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Marc Loris
(Jean van Heijenoort)

A letter to comrades in Argentine

(20 May 1941)

From International Bulletin, Vol. 1 No. 6, July 1941.
Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Dear Comrades,

The international leadership is attentively following discussion now taking place among you. This discussion of revolutionary problems of your country is extremely important for future of our movement, not only in Argentine but in whole of Latin America. In last analysis it is of interest to all colonial and semi-colonial countries, that is to three-quarters of our planet. International will be unable to make a useful intervention until time when more detailed documents are presented by both groups. Thus, though the author of this letter is a member of International Executive Committee, following lines have a personal character and only author is, of course, responsible for them.

I have just finished reading two pamphlets: Argentine and World War II (La Argentine frente a la guerra mundial), published by Revolutionary Workers’ Group (Grupo Obrero Revolucionario), and Fourth International and Struggle against Imperialism (La IV Internacional y la lucha contra el imperialismo), by Comrade Jorge Lagos. two documents are quite different. One of them is a collection of articles published over a period of six months, and other is a draft theses. You may be certain that when reading them I never lost sight of this difference in nature. However, two documents outline political perspectives, propose slogans and so are both justifiably subject to criticism.

I shall begin with central question, concerning national emancipation. In pamphlet of G.O.R., national emancipation appears as a slogan abstracted from any concrete reality and consequently empty. The tone of entire pamphlet is indicated by following lines: “Argentine, like all colonial and semi-colonial countries must not go into a struggle at side of and in service of its conquerors, but must become a free country. This is the question.” (Argentina, como todos los países coloniales y semicoloniales, no debe ir a luchar al lado y al servicio de sus dominadores, sino llegar a ser un país libre. De eso es lo que se trata.). But what does a “free country” mean? The author of pamphlet attempts to explain it in following lines: “Let us agitate on behalf of Argentine itself, so that our people can take control of all foreign industrial enterprises, great public utility companies, agricultural societies and banks which are now dominating us and sucking us dry.” (Hagamos agitación en favor de la propia Argentina, para que pasen a poder de nuestro pueblo todas las grandes compañías de servicios públicos, empresas industriales, sociedades agrícolas y bancos extranjeros que actualmente nos esquilman y dominan.) I am assuming that adjective “foreign” refers to all nouns following it — public utilities, industrial enterprises, agricultural societies and banks. And national bourgeoisie? What is meant by formula “our people can take control”? This is part of considerably out-of-date and worn-out arsenal of all petty-bourgeois demagogues. Does the author imagine that proletarian revolution can be recognized beneath this catch-penny phraseology? The pamphlet also speaks of Argentinian economy which is “distorted by imperialist oppression.” Would it be a question of “restoring” Argentinian economy, of making it “normal”? Within framework of imperialist capitalism is it possible to hope for it to follow a harmonious course of development? Even in his own time Marx ridiculed the petty-bourgeois dreamers like Sismondi, who wished to eliminate “bad parts” of capitalism. Today it is even less possible to correct “excesses” of imperialism. The author of G.C.R. pamphlet never explicitly expresses such a perspective, but all his formulas inevitably suggest it to reader. And this is, in full sense of word, a reformist perspective.

The quotation I have given above begins with words: “Let us agitate on behalf of Argentine itself, so that our people can take control”, etc. I shall ignore chauvinist character of expression. What is meant by formula “let us agitate”? This formula, – and this is essential defect of pamphlet – faces two ways. “Agitation” may mean exercise of pressure, which is a purely reformist solution. Or again it may be revolution, and necessarily a proletarian revolution. But in that case, why not say so clearly? Would we be deceiving national bourgeoisie, or our petty- bourgeois, allies? Alas, all past experience shows that such methods deceive no one but proletariat. Towards end of pamphlet following phrase is found: “achieve national emancipation by way of expropriation without indemnification and nationalization of banks, business enterprises, etc.” (lograr la liberación nacional a través de la expropiación sin indemnización y nacionalización de los bancos, empresas, etc.). Here all real relationships are turned upside-down. The last part of phrase refers to proletarian revolution (once again, why not call it by its name?), and this proletarian revolution is presented as instrument, means of national emancipation! Many years ago Lenin once wrote: “We must subordinate demand for national self-determination to interests of proletarian struggle. It is precisely in this that difference is found between our manner of posing national question and bourgeois-democratic manner.” Here are a few lines that must be seriously reflected on: “All petty-bourgeois movements (Pilsudski, Masaryk, etc.: they are innumerable) seek, or did seek, to subordinate class struggle to national movement.” Lenin wants to utilize national oppression as an auxiliary instrument of proletarian revolution. We must choose between Masaryk’s ways and Lenin’s way! The author of G.O.R. pamphlet, alas, is embarking on former rather than on latter. For him national emancipation becomes an omnipresent and omnipotent entity which subordinates everything to itself, inciting proletarian revolution. A small detail is rather significant: throughout thirty-nine pages of pamphlet I did not once encounter words “socialism” or “socialist” (except for names of parties). No – all this is far away, very far away from Marxism.

As to means of action of working-class pamphlet says only a few words which, unfortunately, reveal greatest confusion. According to pamphlet proletariat must “demand formation of a United Proletarian Front” (exigir la formación de un Frente Único Proletario). Between whom and whom? A united front is a temporary agreement between two or more parties, to attain certain specific objectives. Which are these parties? What are the objectives? Nothing is known about it. In reality the brochure presents united front (once again: between whom and whom?) as a substitute for revolutionary party.

Not only in national question, but even on all the problems it touches the pamphlet of G.O.R. skirts reformism incessantly. I shall take a last example. The pamphlet states: “government has sent to congress a draft of a neutrality law with object of controlling the activities of the ‘fifth column.’ There would be nothing to object to if this law really did have such an object for its purpose, and if ... etc.” (El gobierno ha enviado al congreso un Project de ley de neutralidad con el fin de controlar las actividades do la “quinta columna.” Nada tendría quo objetarse si esa ley tuviera por fin realmente tal propósito y si ... etc.) No – there is no revolutionary language here. The bourgeois state can never “really have such an object” and we do not require it to have it, because we know its class nature too well. To put a stop to the fascist rabble we have our own weapons, the workers’ militia, and the arming of proletariat.

On the question of national emancipation and the relationships between imperialism and the national bourgeoisie, Jorge Lagos’ draft theses says many correct things which complete and quite often correct G.O.R.’s pamphlet. But – but too much of the best may be bad, Comrade Lagos falls into a series of errors which may be classified under general heading of sectarianism.

Thus he states: “We Trotskyites have always denied existence of feudalism or of feudal survivals in Argentine countryside” (Los Trotskistas hemos negado siempre la existencia de feudalismo o de supervivencias feudales en el campo argentino). No, Comrade Lagos, this isn’t correct. Trotskyists may have denied that, but in that case they were wrong and it is not an action that makes them deserve name of Trotskyites. Even in great capitalist countries there is no lack of feudal survivals. Revolution in England will have to smash monarchy. This doesn’t mean that a bourgeois revolution is on order of day in England. It simply means that even in most “advanced” great imperialist countries bourgeoisie is incapable of realizing its own democracy. There is no lack of feudal survivals in countryside even in most basically capitalist country, United States. Without ever having been in Argentine I am certain that your statement is incorrect, Comrade Lagos. Of course, law of transformation of quantity into quality retains its full value here. It is not a question of replacing proletarian revolution with bourgeois revolution. But it is up to proletarian revolution to solve bourgeois-democratic tasks which the most advanced bourgeoisie has been unable and is unable to solve. This is an extremely important point for our propaganda and our agitation.

The same sectarian tendency is shown on question of war. Comrade Lagos writes: “War between one of our countries (by this he means countries of Latin America) and one of Imperialist sectors would be an imperialist war” (La guerra entre uno de nuestros países y uno de los sectores imperialistas será una guerra imperialista). This formula is theoretically false and politically dangerous. If United States enters into a war against Germany tomorrow and forces Latin American countries to follow it, proletariat will of course he unable to support such a war, because principle enemy at present, of Latin American countries is not Hitler, but Roosevelt. But other wars are possible between a country of colonial type and an imperialist country, wars of anti-imperialist defense. History is full of them.

At present China is struggling against Japan. The proletariat cannot remain indifferent in face of such wars. Of course, fact that the proletariat supports an oppressed country in its struggle against an imperialist power by no means indicates that revolutionary party identifies its program with that of its national bourgeoisie. But this question has been clarified a number of times in theoretical documents of the Fourth International. Comrade Lagos also mentions a war between two colonial countries. It is impossible to give a general reply. Both countries may very well be agents of two different imperialist bandits (war between Bolivia and Paraguay) and in this case everything must be done in order to transform war into a common struggle against imperialism. But it is also very possible that one of the colonial countries may be a direct agent of one imperialism against a colonial country struggling for its independence. In this way, for example, Japan might make use of Thailand against China. In such cases it is necessary on each occasion to make a serious analysis of the concrete conditions. But it is impossible for the proletariat simply to turn Its back on all wars by placing them in one bag with the trademark “imperialist war.”

Comrade Lagos’ pamphlet also forgets question of revolutionary party in Argentine. However correct political theses may be, if they are without an examination of problems of party formation, they are like an unloaded gun. You may be able to handle gun and aim very well, but you will never capture game.

I cannot end this letter without a few remarks on tone of your polemics, Argentinian comrades. In general we scarcely have habit of complaining of bitterness of controversies and we leave it to centrists to mourn over too lively a tone in disputes. But in your case question is not of calming down but of purifying. You’re in midst of discussing theoretical questions of the greatest importance for your future.

It would be futile to think yourselves able to solve problems in dispute by personal accusations that you can hardly justify to an outside observer, if indeed they are ever justifiable.

The decline of old capitalist Europe and imperialist explosion of United States constitutes for countries of Latin-America breaking down of their political and economic equilibrium, that is to say, revolutionary crises are ripening for these countries. They must seriously be prepared for [them]. Your discussion on character of your future revolution and on your tasks must be one step in this direction, and this letter has no other object than to seek together with you, and with entire International, for the path which must lead you to victory.


Revolutionary greetings,
Marc Loris

May 20, 1941

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