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The History of Argentine Trotskyism

Part III


From Revolutionary History, Vol.2, No.2, Summer 1989. Used by permission.

What Kind of Industrialization?

The intervention of the leadership of the Fourth International did not in any way change the positions of that sector of Argentine Trotskyism with which it maintained favourable relations. However, in characterising the country, the latter based itself, not on Trotsky nor on the Bolshevik tradition of the Third International, but on the Argentine Socialist theoretician who had developed the most coherent characterisation, the reformist Juan B. Justo. [59] For Justo, the incorporation of the great majority of national territory into production, largely agrarian, for the world market, was a typical example of ‘capitalist colonisation’. The backward character of this capitalism, however, did not escape him. There was a lack of industrial development, agrarian backwardness, and a predominance of anti-democratic political forms. For him, the thrust of economic development, which would allow those defects to be overcome, was foreign capital:

The entry of great masses of foreign capital is necessary and inevitable ... the great construction enterprises that must be carried out in order to complete the development of the country, and the working people who inhabit it, cannot be made by the dissipated and inept local class of the rich ... Foreign capital is going to accelerate the economic evolution of the country, and with even greater force it is going to accelerate its political and social evolution.

This schema, formulated at the start of the century, according to which the backward countries would, through the influence of external capital, re-run an economic and political cycle similar to that in the advanced ones, was taken up lock, stock and barrel by the Trotskyists four decades later, though with this distinction that they believed that the industrialisation of the country, and the association of foreign capital with national capital, had strengthened the Argentine bourgeoisie, and permitted it to elevate itself as a fully ruling class, and they saw this process as having been completed. It was on this that they based themselves in order to put forward the ‘Socialist revolution’ as the next stage of development. It is undoubtable that the leap in Argentinian industrial growth, during the 1930s influenced them in drawing that conclusion.

But, had the country been truly industrialised? By the second half of the last century, Argentina had fully entered the international capitalist circuit as a producer of primary products such as leather, cereals and meat, for the industrially advanced nations. The first great industries to develop, such as cold-storage and the railways, were tied to ‘pastoral Argentina’, that is, they consolidated Argentina as an agricultural off-shoot of industrial development in the world capitalist centres. This period of prosperity of the economy, based on ranching and commercial capital, also gave an impetus to the emergence of certain industries which produced for the home market. It was an industry limited to foodstuffs and to other essential produce, though it was not competitive, due to the cost involved and the distance from the world manufacturing centres. It did not involve industrialisation, as its capacity for expansion was very limited, and

... one produces without the appearance of heavy industry which would have characterised the order of other societies totally different from each other at that same level of per capita income in the nineteenth century, such as the United States and Germany. Argentina will lose its local and regional structures of production and consumption, without transferming itself into an industrial power.

So the thrust of economic developmeni was agrarian production for the needs of the industrial powers, and the growth of industry was subordinated to that, Latifundism was consolidated as a productive unity and the land-owning oligarchy as the ruling class. This led the Argentine economy to be subordinated to the accumulation of capital centred in the industrial nations – above all, Great Britain. But the latter, owing to the accumulation of capital, which already overflowed their national borders, penetrated the backward countries, obtaining investments for their surplus capital. There was extremely profitable investment in the public services and bonds of the backward countries, whose capitalist economic development was thus born already a slave to international finance capital. In our country, in 1885, 45 per cent of the capital of the railways was in Argentine hands against only 10 per cent by 1890. The interest paid by Argentina to foreign capital represented 20 per cent of the total exports in 1881, 44 per cent in 1885 and 66 per cent in 1886. This process, by making the country more and more dependent upon the export of its primary purchases, destroyed any financial basis for an industry of its own. At the same time, it laid the basis for the political dependence of the state. In 1890, in a global financial crisis, the government emptied the country of foreign exchange in order to pay the foreign debt and thus foreign capital appropriated almost the total national surplus.

The centre of power appeared to shift itself from the producers to the local representatives of the world centre of decision, such as their lawyers, financiers and intermediaries.

The lineal schema of J.B. Justo failed by not recognising that, considered on a world scale, capital had already attained its full maturity. In the advanced countries it showed its hostility towards the exploited without pretence, and became chauvinist and reactionary. In the backward countries it competed in obtaining super-profits, that is to say those superior to the world average, for which it allied itself with the most reactionary classes. Thus it consolidated the economic, social and political forms of backwardness, on which their domination was based.

The industrial growth, which started from 1930, was limited to replacing those industrial products which could not already be bought on the world market as a consequence of the fall in purchasing power of its primary exports. The international prices of Argentine products fell by 40 per cent between 1926 and 1932, while industrial goods maintained their previous value. The causes of industrial development were not internal but external.

There was no deliberate will of the governing powers nor an integrated development of industry as a consequence of the natural process of expansion, like that which had occurred in the metropoles. The market existed and it had a measurable and known demand which, until then, had supplied itself from exports and could also be satisfied through local production.

The economic content of this ‘industrialisation’ was dissimilar to that which occurred in the advanced countries, for in those there was the relative displacement of the production of consumer goods by that of capital goods, such as machines and industrial items. The production of consumer goods continued, and continues, to predominate to an overwhelming extent in our industrial structure. In the last century the industrialisation in the advanced countries meant, in social terms, a transformation of property relations and the expropriation or transformation of the old feudal classes and their displacement from political power, by means of a bourgeois democratic revolution. This laid the basis of the expansion of industrial capital. In Argentina, and in all backward countries, the old oligarchy associated itself with this bastardised process of industrialisation, whose dynamic factor was foreign capital. ‘Argentine industry’, which was consolidated in the 1930s, was a consequence of the industrial crisis in the advanced countries and an off-shoot of the latter:

The enormous mass of workers condemned to idleness and the high percentage of unused equipment called for the opening of new markets to recover stability and the level of production of previous years ... Thus was born “export substitution” in the metropolitan centres. Given that they could not pay for the complete plants, they installed final-assembly plants in the underdeveloped countries in order to continue sending them parts. This strategy, done by all imperialist countries, requires installing enterprises in other countries and generating captive clients for possible exports.

In the 1930s Argentina anticipated a process that would spread throughout the world in the subsequent decades.

The distinctive characteristics of this ‘industrialisation’ are:

  1. The stagnation of industry to a primary level of development. In 1937, establishments with less than 10 workers were 85.5 per cent of the total, and subsequently the proportion grew. To this artisan-type basis of industry one must add that the primary branches continued to be predominant, particularly those which were typical of the dawn of industrial production. In 1937 ‘Food, Drink and Tobacco’ comprised 40 per cent of production, ‘Textiles’ about 20 per cent, while ‘Metals, Vehicles and Machinery’ did not make up 15 per cent.
  2. Consequently there was low productivity in industry generally. In 1937 the productivity per worker in Argentina was 4.5 times lower than in the USA – a ratio which could not but worsen.
  3. This freezing of the structure of economic development over-valued land and farming production. This was already noted in 1933 by the Commercial Attache of the British Embassy: ‘However rapid the growth of manufacturing industry has been, a large series of requirements exist which can only be satisfied abroad. Almost all first class articles require for their production iron and steel goods; the lack of a local coal and iron industry has hindered the development of a machineproducing industry on an extensive scale. The only means whereby Argentina can obtain the products of the latter abroad is by exporting its grain and meat surpluses.’ But it was precisely the prices of those exports that had fallen dramatically on which, one must add, the state was financially dependent. The same report points out: ‘Argentina possesses great reserves of gold. Approximately half the reserves were impounded in 1930 and 1931, mainly in order to pay the debt services and to prevent the currency being devalued.’ [60] Just as in 1890, finance capital, with the complicity of the oligarchic government, delivered a mortal blow to independent industrial development and destroyed its financial base.

The consequence of the whole process was the political prostration of the state. The need to maintain the British market for primary products led the Argentine government to sign the Roca-Runciman pact in 1933 and, in exchange, the Argentine government made all types of concessions to Britain, including customs concessions, a transport monopoly in Buenos Aires, some types of preferential exchange, the closure of the market to Britain’s competitors, and so on. It thus renounced the right to determine freely the policies of its own state.

The supposed industrialisation of Argentina was a typical example of the combined development common in the backward countries, where the last word in technology is combined with agrarian and industrial backwardness. The backwardness of industry did not prevent the fact that already in 1936 47 factories, or 0.1 per cent of the total, employed 15 per cent of the workers, and thus the degree of concentration exceeded, by more than 10 times, that of North American industry. [61] This was an industry which was born monopolised, without passing through the stage of free competition, which was the motor of its development in the advanced countries. The industrial census of 1935 indicated that 671 limited companies controlled 2300 establishments which yielded between them more than 50 per cent of the total production. Based on agrarian and industrial backwardness, this small group of monopolies obtained enormous profits. The first produced a constant flow of cheap labour from the country to the town, while the second saw that market prices were fixed for 90 per cent of the artisan-type enterprises. The enormous difference in price between the latter and large-scale industry was pocketed by the monopolies. It was an industry which lived off its backwardness, exactly the opposite of the youthful stage of industrial capital in the metropoles, which had fought to destroy the backward forms of industrial production, such as artisan guilds, and backward agrarian production, like feudal latifundia.

Argentine industry expanded within the limits fixed by imperialist capital. Far from aiding the economic independence of the country, it increased its dependence, by adding to the manufactured goods and the industrial items and products that had to be bought abroad. Far from securing the Argentine bourgeoisie control of the state, the political weight of foreign capital was strengthened, as much by the decisive weight of its participation in industry as by the increase of dependence on international finance capital.

All this escaped the attention of the great majority of Argentine Trotskyists in the 1930s, who thought exactly the opposite. In a kind of way, they were themselves victims of the ideology and propaganda of the ruling classes, who also saw in their association with foreign capital a triumph of ‘self-determination’. This influence was possible owing to the lack of a programme which characterised the country and its classes, and which indicated the objective tasks of the revolution. The light-mindedness with which they wielded certain figures – claiming 2.5 million industrial workers when the 1935 census gives the exact figure of 526 594 ‘employed in industry’ – revealed the lack of concern for programme, which left them open to all kinds of impressionism. Lacking their own programme, they adopted the only one the Argentine left had produced until then, that is to say that of reformist Socialism, and tried to draw some ‘revolutionary’ conclusions from it. So adaptationist was their enterprise that they retreated even as regards Juan B Justo’s programme, as the latter had pointed out the incapacity of the native ruling class to create a ‘modern’ capitalist country. So the Trotskyists presented it as an examplary bourgeois class, which had fully completed the objectives of national liberation and the democratic revolution.

The Death of the LOR

After the creation of the PORS, the political alternative for the LOR was to continue the fight for its ideas, on a national and international scale, with the perspective of building a tendency within the Fourth International. Justo retrospectively presents things as if such a tendency existed ‘in fact’, which is perhaps not far from the truth, as the quotes from the PORs of Chile and Cuba show. But circumstances did not permit the LOR to be anything but a small group shaped in the personal mould of Quebracho. The personality of the latter – who had already showed his tendency to megalomania [62] – did not in any way motivate him to start a long-term struggle from a minority position.

In February 1942, referring to the recently born PORS, the LOR stated that it is more ‘worthy of pity than of criticism’, which did not prevent it from systematising its differences with the PORS, some of which we quote:

(4) ... before the increasingly greater and more pressing advance of imperialism in the dependent countries, some bourgeois sectors of the latter, in order to avoid being smashed by imperialism, and struggling for their own existence, can rise up against it, starting an action that they will never carry through. But the revolutionary proletariat, without giving up the most intransigent class struggle, and without ceasing to point out that the bourgeoisie will sooner or later betray this action, can accompany it while it goes forward, attempting to gain the leadership of it in order to finish the task.
(6) ... the proletarian vanguard of the colonial and semi-colonial countries must, in the first place, attempt the agrarian and anti-imperialist revolution, which is accomplished through the conquest of power by the working class and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
(7) That the proletariat in power, having accomplished the agrarian and antiimperialist revolution, cannot stop there and, in agreement with the principles of permanent revolution, according to the economic conditions of the country, and always counting on sufficient force or with the adequate help of the world proletariat, will pass on to the immediate tasks of Socialism. [63]


It is worth looking more closely at this text, which represented the greatest and final elaboration by the LOR of the problems of revolutionary programme in our country. The concept of an ‘agrarian and anti-imperialist’, or even democratic, revolution is taken literally from the theoretical arsenal of Stalinism of the Third Period (1929-34). The First Latin American Conference of the CI (June 1929) indicated:

... every tendency trying to create an independent national economy within the framework of bourgeois legality is doomed to failure. Only a bourgeois democratic revolution directed against imperialism and the great landlords can create the conditions for that independent development ... the real struggle for national independence must be realised against the national bourgeoisie as a whole and imperialism, from which one deduces that the character of the revolution in Latin America is one of a bourgeois democratic revolution ... That revolution will have to put in the first place the struggle against the great landlords; for the giving of the land to those who work for it; and struggle against the national governments, the agents of imperialism and for the workers’ and peasants’ governments. [64]

Underneath the verbal concessions to the feverish ultra-leftism of the Stalinist ‘third-period’, one can observe something else altogether. Bourgeois legality is scorned in order to postulate ... a revolution that stops at bourgeois democracy! The ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ is not, as it was for the first congresses of the CI, a popular version of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, for to be such it would have to concern the proletarian revolution. Its content is given by the character of the revolution, which is democratic. The same text adds:

It would be a grave error to overestimate the role of the petty bourgeoisie and the growing industrial bourgeoisie as possible allies of the anti-imperialist revolution. In some cases they can be momentary allies; but the motor force of the revolution must be the workers and peasants.

The subsequent destiny of this conception is well known: the ‘momentary’ ally transformed itself into a ‘permanent’ one, and Stalinism into a permanent ally of the native bourgeoisie. The alliance between the workers and the peasants would not be able to leave the framework of the bourgeois democratic revolution.

Trotsky’s criticism took up and enriched the theses of the CI. The historical epoch in which the bourgeoisie could lead a consistent struggle for democracy had ended. The anti-imperialist struggle of the backward and oppressed countries was thus integrated into the process of the world proletarian revolution. And in the measure in which the working class took the leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle, in which it achieved the worker-peasant alliance in ‘the irreconcilable struggle against the influence of the national-liberal bourgeoisie’, [65] it transformed the democratic revolution into the Socialist revolution. And this therefore required converting it into a permoment one. Something more: only the proletarian revolution can make the objectives of democracy triumph, as the national bourgeoisie, through its fear of the mobilisation of the proletariat (which also turns against it), ends up by allying itself with imperialism against the masses.

The programme of the LOR turned out to be a mixture of Trotskyist ideas with a Stalinist conception. From the Trotskyist point of view the proletarian vanguard cannot itself call for ‘in the first place, the agrarian and anti-imperialist revolution’, which is bourgeois, as a process independent of the Socialist revolution, that is any revolution effectively led by the proletariat. Another failure of Justo was in not characterising the Argentine ruling classes with their divisions, the nature of their relations with imperialism, and their attitude faced with the national problem. Thus he limited himself to pointing out that ‘some sectors of the bourgeoisie can rise up against imperialism’. But which? The great political problem posed by that question – the attitude of the proletariat before the bourgeois nationalist movements – is not even sketched out. The opportunity which the emergence of these movements gives to the workers’ vanguard of posing a programme of consistent struggle against imperialism and so, therefore, of disputing the leadership of the nation with the bourgeoisie, is replaced with ‘go with it while it lasts’. This slid into the theory of a strategic block with the national bourgeoisie.

Subsequently Justo moved towards nationalist positions. He ended up reasoning that Latin American emancipation should result in a new nation which he called ‘Andesia’. Logically, he broke with Trotskyism, which he had already announced at the end of the article mentioned:

The Third International was formed from above downwards ... The Fourth International, in dialectical contradiction with the Third, will construct itself from below upwards, not in the shade of the prestige of the Russian revolution, but on the basis of Marxist principles, of the study of the experience of that revolution and of the failure of the Third International. Therefore we give much more importance to our own programme than to any recognition from abroad.

This was pure demagogy. No revolutionary party, no party at all, much less an International, constructs itself from below upwards. As Justo himself liked to quote: ‘It is not the cadres that create the programme, but the programme that creates them’. At first the programme is preserved by a revolutionary vanguard, which is what creates the organisation starting from that programme. Otherwise one would have to wait until the exploited go through all previous experience in order to arrive at the revolutionary conclusions of the programme which, moreover, only a vanguard would achieve. In reality, when Quebracho wrote ‘from below upwards’, it should read ‘from me downwards’, as revealed four months later when this curious conception of dialectics applied to the construction of Internationals transformed itself into the grotesque slogan: ‘Neither Moscow nor New York!! For a Revolutionary Fourth International!!’ Thus ended a letter from Quebracho sent to the members of the LOR and its sympathisers abroad. The letter had a message for the International Executive Committee: ‘All those affiliated with the said PORS have demonstrated a very apt flexibility of the spinal column to operate among us as your representatives. This is the “Argentine section” you deserve and require.’


Yet, if it had been so, it would have meant a political convergence between the international leadership and the Argentine militants who ignored the national question. But Justo refused to combat it inside the Fourth International. Addressing himself to his comrades, he stated: ‘our struggle against centrism in this country and in Latin America leads us, as a consequence, into carrying out the struggle against centrism in its own present redoubt, the SWP of the USA.’ [66]

The lunacy of this position quickly became obvious. The struggle against ‘centrism’ which it was hoped would finish in New York after crossing the whole of Latin America did not, in reality, get further than the boundary of greater Buenos Aires. The majority of those members of the LOR who identified with Quebracho abandoned it. Mateo Fossa made it clear that he did so in opposition to the break with New York and with the Fourth International. Justo intended a battle of political machines with the leadership of the Fourth International. He, who had fought the ‘centrists’ and for ‘national liberation’ in Argentina, wanted to ally himself with the North American centrists who had already broken with the International some time ago, such as Oehler, Stamm and Weisbord. Indeed, the first of these had broken with Trotsky by opposing the demand for the ‘national independence’ of the Ukraine. This was a total failure, as all the above-mentioned factions disappeared shortly afterwards.


What little remained of the LOR published a South American bulletin, of which five issues appeared in a year, aimed at organising a split with the ‘centrists’ by the groups in that continent, while the latter became gradually transformed into ‘the agents of Wall Street’. The only success was the picking up of a tiny and short-lived Liga Obrera Marxista of Oruro, which was a split from the youth of the Partido Socialists Obrero, the Bolivian section of the ex-POR luminary Tristan Maroff. When the LOR disappeared this dissolved itself into the POR, the Bolivian section of the Fourth International. The POR of both Chile and Cuba vainly sent letters to the LOR asking it to reconsider the attitude it had adopted. The paper of the LOR, Lucha Obrera, together with its large print-run, collapsed. The few members of the LOR began to leave. At the time of the coup of 4 June 1943, just before which the LOR produced its last public statement, only two remained – Quebracho and Santiago Escobar, the latter the pseudonym of the catering worker Enrique Carmona. Then the latter also quit in order to return to his native province of the Chaco. Liborio Justo, exhausted, also withdrew to the islands of Ibicuy, where he remained for a number of years. Thus died the LOR. [67]

In a very short time Quebracho had succeeded in erasing with his elbow the best that had emerged from his hand. His positions had politicised the Argentine Fourth Internationalist movement in a way that was previously unknown, and had raised it out of the terrain of personal disputes in which it had been involved. We can agree with G. Lora:

... he has the great credit of having pointed out that the Trotskyism of his time committed the error of assimilating Argentina to the imperialist metropolis and ignoring the national question. One owes to him the return, at least in Argentina, to the contributions of Lenin and Trotsky in that respect.

Then, faced with his first setback, he declared the movement founded by Leon Trotsky three years before to be dead, and he sought to reproduce on a world scale the climate which he himself had repudiated in Argentina a short time earlier. Instead of confronting the movement – the Fourth International – with the tasks which were necessary, that is to say the programme, he ignored both movement and tasks and limited himself to putting the label of ‘bureaucrats’ on its leaders.

As far as his programme went – and after a number of years of programmatic struggle – he thought it enough to launch the curse of ‘cosmopolitanism’. Without any sense of proportion, he saw himself as the leader of a new world movement, and when that too failed, he consoled himself by thinking he was a prophet before his time. In Lora’s words:

In his time Quebracho launched himself into a struggle against windmills. He took the opinion of a few leaders as if it represented the thoughts of the different parties, as if the latter could have exhausted the discussion of the problems posed in Argentina.

So it was. As Quixote wished to surpass the exploits of Amadis of Gaul, so Justo wished to surpass those of Trotsky, but without the talents or the sacrifices of the latter. The last step was undertaken when, in 1959, in his stubborn effort to ‘surpass’ Trotsky, he published a book accusing him of ‘having put himself at the service of Wall Street’:lnfamy and pathology are mixed up in this regurgitated heap of old Stalinist slanders. What is curious is the political argument, the only one indeed, used by Quebracho on which to ground his bizarre theory. This was that Trotsky had defended – against imperialism – the nationalisation of Mexican oil carried out by the government of General Cardenas. Trotsky had to explain the nationalist character of the measure because an ultra-leftist group – applauded by Quebracho – saw the measure in terms of ‘a manoeuvre of one imperialist sector against another’. At the same time he defended a programme of class independence opposed to the position of Cludenas. Trotsky was also in favour of ‘workers management of the nationalised industry’. Faced with such a ridiculous accusation, we can share the indignation of Medunich Orza:

It is well known that the whole imperialist reaction, whether pro-English or pro-Yankee, accused Ciudenas of expropriating the oil firms on advice from Trotsky ... And finally, with errors or without them, Trotsky dedicated all his life in the struggle for the emancipation of the exploited class, which was not the same as the high-flown self-indulgence of a Quebracho.

After ending his ‘internal exile’, Justo became enthused over the role played by the POR in the Bolivian revolution, to which he dedicated a book. He was connected with the POR, and he attempted to convince it of his views about a new International, which would be opposed to the Fourth. At that time he published Estrategia Revolucionaria, where he went over the struggle we have related and ‘astutely’ removes a critical reference to the POR leader, G Lora, which is contained in an original document of the time reproduced in the said volume. When the POR reproached him for his incredible book Leon Trotsky y Wall Street, Justo reacted by declaring them his deadly enemies.

Guillermo Lora, who knew him during his period of enthusiasm for Bolivia, said of him:

The son of President Justo was obsessed with making scandals in his own country and elsewhere with the premeditated objective of drawing the attention of the press to himself. He could have had some future ... But Liborio Justo finished with revolutionary politics when, from his comfortable study, he sought to draft a course of action for the activity of the Marxists throughout a continent ... He who voluntarily escapes from the reality of the environment in which he lives, he who attempts escapism in all his actions, is a coward who is prevented from stamping his imprint on events ... The Justo we knew was a fighter of yesterday, now totally decadent.

The Trotskyist fighter was finished in 1943: his Trotskyism was scarcely more than a youthful episode. The Fifth International which he proposed founding later on did not succeed in being even a curiosity, except for those who interest themselves in megalomaniacs. But, as ‘that which the pen writes cannot be erased by the axe’, it is right to point out that, together with his subsequent ship-wreck, the Quebracho who fell in 1943, even without knowing it, is the same who gave good service to Argentine Trotskyism.

The Death of the PORS

Robert Alexander states [68] that the PORS was recognised as the Argentine section of the Fourth International on the recommendation of Terence Phelan. A study of the correspondence of the latter and his ‘trusted confidant’ in Argentina, Kurt Steinfeld, does not confirm that assertion: without doubt Phelan proposed such a recognition, but it clashed with the IEC which had reservations.

The Executive hesitated to give such a status to the PORS, since right from the start of its activities it manifested signs of decomposition. The paper Frente Obrero, announced as a weekly, then a fortnightly, then a monthly, finally saw the light of day scarcely twice in the first six months. The first important desertion was that of the General Secretary himself, Narvajas, who withdrew to Rosario saying that his post could be better filled by Cristalli (Posadas). If one believes Steinfeld, Narvajas had expected rapid growth, and in discussions had maintained that the inevitable defeat of the USSR by the German invasion would favour the recruitment of Stalinist militants. From his native base, although remaining affiliated, he took up a sceptical position which later caused him to drop out. Ramos, who was accused of a personal and irresponsible control of the press, also gave up his membership. Eventually numerous quarrels broke out around organisational issues, including meetings of the CC and NC, inflated figures of membership, such as accusetions that the CC considered mere sympathisers as members, lack of dues payments from the groups outside the capital, which hindered the publication of the paper, failure to prepare the next conference at the agreed time, accusations that Steinfeld manipulated the finances as a means of blackmail and pressure, confusion concerning the ‘dual membership’ of the Germans, who were in the IKD as well as the PORS, and, finally, expulsions Desertions continued to occur: ‘Carlos’, Margarita Gallo, Angelica and the young Hugo Bressano left to join the LOR. Bressano wrote a pamphlet on this, Three Months of Life in Confusionism. On My Leaving the PORS (15 May 1942). Two months later he was also expelled from the LOR, but not before Quebracho had given him the pseudonym ‘Nahuel Moreno’, which later became well known. Ah this took place in the first six months of existence of the PORS.


Phelan followed the crisis by correspondence. In the face of the apparently organisational nature of the crisis, he did not cease to recommend organisational remedies, and advised Steinfeld not to ‘Argentinise himself’, that is, not to get involved in the clique squabbles which typified the organisational irresponsibility of the native militants in that country. He told him of the discouragement in the IEC over the development within the Argentine ‘section’. In another letter to the Chilean section he returned to the issue and complained bitterly about this ‘human’ characteristic of the Argentines. In June 1942 Steinfeld informed the IEC that the PORS was split into four ‘camps’. The first was that of Cristalli, composed of ‘Vavalle’, ‘Irlan’,’Lisardi’ and ‘Victor’, who said that grave errors were made during the unification, because known centrists and reformists were admitted; the second was ‘Carbajal’ – Narvajas – and the Rosario group, which adopted a wait-and-see attitude; the third was ‘Frigorini’ – the nickname of R. Frigerio or ‘Jorge Lagos’ – which consisted of ‘Quarrucci’ (Esteban Rey), ‘Sevignac’ (Ramos), Steinfeld, Barto and the rest of the German group, who placed themselves in a situation of ‘passive resistance’ to the CC majority or camp 1, and opposed its violations of the ‘Organisational Resolution’. Ramos had produced a document calling for a conference and thus they called themselves the ‘legalists’; while finally the fourth group of ‘Miguel’ (Oscar Prosse), ‘Hugo Spaghetti’ (Guevara), Margarita Gallo, Medunich Orza, Krause and the group of Yugoslav workers, together with Alberti, all maintained that the leadership was violating the statutes and programmatic base of the PORS, and that it was doomed. Phelan showed his sympathy for camp 3, and recommended working with the two most promising militants there, Ramos and Posadas, the latter because he was the only one making an effort to get the PORS into a trade union milieu. He saw camp 4 as being too impregnated by the old sectarian ideas of Gallo. [69]

This situation of inaction continued for some months. When the LOR informed them of its break, the IEC asked them to make every effort to save Mateo Fossa, who did not seem to be in favour of following Quebracho. The latter’s codename in correspondence is ‘Juana La Loca’ – Joanna the Mad. [70] Simultaneously, Steinfeld provoked a scandal when he proposed that the pages of Frente Obrero be opened up to militants of other tendencies. Through his German work he had found himself linked to supporters of Brandler, Vereeken, Brockway, Marceau Pivert and others. It is the IEC which was closest to hitting the nail on the head when, in July 1942, it submitted its theses on ‘national liberation’ and it formally approached the PORS requesting it to open up the suspended discussion on that issue. The leadership of the International was probably influenced by the pile of accusations against the PORS by the LOR, because documents from the LOR were sent regularly to the IEC, unlike those of the PORS.

It was around this question, above all the organisational problems, that the PORS broke up. A first provisional split took place in 1943, when two Frente Obreros were published simultaneously. They were mutually distinguished as ‘big’ Frente Obrero and ‘little’ Frente Obrero. At the head of the latter were those such as Ramos, Posadas and Niceto Andres who, in the future, radically revised the conception of a purely Socialist revolution which had prevailed within the PORS. In the former were grouped ‘Posse’, Guevara, M. Orza and, in spite of the advice of Phelan, the German group, who continued defending this conception. It is worth noting that it was this sector which ‘saved’ Mateo Fossa for the Fourth International.

The split occurred along the lines of the sharpest political positions, and not on the basis of the organisational criteria defended by each current. The coup of 4 June 1943, which made the activity of the left illegal, completed the disintegration. Ramos and Andres evolved in their own way until they first formed the Liga Communista Revolucionaria and then later the Octubre group, which adopted nationalist positions to the extent of allowing Ramos to collaborate with the Peronist government, though this was a road down which Andres would not accompany him. Quite logically, this development led to Octubre breaking with the Fourth International in 1947. Jorge Lagos entered the ... Communist Party, which he left with a part of the pro-Peronist faction of Rodolfo Puigros – Clase Obrera.


Esteban Rey returned to the North, where he independently developed ‘entrist’ work in the Socialist Party. In 1943 Posadas also entered the SP in the capital, which he later left with a small group which formed the Grupo Cuarta Internacional (GCI) which, from the time of the Third World Congress of the Fourth International in 1951, was the future section in Argentina. Moreno, a law student, attempted to sum up his experience in a pamphlet published in 1943, entitled EI Patrido, where the issue was analysed in terms of ‘Hegelian categories’, and he collected a small nucleus of young people with which he formed the Grupo Obrero Marxista, or GOM. Alexander says that Narvajas kept a ‘PORS’ going until 1948, which is very unlikely. Probably it refers to an ‘independent’ group in Rosario composed of student militants, and which also maintained links with the old Trotskyist David Siburu, who lived in retirement in Rafaela. Guevara, the trade union militant, returned to his ‘regional independence’ and formed a Trotskyist trade unionist group in Buenos Aires known simply as ‘Southern Zone’, which was certainly not the only one of its type. The only tendency which maintained the old positions on which the PORS was founded was the Union Obrera Revolucionaria, or UOR, led by Oscar Posse, within which Mateo Fossa participated for a time.

The partial upheaval of Argentine politics which was the coup of June 1943, inflicted the coup de grace on the PORS, which lived on with great difficulty for less than a year. At the end of 1943 ‘Owen’ (Phelan) desparingly asked an Argentine correspondent if it was correct that from the PORS ... ten groups (!) had arisen.

Terence Phelan, Agent of Imperialism?

Sherry Mangan, known as ‘Phelan’, or ‘Owen’, or ‘Pilan’, was a courageous militant of the Fourth International. Gross, something of a bohemian, a drinker, he specialised in making contacts (clandestine or not) with the foreign groups for the IEC, which functioned in the USA as a result of the war. Thus not only did he travel in Latin America but, towards the end of the war, taking advantage of his job as a correspondent, he succeeded in re-establishing contact with the Trotskyist groups in the European countries occupied by the Nazis, such as Belgium and Austria, at times at some risk to his own skin. Later he was in Bolivia as well, and succeeded in gaining contact with the militants of the POR imprisoned during the ‘sexenio’ (1946-52). Once the IEC moved back to Europe, he worked with it. Later again he returned to Bolivia, establishing himself in Cochabamba. There he worked on a novel about the miners of Catavi, and there his companion Margarita died. McCarthyism in the USA prevented him from publishing his novel. He died in Switzerland in 1961 at the age of 57.

During 1941, when working to unite the groups in Argentina, an article appeared under his name in Fortune magazine, which, in essence, advised the USA to improve its political penetration of Argentina. It led to a wave of criticism for its interference in the life of the country. Among the critics was Quebracho who, as noted by Medunich Orza, did not make the authorship public at that time, and then when he did so, much later, it was in order to call Phelan an ‘agent of imperialism’, with which he would later go on to label the Fourth International as a whole, and finally Leon Trotsky himself. Phelan protested against the accusation, claiming that his words had been distorted. A version of the article, corrected by him, appeared in December 1941 in the magazine Claridad – in which the phrases do not allow any doubt about misinterpretation:

The continuation of the war in Europe in addition to our position with respect to Japan in Asia, makes South America necessary for us. At the same time we have the opportunity of removing other powers from it, especially Great Britain who, at this moment, is too gravely occupied in other parts in order for her to give full attention to its defence.

Alexander notes with surprise that the SWP’s Militant commented on the articles in Fortune as an example of the imperialist policy of Uncle Sam, without making any comment on the fact that its author was a leader of the SWP itself. In his commentary on Alexander’s book, Joseph Hansen, a key leader of the SWP for many years, never made any reference to it. [71]

Matters did not end there, as the accusation was taken up again by another group, the Octubre of Ramos, which was also breaking with the Fourth International. This led Kurt Steinfeld to write to the Brazilian section on 12 May 1947:

An Argentine Trotskyist publication denounces Terence Phelan and myself as agents of imperialism. Until such time as the Fourth International has taken a position on the issue, it would be better to consider me as dead. [72]

What had happened? The only defence of Mangan made by a ‘Trotskyist’ leader that we know of, is that by Livio Maitan:

Since one had made so much about the same grave insinuations (!] in the course of factional polemics, above all in Argentina, whoever writes can witness that Sherry Mangan went through all the later years of his life in very precarious financial conditions, if not in poverty. [73]

There are defences which kill. Why could not an ‘agent of imperialism’ – what an ‘insinuation’! – ‘have died in poverty’? Mangan deserved a better defence.

To combine the task of a delegate of the Fourth International with the job of a correspondent of the imperialist press was a complicated task. The means available to the Fourth International obliged it to utilise such methods. In itself, this is not in any way dishonourable. A revolutionary leadership must, moreover, be capable of coming out in defence of such methods when the slanderers denounce them in order to destroy their cause, even in the case where the militant in question had ‘put his foot in it’, as was certainly the case with Mangan. If during the life or the activity of the latter it was not possible to do such a thing publicly, such justifications do not exist afterwards. Not to do so is to leave the door open to slanders which stain not only the memory of a militant, but (what is worse) the banner of an organisation. If it cannot do this, such a leadership is to be condemned.

The Balance Sheet of the PORS

The dissolution of the PORS and the LOR closed a stage in the life of the Argentine Trotskyist movement which, not by chance, coincided with the end of a stage in the life of the country. There can be no doubt that for the Trotskyists the period ended in failure, as organisationally they had to start again practically from zero. But politically this was not so as long as they were capable of taking advantage of the lessons of the period which had just ended. This was, without doubt, a task which concerned not only the Argentine militants, but the International in its entirety, and primarily its leadership. For Trotskyists, the building of the revolutionary party in a country is no more than the expression of its ‘national’ essence in a world-wide struggle.

Interestingly, as a matter of fact it turns out that we must re-examine the fragmentary and disparate opinions that exist about what was – de facto or de jure – the first Argentine section of the Fourth International.

Liborio Justo, in the midst of a volley of insults which he lavished upon the PORS and on each of its members, left us with an interesting idea:

Instead of basing [the PORS’] development on the spiral of degeneration developing in the Third International, its line of departure was linked to the positions of bourgeois democracy and the Second International, which had been counterposed to, or had been superseded by, the Third. [74]

It will be remembered that A Gallo, the ideological inspirer of the position on the national question, not only reduced his previous political experience to that of reformist Socialism which, in Argentina and elsewhere, ignored the distinction between oppressing and oppressed nations. He also sought out explicit support among native theoreticians in order to justify the perspective of a purely Socialist revolution. With his ideas Gallo represented a whole sector and whole stage of the Argentine Trotskyist movement. Quebracho, on the other hand, had the experience of having taken part in a movement with a democratic and anti-imperialist content – that of the University Reform. Finally, no political current of the left in Argentina, and Trotskyism was no exception, avoided being torn between these two options, and in the numerous splits of the Socialist Party and then the Communist Party one sees the problems such as neutrality during World War Two, anti-imperialism, the attitude towards the Peron government, and so on. An ‘internationalist’ neutrality before national problems cannot be sustained: if one does not rise above it, it leads to either pro-imperialism or to nationalism. Lamentably, the subsequent history of the Trotskyist movement would confirm this.

Miguel Medunich Orza, a worker who participated in the PORS, very quickly drew his own balance sheet:

After having founded the party a month previously, we wrote a letter to the IEC of the Fourth International, in which we denounced the activity of Phelan and the orientation mistakenly followed by the party. We stated in the letter that if it was not possible to change this orientation and put an end to the internal intrigues, the party would disappear in the very near future. At the request of comrade Oscar (MP) we did not send it ... The failure of the PORS, along with the poor objective and subjective situation here, and the defeat of the working class in other countries, had as its fundamental causes the ideological inconsistency of the middle class, its constant vacillation between revolutionary and reformist positions ... its fondness for personal gossip and intrigue as weapons in the fight for leadership ascendancy, as well as its incredible lack of knowledge of the elementary necessities of the working masses and of Socialist theory, disloyalty, personal rancour and the claim of unconditional obedience to its commands, and the lack of a distinct personality in the majority of cases which would enable it to oppose the orientation imposed on the movement by the guru or the gurus of the moment, even though it thought it erroneous.

This sad comment on a movement, which was made up largely of intellectuals, is far from the only one of its type. On the contrary, the experience of the PORS encouraged an ‘anti-intellectualism’ in the subsequent stage of the Argentine Trotskyist movement, which led it at times into an open contempt for the struggle for ideas.

In the light of these previous views, let us look at the conclusions that Posadas came to when he told the International Secretariat of the existence of his group in 1946:

... owing to the dissolution of the PORS and because of the experience it gave me of seeking to create a movement and a party above, and behind the back of, the proletariat, we wholly orient our activity to uniting ourselves in the daily and permanent struggle of the proletariat in the factories, workshops, unions, etc., in order, in living struggle, to draw our militants from there, and to educate ourselves in order to create our cadres. [75]

This position totally avoided the theoretical and political problems and tried to resolve them empirically by ‘going to the factories’. It is important to note this because he soon became, not just one of the main Argentine leaders, but a Latin American and world leader of the Fourth International. Go to the factories, yes ... but with what programme? For Posadas the question lacked importance.

From Jorge Abelardo Ramos it is better not to ask for a balance sheet, even though his memory of the PORS congress betrays him:

It was an attempt to organise a revolutionary party, that ideal party, intransigent and unbreakable, which tempered the aspirations of our adolescence and which still today constitutes the objective of our struggle. Having founded a tiny party, the thrust of its public operation was its opposition to the imperialist war and to Argentine participation in it.

We have shown that this was not the ‘thrust’ of the PORS, even though Ramos, with his unreliable memory, thinks that he can wash away this sin of his youth. Ramos drew up his balance sheet in a very practical manner: he broke with the Fourth International and turned himself into a paid purveyor of arguments of a leftist type for Peronism – though not against imperialism (whose President Eisenhower he greeted) but against the left, and thus against the working class. A realist, transigent, mature, and above all breakable, Ramos, with a certain guile, had to remind himself of that ‘ideal, intransigent and [alas!] adolescent’ PORS. The ‘adolescents’ of the future took up the banner which he had just abandoned, though because of that he did not stain it.

As he noted changes among those like Ramos, Oscar Posse – in spite of being the only consistent supporter of the PORS programme – hit the nail on the head when he stated:

Until 4 June 1943, the idea that the proletariat should attain power on the basis of a highly Socialist programme had only been discussed by one of the groups which defended the programme of the Fourth International in this country, the one led by Quebracho ... The military government of 4 June 1943 had a surprising effect on the political thought of many Argentine Trotskyists ... For them Argentina ceased to be a country of marked capitalist features, where the proletariat would take power by mainly struggling against the bourgeoisie. It was turned into a backward nation where the bourgeois democratic revolution remained to be completed. It was evident that this change of positions was closely linked to the deeply nationalist character of the military movement. For the first time, in the heat of world events, a bourgeois movement arose in Argentina with the aims of converting this country into a major power, and of breaking the bonds which tied it to imperialism ... Those who had fought Quebracho’s positions as being opportunist, without then grasping more correct ones, allowed themselves to be swept along by the current, and they launched a furious revision of our positions.

Undoubtedly the rise of Peronism had thrown the idea that Argentina was a ‘developed and independent capitalist country’ into the melting pot. That schema excluded a nationalist movement with support among the masses, as in such countries nationalism assumes wholly reactionary and anti-working class forms. Posse limited himself to insisting upon the previous schema, falling into a similar overestimation of the Argentine bourgeoisie, which he saw as not only crossing swords with all imperialist domination, but preparing to transform itself into a ‘great power’. Posse skated over the conflict with imperialism which had provoked the greatest mobilisation of the masses in this century. The other Trotskyists, in order to survive, had been forced to ‘furiously revise’ positions. The UOR, led by Posse, was the first of the Trotskyist currents to disappear.


Nahuel Moreno, commenting in 1947 on the contributions to Argentine Trotskyism of Phelan, gave us a phrase in the style of which we were to become accustomed from his pen:

Just as at most times the most mediocre imperialist goods are superior to the best colonial ones, Phelan, in spite of his grave organisational and tactical errors, was the only one basing himself on the theoretical elements and on the few materials of the Argentine groups, who laid down the general programmatic fundamentals of the Argentine Trotskyist movement.

Wishing to be well in with both God and the devil, Moreno only succeeds in treating everyone as idiots. After quoting the ‘contributions’ of Phelan on national liberation – a ‘secondary question’ as we have already seen – Moreno criticises him:

National liberation is the most colossal revolutionary task in the backward countries and is not subordinated, though unquestionably related to, the world Socialist revolution. Without the world revolution the colossal task of liberating the backward countries from imperialism is not possible. Therefore, the weapon of national liberation is the most intransigent international and national class struggle.

What, then, was the fundamental contribution of Phelan to the ‘programme’? And that of the PORS?

According to Moreno:

It had a correct position on the country and the national bourgeoisie ... They pointed out the dependence of indutstry and the national bourgeoisie on foreign capital. The national bourgeoisie cannot, nor does it wish to, transform this state of things.

Moreno continued to distort matters. As we have seen, the PORS was characterised by presenting the Argentine bourgeoisie as a fully fledged ruling class, which freely associated itself with imperialist capital so that it did not pose the question of ‘national liberation’. This is deliberate blindness, as Moreno himself quoted from the PORS:

Through the process of mortgaging and endebtment of the land, of the capitalisation of the land rent, of the more and more decisive role that the banks and limited companies play in the life of the country, the great farming and urban bourgeoisie and imperialist capital has joined the “financial oligarchy” which has as its economic organ the Banco Central, and as its general management, the national state.

As a consequence of that, the PORS saw a movement independent of its bourgeoisie in Argentine neutrality during World War Two. Moreno’s criticism consisted of pointing out that behind it was European and British capital:

One does not take into account that if imperialist capital, and concretely the Yanks and British, dominate the consumer market and the capital, the government cannot carry out a policy independent of the dominant imperialisms ... If, as the PORS assures us, North America strengthens itself within the country, how does this manifest itself in the policy of the Argentine government (of Peron)?

The criticism is worthless, as it criticises something the PORS never said. Moreno’s position reduced itself to saying – just as the PORS had – that imperialism and all the factions of the native bourgeoisie formed a homogenous bloc, under imperialist hegemony, which view is accepted with joy by the Argentine bourgeoisie. From this schema – just as with the PORS – all national conflicts or crises in the state as a result of imperialist oppression are excluded. Moreno resolved the problem of Peronism by saying that Peron was, just like any other bourgeois, an ‘English agent’, who only represented the army, the bureaucracy and the police. The enormous mobilisations against Yankee imperialism during the rise of Peronism can be downgraded to ‘the most backward workers limited themselves to supporting one wing of the capitalist regime against another.’ (Movilizacion antiimperialista y movilizacion clasista, July 1949). With this exception, Moreno lined up with gorillismo [76] as he described Peronism as ‘the vanguard of the bourgeois offensive’. The Union Democratica, supported by imperialism, was ‘less totalitarian’. [77] There was not even a trace of a conflict, not even deformed, between the nation and imperialism. After introducing ‘national liberation’ by the door, Moreno removed it through the window. The political myopia of the PORS, with slight retouchings, was entirely passed over by Moreno. Moreno carried into practice what the PORS only sketched out – the most atrocious sectarianism in the face of nationalist movements, and Morenoism turned itself into an insignificant sect for a whole decade.

If one can apply the words ‘balance sheet’ to deliberate blindness, we can use such a word about Terence Phelan. Phelan presented a report on the situation of the Fourth International outside of Europe, in France, on 1 November 1944 to the first congress of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste, which he had played a role in organising. To give an idea of the exaggerated optimism of the report, we quote a few lines on Argentina. It must be remembered that Phelan already knew that the PORS had broken up in 1943:

In Argentina, in 1941, and after long negotiations, a fusion was able to take place between four different Trotskyist groups. That led to the creation of the PORS and ended in unmasking the adven turer Quebracho, who when we last heard of him was in favour of forming a Fifth International of his own invention. [78]

European militants might have been more interested in hearing about the POBS than in the misadventures of Quebracho, who here served as a loin cloth to cover political failure.

Of course, such considerations could not also be mentioned in 1947, when the International Secretariat of the Fourth International was again trying to unite the Argentine groups:

It seems that many Argentine comrades consider that the conception itself of the PORS was defective. The fundamental conception of the PORS was that of uniting all the comrades there who sincerely accepted the international programme of the Fourth International ... The defect of the PORS derived, not in this conception of the party, but in the fact that the discussion, a condition sine qua non for homogenisation of the party and its ideological arming, did not take place. In the absence of such a discussion, the party was not capable of making a clear analysis of the character of Argentina, nor could it forge for itself a line of action that would be understood and accepted by the great majority of members. It is not worth the trouble at this late stage of trying to determine precisely who in Argentina or elsewhere should accept the responsibility for the break-up of the PORS ... in a certain sense, it is the experience of the PORS that one must once again go through. [79]

There is some progress here in accepting that the previous indispensable clarifying discussion did not take place, but ... it is worth noting that we see a leadership of the Fourth International that rejected drawing up a balance sheet of its own activity. (The attitude is – forget it and start again – we do not want to go over the past). This will nourish a lack of confidence in the leadership of the Fourth International, which was to become the norm in the Argentine groups. The ‘conception of the party’ was correct, but the problem was that the PORS lacked a programme, says the IS. But for Trotsky, the party is the programme. [80] The ‘conception of the party’ separated from the programme appeared as the ideal of a bureaucratic apparatus. This same apparatus, having presided over the formation of the PORS, proposed in 1947 that the Argentine groups unite ... and afterwards discuss. Why should the Argentine militants draw up the lessons of their own history, if the international leadership did not encourage them by setting a very good example?

By way of conclusion the author can add little to his comments in the main body of this article. What can he add, for the majority of his opinions have flowed through the text as comments on those of the actors themselves?


During this period in Argentina, the Fourth International carried out – and not for the only time – an experiment which proved that it is not the shortest route which goes the furthest, and that though the line of least resistance may provide some immediate satisfaction, it may also yield much greater bitterness.

During the first 15 years, it was the problems of the programme (the idea) which were foremost – and this work deals with that aspect. It is clear that Trotskyism succeeded in attracting some workers, among them some prominent trade unionists, as it would seldom or never do later, but a ‘Trotskyist faction’ in the workers’ movement was far from a reality. Therefore, the problems of intervention in the workers’ movement were not really posed: the movement did not rise to a sufficient height to pose them. It was not the case everywhere: in Chile during the same period the successive Trotskyist organisations were among the most dynamic factors in the trade union movement. It was not that the programmatic problems in Chile were resolved once and for all – indeed the series of splits in Chilean Trotskyism demonstrated the opposite.

Two objective factors contributed to the feebleness of their presence in the working class during that period: (1) at the birth of Argentine Trotskyism it was an ultra-minority of an already minority Argentine Stalinism (1929), and (2) the general situation of the workers’ movement, which in this period experienced the greatest ebb in its whole history, with but few upsurges (1933-36). Their small numbers and their social composition undoubtedly favoured the climate of cliques and personal squabbles, but not to the extent of drawing the conclusion, held by Quebracho, Moreno and Posadas, that this was the only feature of the movement.


Yet at the same time Trotskyism drew to its ranks some of the best militants and intellectuals of their generation. To those already mentioned one would add Jose Bolgich, for example, who was active in the PSO and died in 1943 or ’44, author of one of the first (and almost unique) serious studies of the agrarian question in Argentina from a Marxist perspective. The problem consisted of welding all these elements into a political force, which was not achieved. First, they had to resolve the principled questions – the character of the revolution in the backward countries, and their place in the world imperialist system. The majority faction of the militants at that time, which a fortiori achieved the support of the international leadership, dismissed both problems with the assertion that ‘There are no more democratic revolutions now, only Socialist revolutions’. It was a disappearing trick, as the concrete question of the character of the revolution in the backward countries corresponded to a statement about the character of the epoch of capitalism on a world scale. The Socialist revolution is the only one possible, but there are those, as in the imperialist countries, which arise out of the mature antagonism between capital and labour, as opposed to those which arise out of the struggle in the backward countries against national oppression. By refusing to consider the problems of national oppression and backwardness, they also ignored the class struggle underlying them. This resulted in the ruling classes themselves putting them forward. The latter were described as forming a single bloc alongside imperialism. The most important thing was that they refused to discuss the central problem of the revolution in the oppressed countries: what attitude must the proletariat adopt to national problems, that is to say, those originating in the uncompleted democratic revolution? Given that these problems are those which are in the forefront of politics in backward countries, and nationalist movements cannot but express them, their ignorance placed the Trotskyists in an irrelevant sectarianism in the majority of cases, or, at worst, lined them up with the pro-imperialist band. Trotsky, in systematising the theory of the Socialist revolution, did not ignore the incompleted tasks of the democratic revolution:

... the victory of the democratic revolution is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat, which bases itself on the alliance with the peasantry and solves, first of all, the tasks of the democratic revolution ... The dictatorship of the proletariat, which has risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution, is inevitably and very quickly confronted with the tasks, the fulfillment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property. The democratic revolution grows over directly into the Socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution: [81]

To the confusion in respect of revolutionary theory, one must add the disorientation regarding the characterisation of the country. On this point certain characteristics of the development of Argentine capitalism helped the confusion. G. Lora judged them thus:

In Argentina, after the sharp polemics around the thesis of the purely Socialist revolution and that of national liberation (at that time this latter position underwent the Stalinist deformation which saw national liberation as a strategic aim), where Trotskyism made the first attempts at constructing a programme, the formation of the revolutionary vanguard had to begin ... from an analysis which did not precisely correspond to that of a classical semicolony, and where the presence of an important industrial bourgeoisie made them see phantoms of every type.

Adhering to a primitive anti-Stalinism, even seeking to polemicise with the terminology used by Stalinism, and above all with them rather than with their ideas, (which is often the first step towards Trotskyism), they ended up provoking catastrophic confusion.

It would be false to describe only the ‘Argentines’ since, as we have seen, this phenomenon existed in other Latin American groups. But above them, it also existed in the leadership of the Fourth International. After the liquidation of the leadership of the Left Opposition by Stalinism and Nazism, this was young and inexperienced, and it was formed above all by reference to the problems of the USSR and the class struggle in Europe and the USA. In the Argentine case its confusion concerning the problems of the oppressed countries was obvious when it supported the worst positions. Unfortunately, this confusion was not overcome in the following years, and the leadership of the Fourth International oscillated between sectarian positions and capitulation before nationalism.

The IEC pushed for the unification of the Argentine groups without previous discussion, as it considered that no programmatic differences existed. In a letter in April 1941 to JB Stuart they insisted ‘There do not seem to be any differences of such a nature that would hinder the unification of all the groups’. [82] The IEC revealed its lack of will to consider the problems, as it treated the ‘squabbles’ among the Argentines with contempt, and their emissary tried to close the debate rather than open it up, and with his authority he covered up a unity which was forced and held together with safety pins, and then he presented such a thing as a political victory. The abortion which resulted confirmed the saying that ‘a fish rots from the head down’. The PORS declined, almost immediately, firstly in its leadership, and then the rest. The leadership of the Fourth International in 1941 should have realised that it did not have the same authority since the time Trotsky stood at its head. And even if it had so, the Fourth International, which existed and fought, still had to be built, and not simply through the accumulation of militants, but through political delimitation and clarification. What is worse is that, five years later, they would explicitly propose, ‘to repeat the experience of the PORS’.

Because if one takes into account that revolutionary struggle ‘is a mighty devourer of human energy, both individual and collective’, [83] one will understand that the lack of political clarity led to a haemorrhage of militants, although they might be armed with the finest ‘Organisational Resolution’. As evidence of the failure of this first stage of the Fourth International in Argentina, the majority of those who played a leading rale in it abandoned activity and were absent during the following period. That was true of Gallo, Milesi, Justo, Lagos and Narvajas, even if, unlike Ramos, they were not on the opposite side of the barricade.

The first important political effort collapsed with the artificial construction of the IEC. As a consequence, when the intervention of the masses produced the greatest Argentine political crisis of the first half of the century in October 1945, and this opened up the most favourable situation until then for the establishment of Trotskyism, the Trotskyists were found to be more fragmented and disoriented than they had ever been since their birth in the country.

From then on, the activity which they displayed, with all its errors and limitations, confirmed in a certain sense the validity of the Trotskyist programme and the Fourth International in spite of the Trotskyists themselves. They had the extra handicap of not possessing a balance sheet of the first 15 years of their history and of their first great crisis. All of this exposed them – and did in fact lead them – to repeat the same errors, together with other, new ones.

Fifty years after the birth of Trotskyism in Argentina, none of these questions has lost their relevance.

Osvaldo Caggiola



(By the author except where othewrise stated)

59. See Internacionalismo no.3. Juan B. Justo was the founder of the Argentine Socialist Party at the turn of the century and a distant relative of Liborio Justo. (Editor’s note)

60. Stanley G. Irving, Economic Conditions in the Argentine Republic, Report of the Commercial Attache of the British Embassy, London 1933.

61. Felix J. Well, The Argentine Riddle, New York 1944, p.260.

62. Among his other postures at the time Liberio Justo had thought it important to publish his autobiography in 1940 under the title of Handbook.

63. Justo, Estrategia, p.95.

64. Minutes of the South American Secretariat of the CI published by La Correspondencia Internacional, Buenos Aires 1929 quoted in Justo, Estrategia, p.117. (This has been left as a translation from the Spanish document. We are unaware if an official translation into English exists – Editor’s note.)

65. L.D. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, New York 1972, p.277.

66. Justo, Estrategia, p.117.

67. Enrique Carmona killed himself under the wheels of a train at the age of 25. Medunich Orza, with whom he at times clashed, has nothing but praise for this young worker and union activist, and attributes his death to political despair.

68. Alexander, op. cit., p.57.

69. Correspondence between Phelan and Kurt Steinfeld, 1942-43, Michigan University.

70. Queen Joanna the Mad of Spain was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, and thus sister to our Catherine of Aragon. The nickname suggests that Quebracho was overtly regal as well as somewhat capricious. {Editor’s note)

71. Alexander, p.56, reviewed by Joseph Hansen in Trotskismo en America Latina, in Perspectiva Mundial Vol.1, November-December 1972. Alexander’s book was also reviewed by Hansen in Intercontinental Press Nos.31 and 32, August-September 1977. The Perspectiva Mundial version is the same piece in translation. (Translator’s note)

72. Letter by Kurt Steinfeld, 12 May 1947, in archives of the USFI.

73. Apuntes Sobre Historia del Trotskismo en America Latina, Livio Maitan, Paris 1978, ed. by Jose Carlos Maretegui.

74. Justo, Estrategia, p 99.

75. J. Posadas to IS of the Fourth International, 1 June 1940, in the archives of the USFI.

76. A term for thuggery, usually in uniform. (Translator’s note)

77. The author is here suggesting by the words ‘less totalitarian’ that the Union Democratica was in reality, even if less brutal and more ‘democratic’, more right wing than the nationalist and ‘anti-imperialist’ movement.

78. Bulletin du Secretariat Europeen de la IVieme Internationale, no.1, November 1944.

79. USFI archives, 5 June 1947. Copies or similar letters were sent to all the Trotskyist groups in Argentina at that time, UOR, GCI, GOM and MOR of Juyuy and Tucuman led by Esteban Rey.

80. In the discussion on the Transitional Programme Trotsky states, ‘Now what is the party? In what does cohesion consist? This cohesion is a common understanding that is the programme of the party. Just as modern workers cannot work without tools any more than the barbarians could, so in the party the programme is the instrument. Without the programme every worker must improvise his tool, find improvised tools, and one contradicts another. Only when we have the vanguard organised upon the basis of common conceptions can we act.’ (L.D. Trotsky, Completing the Programme and Putting it to Work, 7 June 1938, The Transitional Programme for Socialist Revolution, New York 1977, p 171.)

81. L.D. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, New York 1972, pp.277-8.

82. Letter to Stuart. Stuart was the party name of Sam Gordon. (Editor’s note)

83. L.D. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, London 1973, p.88.

Two further notes by the editors which might be of interest to readers are:

A. From the Minutes of the International Secretariat, 31 March 1931.

A letter from the Mexican comrades speaks of a confused situation in the Argentine group. Quotations from the letter of the leading Argentine comrade denote an Anarchist ideology incompatible with the ideas of the Left Opposition. Comrade Mill explains that the relations between Argentina and the IS are very irregular. A letter must serve as an opportunity to clear up the situation in the Argentine group and of Verdad. A letter will be sent than after the translation of the Spanish correspondence between the Mexican and Argentine comrades.’

It is taken from document A, appendix to Chapter 1, John Archer’s PhD thesis.


B. On the Movement of the Fourth International in Latin America, Report by the Latin American Department to the Emergency Conference of the Fourth International, 19-26 May 194O, Resolution on Argentina to the 1940 Emergency Conference of the Fourth International.

In Argentina the movement began about 1930. At present we have about three groups, all belonging to the Fourth International: the Revolutionary Workers Group (GOR), the Revolutionary Socialist League (both of them in Buenos Aires) and the Marxist League (in Cordoba).
The Revolutionary Workers Group was formed not very long ago, by comrades Fossa and Quebracho. It publishes a papa called La Nueva Internacional. Comrade Quebracho published a number of pamphlets, such as Que Quierre la Cuarta Internacional; In Revolucion Mundial y la Traicion Stalinista; Centrismo, Oportunismo y Bolshevismo; Nuestras Perspectivas Politicas, etc. This group has passed recently through an organisational crisis, the nature of which is as yet unknown to us.
The Revolutionary Socialist League was likewise formed very recently, as a result of a fusion between the Nueva Etapa group and the Inicial group. The political basis of this fusion is not known to us. These two groups have been in existence for the last eight or nine years. About 1933 they united their forces into a single organisation; but that unification did not last very long at the time. The name of their paper is Inicial.
The Marxist League of Cordoba is composed of about 10 comrades. We have not heard from than for a Long time. They have no official organ.
The Latin American Department tried to unite all the groups into a single organisation; but it has failed so far in its efforts. In the beginning the differences between than were of rather secondary character and mainly personal. But, at present, there is indication that the divergences are assuming a political character. In no.7 of Inicial, a programmatic article appeared on the nature of the revolution in Argentina, which attempted to show that its character will have to be exclusively Socialist. Recently, the GOR wrote a letter to the LAD asking to be recognised as the Argentine section of the FI. The Department decided to postpone any definite decision on this question for further study and observation of the political developments of the various groups. The Inicial group made the elimination of comrade Quebracho a condition for unification with the GOR. The LAD sent them a special communication expressing its disapproval of this ultimatum. The programmatic article in Inicial changes the situation to some extent, in our opinion. We are faced now with a situation where the differences are taking a political form and consequently, it will be much easier for us to decide which one of them represents the ideas of the FI.

Taken from Documents of the Fourth International: The Formative Years 1933-1940, New York 1973, pp.378-9.

From Revolutionary History, Vol.2, No.2, Summer 1989.

Editor: Al Richardson
Deputy Editors: Ted Crawford and Bob Archer
Reviews Editor: Keith Hassell
Business Manager: Barry Buitekant
Production and Design Manager: Paul Flewers
Editorial Board: John Archer, David Bruce, William Cazenave, Ravi Jamieson, George Leslie, Sam Levy, Jon Lewis, Charles Pottins, Jim Ring, Bruce Robinson, Ernest Rogers and Ken Tarbuck

ISSN 0953-2382

Copyright 1989 Socialist Platform, BCM 7646, London WC1N 3XX
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Last updated on 16.8.2003