The commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the IWL-FI offers the opportunity to rescue elements of our larger political current, which is almost twice as old. Our present can only be explained by a past, by the totality between theory-program-praxis that shaped the party life of several generations. One of the foundational pillars that still sustains the IWL-FI is its understanding of -and, above all, its intervention in- the industrial proletariat, conceived as the social subject of the socialist revolution.
By Daniel Sugasti
We have often referred to the ideological offensive that imperialism orchestrated against Marxism when it announced the supposed definitive victory of capitalism over socialism after the restoration of the market economy in the former workers’ states of Eastern Europe, China and Cuba.
The refrain of the defeat and end of socialism caused havoc. Countless organizations that claimed to be leftist all over the world, including thousands of revolutionary militants, degenerated programmatically, politically, and even morally. The process of theoretical-political capitulation also swept away parties that claimed to be Trotskyist.
Everything was questioned: the class struggle; the possibility of defeating imperialism; the necessity -and the possibility- of taking power and destroying the bourgeois state by insurrectional means; the validity of the construction of national parties and of a World Party, according to the lessons of the first four congresses of the Third International; among other central aspects of the Marxist program.
The role attributed by Marxism to the industrial proletariat as the social subject of the socialist revolution was also denied. In the last 30 years, a legion of so-called progressive and even Marxist NGOs and intellectuals have undertaken the task of demonstrating the alleged political sterility or “physical disappearance” of the industrial proletariat, while at the same time striving to point to the centrality of “new subjects” in current political processes: “global citizenship,” “deplorables,” “precariat,” “the people,” or a confluence of identity movements.
We know that no political definition is disinterested. All this terminology is at the service of a concrete theoretical-ideological operation: to deny the premise of class struggle as the motor of history.
In essence, they tell us that the main contradiction of capitalist society would no longer be the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but between a couple of bad apples and “the people,” or between the “markets” and the “citizens,” and so on.
Recourse to Marxist theory is indispensable in times of ideological confusion. In this sense, it is imperative to resume the study of the thought of the masters of Marxism in the light of the experience of almost two centuries of workers’ struggles.
To celebrate the four decades of the IWL-FI means its program and praxis:, the tradition of a current. This demands speaking of the ideas and trajectory of Nahuel Moreno, whom we consider the most lucid and consistent Trotskyist leader of the second postwar period. It implies stopping in the conception of what today is the IWL-FI about the role of the working class in the socialist revolution, and the relation between the revolutionary party and the proletariat.
The first years: the Marxist Workers Group (GOM) and Villa Pobladora
In the first years of the 1940s, Argentine Trotskyism did not go beyond a handful of small, scattered groups and it was without concrete connection with the workers’ movement.
Its political activity was limited to endless meetings, which revolved around abstract discussions on the most diverse topics.
The meeting point of that petty bourgeois Trotskyism, very bohemian and contemplative, were the traditional cafes of Buenos Aires. Nahuel Moreno would later characterize that sterile environment saying: “between 1940 and 1943, Trotskyism was a party rather than a Party.”
In 1943, Moreno and other young people broke with those methods and that atmosphere, and founded the Marxist Workers Group (GOM). The foundational nucleus was born in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa Crespo.
That same year, Nahuel Moreno had written a document titled “The Party,” which would be the precursor of the new organization and in which a decision was expressed which would be decisive for the current: the members of the GOM would abandon “the party” of the intellectual circles typical of “coffee Trotskyism” to link themselves closely to the working class.
In that text, we read: “But what is urgent, what is immediate, today as it was yesterday, is to approach the proletarian vanguard and to reject as opportunist any attempt to deviate from this line. We must do so even if it is presented as an impossible task.”
With this orientation, the members of the GOM tried to empathize with the working class, to join with their struggles and even with their way of life. These were times when the workers’ movement was growing and was very dynamic.
Even in 1943, the group participated in the main May 1st rally. No more than five Trotskyist militants marched to the cry of “the Fourth…the Fourth [international]!”. The Socialist Party youth ended up attacking them with blows. Moreno would remember that episode with sympathy, commenting an anecdote of comrade Faraldo, who told how a worker, when he saw that column shouting “Fourth…Fourth!”, exclaimed: “It is true… there are four of them.”
Between 1943 and 1944, the GOM toured the factories, participated in union conflicts, visited workers’ houses, made posters, painted walls with political slogans, published leaflets with classic texts –Cuadernos Marxistas, Ediciones Octubre [Marxist Notebooks, October Editions]-, besides elaborating the interesting “Boletines de discusión del GOM” (GOM discussion bulletins).
But it was in April 1945, when the English Ciabasa meatpacking plant strike broke out, that the first opportunity to take an important leap was presented. The young Trotskyists got fully involved in the struggle in what was one of the most important factories in the country with about 12,000 workers.
The group’s determined participation enabled them to win over almost the entire Factory Committee. Moreno said that, as a result of that strike, “we created a kind of commune in Avellaneda: we diverted the traffic and it was not possible to circulate without a union card.”
The GOM militants moved to Villa Pobladora, the main industrial center of Argentina in those years and one of the largest in Latin America. In addition to their intervention in the strike and the meat unions, they went on to lead half of the board of directors of SIAM, then the largest metallurgical company in the country. They had also guided the founding of several important unions, such as the Meat Federation and the Textile Workers Association. They also managed cement pipe and leather factories.
Always with the aim of inserting itself in the working-class reality, the GOM advanced in its insertion within the neighborhood, and to such an extent that Nahuel Moreno became president of the neighborhood club “Corazones Unidos,” where they organized everything from dance parties to courses and lectures on the French and Russian revolutions.
From this work, the small group of four or five comrades grew to a hundred. In Villa Pobladora, doing courses for the workers, getting in touch with the working-class families and highlighting their members in the unions, they built a unique “Trotskyist bastion,” erected in the midst of the Peronist tide that had flooded the country since 1945.
The importance of the turn towards the working class is tremendous in our history. In an environment where rhetorical duels in the Buenos Aires cafés were the norm, to leave everything to go to work and join the militants in the meat packing plants and the working class neighborhoods was neither easy nor common. The few members of the GOM, many of them under twenty years of age, could have taken another path, such as entering or staying in the university. But they chose this path, the more difficult one.
They understood the most important thing: they understood that without being linked to the working class there is no Trotskyism, since the program of Trotskyism is the program of the working class in action. Moreno always insisted that the permanent mobilization of the working class, democratically self-organized, is the raison d’être of authentic Trotskyism.
The differences with the Pablista and Mandelista leadership
In this sense, the battle for our current of the Fourth International to be linked to the working class was a constant in the so called Trotskyist movement.
This was a permanent polemic with the leadership of Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel. The petty bourgeois character of this sector stamped impressionist and eclectic biases on their political analyses, which ultimately expressed concessions to the pressures of the European intellectual circles. This led them, recurrently, to make sharp turns and politically support leaders and movements alien to -and opposed to- the working class.
In this way, they capitulated to any political phenomenon that dazzled the so-called vanguards and, coherently, to any bureaucratic, petty bourgeois and even bourgeois nationalist political leadership that headed any important process of struggle or revolution.
Ours said that this Trotskyism did not go beyond following “political fashions.” This characteristic, ultimately, showed a lack of confidence in the revolutionary potential of the industrial proletariat.
First, they capitulated to Stalinism, impressed by the enormous prestige it acquired from the defeat of Nazi-fascism and the expropriation of the bourgeoisie in Eastern Europe.
The theoretical justification was elaborated by Pablo and seconded by Mandel. Basically, they considered that a “third world war” between US imperialism and the USSR was imminent. In the midst of that inevitable course, Pablo argued, the Stalinist parties would make the international revolution to defend the bureaucratized workers states, the source of their privileges. The revision was complete: the main leaders of the Fourth International granted a revolutionary character to no less than the most powerful counterrevolutionary apparatus in history.
Consequently, they proposed the organizational line that the Trotskyist parties of the Fourth would “enter” and dissolve into the Stalinist parties. But this “entryism” was not to combat the leadership of those parties, but to “advise” them in the process of world revolution which, supposedly, they would lead. The result was disastrous. The Fourth was divided for the first time in 1953, since one wing did not accept this revision. The sector which applied the line of “sui generis entryism” for 17 years, disappeared.
While revisionist Trotskyism gave in to Stalinism, or to bourgeois nationalism; to Tito; to Mao; to the Castro-Guevarist leadership and its guerrilla orientation for Latin America; to the radicalized student vanguard which emerged during May 1968; to Eurocommunism and Sandinism, the current oriented by Moreno, although a minority, oriented itself in the opposite direction and spared no effort to insert itself in the workers movement, in their workplaces, always postulating itself as an alternative of revolutionary leadership for their struggles.
In 1984, Moreno explained to a new generation of party leaders the force of the pressures exerted by the political fashions of the 1960s and 1970s: “At the beginning of the 1960s, everybody was reading Che Guevara and Frantz Fanon. We seemed crazy: we were the only ones who said that the working class is not oligarchic and aristocratic. They said that revolutions had to be made against it (…) And we said: ‘No sir’ […]. We said, then, ‘the working class is going to mobilize’. And it mobilized. In 1968, seven or eight years after the polemics with Che Guevara […]“.
This confidence in the revolutionary potential of the proletariat, according to Moreno, was based on the fact that: “Trotskyism joins with the proletariat and only with it (…) Its program is essentially working class. It is the program that the working class must apply to lead all the exploited of the world. That is why Trotskyism accompanies the proletariat as the shadow accompanies the body.”
The obsession in the current to bind itself to the working class
Clinging to this programmatic vision, the national parties were always oriented to concentrate efforts and resources to intervene in the workers’ movement.
Due to low points or a certain situation of the class struggle and/or of the trade union movement, other tactics could be applied, such as the construction, for a certain period, in the student movement, popular movement, and even within the peasantry. But these initiatives were always considered tactics, necessary moves to shorten the distance between the parties and the workers’ movement.
In the history of Morenoism, in addition to the Argentine case and its experience in the times of the PST and the old MAS, we can mention the example of the young Colombian militants who went to intervene in the workers’ rallies in their country. Or the case of the Spanish party when it centered its forces in Getafe, one of the most important industrial centers of Madrid. Also noteworthy is the experience of the group of young people, many of them coming from the student movement, who, at the end of the 1970s and some years before the emergence of the phenomenon of Lula and the Brazilian PT, boldly went to intervene in the process of workers’ struggles in Greater São Paulo called “ABC paulista,” an immense industrial complex. There they participated in unions and led oppositions against the union bureaucracy before and during the process of founding the PT and the CUT, a workers’ central where the theses defended by the Trotskyists of the then Socialist Convergence never had an influence of less than 10% of the delegates.
Currently, the IWL-FI develops important advances in the workers movement in several countries, among them, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Spain, Italy, Paraguay, the United Kingdom, etc.
An iron lesson: there are no shortcuts
In our days there is a very strong pressure for revolutionary parties to move away from the working class and towards the “new” social and political phenomena.
In the first decade of this century, the pressure to become a Chavista was almost irresistible. Ten years ago or less, the fashion dictated support for the Syriza project, Podemos, or the Bloco de Esquerda. Now, they return with all the pressures to capitulate to Lula and the PT in Brazil, to the coalition led by Boric in Chile, or to the Frente de Todos in Argentina. Not to mention the tendency, driven by neo-Stalinism, to support capitalist dictatorships -to the point of defending them in the face of the mobilization of their peoples-, such as those of Cuba, China and even Putin’s Russia, which has been invading Ukraine since February of this year.
This is nothing new. Essentially, it is the same pressure that the former leaders of the SU and the SWP felt – and bent to – when they were impressed by the influence of Castro, Guevara, Paris 1968 or Sandinism.
It is the familiar pressure not to be “isolated,” the idea that, by sailing with the current, one will finally be able to “break the marginality.”
In this sense, Moreno bequeathed an immense lesson to the new generations of revolutionaries. A teaching that the IWL-FI maintains until today. We have always looked for the “road to the masses.” But the struggle to be part of the living processes of the class struggle and to build the party and the International never meant any kind of distancing from the principles, neither from the revolutionary program nor from the working class.
This does not mean that Moreno and our current have been immune to the pressures of mass movements and the apparatuses that controlled it. This is inevitable. The construction of a revolutionary leadership is a constant struggle against opportunism and sectarianism.
Moreno, trying to educate the party methodologically, did not get tired of publicly recognizing his mistakes and deviations because he was convinced that this was the only way to seriously face a rectification. The history of our current is the history of its mistakes, he said.
But the fact of having been able to overcome those pressures, sometimes at a very high cost, made Moreno’s confidence in the creative force of the working class stronger in the light of experience. He understood that there were no shortcuts to power, that without the working class it is simply not possible for the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat nor the strategy of the world revolution.
This lesson, indispensable for our days, was immortalized shortly before his death in January 1987.
“There is no way to deceive the historical and class process […] I am referring to the class character. We try to lead the proletariat, we never move away from it. This is not declamation, it is an international class policy that emerges from a deep theoretical analysis. There is no political trickery that is worthwhile. It is useless to lie, to tell the peasantry that we are peasants with the aim of making a workers’ revolution. If the working class does not follow us, we get nowhere. We become bureaucratized, we capitulate to the peasantry. It is inconceivable to make the proletarian revolution without the proletariat […]. Throughout my political life, after, for example, looking with sympathy at the regime that emerged from the Cuban Revolution, I have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to continue with revolutionary class politics, even if it postpones the coming to power for us by twenty or thirty years, or whatever. We aspire for the working class to be the one that truly comes to power, that is why we want to lead it.“