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Vol. 72/No. 33      August 25, 2008

Colombia’s FARC and the debate
over revolutionary strategy
(feature article)
Two articles by Cuban leader Fidel Castro criticizing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have provoked a wide-ranging debate. One of the sharpest polemics against the Cuban leader has come from radical U.S. academic James Petras in a piece titled “Fidel Castro and the FARC: Eight Mistaken Theses of Fidel Castro.”

Following the Colombian government’s successful operation July 2 to free 15 hostages held for years by the FARC, Castro wrote, “We are watching with concern how the imperialists try to capitalize on what happened in Colombia in order to cover up and justify their heinous crimes.”

Washington and the Colombian government use accusations of “human rights abuses” and “drug trafficking” by the guerrillas as the pretext for a massive military buildup in that Latin American country, aimed not only against the Colombian workers and peasants but at toilers throughout the region.

Castro minced no words about the hostage-taking tactic. “The civilians should never have been kidnapped, nor should the soldiers have been kept as prisoners in jungle conditions,” he wrote. “These were objectively cruel actions. No revolutionary aim could justify them.” He urged the FARC to release its remaining hostages through the Red Cross.  
Colombian Communist Party
Castro also disagreed with the FARC’s approach of prolonged guerrilla warfare in the countryside. He linked this to FARC leader Manuel Marulanda’s support for the Colombian Communist Party, which like every other Communist Party in Latin America “was under the influence of the Communist Party of the USSR, not Cuba’s,” Castro said. “The Communist Party of Colombia never intended to conquer power through the armed struggle. The guerrilla was a resistance front and not the fundamental instrument for conquering revolutionary power, as had been the case in Cuba.”

Although the FARC attracted many adherents, political conditions in Colombia deteriorated. “The Colombian territory had become the largest source of cocaine production in the world,” Castro said. “Then, extreme violence, kidnappings, and taxes and demands on drug producers became widespread.

“The paramilitary forces, armed by the oligarchy, were fed by the great abundance of men serving in the country’s armed forces who were discharged from duty every year without any guarantee of a job. This created in Colombia such a complex situation that there was only one way out: real peace.” For the last 30 years, Castro said, the Cuban leadership has favored an end to the armed conflict in Colombia.  
‘Ammunition’ for imperialists?
Petras charges that “the effect of Castro’s anti-FARC articles has been to provide ammunition for the imperial mass media to discredit the FARC.” He attempts to answer the Cuban leader by presenting a glorified picture of the guerrilla group.

“Marulanda’s prolonged guerrilla war strategy relied on mass grassroots organizing based on close peasant ties with guerrillas, based on community, family and class solidarity, building slowly and methodically a national political-military people’s army,” Petras writes, whereas “Castro’s guerrillas were recruited from the mass of urban mass organizations, methodically organized prior to and during the formation of the guerrilla foco in 1956-1958.”

“Marulanda built, over a period of 40 years, a bigger guerrilla army with a wider mass base than any Castro-inspired guerrilla force from the 1960s to 2000,” he says.

For a revolutionary, the test is not the size of the armed force that is built, but the capacity to lead a revolutionary overthrow of the class in power. The Cuban revolutionaries’ goal was never to build a permanent guerrilla army—it was to lead the workers and peasants to seize political power as quickly as possible and with the fewest losses. Castro and the team of leaders around him were well aware that long-term guerrilla movements, isolated from the working class, can degenerate into banditry.

The Rebel Army forged in the course of the struggle in Cuba developed a cadre that was tested in battle and that became more homogenous, politically educated, and disciplined as the struggle advanced. It took only two years from the very first battle with the army of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista until the revolution triumphed in 1959.

Moreover, this could only be done by recruiting urban workers to the Rebel Army. The Cuban revolutionaries never envisioned a successful struggle for power waged by the peasantry alone, separate from the working class. In a recent series of interviews titled My Life Fidel Castro explains, “For us guerrilla warfare was the detonator of another process whose objective was the revolutionary takeover of power. And with a culminating point: a revolutionary general strike and a general uprising of the populace.”

Petras argues that the FARC’s tactics with prisoners are justified because what the Colombian regime does is worse. “Revolutions are cruel,” he says, “but Fidel forgets that counter-revolutions are even crueler.”  
Proletarian morality
The July 26 Movement’s approach to prisoners—treating them with respect and releasing them as quickly as possible, taking the moral high ground-was decisive to the Cuban Revolution’s victory. “No soldier will ever lay down his arms if he thinks he will be killed or subjected to cruel treatment,” Castro wrote.

In his polemic against Castro, Petras never presents a strategy for how working people can successfully wrest political and economic power out of the hands of the capitalist class in Colombia or anywhere else. Instead, he implies that guerrilla war, not just “prolonged” but forever, is the only logical road.

Castro explains that working people need not accept that dead end. Instead, the lessons of the victorious Cuban revolution point the way forward for fighters not only in Colombia but around the world.  
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