Ernest Mandel et al.

Some Fundamental Differences Between the PRT and the International Majority

(February 1973)

From International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Vol.10 No.7, July 1973, pp.27-34.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Before the plenum of the International Executive Committee, six members of the majority of the United Secretariat addressed a letter to the PRT comrades, in which they expressed their evaluation of the situation in Argentina and the party’s orientation. The aim was to open a needed and urgent political debate and to provide an initial guide mark for it. After the distribution of bulletins No.33 and No.34, which review the differences between the PRT and the International Majority on some basic questions, we feel it is useful to intervene a second time in hope of stimulating a political and theoretical confrontation and avoiding a sterile dialogue of the deaf. We deeply regret that so far the leaders of the PRT have not mentioned our letter in any way although the text arrived in Argentina (in fact we received the Spanish translation, without any mention of who was responsible for putting it out). On the other hand, they have centered their polemic on so-called factional activity, even a conspiracy, those guilty being members of the PRT, the Brazilian POC, and the Ligue Communiste (including a member of the United Secretariat). This is not the place to give the pertinent answer that is required and that can be summarized as follows: no factional activity was organized by the United Secretariat or its majority.

The basic problem is not, in any case, to stir up false discussions over false problems. If some problems are posed, if relations have deteriorated, the reason is basically political, and it is on this level that one must seek clarity from the start. This is all the more true since the International is already engaged in the preparatory period for the Tenth World Congress, and consequently, each section, each tendency, and each member has the right to speak out on the problems that are posed (while continuing to apply the line adopted by the preceding congress). For our part, without pretending to exhaust the subject, we are stressing some questions here that must be settled.

Marxist-Leninists or Trotskyists?

In summarizing the “ideological differences” between the PRT and “the European sections of the International” (actually it isn’t a question of the European sections, but of virtually the whole of our movement), bulletin No.34 says:

“Our party considers itself to be Marxist-Leninist. In contrast the other parties of the International define themselves as Trotskyist.”

From a formal point of view, it is necessary first of all to state that for a whole period our organizations most often called themselves “Bolshevik-Leninists,” that the documents of the Founding Congress (1938) used the word Trotskyist in quotes, and that the statutes adopted by the Second World Congress (1948) suggested the name Internationalist Communist parties for our sections. Even today we often use the characterization “revolutionary Marxists” in place of “Trotskyists.”

We might add that the title Marxist-Leninists is no longer clear in and of itself. The pro-Soviet CPs, although fraudulently, do not cease claiming to be Marxist-Leninist, and the Maoist organizations and sects do the same thing with great fanfare. It is thus indispensable in any case to introduce a supplementary formula: what current do we represent among all those who claim kinship with Marxism-Leninism? We don’t see any serious objection to accepting the characterization of Trotskyists, which originally was bestowed on us by our opponents.

But here a substantive question is posed, one which is, in the last analysis, decisive. It goes without saying that we are Marxist-Leninists on the basis of the fact that the Fourth International accepts the totality of the conceptions and method of Marx and Lenin, and constantly struggles against all those who consider them obsolete. But Trotsky made his own contribution to revolutionary thought. In the epoch of the first Russian revolution, he formulated the theory of the permanent revolution that Lenin accepted in its essence in 1917. And above all he analyzed the phenomenon of the degeneration of a workers state, introducing the scientific category of the bureaucracy, without which it is impossible to grasp what happened in the last half-century, in the Soviet Union as well as on the world scale.

That is why we specifically adhere to Trotskyism, which does not in any way imply that through it we differentiate ourselves in the slightest from the theoretical acquisitions of Marxism-Leninism. The disavowal of such a characterization can only be explained by a lack of clarity on the central problem of the struggle against every bureaucratic tendency and caste, or by an opportunist adaptation.

Which Revolutionary International?

In tackling the “political differences,” the bulletin specifically states:

“Our party hinges the reconstruction of the Marxist-Leninist international as a revolutionary mass international on the participation in this process of those revolutionary parties that hold power such as the Cuban, Vietnamese, etc. At the congress we also included the Chinese, but now there are elements that we must study more closely which could possibly show that those comrades who characterized the Chinese party as a bureaucratized party were correct. The rest of the International bases a strategy for party building on the strength of its forces, independently of parties like the Cuban and Vietnamese.”

This involves a key question requiring a clear answer. First, it is necessary to recall the following basic ideas:

  1. Without a revolutionary International with a mass base, meaning without a Leninist party organized as a world party, the proletariat will not be able to properly carry out its historic task of overturning capitalism on a world scale, and of rebuilding society on truly socialist bases. This is the idea that led Marx and Engels to found the First International and to take part in its practical activity in the difficult years, that led Lenin to launch the Communist International on the basis of the favorable conditions created by the victory of the October Revolution, and that inspired Trotsky’s decision to proclaim the Fourth International in 1938, despite his consciousness of the immense obstacles.
  2. The revolutionary mass International will be based not solely on the acquired knowledge of Marxism and Leninism, but also on that of Trotskyism (namely the theory of the permanent revolution and the conception of the historic necessity of the revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of bureaucratic power). As a result, only those organizations or currents that have broken irrevocably with the bureaucracy, both within each country and on an international scale, will be able to participate in it.

This said, it is clear that the revolutionary International will be built by forces incomparably larger than those that today compose the Fourth International. In such a perspective, one would not a priori exclude the possibility that currents that have come under the influence of Stalinism or of more general bureaucratism, or that swung between Stalinism, centrism and revolutionary Marxism will, on the basis of their own experiences and a deep critical reflection, arrive at that position. That, in general terms, is our conception, which, while being totally principled, rejects all sectarian attitudes, all fetishism regarding present organizational forms.

As against this, the PRT comrades express an eclectic conception resting, in the last analysis, on a too summary and partial analysis – thus incorrect – of the real situation of certain Communist parties. The fact that, regarding the Chinese Communist Party (not a small detail), the authors of bulletin No.34 must admit they were “possibly” deceived, should incline them to broaden their self-critical reflection and pay closer attention to the analyses of the International, which are the result of collective formulation developed and verified in practice on a world scale. They should pose the question for themselves of knowing if the proper role for a revolutionary vanguard is to define principled analyses and positions before others, if necessary going against the current, or to recognize a situation after it has even become obvious to the blind.

Moreover, the very terms of the problem are poorly posed in the PRT’s documents. It isn’t only the Fourth International that considers it impossible to develop a common effort to build the revolutionary International with the Communist parties mentioned by the Argentine comrades; these parties themselves don’t envisage any step in such a direction and would consider any present initiative on our part as fantastic and grotesque, if not a provocation.

Can one ignore, moreover, that very serious differences have existed for many years among the parties mentioned in the PRT’s Fifth Congress documents, that certain of them are oriented towards international groupings that oppose each other in a sharp struggle? Is it possible to dispute that all these parties, including the Cuban and Vietnamese – about whom we will return – have not broken with the international centers of the bureaucracy, which is not without very concrete negative implications? Finally: these parties, all rejecting the very idea of a revolutionary International as a world party, as it was conceived of by Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky, and, to the extent that they clearly express themselves on the subject, remain anchored in the concepts formulated by Stalin in the epoch of the dissolution of the Communist International and carried on by his successors. It is true that the Cuban leaders have differentiated themselves in a positive way in this arena as well, by the attempt at building the international movement that was the OLAS [Organization of Latin American Solidarity]. But precisely because this attempt did not have a solid theoretical and political base, because it was conceived in a solely Latin American perspective – thus being, at bottom, sectoral – because it didn’t imply an unequivocal definition with respect to the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracy, it rapidly and lamentably went bankrupt, being unable – it must be added – to express an adequate strategy for Latin America either. All the revolutionaries of the continent have paid a very heavy price for this bankruptcy.

Regarding Proletarianization

In defining what it calls the “methodological” differences, the PRT’s bulletin says:

“Our party characterizes the International and its sections as having a predominantly petty-bourgeois composition and character and poses proletarianization as one of the fundamental elements for building the International. The rest of the International, or at least the IS and the leadership of the European sections, have not posed this problem, preferring to fight against it as ‘workerism,’ ‘moralism,’ etc.”

It is a fact that the composition of the Fourth International, including the PRT, is not yet predominantly proletarian and that the growth of our sections has been greater, up to now, in student or radicalized petty-bourgeois layers than in the working class. It is absolutely incorrect that the International leadership and the European sections ignore the problem.

The history of the revolutionary movement teaches us that during certain stages of the struggle, the vanguard can find a deeper echo among radicalized petty-bourgeois layers, in the intellectual and student sectors, etc., than in the working class. This often happened in the past. This has happened today not only in the case of the Fourth International, but also in the case of other currents of the revolutionary left (including, to limit ourselves to Latin America, the Tupamaros, and the Chilean MIR). We are perfectly conscious of the serious problems flowing from this.

As a matter of fact, our orientation, revolving around the centrality of intervening and developing roots in the working class – which is the orientation explicitly adopted by the greater part of our European sections and is reflected in the document for the coming world congress – is determined as much by the political conclusions flowing from the analysis of the situation in capitalist Europe, as by the necessity for a change in the social composition of our organizations. The results attained up to now remain incontestably modest. However, our sections in Europe presently have a much more significant number of worker and unionized members than ever before, and, thanks to these members, to sympathizers; and to other contacts, they are in a position to exercise a real influence on the layers of new generations of workers who have been playing a growing role since 1968. Here are some components for concretely judging that could not be put in question by so-called “sociological” considerations, of populist inspiration, on the life style of European comrades or on the neighborhoods they’ve chosen to live in. [1]

But there is a supplementary consideration. Proletarian social composition and ties with the masses do not in themselves furnish any guarantee. There have been, and there are, reformist organizations that have a working-class composition, solid ties with the masses, and are led by members coming out of the proletariat. This doesn’t prevent them from being truly reformist, therefore integrated in the capitalist system and dominated by an ideology originating in opponent classes. The decisive guarantee can only be political in nature: all depends on the orientation the organizations adopt, the total maturation of their cadres and members. All depends on it: including their growth in the working class.

A Caricature of the Marxist Method

In the effort to seize on what they call “el trasfondo ideologico” [ideological background] of the conceptions of the Ligue Communiste and of an important sector of the International, the authors of bulletin No.34 write:

“The fundamental shortcoming in the League’s conception is that it essentially regards party building as a theoretical question, although it interprets theory from a non-Marxist point of view. We will try to explain briefly what we mean: the League feels that the key to building a revolutionary party is the theoretical and political education of its members, hence they conceive the development of revolutionary cadres as essentially a question of very broad study and research, mainly in the history of the world revolution and in current international revolutionary experiences. They cannot see that this studying and research is never ending, that it constantly pushes them toward dilettantism, that it cannot be correctly assimilated if it is not based on a truly revolutionary life style. That in the absence of truly revolutionary practice, without full intervention in the class struggle in their country, without a fusion with the workers vanguard and the exploited masses, without a revolutionary fighting spirit, or a proletarian way of life, it is impossible to correctly assimilate Marxist-Leninist theory or to thoroughly and accurately understand the complexity of the contemporary class struggle. As Marx said, it is ‘being that determines consciousness ...,’ the starting point for the education of a revolutionary militant is his way of life, his practice in the proletarian struggle. The compañeros in the French Communist League relegate the proletarianizing of intellectuals to second place, moreover they fight it and ridicule it, thus eliminating the possibility for a real assimilation of Marxism-Leninism.

“Leninism teaches that revolutionary theory is learned and assimilated in the life of the party; that revolutionary intellectuals bring in ‘fragments of Marxism’ to the party, and in the party, through its revolutionary practice, the teachings of the classics, the dialectic are analyzed, studied, and assimilated in the process of concretely applying them, using them as a guide for action. What is involved, then, is a process whose axis is the revolutionary practice of the party, a process that goes from the study of texts to the concrete application of the general truths of Marxism toward solving the concrete problems of the revolutionary struggle, which results in new theoretical analyses, a return to the texts, and once again to concrete practice, etc., always using practice, that is, the results of applying the line laid out, as the criterion for truth.

“From that viewpoint, from the feeling that revolutionary theory originates in education, in books, and in information, they develop the criteria of analyzing and giving their opinion on the state of the class struggle in every country and on an international level. Because they consider themselves international revolutionists by virtue of their bookish contact with internationalism, they feel they have the right and the duty to give their opinion on the growth of the class struggle in any country whatsoever. This is the way they operate for the most part, drawing hasty, irresponsible conclusions without any real Marxist understanding of the situation, as in Cuba for example, where they jump to using the formulations of bureaucracy, Stalinism, etc., and to characterizing the growth of the Vietnamese Workers party as empirical, etc.

“We say that they have a non-Marxist understanding of theory because they claim that analysis is the be all and end all, that is, they try to make analysis the most important aspect of knowledge. As Marxism-Leninism has already shown us, the axis and culmination of the learning process is revolutionary practice, which at the same time is the only test of truth. Hence Marx disqualifies other theoreticians and distinguishes himself from them when he maintains in the Theses on Feuerbach that ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.’ It doesn’t mean anything to a Marxist to analyze a social situation that he is not going to intervene in; to the compañeros in the League, however, it does. They dare to give their opinion and, above all, to formulate a line on processes and situations that they don’t have the slightest possibility of intervening in and that they don’t know anything about.”

The citation is long, but it summarizes the conceptions of the authors of these lines quite clearly.

We have already spoken of the question of proletarianization. We could add here that well-developed militants of a revolutionary party, with very solid ties with the masses and able to intervene effectively at all levels of the class struggle, would unquestionably be a condition for grasping the situation in all its specific forms much better. Well, such a party does not exist at present, either in France or in Argentina. We thus have no choice but to base ourselves on the one hand on the general analyses developed through a rigorous application of the Marxist method, and on the other hand on the empirical indications that we draw from the still limited practice of our organizations. The question actually posed is, from the beginning, to know if our general analyses are correct (on this ground the PRT comrades prefer not to get involved, and for good reason!); in the second place, to know if we are moving in the direction of overcoming our present limits, above all from the point of view of our social composition. But such a discussion must be concrete to be useful. If not, one may repeat empty generalities, one may swing between moralizing populism and gratuitous insinuations, ignoring the real situation.

We don’t deny that impressionistic assessments – whose source should most often be sought in insufficient study and information rather than in the intellectual penchant or petty-bourgeois origins of their authors – sometimes appear in the organs of our movement. But there is a basic point that seems to escape the authors of the bulletin entirely. In the last analysis, the European sections arose from, or were profoundly rejuvenated through, the anti-imperialist mobilizations of the 1960s (Latin America, Vietnam). Through these mobilizations our members felt the need to be informed about happenings on other continents, to know their history, to analyze the dynamic of their revolution.

The imperatives of our struggle for hegemony within the new vanguards and in the most politicized layers of the workers developed in the same manner. It was – and remains – necessary to define oneself at each stage not solely in relation to the particular developments of the class struggle in which one is directly involved, but also in relation to the world situation, in relation to the decisive forces that operate on the international arena. This implies, among other things, an analysis of the orientations and practice of all the currents in the workers and the revolutionary movements. This implies a precise knowledge and constant criticism of the line of the Social Democratic or Stalinist bureaucracies, and of the degenerated workers states, of the USSR and China above all. It is, in the end, impossible to win cadres, to develop them, to push the construction of revolutionary parties without outlining at every stage a world perspective, without grasping and indicating each day how the struggle in each country and in each sector is indissolubly tied to the totality of the world process.

It is lamentable that the leaders of the PRT do not understand that it is a very practical political necessity that inspires the interest of our members in France, in Europe, and elsewhere, and that it has nothing to do with an unhealthy intellectual curiosity. But such an attitude explains to us, at least in part, why the PRT’s publications are so poor, so primitive in terms of analysis of the world situation, including analysis of other countries of Latin America. When positions are taken, they are either marked by an extreme superficiality (see for example the unbelievable judgment at the time of the announcement of the Nixon-Mao meeting), or they are borrowed from other sources, above all Cuban, or they border on the most vulgar propaganda.

The authors of the bulletin outline, in passing, a self-criticism regarding a characterization of the Chinese CP. But they should draw the whole lesson of that situation. In El Unico Camino, which is linked up on this level to the tradition of Morenoism, some comrades of the PRT put Trotskyism, Maoism, and Castroism nearly in the same bag. The thrust of their position was to consider Trotskyism and Maoism as complementary. The Fifth Congress confirmed the same orientation two years later. Well, this kind of error was committed through lack of serious analysis, through adaptation to the climate of “Maoism” of the period, through pragmatism. If the whole International had adopted the same position, we would have been literally disarmed at the moment it became imperative to demystify the so-called cultural revolution, to show that Mao was not, in any way, in the process of leading a struggle to smash the bureaucracy, but that he himself also represented a bureaucratic current, which, while differentiating itself with respect to Moscow, subordinated the requirements of the mobilized masses to the requirements of bureaucratic power, and subordinated the needs of the revolutionary world struggle to the diplomatic needs of his bureaucratized state.

The comrades of the PRT remind us of the basic truth that Marxism does not limit itself to interpreting reality, but must transform it, and that verification in practice is, in the last analysis, the decisive criterion.

Unhappily, their formulations, especially that there is no sense in analysing a social situation where one doesn’t intervene, borders on a caricature of the Marxist materialist conception.

What they ignore is the autonomy – of course relative – of knowledge, thus of analysis. What they forget is that “the dialectical path of knowledge of the truth, of the knowledge of reality,” proceeds from “living intuition to abstract thought, and from that to practice” (Lenin). What they confuse is the need for practical verification as the decisive criterion in the last analysis and an alleged necessity for a material empirical contact with reality as a condition sine qua non of all valid analysis.

The works of Marx and Lenin are generalizations on the highest level, preceded by the organization of a gigantic mass of empirical facts and developed through a scientific method. But it would be ridiculous to pretend that Marx could write Capital, or Lenin The Development of Capitalism in Russia, thanks to a direct intervention in the social situation. Moreover, didn’t Lenin explain that Marxism was the result of classical German philosophy, English political economy, and French socialism, to wit, of generalizations developed as far as we can see outside of any practice of the working class? Of course, Marx and Lenin were only able to formulate their theories to the extent that they oriented themselves from the vantage point of the historic interest of the proletariat, and the validity of these theories was verified in light of the reality of the class struggle. But that has nothing to do with the idea that one can only make an analysis to the extent that one directly intervenes in a social situation. In parallel fashion, the sense of responsibility that should inspire a revolutionary in his judgments and criticisms of organizations and leaders who have effectively contributed to the historic struggle for the overthrow of capitalism is one thing. It is another thing to claim, as is sometimes done in discussions by the PRT comrades, that only those who have participated in a revolutionary process or who are engaged in armed struggle have the authority necessary to express themselves.

Moreover, let us reflect for a moment on the formulation used in the bulletin: “It doesn’t mean anything to a Marxist to analyze a social situation that he is not going to intervene in.” What does this mean concretely? Taken to its conclusion, a worker, even a revolutionary worker, should analyze only the situation in his factory, or at most his city or region. No one should engage in the slightest analysis of other countries, other parts of the world. In practice, those who write these lines violate their own line when, under the impulse of unavoidable political necessity, they outline their analyses and judgments on things that are not related to their practical activity, to their direct experience.

The problem is thus, whether the analyses that everyone has to make, more or less systematically, even outside their own field of activity, are or are not based on real facts, on sufficient information, on a rigorous method. The problem is whether one draws adequate practical conclusions or not from the analyses. This is the heart of the problem, which cannot be made to vanish through hollow generalizations on the connection between knowledge and practical activity or through simplistic formulas having no relation with a materialist conception. Once again, comrades, concretize your criticisms and appraisals. Get into the heart of the question!

As for us, we are absolutely convinced that the Fourth International – even as it is now – is capable of developing the most valid analyses and generalizations to the extent that, on the one hand, it attaches itself to the living traditions of the revolutionary world movement, and on the other, it represents a center for collective elaboration in which the most diverse experiences and the richest empirical knowledge converge. We repeat: fundamentally the International is the essential component in the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism on the world scale, but it is first of all the irreplaceable instrument for that total knowledge that is indispensable to lead the struggle to a proper end. To deny or minimize the role of the International, to confine oneself to conceptions that are in principle or in fact federalist, means to be condemned to empiricism, to expose oneself to the risk of succumbing to powerful sectoral pressures, in such a way as to hinder a real understanding of the general (and thus also of the particular, which cannot be gained in all its meaning except within the framework of a total analysis). This can mean, in practice, renouncing independent revolutionary elaboration and contenting oneself with the crumbs that fall from the banquet table of others, coming under the influence, i. e., the ideological hegemony, of powerful bureaucracies endowed with a concept of the whole, which they determine as a function of their own conservative interests and not of the revolutionary interests of the proletariat.

These are the substantive methodological shortcomings which are, from the theoretical point of view, at the root of the eclectic positions of the PRT leaders and of their refusal to wage the consistent battle that is called for against the bureaucratic leaderships of the workers states. Their lame attitude in the face of the Chinese bureaucracy and their support to the Soviet bureaucracy in the invasion of Czechoslovakia – a reflection of the influence of the Cuban leadership on them – have been up to now the most obvious manifestations of such an attitude. In fact, there is a combination of analytical poverty, principled eclecticism, and practical opportunism. Breaks in the internationalist conception flow from this: the needs of the mass struggle in one sector of the world revolution are subordinated or sacrificed to particular tactical needs.

Class Struggle in the Party?

There is another difference that must be underlined. It concerns the method through which the leaders of the PRT characterize incorrect positions or criticisms that emerge in the party as the product of hostile class pressures. From this they go to using the notion of the class struggle within the party.

In principle we don’t question that even revolutionary militants can come under the influence of a petty-bourgeois social milieu, and that, in given contexts, this can lead them to become vehicles of concepts or attitudes that are harmful for the organization. But consciousness of such a danger has nothing to do with the practice of automatically labeling any member who criticizes the party line or commits errors as an “objective” agent of the petty-bourgeoisie or even the bourgeoisie.

That method was brought into the workers movement by Stalinism: all the real or potential opponents of Stalin were regularly denounced as agents of imperialism, supporters of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. Maoism has followed this example up to the present: the conflicts within the party and its leadership during the “cultural revolution” were explained as the expression of a class struggle between the defenders of socialism and the partisans of capitalism (it is true that a little later the number 2 defender of socialism, the well-loved Comrade Lin Piao, suddenly changed character, passing from the first category into the second ...).

Far from being the result of an objective analysis developed after an exhaustive confrontation and a verification in practice, the sociological characterization was simply an instrument of ideological intimidation, a means to stifle debate, and an attempt to justify the bureaucratic and administrative measures (including physical elimination).

From a theoretical point of view, the method utilized by the PRT leaders, viewed in the best possible light, is inadequate (to the extent that one automatically, without any thought, looks for a class pressure behind every mistaken position, or position the leadership considers mistaken). But above all they ignore that the differentiations and differences in a revolutionary party have their objective base in the differentiations existing in the working class itself. The working class is in no way a single homogeneous entity. It is composed of multiple layers, which are differentiated by their objective situation in the socio-economic fabric, and by their experiences in struggle. As a result, the differences flow from the very real difficulty of developing, at each stage, a total correct analysis and of drawing from it all the tactical and strategic conclusions that flow from it. It is absolutely inevitable – above all in very dynamic situations where the facts of the problems and the needs for action can change with extreme rapidity – that different positions oppose each other within the same party on the character of a given stage, on the priorities of choice, on the methods to adopt, etc. The only way to use the internal dialectic flowing from this in a positive way, to avoid splitting the party organization, to reduce the contingent expenses, to assure – which in the last analysis is the most important – the most efficacious intervention in practice, is to have the most democratic confrontation of positions, without limitation of the right of criticism, of the right to organize tendencies, without the leadership enjoying a privileged position for the imposition of its own views. The practice of constantly leveling perjorative sociological characterizations against all those who criticize the majority line can only impede such a political confrontation and thus harm the development and maturation of the party.

The Vietnamese Communist Party

The appraisal of the character of the Vietnamese Communist Party is under discussion within the International and we will take the occasion to review it during the debate preceding the world congress. But we will state right now that we do not accept the position of the PRT comrades which puts the Vietnamese party on the same plane as the Bolshevik Party of Lenin’s time.

It goes without saying that revolutionary Marxists cannot ignore or minimize in any way the historic contribution of the Vietnamese Communists to the fight against world capitalism in building a workers state in half their country and in inflicting a heavy defeat on American imperialism in a war whose ultimate goal was to crush the Indochinese revolution. Nor do we minimize – in fact we have already drawn attention to it in regard to the growth of our sections in Europe – the decisive importance that the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese had for the eruption of new vanguards throughout the world. It is for all these reasons that we don’t share the position of those who characterize the Vietnamese party as Stalinist. What is involved in such a characterization, moreover, is a very partial view that grasps one side of a complex situation. We know that rejecting this characterization can pose problems of historic analysis and theoretical synthesis which merit ample discussion. But much graver problems are posed if one agrees to include in the category of Stalinism a party that has destroyed capitalism in its country and was, for a long period, in the vanguard of the struggle against imperialism on a world scale. Comrade J. Rousset, in his recent essay, correctly wrote:

“The PCV belongs to that generation of Communist parties that, before and after the second world war, broke in practice with the international politics of the Soviet bureaucracy ... Of all these parties, the PCV is the one that went the furthest in rediscovering the principles of Marxism.” (p.125)

Concretely, the PCV has on several occasions shown its independence with respect to both Moscow and Peking on important questions, which leads it, among other things, to seek alliances and collaboration with sectors of the workers and revolutionary movement ferociously attacked by the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies. It has in fact rejected the Khrushchevite and Maoist conception of coexistence and, in the face of developments in the South in the years following the Geneva compromise, it chose, although with initial hesitations and a certain tardiness, to get involved in the revolutionary struggle against the neocolonial regime and to give it leadership, conscious all the while that that would inevitably lead to a major confrontation with American imperialism. It grasped the dynamic of permanent revolution in the Indochinese revolution and systematically worked to pull out the roots of capitalism in the liberated zones of the South as well.

In other words, the PCV did not practice a policy of subordination to the so-called national bourgeoisie as did the Italian and French CPs in 1944-47, the Chinese CP in 1925-27, and the Indonesian CP in the 1960s, and the fronts it set in motion were based on committees effectively tied to the masses, where the dominant classes had no way of making their interests prevail or of exercising important influence. On the other hand, the conception of the peasant war never had the result of negating the hegemonic role of the proletariat, exercised through the party.

Having said that, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the theoretical generalizations of the Vietnamese Communists are not always free from ambiguity and that they implied and imply concessions to popular-frontist ideas of Stalinist origin. This has had, especially in certain periods, very negative results on the policy of the party (not only during the 1930s as Giap himself pointed out, but until the beginning of the 1950s with respect, for example, to agrarian policy). What is still more important is that this also risks impeding the theoretical and political clarification needed for the rebirth of the world Communist movement, since, thanks to the prestige gained through their struggle, all the conceptions of the Vietnamese Communists represent an extremely important reference point for Communist and revolutionary militants throughout the world. From the ambiguities in certain formulations – especially concerning relations with the national bourgeoisie – one can proceed as the Vietnamese have in the last twenty years, that is, through a struggle that broke through all theoretical limitations. But others could be led to proceed like the Indonesian Communists, who made an alliance with the so-called national, anti-imperialist bourgeoisie, etc., and ended up in a tragic defeat.

But the question of our attitude regarding the Vietnamese Communist Party implies a fundamental question: how should one characterize the Democratic Republic of Vietnam? We have said, and we repeat: capitalism was overthrown in North Vietnam and a workers state was installed. It is a historic gain. But the North Vietnamese workers state is not based on organs of real proletarian democracy. Of course, the party and the political apparatus in general have ties with the masses and, thanks to the role played during the last twenty-five years, to a large extent enjoy their confidence; which allowed them moreover to carry out the mobilization necessary to lead a war against imperialism and the Saigon puppet regime. But organs such as existed in revolutionary Russia, seen as instruments through which the masses in reality exercise their power and decide all political questions, do not exist. This is an essential component.

We add that in Vietnam also there isn’t a separation between the state and the party, and the whole experience of a half-century in societies in transition shows that such an identity between the state and party is at once a manifestation and a supplementary cause of bureaucratism. This is all the more so since the party does not function according to the Leninist criteria of democratic centralism, but is still inspired by methods introduced into the Communist movement by Stalin, which exclude a free confrontation of different and opposing opinions and negate every right to organize tendencies.

The conclusion we draw from this is that the Vietnamese workers state, too, is characterized by a bureaucratic degeneration, even though a crystallized bureaucratic caste enjoying privileges comparable to those of the caste ruling in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, or China does not exist.

Dangers for the Cuban Revolution

The report contained in bulletin No. 33 indicates in the clearest way that the leaders of the PRT take a purely propagandistic and apologetic attitude in regard to Cuba. We have already touched on this argument in our letter. Here we will restate what we said by recalling three essential points:

1. Organs of true proletarian democracy, that assure the effective exercise of power by the masses, their direct participation in decisions on all the political questions, do not exist in Cuba either.

The CDRs [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution] have important functions and they are able, under certain conditions, to be instruments of mass organization and mobilization, but their functions remain limited. The Cubans themselves describe their tasks as follows:

“1. revolutionary vigilance as priority No.1 of the CDRs; 2. information; 3. orientation of the population; 4. aid to the party and state in different tasks (instruction, health, local government, economizing resources, agriculture, food distribution, solidarity, civil defense, sports, etc. ...” (Excerpt from a document by the National Leadership of the CDRs.)

It is thus clear that they are not highly political bodies, comparable to the Soviets of the Russian revolution. Need we recall again, as we had to do many times in polemics with bureaucrats and centrists of all sorts, that such bodies were considered by Lenin and the Third International not as a national phenomenon, accessory components, but as typical components, indispensable for the victory of every revolution and for the growth of all socialist construction.

2. The Cuban party is not organized on the basis of democratic centralism. Once again, no one is denying its ties with the masses or disputing that there is any value in its original forms of recruitment. But it is a fact that there is no real democratic drawing up of decisions, there is no open confrontation of different points of view and orientations, which inevitably arise nonetheless. Do the comrades of the PRT forget the “detail” that fourteen years after the victory of the revolution, the party has not yet held its first congress? Moreover, they themselves explain their conception of democratic centralism, writing that “Democratic centralism is based on the following principles: the elaboration of a strategic line and a more general tactic for given periods, decided on by the membership as a whole at a congress ... organized tendencies can be formed ...” [2] That is exactly what does not happen with the Cuban Communist Party.

3. The assertion of the report in bulletin No.33 that careerism and bureaucratism have been practically eliminated does not, unhappily, correspond to the truth. Bureaucratic tendencies have also developed in Cuba and there are layers, notably of the middle cadres, that constitute a seedbed of bureaucratism, a grave danger for the future of the workers state. The methods of leadership and the management used by the regime are not of the kind to root out these tendencies which are, moreover, favored by the situation of Cuba’s prolonged isolation in an American continent that remains capitalist, thus making her economic development tortuous and contradictory.

The danger is all the greater today in view of the close relations established by the Cuban leadership with the Soviet bureaucracy and, what is worse, the attitude of unconditional support it adopted with respect to the Soviet bureaucracy. When one examines the perspectives of the Cuban -workers state, one cannot forget that among the factors in play there is the growing influence of the powerful bureaucracy in Moscow, which is, from all evidence, interested in supporting the most conservative layers in order to favor a process of bureaucratisation. That is why it is very serious that the Cuban leaders more and more blur the necessary distinction between the legitimate accords, with the Soviet Union having an anti-imperialist function and aiming to surmount the economic difficulties, and an attitude free from criticism towards the bureaucratic caste in power, its international orientation and its ideology. A corollary of this attitude is that they have renounced any substantial differentiation with respect to the Latin American Communist parties that Fidel and Che harshly criticized in the past, contributing in this way to the political maturation of a broad vanguard on the continent. If it is true, as the Fourth International holds, that the struggle against the opportunist, neo-Menshevik conceptions of the Communist parties is an inescapable necessity in the battle to build revolutionary parties in Latin America, here too the present orientation of the Cuban Communists in the matter is fraught with harmful consequences and should be legitimately criticized.

What is even more serious is that the Cuban leaders have a growing tendency to subordinate the needs of the revolutionary movements of other countries to the political needs of Cuba. They are moving in this way towards flagrant analytical distortions. The example of Peru, where the regime is lauded as revolutionary, where the army – the same one that destroyed the guerrilla movement – is also presented as revolutionary, is up to now the most significant: it is not the only one and the list is probably in the process of being dangerously lengthened. In Chile also, the support given, despite indirect warnings, to the Allende government and to its politics has certainly not facilitated the task of the revolutionary left, especially the MIR which was always very close to the Cuban revolution and its conceptions and leaders.

Such an attitude coexists with support to the revolutionary movements of certain countries under the heel of reactionary dictators. It is for that reason – as well as on the basis of an analysis of the internal situation – that our position of making a distinction between Cuba and the other workers states – in the sense that there is not yet a crystallized bureaucratic caste – remains valid. But, we repeat, dangerous tendencies, bureaucratic from the point of view of their social content and opportunist from the political point of view, effect and exercise a more and more negative influence. Latin American revolutionists should be conscious of this situation, they should understand that a purely propagandistic attitude vis-a-vis the Cuban leadership constitutes a very serious error that in the long run would not be without heavy political consequences. We all know – for us it is a basic truth – that the most decisive aid one could give the Cuban workers state is to develop the revolutionary struggle and overthrow capitalist power in the other Latin American countries. Well, in certain countries at least, that struggle cannot be effectively led without rejecting the analysis of the Cuban leaders, without rejecting their orientation. In the last analysis, thus, any unconditional attitude would be harmful to the fundamental interests of the defense of the revolution.

Again on the Problems Posed for the PRT

In our letter to the party, we outlined certain problems of orientation that are posed. We will have occasion to return to them later. Here we will limit ourselves to the following:

(a) The fundamental shortcoming of the PRT – determined in our opinion especially by the line followed after the very positive actions developed at the end of 1970 and the first few months of 1971 – rests in the fact that it was not successful in fixing the relationship between armed struggle and the dynamic of the mass movement: more concretely, it hasn’t developed a stable and consistent liaison between the intervention of the armed detachments and the struggles of the working class mobilized very broadly on a national level. This resulted in the armed actions being fundamentally inspired by logistical needs or by the need to protect or liberate militants hit by the adversary; in union work not being handled at all systematically; in no important outcome being registered in the campaign – correct in principle – for rank-and-file committees. In conclusion, the PRT was not able to politically and organizationally capitalize on the prestige it won among broad layers thanks to its courageous armed actions.

(b) As we already underlined in our letter, clarity has not been achieved in the party on the vital questions of a revolutionary strategy. At the same time, a too summary analysis ignored the difference between a trend towards civil war and the first stage of armed confrontation on the one hand, and revolutionary war per se on the other.

The consequence has been that in practice, the development of the ERP has been pursued as an end in itself, as the product essentially of the initiatives it itself took through the action of its combatants. Practice of this kind could not escape the danger of conceiving military strategy in separation from a close relationship to political developments. In beginning with an analysis of the situation, notably the rise of the mass movement, the orientation should have been based not solely on the need for an urban guerrilla activity in general, but more precisely on the need for forms of armed struggle tied more and more to the mass movement (it would have been necessary, in other words, to develop the potential elements of certain factory actions around the Viborazo [3]). In that way it would have been possible to stimulate the formation of self-defense teams, embryos of worker militias.

(c) These shortcomings hindered the PRT’s ability to play a major role in this stage of the class struggle, and weakened it considerably – from the political point of view – in the face of the tactical maneuvers of the dictatorship. Its inability to define, precisely and in time, its attitude toward the elections is very indicative in this respect. [4] Now if the elections actually take place, if the situation gives way to a compromise between Peronism and the military, and a – very limited – “democratic” interlude is thus produced, the PRT will find itself confronted with even graver difficulties than it faces today. If there is a turn, with an annulment of the elections – before or immediately after March 11 – if there is a return to a situation where armed confrontation will be a new priority, the PRT will pay heavily for its inability to exploit the present stage to win worker cadres or those tied to the workers movement, to enlarge its base, to tie itself more deeply to the mass movement.

All the problems we have underlined, the importance of which no one would question, should be at the center of the discussion in the PRT and between the PRT and the International. This discussion is a vital necessity for the party and it could prove decisive for its future evolution, for the evolution of its relations with the rest of the world Trotskyist movement. It must develop without hindrance, in the greatest clarity, giving absolute priority to the political elements in the discussion rather than any organizational questions, no matter how legitimate they may be.

February 10, 1973


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


1. Such “analyses” inevitably give rise to irresponsible chitchat and gossip whose end result – deliberate or not – is to obscure the political debate. For the information of comrades unaware of the facts, we can state in any case that both the full-timers of the International as well as those of the European sections receive wages far below the average wages of workers.

2. We would add that according to the Leninist conception, the right to form a tendency is not limited to the period of preparation for a congress, even if it is above all in such a period that the confrontation between different points of view occurs.

3. Viborazo is. the popular name for the second Cordobazo. A vibora is a serpent. On March 7, 1971 Jose Camilo Uriburu, the reactionary commissioner appointed by General Levingston to subdue the rebellious province of Cordoba, announced that he prayed for a chance to chop off the head of the Marxist serpent tempting the citizens of Cordoba. Thereafter serpents appeared on the walls everywhere, arid the subsequent semi-insurrectional explosion that brought down the Levingston regime became known as the Viborazo. [Translator’s footnote]

4. Up to bulletin No.36 (January 24), the leadership of the PRT had not yet expressed its position, limiting itself to outlining the two alternatives of abstaining or voting a blank ballot. It is curious that in mentioning the two “left” parties that ran candidates – Ramos’ FIP [Frente de Izquierda Popular – Popular Left Front] and Coral’s PST [Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores – Socialist Workers Party], bulletin No.35 said: “Their sectarian policy did not permit a truly representative expression.” We do not know whether there were manifestations of sectarianism in the Ramos and Coral campaigns. But it is striking that the bulletin forgets that the point on which they should be blamed basically is their opportunism: because they subordinated everything to participation in the elections, and they did not conduct a campaign of denunciation of the character of the elections organized by the dictatorship, in this way assuring it a “left” cover (we are abstracting here from the fact that Ramos and Coral can not be put in the same sack).


Note by ETOL

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


Last updated on 2.11.2005