Sat Feb 24, 2024
February 24, 2024

Nahuel Moreno: Old Memories Still Relevant Today

By Eduardo Almeida Neto

Originally published in 201  in the special edition tribute on the 30th anniversary of his death, from Conversations with Nahuel Moreno.

Buenos Aires, one afternoon in October 1985.

In a discreet two-story house across from Centenario Park, the headquarters of the IWL were functioning. I was in the International Secretariat working with none other than Nahuel Moreno.

For me, the “old man” was a myth. I am not going to talk about his political career, or about the polemics that I followed. I will talk about the person I lived with, the man behind the myth.

The “old man” was enthralling. He combined an encyclopedic knowledge with a simplicity and a sense of humor that was always present. He would stand with us in the lunch line. He would sit at the table and give us an informal lecture on African history or on the biological characteristics of some species. He would almost always end with a joke. I was surprised to see Moreno laughing at himself. He knew how to do that, as when he said that in the first election he participated in, he ran on the program of the Paris Commune.

This personality trait was connected to something deeper. Moreno made self-criticism a crucial tool. In this he followed Lenin. The “old man” laughed at the leaders who “never made mistakes,” which was a trademark of almost all leftist leaders, because of their class character.

Whoever intervenes in the class struggle inevitably makes mistakes. The collective discussion of one’s mistakes is important for learning and correction. He who does not learn from his mistakes does not enrich himself.

I knew, albeit superficially, other great Trotskyist leaders of Moreno’s generation, such as Mandel and Lambert. They were very different.

Mandel was a typical European university intellectual, he was intelligent and arrogant. He made interesting contributions to Marxist economics. And he made great political and theoretical barbarities, such as the capitulation to guerrillaism or the affirmation that the Soviet bureaucracy would never lead the restoration of capitalism. These were very serious mistakes, with disastrous consequences for generations of militants. I know of no self-criticism by Mandel.

Lambert was not only pedantic, but rude, like a trade union bureaucrat. I was invited to a congress of the OSI (the organization in Brazil associated with Lambert) where he presented a counter-report that destroyed the document presented by the national leader. In that congress, the OSI went from a sectarian policy towards the PT (progressive in its beginnings) to an open capitulation to its leadership. This led to the destruction of the organization. There was never any self-criticism.

Self-criticism is as much a part of the Leninist legacy as democratic centralism. The PSTU leadership, which learned from Moreno, lives by self-criticism, often harsh self-criticism. It was the same with the little importance we gave to the struggle against oppressions in the past, to theoretical elaboration, to proletarianization. These self-criticisms have never created crises, they have always helped to strengthen the party, to direct its future path.

The majority of the left does not make serious assessments. They go from one activity to another without even trying to understand the truths and mistakes. The Partido Obrero of Argentina is led by Altamira, a typical leader “who makes no mistakes,” who thinks he is Lenin resurrected. Or the PTS, which went from being a sectarian party to an electoral adaptation without any deep discussion, without any self-criticism. These organizations do not learn from their mistakes. Today they are on the rise, but they have major crises on the horizon.

Moreno and Morality

I accompanied Moreno in many controversies, internal and external, large and small. I never saw him slander anyone. This also has to do with a characteristic of this political current. Morenoism is not only the defense of a program, or audacity in the struggle for leadership. It is proletarian morality. It is the morality of solidarity that is born spontaneously on the picket lines, and that leads the activists to defend each other against the police and the bosses, regardless of the political tendencies that each one supports. It is the revolutionary morality that teaches the new militants that “not everything is possible” in the political struggle. Even in the struggle against reformism or the bourgeoisie, slander is not valid.

Slander was introduced by Stalinism as a method of political struggle. Unfortunately, it has been incorporated into the practice of the majority of left currents. This poison takes its toll because new militants are trained that “anything goes” and then these methods are used in power struggles typical of sterile sects. Slander can win an argument, and help destroy a cadre or an organization. But nothing solid is built in the revolutionary sense.

The “old man” gave his personal example, he formed the cadres with a moral compass. They are simple and human values, like telling the truth, solidarity with the comrades, values that capitalism denies every day. As a counterpoint to this, Moreno introduced moral education into the lives of the militants.

Knowing How to Listen

The “old man” impressed me with another quality: he knew how to listen.

Sometimes he would ask me about Brazil or my opinion on a certain subject. And he would listen to me, often without saying anything. He just listened. He did this with several cadre. Many times, I saw him explicitly justifying what a colleague had said in discussions, sometimes in a key way. In a polemic, he always tried to listen, to understand the opposing position. He did that to find a center, to avoid false polemics, or if there was something that could be incorporated.

The process of political elaboration of a party must collective or it will be very weak and one-sided. All the more so in an epoch in which we find ourselves living.  We have no Lenin, no Trotsky, no Sverdlov in any of the organizations that claim to be revolutionary. Collective work is even more important. To know how to listen is to strengthen the collective. Knowing how to listen makes those who are heard feel integrated.

What a difference in relation to the leaders who love to be heard but do not know how to listen. They get irritated when they hear a better intervention than their own. There are those who love to say difficult words so that people will admire their intelligence, without worrying whether they were understood or not.

A Serious Relationship with Theory

I listened to part of Moreno’s discussion of the revolutions that overthrew the dictatorships of Latin America. Moreno had a relationship with theory that is a model for us. First of all, because of the importance he gave to study and to theoretical elaboration.

I think it was Moreno’s relationship with theory that made it possible for the Argentinean party, under Moreno’s leadership, to survive the pressure of Peronism, just as the IWL survived the pressure of Chavismo and the PT governments. Those who see in Moreno only his audacity in taking advantage of opportunities in the struggle for political leadership, are deceived. The “old man” was first and foremost passionate about theory and program. This was what gave the IWL its solidity during his lifetime. Today, the left is dominated by a brutal theoretical poverty. Many of the currents are content to look for quotations from the classics to justify their politics. It is no accident that the reformists do not come up with anything new. They only end up reworking the classic reformists, such as Kautsky and Berstein, without realizing it. It is enough to see the “elaborations” of Pablo Iglesias or those of the PSOL to verify this.

This indigence also reaches Trotskyism. The Argentine PTS has a key strength in the CEIP because of the publication of Trotsky’s books. But its own theoretical elaboration is sorely lacking. Now it has begun to take the road of Gramscianism. This is the road taken by 99% of reformism. There are currents that take the classics as immutable, without elaborating anything new. Moreno did not do that. When he did, he did not hesitate to say that Trotsky was wrong. Intellectual courage was combined with seriousness in theoretical discussion. It was the same with the interpretation of the postwar revolutions.

At the same time, he had the seriousness to preserve the basic structure of the classics, which the “modern” reformists have so violated.

Moreno’s theoretical position is one of his greatest contributions. Not only are his contributions to Marxism important, such as his interpretation of the post-war revolutions and his elaboration of the democratic revolutions that overthrew dictatorships, but also his methodology in elaborating theory without the fear of correcting the classics, without the impatience of those who look for the “new” to reedit the oldest thing that exists: reformism.

Memories of his Sad Departure

Contagem, Brazil, January 1987.The doorbell rang insistently. I opened the door. An old comrade tells me in tears, “He died, he died. I tried to understand, but he just repeated “he died, he died.” After a few minutes, I managed to understand that Moreno was dead. My world collapsed. I felt like an orphan. That same day we were able to travel to Buenos Aires. The atmosphere in the Argentinean MAS and IWL leadership was one of perplexity and fear for the future. Our leader had died. And no alternative leadership was being built.

In the early morning, I was part of the honor guard for some time. I thought about the future. Nothing good came to mind.

Looking back, one can clearly see the reason for our collective anxiety. Moreno was leaving at a delicate moment for the left. The Argentine MAS was the most important Trotskyist organization in the world. But all the ideological confusion caused by the course of events in Eastern Europe had already been foreshadowed. Going through this period without Moreno was a leap in the dark.

In the streets of Buenos Aires, a Trotskyist march chanted: “We are Trotskyists, Moreno’s Trotskyists, we are the Trotskyists of the workers’ movement”. We went to the Chacarita cemetery with a double feeling: pride in being “morenistas” and doubt about the future.

The doubt turned out to be a premonition of what was to come. The effects of the post-East confusion and the adaptation to bourgeois democracy destroyed MAS and almost destroyed the IWL. Without Moreno, the new leadership of the IWL and MAS failed the test of class struggle in difficult times.

But Moreno’s legacy survived. His position of struggle against reformism.

His position of construction of the working class, his morals, his attitude to theory made it possible for the IWL to rebuild itself. Despite the crisis, the IWL is alive and getting stronger. We are witness to the new workers leadership of the PSTU, with capable workers and political cadres at the head of the party. And we are seeing a new section being built in Pakistan, using a text by Moreno (Problems of Organization) as a basic text.

The IWL is Being Rebuilt on the Foundations Laid by Moreno

Today, 30 years after his death, I can look critically at some of Moreno’s elaborations. I do not always agree now, as I did not always agree in the past. But we can say to the “old man” that everything that exists in IWL today is due to him.

The best tribute we can pay to Moreno is to say that he was the expression of the continuity of Marxism. To break this continuity would have serious consequences for the future. The best homage we can pay to the “old man” is to give continuity to his struggle to build the IWL.

Check out our other content

Check out other tags:

Most Popular Articles