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Letter to the PRT (Combatiente)

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Ernest Mandel et al. Print
From International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Vol.10 No.7, June 1972, pp.22-26.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dear Comrades:

The balance sheet on Latin America is one of the central tasks in preparing for the approaching Tenth World Congress. The IEC plenum will be the first opportunity to make a tentative evaluation and to make more precise the points of view of the International leadership and the sections most directly involved, in the first place the Argentine and Bolivian sections. We hope you will be able to overcome all the technical difficulties and assure the active participation of a representative delegation from your party.

We think it necessary, however, to raise a few questions before the plenum takes place. It seems to us that this should facilitate the necessary clarification.

In the first place, we want to point out that whatever differences of judgment we may arrive at, the struggle the PRT and ERP have carried forward since the Fifth Congress represents an unquestionable gain for the Trotskyist and revolutionary movement. The party has profoundly changed the spirit and style of work of its members; it has launched an armed struggle that rapidly acquired considerable dimensions; it has won the status of being the largest organization fighting in this field; it has won great sympathy from proletarian and popular layers, making itself a real factor in the political battle in the country. The party has experimented with advanced forms of struggle, laying a basis for solving the decisive problem of the relationship between armed struggle and the mass movement.

It is absolutely lamentable that this lesson has not been learned by a minority of the International and that Trotskyist organizations have publicly dissociated themselves from PRT-ERP actions at precisely the moment when they should have shown the most complete solidarity with, the Argentine comrades, the target of furious attacks from the world bourgeoisie. Moreover, it is inadmissible that the La Verdad group launched attacks on the Argentine section. This group nevertheless obtained – with the agreement of the PRT delegate – the status of sympathizing organization. This group, which provoked the party split in 1968, has lost sight of its most elementary obligations, devoting itself to factional maneuvers, attacking Latin American sections in its press, as well as the International leadership, and completely disregarding the decisions of the Ninth Congress. It has confirmed its profoundly opportunist and tail-endist orientation and methodology by hurrying to give a “left” cover to tricky maneuvers of the dictatorship and carrying out an unprincipled fusion with a socialist party lacking any revolutionary tradition and without the slightest real influence among the masses.

Having said all this, what are the questions facing the party, questions that have prompted us to send this letter?

At the beginning of a discussion that will necessarily be very full, we limit ourselves to indicating them as succinctly as possible.

We repeat: the actions developed by the party and the ERP since the Fifth Congress have had an indisputable impact, they have helped to counteract the dictatorship’s maneuvers, they have gotten a considerable response among the popular strata, they have mobilized a sizable vanguard in struggle. But has the political line developed up to now really been able to establish a solid relationship between armed struggle and the concrete dynamic of the mass movement?

This question is all the more pertinent inasmuch as the armed struggle was not initiated during a defensive or stagnant stage but during a period of impetuous advance by the masses and, more particularly, by the most advanced proletarian sectors in the epicenters of social confrontation in the country. In such a context a linkup between the guerrillas and the mass struggle was objectively possible. In fact this was beginning to take place during the high point of the Córdoba mobilization, in the early months of 1971. The intervention in FIAT, the active participation of the ERP in the Viborazo [second Córdoba uprising], and even the action against Sylvester went precisely in this direction.

But these possibilities have not been exploited adequately and the actions during the last year have marked a regression from the standpoint of political content. This is the conclusion we draw based on the information at our disposal (above all, the party’s communiqués, bulletins, and public press).

Perhaps this is owing to conjunctural factors and has only a purely tactical meaning? This is a question that deserves to be cleared up.

In our opinion there have been errors of estimate in judging the level attained by the armed struggle. The party has not made a clear distinction between an embryonic stage of civil war in which urban guerrilla actions are developing and a situation of revolutionary war in the strict sense. Thus there is a tendency to project and carry out actions suited to the second kind of situation but which involve very grave material and political dangers in the first kind of situation. This can be verified concretely from one angle that cannot be considered secondary. The enemy has to a large degree perfected his technique of repression, making a qualitative leap in this regard. The armed organizations have not been able to respond on the same level. As a result, while certain types of action have not ceased, they have become much less frequent. For others the price paid has been high (sacrifice or capture of many members and leaders, etc.). The action against Sallustro has clearly shown how objectives not commensurate with the relationship of forces can only lead into an impasse.

In general, the strategy of armed struggle has not been defined in a rounded way, and it is in this area, above all, that a discussion is necessary. At its Fourth Congress, the PRT correctly considered that the class struggle in Argentina had reached a stage where armed struggle was on the agenda. At its Fifth Congress it created the instrument to begin this struggle, the ERP. But its orientation underwent oscillations and rectifications. The Fourth Congress had given priority to rural guerrilla war based not only on “technical,” but also social and political considerations. Taking into account the new situation created by the upsurge of 1969, the Fifth Congress proposed, although in insufficiently clear terms, combining rural guerrilla warfare and urban guerrilla warfare. In practice there is no doubt that the actions actually carried out were of an urban guerrilla type. But these rectifications were made in a fundamentally empirical way without undertaking a new overall definition. And, what is worse, we repeat, the urban guerrilla actions marked a regression from the standpoint of political content, despite an objective situation marked by repeated mass mobilizations.

Let’s avoid any misunderstandings. We are not unaware of the fact that the PRT-ERP has never stopped initiating actions and that at times these actions have had very great impact in Argentina and elsewhere, proving to all that it had in no way been paralyzed by the repression. But in most cases these actions have been dictated much more by the need to defend or rescue cadres and activists and by logistic needs, than by a determined political end, by a long-range plan.

We have already mentioned the question of a strategic orientation for the armed struggle. But what is decisive in the end is the relationship between armed struggle and the dynamic of the mass movement. The objective conditions in the country (a profound crisis of the system, a high level of combativity on the part of the masses, the maturing of a broad social vanguard on different levels) make possible a direct linkup between the mass struggle and the armed struggle of the specialized detachments. This task remains unaccomplished.

We know that the PRT is not unaware of the problem. The attempt to create rank-and-file committees was aimed precisely at providing the party with the instruments for establishing a presence – legal or illegal – among themass-es. But up to now mass struggle and armed struggle have simply been juxtaposed. The lack of a clear, overall strategic line, and the choice of armed actions of a certain type – a choice which in turn has largely followed from a certain estimation of the situation – has prevented the PRT, despite the prestige it has won, from winning any real political or organizational influence among the masses, in the trade unions, etc., as well as from building a real network of rank-and-file committees that would be able to go beyond sporadic actions.

Inasmuch as various articles and statements in the PRT publications have put forward some rough generalizations aimed at clarifying perspectives, we believe we see two essential ideas. The first idea – linked to the perspective of rural guerrilla war – is derived from the experience of China and Vietnam; this is the perspective of creating red zones, that is, zones which can escape control by the central power and represent the base of the people’s army. Although we do not exclude this varient for Latin American countries, including Argentina, it would, nevertheless, be a mistake to fail to recognize that the conditions of the revolutionary dynamic in China, namely (1) the socio-economic composition of the country, i.e., highly agricultural; (2) the existence of a party – prior to the launching of the peasant war – that had a very broad mass influence and was linked to the world Communist movement and through this to the tradition of the October Revolution; (3) the paralysis of the native ruling classes because of domestic as well as international reasons. Similar considerations hold for Vietnam, with qualification that since the conflict took on international scope Vietnam could count on the indispensable logistic support of the workers states. In all of this there is no analogy with the current situation in Argentina.

The second idea, which is more relevant to the perspective of urban guerrilla war and which corresponds more closely to the country’s structure, involves a conception of areas of a certain measure of dual power in the poor neighborhoods – like the Algerian Casbah before the great roundups – a sea in which the combatants would be able to swim like fish. Leaving aside their propaganda value, the food distribution actions in the last analysis fit into this perspective. But it is one thing to carry out actions that take the enemy by surprise and win sympathy from a certain milieu and another to be able to really consolidate red bases in the urban areas. This could only come about if there were a very advanced crisis of the central power and the party already had a broad and solid base. These conditions clearly do not obtain, and it is impossible to see how they could be created in the immediate future.

Furthermore, all these questions should be raised in the context of a continually updated analysis of the situation in the country. Let us start from the analysis developed in one of the most recent issues of Combatiente that we have received (July 30, 1972). The article speaks of “three forms that the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie could theoretically take in the coming months ... A Brazilian type dictatorship, a populist coup of the Peruvian type, an acuerdist [from Gran Acuerdo Nacional – Great National Accord] coup or changes in the present government favoring acuerdismo,” and it adds that the third variant is the most likely.

In its general lines this analysis seems to ‘us to be well founded. But if the third variant is really the most probable, what conclusion follows from this? It follows that the government will have to maneuver with the mass movement, seek to gain time through economic as well as political concessions, let the masses enjoy a relative freedom of action.

Such a situation can be exploited for the benefit of the revolutionary movement on condition of avoiding any confusion in the area of analysis and perspectives. It will be necessary, above all, to combat any tendency to interpret the period of partial “democratization” ahead, if our hypothesis proves correct, as implying a perspective of “democratization” for an entire stage permitting full development of the mass movement, of the unions, and of the working-class organizations, with steadily widening gains. It must never be forgotten that there are no objective possibilities for the installation of a populist democratic regime in Argentina and that an experience like that of Peronism in 1945 can never be repeated. In the last analysis, the regime cannot achieve a stage of even relative stabilization, of economic growth, without super-exploiting the working class and breaking its strength on the trade-union as well as the political level. That is why, aside from a “democratic” interlude, the bourgeoisie cannot aim at any alternative save the Brazilian type. For this reason, from the working-class point of view, it is necessary to reject emphatically any orientation that involves disarming the armed-struggle organizations as well as any concession to spontaneist insurrectionalist views that lead in practice to allowing large-scale clashes to occur between an all-powerful repressive apparatus and empty-handed masses.

On the other hand, an opposite danger would be to fail to grasp all the potentialities of the stage looming up, to believe that the action of small armed groups could block such a variant from taking place (which means relying on the logic that the worse things are the better the chances for revolution, which revolutionists concerned about the interests and feelings of the masses cannot do), and failing to make the indispensable tactical adjustments. Such an attitude would lead to adventurism and would rapidly have very negative results.

Let us make it clearer. Above all, what has to be understood is that over and above the “acuerdist” bloc’s proposals, and all the diversionist maneuvers, the “democratic” interlude will in any case be marked by great mass struggles, by a deepgoing process of clarification and de-mystification. (The Peronist movement will be the first to find itself facing agonizing choices.) A very rapid maturation of a very broad social vanguard will take place. In the framework of this perspective, developing direct ties with the masses in the union and political area assumes an absolute and immediate priority and all initiatives in the armed struggle must be subordinated to this task. The PRT and ERP should be prepared to assign their best cadres to the mass movement, cadres equipped with a rounded political education. And at the same time the defense of the mass mobilizations and actions from the attacks of the enemy should be assured. Only to the degree that they effectively exploit the possible “democratic” interval will the revolutionists be able to go over from an armed struggle, which consists essentially of urban guerrilla warfare carried on by specialized detachments, to an armed struggle in which sectors of the masses will be directly involved and where cadres coming directly from the working class and the most exploited layers of the population will play a role of primary importance.

It is necessary to prepare for this perspective with the greatest energy.

The Uruguayan example shows the difficulties and dangers that the PRT must confront. In spite of their strength and popularity – which were unquestionably greater than those of the ERP – the Tupamaros, far from exploiting the electoral interlude for their own benefit, have been placed in a very difficult situation.

There are, essentially, two reasons for this. In the first place, the Tupamaros did not succeed in building instruments that could maintain close links between the armed struggle and the masses. As a result, the traditional left organizations, mainly the CP and the CNT [Confederacion Nacional de Trabajadores], retained substantial dominance over the working-class and petty-bourgeois layers, and were thus able to lead and canalize the great mass mobilizations. In the second place, the Tupamaros endorsed the Broad Front in which workers parties allied themselves with bourgeois currents in backing a bourgeois personality for president. Such an operation did nothing but obscure the perspective for a revolutionary struggle which would not have an abstract anti-imperialist and democratic content, but a concrete anticapitalist dynamic, excluding any alliances with the bourgeoisie, or even sections of it. Support to the Broad Front could only promote all kinds of petty-bourgeois deformations, even among the combatants themselves.

Clarity on these key questions is absolutely necessary in Argentina also. We have already pointed out that the inability of the PRT until now to translate the prestige gained by its actions and the heroic sacrifice of its members into concrete gams in the working class, the unions, etc., represents a serious negative entry in the ledger. Judging from some resolutions and bulletins, we must say that this situation has been made worse by a very dangerous kind of political confusion. It is significant, moreover, that the PRT has not felt the need to express a criticism of the Tupamaros’ attitude toward the Broad Front.

Obviously there may also be bourgeois sectors that oppose a fascist and military dictatorship and the revolutionary party should, naturally, exploit the contradictions of its adversary. But this does not in any way justify a political line of a united front with the bourgeoisie or with any part of it. It never justifies using formulations like those introduced in one Executive Committee resolution, which characterized the ENA, petty-bourgeois formation, and even bourgeois sectors, as “strategic allies.” (See Bulletin 23.)

Above all, an alliance – which is necessary – with social layers cannot be confused with an alliance with political formations that have influence at certain periods in these layers (the Bolsheviks struggled hard against the Social Revolutionaries precisely to take away their peasant base). Furthermore, when you talk about a strategic alliance with the ENA, you are either using the term “strategic” incorrectly or falling into a centrist, opportunist amalgam. In reality our strategic perspective can have absolutely nothing to do with that of the ENA or any other petty-bourgeois formation: it is diametrically opposed. Their objective is to build a democratic regime, to bring about a bourgeois-democratic stage, as distinct from the socialist stage, which they relegate to the distant future. Our objective is to stimulate a dynamic of permanent revolution.

The PRT must explain without any ambiguity that taking advantage of legal or semilegal opportunities, exploiting a possible “democratic” interlude, in no way implies the slightest compromise, the slightest alliance with the bourgeoisie or with petty-bourgeois formations in its tow. The party must explain that while it might make tactical agreements with the Argentine CP, and even participate in a campaign around a common candidate of the workers organizations that call for socialism, it will not make the slightest concession to the CP’s strategy and general methodology or those of other similar formations.

Any lack of clarity in this regard would be catastrophic for accomplishing the key political task, demystifying Peronism, which continued to be the main obstacle blocking the Argentine working class from achieving its political independence as a class. The Peronist movement is condemned to be more and more violently shaken by its contradictions. But these contradictions can only be taken advantage of to advance the consciousness of the proletariat and to build a mass revolutionary party if the vanguard expresses an absolutely clear conception and orientation.

Clarity, even terminological clarity, is very necessary, since confused and openly mistaken orientations have been shown by even the sector of the international workers movement that has contributed the most in the past fifteen years to advancing the revolution in Latin America. Since the comrades of the PRT themselves have asked us questions in this respect, we will therefore make clear our opinion of the current political line of the Cuban leaders.

The Fourth International is the communist organization that has most energetically and enthusiastically defended the Cuban revolutionaries, whom the supporters of Moscow as well as Peking have frequently characterized in the past as ultraleftists or petty-bourgeois adventurers. We have stated that there is a qualitative difference between Cuba and the other workers states in that Cuba has not undergone bureaucratic degeneration. We have never indulged in facile criticisms and denunciations raising the cry of “betrayal” as have, however, some “friends” of Cuba, including even some armed-struggle organizations of Castroist origin.

This does not keep us from saying that bureaucratic tendencies have developed and that, to the degree that Cuba remains isolated and severely restricted by its need for aid from the Soviet bureaucracy, these will inevitably increase. Proletarian democracy based on organs of a soviet type, councils elected by the workers and peasants with members subject to immediate recall and structured in such a way as to form the real backbone of the workers state, do not exist in Cuba. This fundamental lack cannot be compensated for by the existence of other organs that play only a partial role, nor by the prestige of Fidel and the direct ties he and other leaders strive to maintain with the masses. Neither can it be claimed that the party bases itself in practice on democratic centralism as Lenin conceived it. It is enough to record that not a single congress has been held up until now – thirteen years after the fall of Batista and more than ten years after the official proclamation of the new Communist Party – and that the differences expressed in the leadership bodies are kept from the masses.

But it is some of the Cuban leaders’ attitudes on the international level that we find most alarming. We by no means minimize the serious difficulties Cuba has to overcome. We understand the full meaning of what Fidel said last July 26:

“When the hour of revolution comes for Latin America we have to integrate ourselves with the workers, with the workers and peasants, with the revolutionists. But this is being delayed. We cannot plan on an event that may be postponed for ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years – as the most pessimistic say. Meanwhile, what shall we do? A small country, surrounded by capitalists, blockaded by Yankee imperialists. We will integrate ourselves economically into the socialist camp!”

We do not in any way question the right – and the duty – of the Cuban leaders to establish economic and military agreements with the Soviet Union. But the problem is whether or not this involves subordination to the conceptions of the bureaucracy, whether or not the interests of the revolutionary struggle are sacrificed to the interests of a certain international policy. When, on his return from Moscow, Fidel praised the USSR unqualifiedly as a country where Marxism-Leninism reigned in the spirit of the October Revolution; when he unreservedly eulogized bureaucrats like Brezhnev and company; he sacrificed the needs of the fundamental struggle of the worker and peasant masses against this bureaucracy, which he himself has criticized in the past, to the needs of diplomacy. Likewise, he certainly doesn’t help the struggle of the revolutionists when he goes even further than the leaders of many Communist parties in exalting the super-bureaucratic Husak regime that organized trials in the purest Stalinist tradition against revolutionists and Communist Party and union members, whose crime was to oppose a bureaucratic regime that is no more than a blood-stained caricature of socialism.

But this has more direct consequences. The Cuban leaders have put a damper on the criticisms they made in the past of the Latin American CPs – criticisms that were correct and indispensable – thus refusing to carry forward the struggle against opportunist and centrist deviations and, objectively, helping to maintain illusions about these parties. And, still worse, they have taken completely wrong positions toward certain bourgeois regimes in Latin America. We repeat once again that we are not trying to put in question the right of a workers state to take advantage of the room for maneuver offered by interbourgeois struggles. But when the Cubans characterize the Peruvian army and the Velasco Alvarado regime as revolutionary, when they keep quiet about the repression against the Peruvian workers and revolutionists, they are adopting an opportunist attitude that we must criticize for the important reason that it involves confusion about the role to be played by bourgeois sectors in the Latin American revolution.

Precisely because the Cuban leaders are not bureaucrats, what we have just pointed out indicates the degree to which the Soviet bureaucracy still exercises its international influence, including in Latin America. Behind the Communist parties and their strategy, which remains profoundly opportunistic, behind the conceptions of revolution by stages and alliances with the “national bourgeoisie” – alliances that are more or less realized – lies the strategy and pressure of the Moscow bureaucracy. On the other hand, the events in Ceylon and Pakistan, the triumphant receptions of people like the queen of Iran in Peking confirm that the Chinese leaders play an analogous role. The inescapable conclusion is that Stalinism is not dead, is not a phantom, but a powerful reality, the reality of those bureaucratized parties and regimes. For this reason a struggle against Stalinism continues to be an elementary need, including in Argentina, whatever positions may be adopted conjuncturally by other revolutionary currents and in the first place, the current represented by the Cuban leaders who have to their credit the historic achievement of having established the first workers state on the American continent.

We consider that a discussion is necessary around all these questions and that it can develop positively in the coming months within the framework of preparation for the Tenth World Congress. The entire International looks forward to your contribution with the greatest interest.

October 31, 1972

Ernest, Livio, Pierre, Sandor, Tariq, Delphin [1]


1. Ernest is Ernest Mandel, Livio is Livio Maitan, Pierre is Pierre Frank, Sandor is Hubert Krivine, Tariq is Tariq Ali and Delphin is Alain Krivine.


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