My attention was recently drawn to an article signed by Luis Oviedo, entitled The Counterrevolutionary Position of Socialist Appeal (in Prensa Obrera nï¿½ 826). Having read the article, I could not decide whether it was the product of bad faith or simple ignorance. Certainly, the method used is contrary to every basic principle of Marxism and above all Trotskyism, which comrade Oviedo and the Partido Obrero (PO) claim to defend.
The Argentine PO has had some success in recent years. In its ranks there are good militants who sincerely wish to advance the cause of Trotskyism and the socialist revolution in Argentina and Latin America. Its members have undoubtedly done some good work in developing the movement of the piqueteros. All this merits our sincere respect, and we believe that in our past polemics with the PO we have always maintained a scrupulous and respectful attitude.This is not a little detail.
The inability to answer criticisms and differences in a democratic and comradely way will undermine the party and prevent it developing beyond a certain limit. All internal differences and criticisms will be stifled and silenced. This means that all the good work done by the members will be undone sooner or later.The reason for this is not at all diplomatic. We are not liberals but Bolsheviks, and we maintain the genuine traditions of the party of Lenin and Trotsky, which we have defended against revisionism for more than seventy years, nationally and internationally.
It should be added that revisionism comes in all the colours of the rainbow, and contains not only a right but also a "left" colouring.Why were the great Marxists so scrupulous in answering the ideas of their opponents? This was not for sentimental reasons, but because the aim of a polemic is to raise the political level of the cadres, not to score cheap debating points. There is nothing easier than to erect a straw man and then demolish him. That is just what Luis Oviedo has done.
He distorts our ideas, which he then triumphantly "answers" (that is to say, he answers what has not been said). Then, like a little boy with new shoes, he struts around proudly telling everybody: "You see how clever I am." Unfortunately, this method is far from clever, and is entirely alien to the method and traditions of Bolshevism.In polemics we have always attempted to treat the arguments of our opponents with fairness. We have never distorted or caricatured the arguments of our political opponents - and for one very good reason.
If we distort the positions of our opponents that would make our reply completely worthless, and nobody would learn anything from it. That is why Lenin and Trotsky (or Marx and Engels if it comes to that) were always very scrupulous in their polemics with political opponents. That is why they always included long passages from the writings of the latter. In that way, nobody could ever accuse them of distorting the arguments of their opponents.
That was not the method of genuine Trotskyists, but of the Stalinists. From a reading of comrade Oviedo's article nobody can learn anything about the position of Socialist Appeal, El Militante, or anything else. Then what was the point of writing it?Mythology instead of argumentThe article by Luis Oviedo contains so many mistakes and misrepresentations that it would require a book to answer them. Unfortunately, life is short and we have too much work to do to permit ourselves such a luxury. There is an old Russian saying "A fool can ask more questions than twenty wise men can answer.
" But we will arm ourselves with patience and do what we can. The result is rather long and cumbersome. It is longer than its author would have liked but not as long as would really be necessary to answer all the many distortions and falsifications contained in the PO article.We stand accused, among other things, of "slavishly following the existing leaderships" and "reverential respect for the bureaucratic leaderships." This matter can, happily, be settled quite simply.
We know that Luis Oviedo is an assiduous reader of our international website, www.marxist.com, and that he has a good reading knowledge of the English language. Let us therefore make him a modest proposition: Comrade Luis, please show us anywhere on our website where we give the slightest indication of "slavishly following the existing leaderships" or having a "reverential respect for the bureaucratic leaderships," in Britain, Bolivia or anywhere else. If Luis can do this, we will gladly rectify our mistakes.
If he cannot, we invite him to publish a clear retraction of every word he has written, or else stand exposed as a falsifier.What is involved here is a discussion of how to build the revolutionary tendency with roots in the masses. In order to build the party, it is not sufficient to have correct ideas. It is necessary to develop the correct tactics to convince the masses that our ideas are correct. Unfortunately, the PO does not have a correct position in relation to the objective tasks of the Bolivian revolution (or for that matter, the Argentine revolution). It has made some fundamental mistakes and is not prepared to admit them.
That is the real reason for the present polemic, which we will deal with in relation to the slogan of the Constituent Assembly.But the problem does not end there. It is a question of both form and content. Even if the PO had a correct position, it would be reduced to impotence by its hopelessly sectarian attitude to the workers' movement.
Luis Oviedo shows not even the slightest glimmering of understanding of how to approach the Bolivian working class and its organizations. It boils down to the usual crude ultimatism that is the hallmark of ultra-left groups the world over. With methods like this we will really not get very far.Luis Oviedo, it must be added, is not just a rank and file member of the PO but one of its main leaders and theoreticians. We are therefore entitled to assume that his article reflects the position of the PO leadership as a whole. If that is not the case, then we invite Jorge Altamira and the other leaders of the PO to repudiate it.
If they do not, then every word in this reply applies to them also.The article of Luis Oviedo is quite remarkable for the large number of errors concentrated in a very small space. There is at least one mistake in every sentence, and sometimes two. We start with what is quite a common accusation against our tendency.
However, there is one thing we should be grateful to comrade Oviedo for. He has, in a few lines, provided us with a convenient compendium of all (or most) of the myths that the PO and all the other pseudo Trotskyist ultra-left groups have been assiduously disseminating about our tendency for many years. It is well known that if you repeat the same lie many times then some people will begin to believe it.To begin at the beginning, comrade Oviedo writes: "Its prolonged dissolution into British Laborism has left indelible marks on Socialist Appeal, the tendency headed by Ted Grant and Alan Woods: tailing is the registered trademark of the leadership of this current.""Dissolution" implies that we have long ago ceased to exist as a separate and identifiable entity. But if that were really the case, one wonders why comrade Oviedo would bother to attack us so ferociously.
Such an attack suggests that we not only exist as a definite entity, but that this entity is causing the leadership of the PO some difficulties. The PO is compelled to attack our tendency because it is worried about the success we are having internationally. It is afraid of the growth of our influence in Latin America and inside the PO itself. And therefore it is attempting to construct a barrier between ourselves and its own rank and file by launching a series of attacks based on a series of distortions.Marxists and the mass organizationsWhen the ultra-left groups attack us on the question of our work in the mass organizations, they believe that they are attacking our weak side.
As a matter of fact, they are attacking one of our strongest sides - that side that always distinguishes a genuine Marxist tendency from a sect: our firm and persistent orientation towards the mass organizations of the working class. When we hear this kind of criticism, we merely shrug our shoulders. It is ABC that a Marxist tendency must always strive to conduct revolutionary work in the mass organizations of the proletariat. This was explained by Lenin and Trotsky (or, for that matter, by Marx and Engels) a long time ago. A child of six should be able to understand this.
But since the leaders of the PO do not understand it, we are obliged to restate some of the fundamentals.The ultra-left groups are fond of quoting Lenin's writings from the period 1914-17, when he insisted repeatedly on the need for an independent revolutionary party and call on the British Marxists to leave the Labour Party. This was answered in advance by Trotsky when he wrote. "But Lenin had in mind a break with reformists as the inevitable consequence of a struggle against them, and not an act of salvation regardless of time and place. He required a split with the social patriots not in order to save his own soul but in order to tear the masses away from social patriotism.
" (Trotsky, Writings 1935-36, p.156.)The need to build an independent revolutionary party is ABC for Marxists. However, after the ABC, there are more letters in the alphabet, and a child who only repeated the first three after a few years at school would not be considered very bright. In the present epoch, the revolutionaries are faced with powerful mass reformist organizations - both mass parties and trade unions - which have the support of millions of workers.
Our ability to grow depends decisively on our ability to win over the base of these organizations, especially the trade unions, but also the mass reformist parties.In the founding document of the Marxist movement, The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels explain that the Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties:"They have no interest separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole."They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement."The Communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only: 1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole."The Communists are, therefore, on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others: on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.
" (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol.1, pp.119-120).These remarks are a closed book for the PO leaders, yet they express the essence of what separates real Marxism from a sectarian caricature. The ultra-left groups always forget that the mass forces of the Communist International were only formed on the basis of great events, in the period 1917-23.
In most cases, the mass parties of the new International were formed out of splits in the old parties of the Second International. Moreover, in some cases the Communists actually won a majority of the old organisations, as in France, Germany, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia.A sectarian attitude to the old reformist mass organizations was characteristic, not of Lenin and Trotsky, but of the ultra-lefts in Holland, Britain and Italy, against which Lenin and Trotsky waged a relentless struggle. Although they tried to quote Lenin's writings of the period of the First World War against him, they had understood nothing of Lenin's dialectical method. Lenin's book "Left Wing Communism - an Infantile Disorder" was written in the early days of the Communist International to answer the arguments of the "Lefts", which re-appear at every stage in the writings of the ultra-left groups.
Lenin explained that it was a crime to split away the advanced workers from the mass, and that such tactics, far from undermining the trade union bureaucracy, actually serves to strengthen it:"To refuse to work in the reactionary trade unions means leaving the insufficiently developed or backward masses of workers under the influence of the reactionary leaders, the agents of the bourgeoisie, the labour aristocrats, or workers who have become completely bourgeois..."If you want to help the 'masses' and win the sympathy and support of the 'masses', you should not fear difficulties or pin-pricks, chicanery, insults and persecution from the 'leaders' (who, being opportunists and social-chauvinists, are in most cases directly or indirectly connected with the bourgeoisie and the police), but must absolutely work wherever the masses are to be found. You must be capable of any sacrifice, of overcoming the greatest obstacles, in order to carry on agitation and propaganda systematically, perseveringly, persistently and patiently in those institutions, societies and associations - even the most reactionary - in which proletarian or semi-proletarian masses are to be found." (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.
31, p.53.)Luis Oviedo suffers an apoplectic attack when the mass trade union confederations in Argentina (CTA and CGT) are mentioned, let alone the Bolivian Workers' Union (COB). They are "bureaucratic", you see. Yet Lenin explained how the Bolsheviks even conducted illegal work in the "Zubatov" unions, set up by the Tsarist police to keep the workers away from revolutionary ideas. Without knowing it, the leaders of the PO are repeating the arguments, not of Lenin and Trotsky, but of the "Left Communists" whom Lenin criticized so ferociously in the early years of the Communist International.
At the Second Congress of the Comintern, Lenin and Trotsky waged a struggle against the "infantile disorder" of ultra-leftism. The Manifesto of the Second Congress, written by Trotsky, states that:"The Communist International is the world party of proletarian uprising and proletarian dictatorship. It has no aims and tasks separate and apart from those of the working class itself. The pretensions of the tiny ultra-left groups, each of which wants to save the working class in its own manner, are alien and hostile to the spirit of the Communist International.
It does not possess any panaceas or magic formulas but bases itself on the past and present international experience of the working class; it purges that experience of all blunders and deviations; it generalises the conquests made and recognises only such revolutionary formulas as are formulas of mass action." (Trotsky, The First Five Years of the Comintern, Vol.1, p.131.)The same document adds: "Waging a merciless struggle against reformism in the trade unions and against parliamentary cretinism and careerism, the Communist International at the same time condemns all sectarian summonses to leave the ranks of the multi-millioned trade union organisations or to turn one's back upon parliamentary and municipal institutions. The Communists do not separate themselves from the masses who are being deceived and betrayed by the reformists and the patriots, but engage the latter in an irreconcilable struggle within the mass organisations and institutions established by bourgeois society, in order to overthrow them the more surely and the more quickly.
"Trotsky's method, like that of Marx and Lenin, was a combination of two things: an implacable defence of ideas and principles, and an extremely flexible approach to tactics and organisational questions. This is summed up in the "Open letter for the Fourth International", written in the spring of 1935: