This article was originally written for socialistworld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International.
A mass uprising including a general strike, protests of hundreds of thousands and the storming of the National Assembly has rocked Ecuador. It has forced the government of Lenin Moreno to flee the capital, Quito, and relocate the government to the coastal city of Guayaquil.
In what is indeed a revolutionary movement, the Indigenas peoples of Ecuador, under the banner of their largest organisation, Conaie (Confederation of Nationalities of Ecuador), have come together in a mass movement which has united all sections of the working class and middle class of Ecuador. The massive general strike called by the main trade union federation, UGTE (General Union of Ecuadorian Workers) was joined by tens of thousands of peasants and rural workers from Conaie. Thousands formed a convoy throughout the country to march on Quito – arriving on Wednesday 9th October, the day of the general strike called by the UGTE.
The role of the working class and the indigenous peoples is central to this struggle. All of them have come together, rejecting separatism on a united basis. The indigenous peoples of Ecuador comprise at least 25% of the population and have played a central role in the struggles of the past. They have a powerful tradition of community and communal culture. Afurther 70% of the population is of mixed heritage. There are fourteen distinct ethnic groups, some with their own languages. The Indigenous protests have played a central role in toppling presidents, including Abdala Bucaram in 1997, Jamil Mahud in 2000 and Lucio Gutiérrez in 2005.
This movement has many powerful elements of a classic pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situation:the ruling class split and dramatically weakened; the working class and poor are showing a determination to struggle; the middle class is not only neutralisedbut they are active participants in the movement; splits and divisions have opened up within the state apparatus, with sections even joining the protests.
However, the crucial factor, the idea of a socialist alternative, programme and revolutionary party still needs to develop and be built. Without it, the potential victory of the masses to transform society will be threatened and lost.
The brutal repression – which has already resulted in over 500 arrests, hundreds of injuries and some deaths – has been met with defiance by the masses who confronted both the police and the army. In many of the confrontations, the workers and indigenous peoples, armed with staves, stones and, in some cases, improvised rocket launchers, beat back the police and army. In some of them, soldiers joined the protestors in their marches. In one instance, eight police agents were subjected to ‘community justice’by the indigenous peoples and a police colonel was made to answer for his crimes! (See video)
Now, according to reports from TelesurTV (the media channel launched by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela), the indigenous organisations have established a “Parlamento de los Pueblos” (Parliament of the Peoples).
The immediate cause of this uprising was the savage austerity package that the Moreno government introduced. A quisling of the IMF, the global agency for world imperialism, he meekly followed their demands to end subsidies on fuel and introduced attacks on workers’ and labour rights in return for a US$4.2bn “rescue package”. Overnight fuel prices rocketed by more than 150%. State employees saw their holiday entitlement of thirty days annual leave slashed by half to fifteen days. The transport unions responded with a call for a protest strike. This was then followed by continued protests – a veritableuprising with the calling of a general strike.
Lenin Moreno – a revolutionary leader in name but not in nature – was previously Vice-President of the country and ally of the former radical left government led by Rafael Correa who was President for a decade (2006-17). Once in power, Moreno dramatically swung to the right and capitulated to the IMF and capitalism against the background of an economic recession which hit the country in 2016. The recession was partly the result of a fall in the price of oil which accounts for forty percent of Ecuador’s exports.
Correa was swept to power in 2006 as part of the “pink revolution” which swept Latin America at that stage. He was a close ally of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and promised a “citizens’ revolution”. Radical popular reforms were introduced. A massive increase in state expenditure took place improving health and education. Correa ended the independence of the Central Bank, introduced higher taxes on capital and capital controls and, at one stage, refused to pay the “illegitimate elements” of the foreign debt.
Inequality marginally fell. His regime, like that of Hugo Chavez, also introduced a series of constitutional reforms and convened a Constituent Assembly. At the peak of these reforms, Correa enjoyed an approval rating of 70%.
However, despite these popular measures, Correa, like Chavez, failed to take the necessary steps to break from capitalism. Once the economy moved into recession the reforms were cancelled out and cuts introduced. Reforms gave way to counter-reforms which were increasingly brutal, especially under Moreno who came to power in 2017. Correa, like Chavez, had unfortunately used top-down, administrative, bureaucratic and repressive measures. There was not the building of a genuine democratic control by the working class and oppressed. His regime was imprisoned by remaining within a capitalist economy and deciding measures from above.
Correa had sought to encourage Chinese investment, which he argued would finance further reforms rather than a democratic plan in which the major companies and imperialist concerns and assets would be nationalised and planned.
On a capitalist basis, without democratic workers’ control and management of the economy, the Chinese investments inevitably resulted in attacks on the working class and its communities. One in El Pangui by the Chinese giant, Ecuacorriente, in mining brought the government into collision with sections of the indigenous population, which opposed Chinese capitalist investment and the consequences it would have for their environment and social and working conditions.
Some contend that Ecuador alone could not take the necessary steps to break with capitalism because it could not withstand the retaliation from the imperialist powers and other capitalist states in Latin America. This is the same issue that has confronted all revolutions in smaller economies especially in the neo-colonial world. This dilemma can only be resolved by appealing for workers in other countries to also break with capitalism and carry through a socialist transformation.
An opportunity for this was lost in Latin America when the revolutionary upheavals which shook Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and some other countries were developing. Had the leaders of the movement in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador taken the necessary, steps to break with capitalism and establish democratic socialist policies they could have come together and established a voluntary, democratic socialist federation with an appeal to the peoples of Cuba to establish a genuinely democraticsocialist system with workers’ control. This could have begun to plan the economy on an integrated basis. It could have rallied the working class throughout Latin America and also the US. Thefailure to break with capitalism resulted in this opportunity being lost. A victory of the working class in Ecuador could once again pose such a prospectand begin to challenge imperialism.
The failure to break with capitalism has created the conditions for the current social and political explosion by the working class and indigenous peoples. Moreno moved against his former ally, Correa, as he swung dramatically to the right. Charges were brought against Correa of kidnapping and corruption and he is currently seeking asylum in Belgium. However, later he has announced that he will return to Ecuador.
There is seething anger in Ecuador at the attacks the IMF and their Quisling, Moreno, have introduced. This is part of the revolt currently taking place throughout Latin America and the Caribbean against the right-wing governments which have come to power in a series of countries – Macri in Argentina, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Moreno in Ecuador and others. The electoral triumph of these right-wing populist regimes was a consequence of the failure of the centre and reformist left populist governments which preceded them.
The electoral victory of the rightwing in these countries was more a protest vote against the disappointment and betrayals of the centre and reformist left governments, rather than an enthusiastic endorsement of a right-wing pro-neo-liberal capitalist programme. The weak social base of these regimes has been demonstrated by the crisis and social revolt they all now face. Macri, has faced four general strikes in Argentina and now the prospect of a crushing electoral defeat. Haiti is witnessing a social rebellion demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister. Bolsonaro’sgovernment is racked with splits and divisions. Hehas already had to confront a general strike of 46 million! The crisis in Peru has resulted in the President dissolving the congress.
All of these mass movements of the working class have taken place together with all those oppressed by capitalism and against governments which have only been in power for a short time. However, the crucial question is the need for a socialist alternative to challenge capitalism.
The mass movement in Ecuador forced the government to flee the capital. The working class and indigenous peoples stormed the national assembly and are potentially challenging for power. There is an element of dual power unfolding in Ecuador in the uprising. Moreno and his government were forced to flee Quito by the masses. However, they have not yet taken power into their own hands and destroyed the old regime. If this is not done, then capitalism and its political representatives can cling on and regain the initiative.
Faced with this social revolt Moreno is now offering “dialogue” and threatening to return to Quito. The heroism and determination of the masses to confront his regime has been proved on the streets. It is necessary for the movement to take the necessary steps to defeat the old regime and capitalism and establish a democratic socialist alternative. These need to cover:
# The formation of democratic committees of struggle in all workplaces and communities. Delegates to these committees to be elected and subject to recall. Such committees to link up on a city–wide, regional and national level with delegates elected and subject to recall.
#The initial steps taken to form “guardia popular” – popular guards – in some of the protests need to be built on through the formation of an armed militia of workers and indigenous communities, democratically under the direction of the committees of struggle.
#Appeal to all soldiers and rank and file police to join the movement and form elected committees and purge all officers supporting the Moreno regime.
#The formation of a government of the workers and indigenous peoples. Convene elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly or to the ‘Parlamento de los Pueblos’.
#Nationalisation under democratic workers’ control and management of all major and foreign companies and banks. Cancel the IMF austerity programme!
#Equal, language, cultural and territorial rights of all indigenous peoples as part of a democratic plurinational socialist Ecuador.
#For a party of the working class and indigenous peoples with a revolutionary socialist programme.
#For an appeal to working class of the rest of Latin America and the United States for solidarity and support in a struggle to break with capitalism for a socialist alternative.
#The establishment of a voluntary democratic socialist federation of Latin America.