Political crisis and the struggle for the Constituent Assembly in Peru

During the first months of Pedro Castillo's government, his constant concessions to the oligarchic right have become ever clearer. The more Castillo yields, the more the attacks against him intensify.

This situation has naturally resulted in discontent and disappointment among Castillo’s base of support. In order to reconcile with the parasitic bourgeoisie, he seems to have forgotten that it was his programme and campaign promises that brought him to the presidency, and not his personality.

With each change of prime minister, the lukewarm programme presented by Castillo has been diluted more and more. He has sidelined figures who seemed more radical or left and replaced them with “more stable” people; which is to say, people more attuned to the interests of the Peruvian ruling class and multinational corporations.

This vacillating policy, together with the global economic crisis, sparked last month's demonstrations against the rise in living costs. The prices of fuel and basic goods have increased considerably and the poorest families of the working class are unable to acquire what they need to survive.

A reformist and conciliatory government will inevitably be faced, at all times, with a contradiction of class interests. It is not possible to govern for everybody. Within the economic, political and social framework of capitalism, granting rights to the working class means attacking the interests of the bourgeoisie, and maintaining the profits of the bourgeoisie means attacking the working class and snatching away their rights. Particularly at a time of capitalist crisis, there can be no half-measures, you must be on one side or the other.

After months of setbacks and concessions to the oligarchy, on 22 April, President Castillo announced from Cuzco that he would present a bill to the citizens to ask whether or not they want a new constitution. This was a clear attempt to reconnect with the masses who brought him to power under the campaign promise for a Constituent Assembly.

This announcement has caused a stir among the most-advanced layers of the workers' movement, who see the Constituent Assembly as a way forward towards radical change and as a means of liberation from the burden of Fujimorism. The Constituent Assembly has become the centre of discussion in the different trade unions struggling in Peru. In the protests in Junín last month, the demand for the Constituent Assembly has already received an echo. In fact, there have been calls from the union headquarters to carry out national strikes for economic demands, where the slogan “A New Constitution!” has been raised. Faced with the deepening of the economic crisis, this demand could be what unites the workers' movement of Peru.

The bill presented by Castillo before Congress proposed that a referendum be held on whether to convene a Constituent Assembly ,and that this could be carried out during the regional and municipal electoral process that will take place in October this year. The question will be posed as follows: ‘Do you approve the convening of a Constituent Assembly charged with preparing a new political constitution’?

The Constituent Referendum shelved

The irony of this situation is that the current Fujimorist constitution must be reformed to accommodate the possibility of generating a new constitution. And those who must approve this reform are exactly the same people who oppose it. Thus, on 7 May, Congress's Constitution Commission passed a majority vote to shelve the president's proposal. Representatives from all the right-wing parties voted against it being left up to the people to decide whether or not they want a constituent assembly. Despite all their talk about democracy, they don't want to give the majority a voice. This demonstrates the true character of the Peruvian oligarchy, which fears the people expressing themselves openly.

We can see clearly the true character of the bourgeois state, whose apparatus is designed to defend the interests of the ruling class with legal and juridical arguments. Faced with this situation, both Castillo and his cabinet have shown signs of vacillation. On the one hand, they declare that “there is no plan B” and therefore abandon the struggle for the constituent assembly, while on the other hand, they some make declarations along the lines that “the word of the people is sacred”, and that it depends on a referendum.

pedro castillo Image Presidencia Perú FlickrFaced with the resistance from the bourgeois state apparatus, both Castillo and his cabinet have shown signs of vacillation / Image: Presidencia Perú, Flickr

Additionally, and in the midst of this process, the Perú Libre group lent itself to a manoeuvre to elect new judges to the Constitutional Court, mostly conservatives and fujimorists. The vote on 10 May in Congress on the election of the magistrates lacked any debate and produced an unholy alliance between Perú Libre and the fujimorists. This led to a rupture within Perú Libre's parliamentary group and the exit of the Magisterial Bloc, which served to discredit the section linked to Vladimir Cerrón.

The problem, from the point of view of the ruling class, is that by blocking the parliamentary path to the referendum on the Constituent Assembly, there is no other path besides mass mobilisation in the streets to achieve it, thus creating a focus point around which all struggles can be concentrated. The National Assembly of Peoples, which brings together workers', peasants' and popular organisations, met on 14 May and called for a National Strike and Day of Struggle on 27 and 28 June. This is the path forward.

This Assembly was also attended by Castillo, who is facing a new attempt by the far-right Popular Renewal to vacate the presidency, while he is at the lowest approval rate since his election nine months ago. In an attempt to reconnect with the poor masses, workers and peasants who brought him to the presidency, Castillo said that “the will of the people cannot be gagged” and again defended the need for a Constituent Assembly.

It is clear that, in Peru, the Constituent Assembly will not appear on its own, nor by the will of the Congress. It is only through the organised struggle of the working people of the countryside and the city that it will be possible to exert enough pressure to win this popular demand from the bourgeoisie.

A Constituent Assembly for what?

The struggle for the Constituent Assembly is not an abstract issue. Firstly, it is a basic democratic question. The current Constitution is that of 1993, drafted under the Fujimori dictatorship, with only a few minor amendments. Sending that Constitution to the dustbin of history means cutting off the dictatorship at its roots.

Secondly, for hundreds of thousands of workers, peasants and youth, the idea of a Constituent Assembly appears as a way to break with the discredited existing bourgeois political institutions, the same aspiration that led to the November 2020 uprising and the election of Castillo last year. The slogan of “A new constitution and closing Congress” sums up this profound rejection of the establishment.

And thirdly, the demand for the Constituent Assembly is seen as the way to decisively change the living conditions of the majority and implement the measures of Castillo's electoral programme, including agrarian reform and the nationalisation of gas and mining multinationals.

The experience of Chile

Given these expectations, it is important to analyse the experience of Chile, where a Constituent Convention is currently in session.

From 18 October to the end of November 2019, a mass uprising with an insurrectionary character took place, involving between 5-6 million people. It was a titanic protest against the Chilean capitalist regime, where the working masses put their strength to the test. The courage and determination shown by the working class in struggle, with youth at the forefront, is undeniable. However, this is not everything, also necessary is leadership that can direct the strength of the workers' movement towards revolutionary change.

october insurrection Image Hugo Morales Wikimedia CommonsIn Chile, the regime appropriated the idea of the Constituent Assembly in order to remove the masses from the streets following the mobilisations of October 2019 / Image: Hugo Morales, Wikimedia Commons

In this process of struggle, the implementation of a Constituent Assembly represented an aspiration for social change, as well as its repudiation of the current regime.

But a Constituent Assembly is nothing more than a bourgeois democratic parliament, and, therefore, this is a bourgeois democratic demand. However, this does not mean that under certain circumstances it is not correct for the working class to fight for it, since the conquest of this demand will serve as a school from which to draw out more advanced lessons for the class struggle.

In the case of Chile, the regime appropriated the idea of the Constituent Assembly in order to remove the masses from the streets. In that instance, the movement threatened to sweep away the entire rotten edifice of bourgeois democracy. Therefore, the regime steered the people toward the safer channel of parliamentarism, in this case in the form of a Constituent Convention. When the masses in the streets demanded “Out with Piñera”, all the parliamentary parties (with the exception of the Communist Party) signed the “Agreement for Peace and the New Constitution”, which ended up demobilising the masses, and bogging down the struggle in a constitutional process that will not go beyond the limits of bourgeois parliamentarism - a change intended to change nothing.

In Chile, the conditions were present to move towards an insurrection in which the working class masses would take power into their own hands. All that was missing at the height of these events was a revolutionary leadership capable of convincing the masses that solving all the problems that afflict our class can only be achieved on the basis of own forces, and by seizing political and economic power from the owners of capital.

Thus, the Chilean Constituent Convention has become in practice a forum for discussion that does not solve any of the fundamental problems which the masses face, including those of work, housing, healthcare and education. It is important to learn the lessons of this experience.

Changing the world at root means expropriating the capitalists and multinationals

We must warn, however, that a change in the text of the Constitution, by itself, will not solve the central problems facing the working class and the poor in Peru. In order for there to be no more poor in a rich country, what is needed is to expropriate the wealth that is in the hands of a handful of entrepreneurs in CONFIEP, the mining multinationals and their allies, and to put them in the hands of the working class to meet the needs of the majority of the population and not a minority of parasites.

It is essential to combine democratic demands with social and economic demands. It must be understood that what is necessary is ripping up Peruvian capitalism at its roots, not trying to make it work for the benefit of the majority. Unfortunately, Cerrón and Perú Libre continue to cling to the idea of a “popular market economy.” In reality, this is nothing more than a euphemism for capitalism.

Cerrón has tried to convince the “national entrepreneurs… with culture and a sense of patriotism” that they would be “one of the main beneficiaries” of a new constitution, which would protect them from “transnational corporations”. The problem is that the Peruvian bourgeoisie has already openly stated, in words and deeds, which side it is on: that of imperialism and the multinationals, to which they are tied by thousands of economic, personal and political threads.

In the epoch of imperialism, the national bourgeoisie, in a dominated country, cannot play any independent role. This was already explained by Amauta Mariátegui almost 100 ago when he insisted, against APRA, that the revolution that Peru needs cannot be “anti-imperialist” alone, but must be anti-capitalist, and therefore socialist and part of the international socialist revolution.

The working class must take power in its hands, both political and economic. Only in this way will we be able to sweep away once and for all the bloody memory of the dictatorship of capital in Peru.