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Book Review

Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia: The Origin and Direction of the FARC-EP

By Josh Sykes |
February 6, 2010
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Book cover for Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia
Book cover for Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia: The Origin and Direction of the FARC-EP (Pluto Press, London: 2010) Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia

Professor James J. Brittain's new book, Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia: The Origin and Direction of the FARC-EP (Pluto Press, London: 2010), is a thoroughly researched and documented academic study of the Colombian revolution and of its largest and longest lasting guerrilla organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP). This alone makes it almost unique. Add to this the fact that it is based on five years of extensive research in Colombia’s countryside, both with the FARC and with the rural population, and it becomes clear that we have a one-of-a-kind book. What this study amounts to is a systematic and thorough defense of the FARC, facing the myths and allegations against the FARC squarely and putting them to rest. On this point, the book is invaluable.

In the book’s forward, James Petras puts it well in discussing “the political practice of demonology,” whereby the FARC have been vilified and slandered to such an extent that such characterizations have found their way into most academic accounts of the FARC. As Petras says, “this is vice’s tribute to virtue.” Brittain’s book addresses the claims that the FARC are a degenerated ‘narco-terrorist’ organization, devoid of politics, just another criminal gang in a country that has been corrupted from top to bottom by the cocaine trade. A lengthy chapter of the book is dedicated to “the political economy of coca,” and concludes that, through “a nationally applied partial crop substitution model, accompanied by regions under total crop substitution,” the FARC is “not only preparing to act as a legitimate government in a socialist Colombia, but readying the population for a post-capitalist society not monetarily dependent on the coca industry” (114). Meanwhile, Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia systematically traces the connections between the paramilitary death-squads, the U.S.-funded Colombian government and the cocaine industry.

In the process of dispelling all of the myths and distortions that have been spread about the FARC, the book advances a number of points. First, it clearly examines the history of the FARC and shows that it is a thoroughly indigenous social movement with broad mass support. It examines the FARC’s ideological commitment to Marxism-Leninism and approaches the FARC’s policy choices and strategic decisions in relation to that commitment. Similarly, the book examines the FARC’s military and political structures and its relations to the broader urban and rural popular movements. It also thoroughly explores what Brittain terms “dominant class reactionism,” presenting a history of paramilitarism and far-right politics in Colombia, showing that these phenomena are a result of the success of the revolution, not the cause of the revolution itself. And finally the book shows that the FARC is winning.

For Colombia solidarity activists, Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia is a tool. In the battle of ideas against all of the U.S. ruling class justifications for continuing to give billions of dollars to the Uribe regime through Plan Colombia, or in opposition to the U.S. escalation in Colombia through its seven newly acquired military bases, this book is a weapon. For anyone doing anti-intervention organizing, whether around Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, the Philippines or any place where the U.S. is oppressing the people of the world and where the people are resisting by any means necessary, this book provides a valuable case-study.

Brittain concludes his Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia with a quote from a campesino who he asked if the FARC would succeed in its revolutionary endeavors. The campesino answers, saying, “The FARC are and have been winning for a long time…I would never say that the FARC will lose, but I will certainly tell you that the state and the elite that repress the people of this country will never win.”

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