E. Germain

The Colonial Revolution
and the National Bourgeoisie

(The Latin American Stalinists in the Footsteps of the Mensheviks)

(Autumn 1959)

Source: Fourth International [Amsterdam], No. 7, Autumn 1959, pp. 31–39.
Transcription/Markup: D. Walters in 2009 for the Marxists Internet Archive.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (January 2016).
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

A New Phase In The Latin American Revolution

The Latin American revolution is currently passing through a new phase of marked upsurge Not that it had experienced an ebb during these last years; indeed, it has been spreading and becoming generalized for a whole period. But for several months now both the breadth of the struggle and the consciousness of the toiling masses have made a spring forward that justifies the use of the term “new phase.”

Let us leave aside the movement of partisans that is paralyzing several provinces in Colombia, the extraordinarily numerous and tenacious strikes in Argentina, the remarkable aftermath of the Venezuelan revolution, the victorious fight for the nationalization of a railway line in Brazil, and even Bolivia, where after six years of revolution the mass movement still keeps up an astonishing strength. For it is the upsurge of the Cuban revolution – which, jumping over stages, is hitting imperialism and the Cuban bourgeoisie with a series of blows each harder than the other and succeeding in mobilizing the masses on a scale hitherto unknown in this part of the Western hemisphere – that most adequately symbolizes this new phase.

At the moment that we are writing this article, the radio informs us that more than half a million poor peasants, come from every corner of the island, have assembled in Havana to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the 26th of July movement, and at the same time to demand that the government hold firm to its programme of agrarian reform. The revolutionary energy of the Cuban masses has sent sparks flying in every direction over the Caribbean. And some of these sparks, we have no doubt, will set fires in countries on the shores of the continent.

In this new rising phase of the Latin American revolution – which coincides with a rising movement of the revolution in Negro Africa, with the exacerbation of the revolutionary war of the Algerian people against French imperialism, with the ripening of the conditions for the conquest of power in Ceylon, which would open a new phase in the revolutionary process in Southeast Asia – revolutionaries have more than ever the duty to examine in a cold and objective way the weaknesses and contradictions of the various political formations that are trying to win the confidence and support of the laboring masses. For despite the powerful blast of the movement of the masses, final victory will not be won so long as that power is not guided by a revolutionary party that is consistently seeking the conquest of power, the overthrow of capitalist domination (“national” as well as imperialist), and the creation of a new type of state, the dictatorship of the proletariat allied to the mass of poor peasants.

Disastrous Balance-Sheet

Now the Communist Parties, which set out in the colonial revolution wearing the halos of their connection not only with Moscow but also with the victorious Chinese revolution, have for years been trying, with an energy and stubbornness worthy of a better cause, to confine the revolutionary movement of the masses of the colonial and semi-colonial countries within the limits of “national” capitalism and of “bourgeois democracy.” The elemental power of the drive of the masses has not prevented this fatal orientation of the Communist Parties from piling up the terrible errors called Iran, Guatemala, Egypt, Iraq – the tragic experiences called support to Frondizi, support to Bandernayaka, support to Sukarno, without forgetting the scarce camouflaged support granted to Nehru, the most intelligent and the most dangerous leader of the colonial bourgeoisie.

It is true that this policy expresses a basic orientation of the Soviet bureaucracy: to form a world bloc with the colonial bourgeoisie, so as to “neutralize” imperialism in this way. The Soviet bureaucracy, as well as the colonial bourgeoisie, prefers a limited mobilization of the masses – just enough to threaten Washington, but not enough to bring the established order into danger – rather than the deepening of the revolutionary process. But the leaders of the various Communist Parties cannot just refer to the interests of the Kremlin to justify their policy that is contrary to the interests of the masses in their own countries. They must refer to the alleged “tactical necessities” of the revolution in these countries. And as they are often facing young generations or those only freshly awakened to politics, they impudently indulge in invoking the name of Lenin or the experience of the Chinese revolution to put across their merchandise – whereas these references contain nothing but definitive condemnations for them.

Thus it is that in numbers 9 and 10 of the Nouvelle Revue Internationale (the international organ of the CPs), Rodney Arismendi devotes a pretentious study to The Role of the National Bourgeoisie in the Anti-Imperialist Struggle. Under a farrago of phrases – all nuances and contradictions, where the form is faithfully wedded to the centrist content, where juxtapositions are of the “on the one hand, on the other hand” sort, and where finally there is an utter lack of any clear line, any revolutionary perspective, and any programme of action – Arismendi tries to reply to the critics who accuse the Communist Parties of systematically following an opportunist line toward the colonial revolution.

One prior remark is necessary. Arismendi naurally recognizes that “some errors of overestimation [?] of the national bourgeoisie” have been committed by various CPs. This sort of unprecise “self-criticism” always represents the best means of disarming genuine revolutionary criticism. But Arismendi refrains from referring to one single concrete example of the errors constantly committed in this connection by the CPs of the colonial and semi-colonial countries.

He does not mention the unconditional support given to Nasser, of the systematic self-effacement of the Communists before Nasser… up till the day when Nasser interned the Communists in prisons and concentration camps. [1]

He does not mention the unconditional support given to Bandarnayaka by the Ceylonese CP, which went to the extreme of organizing groups of scabs to help the government and the “national bourgeoisie” to break the strike of the Colombo port workers.

He does not mention the support given to Frondizi, who a few months later turned with all his forces against the workers’ movement and decreed emergency laws against the Communist Party.

He does not mention the unconditional support given to Sukarno in his effort to form a Bonapartist regime in Indonesia, a regime that will set its iron heel on the workers’ movement at the first opportunity.

All these living experiences, paid for by the blood of hundreds of proletarians throughout the world, provide Arismendi with no research material. To settle the question of the “national bourgeoisie,” he has to launch himself on perilous exercises in abstract tightrope-walking, but carefully refrains from appealing to historical experience – beginning with the so rich and typical experience of the Chinese CP’s practice in 1925–1927, and its practice in 1946–1949 that rendered possible the victory of the third Chinese revolution.

We shall follow Arismendi into the field of “theory.” But we cannot refrain from first refreshing his memory. Too many communists died in vain, and will die in vain, if the Arismendis can continue with impunity to cover up with “theoretical” formulae a shameful capitulation to the bourgeoisie.

The Colonial Revolution And The National Question

Half a century of experiences permits of summarizing in a few simple and precise points the duties of a revolutionary party in the colonial revolution:

  1. To try first of all to form an independent political force of the proletariat and to fight against bourgeois ideological influence (of both imperialism and the national bourgeoisie) within the workers’ movement.
  2. To support critically any action, any step forward, any real movement, that is aimed against imperialist domination, independently of the temporary leadership of that movement, including when it is undertaken by the national bourgeoisie (nationalization of Mexican oil, of Bolivian tin, of Iranian oil, of United Fruit lands, of Cuban sugar lands, of the Suez canal, etc.).
  3. To represent within this movement the most energetic and radical force, the one that fights with the most devotion and self-sacrifice for the anti-imperialist victory.
  4. To warn the toiling masses – in the cities as in the country – that the final victory over imperialism, the genuine rebirth of the nation, will not be able to be obtained so long as the movement is led by bourgeois or petty-bourgeoisie forces, vacillating and incapable of efficiently mobilizing the masses as a whole for the revolution.
  5. To fight along this line for proletarian hegemony in the revolution, which means the winning, by the workers’ revolutionary party, of the leadership of the workers and poor peasants, at whose head it overthrows the bourgeois order and creates the new socialist and soviet order.

These rules are not only those of Trotsky, of Trotskyism, and of the Fourth International. They are also those of Lenin and of the Bolshevik Party from before the 1905 revolution. The divergences between Trotsky and Lenin did not concern these elementary truths; they concerned the existence of an intermediate phase between the victory of the bourgeois-democratic anti-imperialist revolution and the victory of the socialist revolution. History has settled this difference: it has demonstrated in Russia, in Jugoslavia, in China, in the Vietnam, that the revolution’s bourgeois-democratic tasks can be accomplished only by the conquest of power by revolutionary Marxist parties, only by the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But the divergences between Lenin and Trotsky never concerned the role of the national bourgeoisie in the backward countries in our period.

The national character of the colonial revolution is determined either by the lack of national independence (in the strict sense of the word) or by forms of imperialist economic domination which appear to the overwhelming majority of the nation as the principal obstacles to its rise as a nation (in semi-colonial countries such as those of Latin America). In the latter case it is not possible to win an internal market sufficient for an industrial upsurge as long as the economy retains its semi-colonial structure. There thus results a real contradiction between imperialism and the national bourgeoisies of the colonial and semi-colonial countries. This contradiction involves manifold conflicts – political, economic, financial, cultural, and even military (Suez!). Nobody has ever denied this. It even means that the national bourgeoisie may he obliged to carry out partial mobilizations of the masses against imperialism – as was most strikingly demonstrated by the case of Perón in Argentina, whom Arismendi with an incredible light-mindedness describes as “fascist” (Nouvelle Revue internationale, no. 10, p. 62). But it does not mean, any more in Latin America than in Czarist Russia, that the national bourgeoisie – faced by a proletariat strong in numbers, organized in trade unions for several decades, and making its bid for power – can become a revolutionary force.

That is the exact point at which the difference occurs between Leninism – even the “old style” Leninism of before 1917 – and the practice of the CPs today.

The yoke of imperialism, especially of Yankee imperialism, and the need to solve the revolution’s democratic tasks, in the first place the agrarian question, change the national bourgeoisie into one of the factors of the revolution and render possible its participation in the democratic front of national liberation. It seems [!] that this fundamental thesis cannot be brought into doubt.

In this connection the Chinese revolution constitutes a classic [!] model, just as Lenin’s tactic before 1905 appears as the basis of the Marxist doctrine of the participation [!] and the hegemony of the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution. Thereby we possess a sure compass. [Nouvelle Revue Internationale, no. 9, pp. 76–7]

The impudence of this author knows no limits. The “sure compass” of Lenin; the formula on “the hegemony of the proletariat in the antiimperialist revolution,” the discreet allusion to the Chinese revolution (which? that of 1925–27 or that of 1946–49?) – all this artillery must cover up the thesis according to which “the national bourgeoisie is one of the factors of the revolution.” Now Lenin denied the validity of this thesis, which was defended before and during 1905 only by the right-wing Mensheviks.

Let us consult the key work of Lenin on this problem, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. Among other passages we find the following:

But we Marxists all know from theory and from daily and hourly observation of our liberals, Zemstvo-ists, and Osvobozhdentsi that the bourgeoisie is inconsistent, selfseeking, and cowardly in its support of the revolution [in the same way that Frondizi took his stand as an anti-imperialist – E.G.]. The bourgeoisie, in the mass, will inevitably turn toward counter-revolution, toward the autocracy, against the revolution, and against the people [emphasis added – E.G.], immediately its narrow, selfish interests are met, immediately it “recoils” from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!). [Lenin, Selected Works, vol. I, p. 404, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1947]

But, once so well started, Arismendi does not stop. A few lines farther on, he does not hesitate to state that, by “underestimating” the role of the national bourgeoisie, one

in practice blurs the national factor in the revolution: the national bourgeoisie is considered as a simple tool [?] of imperialist domination, the isolation [!] of the proletariat appearing as the nec plus ultra. This erroneous conclusion finds its origin in the fact that very frequently [!] the national bourgeoisie betrays and persecutes the proletariat. It is forgotten in this connection that the antagonism between it [the national bourgeoisie] and imperialism is a constant factor, despite the spirit of conciliation characteristic of the national bourgeoisie as a class. [Nouvelle Revue Internationale, no. 9, p. 77.]

That’s the kind of merchandise that they try to cover up with the name of Lenin!

In stating that in our period the national bourgeoisie cannot become a revolutionary factor, we are nowise “denying” the antagonisms between that bourgeoisie and imperialism; we no more reduce that bourgeoisie to the function of “tool of imperialism” than Lenin transformed the Russian bourgeoisie into a tool of Czarism when he emphasized that it will in the mass line up on the side of reaction in case of a really broad and popular revolution.

What our Latin American Menshevik understands no more than the Russian Mensheviks did, is that the antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat becomes preponderant during a revolution, when thousands and thousands of the poor, the wretched, the unashamed victims of exploitation, abruptly become conscious of their strength and believe themselves capable of overturning everything. The bourgeoisie, national and imperialist, colonial and semi-colonial, is and remains the party of order. Private property takes precedence over any other consideration.’ When this private property is threatened, the bourgeoisie goes over to the counter-revolutionary camp; and in our period any revolution implicitly threatens private property – whatever miserable “communists” like Arismendi may do to assure the national bourgeoisie that not a hair of their heads shall be touched.

It is precisely for this reason that the antagonism between the national bourgeoisie and imperialism is expressed by speeches, books, conferences, mass demonstrations (remember Perón!), meetings among heads of parties and states, and voyages, even to Moscow ... but not by a revolutionary mobilization of the masses. And anyone who impudently affirms the contrary must really have forgotten the ABC of Leninism.

By stating that the revolution loses its “national” character if unfortunately the “national” bourgeoisie does not take part in it, Arismendi utters another enormity fit to wake the dead. Thus the 1917 Revolution was not a national revolution because the bourgeoisie was in the camp of the counter-revolution! The Chinese revolution in 1946–47 was not a national revolution either, because you could have hunted with a magnifying glass for a “national bourgeoisie” in the camp of Mao Tse-Tung! The Vietnam and Algerian revolutions would not be “national revolutions” because in them the bourgeoisie is conspicuous by its absence. And it is a “communist” who is teaching this today to the workers of Latin America

The whole twelfth chapter of Lenin’s Two Tactics is devoted to this question. It is sub-titled: Will the Sweep of the Democratic Revolution Be Diminished If the Bourgeoisie Recoils from It? With his acrid dialectic, Lenin makes fun of the “Caucasian Mensheviks” who defend this “vile conception.” What would he have said if he had been able to read the prose of the “Latin American Mensheviks”?

For, as a matter, of fact, the Russian revolution will begin to assume its real sweep, will really assume the widest revolutionary sweep possible in the epoch of bourgeois-democratic revolution, only when the bourgeoisie recoils from it and when the masses of the peasantry come out as active revolutionaries side by side with the proletariat. In order that it may be consistently carried to its conclusion, our democratic revolution must rely on such forces as are capable of paralysing the inevitable inconsistency of the bourgeoisie (i.e., capable precisely of “causing it to recoil from the revolution,” which the Caucasian adherents of Iskra fear so much because of their lack of judgment). [Idem, p. 406. Emphasis added]

Here we have two diametrically opposed positions. Arismendi wails: “very frequently the national bourgeoisie betrays and persecutes the proletariat.” If by mischance “revolutionary excesses” drive it into the camp of the counterrevolution, “the revolution loses its national character.” Let us therefore bow down before the Frondizis, the Lotts, the Bandarnayakas, the Nehrus, the Nassers, the Sukarnos, even if they throw us in jail or burn us alive in locomotive fireboxes (as was done by Chiang Kai-Shek, the No. 1 prototype of the “national bourgeoisie”). Lenin replies: Since it is inevitable that the national bourgeoisie will go over to the camp of reaction, let us not paralyze ourselves by efforts to keep it in the camp of the revolution. Let us strike out boldly at the head of the peasant masses, let us mobilize them, together with the workers, so as to complete our revolution against imperialism and against the bourgeoisie.

A real gulf separates these two conceptions. It is the gulf between Menshevism and Bolshevism. It is the gulf between the Stalinist policy today in Latin America and in many another colonial and semi-colonial country, and the Leninist, communist, policy advocated by the Fourth International.

The Art Of “Isolating” the Proletariat

We are leaving aside Lenin’s formula concerning the bourgeois-democratic revolution – to which we shall return a little further on – and pausing at the most typical and revelatory passage of the quotation from Arismendi: By “underestimating the role of the national bourgeoisie, [...] the isolation of the proletariat appears as the nec plus ultra.” Thus, if it refuses to ally itself to the national bourgeoisie, the proletariat “isolates itself.”

Arismendi ought to present us with a chart of the social structure of any Latin American or other semi-colonial – not to mention colonial – country whatsoever, in which the national bourgeoisie is a social force of such numerical importance that by refusing to join in with it the proletariat appears as “isolated.” Naturally such a problem is impossible to solve. Precisely what characterizes backward countries, colonial and semi-colonial, is that the bourgeoisie therein is – numerically, economically, and socially – relatively much weaker than the proletariat, which works not only for “national” bosses but also (and often, especially) for foreign capital.

And nevertheless, Arismendi returns to the charge with the accusation of “isolation.”

Some insignificant little groups of Trotskyists have also come to clamor for the isolation of the proletariat

he writes on page 79, thus taking over the essence of the formula of the Chilean Stalinist leader Luis Corvalán, who wrote on page 101 of No. 8 of the same review:

The Trotskyists were supporting leftist tendencies in the hope [!] of isolating the working class and causing it to suffer a defeat. [2]

But the mystery can be cleared up: what Arismendi is in reality afraid of is the isolation of the proletariat from the peasantry:

The intensification of class combats and the driving upsurge of the strike movements – a very important characteristic of the current situation in Latin America – allow those who limit themselves to a superficial analysis of events to set up as a theory their own desire to jump over the necessary stages in developments. Marx’s indication that, without the chorus of peasants, the solo of the proletarian revolution runs the risk of being transformed into a swan-song is perfectly applicable and all the more easily – to the wider field of the movement of national liberation. [Nouvelle Revue Internationale, No. 9, p. 79]

So now we understand: by “underestimating the role of the national bourgeoisie” – that is, by refusing to conclude united front alliances with it – the proletariat is isolating itself from the peasantry!

Now Lenin wrote, on the contrary:

Anyone who genuinely understands the role of the peasantry in the victorious Russian Revolution will never say that the scope of the revolution will lessen when the bourgeoisie turns away from it.

Still better: he wrote that the outcome of the revolution will depend on the question: who will lead the peasants, the proletariat or the bourgeoisie? For the allusion – devoid of sense in his phrase – to the hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution, which Arismendi has mixed in with his ultra-opportunist and Menshevik notions – this allusion means precisely: to wrench the political leadership of the peasantry away from the bourgeoisie, from the bourgeois parties, from the well-to-do lawyers, doctors, and businessmen, and from the industrialists, who paralyze it and prevent it from demonstrating in full its antiimperialist anger, its desire for a radical change!

It is you, Señor Arismendi, who are isolating the proletariat by obliging it to conclude alliances with the parties of the national bourgeoisie, parties that paralyze the peasantry and thus prevent it from joining with the proletariat. By opposing a Menshevik policy of a bloc with the national bourgeoisie, Leninism, Trotskyism, far from isolating the proletariat, create the conditions for the revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry, an alliance which has as its precondition the emancipation of the peasantry from its bourgeois “leadership.”

It is here, furthermore, that is to be found the weakness – the only one – in the formulae used by Lenin in 1905. In him there was not a trace of Menshevism, of illusions in or conciliationism toward the bourgeoisie, of opportunist fear of “frightening off the national bourgeoisie.” But what did remain in him was the illusion that the peasantry might play an independent role in the revolution. That is why he spoke of the “bourgeois-democratic” phase of the revolution as distinct from the proletarian phase. The former would be characterized by the alliance between a workers’ party and a peasant party (“the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”); the latter would be characterized by the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But Lenin sets himself off from the Arismendis of today, among other things, by the fact that he is capable of a genuine self-criticism, not of a simulacrum of one which has as its purpose to cover up one’s own mistakes. The experience of 1917 taught Lenin that an independent peasant party will never exist. The peasantry, as Trotsky had demonstrated as early as 1905, is capable of manifold heroic actions; but it is not capable of constituting a conscious political force independent of the proletariat and of the bourgeoisie. Hence the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry cannot take the form of an alliance between the revolutionary party and a peasant party (which calls itself a peasant party and is either a bourgeois party or an opportunist workers’ party). Hence the victory of the democratic revolution demands the conquest of power by the proletarian party, i e, the dictatorship of the proletariat, with which it coincides.

Few comrades are aware that Lenin clearly formulated this self-criticism about the peasantry’s incapacity for independent political action. That is why it is useful to draw their attention to a passage where the creator of the soviet state is quite explicit on this subject:

The second force is that which stands between developed capital and the proletariat. It is the petty bourgeoisie, the small proprietors, it is what in. Russia constitutes the overwhelming majority of the population – the peasantry. They are mainly small proprietors and small farmers. Ninetenths of them are like that, and they cannot be anything else. They do not take part in the acute daily struggle between capital and labor. They have not been to that school; their economic and political conditions of life do not bring them together, but disunite them, repel one from the other, transform them into millions of individual, separate small proprietors. Such are the facts, of which you are perfectly well aware. [...] We know from our own experience – and we see confirmation of it in the development of all revolutions, if we take the modern epoch, a hundred and fifty years, say, all over the world – that the result has been the same everywhere: every attempt on the part of the petty bourgeoisie in general, and of the peasants in particular, to realize their strength, to direct economics and politics in their own way, has failed. Either under the leadership of the proletariat, or under the leadership of the capitalists – there is no middle course. All those who hanker after this middle course are empty dreamers, fanlasts. [...]

[...] Insofar as the proletariat was unable to lead the revolution, this force always came under the leadership of the bourgeoisie. [Speech Delivered at the All-Russian Congress of Transport Workers, in Selected Works, vol. II, pages 690–2, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1947. Emphasis added] [3]

There is what remains of the theory of “stages”: an absolute fiasco. The struggle for hegemony in the “democratic” revolution is precisely a struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. It is precisely in order to revolutionize the peasantry, in order not to be isolated from it, that the proletariat must distrust any alliance with the national bourgeoisie, that it must fight for its own revolutionary solutions. The example of Cuba has shown that an agrarian reform – even one that is relatively moderate but carried out at the moment of the revolution by revolutionary means, with an increasing mobilization of the peasantry – drives the “national bourgeoisie” of the Urrutias & Co into the camp of the counter-revolution. Any revolutionary party that wants not to be isolated from the peasantry must drive with all its strength in this direction. Any workers’ party which, for the purpose of not “jumping over the necessary stages in developments,” would in practice refrain from the revolutionary mobilization of the worker and peasant masses, in order not to frighten the Kassems, Nassers, Sukarnos, Frondizis, Lotts, Bandarnayakas, & Co., would fatally isolate itself from the peasant masses, and would thus prepare its own repression by the national bourgeoisie, which would “betray” it still one more time.

The problem of the presence of this or that individual, little group, or small petty-bourgeois, middle-bourgeois, or even bourgeois party in the revolutionary camp is naturally not the decisive factor. It is significant of the confusion in Stalinist ideas about the colonial revolution that Arismendi speaks indiscriminately of the “presence” of “elements” of the national bourgeoisie in the “national liberation movement”; of “the exploitation of the contradictions between the national bourgeoisie and imperialism”; of the “national liberation front” with the anti-imperialist hourgeoise; and finally of “the alliance with the national bourgeoisie.”

These notions, used indiscriminately, cover absolutely different realities. Nobody would drive a national bourgeois out of an anti-imperialist united front led by the workers’ parties just because he was bourgeois (although he would have to be regarded with great distrust – as Lenin said, it is inevitable that the bourgeoisie, in the mass, will go over to the counter-revolutionary camp, and how to be sure in advance that we have here an exception?). But neither would any Leninist agree to consider the political subordination of the proletariat to the national bourgeoisie – the vote for Frondizi; the refusal to defend the independence of the trade unions against Nasser as long as he had not broken with the USSR; the refusal to support a strike against the Bandarnayaka government, etc. – any more than the limitation of the mobilization of the masses under the pretext of not frightening off the national bourgeoisie. But it is of this opportunism that the Stalinist parties are currently guilty in most of the colonial and semi-colonial countries.

Arismendi invokes the example of China. We suppose that he prefers not to mention the 1925–27 policy of the Chinese CP, which, under the pretext of not “jumping over stages,” of maintaining with the “national bourgeoisie” a “bloc of the four classes,” precipitated the sanguinary defeat of the second Chinese revolution. But it is true that after 1946, when the third Chinese revolution began, the leadership of the Chinese CP continued to preach the theory of the “two stages,” and was, according to its own words, first carrying out a “democratic revolution,” and then passing on to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is necessary here to recall an old proverb, but reversing it: Do what I do, and not what I say. In vain Mao Tse-Tung talked about the “democratic revolution,” for there is not the shadow of a doubt that the People’s Republic of China, proclaimed in 1949 at the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Pekin, was a workers’ state, a proletarian dictatorship, right from the beginning. To realize this, it suffices to recall that this state was born out of a ferocious civil war, in which the whole of the bourgeoisie was to be found in the camp of Chiang Kai-Shek – except a few deserters, renegades to their class, who served to amuse the gallery. It suffices to recall the extremely violent nature of the class hatred that the world bourgeoisie, and especially the American bourgeoisie, vowed against the People’s Republic of China, not beginning with the nationalization of the last textile company – which, incidentally, has not yet occurred – but beginning with the foundation of the people’s republic, and especially beginning with the outbreak of the Korean war.

And it might also be said to Arismendi: If instead of imitating only the opportunist theories of the Chinese, you would also imitate their actions; if, while prattling away about the progressive role of the national bourgeoisie, you would in practice treat the Frondizis, the Lotts, the Nassers, and the like in the same way that Mao treated their Chinese equivalents; if, instead of preaching the dangers of the isolation of the proletariat, you would in practice organize peasant uprisings, the peasant war on the model of Mao or even on the petty-bourgeoisie model of Fidel Castro – then history will show some indulgence toward your theoretical mistakes. If on the contrary your actions continue to be in conformity with your words, you will continue not only to lull the proletariat but also to betray it. And that, history will never pardon you!

We nowise mean to underestimate the pernicious role of erroneous theories, even if one departs from them in practice. The Chinese example, furthermore, is there to demonstrate this: the false conceptions with which the Chinese CP covered its practice, finally revolutionary beginning with 1946, today prevent the CPs of the colonial countries from following Mao’s path. Or still more paradoxically: what today is ridiculously called “Mao’s path” in the CPs of the colonial and semi-colonial countries is not the forming of an army of revolutionary partisans; it is not the mobilization of the peasant masses against the state and the landed proprietors, noble or bourgeois, foreign or national; it is not the definitive and violent rupture, by armed struggle, with the ruling party of the national bourgeoisie – a party capable, let us not forget, of carrying on in its own hesitating way a war against Japanese imperialism; it is not the refusal to break up its army and its own territory, even in the course of this war and despite all opportunist formulae about the “national bloc.” No, what is ridiculously called “Mao’s path” is the path to the defeat of 1927, the refusal to mobilize the peasant masses thoroughly (“in order not to drive the national bourgeoisie away from the anti-imperialist front”); it is the subordination to the political leadership of this bourgeoisie; it is the abandon of any attempt to fight for power under one’s own flag; it is the affirmation that this struggle for power cannot be put on the agenda “at the present stage.” It is, in short, the Menshevik path of 1905 and 1917, which Stalin borrowed with such tragic results in China and in Spain.

The Peculiarities Of Latin America

When Lenin characterized the role of the liberal bourgeoisie in Czarist Russia, he was speaking of a country where wage-earners formed less than 20% of the active population; he was treating of a world solidly dominated by the bourgeoisie, without workers’ states, without the experience of proletarian revolutions (with the exception of the experience, already far in the past, of the Paris Commune), and without colonial revolutions. It is understandable that these circumstances taken together favored a more revolutionary behavior of the liberal bourgeoisie, that it feared less than the bourgeoisie of today to be outflanked by the proletariat, and that the possibility of setting up in a backward country a “dictatorship of the proletariat” seemed to it just a bad joke.

If, despite all these favorable conditions, the Russian bourgeoisie had sufficient class consciousness not to urge on the revolution; if, despite them, it went over bag-and-baggage to the camp of reaction as soon as the first claps of thunder were heard – then bow much more unlikely would be an abrupt participation of the “national bourgeoisie” in a genuine Latin American revolution today, when the USSR exists, when capitalism has been destroyed over a third of the globe, when the bourgeoisie of Eastern Europe, of China, of the Vietnam, have seen the collapse of their power and wealth, when capitalism on a world scale is trembling for the future of its regime. To believe that under these conditions the national bourgeoisie in Latin America can become revolutionary – and not only the bourgeoisies of extremely backward countries, but even those of countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, that count a proletariat proportionately far more powerful than the Russian proletariat of 1905 -is to snap one’s fingers at any consideration of class struggle.

Arismendi waxes indignant that Figueres, ex-President of Costa Rica and a quite typical Latin American liberal, should have crudely stated at Washington: “In our relations among Americans, the most important thing is the economic question, that is, the price of merchandise.” This strange “Marxist” finds no other answer than the melodramatic remark: “Let prices be raised, and there is a country and a continent ready to sell itself!” That’s it: the conflict between imperialism and the national bourgeoisie, just like the conflict between Czarism and the national bourgeoisie, lies precisely in that: to get a better share of the surplus-value, to take for oneself the lion’s share while leaving the smallest possible part for the “foreigner” or the “Czar.” If by good fortune this demand is partially satisfied, even temporarily, the national bourgeoisie immediately goes over to the opposite camp, for at that moment it is a question of defending surplus-value as such, to prevent these tatterdemalion workers and poor peasants from taking the whole cake away from them. To replace the analysis of the class struggle by oaths in “defense of national industry” is a task that the communists in another age gladly abandoned to other political formations.

Arismendi talks a lot about “the broadening of the united front,” of the alliance with the peasantry, etc. But he rarely raises the question: Who owns the tenant-farmers’ land? Is it only big landed proprietors? Which are the countries in which a good part of the “national” bourgeoisie also owns land? Is this not especially the case in Cuba, which explains why this bourgeoisie goes over to the camp of the counter-revolution as soon as landed property is touched? The peculiarities of the Latin American revolution deserve precise analyses of this sort, and not the promise of finding oneself tomorrow in the same camp as Figueres provided he will kindly reestablish diplomatic relations with the USSR.

The tradition of the communist movement in Latin America, while richer than it is presented by the Arismendis & Co., is admittedly more limited than the tradition of the communist movement in other sectors. Before 1929, the Communist Parties that had succeeded in becoming mass revolutionary parties were not very numerous in Latin America. But if Arismendi carefully avoids referring to this tradition, it is hardly for that reason. It is simply because on every page it indicts as false his opportunist and Menshevik conceptions.

Few documents were devoted to Latin America by the Communist International in the period when Lenin was still alive and participated in the activity of the CI. But one of these documents, doubtless the most important, deserves to be recalled to the attention of the communists of Latin America. It dates from September 1920 and was drafted by the CI’s Executive Committee, of which Lenin was a member. It is a question of an appeal to all the workers of North and South America, titled The American Revolution. Despite the inevitably abstract and general nature of certain passages, which reflect the lack of experience of the revolutionary movement in this part of the world, its analysis and its conclusions remain today more valid than ever, especially because it calls for a joint struggle by the workers of North and South America, for the overthrow of American imperialism and capitalism in the western hemisphere. There can be found in it not a trace of prattling about the bloc with the national bourgeoisie. Here is the passage of this appeal concerning the tasks of communists in Latin America – at a period when the proletariat was infinitely weaker than it is now:

The task consists above all in the organization in each Latin American country of a communist party that is clearly distinct, determined, and conscious. It is not indispensable that this party be powerful right at its formation; it is necessary, however, that it possess a clear programme, that it engage in resolute agitation for revolutionary principles and tactics, that it fight resolutely against the tempters and misleaders of the masses. Such a party must be composed of the best and most honest representatives of the masses; it must develop the programme of a genuine mass movement, it must integrate itself completely in the revolutionary struggle of the masses and lead it with patience and determination along broader and broader paths, toward more and more important goals.

Only a communist party can give clarity and honesty to the movement in Latin America; it is only in this way that it can be unified with the revolutionary movement in the United States and with the CI; it is only along this path that it can occupy the place belonging to it in the world revolution.

The agrarian problem is of the greatest importance. Agriculture still predominates in Latin America (even in Argentina, the country that is the most developed in Latin America from the capitalist viewpoint, there are less than 400,000 industrial workers in a population of more than eight million). The peasants are exploited in the cruelest manner; they live in extreme oppression and poverty; they form the cannon-fodder for military adventures. The Mexican experience offers a typical and tragic example. The enslaved peasants revolt and make a revolution. The fruits of their victory are carried off by capitalist exploiters, political adventurers, and “socialist” bawlers. The oppressed and betrayed peasants must be awakened to revolutionary action and organization. They must be taught that they cannot free themselves, alone, as peasants, but must unite with the revolutionary proletariat in the common struggle against capitalism.

The Communist Party must draw close to the peasants. It must do so, not with abstract formulae and theories, but with a practical programme suitable to awakening the peasants to the struggle against the landed proprietor and the capitalist. Union between the poor peasants and the proletariat is absolutely indispensable: only the proletarian revolution can free the peasants by overthrowing the power of capital; only the agrarian revolution can prevent the proletarian revolution from being crushed by the counter-revolution.

There is the language of the Communist International in the time of Lenin. Granted, it is highly general and abstract. But there is in these few paragraphs more revolutionary wisdom than in the thirty pages of Arismendi’s contradictory prose. The line of the Leninist C I was clear – even when the proletarians were counted only by hundreds of thousands – and has now been enriched and developed thanks to an experience of 40 years of revolutionary struggles, which the Latin American organizations of the Fourth International – now when millions of proletarians exist, organize themselves, and struggle – apply today in Latin America.


1. This opportunist policy toward Nasser, what is more, was preceded by a sectarian policy of refusing critical support, when the Stalinists were calling him fascist (in the same way that they called Perón and the 1945 PPA [Algerian nationalist party] fascist).

2. Since the XXth Congress of the CPSU, the Trotskyists are no longer either spies or “;agents of imperialism.” but only “ideological adversaries who have been definitively crushed.” Why do they desire the isolation and defeat of the proletariat? By masochism? Or does the right hand of our neo-Stalinists still not know what the left hand wrote?

As for the “insignificance” of the “little groups” of Trotskyists, let us recall only that in the Province of Buenos Aires they obtained in the last elections 25% as many votes as the Communist Party, though they had candidates in only three circumscriptions whereas the Stalinists had candidates in every circumscription in the province; that at the time of Nixon’s visit to Lima, it was they who led the big demonstration of students against that representative of imperialism; and that in Bolivia, the governmental press has been for months carrying on an unceasing struggle against them, describing them as a serious threat to the bourgeois regime.

3. This passage takes up almost word for word the analogous analysis of Trotsky in his book on the 1905 revolution, and in the different texts in which Trotsky worked out the theory of the permanent revolution.


Last updated on 28 January 2016