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The left’s challenges if it gets into government

All the polls predict victory for the centre-left candidate in Colombia’s presidential election on 29th May, in what is called the ‘first round’. If that happens, it has before it a path of great challenges and much responsibility.


Juan Diego Garcia


If a second round is necessary, there is an enormous unknown over the final result. It is not clear what the decision will be, especially that of the sectors of the so-called “centre” or of those who usually do not vote, in a country where the normal thing (for almost a century) is that half the electorate abstains.

An enormous uncertainty prevails but so too does a widespread lack of interest among the citizenry in politics generally and, in particular, in the suitability of the institutions, starting with those who have to manage the vote and its results. The risk of fraud is neither new nor small, nor is the physical elimination of candidates prepared to reform the country’s unjust social order.

The declarations of the centre-left candidate, Gustavo Petro, seem very solid; recently he denounced very specific plans to assassinate him.

On this occasion, as is now traditional in this Andean country, the authorities promise that “there will be an exhaustive investigation” in which, of course, nobody has any faith.

This country’s structural crisis affects all its orders and goes beyond the general problems of the crisis of the neoliberal model, the pandemic or the war in Ukraine.

If Petro wins the election -even in the first round- it would be the first time that the centre-left has governed in this country in its entire history. (In the 30s of the last century there was the “Marching Revolution”, a moderate reform project led by Lopez Pumarejo which provoked the violent reaction of the dominant classes and which in many ways explains the permanent violence (apart from short intervals of peace) that has ravaged Colombia ever since.)

Petro would have to start dismantling the neoliberal model by returning to the state not only adequate control of the economy but also by driving programmes that guaranteed public presence in the business network. A government of change would then have to begin a process that reversed each and every one of the privatisations.

How far it could advance, how quickly it could implement economic reforms, depends on the balance of power generated by the new government being favourable. The principal obstacles will come from the large domestic and foreign capital whose interests will be affected. The idea is none other than managing to make publicly-owned companies decisive in key sectors of the economy, something which does not rule out private initiative, or of course foreign investment, provided that the principle of mutual benefit is effective.

No less decisive is the redesign of debt policies and the relationship with the so-called “international economic institutions” (IMF, World Bank, OECD etc).

It is a matter of seeking functional forms of protectionism, new ways of linking into the world market, driving local industry and ensuring food sovereignty, just as the metropolitan countries do, the same countries that impose free trade and so-called “globalisation” on the world system’s periphery, according to their interests.

For some, to achieve this objective it would be necessary to practise some type of Keynesian formula to reduce the current and unacceptable concentration of wealth, seeking to overcome all the structural flaws of the neoliberal model currently in place.

For others, with greater ambitions, although they recognise that at the moment it is not possible to replace the current capitalism with an essentially different model, they assume the simple reform as a vital step, as the opportunity to lay the foundations for a new order with a view to the future.

Reform is assumed then to be a first step towards greater objectives of a new social order. For unconditional reformists, it would be a matter of driving “developmentalist” programmes which, given the current balance of power, by themselves would represent an almost revolutionary step forward. It seems that this is the orientation of the continent’s new progressive governments.

But for those who aim to go beyond the reforms that developmentalism, which traditionally was limited to the production of consumer goods (previously imported from the metropolises), has to advance towards the creation of companies of means of production, an objective which is the only one that guarantees the full exercise of national sovereignty in all respects.

Regional integration would be a great help with this aim. It would be a matter of overcoming the traditional condition of countries that produce raw materials (almost always without processing) and -in the best case scenario- goods of low added value.

The economic objective is decisive by itself; but it is not the only one.

It is essential to build state apparatus that is modern and above all democratic, that is to say, that works to the benefit of the social majorities. It is a matter of creating a modern bureaucracy which is a guarantor for the national community.

It is particularly necessary to remake the armed forces and the police, as well as the apparatus of justice and the various forms of the electoral system. A new government with Petro will not find this an easy task, although that does not make it impossible. If the political forces that constitute his electoral support manage to consolidate their alliances and proceed prudently but decisively, it does not seem impossible to obtain sufficient parliamentary support.

If the social movements that mobilise in support of his candidacy advance in their unity and capacity for mobilisation, it is not unlikely that their demands are addressed by the new government, at least the main points.

The diversity of these organisations and their very diverse composition must not be an obstacle to achieving suitable coordination and the ability to exercise appropriate pressure on the new government.

Their maturity and the degree of political awareness of these social bases will allow the linking of the current struggles, immediate and possible objectives, and larger objectives to build a new Colombia in the future.

Therefore, today’s victories must be understood as essential steps towards a different future society in which it will be possible to achieve the traditional goal of the workers’ movement: to build “a social order essentially different from capitalism in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.

(Translated by Philip Walker – Email: Pixabay

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