Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 4
Ernesto González (Coordinador)
THE MORENO tendency produces considerable puzzlement outside Argentina. In the mid-1980s Moreno’s party, the MAS, was probably the largest group in the world claiming to be Trotskyist. Nahuel Moreno (Hugo Bressano, 1924–87) was obviously a figure of enormous dynamism, whose ability to build and sustain a group for more than 40 years was an enormous achievement. Yet we have, until now, lacked a detailed history of the tendency, and have had to rely on polemical accounts from political opponents. These two recent books by leading members of the MAS are, therefore, to be welcomed.
El trotskismo obrero ..., produced by a committee led by Ernesto González, shows how seriously the MAS takes its history. This first volume covers the period from 1943 until 1955, before the tendency had reached the strength which it was later to achieve. The first two chapters give an account of Trotskyism in Argentina until 1943, which agrees with that in Revolutionary History, Volume 2, no. 2. It then goes on to describe the beginnings of the MAS tendency when Moreno, a precocious boy who was giving lectures on philosophy when he was 15, founded his own group, the Grupo Obrero Marxista, whilst still in his teens, after breaking with Liborio Justo. Moreno had by 1943 come to the conclusion that the failures of Argentinean Trotskyism stemmed from its poor social composition. Therefore, he and his few young followers moved to activity in working class areas, recruiting some workers of Polish and Jewish origin in the textile industry. The book’s access to oral history sources is impressive here. How many groups can call on the memories of workers who were active 50 years earlier? The rich detail of the devoted work in building up trade union activity would be the envy of any university social history department.
The beginnings of the GOM coincided, of course, with the rise of Perón. Here, the book is less informative. In particular, the account of the massive workers’ demonstration and strike of 17 October 1945, which freed Perón from prison and brought him to power, is very unsatisfactory. On 17 October, the key date in Argentinean working class history, the Communist and Socialist Parties supported the oligarchy and opposed the strike, thereby condemning themselves to impotence. So did the GOM, although that is not made clear in El Trotskismo obrero ... Nor is it in González’s earlier work, Qué fue y qué es el Peronismo (1974). Once in power, Perón encouraged trade unionism, whilst trying to keep it under his own control, and forced through the massive welfare programme which won him the support of most workers. The unions were not merely Labour Fronts on the Fascist model, but they were subject to all kinds of bureaucratic interference. The GOM sensibly worked within these union structures, trying to form broad alliances against the sometimes violent opposition of the Peronist bureaucracy. Much of the latter part of the book is an excessively detailed account of these struggles, to the detriment of any overall analysis, so that it becomes the description of a trade union faction rather than of a political party. In 1948 the GOM became the Partido Obrero Revolucionario. In 1954 it took part in the elections as part of the Partido Socialista de la Revolución Nacional, which was legally entitled to stand. The book describes this tactic as ‘entrism’, but, in fact, it seems to have been a merger with a splinter of the old Socialist Party. Once again, political analysis is buried under lengthy, if vivid, descriptions of electoral meetings. The PSR opposed the military coup in 1955 which toppled Perón and restored the traditional oligarchy, but this gets less analysis than a description of the crimes of Pabloite revisionism – of which there can never be too much.
The book tells us something about Morenoism, both in its contents and what is left out. Clearly, Moreno directed his efforts in Argentina at the working class, not at rebel officers or an imaginary peasantry. The steady work over years brought results, even if the ‘Trotskyism’ was, in Moreno’s own words, ‘barbaric’. In terms of intellectual baggage, Moreno travelled light, and this seems often to have been an advantage. There is much mention of self-criticism, but it is expressed in such general terms as to be uninformative. While Moreno’s attitude to non-working class forces seems to be so incompatible with Marxism that opponents have seen him as a chameleon, prepared to adapt to any environment, his working class supporters seem to have accepted his sometimes bizarre alliances. What did they think of their party’s turns and twists? The extremely detailed personal reminiscences are of no help here. It is to be hoped that as well as producing further volumes, the MAS will open its archives to independent scholars who might be able to produce the synthesis which has eluded the present authors. Until that happens we are dependent on the works of Moreno’s political opponents. There have been detailed criticisms from Workers Power, the Spartacist League and (in Spanish) Politica Obrera. These describe how Moreno’s group survived the collapse of Maoism and Castroism, despite having embraced them.
Después Del Stalinismo is a very different book, and marks the formal abandonment by the MAS of Trotskyist positions on the Soviet Union and similar societies. As the subtitle suggests, Después ... abandons the Trotskyist categories of ‘workers’ states’ in favour of ‘bureaucratic states’. (Are not states bureaucratic by definition?) As the Morenoite attitude to the Soviet Union was always hostile, that would seem to be logical, but the change is proclaimed, not argued. Curiously, Romero hardly refers to the extensive polemics within the revolutionary movement on the class nature of those societies. He gives a fairly standard account of the degeneration of the Soviet Union. He describes the evolution of the Soviet Union in recent decades as making the ‘degenerated workers’ state’ label inappropriate, but insists that it was never really suitable. L.D. Trotsky is treated respectfully, but there is no examination of the ideas of those such as Shachtman which generally form the basis for opposed views of the Soviet Union. Frankly, this is poor stuff.
There are lengthy accounts of how the technology of the Soviet Union lagged behind that of the capitalist world. Most of this is generally accepted. Después ... has a stylistic resemblance to El Trotskismo ... in that both are padded with enormously long quotes. Much of Romero’s book consists of extracts from academic works and from the bourgeois press, with his own text almost buried in them. If there is a Morenoite style, it is one in which prolixity and silence are the best forms of concealment. Having struggled through the theoretical preliminaries, we get to the practical purpose of the book: extricating the MAS from Moreno’s prediction that world capitalism was about to collapse, and differentiating the MAS from other products on the political market. Romero claims that Ted Grant’s followers in Russia tag along behind the ‘red-black’ alliance, the United Secretariat joins Gysi’s Social Democratic Party, and the Lambertists everywhere cuddle up to right wing trade union leaders. The Spartacist tendency, amongst others, is criticised for describing the overthrow of Stalinism as a counter-revolution. On the contrary, it was an immense step forward
These two books describing the early and late stages of Morenoism will leave most non-Argentineans puzzled. A reading of Moreno’s own writings ought to cast light on the tendency. However, Nahuel Moreno’s El Partido y la Revolución, a polemic with Ernest Mandel written in 1973, does little to help our understanding. Usually, when Marxists disagree, they understand what their opponents are saying, but it is difficult to follow Moreno’s arguments. Part of the problem may be Moreno’s style of writing, influenced perhaps by his early philosophical inclinations, where criteria of logic, evidence and proof are usually absent.
So, was Morenoism a purely Argentinean phenomenon which cannot be understood outside that cultural context? An argument against it is that in the 1980s, Moreno formed an International (the LIT) which had branches in other Latin American countries, and even in Europe. Opponents seem to suggest that Morenoism is the political equivalent of glue sniffing, and that it is a waste of time to seek coherence where none exists. How, then, can his achievement in maintaining a working class group, often working under severe repression, be explained? He obviously inspired great devotion. His pragmatism allowed him to drop one strategy and pick up another, leaving lesser men to bother about justifications. Critics point to his inconsistency in supporting armed struggle throughout Latin America but not in the Argentine, but his followers owe him their lives for refusing to launch them into a suicidal guerrilla war in the 1970s. By contrast, the followers of Ernest Mandel, an outstanding Marxist theoretician, were massacred. Morenoism peaked in the mid-1980s, when he predicted the fall of capitalism and an Argentinean revolution which would lead the rest of the world. Given the fantastic nature of that world-view, dying in January 1987 saved him a lot of embarrassment. Without him, his movement began to fall apart, although there are three substantial groups claiming his inheritance. Like other great men he seems not to have found adequate successors. Perhaps the description of him by Peter Fryer in Crocodiles in the Streets as a jovial figure who took his place at the end of the queue in the canteen at party headquarters, provides a clue to the affection his followers felt for him.
Updated by ETOL: 29.9.2011