Published in Marxismo Vivo (Marxism Alive) special issue (2007) with the title: Nahuel Moreno. 20 years after his demise, some reflections on “morenism”.
Normally, within the left, when a leader acquires great dimension and contributes with something qualitatively different, whether positive or negative, his followers and even his enemies identify this movement with his name. Thus we talk of Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism or Trotskyism. Even when Moreno was still alive, and much more so after this death, several million people, even those organised in different trends used to call ourselves Morenists as a way of identifying ourselves with the ideas and the practical work of the Argentine Trotskyist leader, Nahuel Moreno, deceased twenty years ago. It is right that we should now ask ourselves: is this denomination correct? Is there such thing as “Morenism”? Has Moreno made sufficient contribution to justify the use of the term “Morenism”? Or is this denomination nothing more than a tender identification with a very respected leader?
And talking about the names that movements get, it is necessary to take note that the denominations are not always just. Moreno, for example, used to say that it was not right to speak of Marxism because this denomination meant a determined conception of the world with Karl Marx himself while, actually, it was the product of practical and intellectual work of a team: Marx and Frederic Engels. In this way, this historical injustice emerged perhaps from language limitations, doomed Engels to an auxiliary role, as Marx’s assistant, but he was much more than that.
The case of Trotskyism also wants analysing. During the first years of the struggle against Stalin, neither Trotsky nor his followers spoke about “Trotskyism” to identify the movement. They called themselves “Bolsheviks/Leninists” and they were right. They could not speak of “Trotskyism” because – even if Trotsky had played a brilliant role in the October Revolution and leading the Red Army during the Civil War, he had not yet incorporated into Marxism Leninism anything qualitative and that would be sufficient merit to identify the movement with his name. It was Stalin who began speaking about Trotskyism in an attempt at opposing Trotsky and his followers to Lenin and the Bolsheviks. That is why when Trotsky and his comrades spoke of Trotskyism; they always used the inverted commas (“Trotskyism”).
However, as years went by, this denomination coined by Stalin was gradually incorporated by Trotsky’s disciples, not to separate him from Lenin but from Stalin and, at that time is denomination of the movement was correct because Trotsky, in his struggle against Stalin, made a qualitative contribution to Marxism: it was the interpretation of the bureaucratic degeneration of the URSS and the task that emerged out of that: political revolution.
If we analyse “Morenism” with the same criteria, we would have to make a double interpretation. There is no doubt that Moreno contributed to Trotskyism, most of which is summed up in his Update of Transitional Programme.
Moreno could contribute towards Marxism because he always sought a balance between practical action and study, reflection and theoretic endeavour. And yet, these contributions were not qualitative in relation to the work by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. From this point of view it would be wrong to speak of “Morenism” as synthesis overpowering Marxism. And yet, if we place Moreno inside the Trotskyist movement, we can speak of Morenism as a differentiated trend, with a personality of its own in almost all the spheres. Different and, more often than not, opposed to the remaining trends that were part – and still are part – of what is known as the Trotskyist movement.
Trotskyist movement: several decades of marginality
When Trotsky built the IV Internal he was perfectly aware that he was “rowing upstream”. He pretended it to be the continuity of the III International of the times of Lenin. The world context, however, of the construction of the former was opposite of the days of the building of the latter. The III International was the sub product of the triumph of the greatest revolution in history: the October Revolution. The IV International was the sub product of the greatest counterrevolutionary process: fascism on one side, Stalinism on the other.
It is precisely because of that, that the issue of whether to build or not to build the IV International was so polemic among the revolutionaries. Trotsky insisted on building it and his critics insisted that there was no event of class struggles that would justify it. Trotsky would answer saying that there were two great events: Stalinism and fascism.
According to Trotsky, if the IV were not built, Stalinism and fascism would wipe away any vestige of revolutionary programme and organisation. When, in 1928, Trotsky built the IV International, Trotsky did not hoard any hope that it would, at that moment, the masses would be won over, but only with the aim of being able to intervene in a future, inevitable revolutionary ascent with an international revolutionary programme and organisation.
Trotsky knew perfectly well that the IV International was isolated from the great masses, but he believed that this would be for a short period of time. II World War, in his opinion, would open a revolutionary situation the same as what happened with the Bolsheviks during the I World War that would lead the IV into an International of masses.
Trotsky, in a way, was right. The defeat of fascism during the II World War did open a revolutionary situation as has never been seen before. This, however, did not strengthen the IV, but Stalinism, which usurped the achievements of the October Revolution for their own benefit and was regarded as a champion in the struggle against fascism. This reality doomed the IV International to isolation and, what is more, marginality for decades.
Trotskyist movement was heroic for having fought for such a long time to keep the programme of the proletarian revolution alive against such powerful apparatuses as fascism and Stalinism. But, as Marx used to teach, it is the existence that defines the awareness and, in the case of Trotskyism, a marginal existence led, in most cases, to all kinds degenerative processes and to the actual abandonment of the revolutionary programme.
Nahuel Moreno began his militancy in Argentina, possibly one of the places where Trotskyism was most marginal. It was, perhaps this reality that led him – during all his life – in spite of adverse conditions, to struggle almost desperately to find, within the framework of Trotskyist programme, the way to the masses and so try and break off with marginality.
Almost permanently, Moreno tried to explain the causes and consequences of the marginality of the Trotskyist movement of which he was part. We do not know any other Trotskyist leader who was so concerned about this issue. And this is not a coincidence. It is all about marginality itself. As Moreno repeated so many times: “there are sectors of the Trotskyist movement that are so marginal that they do not realise that they are marginal.”
Meeting the masses
Many Trotskyist organisation got so adapted to the marginality that for decades hundreds of small groups were built and they had – they still have – as their central activity, trying to destroy another Trotskyist group, more often than not as small as their own, so as to win over one or two militants for their “party”. In order to reach this aim they resort to any resource from manipulating to slandering. This sector of “Trotskyism” victim of marginality has actually resigned Trotsky’s never-ending battle: to find, with a revolutionary programme, the access to the masses.
As we have already said above, Nahuel Moreno refused to adapt himself to marginality. The obsession of his life was to find a way towards the masses, especially the working class. Moreno was obsessed with trying to find demands and tactics that that could turn into a bridge between Trotskyism and the masses. But we would not be just with the Trotskyist movement if we said that he was the only one to look for something like that. That is not true. There were many organisations and many Trotskyist leaders who did precisely that. But what is true is that Moreno was one of the few who fought to find a path leading to the masses within the framework of a Trotskyist programme.
The new leadership of the IV International after Trotsky’s demise (Michel Pablo and Ernst Mandel) did not behave like a marginal sect, which, after the II World War grouped round the communist parties. To the contrary: they tried to break with marginality, but they did so with an orientation that was contrary to the Trotskyist programme. They called on Trotskyists to join communist parties and – actually – act as advisers of the administrations of bureaucracy. So much so that in 1953, when the workers of Eastern Germany rose against the bureaucratic government, the Pablo and Mandel leadership at first chose sides with the government against the masses.
In the case of the Bolivian Revolution 1952, Trotskyism was not marginal either. Quite to the contrary. In the revolutionary process, Workers’ Revolutionary Party (POR), section of the IV International, reached mass influence. Furthermore, it occupied an outstanding position leading the armed militias grouping over 100 000 workers and peasants. But the international leadership, Pablo and Mandel, once again tried to go out to join the masses neglecting the Trotskyist programme. Their orientation was critical support for the bourgeois MNR administration. This was the first time Trotskyism betrayed a revolution.
In those days, young Moreno stood for an opposite orientation. He also sought the path towards the masses, but not to the point of capitulation to the backward awareness of those who supported MNR so he posed that it had to be the organisation that the masses had built during the revolution, the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB) who should seize power. Consistently with the Trotskyist programme he posed: All Power to the COB!
In the late 1970s, in Nicaragua, the masses rose against Somoza dictatorship. FSLN (Sandinist Front of Liberation) took the lead. Bolshevik Fraction, led by Moreno, launched the demand: Victory for FSLN! Faced with this fact, the SWP of the USA acted as a marginal sect. They said, and were right about this, that the FSLN was a petty bourgeois leadership, but they had no policy for it, or rather, their policy was restricted to agitating this characterisation.
Moreno, to the contrary, apart from posing the Victory for FSLN demand, called for the formation of an International Brigade (the Brigade Simon Bolivar) to participate together with the Sandinists in the armed struggle against Somoza. The Brigade was created, entered Nicaragua and took part in the combats that led to the pulling down of the Somoza dictatorship.
The prestige gained by the Brigade in Nicaragua was great and it was used, such was Moreno’s guideline, to start organising, immediately after the victory, dozens of workers’ trade unions. This course of action led to a confrontation with Sandinist leadership who finally expelled the Brigade from Nicaragua and handed them over to the Panamanian police, who jailed the comrades and tortured them.
SWP of the USA, who had acted as a marginal sect tried to move in the direction of the masses, but did so in a disastrous manner. They stopped agitating that FSLN was a petty bourgeois leadership and supported is from the very day that FSLN, who had played an extremely positive role in the struggle against Somoza, started playing a regressive role trying to reorganised the bourgeois state. But that was not all. When the Sandinists expelled the Simon Bolivar Brigade, the leadership of the SWP, together with the remaining of the leaders of the United Secretariat of the IV International, formed a delegation, interviewed the Sandinist leaders, expressed their support and exposed the Trotskyists as “ultra left”. This was treason all over again.
The same drama though featuring different characters was repeated in Brazil. Also in the late 70s, Moreno proposed, as a way of going out to meet the masses, to call on the working class and trade union leaders to build a Workers’ Party. This proposal was taken up by union leaders and workers and so the PT was built. At first, another Trotskyist trend, Lambertism, responded this proposal as a marginal sect would. Correctly, they exposed that PT would not be a revolutionary party. But, at that time, they were unable to perceive that this mass workers’ party would open an important scope for revolutionary work. That is why their policy was limited to exposing Lula and his trend and call for “free trade unions”, without bureaucracy, which actually boiled down to trade unions for Lambertist sympathisers and militants. But this did not last much. When Lambertism “discovered” PT they thought they had reached the summit and swayed towards the other extreme. They took an enormously progressive fact, thousands and thousands of workers, peasants and young people building a workers’ party, independent from the bourgeoisie with something enormously regressive: a bureaucratic leadership, Lula’s leadership and that of his trend, who wanted to build an independent party so as to be able to cooperate with the bourgeoisie. As from there on they got busy building the PT, which was right, but they did so capitulating to Lula leadership. The results are there to be seen. Over 20 years later, Lambertism is still part of PT what the latter is the government and does nothing but to administer the bourgeois business. On the other hand, 80% of their militants and leaders left the Lambertist rank and file and joined the apparatus controlled by Lula so much that a fair share of the ministers and trusted officials come from the Lambertist trend.
We have shown above how most of Trotskyism, in their zeal to get out of marginality, tried to find the way leading to the masses breaking away from the Trotskyist programme. It was the marginality of Trotskyism and the tremendous weight of the apparatuses, especially of the new leaderships (Titoism, Maoism, Castroism, PT…) caused this situation. We have also shown how Nahuel Moreno, throughout all his militant lifetime, stood out as different from most of the Trotskyist movement and was not immune to the pressure of the new leaderships movement. And yet it is not our intention to canonise Moreno. If we did this, we would be acting as anti-Morenists. Thus, for example, he could not elude the influence of the Cuban leadership. A petty bourgeois leadership, with no relation to the working class, opposed to workers’ democracy, that took the lead of a revolution and, because of that, caused a wave of approval among the advance guard of the entire continent and of the world.
Moreno went as far as identifying Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as his leaders and considering that outside Castroism there was no … “other revolutionary trend on the American continent”. And yet Moreno, unlike most of the other trends of the Trotskyist movement, did not go all the way to the end with this idea. To the contrary, as facts occurred to prove him wrong, he started exposing the bureaucratic and petty bourgeois character of the Castroist leadership and the increasingly counterrevolutionary character of their policy.
Why did not Moreno – in spite of his initial opinion – become a spokesman for Castroism? Why could he reorientate his position and the trend he led? Why, in spite of all his doubts and momentary confusions, he could stay for ever faithful to the working class, its struggles and interests?
Moreno’s relation with the working class cropped up in the first years of his militancy. He joined Trotskyism in 1939 (when Trotsky was still alive). At that time, Trotskyism in Argentina was not only marginal. Worse than that. As Moreno correctly pointed out, Argentine Trotskyism was a “merrymaking”. To be a Trotskyist mean to take part in endless meetings of petty bourgeois intellectuals who used to get together in different bars of Buenos Aires to talk about the most diverse political topics. That is why it is a kind of curiosity that Moreno was recruited by one of the few proletarian who existed inside this movement. A maritime worker named Faraldo.
It was precisely this maritime worker who, in 1941, for the first time, connected him to workers of the textile factory Alpargatas, one of the most important factories in the country. It was in this factory that he met a Bolivian worker leader, Fidel Ortiz Saavedra, for whom Moreno felt a deep admiration. Fidel was a half illiterate, but he had a high political level and was a great orator. He helped Moreno to win over for Trotskyism a group of young workers with whom he form GOM (Workers’ Marxist Group)
It was through the relations with Faraldo, with the workers of the Alpargatas factory, with Fidel Ortiz Saavedra, with the leader of timber workers, Mateo Fossa (who interviewed Trotsky), with the young workers of GOM that Moreno reached a fundamental conclusion: there is no Trotskyism outside the working class.
So much so, that in the first political document that Moreno wrote (in 1943), “The Party” he point out, “What is urgent, what is immediate, today as yesterday is to approach the proletarian advance guard and to reject any attempt from deviating from this guideline as opportunist, even if it appeared as a possible task.” Consequently with this conclusion, en 1945 most of the GOM members with Moreno in the lead, broke definitely away from the Trotskyism of the Buenos Aires bars. They went to live in Villa Pobladora, which was the main workers’ concentration in the country and soon became a “Trotskyist fortress”.
This orientation of Moreno’s, which he maintained up to the day of his death, was what made the difference between him and most of the other Trotskyist leaders.
And talking about his relation of his with the working class, Moreno pointed out in one of his last works: “Throughout all my political life, after – for example – regarding with sympathy the regime that emerged from the Cuban revolution, I arrived at the conclusion that it is necessary to continue with class revolutionary policy, even if that postponed the achievement of power for us in twenty or thirty years or whatever that may be. We aspire it to be the working class who will really seize power, and that is why we want to lead it.”
Moreno and the International
Trotsky, the genius leader or the October Revolution and leader of the victorious Red Army, regarded the construction of the small and fragile IV International to have been his most important contribution to the revolution. He thought so for a simple reason. Because when he undertook the construction of the IV there was nobody else who could do so and because he believed that it was impossible to build a national revolutionary party unless as a part of an international. And yet, in spite of his efforts, today the IV International is destroyed and that warrants some reflections.
There have always been many national Trotskyist organisations that thought that in order to be internationalists it was enough to support struggles that took place in other countries, even if you were not par of an international organisation.
There have also always been – and still are – important national organisations who define themselves Trotskyists, but consider that the conditions are not right for the construction of a world party.
There are also Trotskyist groups who are all for the construction of an international revolutionary party, only that they understand that this “international” is a sum of national parties, subordinate to a national party, bigger than the others, acting as sort of “mother party”.
Finally, in the history of the Trotskyist movement there have been quite a few organisations and leaders who, being theoretically in favour of the construction of an International, approach this task superficially. They have not dedicated their best efforts to this construction and even did not have great qualms when they broke off with it due to national or circumstantial differences.
All these organisations, that constitute the vast majority of Trotskyist movement, have never understood, or have never agreed to something that was central in Trotsky’s mind and in that of the Bolsheviks: that revolution is of a world character and therefore needs a world party and that it is not possible to build a national revolutionary party unless it is part of an International.
From this point of view, Nahuel Moreno’s internationalist labour appears to be one of the very few exceptions inside the Trotskyist movement.
The first organisation created by Moreno, the Argentine GOM had from 1944 till 1948 an “internationalist” practice similar to that of most of the Trotskyist movement. GOM supported the struggles of the workers in the world and, what is more, it stood for the IV International, but was not committed to its construction. This reality changed as from 1948, when Moreno took part as representative in the II Congress of IV International.
As from that moment on, the central target for Moreno was not only building a party or several national parties but also a an international that would group them. It is interesting to see that because Moreno consistently fourth to carry out a Trotskyist programme, he has always had many difficulties in his activity inside the IV International. And yet, the differences, the confrontations and even tremendous cases of injustice have never led him to a rash decision, let alone self-proclaiming, to build an international of his own as many others unfortunately did.
Moreno did not break away from the International when, in 1951, at the III Congress acknowledged the group led by Posadas as the official section, a leader who, apart from capitulating openly to Peronism and Stalinism, smeared the image of the entire IV International by proclaiming his preposterous policies such as a call that the USRR should throw an atomic bomb on the USA or the need to form reception committees for the UFOs.
In 1953, when the International split and the International Committee was formed, headed by the SWP of the USA grouping the sector that were against the Pablo’s capitulation the Stalinism, Moreno did not call to break away from that committee in spite of the fact that the latter had no held a single world congress in ten years.
In 1963, when the International was reunited, Moreno was against it for lack of any kind of balance sheet. However, a year later he called to join so as not to be out of this international framework..
In 1969, the IX Congress of the International voted that the official section of Argentina was PRT (El Combatiente), an organisation that was splitting away from Trotskyism – this was concluded a short time later). Moreno did not call to break the International. The contrary is true: he was the most intransigent defender of the International and fought inside it so as to supply it with a revolutionary programme.
It was only in 1979 that Moreno called to break the USec and that was after nearly 30 years of struggle against several Pabloist and neo-Pabloist leaderships. He only did so when class struggle had placed us in opposite bands: the leadership of the USec gave its solidarity to FSLN of Nicaragua when they repressed the Simon Bolivar Brigade and, at the same time, forbade building Trotskyist parties in Nicaragua and in several Central American countries.
But Moreno did not break away from the USec to abandon the struggle for the IV International or to self-proclaim a new Fourth. As soon as the approached, he approached other international trends (Lambertism and a trend coming from the USec) with whom he undertook the task of building International Committee – Fourth International. Its main objective was to construct the IV. It was only after the failure of this experience (as from Lambert’s capitulation to the Popular Front in France) that Moreno called for the building of the IWL-FI as from his own trend.
Moreno led the IWL and, a short time later, also the MAS (Argentine section of the IWL. The results of this activity were impressive. When Moreno died, the IWL had become by far the most dynamic international trend of Trotskyism and MAS was the biggest party of the Argentine left and the biggest Trotskyist party in the world.
On several opportunities in the history of Trotskyist movement important leaps of a determined section or of an international trend took place. As these leaps took place within the framework of marginality, in most cases they helped to confuse the leaders heading them, and in this way these processes nurtured projects of “mother parties” while several IV Internationals were self-proclaimed. Moreno did the contrary thing.
Even if he was leading the most dynamic trend of Trotskyism, he did not proclaim IWL to be “the reconstructed IV”. It is no coincidence that the last international task he undertook before his death was to travel to England to try and build an organisation together with leaders of the Workers Revolutionary Party of that country. Moreno acted this way because he did not regard the IWL as a target in itself, but as an instrument in the service of the IV International.
Also, Moreno who leaned a lot on the Argentine MAS for the building of the IWL, never regarded this organisation as a “mother party”. Actually, as far as Moreno was concerned, MAS was just part of an international organisation, the IWL-FI.. Once and again he insisted that the strongest and the most proven leadership of a national party was inferior to the weakest of international leaderships and this conception has even become crystallised in the statutes of the IWL-FI when a national party, no matter how big, was barred from having more than three members in the international leadership. Neither can the two biggest section have more than half of this leadership.
These were the last lessons that Moreno left us before dying and they contrasted sharply with what most of the leaders of his generation left behind.
A Morenist trend exists legitimately
Because of everything said above we are justified in saying that Moreno built a trend with a profile of its own, which we call Morenism. It is not different from Trotskyism in the days of Trotsky but is has been – it still is – very different from most of the Trotskyist movement that cropped up after Trotsky’s death. This hold true for most of the scopes: in relation to theory, programme, masses, working class, the international…
There are several leaders who claim to be Trotskyists and they try to prove the failure of Moreno and Morenism. The most outstanding among them are the PO (Workers’ Party) and PTS (Workers’ Party for Socialism), both of them from Argentina.
These organisations use a curious method but not in the least original. The destruction of MAS after Moreno’s death is to be the sufficient evidence of the failure of Morenism. If such reasoning were sound, restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe would be the necessary evidence for the failure of Marxism. In the same way, Stalinist degeneration of the USRR, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the III International, would be proof of the failure of Bolshevism.
But these trends commit yet another error. They analyse the curriculum of an international leader while only taking into account his national activity disregarding what for Moreno was his central activity: the construction of the International. That is why they ponder on the destruction of the MAS and say nothing about the situation of the IWL-FI-
The IWL – the same as the MAS – went through an important crisis and subjective factors as well as objective ones contributed to that: the death of Moreno and the confusions stemming out of the processes on Easter Europe. But from some time on, the IWL not only made a qualitative leap in the overcoming of the crisis but today is a reference for an important number of organisations from different countries, who realise the need of building an international, democratically centralised revolutionary organisation.
Evidently the present day leadership of the IWL has contributed towards such achievements. But really, our real merit has been that we followed three pieces of advice for the overcoming of crises in Trotskyist organisations: to be more Marxists than ever, increasingly linked to the working class and be more internationalists than ever.
There is no doubt that we have lately advance a lot in the reconstruction of the IWL but we cannot be conformists. The construction of the IWL has not been the target in itself for Moreno and neither it is for us: we are building the IWL to try and reconstruct the IV International.
This is the historic moment to try and tackle such a task. Because the masses revolt and because the revolutions in the East have inflicted mortal wounds to Stalinism. There are no more objective reason for new and long decades of marginality.
To rebuild the IV International is our strategic objective. If in the next period we advance with this task, we shall be honouring the name of Morenists, which means that we are but Trotskyists (from Trotsky). This would be our best practical homage not only to Moreno but also to all the revolutionaries who have given the best part of their lives so that the International can live.
Martín Hernandez is member of the International Executive Committee of the IWL-FI