The following article was published in Proletarian Revolution No. 29 (Summer 1987)

Marx’s Bolivar Meets Moreno’s Bolivar

Morenoite* charlatanry even attempts to rewrite history. Under the headline “Why they chose the name Simon Bolivar,” the WRP** reprints without comment a section of the LIT’s*** explanation, which says in part:

“Simon Bolivar was the revolutionary leader for the liberation of most of South America from the Spanish Empire. … He joined the independence Movement in 1807 as an adherent of the French Revolution and opponent of Napoleonic reaction. From 1810 until the final defeat of the Spanish armies in 1824, Bolivar was the central political and military leader in the war for independence as well as the most advanced revolutionary thinker and politician of his day in Latin America.” (Working Class Opposition, February 1986; Workers Press, April 4, 1987.)

This is hagiography and hogwash. The idea that Bolivar was an opponent of Bonapartism is ludicrous. He strove for absolute power over the territories liberated from Spain. He denounced the idea of a republic, which he claimed his South American compatriots, unlike North Americans, did not deserve. “Elections,” he wrote, “produce only anarchy.” The Bolivian Constitution which he authored was modeled on Napoleon’s consular dictatorship; it centered around a President-for-Life and a self-perpetuating legislature. Only mass resistance prevented Bolivar from fulfilling his program of personal dictatorship.

One Marxist who recognized Bolivar’s true value as an “advanced revolutionary thinker” was Karl Marx. Marx wrote an article on Bolivar, denouncing him for Bonapartist policies that weakened the South American liberation struggle and contrasting his views with the republican ideals of other independence leaders. In a letter to Frederick Engels in 1858, Marx called Bolivar “the most dastardly, most miserable and meanest of blackguards,” worthy of comparison only to the contemptible Napoleon III. (Collected Works, Volume 40, page 266.)

(For details of Marx’s assessment, see “Karl Marx and Simon Bolivar: A Note on Authoritarian Leadership in a National-Liberation Movement” by Hal Draper, New Politics, Winter 1968. Draper notes that Marx erred in some biographical and military matters—but not in his hostile political evaluation of Bolivar.)

In this light we can understand why the WRP chose not to reprint another part of the Morenoites’ explanation of their admiration for Bolivar:

“Bolivar’s thinking was the most advanced and internationalist of the first Latin American struggles for independence, thinking that today is continued in proletarian internationalism of the most advanced revolutionaries in Latin America, the Trotskyists.”

Internationalist Bolivar was, just like Napoleon: he was not satisfied with rule over only one country. But Bolivarism is a singularly inappropriate ideology for proletarian militants and especially for Trotskyists dedicated to the self-rule of the workers. The Morenoites do not actually offer their readers any example of the “advanced thinking” that they “continue” today. It would be embarrassing to try.

Nevertheless, the brigade’s name was well chosen. Bolivar is an ideal hero for people who so often tail Bonapartists like Peron, Castro and the Sandinistas. The gulf between Morenoism and Marxism is immense.

*Nahuel Moreno of Argentina was active in the ostensibly Trotskyist movement in Latin America from before World War II until his death in 1987.

**Workers Revolutionary Party, British pseudo-Trotskyist organization headed for years by the late Gerry Healy.

***International Workers League founded by the late Nahuel Moreno.

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