NYC en Lucha

Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores – New York City

What is the MST, and what does it fight for?

Original Spanish document at bandera.org
English translation in PDF format 

This document was approved by an Assembly of the MST in 1999.

Translator’s Note: This is a historical document of the MST that reflects the analysis and positions of the majority of the organization’s members at the time when it was discussed and approved. Parts of the analysis may no longer be shared by a majority, or may have been superseded by practical experience since then. However, many of the general principles expressed here, especially in regard to the internal life and general outlook of the MST, are still in effect. The document has been translated and shared in order to make it accessible for debate and discussion by non-Spanish speaking workers, students, and communities outside of Puerto Rico, and as part of the Edgardo Alvelo Burgos Socialist Summer School.

What is the MST?

The Workers’ Socialist Movement (MST) is a political organization founded in 1982 for the purpose of helping to build consciousness among workers, students, and the oppressed in general, of the need to fight for Puerto Rico to become a Socialist Republic led by workers. We are convinced that as an independent country with a truly democratic government, whose main concern are the needs of the People (healthcare, education, housing, work, and recreation), and not the profits of the capitalists, we can begin to correct many of the fundamental problems that afflict our society. We are an organization made up of workers, from the private as well as the public sector, and students, who understand that “something” needs to be done to try and change the conditions of crisis that we’re living, that it’s not enough to criticize, and that we can’t trust the colonial parties, such as the PNP and PPD, because they’re the ones mainly responsible for the wrongs we suffer. We know that fighting to transform our society is a hard, difficult task, as the majority of the People do not currently support independence, and even less socialism; but on the other hand, ever broader sectors of the People are developing communal, labor, student, feminist, anti-imperialist, environmental, and democratic rights struggles that dramatize the urgency and necessity for social change. Despite apparent calm and supposed economic progress, grave problems such as drug and alcohol addiction; rampant criminality and the trail of death it leaves in its wake; unemployment; extreme colonial dependence; the crisis of education, healthcare, and other services; deforestation and the destruction of natural resources; generalized violence; among others, incite us to fight to make Puerto Rico a better place to live. We’re moved by the conviction that the grave social problems that concern us all so much have a common cause: most of them are a product of the exploitation, inequality, and lust for profit that characterize the capitalist-colonial regime that prevails in Puerto Rico. This is why organizations like the MST are necessary in order to discuss the problems that affect us, visualize collective solutions, express solidarity with different social struggles, and explore roads of action to spread pro-independence and socialist ideas throughout the country [Translator’s Note: Puerto Rico], as part of the effort to push the establishment of a socialist government in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico: Capitalist Colony

As a result of the Spanish-Cuban-American War, in 1898 Puerto Rico became a colony of the United States. The island was invaded by the armed forces of the U.S. on July 25, 1898, and “ceded” by Spain as a war trophy. This violent act marked, form that moment, the subjection of Puerto Rico to the U.S., which has meant that the Congress of that country has exercised sovereignty over our country for more than a hundred years. That process has had a major consequence: the subjection of the Puerto Rican social formation to the domination of U.S. capitalist imperialism since 1898. That domination has been characterized by two main tendencies: on the one hand the inclusion of Puerto Rico into the juridico-economic framework of the U.S., which has meant that the island’s economy has been subject to the development tendencies of the U.S. economy, and all the fundamental powers of government lie with the Yankee Congress. This has focused on four main factors:

  • The application to Puerto Rico of U.S. shipping laws, restricting ocean movement by disposing that it be carried out on U.S. ships exclusively.

  • The inclusion of Puerto Rico within the U.S. tariff system, giving that country’s products free entry into the island’s internal market, free access of products made in Puerto Rico to the U.S. market, and the establishment of barriers to trade between Puerto Rico and other countries.

  • The island’s inclusion into the U.S. monetary and credit system, which places currency regulation in the hands of federal authorities.

  • The exercise of sovereignty by the Yankee Congress; federal laws apply and Congress can legislate and dictate norms for Puerto Rico’s economy.

On the other hand, the massive investment of foreign capital, taking advantage of the previously mentioned tendency, has been the main lever for U.S. economic domain over the island. During the first decades of the this [Translator’s Note: the twentieth] century, a handful of sugar and tobacco companies controlled Puerto Rico’s economy. The overwhelming power of these companies was based on the dispositions of the Foraker Law, which put the near totality of production and circulation of commodities on the island in the hands of Yankee capital. The approval of the Jones Law (1917), giving U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans, opened up the free circulation of Puerto Rican workers toward the U.S. labor market. Part of the labor force would leave Puerto Rico, while massive amounts of capital would arrive from the U.S.; the U.S. market absorbed the Puerto Rican one. The “excess” labor force, which, as a result of the expropriation of thousands of campesinos and the ruin of Puerto Rican hacendados, couldn’t find work on the island market, was pushed out to the U.S., to cover the needs of an expanding market. By 1952, some 250,000 Puerto Ricans were living in the U.S. During this period (1900-1940), the basic characteristics of Puerto Rican society began to take shape, as a consequence of the confrontation between two social formations with different levels of development of their productive forces. The great U.S. corporations, representatives of monopoly capitalism, subjected the island’s economy to chronic imbalances, altering class relations and making it entirely dependent on the U.S. economy, in production as well as in commerce, finance, and transportation. The process of annexing our economy to that of the U.S. had become entrenched.

Industrial Capitalism

On the basis of these realities, from 1940 onwards, the accumulation of U.S. capital in Puerto Rico has reached monumental levels. Under the auspices of the “Industrial Development” (Fomento) Program, Puerto Rico has been oversaturated with U.S. capital. Total investment is calculated at over 30 billion dollars, spanning all areas of the economy. This invasion of capital has been possible thanks to three factors that have guided the economic “development model” established in Puerto Rico:

  • Total or partial tax exemption to companies established through the Fomento Program.

  • Incentives based on the construction of physical infrastructure, free or extremely cheap water and energy resources, among others.

  • Relatively cheap, skilled labor.

In order to guarantee these incentives to U.S. manufacturers and also afford government programs (healthcare, education, building of roads and houses, among others) the state has had to indebt itself to the hilt. This debt has also generated high profits for U.S. companies in charge of financing. The privileged situation of Yankee capital was incremented after 1976 with the application of Section 936 of the federal Internal Revenue Code, which allowed companies with this classification to repatriate profits free of federal taxes, after paying a low local tax. To get an idea of the monopoly exercised by Yankee companies over Puerto Rico’s economy, it’s enough to compare it to a few Latin American countries. By 1990, over 35% of direct U.S. investment in all of Latin America was concentrated in Puerto Rico. This is one and a half times greater than the amount invested in Brazil, and three times greater than that invested in Mexico. In terms of profits, something similar happens. By 1990, U.S. companies obtained over 10 billion dollars in profits and interests from their operations in Puerto Rico. On this “small” island, 42% of the total profits obtained by U.S. businesses in all of Latin America are produced. As a result of the absolute control it’s been subjected to, our economy has developed as an appendage of the U.S. economy. This process of dependence and economic integration has had as its fundamental purpose the extraction of juicy profits for Yankee investors, based on the exploitation of the working class and other laborers. Although the modernization that has accompanied that process has had positive consequences on income levels, it’s no less true that it has led to a structural crisis characterized by partial economic growth and great social imbalances. While foreign and native capitalists have enriched themselves, over 30% of the population of working age is unemployed or marginalized from the productive process, despite massive emigration to the U.S., and the fact that the state has become the country’s main employer. The “progress” experienced hasn’t prevented the fact that over 60% of the population depends on public assistance. This alarming situation has made necessary the noticeable increase in federal funds, particularly during the past few years, as a way to guarantee the country’s political stability. Its purpose is clearly political: to subsidy the income of thousands of Puerto Rican families to lower social tensions and guarantee the reproduction of the material conditions that make possible the high rates of profit of U.S. corporations. At the same time, that enormous flow of federal funds has contributed to strengthening the ideological and psichological dependence of the exploited masses on the U.S. government. The paradox couldn’t be more terrible: the massive flow of Yankee capital has been accompanied from a drastic reduction in job creation. The more capital grows, the more unemployment and social problems grow.

Crisis of the Colonial Model

The creation of the “Commonwealth” in 1952 under the leadership of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) was the culmination, at the political level, of the industrial development strategy pursued by that party. Without so much as touching any of the mechanisms of colonial control, a constitution was approved that served as the basis for the creation of a modern state apparatus that would guarantee the material conditions necessary for the reproduction of the capitalist project. To leave no doubt of the colonial characteristics of the Commonwealth, it was built upon the four pillars of colonialism: common currency, common market, U.S. citizenship, and common defense. They’ve even claimed the existence of a bilateral agreement, although they don’t even have the paper to show for it. The massive emigration of thousands of Puerto Ricans to the U.S., progressive indebtedness and the increase of federal funds allowed the Commonwealth to stay afloat, maintaining the PPD hegemony. But once those valves began to close or lose their effect, that hegemony began to crack and the New Progressive Party (PNP) began to occupy the empty space. The PPD project became so conservative and so dependent on federal funds, that it ended up looking too much like the PNP project. If during years the People are told that their development doesn’t depend on its work and effort, but on “federal help” and permanent union to the U.S., and 60% of the population of working age depends of public assistance, it’s logical that the pro-statehood tendency will be strengthened. Add to this the constant activity of the leaders of the PNP in Washington, lobbying for statehood, and the initiatives of come congressmen interested in “resolving” the island’s status problem, and the portrait is complete. With the recent triumph of the PNP, the hegemony of that party in this country may be in the works. The control of the healthcare system, the dismantling of the Department of Education and the plans to privatize are essential elements for building hegemony, instrument necessary for a definitive push towards turning the country into the 51st state. At least, that’s what the pro-statehood leadership believes. The problem, however, consists in that if in fact the projects of both colonial parties have ended up being very similar, it is no less true that the causes of the crisis of the prevailing colonial model won’t disappear if Puerto Rico becomes a state. The reality that the island has become an auspicious place for businesses seeking a high rate of profit through the intensive use of constant capital (machinery, raw materials, etc.), employing little labor and making production costs too high for “light” industry, won’t disappear with statehood. The businesses that will keep coming to Puerto Rico will be those interested in an ever higher rate of profit, and this motive necessarily becomes a powerful lever for reducing the labor force. In turn, this will make even more necessary the increase, to unsuspected levels, of federal transfers to try to keep the working masses that have been thrown out of the labor process under control. One aggravating circumstance: in all probability, middle and high-income salaried sectors will have to pay federal taxes. After all, if Puerto Rico became a state, it would be incorporating into its relationship to the U.S. the chronic crisis accumulated over so many years of colonial regime. Said crisis would intensify the political conflicts that accompany the process of annexing a nation where at least half the population would oppose statehood and where, without a doubt, the resistance by any means necessary of the pro-independence and socialist sector would increase. The same arguments will weigh heavily on the mood of U.S. rulers before daring to make a decision as risky as definitively annexing Puerto Rico. They know very well that annexing this island-nation would be like swallowing a hedgehog made of stainless steel.

What do we independentistas and socialists propose? Puerto Rican independentistas and socialists argue that the only (or best) way to begin to resolve, at their root, the great problems that U.S. imperialist domination has created in Puerto Rico, is to establish a Workers’ Socialist Republic. This means being an independent country with full powers to:

  • Determine on our own all matters necessary for our economic, political, and social development.

  • Negotiate economic and trade agreements and traties with other countries.

  • Fully participate in those international organizations we deem necessary.

From our socialist perspective, that sovereignty should serve mainly to drive a process of political, economic, and social development directed at fulfilling the basic needs of workers and other oppressed sectors of our country. In other words, independence must be an instrument for constructing a society of equality, freedom, and solidarity: socialist society. If we aspire for Puerto Rico to be a society where all citizens with the capacity to do so work and produce for the common good, it’s logical, from a truly democratic perspective, that it be the workers themselves who govern the destiny of the country. At the same time, we consider socialism to be an economic imperative necessary to rebuild our economy as one that is sovereign and independent. The deformations caused by imperialist domination, such as dependence on the external market, the destruction of agriculture, and the absence of native capital, pose serious obstacles to achieving sustained economic growth under independence. Let’s remember that due to those deformations, the colonial regime has had to depend on foreign investment and the massive flow of federal funds in order to contain the colonial crisis. In the bourgeois republic, with those limitations and without the massive flow of federal funds, it would be very hard to maintain current standards of living and income levels, and to create the productive forces necessary to employ the working-age population. This could produce a drastic decrease in the population’s levels of consumption. Only a regime where the purpose of production is the benefit of workers and society in general, and not capitalist profits, can an independent “state” accumulate the surplus necessary to ensure the production of goods and services necessary to the economic development of the country. Worker-managed state enterprises in the strategic areas of the economy, cooperatives and individual or family-owned small production, together with the controlled existence of foreign investment could configure a viable economic development that sets the bases for developing the socialist society to which we aspire. The Democratic Socialist perspective we propose is a meant as a compass or guide for directing the work we socialists do, gathering the general characteristics of the socialism we propose and the disposition to maintain a permanent debate about the fundamental positions of the organization and the revolutionary movement. We conceive socialism as a transition towards a society that is classless and stateless in the strict sense: communism. Socialism is a contradictory process of class struggle that according to the experience of the state-capitalist or so-called socialist countries is very complex and problematic, particularly in relation to the state, which far from having weakened has been greatly strengthened. The socialism we propose will be democratic, or it won’t be socialism: it entails a new way of doing politics and of producing. The essential element will be self-management, self-organization, and self-government of workers and other sectors through the construction of worker and popular councils throughout society. Starting from the above, the socialist society we propose may have, among others, the following fundamental characteristics:

  • A government directed by workers at all levels of society.

  • The socialization of the fundamental means of production (factories, banks) under the direction and control of workers.

  • The combination of worker self-management in the factories, workplaces, and communities with the central planning mechanisms necessary to coordinate production and distribution of goods and fundamental social services.

  • The full recognition of human and civil rights independently of social background.

  • The establishment as human rights of work, healthcare, education, housing, a sound environment, among others

  • The recognition of the private property of individuals not exploiting the salaried work of others as one of the legitimate forms of production within socialism.

  • The recognition of small and medium capitalist property as necessary during a prolonged period of time.

  • The reorganization-transformation of the police as a body of a civilian character, controlled and directed by workers.

  • The recognition of the independent organizations of workers and other sectors (unions, community councils, feminist groups, etc.) as co-substantial to socialism and the process of liberation of the workers.

  • The strengthening, from the start, of anti-state and anti-capitalist tendencies essential to promote the self-organization and self-management of all sectors of the people.

  • The creation of independent, sovereign “state” that is really a semi-state devoid of its repressive functions and controlled by People’s organizations.

  • The aspiration to create close economic and political ties to the rest of the nations of the Caribbean, which will help us achieve cooperation in solidarity.

Crisis of Marxism

The previous arguments about our conception of the struggle for socialism in Puerto Rico are clearly marked by the crisis of marxism and socialism at the international level. The grave conflicts, crisis, and later collapse of the majority of the so-called socialist countries dramatized the crisis of socialist theory. We say this, because we believe it’s wrong to think that what collapsed in the state-capitalist countries1 was merely the way in which the socialist “model” elaborated by Marx and Engels was implemented. While it’s true that in the Soviet Union and other countries certain conceptions that were particularly antidemocratic and in conflict with Marxist ideas were elaborated, it’s no less true that the socialists and parties that led those processes did so thinking that the conceptions they were implementing would lead to socialism and communism. That process, which led to the constitution of oppressive societies very different from the announced project of liberation, was the product of class struggle for socialism combined with grave errors and wrong conceptions with the doctrinal insufficiencies of socialist theory. A clear example of what we’re pointing out is that Marxism itself hasn’t been able to explain satisfactorily the emergence of those totalitarian societies, the strengthening of the state, the conception of the single party, and the disposal of the democratic rights of the working class, which according to Marxist theory was the class called to rule. On the other hand, Marxism hasn’t produced a successful revolutionary strategy for the industrialized capitalist countries. The only places where revolutionary processes inspired by Marxist theory have triumphed are countries where backwards capitalism prevailed. The “historical mission” of the working class hasn’t been taken up by workers from the industrialized countries, and even worse, in the majority of these the working class has been “content” with the social conquests obtained through their trade union or economistic struggles. It’s therefore clear there is no such “historical mission” of the working class and much less revolutionary predetermination: the revolution will be made by the workers themselves, as long as they attain class consciousness and feel the need and urgency to organize and fight to seize political power, not because it’s written on the wall. The scientific pretenses of Marxism have been another factor that has led to its crisis. It’s one thing for the materialist conception of history to help us interpret social reality and serve as a guide to revolutionary action, and quite another to believe we are in possession of an “all-powerful” theory capable of explaining everything with no need for practical corroboration. The latter is without a doubt a clear example of dogmatism. The very name “scientific socialism” establishes a seal of technical superiority that poses several problems, among them the difficulty of scientifically validating the behavior of an extremely complex and massive social movement that intends to unify diverse wills, beliefs, and attitudes toward struggle. Leaving aside the dogmatism that has caused socialism so much harm, it’s better to consider Marxism as a theory enriched by a diversity of interpretations and its use as a guide to help develop our struggle. One of Marxism’s weakest points is its theory of the state. Marxism has been unable to produce a coherent theory about the destruction or transformation of the bourgeois state and the transition to communism. Marx and Engels’s observations were obviously insufficient and the experience of the so-called socialist countries resulted in the strengthening of the state apparatus. Starting from different points of view, social-democrats as much as Marxist-leninists have ended in state idolatry. As long as we don’t go deeper into this cardinal problem and elaborate a theory of the elimination/transformation of the state that goes beyond the “democratic” aspects of the bourgeois state, it will be very difficult to elaborate a truly revolutionary theory of socialist transition. The crisis of Marxism has been manifested with particular impact in the role of the organizational forms that the struggles of the working class take. Among others, the function of the revolutionary party has been questioned in a dramatic manner and highlighted the contradictions of the so-called Leninist theory of organization with the autonomous and free development of workers’ struggles. The preeminence of theory over practice embodied in the dogma “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” the Leninist theory that holds that class consciousness is introduced from outside, the party as supreme instance, the subsumption of other organizational forms to the party, democratic centralism and iron discipline, the organization of professional revolutionaries, and the idea of the party as an instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat have led to an organizational conception that poses the substitution of the working class for the party and contradicts the old Marxist maxim that “the liberation of the workers will be the work of the workers themselves.”

Forms of Struggle

The problem of the forms of struggle becomes academic if it’s uprooted from the socio-economic reality of our country. In reality, it’s the different characteristics of class struggle in Puerto Rico, with its obstacles and grave difficulties, that determine the effectiveness of the forms of struggle used during the revolutionary process. In other words, the methods of struggle we utilize at a given moment will be effective to the degree that they correspond to the concrete conditions posed by the social movement that with different emphases and levels of development can be verified currently in Puerto Rico. We independentistas and socialists are interested above all in contributing to a revolutionary transformation that allows our People to fully exercise power: a free, democratic, and socialist society. We want national freedom, which implies independence to build a patria where exploitation has no place, and equality and justice are the north star of our development as a People. Although we’ve been fighting, through different means, to make that goal a reality, the truth is we’re still far from achieving it. We’ve advanced, no doubt, in some areas of social struggle, but not enough to have a mass movement in favor of independence and socialism. In that context, it stands out that our struggle faces an important first obstacle: the immense majority of our People favors the parties that represent colonialism and capitalism. Although we don’t like it, we must begin by recognizing that unquestionable fact. How can we explain that until now, our People support the existing colonial regime? It’s undoubtedly contradictory that, colonialism being the negation of the People’s national rights, the negation of national freedom, that People prefers to keep living under the colonial regime. But that contradiction is real, and reveals precisely the peculiar character of colonialism in Puerto Rico and its impact on the consciousness of the different sectors of the people. Under U.S. domination, our people have achieved conquests and rights that have a profound significance to the formation of a political consciousness that values said achievements and associates them with the imperialist presence in Puerto Rico. Let us think for just one moment in the value that the majority of our People places on the democratic rights acquired and the living standards and material benefits achieved so far. We know that those rights and conquests have been obtained through great struggles and sacrifices. We also know that many of those rights fall short, and that some conquests have a fleeting character. But no one can deny the importance of those conquests, even recognizing their limitations, in the social configuration and prevailing political conduct in Puerto Rico. In plain language, this presents us with an unavoidable fact: social groups, classes, and Peoples set out to change regimes when living under them becomes unsustainable. So long as Peoples believe that they can improve their living standards under the existing regime, the revolutionary process will be extremely difficult. In our case, it’s evident that our People has expectations of improvement under the current colonial-capitalist regime, and doesn’t yet contemplate the need for a revolutionary change. But that reality has its counterpart: colonialism has also produced a brutal social deformation that betrays the fleeting character of the conquests obtained and announces difficult times ahead for our People. Chronic unemployment, massive social marginalization, the destruction of the environment, the high cost of living, rampant criminality, among others, are only some of the characteristics of the social crisis that this country is living. There, precisely, is the present and future agenda for independentismo. A social panorama such as this opens up a spectrum of extremely broad possibilities of struggle and organization. Labor, student, and community movements, electoral and non-electoral, political and economistic, abound throughout the country, revealing the variety and complexity of social struggle. To pretend to control or impose forms of struggle on such a complex movement is one of the worst mistakes we can make. We need to recognize the expression of the most diverse forms of struggle if we want these movements to be successful in their respective battles. Today we witness, in a particular way, the reaffirmation of the autonomous character of each movement, and the difficulties posed by that process. This important democratic tendency also reveals that none of the main methods of struggle can produce, by itself, the triumph of the independence-socialist struggle. It presupposes that in order to alter the present unfavorable correlation of forces and make the revolutionary project viable, the movement will have to make use of different methods of struggle without declaring beforehand the obsolescence of any particular method. We must accept that in a truly broad movement there will be a place, for example, for those who defend armed struggle as much as those who defend electoral struggle. To reach the level of maturity needed to accept that reality is a necessary step for the independence movement to be able to move on towards a united conception of our struggle. The same can be said with regard to political organizations. We consider it an error to characterize an organization on the basis of one method of struggle. If one thing has been demonstrated in the experience of the independence movement, it is the incorrectness of that vision: for example, neither electoralists nor anti-electoralists have been able to bring the independence struggle out of the crisis it faces. In terms of methods of struggle, what’s truly essential is:

  • Maintain an open attitude towards considering each method, allowing practical experience to have the last word.

  • Assume ideological struggle as co-substantial to the problem of methods of struggle. Without political debate, there are no true alternatives.

  • Accept that direct work with different sectors of the People is the basis and crucible of any method of struggle. The method is important to the degree that it recognizes and expresses a social content.

Starting from these considerations, we think that what awaits us is a prolonged period of struggle that will demand deepening and intensifying socialist political work with workers and the People in the factories, workplaces, communities, schools, universities, and all areas of society where it’s necessary, while at the same time exploring avenues that contribute to unifying the efforts of those groups that coincide in socialist strategic goals. In the process, we must be willing to use all the methods of struggle that are necessary in order to contribute to the development of workers’ day-to-day struggles, and the general struggle for the socialist transformation to which we aspire. Although we’d like that process to be as peaceful as possible, we know, from experience in social struggles and the repressive nature of the State, that at different moments and stages the struggle will acquire a violent character that we can’t overlook, as the bourgeoisie won’t hand over political power graciously. But that characterization shouldn’t mean that our organization leaves aside considering at given moments the use of the electoral process in effect in this country. From the perspective of putting socialism in the spotlight, in all areas of struggle, we could consider running or supporting candidates with clear socialist postures in coming elections; indeed, we don’t rule out other forms of participation that coincide with our socialist strategic objectives.

Socialist Organization

The socialist organization we aspire to build should be broad enough to integrate different ideological tendencies within socialism. There is no single correct road towards independence and socialism: none of the existing versions by itself has been able to offer a theoretical and practical solution to the problems that the socialist movement has faced for many years. The point, then, is to develop a socialist theory and practice that, taking international experience into account, serves as a guide to revolutionary work in Puerto Rico. The particular socialist ideology should be less important than liberating practice: what’s important is that anyone who’s willing, contribute in some way to achieving the liberation of workers from capitalist-colonial exploitation. Such an organization may be composed of Marxist, Leninist, anarchist, libertarian, and utopian socialists, and any other denomination that may emerge. The socialism that will define our organization well therefore be a rather heterogeneous democratic socialism, as much as the class that we intend to mobilize under our socialist banner. Such broadness must imply that the MST can gather within it people united around democratic socialism, with different strategic and tactical perspectives, convinced that we can further the socialist cause, over and above those differences. Problems such as the electoral question, armed struggle, and international politics that have always been a source of conflict on the Left, can be boarded through that lens, and shouldn’t be a reason to produce ruptures within the organization. It’s a fact that people with different visions about electoral participation can coincide on many other more relevant aspects of our struggle, making significant contributions. In an organization of this kind, what’s really important is the conviction that no tactical line – for example, on methods of struggle – is permanent or invariable. Everything is subject to discussion: today, the majority may favor a certain position, but tomorrow, debate and experience may lead to the adoption of a different line.

Internal Life

The socialist organization should prefigure in its internal life, even under capitalism, the kind of socialist society that we want to build. If the organization doesn’t “train” itself in the broadest possible internal democracy during the fight against the bourgeois regime, it will hardly be able to sustain democratic practices in socialist society. As an instrument of struggle, the political organization has the need to coordinate resources and tasks of different kinds, carry out concerted militant activities, and discuss different problems in the process of meeting its objectives. The achievement of those objectives will be more effective and lasting if it is reached accepting political differences as normal and necessary, which suggests the search for consensus, decision-making by the majority respecting the right of minorities to stand by such decisions or not. We socialists who aspire to contribute to unifying broad sectors of the working class and People in one or several mass organizations, fronts, or movements seeking political power, can’t even ponder that possibility if we’re wedded to an organizational conception according to which, in order to fight for a common goal, all members of an organization must obey a position even if a large sector doesn’t agree with it. Such a conception not only attempts to homogenize, neglecting the existing heterogeneity, by means of a majority vote; even worse, converting “democratic centralism” into a fundamental criteria for being part of an organization, it sacrifices the concrete contributions that the minority sector can make in those aspects where there is agreement. Adherence to a socialist political organization is a voluntary act, freely agreed upon, that shouldn’t be mediated by coercive threats or disciplinary measures. Discipline in a socialist organization is a conscious mechanism that allows the unification of individual wills to struggle for collective goals. We’re convinced that once a decision has been taken, the majority (those who voted in favor) should have the main responsibility of putting it in practice; the minority (those who voted against) should have the option of standing by it or not. The organization should not force anyone, under threat of disciplinary measures, to stand by a decision that may harm the principles of conscience of one or more of its members. For the democratic vision we propose to be effective, all members of the organization should have the guaranteed right to form tendencies, that is, constitute groups that meet to discuss, write documents, formulate proposals, promote consensus, plan their participation in the decision-making processes of the organization, and even act independently if understood to be necessary. This implies the freedom to criticize the positions assumed by the organization and to implement their position even if it has been defeated by the majority.

An Unavoidable Strategic Consideration

The political situation of independentismo is extremely critical. In the past elections, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) obtained barely 3% of the vote. The situation of the non-PIP pro-independence sector is not exactly admirable either. The undeniable fact is that the independentista message hasn’t taken root among the People, and since 1976, electoral support and street militancy have been dramatically reduced. While there are several causes that can help us explain this phenomenon, we think the most important one has to do with the content of the independentista message. Our ideas have aged and we don’t want to realize it! The economic and political transformations that have taken place under the aegis of colonial capitalism from 1940 until today have left traditional independentismo without a program. Democratization, modernization, industrialization, and the improvement of the standard of living of the masses, which have historically been the banners of bourgeois independentistas were achieved in Puerto Rico under the colonial regime. The bourgeois class that was supposed to be the social base for the national independence struggle was de-nationalized and threw in its lot with the colonial regime, under which it has achieved its survival and social progress. For this reason, it should be no surprise that the largest sectors of what we could call Puerto Rican bourgeoisie support Commonwealth or statehood. During the early 1970s, independentismo recognized this reality and began to link the national struggle with workers’ and People’s struggles, and radicalized its message with a socialist content. And despite the ideological and political limitations evidenced in the major pro-independence organizations of that time, independentismo grew in quantity and quality. In the 1968 elections, with a traditional pro-independence message, the PIP had obtained barely 24,000 votes. In 1972, with a socialist message, it obtained 69,000, and in 1976, adding the PIP and Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP)’s votes, 92,000 votes, or 6% of the total, were reached. Note that when the PIP, from 1980 onward, abandoned the socialist message, its electoral support began to decline definitively, reaching barely 3% in the past elections.2 The same happened to other sectors such as the PSP, whose crisis and final disappearance coincided with the abandonment of socialist discourse and adoption of the old traditional nationalist message. We think the lesson is very clear: the nationalist message of anthem, flag, and culture doesn’t strengthen independentismo. That message can be electorally assimilated by the PPD. And the defense of independence without social content doesn’t say much to the majority of the People, who have achieved important democratic conquests under the colonial regime, who know the harsh reality lived by many independent Peoples, and who have been bombarded by the colonial propaganda of fear towards independence. History has shown that insisting on that message can only lead to the extinction of Puerto Rican independentismo and to the strengthening of colonialism. The colonial-capitalist regime can only be confronted by an ideology that goes beyond that regime, with a social content that somehow represents the aspirations or concrete interests of a significant sector of the People. Independence has to identify with the poor and be for the poor; it must seek its social base with the workers, the unemployed, and the oppressed in general.

1There is a clear consensus in the MST insofar as the so-called socialist countries were not and are not socialist, but rather have constituted totalitarian societies, where the working class has never governed. However, there are different visions regarding the class nature of those countries. The concept of state capitalism is one of the ways that a sector of the organization characterizes those societies; others, lacking a specific characterization, call them so-called socialist countries.

2We refer here to the 1996 general elections.

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4 thoughts on “What is the MST, and what does it fight for?

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