Since May, 1969, the situation in Argentina has been prerevolutionary.
In that month the country was shaken by mass struggles touched off by student protests. A general strike paralyzed Rosario, Argentina’s second largest city. Major flareups followed in various cities, the biggest and most violent being in Córdoba, hence the name “Córdobazo” for this historic struggle. The two big trade-union federations called a nationwide solidarity strike. This widespread upsurge in May amounted to a semi-insurrection.
The use of the term “semi-insurrection” rather than “spontaneous rebellion” or “uprising” is deliberate. It accurately indicates the nature of the struggle—in the streets, with masses confronting the army and police; and the target the masses had in mind—the national government. What gave it the character of a semi-insurrection was the clear political aim of the mobilizations and confrontations—to bring down the government.
That is the profound difference from the uprisings in the Black ghettoes in the United States, which were spontaneous rebellions, with no specific political demands either explicit or implicit.
But even the Argentine explosions were not insurrections. For that a revolutionary leadership applying a clear program for the conquest of power was required. None of the mobilizations of the working class in Argentina has had this feature.
We have characterized the situation in Argentina since May, 1969, as “prerevolutionary” for various reasons:
1. The confusion in government circles, and the bourgeois forces generally, has grown more and more intense as they flounder about, trying to find a way out of the critical economic situation and trying to derail or break the back of the rising mass movement.
2. The petty bourgeoisie is losing all confidence in the capitalist system, and significant sectors are inclining toward revolutionary or prosocialist positions.
3. The working class wants a revolutionary change in the government. It has lost all confidence in the government as the various regimes have succeeded each other, without ameliorating but only worsening the crisis racking the country.
It is true that the bulk of the working class still has confidence in Perónism politically. But that is because they believe, mistakenly, that through Perónism a means can be found to change the system. In other words, they are still not aware that the Perónist party is bourgeois. This is one of the consequences of the denial of Perón’s democratic rights and his exile from the country for seventeen years.
The main obstacles blocking the workers from moving towards state power in the present situation consist of the bureaucratic leadership of the trade unions, the only existing mass organizations of the proletariat, and General Perón, the unquestioned leader of the toiling masses.
The great problem facing the Argentine revolutionary movement is how to transform the prerevolutionary situation into a revolutionary one, that is, into a direct struggle for power.
The bourgeois parliamentary regime established after the downfall of Perón in 1955 came to an end in 1966 with a military coup d’etat that put General Juan Carlos Ongania in power. The coup reflected a passing downturn in the class struggle. The penetration of U.S. imperialism took a leap ahead, expanding into new sectors such as banking.
Ongania lined up with the Brazilian dictatorship in the worldwide crusade against communism. While he did not set up special courts, or alter the traditional judicial structure in general, preferring to give his regime a “legal” facade, he forced through repressive measures against the working class on both the economic and political levels. But he did not dare attempt to dissolve the trade unions or the rank-and-file structure of the factory committees. Such an attempt had been made a decade before without success. The unions continued as clandestine organizations until the bourgeois regime recognized its defeat and legalized the unions in the late fifties. Ongania’s attempt at personal bonapartistic rule, which he had promised would last ten years, was terminated by the events of May 1969.
The uprisings in Rosario and Córdoba altered the relationship of class forces. The retreat of the working class came to an end. Already significant efforts had been made to fight back, but these had been defeated. Now the working class began to take the offensive. The masses, in various stages, dealt a series of blows to successive bourgeois regimes, gaining concessions in the process.
The ruling class has oscillated between repression and concessions. This maneuvering, however, has necessarily been confined within the limits of the general crisis that has racked Argentina. The country’s semicolonial standing has not enabled the bourgeoisie to grant significant concessions except for the period immediately following World War II. The concessions that have been granted, whether of a minimal economic nature or more typically in the field of democratic rights, have only served to encourage the workers and to lead them to broaden their offensive.
The first semi-insurrections were met with a selective repression. During the whole period since 1966, the ruling class has not carried out a single massacre of the mass movement. While accurate figures are not available, it may well be that there were more casualties in the October, 1968, massacre in Mexico City than in all six years of military rule in Argentina, in which a series of mass uprisings occurred. This is not because the Argentine ruling class is any less brutal or bloodthirsty than the Mexican ruling class, but because they understand the explosiveness of the class struggle and the inherent power of the proletariat in Argentina.
Bending with the pressure of the first Córdobazo, the government promised a relaxation of the repression. Once it felt that the situation was somewhat safe, the government disregarded its promise and resumed its hard line. The response from the workers was a resumption of mass actions, paralyzing strikes hitting the cities and sometimes extending to a provincial and national level. In various minor cities, general strikes were accompanied by militant street demonstrations. (It should be noted, however, that mass demonstrations in the streets with the setting up of barricades and clashes with the police have not occurred in a similar way in Buenos Aires with its population of 8,000,000. Rosario and Córdoba, the second and third largest cities, where the demonstrations made world headlines, have populations of only 672,000 and 589,000 respectively.)
The slowly ascending line of mass struggles was registered in several alterations of the cabinet. The ruling class felt compelled to shift its orientation under the Ongania dictatorship, finally removing the general himself in a coup d’etat in June 1970. His replacement, General Roberto Marcelo Levingston, was in turn ousted in a coup nine days after the second Córdobazo in March 1971.
Each change of government marked an attempt to avoid a direct confrontation with the masses and to divert them away from street struggles pointing in the direction of an insurrectionary general strike on a national scale. The diversionary attempts have consisted of offers to provide legal, but relatively harmless, outlets for the expression of discontent. General Alejandro Lanusse, who replaced Levingston in March, 1971, followed up logically by calling for a return to a parliamentary regime.
This turn represents an effort by the military caste to maintain unity in their own ranks, establish a solid ruling-class front, help the trade-union bureaucracy divert the masses, and gain time so as to be in better position to crush the workers’ movement at an opportune moment. The idea is to involve the masses once again in the swindle of bourgeois parliamentarism. For this, they require the good offices of the Perónist movement and its leader, the only bourgeois figure with any popularity among the masses. The plan, however, cannot be delayed too long. Two general strikes have served to remind the ruling class of that.
Within the general intensification of the class struggle, a dip occurred in actions by the industrial working class beginning at the end of 1971. This can be ascribed to the scheduling of parliamentary elections and the role of the union bureaucracy. No militant left-wing leadership exists in the unions on a scale sufficient to offer an effective challenge to this political game. But in 1972 new popular uprisings broke out (Mendoza, Tucuman, General Roca). These forced the Perónist movement to adopt a more independent stance, affecting Lanusse’s Gran Acuerdo National (GAN), the bourgeois class front. Moreover, the continued radicalization, drawing in ever broader layers of the unorganized workers, the white-collar workers, and the lower petty bourgeoisie, has helped keep the ruling class on the defensive.
Although the modern Confederacion General del Trabajo (CGT) came into existence in the 1930s in a series of strikes led by the Communist Party, it was not until the rise of the Perónist movement that industrial unions became established. This was the period, too, when the Cuerpos de Delegados (delegate bodies) and the Comisiones Internas (internal commissions) were established as the basic structure of the unions. The Cuerpo de Delegados is a factory committee elected either by sectors of each factory or at large. The Comision Interna is a steering committee usually elected by the Cuerpo de Delegados, but sometimes by direct vote.
While these positive developments marked the rise of one of the most powerfully organized working-class structures in the world, a conservative bureaucracy, linked to the state under Perón, became deeply entrenched. The contradiction between a militant rank and file and a bureaucracy serving as an agency of the ruling class is the central feature of the Argentine labor movement.
With the overthrow of Perón in 1955, the government dissolved the unions. By then, however, the CGT had brought 90 percent of the organized workers within a single union structure.
The resistance to the government centered in the Cuerpos de Delegados and the Comisiones Internas. The new regime found it impossible to crush this powerful base of the union movement. The exiled Perón ordered his movement to turn to terrorism. A wave of bombings and other terrorist actions, unparalleled in the history of Latin America, swept the country. Yet these were unable to change the course of the government in any meaningful way. On the other hand, the continuous strikes led by the factory committees did have an effect, compelling the government to retreat. Finding it impossible to repress the working class at a plant level, the ruling class decided to legalize the top structure of the union movement in hope of utilizing the bureaucracy as a means of containing the factory committees and checking the general militancy of the masses. A special measure, the “Ley de Asociaciones Profesionales,” was decreed, recognizing the trade-union structure but designed to place the unions under government control.
The key to Argentine politics in the recent period is similar to that in Bolivia up to Banzer’s coup d’etat. The scheme of subjecting the mass movement to direct control through dictatorial regimes failed; the ruling class has been compelled to try more subtle methods.
In 1968 a rift in the ranks of the bourgeoisie resulted in a move to oust Ongania through a coup. This was backed by two major political parties, the Perónists and the Radicals. But the workers were still marking time and the top bureaucrats around Vandor, the central leader of the CGT, while still calling themselves Perónists, were “participating” with the Ongania dictatorship. The differences led to a split in the CGT. The major industrial unions—textiles, auto, construction, meat, light and power, etc.—followed Vandor. Less powerful unions followed Ongaro, who formed the “CGT of the Argentines.”
The projected coup never materialized, and the unions associated with the CGT(A) began drifting back into the CGT until Ongaro was left with but a few very small unions—printers, pharmaceutical, etc. Finally, in 1971, Ongaro himself returned to the fold of the CGT, once again uniting the entire trade-union movement in Argentina.
Before the Córdobazo, the class struggle mounted gradually, yet with strike after strike ending in defeat. For instance, in September, 1968, the workers in the largest oil refinery in the greater Buenos Aires area struck for fifty days in a defensive action against worsening conditions, only to lose.
In January, 1969, another militant strike in the important Fabril Financiera printing plant lasted three months, to be betrayed finally by the bureaucracy. In February the Citroen auto workers struck in solidarity with twelve workers who had been fired from the plant. They were leaders of the Comision Interna, one of them being a highly respected proletarian leader and member of the Central Committee of the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (La Verdad). The pickets included armed squads. In a scuffle, one of the most hated representatives of the bosses was mortally wounded. The bureaucracy of the auto union SMATA (Sindicato de Mecanicos y Afines del Transporte Automotor del Automovil) used this incident to impose a halt of twenty days in the strike. This broke morale and the bureaucracy followed up to consolidate its grip on the Citroen plant.
In the interior of Argentina, especially in the northern sector, a series of militant struggles took place before the upsurge of May, 1969. These were caused in part by the bad situation in the sugar industry and the general economic blight in that region. The most important struggles broke out in Villa Ocampo and Villa Quinteros. In the latter city, a peaceful mass demonstration was brutally repressed by the police. The masses responded by building barricades in the streets. The government cracked down with a general repression of the entire population.
In Córdoba a series of struggles flared up on the eve of the May events. On February 24 the metal workers voted to call a strike. Four days later, the workers of Luz y Fuerza (light and power) held assemblies. The struggles in this period were occasionally accompanied by marches. In the following month all the metal workers went on strike, and in April the teachers began to mobilize, voting for a plan of struggle.
Turmoil broke out on the University of Corrientes campus on May 11. The issue was an arbitrary boost in prices at the student cafeteria. On May 15 the police killed a student. The campus uproar spread to Rosario on May 16. Two days later the police killed another youth.
The workers responded to the appeals of the students and staged a solidarity strike. The CGT bureaucrats, sensing the rising tide, gave their endorsement to the strike. On May 21 the police killed a young metal worker. This led to street demonstrations and confrontations with the police. Barricades went up, and the masses, in a completely spontaneous manner, took over an area of twenty blocks.
Under the impact of what had happened in Rosario, Córdoba exploded.
Mass discontent had been building toward such an outcome in this powerful proletarian center, the seat of Argentina’s auto and aviation industries. On May 5, the transport and metal workers went out on strike. As a show of solidarity the CGT of Córdoba vote a twenty-four-hour general sympathy strike. This resulted in a confrontation with the police on May 14 in which a worker was wounded.
The students now stepped forward. Aroused by the events in Corrientes and enthused by the action of the workers, they organized a march. This was repressed. The medical students answered the police by organizing resistance in their own district. A week of struggle was then voted by the students. In face of the mounting tension, the police arrested Tosco, the leader of the light and power union. High school students began showing up at demonstrations organized by the university students. The Catholic university students joined in the struggle, and student demonstrations spread beyond Rosario and Córdoba to Tucuman and other cities.
Disregarding the wishes of the CGT bureaucrats, factory committees began to call for a general strike. The students declared full support for the action.
On May 30 and May 31, a thirty-six-hour general strike paralyzed Córdoba. It went through three stages:
1. With the rate of absenteeism in the main plants running at 98 percent, the workers marched to the center of the city. The police threw all their forces into the streets in a showdown fight. The battle swept over a large area and involved thousands of workers and students.
Besides throwing rocks and other missiles against the police, the workers and students began using Molotov cocktails. A small number of sharpshooters harassed the police from the tops of buildings.
The outcome was a defeat for the police. This marked the high point of the semi-insurrection.
2. The army entered the city at 5 p.m. The troops occupied key points and then spread out. Proceeding on foot, and firing at roofs, the troops drove back the demonstrating workers and students, regaining buildings they had occupied.
The workers and students retreated to their barrios (neighborhoods where they lived).
3. During the night several police stations were attacked and set on fire. Such actions continued the next day on a wide scale. Worker-student committees began to appear. They discussed how to resist the army and how to organize and coordinate the movement from the barrios. Propaganda began to be directed to the troops. A significant slogan was “Soldiers, you are our, brothers. Don’t shoot.”
The army managed to extend its control. Troops using guns seized the union headquarters of the light and power workers and the metal workers. Three prominent union leaders, Agustin Tosco, Ramon Contreras, and Elpidio Torres, were arrested.
The Córdoba magazine Jóronimo estimated the total casualties during the two days of fighting at six killed, fifty-one wounded, and 300 arrested. Fifteen to twenty large business establishments were heavily damaged and about sixty automobiles were burned.
The Córdobazo marked the opening of a new rise in the class struggle. When the government decided to hand out harsh sentences to those arrested in the Córdobazo and to clamp down on the unions, the masses responded with a day of national protest June 30, 1969. On that same day, Vandor, a reactionary leader of the CGT, was assassinated. The identity of the killer and the reason for his action are still not known.
The government tried to utilize the assassination as a pretext for stepping up repressive measures against the workers. The answer to this was a nationwide general strike of forty-eight hours at the end of August. In some areas, struggles continued to mount until well into September. By the end of the year, the government pulled back, altering the cabinet and releasing the prisoners arrested during the Córdobazo.
The government alternated between token concessions and repressive measures, creating the conditions for a second series of explosions later.
The semi insurrections in Rosario and Córdoba changed the attitude of the left toward the workers. The student movement, especially, became “worker” oriented. The turn included not only the reformist currents but the ultralefts. The student enthusiasm for the workers was particularly noticeable in Córdoba. The Partido Comunista Revolucionario, a leftist splitoff from the Communist Party, and the Maoistic Communist Vanguard gained influence in key unions in Córdoba. They played an important role in the development of two unions that broke away from the class-collaborationist bureaucracy, SITRAC and SITRAM (the unions in two auto plants, Sindicato de los Trabajadores de Concord and Sindicato de los Trabajadores de Materfer).
In the first stage of the development of the antibureaucratic current, that is, at the end of 1969 and beginning of 1970, the bureaucracy succeeded in blocking the challenge to its leadership. This was occasionally done in collusion with the bosses. A case in point was the Chocbo strike.
During the building of a dam in the province of Neuquen, three antibureaucratic leaders, Olivari, Alac, and Torres, who had been elected in the local construction workers union were fired from the job with the complicity of the bureaucracy. The workers, almost 3,000 strong, staged a solidarity strike. They built barricades and threatened to use dynamite if the police were brought in. They held out for twenty days before being compelled to acknowledge defeat. The three delegates, two of them members of the Communist Party, were arrested.
In union elections, some significant battles were launched against the bureaucrats. In Avellaneda, for instance, the Blue slate, a combination of young militants and an old oppositionist group in the metal workers union offered a challenge but failed to win.
In the capital of Buenos Aires, two opposition slates appeared in the metal workers union. One, the Rose slate, was backed by the CP and the PRT(La Verdad) fractions; the other by left Perónists. Both of the opposition slates were subjected to some crude bureaucratic maneuvering and had to withdraw.
The commercial workers in the capital gave an opposition slate backed by the PRT(La Verdad) 2,000 votes to the bureaucracy’s 4,000.
Among the bank workers, an oppositionist slate won the majority of the vote, but with the help of the police the bureaucracy stole the election.
In the auto industry, a PRT(La Verdad) trade-union tendency with leaders in the Peugeot, Citroen, Mercedes Benz, and Chrysler plants, joined with a Perónist rank-and-file opposition led by Perez, who has backing in the Ford, DECA, and Filtros Fram, and a leader in the Peugeot plant affiliated to the Posadas group. The bureaucracy, fearing possible defeat, barred the slate from running.
These examples are sufficient to indicate the trend in the aftermath of the Córdobazo, that is, the appearance of oppositionist groups in the unions that moved toward a class-struggle line but were still too weak to inflict defeats on the bureaucracy. The trend favored the growth of these currents.
The r1se in the class struggle also affected the guerrilla groups. At that time the most prominent were those adhering to Perónism. They stepped up their activities. It also affected the PRT(Combatiente). They terminated their plans for rural guerrilla warfare for the time being and turned their attention to urban guerrilla warfare.
During 1970, the best-known guerrilla group was the Montoneros. They kidnapped and assassinated Aramburu, a former president of Argentina. On July 1, 1970, the Montoneros took over the small town of La Calera in the province of Córdoba.
On July 30, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, another Perónist guerrilla group, occupied the town of Garin, a suburb of Buenos Aires. The Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP), which appeared in July, 1970, under the sponsorship of the PRT (Combatiente), moved into prominence during 1971.
By mid-1970 significant headway was being made against the trade-union bureaucracy. This trend grew until nearly the end of 1971.
In August, 1970, the construction union involved in the Chocon strike held new elections. The opposition won easily.
In San Lorenzo, near Rosario, a class-struggle current set up an Interunion grouping that organized a general strike. Among other demands, it called for the release of political prisoners.
In La Plata, just outside of Buenos Aires, an oppositionist current began gaining headway in the textile plant Petroquimica in 1970. The management in this plant sought to fire some of the activists in the Comision Interna and the Cuerpo de Delegados. This precipitated a strike that was won. In 1971 at the end of an obligatory “cooling off” period, the company fired 105 workers, including the activists. This was answered by a strike that lasted sixty-seven days. The 1,100 workers won an increase of 50 percent in their pay, but by a government decision seventy-four workers were fired, including the activists of the Comision Interna and the Cuerpo de Delegados. Within eight months, the class-struggle current was again able to wield considerable influence in these bodies.
As part of the leadership of the Petroquimica strike, the PRT(La Verdad) played an important role. All the tendencies of the far left united in defense of this critical strike. The ERP and the FAR, for instance, donated funds.
Auto: In the auto industry, the class-struggle tendency began to make considerable headway in Buenos Aires. In FAE (700 workers), the opposition headed by Perez, a Perónist, was able—with the help that the PRT(La Verdad) tendency was able to mobilize in other auto plants—to win an important strike that had been provoked by the bosses.
The traditionally conservative Mercedes Benz plant (3,000 workers) began to shift to the left. At Chrysler (1,500 workers) and Citroen (1,100 workers), the current led by the PRT(La Verdad) gained considerably in strength.
Instead of negotiating a contract for the entire industry, the auto bureaucracy negotiates plant by plant. In opposition to this tradition, the PRT(La Verdad) tried to foster resistance in at least some of the plants against this one-at-a-time policy. It was in battling against the workers’ efforts to achieve united action that the bosses provoked the Chrysler strike.
Although the strike was organized in model form, having a daily strike bulletin, regular picketing, and mass assemblies in reaching decisions, the workers were unable to win. They held out for fifteen days before having to concede. Some of the best militants in the plant were fired, including many PRT (La Verdad) workers.
This defeat left the opposition in the Buenos Aires auto plants too weak to offer SITRAC-SITRAM effective support when they later came under attack.
Encouraged by the results of the Chrysler strike, the bosses decided to try similar tactics at Citroen. They fired class-struggle leaders. The resulting strike was again led by the PRT(La Verdad). This time the workers were able to beat off the attack and stop the offensive of the bosses in the auto industry in Buenos Aires.
Bank Workers: One of the most important victories of the rising new workers vanguard was among the bank workers, traditionally a very militant sector, with 6,500 workers in the head office of the Banco de la Nacion Argentina, and 2,500 in its branches in the city and its suburbs. After a series of battles, a class-struggle current began to play a leading role in the Comisiones Internas and Cuerpos de Delegados. The strength of the PRT(La Verdad) in this union is recognized by the entire left in Argentina. An indication of the esteem in which the PRT (La Verdad) comrades are held was provided by the response in February 1972 to the attempted beating of a PRT(La Verdad) leader in the Banco de la Nacion. The 6,000 workers staged a one-hour protest strike.
In Buenos Aires the workers at the Banco de la Nacion have played a vanguard role since the latter part of 1970.
Telephone Workers: Unlike the bank workers, who were relatively quiescent after suffering a bitter defeat in 1959, the telephone workers, organized in the Federacion de Obreros y Empleados Telefonicos de la Republica Argentina played an active role within the left wing of the Perónist movement under their main leader, Guillan.
In the September 1971 elections, various oppositionist groups formed a combination called the Frente Clasista de Renovacion Telefonica (Class Struggle Front for the Renovation of the Telephone Union), which ran candidates on the Rose slate. Guillan’s Brown slate won with the backing of the Communist Party. A right-wing slate won 1,000 votes, the Rose slate only 800.
SITRAC-SITRAM. Of all the class-struggle currents that developed, the most important was in Córdoba at the two Fiat plants represented by SITRAC and SITRAM.
Many of the technical workers in these two plants have had a university education. Consequently the radicalization that took place on the campus finds its reflection in the ranks of the unions. Two currents were especially strong in the student movement in Córdoba, the PCR and the Maoist Vanguardia Comunista. Their ultraleft and sectarian influence played into the hands of the Perónists and hampered SITRAC-SITRAM from playing the full vanguard role that was open to them on a national scale. Because of the 1968 split in its own ranks, that is, with the comrades of the PRT(Combatiente), the PRT(La Verdad) was greatly weakened in such cities as Rosario, Tucuman, and Córdoba. Until 1972, it had no influence in either of the two Fiat plants.
As in the other cases we have cited, the class-struggle current in SITRAC-SITRAM developed through difficult battles. In a parallel way, the management sought to undermine and destroy any independent leadership by firing key militants. The response of the workers was likewise similar to those elsewhere.
In January, 1971, when seven workers were fired at Concord, the workers took over the plant. The ERP participated by disarming the factory guards. The workers at Materfer and other plants declared their solidarity with Concord. The government threatened to intervene with force. The workers held firm and the management capitulated.
However, the SITRAC-SITRAM leaders in battling the Córdoba CGT, which was led by Perónist bureaucrats adroit enough to put on a leftist front when necessary, tended to follow a sectarian line and thus did not succeed in polarizing sufficient forces around them to be able to take over as an alternative leadership. Plagued by ultraleftism, the class-struggle tendency at SITRAC-SITRAM did not offer a clear program in opposition to the CGT bureaucracy that could have effectively attracted the workers in the other unions in Córdoba.
In the SITRAC-SITRAM actions, for instance, the ultralefts, among other inapt appeals, called for “Neither coup, nor elections. Revolution.” Presented as the answer to Lanusse’s maneuver of projecting elections, this abstract, sectarian ultraleft slogan was advanced by student groups and the official Argentine section of the Fourth International, the PRT (Combatiente).
When the Córdoba CGT bureaucrats, in fear of the SITRAC-SITRAM unions and in response to pressure from the ranks, took the initiative in projecting mass struggles, the SITRAC-SITRAM leaders at times took sectarian positions.
For instance, in March, 1971, the CGT set up a Comision de Lucha (Struggle Commission) and called for a massive but peaceful demonstration against the government. Instead of forming a united front with the CGT, the SITRAC-SITRAM leaders called for a separate demonstration. The response to the CGT Struggle Commission was massive. The march staged by the SITRAC-SITRAM workers resulted in a confrontation in which a nineteen-year-old worker Adolfo Cepeda was killed. This aroused the working class.
Under the leadership of Tosco, the CGT Struggle Commission took the initiative, shifting to the left. About 5,000 persons attended the funeral of Cepeda, whose coffin was draped with the flag of the ERP. Tosco was the only speaker.
A succession of actions followed, exploding in what is now designated as the second Córdobazo. One of the important outcomes was to further the authority of the CGT Struggle Commission and to relatively weaken the standing of the leaders of SITRAC-SITRAM, since they continued to refuse to participate in the deliberations and decisions of the CGT body.
After the second Córdobazo, the SITRAC-SITRAM leadership, realizing that it was becoming isolated, modified its sectarian stance and began looking for allies.
An attempt was made, for example, in Buenos Aires to set up a commission, the function of which was to support SITRAC-SITRAM. Along with other groupings, the Partido Comunista Revolucionario, the Vanguardia Comunista, the PRT(Combatiente), and the PRT(La Verdad) participated in this. However, the commission was paralyzed by the sectarian attitude of the ultralefts. One of their first moves was to propose the expulsion of the Communist Party and Politica Obrera (the Lambertists) from the commission. Then they objected to the participation of the PRT(La Verdad) on the grounds that it was “reformist” and not for “armed struggle.” Unfortunately for them, the bulk of the worker representation in the commission resulted from the influence of the PRT(La Verdad).
In Córdoba, under the direct control of the SITRAC-SITRAM leadership, the support commission developed in a more democratic atmosphere because of the pressure of the workers.
As two powerful unions in the forefront of the struggle in Córdoba and in a most influential position in the Argentine vanguard, it was natural that SITRAC-SITRAM would be singled out for attack by the government. The authorities bided their time until they felt that the two unions had become relatively isolated. On October 26, 1971, the government intervened with an order dissolving the two unions. Hundreds of militant workers were fired by the management. Gendarmes occupied the plants.
The response to these moves was very limited, even within the plants. To understand this, it is necessary to review two national plenary meetings called by the SITRAC-SITRAM leadership in an attempt to establish a national class-struggle tendency.
The SITRAC-SITRAM leadership called a conference (plenary meeting) for August 28-29, 1971. The following agenda was proposed: “a) analysis of the economic, social, and political situation facing the country; b) problems of the labor movement, rejection of the passivity of Jose Rucci and his traitorous union clique of the Azopardo CGT; c) national coordination of the protests of the working class and popular sectors against starvation wages, the turning over of the nation to imperialism, and the intensification of the government’s policy of repression.” All union bodies and rank-and-file organizations were invited to attend.
On the basis of this call, the Comision Interna of the Banco de la Nacion called a conference in Buenos Aires to designate a delegation to go to Córdoba. The police intervened, blocking any public meeting. Nevertheless a number of delegates and activists from Comisiones Internas did meet and voted for a declaration to be presented to the conference in Córdoba.
The meeting opened on schedule but with some delegates not present. Thirty-five had been arrested, including those from the San Lorenzo Interunion.
Between 800 and 1,000 persons attended. The majority represented the student movement and the various revolutionary organizations. These groups were asked to leave after designating two delegates for each organization; however, most of them stayed.
The presence of a large number of leftists not directly part of the labor movement had its detrimental aspects in the functioning of the conference. It required a two-hour discussion to decide whether the delegates of the Uruguayan Convencion Nacional de Trabajadores should be added to the honorary presidium.
The most important forces present were the pharmaceutical and printers unions influenced by Ongaro, the CGT from Corrientes, the Comision Interna from the Escalada textile mill, railroad workers from Tafi Viejo, the Buenos Aires delegation headed by national bank workers (which included representatives from fourteen Comisiones Internas) and leaders who had been fired from Chrysler and Petroquimica. Leaders of the Partido Comunista Revolucionario were present although they represented hardly any workers. Politica Obrera was there with a few workers. Various small independent worker formations of Córdoba were represented. Also present were a few grouplets like Milicia Obrera, a split-off from the PRT (Combatiente).
In spite of the confusion, the proposals made by the SITRAC-SITRAM leadership were generally positive. The followers of Ongaro threatened to walk out if the general political declaration were put to a vote, and the SITRAC-SITRAM leadership correctly pulled back on this, leaving the declaration open to further discussion by the various groupings. The SITRAC-SITRAM leadership proposed that a Provisional Coordinating Committee composed of representatives of the unions and tendencies present be set up to handle activities following the conference. The ultralefts protested against including the Buenos Aires national bank workers, since this would give the PRT (La Verdad) a voice in the commission. This led to the proposal being altered to exclude the Comisiones Internas and the Cuerpos de Delegados.
The conference as a whole revealed the extreme weakness of the class-struggle tendencies. The only real trade union forces present consisted of the SITRAC-SITRAM, the small Ongaro unions, the national bank workers and other Buenos Aires Comisiones Internas, and the San Lorenzo Interunion group who never made it to the gathering because of the police. Many of the speakers dealt in abstract generalities, and the conference never got beyond the first point on the agenda.
A second plenary was held on September 22. This time only 300 persons were present. In some respects this was an improvement since it gave greater relative weight to the workers. The meeting ran more smoothly and made better headway, including acceptance of a motion presented by the Buenos Aires bank workers to form a national class-struggle tendency at the next conference. But the meeting represented only limited forces. The Ongaro unions did not participate.
A third gathering was never held, since SITRAC-SITRAM was dissolved by the government. In spite of the immense mobilizations, the Perónist bureaucracy still retained an iron grip on the central mass organizations, the trade unions. In the second half of 1971, a partial lull in the class struggle set in. The government took full advantage of the isolation of SITRAC-SITRAM, calculating that the two unions were no longer in position to mobilize an effective defense against a vigorous effort to crush the strongest point of the incipient national class-struggle tendency.
Mass protest actions against the government did not cease during 1972. However, the axis of the protests shifted from the industrial proletariat to sectors of the white-collar workers and the petty bourgeoisie.
Important actions initiated by numbers of students gained either mass sympathy (Tucuman) or direct mass support (Mar del Plata).
The action in Mar del Plata was especially important as a model in building a united-front defense against repression. The demonstration resulted from an attempt by the police to prevent eyewitnesses from testifying before a judge about a murder committed by fascist-minded thugs linked to the local CGT bureaucracy.
At the end of 1971, the gangsters attacked a student assembly, killing one student, Silvia Filler, and wounding another, Marcos Chueque. The immediate response of the students was ultraleftist. They went down the streets, breaking windows.
Six months later when the assassin was brought to trial, the police, in hope of discrediting the testimony of the main witnesses, arrested four students after they had attended a meeting of 1,000 persons protesting the killing. Three of them were members of the PRT (La Verdad), which by then had become the Partido Socialista Argentine.
The involvement of the PRT (La Verdad) made it possible to orient the protest along united-front lines. First a united-front committee was set up in the university. The students demonstrated against the police, but with appeals to the working class to join in the protests through their unions. The students called for a silent march on June 8, 1972, under the slogan, “Free the Companeros.” Support began mounting from all sides. Many professional groups declared their solidarity. The rector of the university and the governing council sent telegrams to Lanusse. Professors, assistants, and graduate students passed resolutions.
Various unions began to make declarations of support. These included light and power, the printers, oil, transport, mill, and the bank workers unions.
Under the impact of the growing mass support and mass actions, the CGT bureaucrats despite their connections with those guilty of the crime, declared a general sympathy strike for June 14.
Many political parties came out in support of the campaign, and they set up a broad coordinating committee.
The general strike was quite successful. High-school students turned out in mass and joined young workers in going from factory to factory to make sure the entire town came out.
The army was mobilized but the troops found it impossible to stop the demonstrators, who divided into groups of 300 to 1,000 that roamed the city. People on the sidelines cheered the demonstrators, reflecting the overwhelming popularity of the antigovernmental action.
The government decided to beat a retreat. All the prisoners were freed except Jorge Sprovieri, a member of the Partido Socialista Argentino, who was sent to a prison ship in Buenos Aires. However, he too was freed fifty-six days later.
In April, 1972, in answer to rate increases for electricity, demonstrations broke out in Córdoba, Rosario, San Luis, San Juan, and Mendoza.
The high point was the mass mobilization in Mendoza. Led by the teachers and other white-collar workers, with some support from the industrial workers, the entire city rose in protest against the rate increases. The demonstrations lasted four days. The repressive forces killed four persons, but could not put down the demonstrations. Eventually the government capitulated and lowered the rates to the previous level throughout the area where it had attempted to put across the boost.
In the city of General Roca, the popular outburst was of particular significance because of the fact that it was the first uprising with a clearly defined leadership, although that leadership was bourgeois. The Rocazo developed out of a conflict between the ruling class of the province and the federal government. The local ruling class set up what amounted to a provisional government, opposed to the official Lanusse government in that area.
The efforts made by the masses to influence the troops was also a significant aspect of the Rocazo. New methods of struggle were used and more advanced forms of organization appeared in an embryonic way. A sympathizer of the Partido Socialista Argentino set up a “Radio Free Roca,” giving the small group of members of the PSA living there an opportunity to advance a line in opposition to the provisional bourgeois government. They called for the formation of worker-neighborhood coordinating committees, defense committees, and so on.
The army’s tactic was to arrest large numbers of demonstrators, beat them, and then turn them loose. No one was killed. At the end of a week of protests and clashes with the occupation forces, the army released all the prisoners it had taken.
After the government succeeded in dissolving SITRAC-SITRAM and a relative downturn was felt in the labor movement, the guerrilla groups turned away from such actions as distributing milk and meat in the poor districts, resorting more to terrorism. This included a number of assassinations, among them a former head of police in Tucuman, a leader of the New Force Party in Buenos Aires, a rank-and-file soldier who refused to give up his arms, the manager of the Italian FIAT enterprise, and an army general.
The ERP and the Montoneros were the most active in this period. But in general the guerrilla groups have declined as shown by the decreasing number of actions.
This is owing to various factors, among them the increased effectiveness of the governmental repression and the decreasing interest among frustrated layers of the petty bourgeoisie in terrorism or clandestine acts of violence against the ruling class in face of the lure offered by the regime of an electoral alternative.
We have seen how the “turn” adopted at the Ninth World Congress led to disaster in Bolivia. However, it could be argued that any other line would have ended similarly. In the case of Argentina the situation is different. The PRT (La Verdad) voted against the “turn,” while the PRT (Combatiente) voted for it and set out to show the results that could be obtained by putting it into practice. The PRT (Combatiente) applied the line faithfully, as Comrades Maitan, Mandel, and other comrades of the majority of the United Secretariat have testified.
The PRT (La Verdad), on the other hand, continued to apply the method of the Transitional Program and can offer the results of its activities as a positive test of the correctness of the position taken by the minority at the Ninth World Congress. The essence of the policy followed by the PRT (La Verdad) has been to attempt to construct a Leninist-type party by penetrating the mass movement, participating in mass mobilizations, and presenting itself as the revolutionary alternative leadership in the existing mass organizations. That is, it has not attempted to bypass the existing formations of the masses or their way of going into action. It has sought instead to advance within them transitional demands capable of assisting them in advancing beyond the present forms of the class struggle to higher forms pointing toward the conquest of power.
The conception of the PRT (La Verdad) is that to lead the masses a program is required that takes into account their most deeply felt needs at their present level of understanding. The question of armed struggle likewise has to be raised in a transitional way and not as a schema into which the masses have to be fitted.
That is why the history of the PRT (La Verdad) since the Ninth World Congress is directly tied to the history of the mass struggles that have arisen in Argentina. The PRT (La Verdad) sought in everything it did to gear into the objective situation that was shaped by the class struggle, participating in the mass movement in order to advance it according to its own inherent logic.
With the PRT (Combatiente), the opposite occurred, as we shall see. They embarked on a “prolonged war” that called for the construction of a “revolutionary army.” They disregarded events in the class struggle involving the masses except as these might be utilized to advance their narrow schema calling for construction of an armed instrument under their own command. This was a sectarian objective, standing in contrast to the broad objective followed by the PRT (La Verdad) of constructing a revolutionary political leadership arising out of the actual struggle itself.
In order to reach a better appreciation of the practical course followed by the PRT (Combatiente) it is necessary to know the main lines of their political orientation. Of particular importance is their international outlook and their view of the Fourth International.
The PRT (Combatiente) believes that the Fourth International is finished as a revolutionary international and that a new international must be built. The bases for the new international, they hold, are at hand in China, Albania, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba, and certain organizations now outside of the Fourth International, plus at least part of the Fourth International.
Following its Fifth Congress (held in July, 1970), the Central Committee of the PRT(Combatiente) clarified its position on the Fourth International through a statement by one of its members entitled “Minuta Sobre Internacional” (Memorandum on the International). This was made public along with all the other decisions of the Fifth Congress of the PRT (Combatiente).
“It is necessary to restate, so as to leave no room for error, exaggeration, or false illusions, the realistic point of view I upheld at the congress that we do not believe in the possibility of the Fourth International becoming converted into the revolutionary international party, the need of which we uphold. We believe that this is now historically impossible, and that the role of the International, granting the favorable supposition that it becomes converted into a proletarian revolutionary organization, should be to seek to construct a new Revolutionary International modeled after the Leninist Third International and based on the Vietnamese, Chinese, Cuban, Korean, and Albanian parties.” (Resoluciones del V Congreso y de los Comite Central y Comite Ejecutivo Posteriores [Resolutions of the Fifth Congress and of following meetings of the Central and Executive Committees], p. 42.)
Thus the PRT(Combatiente) has indicated publicly that it is battling for fundamental changes in the program of the Fourth International. First, they want to convert the International into a “revolutionary” organization, that is, an organization that agrees with and practices their orientation of “prolonged war” and construction of “revolutionary armies” on all continents. Secondly, they insist that the International drop its position of calling for a political revolution in China and other deformed workers states, and instead support those Stalinized regimes and parties politically, pressing them only to set up a “new revolutionary international” open to certain other groupings.
“We ratify our adhesion with the intention of bringing about the proletarianization of the International, of transforming it into a revolutionary organization, and of struggling to orient it toward the formation of a new revolutionary international based on the Chinese, Cuban, Korean, Vietnamese, and Albanian parties, and sister organizations that are fighting in a revolutionary manner against capitalism and imperialism in each country.” (Ibid., p. 42.)
The leaders of the PRT(Combatiente) had expressed the same views, although not as explicitly, on the eve of the Ninth World Congress. In their programmatic booklet The Only Road to Workers’ Power and Socialism, written in 1968, they called on the Fourth International to adopt the world strategy and tactics of Castroism.
“Within the framework of the Fourth International we have important contributions to make, but to do so we must define our own strategy for this stage of the world revolution.
“We believe that our party should clearly pronounce itself in favor of the world strategy formulated by Castroism . . . .
“Firstly, we are in favor of announcing our agreement with Castroist strategy and tactics for the world and continental revolution for the following reasons: a) We consider them essentially correct . . .” (International Information Bulletin, No. 4, October, 1972, p. 18.)
They also made clear their judgment of the different currents, Castroism, Maoism, and Trotskyism on a world scale. In their opinion both Trotskyism and Maoism are continuations of Leninism-Trotskyism in the field of theory, Maoism in the field of action. Thus the central task today, as they see it, is to reach a higher unity, which to them would represent a return to Leninism. This, they hold, is the essential meaning of the development of Castroism.
“Today the principal theoretical task of revolutionary Marxists is to fuse the main contributions of Trotskyism and Maoism into a higher unity which would prove to be a real return to Leninism. The development of the world revolution leads inevitably to this goal as is indicated by the unilateral advances of Maoism toward the assimilation of Trotskyism (the break with the Soviet bureaucracy, the cultural revolution); the moves of Trotskyism toward incorporating Maoist contributions (the theory of revolutionary war) and, above all, the effort of the Cuban leadership to achieve this superior unity.” (Ibid., p. 8.)
In their public statements and in their publications, the PRT (Combatiente) hew to this view. They reject publicly defining themselves as Trotskyists.
For instance, when they were asked in an interview published in the August 29, 1972 issue of Punto Final, a magazine widely read in Latin America, whether the PRT (Combatiente) is a Trotskyist organization, Comrades Santucho and Gorriaran, who are top leaders of the official Argentine section of the Fourth International, replied: “The party that leads the Revolutionary Army of the People [ERP], the Revolutionary Workers party [PRT (Combatiente)], defines itself ideologically as Marxist-Leninist and welcomes the contributions of various revolutionists from other nations, including those of our main Comandante, Che Guevara. It also welcomes the contributions that Trotsky, Kim Il Sung, Mao Tsetung, Ho Chi Minh, and General Giap have made for the revolution. We believe that it is inadequate and inappropriate to ideologically define the given organization as Trotskyist. We certainly feel that Trotsky was a revolutionist and most of our members have read his contributions to revolution, especially his contributions toward a critique of the bureaucracy and on permanent revolution.” (Intercontinental Press, November 27, 1972, p. 1317.)
On all major international events, the PRT (Combatiente) publishes its own line even when it is diametrically opposed to that of the world Trotskyist movement. Thus they publicly supported the Mao-Nixon summit conference as a victory for the world revolution. (See the article “Una Victoria Revolucionaria” in El Combatiente, No. 59, August 9, 1971.)
On the other hand, they have never published a statement or resolution of the Fourth International.
Recently they even changed their position on the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Originally they had accepted the Fourth International position of condemning the invasion. Now they support the invasion, thus placing themselves in line with the position taken by the Cuban Communist Party.
The PRT(Combatiente) is opposed to building Trotskyist parties in countries where groups are to be found that correspond to their criteria for building a “new revolutionary international” composed of Maoists, Castroists, and those Trotskyists that supported the “turn” made at the Ninth World Congress. Thus they oppose building a Trotskyist group in Chile where the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria already occupies the ground floor. The same holds for Uruguay where the Tupamaros are operating. And, of course, the same goes for China where they consider the Chinese Communist Party to be a genuine Marxist-Leninist organization.
One grouping will certainly not be included in the “new revolutionary international“—the PRT(La Verdad). In fact the comrades of the PRT(Combatiente) are pressing for the expulsion of the PRT(La Verdad) from the ranks of the Fourth International.
Others, too, may be in for summary eviction if the views of the PRT (Combatiente) on the composition of the Fourth International should come to prevail. The interview with Comrades Santucho and Gorriaran in Punto Final included the following slanderous statement adopted in 1970 at the fifth congress held by the organization:
“The Trotskyist movement, it must be explained, involves heterogeneous sectors: from counterrevolutionary adventurers who use its banner while at the same time prostituting it, to consistent revolutionists.”
Just who are the “counterrevolutionary adventurers” in the Trotskyist movement? They remain unidentified in this monstrous assertion borrowed from the school of Stalinism.
It is crystal clear that the PRT (Combatiente) is not Trotskyist. In making their call for the formation of a “new revolutionary international,” the leaders of the PRT (Combatiente) did not wait to discuss the question within the Fourth International. They broadcast it to the world, making sure in particular that it came to the attention of the Cubans. This is understandable, since they are publicly avowed Castroists.
From their point of view, it can be seen why they were elated over the “turn” made by the Ninth World Congress on Latin America. As Castroists they viewed it as a qualitative step in their direction. By the same token they showed how correct the minority was at the Ninth World Congress in judging the resolution on Latin America to be an adaptation to Castroism.
In Argentina, then, we have two groups associated with the Fourth International. One, the PRT (Combatiente), is a publicly avowed Castroist organization. It supports the majority position of orienting toward guerrilla war for a prolonged period on a continental scale. The other organization, the PRT (La Verdad) is opposed to the Castroist line. Dedicated to the strategy of building a Leninist combat party, it supported the minority position at the Ninth World Congress.
Unlike the PRT (Combatiente), the PRT (La Verdad) views the growth of Trotskyism as an absolute necessity for the triumph of the world revolution. It sees itself as one contingent in the international struggle led by the Trotskyist movement against the bureaucracies of the degenerated or deformed workers states and the Stalinist parties, which stand for “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism and class collaboration with the indigenous bourgeoisie. Therefore in all the countries whose state-controlled parties the PRT (Combatiente) wishes to include in a “new revolutionary international” the PRT (La Verdad) favors a political revolution with the exception of Cuba where the position of the PRT (La Verdad) is the same as that of the rest of the Fourth International.
The PRT (La Verdad) has always referred to itself as a Trotskyist party and as part of the Fourth International. It follows the method outlined in the Transitional Program in seeking to win leadership of the Argentine masses.
This difference between the PRT (Combatiente) and the PRT (La Verdad) on the key question of attitude toward the Fourth International is naturally reflected in their activity on the national scene. This becomes even clearer as we examine the activities of the two groups in Argentina.
All organizations in Argentina that consider themselves to be socialist hold that the Córdobazo marked a turning point in the history of the country. In the opinion of the PRT (La Verdad), the Córdobazo opened up a prerevolutionary period. The PRT (Combatiente) took the view that Argentina had entered a prerevolutionary period even before the Córdobazo and even when the working class was still in retreat or marking time. This judgment corresponded with the position taken by the majority at the Ninth World Congress that the entire continent had entered a prerevolutionary period and was on the verge of a civil war of continental scope. The PRT (Combatiente) naturally agreed that this held true for Argentina as much as anywhere else, if not more so. Thus to the PRT (Combatiente) the Córdobazo marked the close of the prerevolutionary period and the opening of “civil war.”
And that was how they evaluated the situation at their Fifth Congress where they brought things up to date. “The Fourth Congress  showed that Argentina as a whole was in a prerevolutionary situation; reality confirmed this day by day and today we hold an even more concrete view: the revolutionary civil war has begun.” (“Resoluciones sobre dinamica y relaciones de nuestra guerra revolucionaria, Resolutions of the Fifth Congress, p. 27)
Let us now take a look at how the two organizations responded to the rising mass mobilizations.
In the April 21, 1969, issue of its newspaper La Verdad, published at the time of the Ninth World Congress and a month before the first Córdobazo, the PRT (La Verdad) stated that “the mobilizations at Villa Quinteros and Villa Campo and those of the students in Tucuman and Rosario, make it clear that the upswing in the North is broadening on a national scale.
“The actions in the three places have indicated some of the methods needed to confront the regime: mass demonstrations, occupation of school departments and buildings, resistance to the repressive forces. It is necessary to extend and coordinate these actions.” (Emphasis added.)
The PRT (Combatiente) drew the opposite conclusions. Instead of seeing the need to project mass actions in the streets as a correct and necessary step in educating and organizing the masses in the struggle against the repression, they projected clandestine actions by small vanguard groups, postponing mass actions to the time when a sufficiently large military force could be assembled to take on the repressive forces militarily. This meant in practice not trying to mobilize the masses anywhere anytime.
Just prior to the Córdobazo, the PRT (Combatiente) wrote in their paper (May 21, 1969): “The regime’s repressive organization and the consciousness of the revolutionary workers vanguard, which is learning that it is suicide to confront the police empty-handed, resulted in the government’s apparently winning a victory inasmuch as there were only a few quickie strikes and one or another action authorized to be taken in the interior. . . . And thus we have seen this May Day the beginnings of the application of violence in a clandestine form, hitting if only weakly at the imperialist businesses, institutions of the government. . . . Public meetings and massive concentrations should be engaged in where we have the military forces capable of resisting the repressive forces of the regime. Meanwhile we should strengthen ourselves through thousands of skirmishes and clandestine actions that will in turn weaken them. Favorable terrain, the use of surprise, will be the best friends for the conscious vanguard, basing itself more and more in the working people, overcoming the repression of the military dictatorship, servant of the foreign monopolies.” (Emphasis added.)
Noting the beginning of mass actions in the streets, the PRT (La Verdad) called attention to the need to expand them and extend them on a national scale. The PRT (Combatiente), in contrast, warned that it was suicide to confront the repressive forces before a military apparatus had been assembled of sufficient strength to deal with them. Until then, the PRT (Combatiente) advised, the vanguard should devote itself to hit-and-run violence.
What stands out in the most salient way in the line of the PRT (Combatiente) is the complete absence of a practical program to involve the masses and help them move toward higher forms of struggle. The masses are to wait, arms folded, patiently enduring the blows dealt them, until the military problem is solved through the slow accretion of guerrilla fighters. The concept is gradualist in character.
The differences between the PRT (La Verdad) and the PRT (Combatiente) reflected in the quotations cited above can be traced throughout their involvement (or lack of involvement) in the class struggle. This is only to be expected, for the two organizations have been following two different methods. The PRT (La Verdad) proceeds from the fact that the actual living class struggle itself indicates the forms that the revolution will take. Consequently at each step in that struggle it seeks to find and raise slogans that will help the masses to advance in political understanding, that will help build the party until it becomes a mass revolutionary party able to appear as a realistic alternative leadership for the class as a whole.
The PRT (Combatiente), on the other hand, decided a priori, on the basis of the line adopted by the majority at the Ninth World Congress, that the form the revolution would take in Argentina would be rural guerrilla warfare in a prolonged civil war on a continental scale. With that schema fixed unalterably, save for a shift to urban guerrilla warfare, the leaders of the PRT (Combatiente) tried to make the developing mass movement fit the a priori pattern. To them the actual events merely provided an arena for what was viewed as the real revolutionary work, that is, preparations for guerrilla war and the building of an army separate and apart from the mass organizations of the working class.
The actual events, beginning with the Córdobazo and again on various other occasions, indicated that the most powerful weapon the proletariat had at its disposal in fighting for immediate demands and in preparing for higher stages of struggle against the capitalists, including the question of the conquest of power, was the general strike lifted to a political level. The tendency for such strikes to occur, even at a provincial or city level, and to move toward insurrection, should have alerted any Marxist not caught up in some ultraleft schema that this was the way the masses were preparing to conquer power in Argentina.
Thus at every step in the unfolding struggles, the PRT (La Verdad) raised slogans aimed at weakening the trade union bureaucracy, advancing the mass actions, and sinking the party’s roots deeper into the mass organizations.
For instance, when a thirty-six-hour general strike was declared by the CGT on November 12-10, 1970, the PRT (La Verdad) raised within the labor movement the following demands which the party sought to popularize in the broadest way possible:
“Forward with the 36-hour strike! Let it help us prepare for an unlimited general strike for:
“—An immediate pay increase of 26,000 [pesos], including the government workers and employees.
“—An immediate end to the state of siege and the repeal of all repressive legislation, including the monstrous death penalty.
“—Recognition of all parties belonging to the working class and of personalities, including General Perón.
“This 36-hour strike must be utilized to prepare the decisive confrontation which will not come to an end with the winning of a mere wage boost. We must understand that this struggle is not against the government’s economic team, but against the whole miserable, sinister government serving the bosses.
“The best way to guarantee success for the strike is to organize factory assemblies throughout the country. In all places of work assemblies should be set up, empowered to vote and to organize concentrations by zone, utilizing the main factories as a base, and setting up picket squads of activists, who will guarantee success in the struggle.” (Declaration published in La Verdad, No. 243, November 10, 1970)
It was in order to raise consciousness against the role of the bureaucracy that the PRT (La Verdad) advanced the demand that the general strike be organized through the existing factory committees and through assemblies. The slogans, stemming out of the actual struggles, struck a responsive chord. The result was that in some plants the PRT (La Verdad) proposals were adopted and the party’s influence grew in the factories.
The PRT (Combatiente), in contrast, advanced its schema of “revolutionary war.” Just a few months prior to the general strike in 1970, it announced the existence of an “army,” the ERP. The PRT (Combatiente) recognized the power of the general strike when it developed, but it proposed no program for the strike, no line of approach for the workers, no organizational forms for developing the strike. Instead, in reporting the general strike in Combatiente No. 50 (December, 1970), the editor lectured the workers vanguard on the necessity of raising their consciousness to the level of guerrilla war. ”. . . for them it is necessary to develop a revolutionary consciousness that clearly sets taking power as the objective—the tactics and strategy of our revolution: a revolutionary workers and popular government, which will be achieved through a prolonged, mass, revolutionary war, a civil war at the beginning and probably national at a later stage before imperialism intervenes.”
Not a word was uttered one way or the other concerning moving ahead to new strikes as the outcome of this colossal general strike.
The PRT(Combatiente) viewed the general strike as merely offering a more favorable opening for its “revolutionary” actions. This was reflected in a report in the same issue of El Combatiente concerning a meeting of the Central Committee that took place in October, 1970, after the huge strikes of October 9 and October 22, when the general strike for November had already been called. The Central Committee did not project a line designed for the masses nor propose participating in it. They had something else in mind. “We must be on a state of alert and organize our small forces to act efficiently and methodically in the eventuality of mass mobilizations. It is clear that if they occur all the possibilities will be on the side of the revolutionary forces.”
Not a word about the scheduled general strike, not a single word.
The class struggle takes place through concrete forms. For instance, at the end of 1970 and the beginning of 1971, the major industries were going through the process of negotiating new contracts. Traditionally these come up every two years in Argentina; but the Ongania regime had suspended negotiations for four years, imposing his own contract terms during this period. In the context of the radicalization that was taking place, it was doubly necessary to raise the correct slogans for this period and to fight within the factories on the new terms of the contracts. The importance of this was underlined by the strikes that occurred in the auto industry.
Although we could quote at length from the proposals advanced by the PRT(La Verdad) in the plants, a single brief statement will serve to indicate their nature: “A pay increase of no less than 40 percent and 20,000 [pesos] as a minimum; no one should sign for less; for a sliding scale of wages; for a guaranteed number of hours; let the CGT draw up a plan of struggle on these points to be voted on at plenary meetings of delegates, of activists, and in assemblies by plants or union locals.” (La Verdad, March 9, 1971.)
An example of a different concrete form of struggle was provided by the second Córdobazo and its aftermath. The PRT (La Verdad) raised the slogan of a “24-hour nationwide strike.” And it added to its plan of struggle the slogans, “Free the political prisoners” “Against the attack on the Córdoba unions.”
The PRT (Combatiente) acted in accordance with a completely different concept of how the party would grow, how mass consciousness would develop, and how the struggle for power would evolve. It publicized this concept in an interview that appeared in the January-February, 1971, issue of Cristianismo y Revolution.
Asked the question, “Does the PRT then renounce legal action and concentrate on military activity?” the PRT (Combatiente) leaders explained how they counted on winning the masses:
“The strategic principle guiding us is to extend the war, which in our opinion has already begun. We want to make completely clear that we are not trying to win this war at the moment but to extend it through our role of armed detachment of the vanguard (because we do not claim to be the vanguard, which in our country does not exist as a constituted organization). We carry forward this extension of the people’s civil war through political action and military action. This explains many of our unspectacular and even ’petty’ actions. Obviously it is easy for a revolutionary commando group to take a truckload of bottled milk or meat and distribute it in a slum. However, we are not trying to solve the problem of hunger in this slum but to demonstrate to the masses that this action and many similar ones are feasible with few arms and few participants. When this idea catches on among the people, the war of the masses is invincible. Likewise, for similar reasons, we sign our undertakings, those that turn out well and those that turn out badly, because it is necessary to show that the armed struggle is not the task of a few, of an ’elite’ of the superskilled, but that it is a task of the people and that defeats and errors occur in it.” (Intercontinental Press, June 28, 1971, p. 615. Emphasis in original.)
The contrast could hardly be greater. Around them rage mass struggles. A bitter battle is unfolding for leadership of the masses. In the trade unions the real revolutionists are involved in daily skirmishes with the bureaucrats. But the PRT (Combatiente) will have none of this. It has discovered the true secret of how to reach the masses. It demonstrates by small exemplary actions how easy it is to practice guerrilla war. It busily liberates and distributes bottles of milk, sausages, and steaks to “show” the masses how they, too, can follow the “turn” initiated at the Ninth World Congress. Naturally it is done modestly with the admission of inevitable occasional mistakes in seizures or deliveries.
In the entire interview in Cristianismo y Revolution, the PRT(Combatiente) never once mentions the CGT or any trade-union struggle. Instead they repeat a few standard phrases always to be found in their statements and resolutions referring to working “in the factories, shops, slums, and universities, struggling in defense of specific interests and advancing a political line that takes into account the level of consciousness of the masses . . . (Ibid., p. 615.)
But the PRT (Combatiente) never informs us what the political line is concretely in the factories, shops, slums, and universities that takes into account the level of the masses. Not one concrete example is ever offered of a proletarian orientation in their mass work. They speak in detail of their armed actions, of the relationship between their “army” and the party. They even refer to raising their own consciousness by reading the works of Mao, and the contributions of Carlos Marighela and the Tupamaros. Yet with regard to the class struggle in Argentina they have almost nothing to say.
In the documents of the Fifth Congress future guerrilla actions are discussed down to the fine point of how many men the Argentine government will have to deploy against each rural guerrilla unit. The documents include nothing, absolutely nothing—neither facts nor analysis—on the concrete class struggle taking place in Argentina. Of the fifty-six pages of their report on the decisions of the Fifth Congress, they devote less than three pages (pages 31-33) to the mass movement. The section entitled “Resolution on Work Within the Trade Union and Mass Movements” does not mention the CGT even once. Nor does it mention any strike, any tendency, or any union! Instead it merely repeats the standard generalities used by the PRT (Combatiente) about fighting for all trade-union demands, fighting for the leadership of the mass organizations, penetrating the masses, and so on.
The failure of the Fifth Congress to so much as mention the events taking place in the class struggle, still less offer a political line for active intervention in those events, is not exceptional for the PRT (Combatiente). In the fifteen issues of Combatiente that were published in 1971 (we have not been able to obtain two of them, numbers 52 and 54), very few articles deal with the labor movement in Argentina. Combatiente is unconcerned about analyzing specific struggles. Some happenings do find a reflection in the papers of Combatiente, but only thinly. The January issue carried a reportage directed to the workers of Fiat in Córdoba. The September issue commented on the SITRAC-SITRAM conference in Córdoba. The December issue featured a critique of the class-struggle tendency as reflected in the SITRAC-SITRAM conferences. A line on intervening in the class struggle is conspicuous by its absence. Reports or comments on the strikes sweeping the country from one end to the other do not seem to reach the editors.
The organ of the ERP Estrella Roja (Red Star) is loaded with details about the “armed actions” going on, such as the distribution of milk and sausages. No doubt a narrow audience finds this interesting reading but it has little if anything to do with the class struggle in Argentina.
If we check La Verdad for the same period in 1971 when it, too, was being published in the underground, a totally different picture of the events in Argentina emerges. In that year no less than 250 articles dealt with concrete working-class struggles. The development of various trade-union currents is presented, specific actions are reported, suggestions on line are carefully delineated.
The articles in La Verdad are not mere commentaries. They reflect the real participation of the PRT (La Verdad) in the class struggle.
Despite their limited numbers, the comrades of PRT (La Verdad) intervened in almost every major class conflict. Members were active in all kinds of strikes, including Chrysler, Petroquimica, the telephone workers, and the national bank. They were present as part of the mass movement in the SITRAC-SITRAM conferences, in the student mobilizations in Tucuman, La Plata, and the mass mobilizations in Mar del Plata. They were in the forefront in organizing united-front efforts against the repression and in presenting a class-struggle alternative in the heat of battle in the General Roca uprising.
At every turn they sought to present the required transitional, democratic, or immediate demands fitted to the needs and consciousness of the workers. They sought to use the tactic of the united front to put the masses in motion on a principled basis. They raised slogans designed to help the workers gain a clearer understanding of the political tasks and of the need to organize defense units as a step toward armed struggle on a mass scale.
In answer to the maneuver of the Latiusse government to divert the masses with parliamentary elections, it was the PRT (La Verdad) that presented a class alternative through the Socialist and Workers Pole. The party always seeks to mobilize and organize the masses and to build the party through the method embodied in the Transitional Program. It is this political realty that is reflected in the statistics of its articles in La Verdad.
The comrades of the PRT (Combatiente) place totally different emphasis on what should be done in Argentina. They are, of course, supported in this by the leaders of the majority in the United Secretariat, Comrade Livio Maitan brought this out very clearly in his article in the April 26, 1971, issue of Intercontinental Press, “Political Crisis and Revolutionary Struggle in Argentina.”
“Organizations devoted to armed struggle have won considerable influence and staged spectacular actions,” he wrote. “The lessons of May 1969 and the latest repressions have made clear to thousands, and tens of thousands of workers that class struggle in Argentina has now reached the level of armed confrontation and that the military dictatorship can be combated only by revolutionary violence.” (P. 388.)
Comrade Maitan specifies what he means by “revolutionary violence” as the only means to combat the military dictatorship:
“These actions, which have come in rapid succession since the start of the year, especially in February and the first half of March, and which have made a very great impression on the daily and weekly bourgeois press, can be categorized as follows:
“a. Actions aimed at acquiring funds by expropriations carried out in the old Bolshevik tradition (the most spectacular stroke was the one in Córdoba which, according to the Argentinian press, brought its organizers 121,000,000 pesos [350 old pesos equal US$1].
“b. Actions aimed at acquiring arms and medical supplies (the most spectacular stroke in this area was at a clinic in Buenos Aires).
“c. Actions designed to win the sympathies of the most deprived strata by handing out food (meat, milk, etc.) taken from big distributing firms.
“d. Actions linked to workers’ struggles (the most important so far was the one carried out by an armed detachment which invaded the FIAT factory in Córdoba and held a meeting there).” (P. 388.)
These actions are in strict accordance with the concept guiding the PRT (Combatiente). Comrade Maitan continues:
“All these actions have effectively achieved their objective of armed propaganda. At the present time the ERP is the best-known revolutionary organization and has won very broad sympathy—in some big plants, too. From the technical point of view, even the enemy has had to recognize that the ERP has scored some points.” (P. 388.)
To settle any doubts that may still exist as to the basic identity of the line of the PRT (Combatiente) and the line of the majority, Comrade Maitan specifies that it is an extension, a practical application, of the “turn” voted for at the Ninth World Congress:
“The strategic perspective the Argentine comrades are following is the one laid down by the Ninth World Congress of the Fourth International—elaborated and made more precise by the last two national congresses of the PRT—of a prolonged armed struggle, a revolutionary war, which might involve the intervention of the imperialists and thus could not be waged without profound ties to, and increasing participation by, the masses.” (P. 388.)
Whether the leaders of the PRT (Combatiente) would agree with Comrade Maitan that the ultimate source of their line is the Ninth World Congress may well be doubted—they give credit for the original thinking to Mao Tsetung, General Giap, Kim Il Sung, and above all Comandante Guevara. But it is true that they share with Comrade Maitan the error of rating their “armed actions” as the most important development in the class struggle in Argentina.
So far we have dealt with the different orientations guiding the work of the two organizations. The PRT (La Verdad) is engaged in advancing the banners of Trotskyism in the trade unions and the mass movement. The PRT (Combatiente) is engaged in forming clandestine armed groups under political banners intended to be broad enough to attract various and even contradictory tendencies (from the Fourth International to the Maoists).
Although both groups are committed formally to fighting for the political independence of the working class from the bourgeoisie, the PRT (Combatiente) has been evolving away from the Trotskyist position on this question. To disregard the importance of a clear line on independent political action is quite characteristic of all the guerrilla-oriented groups in Latin America. It is one of the negative aspects of Castroism.
The programmatic stand of the PRT (La Verdad) on this question is completely clear—for the independence of the working class, against any programmatic concessions to the bourgeoisie, against any political blocs with any sector of the ruling class or its appendages. The PRT (La Verdad) is firmly opposed politically to the Allende regime in Chile and all other bourgeois nationalist regimes in Latin America or elsewhere.
“We believe that the essential thing is to struggle for the political independence of the labor movement. In Argentina you cannot speak seriously of either a revolution or socialism while the workers remain under the political influence of bourgeois parties and leaders, and especially of Perón and Perónism.” (La Verdad, No. 299 November 1, 1971.)
“That this strike should not be utilized by the bureaucrats, who only want to bring pressure to bear against the government to help out the Frondizi wing. That this strike should likewise not be utilized in behalf of the UCR of the People [Radical Party], nor for the Perónist leadership, including General Perón, the one most responsible for the defeats suffered by the labor movement in the past fifteen years.
“This strike must be the starting point for the independent political organization of the workers, culminating in a government of the workers and the people.” (“Declaration of the PRT on the 36-Hour Strike.” La Verdad, No. 243, November 10, 1970. Emphasis added.)
On the question of Chile, which has served to test some tendencies in a rather decisive way, the PRT (La Verdad) took an unequivocal stand:
“Objectively the Allende government is not a workers government. Contrary to what the CP and the MIR believe, Allende has not gone beyond the limits of nationalism. The very important nationalizations carried out in the country, even though they are the most powerful blows dealt imperialism in the Southern Cone, have not liquidated the capitalist system based on private property.” (Avanzada Socialista, No. 25, August 16, 1972.)
The attitude of the PRT (Combatiente) toward the Allende government, like their attitude in general toward the formation of governmental or programmatic blocs with sectors of the bourgeoisie, is confused to say the least.
This is most clearly reflected in the stands they have taken with regard to the Allende government and to the Broad Front in Uruguay, although it is also apparent in some of their recent declarations on political developments in Argentina.
On the Chilean situation, the PRT (Combatiente) indicates where it stands by supporting the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria politically. In their interview with Punto Final, for example, Comrades Santucho and Gorriaran stated: “Our modest opinion of the Chilean situation is that the correct line and approach for the victory of the revolution in Chile is that of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left.” (Intercontinental Press, November 27, 1972, p. 1319.)
The leaders of the PRT (Combatiente) have quoted the positions adopted by the MIR at length without commenting even on the MIR’s support for Allende.
As for Uruguay, the PRT (Combatiente) took their line from the Tupamaros, who supported the bourgeois candidates in the struggle over slates within the Frente Amplio. The leaders of the PRT (Combatiente) made it clear that in their opinion the Tupamaros had adopted an essentially correct position.
As for the criticisms of the PRT (Uruguay) made by Hansen in the December 13, 1971, issue of Intercontinental Press, they disagreed. It will be recalled that Hansen solidarized with the objectives of the Uruguayan comrades who entered the Frente Amplio in order to fight from within for independent political action and in opposition to running bourgeois candidates. He criticized the continuation of this tactical course once the leaders of the Frente Amplio imposed as a requirement for participating in the formation the inclusion of the names of the top bourgeois candidates on the slates of all the tendencies. The leaders of the PRT (Combatiente) held that Hansen’s position was sectarian.
The question was not unimportant. Class lines were involved. The comrades of the PRT (Uruguay) were engaged in carrying out a tactic aimed at advancing the principle of independent political action by pressing for a working-class slate. The Tupamaros entered the Frente Amplio because it was the popular thing to do. They did not join the fight for a working-class slate, although their participation would have been of considerable aid. Instead, they went along with the game of putting up bourgeois candidates. The PRT (Combatiente) leaders stood with them, declaring their support for the line of the Tupamaros.
More recently the Tupamaros have gone even further, offering to support the bourgeois armed forces who have been implacably hunting them down, if the generals would only move toward setting up a government to reconstruct the nation.
“There can be no doubt that if the armed forces, or whoever, would initiate or help to initiate a road toward national reconstruction they would find us unconditionally at their side. We remain ready for any kind of contacts and we will wait for a reply to this note until July 17 at 6 p.m.” (“Report on Negotiations with the Armed Forces.” Correo Tupamaros, July 5, 1972.)
This may, of course, be the Tupamaros’s idea of a tactical stunt, aimed at showing up the top commanders of the armed forces (as if they needed to be exposed!). Back of the maneuver, however, lurks a completely unprincipled position. The Tupamaros are open to reversing their guerrilla orientation. If a coup were to put in a junta that followed the Peruvian model of General Velasco, the leaders of the Tupamaros have given advance notice that they will change overnight like Hector Bejar and others in Peru.
What about the leaders of the PRT (Combatiente)? Will such opportunistic intimations on the part of the Tupamaros cause them to modify their opposition to the Fourth International’s attempting to construct a section in Uruguay? This remains to be seen.
The PRT (Combatiente) leaders have not extended their deviations from Trotskyism on this question to the Argentine political scene. Yet some of their formulations are hardly reassuring. Examples are to be found in the editorial statement “Revolutionists and the Democratization of the Country” which was published in the May, 1972, issue of El Combatiente. The editorial correctly suggests that revolutionists must take advantage of legal openings, but it also discusses making alliances with bourgeois forces. The nature of these alliances is never clarified. To speak of “progressive bourgeois sectors” that “can have an interest in the revolution” is certain to spread confusion if more than that is not actually implied:
“As we can see, our perspective for making alliances with reformist parties and groups and other nonproletarian forces is of vital importance for the development of the immediate struggle of the proletariat.
“The solution to this problem of alliances can be seen in the fact that these parties and groups (CP, socialists, Christians, PCR, VC, rank-and-file Perónism, Radical Left, etc.) represent certain working-class sectors, and essentially sectors of the petty bourgeoisie and progressive bourgeois sectors, that is, sectors that suffer from the political and economic oppression of the regime and can have an interest in the revolution, but not with sufficient consistency to be able to lead it forward.” (“PRT’s Position on ’Democratization’ in Argentina,” Intercontinental Press, July 31, 1972, p. 903.)
The consolidation of industrial unionism in Argentina during the Perón regime a quarter of a century ago made an indelible impression on the masses. Perón came to power after a period of relative prosperity arising from Argentina’s remoteness from the scenes of battle in World War II and its ability to take advantage of a profitable market. Perón had the wherewithal to grant considerable concessions to the masses. Among the consequences were the fastening of a powerful bureaucracy on the labor movement and the instilling of deep illusions among the masses with regard to the capacity of a bourgeois nationalist regime to meet their most pressing needs.
In the interests of Argentine capitalism, Perón sought to maneuver among the imperialist powers. To accomplish this he encouraged the partial mobilization of the masses, but under the strict control of a government-dominated bureaucracy and readiness to resort to repressive measures should this be required.
Perón’s policy of standing up to imperialism while supporting and strengthening Argentine capitalism ended in a blind alley, as was inevitable. Perón opposed independent mobilization and arming of the working class, the only class willing and able to confront imperialism in a showdown. He maintained and built up an officer caste loyal to the national bourgeoisie, which in turn is tied to imperialism through the world market. Thus Perón prepared the way for the extensive penetration of American capital both economically and politically in Argentina. Similarly he prepared the way for his own downfall at the hands of his subordinates in the army.
Because the coup d’etat of 1955 was proimperialist, the masses were deprived of the opportunity of seeing Perón’s own relationship to imperialism become exposed. Their faith in him remained unaltered throughout the seventeen years of his exile.
Perónism has, of course, suffered erosion. But this has been measured in the weakening of the position of the labor bureaucracy which has betrayed the working class under every regime since Perón was toppled. This process has not yet led to the dissipation of nationalist illusions or of illusions in Perón as an individual. Perón’s return to Argentina, however, favors speeding up this process under present conditions.
Perónism is the expression of a deep contradiction in Argentine politics. It is based on the existence of a very powerful labor movement that has never been defeated so far as the existence of its mass organizations and its high level of combativity is concerned. At the same time, Perónism ties the working class politically to capitalism through a bourgeois party.
The inevitable failure of any “nationalist” course to solve the problems besetting the working class and its allies signifies a very favorable objective situation for the Argentine revolutionary-socialist movement provided that it is deeply embedded in the mass movement and offers a clear programmatic alternative to all the nationalist and populist combinations.
At the same time the illusions among the masses concerning Perón and Perónism constitute a standing danger to our own movement, since our ranks cannot be sealed off from the milieu in which they work. This requires absolute clarity on the nature of Perónism and constant alertness to its invidiousness.
This problem is well understood by the PRT (La Verdad) in view of its rich experience in mass work in organizations dominated by Perónism. The PRT (La Verdad) teaches its members in the Marxist tradition of insisting on the independence of the working-class movement against any and all blocs with the nationalist bourgeoisie. Precisely because of the opening that has been developing on the electoral front, the PRT (La Verdad) has been stressing its opposition to any populist, nationalist, or popular-front formation that seeks to induce the workers into turning away from independent political action and voting for bourgeois candidates as in the case of the Frente Amplio in Uruguay and the Unidad Popular in Chile.
That is why the Workers and Socialist Pole, for which the PSA is campaigning in the projected elections is of such importance at the present conjuncture of the class struggle. In opposition to the Communist Party’s popular front and the “anti-imperialist” coalition called for by the Lambertists of Politica Obrera, the comrades of the PSA are calling on the working class not to cross class lines at the polls.
As for the comrades of the PRT (Combatiente) they appear not to have given much thought to these complex questions. They were caught by surprise and now stand in confusion as to what to do in face of the electoral opening and Perón’s return to Argentina.
It is to be hoped that they will make the correct decision before too much time elapses and join in the campaign for a Workers and Socialist Pole.
In view of the fact that the rising movement of the masses was compelling the government to concede bit by bit on the legal front, the PRT (La Verdad) began searching in the most serious way for crevices that could be widened so as to permit the party to function more freely, that is, in a semilegal or legal way. The PRT (La Verdad) was the first organization in the Argentine underground to venture opening up semilegal headquarters and to begin taking advantage of the new possibilities that came with the downfall of Ongania.
When it became clear that the ruling class was seriously considering making a shift from military dictatorship to a parliamentary regime, however feeble or transient it might turn out to be, the PRT (La Verdad) recognized that this could be utilized to the advantage of the Trotskyist movement if a way could be found to function legally.
At the last congress of the PRT (La Verdad) in the fall of 1971, a decision was made to explore all possible avenues. Success was achieved through a principled agreement with the Partido Socialista Argentino (Coral wing) consisting essentially of a summary of Trotskyist positions based on the theory of permanent revolution and a series of immediate, democratic, and transitional demands. This principled agreement explicitly rejects any blocs with bourgeois formations for electoral purposes and instead calls for the formation of a Workers and Socialist Pole against all the bourgeois candidates, including the Communist party’s popular front (the Encuentro Nacional de los Argentines), the Perónists who dominate the labor movement, and other populist alternatives. (An English translation of the text appeared in Intercontinental Press, November 13, 1972.)
Once legality was attained, rapid growth became possible. The first big success was the affiliation of more than 40,000 workers and students to the PSA on the basis of the party’s new statement of principles. (“Affiliation” means registration as qualified voters adhering to the PSA.) The results of the affiliation campaign met the requirements for legality at the national level and in every major city except Mendoza. The party is now in legal position to run its own slates in the elections.
At a conference of the PSA held less than six months after the agreement was reached, the PRT (La Verdad) tendency was established as the majority. The Central Committee was formally organized on the basis of a two-thirds majority for the PRT (La Verdad). The real relationship of forces in the ranks, however, is more like ten to one in favor of the PRT (La Verdad). The Trotskyist tendency not only controls the new weekly Avanzada Socialista but all of the fifty headquarters opened up by the party.
The whole thrust of the PSA’s electoral campaign is centered on advancing the slogan of a Workers and Socialist Pole. The concept behind the slogan is to unite the militant organizations, currents, tendencies and individuals favoring the formation of a class-struggle current within the labor movement, and to do so in sharp opposition to all the electoral variants proposed by the ruling class. That is, the electoral tactic is nothing but an extension of the same work the PRT (La Verdad) has been carrying on in the unions and factory committees.
It is impossible to understand the importance of the Workers and Socialist Pole if we forget the defeat suffered by SITRAC-SITRAM and the difficulty the new oppositionist currents are experiencing in coalescing on a national scale. The central factors blocking formation of a nationwide left wing in the labor movement have been the relative smallness of the vanguard party, the PRT (La Verdad), and the deep entrenchment of the trade-union bureaucracy. The electoral opening helps cut through these difficulties.
First of all, it has enabled the party to grow rapidly, thus assuring deeper penetration of the unions and making it possible to exercise a more direct influence on spontaneously arising class-struggle currents. The mere fact that the party is able to publish a legal paper to orient the periphery is a great advantage. Upon gaining legality, the PSA immediately opened discussions in factory committees and with class-struggle militants throughout the country to bring them together under the Workers and Socialist Pole. Although the development has been uneven in different cities, legality has made it possible in general to reach more workers and factory committees in months than was previously possible in years. In addition it has made it possible for the party to become truly national with branches in almost every major city in Argentina.
It would have been a most serious sectarian error to fail to take advantage of the legal opening or to reject taking advantage of the bourgeois elections. It would have paralyzed the growth of the party and put its vanguard role in jeopardy.
The PRT (Combatiente), confronted with the new and unexpected reality has simply floundered. At the very time the PRT (La Verdad) began probing the new openings and setting up semilegal headquarters, Comrade Maitan was assuring the Fourth International that while turns in the Argentine political situation offering opportunities for legal or semilegal activities could not be “absolutely excluded” nevertheless they were “improbable.” (“Political Crisis and Revolutionary Struggle in Argentina,” Intercontinental Press, April 26, 1971, p. 388-89.) The resolution on Latin America passed at the Ninth World Congress forecast a growing trend of repression on a continental scale and gave no indication of what those who were preparing for rural guerrilla war should do in case things didn’t quite turn out as predicted in all countries.
Caught between a sectarian schema and a reality that proved to be richer than counted on, the PRT (Combatiente) has tried to straddle. One must take advantage of the legal openings but on the other hand one must continue with “revolutionary war”:
“These legal or semilegal struggles, and this use of bourgeois legality, must be inseparably linked to the development of revolutionary war, to the independent building of the Revolutionary Party of the Workers and the Revolutionary Army of the People.” (“PRT’s Position on ’Democratization’ in Argentina,” Intercontinental Press, July 31, 1972, pp. 903-04.)
Downswing or upturn in the class struggle, military dictatorship or parliamentary regime—the PRT (Combatiente) is indifferent. They have enough to handle with building their “army” and conducting “revolutionary war.”
Yet they are capable of an extra exertion. Without any relation to the process of mass struggle in the country, the PRT (Combatiente) suddenly announced the establishment of “rank and file” committees to involve the masses. The committees, according to the announcement, are to function legally or semilegally while at the same time supporting “revolutionary war.” Naturally only a limited number of committees have appeared and their size is equally limited. This is generally what happens when sectarians try to set up their own mass organizations instead of working in those already in existence.
The “turn” at the Ninth World Congress resulted, among other things, in the comrades of the majority giving up the Marxist concept of armed struggle in favor of Guevara’s concept. The Marxist concept has been succinctly summarized by Trotsky in the Transitional Program. The orientation is armed struggle on a mass scale. The training and arming of the masses in this field begins on the most elementary level with pickets. It reaches its highest level in the formation of a workers militia. Another process occurs concomitantly. This is the disintegration of the bourgeois army, which begins on a propagandistic level among the ranks. Both processes require the guidance of a Leninist-type party. Its presence hinges on being deeply rooted in the masses and growing as the masses mature politically.
Guevara’s concept was quite different. In his opinion all of Latin America was so ripe for revolution objectively that all that was needed was a small determined nucleus to begin armed action on a small scale and the masses would respond. Hundreds of fighters would join the rebel forces, and as these forces grew, the masses would supply them logistically. In a prolonged war, the guerrillas would little by little gain the upper hand and defeat the bourgeois army. Thus Guevara advocated arming a small vanguard group and carrying out actions that would win the sympathy of the masses.
The Marxist concept is that the vanguard, by participating in the daily struggle of the masses and winning them to the program of socialism, can in the heat of mass mobilizations and struggle bring them to the point of engaging in armed struggle on a scale so massive as to sweep over every obstacle.
Clearly these two concepts lead to diametrically opposite approaches to the masses.
The Marxist concept requires concentrating on penetrating the mass movement and gearing into their actual struggles through immediate, democratic, and transitional demands. Each demand is right or wrong at a given moment, depending on the objective situation and the consciousness and mood of the masses, all of which must be carefully observed, studied, and taken into account.
The Guevarist concept requires setting up small armed units that engage in action regardless of the consciousness and mood of the masses. (The Guevarists, of course, regard these as being given, as not changing in any decisive way, except perhaps to become more favorable, so that they can be ruled out as largely irrelevant in considering the military problem.) From this it follows that the armed units can be set up in isolation from the mass movement and without paying much attention to its current leadership (whether reactionary or otherwise), for the masses will come directly to the “revolutionary army” by-passing all the human obstacles standing in the way of the socialist revolution.
This is one of the deepest and most pervading errors of the Guevarists. In trying to find a shortcut to organizing the subjective factor in the revolutionary process, they disregard the problem of overcoming the present subjective level of the masses and the grip of misleaders of all stripes, ranging from pseudolefts, union bureaucrats, and bourgeois demagogues to the minions of the church. In actuality the Guevarists assume that the problem is already solved—the masses are already committed to socialism in their minds; all they require is to learn the technique of handling the gun and how and where to get it.
That is why the Guevarists consider that guerrilla war can be started virtually any time and any place where the government is dictatorial, and with a minimum of forces. (Here they provide another example of where the minimum tends to become the maximum.) The situation is so explosive, as they see it, that this is all that is needed to serve as a detonator. Moreover this holds true for the entire continent. The PRT (Combatiente) consequently urges the initiation of guerrilla war in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and everywhere else. It complains that most of the sections of the Fourth International are only paying lip service to the decisions of the Ninth World Congress. What is holding them back? Why don’t they get going?
No matter what the status of the class struggle may be, whether in an upturn or a downswing, guerrilla war is in order. The permanent prerevolution is not affected by the ups and downs of the class struggle. Thus in absolute contradiction to the Marxist concept on this question, the PRT (Combatiente) frankly asserts:
“Armed struggle is not initiated simply as the corollary to a triumphant popular insurrection. It can start as a defensive reaction of the masses and their vanguard under circumstances of a pronounced downturn in the class struggle.” (“The Only Road to Workers’ Power and Socialism,” International Information Bulletin, No. 4, October, 1972, p. 14.)
As can be seen, the Guevarist concept is at bottom a variety of ultraleft sectarianism, which does not mean, of course, that its practitioners are guaranteed against falling into opportunism.
We have considered the results of applying the Guevarist concept in Bolivia. Let us now turn to Argentina.
The PRT (Combatiente) is refreshingly frank about its concept of armed struggle stemming directly from the views of Che Guevara. It regards the situation in Argentina as being permanently prerevolutionary. The task for the vanguard, however small it may be, is to begin armed struggle even though at first the only ones to engage in armed actions are the party cadres. These cadres, it must be clearly understood, lack any mass base. But that is not decisive, according to this way of thinking. The PRT (Combatiente) is convinced that once the armed struggle is launched, it will inevitably grow, making it possible to build a mass army and to defeat the bourgeois army on the field of battle.
For the PRT (Combatiente) a complex transitional process is not required to arm the masses. It is done gun by gun, through the establishment of independent, autonomous, armed units that then grow “from small to big, starting with a handful of combatants and drawing in on a widening scale the people as a whole.” (Estrella Roja, No. 11, March, 1972.)
Once armed action is initiated by a small group isolated from the mass movement a terrible logic sets in. The armed actions, the bank robberies, the attacks on police stations, the kidnappings, assassinations, and all the rest, make it virtually impossible for the cadres to engage in mass work, as Comrade Gonzalez noted in Bolivia. To do fruitful work among the masses requires being with them, sharing their experiences. To engage in guerrilla activities requires a certain separation, if for no other reason than to maintain the underground apparatus and to guard against its being unravelled by the police.
While mass work always entails a certain risk for revolutionists, the risk is enormously multiplied when the organization they belong to declares a private war against the armed forces of the bourgeois state. Proselytizing and recruiting become highly dangerous. While these problems may not be as acute for students or members of the professions, workers are aware of how vulnerable they are as individuals. Rather than join such an organization, they are inclined most often to wait until something comes along in which they can at least feel the strength and power of numbers.
Thus it is not surprising that the history of the class struggle in Argentina for the past four years shows that the PRT (Combatiente) has remained on the sidelines. It “supports” the workers—by giving money, by disarming factory guards, by other actions—but it has never led the workers in a single strike, a single demonstration. It has never been able to organize a tendency in the trade unions.
A crucial question becomes more and more acute for such Guevarist groups—how to “link up” with the masses. This becomes their central preoccupation. And because they cannot find a solution to this problem they become ripe for disintegration or for a turn toward opportunism. What they fail to see is that their very concept of armed struggle blocks them from forming organic ties with the masses.
They try all kinds of experiments. They try to win the masses by giving them bottles of milk and meat. In kidnappings, they seek publicity of a kind to demonstrate to the masses that they really care. They become paternalistic, referring to themselves as the “army of the people,” the only force that “protects” and “defends” the poor.
Yet none of this seems to solve the problem of how to link up with the masses.
The ultraleft guerrilla line of the PRT (Combatiente) is just as disastrous with respect to gaining a base in the armed forces. Following the perspective of building their own army bit by bit, the PRT (Combatiente) comrades do not project working within the bourgeois armed forces. Instead, they urge soldiers to desert individually. Thus they repeat an error made by the Bolivian comrades. Here is how they put it:
“Nevertheless we know that within the enemy ranks honest but mistaken persons can be found who want to help the people. All those military men and functionaries of the regime who really want to serve the people, who feel that they are part of the people, and who identify with them in the injustices inflicted on them should abandon the enemy ranks. Only in the army of the people can they place all their patriotism and energy at the service of the workers and the people.” (“On the Armed Forces,” Estrella Roja, No. 7, October, 1971.)
Again, as in Bolivia, the comrades of the PRT (Combatiente) have offered dissident members of the armed forces the perspective of joining not an army but a small group of guerrilla fighters.
It should be noted, however, that these comrades do not consider the ERP to be a small group. They refer to it as a “mass” organization. This is not because of its size—it is hardly larger than the PRT (Combatiente) itself—but because the only criterion that must be met to join the ERP is hatred of the dictatorship and willingness to bear arms.
Despite the image of the ERP held by the leaders of the PRT (Combatiente), members of the armed forces inevitably see it for what it is—a small group of guerrillas without any real perspective for success in the military field or anywhere else in the immediate future. The civilian battalions have mobilized only partially and sporadically. They have not turned toward the task of dissolving the army. Thus the soldiers in the armed forces do not hear the voice of the masses nor feel their pressure in any direct way. Moreover, the PRT (Combatiente) has rejected doing the necessary preliminary, preparatory work among the ranks of the armed forces. It is not following the model set by Lenin and Trotsky in the Russian revolution of battling for the minds of the troops. It calls on the few who may sympathize with its aims to desert.
We reiterate—one of the main errors in Bolivia is being repeated in Argentina!
The full concretization of the “turn” adopted at the Ninth World Congress came with the kidnapping of Stanley Sylvester, the manager of the Swift de la Plata meatpacking company, on May 30, 1971, the kidnapping of Oberdan Sallustro, the general manager of Fiat Concord, on March 21, 1972, his assassination on April 10, and the assassination on the same day of General Juan Carlos Sanchez. The operations of the PRT (Combatiente) had reached the level of terrorism.
The Marxist movement from its very beginning has always rejected the use of terrorism against individual capitalists or their representatives. The reason is simple. It disorganizes and miseducates the mass movement as to the correct means of struggle, and provides unnecessary excuses to the enemy for responding in kind, particularly in repressing the mass movement. Only under the conditions of civil war, when the rules of war apply, can terrorism be considered as a tactical adjunct to armed struggle on a mass scale.
The excuse used by the PRT (Combatiente) for resorting to the use of terrorism against selected individuals is that a state of civil war exists in Argentina. As we have seen, this is not so. Even the most ardent defenders of the course followed by the PRT (Combatiente) are doubtful that a state of civil war actually exists in Argentina. Comrade Maitan would not go beyond saying that it is “at least partial civil war.” (See the April 13, 1972, press release of the Gruppi Comunisti Rivoluzionari, Italian section of the Fourth International, on the kidnapping of Sallustro.) Comrade Mandel seems to favor the formulation “a country on the verge of civil war,” to judge from an article that appeared in the April 21, 1972, issue of La Gauche.
The kidnapping of Sallustro is a clear case of terrorism. An individual manager is taken by force and threatened with execution (which is carried out) unless a high ransom is paid and certain reforms are granted to a sector of the masses. The gravity of this development for the Fourth International lies chiefly in the fact that this terrorist act is supported and publicly hailed by some of the most prominent journals in the Trotskyist movement.
One of the most forthright statements was made by Rood, the Flemish newspaper of the Ligue Révolutionnaire des Travailleurs, Belgian section of the Fourth International.
“How do revolutionists view terrorist actions? Why did we condemn the kidnapping of the French Renault official Nogrette and endorse the action in Argentina? A terrorist action is only ’the continuation by other means’ of the ’normal’ activity of revolutionary militants. It is beneficial insofar as it arouses the militancy of the workers, fires their hatred of the established order, and exposes the weaknesses of the prevailing system (e.g., the actions of the Tupamaros).” (Rood, March 30, 1972.)
The Maoist kidnapping of Nogrette in Paris was incorrect, according to Rood. “It is still an exception for a worker to be shot down at Renault, even if this is the path the French bosses intend to follow in the future. The mass of French workers do not see this. They still have illusions. As long as the mass of the workers harbor such illusions, terrorist acts can only widen the gulf between the revolutionists and the masses. . . In Argentina the action carried out by our comrades of the Revolutionary People’s Army has so far had a different result.” (Ibid.)
To the comrades who edit Rood, individual terrorism is correct if the government is repressive and the action is popular. That would make most of the actions of the Russian terrorists “correct.” Why then aid all the Marxists of those days oppose them so vigorously? The comrades on the staff of Rood should consider this. In any case, they wrote accurately and honestly in characterizing the actions of the PRT (Combatiente) as terrorist.
The comrades of the PRT (Combatiente), in accordance with the schema of “revolutionary war,” visualized the kidnapping of Sallustro as having an impact equal to that of the uprising of the masses in Mendoza. “The development of the war of the people found its point of maximum expression in the kidnapping of Oberdan Sallustro and the victorious struggle of the masses of Mendoza. Each act delivered a harsh blow to the dictatorship of the monopolies, proving its fragility, which compels it each time to resort to more measures of brutal, cruel repression, as its only response to the just demands of the people.” (Combatiente, No. 68, April 8, 1972.)
The kidnapping of Sylvester won a measure of popularity for the ERP—at least for a time—since the ruling circles accepted the ransom demands. However, after two months the management of the Swift meat-packing plant reintroduced the same conditions as those that motivated the kidnapping. How little the kidnapping altered the consciousness of the workers was demonstrated by the fact that after applauding the distribution of food and clothing they voted for the reactionary trade-union bureaucrats.
The PRT (La Verdad) headed an opposition within the plant. The PRT (Combatiente) found itself caught in a somewhat embarrassing position. Having set things right in the plant through its own methods, yet having no base among the workers there, what position should it take toward the union elections? Fortunately, the comrades of the PRT (Combatiente) made the right decision; they publicly urged the workers to vote for the opposition led by the PRT (La Verdad). This is the only time they have made such a move.
In the Sallustro affair, the public attitude toward the ERP was not condemnatory. Yet it could hardly be called enthusiastic. As the spectators followed the events on television or in the press, they displayed little sympathy for Sallustro, although his impending execution aroused emotions. Blame for his fate fell largely on Lanusse because of his blocking negotiations between company officials and the ERP. But the spectators felt little personal involvement. The kidnapping did not appear to affect their own situation and problems.
The government utilized the kidnapping and execution for its own reactionary ends, that is, as an excuse for new repressive measures that resulted in high and bitter casualties among the cadres of the PRT (Combatiente). Another consequence was the further isolation of the comrades of the PRT (Combatiente) precisely when openings for legal activities demanded exploration.
It is worth noting that at least up to now the leaders of the Cuban revolution have held a position on kidnappings and assassinations perceptibly different from that of the PRT (Combatiente). In a long speech, made in Havana on March 13, 1967, Fidel Castro explained the Cuban attitude on this subject. The occasion was the kidnapping and assassination of a former Venezuelan government official, Dr. Julio Iribarren Borges, described by the Associated Press as “perhaps the most hated man in Venezuela at this time.” The circumstances were as follows:
On March 1, 1967, three guerrilla fighters forced Iribarren into an automobile which then drove off at full speed. On March 3, the Caracas police reported that they had found his body. There were three bullet wounds in the back. The police said that they had also found leaflets beside Iribarren’s body signed by the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberation National.
The leader of the FALN, Comandante Elias Manuitt Camero, who was in Havana at the time, issued a press release on March 4 stating that the “execution” had been carried out by his organization as an application of “revolutionary justice.”
“With each application of revolutionary justice,” Manuitt continued, “the assassins of the tyrannical government find no lack of echo to their laments among their followers and even among those who pretend to be neutral or in the camp of the opposition. But the people support and hail each one of these actions.”
Manuitt did not state what evidence showed that the people had hailed and supported the killing of Iribarren. If he was making an “educated guess,” it was not borne out by any significant rise in recruitment to the FALN.
“We will continue to fight a war to the death against the enemies of our people,” he promised, “whether they are directly or indirectly implicated in the situation existing in Venezuela.”
He ended by affirming how the existence of an “armed vanguard” had rescued the people of Venezuela from a “helpless” position:
“None of Leoni’s repressive measures, the new suspension of constitutional guarantees, the arrests, the tortures, and the assassinations [of revolutionists] will be of any avail. The people of Venezuela are no longer helpless; they have an armed vanguard, firmly consequent and decisive, that will protect them at all times, avenge their dead and lead them to final victory, which is no other than their definitive and total independence.”
The Leoni government utilized the killing of Iribarren to step up the repression. Constitutional guarantees were again suspended, forty-eight hours after they had been restored.
The Venezuelan Communist Party turned the incident to account in its own treacherous way. Under guise of denouncing the anti-Marxist nature of such actions as the kidnapping and assassination of Iribarren, the Venezuelan Communist Party broke decisively from its previous involvement in guerrilla war, and headed toward resumption of its “peaceful coexistence” line and engagement in the game of parliamentary politics.
The Leoni regime took advantage of the kidnapping and assassination of Iribarren to open an international campaign against the Cuban government, alleging that the deed had been inspired by Havana.
Castro had no choice but to reply. He presented the main facts, including Manuitt’s statement cited above, and then opened a counterattack. This consisted of a denunciation of the “rightist” line of the leaders of the Venezuelan Communist Party and their opportunistic support of the Leoni regime, plus a scorching analysis of the witch-hunt that had been opened against Cuba.
Castro took up the defense of the Venezuelan guerrillas in no uncertain terms; but he also did something else—he criticized them publicly. This section of his speech is highly pertinent to the subject we are discussing. The full text of Castro’s speech can be found in Intercontinental Press; the paragraphs of particular interest are as follows:
“What attitude must we revolutionaries assume before any revolutionary deed? We may disagree with a concrete method, with a concrete deed; it is possible to disagree with the method of liquidating this former government official. As I said, we know nothing about him—whether he was hated, as the AP says, or not; whether or not he was responsible for measures taken against the revolutionaries.
“Our opinion is that revolutionaries must avoid procedures which may give the enemy ammunition: killing a man who has been kidnapped. We never did this sort of thing no matter how great our outrage at the ferocity of the enemy. And in combat, we knew how to deal with prisoners with serenity.
“Revolutionaries must avoid procedures which are similar to those of the repressive police. We do not know the circumstance of this death, we do not know who were responsible; we do not even know whether or not it was produced accidentally, whether or not it was really an act of revolutionaries. Our sincere opinion—and to give one’s sincere opinion is a right of any revolutionary—is that, if it was the revolutionaries, we consider it to have been a mistake. It was a mistake to use this type of procedure that the enemy can use to full advantage before public opinion, that may remind the people of enemy procedures.
“The entire world knows the behavior of the Revolution, knows that we have revolutionary laws, and severe ones. We have never mistreated a prisoner. We have made strict laws, and our revolutionary courts sentence serious offenders against the Revolution and our nation to capital punishment, but not once has a man been found dead on a highway, in a ditch, or in a park.
“The Revolution acts within given revolutionary forms and respects those forms. Even in dealing with people who have committed heinous crimes, we have always insisted upon proper procedure. This is our criterion.
“It is perfectly legitimate for a revolutionary to disagree with a deed, a method, a concrete aspect. What is immoral, what is unrevolutionary, is to make use of a given deed in order to join the hysterical chorus of the reactionaries and imperialists to condemn the revolutionaries. (Applause.) If revolutionaries are responsible for this deed, we may give our opinion, but we may never join the hysterical chorus of the hangmen who govern in Venezuela, in order to condemn the revolutionaries.” (“Those Who Are Not Revolutionary Fighters Cannot Be Called Communists,” Intercontinental Press, March 31, 1967, pp. 346-47.)
Let us summarize Castro’s position: Revolutionists must avoid procedures that may give ammunition to the enemy or that are similar to those of the repressive police. The Cuban leaders never did that sort of thing no matter how great their outrage at the ferocity of the enemy. In the Cuban revolution, “not once has a man been found dead on a highway, in a ditch, or in a park.”
The revolution has its own forms of administering justice, which must be respected and observed, and they are not the same as the forms used by the enemy.
It is perfectly legitimate for revolutionists to publicly criticize a mistaken action or method that does injury to the revolutionary cause. What is impermissible is to “join the hysterical chorus of the reactionaries and imperialists to condemn the revolutionaries.”
Castro does not develop his point of view in depth nor link it up with the position on this question adopted long ago by the revolutionary Marxist movement. He offers only some observations of his own. However, in our opinion, these observations, drawn from the Cuban experience, are weighty and should not be dismissed by our movement, particularly by those who draw much of their thought on armed struggle from Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
Whether doubts have ever arisen in the minds of the comrades of the PRT (Combatiente) concerning the wisdom of their course, they have not voiced them. The role of the majority has hardly been of a kind to induce rethinking. In fact, the decision at the Ninth World Congress could only serve to remove doubts and to harden them in the mold of Guevarism. The contributions of the majority comrades since then have been of the same nature.
The resolution on Latin America affirmed the position of the PRT (Combatiente):
“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).” (“Resolution on Latin America,” Intercontinental Press, July 14, 1969, p. 720.)
This erroneous concept—which should be credited to Che Guevara—led Comrade Maitan in his last contribution to the discussion on Latin America, dated June 23, 1971, to hold that the way the Sylvester kidnapping was carried out showed that the PRT (Combatiente) was “linking up” with the masses. Comrade Maitan wrote:
“Concerning the kidnapping of manufacturer-consul Sylvester, there is a revealing detail on the comrades’ style of operation: they turned over to the press the tape on which they had recorded their accusations against the exploiter and the statements he made in his own defense. This material was used by the press. Those who operate in this fashion are clearly concerned above all with generating favorable responses from broad layers of the population. Moreover the Rosario operation and, more tellingly, the operation carried out at Fiat in Córdoba during the workers’ struggle there, demonstrates that our comrades are attempting to link up with the mass movements, integrating their actions into the dynamics of these movements.”)“Let’s Keep to the Issues, Let’s Avoid Diversions!” Discussion on Latin America, p. 174.)
An important article in the April 21, 1972, issue of La Gauche, which met with the approval of the editor Comrade Mandel, also declared for this incorrect concept of armed struggle. The article, aimed at justifying the course followed by the PRT (Combatiente) presented an inaccurate picture of the reality in Argentina:
“When the adversary systematically fires on any mass demonstration that displays the slightest radicalism; when he savagely represses any strike and any union that goes beyond reformist objectives, the concrete choice facing the militant workers is reduced in reality to three possibilities: either deliberately restrain the movement in order to avoid a bloody confrontation with the repressive forces, or consider as inevitable a confrontation between unarmed masses and repressive forces armed to the teeth or, without delay, to get on with preparing and organizing the arming of the masses.”
Referring to the Mendozazo, the article stated: ”. . . the workers had to confront bare-handed a band of assassins of the people, who fired without mercy on the crowds of workers and on their homes, massacring several dozen persons. But how to improvise on the spot the arming, organization, and tactics of self-defense groups?”
The eloquent description is in fact misleading for it indicated that the relationship of forces had reached the point where the ruling class felt it could stage massacres of masses while they were in motion without provoking a national crisis. As we have already pointed out this was not the situation in Argentina. In fact the alleged massacre of “several dozen persons” did not occur in the Mendozazo. The defense of the course of the PRT (Combatiente) was somewhat too eloquent.
The comrades of the PRT (Combatiente) came much closer to the truth. Instead of picturing the situation in Argentina as semifascist they admitted in a front-page editorial, written at the same time as the La Gauche article, that legal openings had appeared and that the bourgeoisie were moving toward a parliamentary bourgeois regime.
The relationships between the mass movement, the army ranks, and the ruling class were not pictured correctly in the article in La Gauche. The masses kept pouring into the streets precisely because they sensed that the ruling class was hesitant about attempting a showdown. The masses also sensed the hesitancy of the soldiers, who were reluctant to use their guns against their own people.
A vast struggle is going on in Argentina. The struggle involves the loyalty of the army ranks, the level of consciousness of the workers, the allegiance of the petty bourgeoisie. Lanusse is doing his utmost to convince the ruling class to close ranks and help divert the masses from taking the road of revolution. Perón at the age of seventy-seven is being utilized once again. The repression is carefully calculated, a fact completely at variance with the picture presented in the La Gauche article.
As to the three alternatives—demobilizing the masses, leading them into a massacre, or beginning to arm them—the answers suggested in the article are not without interest.
The first two alternatives are rejected. “There remains the last variant, which is the one proposed and applied by our Argentine comrades. The revolutionists construct autonomous and clandestine armed detachments, which are implanted in the mass movement as it matures and attains higher and higher levels, in order to stimulate the formation of broader and broader armed detachments, which they can fuse.”
The reference to “our Argentine comrades” is not, of course, to the Trotskyist PRT (La Verdad) but to the Castroist PRT (Combatiente). They are the ones putting into practice the “turn” adopted at the Ninth World Congress. You begin with “autonomous and clandestine armed detachments” and these grow, as Estrella Roja puts it, “from small to big.” When they are big they are implanted in the mass movement. Precisely how? We are not told. This is understandable. The contradiction between autonomous, clandestine detachments and the organizations of the mass movement has not yet been resolved by either the PRT (Combatiente) or the editor of La Gauche.
We are compelled to drop back to a simpler question. How will the detachments, small at first, grow broader and broader? The La Gauche article graphically describes how desirable it would be to have them grow that way:
“At the time of the Mendoza insurrection—where our comrades were not yet implanted—the presence of such armed detachments would have served as an organizing pole for the most advanced elements among the workers, each fighting cell, already trained and armed, becoming the organizer of a larger group of workers.”
But just how do you become implanted? And how do the detachments grow broader and broader? Just how? No answer is provided.
The more the La Gauche article is studied the stranger it seems. Consider the phrase: “the presence of such armed detachments” in Mendoza. What is meant by “presence”? Should the clandestine, autonomous groups come up out of the underground and fight a pitched battle with the government troops? Should they engage in a hit-and-run skirmish? Ambush a couple of soldiers? When is one of these variants the correct one? Is it always correct to attempt one of them in all the mass demonstrations in Argentina? Who is to decide? Should it be done unilaterally by an organization like the PRT (Combatiente) which doesn’t lead the mass movement? Which, in fact, has not yet discovered how to link up with the masses?
Probably with strategists like the editor of La Gauche in mind, Lenin wrote a small item entitled “Concerning Demonstrations” that ends with what could be called a moral:
“Precisely because a step like the transition to armed street fighting is a ’tough’ one and because it is ’inevitable, sooner or later,’ it can and should be taken only by a strong revolutionary organization which directly leads the movement.” (Collected Works. Vol. 6, p. 262. Emphasis in original.)
Lenin stresses as prerequisites to engaging in armed struggle the actual strength to lead demonstrations, have marshals, draw the onlookers into the action, approach the troops correctly, and have a strong revolutionary organization. The article in La Gauche projects only one prerequisite—the presence of clandestine, armed detachments that can become organizers of larger detachments.
Ironically, while the article affirms “our agreement with the general orientation of the PRT of developing the armed struggle,” it leaves in doubt whether the orientation has really made much of an advance in solving the main problem. It expresses “the hope that our comrades will find the means to link this struggle in the most intimate way to the development of the mass struggle. . .”
We have already considered how the guerrilla orientation heightens the difficulties of proselytizing and recruiting. The swiftness with which a guerrilla group can deploy its forces—one of the main advantages of this type of activity—is counterbalanced by its inherent incapacity to move rapidly into openings where fast recruitment becomes possible.
It should be noted in addition that an organization that concentrates on preparing for and engaging in guerrilla warfare experiences a considerable turnover in membership. Besides the requirements in sheer physical stamina, this type of activity, with the accompanying extreme nervous tension, is difficult to sustain over a prolonged period. It is quite true that certain persons find the atmosphere congenial and are attracted by an organization that provides excitement and risks of a high order. Even they, however, become worn out before long. All this makes for a slow rate of growth.
In Argentina this has been registered in the different rates of growth of the PRT (Combatiente) and the PRT (La Verdad). In 1969 at the time of the Ninth World Congress they were fairly equal in size, with the PRT (Combatiente) able to present a plausible case that it held a majority because of shifts to its favor in the voting of the Central Committee of the then common organization. Since 1969 the PRT (Combatiente) has been able to preempt the headlines in the bourgeois press and the coverage on television and radio. Nonetheless, the PRT (La Verdad) is now unquestionably much the larger organization, much better rooted in the masses and far more influential in the mass organizations (judging by objective criteria such as visible cadres, the running of left-wing slates in the unions, and the size, frequency, and circulation of publications).
The PRT (Combatiente), moreover, has suffered several obscure splits that have radically altered the composition of the leadership, two-thirds of the Central Committee that existed at the time of the Ninth World Congress having left the organization or been expelled. The PRT (La Verdad), in contrast, has shown stability in its leadership, has strengthened it by drawing in new youthful cadres, and has proved its attractiveness to other left-wing currents through its unification on a principled basis with the Coral wing of the Partido Socialista Argentino. [At a national congress held December 17, 1972, after this document was written, the PSA changed the name of the organization to Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores (PST-Socialist Workers Party) - note by authors.]
From the viewpoint of capacity to assemble the “minimum” number of cadres required for a higher level of political activities of whatever nature—and this is a very important if not decisive criterion—the PRT (Combatiente) has lagged far behind the PRT (La Verdad).
One of the worst disasters suffered by the PRT (Combatiente) has been the loss of key cadres at the hands of the butchers of the military dictatorship. This is one of the most painful sides of the Argentine experience. It has given anguish to the entire world Trotskyist movement.
The minority has felt these losses all the more bitterly because it foresaw their inevitability. We take no special credit for seeing what would happen. It had already occurred with a series of guerrilla groups in Latin America, including a force led by a master in guerrilla warfare, Che Guevara, backed by a state power. The minority felt that our movement had no need to vie with these groups in providing additions to the long list of martyrs.
It is not difficult to give funeral orations or to write eloquently on the spirit of self-sacrifice, the heroism, and dedication to the cause of socialism that motivated the young men and women who were massacred at Trelew or in other dungeons of the military dictatorship, or who were cut down in the flower of their youth in a futile raid. Such exercises find a popular echo in the far left, including sectors that are incapable of either an audacious action or a patient, sustained effort in the daily grind of the class struggle. It is less popular to differentiate politically from the martyrs and to try to drive home the lessons to be learned from their errors. We choose to follow that course even at the risk of being misunderstood for a time. And we propose to do our utmost to change an orientation that involves such a high and unnecessary cost in the lives of cadres.