Barbaric Trotskyism: a History of Morenoism (Part 2)
Originally published in Trotskyist International No.9, Theoretical Journal of the League for the Revolutionary Communist International (1992)
Note from the Editor: The LRCI was the predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency.
Morenoism and the IWL: Opportunism and failed manoeuvres
Five years after the death of their leader, Nahuel Moreno, the International Workers’ League is undergoing its sharpest crisis yet. Jack Tully examines its record since its foundation in 1982
In January 1982 the International Workers’ League (Fourth International) (IWL) was founded at a conference of twenty delegates, held in São Paolo, Brazil and presided over by its leader, Nahuel Moreno.1 The foundation of the IWL completed the transformation of “Morenoism” into an independent and clearly defined international tendency. Previously it had constituted a primarily Latin American adjunct to one or other of the major international centrist tendencies claiming the mantle of Trotsky’s Fourth International (FI). 2
According to the IWL, their international influence had grown substantially over the previous period. In 1969 they claim to have had only 65 members outside of Argentina. At its foundation the IWL claimed to have 3,500 members,3 with sections in twenty countries. The Argentine section, the MAS—by far the largest component—has claimed up to 6,000 members.
A decade later, the IWL has been rocked by a serious split in the MAS, a third of whose members have left, taking with them the organisation’s parliamentary deputies. This followed hard on the heels of the IWL’s recent World Congress, held in February/March 1992, where four conflicting tendencies proved unable to resolve their differences. A new Congress had to be scheduled for 1994, the fourth in five years.
The IWL claims to represent “orthodox” Trotskyism as against the revisionism of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI) and the other major tendencies. This is a false claim. The IWL is rooted in the common centrist degeneration which the Fourth International underwent between 1948-51. For this reason it commits exactly the same type of gross opportunist errors as its international rivals.
The IWL has been hit especially hard by the contrast between its wildly optimistic revolutionary perspectives and the serious reverses suffered by the working class and progressive forces in Argentina and the world after 1989. More specifically, it is suffering the consequences of a decade of opportunist electoral tactics since the Malvinas war and ensuing discredit and downfall of the military junta. The chase after electoral success in a rotten block with reformist figures led inexorably to the junking of more and more of the Trotskyist programme and the rejection in practice of the Leninist conception of a revolutionary party.
At its foundation, the most important section of the IWL was the Argentine Partido Socialista des Trabajadores (PST—Socialist Workers’ Party). At that time the IWL saw its most important task as being the consolidation of the PST which had been working in clandestinity since shortly after General Videla’s military coup of 1976.4
The unions and the left began to recover by the early 1980s. It was the recovery of the unions, including a major protest demonstration in March 1982, that drove General Galtieri to gamble on seizing the Malvinas. He was obliged to allow, indeed encourage mass anti-British demonstrations which clearly enabled the left and the workers’ organisations to organise on a mass basis.
Ten years later the MAS would say that this badly calculated military adventure was doomed to failure given the determination of British imperialism. But at the time the PST overestimated the revolutionary, anti-imperialist potential of the war itself.
They argued that with the sending of troops in April, “there begins the most extraordinary revolutionary ascent which has ever occurred in the country . . . the socialist revolution is on the march”. 5
When the war ended in defeat in June 1982, the traditional bourgeois parties and the left shared in the disorientation and demoralisation and failed to press home the attack on the junta. The combination of a severe economic crisis, divisions within the ruling class and military, the revival of working class militancy, and the demonstrations of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, all indicated that a pre-revolutionary situation existed. What was missing was a revolutionary leadership armed with a revolutionary programme.
The task facing Argentine revolutionaries in these conditions was to agitate around the key slogans of an action programme, raising demands to meet workers’ economic needs and democratic demands, focusing on the fight for a general strike to drive the military from power and convoke a sovereign constituent assembly. At the centre of all its slogans—economic, transitional and democratic—should have been the direct mass action of the working class.
In these conditions it was essential to pose the necessity of a break with the baleful legacy of Peronism, the building of a revolutionary workers’ party and the fight for a revolutionary workers’ government based on workers’ councils. The PST’s orientation was in sharp contrast to this.
In July 1982 bourgeois political parties were legalised and the PST also began to work more openly. By September it had decided that this meant a central focus on electoralism. The PST argued:
“The phase which is opening is not only legal, but fundamentally electoral. The conclusion is obvious: not only should we use legality by every means, but our main aim must be to intervene in elections, as long as we do not consider that a new phase has opened, that of mass struggles. If we recognise and accept the fact that the phase which has opened will be essentially electoral, our politics must also be so.” 6
In fact, throughout the second half of 1982 and early 1983 it was the developing mass movement that dominated the political scene, not elections. The latter were not to come until October 1983 and then only after a very brief election campaign. This itself was due to the timidity of the Peronist and Radical bourgeois opposition parties which did not even insist on immediate elections in their negotiations with the military.
There were tax and rates strikes in opposition to the government. But it was the movement headed by the mothers of the “disappeared” victims of the military junta and then, towards the end of 1982, the trade unions which took to the streets in increasing numbers. This phase culminated in a general strike and 100,000 strong march on 16 December, sealing the fate of the military, which was forced to set the date for elections.
For Trotskyists, no phase of politics—except the campaign itself—can be “essentially electoral”. To adopt this stance over a year before elections, months before they were announced, and in the face of a growing social protest movement, indicated a particularly crass electoral cretinism. In order to carry out this perspective, the PST began to cast around for electoral partners. They eventually found it in the shape of the Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS—Movement Towards Socialism), a small social democratic organisation.
The idea was:
“. . . to create a socialist front which will use legality and will stand in elections, with as its minimum basis, a socialist Argentina as its programme and independence of all the bourgeois or popular frontist parties or electoral fronts . . . Fundamentally, we want to attract thousands and thousands of workers and militants to a broad, non-sectarian socialist front, in which it will not be a condition to be a Trotskyist.” 7
More succinctly, Nahuel Moreno himself explained to the PST Central Committee that the aim of the MAS was to create “a reformist, non-revolutionary front or party”.8
Consciously or not, this unprincipled scheme owed a great deal to Raymond Molinier and Pierre Frank’s project of “La Commune”, a “broad organisation” set up in France in 1935 in order to attract the masses to a centrist programme. The only difference was that whereas Molinier and Frank tried to found their organisation on a centrist basis Moreno set out to build his on a nakedly reformist programme.
The “La Commune” enterprise was bitterly attacked by Trotsky in terms which therefore apply with double force to Moreno nearly half a century later:
“Quite often revolutionary impatience (which becomes transformed easily into opportunist impatience) leads to this conclusion: The masses do not come to us because our ideas are too complicated and our slogans too advanced. It is therefore necessary to simplify our programme, water down our slogans—in short, to throw out some ballast.” 9
After seven years of dictatorship Moreno considered that Trotskyism would be too difficult for the masses to grasp. Undoubtedly, in the first phase of the democratic opening it was unlikely that the revolutionary party could seize the leadership of the masses. Bolshevism itself was unable to accomplish this in February 1917, despite its deep roots and spotless revolutionary record. But it was essential to address the vanguard of the working class: to patiently help it regroup politically whilst at the same time putting forward slogans that could unite the whole working class for concrete actions.
Rather than fighting for a clear revolutionary alternative, Moreno and the PST assessed that there was a social-democratic space opening up in Argentine political life. Judging that Menshevism was the next stage for the Argentine workers they set out to become Mensheviks. Bolshevism and Trotskyism would be a sheer encumbrance now and were relegated to a future stage.
Trained in the years of centrist degeneration of the FI Moreno looked for roughly adequate vehicles to carry forward the “revolutionary process”. One of the first items of ballast which Moreno threw overboard was the key Marxist position on the nature of the state and the armed forces. In its first May Day Manifesto (1983),10 which contains a long programme “for a socialist Argentina”, the MAS managed to say not one word about the state! When a position was finally adopted, it was Moreno’s old centrist formulation calling for the “democratisation” of the armed forces (see opposite)!
If you really want to appear to the masses as social democrats and co-habit with real reformists in a single party then indeed the Marxist position on the class nature of the state will have to be ditched. But probably in no country and at no time was such a policy more out of place than in Argentina, still reeling from the effects of brutal military rule which had claimed 30,000 victims.
The MAS centred its appeal to the Argentine working class around the old bourgeois nationalist slogan “For a second independence”. For the bourgeois nationalists, the first “independence” was from Spain, the “second” will involve the creation of a native capitalism and a sovereign bourgeois state independent from imperialism. The MAS aimed to give this call a left twist with an “action programme” which called for the nationalisation of the banks and monopolies. What it studiously avoided were any demands for expropriation of the capitalist class and the formation of a workers’ government that would be needed to carry this out.
Even one of the most burning necessities for Latin America, the repudiation of the external debt, was rejected in favour of the call “For the suspension of the payment of the external debt. For the formation of an international front of debtor countries to stop the payment of the debt.”11
The demand for “suspension” of the debt in Latin America is typical of bourgeois and reformist currents that seek not to pay the debt today but will be prepared to do the imperialists’ bidding tomorrow. This was no “mistake” but a deliberate tailoring of the revolutionary programme to meet the needs of an opportunist alliance with social democratic and bourgeois national forces.
Perhaps most indicative of the MAS’s whole orientation was its governmental slogan: “For the immediate resignation of the military government! For the immediate convocation of the 1976 Congress, which must elect a provisional government and call elections without any restrictions and without a state of siege.” 12
With the military dictatorship forced onto the defensive by a mass movement, the most these “revolutionaries” could find to say was to call on the discredited Peronist parliamentary majority of 1976 to form a new government! This was a criminal position not only because it abandoned the proletariat’s historic and immediate class goals. It did not even address the growing democratic illusions of the masses.
The political tide was turning away from the Peronists and towards the Radicals, clearly around the issue of “democracy not authoritarianism”. Alfonsin was able to portray Peronist corrupt corporatism as being little different from the military that displaced it in the 1976 coup. The idea of appealing to the status quo ante was suicidal. Even working class members and supporters of the Communist Party were being drawn behind the Radicals’ campaign.
Under these conditions the focus for political democracy should have been the call for a revolutionary constituent assembly, convened, supervised and defended by the mass workers’ and human rights organisations. This would have cut against the shallow and deceitful calls for democracy by the Radicals, who nevertheless were only too happy to work within the framework dictated by the retiring military junta. It would have aided the working class to break free from the Bonapartist political structures of the Peronist movement. Most importantly, it could have engaged all those determined to prevent the military from getting legal backing for their judicial whitewash over the “disappeared”.
But the MAS, when it came to political slogans, as well as its social programme, took its point of departure not from the revolutionary interests of the working class but from a schema based on a systematic centrist adaptation to Peronism’s influence in the working class.
The platform of the MAS, like all centrist programmes, does includes some elements extracted from the communist programme. This might tempt the unwary into thinking that here we have a qualitative improvement on reformism or nationalism. But the essence of the revolutionary programme does not lie in the excellence of one or another individual demands, but in the combination of them into a strategy for the conquest of power. A party, like the MAS, which routinely stands in elections on a platform that only includes disconnected parts of this revolutionary strategy and mixes them with parts of its direct opposite, the strategy of reform, is a party that would lead the working class to disaster in any serious test of the class struggle.
The October 1983 elections were a disaster for the MAS. Despite throwing thousands of members into the field, despite a supposedly vote-winning slogan of “A socialist Argentina, without generals or capitalists”, despite opening 600 local offices throughout the country,13 and despite a claimed 60,000 affiliated voters,14 the MAS only mustered around a third of the PST’s share of the vote in the 1970s. They polled less than 1% of the popular vote.15
Meanwhile the Radical Party candidate, Alfonsin, swept the board with 52% of the votes cast. This outcome did not sit easily with the MAS analysis, shortly before the elections, that Argentina had entered a revolutionary situation.16
Not only were the election results poor for the MAS, but the campaign had not led to any qualitative change in the structure and size of the organisation. The vast majority of members were still the “Trotskyists” of the PST. Both as an electoral front and as a recruiting stunt, the MAS was an abject failure. In these circumstances, the conversion of the organisation into an avowedly “Trotskyist” organisation was a simple affair.17
Nahuel Moreno recognised that one of his famous “self-criticisms” was called for. In the past they never resulted in any lasting change in political method, merely a temporary change in direction. Moreno accepted that there had been “an electoralist deviation”:
“We became drunk with our successes and with the welcome we received, and we stopped being objective. We stopped seeing reality, we stopped listening, we stopped recognising what was really happening in the working class.” 18
In fact, the criticism was only prompted by the failure of the opportunism to bring the expected results. In typical centrist fashion the search for scapegoats began with the working class whose “political backwardness” 19 was held to account, rather than the MAS’ failure to relate to the key concerns of the working class.
The leadership’s “self-criticism” was designed to pre-empt a more searching examination of the systematic centrist method that lay behind years of seemingly isolated tactical mistakes. Moreno swiftly shuffled off the blame: “It was a mistake by the whole party, by the rank and file as well as by the leadership.” 20 Perhaps the leadership should censure the membership for failing to correct it, indeed for leading it astray!
The inconsequential nature of such “self-criticism” was clear from the next bout of opportunist electoralism. The first two years of Alfonsin’s rule were dominated by the workers’ economic struggle. Disillusioned by the IMF-inspired austerity programmes that the government imposed upon them workers were returning to the fray.
By mid 1985 inflation was 2,000% p.a. By August that year real wages were 27% down on July 1984. In July 1985 Alfonsin froze prices and wages and an immediate recession set in for the rest of the year, with many job losses.
Workers fought back. In 1984 there were 717 strikes involving 4.5 million workers. In January of that year the CGT—which had split under the military—fused again. Moreover, a wave of new union elections strengthened rank and file organisation. In May 1985 the regime was rocked by two general strikes in protest against attacks on workers’ living standards. However, despite these struggles the Peronist CGT leadership remained firmly in control and committed to a social contract with the Alfonsin government.
On the political front the failure of the Peronist Justicialist Party to regain power in the October 1983 elections had led to it splitting into thirty different currents. By 1985, with growing disillusion in Alfonsin and many dissident Peronists emerging in opposition to the CGT leaders’ betrayals, the MAS was ready to return to the electoral arena, using the same method as before. Long negotiations with the Argentine Communist Party (PCA) and “Workers’ Peronism” led to the setting up in Autumn 1985 of the Frente del Pueblo (FREPU—Peoples’ Front).
FREPU’s programme was essentially a duplicate of the reformist MAS programme of thirty months previously. Its “socialist” demands were limited to calls for a ten year moratorium on the repayment of the debt, nationalisation of the banks and monopolies and for land reform. The question of the state was once more dealt with reformist sensitivity to the class rule of the bourgeoisie: “For the full respect and application of the democratic liberties contained in the National Constitution”,21 one of which, as in all bourgeois constitutions, was the right to hold private property!
Given the disillusionment with Alfonsin and the disarray in the Peronist Justicialist Party both main parties suffered a drop of 6% in their vote. The November elections indicated a polarisation of political life. The PI, a left split from the Radicals, got 6% in third place while FREPU won 360,000 votes (2%). On the right the UCD too doubled its vote over 1983.
But what did the workers vote for when they put a cross in the FREPU box? The lightweight reformist programme and the emphasis on state capitalist measures all corresponded to the bourgeois nationalist reformism of the Peronism. So too did the FREPU’s “FP” symbol, which deliberately aped the V-sign “FP” of the Peronists! In political terms it was the Peronist workers who had won over the “socialists” to their programme not vice versa!
Thus the vanguard workers could express their dissatisfaction with the disarray of the Justicialist Party while still not breaking from the limits of the Peronist programme in its leftist guise.
For the PCA, this gross adaptationism was hardly surprising. Stalinism has made the class collaborationist popular front a hallmark of its anti-working class politics since 1935. Such lifelong reformists and the “Workers’ Peronism” can agree on their fundamental perspective: the preservation and reform of the capitalist state. But for revolutionaries there can be no compromise on this question.
Revolutionaries win over reformist workers to their banner by united action around concrete struggles, and by an indefatigable struggle against reformist illusions, not by peddling such nonsense to the masses. But this was not the method of Moreno’s centrism in 1985, nor before, nor afterwards.
Argentina has always been the centre of the IWL’s activity. An International Executive Committee meeting in April 1988 restated the position by claiming that “Argentina is the central axis of the world revolution” 22 and that “the responsibility and the central task of the whole IWL-FI and in particular of its leadership is to maintain and deepen the political turn towards Argentina”. 23
The economic and political situation in Argentina in 1987-88 was not stable, but in many ways the most militant working class challenges to Alfonsin had already taken place. The army was restless, both because of the failure of the government to control the working class and also because of Alfonsin’s ambiguity faced with pressure to bring those responsible for atrocities and torture to trial. There were a series of barracks revolts (especially Easter 1987) and rumours abounded of an attempted coup.
In fact in April 1987 Alfonsin managed to steer a middle way by using the threat of a military coup to get all the major opposition parties—including the PCA—to sign a “Pact for Democratic Compromise” which involved fundamental concessions to the military.
The MAS refused to sign the pact and the FREPU electoral bloc with the PCA broke up. For the next period the MAS drifted with the stream, uncertain of how to orient itself. The September congressional and municipal elections of 1987 saw a revival in the fortunes of the Peronist party, which won important seats and major cities were brought back under its control.
Within a year, however, the decisive question of the PCA’s pro-Alfonsin position was forgotten, and the MAS was courting the Stalinists once again. In October 1988 the Izquierda Unida (IU—United Left) was set up between the MAS, the PCA and a number of fringe bourgeois and petit bourgeois parties. As with the FREPU, the IU’s programme was carefully tailored—first to suit the reformist politics of the PCA, then so as not to “scare off” the bourgeois nationalists.24
The IWL hailed the IU as having “a working class, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist programme”.25 Yet the programme envisages a parliamentary, reformist road to “socialism” (although the word is never mentioned!) Far from calling for the expropriation of capitalist property it only dares call for price controls on the leading companies “where they agree”!
In a situation where inflation was running at over 80% per month, the MAS did not even dare press the IU to raise the slogan of a sliding scale of wages! A strange form of “anti-capitalism”! Yet again the Morenoites jettisoned revolutionary baggage as the price of a rotten alliance with Stalinists and bourgeois nationalists.
In June 1988 the Third Congress of the MAS argued that the growing tensions in Argentine society would bring about:
“. . . the struggle of classes for political power. That is to say, the triumph of the workers’ revolution, the socialist October, or the bourgeois counter-revolution. Because the aim now is not the change of regime but the change of the class in power, to establish a workers’ state.” 26
The May 1989 parliamentary elections bought a sweeping victory for President-elect Menem’s Justicialist Party. But also at long last it brought a measure of success to the MAS’s electoralism. The IU garnered 500,000 votes, enough to win a national deputy’s seat for the MAS public figurehead, Luis Zamora, and a regional deputy’s seat for Silvia Diaz. The MAS felt the wind in their sails; the leadership felt even bigger successes lay just around the corner.
On 28 May 1989 the masses of Rosario, Argentina’s second city, rebelled against the 12,000% p.a. hyper-inflation in a three-day riot which left 15 dead and hundreds of shops looted. Barricades were set up and a state of emergency was declared. The following issue of the IWL journal, Correo Internacional, proclaimed “The socialist revolution has begun” and went on to explain that:
“Without instructions or political leadership and without institutionalising as yet an alternative workers’ power, they have made a massive popular anti-capitalist insurrection in the true Leninist sense.” 27
This revolutionary hyperbole was as far from Leninism as the reformist electoral programme on which they won their parliamentary seats. What is an “anti-capitalist insurrection in the true Leninist sense” except the seizure of state power by the armed militias of workers’ councils led by the revolutionary party? It is organised and planned action to resolve the duality of power which already exists in a fully developed revolutionary situation. Indeed, with an insurrection one can say that socialist revolution has been successful, not “begun”.
What in fact occurred in Rosario was a mass spontaneous uprising against the misery imposed by the government’s austerity measures. But without conscious, organised leadership it did not even develop into a nationwide strike wave let alone approach the creation of a situation of dual power. In short it did not herald the start of the socialist revolution but warned the bourgeoisie of the mounting tide of resentment to its policies.
This crass impressionism was codified at the Fourth Congress of the MAS, which drew a parallel between the Menem government and the Provisional Government set up by Kerensky after the February 1917 revolution. The implication was clear: if February was behind the Argentine masses, October could not be far away!
The MAS claimed that Argentina was characterised by “an atomised dual power” composed of various rank and file co-ordinating committees, trade unions and popular soup kitchens! 28
“We can win,” they argued, “because the government and the regime are weak, because the masses are struggling, because Peronism has split apart and because the party is winning mass influence.” 29 Are the masses then supposed to take state power armed only with soup ladles?
With a claimed circulation of 85,000 for the newspaper (but a membership stable at around 6,000) the MAS sought to orient towards Peronist workers disoriented and outraged by the actions of “their” government. This was of course absolutely necessary. The MAS proclaimed it had the intention of organising a “principled opposition”:
“We can and we must organise these hundreds of thousands of workers; act so that they naturally choose to take their place in the groups or amongst our periphery, as part of the party . . . Our proposal for action, which we address to the masses, and in particular to the Peronist workers who reflect the disarray of their party, is to call on them to build our party with us. We must do everything possible to encourage the Peronist workers to join our groups and branches! We must build the party with them!” 30
But the programme the MAS held out to these Peronist workers was as usual woefully inadequate. As well as overestimating the collapse of Peronism’s influence in the working class and the weakness of the Menem government, the MAS’s programme did not offer the critical Peronist worker a radical break with the politics they were supposedly gravitating away from.
The “revolutionary party” was to be built on a programme centred around four headings:
“Against the Menem government, for a workers’ and socialist government; For rank and file control! For democratic self-determination and of the labour and popular movement!; For the unification of the struggles of the Southern Cone of Latin America; Build the party together!” 31
As with the previous programmes put forward by the MAS for the masses, there was no call for the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, for occupations, a general strike or for the sliding scale of wages; there was not one mention of the nature of the state or of the need to create workers’ defence squads to defend strikes and occupations and prepare themselves against the intervention of the army.
Most tellingly there was no programme for resolving the “atomised dual power” which the MAS claimed to be able to detect, no unifying or centralising demands that could overcome the atomisation and create, actual, developed dual power, i.e. genuine soviet-type bodies. No, for the MAS “rank and file control” was to be limited to the democratisation of the Peronist trade unions and support for the soup kitchens. This centrist paradox has always been a hallmark of Morenoism: a wild exaggeration of the revolutionary situation and a scandalously non-revolutionary programme for intervening in it.
Despite such intoxicating illusions it was not long before the real balance of class forces in Argentina after Menem’s election made itself felt in the MAS. The riots in Rosario were not the harbinger of revolution, the Argentine masses were not flooding into the MAS.
During the next two years Menem tore up many of the traditional planks of the Peronist-CGT alliance, rooted above all in state-owned industries and public sector services. Struggles against this did occur, often bitter and protracted ones. But the intervention of the CGT bureaucracy ensured their defeat and this pointed up the glaring crisis of leadership within the working class.32
By the autumn of 1991, sections of the IWL leadership began to admit that all was not as they had foreseen. And, as always, the key was Argentina. Despite having suggested in 1990 that support for the MAS was running at 16% in the Buenos Aires region, in the October 1991 elections the MAS got a mere 2.5% of the votes. Peronism, far from being fatally split, gathered together its forces and won a decisive victory in the elections.
The IWL’s explanation was straightforward:
“When Menem came to power he embodied the mass mobilisations and, for this reason, was weak. But the simple fact of staying in government and thus preserving the bourgeois democratic regime, despite the chaotic situation, enabled him to resolve the revolutionary crisis.” 33
If the IWL had been more honest they would have said: Menem did not embody the mass mobilisations, rather he embodied the masses’ illusions that a stop could be put to Alfonsin’s programme by a return to traditional Peronist measures. In short austerity could be stopped without further mass mobilisations. The expected mass radicalisation did not come about. Menem was able to use his Peronist credentials and democratic mandate to take on and defeat the workers section by section.
The hold of Peronism over the union bureaucracy greatly aided the imposition of a horrendous austerity programme which made the Argentine masses pay for the defeat of hyper-inflation. “Menem will not be able to derail this movement” the MAS had boasted.34 And yet that is just what Menem was able to do.
Nothing had happened the way the MAS had predicted. A culprit would have to be found. Stalinism fitted the bill perfectly. First, as far as Argentina was concerned, then on the world stage. As far as the MAS’s failure was concerned, this was explained thus. The Argentine bourgeoisie, like its brothers and sisters all over the world, had launched an ideological offensive identifying Stalinism with socialism (something the Stalinists had been fairly keen on, and which the IWL had been ambiguous about).
Despite breaking the proposed joint list with the PCA shortly before the elections (because of allegations of corruption), the existence of this “electoral alliance with the Argentine CP, that is the agent of the Stalinist bureaucracy in that country, had also weakened the Argentine Trotskyists’ ability to oppose this campaign of the bourgeoisie.” 35
In other words, thanks to a lack of political differentiation by the MAS, the differences between Trotskyism and Stalinism were not obvious to the working class. The MAS’s long-term electoral identification with the PCA had finally paid off—or rather backfired.
In December 1990 the MAS held an Extraordinary Congress. The leadership was split over perspectives and programme. At the subsequent Congress, held in spring 1991, around a third of the membership formed a “Moreno-ist tendency” arguing that the seizure of power was still close, that the crisis of Stalinism and of Peronism would inevitably bring their fruits and that the electoral alliance with the PCA must be maintained at all costs.
Not surprisingly, this grouping was led by those who had gained most from the strategic electoralist perspective of Morenoism, the MAS’s two parliamentary representatives, Zamora and Diaz.
The Fourth World Congress of the IWL, held in February/March 1992 was fiercely contested. Split into four tendencies, the IWL began a process of blood-letting and factional feuding which still continues. In the firing line were the perspectives the organisation had been functioning with, which were, in fact, methodologically the continuation of those adopted in 1982.
The IWL leadership ignored this essential point and concentrated on the most obvious errors, rather than seeking to find the root of the problem. As in Argentina, the IWL pinned the blame fairly and squarely on Stalinism’s ability to bewilder the poor Trotskyists by not collapsing in the way Moreno had predicted:
“At its Second and Third Congresses (July 1989 and May 1990), the IWL(FI) adopted an orientation which, today, the whole of the International agrees was ‘globally mistaken’. The two previous Congresses had mechanically drawn from the terminal crisis of Stalinism the mistaken conclusion that ‘the hour of Trotskyism’ had sounded and that the possibility had thus opened of ‘new Octobers’—that is of revolutions led by revolutionary Marxists. This superficial and ‘objectivist’ analysis led to the main sections of the International orienting themselves towards the ‘construction of mass parties’, also posing, in the case of Argentina, the question of the preparation of ‘the struggle for power’. The balance-sheet adopted by a majority at the Fourth Congress indicated that this orientation, ultra-left in its characterisations, had in practice led to a classic opportunist deviation.” 36
The Zamora-Diaz tendency, organised into the International Moreno-ist Tendency (IMT), had around 15% of the delegates, and basically argued for the line to continue as before. No sooner had the Congress finished its work than the MAS split. Shortly before May Day the “Moreno-ist Tendency” (MT), led by Diaz and Zamora, left taking around one third of the membership with them.
This has provided the remaining MAS leaders with a perfect opportunity to restore their flagging left credibility.37 In a speech to the 1 May rally MAS leader Ernesto González stated:
“In taking advantage of elections and other success, we forgot that our raison d’être was the workers’ movement. We dedicated ourselves more to the election campaigns than to binding ourselves closely to our class. We adapted to a democracy which is not ours, which is not workers’ democracy, but an electoral and parliamentary farce of the bourgeoisie and imperialism . . . We thought that the alliances with other currents that work in the labour movement, such as the Communist Party, were more important than the consolidation of the revolutionary party. At the same time we covered over this opportunist course with a shallow and foolish analysis of the world and Argentine reality. This got worse because, at the same time, in Europe the anti-bureaucratic revolution broke out. While the Berlin Wall fell and the workers started to crush the bureaucrats and the communist parties, we appeared in front of the masses arm in arm with Patricio Echegaray [PCA leader].” 38
There is more than a hint of opportunism in this. For decades many workers identified in the USSR and Cuba some kind of “socialism” and the MAS was happy enough to accommodate to this. Now that has changed and the MAS’s previous electoral allies must be dumped.
The truth is the defection of Zamora is functional for the MAS leaders. But the critique of the electoralist deviation is still only skin deep. As long as the MAS leaders affirm the record of “maestro” Moreno up to his death, until they go to the roots of the centrist degeneration of the FI between 1948 and 1951 all the errors will return.
In the wake of the MAS’s acknowledgement that the seizure of power was not on the agenda, the sections, which had all been faultless in their defence of the MAS’s opportunism, suddenly discovered their voice and spoke out with a bitterness born of betrayal. One of the leaders of the French section, which for many years had been reduced to a publicity agency for its Argentine comrades, expressed himself in the following way:
“It was in Argentina the deviation reached its culmination. Misinterpreting the first developments of the political revolution in the East, losing their heads following organisational successes which could partly be explained by conjunctural factors . . . the leadership of the MAS launched itself into adventurist speculations about the possibility of a short-term seizure of power by the workers . . . The drift from a conjunctural tactic which should serve to break up the obstacle represented by the Argentine Stalinist party to the conception of a quasi-strategic alliance (like the policy of the USFI), [was] spectacularly expressed at the May 1990 Congress of the MAS, when a section of the leadership went so far as to envisage the formation of a common party with the PCA.” 39
More significant still, two tendencies—the Tendency for the Unity and Reorientation of the IWL, based in Brazil and Europe, and the Colombian section—criticised the IEC majority, arguing that programmatic re-elaboration was necessary.
If either of these two critical tendencies want to go to the heart of the recent errors then they must re-examine the very foundations of the IWL and the MAS. Agreeing to dissolve the tendencies and settling for another Congress in 1994 will not help the process of breaking with the past. Despite the recent turn, the IWL is far from having broken with its centrist method.
An opportunistically motivated break with Stalinist bloc partners is not the same as repudiation of the method of the “revolutionary united front” and the restless search for non-Trotskyist half-way homes to reside in. Without such a repudiation other bloc partners—such as Peronists—will be courted in the future.
Many of the criticisms voiced now inside the IWL were made three, four and even ten years ago by the LRCI. Our criticisms were indignantly rejected then by members of the IWL. Today they have adopted some of them. The IWL has said that one of the themes of its next Congress will be “programmatic re-elaboration”. Three years ago, whilst the IWL was dreaming of taking power in Buenos Aires, the LRCI actually performed this fundamental programmatic task.
Our re-elaborated Transitional Programme, the Trotskyist Manifesto, provides many of the answers the revolutionary critics in and around the IWL are looking for. Our tradition, our intervention and our critical analyses can aid comrades who have seen through Morenoism but have not lost the ability to think and the will to struggle.
If we were to reach programmatic unity and a common democratic centralist discipline this would be a great leap forward in the work of reviving authentic Trotskyism. A starting point must be a critical examination of the whole history of Morenoism, and its roots in the centrist degeneration of the Fourth International.
1 Less than a year earlier, amidst much pomp, they had fused with Pierre Lambert’s international organisation to set up the Fourth International (International Committee) (FI-IC). The FI-IC had been greeted by its creators as “the greatest step forward since the creation of the Communist International”. Within nine months the FI-IC had split into its component parts, blown apart by the political differences which it had sought to paper over.
2 See Trotskyist International 1, Summer 1988, for our critique of Morenoism up to 1979
3 LST (France) Bulletin Interne 4, p5
4 LST (France) Bulletin Interne, 29.9.83
5 Quoted in R Munck, Latin America: The Transition to Democracy (London 1989, p107)
6 “Projet de document national” (15.9.82) Bulletin Interne LST (France), N° 5, 1982, p9
7 Ibid., p12
8 Ibid. This opportunist project was not new. In 1972 Moreno had formed the PST by fusing with Carlos Coral’s social-democratic Partido Socialista d’Argentina.
9 L. Trotsky, The crisis of the French section (New York 1977) p97
10 Solidaridad Socialista 22.4.83
13 MAS Internal Circular N° 27, 4.11.83
14 Tribune Ouvrière, 20.5.83, p4
15 This included 42,359 votes in the presidential elections.
16 Tribune Ouvrière 17, October 1983, p4. Despite this assertion, the key slogans advanced by the MAS for 1984, far from centering on the question of taking power as might be expected, were essentially economic demands calling for pay increases, for the reinstatement of workers sacked during the military junta, for factory meetings and the election of shop stewards. This failure to take its own analysis seriously suggests that, at most, Argentina was going through a pre-revolutionary situation in 1983-84. MAS Central Committee perspectives document 8.12.83
17 After all, Moreno had already gone through the process once before, following the failure of the initial PST bloc with Coral to attract the masses.
18 MAS Internal Circular N° 27, 4.11.83, p1
19 See R Munck op. cit.
20 MAS Internal Circular N° 27, 4.11.83, p1
21 Tribune Ouvrière 30, 29.11.85, p20
22 Tribune Ouvrière 52, July 1988, p12
24 For a reproduction of the IU programme and our full critique, see Trotskyist International 3, Summer 1989, p58-62
25 International Courier 38, January 1989, p37
26 Courrier International, November 1989, p28
27 Tribune Ouvrière 59, September 1989, p2
28 Tribune Ouvrière 60, October 1989, p5
29 Ibid., p4
30 Tribune Ouvrière 60, October 1989, pp8-10
31 Ibid., pp9-10
32 See the comments on Argentina in the article on South America in this issue.
33 Coordination 10, November 1991, p7
34 International Courier, November 1989, p21
35 Coordination 10, November 1991, p8
36 Coordination 14, April 1992, p6
37 Hoping that the rank and file will not remember Moreno’s conception of the MAS, they have had the cheek to claim that “the MT defended the conception of a ‘party of action’, the politics of which would be expressed in three or four slogans, as against the Leninist-Trotskyist-Morenoite(!) conception of a party of socialism with a transitional programme, building itself through a combination of agitational, propagandistic and organisational tasks.”
Coordination Supplément International 5, May 1992, p23
38 Solidaridad Socialista 6.5.92
39 Coordination Supplément International 5, May 1992, p23
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