|Written by IWL _ International Workers League|
|Tuesday, 30 October 2012 23:09|
The left in the face of salary conflicts in the armed forces and security forces
In early October, a salary conflict between the non-commissioned officers and the grassroots of the Gendarmerie (militarised police at the frontiers) and the Prefecture (naval police in ports and rivers) on the one hand and Cristina Kirchner administration and the upper echelons of these forces on the other.
What triggered off the conflict was the fact that, as part of an adjustment economic plan aimed against the Argentine working class and toiling masses in general, raiding the salaries of the state employed workers with particular strength, The Cristina administration eliminated several additional bonuses that are not part of the basic salary. As an outcome of this, members of the above mentioned forces collected salaries with cut of between 30% and 60%.
This spawned a factual strike with assemblies and demonstrations of the non-commissioned officers in front of the central buildings of these two forces. Later on, the demand of a minimum of 7000 pesos (about $1500) was posed. At this point 200 non commissioned officers of the Navy joined the struggle and wives of army non-commissioned officers.
Faced with this conflict, the Argentine government adopted a wary policy. On the one hand, they did not dare to repress directly and initiated negotiations with an unprecedented “commission of representatives” (we must bear in mind that there is a prohibition for security forces in Argentina to join trade unions and stand for salary or working conditions) and swiftly granted the annulment of the cuts. On the other hand, the same government penalized 8 of the spokesmen of the conflict and refused to discuss a modification of the base salary.
At the same time all the pro-government forces as well as the bourgeois opposition in the Parliament passed a statement summoning the “security forces and othersto adapt their actions to the norms of democratic functioning and subordination to legitimately constituted authorities, in total accordance to the National Constitution.”(Clarín 4/10). Putting it in different words, the statement passed the idea that the movement had pro-coup connotations. All the Argentine political expressions agreed to demand from the gendarmes and the naval police had to “pipe down” and “go home”.
So much concern and unanimity among the Argentine bourgeoisie is no coincidence. At present there is a legal prohibition for armed forces to participate in repression at home. This situation, together with the deep crisis of the Federal Police and the police of the different provinces turned the Gendarmerie and the Naval Police, the latter more than the former, into the main forces of repression in strikes, social conflicts, demonstrations and road-cuts. And now there is a crisis inside these repression forces as well. The possessing classes in Argentina are now standing face to face with a situation of the “Who can help us now?” kind.
Obviously, this conflict is an expression of the economic, social and political crisis that is increasingly beginning to affect Argentina. However, it is not the analysis of the roots of the process what we shall tackle in this material.
Our intention is to develop a debate with most of the Argentine and Latin American left regarding what the position of revolutionary socialist organization ought to be when faced with conflicts of this type and, in a more general manner, what the revolutionary policy towards armed forces and security forces is supposed to be. This discussion is not new for it was expressed during the police rebellion in Ecuador in 2010 and in the strike of the firemen in Rio de Janeiro in 2011.
The position of the PSTU (Argentine section of the IWL-FI) has been that of support for the struggle of the gendarmes and naval police against the government. It is the same as the one that our sections in Ecuador and in Brazil when the MAS and the Brazilian PSTU supported the struggle of the mutinied against the adjustments of Correa and the firemen who demanded better wages against Cabral, governor of Rio de Janeiro.
In all these cases there was a concrete situation that demanded a clear position and an equally concrete policy: they were conflicts where the grassroots and the non-commissioned officers of these repressive forces confronted the military or police top notches and the national or municipal administrations. We are now talking about not only political confrontation but also physical ones. In the case of Ecuador and Brazil, the governments sent Special Forces to repress the insubordinate grassroots and caused confrontations and many soldiers and officers were imprisoned or punished in different manners.
The debate with the Argentine and Latin American left is as follows: On what side should the parties that claim to be revolutionary stand in conflicts of such features? There are only two concrete possibilities in real life: either we are with the grassroots with the soldiers or policemen and lower echelons of the non-commissioned officers against the top echelons of the military hierarchy and the different capitalist governments or we stand with these administrations (Correa, Cabral/Dilma, Cristina k, etc.) and the top echelons against the demands posed by the rebels and in favour of having them repressed.
The former is the IWL-FI option. And we take this stance because we follow the traditional policy set by Lenin who, in view of the possibility of the triumph of the proletarian and socialist insurrection opted for “taking class struggle” into the capitalist armed forces. This meant taking advantage of the deep social contradictions that exist inside these institutions and having a policy for confronting the grassroots and the non-commissioned officers of the Armed Forces against the bourgeois State by means of a programme of demands in order to divide and win over one sector for the revolution against the other. All this policy is not in the service of “reforming” but of destroying it these “armed detachments” of the bourgeois state.
This Leninist-Trotskyist policy was successfully put into practice between February and October 1917, when million of soldiers mobilised by Russian capitalist governments in the First World War rebelled, broke the discipline, got organised and took part in the Soviets (councils of representatives of workers, peasants and soldiers) Lenin and Trotsky agreed that this policy was determining for the triumph of the October 1917 Revolution. The policy that the IWL has been applying and was recently applied by the PSTU (A) of supporting these conflicts is inspired in this Leninist tradition.
A pacifist stance disguised in “radical” language
In Argentina, the New MAS and the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS) opposed the struggle of the gendarmes and the naval police. Through their international trend, the Trotskyist Fraction, the PTS had already taken such a stand against the struggle of the firemen in Rio de Janeiro last year.
Of course, these organisations that claim to be Trotskyists intend to disguise this position with grandiloquent “revolutionary” phrases. But reality is reality and it is difficult to conceal it. Even the PTS, for example, begin by admitting that “the mutiny in which the non-commissioned officers of Naval Police and Gendarmerie played the leading role (later on joined by the Navy) opened a national crisis. The conflict triggered off by the wages issue, soon turned political. The booing against the officers, the extension of the conflict and its propagation among the Forces show just how serious the situation is (…) the government is at the crossroads. If they recoil fully, they may stand as hostages of the insurgents and that example may be taken by other sectors of the armed forces, even by the policemen in the province who sympathise with the rebels. On the other hand, if they do not yield, the scenario may turn more polarised and they may more visibly lose their control over key sectors of the State and jeopardise their own capacity to govern”
This is amazing. Faced with a “mutiny” that “became political” when officers were booed and that spread to other sectors creating a “serious” situation that opened a “national crisis” that drove the government into “crossroads”, as just a trifling, could lose control they could lose control over key sectors of the state apparatus and jeopardise their own capacity to govern, PTS is against all this struggle that spawned all this crisis because it is said to be strengthening the bourgeois state! Apart from the discussion on what would be this strange form of “strengthening” the bourgeois state by means of a struggle that, as they themselves admit, has started a national crisis that has challenged the very control of the government over a sector of the armed forces, the pillar of any bourgeois state, we want to resume the concrete discussion: if the PTS is against the struggle of the grassroots and the non-commissioned officers of the Gendarmerie and the Naval Police, they objectively have picked sides at the side of the military top notches and Cristina administration and her economic policy of adjustments.
That is not all: this stance has nothing to do with a revolutionary policy but with reactionary pacifism that gives up the struggle for exacerbating the class contradictions inside the armed forces so as to divide them and destroy them.
The PTS (the New MAS has similar arguments) says that Leninist policy is not applied in this case for it can only be put into practice under two conditions.
a) “If we were talking about an army of conscripts recruited massively from the exploited classes the way it happens during wars, where it is necessary to pose a programme of economic and political demands of the troops”.
Consequently, it is not valid in the case of professional armies (salaried) or for security forces. These are part of the institutions of the bourgeois State, with military discipline whose job is to repress workers; they are the “Praetorian Guard”. That is why they are subject to class contradictions or rather these contradictions are alien to the interests of workers. Their lower ranks are not workers and even if they are salaried and originated in the exploited classes, this character of members of a repressive apparatus prevails over on absolute terms over the latter (being salaried). That is why, when all is said and done, what any inner conflict for better working conditions or salaries seeks to improve the conditions of the repressors. The more they collect the better will they repress. That is why, they say, we should stand against them. Consistently with this, they are against any proposal of unionization of these sectors will be regarded as doubly reactionary. On the other hand, they say, this would spread illusions that bourgeois state and its institutions can be “reformed” and this is impossible. They mention the example of France, where police trade unions exist, but that does not prevent the Police from repressing.
It is a real fact that there is a tendency for the armed forces to consist of dwindling numbers of conscripts and for the “salaried” or “professional” sectors accrue. For example, even in Argentina, until the compulsory military service ceased to exist, the troops, from the grassroots to the highest echelons, receive their pay. But this has never been a criterion to define revolutionary policy to destroy the bourgeois Armed Forces. Lenin’s policy has always been to take advantage of the unevenness and class contradictions inside these apparatuses in order to divide them, confronting the soldiers against the non-commissioned officers and even the latter against the higher echelons. There may be cases, for example, of a struggle of non-commissioned officers against the top echelons (colonels, generals). Should revolutionaries take a stance against or abstain from having a policy simply because the non-commissioned officers are “professionals” and not “conscripts”. For example, in Argentina, province police have always been paid from top to bottom. Does this mean that if a rebellion of agents (soldiers) begins against the non-commissioned officers or of the latter against the officers of higher rank, should we do nothing to deepen this crisis simply because “they are not conscripts”? This has never been the criterion of Lenin, Trotsky or any other Marxist for they always thought of how to increase the crisis and the confrontations that stem out of class contradictions along the hierarchic chain.
a) Only in a situation of strong crisis for state power and a generalised increase of class struggle may produce the fact that part of the popular social foundation of a repressive force will disobey orders and turn their guns in the opposite direction and stand arm in arm with workers, not by mechanism of legality of this democracy for the rich or peaceful “convincing” but by a material power: if the working class in struggle achieves their own bodies of self-defence, their own armed power, the proletarian militias”.
That means, it would only be valid in revolutionary situations, with dual power and armed proletarian militias. Consequently, they say, apart from these situations, in which a division could happen in these institutions, we must oppose these struggles. This is a pacifist reactionary policy, typical for reformism that states that since seizure of power is not on the agenda, no other type of political work to destroy the armed forces, main support of the bourgeois state, is of any interest. This is equivalent to saying that, while we wait for the hour of the socialist revolution, we should not have a concrete policy for strikes or concrete confrontations between workers and employers or even should not take advantage of inter-bourgeois crises.
To discuss this point, we begin by admitting that we do have a point of agreement with the PTS and the New MAS. Armies, especially the professional ones, and security forces are “armed detachments” of a bourgeois State and it is their job to repress workers and defend capitalist private property. This means that – as institutions – they cannot be “reformed”: the strategy must be their destruction with the power of the struggles and its expression within the military scope. We have no illusion regarding any other orientation. That is not the point.
The point is what the policy for the destruction of the bourgeois Armed Forces should be, an issue that engulfs such events as strikes for salaries and increasing unionization, the PTS and the New MAS point out that they are not workers, a definition with which we also agree. The problem is that when we come to brass tacks, they deny that inside there are class contradictions stemming out from their character of being salaried and the poor social origin of lower echelons of the officers, in many cases originated in the working class or poor peasantry, inside these repressive institutions. The PTS says, “They are all Praetorian Guards that cannot be won over for the side of proletarian struggle by agitation and propaganda alone and let alone by supporting their corporative demands”. At the same time, the New MAS admits that there are sectors of “humble” social origin, but that “when they take up service, this social origin is wiped out”.
If what these allegedly revolutionary trends say is correct, then there are no contradictions inside the armed forces that we can take advantage of and all we can do is sit with crossed arms awaiting the triumph of proletarian and socialist revolution. What these parties are telling workers and the grassroots of the repressive forces when they are rebelling and breaking all the rules of subordination (it is no coincidence that going on strike or joining a union is forbidden for them) challenging this entire structure in the service of private property and controlled by bourgeois governments, in this case by the Cristina K administration is approximately as follows: Soldiers and non-commissioned officers, you are and will always be, repressor of the people and “watchdogs” for the rich; this is your eternal function… consequently, do not question this role or you own upper echelons of power. Do not fight against your officers; do not fight against the government!
The point is that, by denying that armed forces and be divided as from internal social contradictions and by opposing unionization and strikes of the lower echelons, they are standing on the side of those who are for maintaining the current structure of the Armed Forces. That is so, because every strike or conflict within the Armed Forces implies rupture in the commanding chain, for it is obvious that if the grassroots go on strike this action will be against their superiors or even against the bourgeois government. Taking this into account, Who has the policy of strengthening the repressive forces, who are trying to deepen the confrontation between the grassroots and their higher echelons of the Armed Forces or, to put it in different words: who opposes questioning the commanding system from inside?
The analysis made by PTS and New MAS has no support in real life no matter how much they try to disguise it with left-like phraseology. Everybody knows that in Argentina as well as in many other countries, members of professional armies and security forces are not workers, but their character of salaried, their class origin, their working conditions and living areas create many communicating vessels with the working class and this opens a possibility of being proletarian and revolutionary influence. That is so because capitalism cannot afford to pay good salaries to all the repressive forces. Or is an Argentine gendarme or a Brazilian military policeman who perceive a squalid salary and lives in a poor neighbourhood the same thing as a colonel or general who earns ten times as much and lives in a wealthy neighbourhood. Is there no class contradiction that we, the revolutionaries, can exploit in favour of the destruction of the counterrevolutionary apparatus and so prepare the conditions for socialist revolution?
With revolution alone?
The second argument wielded by the PTS and the NEW MAS (it is a policy that can only be applied in revolutionary situations) apart from capitulating to Cristina and the top military echelons is also spontaneist and pacifist.
These organisations commit spontaneism because they abandon the previous and permanent policy of agitation and propaganda for the grassroots and lower ranks of the Armed Forces leaving this task for when the situation becomes critical and revolutionary. Were we to follow this guideline, our task, while waiting for the revolutionary situation of the Russian October type, would be stay put and watch this kind of crises and confrontations – many of them physical – between soldiers and their superiors and bourgeois rulers happen. This has nothing to do with, for example, the orientation given by the III International when, among the 21 conditions for parties to be accepted, stated: “The duty of propagating communist ideas implies the absolute need for carrying out systematic and persevering propaganda and agitation among the troops.” The policy of not carrying out agitation and propaganda among the troops or the grassroots of the armed forces “until it is the right time” for an insurrection and can only lead to defeats for the proletariat in a strategic perspective.
The policy of these organizations is pacifist for it denies the political struggle inside the armed forces. We know that unless these bourgeois forces are divided there is no chance of success for socialist revolution to overcome or of destruction of repressive forces. There are two sectors among those who agree with this premise: a) Leninist-Trotskyists, who defend that if this is to be achieved we need to do systematic political work over the grassroots of the repressive forces in order to deepen their crisis; b) the guerrilla followers of the theory of revolutionary focuses, who speak about the need to assemble a popular army that will gradually become stronger until the final and decisive confrontation of this army with the bourgeois army. The guerrillas have opted for the wrong tactic but they do aim at destroying the armed forces of the bourgeois state.
If the PTS and the New MAS defend neither the former not the latter, it is obvious that their stance is for pacifist and therefore they deny the very strategy of the insurrection. From the practical point of view they stand for keeping up the commanding structure, a position that is typical for the reactionary pacifism.
But let us insist. These organisations seek comfort in trying to justify their position by talking about a future revolutionary situation, of a feasible new October, which so far is nowhere to be found. What did happen and will probably keep on happening, even if there is no revolutionary situation, due to the crisis of capitalism and the impossibility of affording better salaries and working conditions for the grassroots of the repressive forces spawning strikes such as that of the firemen in Rio de Janeiro or the Argentine Gendarmerie and Naval Police and mutinies such as that of Ecuador, surfacing of police trade unions in Argentina to move together with workers. In these processes, the chain of command (the axis round which these institutions function) is broken officers are bullied and insulted, headquarters are occupied (as in the Rio de Janeiro case) and Head Quarters repress and punish the insubordinate grassroots.
In the face of this reality – and not in the face of inexistent situations – questions become easy to answer: Is it or is it not better for us if these sectors move and fight against the capitalist State and governments using the methods of the working class? Are the confrontations within the repressive forces of grassroots against the highest military echelons favourable for workers or for the bourgeois state? Is it better for us if they overcome or is it worse? We believe that the answers are positive and therefore our policy is that of support for these struggles.
The PTS and the New MAS arrive at the opposite conclusions: these are reactionary struggles and we must oppose them. That is how, regardless some “leftish” phrases, they do a great favour to the bourgeoisie, for they do militant work for the defeat of progressive processes and so they drive the working class further away from any policy for the destruction of bourgeois institutions.
We wish to be categorical about this: these organisations wind up by building unity with the bourgeoisie, the governments and capitalist regimes. For example: the New MAS enriches their analysis of the reasons for which they deemed it correct to oppose this alleged “dangerous dynamics of challenging the establishment from the right”. This party, the same as all the employers and the Argentine government stood in awe in the sight of a possible victory of the salary demands of the insubordinate gendarmes that “questioned the subordination to the political power.” Whose political power? It can be nothing but that of Argentine by means of the Cristina K administration.
We believe this analysis to be totally wrong. This has never been an attempt at a coup; it was a salary demand. It could have been a putsch attempting against democratic liberties, but this has not been the case. However, even against the background – and stemming out of this serious mistake in judgement, the MAS policy is totally inconsistent, for, if it were true that we had a coup to deal with, they ought to have summoned workers and even sectors of bourgeoisie to the most ample united action to halt this potential reactionary coup by means of a revolutionary coup. In other words: within the framework of a totally mistaken analysis they pose criminal abstentionism in the face of the alleged coup that they exposed.
But as there was no putsch, they actually got caught defending the establishment from a salary struggle which they challenged as a “political power.” This has been the shameful role of the New MAS, who said so overtly, and also that of the PTS.
To make a long story short, we can say that the main organisation of the Argentine left, the PO, did not pick sides in the face of the events. Incredible as it may seem, in their material there are plenty of analyses in their material but it is impossible make out whether the PO was for or against the struggle of the gendarmes and naval police. In the face of an event that shook the political life in Argentina, PO just declined politely; this means they did not pick sides in this conflict, and this also meant taking a pacifist position and a capitulation to the government and the government.
The protest of the repressors opened a political crisis, 4/10/2012, available at the PTS web site
ROS, Jonatan: La continuación del pacifismo por otros medios, 18/10/2012,published in La Verdad Obrera 479.
ROJO, José Luis,Un análisis de clase de las fuerzas de seguridad, 18/10/2012, Published in Socialismo o Barbarie, internacional trend headed by the Argentine Nuevo MAS