bromley
We take your point that we should not have referred to Mexico as being in Central America. We can assure you that it was an honest mistake – based on a common practice that we should no doubt have questioned – but it was in no way an attempt to belittle any particular country or part of the world.
However, while we apologise for that, we can find no reason to apologise for references in past issues of the Socialist Standard with regard to political events and developments in the Spanish and Portuguese speaking parts of the American continents which you have found offensive. You mention Guzman in Peru, AMLO in Mexico, Lula in Brazil and, in particular, Allende in Chile, and you object to our not considering such people or movements as ‘Marxist’. You are particularly critical of the views we have expressed about Allende’s Chile. While we acknowledge and appreciate your personal opposition to the post-Allende Chilean dictatorship which led to your imprisonment and to your leaving your home country, we cannot accept that the reforms brought in by the Allende government, beneficial as they may have been for many Chileans, had anything to do with Marxism or socialism as we define those terms. They clearly had a lot to do with ‘reformism’, i.e. the attempt by ‘progressive’ governments to run the capitalist system in a more liveable, and often less oppressive, way for workers. And we do not question that this brought with it ‘advances and hopes for most Chileans’. But the kind of reforms you mention, for example nationalisation of banks and industry, in no way amount to the moneyless wageless society without buying and selling based on economic equality and free access for all to all goods and services, which is the basis of Marx’s prescription for a socialist form of society.
Of course nothing prevents those advocating or practising policies of reform from calling themselves Marxist or socialist (or others referring to them in that way, often pejoratively), but our contention is that what they represent is a particular way of running the capitalist system, not a fundamental transformation of that system, which is currently dominant in various forms in all countries. We would contend that nothing in Allende’s policies or practises (though they sadly cost him his life) represented or even pointed the way forward to the wholly democratic society of common ownership and voluntary association that is truly worthy of the name ‘Marxist’ or socialist.
Having outlined our disagreement with you on this point, we nevertheless consider it a credit to your open-mindedness that you say that you will continue to read our journal because ‘it’s worth it’. Needless to say that is something on which we do agree with you.