The differences over orientation, which led a minority of delegates to vote against the “Resolution on Latin America” at the last world congress, have not lessened in the three years since then. To the contrary, the dispute has spread beyond the frame of that continent. Moreover, differences have developed on various other, although related, questions. These differences center, in the main, around the problem of how to go about building mass revolutionary parties in the context of the current situation facing the Fourth International.
Today it is clear that two tendencies have been forming around issues of vital importance to the future of the world Trotskyist movement. One tendency, continuing the line formulated in the “Resolution on Latin America,” that is, the “turn” adopted by the majority at the Ninth World Congress (the Third World Congress Since Reunification), is committed to a strategy of engaging in guerrilla war, or preparing for this type of struggle, with little regard for the size of our own forces or the real situation they face. The other tendency holds to the line it defended at the last world congress, that is, the line advanced by the Fourth International from its foundation, of trying to link up with the masses through consistent application of the method advanced in the Transitional Program.
In this contribution to the discussion we propose to examine how the two lines have met the test of reality in Bolivia and Argentina, and what the extension of the majority line on guerrilla war to other continents signifies for the Fourth International.
Before beginning on these themes, however, we propose for the sake of convenience to summarize the two positions.
According to the majority, the perspective in Latin America was fundamentally rural guerrilla war for a prolonged period. The “Resolution on Latin America” stated this very clearly:
“Even in the case of countries where large mobilizations and class conflicts in the cities may occur first, civil war will take manifold forms of armed struggle, in which the principal axis for a whole period will be rural guerrilla warfare, the term having primarily a geographical-military meaning and not necessarily implying an exclusively peasant composition of the fighting detachments (or even necessarily preponderantly peasant composition). In this sense, armed struggle in Latin America means fundamentally guerrilla warfare.” (Intercontinental Press, July 14, 1969, p. 720.)
Comrade Livio Maitan considered this so basic that he quoted it in a public article a year later, stating that he shared the “conclusion of the great majority of Latin-American revolutionists—that is, for a phase of the revolution whose length cannot be predicted a priori but which in general will probably be long, the armed struggle will be fundamentally a guerrilla struggle.” To this he added: “If you take account of the geographical facts, the demographical structures of the majority of the population, and the technical and military considerations stressed by Che himself, it follows that the variant of rural guerrilla warfare on a continentwide scale will be the most probable one.” (“Cuba, Military Reformism, and Armed Struggle in Latin America,” Intercontinental Press, April 20, 1970, p. 360.)
Against this view, the minority predicted that the revolutionary struggle would tend to shift to the urban centers. The minority pointed to two significant indications of this—the uprising in Santo Domingo in 1965 and the massive student demonstrations in Mexico City in 1968, the year before the world congress. The minority held that these events, along with what had happened in France in May-June 1968, testified to the correctness of the prognosis that the coming upheavals throughout the world would come much closer to the Leninist norm of proletarian revolutions than had been the case from the end of World War II up to the victory of the Cuban revolution.
The majority have shifted somewhat from the stand they took at the last world congress. The shift, however, has been to play down rural guerrilla war and to play up urban guerrilla war.
The basic task for our movement in Latin America, according to the majority, was to prepare technically for launching guerrilla war. This was stated in the “Resolution on Latin America” as follows: “The fundamental perspective, the only realistic perspective for Latin America, is that of an armed struggle which may last for long years. This is why the technical preparation cannot be conceived merely as one of the aspects of the revolutionary work, but as the fundamental aspect on a continental scale, and one of the fundamental aspects in countries where the minimum conditions have not yet been met.” (Intercontinental Press, July 14, 1969, p. 720.)
To engage in technical preparations is of course merely a necessary phase in the practical application of the theory of guerrilla war. If you agree with the theory then you are bound to carry it out in practice.
The minority defended a different theory and therefore pointed to practical work corresponding to that theory:
“The key task facing the vanguard in Latin America, as elsewhere, still remains the construction of a revolutionary Marxist party. This takes priority over all questions of tactics and strategy in the sense that these must be directed to achieving this end as the decisive link in the revolutionary process. It is not enough to say, as the resolution does in point 19, that 'The existence and functioning of a revolutionary party, far from being an outworn schema of outmoded Marxists, corresponds to the concrete and ineluctable needs of the development of the armed struggle itself ... '
“The party is not a means to the armed struggle, as this sentence seems to say; the armed struggle is a means to bring the proletariat to power under the leadership of the party. Construction of the party must be viewed and presented as the central task, the main orientation, the almost exclusive preoccupation of the vanguard. And the explosiveness of the situation in Latin America does not lessen the need; it intensifies it.” (Joseph Hansen, “Assessment of the Draft Resolution on Latin America,” International Information Bulletin, Discussion on Latin America (1968-1971), p. 23.)
The minority criticized the Latin American resolution for paying little attention to the radicalizing youth as a field of recruitment, and suggested that this be rectified:
“So far as the strategy of our movement is concerned, the main characteristics of this thrust of the youth in a revolutionary direction are (1) its occurrence in urban centers, (2) its involvement of considerable masses, (3) its tendency to try to link up with the workers or other sectors of the masses and to draw them into action.
“It thus follows that the problem of developing transitional slogans and measures to attract these forces to the Fourth International is an acute one. What does the draft resolution on Latin America contribute to help solve this problem in that sector of the world? The answer is, nothing.” (Ibid., p. 25.)
The minority placed considerable emphasis on the resolution's displacement of the Transitional Program, its method, and the practical tasks it outlines.
As the majority saw it in 1969, civil war was raging throughout Latin America. “Thus not only in a historical sense but in a more direct and immediate one, Latin America has entered a period of revolutionary explosions and conflicts, of armed struggle on different levels against the native ruling classes and imperialism, and of prolonged civil war on a continental scale.” (“Resolution on Latin America,” Intercontinental Press, July 14, 1969, p. 718.)
The majority tempered this by saying that the existence of a civil war on a continental scale did not imply “the simplistic interpretation of an inevitable collapse of the system.” If the revolutionists did not act in time, “imperialism and indigenous capitalism will reorganize, if only precariously, alternating between 'new' and traditional solutions.” (Ibid., p. 718.)
Despite this saving clause, the authors of the resolution saw little room left for maneuver by either imperialism or the indigenous bourgeoisie.. “. . . faced with the Cuban workers state, the bourgeoisie cannot help but align itself on the side of imperialism (leaving aside possible temporary diplomatic maneuvers) and is proving itself absolutely incapable of achieving a program of even the most modest democratic reforms.” Still more emphatically: “The national bourgeois strata linked to modern industry arise or develop by intertwining themselves completely within the imperialist structures and in strictest dependence on them. They are intrinsically incapable of the least independent action in either the economic or political fields.” (Ibid., p. 719.)
With substantial democratic reforms “absolutely” excluded and the national bourgeoisie intrinsically incapable of the least independent action, the majority not only saw no alternative except guerrilla warfare, they held that it had a bright future. It could well detonate a sequence of revolutionary events, just as Che Guevara believed.
“In a situation of prerevolutionary crisis such as Latin America is now experiencing on a continental scale, guerrilla warfare can in fact stimulate a revolutionary dynamic, even if at the start the attempt may seem to have come from abroad or to be unilateral (which was the case with Che's Bolivian guerrilla movement).” (Ibid., p. 720.)
The minority agreed that the so-called national bourgeoisie in Latin America, as elsewhere in the colonial or semicolonial world is incapable of granting concessions to the masses on a scale required to open a prolonged period of bourgeois democracy. However, it was dangerous, the minority argued, to take such a rigid view of the limitations facing the national bourgeoisie and their imperialist backers as to exclude on a continental scale any capacity on their part to make any significant concessions whatsoever.
The majority, of course, recognized that some oscillations would occur, but they held that these would not be of great significance. On this point the “Resolution on Latin America” states:
“This does not exclude possible oscillations in the most disparate directions, including new ephemeral pseudo-reformist attempts, political gambles, and even variants within the framework of military regimes (groups of officers are continually playing at 'Nasserism' in several countries and the immediate import of military coups is not always the same in every given situation).”
This forecast, if such it can be called, was cancelled by the very next sentences:
“But this will change nothing in the general, deep-seated tendency: in a situation of chronic crisis and prerevolutionary tensions, the ruling classes will inevitably be impelled to adopt brutal repressive measures and utilize despotic and terrorist political regimes. Since these classes often are not very solid as social forces and cannot realistically contemplate solving their problems with popularly based reactionary regimes on the fascist model, military regimes remain the most likely recourse.” (Ibid., p. 718.)
The minority argued that the class struggle goes through upturns and downturns that are marked by advances and retreats of the contending classes that can be of considerable, if not decisive, importance for the sections of the Fourth International in Latin America at their present state of development. Thus it was false and schematic to picture the situation in all of the countries of Latin America as being politically prerevolutionary, leaving out of account the differences between these countries and the various conjunctures affecting them. At the time of the Ninth World Congress the class struggle in some countries was on the rise (Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina) while in others it was on the ebb. Brazil, the most important country of all, was still suffering from the effects of the counterrevolutionary coup in 1964. As for the guerrilla movements, they had suffered a series of demoralizing defeats in country after country.
Worst of all was the majority's error of laying down a tactical prescription (guerrilla war) for the entire continent. This fixed in advance “the tactics to be followed by all the national sections, leaving up to them only the job of implementing the tactical formula on the local scene.” (Hansen, “Assessment of the Draft Resolution,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 24.)
The majority orientation fostered rigidity precisely in the area where the national sections should have been encouraged to hold open various possibilities, the better to take immediate advantage of any concessions, however limited, partial or temporary, that the bourgeoisie might be compelled to make under the strain of the class struggle.
The majority, while not completely excluding other variants such as phases of “military reformism,” stressed a perspective of “increasingly brutal repression by the native ruling classes and imperialism.” The “Resolution on Latin America” stated categorically:
“The experience of Bolivia, where all forms of normal organizational activity are continually stamped out, as well as the experience of Peru, where the repression has not let up since 1962, especially in the countryside, are absolutely clear. The same holds for Mexico where the ruling class, reverting to its most barbaric traditions, did not hesitate to stage a full-fledged massacre of the students (the Brazilian regime's official and 'semiofficial' counterattack followed the same logic).” (Intercontinental Press, July 14, 1969, p. 720.)
The minority was not surprised by the urban uprisings that led the bourgeoisie in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile to set up reformist regimes, and that led in the case of Bolivia to the appearance of the Popular Assembly. “We forecast, in our arguments, that in Latin America the revolutionary struggle would tend to shift to the urban centers, and we cited as one of the first examples of that trend what happened in Santo Domingo.” (Hansen, “Report on World Congress,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 44.)
The developments in Bolivia confirmed the position of the minority at the Ninth World Congress, already mentioned, that the pattern of revolutionary struggles on a world scale was tending toward the norms exemplified by the Russian revolution of 1917.
In defense of their theory of guerrilla war, the majority held that the explanation for the long series of defeats suffered by those who had tried to apply it in Latin America since the Cuban revolution was to be found in practical errors—not in the concept.
“The failure of certain guerrilla experiments (in Peru, for example) came about, in large measure, more from errors in assessing the situation, the trends, and the relationship of forces among the masses than from errors in conception.” (“Resolution on Latin America,” Intercontinental Press, July 14, 1969, p. 719.)
The minority contended that this view constituted an adaptation to the position held by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara that it is possible to repeat the peculiar pattern of the Cuban revolution elsewhere in Latin America. The minority subjected this erroneous position, as well as the specific errors Guevara made in Bolivia, to detailed analysis at the Ninth World Congress.
“If we summarize all these errors, we come to the following general conclusion about them, that Che Guevara put guerrilla technique—armed-struggle technique—above politics. He put military action above party building. . . .
“The conclusion to be drawn from this . . . is that first of all guerrilla warfare does not stand up as a general strategy however well it may fit in as a tactic in certain situations when it is used by a well-constructed combat party.
“A second conclusion to be drawn from this experience is that it presented fresh proof that the struggle in Latin America has become more difficult and requires a better instrument than previously—it requires the construction of a combat party to a much greater degree than, say, in 1958 or 1959.” (Hansen, “Report on World Congress,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 49.)
Just as the majority failed at the Ninth World Congress to apply the method of the Transitional Program to the current situation in Latin America so they failed to subject the Guevarist theory of guerrilla warfare to critical analysis.
“The truth of it is that the resolution is a rather faithful reflection of the publicly expressed views of the Cuban leadership on this question. .. .
“The proposed tactic can hardly be weighed properly without referring to its relation to the success of the Cuban revolution and to the way, since then, it has been extrapolated by the Cuban leadership in Latin America and elsewhere. The resolution fails to do this in even the most summary fashion.” (Ibid., p. 21.)
Comrade Hugo Gonzalez Moscoso, one of the leaders of the majority, had indicated the source of his views on this question two years before the Ninth World Congress: “In the prevailing conditions in Latin America, the results achieved by the guerrillas in Cuba can be realized in any country. Therefore, I say that guerrilla warfare is incontrovertibly the road revolutionaries must take to liberate their peoples from capitalist and imperialist exploitation.” (“The Cuban Revolution and Its Lessons,” Fifty Years of World Revolution, Pathfinder Press, p. 193.)
Comrade Peng Shu-tse said of this statement: “The ideas of Comrade Moscoso are a direct reflection of the ideas contained in the OLAS General Declaration.” (“Return to the Road of Trotskyism,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 29.)
Commenting further on this, Comrade Peng said: “The adoption of the strategy of guerrilla warfare by sections in Latin America and even by the International leadership is a direct reflection of the Castroist influence upon the International. This situation raises the logical question of the relationship and differences between Castroism and Trotskyism.” (Ibid., p. 31.)
How accurately Comrade Peng put his finger on the source of the concepts behind the “turn” at the Ninth World Congress was shown when it became known later (it was not reported at the congress) that the PRT (Combatiente) had publicly favored adopting the Castroist strategy and tactics as early as 1968: “We believe that our party should clearly pronounce itself in favor of the world revolutionary strategy formulated by Castroism.” (“The Only Road to Workers' Power and Socialism,” International Information Bulletin, No. 4, October, 1972, p. 18.)
Comrade Peng said in addition: “We, of course, support the Cuban workers state against imperialism like other workers states, and we can on certain specific issues even give critical support to the Cuban leadership against this or that tendency, such as giving critical support to their attack on Moscow's line of peaceful coexistence and the peaceful road to socialism. On the other hand, we must thoroughly criticize all the Cuban leadership's weaknesses. We must criticize such things as their support of the guerrilla war strategy, pointing out that this is not an alternative strategy to the peaceful-road-to-socialism strategy advocated by the Stalinists, but that objectively in the long run, the strategy of guerrilla warfare will only help the opportunism of the Stalinists as well as American imperialism.” (“Return to the Road of Trotskyism,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 32.)
The minority stressed the fact that it did not oppose guerrilla warfare per se. Guerrilla warfare, the minority held, could prove to be advantageous in certain situations as an adjunct in mass struggles. The Áse of guerrilla warfare was a tactical question to be determined by the various sections. What the minority objected to was the conversion of the guerrilla tactic into a strategic orientation that inevitably cut across and superseded the strategic orientation of building a revolutionary mass party.
The minority pointed out that the Trotskyist movement was not without recent experience in the problems of guerrilla war, having tested it out since the victory of the Cuban revolution and having learned some important lessons about it, in some instances the hard way.
In particular, the minority stressed the importance of what had been learned in Peru during the great upsurge of the peasants led by Hugo Blanco in the early sixties.
Up until the “turn” at the Ninth World Congress, this had been regarded as an acquisition of the world Trotskyist movement as a whole. It should be recalled how Comrade Maitan once spoke of it. In a polemic against Regis Debray in 1967, Comrade Maitan pointed out:
“The Peruvian experience has undoubtedly been one of the most momentous of the past five years, an experience rich and varied, outstanding in the multiplicity of movements, the application of palpably different lines, the temporary successes followed by devastating repressions, and by tragic setbacks. No serious attempt to make generalizations valid for all of Latin America can be undertaken without a detailed and profound analysis of what has occurred in Peru.” (“Major Problems of the Latin American Revolution—a Reply to Regis Debray,” International Socialist Review, September- October, 1967, p. 7.)
Citing against Debray what had been achieved under Hugo Blanco's leadership, Comrade Maitan said that “to gain even the slightest understanding of Hugo Blanco's work, one must start from the context in which it was executed and grasp its objective implications in the given conditions. When he began his work among the peasants, Blanco was reacting on the one hand against adventurist and putschist tendencies which had developed within his own organization; and on the other hand, he was breaking with the tradition of a certain kind of urban left, which was, indeed, partly bound to obsolete schemas, partly always ready to discuss new roads but incapable of taking practical steps to establish ties with the peasant masses. Blanco's experience did not in any way develop in accordance with abstract models but in ever closer association with the real mass movement. Now, after the fact, only a blind man could fail to realize the truly historic importance such work has had in educating the peasant sectors, even aside from the fact that it is still too early to assess the impact on the future of the revolutionary movement made by the Tacna trial and the events which followed it in which Hugo Blanco emerged as a hero of the Peruvian and Latin American people.” (Ibid., pp. 7-8.)
The position held in common by the leadership of the Fourth International at that time can be judged by the approving way in which Comrade Maitan cited Hugo Blanco's views as expressed in some letters written not long after he was imprisoned:
“In the first place, for those who have imputed reformist tendencies to Blanco (perhaps because he used the organizing of unions as a means and concerned himself also with the most modest needs of the peasants in his region, not overlooking the fact that partial gains could prove valuable in reinforcing the self-confidence of the peasants), the following passage should be noted: 'We have discovered a broad and sure road and we are advancing. Why should we lose our heads now? Those comrades who are in prison must understand that the party cannot mobilize itself in harmony with their weariness at confinement but only in accordance with the needs of the Peruvian people and the possibilities open to them. If there are some who are free and in a hurry and who feel that they are able to be guerrillas, that is magnificent! Let them prove it by devoting themselves to a peasant union, the one in Chumbivilcas for example, coming and going on foot. After that they can talk to us about guerrilla warfare, if they have enough strength left. Doesn't organizing peasant unions train militants in the nomad life? And it brings the most important result—the conscious incorporation of the broad masses in the struggle. We must gain as much ground as we can before the armed clash comes in order to be sure of victory.'” (Ibid., p. 9.)
Comrade Maitan singled out another passage for quotation, calling it “very important”:
“'As to the tactics of guerrilla warfare, I am completely in accord that they should be taught to defense committees. These should not be empiric, and in this respect, the vanguard party has a role to play. All knowledge of guerrilla tactics which can be adapted to our militia strategy must be taken advantage of.
“'Manco II, for example, who surrounded Cuzco ready to crush it, was abandoned by his troops because the time for planting or harvesting—I don't remember which—had come for potatoes.
“'None of that interferes with guerrilla organization. Some units can be organized to aid the militias. But the fundamental organism for the open struggle in Peru will be the militia of the unions led by the party. Let us take all the advantages of the peculiarities of our situation.
“'We will not part with anything, having advanced so much.
“'You say, “it is astride the campesino movement that the FIR [Frente de la Izquierda Revolucionaria, the Peruvian section of the Fourth International] should face the open struggle for power.” I agree, it was so in Cuba. The difference lies in that they first grabbed the arms and then mounted the horse. We are on the horse but lack the arms. Why get off the horse?'” (Ibid., pp. 9-10. Emphasis in original.)
Hugo Blanco did not change his views during the subsequent years he spent in prison, as can be seen from the material included in his book Land or Death—The Peasant Struggle in Peru. In his criticisms of what was or was not done by the Peruvian Trotskyists, he indicated only two weaknesses—not enough emphasis was placed on party building, and at his trial in Tacna too much stress was placed on the guerrilla aspects of the Trotskyist involvement. Thus in a letter to Joseph Hansen written in January, 1970, while he was still in prison, he said:
“Another item in which Moreno was right as against us: My defense and the defense of the happenings in Chaupimayo should not have been that of a 'Trotskyist guerrilla' as was done in general, but as an example of the application of the Transition Program in opposition to guerrillaism. By way of contrast it stood out as an example of armed struggle that arose as a result of work among the masses.” (Discussion on Latin America, p. 55. Emphasis in original.)
At the Ninth World Congress the minority delegates and observers appealed to the gathering not to brush aside the experience of the Fourth International in guerrilla warfare, in particular what had been learned during Hugo Blanco's leadership of the peasant struggle in Peru, in which our movement had the honor of mobilizing the largest and most dynamic peasant movement in recent history in Latin America. They especially pointed to the concrete pattern that had been worked out on how to proceed to win leadership of the peasants.
The majority paid no attention. They disregarded the lessons learned from the Trotskyist movement's own engagement in the peasant struggle in Latin America.
The majority held that the consciousness of the masses in Latin America, including that of the peasantry, stood at such a high level as to have ended the debate over whether it was possible to win socialism via a peaceful road.
“In Latin America, the polemic between the advocates of the 'democratic' and the 'peaceful' road and the advocates of the revolutionary road has been entirely outmoded . . .” (“Resolution on Latin America,” Intercontinental Press, July 14, 1969, p. 719.)
The Mexican delegation, impressed by the arguments of the majority on this point, stated: “As the draft resolution clearly recognizes, the debate over peaceful and violent roads to revolution in Latin America is concluded.” (“The Position of the Mexican Delegation to the Ninth Congress of the Fourth International on the United Secretariat Resolution on Latin America.” (Discussion on Latin America, p. 35.)
These statements were made, of course, before the experience in Peru and Bolivia and above all the success of the Unidad Popular in Chile gave fresh life to bourgeois nationalism, and, along with it, the popular frontism of the Stalinists and Social Democrats on a wide scale in Latin America, sweeping not a few guerrilla fighters off their feet.
The role of Castroism in helping to pave the way for such a development was explained in some detail by the minority at the Ninth World Congress:
“But by confining the dispute with the Stalinists almost exclusively to the issue of armed struggle, and limiting it even further to the question of rural guerrilla war, the Cubans gave precious political ground to their opponents by default. Thus the Stalinist betrayers of the revolutionary struggle in Venezuela were able to advance telling arguments on why the workers need a revolutionary party. For the Venezuelan Stalinists, who cited Lenin in a completely abstract way, this was only a smoke screen; but the Cubans were not able to answer them effectively and this could not fail to influence at least some good revolutionary-minded militants. In the same way, the Cubans failed to offer an adequate challenge to the Stalinists in the urban centers, making it easier for them to retain a rather large following which they, of course, are now seeking to use in their wheeling and dealing in the bourgeois electoral arena.
“The Cubans likewise conceded the field of theory to the Stalinists . . .
“The Stalinists took full advantage of the ineptness of the Cubans, or their hesitation at speaking out because of possible economic pressure from Moscow, to further obscure and bury the question.
“The result of these mistakes was that even in such a favorable situation as the one in Venezuela, with the prestige of the Cuban revolution behind them, and the not immaterial advantages of state power, the Cubans ended up in their factional struggle with the Stalinists in a small minority.” (Hansen, “Assessment of the Draft Resolution on Latin America,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 22.)
Events have confirmed in the most striking way the accuracy of the analysis offered by the minority at the Ninth World Congress on this question.
The majority discounted the proletariat as an immediate field of work. “In fact, in most of the countries the most probable variant is that for a rather long period the peasants will have to bear the main weight of the struggle and the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie in considerable measure will provide the cadres of the movement.” (“Resolution on Latin America,” Intercontinental Press, July 14, 1969, p. 719.)
It is true that this statement was sandwiched between a reaffirmation of the leading role of the working class in the long run and a qualifier on the possibility of the leading role of the proletariat being exercised through various forms. It should be added that nowhere did the majority at the Ninth World Congress deny the revolutionary role of the proletariat—to the contrary, they carefully affirmed this role.
Nonetheless, for the immediate period ahead, the fields of endeavor were clearly specified in the resolution to be the peasantry for the “main weight of the struggle” and the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie for the “cadres of the movement.” This conclusion, of course, followed logically from the majority theory of guerrilla war and perhaps their observation of the experience of various guerrilla efforts in Latin America.
The minority argued for the proletarian orientation outlined in the Transitional Program, and for following what the Bolsheviks had taught in regard to cadre building—that even under the most brutal repression revolutionists have “no choice but to continue their patient political and organizational work—in the underground or in exile.” (Hansen, “Assessment of the Draft Resolution on Latin America,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 19.)
Comrade Peng said: “Replacing the Transitional Program with the strategy of guerrilla warfare, neglecting the most serious work in the working class and its traditional class-struggle organizations, i.e., the trade unions, and continuing to adapt ourselves to different petty-bourgeois currents and leaderships, cannot only not build an International, but will lead our movement into a blind alley.” (“Return to the Road of Trotskyism,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 34.)
As indicated above, the minority stressed the importance of making a turn toward the radicalized youth, pointing to the weight of the youth in the urban centers, its capacity to engage in demonstrations in considerable numbers, and its tendency to try to link up with the workers and other sectors of the masses and to draw them into action.
The minority took this view not only because of the evident openings shown to exist by the experience in France, the United States, and many other countries, but because the world Trotskyist movement has looked toward the youth since its foundation, embodying the orientation in the Transitional Program.
The “Resolution on Latin America” failed to deal adequately with the struggle for democratic demands, of which the central one is agrarian reform.
Agrarian reform is an important issue throughout the continent and plays a key role in the politics of countries like Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and in Central America.
The “Resolution on Latin America” contains a paragraph on the peasantry that mentions their “land hunger” and other motives that lead to their becoming radicalized. Instead of stressing the central importance of democratic demands around the land question in mobilizing the peasantry, the resolution concludes with an exaggerated view of the political level of the peasantry on a continental scale. According to the resolution, the peasantry “have assimilated the lesson of the Cuban revolution, whose fortunes they continually follow; have learned a great deal from the guerrilla experiences and are not cut off from the student revolutionary movements, whose influence reaches them through a thousand different channels.” (Intercontinental Press, July 14, 1969, p. 716.)
The peasant movement is closely bound up with the struggles of the oppressed nationalities. The “Resolution on Latin America” mentions this correctly (p. 716) but only in passing. No lessons are drawn as to the importance of this to the sections of the Fourth International in Latin America. Nothing is said about how to go about this work concretely.
Comrade Peng, basing himself on the lessons taught by Lenin and Trotsky and on the experience of the revolutionary movement in the colonial and semicolonial countries, particularly China, stressed the need to clarify the democratic aspect of the Latin American revolution. He challenged the majority comrades to explain why they had left the struggle for democratic demands out of their “continental strategy.” His challenge went unanswered.
The fact is that the majority discounted the democratic side of the Latin American revolution. While they admitted the possibility that the revolution could begin “as a democratic anti-imperialist revolution in regard to its objectives and the consciousness of the masses,” they held that the possibility “does not affect the logic of the process with all its inevitable implications for the lineup and role of the social classes.” (p. 718.)
The process they referred to was the dynamics of permanent revolution. As an abstract statement, the resolution is correct in what it says on this. In the absence of any concrete proposals, however, the theory of permanent revolution is not used as a guide to action.
This follows from the error of the majority in overrating the level of consciousness of the peasantry. A concrete program of democratic demands is hardly necessary if the peasantry in their thinking have already gone beyond this stage of the revolution. By not paying attention to this our comrades can find themselves on the sidelines when the democratic opening of the revolution bursts upon them.
The minority contended at the Ninth World Congress that the guerrilla orientation adopted by the majority could not be confined to Latin America. “If the draft resolution of Latin America were to be passed in its present form by the coming world congress, our movement would be hard put to explain why the orientation decided on as good for Latin America was considered to be bad for the rest of the colonial and semicolonial world. It would certainly be contended that such a position is inconsistent and that such a sharp geographical demarcation cannot reasonably be made.” (Hansen, “Assessment of the Draft Resolution on Latin America,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 26.)
The majority leaders did not take a common stand on this very important question. Some were equivocal, stating that the resolution dealt only with Latin America and that it was improper to raise such a question in this context. Comrade Germain was emphatic in stating that the orientation applied only to Latin America. Later, Comrades Germain and Knoeller, in arguing for the necessity of armed actions by “small detachments of the vanguard of the workers parties and trade unions” under certain conditions, said the following:
“Let us repeat again, to avoid any misunderstanding, that these considerations apply only to prerevolutionary conditions and in a precise political context (the absence of democratic liberties, the impossibility of a gradual ascent in the mass movement, etc.). There is no question of mechanically extending this reasoning to all countries in the world, least of all the United States, Japan, Great Britain, Germany, etc.” (“The Strategic Orientation of the Revolutionists in Latin America,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 94. Emphasis in original.)
The majority reasoning on this question was, of course, extended by various comrades to other countries, including France, which hardly belongs to the colonial or semicolonial sector. We will return to this later.
At the Ninth World Congress the majority did not spell out in practical terms what they contemplated doing. As against the euphoria whipped up by the leaders of the majority on the possibility of a quick “breakthrough” to be gained by resorting to guerrilla action in selected areas of the world, the minority expressed the gravest forebodings concerning the end results of their projected course of action.
Those end results included a crippling disaster in Bolivia and the political degeneration of the guerrilla group in Argentina. We will cover these subjects in detail later.
The majority at the Ninth World Congress paid little attention to the arguments offered by those opposed to adopting guerrilla war as a main strategic line. Instead they persisted in and deepened their error. The minority, consequently, began to assess the meaning of this development, coming to the conclusion that it must be characterized politically as an adaptation to ultraleftism.
“Thus two concepts concerning the main road of the revolution were adumbrated at the congress.
“The source of the pressure for elevating 'rural guerrilla warfare' into a principle is clear. It is the guerrilla fighters, particularly in Latin America . . . and significant sections of the radicalizing youth, that is, those who have not yet gained political experience and who have made a mystique out of the fate of Che Guevara and who don't know much about Hugo Blanco's example.
“The course prescribed by Comrade Maitan and made official in the Latin American resolution represents a concession to ultraleftism. This is how it must be characterized objectively. .. .
“Consistent application of the course charted by Comrade Maitan would prove disastrous for the Fourth International. The line could hardly be confined to Latin America or even the colonial world generally, for the same ultraleft tendencies to which the adaptation has been made are operative in the imperialist centers. Fostering an ultraleft course in Latin America would surely be paralleled by permissiveness toward ultraleftism, if not worse, in the, imperialist centers. In fact, there is evidence that this has already been occurring in the quite different context of conditions in Britain.
“The adoption of a resolution by a world congress elevating 'rural guerrilla war' into a main strategy should therefore be regarded as a grave development. After full discussion on the issues in all the sections of the Fourth International, every effort should be made at the next world congress to rectify this error.” (Hansen, “A Contribution to the Discussion on Revolutionary Strategy in Latin America,” Discussion on Latin America, p. 65.)
In the discussion since then, the majority have sought to show that the “turn” toward guerrilla warfare adopted at the Ninth World Congress comes within the tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. The only quotations of any substance that they have been able to adduce in seeming support of their contention are a few items by Lenin written during one of the passing phases of the 1905 revolution in Russia. Despite the most assiduous search, they have been unable to find anything favoring their position in the volumes Lenin wrote following that episodic experience. That Lenin never returned to the subject was disregarded by the comrades of the majority. It meant nothing to them.
As for Trotsky, the greatest military expert and practitioner of armed struggle the Marxist movement has yet produced, the majority after some attempts to use him, which were challenged by the minority, appear to have given up. After all, Trotsky's position on guerrilla war—on which he wrote in the last years of his life—is too well known to be easily abused.
Another tack attempted by the majority has been to use the terms “guerrilla war” and “armed struggle” synonymously. The gain in this is that guerrilla fighters in many parts of the world use the terms in the same way. Thus when the majority write or speak about “armed struggle” it signifies “guerrilla war” to the devotees of that strategy, while to Marxists, including our own movement—at least in the past—it has meant the armed struggle of masses of the proletariat and the peasantry in a genuine uprising or civil war. Through this semantic legerdemain the majority seeks to present the “turn” toward guerrilla warfare as being within the tradition of armed struggle as taught and practiced by Lenin and Trotsky.
It can be suggested that it would help greatly to clarify the differences if the majority gave up this feeble line of argument and frankly admitted that their orientation is not a mere continuation of Trotskyism but an attempted introduction into Trotskyism of a strategy that originated elsewhere.
It is high time to advance the discussion. This can only be done by turning to the living reality and appraising it in the light of Marxist analysis.
In the three years since the debate at the Ninth World Congress, the two lines have been subjected to the test of experience. It is now possible to draw a balance sheet on the results in Bolivia and Argentina, the two areas where the decision to convert guerrilla war into strategic orientation has been carried out in life. This is what we now propose to do.