Barbaric Trotskyism: a History of Morenoism (Part 1)
Originally published in Trotskyist International No.1, Theoretical Journal of the League for the Revolutionary Communist International (1988)
Note from the Editor: The LRCI was the predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency.
Morenoism – Part one; 1941–1978
“I believe that we have made many more mistakes than Trotsky or the Bolsheviks. When I say that ours has been a barbaric Trotskyism it is because I believe it to be the harsh truth and I am not being demagogic.”1
It is little more than a decade since Nahuel Moreno’s Argentinian party (then the PST) declared itself to be “the largest Trotskyist party in the world”. Despite the possible objections to this claim we must accept that the International Workers League (LIT), built around that party, is numerically the largest international “Fourthist” organisation to arise in the semi-colonial world and is the group which has the greatest majority of militants in Latin America. Nowadays the Morenoites maintain that they, along with the Mandelites, are the only two truly international organisations in the “world Trotskyist movement”. In this article we propose to analyse the history and the programmatic ideas of Morenoism from its origin through to the late 1970s.
Moreno the anti-Peronist
During the early 1940s there appeared within the ranks of Argentinian Trotskyism an important discussion on the character of the revolution in the semi-colonial countries. One section maintained that the slogan of “national liberation” was reactionary and that the main enemy was their own national bourgeoisie. This position failed to understand that Argentina was a nation dominated by imperialism and that this gave a lop-sided and dependent character to the development of the productive forces in the country. By equating an oppressed nation with an oppressor nation this position would fall into the gravest error of identifying the nationalist and anti-imperialist movements of Latin America with European fascism. The other section of Argentinian Trotskyism, led by Liborio Justo, (“Quebracho”) maintained that the slogan of “national liberation” was part of the democratic programme that the proletarian revolution had to complete. Even though this position of Justo was the closest to that of Lenin, he nevertheless held a series of stageist and sectarian conceptions.
In 1941 the Socialist Workers Party, (SWP(US)) and the Fourth International (FI) sent Sherry Mangan to Argentina and Chile to try to reorganise the Trotskyist ranks in those countries. Mangan committed an error in encouraging an organisational unification without a sufficient programmatic basis around those who counterposed the class struggle and socialist revolution to the struggle for “national liberation”. Justo refused to join the fused organisation, the PORS, and by 1942 had broken with the FI. His organisation, the LOR, disintegrated shortly afterwards.
It was in the context of these discussions that the young Hugo Bressano (Nahuel Moreno) entered Trotskyist politics. Initially he was with the official section of the FI. He then went over to Liborio Justo’s group where he took the party name of Nahuel Moreno. Later he broke with this group to launch his own organisation, the GOM, in 1944, renamed the POR in 1946.
The relationship between the struggle for “national liberation” and the struggle for socialism was raised again, and with burning immediacy, during the rise to power of Colonel Juan Peron in the mid-1940s. The onset of war in Europe produced a growing economic and political crisis as the Argentinian government struggled to cope with the disruption of the country’s trade. While the USA could, and to some extent did, replace Britain’s exports of fuel supplies and manufactured goods to Argentina, US protectionism kept her markets firmly shut to Argentinian grain and beef. This provoked growing antagonism from the Argentinian bourgeoisie and encouraged anti-Yankee nationalism. This was exacerbated by the State Department’s attempts to bludgeon Argentina, through economic sanctions, into declaring war on Germany, Italy and Japan and joining the Pan-American Defence Alliance.
By 1943 the conservative government of Castillo, which was already fragmenting, was removed by a military coup. General Ramirez’s military government had a powerful nationalist faction represented by the United Officers’ Group, which included Peron. Peron’s group had gained the upper hand in the government by the start of 1944. Both “moderate” and “nationalist” wings of the military had been united by their anti-communism and the military regime marked its coming to power by breaking a major meat packers strike. Peron, however, recognised the need to lean on the working class organisations for support—both against the bourgeois and landowning opposition at home and against the pressures of US imperialism.
Through his control of the “Secretariat for Labour and Social Welfare” Peron set about winning over the trade unions to support the military regime. Through intervening in disputes and imposing settlements favourable to the workers as well as through introducing state welfare measures—such as accident insurance—Peron had increasing success. By 1944, when both the USA and Britain had broken off diplomatic relations and the USA had frozen Argentina’s gold assets and imposed an embargo on oil and machinery, the powerful railway workers’ unions could be mobilised to demonstrate in the regime’s defence. At the same time “opposition” unions, normally ones dominated by the Communist Party (CP) or Socialist Party, both of which supported the war and the allies’ pressure on the regime, were not recognised as having “legal standing”. These were often put under the control of government appointees.
Peron outlined his intentions very clearly to the Buenos Aires stock exchange in August 1944:
“Señores Capitalistas: don’t be afraid of my unionism. Never has capitalism been firmer than now. . . What I want to do is to organise the workers through the state, so that the state shows them the way forward. In this way the revolutionary currents endangering capitalist society in the post war period can be neutralised.”2
In this Peron succeeded. In 1945 an attempt from within the military to remove him from power resulted in the powerful strike movement of 17 October 1945. It restored Peron to power and led to his victory in the presidential elections of 1946.
Between 1946 and the early 1950s Peron consolidated his support amongst the urban workers and established control over a massively expanded trade union movement. The Peronist CGT went from half a million in 1945 to almost two and a half million in 1954. During this period, a favourable one economically for Argentina, the trade unions made significant gains in wages and conditions. Peron combined bombastic anti-imperialist rhetoric and demands for “national sovereignty” with very generous compensation for imperialist assets taken over (e.g. the British-owned railways). A nascent Labour Party formed out of the 1945 strike wave, which supported Peron as candidate in 1946, was dissolved by Peron in the same year and replaced by a Peronist “Party”. It claimed to be committed to “social justice” [“justicialismo”] as a supposed third way between capitalism and communism. Despite the fact that in the last years of Peron’s rule, before he was ousted by the military in 1955, the Peronist unions had become little more than the agents of the government’s austerity measures, the Peronist movement retained a lasting influence over the labour movement, tying the workers’ organisations to bourgeois nationalism.
The growth of Peronism from the mid-1940s disoriented the Argentinian Trotskyist groups even further. The group around Jorge Abelardo Ramos, an ex-member of the PORS, which published the journal October, went over from a sectarian position on the national problem to total opportunism. He began to develop a series of theories based on the idea that the national bourgeoisie was capable of taking revolutionary positions in the struggle against imperialism, that it was necessary to give critical support to anti-imperialist bourgeois governments and that it was necessary to move towards building a Latin American “national” left. Ramos would finally end up in the camp of bourgeois nationalism. Another group around Pedro Milesi refused to break with their economistic conceptions in relation to the national question and eventually disintegrated. The two most important Trotskyist groups that remained in existence during Peron’s rule were the GCI of Juan Posadas and the GOM/POR of Nahuel Moreno. While the GCI moved in the direction of adapting opportunistically to the rising Peronist movement and, as a result, became the official section of the FI by 1951, Moreno’s GOM/POR if anything tended to take a sectarian position in relation to the Peronist dominated trade unions and workers’ organisations.
Moreno’s GOM/POR correctly declared that “Peronism is a reactionary right wing movement”. It wrote in capital letters that it was the “VANGUARD OF THE BOURGEOIS OFFENSIVE AGAINST THE GREATEST GAINS OF THE WORKING CLASS”.3
While this was an accurate description of Peron’s aims it should not have led revolutionaries to ignore or write off the workers being organised into Peronist led unions. Doing just this the GOM/POR proposed the destruction of the Peronist inclined CGT, siding with the minority “CGT No 2” controlled by the CP and Socialist Party, whose leadership sided with the US embassy and had a record of sabotaging strikes which affected “anti-fascist” employers.
Sectarianism is the response of the opportunist who is afraid of his own shadow. The sectarian, on losing time and resources through his policies and on realising that this method is a dead end, then tries to recover lost time through opportunist policies. Sectarian abstention from the Peronist unions was transformed by Moreno into complete integration into the Peronist Party.
Moreno the Peronist
The 1951 third world congress of the FI not only endorsed and codified the centrist positions developed on Yugoslavia since 1948, but also extended these liquidationist positions to Latin America. The resolution “Latin America: Problems and Tasks”, while containing some orthodox general formulations on the relation of communists to “anti-imperialist movements”, was pervaded by exhortations to the sections not to “isolate” themselves from the masses through sectarianism.
At this time, a distinction was made between bourgeois nationalism—e.g. Cardenas, Peron, (Peron was described as “a reactionary government of the national bourgeoisie”)—and supposed “petit bourgeois anti-imperialist movements” such as the MNR of Bolivia, the APRA of Peru, Auténticos in Cuba, etc. These latter movements were held to be potentially “revolutionary” in their struggle with imperialism (later Peron was added to this list).
Thus in Bolivia the FI section was advised that in a situation where the (in fact bourgeois nationalist) MNR led a mobilisation against the government, they were not to abstain:
“. . . but on the contrary intervene energetically in it with the aim of pushing it as far as possible up to the seizure of power by the MNR on the basis of the progressive programme of the anti-imperialist united front.”4
In such a circumstance the section would advance the slogan of a “workers’ and peasants’ government” based on the Trotskyists and the MNR! Developing later out of this perspective was the idea of “entryism sui generis” into this movement, entering for long periods with the objective of winning over the left wing or even “winning over the whole movement”.
Moreno’s group which was present and participating in the congress, enthusiastically endorsed this resolution as well as the proposal to fuse all the Argentinian groups with the, now official, section, the GCI:
“Our party enthusiastically welcomes this revolutionary measure . . . According to this judgement the militants of the POR prepare themselves for entry into the section . . . The third world congress of the FI . . . has recognised one of the organisations that lays claim to the FI, the GCI, as its Argentinian section. The event is simply magnificent and trancends the limitations of our own Trotskyist organisations to become one of the most auspicious acts in the life of the Argentinian working class in particular and Latin America in general.”5
Despite this egregious praise the process of integrating Moreno into the Posadas group did not prosper. A little later Moreno joined with the SWP(US), the PCI (Lambert) and Healy’s group around Socialist Outlook to form the “International Committee”. This new organisation was born in dispute with the “Pabloite” leadership of the FI and was built as a new organisational alternative. The IC criticised Pablo for putting forward deep entryism into the Stalinist movement. However the sections of the IC would practise a much deeper entryism in the very heart of the social democratic and bourgeois nationalist movements, none more so than the Argentinian IC section under Moreno.
Change of line
In Argentina, while Posadas’ Pabloite group kept to an opportunist line but maintained an independent party, the Moreno group agreed to dissolve itself into Peronism. As one of the leaders of the POR at the time put it:
“We were opponents of the Peronista government, implacable adversaries until 1954, when we saw the coming of an imperialist and anti-labour wave, and we reacted against it.”6
Certainly by 1954 all the indications were that the ruling class was moving to get rid of Peron. Mobilised behind the Catholic Church, driven on by a deepening economic crisis, the bourgeois and petit bourgeois poured onto the streets until the army delivered the coup de grâs in September 1955. But far from defending an independent proletarian standpoint—being neither for Peron nor for bourgeois reaction—Moreno’s grouping made a 180 degree turn and became the most slavish opportunists in relation to Peron and his movement. In 1954 the POR dissolved itself to join the newly formed Socialist Party of National Revolution (PSRN), which was a pro-Peronist party, having split from the Socialist Party because of its anti-Peronist stance. In the PSRN the Morenoites joined up with the likes of Jorge Abelardo Ramos, who helped develop the PSRN programme. This was a classic “Stalinist” programme—first pressurise the national bourgeoisie to achieve independence from imperialism, then develop the proletarian revolution. Moreno soon controlled the PSRN mouthpiece La Verdad (The Truth) in Buenos Aires.
When Peron was overthrown in 1955 and the PSRN declared illegal, Moreno’s group continued to work with the Peronists producing a paper called Palabra Obrero (PO) which declared itself an “organ of revolutionary workers’ Peronism” produced “under the discipline of General Peron and the Peronist Supreme Council”. The paper was linked to a group of “left” Peronist trade union leaders called the “62 organisations” which acted as the transmission belt for maintaining the hold of Peronism—bourgeois nationalism—over the Argentinian trade unions.
The entry tactic, as developed by Trotsky and the ICL in the 1930s, was aimed at the social democratic parties—especially in Europe. The victory of fascism in Germany and the transparent responsibility of Stalinism had given rise to strong left currents in these parties, initially resistant to Stalinism and open to the revolutionary ideas of Trotskyists. Trotsky recognised the possibility of winning over these centrist currents to revolutionary communism by a short term entry into these parties, raising the Trotskyist programme and winning the best elements in a sharp struggle with the reformists. Moreno’s strategy was the opposite of this policy. Moreno entered an overtly bourgeois party, not a workers’ party, for a protracted period without raising any criticism of Peron.
An example of this is shown in issue 100 of PO of 4 September 1959. The edition is dedicated to reporting the first Congress of PO. In not a single congress resolution, nor in any part of the periodical can we find the least reference to Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky; instead we find a long quotation from Peron with his picture accompanied by fulsome and extensive praise. Neither are we liable to find the least reference to communism, socialism, a workers’ government or the need to build a workers’ party; instead we find the promise of the vindication of Peron and his programme:
“Palabra Obrera is not a publishing enterprise to show off photos of Peron . . . [we believe] in complying with Peron and the movement . . . Along the road we have, more than once, had to confront a campaign by our very own comrades, especially leaders, who allege that we are not Peronists, that we are splitters in saying what we think. Analysis of our progress shows that we do not pick fights with anyone; in order to maintain the unity of Peronism we propose to the best activists . . . that they join PO to give the Peronist movement the direction that the working class deserves, along with General Peron.”7
Throughout the whole of this special edition there is not a trace of a class analysis of Peronism. Instead of proposing that the working class breaks with this bourgeois movement which was ever more tied to the Yankees and anti-communism, they proposed that there should be more “worker” candidates on the lists of a bourgeois party that they defended more than anyone else, in order to preserve its unity!
According to PO, Peronism was made up of two wings: the “softs” and the “hards”. PO placed itself in the “hard” line, loyal to Peron:
“Workers’ Peronism of the hard line, PO carries to its ultimate conclusion the economic programme begun by General Peron.”8
The duty of all Marxists consists of prosecuting the class war, in preserving the independence of the working class from the bourgeoisie and its institutions. Morenoism, instead of attacking the most prominent and dangerous employers’ party there has been in the history of Argentina and trying to make the workers break with Peron, attempted the impossible by climbing on board the bourgeois bandwagon and identifying itself with Peronism. Morenoism not only renounced the strategy of building workers’ parties to make the proletarian revolution, but also took as its own the “economic programme begun by General Peron”. That is to say, one of the absolute defence of private property against the proletariat.
In the 1950s no other current claiming to be of the FI went to the same extreme of class collaboration. The “Revolutionary Workers Peronism” group of Moreno even found itself further to the right than the right-centrist Posadas.
In 1958 elections were staged in Argentina. Peron was not permitted to stand so he cobbled together an alliance with one of the right wing representatives of imperialism and the oligarchy. Bourgeois nationalism, increasingly anti-working class, sought legitimacy before the most conservative sections of its own dominant class. Thus Peronism called for a vote for the reactionary Frondizi. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of workers who had supported Peron refused to obey this order to vote for Frondizi. The whole of the mass electoral movement against Frondizi was expressed by a million abstentions, 36% of votes being blank.
In these circumstances it was essential to try to intervene in order to drive a wedge between the working class and the Peronist bourgeoisie and launch a campaign for workers’ candidates. Electoral tendencies to class independence did exist. Even the small party of Posadas, Pablo and Mandel presented itself in the guise of the “Workers’ Party” and in only three districts in the province of Buenos Aires they won a significant total of 15,424 votes.
The subordination of Morenoism before Peronism was so acute that they called for a vote for the oligarchist Frondizi:
“On deciding to call for a vote for Frondizi, Palabra Obrera, despite considering it extremely dangerous that splits could appear in the masses when everyone is ‘carried away’ with the blank vote, accedes in a disciplined way, not because it considers it better than a blank vote, but in order to safeguard the unity of Peronism and only for that.”9
The unity of Peronism was more important than the independence of the working class!
The Morenoites spoke the truth when they stated that “analysis of our progress shows how we do not pick fights with anyone, in order to maintain the unity of Peronism”. Peronism was an expression of private property. Morenoism was the guardian of its unity. Perhaps the famous call of Marx and Engels should have been changed to: “Workers of the world unite . . . behind General Peron!”.
This same line was applied in other areas. In Peru for example the group allied to Moreno participated in the creation of Belaunde’s party Accíon Popular. In 1956 the Peruvian POR split between those persuaded by the tactic of “entryism” into the APRA (supporters of the International Secretariat) and those who preferred to do the same with Belaundism (supporters of the IC). Belaundism was born as a bourgeois nationalist movement with a tenuous connection with the trade unions. Never at any time did it have any serious organic weight in the workers’ movement (as did other nationalist parties from the APRA to the MNR) and its political positions were always very timid. Inside the Belaundists the IC section edited the periodical Left. Years later the same Belaunde would go on to massacre the peasant rebellion and sentence Hugo Blanco and other Morenoites to long gaol terms.
The “Revolutionary Workers’ Peronism” of Argentina along with the POR of Chile and the POR of Peru were the basis of the foundation in 1957 of the Latin American Secretariat of Orthodox Trotskyism (SLATO) that under the dominance of Moreno, acted as the bureau of the IC for this continent. If this was orthodoxy what could revisionism do worse! In fact the apologists for the IC tradition dare not look at their Latin American representatives in this period.
From Peronism to Castroism
Moreno’s subservience to Peronism even led him for a short time to back Batista against Castro! Peron was on very close terms with Batista and Franco. When the 1959 revolution occurred Moreno equated it with the counter-revolution which overthrew Peron. The outcome was logical; it was necessary to have fought along with Batista against Castro.
After holding this reactionary position for a short time (through his attachment to Peron) Moreno rapidly became a Castroite (and also a Maoist) convert. By 1961 Moreno was more than willing to dump the theory of permanent revolution as the price for the favour of these Stalinist currents:
“Of course, life has brought out the gaps, omissions and errors of the programme of permanent revolution . . . The dogma that only the working class can accomplish the democratic tasks is false. Sectors of the urban middle class and peasantry are, on occasion, the revolutionary leadership . . . History has rejected the theory that the proletariat, in the backward countries, is the revolutionary leadership . . . Mao Tse Tungism, or the theory of guerrilla war, is the particular reflection in the field of theory of the present stage of world revolution.”10
It is little wonder that, given this developing position, by 1964 Moreno has joined the SWP(US) in reunifying with the International Secretariat to form the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI). The key to this reunification was uncritical support for the Castroites in Cuba, the recognition that a “blunt instrument” was indeed sufficient to achieve a socialist revolution. Thus Palabra Obrera declared:
“Fidel, like Peron here, brought together under his leadership diverse sectors of the Cuban economy, politics and society. With them he took power and smashed the corrupt bureaucracy of the old regime. But the Cuban employers and oligarchy did not want to compete for the fruits of victory with the peasants and workers. The oligarchy and imperialism put pressure on in a thousand different economic, political and military ways. And Fidel had to choose; continue the revolution to its ultimate end or build a bridge to conciliation. Fidel did not doubt for an instant; he broke all the bridges which connected him to the exploitative oligarchy and strengthened those which linked him to the most downcast sections of the people. A consequently revolutionary leadership thus forged its new revolutionary cadres with a programme and organisation linked closely to the Cuban poor.”11
Not a word of criticism of this regime is uttered. The suppression of the “Trotskyists” of the Posadas current, the purging of the trade unions, the stifling of workers’ democracy all go by without a protest from Moreno. The message is clear; Fidel Castro is a substitute for the revolutionary party. In Argentina we have to find from within Peronism a new Fidel and this principle can be applied elsewhere in Latin America.
In the 1950s the Morenoite strategy had consisted of integrating themselves with the bourgeois nationalist movements (such as Peronism). The 1960s saw the same method applied to Castroite currents. The Cuban revolution had an important impact on the left wings of both the nationalist and Stalinist parties. Now they were stirred to try to apply the old bourgeois anti-imperialist programme (which the traditional nationalist parties, MNR, APRA, etc, had put to one side in their pacts with the oligarchies) by armed methods. Thus were born everywhere new Castroite “movements”, “fronts” and “armies”. In 1964 Moreno’s group in Argentina fused with the openly Castroite current, the FRIP, to form the Partido Revolucionario de Trabajadores (PRT). From then until 1968 Moreno was at one with the policy of the USFI leaders, supporting the “guerrillaist” turn.
Castroism was a special synthesis of classical Latin American revolutionary nationalism and Stalinism. Originally a petit bourgeois nationalist movement, Castroism was forced to break with its right wing and with the, at first reluctant, support of Moscow, bureaucratically expropriate the bourgeoisie in order to build what from the start would be a degenerate workers’ state. Encircled by imperialism, Castro chose to support all those governments and parties of the bourgeoisie that had not broken off relations with Cuba and as a form of blackmail support petit bourgeois guerrilla struggles in those countries which were for the blockade. The strategy of Castro was one of popular fronts and peaceful coexistence. The call to arms at specific moments was subordinate to this perspective. Castroism is inimical to the building of workers’ parties. Instead it favours armed petit bourgeois movements. The Castroite bureaucracy was the enemy of workers’ councils in Cuba, Czechoslovakia and anywhere else. Its goal was always to tie the proletariat to other social classes. It was to this movement that Moreno subordinated SLATO and later the USFI sections in Latin America with disastrous results.
The guerrilla line in Peru
The practical implications of Moreno’s turn towards Castroism and Maoism were not long in coming. In Peru, where the POR had split between International Secretariat supporters (POR(T)) and the supporters of the International Committee (POR), the latter rapidly turned towards the Stalinist and nationalist currents influenced by Castroism and Maoism. They proposed to these currents the formation of a single party. Their slogan was, “The dissident APRA, the Leninist Committee, the MSP and the independents must declare if they are with the party of the Peruvian revolution”. The dissident Apristas (APRA Rebelde) were a radical faction led by De la Puente and Valle Riestra which later became the MIR. The MSP was the party of Ruiz Elderdge, Sofocleto, Moncloa and other bourgeois third-worldists. Note that it is the Peruvian revolution that is spoken of—that is a national and not a proletarian, socialist or internationalist revolution. The programme they proposed for this fusion consisted of five points:
1 That elections are a fraud
2 That there was no peaceful road to the Peruvian revolution
3 For nationalisation of the large imperialist companies
4 Introduction of agrarian reform
5 Urban reform.12
Note that they did not propose that the nationalisations be under workers’ control and without compensation and moreover that they refused to call for the nationalisation of the property of the national bourgeoisie and the “small imperialist companies”.
This is a programme limited to bourgeois democratic demands and which accepts the maintenance of private property. It is also a little more moderate than the original five-point plan of the APRA.
With this line the Peruvian group formed the FIR (Front of the Revolutionary Left) in 1961. Similar positions led the Chilean POR to form the People’s Socialist Party (PSP) and then the Chilean MIR. In Argentina Moreno’s group united with the “Frente Revolucionario Indoamericanista Popular” of Santucho to found the PRT. These parties were created with populist policies sprinkled with Marxist phrases and abounding in the terminology of the armed struggle and Castroism.
The POR was the first group within the SLATO to implement the new guerrilla line. At its November 1960 congress, it adopted a set of “insurrectional theses” which outlined a strategy of guerrilla warfare, based on the peasantry, as a means of seizing power. A few months later, a full meeting of the Latin American Secretariat of Orthodox (sic) Trotskyism endorsed this line (April 1961) and promised to raise funds for the struggle going on in La Convencion Valley in Peru.
There, Hugo Blanco, a member of the POR recruited by Moreno in Argentina, had been working amongst peasant unions since late 1958. Returning to Cuzco in 1960, carrying the new guerrillaist line, the POR/FIR set about organising the armed struggle.
Blanco maintained at the time that the revolutionary party in Peru would have to be of a “special type” because it would be composed of the peasant unions. A union, as a united front body which groups together many diverse currents of thought and is composed generally of workers who have not broken with the ideology of the dominant class, can never replace the revolutionary party. Even less when the union is of a non-proletarian class—the peasantry. While the “Trotskyists” in Cuzco were bravely pursuing peasant unionism, in Lima the FIR was pulling the worker and university cadres out of their centres in order to dedicate themselves to the “expropriation” of banks.
The development of peasant organs of a soviet type and armed militias in the countryside is a correct policy that must be tied to the creation of similar proletarian movements in the cities. Alongside this must go a campaign to build a workers’ party. The formation of “liberated zones” which require the abandonment of work in the proletarian movement and its subordination to a petit bourgeois leadership is a strategy that has never and will never lead to the socialist revolution. This was the Maoist and Castroite strategy of “surrounding the cities from the countryside”, a strategy that relegated the proletariat of the cities to a passive, supportive role. The main theoretical work of the Peruvian Morenoites, the “Insurrectional Theses”, openly said that there was no need to apply the old model revolution of Lenin and Trotsky in Peru. Rather it was necessary to follow the road of China, Cuba and Algeria of proceeding from a prolonged war in the countryside to the city and thence to the construction of “popular revolutionary governments”.
This strategy led to disaster for the POR/FIR in Peru. The bank “expropriations” of late 1961 and 1962 led to massive repression in La Convencion and by 1962 Blanco and his small band of followers were on the run in the mountains, with most of the FIR members in prison or in hiding. Blanco was caught in 1963 and spent the next seven years in prison. The launching of the Chilean MIR led to similar disastrous results, with the “Trotskyists” being unceremoniously expelled as the MIR became assimilated to Castroism.
Blanco and Moreno were later to claim, in their faction fight with the Mandelites of the International Majority Tendency (IMT) over guerrillaism, that they had always opposed the worst excesses of the guerrillaist strategy. Certainly it was true that as things went badly wrong in La Convencion, Moreno drew back from the practical conclusions of the “insurrectional line” (endorsed by SLATO) as he was to do later in Argentina. But Moreno’s criticisms at the time were related to the universal application of the guerrilla strategy throughout Latin America and the danger of developing armed actions isolated from the masses. His critique drew not on the lessons of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, but instead held up the model of Mao’s Stalinist-led mass peasant movement in China.
The OLAS episode
In Argentina, Moreno was once more to become an enthusiast for Castroite guerrillaism at the end of 1967. Moreno’s slavish opportunism in relation to every twist and turn of the Castroites was demonstrated even more clearly in this period. The launching of the Organisation of Latin American Solidarity (OLAS) in Havana in August 1967 was seen by the USFI leadership and Moreno as a signal that Castro was about to throw his weight behind the guerrilla organisations in Latin America. This, combined with the despatching of Che Guevara to Bolivia, turned Moreno into a fervent guerrillaist again. Once again the tactic of “entryism”, this time into OLAS, was placed firmly on the agenda. Moreno declared that:
“If in the past the trade union was our organisational vehicle for posing the question of power, today OLAS, with its national combat organisations for armed struggle, is the only organisational vehicle for power.”13
This position was justified retrospectively by Moreno on the basis that the whole USFI thought that the foundation of OLAS presaged the opening up of a “continental civil war” in Latin America in which the “Trotskyists” had to participate “critically”.14 Of course there was no criticism at the time, only a rush to “enter” OLAS.
Moreno only reversed his position when it became clear that the Cubans, following the disaster in Bolivia and death of Guevara, were quickly abandoning the OLAS strategy and mending their fences with Moscow and the Latin American Stalinist parties. When a section of the PRT (with the encouragement of Livio Maitan) prepared to launch a guerrilla movement, the ERP (Peoples’ Revolutionary Army), Moreno split the PRT and moved into opposition to “the guerrillaist turn” in the USFI, a turn he had helped to foster.
The examination of the positions and practice of the Morenoites during this period destroys two myths. Firstly, that the politics of the IC sections in Latin America represented any sort of “orthodox Trotskyism”, any revolutionary alternative to the centrism of the Posadas dominated “Pabloite” sections. The sections of SLATO committed as systematic and equally opportunist errors as their International Secretariat brethren. Both currents demonstrated again and again that they represented a form of centrism which had nothing in common with Trotskyism.
Secondly, the record dispels the myth assiduously peddled by Moreno himself as well as his epigones that this current stood against the guerrillaist wave which led many hundreds of militants adhering to the IS or IC fragments of the Fourth International to their deaths.
Sorry to say, there was not one tendency throughout Latin America which defended the proletarian perspective of Trotskyism against petit bourgeois guerrillaist deviations in the 1960s.
From Castroite parties to reformist socialist parties
The late 1960s saw the Morenoite current on a rightist turn. Moreno’s PRT (Verdad)—named after his journal—allied with Hansen of the SWP(US) to oppose the full scale guerrillaist turn launched at the ninth congress of the USFI in 1969. This belated retreat from the capitulation to Castroism and Maoism did not herald any fundamental change in Moreno’s politics. In fact, it represented an electoralist, rightist reaction to ultra-left adventurism, not a revolutionary critique of it.
By 1972, Moreno had found a new, social democratic group to fuse with, led by a long time reformist, Juan Carlos Coral of the Socialist Party of Argentina (PSA). The fusion programme of what became the PST was printed in the 13 November 1972 Intercontinental Press. In an accompanying interview, Moreno amazingly described the party as “95% Trotskyist”. In fact it put forward a democratic programme, albeit dressed up in revolutionary verbiage, rather than a communist transitional one. It called for the “building of a great socialist, a revolutionary workers’ party deeply rooted in the realities of the nation in solidarity with the socialist movement of Latin America and the world”.
The “socialist movement” was (deliberately) left unspecified. The reader could assume Castroism, Maoism or even the Second International. The unification agreement did, however, reject any “outside control or direction”, a token of its internationalist commitment! It called for the “democratisation of the armed forces” and the end of “their use in the service of capital” and the suppression of their “repressive role”. Whether this wretched social democratic formulation was considered by Moreno to be part of the 95% Trotskyism or part of the 5% something else was not made clear. Finally, the emergence of a “socialist” government was seen in purely parliamentary terms through the “Constituent Assembly [which would] appoint a workers’ and people’s popular government which would expel the [foreign] bases and construct a socialist Argentina”.15
Communists know that the armed forces have a central purpose; the defence of the interests of the dominant class and repression of the remaining classes. To ask the armed forces to stop being repressive is tantamount to asking a lion to stop eating its victims. This position is a classic social democratic and Stalinist one, sowing fatal illusions in the democratisation of capitalist armies. The demand for a workers’ government elected via a constituent assembly is a Menshevik demand but it remained a permanent Morenoite formula.
Revolutionaries are obliged to fight for democratic demands (including a sovereign constituent assembly) at the same time as maintaining that only direct action and the formation of workers’ councils can impose proletarian demands. The workers’ government must be the product of the workers’ councils and the armed militias. The reformists want the workers to believe that a socialist government may come out of a parliamentary majority. Communists know that although the “socialists” might control parliament, the real power resides with the bourgeoisie and its armed forces. To deceive the masses with the idea that socialism can come through the parliamentary road or by “abolishing the repressive role of the armed forces” is to politically disarm the proletariat and limit it to the arena of bourgeois democracy.
Moreno’s fusion with Coral’s Socialist Party represented a complete capitulation to social democratic reformism. Having taken on the colours of Peronism for many years, Moreno’s organisation was now to combine it with a chronic adaptation to “constitutionalism”. Far from “being a revolutionary workers’ party”, the PST distinguished itself by its fawning opportunism towards Peronism which, at this time, was on the verge of its “second coming”.
The overthrow of Peron had been followed by numerous regimes, either direct military ones or civilian regimes tolerated by the army as long as the Peronists were prohibited from participating in the elections. Peronism, however, remained the major political force in Argentina, especially within the trade unions. By the end of the 1960s there was a growing working class struggle, including an important popular struggle in Cordoba, led by the car workers in May 1969 which shook the regime. Major strikes accompanied by growing guerrilla actions by sections of the Peronist movement—the Montoneros, as well as by the ERP—provided a growing crisis in the military regime of General Lannusse in the early 1970s.
The PST’s accord with the bourgeoisie
There was a growing belief amongst the ruling class that the only person who could control the working class, through the Peronist trade unions, and disarm the left was Peron, who was in exile in Spain. Having participated in the Grand National Accord of General Lannusse, which aimed at a carefully controlled return to a restricted democracy, Avanzada Socialista (the PST’s paper) on 8 November 1972 commented on Peron’s imminent return: “Why is Peron coming? Hopefully it will be to impose fighting workers’ candidates and not to make deals with the oligarchy”. In peddling such illusions in Peron, the PST joined the rest of the Peronist “left” in looking to Peron to help fight the growing rightward forces.
Far from supporting the left Peronists, after his assumption of power in October 1973, Peron, with the support of the army and the Peronist bureaucrats in the CGT, proceeded to attack the Montoneros and the Peronist Youth Movement, introducing new measures against “terrorism”. Meanwhile, the activities of the “Argentinian Anti-Communist Alliance”—a right wing death squad linked to the federal police—were ignored. In the second half of 1974 this organisation murdered seventy prominent leftist intellectuals, lawyers and workers. By early 1975 they were kidnapping and killing leftists at the rate of fifty a week. Peron died in July 1974, leaving his wife, Isabel Peron, in control of an increasingly crisis-wracked regime facing a rising workers’ movement defending its living standards in a growing economic slump.
During this last period of Peron’s government the PST became a craven defender of “institutionalisation”, that is of the existing bourgeois democratic system. In March 1974, in the situation of increasing right wing killings and left wing guerrilla activity, the PST was drawn into an accord with six bourgeois parties and the CP. In the presence of General Peron the PST (represented by Coral), promised to adhere to “the institutional process”, that is to renounce revolutionary struggle. It took Avanzada Socialista three months, under pressure from the IMT, to announce that this had been a mistake (!) and that they had in fact not signed it!
Signed or not, their agreement with this perspective was clear. After one of many meetings in the government palace, Juan Carlos Coral is quoted as saying to Isabel Peron, then president:
“The PST declares its categorical opposition to a coup d’etat and violence in the form of terrorism and guerrilla activity which, although with different motives, are equal in provoking coups and thus stand in opposition to the democratic demands of the masses. We have no illusion that we can change the policy of the government by speeches but surely you Señora Presidente, and your ministers have taken note of some of our observations.”16
This scandalous equating of the “left” Peronist and ERP guerrilla forces with the right wing death squads was only equalled by the PST’s response to Videla’s coup when it actually came on 24 March 1976—a coup that was to lead to 30,000 dead and “disappeared” Argentinians.
A militant of the PST at the time explained the situation within the organisation thus:
“The coup d’etat found the party plunged into confusion. In December 1975 we had embarked on the preparations for the forthcoming elections, starting from the position that there existed a dominant ’institutionalist’ section in the armed forces, backed by wide layers of the bourgeoisie. When in March, one week before the coup, the strikes against the Mondelli plan spread across the whole of the country, and it was the time to press for a general strike against the government and the supporters of the military coup, there appeared in Avanzada an article on the situation explaining that the National Committee was not united and therefore we had no position! Once the coup had happened the party spread hopes in its moderate and democratic character.”17
The new press of the PST declared:
“We are in the presence of the most democratic military government in Latin America. It was impossible to wait for another nine months in this situation of nightmare until the election took place. The whole people were crying out against the government [of Isabel Peron] . . . The eruption of 24 March can be traced to these causes. Despite the principled objections that any healthy democratic person would raise against military coups or any concrete judgement of the measures of the present government, it is a fact that the military carried out in their own way what the popular wave of anti-government discontent was unable to do because of the defection of its leadership”.18
What could this mean other than that the dictatorship of Videla was progressive! The second issue of the PST’s press after the coup—it changed its name to La Yesca (The Flint) because it was a semi-legal publication—continued the same line despite the growing repression:
“La Yesca continues to exercise its right to freedom. Its continuation is proof that the democratic breach is widening and that freedom, this freedom with which it speaks to General Videla who has no wish for an obedient press, is strengthened.”19
General Videla responded to this craven appeal by banning both publications!
Morenoism was seeking to gain legal space by making political concessions to the most bloodthirsty dictatorship in the history of Argentina. Shortly after the defeat of the 1905 insurrection in Russia the Bolsheviks started calling the most rightwing Mensheviks “liquidationist” because they held that it was necessary to maintain a legal workers’ party at all costs by liquidating clandestine organisations and adapting them to what might be permitted by the Tsar. Moreno followed the liquidationists and not Lenin. On the occasion of the boycott of the world football championship of 1978 held in Argentina, the PST stated that, “the campaign mounted abroad by the ultra-left” had benefitted the dictatorship because:
“It only helped its plans with the ambiguous and utopian boycott tactic and by exaggerations [sic] and inaccuracies on the nature of the repression we endure . . . It is this inadequacy of the government’s response to human rights which is provoking the increased international outcry.”20
Morenoite policy consisted of pressurising the dictatorship into democratising itself and correcting its “inadequacies” on “the matter of human rights”. This led to the call to form a Popular Front with the civilian parties of the bourgeoisie in order to seek a return to the oligarchist constitution of 1853 (which defended private property and repressive forces against the workers):
“The socialists make a call for unity in action to all political parties, especially to the Justice Party [Peronists], the UCR [the party of Alfonsin] the PI and the PC [Communist Party], to launch a huge workers’ and popular movement for the full implementation of the 1853 constitution.”21
At the same time it led to the seeking out of an alliance with the gangster-like Argentinian union bureaucracy which, in contrast with many other countries, is so reactionary that never in any way has it bothered itself by getting involved with any reformist workers’ party and had assisted the dictatorship against many worker activists.
The Brazilian “Convergence”
In Brazil the military dictatorship halfway through the 1970s was facing growing opposition. In 1974 the Portugese revolution took place, which overthrew the fifty year old fascist dictatorship and which in turn affected many countries (especially Brazil). Morenoism was determined to capitalise on the leftest image of the Portuguese Socialist Party (PSP). To those many thousands of anti-militarist activists who put their hopes on the PSP of Soares, Moreno offered the idea of forming a grand Brazilian socialist party. Apeing the symbol of the Portugese SP (which even now is used by the Brazilian section) and brandishing a reformist programme, the Morenoites summoned a convergence of the socialists. His Brazilian section soon became the “Socialist Convergence”. They called upon such people as bourgeois ex-minister Alfonso to participate in this project. In the 1978 elections the Morenoites called for a vote for “worker” and “socialist” candidates of the MDB. This was the only opposition party permitted by the dictatorship, the forerunner of the current governing party in Brazil and it had an unmistakeably bourgeois programme. The Morenoites called for a vote for those candidates of a bourgeois pro-imperialist party that showed sympathy for social democracy!
Trotskyists would have proposed a totally different policy. Rather than attempts to form a reformist or centrist socialist party that would help the bourgeoisie tame the masses and eliminate any danger of going beyond the process of “democratisation”, it had to call for the formation of a workers’ party. Here it would have used the revolutionary workers’ party tactic developed by Trotsky in discussion with the SWP(US) in the 1930s. Fighting to build a mass movement of workers and trade unionists to break with the bourgeois parties and fighting within that movement for a revolutionary socialist programme to be adopted by such a party. Moreno’s “socialist convergences” and “movements towards socialism” were a centrist parody of this tactic.
Rather than the alternative of voting for one of two reactionary parties of the dictatorship, revolutionaries had to call for a spoiled vote. Rather than peddle reformist theses creating illusions in a parliamentary road to socialism, Trotskyists advocate a struggle for democracy fought for by revolutionary means, struggling to build workers’ and peasants’ committees against the dictatorship, mobilised around the demand for a sovereign constituent assembly. In this context Trotskyists would have argued for any workers’ parties to take up the burning demands of the masses: land to the tiller—for agrarian revolution, expropriation of the imperialist holdings and of the capitalists, for nationalised industry under workers’ control, for breaking up the army and its replacement by workers’ and popular militias. This was the method of struggle both for a revolutionary constituent assembly and for the struggle for workers’ councils—soviets—and a workers’ and peasants’ government.
In contrast to the revolutionary programme of Trotskyism Moreno’s group peddled only parliamentary cretinism:
“In the constituent assembly we will struggle for the workers to secure the vote for a constitution that will organise the country in a new way, under socialist planning. Or we will struggle for it to vote in a workers’ government and a socialist constitution that will create the basis for the construction of a socialist Brazil.”22
Blanco and FOCEP’s failures
In Peru despite the revolutionary possibilities opened up in the period 1978-80 the Morenoites showed themselves incapable of transcending their hopeless electoralism. A massive general strike in 1978 had forced the right wing military government of Bermudez to concede a “constituent assembly” based on a restricted franchise whose powers were limited to drawing up a constitution. While the Mandelites joined the UDP, an electoral coalition of Maoists, Castroites, the Stalinists and the bourgeois nationalists of the PSR, Moreno’s group the PST—led at that time by Hugo Blanco—helped form FOCEP (the Workers’, Peasants’, Students’ and People’s Front).
While FOCEP rejected alliances with bourgeois parties, a departure from Moreno’s normal practice, the PST was incapable of developing a revolutionary programme for power. The PST’s programme for the elections (which never once mentioned the fact that the party claimed to be Trotskyist!) did not even address the crucial question of the nature of bourgeois power and the need to break up the armed forces. Instead the transition to a socialist state is seen in terms of an evolution of mass struggles and “peoples’ assemblies” until a workers’ government emerged out of a coalition of workers’ parties based either on a future democratic constituent assembly or peoples’ assembly. None of the crucial tactics for achieving workers’ power—the use of the indefinite general strike, the formation of workers’ councils, the construction of workers’ militias, figure in this “programme”.
FOCEP’s success in gaining 12% of the vote was to strengthen further its parliamentary illusions. On arriving at the Constituent Assembly the FOCEP deputies, instead of denouncing the reactionary character of it and its right wing majority and calling for immediate elections to a sovereign constituent assembly, moved to the right of their initial programme. They proposed that the existing assembly take the power in order to carry out democratic and anti-imperialist tasks. It was a Menshevik slogan not only because it sowed parliamentary illusions but because of its idea of a transitional “socialist” government. Ledesma, the president of FOCEP, called for the transformation of the undemocratic assembly into a Paris Commune. The PST proposed that it elect Blanco President of the Republic! The first “Trotskyist” President of a bourgeois republic!
The programme the PST wanted Blanco to carry out was one that was limited and bourgeois. Blanco had to be president not in order to expropriate the bourgeoisie . . . but in order to call new elections within three months and thus democratise the dictatorship of the capitalist class! Such was the confusion of these “Trotskyist” deputies and parties once their mass fronts had placed them in the bourgeois parliament. Within less than two years the threadbare nature of these policies, their failure to offer the workers and peasants any concrete means of struggle, and thus their inability to turn mass support into a revolutionary party rooted in the work places and farms, led to a collapse of the Peruvian far left and with it the influence of “Trotskyism”. “Trotskyism” in Peru entered a decline so profound that today there are very few people who lay claim to these ideas in the country.
Launching the LIT
For the first three decades of its existence Morenoism had taken few steps to build its own international tendency. It had shown itself, like the other fragments of degenerate Trotskyism, capable of the most gross opportunism and capitulation in whichever faction it found itself at the time—the International Committee, USFI, Leninist-Trotskyist Faction, etc. In 1979 it was to launch its own international project under the banner of “orthodox” defender of the revolutionary party against the USFI’s liquidationism in Nicaragua. The second part of this article will look at the hollowness of this “left turn” and the increasingly crisis wracked nature of the Internationalist Workers Party (LIT) today.
- Nahuel Moreno: “Conversations on Trotskyism”, in: Notebooks from “El Socialisa”, p. 47
- Quoted in D. Rock: Argentina 1516-1987, London 1987, p. 257
- Nahuel Moreno: “Anti-imperialist mobilizations or class mobilizations; in: Permanent Revolution (Theoretical Organ of the POR Argentina), No. 1, p. 20
- “Latin America: Problems and Tasks”, Resolution of the Third World Congress; in: Fourth International, New York, November/December 1951
- Proletarian Front, No. 72, 3 December 1951
- Ezequiel Reyes, quoted in Robert Alexander: Trotskyism in Latin America, Hoover Institute, p. 61
- Palabra Obrera, No. 100, 4 September 1959
- Palabra Obrera, ibid
- Palabra Obrera, ibid
- Nahuel Moreno: La Revolucion Latinoamericana, Buenos Aires 1961
- Palabra Obrera, 1964
- Nahuel Moreno: La Revolucion Latinoamericana, op cit
- Nahuel Moreno: La Revolucion Latinoamericana, Argentina y Nuestras Tareas; quoted in SWP(US): International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Vol. X, No. 4
- “The Basis for Unification of the PSA/PRT”, in: Intercontinental Press 13, November 1972
- Avanzada Socialista 15, October 1974
- Quoted in “On the Positions of the Argentinean PST”, Politica Obrear Publications
18 Cambio No. 1, quoted in ibid
- La Yesca (The Flint), quoted in ibid
- Opcion, August 1978
- Correo Internacional
- Convergencia Socialista, No. 5, November 1978, p. 4; quoted in Internacionalism (Review of the FIT), Vol. 2, No. 4, April 1982
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