Main Document Index  |  ETOL Home Page


The Differences Over Portugal

A Response to Nahuel Moreno and a Group of Former Members of the Leninist Trotskyist Faction

by Gus Horowitz


Introductory Note

The following article is based on a report given to the National Committee of the SWP on May 2, 1976. The article was completed in August, 1976. The platform of the Bolshevik Tendency appeared a few months afterwards.

I. The Documentation of the Differences

At the February, 1976, meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the Fourth International, Comrade Nahuel Moreno announced that he and other leading members of the Leninist Trotskyist Faction (LTF) had decided to break from the faction. This was the first time that the LTF or the Fourth International had been officially apprised .of this decision.

Comrade Moreno explained the break as the result of political differences that had arisen over Portugal, but which encompassed other points as well. He announced that the comrades who were breaking from the LTF would

vote against both of the draft resolutions on Portugal that were being put to a vote: that of the International Majority Tendency (IMT) and that of the LTF; but the comrades did not have a written resolution of their own to present. Comrade Moreno also stated that the comrades breaking from the LTF would be considering the formation of a new tendency or faction, and that a written platform defining their views would be soon forthcoming.

The announcement that a written platform would be available soon was welcome, since the only correct and principled way to proceed in revolutionary politics is on the basis of clearly stated positions. But the platform that was promised in February is yet to appear. This anomalous situation has no doubt been exacerbated by the difficulties arising as a result of the March 24 coup in Argentina. Nevertheless we are still faced with the responsibility to discuss the political issues, even though we cannot do so on the basis of an authoritative platform giving the overall political positions of the new international grouping led by Comrade Moreno.

The comrades who left the LTF did vote at the February IEC meeting in favor of the IMT resolution on Angola; so on this one issue, at least, it is possible to get a clear idea of their political position. But the question of Angola is clearly insufficient to describe the overall political orientation of these comrades, especially since it was the question of Portugal that they presented as the reason for breaking with the LTF. And we can only agree: Portugal is the central issue in dispute.

After the IEC meeting, however, the SWP was able to obtain a copy of a document, which presents the same basic line as the remarks made by Comrade Moreno at the IEC meeting. The text of this Letter from Former LTF Members to the International Executive Committee is published in this bulletin. But this letter was never distributed to the IEC as a whole. Thus, it may be only a draft. So, in responding to it, it is necessary to introduce a note of caution. We cannot be certain that all the points contained in the Letter from Former LTF Members will be included in the final version. Nor can we be certain that all the groups listed as signatories to the document have studied it and fully agree with it.

Another indication of the views of this new international grouping can be obtained from various articles by its leaders that have appeared in the public press or in internal bulletins. One of the most important of these is a long article by Nahuel Moreno that appeared as a supplement to the July-August, 1975, issue of Revista de América, the Argentine revolutionary socialist magazine. An English translation of this important Revista article is also published in this bulletin.

On the basis of this material, it is possible to get a reasonably clear idea of the differences. The central issues in dispute relate to the period from March to November, 1975, when the MFA [Movimento das Forcas Armadas – Armed Forces Movement] initiated a demagogic campaign, presenting itself as the champion of “people’s power.

Before proceeding to the argument, I wish to call attention to two stylistic points:

  1. The Revista article is divided into chapters (designated by Roman numerals) and subsections (designated by Arabic numerals). When a reference is made to this article, the source will be designated by these numerals. Thus “(II, 3)” refers to an item that can be found in Chapter II, Subsection 3. The Letter from Former LTF Members is divided into chapters, designated by Roman numerals, and these will be used to designate the source.
  2. The footnotes to this article are my own.

II. Dual Power and “Embryonic” Dual Power

It is first necessary to state what the differences are not about.

The Letter from Former LTF Members says that “every time a process of revolutionary rise in the mass movement has opened, the creation of soviets has been posed as the main task.” (I.) They say that the SWP and the LTF “refuse to raise the organizational-strategically tasks preeminently demanded by the prerevolutionary or revolutionary period in Portugal.” (I.)

But the differences are not between those who are for soviets and those who are against, or between those who stress this question and those who downgrade it.

It is ironic that this charge is insinuated against the SWP, because the Militant was one of the very first Trotskyist publications in the world to stress the need for soviets in the Portuguese revolution. This was a key theme of a front-page editorial published in the June 14, 1974, issue, just a few weeks after the overthrow of the old dictatorship.

Furthermore, the Key Issues ... resolution of the LTF, with which these comrades are polemicizing, does not overlook the question of soviets, far from it. The LTF resolution concludes by summarizing the basic objective of the LTF political line as follows: “The line of development is toward establishment of a workers and peasants government and the organization of soviets as the basis of a workers state.” [1] The entire content of sections 8 and 9 of the LTF resolution, that is, the sections that explain the road to power and the tasks of the Portuguese Trotskyists, is designed to facilitate this objective.

It is true that the LTF does not agree with what the comrades state in the beginning of their letter: that “the most important aspect of our activity must be to defend, develop and centralize these embryos of dual power ... (that is, the soldiers committees, workers commissions, and neighborhood commissions). But this is a disagreement, not over whether or not to advance the need for soviets, but over how to do it, over what stage we are at in the process leading to soviets, and over appreciation of how the workers commissions and soldiers committees fits into this process. That is where the real disagreement lies. [2]

There is a basic error in the view that “embryos of dual power” existed in Portugal. This view, which is just briefly stated in the Letter from Former LTF Members, is developed at some length in the Revista article. Comrade Moreno describes the situation as follows:

We agree that in Portugal only miserable buds of. soviets exist, we have already stated that; but there is s dual power concretized in the occupations and the workers commissions. This dual power is molecular, spontaneous to a large degree, but it exists and appears in a generalized way all throughout the country. It is a form of dual power more primitive than the soviets, but dual power anyway. The same can be said about the situation in the armed forces: no soviets have been organized, but the process is one of the development of a powerful dual power, which is just in its very beginnings, but which is sufficient to disturb the structure of the fundamental pillar of the capitalist regime. (IV, 3.)

This theme is repeated throughout: that the workers commissions and soldiers committees could be considered as “embryos of dual power”; sometimes this is taken a step further and they are called “organs of dual power,” (VIII, 2; VIII, 5) and the situation is described as “a revolutionary situation of dual power.” (VIII, 5.)

But it is an error to blur the distinction between dual power on a factory level and dual power on the national political level. It is true that genuine, broadly based factory committees (and soldiers committees) did begin to arise in Portugal in many places. The extent of this development was exaggerated, and actually many of the committees that called themselves “workers commissions” were really very narrowly based. But there were, and there still are, many workers commissions that had broad support among all the workers in various factories or enterprises.

These workers commissions arose right after the overthrow of the Salazar-Caetano dictatorship. They responded to the need to overcome the problem created by the fact that the workers were generally divided into craft unions, according to trades, a carry-over from the old corporatist structure that had existed under the dictatorship. It was necessary to overcome this fragmentation, to counter the routinist bureaucrats controlling the unions, and to centralize and coordinate workers struggles on the factory level. [3] At several high points in the class struggle, these workers commissions began instituting elements of workers control, thus infringing on the authority of the bosses. In this sense it is correct to talk about “dual power on a factory level, that is, a challenge to the authority and prerogatives of the boss on the level of the individual enterprise.

But a situation of dual power on the national political level would have represented a qualitative advance over this; it would have meant a challenge to the authority of the capitalist class as a whole-not just on the level of the individual enterprise, but on the level of the state power itself. It is meaningless to speak of dual power being “molecular” (IV, 3) or to speak of a “fragmentation and weakness of the dual power” (IX, 1). Dual power by definition is not fragmented; it is not weak; it is not molecular.

The LTF resolution, The Key Issues in the Portuguese Revolution, points out the following weaknesses of the workers commissions: “These bodies have generally remained within the trade-union framework. They have not functioned as soviets. They have not taken political initiatives; they have not assumed control over industrial concentrations; they have not served as arenas of general political debate or as organizing centers of united-front action by the working class; they have not drawn into struggle the most oppressed layers of the masses; they are not seen by the workers as a center of power parallel to or competing with the government.” (IIDB Vol.XII, No.6, October, 1975.)

Does Comrade Moreno challenge this evaluation? If so, let him present facts to prove the contrary.

But in the absence of such facts it surely distorts reality to speak of the workers commissions as soviets, albeit “embryonic,” or as dual power, albeit “molecular” or “fragmented.”

Once it is understood that the objective is to pose a working-class challenge to the capitalist class on the national governmental level, then the problem of advancing towards soviets can be put in its proper framework. It is essentially a political problem: to determine the central problems facing the working class on a national level; to pose the key political demands that can unite the working class against the capitalist class in face of these problems; and to work towards the creation of the most effective, broad united-front action committees to carry out these objectives (that is, in fact, what soviets are).

To go from factory committees to soviets is not a mere matter of developing, coordinating, and centralizing factory committees, as the “embryo” theory would have it. The mature soviet organism will not necessarily develop as the result of the organic growth of the “embryo.” It is this mistaken concept that lies at the root of the line that sees the central task being “to defend, develop, and centralize these embryos of dual power.”

But there is more to the matter than that. After all, once a biologist identifies an embryo, it becomes possible to predict what the mature organism will be. Applying the same method to politics can lead one to think it is possible to predict the exact form that the socialist revolution will take. Sure enough, this is the concluding note of the Revista article: the socialist revolution will be a “socialist revolution of the workers commissions.” (X, 6.)

It was far off the mark to present the socialist revolution in Portugal in that manner. As the Revista article itself admits, the workers commissions in Portugal were not looked to as an alternative power by the Portuguese workers. And it is patently wrong to pose the question of power in terms of organizations that only a minority of workers look to in this way. The majority of the class could only view such proposals with suspicion-and, in fact, that is exactly how the workers did react to all these groups in Portugal that talked in such terms.

This error was aggravated because many of the organizations that took on the name, “workers commission,” (and many more of the neighborhood commissions) were really narrow fronts, often manipulated by the MFA and set up by the CP or by small left-centrist sects trying to cash in on the prestige of the genuine workers commissions. The majority of workers correctly turned their backs on these artificial front groups, and they were doubly suspicious of anyone who advised them to look to such formations for leadership.

Unfortunately, the Letter from Former LTF Members fails to consider this problem.

III. “Organizational Slogans” and the Strategy of Soviets

It is not only the logic of the “embryo” theory that has led Comrade Moreno and the other comrades into difficulty. The same can be said of the schema of “organizational slogans” and the schema of the “strategy or the main task in a prerevolutionary or revolutionary period.” (See the Letter from Former LTF Members, part I.) Since building soviets (an “organizational slogan”) is supposed to be the strategy for the period in Portugal, and since the workers commissions, soldiers committees (and, who knows, perhaps the people’s assemblies) have already been picked out in advance as the embryos of these soviets, the key task boils down to the following: help the embryos to mature.

One problem that arises from this is that the political line is presented as a corollary of the “organizational slogan” rather than the other way around, as it should be. As Comrade Moreno puts it in Chapter X, Part 2 of his Revista article, the various organizational forms “are precisely that, a form; they need a content, they need to know what their purpose is, what problems facing the workers they must solve.”

Comrade Moreno is, of course, aware that there is a difficulty: the organizations picked out in advance to become soviets are still unrepresentative. The workers do not yet realize that these organs are “for advancing the socialist revolution.” [4] What is more, these organs are at present being “utilized. by the MFA” and they are “controlled by the ultraleft.”

Does this cause Comrade Moreno to reconsider the schema? Not at all. The embryos remain embryos. And if they are inadequate, then the solution is simple: the embryos must be made adequate. This is the “crucial problem” for Comrade Moreno- “... in spreading these organs: we must attract to them the mass movement It will also be necessary to take the lead “in transforming these ‘organs’ into united organizations for the revolutionary mobilization against the government.” Then they will become genuine soviets. This is a perfect example of circular reasoning.

The correct approach to the problem is the other way around. It is true that in Portugal the workers needed “united organizations for the revolutionary mobilization against the government.” The workers do need soviets. But in order to build such organizations it is necessary to convince the workers why they need such organs. It is necessary to convince them to break with the bourgeois government. The workers have to be convinced to break with the MFA and the bourgeois parties. They have to be convinced that a governmental bloc between workers parties and bourgeois forces is an obstacle to socialism. They have to be convinced of the value of united front actions on all levels. The workers of the SP and the CP have to be convinced of the need for and the possibility of working together. If they could be convinced of these ideas, then a big step would be taken towards the construction of genuinely representative soviets.

The “organizational slogan” that best concretized these political points was not the call to “defend, develop and centralize these embryos of dual power.” It was the call for an SP-CP government. This was the slogan that concretized the call for class independence on the political level, as well as helping to explain the call for a united front. During 1975, in the period prior to the announcement of elections, this slogan could best be explained by reference to the SP-CP majority in the Constituent Assembly.

It is curious that the Letter from Former LTF Members fails to make this point, since the comrades do specify their agreement with the “organizational slogans” raised by the SWP for an independent labor party in the United States, or for independent Black or Chicano parties. These slogans simply express, in the less politically advanced climate of American politics, the need for class independence on the political level.

Again, the real differences over Portugal are not between those who favor “organizational slogans” and those who are against. The differences are over which “organizational slogans” best answer the key political questions facing the working class. The call for an SP-CP government was much more in tune with the realities of the Portuguese revolution as it actually unfolded at that stage, than the call to “defend, develop and centralize these embryos of dual power.”

But then, what about the need to work towards the development of soviets in a period of revolutionary upsurge? Did not Trotsky emphasize the need for soviets in such situations? Of course he did. But he also explained that the most effective way to build soviets is to center the struggle around the key political issues, and work towards increasingly effective united-front action committees (including broadly based factory committees) to carry out this struggle. Trotsky pointed out again and again that soviets are the highest form of the united front, and that the road to soviets lies through the progressive development of united-front organisms. This is precisely the way that soviets are presented in the Transitional Program. Trotsky never posed the question in the schematic terms of “organizational slogans” or the strategy for a period.

To back up their argument, the Letter from Former LTF Members refers us to the citations from Trotsky that are contained in Comrade Moreno’s Revista article. These citations can be found mainly in Chapter X, Part 3, The Examples of Spain and France. The citations are indeed enlightening, perhaps more so than Comrade Moreno realizes. In fact, it is tempting to refer comrades to the very same citations to show that Trotsky’s approach was different from Comrade Moreno’s. This is especially clear if readers turn to Trotsky himself and read the citations in context. It is apparent that Trotsky saw the construction of soviets coming about through united front struggles around the central political questions of the day. He did not make a fetish out of organizational slogans calling for soviets.

Let us take the first of Comrade Moreno’s citations. Comrade Moreno quotes the following from Trotsky, who was writing about Spain in January, 1931. “The masses of the city and countryside can be united at the present time only under democratic slogans ... On the other hand, it will obviously be possible to build soviets in the near future only by mobilizing the masses on the basis of democratic slogans.” (The Spanish Revolution, page 66.)

It is clear that the LTF resolution on Portugal posed the question of soviets in Portugal in much the same way as Trotsky did in this case.

Now, let us look at the entire paragraph from Trotsky including the parts that Comrade Moreno left out:

But if the Cortes [parliament} is to be boycotted, then in the name of what? In the name of soviets? In my opinion it would be wrong to pose the question that way. The masses of the city and countryside can be united at the present time only under democratic slogans. These include the election of a constituent Cortes on the basis of universal, equal, direct, and secret suffrage. I do not think that in the present situation you can avoid this slogan. Soviets are as yet nonexistent. The Spanish workers – not to speak of the peasants – do not know what soviets are; at any rate, not from their own experiences. Nevertheless, the struggle around the Cortes in the coming period will constitute the whole political life of the country. To counterpoise the slogan of soviets, under these circumstances, to the slogan of the Cortes, would be incorrect. On the other hand, it will obviously be possible to build soviets in the near future only by mobilizing the masses on the basis of democratic slogans. This means: to prevent the monarchy from convening a false, deceptive, conservative Cortes; to assure the convocation of a democratic constituent Cortes; and so that this Cortes can give the land to the peasants, and do many other things, workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ soviets must be created to fortify the positions of the toiling masses.

The similarity to the LTF resolution on Portugal is striking, indeed!

This is not the only one of Comrade Moreno’s citations from Trotsky that speaks against his position. In the quotation from September 1931 (which says that factory committees can lead towards the development of soviets) there is a small part omitted by Comrade Moreno. This is where Trotsky refers the reader to his article, Workers’ Control of Production, contained in The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, pp.77-84. Among other things Trotsky says it is necessary “to reject that fetishism of the soviet form which the epigones in the Comintern have put into circulation.” Trotsky argues against the idea that “dual power in enterprises and dual power in the state are born on one and the same day ... [for example] workers’ control of production can come considerably ahead of developed political dual power in a country.”

Stressing the crucial need for a united front, Trotsky thought that in the particular circumstances it was possible that the factory councils might “be able to play the role of Soviets and replace them.” He thought this a possibility because while the idea of soviets was somewhat frightening to the Social Democratic workers at the time, “the question of factory councils is another matter altogether. They already exist today. Both Communist and Social Democrats are building them. In a certain sense, the factory councils are the realization of the united front of the working class.”

The article clearly shows Trotsky’s rejection of the “sovietism” fetish. It can, of course, be asked whether the Portuguese workers commissions could have been expected to take on a role similar to that which Trotsky thought possible for the factory commissions in Germany. Yes, such a development was possible on two conditions: 1. If the commissions had taken up the leadership of national political campaigns around the burning issues in the class struggle, such as democratic rights. 2. If the commissions could have developed into broad united fronts, involving the majority of SP and CP workers, as Trotsky described the German factory committees.

The key aspect of Trotsky’s article, from the point of view of method, is the following: Trotsky was flexible in his approach to “organizational slogans”; these were viewed as a means of implementing and concretizing the political tasks, not as an end in themselves.

IV. Towards a New Concept of the United Front?

In the Re vista article Comrade Moreno compounds the methodological errors involving “organizational slogans” and the strategy for the period by drawing incorrect political conclusions about the united front from these schemas. This can be seen in the section of Chapter X entitled, No United Front With the CP and the Other Reformist Parties! For Work Within Intersindical and Mainly the Workers and Soldiers Committees!

Beginning with a misinterpretation of Trotsky’s views on Spain – that is, assuming that Trotsky projected the main task as organizational – Comrade Moreno goes on to say that “The new reality, which requires that we concentrate our forces in the commissions and committees, has modified the traditional application of our tactic of the united front.” The nature of this modification is explained several paragraphs later: “We must do it [apply the united front], but on the only level permitted us by the reality. Strategically, we abandon the traditional form of practicing the united front: calling on the parties. But we defend an elementary form of the united front – the Intersindical – and another, much more elevated: the development everywhere of the commissions of workers, of tenants, of peasants, and the soldiers committees. We propose to the reformist parties that they recognize and join the commissions where all their democratic rights will be recognized but where they will be called on to abide by the resolutions that are passed.” This “form of the united front” is defined by Comrade Moreno as “the highest one, the one of direct democracy of the mass movement

These concepts skirt dangerously close to those of the discredited theory of the united front from below.

Comrade Moreno bases his Revista position on a completely wrong understanding of the Trotskyist position on Spain. He says, “Concretely, the Trotskyists, who were for the united front in its various forms before Franco’s coup, abandoned this policy after the coup. Or, more exactly, they gave it a directly opposite form: develop the workers committees, the occupations, and the soldiers committees, without posing the united front among the workers parties, direct agents of the counterrevolution.”

This is false. The Trotskyist movement never abandoned its position for a united front in Spain.

Nor is it true that “Trotskyists have always considered that the politics of the POUM directly betrayed the Spanish revolution since it called for the realization of a united front with the traitorous parties, direct agents of the counterrevolution.” The Trotskyist criticism of the POUM was that it, along with the CP, the SP, and the anarchists, joined a popular front alliance with a wing of the bourgeoisie. There is a qualitative distinction between calling for a united front of workers organizations and joining a popular front with a bourgeois force.

From this misreading of the history of the Spanish revolution, Comrade Moreno draws the conclusion that “In face of the danger from Spínola the formula of the united front would be applicable, because it would correspond to a profound need and aspirations felt by the masses and the parties representing them: to confront Spínola and defeat him. But once Spínola was beaten, this policy would have to be replaced by another: systematic denunciation of the Communist Party and the MFA, as well as its government, as the most immediate danger facing the workers and the conquests of the workers movement and the Portuguese masses.

But our united-front policy has nothing to do with whether the policy of the CP or the SP or both is “the most immediate danger,” as Comrade Moreno seems to think. It has to do with the fact that these treacherous parties still enjoy the support of the masses. So long as this is the case, the only way to explain the idea of united action by the working class is by “calling on the parties.” This lesson should be ABC for a Trotskyist.

Happily, the Letter from Former LTF Members does not repeat these notions. But it would still be important to have Comrade Moreno state explicitly whether or not he maintains the positions on the united front that are expressed in the Revista article.

One final point on this subject. The position in the Revista article against “calling on the parties” may have been rejected in the Letter from Former LTF Members, since this document speaks in favor of calling on the SP and CP to form a workers and farmers government. But it would be helpful to know how the Portuguese PRT reconciles placing its signature on the Letter with its 1976 election campaign slogan in favor of an SP government, and against calling for an SP-CP government.

V. The Class Character of the MFA

In addition to the differences above that relate to the strategy of soviets and the united front, there are several other points of difference that bear some discussion. These are most clearly expressed in the Revista article.

One of these concerns the characterization of the MFA. Is it bourgeois, as the LTF document says, or is it petty-bourgeois, as Comrade Moreno maintains? This difference, taken by itself, is clearly of a secondary nature, because there is agreement that the government is bourgeois and that our political attitude towards it is one of opposition. But still, this point is worth going into, in view of the fact that Comrade Moreno has taken so much space to deal with it. His position, unfortunately, helped lead the Portuguese PRT astray.

Comrade Moreno stresses that an analysis of the revolutionary upsurge in Portugal must take into account that there are three major social classes: not just the working class and the bourgeoisie, but the petty bourgeoisie as well. The SWP, it is alleged, is guilty of a “dangerous oversight” in this matter. (I, 2.) Comrade Moreno explains how the petty bourgeoisie can throw up its own parties that play an important political role, as did, for example Kerensky’s Social Revolutionary party in the Russian Revolution. With this in mind, Comrade Moreno searches for the political force in Portugal that played an analogous role, and he concludes that it was the MFA.

His presentation of the analogy is very, very detailed. To each stage of the Portuguese revolution Comrade Moreno believes he has found an equivalent stage in the Russian Revolution, and the various forces and personalities are compared. It must be admitted that there are valuable insights to be gained from such analogies, even if Comrade Moreno does stretch things a bit here and there (e.g., Spínola “combined in one figure” both Prince Lvov and Kornilov). (I, 3.) There are, however, more serious flaws in the argument.

First, Comrade Moreno is mistaken to assume, as he apparently does, that the petty bourgeoisie must necessarily have its own independent political party or representative. (VII, 2.) Often this is not the case. Particularly in imperialist countries.

Second, Comrade Moreno is mistaken to assume that the policy differences that broke out between the MFA and Spínola, and which even took violent form (Spínola’s attempted putsch of March 1975) can only be explained as the result of class differences. “Are there two wings of the same bourgeoisie which confront each other in attempts at civil war,” asks Comrade Moreno, “which hit at each other with ‘putsches,’ which battle each other, which persecute each other, and, while one flees the country, the other ‘carries on demagogy’? (VII, 2.) A brief reflection on history should reveal that different bourgeois factions do indeed make putsches against each other, and do persecute each other on occasion.

Third, and most important, is the methodological error underlying Comrade Moreno’s argument. His conclusions about the petty-bourgeois nature of the MFA flow exclusively from logical deduction, from analysis of the analogy with the Russian revolution, rather than from an analysis of the role and nature of the Portuguese petty bourgeoisie.

It simply will not do to limit the analysis to the MFA and its political gyrations. After all, the MFA was only a handful of people, a group of officers of the bourgeois army. And though the MFA officers may have individually been from petty-bourgeois backgrounds on the whole-just like most of the officer caste-they can in no way be considered a social class, or even a significant section of a social class.

So the question is posed. If the MFA is but the reflection or representative of the petty bourgeoisie in Portugal, then what did it reflect exactly? What about the masses of small farmers? What about the small businessmen? What about the urban professionals and technological elite, the modern middle class, which the MFA allegedly represented? What was happening among these strata? How was this reflected politically? On this, Comrade Moreno is strangely silent. He says nothing at all about what was actually happening among the real-life petty bourgeoisie in Portugal. Isn’t this, to use Comrade Moreno’s expression, a dangerous oversight? Isn’t something amiss when an analysis of an analogy is substituted for an analysis of the reality? [5]

What is more important, how would Comrade Moreno answer the question: if the MFA did represent the Portuguese petty bourgeoisie, or a significant part of it, how does this fit in with the real-life policies of the MFA, which led to the increasing hostility of the Portuguese farmers, small businessmen and the urban professionals and technological elite? Why was “the modern middle class” alienated from its supposed representative? And, since Comrade Moreno does not even ask this question, much less answer it, might we not be justified in throwing back at him a charge that he so freely makes against us: isn’t it Comrade Moreno, after all, who gives us a mere description and analogy in place of a class analysis?

But the biggest problem in connection with Comrade Moreno’s position is not the position itself, but its consequences, the conclusions that were drawn by the Portuguese supporters of the position held by Comrade Moreno. Unfortunately, the stress placed on the petty-bourgeois nature of the MFA led the Portuguese PRT (Partido Revolucionàrio dos Trabalhadores – Revolutionary Workers Party) to fall into a trap of political softness toward the MFA’s people’s power demagogy in the summer of 1975.

This error can be clearly seen in an article that appeared in the July 10, 1975, issue of the PRT newspaper, Combate Socialista, in which the previous characterization of the MFA as bourgeois is rejected in favor of a new analysis of the MFA as petty bourgeois. As a consequence of the new analysis, the MFA is deemed capable of reflecting nonbourgeois interests. Thus, the article asserts that “it is the MFA that introduces a different organization, a different power into the bourgeois armed force – a dual power.” Here the MFA is given undue credit for the soldiers committees.

Moreover, the MFA’s people’s power demagogy is accepted as a valid framework for furthering the class struggle: “... we find it necessary and urgent to demand that the MFA and particularly Copcon [Comando Operacional do Continente – Mainland Portugal Operations Command, an official component of the Portuguese army], the most radicalized expression of rank-and-file democracy that has developed in the barracks-promote the formation of coordinating committees with equal representation of delegates from the ADU [Assembleias de Delegados da Unidade – Unit Delegate Assemblies] and representatives elected from the workers commissions or other united rank-and-file organizations. All workers political parties, especially the PCP and SP, must be members of these coordinating committees, and respect their democratic, united functioning.” (All emphasis in the original. An English translation of this article appears in SWP Internal Information Bulletin, No.1, August, 1975.)

To think that official institutions in the bourgeois army command can be called upon to promote the development of soviets is more than misleading. This is the real problem with the view that the MFA is petty-bourgeois.

VI. “Kerenskyism” and “Bonapartism”

Another aspect of Comrade Moreno’s Revista article is his characterization of the MFA government in 1975 as “Kerenskyist,” and his objection to our having called it “Bonapartist.” Here again, there is agreement on the main political point: it was a bourgeois government and should be opposed. The differences-over terminology and interpretation of history-are really quite minor. But since Comrade Moreno does spend so much time on this issue, let us examine the question to see if there is more involved than meets the eye.

In 1899 the French Socialist, Alexandre Millerand, became a minister in the government of Waldeck-Rousseau. This was the first time that a representative of a working-class party had joined a bourgeois government, and it sparked a great controversy in the Second International. Heated debates flared up over the policy of “Millerandism.” It could be said that the Portuguese SP and CP were following the old “Millerandist” policy in 1975.

In 1917 a somewhat similar phenomenon occurred in Russia, when socialist ministers joined the various bourgeois provisional governments that were set up in the period from February to October. One of the most famous of these regimes was Kerensky’s, and “Kerenskyism” came to be used in the early Communist International as a term to describe bourgeois coalition regimes of this type. It could be said that the MFA regimes of 1975 were “Kerenskyist” regimes. Comrade Moreno is essentially correct in his discussion on this point. (VI, 6.)

In the 1930’s the Stalinists adopted the policy of trying to form and participate in coalition governments with bourgeois parties. They described their strategy as that of the “popular front,” and the new term caught on. So, for clarity’s sake, the Trotskyist movement stopped using the word “Kerenskyism” to describe regimes of this type, and instead switched over to the new term, “popular front.” We have thought it preferable to use this more easily understandable designation to describe the MFA regimes of 1975: they were popular-front regimes.

The MFA regimes of 1975 had other points in common with the Kerensky regime of 1917. Both existed in a period of revolutionary rise, both were weak, and both used leftist social demagogy. Comrade Moreno stresses this point, saying that the MFA regime was an example of “classical” Kerenskyism (VI, 7). Again, there is no difference over substance, although here, Comrade Moreno’s terminology has even more dubious pedagogical value, for it can be asked: exactly what does “classical” mean? [6]

But, let us agree that the MFA regimes were “classical Kerenskyist.” What is wrong with also calling them “Bonapartist”? The two terms describe different, but not mutually exclusive characteristics. In portraying the two characteristics as incompatible, Comrade Moreno is simply mistaken.

Bonapartism is a common political phenomenon that comes into being in a period of acute social crisis, when the contending classes or sectors of classes tend to balance each other off in their test of strength. In such cases a regime can arise that seems to stand above the classes, acting as a supreme judge-arbiter between them. Generally, Bonapartist regimes are headed by a sort of “man on horseback,” a demagogic, self-styled savior who pretends to stand above the petty quarrels of ordinary mortals – and above the usual rules of political behavior. There is an arbitrary character to the rule of Bonapartist regimes that distinguishes them from more traditional forms of despotism. Although such regimes can achieve a certain independence of their own, in the last analysis and on the most decisive questions they represent specific class interests.

This type of phenomenon is well known in history – in different historical epochs and under different social systems. Perhaps the first time it appeared was in ancient Greek society, in the form of the Tyrants. In ancient Rome the most prominent representative of this type was Julius Caesar, and for a long time afterwards the phenomenon was known as “Caesarism.” In late medieval times the emergence of the commercial city-states in Italy also gave rise to a comparable phenomenon. Similar features can be observed in the absolute monarchies of a the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the modern capitalist era, this type of situation first became prominent with the regime of Napoleon Bonaparte, from whence it took on the new name, “Bonapartism.” In the Soviet Union and China the Stalin and Mao regimes could also be designated as Bonapartist.

Naturally, there are limits to such sweeping comparisons. As Marx stressed, it would be foolish to expect more than superficial resemblance’s between capitalist Bonapartism capitalism and pre-capitalist Caesarism. The specific features of each case must be examined concretely. Only with this understanding can the broad historical approach help our understanding of the Bonapartist aspects of some modern-day political phenomena. This was Trotsky’s approach, for example, in analyzing Soviet Bonapartism. (See The Revolution Betrayed, Chapter XI, part 1.)

The Bonapartist regimes that followed Napoleon’s were quite different from the original and from each other. Actually, capitalist Bonapartism in the modern form, in which the working class has become a serious factor to be dealt with by the ruling regime (the working class hardly existed in the France of Napoleon’s day) did not come into being until the regime of Napoleon III (Louis Bonaparte). His coup of 1851, which put an end to the Second Republic in France, was the subject of Marx’s famous work, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. The phenomenon of capitalist Bonapartism then became quite common. Bismarck’s regime in Germany was another prominent example from the nineteen century. [7]

In the twentieth century a new form of Bonapartism arose in Germany in the unstable period just prior to the Nazi takeover. Trotsky analyzed this phenomenon of prefascist Bonapartism at some length in his writings of the period. Since World War II, a very common type of Bonapartism has appeared in the semicolonial countries in which the national bourgeoisie, coming into conflict with the imperialist bourgeoisie and the domestic reactionary and comprador elements, can carry out some progressive measures, such as nationalizations. The Nasser regime was one typical example. This phenomenon was rather new in Trotsky’s time, but he did deal with it to some extent in his writings on the Càrdenas regime in Mexico. Most Bonapartist regimes are strong, but some are weak. Most take on a reactionary face, but some appear progressive. An example of the latter type of Bonapartist regime was precisely Kerensky’s regime in 1917, after the failure of Kornilov’s coup attempt. Kerensky’s was a weak regime, with a leftist coloration, in a period of rising class struggle. But it exhibited all the essential features of Bonapartism, and was so regarded by Lenin and Trotsky.

For example, one can trace Lenin’s evaluation of the evolution of Kerensky’s Bonapartism from its foreshadowing (In Search of Napoleon, Collected Works, Vol.24, p.383) to Kerensky’s “taking the first steps towards Bonapartism” (The Beginning of Bonapartism, Vol.25, p.220) to the fuller development into “an utterly bourgeois and Bonapartist government in reality.” (“One of the Fundamental Questions of the Revolution,” Vol.25, p. 372). It is not at all unusual in Lenin’s writings of this period to come across his characterization of the Kerensky regime as Bonapartist. [8]

Similarly for Trotsky, in the chapter of his History of the Russian Revolution entitled, Kerensky and Kornilov (Elements of Bonapartism in the Russian Revolution). (Vol.2, Ch.6.) Comrade Moreno’s hairsplitting argument in reference to this chapter is that a big distinction must be made between a tendency towards Bonapartism and Bonapartism proper. It is truly astonishing to read Comrade Moreno’s interpretation, since Trotsky’s entire point is to show the similarity that Kerensky’s regime had to Bonapartism, not to make a major distinction between them. True enough, Kerensky, like the MFA, was unable to fully implement his Bonapartist objectives. Comrade Moreno stresses this point, as if it settles the argument. But all that it proves is that the Kerensky and MFA regimes were both weak Bonapartist regimes. [9]

Apparently, one of the main reasons why Comrade Moreno was so reluctant to apply the term “Bonapartism” to the MFA regime is his view that “Kerenskyism” means that “the dynamic and decisive element continues to be a workers revolution on the rise. This is exactly opposite to a Bonapartist regime, in which the dynamic factor is the bourgeois counterrevolution and the workers movement is on the defensive.” (VI, 4.) But “Kerenskyism” and “Bonapartism” describe characteristics of regimes, not the state of the mass movement. Under a Bonapartist regime, the masses need not necessarily be in retreat. It was precisely after the defeat of Kornilov, and in a situation of mass upsurge, that Lenin and Trotsky both called attention to Kerensky’s Bonapartism. Comrade Moreno overlooks this when he likens the failure of Spínola’s March 11 putsch to the defeat of Kornilov, and then goes on to argue that Bonapartism could not have arisen in Portugal since the masses were on the advance.

To bolster his point, Comrade Moreno cites Trotsky’s writings on the German Bonapartist regimes that arose prior to Hitler’s takeover. According to Comrade Moreno, “Trotsky again emphasizes that Bonapartism bases itself on the retreat of the masses and in the victories of the counterrevolution, not on the proximity of the revolution.” (VI, 3.) No. Not at all. Certainly not with regard to Germany in the early 1930s. Trotsky’s point about prefascist Bonapartism was that the counterrevolution had not yet been victorious. That the workers could still win. That the socialist revolution could still be close at hand. That the masses had not yet been exhausted.

The problem was not that the German workers had been thrown into retreat in face of a strong and aggressive capitalist regime; the problem was that the Communist Party and Social Democratic party leaderships were blocking the workers from advancing. This is what enabled the German Bonapartist regimes to arise in the early 1930’s. These regimes were note based on the defeat of the masses, or on a long-term retreat of the masses, but on the mutual neutralization of the contending classes. These were weak Bonapartist regimes, temporary regimes. The “dynamic factor” was instability, and the eventual outcome was not yet settled.

Comrade Moreno quotes Trotsky on this as follows: “Without this basic condition, that is, without a preceding exhaustion of the mass energies in battles, the Bonapartist regime is in no position to develop.” (The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p.278) It is only by taking this quotation out of context that Comrade Moreno is able to interpret Trotsky’s word “develop” as if it meant “arise”-as if Trotsky thought that a Bonapartist regime could only arise on the basis of defeats. But Trotsky was talking about the Papen government, of which he had just said:

“In a perfected form, Bonapartism came upon the scene in the Papen-Schleicher government.” (Page 276.) If we now consider the quotation that Comrade Moreno has given us, and put it in context, it says the exact opposite of what Comrade Moreno tries to prove:

The less prepared the workers were, the more the advent of the Papen government was bound to produce the impression of strength: complete ignoring of the parties, new emergency decrees, dissolution of the Reichstag, reprisals, state of siege in the capital, abolition of the Prussian ‘democracy.’ And with what ease! A lion you kill with a shot; the flea you squash between the fingernails; Social Democratic ministers are finished off with a fillip.
However, in spite of the visibility of concentrated forces, the Papen government as such is weaker yet than its predecessor. The Bonapartist regime can attain a comparatively stable and durable character only in the event that it brings a revolutionary epoch to a close; when the relationship of forces has already been tested in battles; when the revolutionary classes are already spent, but the possessing classes have not yet freed themselves from the fear: will not tomorrow bring new convulsions? Without this basic condition, that is, without a preceding exhaustion of the mass energies in battles, the Bonapartist regime is in no position to develop. (Pages 277-278.)

So, clearly, Trotsky thought that Bonapartism could arise (indeed, had arisen) even though the masses were not defeated; but it could not “develop,” that is, it could not become a “comparatively stable and durable” unless the masses were exhausted in battles. And that is, of course, correct. One need only add that the same point could be applied to both the Kerensky regime of 1917 and the MFA regime of 1975.

The real problem with Comrade Moreno’s position is not his terminological rigidity or his carelessness with history. The problem is that his schematic analytical framework can easily lead to rigid and schematic political conclusions. Consider what he says here:

Let me stress an example: If we take bourgeois democracy as the midway station of a railway line, if we move toward the right we pass by the stations of Bonapartism; the end of the line is fascism. But, if we go in the opposite direction, we will pass by the station of Kerenskyism, and crossing the class frontier, we will arrive at the other end of the line, a workers state. (VI, 4.)

This example is picked up again a little later:

Let us recall the example of the railway line with two terminals (fascism and a workers state): If the government is Bonapartist, the country is moving to the right, and thus it is urgent to put the brakes on this trend and try to reverse it. If it is Kerenskyist, we must step on the accelerator to speed the march toward the socialist revolution (VI, 7.)

In this way, the main problems of political strategy boil down to a simple formula: first characterize the regime; from this flows the political tasks. In more sophisticated form, this method is elsewhere expressed as follows: “to define the stage of the class struggle and its probable dynamics is a prerequisite for formulating a correct revolutionary policy, but it is not enough. It is necessary to define the character of the regime and government which the masses have to confront.

Revolutionists will not follow the same policies with different types of governments. (VI, 1.)

The railway line analogy shows that the practical effect is for the emphasis to be placed on the latter part of this advice.

The method of determining political line as a function of the characterization of a government can be of very little value as a guide to political action, as the following illustration suffices to show. The political regime in the United States is the same today as it was in the early 1950s; bourgeois democratic. The railway train, to use Comrade Moreno’s guideline, is still stuck at the “midway station.” But what a change in the class struggle! And what a change in our political activities as a result. [10]

VII. A Few Odds and End

There are many other problems in the Revista article in addition to the points already a discussed, and it may be useful to point out a few of these so that one can get more of a flavor of the article. Here are five examples.

1. Comrade Moreno stresses that the Portuguese army was a defeated army, “defeated by ten years of colonial revolutionary war,” and he implies that this has more revolutionary implications than being defeated by another imperialist army. (I, 1.)

It is somewhat misleading to say this, since, first of all, the Portuguese army was not really militarily defeated in Alrica, no more than the American army was militarily defeated in Vietnam or the French army in Algeria. What was involved was a political defeat resulting from the combination of military difficulty and domestic crisis.

The Portuguese army was not militarily defeated like the Tsarist Russian army in 1916-1917 or the German army in 1918; nor, it should be added, did the radicalization in the Portuguese army develop as deeply as it did in the Russian and German armies of that period, even though these defeats were at the hands of other imperialist armies. The radicalization in the Portuguese army began under the impact of the colonial revolution, but began to blossom fully only after April 1974, in connection with the mass upsurge in Portugal as a whole.

2. Comrade Moreno says that after the failure of Spínola’s coup attempt of March 11, 1975, the Portuguese bourgeoisie “melts away politically and physically as a class ... Physically and politically it has vanished for a while from the political and economic scene. Only its shadow remains.” (IV, 1.) Perhaps. But if so, it must have had a rather palpable shadow.

3. In his discussion of the post-World War II revolutions Comrade Moreno says that “The democratic or anti-imperialist Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Yugoslavian, and Cuban peasant wars were transformed through the objective logic of those struggles into deformed proletarian revolutions.” (II, 1.) But the overturn in North Korea occurred under the aegis of the Soviet Army, much like most of Eastern Europe. And Cuba did not go through a “peasant war” either, at least not anything comparable to the extended period of peasant war in China and Vietnam. It is also questionable to describe the Yugoslav revolution as a “peasant war.”

4. Comrade Moreno describes Portuguese imperialism as “a senile imperialism, the most senile of them all because it was the first.” (II, 2.) While it is true that Portugal was one of the first West European colonial powers, it was not one of the first to reach the imperialist stage of capitalism. “Senile imperialism” may be a clever expression, but it is preferable to speak of “imperialism” in the way Lenin did.

5. Comrade Moreno attacks Horowitz and Maitan for failing to denounce the Portuguese Socialist Party as “an agent of European imperialism.” (VIII, 6.) But the Portuguese SP is the agent of Portuguese imperialism, and Portuguese imperialism has interests that conflict in some cases with those of other European imperialist powers-in regard to Angola, for example.

Important sectors of Portuguese imperialism considered that their interests in Angola could have been best maintained under an MPLA regime, whereas other imperialist powers had hoped to move into Angola more freely in the wake of an FNLA or UNITA victory. It is easy to miss this point if one dissolves the concrete (the specific imperialist countries in Europe) into the abstract (“European imperialism”).

VIII. But We Never Said That!

As has been discussed earlier, the main difference raised by Comrade Moreno and others in the Letter from Former LTF Members concerns the question of soviets. This is a real difference, and one worthy of serious discussion. However, this question comprises only one of the six points in the Letter from Former LTF Members. What of the other five points? On these questions the comrades are criticizing positions that we do not hold. And on some points, it is sad to say, they have distorted and falsified what we have said.

The LTF, or some of the individual leaders of the LTF, are accused of errors such as the following: failing to characterize the Constituent Assembly as a bourgeois institution; failing to point out that the workers will eventually have to outgrow the Constituent Assembly and break from it; failing to link an anticapitalist program to the call for an SP-CP government; failing to point out the need for workers self-defense; abandoning the goal of constructing a revolutionary party.

But there has been no rejection of the traditional Trotskyist position on these questions. We do not hold the revisionist views on these questions that are attributed to us. The LTF document either clearly states or assumes the usual revolutionary position on these matters. When one discusses new events it is not necessary to repeat everything from the Communist Manifesto to the Transitional Program. It is normal to assume that we begin from common agreement on some basic matters.

The effort to prove our “revisionism” leads the comrades to grasp at some very flimsy straws. Just consider the following:

They state that a careful study of the document of the LTF and the writings of SWP leaders shows that “by omission, there is a clear tendency toward making this theoretical assertion”-that the Portuguese Socialist Party is no longer counterrevolutionary. (Part II.) But we do not assert this, nor do we believe it. So why accuse us of this? And why do it in such a roundabout way?

The LTF document states that the call for an SP-CP government is designed to expose the SP and CP leaderships. The comrades who left the LTF do not object to this assertion, but go right on to say that our “real thinking” is different from what we have written. (Part V.)

The first draft of the LTF document was deficient in several respects. The final draft made corrections. But the comrades who left the LTF say that the corrections are “no more than patches designed to improve the revisionist position.” (II) Elsewhere, the comrades note that an objectionable paragraph in the first draft has been deleted in the final version. The “spirit” remains, however. (IV)

Foley, Hansen, and Novack discuss the possibility of a repetition of the Cuban pattern in Portugal, and conclude that this possibility is remote even though it cannot be theoretically excluded. The comrades who left the LTF quote this very passage and agree with it ... and then, without blinking an eye, go on to accuse the LTF of believing that such a development is very possible, perhaps even the only possibility to make the revolution in Portugal. (V) The “proof’ offered is the final sentence in the LTF Key Issues documents, which does not refer to a Cuban pattern at all, but simply sums up the basic objective of the Trotskyist program for Portugal.

Foley, Hansen, and Novack have written a model dialogue for a discussion with Portuguese workers. The comrades who left the LTF say that they “totally agree” with the dialogue. What is the problem, then? The problem is that the dialogue “goes against everything the SWP companeros have written.” Specifically, it “goes against” the LTF document, and, in fact, it “demolishes” our political line. (VI.)

Does that make everything perfectly clear? The SWP and the LTF are wrong, not only when they are wrong, but also when they are right!

Let us take up one of the accusations at greater length: the accusation that the LTF has a revisionist theory on democracy. The Letter from Former LTF Members alleges the following about the LTF theory: “We can summarize this theory in a schematic way thusly: in the imperialist countries bourgeois democracy is in an absolute contradiction with imperialism, a contradiction that deepens daily. Therefore we can and we must carry out the workers revolution with a democratic and not a transitional program, although using the method of the Transitional Program; that is, the revolutionary mobilization of the working class.” [11]

But the LTF holds no such theory. And not surprisingly, the comrades offer no proof from the LTF documents to back up the accusation. Instead they assert that this theory springs forth from behind” the LTF document.

But there is one source that is cited by Comrade Moreno and the other comrades. This source is not an LTF text, but a book by George Novack, Democracy and Revolution. The comrades quote George Novack as saying that the best defense of democracy requires a mass offensive for workers power and socialism and that this mass offensive “requires the implementation of a revolutionary program, perspective and strategy. The pivot of such a program is the reliance of the working masses upon their own organizations and independent mobilizations to protect democratic rights and extend them. Capitalism in its decadence strives to snatch away from the people even those freedoms they have won through previous struggles.” (Page 217.)

There is nothing at all that is “revisionist” about this passage. Especially if we turn to George Novack’s book and place the quotation in context. George Novack does not argue that the revolution will be made with a democratic, rather than a socialist program. He was not discussing the problem of the overall program for the socialist revolution. His topic was the more limited [12] problem: how can democracy be defended and extended? And, he answers, “the democracy of the future is necessarily bound up with the progress of labor and the program of the socialist movement.” (Page 209.) He expands on this theme in the paragraph just preceding the one cited by the comrades:

However, it is not enough, and indeed it would be a losing game, to confine the struggle for greater democratization within the bounds of a capitalist regime which keeps on spawning ultra-reactionary movements. Such a purely defensive posture for the democratic and proletarian forces in the confrontation with capitalist reaction is conservative and self-defeating. While it is imperative to resist all manifestations of antidemocratic action, it is above all necessary to uproot their causes. The best defense of democracy is the most powerful mass offensive for workers power and socialism. (Page 217.)

Then comes the passage cited in the Letter from Former LTF Members.

What is wrong with this? What different answer would the comrades give to the question: how can democracy be defended and extended? This is a legitimate question, is it not? It is a question that arises in everyday life. It is a burning question in Argentina today. And George Novack’s answer is the correct one: we fight as hard as we can to defend democratic rights under capitalism, but in the long run the only effective and enduring defense of democratic rights is to make a socialist revolution.

IX. A Puzzling Problem

There is one very curious aspect to the comrades’ argument about our allegedly revisionist ideas. That is the accusation that we have adopted “a new edition of Parvus’s theory for the advanced imperialist countries ... In Parvus’s way of putting it: workers mobilization and revolution in order to win a democratic program.” (Part II)

This accusation is curious because a careful study of all the LTF documents reveals no reference to this supposed theory of Parvus. Nor does the “Parvus theory” turn up in any of the documents of the SWP over the years. The mystery is compounded, because the comrades cite no sources to show where the Parvus theory can be found. So we are at a bit of a loss.

It is strange, though, to hear that Parvus once propounded such an obviously untenable theory. After all, at the turn of the century Parvus was a leading figure in the left wing of the German socialist movement. Of Russian origin, he had an interest in Russian politics, too, and he enjoyed the respect of both Lenin and Trotsky. How could someone of Parvus’s stature come up with such an unusual theory?

Later on, in the First World War, Parvus became a patriot, a revisionist, like many others in his generation. But the “Parvus theory” does not sound like run-of-the-mill revisionism in the advanced imperialist countries. The revisionists don’t usually say: “make a revolution for democratic rights.” What the revisionists say is: “you don’t need to make a workers revolution at all. Just keep on accumulating more and more reforms.” That has certainly been the experience with revisionists in the United States.

Now, there was a time when Parvus did say something that had some similarities to the notion of making a revolution “in order to win a democratic program.” There is an article by Lenin discussing Parvus’s ideas in this regard.

In early 1905, a pamphlet entitled Before the Ninth of January was published, for which Parvus had contributed an introduction in which he maintained that the democratic tasks in Russia could be carried out only if the workers led the revolution. “The revolutionary overturn in Russia can be accomplished only by the workers,” said Parvus. “The revolutionary provisional government in Russia will be the government of a workers ‘democracy. If the Social Democracy heads the revolutionary movement of the Russian proletariat, then this government will be Social Democratic ... The Social Democratic provisional government will not be able to accomplish a socialist overturn in Russia, but the very process of liquidating the autocracy and of establishing the democratic republic will provide it with a rich soil for political work.” [13]

Lenin criticized Parvus for these ideas, and it is interesting to note what Lenin said. One of Lenin’s main arguments was that the workers in Russia were a tiny minority of the country, and that Parvus had underestimated the significance of the peasantry. This predominance of peasantry in Russia, in Lenin’s view, would “affect the composition of the revolutionary government and inevitably lead to the participation, or even predominance, within it of the most heterogeneous representatives of revolutionary democracy.”

Parvus’s concept of “workers democracy” was not that of socialism, but of a bourgeois democracy with a Social Democratic government. The coming Russian revolution, in Parvus’s view, could only be a democratic revolution, not a socialist revolution. But in this latter aspect, Parvus’s view was not different than most other Russian Marxists at the time, including Lenin. In fact, in his own article criticizing Parvus about the role of the working class and the Social Democrats, Lenin expressed a view of the revolution that was very similar to Parvus’s view. Lenin said that the revolution in Russia would not be a socialist revolution, but would result only in the winning of broad democratic rights and substantial economic reforms, conditions in which the working class would “create for itself a truly large arena, an arena worthy of the twentieth century, in which to carry on the struggle for socialism.”

Lenin’s criticism of Parvus was fraternal. “But for all our warm sympathy for these slogans of a revolutionary Social Democrat who has turned away from the tailenders, we could not help feeling jarred by certain false notes that Parvus struck. We mention these slight errors, not out of captiousness, but because from him to whom much is given, much is demanded.”

But Parvus had only written the introduction to Before the Ninth of January. In so doing, he was lending his then-widely respected revolutionary reputation to ideas that had been worked out together with the young author of the pamphlet: Leon Trotsky.

In fact, Before the Ninth of January was one of the landmarks in the development of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. In this pamphlet Trotsky advanced the idea that the working class would play the leading role in the Russian revolution, despite its small size. Trotsky and Parvus were both more correct on this point than Lenin; and Parvus was even a bit ahead of Trotsky in conceiving that the Russian Social Democratic party could be in a position to head up the revolutionary provisional government.

But even at this time Trotsky, like Parvus (and like Lenin), thought that it would be a bourgeois-democratic, rather than a socialist revolution. It was only after several more months had passed that Trotsky would take this idea a big step further and conclude that the dynamics of this process implied a socialist revolution. The theory of permanent revolution was worked out in finished form in Results and Prospects, first published in 1906. In advancing, Trotsky left Parvus behind, but he often expressed appreciation for Parvus’s contribution and collaboration in working out some of the original ideas?

Surely this cannot be the infamous “Parvus theory” that the Letter from Former LTF Members had in mind. But to put the matter to rest, it would be helpful if they would tell us the exact source in Parvus where his strange theory is expounded.

X. The Origin and Evolution of the Differences

The first indications of a difference within the LTF over the question of Portugal became known at the time of the United Secretariat meeting of May 31-June 1, 1975. At that meeting a resolution reflecting the view of the IMT leaders was adopted by majority vote. (For the text, see Intercontinental Press, August 4, 1975.) All LTF comrades present at the meeting, including a PST leader, opposed this resolution. A short alternative motion explaining the bourgeois nature of the MFA, and the attitude to take towards it was counterpoised to the majority resolution. The PST representative opposed this motion, while all the other LTFers supported it. The extent of the differences in the LTF on this point were not fully clear, however. [14]

Actually, the PST leadership had begun to develop a different view on Portugal somewhat earlier than this meeting, as can be seen in a report given to the PST National Committee by Comrade Moreno. The written text of this report, dated April 4, 1975, was communicated to the Portuguese PRT leadership, and then somewhat later it was published in an internal information bulletin of the PRT. (For the English text, see SWP Internal Information Bulletin, No.6, 1976.) Comrade Moreno’s report raised the suggestion that the MFA might be a radicalizing petty-bourgeois grouping. He also suggested that the MFA might even set into motion a process out of which soviets could develop.

After studying this report, the PRT made a complete political turnabout, rejecting its previously correct stand of sharp denunciation of the MFA. The change in the PRT position was announced publicly in the July 10, 1975, issue of the PRT newspaper, Combate Socialista (For the English text, see IIB, No.1, August 1975).

Then, in the summer of 1975, in preparation for an LTF Steering Committee meeting, there was an exchange of correspondence between Joseph Hansen and Hugo Moreno. (See International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Vol.XIII, No.1, January, 1976.) In this correspondence some specific points of agreement and of differences are spelled out.

On July 4, 1975, Hansen wrote to Moreno, giving a brief ten-point synopsis of the first draft of the LTF document on Portugal. On July 16, Moreno wrote to Hansen saying that “we are essentially in agreement on the points you raised with us.” Then he raised some divergences, but concluded by saying, “I think there is sufficient common ground for arriving at a faction program on Portugal.” The next day, July 17, Moreno wrote another letter to Hansen, changing his mind: “It has occurred to me that we probably do have differences which we consider principled” on some points that Hansen did not mention in his July 4 letter. He also said that if principled agreement did not exist, “it would be best to separate.”

The PST representative presented no written explanation of his opposition to the motion. So, clearly, it remained to be seen whether or not a common position could be arrived at on the basis of discussion, that is, a common position on the main points, even if differences remained on secondary matters.

Shortly afterwards, the July-August issue of Revista de América appeared, containing the article by Comrade Moreno, in which his position was developed in some detail. The article, published in English for the first time in this bulletin, indicates differences of importance with regard to the question of soviets and the united front.

But in August, 1975, at the LTF Steering Committee meeting, it seemed that basic agreement had been reached. The general line of the LTF resolution, The Key Issues in the Portuguese Revolution, was adopted by unanimous vote. (For the text, see IIDB, Vol.XII, No.6, October, 1975.) The implication of this vote was that Comrade Moreno had changed some of his views-not all of his views, certainly, but then, many of the points of difference are of a secondary nature.

Afterwards, however, it became clear that the PST leadership and others were breaking with the LTF. Unfortunately the comrades chose to fight in a way that obstructed political clarity.

Serious divergences first arose on an organizational level, with the PST-engineered split in the Mexican Liga Socialista. This split began to develop in mid-September, 1975, but there was no expressed political basis for the splitting operation. In fact, it was only after the fight in Mexico had been underway for some time that political differences were expressed-over Portugal. And it was only after the split in Mexico was consummated that differences of a political nature concerning Mexico – specifically, Mexican Stalinism – were to be clearly debated. (See SWP IIB, Nos.2 and 3, 1976.)

Elsewhere in the world, rumors began to circulate that the PST leadership had differences with the LTF resolution on Portugal. But there was no confirmation of this until later, in November, when the PST leadership circulated documents charging that the line of the published version of the LTF document on Portugal was different from the line that had been voted on in the LTF Steering Committee meeting. The question of the authenticity of the LTF resolution was settled by a poll of the LTF Steering Committee. (See IIDB, Vol.XIII, No.1, January, 1976.) What was clearly at bottom here was a political difference. But it was obscured-and a shadow cast in the atmosphere of the discussion-by the manner in which the PST leadership had posed the question.

Finally, at the IEC meeting in February, 1976, Comrade Moreno for the first time officially announced the decision that had been made to leave the LTF and organize a separate tendency. As explained in the beginning of this article, we are still awaiting a written text giving the official political reasons for the break and the platform of the tendency. Hopefully, it will be forthcoming soon. In the meantime, we have to form our opinions on the basis of the documents that have been mentioned here.

August 1, 1976



1. In part V of the Letter from Former LTF Members this sentence is cited as proof that the LTF believes that a workers and farmers government in the Cuban pattern is “very possible” in Portugal, and that the LTF has thus “abandoned the construction of a revolutionary party with mass influence.” This interpretation of our meaning defies all logic. The LTF resolution, The Key Issues in the Portuguese Revolution, was published in Intercontinental Press, October 20, 1975. It is also available in International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Vol. XII, No.6, October, 1975.

2. The neighborhood commissions are a different matter entirely. For the most part, they were not representative at all; often they were just artificial bodies set up by one or another left-centrist or Maoist group. It is also necessary to distinguish between the genuinely representative workers commissions and soldiers committees that existed and the fake “people’s assemblies” that the MFA government tried to set up to garner support for its people’s power demagogy. Comrade Moreno’s Revista article is not completely clear on this point. In some places he distinguishes between the two types of formations, but elsewhere he lumps them together, even suggesting that the MFA’s “people’s assemblies” might be transformed into soviet-type organisms. (X, 2.) Some IMT leaders fell hook, line, and sinker for the MFA’s “people’s assemblies” demagogy. For a summary of the IMT mistake, see The Issues in the Portuguese Revolution by Barry Sheppard, International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Vol. XII, No.6, October 1975.

3. Note 3 seems to be missing – ETOL

4. This should not be surprising, since even Comrade Moreno complains of “the lack of precision and clarity on the character, strength and dynamics of these organs.” (X, 2.)

5. It is possible that Comrade Moreno got thrown off the track by his misreading of the philosopher Francis Bacon, whom he cites to set the theme of his Revista article. It seems that Comrade Moreno thought that Bacon was encouraging analysis by analogy, whereas Bacon was actually advising against this method (See translator’s footnote to I, 1). If this is the source of the problem, one can only wish that Comrade Moreno, who at one point cites from Trotsky’s Whither France, had read just a few pages further along in this text. There he would have come across the following observation: “In general, it is absurd to try to carry over mechanically into France the various stages and episodes of the Russian revolutionary movement.” (Whither France, p.70.)

6. Comrade Moreno alleges that I described the MFA regime as “classical” Bonapartist, and then deduces that I must have thought it was very much like Napoleon’s regime. (V, 1.) He then demolishes my position. The problem is that I never described the MFA regime as “classical Bonapartist.” (I do not even know what this would mean.) All I did was indicate the historical origin of the word “Bonapartism.” Nor did I compare the MFA regime with Napoleon’s. Actually my description of the policies of the MFA regime and the conditions under which it functioned was quite similar to Comrade Moreno’s, as he himself notes.

7. Comrade Moreno’s discussion of these early Bonapartist regimes is somewhat off the mark. He says, “Napoleon I’s Bonapartism was progressive because it defended capitalist progress against the feudal reaction. Up until the end of the last century, Bonapartist governments retained progressive elements (Bismarck succeeded in the national unification of Germany, Napoleon III gave a great push forward to capitalist development in France).” (V, 1.)

True, these regimes arose during an epoch when capitalism was still on the rise. But in the context of their times, it would be very misleading to describe these regimes as progressive. Napoleon’s regime, after all, arose as the culmination of the counterrevolutionary process set in motion after the fall of Robespierre-although in the foreign wars Napoleon did have to defend the new social system against restorationists. It is only with this balanced approach that Trotskyists have been able to make the analogy with the Stalin regime-and it would cross no one’s mind to call Stalin’s regime progressive.

As for Bismarck and Napoleon III, in their own time they were generally regarded by Marxists as obstacles to progress. It was Napoleon III, let us also recall, whom Marx described as a sort of farcical reincarnation of his tragic precursor. 1.

8. At one point in his polemic, Comrade Moreno objects to the definition I gave of Bonapartism and says that “Horowitz takes away the class content from a political formula” in calling the MFA regime “Bonapartist” rather than “Kerenskyist.” (VI, 7.) Since he objects to the definition that I used, I am quite willing to substitute the following one:

Bonapartism (from Bonaparte, the name of the two French emperors) is a name applied to a government which endeavors to appear non-partisan by taking advantage of a highly acute struggle between the parties of the capitalists and the workers. Actually serving the capitalists, such a government dupes the workers most of all by promises and petty concessions.

This is the brief definition of Bonapartism that Lenin used in a footnote to explain why he was using the term, “the Bonapartist Kerensky.” (Collected Works, Vol.25, p.236.)

9. The difficulty of maintaining the distinction in regard to Portugal even shows up in the Revista article. Towards the end of the article Comrade Moreno himself slips into talking of a “Bonapartist-MFA-CP bloc.” (IX, 3 and X, 2.) Slips of this type are to be expected, however, if one speaks in terms of rigidly fixed political categories of Bonapartism that do not conform to reality.

Comrade Moreno discusses four categories of Bonapartism: 1. “classical Bonapartism”; 2. “prefascist Bonapartism”; 3. “post-fascist Bonapartism”; 4. “sui generis Bonapartism.” It is tempting to suggest to him that all of his problems could have been avoided simply by establishing a fifth category: 5. “Kerenskyist Bonapartism.”

10. This example may be worth recalling when one comes across that section of Comrade Moreno’s Revista article in which he presents himself as an advocate of theoretical flexibility, while accusing others of “theoretical inertia.” (VI, 1.) Here is his explanation.

After having just argued that “Revolutionists will not follow the same polices with different types of governments,” Comrade Moreno says:

In responding to this necessity, comrades in the metropolitan countries run into an obstacle: the theoretical inertia caused by reality. During the last 30 years; Western Europe has lived under the same bourgeois-democratic regime (200 years in the case of the United States). [An interesting conception of history – GH.] The European reality has not compelled our movement to face other types of bourgeois governments, with the exception of Portugal and Spain (which could easily be considered as “fossils” inherited from a previous period), and for some years, Greece. We should note, in passing, that these are “peripheral” to the European theater. This long period of political monotony caused our movement to lose its theoretical reflexes in reacting to new phenomena like the present Portuguese regime.

Ah, that explains everything.

11. Usually, by the “method of the Transitional Program” what is meant is the programmatic methodology, that is, the approach of connecting demands that relate to the immediate needs of the masses with steps that advance toward the socialist revolution. Here, however, the term, “method of the Transitional Program,” is given a special meaning: mobilizing the masses, or the revolutionary mobilization of the working class. But, of course, the mobilization of the masses is a method or means of struggle, not a programmatic method.

12. At the time Parvus was writing, the term, “Social Democrat” encompassed both the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labor party. See the following footnote for the sources of all quotations used in this chapter.

13. One of the best brief explanations of the different views in the Russian Marxist movement on the character of the Russian revolution is contained in Trotsky’s article, Three Conceptions of the Russian Revolution, which can be found in an appendix to Trotsky’s biography of Stalin, or in Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939-40, pp.55-73, from which the quotation from Parvus is taken. Lenin’s criticisms of Parvus’s introduction to Before the Ninth of January are contained in his article, Social Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government, Collected Works, Vol.8, pp. 288-292. There is also a useful discussion on the views of Parvus and Trotsky in Isaac Deutscher’s The Prophet Armed, pp.108-116.

14. The text of the minority motion is as follows:

With regard to the MFA, the line we put forward should be the following:
The MFA is a part of the officer corps of the imperialist army of Portugal; it represents the fundamental interests of the Portuguese capitalist class.
In face of the rise of the class struggle in Portugal, the MFA has adapted its original policies and has divided internally over what policies to put forward. Some elements of the MFA have been increasingly utilizing pro-socialist terminology. Nevertheless, these lines of cleavage within the MFA take place within the framework of fidelity to capitalism. The interests of the working class can be expressed only through political and organizational independence from the MFA.
The popularity of the MFA among the Portuguese masses, and the illusions that the workers and their allies have in the MFA are major obstacles to the advance of the class struggle in Portugal. Accordingly, one of the central tasks of the revolutionary Marxists is to expose the nature and role of the MFA in order to help dispel the illusions that the masses have in it. This can be achieved through a systematic propaganda campaign in the Trotskyist press and by putting forward concrete demands designed to foster the development of independent working class action and organization. Of particular importance is the need to counterpoise the demand for a workers and farmers government to the present government in which the mass workers parties, the CP and the SP, participate in a coalition with bourgeois formations like the MFA.

A statement was submitted explaining the negative vote on this motion by the IMT leaders. It said the following:

We vote against this motion not because we are in disagreement with all of its formulations and characterizations of the MFA, but because we reject its simplistic approach and we believe that by singling out this one question from the whole complex of problems with which the revolutionary Marxists are confronted today in Portugal, it does not help the Fl and the LCI to determine its main tasks and priorities of activity today.


Main Document Index | Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 11.1.2003