Peru: the tasks of Marxists under the government of Pedro Castillo

This article was written on 14 September, before the shift in events detailed in today’s main article. However, the essential points about the background to and dynamics of the political struggle in Peru today remain valid, and help to place the latest developments in their proper context.

The events unfolding in Peru require special attention by revolutionaries. The corruption scandals, the severe economic crisis and the mismanagement of the pandemic by the state, have exposed the great contradictions of Peruvian capitalism. Living conditions are so precarious and imperialist plunder so evident, that the class struggle is overwhelmingly felt by all.

Starting with the November 2020 political crisis, we noted two important issues. The first is the bankruptcy of the Peruvian state institutions, which are shortsighted and corrupt to the core. Despite their internal power struggles, these institutions decided to move ahead with plans to impeach then-president Martín Vizcarra in November 2020, which triggered a series of mobilisations and protests in Lima and other regions of Peru.

This reveals the second important question for us to consider: oppressed Peruvians’ willingness to fight, and for how long. The pressure from the movement was such that, in a matter of days, the interim president Manuel Merino was forced to resign. As a parliamentary manoeuvre to prevent the mobilizations from escalating, Rafael Sagasti took his place.

This situation clearly demonstrated the differences and divisions that exist between the representatives of the Peruvian bourgeoisie, and the potential strength of the Peruvian masses. The working class did not take to the streets in defense of a corrupt politician; they did it to show their discontent against the existing corruption in the state apparatus, against the economic crisis, against the lack of health services to face the pandemic, against the precariousness and hunger that capitalism has subjected them to, and against the bureaucrats who represent it.

Finally, without a revolutionary leadership, the movement dissolved following false promises and manoeuvres by the bourgeois state. However, the fight would seek another expression in the presidential elections. These were held in April 2021, and produced an unexpected result. Pedro Castillo, a teacher and rural unionist - representing the Peru Libre Party, which is purported to be leftist, Marxist, Leninist and Mariateguist - won against right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori in the second round of presidential elections on 6 June.

Castillo's victory in the first round, to the surprise of many, was an expression of the accumulation of discontent and deep anger within the most oppressed sectors of the Peruvian working class. The slogan of “no more poor in a rich country” connected with the palpable contradiction between the enormous mineral wealth and natural resources in the country, and the dire poverty of the majority of its inhabitants. Castillo's threat to nationalise gas and mining multinationals if they refused to negotiate new contracts more favorable to the country connected with the aspirations of the poorest people.

His promise of a constituent assembly, of maintaining his teacher salary and of limiting the salaries of senior officials, connected with the rejection of capitalist corruption that has dominated Peruvian politics for decades and the aspiration for fundamental change.

These elections showed the two faces of Peru: the petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie of the northern regions and the middle- and upper-class neighborhoods of Lima; and the workers, peasants and militants of the impoverished southern regions of Peru. The electoral campaign was plagued with negotiations, pressure and calumny, evoking the memory of terrorism of the Shining Path period. The rotten Peruvian capitalist oligarchy joined in a dirty campaign with only one goal: to prevent Castillo from becoming president. For this, the capitalists used all the means at their disposal: slander, demonisation, anti-communist propaganda on billboards, open and veiled threats, and the mainstream media. Although this campaign certainly had an impact, it did not achieve their goal.

It is important to note that during the campaign leading up to the second round of elections, Castillo and his team began to moderate their message. They called for renegotiation of contracts with multinationals, but ignored any reference to their nationalisation. They insisted on respect for private property, time and time again. “Respectable” elements of the reformist left, or “recognised managers” were included in the presidential candidate's team, such as the economist Pedro Francke. The objective was to “reassure the markets", “give confidence to investors”. But in reality, this moderation did not convince the capitalists. And as a result, it created doubts among the sectors of poor workers and peasants who supported Castillo.

Finally, on 19 July - a month and a half after the presidential elections were held - the National Elections Jury (JNE) issued the long-awaited General Act of Proclamation of Results of the Election of President and Vice President of the Republic, formally declaring Pedro Castillo as the winner and next president of Peru.

This proclamation came after a long bureaucratic process. Despite the fact that on 15 June, the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) finished counting and processing the 86,488 electoral records - where Pedro Castillo obtained 50.126 percent and his rival Keiko Fujimori 49.874 percent, with a percentage difference of 0.252 percent, representing 44,263 votes in favor of Castillo - the proclamation was not made immediately.

Why did it take so long to announce Castillo's win?

During the counting process, the trend was showing that Castillo's advantage would be irreversible, so Fujimori and her lawyers presented a petition to nullify 802 polling stations - representing 200,000 votes - and a challenge process of 1,200 proceedings - representing 300,000 votes - before the JNE, with the intention of eliminating a sufficient number of votes favourable to Castillo, and adding many others that could give her victory.

This scandalous attempt to manipulate a democratic vote caused the delay in declaring the winner; the challenges had to first go through the special electoral juries, where they were rejected, but the appeals presented by Fujimori's lawyers had to be reviewed by the JNE, which also rejected them. This process had already concluded and the certificate had been delivered to the elected president and vice president, who took office on 28 July.

Keiko Fujimori Image Public DomainDuring the counting process, right-wing candidate, Keiko Fujimori, presented a petition to nullify 802 polling stations and a challenge of 1,200 proceedings, with the intention of eliminating a sufficient number of votes favourable to Castillo / Image: Public Domain

Since the morning that the JNE announced that it would reject the final appeals presented by Fujimori's team, the right-wing candidate declared she would accept her defeat. However, she also mentioned that Castillo won in an illegitimate and fraudulent way: a claim she could not prove. She called on the Peruvian people to mobilise against Pedro Castillo stepping into office.

During this whole election, it was clear that when Keiko Fujimori spoke of “the people,” she was referring to the big business owners, landowners, oligarchs and petty bourgeois who make up her base of support, especially in Lima and in some northern regions where the privileged sectors of Peruvian society are concentrated. However, the people who voted for Pedro Castillo are diametrically different, since they are the most impoverished, oppressed and exploited sectors of Peru. The traditional anti-establishment tendency of the southern region showed its strength in supporting Castillo, with illusions that he represents the necessary road forward to improving the living conditions of workers, women, youth, indigenous people and all sectors subjected to discrimination and misery on a daily basis.

It is also clear that delaying the process was used, on the one hand, by Fujimori to avoid jail for graft, and on the other hand, by sectors of the Peruvian bourgeoisie to pressure Castillo and negotiate to further soften his programme; or simply as a way to measure the strength of the popular movement backing Castillo compared to the forces of reaction.

In this sense, we could see the strength of the bourgeoisie being expressed through the state and its institutions; and the strength of the working class and the oppressed in the streets, organising against possible fraud and demanding the declaration of Castillo's win.

From a reformist point of view, it would be said that the proclamation of Pedro Castillo as president of Peru is a triumph of democracy. That it is a reflection of the effectiveness and honesty of bourgeois institutions, with whom we must continue working, proposing reforms and constitutional modifications to improve the living conditions of citizens, appealing to compliance with the rule of law.

However, from a Marxist point of view, we can say that this is clearly not the case. If the institutions that uphold the economic power of the Peruvian oligarchs and the imperialists have made the decision to appoint Castillo president, it is not because they are honest and democratic. Rather, it is because they feared that if they had not done so, an almighty struggle would have been unleashed. Given the precarious economic and health crises, it was unclear how far this movement would go, or if they would have had the capacity to stop it.

The threat of the masses on the scene

Despite all the delays and the divisions within the ruling class, finally Castillo was proclaimed as the official winner. A decisive factor in the eventual proclamation of Castillo’s victory were the mass mobilisations and protests in defence of the result, which the ruling class feared could get out of control.

Faced with the possibility of electoral fraud or a right-wing coup plot, the National Front for Democracy and Governance was formed, which is made up of the main trade union and peasant confederations of Peru, such as the General Confederation of Workers of Peru (CGTP), the Central Unitary of Workers (CUT), the Union of Directors of Peru (SINDEP), the National Federation of Workers in Education (FENATE), the National Federation of Peasant, Artisan, Native and Salaried Women of Peru (FEMUCARINAP), the Unique Central of Peasant Rounds of Peru (CUNARC), and the National Confederation of Peasant and Native Rounds of Peru (CONARC), among others. The Peru Libre party, Together for Peru, the Peruvian Communist Party, Movement New Peru, Broad Front, Runa Party and Ethnocaceristas joined as well, all under a clear slogan: if there is no proclamation, there will be a national strike! These organisations have an important support base throughout the country, so a serious call to mobilise could have opened the way to a major class struggle.

A few weeks after the appointment of Castillo, the struggle to appoint his cabinet began, along with negotiations to obtain a vote of confidence in Congress (in which Peru Libre does not have a majority), to be able to fully exercise its powers. This was another opportunity for the ruling class to place pressure on Castillo and force acts of moderation. Although they could not prevent his election, now the ruling class was preparing to sabotage his government, and especially to prevent the application of the most radical elements of his programme, or those that could open the floodgates for the irruption of the masses on the scene.

At this point, we saw a clear trend towards blurring class lines. The programme presented by Castillo is a reformist one, which proposes a “popular economy with markets.” That is, it will leave intact the political and economic structures that sustain the capitalist system. He made this clear in a speech delivered at the end of June, in which he said:

“We are not Chavistas, we are not communists, we are not going to take away their properties from anyone, what has been said is totally false, that is sealed: we are democratic, we respect Peruvian governance and institutions.”

This slide towards ‘moderation’ can also be seen in key cabinet appointments, such as Pedro Francke, Minister of Economy and Finance, who enjoys the respect and confidence of the Peruvian business sector. During the discussions on the composition of the cabinet, Francke threatened to not accept the position if Guido Bellido was kept as Prime Minister, who considers himself a Marxist and Castroist, and is a representative of the most radical wing of Peru Libre.

Finally, a compromise was reached after the Prime Minister promised moderation. His capitulation was reflected in a tweet, in which he stated: “Pedro Francke has our full support for the application of the economic policy of stability.”

Another crossroads of this nature will inevitably be reached again as Castillo's programme of reforms collides with the reality of crisis-ridden Peruvian capitalism.

But what do they mean by this “economic policy of stability?” Stability for whom? In an interview for BBC Mundo, Francke explained the ‘popular economy with markets’ as: “a model of free action by private companies, as we have had it until now, but with a greater redistributive component on the part of the State,” adding, “we have to redistribute wealth, particularly mining wealth.” This assumes that the new government can “redistribute” wealth, reduce the profits of the rich and invest in the public sector, and that these investments can be used to improve health and education services, to improve the quality of life of the poorest sectors of the country. But can this be done? And what will be the consequences of the attempt?

Pedro Castillo's programme and Peru Libre

Peru Libre's government programme states that its economic model is based on the experience of Bolivia and Ecuador. Both the governments of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa were classic examples of Latin American “progressive governments” that came to power as a by-product of a revolutionary wave and that - for a period - were able to grant concessions to the working class from a cycle of high prices for raw materials. As the cycle came to an end, around 2014, these governments began to make ever-deeper concessions to the ruling class and imperialism, at the expense of the interests of the workers and peasants. These counter-reform policies undermined the base of social support for these governments. They finally led to the coup against Evo Morales and to the right-ward shift of Lenin Moreno's economic policies in Ecuador, which unleashed large mobilisations in 2019.

Time and again, reformist governments have shown that there cannot be any conciliation between antagonistic classes. As long as economic power remains in the hands of the bourgeois class, working-class people will be the ones who bear the brutality of the capitalist crisis on their shoulders. The economic situation facing the Pedro Castillo government is diametrically opposed to that of the beginnings of previous progressive waves in Latin America. Instead of an upward cycle of the price of raw materials, Peru is immersed in a deep crisis. The Chinese economy that once sustained the Pacific countries is now in a sharp slowdown. There is no room for concessions. Even the smallest reform will be fought against, tooth and nail, by the Peruvian oligarchy, who also have a majority representation in congress.

Morale Correa Image Canceleria del EcuadorPeru Libre's government programme states that its economic model is based on the experience of Bolivia and Ecuador. However Evo Morales' and Rafael Correa's conciliatory policies lead to a coup against the former and a right-ward shift of Lenin Moreno's economic polices in Ecuador / Image: Canceleria del Ecuador, Flickr

In further evidence of attempts at class conciliation, Castillo's cabinet will include Julio Velarde as chairman of the Central Bank board, who will continue directing this institution as he has done for the last 15 years. Minister of Foreign Affairs Héctor Béjar, who loudly stated that the period of terrorism in Peru was initiated by the Navy, will also resign after the armed forces and right-wing sectors protested his appointment. He was replaced by Óscar Maúrtua, someone with no ties to the left. Béjar's resignation is another warning of how far the ruling class is prepared to go in blackmailing the government. But it also demonstrates Castillo's weakness. Instead of confronting the armed forces, he gave them his chancellor. In this way, we can see how the most important ministries - concerned with the economy, foreign affairs and banking - were left in the hands of so-called moderate politicians with ties to the business sector. We have also witnessed the government's malleability in the face of the demands of the most reactionary sectors of the bourgeois state.

Workers in Peru face a brutal reality on a daily basis, since it is currently the country with the highest per-capita mortality rate; due to the pandemic, it sits at around 500 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Until May 2021 more than 180,000 people have died from the virus. Despite the fact that strict confinement was mandated from the beginning, this could not be carried out effectively, taking into account that more than 70 percent of the country's workers depend on informal employment. Three of every 10 people live in poverty and 11.8 percent of poor families live in overcrowded conditions, putting workers in the dilemma of risking COVID or starving. In addition to these conditions, there is a deficient health system, without supplies and incapable of dealing with the emergency, resulting from a backward capitalist system, dominated by imperialism, in which the bourgeoisie is incapable of playing a progressive role. On the contrary, the ruling class lives off the state budget and corruption, as well as brutal exploitation of the working class, with the support of the bourgeois state.

Pedro Francke says that the new government will prioritise tax increases on large mining companies, to fight against tax evasion and finance greater social spending on health and education. However, this policy, which sounds so logical, will not be easy to implement, since the new government will have to confront the economic interests of big capital and imperialism. From the point of view of the multinationals and the big Peruvian capitalists, this is intolerable. They are not willing to pay higher taxes to finance the health and education of the poor. Although these measures are very timid, they will be resisted by the ruling class, who fear that their application will whet the appetite of the masses for more radical measures.

To solve the pressing problems faced by the working and peasant masses, it is not enough to ask the capitalists and multinationals to pay higher taxes. Rather, the question of ownership of the means of production must be put on the table. Marxists put forward the necessity of taking control of the fundamental levers of the economy and large industry, as well as agrarian distribution in the countryside, and implementing infrastructural development plans to benefit the most needy (building schools, sports centres, hospitals, roads, etc.).

Marx explained in the Communist Manifesto:

“The existence and predominance of the bourgeois class has, as an essential condition, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few individuals, the formation and constant increase of capital. This, in turn, cannot exist without wage labor.”

The reformists' idea that wealth can be redistributed in a more equitable way clashes with the fundamental interests of the capitalist class. In this time of economic crisis, proposing the redistribution of the little wealth is utopian. The big bourgeoisie have something different in mind to keep their profits almost without loss; placing the consequences of the crisis on the backs of the workers, intensifying the conditions of exploitation, and taking away the rights they have won in the past.

For the reformists, wealth distribution means turning the capitalist state into a guarantor of social support. That is, not to break the dynamics of capitalist exploitation, but simply to give some money so that the poor do not die of hunger. This does not solve anything. Marxists aspire for the expropriation of the great fortunes of the rich, and the privately owned means of production, to be placed under democratic control by the working class and the rest of the oppressed. One measure has nothing to do with the other.

We support any serious measure by the Castillo government that advances the living conditions of the working class. But we warn that these measures will meet fierce resistance from the capitalists. Only the audacious mobilisation of the masses can answer this resistance. If the government stays within the narrow limits of bourgeois parliamentarism, and especially without having a solid legislative majority, it will be doomed to fail. Only by firmly supporting mobilisation and struggle in the streets can the resistance of the oligarchy be broken. But our struggle cannot end there, we must undertake a campaign to end capitalism, not to file down its sharp edges and make it more palpable.

To achieve these objectives it is necessary to build a revolutionary party that can draw lessons from past struggles, making a serious balance of the successes and errors, forming political cadres and developing a non-sectarian strategy of struggle along with the rest of the mass movement, allowing us to recruit the best elements of the youth, women and the working class into the fight for socialism.

Can a Constituent Assembly take any steps forward?

Another central axis of Pedro Castillo's campaign was the convocation of a constituent assembly, to offer a mechanism for changing the Fujimori constitution. A large part of those who voted for Castillo believe that the modification of the constitution would bring significant changes to the daily lives of the oppressed in Peru, and therefore they are organising around this demand, launching campaigns to gather signatures and holding informational meetings.

The organisational initiative by the workers is quite positive, since the more advanced sectors will be able to draw revolutionary conclusions. However, as Marxists we must warn that a modification of the structures of bourgeois legality will not represent a significant advance. As long as political and economic power is in the hands of the capitalist class, nothing substantial will change.

We must study the recent experiences of constituent assemblies, like in neighboring Ecuador. The Constituent Assembly that Rafael Correa convened there did not at all change the domination by the oligarchy and imperialism. More recently, in Chile, the Constituent Convention served to divert the insurrectionary outbreak of 2019 into safe channels of bourgeois parliamentarism. The Constituent Convention has not served to even achieve freedom for political prisoners from the 2019 revolt. Those responsible for the repression remain unpunished. No matter how progressive the laws are, they can only be implemented within the state apparatus. And as long as the fundamental levers of the economy are in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the state will only serve the bourgeois interests. Our role in the movement must be the fight side by side with our class to achieve this and other demands, but without sharing in reformist illusions. At the same time, we should take advantage of every organisational platform and forum to patiently explain the need to go further, explaining the limitations of reformist programmes and the importance of building the revolutionary party.

What, then, should be the attitude of Marxists towards the government of Pedro Castillo? Undoubtedly, there are many illusions and hopes that this government will carry out a fundamental change for the living conditions of workers and peasants. Our task is to accompany our class, supporting all progressive measures taken by the government, but at the same time clearly warning that progress can only be achieved through struggle by the organised working class and the poor peasantry.

The Castillo government will come under pressure from two mutually irreconcilable forces. On the one hand, there will be pressure from the large multinationals and their agents in the Peruvian capitalist oligarchy, who want to maintain their power and privileges at all costs. They will not hesitate to push, sabotage and blackmail Castillo if he tries to touch their interests. And they will do so with all the means at their disposal: the state apparatus, its parliamentary majority, their control of the media, imperialist interference, etc. We must learn the lessons of the Allende government in Chile in 1971-73.

On the other hand, the Castillo government will also be under pressure from the broad masses of workers and peasants - the working and poor people who have voted for it - who expect a fundamental change in their living and working conditions. If Castillo gives in to the oligarchy, he will lose their support, undermining the very base of his government, which the capitalists will not hesitate to push aside. If, on the contrary, the government tries to move forward by calling for the struggle in the streets, it will have the support of the workers and peasants in its confrontation with the oligarchy. It is not possible to satisfy both sectors - the government will be either with the working people, or stand with the oligarchy and imperialism. This is the heart of the question.

In this back and forth process, of struggle and betrayal, the working class will draw lessons. Marxists at all times must accompany our class in this process, clearly explaining the central contradictions and how to resolve them. Within the general movement of the class, we need to advance the idea of the independent organisation of the working class, and the need for a socialist program of expropriation of the multinationals and capitalists. This way, with patience, we will begin the process of grouping together the cadres that can provide the movement with a Marxist leadership when events reach their apex.

First of all, it is necessary to begin the task of building the revolutionary party and the struggle for socialism, since, to quote the Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui:

“The Latin American revolution will be nothing more and nothing less than a stage, a phase of the world revolution. It will be simply and purely the socialist revolution. To this, add, as necessary, all the adjectives you want: 'anti-imperialist', 'agrarian', 'nationalist-revolutionary'. Socialism supposes them, precedes them, encompasses them all.”

For the emancipation of all the oppressed in the world, organization and class struggle!

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