From Sectarian Propaganda to Electoral Opportunism (Part II)

Debate with the Trotskyist Faction / PTS


The discussions between the IWL and the TF have been taking place for three decades. However, as we stated in Part I of this article, this organization, which used to criticize us from the “left” and the “Trotskyist extreme orthodox”, is now on our “right”. Therefore, in these discussions, they now use the same logic and arguments that they used to attribute to “Yalta and Potsdam Trotskyism” and the organizations with this origin.
By Alejandro Iturbe.
The main aspect of these debates is that the TF (just as most world left) considers that in the world, and especially in America, the “reactionary wave” dominates political dynamics. Imperialism and the bourgeoisie are developing a great offensive in all grounds, and the working class and toiling masses are completely in the defensive. Furthermore, a sector would have been won over (at least, in the current situation) to support the right (“the right wing poor”) while the other sector does not achieve great struggles to change the general dynamic. Supporting this characterization there is the electoral triumph of Mauricio Macri in Argentina and Donald Trump in the United States. These advances of right wing bourgeois parties expressed, consolidated and deepened the “reactionary wave”.
In Brazil, the reactionary wave was expressed in the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff (her destitution through a political trial in the Parliament), and her replacement by Michel Temer. A process qualified as a “coup d’état”. Currently, several organizations that work with the MRT (Movimento Revolucionário dos Trabalhadores; Workers’ Revolutionary Movement- TF Brazilian organization) like the PT and PSOL, now speak of the “danger of neo-fascism”.
This reasoning has deep political consequences. On one hand, it leads to the conclusion that the very progressive process of break of the workers and masses with the populist bourgeois and people front governments showing their true face, is negative since the mass consciousness “turned right” (or a part of them). On the other hand, since the balance of power is very unfavorable, unitary tactics are mandatory. In Brazil, this means “the unity of the left”, first to face the “coup” and now, to struggle against the “neo-fascist danger”. In other words, the “defense of bourgeois democracy”. Not by chance, the political axis of this sector is “Free Lula”.
The TF says we caricature their analysis and political standings, and we do an amalgam with the standings of other organizations. Truly, in their last analysis, they have softened the definition of the “reactionary wave” and they criticize the PT and PSOL, as they argue with them. However, in essence, they sustain the analysis and policy. For example, in a recent publication, they say, “The imprisonment of the Brazilian ex-president Lula da Silva is a new chapter of the coup that begun with the parliamentary destitution of Dilma Rousseff”. They announce that, “The PTS in the Frente de Izquierda, along with the PO, carried out a unitary act on April 13 in the embassy of Brazil against the coup and the proscription of Lula, although we oppose the PT.” [1]
We are not going to insist on the analysis that led the IWL-FI and the PSTU (B) to oppose the “coup” characterization and why we did not support or participate in the campaign for his [Lula’s] freedom. There are several articles on this subject in our webpage [2]. Due to this standing, we were accused of “serving the right” or agreeing with it, “… left groups like the PSTU, which supported the institutional coup and continue to support Lula’s prison” [3].

Is there a “reactionary wave”?

The background of this discussion is the existence of an international “reactionary wave” (which we oppose). To sustain this definition, most world left takes two elements into account: first, there are more bourgeois right-wing governments; second, the governments attack the living condition of workers and toiling masses, their democratic freedoms, repress the struggles, persecute activists, etc. For Marxists, the existence of a “reactionary wave” depends on the “balance of power” in class struggle [bourgeoisie and proletariat] in a specific period.
With this approach, the first element, the electoral triumphs of the right or the destitution of Dilma Rousseff through Parliament are facts of the superstructure that do not necessarily have automatic reflection in the balance of power because it depends on class struggle and other deep processes. For example, the destitution of Dilma was not the expression of a strengthening of the Brazilian bourgeois political regime, but of its weakening. On what happened after the triumphs of Macri in Argentina and Trump in the United States we will refer to specifically.
At the same time, the definition of “reactionary wave” brings much confusion because it blames the attacks on the workers and masses only on right wing bourgeois governments. Imperialism, national bourgeoisies and bourgeois governments are actually carrying out harsh attacks against the workers and masses. However, the supposedly “left wing” governments like Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela or Alexis Tsipras in Greece are also doing so. Therefore, it is not an issue of “right” or “left”, but all political expressions of the bourgeoisie in office apply them.
In this sense, there is a true “reactionary offensive” against workers and masses. It is an imperative need of imperialist capitalism and national bourgeoisie in their current stage of irreversible decadence, increased by the context of international economic crisis. As long as we do not defeat imperialist capitalism and national bourgeoisies, this offensive will remain and deepen, and the living conditions of the workers and masses will continue to deteriorate constantly. Otherwise, even when an economic achievement is attained or defended, shortly afterwards it is attacked again. These are the objective bases of the need to struggle to seize power for the socialist revolution, and the reactionary falsehood of the proposal to “humanize capitalism”.
It is completely mistaken to take as the center of the definition of balance of power between the classes the attacks of imperialism and national bourgeoisies and the gain or loss of achievements. From this perspective, our enemies will always be in the offensive, and workers and masses in the defensive, at least until the conquest of power is posed.
However, the balance of power in class struggle in a specific period is similar to a boxing match: both participants attack with blows and defend from them. The fight may be equilibrated. Sometimes, one of the boxers hits and goes to the offensive without a clear definition. A very strong blow may lead to a KO, or mark a clearly favorable dynamic.
Class struggle reality and the definition of balance of power is more complex than a boxing match due to the combination of multiple objective and subjective elements. In these struggles, do workers and masses earn trust and advance towards stronger confrontations and in their organization and consciousness? How does the issue of their leaderships affect, do alternatives to bureaucracies and reformists emerge? Is the bourgeoisie united or divided? How is the political regime?
Because the attacks to the working class and the masses, in many cases, act as the fuel that feeds the struggles and these struggles often lead to crises in the bourgeoisie and its weakening. In these cases, to speak of a “reactionary wave” in balance of power is a mistaken characterization that leads to mistaken policies. In other cases, of course, these struggles (and the working class as a whole) may end by being defeated, in which case an actual “reactionary wave” would begin.

The Evolution of Balance of Power in Latin America

In the 1990s, Latin American governments called “neo-liberal” prevailed. They applied privatization policies and the handing in of their countries’ economies as they harshly attacked the labor and wage conditions. In early XXI century, the workers’ and people’s struggle against them transformed into revolutionary processes in several countries. In many cases, the governments were overthrown: in 2000, in Ecuador, 2001 in Argentina, and 2003 in Bolivia. In Venezuela, this had taken place in 1989, and the situation deepened in 2002-2003, when the workers and peoples mobilization defeated the patron’s coup against the Chavez administration.
National bourgeoisies and imperialism were in the defensive. In answer to these revolutionary processes in the continent, they accepted (and often encouraged) people front governments (of class alliance) or populists: Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, Nestor Kirchner, and Evo Morales. In Brazil, Lula and the PT reached office as a prevention.
These governments reflected a deep contradiction. On one hand, they were a distorted expression of the revolutionary ascent. Therefore, several of them “dressed in red” and used an anti-imperialist speech. They took some partial nationalist measures and gave the masses some concessions. On the other hand, they were bourgeois to the bone: their main objective was to stop the revolutions, save capitalism and the bourgeois regime. Therefore, they never overcame the limits of the capitalist economic system and State. Here, a premise applies: whoever does not break with imperialism and financial capital ends up becoming its instrument, sooner rather than later.

The Crisis of these Governments

For several years, they had some margin due to the world economic situation (2002-2011), with the high prices of raw materials and food exports because of the demand in China. From 2011-2012, the “boom” reached its end: these governments had to begin to apply their adjustment plans, each time harsher, and attack the concessions in health, education, labor conditions, employment, etc.
They began to apply the right-wing neo-liberal program, often with direct representatives in office. Thus began the decrease of their influence among workers and toiling masses. They were “successful” projects to save the bourgeois state and capitalism. However, at the same time, the planted the seeds of their own crisis and decadence. They managed to deviate and stop revolutionary processes, but they did not defeat it in struggle, and then, workers went on to face the adjustment measures applied.

Why did this strengthen the right in electoral terms?

For several years, workers and masses saw these governments as “theirs”. As they applied adjustment plans, the masses begun to break and struggle against them. Since the bourgeois sector in office were in formation, the state corruption was usually more evident than in “normal” bourgeois governments (where this usually takes place “backstage”).
This allowed the right to disguise their ideas, they did not say, “I will carry out a harsh adjustment”. They said, “stop corruption” and “we need a change, for honest, efficient and capable people”. This way, besides the traditional right wing voters, many workers expressed their anger and frustration with the unfulfilled promises of transformation by the populists through the “punishment vote” (consequence of the trap of bourgeois elections). This is a mistaken logic. Their anger leads them to think that, “any one is better than these people”.
In Brazil, this led to the great electoral result of Aécio Neves in cities and states with much worker influence (like Sao Paulo) in the 2014 presidential elections, although he did not win. Then, a corrupt and illegitimate congress dismissed Dilma Roussef, and the workers allowed it.
The bourgeois populist and people’s front governments were responsible for the electoral right-wing triumphs. First, because they frustrated the popular expectations of change they said to represent by becoming governments of the adjustment. Second, because since they said to be “left wing” and “social” against the “right wing”, they contributed for the false electoral polarization where there are only two (bourgeois) alternatives.
For these governments, the definition of “reactionary wave” had the objective of avoiding (or delaying) the mass break. In electoral processes, it helped to ask for votes “in defense of the achievements” and “the others coming may be worse than us”. After the electoral defeat, or Dilma’s destitution, they could “wash their hands” and unload the responsibility on a mass movement sector that “did not know good from evil” and “fell into the right-wing’s game”. The left wing currents that support and/or defend these governments (even with critiques, but arguing “it is not the same” or “one must defend democracy”) only “embellish” and stop the struggles against them, becoming their accomplices or at least giving in to them.

The Complex Processes of Consciousness

Mass action and consciousness have passed through contradictory processes during these years. First, they struggled against neoliberal governments and policies, and defeated them in several countries. Then they mistakenly believed that bourgeois populist and people front governments could be tools for the change they aspired. Afterward, they begun to struggle against the adjustments made by these governments and to break with them.
This break is a great advance in their consciousness. However, it is not a lineal advance, but a contradictory one because before the false polarization, a sector “defended the achievements” and the other got confused with “any other one is better” and electorally supported the right. But this break of workers and masses with Kirchnerism, Chavism, the PT and Lula is the most important process taking place in Latin American mass consciousness because without it there would be no possibility of building a strong worker revolutionary socialist alternative for the crisis of capitalism. This political break is the process we have waited for during years and it is not diminished (even less turned negative) because it had no expression in political organization yet.

The Capitulation to the People’s Front in Brazil

Of course, revolutionaries must promote the building of this alternative, essentially in worker struggles and mass organization. A task that may only be done based on proposals with clear class standings, which do not capitulate to people’s fronts, the PT and Lula (even arguing “the need to struggle against the pro-coup government”).
Here applies an image used by Trotsky to analyze the ruling people’s front in France in the 1930s. He said that often policy is built like a train, where each wagon fits in the next one, claiming to be “to the left” of the previous one, with critiques, but they all end up going in the same direction led by the locomotive.
In Brazil, the people’s front is no longer in office, but it became a sort of “opposing people’s front”. The locomotive continues to follow Lula and the PT. Behind them comes the PSOL, claiming that Lula and the PT are not “the best”, but “one must defend democracy and demand Lula’s freedom” “to fight the pro-coup and neo-fascist” (which translates into waiting for the 2018 elections for a change). Then comes the MRT, which criticizes the PT and PSOL, but in the end follows them “to fight the pro-coup and demand for Lula’s freedom”. Not by chance, two years ago, the MRT requested to enter the PSOL and turned this into one of their main campaigns. The request was not accepted, but they actually placed their wagon behind Lula and the PT.
The MRT policy goes against the richest and most positive process in workers and mass consciousness: the break with Lula, the PT and the people’s front. This is the necessary basis to build a revolutionary alternative of the workers. Actually, they seem to want to delay a process of labor that has begun, only because it does not take place in a “pure state”, but it is much more confusing. How do they intend for the process to advance and develop if they claim there is a “reactionary wave” and capitulate to the PT? On the meantime, those who hold a policy of class independence are called “right-wing allies”.

What happened after the electoral triumphs of Macri and Trump?

As we said, the electoral triumph of a bourgeois right-wing sector does not imply an unfavorable change in the “balance of power” in the country. In Argentina, Mauricio Macri won presidential elections in the end of 2015, and in the 2017 parliamentary elections, the Cambiemos coalition prevailed over Kirchnerism again. However, the country’s situation is far from “reactionary”.
Since the beginning of his mandate, Macri permanently faced partial struggles, massive mobilizations and a very strong general strike in April 2017. Even after feeling falsely strengthened with his electoral victory in October 2017, he attempted an even stronger attack, which workers and people faced with the December mobilizations. The pension reform was adopted, but the government was hurt. It lost its electoral bases and the support of middle classes.
Besides, the economic situation is in the verge of an outburst and the national currency is devaluating before the dollar, while capitals continue to leave. The bourgeoisie is divided on what to do. The government had to resort to the “help” of the IMF, which is demanding a new, harsher attack in exchange for help. Several trades are in struggle. The situation does not advance (to pose Macri’s outing) because of the detrimental role of Kirchnerism and union bureaucracy, which stop struggles and their unification seeking to sustain Macri in office until the 2019 elections.
Trump has similar characteristics. His triumph was questionable because he won in the Electoral College, but achieved less actual votes than Hillary Clinton did. Although, he had votes from the white working class. When he entered office, he had to face strong mobilizations against him, and mass women demonstrations. Currently, the struggle of teachers is extending throughout the states. He also had to give up his attempt to end the health care system set up by Obama. In North America, the Democrats, the other bourgeois party, are stopping the struggles.
Internationally, the Trump administration has generated divisions in imperialist bourgeoisie and some significant crises in world order. On one hand, due to his opposition to some consequences of “economic globalization” for sectors of North American bourgeoisie. On the other, due to his attempt to overcome the “Iraq syndrome”, by seeking an alliance with Putin. Therefore, he has had to face significant sectors of North American and European imperialist bourgeoisies. The axis United States – England – Germany has weakened. At the same time, class struggle and divisions among imperialist bourgeoisie mediate what they can actually due in political and economic grounds. Often, he “comes and goes”, or he remains “halfway” or is forced to setback. For example, the confrontation with North Korea. First, he threatened to attack, and then he setback and choose the “Chinese way” of negotiation.

A Deep Change

As we said, the attacks to the PSTU have been permanent by the MRT. However, when they were called LER, their critiques came from sectarian and extreme left standings, like considering “unacceptable” the formation of a common student group between the PSTU and MES-PSOL to run for the student union body of the University of Sao Paulo. Now, this current forgot this was “unacceptable”, they requested to enter the PSOL. What happened in between? What transformation took place between these (opposite) standings?
We find an answer in the “Manifesto do Movimento Revolucionário de Trabalhadores, em campanha pelo #MRTnoPSOL” [“Manifesto of the Movimento Revolucionário de Trabalhadores, a campaign for #MRTinthePSOL”], which began their campaign to enter the PSOL. Here they stated,
“In the last elections, the PSOL with the candidacy of Luciana Genro and several other representatives emerged as an alternative to the left of the PT for a significant mass sector. Luciana had 1.6 million votes, expressing the fight against the most conservative sectors of Brazilian policy” (Our translation). Therefore, the MRT’s proposal is “to fight with our revolutionary standings within the PSOL to build a strong workers’ alternative”.
On the contrary, “the PSTU, despite raising correct elements of program, has been renouncing to appear as an actual alternative, each time more limited to unionism, agitating ‘general strike’ in propaganda, but without an answer for the crisis of the PT and class struggle” (our translation). In another document, the MRT characterizes that, due to the difference in the votes obtained by both parties in the 2014 elections, “we must be clear that the tendency is the political development of the PSOL before the PT crisis and the consolidation of the PSTU as a great union sect that disappears in political grounds”. Despite acknowledging that, “The CSP-Conlutas concentrates the anti-government unions of the country”.
In short, for the MRT, to have political influence and “be an alternative” one must have many votes and representatives. On the contrary, if one has influence in the leadership of the labor federation that gathers the most combative unions (in other words, structured and organizational influence in the working class), but one has few votes, the party becomes a “great unionist sect” without political future.
For us, the disease affecting and transforming the MRT has a name: electoral opportunism. An evil that has affected most Brazilian and world left, which also affects those who consider themselves “super revolutionaries”. “Democratic reaction” is the policy of imperialism and national bourgeoisies. On one hand, it is destined to avoid or deviate the struggles and revolutions leading them to dead-end bourgeois electoral and parliamentarian democracy. On the other, it corrodes and co-opts revolutionary organizations that believe they can “cheat history” through a seemingly easier path (votes and representatives), which leads them to change their revolutionary character. It seems life depends on elections and parliament, and everything works around them, although they continue to speak of “struggles”.
To avoid false discussions: we have no election or parliamentary cretinism. Just as Lenin, Trotsky and the III International held, we are in favor of participating in elections with our candidates to disseminate the revolutionary program among the masses. In the framework of this activity, we want to obtain the greatest number of votes for this program, and if possible, to elect deputies or parliamentary representatives to be working class tribunes in an enemy institution, to help destroy it. Although we are completely against transforming this into the main activity and the axis of a revolutionary party (in other words, much more than a “secondary point of support”, as Lenin said). Or of measuring the advances and the influence of a party only (or essentially) by the votes obtained, not its structured growth and the influence in working class organizations.

The Evil affected the Entire TF

Actually, this disease contaminated not just the MRT, which was contaminated by the main party of their international organizations: the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas [Party of the Socialist Workers] – PTS of Argentina. There, symptoms are not so evident due to the greater influence of the Argentinian organization (even in worker structures) and due to their electoral successes in the Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores – FIT, which seeks to have a “Trotskyist profile”. However, they are clearly there. Based on these electoral successes, the PTS has been acting as an electoral and parliamentary organization.
Among other elements, they have changed their political profile, even in electoral terms. Historically, the main candidate and public figure of the PTS was José Montes (a.k.a. “Verdura”), a worker with a long history of struggle in the shipyards of Río Santiago. Afterwards, “Verdura” was replaced by the university professor Christian Castillo. Today, their main public figures are representatives Nicolás del Caño and Myriam Bregman, who are not a clear reference for the working class. José Montes is 66 years old and is retired. This is true. However, for a generational renewal, the PTS has important worker leaders, like Raul Godoy from the Zanon factory in Neuquén, or Javier Hermosilla from the Kraft-Foods factory in the North of Great Buenos Aires.
There has also been a change in language. During the 2015 presidential campaign, Nicolás del Caño spoke of the fight against the “political clique” (just as Podemos in Spain), with constant callings to “the youth”, without reference to the working class. They have also changed their parliamentary tactics. For example, they supported the Kirchnerist representatives (now part of the opposition) in a very limited standing on the payment of the “vulture funds”, without reference to the payment of the remaining illegitimate foreign debt. In this case, they could not even justify that their votes would have allowed to stop this payment through parliament.
Finally, this was expressed in the recent mass struggles against the pension reform presented by the Macri administration to Parliament. In the first day, hundreds of thousands of people surrounded the Congress, faced repression and forced the suspension of the legislative session (it was adopted later on in a second session). The PTS called these mobilizations and participated in them. But one of their main worries, next to the struggle, was to highlight the role of their representatives. “The PTS representatives and the Frente de Izquierda played a significant role in the great mobilization process of this Monday, which evidenced the enormous rejection of the pension reform…” [4].
As we said, the TF-PTS-MRT comes from a current that split with the IWL-FI and Morenism, considering them part of the “Yalta and Potsdam Trotskyism”, which capitulated to the so-called “theory of progressive and reactionary bourgeois fields” and for being electioneering. They would be the base to rebuild “Trotsky’s Trotskyism”. Actually, their analyses and standings are equal to those of “Yalta and Potsdam Trotskyism”. With pure electioneering, despising work and influence in working class organizations. In conclusion, they capitulated (with a bit of shame, of course) to the bourgeois fields led by the PT or Kirchnerism.
In the framework of this turn, the TF/PTS still has some characteristics of its extreme left, propagandist period. For example, in the March 7, 2017 demonstration in Argentina, thousands of workers demanded the CGT bureaucracy to summon a general strike against the attacks by the Macri administration. They sang, “Poné la fecha, la puta que te parió” [“Set the date, already!”] and advanced towards the stage of the demonstration, forcing the bureaucrats to flee. On the meantime, the PTS and PO did a parallel act, outside this process. They had a self-proclamation, propagandist and extreme left attitude, but not as a coherent conception. It was in service of an electoral policy.

The Method of relating to other Organizations

We left this subject for the end, although it is very important. For the IWL, the relation between organizations that claim to be revolutionary must be clear and loyal, even when discussing differences. Even more so if a fusion is posed. On the contrary, for the TF, since they are the sole representatives of “Trotsky’s Trotskyism”, things are different and all maneuvers and disloyal attitudes are valid. Let us see two examples.
The Liga Estratégia Revolucionária – LER (predecessor of the MRT) was founded in the early 1990s, with members that broke from the Brazilian IWL organization. This break had origin in “secret entryism” carried out by the TF for some time. For the IWL, “secret entryism” may only be used before organizations characterized as “enemies” (which justifies its character), but never among Trotskyist organizations. For the TF, on the contrary, this is normal and valid.
As a general framework, the TF proposes the realization of “conferences” between different organizations to discuss the rebuilding of the Fourth International. As we have exposed, the TF has no actual intention of exploring the possibility of approaching, but they are maneuvers to win over some members of the other organizations. In this sense, they transformed disloyal maneuvers into their permanent method of relation with other Trotskyist organizations.
Besides, we have deep theoretical and political differences. However, if these differences disappeared, this relation method makes any approach impossible on serious and loyal bases. Furthermore, these determine that the TF may only play a negative and destructive role in the rebuilding of the Fourth International.
Translation: Alejandra Ramirez.
[2] See:


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