Ernest Germain

In Defence of Leninism:
In Defence of the Fourth International

I. Party Building and Armed Struggle:
The Wrong and the Correct Approach

1. A Wrong Method

The key mistake committed by Comrade Hansen in the field of the method used for defining strategical and tactical tasks, and at the same time one of the main origins of the differences which have developed between the majority and the minority of the United Secretariat and the IEC of the Fourth International, is illuminated by the following extract from Comrade Hansen’s above-named discussion article:

“Let me repeat: There are three main positions in the ‘great ideological debate’ (in Latin America): (1) Those like the Stalinists, who believe in or argue for the feasibility of a ‘parliamentary road’ to power (2) The Trotskyists, who have been defending the Leninist concept of party building and who have been struggling to apply it; an outstanding instance being Hugo Blanco. (3) Those under the influence of the Cubans particularly, who advance the ‘strategy’ of armed struggle in opposition to both the protagonists of a ‘parliamentary road’ and the partisans of the Leninist concept.” (International Information Bulletin, No.3, April 1971, p.35.)

It is methodologically wrong and misleading to use the concept of Leninist party building as an alternative in debates about key tactical and strategical problems, posed by the development of the class struggle itself. Just to indicate how wrong this is, let us enumerate a series of such debates initiated in the history of the international labour movement of the 20th century.

Since 1905, the revolutionary movement in the underdeveloped countries has been split between protagonists of the theory of the permanent revolution and those who defend the thesis of the revolution by stages, a bourgeois-democratic one having to be first completed before the proletarian-socialist one can start. Should we refuse to line up with the first as against the second, under the pretext that there is a “third strategy,” the “Leninist strategy of party building”?

Since 1914, the international labour movement has been deeply divided on the attitude one should adopt towards an imperialist war. Leninists defend the strategy (or should one say: the tactics?) of revolutionary defeatism. Reformists and centrists of all types say that it is possible for the workers to defend their own imperialist fatherland, provided that it isn’t the aggressor, that it is politically more “progressive” than its competitor, etc., etc. Should we counter-pose a “third alternative” to the two sides in that debate, the “Leninist strategy of party building”?

Since 1917, the international labour movement has been debating whether it is necessary to destroy the bourgeois state machine and to build a higher type of democracy, called soviet democracy, as the precondition for the proletariat conquering state power and for capitalism being overthrown, or whether parliamentary bourgeois democracy and its state machine creates the necessary institutional framework for overthrowing capitalism. Should we refuse to line up with the first as against the second, under the pretext that there is a “third strategy,” the “Leninist strategy of party building”?

Since 1930, the revolutionary movement has been deeply divided on what attitude it should adopt towards a rising threat of a fascist dictatorship. Some defend the position that it is necessary to ally with all proponents of bourgeois democracy (including the bourgeois parties and state) against the fascists. Others say that we should be neutral in the fight between fascism and bourgeois democracy, even concentrating the main attacks on the “social-fascists,” i.e., the reformist, labour fakers. Others again say that only a united front of all working class organizations could, by extra-parliamentary mass mobilization and action, crush fascism. Should we refuse to line up with that third position, and counterpose another orientation to the three main lines defended in the debate, “the Leninist strategy of party building”?

Comrade Hansen’s method of approaching the problem of armed struggle thus is wrong threefold. In the first place, it fails to understand that the problem of armed struggle in Latin America – like the problem of permanent revolution, or of soviet VS. parliamentary democracy, or of the united front tactics against fascism – is not some “false dilemma” arising out of the heads of misguided individuals, but a problem arising out of the development of the class struggle itself, which requires an answer from all revolutionists. You can be for or against, but you can’t evade the issue by talking about something else. To answer this question correctly, is of course not sufficient to assure the victory of the revolution. Trotsky could formulate the correct strategic answer for the revolutions in under-developed countries, without fully understanding the Leninist strategy of party building. The same thing was true for not a few supporters of revolutionary defeatism during the first and the second world wars, and for not a few supporters of the concept of soviet power after 1917 throughout the world. But a correct answer to these key strategic or tactical questions is an indispensable prerequisite for a victorious revolution. While it isn’t sufficient simply to apply the theory of permanent revolution in a semi-colonial country to guarantee victory, you can be sure you will not lead your class to victory if you evade an answer to that key issue.

In the second place, it is impermissible to detach the “strategy of party building” from correct strategic and tactical political options. There is no such thing as a “Leninist concept of party building” separate and apart from programme, correct strategic orientation and correct tactics. Those of the alleged “supporters of the Leninist concept of party building” who, in February-April 1917, were ready to ally themselves with the Mensheviks and didn’t understand the need to fight for soviet power, would have led the Russian revolution to certain defeat. That is why the Leninist strategy of party building, far from being counterposed to the orientation towards armed struggle under specific conditions in Latin America today, implies the need to adopt that orientation. Without such an orientation, your “Leninist strategy of party building” is in danger of becoming what it did become in the hands of Kamenev, Molotov and Stalin before February and April 1917: an obstacle and not a motor on the road towards revolutionary victory.

In the third place, by counterposing the Leninist strategy of party building to the burning needs of the objective revolutionary struggle one does a serious disservice to Leninism. In presenting party-building as something separate and apart from the needs of the living class struggle, we are thereby helping all opponents of Leninism, all spontaneists and the like, to increase anti-Leninist confusions and prejudices. When the need for a strike picket arises in a strike, and the strikers are torn in a big debate between advocates and opponents of that method of struggle, to come along and shout that there is a “third position,” the “Leninist strategy of party building,” will certainly not help clarify the debate among the strikers. Nor will it help recruit the best strikers to the nucleus attempting to construct the revolutionary party.

So we can only restate with force the position adopted in our November 1970 document. The need to take an unequivocal stand in favour of the “method” of armed struggle, never mind whether it is a “strategy” or “tactic,” or “orientation,” hi the present period and under specific circumstances in Latin America, arises out of the very needs of the class struggle and the experiences of the toiling masses themselves. To evade the issue by taking up a “third position” does a disservice to the task of building Leninist combat parties, which Comrade Hansen correctly wants to place hi the centre of attention of the Latin American vanguard.

There was a tune when Comrade Hansen himself understood this perfectly. In his article: The OLAS Conference-Tactics and Strategy of a Continental Revolution (ISR, November-December 1967), he wrote:

“The question of armed struggle was thus taken at the OLAS conference as a decisive dividing line, separating the revolutionists from the reformists on a continental scale. In this respect it echoed the Bolshevik tradition.” (p.5)

And on March 1, 1963, the Political Committee of the SWP issued a statement under the title: For Early Reunification of the World Trotskyist Movement, which contained the following passage:

“Along the road of a revolution beginning with simple democratic demands and ending hi the rapture of capitalist property relations, guerrilla warfare conducted by landless peasant and semi-proletarian forces, under a leadership that becomes committed to carrying the revolution through to a conclusion, can play a decisive role in undermining or precipitating the downfall of a colonial or semi-colonial power. This is one of the main lessons to be drawn from experience since the second world war. It must be consciously incorporated into the strategy of building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.” (Fourth International, No.17, October-December 1963, p.71.)

One wonders why what was true in the spring of 1963 and the autumn of 1967 ceased to be true in spring 1969, not to say in spring 1971, and why Comrade Hansen failed to answer Comrades Germain and Knoeller: in the great debate between advocates and opponents of the strategy (or tactics) of armed struggle, at present raging hi Latin America, we line up with the first as against the second. In that sense the Latin American resolution of the 9th World Congress served a useful purpose, and echoes the Bolshevik tradition. Of course, this does not end the question. It remains to precise how this strategy ties in with the strategy of the permanent revolution, with the need of organising the masses, with the building of Leninist vanguard parties, etc. But while the method of armed struggle is no panacea, it nevertheless remains a key question which has to be answered and not to be evaded. A debate along these lines would not have led to deep divisions in the International. Comrade Hansen’s way of approaching it in 1971 – opposed to his approach of 1967 – could only widen the differences.

2. Restating Our Case

All kinds of useless red herrings have been inserted into the discussion. We shall not waste too much tune hi eliminating them. Everybody knows that there exist opponents of the Leninist theory of organisation (not only among the advocates of armed struggle). Everybody also knows that there are still some proponents of the “foquista” theory around. But objectively, those positions are not defended by anybody inside the Fourth International, included the Argentine Section. So it is useless to drag the red herrings of “foquismo,” “guevarism,” fetishisation of “rural guerilla warfare,” not to speak of the “strategy of terrorism” into the discussion, because nobody is defending these propositions inside the world Trotskyist movement. Let us briefly summarise what the 9th World Congress resolution was all about, and what has been stressed quite clearly in various discussion articles since 1969 by its proponents.

Under the given circumstances, with the given social and economic instability in Latin America, the profound influence of the Cuban revolution on the vanguard of the mass movement, the decline of control of the traditional working class leaderships on that same vanguard, the explosive character of mass mobilisations which lead to rapid confrontations with the army, the emergence of the army as the mainstay of bourgeois power, not only materially but also politically, and its relative strength as opposed to the extreme fragility of all political formations of the ruling classes, a long period of gradual rise of mass struggles under conditions of relative (be it decaying) bourgeois democracy is extremely unlikely (except, as we said, in the case of Chile). The most likely variant is that a head-on collision between that mass movement and the arm is unavoidable after a short period of emergence of mass explosions, a collision which could lead to a prolonged civil war, if the mass movement isn’t crushed by capitulation or disastrous defeats. Even if the enemy succeeds momentarily in establishing a military dictatorship, such a civil war could go on, temporarily take the form of guerilla warfare, and help to overcome the lull in the mass struggles after the partial defeat Whatever may be the various combinations of forms of struggle, it is necessary to tirelessly prepare the masses for such armed confrontations, which are unavoidable, so that the workers and poor peasants should not face the army without arms and without preparation.

There is nothing of a generalised panacea in this analysis which is above all a prognosis and a perspective. It does not apply to all countries, regardless of time and space. It is not the final assessment of a historic period. As long as there is no tumultuous rise of the mass movement, obviously civil war is not on the agenda. As long as our nuclei are so weak that they can’t exercise any political weight inside the mass movement let alone help the masses to arm themselves, it would be lunacy to start “preparing for armed struggle.” Where the traditional reformist petty-bourgeois or bourgeois leaderships still control the mass movement, as in many semi-colonial countries, these conclusions are also uncalled for. Where the decaying bourgeoisie still rules essentially through bourgeois democratic forms the analysis doesn’t apply either. It is specific to a given phase in a given context, in Latin America and in the present it only has practical applications in a few countries for our movement. If and when this context changes, we shall have to analyse this change and say so openly. For the time being, there is no indication that it has.

Comrades of the minority hotly deny that this was what the 9th World Congress resolution on Latin America had in mind. They interpret that resolution as a universal call to “rural guerilla warfare,” later partially corrected into a call for “urban guerilla warfare.” Careful study of the resolution itself does not support this contention of the minority. There is no reason to deny that the 9th World Congress resolution on Latin America contains several elliptical and synthetic formulas on rural guerilla warfare and continental civil war open to various interpretations, which try to encompass too many different variants and successive stages of struggle into a single sentence or a couple of sentences. That resolution reflected an initial, and therefore insufficient level of consciousness and of experience with a new problem with which our movement was confronted on the field of practical intervention. It would be surprising that this could have been accomplished without over-simplications, exaggerations and partial mistakes.

Under these conditions, there is no purpose in pursuing the debate on “focism” and “guevarism” which nobody defends inside the Fourth International, instead of discussing the ideas of the majority as they are expressed by the comrades speaking for the majority itself. Wouldn’t it be more intelligent for the minority to claim that it succeeded in having the majority change its initial positions – which we would deny; for we don’t share the minority’s interpretation of what the 9th World Congress Latin American document was all about – and then comedown to the task of debating the expressed and not the alleged positions of the majority?

In order to go away from sterile accusations and counter-accusations of an abstract nature, it is necessary to analyse concretely the developments in Argentina and Bolivia since the last world congress – the only countries where the sections of the F. I. decided themselves to apply the orientation of armed struggle before the 9th World Congress took its well-known stand – and determine whether the evolution of the objective situation justified this orientation or has shown it to be wrong. Although none of the comrades who polemicise against the position adopted by the 9th World Congress openly tried to refute this overall assessment, we have, however, come across an attempt to question it in a covert and indirect way.

Dealing with the analysis of the economic developments in Latin America by Comrade Mandel, Comrade Anibal Lorenzo of the La Verdad (Moreno) group in Argentina, writes:

“These lost [two] years [in Bolivia] are sufficient, I hope, to dispel the schemas floating around about ‘growing repression,’ the ‘impossibility of using legal methods,’ Or the formula that the Trotskyist theoretician Ernest Mandel, who commits the same error, put forward in the February 1971 issue of Cuarta International:

“‘But we must avoid any illusion about a return to constitutional systems of classical bourgeois parliamentary democracy, about any return to a climate in which the mass movement could organise and broaden, gradually, progressively and legally. This does not correspond to the intentions or possibilities of the military reformist regimes, or to the interests of the “new oligarchy” that supports them.’

“For two years the revolutionists fell into the opposite error to the one Mandel warns against. The fact is that events more closely resembled the classical model of Russia (!) than the guerrillista scheme, with the decisive difference that there was no Bolshevik party to offer a perspective for insurrection.” (Anibal Lorenzo: The Lessons of Bolivia, International Information Bulletin, No.3, July 1972, p.13.)

The “errors” allegedly committed by our Bolivian comrades we shall deal with below. The attempt, however, to equate the Russian revolutionary experience with that of a “constitutional system of classical bourgeois democracy” is certainly a novelty in Trotskyist literature. The equation of two (!) years of legality in Bolivia – in reality only a few months! – with such a period is a slight exaggeration to say the least. But Comrade Lorenzo comes close to falsifying Comrade Mandel’s article, largely because of his inability to understand what we are discussing. For immediately before the paragraph of Mandel’s article which he quotes and immediately after that paragraph, the context in which Mandel makes that point is specified, and this leads to a quite different interpretation than that of Comrade Lorenzo. Here is the text of these three paragraphs:

“No more does this mean that the toiling masses and the revolutionary organisations should be indifferent as to the precise forms taken by the exploitation and the oppression they suffer. Every legal or semi-legal possibility to do propaganda, agitation or to organise the vanguard should be vigorously exploited, every new reduction of democratic freedoms of the working class organisations should be considered as an attack against the whole movement, and vigorously fought against.

“But we must avoid any illusion about a return to constitutional systems of classical bourgeois parliamentary democracy, about any return to a climate in which the mass movement could organise and broaden gradually, progressively and legally. This does not correspond to the intentions or possibilities of the military reformist regimes, nor to the interests of the ‘new oligarchy’ that supports them.

“... The perspective which results from this analysis is that of a succession of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary convulsions, cut by temporary defeats and attempts by the Latin American bourgeoisie to try to apply solutions of the ‘military reformism’ type, but which after a certain time lead again to new convulsions and new tests of strength. The building of an adequate revolutionary leadership of the proletariat and semi-proletariat of city and countryside is the only way out of the impasse. More than ever this remains the central task. The strategy of armed struggle, in close association with the mass movement into which a growing rooting has to be achieved, is the only way to build such a revolutionary party in the present historical context of the majority of the countries of Latin America.” (pp.40-41 in Cuarta International, No.3.)

So the opposition between Comrade Mandel’s analysis and Comrade Lorenzo’s does not consist in Mandel’s alleged inability to understand the need of exploiting legal opportunities, nor in his alleged inability to link such opportunities with the rise of the mass movement at a given stage, nor \ with his lack of concern for building the party. The opposition hinges on Comrade Lorenzo’s lack of understanding of the difference between a short legal interlude of a year or two, between periods of rising or declining military dictatorships, and a whole period of “constitutional systems of classical bourgeois parliamentary democracy” hi which the working class movement can organise and grow gradually, progressively and legally. They hinge, in short, on Comrade Lorenzo’s inability to understand the qualitative difference between a bourgeois democracy – be it a degenerate and decaying one – and a military dictatorship (albeit a temporarily weakened one).

We know that in any country in the world, bourgeois democracy today is constantly undermined by repressive tendencies toward a “strong state.” We know that the army and the police – civil war apparatus against the workers – are constantly strengthened. We have no illusions in a “peaceful” road to socialism anywhere, even under conditions of the strongest bourgeois democratic traditions. But it is one thing to say that there is only a relative and not an absolute difference between decaying bourgeois democracy and a weakened military dictatorship, and something different again to deny that there is any significant difference between them altogether.

The most astonishing statement in this respect comes from Comrade Peter Camejo. In an article sent to the discussion bulletin of our sympathising section in Mexico, he wrote:

“It is one thing for us to note and expose the brutal repression exercised by the military dictatorship against the workers movement, its attempts (!) to intervene in the trade union, its occasional (!) direct intervention in a vanguard trade union. It is something else again to lose sight of reality, of the fact that it is easier to do revolution (!) work within the trade unions of Argentina than hi most countries hi Latin America, or Europe for that matter.” (p.7, Comments on Comrade R’s Document, by Peter Camejo.)

Now if we understand this to mean anything, Comrade Camejo has arrived at the point where he seriously tries to defend the position that it is “easier” to do “revolutionary” work hi the trade unions in a country where there is a military dictatorship, where all the political organisations of the left and the extreme-left including the pro-Moscow CP (and the only exception of the Socialist Parties), are illegal: where the army often intervenes in trade unions whenever they elect a leadership considered as revolutionary, to depose the elected leadership; where factories like the FIAT factories hi Cordoba can be occupied by the army; where elected trade union leaders can be put and held in jail without trial for months if not years (as happened to Tosco); where revolutionary trade union militants can be kidnapped hi broad daylight, tortured and killed, as happened hi dozens of cases denounced by the press of La Verdad group itself. Obviously these things didn’t happen in Western Europe in the last twenty years, except in countries like Spain, Portugal or Greece. Comrade Hansen, who set out on a worthy crusade against “ultra-leftism,” should seriously ponder how that disease now suddenly springs up among his closest allies, in the form of the thesis that it is “easier” to do revolutionary work in the trade unions under a military dictatorship than under conditions of bourgeois democracy. As we obviously desire to do our revolutionary work in the unions under the “easiest” possible conditions, shouldn’t we then actually welcome the establishment of military dictatorships of the Lanusse type, according to this typically ultraleft logic?

3. The Bolivian Test

The Bolivian case is the clearest confirmation of our thesis that under present conditions in Latin America, no protracted period of bourgeois democracy is possible. Whenever an impetuous rise of the mass movement occurs, and the vital question for this movement is to prepare for armed struggle against the inevitable and short-term attempt of the army to crush it.

When General Torres took power under conditions of rapid development of mass mobilisations and activity, this expressed undoubtedly a temporary retreat of the right-wing forces in the army who had tried to take power under General Miranda. The rise of the mass movement had divided the army. The main task for the ruling class was now to gain some time in order to reunify the army. During this “democratic interlude,” the mass movement was to be held in check by some concessions. Torres was to fulfill that function, till the army was ready to strike its blow.

The Bolivian section of the Fourth International, which had begun to prepare its cadres for armed struggle during the period of the Barrientos dictatorship, and had centered its orientation towards guerilla warfare under that dictatorship, understood the necessity of making a turn as soon as the Ovando dictatorship allowed a semi-legal margin for working class activities. It started to publish a semi-legal paper, repenetrated the unions, and raised a whole series of appropriate demands like: release of the political prisoners, re-establishment of full trade-union freedom, recuperation of all houses and properties of the COB, re-establishment of the miners’ wages of 1965 (which had been severely cut by the Barrientos dictatorship), creation of a representative organ of all the working class organisations. The party was however still illegalised by the regime, some of its main leaders in prison (they were to be released only in October 1970, when the masses stormed the prisons), some of them, together with representatives of other working class tendencies even being submitted to torture.

When Torres took over from Ovando in October 1970, the Bolivian section became legal. During the 10 months of the Torres regime – the only period of fully legal working class upsurge since the Pas Estenssoro repression of 1964 – the FOR explained that the army was only tolerating large-scale working class activities temporarily, and that a military coup to crush the mass movement was being feverishly prepared:

“While the army, confronted with the mobilisation of the workers, authorised General Torres to organise the government in October (1970), with the task of putting a brake upon the masses and disarming them politically, this mission has now failed, and therefore the armed forces have decided to change Torres and to return to a policy of the strong hand. The situation of the Torres government is very precarious. It does not enjoy the support of the army neither can it count upon the support of the masses which have been defrauded ...

“For that reason we declare that the revolutionary process in Bolivia is confronted with two dangers. On the one hand there is the threat of a fascist coup, nourished by the yankee embassy and by the Argentine and Brasilian dictatorships, a coup which is being prepared by the divisions of the Bolivian army. On the other hand there is military and civilian reformism, which tries to lull the masses to sleep, and which has transformed itself into an obstacle to the triumph of the revolution.” (Appeal of the FOR on May Day 1971 – Combate new series, No.5, first fortnight of May 1971.)

This was the constant theme of all the FOR interventions from then on till the August coup; to warn the workers that the coup was impending, was inevitable, and that the workers had to organise immediately against that danger.

The political line of the FOR, while encompassing a whole series of immediate and transitional demands (including a whole programme for agrarian revolution), was centred around three key demands:

  1. Transformation of the Popular Assembly into a real power organ of the workers and toiling people, through the establishment of local assemblies (i.e., Soviets), which would elect the delegates to the national assembly and could recall them.
  2. Immediate arming of the workers and the peasants.
  3. Extension of the revolutionary process of the countryside

The cohesion of this line was convincing, and confirmed by events. Cut off from rank-and-file assemblies in the towns, neighborhoods, factories and mines, the Popular Assembly remained a purely consultative assembly, as Torres visualised it, without real power and without expression of the revolutionary will of the masses. Without the arming of the masses, it could be swept away by the coup which was being prepared by reaction. And without the extension of the revolutionary process to the countryside, the revolutionary proletariat of the mining areas and of La Paz was in danger of remaining isolated and being defeated in the armed confrontation with reaction, which was visible on the horizon.

What was the alternative to this correct orientation of our Bolivian section? It was the orientation followed by the reformists and centrists of the pro-Moscow CP, or Lora and of Lechin, who concentrated entirely upon endless debates on statutes, regulations and paper resolutions, including the composition of the management bodies of the nationalised tin mines of COMIBOL – whether the workers should be represented with 50 or 51% of members on that body – but completely neglected the question of arming the proletariat and the poor peasants. Another characteristic of this reformist, spontaneistic and syndicalist approach to the question of power was a total neglect of the agrarian revolution.

It is true that the Popular Assembly voted a resolution about a clandestine “preparation” of workers’ militias; but this was a paper resolution pure and simple, without a single step taken towards its implementation.

What was the political kernel of such criminal passivity, in the light of the open preparations for a reactionary coup by forces of the army? Lora’s main lieutenant, Escobar, more honest and more cynical than his leader, has expressed it clearly in the first issue of the Lora paper Masas which appeared after the defeat in Santiago de Chile:

“In October 1970, the working class occupied the political scene without arms, as a simple mass. From that moment on, it was clearly understood that in order to be able to win against the gorillas [the putchist generals] it was necessary to put a gun in the hands of the politicised workers. And from then on it was commonly assumedincluding by us Marxists (!) – that the ruling military team would distribute the arms, given the fact that it could at least neutralise the right wing gorillas by basing itself on the masses and giving to them an adequate firing capacity.” (La Contrarrevolucion de Agosto de 1971, p.8 in Masas, No.400, September 1971 issue.)

Escobar’s “honesty” does not go far enough, of course, to admit that the POR (Combate) did not share these illusions of so-called “Marxists,” and constantly had called the masses to immediately arm themselves, warning them not to expect any arms from the Torres government.

What was the position adopted at that time by the comrades who today so severely criticise the policy of our Bolivian section? One can read La Verdad; one will note that the necessity to arm the Bolivian workers and peasants immediately in order to oppose the impending counterrevolutionary coup was hardly mentioned, if it was mentioned at all. Great importance was attached to the internal debates of the Popular Assembly, great stress laid on this, the “first soviet of Latin America,” in the Lora-Lambertist style of declamation, without taking into consideration the fact that an unarmed consultative and powerless “assembly” without any representative rank and file bodies capable of mobilising the masses, instantaneously and transferring the masses’ revolutionary energy to it, facted with in addition an imminent reaction coup, could hardly be called a “soviet,” and that the question of immediately getting arms for the workers was the key question of overriding importance, much more important than the establishment of Assembly statutes, or the proposals for the composition of the Comibol management board.

In an attempt to evade this key issue, Comrade Lorenzo, writing for the La Verdad group immediately after the August 1971 coup goes into the lengthy development about the work inside the army. He agrees, he says, with our rejection of the Lora-type “spontaneous insurrection perspectives.” But he then counterposes to that “spontaneistic insurrection perspective” of Lora the perspective of insurrection based essentially on work inside the army. Here is the relevant part of his thesis:

“On the other hand, the October insurrection planned and led by Lenin and Trotsky ended by installing the first socialist government. In order to achieve this, the Bolshevik party did not limit itself to propaganda on the need for an armed insurrection but formulated a programme and a policy of carrying out the uprising based on the mass organisations. In this programme and policy, work in the army was decisive ...

“This activity which, strictly speaking, is the conscious preparation for arming the people and for the uprising, was completely ignored by the propagandists of insurrection. Unfortunately, it was also neglected by the guer-illists, who saw working in the army only as another stage and another front in their ‘prolonged war’.” (The Lessons of Bolivia, by Anibal Lorenzo – International Information Bulletin, July 1972, p.13.)

The truth of the matter is that armed workers militias – Red Guards – emerged from the February revolution, essentially organised by Bolshevik vanguard workers, long before there was any talk about “armed insurrection.” It was these Red Guards who, together with the direct election of the Soviets by the workers, soldiers and peasants, gave the Soviets the fundamental nature of real dual power organs. The disintegration of the Tsarist army was in the first place the result of the imperialist war and not of the Bolshevik propaganda in the army; this propaganda played an important role only in the final stage previous to the October insurrection. To believe that without Soviets, without already decisive weight of revolutionists inside them; and without the existence of armed workers and poor peasants militias, “propaganda inside the army” – always necessary of course – is the key next step forward, or even the decisive factor to prepare armed insurrection, is really to put priorities upside down.

Trotsky had something very precise to say about people who hide behind the need to develop revolutionary propaganda inside the army in order to deny in practice the necessity of immediately starting to arm the workers, in order to postpone the setting up of workers militias till a later stage:

“It would be puerile, however, to believe that by propaganda alone the whole army can be won over to the side of the proletariat and thus in general make revolution unnecessary. The army is heterogeneous and its heterogeneous elements are chained by the iron hoops of discipline. Propaganda can create revolutionary cells in the army and prepare a sympathetic attitude among the most progressive soldiers. More than this propaganda and agitation cannot do. To depend upon the army defending the workers’ organisations from fascism by its own initiative and even guaranteeing the transfer of power into the hands of the proletariat is to substitute sugary illusions for the harsh lessons of history. The army in its decisive section can go over to the side of the proletariat in the epoch of revolution only in the event that the proletariat itself will have revealed to the army in action a readiness and ability to fight for power to the last drop of blood. Such struggle necessarily presupposes the arming of the proletariat.” (War and the Fourth International, p.323 in Leon Trotsky’s Writings 1933-34 Our stress.)

We see that Trotsky reverses the priorities as developed by Comrade Lorenzo. The arming of the workers and the poor peasants, far from being “prepared” by “propaganda inside the army,” creates the necessary preconditions for such successful propaganda, at least on a mass scale. Indeed, if there are no armed militias of the toilers, the first symptoms of independent soldiers’ committees appearing in the army might very well become the immediate signal for the counter-revolutionary coup, as the enemy understands perfectly that the army is his last-ditch defence line before a victorious revolution. This is precisely what happened in Bolivia, as it happened hi Brazil before.

Trotsky draws a very clear conclusion from this reasoning:

“A revolutionary party must take upon itself the initiative in arming fighting workers’ detachments. And for this it must first of all cleanse itself of all sorts of skepticism, indecision and pacifist reasoning in the question of arming the workers.” (Ibid., p.323.)

4. The Strategy of Armed Struggle Under the Torres Regime

Comrade Lorenzo’s article, which also completely underestimates the need for the immediate arming of the workers and poor peasants during the Torres Interregnum, and substitutes for it propaganda in the army, presents the policy of the POR-Combate as if it continued to prepare guerilla warfare in isolation and thereby “lost two valuable years.” This is a complete travesty of the truth. During the Torres interval our Bolivian section did not call for “rural guerilla warfare.” They called for the immediate arming of the masses. The already cited May-Day Appeal of the POR (Combate) new series No.5) says in that respect:

“Let us not fool ourselves. The innumerable massacres have taught us a lesson. On the basis of that experience, the POR calls upon all the workers, on this first day of May, to organise their armed pickets, their proletarian and peasant regiments. In each factory, in every mine, in every peasant community, in the Universities, it is necessary to organise armed detachments, which will be the embryos of the Revolutionary People’s Army. Only in this way shall we definitively crush the fascists in the crisis which they prepare, while at the same time we shall assault the positions of the capitalist regime. Only in that way will the revolution triumph, opening the road to the building of socialism.”

The same issue of Combate, the organ of our Bolivian section, carries a special article on the organisation of armed detachments at trade union level against the fascist threat. These were no isolated incidents. The whole agitation of the POR in the months prior to the Banzer coup were centred around these slogans.

Nor did the Bolivian section limit itself to literary propaganda and agitation on this field. It started to take initiatives in order to implement that line. In the Food Workers Union of La Paz, where our comrades had important influence, an armed youth guard was set up. Comrade Tomas Chambi, member of the Central Committee of the POR, was elected responsible for setting up an armed guard by the Peasant Federation of Pacajos and accomplished this task (this was the only armed peasant detachment which would come to La Paz and fight alongside the workers on August 21, 1971). Another member of the Central Committee of the POR, was put in charge of organising an armed militia by the miners union of Huanuni. In the province of Santa Cruz our comrades participated with other left-wing forces in the armed occupation of land carried out by several thousand peasants. In the La Paz province, attempts of a similar type began to be undertaken.

Comrade Lorenzo’s above quoted article was written immediately after the Banzer coup. It appeared first in the magazine of the La Verdad group, Revista de America (July, October 1971 issue). It seems he has had second thoughts, for a year later, as author of the draft of the part on Bolivia of the minority document Argentina and BoliviaThe Balance Sheet submitted to the December 1972 IEC, he puts in a lot of words about the need of setting up armed militias. It is of course always pleasing to see a comrade, albeit belatedly, becoming converted to correct ideas. What is lacking however in this part of the Lessons of Bolivia is an essential element of the truth: to wit that the POR (Combate) not only had defended that same line 18 months earlier (when it was necessary to defend it) but had also started to apply it in practise.

Instead of that simple fact, we are served with the following piece of suppression of evidence and distortion:

“In spite of the course of the class struggle in Bolivia, the POR (Gonzales) held stubbornly to its position that a socialist revolution would occur only via rural guerilla warfare. Disregarding all the evidence before their eyes, our Bolivian comrades remained steadfast supporters of the line adopted at the Ninth World Congress a line that had ruled out almost everything happening around them (an urban insurrection, a reformist regime, open trade union work, the possibility of legal preparations, etc.).

“... As they visualised the coming sequence, Torres would fall and then would come the real struggle for power, that is, rural guerilla warfare on a new and higher plane, since the successor to Torres would be the most brutal dictator yet seen in the country. This was their real perspective. That was why they were so preoccupied with building some kind of military apparatus separate and apart from the mass organizations.” (International Internal Discussion Bulletin, January 1973, p.21.)

In the light of the above quotations and facts, comrades can judge for themselves what a caricature these paragraphs present of the real position adopted by our Bolivian section. It is simple nonsense to say that during the Torres regime they were preparing “rural guerilla warfare”; they were preparing and had started to organise workers and peasants’ militias. They were doing open trade union work and had conquered in a few months time important positions in this field. They were publishing legal newspapers, legal leaflets, organising legal meetings of the party. Especially they were warning the masses day after day that Torres would be overthrown by the right-wing, if the workers did not follow the party’s call to arm themselves. What remains of this whole misrepresentation by Comrade Lorenzo is the fact that the comrades of the POR (Combate) were indeed “preoccupied with building some kind of military apparatus.” This “military apparatus” of the POR, small as it was was one of the few existing in La Paz when the right-wing struck. To it was confided the guard of the COB headquarters on the night of August 20, 1971. It was this apparatus which led the masses to storm the arsenal, to get whatever arms were ready. People who still believe that you can “improvise” military combat in a spontaneistic way can crack cheap jokes about a “military apparatus.” The workers of La Paz rather appreciated its existence on August 20 and 21, 1971. They could only regret that it was not bigger and that they had not understood the importance of such preparations earlier. They seem to have learned their lesson since. Only Comrade Lorenzo hasn’t learned that lesson yet.

Comrade Gonzales, drawing the conclusions from the failure of the reformists and the centrists to arm the workers and from the weakness of our party which couldn’t all by itself compensate the failures of most of the other working class parties, indeed predicted that under these conditions Torres’ defeat was the more likely variant. Events have proved him to be right, alas. In case of that defeat, Comrade Gonzales was sure that the Bolivian working class would not be crushed, that the struggle would continue, and that the lessons would be drawn to step up military preparations. In this too, events proved him to be rather right. But it is completely misleading to present things as if the POR (Combate) refused to conceive the possibility of a struggle for power under the more favourable conditions of the Torres regime, i.e., “preferred” in a certain sense the dictatorship which would open up the road for “extended guerilla warfare.” This type of slander of Stalinist origin should not be developed in the Fourth International discussion documents, whatever may be the heat of the debate. The POR (Combate) did everything it could to prepare the workers for the fight against the impending coup. To blame Banzer’s victory and our comrades alleged orientation towards “rural guerilla warfare” and to affirm that their policy led to a “disaster” completely distorts the historical record based on the POR’s writings and actions between October 1970 and August 1971.

Comrade Lorenzo tries to involve us too in the presumed “mistaken political analysis” of the Torres period. He quotes a sentence of the article which we wrote together with Comrade Martine Knoeller in November 1970, and in which we warn the Bolivian workers that in spite of the fact that General Torres came to power “with the support of the left,” the army would try to crush the masses as soon as it had re-established its unity. We warned the workers not to expect a protracted period of bourgeois democracy, but to prepare themselves for an immediate armed confrontation with the enemy. Nine months later this confrontation actually occurred. The fact that the army was united not by General Torres but by General Banzer is of absolutely secondary importance. What we understood was that there was only a short time left to prepare for armed confrontation, and that the workers should have prepared for this. We didn’t write a word about “rural guerilla warfare,” but about the need to prepare the masses for this confrontation. The POR (Combate) didn’t say a word about “rural guerilla warfare,” but likewise called upon the masses to arm themselves against the incoming semi-fascist onslaught. In that sense, we were armed, and the Bolivian POR was armed, by the 9th World Congress resolution on Latin America, – which is the best proof of the fact that this resolution far from projecting a universal line of “rural guerilla warfare,” prepared all those willing to listen to the key importance of taking initiatives in the direction of armed struggle in all those forms made necessary and possible by the development of the class struggle itself.

5. Comrade Moreno, Advisor of the POR

Comrade Lorenzo and the other authors of the minority document submitted to the December 1972 IEC heap heavy irony and scorn on the “rural guerilla warfare” and the “civil war on a continental scale” line of the ELN and allegedly of the POR (Combat) too. They make the “orientation towards rural guerilla warfare” responsible for the (undemonstrated) political mistakes of the POR (Combat) during the Ovando and Torres regimes, and even for the defeat which the revolution suffered in August 1971. The application of the guerilla warfare line was undertaken by the POR during the Barrientos dictatorship. In the final year of that dictatorship, in 1968, Comrade Moreno had the following to say about the “strategy of armed struggle in Bolivia” (yes, Comrade Hansen: Moreno wrote about the strategy and not the tactics of armed struggle):

“In the past, we had posed the question of power in Bolivia insisting on the need that the trade unions, the COB and the workers and peasant militias take power defeating the national army or preventing its rearmament. Today this isn’t possible anymore. Even if it took a much paler aspect, the same was applied in all the other [Latin American] countries. The way in which we posed the question of power in countries like Chile, Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay was through the demand that the trade union organisations or the working class parties should organize the armament of the proletariat and the conquest of power. This was a tactical variant of the well-known strategy of the workers and peasants government. It was a nationally institutionalised way of posing the question of power, through the great recognised organisations of the mass movement: the trade unions.

“The deterioration of the economic situation, and the generalised impossibility – with some exceptions – of defending or conquering the most minimal economic demands, leads or is leading the traditional trade union organisations to become more and more discredited. On the other hand, yankee imperialism, united with the strongest sectors of the bourgeoisie, creates bonapartist governments, supporting themselves upon the national armies and repressive forces, in order to prevent anything of this type from happening. Among these repressive forces are to be included the whole weight of the repressive apa-ratus of yankee imperialism itself, ready to intervene directly when these repressive forces are insufficient, as in the case of Santo Domingo. In front of this situation, the problem of power as well as the problem of the development of organs of dual power and of the conquest of power, has to be posed in different terms.

“With the Cuban revolution, and more precisely with changed policy of yankee imperialism (escalation in Vietnam), a new phase of the class struggle has opened in our continent: there are no more possibilities of the conquest of power on a national scale. There are at the present moment no more possibilities for a socialist Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Guatemala or Mexico. This does not mean that the case of Santo Domingo, with a popular and working class insurrection taking power and defeating a national army, cannot repeat itself. Such a possibility remains open. What is impossible during this stage, in which yankee imperialism will intervene with all its might to crush that variant, is the defence of power in the urban centers. It flows from there that the organisation and development of workers power transforms itself, through whatever variant, in the problem of armed struggle, of winning the population, especially the peasants and the workers, for armed struggle.

“By its very nature, such an armed struggle will be unable to respect frontiers and will tend to transform itself in a front of continental civil war. If in the past the trade-union was our organisational vehicle for posing the question of power, today OLAS, with its national combat organisations for armed struggle, is the only organisational vehicle for power. We state this, because the democratic or transitional slogans for the struggle for power: Constituent Assembly, workers and peasant government, workers federation with Cuba, transform themselves into petty-bourgeois declamatory demands, if they are not accompanied by a concrete dynamic of revolutionary struggle in order that specific class organs might take power.”

“In the simplest way we would say that the transitional demands for power of revolutionary Marxism are always combined with a way of posing dual power, of supporting and developing organs of workers power, for the destruction of organs of bourgeois power. Lenin said: ‘Constituent Assembly,’ and together with this ‘All power to the Soviets.’ We have said: ‘All power to the CGT’ together with ‘Constituent Assembly.’ In Bolivia we said: ‘All power to the COB.’ When the slogans of power become separated from this way of conceiving dual power, they transform themselves into reformist slogans, and, in the best of cases, into super-propagandist slogans.

“Which revolutionary class organs do we propose today to take power, to combine them with ‘Constituent Assembly, Down with the reactionary governments, Federation with Cuba, etc.?’ The trade-union organisations as in the past? We think categorically no! The organisational class dynamics for power concretises itself in: All power to the ELN in Bolivia, to the FALN in Venezuela, and so on in the same way. As long as there is no armed struggle in a given Latin American country, the organisational power dynamics can be formulated in a propagandistic way on the basis of the same themes: a continental civil war, let us prepare the armed struggle; long live OLAS and its armed struggle, etc., combined with the other power demands.” (La Revolucion Latin Americana, Argentina y nuestras Tareas; 1) La Situacion Mundial p.12 – Our stress.)

If the 9th World Congress document really had the perspective of generalised “rural guerilla warfare” and of “civil war on a continental scale” in 1969, the least one can say is that Comrade Moreno’s 1968 document was its great predecessor. As always when he makes a turn, Comrade Moreno makes it all the way. One will look in vain, even in the most “ultraleft” documents of the international majority, not to speak of the Bolivian comrades, for such extreme formulas as the one which makes even the most “minimal” economic concessions of the bourgeoisie impossible (our Bolivian comrades, under Ovando, were calling for the re-establishment of the 1965 wage for the miners, and after the October 1970 mobilisation this was actually achieved). One will look in vain for even the most diabolic “guerillists” in the ranks of the Fourth International repeating in 1968 Comrade Moreno’s wisdom that the unions were in a process of becoming “discredited.” Our Bolivian comrades were calling for the re-establishment of free trade unions and the recuperation of their buildings and property at the same time Comrade Moreno proclaimed unions to be going out of business.

Indeed one might ask oneself whether the lengthy and impassioned polemics which the minority document Argentina and Bolivia - The Balance Sheet, submitted to the December 1972 IEC, unfolds against the partisans of “universal rural guerilla warfare” as the “only road to socialist revolution,” is directed at all against the Bolivian and the Argentine sections of the FI, not to say the international majority and the 9th World Congress Latin American document – which of course never defended such absurd positions – or whether this polemic is not in fact the way in which the authors of the first draft of that document, Comrades Moreno and Lorenzo, choose to atone for their own past deadly sins, and present to the startled world Trotskyist movement a thorough self-criticism – without unfortunately mentioning the real culprits of the wrong positions they demolish.

But there is more to come. In his 1968 article La Revolution Latinoamericana, Argentina Y Nuestras Tareas (The Latin American Revolution, Argentina and Our Tasks), Comrade Moreno furthermore develops the following detailed analysis of the prime importance of rural guerilla warfare in Bolivia, not only for the Bolivian but even for the Argentine revolution:

“The historical importance of the beginning of armed struggle in Bolivia demands from us a careful analysis and redoubled activity under this perspective. We should default as Marxists if we would not start from a concrete analysis of the present reality. The death of Che has been a grave blow for the armed struggle, but it hasn’t crushed it, and it has no more suppressed the group which started it. Inti Peredo and his heroic comrades survive and continue to fight: they are already in fact the new leadership and power organisation of the Bolivian proletariat and masses. On all the walls of Bolivia you can read the following slogan: Inti will no die. This concrete, decisive, fundamental fact is the first one which we have to take into consideration when examining the Bolivia situation. Any theoretical-political document which doesn’t put this fact first, and doesn’t consider it fundamental is a real disaster.... It would be intellectual and sectarian pedantry elevated to its extreme degree. Inti and his group survive, like Fidel and his group survived at that moment [after the Granma landing], and no Marxist analysis of the reality of the southern part of our continent, of our country and of Bolivia is possible, if it doesn’t start from this decisive, categorical, concrete and immediate fact, known by all ...

“It follows that the first task of all Latin American revolutionists in this moment, the first task of OLAS as the only organization capable of conducting armed struggle, of our party as part of OLAS in a country bordering on Bolivia, is to first save and then consolidate the ELN and Inti as its undisputed leader. There is no more urgent task than this.

“To save Inti is our principal tactical task; to develop the armed struggle in Bolivia is our principal strategic task as Trotskyists. We must demand that our International, and especially the whole Trotskyist movement of Latin America concentrates itself on Bolivia. All conditions work in favour of this continuation of the Bolivian armed struggle: a crisis of the economy without any way out; the crisis of the bourgeoisie; radicalisation of the urban petty-bourgeoisie and growing discontent of the peasantry as a result of the new taxes imposed by the Barrientos government; revolutionary disposition of struggle by the mining and factory proletariat. Subjective conditions conspire against this: the parties which adhere to OLAS continue to be weak and disorganised; there is no programme for struggle which reflects the needs of the masses. All this is important, but in this given moment, it is abstract. What is urgent and fundamental is the need to save Inti and his group, the ELN, beginning to create a movement rooted in the mass movement which saves him and allows the ELN to develop.

“...Our responsibility is of the first magnitude. Without the direct intervention of ourselves and our international we shall not be able to play a role of prime magnitude, to save Inti and develop the ELN. A single young comrade of ours, very young and without experience, has played and is still playing a role of prime magnitude. Several much more capable comrades could do a lot! With that goal, the party must intervene with everything: money, middle cadres, logistic support from the limiting provinces for the Bolivian armed struggle. Enough talk! Let us intervene urgently in the armed struggle in Bolivia, key of our own revolution.” (Le Revolution Latinamericana, Argentina y Nuestras Tareas, Capitulo Quinto: Nuestras Tareas, pp.1-2) (our stress.)

It is not necessary to continue these quotes. They prove beyond any doubt that under the Barrientos dictatorship in 1968, Comrade Moreno gave our Bolivian section the advice to put itself completely under the command of the ELN and its “undisputed leader,” who were conducting a typical foquista form of rural guerilla warfare. He saw this foco as a decisive factor not only for the Bolivian but even for the Argentine and the whole Latin American revolution. He wanted to subordinate everything to develop the ELN struggle in Bolivia.

Three years later in 1972, Comrades Lorenzo/Moreno, discovering the urban mass upsurge of the Bolivian proletariat, gave our Bolivian section the opposite advice to launch itself immediately into an urban struggle for power:

“On May 1 a Popular Assembly in which the working class movement has a majority representation was inaugurated in Bolivia. This fact has an enormous importance. It is the expression of the dual power which prevails in Bolivia. On the one side there is the government of Torres and on the other side there is the working class. For that reason we find it strange that the ELN, which has not started to organise urban actions, is of the opinion that the ‘workers parliament,’ desired by the trade unionists and the left parties, ‘only serves to contain or deviate the revolutionary process’.” (La Opinion, 8/5/71, p.31)

This shows no understanding of the contradictory nature of the phenomenon. It is not exagerated to compare the appearance of the Popular Assembly with that of the Soviets which emerged during the Russian Revolution. These Soviets were, like the Popular Assembly in Bolivia, products of the revolutionary upsurge. That is the decisive fact. Torres had to “impose” this resolution upon himself, independently of the fact that the hegemony which the most bureaucratized or reformist elements exercise (over the Assembly) allow him to continue his bonapart-ist game. The present situation in Bolivia is very similar to that of Russia, when the Bolsheviks were in a minority in the Soviets and the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries capitulated shamelessly before the Provisional Government of the bourgeoisie first, or Kerensky afterwards.

“Nobody would dare to say today that the Soviets of that period ‘only served to contain or deviate the revolutionary process.’ Their capacity to precise this phenomenon allowed Lenin and Trotsky to acquire a policy for the conquest of power. It is clear that neither Lechin nor Lora are the Lenin and Trotsky of the Bolivian revolution. And if things would depend upon them, all power would never pass into the hands of the workers. But it is important to see how the Popular Assembly could become a useful medium through which the real revolutionaries could give impetus to the process towards this fundamental goal.

“It is evident that the existence of the Popular Assembly alone does not guarantee the fulfillment of this task. The absence of a real revolutionary party, like the Russian Communist Party, is a powerful obstacle in favour of Torres and Co. Historical experience shows how highly explosive processes can become deviated or frustrated....

“...This danger likewise exists in Bolivia, for sure. But it would be criminal if, while being conscious of this aspect, we should refuse to recognise that the present legalisation of the Popular Assembly represents an extraordinary triumph of the toiling masses which has to be deepened till all power is conquered. The general situation in Latin America contributes to this perspective, independent of the efforts of Lechin and Co. for maintaining the process within the limits accepted by the Torres government. It is in this way that revolutionists should see the Bolivian panorama. Using sectarian blinkers can only help the opportunists.” (La Verdad, May 12, 1971)

There is indeed a 180 degree turnabout. No more all power to the ELN, but to the Popular Assembly. No more were the trade unions discredited; they had become the main motors of the revolutionary process. But the May 1971 analysis doesn’t seem more adequate than the 1968 one. The absence of Soviets, the absence of arms, the preparation for a counter-revolutionary coup, the need to warn the workers about that rather than to issue empty proclamations about the “conquest of power,” the urgency of beginning without delay the arming of the workers and the peasants: all these aspects of the situation of which the Bolivian section was fully conscious somehow escape our advisor’s eagle eyes.

In spite of these dizzy ups and downs of advice, the Bolivian section kept its head, understood the need to prepare for guerilla struggle under Barrientos, but refused to dissolve itself in the ELN, refused to give in to the foco conceptions, maintained the necessity of close links with the miners, the urban workers and the poor peasants, and therefore was able to make the necessary turn towards the arming of the proletariat immediately after the new upsurge of the mass movement, meanwhile constantly maintaining the independence of the party, of its programme and of its political orientation. Yet the authors of the remarkable advice of 1968 and 1971, which have so well stood the test of history, have the cheek to accuse the Bolivian section in 1972 of having “missed the boat” and to be even co-responsible for the defeat of the revolution, because they were allegedly sticking constantly to “rural guerilla warfare.” A bit thick, isn’t it?

6. The Alleged Political Mistakes of the Bolivian Section

In an indictment of the political mistakes supposedly committed by our Bolivian section, the authors of Argentina and Bolivia – The Balance Sheet advance seven accusations against the comrades of the POR (Combate):

  1. They failed to understand the differences between the Barrientos and Torres regimes, between Kerensky and Kornilov.
  2. They failed to participate in the “Political Command,” a united front set up by the mass organisations of the Bolivian working class.
  3. They failed at each step to work out a correct political line for the unfolding mass movement.
  4. They were late and hesitant in understanding the importance of the Popular Assembly.
  5. They failed to launch the slogan “All Power to the Popular Assembly,” without which “all talk of armed struggle amounted to nothing but phrase-mongering or ultra-left adventurism.”
  6. As a result of their previous orientation toward “rural guerilla warfare,” they were isolated from the mass movement.
  7. After the defeat, they joined an unprincipled united front with the betrayers of the Bolivian revolution, the FRA (Anti-Imperialist Revolutionary Front), thereby contributing to cover up for the crimes and betrayals of the bankrupt leaders of the mass movement of 1970-71. This front, in addition, has a bourgeois programme.

The indictment seems formidable. But after careful examination, one has to conclude that not a single one of these accusations holds water.

Did the Bolivian section fail to make the distinction between Kornilov and Kerensky, between Torres and Barrientos or Banzer? If such a “failure” would have any meaning, it could only mean one of two things: either that our comrades remained neutral when Banzer rose against Torres, refusing to fight against Banzer alongside with the Torres supporters, be it independently from them, like the Bolsheviks fought alongside Kerensky but independently from him against Kornilov; or that the POR (Combate) followed essentially the same line under Barrientos and Banzer as under Torres. Both implications are completely unfounded. The record shows that the POR (Combate) fought alongside the Torres supporters against Banzer, and played even a partially leading role in this struggle. The record also shows that the POR (Combate) was legal, and followed a line of mass arming of the workers and peasants under Torres, whereas it acted illegally under Barrientos and Banzer, following an orientation of preparing armed struggle by smaller contingents. The first accusation thereby falls.

It is true that the POR (Combate) failed to participate in the “Political Command” of 1970. But was this a mistake? Unfortunately for the authors of the minority document, the “political Command” was not a working class united front, but a typical coalition between working class and bourgeois parties. One of its main participants was the largest bourgeois party in Bolivia, the MNR, whose top leaders have been responsible for the terrible massacres of the miners in 1964. One of its first acts was to demand ministerial posts in the Torres cabinet. Should the POR have joined these gentlemen in a common “political command?” We don’t think so. The second accusation thus also falls.

Is it true that the POR (Combate) “failed at each step to work out a correct line for the unfolding mass struggles?” We have already analysed two of these lines projected at one year’s interval. In the middle of 1970, under the Ovando regime, they called for complete restoration of trade union freedom, liberation of all political prisoners, restoration of the miners’ wages of 1965, and the setting up of an elected representative body of all working class organisations. Was this a wrong line for the “unfolding mass struggle?” It was so “wrong” that a year later, the masses had realised every single one of these demands! In the beginning of 1971, the POR centred its political line on the three demands quoted above: democratic elections of local and rank-and-file assemblies of the toiling masses so as to transform the Popular Assembly into a real soviet, immediate arming of the workers and poor peasants; extension of the revolution to the countryside through the implementation of a concrete and detailed programme, published by the Party. It seems to us that these two series of demands, in 1970 and in the beginning of 1971, were fundamentally correct and corresponded to the needs of the unfolding mass struggle. The third accusation thereby falls.

Was the POR “late and hesitant” in understanding the importance of the Popular Assembly? Members of the POR participated in it since its first session. The POR as a party requested to be represented at this first session, on May 1, 1971. This request, blocked by Lora, was then transferred to a commission dominated by the pro-Moscow CP, which after much bickerings granted it during the second session of the Assembly, in July, which lasted five days (three days plenary sessions, five days commissions). The POR was to be invited as a party for the third session, called for September. This session was never convened, because of the Banzer coup. There is consequently no sign of any “hesitation” on behalf of the POR (Combat), as it attempted to gain representation in the Assembly from the first day of its convening. The fourth accusation thus falls.

Was the slogan, “All Power to the Popular Assembly” the key slogan for the period May-August 1971? The case of the minority comrades is not very convincing. There were no Soviets. The peasants – three-quarters of the population of Bolivia – didn’t yet identify with the Assembly. Neither did the soldiers. Furthermore there was not even a beginning of the process of arming the masses. Under these conditions, the slogan “All power to the Popular Assembly” seems premature, to say the least. We believe that POR (Combate) was substantially correct in giving priority to its three main demands, enumerated above.

But even if the minority were more correct on this question of the slogan, it is obvious that the mere ‘launching’ of the slogan, would not have changed anything concerning the outcome of the struggle. The military coup was imminent. The decisive question was to prepare the workers and peasants against the coup by arming them. It is not true that a successful reply to a reactionary coup is impossible without a central governmental slogan. There was no central governmental slogan in Spain in July 1936; nor was there one during the days of struggle against Kornilov either. In fact the Bolsheviks had temporarily abandoned the slogan, “All Power to the Soviets” after the July days, and took it up again only after Kornilov’s defeat (see Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. 2, Chapter entitled The Bolsheviks and the Soviets). So the fifth accusation also substantially falls.

Is it true that in 1970-71, the POR (Combate) was “isolated from the mass movement,” as a result of its previous involvement with “rural guerrilla warfare” (pressed upon it, as we noted, by Comrade Moreno himself as late as 1968)? This is absolutely untrue. To show the shallowness of this particular accusation, it is sufficient to indicate that out of the 180 members of the Popular Assembly representing workers and peasants unions, the POR (Combate) had no less than 12 (as compared to Lora’s 6): 3 representatives of the Food Workers Union; 2 of the Departmental Trade Union Federation of La Paz; 2 of the Teachers Union and 5 representing different peasants federations. Even in comrade Moreno’s own publications, which partially ignore the facts because they failed to consult the Bolivian section, the POR (Combate) is credited with a substantial representation in the Popular Assembly (equal to that of Lora, according to these publications). The least one can say is that if today a similar popular assembly were assembled in Argentina, the Verdad group despite many years of “exemplary mass work” and other “successes” of which the authors of minority document are very proud, would hardly win 6.5% of the mandates, which was the proportion received by the Bolivian section, allegedly “isolated” from the masses. So the sixth accusation also falls.

Finally, is it true that the FRA (Anti-Imperialist Revolutionary Front) has a “common bourgeois programme” and serves only as a cover for hiding the bankruptcy of the reformist and centrist leaders of the 1970-71 period? It is true that the FRA launched a public appeal – which was adopted against the vote and in opposition to a draft presented by the Bolivian section – which was essentially class-collaborationist in character. The Bolivian section made a mistake in signing that appeal. The United Secretariat has stated this publicly and we stick to that today. But the following facts should be noted:

(a) That the FRA, contrary to the “Political Command,” is not a coalition with the bourgeoisie, as not a single bourgeois party participates in it. Even the “revolutionary armed forces” under Major Sanchez state that they are in favour of a socialist revolution and adhere to Marxism-Leninism.

(b) That the programme of the FRA is explicitly socialist in character and purpose as appears clearly from the first three points of its fundamental Charter:

“1. The FRA is organised for the conquest of power. The Bolivian people have already reached a high level of revolutionary consciousness which has prepared them for the struggle for socialism as their political aim. On the basis of this popular political development, we begin the organisation of a political, trade-union and military mechanism which leads to the insurrectional struggle.

“2. Given the fact that the present government is an un-disputably dictatorial and fascist regime, an agent of yankee imperialism, and unable to fool any sector of the people in relation to its real character; given the fact that the Bolivian masses have an advanced political consciousness, what is necessary is to organise the action and the struggle in all its forms. With that goal it is vital to organise immediately a Vanguard Political Command with the participation of all the revolutionary sectors which unite themselves under the banner of the fight against fascism, for national liberation and the building of socialism.

“3. Our alliance has a durable and organic character and not a superficial and transitory one, because it is the indispensable instrument for the people’s victory. The struggle for national liberation and socialism is, in and by itself, indissolubly political and military, at one and the same time. For this reason, our alliance and conjunction of forces realizes itself simultaneously on the political, trade-union and military field. Our patriotic position, publicly open to an alliance with progressive sectors, does not imply any hedging over our class position, as the alliance which we establish and which will be in the forefront of the struggle for national liberation and socialism, expresses the ideology of the working class.

We state our conviction that the overthrow of the fascist dictatorship alone will not constitute a revolutionary order. Like all the other Latin American countries submitted to the regime of neo-colonial exploitation, Bolivia will have to reach the culmination of its historical process of liberation and of the building of socialism, within the framework of a revolutionary development on a Latin American scale.”

It is impossible to call this a “bourgeois” programme. Although as Trotskyists we would have formulated some parts of it differently, it cannot be denied that the line of this Charter is substantially that of the theory of Permanent Revolution. It should be noted that even the public appeal of the FRA, which we strongly criticised, stated that the leadership of the Bolivian struggle should be in the hands of the proletariat.

(c) It is not true that, as a result of entering the FRA, the POR (Combate) has been forced to end all criticisms of the reformists and the centrists in relation to the August 1971 defeat. The publications of the section which appeared since the establishment of the FRA testify to the exact opposite. They contain numerous and severe criticisms of the reformists and centrists bankruptcy during the 1970-71 period.

What is true, on the contrary, is that the setting up of FRA has strengthened the Bolivian section’s political case against the pro-Moscow CP, Lora and the followers of Lechin. For by joining FRA these parties and currents implicitly or explicitly admit the correctness of the Bolivian section’s orientation prior to August 1971. This can be seen clearly from the following excerpt of the first issue of Lora’s paper in exile, Masas:

“The whole people, the left, were fully aware of the imminence of the coup and that this coup would transform itself into a civil war. October 1970 and January 1971 were warnings about the designs of the right. The left answered simply with speculations and not with a military people’s strategy. Nobody took the arming of the proletariat seriously. The nuclei of the left launched themselves into a search for arms within their own organisational limits. This proved to be a drop in the sea at the decisive moment. The trade-union organisations, which had the major possibilities for organising their own militias, limited themselves to keeping the old arms taken from the ‘mines police’ during the October 1970 crisis (240 Mauser guns and 11,000 pieces of ammunition). There was no other plan ... This is proven by the fact that the left-wing parties didn’t take any measure of arming and organising militias in every single mining centre, in every single factory, as active part of their work.” (Causes de la Derrota, p.4 in Masas, September 1971.)

One should compare this quote with the one from the May 1971 issue of Combate which we have already quoted, to see how brilliantly the political position of the POR (Combate) becomes vindicated as a result of the turn made by other working class parties in joining the FRA. Our Bolivian section alone, through an understanding of the role of armed struggle reflected in the 9th World Congress resolution on Latin America, can face the Bolivian masses without shame with a balance-sheet of its activity in the 1970-71 period.

Under these circumstances, the POR leadership thought it wise to join the FRA in order to advance both objectively and subjectively the revolutionary consciousness of the Bolivian proletariat and the level of its revolutionary combat preparations. It was convinced that the incorrigible reformists would not stay long on the FRA line, would wriggle and squirm in the face of organising the real struggle, that the FRA itself would divide between a reformist right and a revolutionary left wing, that the reformists and centrists would once again base their hopes on “divisions” within the army and the dictatorship coalition, and try to substitute manoeuvres with these forces instead of preparing the masses for an armed overthrow of the dictatorship. This new experience, collectively assimilated by the Bolivian proletariat, would strongly reduce the political influence of the reformists and centrists and utterly expose them. So they hoped.

One can have differences of opinion on the estimates of the impact of the FRA on the Bolivian working class, and, in that light, differ on the sagacity of this particular tactical move. But there is nothing wrong, in principle, in entering such a united front with working class organisations on a clear socialist orientation, under the hegemony of the working class. So the last accusation of the minority against the Bolivian section also falls.

It is necessary once and for all to end the ridiculous misrepresentation of our Bolivian section’s political and practical orientation which implies that the POR (Combate) withdrew its essential forces “to the hills.” This has never been the case in the entire existence of the POR. Even when the POR had as its main orientation the preparation of guerilla warfare, this was always conceived as being based on the mining, the urban and the rural areas together, always conceived in close links with the mass movement. That is why the POR (Combate) did NOT follow Comrade Moreno’s 1968 advice to dissolve itself into the ELN and to put itself under the command of OLAS unconditionally. Nearly all the comrades of POR killed in combat or by the dictatorship since 1964 were killed in their capacity as mass leaders, trade union leaders, or in struggles of a mass character. The real debate is centred on the need or the impossibility of the Bolivian section to take initiatives for organising armed struggle in the light of a concrete perspective for mass insurrection, not a withdrawal to “rural guerilla warfare” or to “small bands in the hills.”

Does this mean that the Bolivian section is faultless, that its leadership didn’t make mistakes, that it has done everything which could be done to help advance the Bolivian revolution during recent years? We would give nobody such a blank cheque of approval including ourself or the entire international leadership together. We are sure that the leadership of the Bolivian section holds the same views. The POR (Combate) suffered and continues to suffer from many weaknesses. The main one being an insufficient strengthening of the party, an insufficient capitalisation of its broader mass influence in the form of winning additional members and cadres. Then there is the weakness of the cadre, imposing too many responsibilities on too narrow a leadership which is responsible for the insufficient practical implementation of many correct decisions of the party, including those in the field of armed struggle. The irregularity of the publication of the party paper is part of the same weakness. It is in this sense, with constructive criticism contributing to overcoming these shortcomings that the POR has to be helped. But strengthening the organisation, cadre building, etc., will certainly not be achieved with a wrong political line, or by eliminating what is the main political conquest of the POR during recent years in the eyes of the masses: its deep understanding of the need for workers to prepare themselves for armed confrontation with the enemy from the very beginning of every new stage of mass mobilisations. This theoretical and practical conquest far from being an obstacle to cadre building has shown itself and will show itself to be one of the main preconditions for strengthening the party.

Last updated on 9.10.2005