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The New International, February 1939


Diego Rivera

Haya de la Torre and Democracy

A Program of a Militant Struggle or of Adaptation to American Imperialism


From The New International, Vol.5 No.2, February 1939, p.45.
Translated by Bernard Ross.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE AUGUST 1938 number of the Argentine review Claridad, publishes a letter on the Peruvian situation by Haya de la Torre. [1] We won’t apply either a Marxian or socialist criterion to this document; Haya de la Torre wrote the letter as a democrat and we shall consider it from that angle, primarily from the democratic point of view. A good democrat is better than a bad socialist, but precisely from this point of view, the letter of Haya de la Torre has great limitations.

It seems that Haya de la Torre limits the dangers which threaten Latin America only to Italy, German and Japan. He does not consider imperialism in general but only one of its varieties, fascism. He declares categorically: “In case of aggression, we all certainly think that the United States – the guardian of our liberty – will defend us.” Could it be irony? Of course not. Speaking of the possibility of intervention against the Latin-American continent by the fascist “aggressors”, the author declares: “While the United States is strong and alert, those dangers are not immediate but ... they are dangers.” It is not possible to speak with greater clarity. The APRA leader searches for a powerful protector.

The United States only exists as a “guardian of liberty” for Haya de la Torre; we see in that country the most immediate danger and, in a historical sense, the most threatening. With this we don’t wish to say that the governments of the Latin-American countries should not utilize the antagonisms between the different countries and imperialist groups in order to defend themselves. But the tactical utilization of such antagonisms on certain occasions, according to the concrete circumstances, is one thing; to base a strategical calculation upon the idea that the United States is a permanent defender, is something else. We consider this opportunist position not only erroneous but also profoundly dangerous because it creates a false perspective and hinders what is the real task, the revolutionary education of the people.

In what sense can one qualify the United States as “the guardian of the liberty” of those very peoples it exploits? But every such act of “defense” would imply the complete reduction to slavery of the country “defended” by the United States. The example of Brazil demonstrates that the higher “guardians” are not at all interested in “liberty”. The relations between Washington and Rio de Janeiro have not become worse but indeed have improved after the coup d’état in Brazil. The reason is that Washington considers the Vargas dictatorship a more docile and sure tool of American imperialist interests than revolutionary democracy. This is, basically, the position of the White House in regard to the whole southern continent.

Can it be that Haya de la Torre starts out with the premise that the imperialist domination of the United States is a “lesser evil”? But one must say openly in this case: democratic policy demands clarity. Moreover, until when will this evil be the lesser? To ignore this problem is to risk too much on chance. The United States is ruled by the same historical laws dominating the European capitalist centers. The “democracy” of the United States at the present time is nothing more than one expression of its imperialism. Due to the frightful decay of North American capitalism, democracy will not hinder the “guardians” of liberty from displaying in the near future an extremely aggressive imperialist policy, directed especially against the countries of Latin America. This must be pointed out clearly, precisely and firmly and this perspective must be placed at the base of the revolutionary program.

Strange as it may seem, some of the APRA leaders declare that an alliance of the APRA and, in general, of the Latin-American national revolutionary parties with the revolutionary proletariat of the United States and other imperialist countries hasn’t any practical meaning because the workers of those countries would not be interested in the condition of the colonial and semi-colonial countries. We consider this point of view suicidal in the full sense of the word. While imperialism endures, the colonial peoples will not be able to liberate themselves and the oppressed peoples will be able to defeat the imperialist bourgeoisie only by allying themselves with the international proletariat. One cannot but fail to see that on this fundamental question, the position of the most opportunist leaders of the APRA is corroborated by Haya de la Torre’s letter. It is self-evident that he who considers the North-American imperialist bourgeoisie the “guardian” of the colonial peoples’ liberty cannot seek an alliance with the North-American workers. The underestimation of the rôle of the international proletariat on the colonial question arises inevitably out of the effort not to frighten the “democratic” imperialist bourgeoisie, above all, the bourgeoisie of the United States. It is very clear that he who hopes to find an airy in Roosevelt, cannot become an ally of the international proletarian vanguard. This is the fundamental line of demarcation between the policy of revolutionary struggle and the unprincipled policy of adaptation.

Haya de la Torre considers the unification of the Latin-American countries necessary and finishes his letter with this formula – “We, the representatives of the United Provinces of South America.” In itself this idea is absolutely correct. The struggle for the United States of Latin America is inseparable from the struggle for the national independence of each one of the Latin-American countries. However, it is necessary to respond clearly and precisely to this question: Which roads can lead to unification? One can conclude from the extremely vague formulae of Haya de la Torre that he hopes to convince the present governments of Latin America that they should unite voluntarily ... under the “guardianship” of the United States? In reality, only through the revolutionary movement of the popular masses against imperialism is it possible to attain that great end. It is a difficult road, we admit, but there isn’t any other.

We note, moreover, that this letter of a programatic character does not say a single word about the Soviet Union. Does Haya de la Torre consider the USSR the defender of colonial and semi-colonial countries, their friend and ally, or does he agree with us that under the present regime, the Soviet Union represents the greatest danger for the weak and backward peoples whose independence is far from being complete. The silence of Haya de la Torre is also determined in this case by openly opportunist considerations. It appears that de la Torre wants to hold the USSR in “reserve” in case the United States will not support him. But he who desires many friends will lose the few he has.

These are the ideas that come to our mind after reading the APRA leader’s letter; although we limit ourselves to purely democratic criteria. Are our conclusions erroneous? We shall listen with pleasure to the answers of the APRA representatives. We only want their replies to be more precise, more concrete and less evasive and diplomatic than Haya de la Torre’s letter.

MEXICO CITY, Dec. 1938



1. Haya de la Torre is the leader of the Peruvian APRA (Popular American Revolutionary Alliance), a powerful petty-bourgeois, reformist and anti-imperialist movement which in the 1936 presidential elections received over 80% of the popular vote.

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