Leon Trotsky

Clarity or Confusion?

(January 1939)

Written: January 30, 1939.
Originally Published in Spanish: Unsigned editorial in Clave [Mexico].
First Published in English: The New International [New York], Vol.5 No.3, March 1939, pp.86-88.
Translated: Bernard Ross.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

We published in No.3 of our review an article by Diego Rivera that dealt with a programmatic letter written by Haya de la Torre. Comrade Rivera’s article, as all our readers were able to see, took under consideration extremely important problems and, moreover, was written in an extremely serene manner. However, one of the APRA journalists, a certain Guillermo Vegas Leon, responded with an article that can only be described as impudent and vile. Mr. Vegas Leon, under the guise of replying to the principal questions that were presented, uses personal insinuations and believes that it is possible to attack Diego Rivera as a man and artist.

Is it necessary to defend Rivera against stupid and filthy attacks? Vegas Leon, with comical scorn in each line, calls Comrade Rivera “painter,” as if this word carries in itself a frightful condemnation. Senor Vegas Leon, in order to add to the weight of his irony, the irony of an impotent philistine, should have spoken of a “great painter”: if it is an evil to be a painter, it is incomparably worse to be a gifted master. Imitating Lombardo Toledano and other bourgeois “socialists,” Vegas Leon accuses Rivera of selling his paintings to the bourgeoisie. But who can buy paintings in capitalist society if not the bourgeoisie? The overwhelming majority of artists, dependent upon the bourgeoisie because of social conditions, are united ideologically to the bourgeoisie. Rivera represents an exceptional case because he maintains complete moral independence from the bourgeoisie. Precisely for this reason, he has the right to be respected by every socialist worker and sincere democrat. But Vegas Leon does not fall into either one of these categories.

Vegas Leon becomes indignant because Rivera treats Haya de la Torre like a democrat. Vegas Leon sees insult and slander in this fact. Haya de la Torre “is not a democrat but a revolutionist,” he exclaims. It is absolutely impossible to understand what this opposition means. On the one hand, the democrat can oppose the partisan of monarchy or fascist dictatorship; on the other hand, and in a different way, he can oppose the socialist. But to oppose the democrat to the revolutionary means almost the same thing as opposing a redhead to a lawyer. The democrat in France and the United States cannot, naturally, be a revolutionist; he is for the maintenance of the existing system; he is a conservative. But the democrat of a backward country, who finds himself under the double oppression of imperialism and police dictatorship, as is the case in Peru, cannot but be a revolutionist if he is a serious and logical democrat. This is precisely the idea that Diego Rivera develops. Diego Rivera reproaches Haya de la Torre for his position as a defender of democracy and not because he doesn’t appear to be a socialist in his programmatic letter. Rivera takes this position, conditionally, and tries to demonstrate, in our opinion successfully, that Haya de la Torre appears to be an illogical democrat. This is what Leon should have answered.

Haya de la Torre calls the United States the “guardian of our liberty” and promises to address himself to the guardian in case of a fascist danger (Benavides is not a danger?) “in search of aid.” Comrade Rivera justly condemns this idealization of North American imperialism. What is Vegas Leon’s answer? He replies with insults, invokes quotations from Lenin, cites other statements by de la Torre … and more insults. But he doesn’t explain in this manner why the Aprista leader, instead of exposing the true role of that country, considered it possible on the eve of the Lima conference to present the United States – as Toledano did in Futuro – as a philanthropic hen who protects the Latin American chicks (including the tender little chickie Benavides) from the vulture across the ocean. Such an amendment to reality is doubly inadmissible when written by a democrat of an oppressed country.

Revolutionary Marxists can conclude practical agreements with democrats, but precisely with those who are revolutionary, that is to say, with those who rely on the masses and not on the protecting them. APRA is not a socialist organization in the eyes of the Marxist because it is not a class organization of the revolutionary proletariat. APRA is an organization of bourgeois democracy in a backward, semicolonial country. Due to its social type, historical objectives, and to a considerable degree, ideology, it falls into the same class as the Russian populists (Social Revolutionaries) and the Chinese Kuomintang. The Russian populists were much richer in doctrine and “socialist” phraseology than APRA. However, that did not hinder them from playing the role of petty-bourgeois democrats, even worse, backward petty-bourgeois democrats, who did not have the strength to carry out purely democratic tasks in spite of the spirit of sacrifice and heroism of their best combatants. The “Social Revolutionaries” issued a revolutionary agrarian program but, as is the case with petty-bourgeois parties, they were prisoners of the liberal bourgeoisie – this good hen who protects her little ones – and they betrayed the peasants at the decisive moment during the 1917 revolution. It is impossible to forget that historical example. A democrat who sows confidence in imperialist “guardians” can only bring bitter illusions to oppressed peoples.

Comrade Rivera affirms in his theses, as well as in his article, that oppressed peoples can attain their complete and definitive emancipation only by means of the revolutionary overthrow of imperialism and that this task can be achieved only by the world proletariat in alliance with the colonial peoples. Senor Vegas Leon pours out a torrent of offensive objections and a few arguments of the same character on this idea. Putting the insults to one side, we shall try to locate the basis of his argumentation. The proletariat of the imperialist countries, he says, hasn’t the slightest interest in the struggle of the colonial countries, and, consequently, the latter must pursue their own course. To consider that the fate of the backward countries is dependent upon the struggle of the proletariat of the advanced countries, no matter to how small a degree, is … “defeatism.” We will not consider the absurdity of this viewpoint: Vegas Leon gives an example to prove the validity of his ideas: Mexico expropriated the petroleum enterprises. Isn’t that a step towards the emancipation of the country from its imperialist dependence? Nevertheless, that measure was taken without the least participation of the American and English proletariat. This recent example demonstrates, according to Vegas Leon, that semicolonial and colonial peoples can attain complete emancipation independently of the international proletariat’s attitude.

All this reasoning reveals that the APRA publicist does not understand the ABC of the question that is of fundamental importance for his party, i.e., the interrelation between the imperialist and the semicolonial countries. It is absolutely true that Mexico has taken a step forward towards economic emancipation by expropriating the petroleum interests. But Vegas Leon closes his eyes to the fact that Mexico as a seller of petroleum products has now fallen – and it was inevitable – under the dependence of other imperialist countries. What forms does this new dependence assume or can it assume? History has not yet spoken the final word on this subject.

On the other hand, can it be affirmed that the concrete act – the expropriation of the petroleum enterprises – is definitely assured? Unfortunately, it is impossible to say so. Military or even purely economic pressure from abroad, together with an unfavorable international relationship of forces for Mexico, that is, defeats and retreats of the world proletariat, may force this country to take a step backward. It would be a hollow fanfaronade to deny such a possibility. Only lamentable utopians can represent the future of Mexico, as well as any other colonial or semicolonial country, as one of a constant accumulation of reforms and conquests until complete and definite emancipation has arrived. Likewise, the Social Democrats, those classical opportunists, expected for a long time that they would succeed in transforming capitalist society by means of a continuous series of social reforms and attain the complete emancipation of the entire proletariat. In reality, the road of social reforms was only possible up to a certain point, when the dominant classes, frightened by the danger, launched a counteroffensive. The struggle can only be decided by revolution or counterrevolution. The accumulation of democratic reforms in a number of countries has not led to socialism but to fascism, which has liquidated all the social and political conquests of the past. The same dialectic law is applicable to the liberation struggle of oppressed peoples. Definite conquests that will aid the struggle for their further independence can be gained in a relatively peaceful manner under certain favorable conditions. But this by no means signifies that similar partial conquests will continue without interruption, until complete independence is achieved. After granting a number of secondary concessions in India, British imperialism is determined not only to put a final end to reforms but to turn the wheel back. India can only be liberated by the joint and open revolutionary struggle of the workers, peasants, and the English proletariat.

This is one of the question’s aspects. But there is also another. Why has the Mexican government successfully carried out the expropriation, at least for the time being? Thanks, above all, to the antagonism between the United States and England. There was no fear of an active, immediate intervention upon the part of England. But this is a small matter. The Mexican government also considered unlikely military intervention by its northern neighbor when expropriation was decreed. On what basis did those calculations rest? On the present orientation of the White House: the “New Deal” in national affairs was accompanied by the “Good Neighbor” policy in foreign relations.

Vegas Leon evidently does not understand that the present policy of the White House is determined by the profound crisis of North American capitalism and the growth of radical tendencies in the working class. These new tendencies have found their clearest expression until now in the form of the CIO. Senor Vegas Leon complains that the CIO does not interest itself in the fate of Peru. This probably means that the CIO treasury has refused to finance APRA. On our part, we are not in the least inclined to close our eyes to the fact that the political consciousness of the CIO leaders is not superior to that of the left wing of Roosevelt’s conservative party and, one can add, it falls below that miserable level in certain respects. Nevertheless, the existence of the CIO reflects an enormous leap in the thoughts and sentiments of the North American workers.

The influential section of the bourgeoisie whose representative is Roosevelt says (or said yesterday): “It is impossible to govern by the old methods; it is necessary to achieve an agreement; it is necessary to grant partial concessions in order to safeguard that which is fundamental, i.e., private ownership of the means of production.” This precisely is the meaning of the New Deal. Roosevelt extends the same policy to international relations, above all, to Latin America: to give in where secondary questions are involved in order not to lose on the important ones.

Precisely, this international political relationship has made possible the expropriation of petroleum in Mexico without military intervention or an economic blockade. In other words, a peaceful step on the road to economic emancipation was possible thanks to a more active and aggressive policy on the part of large layers of the North American proletariat. As one can see, the issue is not whether Lewis and Co. “sympathize” or “do not sympathize” with the APRA or the Peruvian people. Those gentlemen do not see beyond the tip of their noses and don’t sympathize with anyone except themselves.

Furthermore, the extent to which the American workers today understand their struggle for emancipation to be tied up with the struggle of the oppressed peoples is not the issue involved. Although the situation when viewed from this angle may be very lamentable, it remains an indisputable and, moreover, extremely important fact that the intensification of the class struggle in the United States has extraordinarily facilitated the expropriation of the petroleum enterprises by the Mexican government. Mr. Vegas Leon, as a typical petty bourgeois, cannot understand in the least this internal logic of the class struggle, this interrelation of internal and external factors.

It would be radically erroneous to draw the conclusion from what has been said that the policy of the United States will continue to unfold in the same direction in the future without interruption, thus opening ever greater possibilities for peaceful emancipation to the Latin American people. On the contrary, it can be predicted with full certainty that the “New Deal” and “Good Neighbor” policy, which didn’t solve any question or satisfy anyone, will only arouse the needs and aggressive spirit of the North American proletariat and Latin American peoples. The intensification of the class struggle engendered the “New Deal”; a further intensification of the class struggle will kill the “New Deal,” giving rise and preponderance within the ranks of the bourgeoisie to the most reactionary, aggressive, and fascist tendencies. The “Good Neighbor” policy will inevitably be replaced, and probably in the very near future, by the policy of the “threatening fist” which might be raised first of all against Mexico. Only the blind or petty-bourgeois phraseologists of the Lombardo Toledano or Vegas Leon type can close their eyes to those perspectives. A year sooner or later, the question will be presented in a very acute form: Who is master on this continent? The imperialists of the United States or the working masses of all the nations of America?

This question, by its very essence, can only be resolved by an open conflict of forces, that is to say by revolution, or more exactly, a series of revolutions. In those struggles against imperialism will participate, on the one hand, the American proletariat in the interests of its own defense; and on the other hand, the Latin American peoples, who are struggling for their emancipation, and who precisely for that reason will support the struggle of the American proletariat.

It can be clearly deduced from what has been said that we far from recommend to the Latin American people that they passively await the revolution in the United States or that the North American workers fold their arms until the Latin American peoples’ moment of victory arrives. He who waits passively gets nothing. It is necessary to continue the struggle without interruption, to extend and deepen it, in harmony with the actually existing historical conditions. But at the same time, one must comprehend the reciprocal relation between the two principal currents of the contemporary struggle against imperialism. By merging at a certain stage, definite triumph can be assured.

Naturally, this doesn’t mean to say that Lewis and Green will become outstanding advocates of the Socialist Federation of the American continent. No, they will remain in the camp of imperialism until the very end. It also will not mean that the whole proletariat will learn to see that in the liberation of the Latin American peoples lies its own emancipation. Nor will the entire Latin American people comprehend that a community of interests exists between them and the American working class. But the very fact that a parallel struggle goes on will signify that an objective alliance exists between them; perhaps not a formal alliance, but, indeed, a very active one. The sooner the American proletarian vanguard in North, Central, and South America understands the necessity for a closer revolutionary collaboration in the struggle against the common enemy, the more tangible and fruitful that alliance will be. To clarify, illustrate, and organize that struggle – herein lies one of the most important tasks of the Fourth International.

The example developed by us demonstrates sufficiently Mr. Vegas Leon’s general theoretical and political level. Is it worth the trouble after this to tarry over all his assertions? We will only consider two of the most important.

Leon attributes to us the idea that the USSR is an imperialist country. Naturally, nothing resembling it is found in Rivera’s article. We only said that the Soviet bureaucracy, in the struggle to maintain power, has transformed itself during the last few years into an agent of “democratic” imperialism. In order to gain the sympathies of the latter, it is willing to perpetrate every sort of betrayal at the expense of the working class and oppressed peoples. The attitude of the Stalinists at the pacifist congress in Mexico (September 1938) revealed completely their betrayal of the colonial and semicolonial peoples. Precisely for that reason, the left Apristas were in sharp opposition to the Stalinist majority at the congress. Is Vegas Leon in agreement with this or not? When this gentleman, assuming an air of importance, declares (differently than us?) that he is not an “enemy of the USSR,” we can only shrug our shoulders with contempt. What does the USSR mean to Vegas Leon? A geographical notion or a social phenomenon? If he takes “Soviet” society under consideration, he must understand that that society is completely contradictory. It is impossible to be a friend of the people of the USSR without being an enemy of the “Soviet” bureaucracy. All the pseudo “friends” of the Kremlin, as L.D. Trotsky has demonstrated more than once, are perfidious enemies of the struggle for emancipation carried on by the workers and peasants of Soviet Russia.

Vegas Leon evidently accuses us of “dividing the forces of republican Spain” in its struggle against fascism. Once again he reveals by this his reactionary stupidity. Revolutionary Marxists have demonstrated since the very beginning of the Spanish revolution, and above all, after the start of the open Civil War, that victory is only possible with a socialist program: give land immediately to the peasants, expropriate the banks and trusts, allow the workers to emancipate themselves from capitalist exploitation. The Spanish revolution would have been invincible with these conditions. But the lawyers and lackeys of the landed proprietors, bankers, capitalists, and clergy answered: “No, you are destroying unity!” Every revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants was implacably smashed in the name of “unity” of the exploited with the exploiters. All true revolutionary socialists and anarchists were victims of slander, prison, extermination. Moreover, the principal part was played by the Stalinist GPU. “No, you are destroying unity” – between the victims and the hangmen! We now see the results of that treacherous policy. The deceived workers and peasants have turned their backs upon the republicans and have fallen into despair, apathy, and indifference. This is exactly what has assured victory to Franco. Those who now repeat after the fall of Barcelona that the “Trotskyists” preach division of Republican Spain, demonstrate by this alone that they are agents of the Spanish landed proprietors, bankers, capitalists, and clergy. This alone is enough to force us to say openly to the Peruvian workers: Do not believe individuals of Vegas Leon’s type; they are conservative petty bourgeois who do not understand the logic of the class struggle, and consequently are absolutely incapable of leading you in your struggle for national and social emancipation; they can bring you nothing but defeats!

We believe that enough has been said. Vegas Leon’s insults and insinuations are not arguments. Shamelessness does not excuse ignorance. And ignorance is not an instrument of the revolution.

February 1939

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Last updated on: 22.4.2007