Ideas & Debates
IDEAS & DEBATES
Who was Nahuel Moreno?
Nahuel Moreno helped build one of the most important currents to claim the mantle of the Fourth International. Who was he and what what did he contribute to the left?
February 16, 2018
Nahuel Moreno was the pseudonym of one of the best-known Trotskyist leaders of Argentina, Latin America and to a lesser extent the whole world. Nahuel Moreno was a pseudonym derived from the indigenous Mapuche word for Tiger (“Nahuel”) and the Spanish for brown or dark (“Moreno”). His real name was Hugo Miguel Bressano Capacete, and he was born in Alberdi in the province of Buenos Aires on April 24, 1924. Moreno died in Buenos Aires at age 62 at a time when his Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS - Movement for Socialism) was known as the largest party on the Argentine left.
The Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS - Socialist Workers Party) traces its origins to his national and international current. Throughout its history, the PTS has made important delineations that have allowed it to both recover and in turn profoundly critique Moreno’s politics and ideas. I will try to outline some of these below.
His first experiences in Argentine Trotskyism
Moreno was won to Trotskyism by a maritime worker while still in his youth, and subsequently joined a group founded by Liborio Justo. Though Leon Trotsky had by then passed away, Trotskyist groups in Argentina had - like elsewhere throughout the world - emerged as splits from the Communist Party and they adhered to the International Left Opposition that was formed by Trotsky in 1929.
In 1944 Moreno founded his own group, the Grupo Obrero Marxista (GOM - Marxist Workers Group), which focused its activities on the workers’ movement. Its efforts were directed to an area with one of the highest concentrations of workers in Argentina, the southern area of Greater Buenos Aires, and Avellaneda in particular. In January 1945, the GOM took part in the strike of 15,000 workers at the Anglo-Ciabasa meatpacking plant. Advised by Mateo Fossa (the leader of the timber workers’ union who had interviewed Trotsky), they came to the strike with money they collected for the strike fund and offered their support. The strike was defeated. But this experience allowed them to preside over the Club de Corazones Unidos (United Hearts Club), a sporting and cultural club in the working class neighborhood of Villa Pobladora.
At the conclusion of the Second World War, the Fourth International founded by Trotsky was greatly weakened by the persecution it suffered under imperialism, both fascist and “democratic”, as well as under Stalinism. Trotskyist groups in Latin America were weak and dispersed. In the postwar period, Stalinism had emerged strengthened from the war under the Yalta and Potsdam agreements between the USSR, the United States and Great Britain. Then there was the “Cold War”. Trotskyism was fighting against the current. It was also at this time that Peronism emerged in Argentina, a bourgeois phenomenon that ensnared much of the working class.
In 1946 Moreno’s GOM began publishing Frente Proletario (Proletarian Front). There were other groups of Trotskyists, such as the Grupo Cuarta Internacional (GCI - Fourth International Group) of Juan Posadas and Octubre (October) of Jorge Abelardo Ramos, who both had access to the literature of Trotsky and issues of Clave (Key), the magazine published by the Fourth International from Mexico for Latin America. Important discussions took place around the interpretation of the development of permanent revolution in semi-colonial countries such as Argentina, the need to raise democratic demands such as national liberation within the perspective of socialist revolution, the definition of “bourgeois nationalism” formulated by Trotsky in 1938 in reference to the Mexican government of Cárdenas, and the character of Peronism. Moreno called this “café Trotskyism”, as these groups regularly discussed these questions at the famous Café Tortoni in central Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, these discussions were essential and not merely theoretical. Moreno recognized that it was difficult for those in Argentina to interpret the phenomenon of Peronism, and that it was only in 1948 at the Second Congress of the Fourth International where they came to grips with it. Internationalism was essential in this, he would say years later.
His introduction to the Fourth International
The Second Congress of the Fourth International met in Paris. The main leaders at that time were Michel Raptis, better known as Michel Pablo, Healy and Hunter (Great Britain), Mandel (Belgium), Maitán (Italy), Lambert (France), Peng (China) and those from the American SWP , the most important of the time, such as Cannon, Hansen, Dobbs and Novack. Moreno participated for the first time in a meeting of the International as a delegate. This Congress discussed new phenomenon such as Yugoslavia. The current that most influenced Moreno was the SWP of the United States and especially its leaders Hansen and Cannon, whom he considered to be his teachers. From them he took their method of work in the labor movement. Though Trotsky had thought that this party would become the leadership of the Fourth International, it lamentably succumbed to Castroism after the Cuban revolution.
In 1949 Moreno founded the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR - Revolutionary Workers Party). With it he won over Ángel “El Vasco” (The Basque) Bengochea, Horacio Lagar and Ernesto González. It was with them that he formed the party’s leadership team, and with the publication of Palabra Obrera (Workers’ Word) they were able to place themselves within the metalworkers’ movement.
In the Bolivian Revolution of 1952, in which the Bolivian Partido Obrero Revolucionario linked to Pablo played an important role, Moreno put forward the correct position of “¡Todo el poder a la COB!” (“All Power to the COB!” - the Bolivian Workers’ Center), as this union federation brought together the whole of the vanguard and was the only body that could take power. Instead the Pabloist orientation of the POR led it to the handing over of power to the bourgeois Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR - Revolutionary Nationalist Movement), and the revolution was defeated.
Moreno called for opposition to the reactionary ‘gorilla’ coup that overthrew Perón in 1955. The experience in the workers’ movement known simply as The Resistance then followed. With Peronism now banned, Moreno began to practice a policy of ‘entryism’ primarily in the so-called “62 Organizations” of the labor movement controlled by the Peronists, and ended up adapting to the Peronist leadership. Palabra Obrera even carried the slogan “bajo la disciplina del general Perón y del Consejo Superior Peronista” (“Under the Discipline of General Perón and the Peronist Supreme Council”). This period gave rise to a syndicalist deviation within the organization that led to the breakup of the leadership team and union leader Héctor Fucito leaving the organization.
The influence of the Cuban Revolution
In January 1959 the Cuban Revolution, the rise of Che Guevara and Castroism were to have major repercussions across Latin America. This was especially so in the student movement, with numerous guerrillaist currents emerging that considered the peasantry to be the subject of the revolution, and set up party-armies that were going to take to the mountains or carry out “exemplary actions” as examples in the cities that others in the urban population would follow. Moreno would not remain immune from this pressure. Not only did he define Cuba as having become a workers’ state (only later was the word bureaucratic added to this definition), but Castro and Guevara were mistakenly seen as the revolutionary leaders of the continent, especially after the constitution of the Organización Latinoamericana de Solidaridad (OLAS - Organization of Latin American Solidarity). This deviation in 1962 led to the split of another important member of the leadership team, Ángel (‘El Vasco”) Bengochea. Therefore, between the pressures of syndicalism and guerrillaism (which Horacio Lagar yielded to), the leadership team of Palabra Obrera was finished. Years later Moreno made a general assessment which lamented these losses and questioned if he had done enough to hold on to them. He published “Dos métodos frente a la revolución latinoamericana” (Two methods for the Latin American revolution) which polemicized against Che, but his battle against this pressure was not enough to maintain the old leadership team. Most Trotskyist leaders succumbed to the pressures of guerrillaism, beginning with the man who led the most important grouping at that time, Mandel’s United Secretariat. So did the US SWP. Other minority groups continued to argue that Cuba never became a workers’ state.
With regard to entryism “ ... the advances of Peronism towards an increasing integration with the regime led Palabra Obrera to reconsider the tactic that it had followed until then. At the end of 1963, the change began with the proposal for the revolutionary united front aimed at the construction of the ‘Partido Único de la Revolución’’ (Single Party of the Revolution). As a result of this orientation, progress was made in the formation of the United FRIP-Palabra Obrera Party in January 1965. [The Frente Revolucionario Indoamericanista Popular (FRIP - Revolutionary Indoamerican Popular Front) was a radical indigenist party]. These two events marked the end of our entrist tactics, even though for a time we continued to consider ourselves part of the movement”. (E. González, “El trotskismo obrero e internacionalista en la Argentina” (Working Class and Internationalist Trotskyism in Argentina), Book 3, Volume 2, page 51). From this fusion with the Santucho brothers the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT - Revolutionary Workers Party) emerged. Before the Fourth Congress of the PRT, Santucho decided to carry out armed struggle. From there a split takes place: Moreno will lead the PRT (La Verdad) [The Truth] and Santucho the PRT (El Combatiente) [The Combatant].
The revolutionary advances of 1969-1976
After the split with Santucho, Moreno returned to more classic Trotskyist formulations and aimed for a better insertion into the workers’ movement, and correctly positioned himself in the face of the worldwide advance that had emerged after the French May of 1968. But his earlier politics did not permit him to make it to this period with a party of cadres theoretically and practically trained in Trotskyism, nor with the insertion in the labor movement that would allow for the development of a revolutionary party in the key moment of the class struggle in Argentina, the period of 1969-1976. There was not one PRT militant present during the ‘Cordobazo’ [the semi-insurrection against the military dictatorship that took place in the industrial city of Córdoba in May 1969]. It was only later that leaders and cadre were sent to Córdoba, who subsequently won over workers from the famous SITRAC-SITRAM car plants such as José Páez.
PRT (La Verdad) merged in 1972 with a small current from the Partido Socialista Argentino (PSA - Argentine Socialist Party), led by Juan Carlos Coral, which had shifted to the left. With Coral he founded the Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores (PST - Socialist Workers Party), which stood in the 1973 elections with the presidential formula of Coral-Páez. Workers’ candidates were put forward and they raised the correct slogan “trabajador vote trabajador” (“worker, vote for a worker”). The PST was also correct to fight at the plenary of Villa Constitución in 1974 for a national union Coordinadora (Coordinating Committee). But the bosses’ offensive and the rightward shift of Peronism that promoted the fascist bands of the Triple A (who killed 16 PST comrades) led to a new opportunistic deviation from Moreno and the PST. Instead of calling for strengthening the workers’ united front and forming self-defense committees to face these attacks, the PST favored a “democratic front” and joined the “Group of Eight” [which included the liberal bourgeois opposition Radical Civic Union (UCR), the Communist Party (PC), the Intransigent Party (PI), the Revolutionary Christian Party (PRC), the Popular Socialist Party (PSP) and UDELPA [Union del Pueblo Adelante - People’s Union for Progress]. On the other hand, the rise in worker militancy and the tendency to take independent action that followed the “Rodrigazo” [the economic crisis under the government of Isabel Perón and named after the Minister for the Economy Celestino Rodrigo] in June and July of 1975 was correctly characterized by Moreno.
The coup of 1976 forced the PST underground. In the years after the coup, 100 PST militants were either assassinated or ‘disappeared’. It nevertheless continued to publish an illegal press and an international magazine. It had a correct policy towards the Portuguese revolution of 1974 and the Polish uprising of 1981. The Polish process, which was diverted with the key help of the Catholic Church, was the last gasp of the revolutionary upsurge that began in 1968. It ended with the opening of the doors to the “neo-liberalism” of Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II. In 1982 Moreno founded the Liga Internacional de Trabajadores (LIT - International Workers’ League), which he called “the” Fourth International.
The revision of Trotskyism in theory and practice
After the process of “democratic transition” that took place in countries such as Portugal and Spain, Social Democracy experienced a resurgence that saw parties such as the Spanish PSOE and the French PS of Mitterrand win elections in these countries. After having supported every military coup in Latin America, the United States began to apply this process of “transition” to its semi-colonies. This was the case of Argentina, where the defeat in the Malvinas war and the military crisis led to an agreed transition between the Multipartidaria [coalition of Peronists, UCR, Intransigent Party, Communist Party etc.] and a sector of the military that allowed the genocidal General Bignone to lead the transitional government that oversaw the elections of 1983.
Moreno’s refusal to make a critical assessment of his work in the revolutionary years and of the political and theoretical conceptions that he upheld led Morenismo to a further deepening of its more conservative policies. In this case, he yielded to this transition process, and in an attempt to imitate the rise of Social Democracy, formed the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS - Movement for Socialism) in 1982 with the presidential candidacy of Luis Zamora. These were the years of adaptation to the bourgeois-democratic regime and his greatest revision of the theory of permanent revolution: He would argue that in the face of a dictatorship, it was necessary to propose a front that included bourgeois forces, in order to overthrow the dictatorship, and this dynamic would then lead to the fight for socialism. This conception, which Trotskyists call stagist or semi-stagist, is similar to that held by the Mensheviks during the Russian Revolution and the later on by the Stalinists, a conception which has led to defeats of great revolutionary processes. This revision was given expression to in his “Escuela de Cuadros de 1984” (Party Cadre School of 1984).
Faced with the failure of the MAS in the 1983 elections, which saw hundreds of recently opened locals quickly closed down in the wake of the Alfonsin deluge, he returned to a closing of the ranks. He again proposed that the party should intervene in the workers’ movement, but this time by betting on the “new leaderships” in the unions that emerged in the elections against the bureaucracies that had supported the dictatorship. These were composed of Radicals, Peronists, Communists and Socialists, and the only prerequisite that the MAS had for unity with them was that they were “new” and (relatively) “combative”. But this did not however build a genuine militant clasista (class struggle) current. Instead it ended up objectively falling in behind Peronist union leader Saúl Ubaldini who was part of the Peronist renewal that beat UCR leader Alfonsin in the 1987 elections.
What is more, the MAS formed the Frente del Pueblo (People’s Front) for the legislative elections of 1985. It was an alliance with the Communist Party and sectors of Peronism, such as Susana Valle, the daughter of General Valle, and José Villaflor who came from Peronismo de Base (PB - Rank and File Peronism). It sought to win over sectors of Peronism without having a policy of class independence. This front fell apart soon after Semana Santa (Holy Week, the week before Easter) in 1987. But, by then Moreno had passed away..
Moreno’s political conceptions had much in the way of objectivism, that is, it overestimated the possibilities of the workers’ movement breaking with Peronism and spontaneously turning left under the pressure of capitalist crisis. He came to speak of “imminent and generalized revolutions” without taking into account the factor of leadership (that is, the subjective factor). This factor was the key to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and what Trotsky referred to in the Transitional Program. It became even more necessary after the strengthening of both Stalinism after World War II and social democracy prevented the development of working class self-organization. He put in question the subject of the revolution and favored the emergence of guerrilla and bourgeois nationalist leaderships.
It is for this reason that the organizations that he led and helped to build were centrist organizations, while remaining within Trotskyism, even if they often had policies to the left of the other important Trotskyist currents in the postwar period (Mandel’s United Secretariat, the OCI of Lambert, the US SWP). As a whole they gave in to these non-revolutionary or counterrevolutionary leaderships and did not build real combat organizations with the strategy of the taking of power by the working class, organizations that were prepared to intervene in revolutionary upsurges so that they can triumph and continue their struggle until the world socialist revolution. But by remaining on the terrain of Trotskyism they put up some partially correct battles against bourgeois, nationalist, Stalinist and petty-bourgeois tendencies. For us, these partial battles constitute the “threads of continuity” with the revolutionary Marxist tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg and many other comrades.
After the death of Moreno, the leadership of the MAS developed more class collaborationist traits and formed Izquierda Unida (IU – United Left), an alliance with the Communist Party in 1989. Just as Stalinism around the world was falling to pieces, the MAS united with it by putting forward the presidential ticket of Vicente-Zamora (Néstor Vicente (PC) and Luis Zamora (MAS)), the ticket that would lead to the election of Zamora as a deputy.
The PTS broke with the MAS in May 1988, after the May 1 rally that they held at the football stadium known as the Ferro, and before the formation of Izquierda Unida (IU - United Left) and the Fifth Congress of the MAS that declared that revolution in Argentina was just around the corner while preparing its comprehensive alliance with Stalinism. The MAS leadership affirmed its national-Trotskyism as it turned away from the grand processes sweeping the world. This, above all, was one of the causes of the explosion of the MAS in 1992, which led to the formation of the Movimiento Socialistas de los Trabajadores (MST - Socialist Workers Movement) and many other groups. We do not claim to be Morenistas, in the sense that groups like the MST or Izquierda Socialista (IS - Socialist Left) do, because we think that the essence of their theoretico-political heritage is wrong. However, we believe that without a critical assessment that reclaims the threads of continuity maintained by Moreno and other currents of the Trotskyist movement (with greater or lesser weaknesses), our existence would have been impossible.
Translation: Sean Robertson
This article was published at La Izquierda Diario on January 25, 2017 to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Nahuel Moreno.