An appeal for a rational discussion: Reply to Luis Oviedo - Part One

In the three articles that Luis Oviedo has written in answer to my article published on January 7 (Marxism versus Sectarianism - Reply to Luis Oviedo) a number of very important issues are raised. These questions deserve the most careful consideration by Marxists in Britain, Argentina and internationally. However, in order to clarify the issues raised and to educate the cadres (which ought to be the aim of every polemic) it is necessary to avoid heated language, distortions and personal attacks that only serve to divert attention away from the political questions. Such an approach will only confuse matters instead of clarifying them.

In the three articles that Luis Oviedo has written in answer to my article published on January 7 (Marxism versus Sectarianism - Reply to Luis Oviedo) a number of very important issues are raised. These questions deserve the most careful consideration by Marxists in Britain, Argentina and internationally. However, in order to clarify the issues raised and to educate the cadres (which ought to be the aim of every polemic) it is necessary to avoid heated language, distortions and personal attacks that only serve to divert attention away from the political questions. Such an approach will only confuse matters instead of clarifying them.

It is far better to have a calm and reasonable debate, where all the political differences are brought out clearly. Anyone who checks our web site will immediately see that this is our usual method. We should remind Luis Oviedo of the fact that when we first entered into (or attempted to enter into) a dialogue with the PO our tone was a very friendly one. Unfortunately, the tone adopted by Luis Oviedo in his latest articles is not the kind of tone that encourages an honest exchange of views.

In the subheading to the introduction to my article On the constituent assembly slogan: Is it applicable to Argentina? there is a section called On revolutionary tactics in Argentina: The need for a dialogue. Here we read:

"We are well aware of the role that the Trotskyists have played in the movement in Argentina, and it goes without saying that we celebrate their successes as our own […]

"The role of the PO in the process is obviously a significant element in the equation, and we follow it with great interest. On many points of the programme defended by the PO we find ourselves in agreement. However, we believe that some questions require further clarification – in particular, the slogan of the constituent assembly.

"Of course, it is important that we do not exaggerate differences, and that we should eliminate misunderstandings."

The whole article was written in the same friendly tone. If there is any doubt on this score, I refer you to the original article.

We later wrote articles about the Constituent Assembly slogan in which we warned that this slogan could have disastrous consequences for the revolution. I received several e-mails, all of them commenting favourably on the friendly and comradely tone of my criticism. We have never called the PO leaders counterrevolutionaries. We have never called into question their personal sincerity or their dedication to the cause of socialism. We consider that they have made a mistake, that is all. Everyone is entitled to make a mistake. But a revolutionary Marxist leadership ought to have sufficient confidence in itself to answer criticism with a reasoned argument, not a torrent of insults.

We say this, not because we are worried about such insults. The present writer has spent the last 43 years fighting capitalism, imperialism and reaction. I have personal experience of the underground struggle against the Franco dictatorship in Spain and was in Chile in the hardest period of the Pinochet reaction and in the USSR at the time of Stalinist totalitarianism. I am therefore not likely to be bothered by a few stupid insults. But, as a Marxist, I consider it immoral to try to avoid a serious discussion by creating a smoke screen of confusion. Nobody can learn anything from such a "debate".

Luis Oviedo is one of the main theoreticians of the PO. His approach to political discussion, however, suggests that the leaders of the PO are afraid to discuss ideas. They appear to be mainly concerned with prestige and maintaining a sense of the infallibility of the leadership. They were offended by our criticisms. This is a very bad way to approach political questions. When one makes a mistake, it is necessary to recognize it honestly, analyse it and correct it. If the leadership is not honest about its mistakes, it will miseducate the membership and prepare the way for bigger mistakes in future.

When I wrote, in the article on Bolivia, I said that the content of the Constituent Assembly slogan was counterrevolutionary. What did this mean? Not that the advocates of this slogan were themselves counterrevolutionaries (it is possible for an honest person to make mistakes) but that the slogan of the Constituent Assembly (CA) can under certain circumstances serve as a cover for the counterrevolution in a democratic form. In the case of Bolivia, this slogan is now being supported by Evo Morales and by all the bourgeois politicians. Even the representative of the World Bank in Bolivia supports this slogan. Bolpress, February 13, 2004 reports:

"A study made by the World Bank points out that there is the possibility that president Carlos Mesa will not finish his constitutional mandate which is set until 2007, although it points out that his great potential lies in his political agenda which includes the Constituent Assembly, a new gas agreement and the Hydrocarbons Law."

It is therefore clear to everyone that the forces of the counterrevolution in Bolivia are now rallying behind the slogan of the Constituent Assembly – clear to everyone, that is, except the leaders of the PO.

How did the PO leaders respond to a reasonable political criticism? Luis Oviedo published an article entitled The Counterrevolutionary Policies of Socialist Appeal. Instead of answering us politically, they have launched a barrage of insults, raising every question imaginable – and some quite unimaginable. But they do not answer any of the points we have raised.

Why does comrade Oviedo launch such furious attacks against us? Why does he raise the question of the Malvinas (where he shows he does not understand our position), Ireland (which he understands even less) and a hundred other questions? Only to create a smokescreen, to confuse the issue and to avoid an honest discussion of the PO's mistaken policy on the Constituent Assembly.

These unprecedented attacks were published in the PO web site in both English and Spanish. It was therefore inevitable that we would reply, and that the reply would be a sharp one. Luis Oviedo now complains that he is being called a liar and a falsifier. But then he should take more care when he quotes from the writings of opponents. Comrade Oviedo really has no right to complain about the tone of the reply, which, under the circumstances, was extremely restrained. In any case, I think that members of the PO who are interested in the substance of the political differences will be able to ignore the form and penetrate the content.

In addition to systematically distorting our position, he permits himself the liberty of using the grossest possible insults. That is always the way with sensitive souls. They reserve the right to slander and insult all who do not agree with them, while protesting loudly when those they attack dare to reply. For our part, we do not mind their insults. The Bolshevik Party was, after all, "the school of hard knocks".

Preliminary remarks

One thing must be admitted: from the writings of Luis Oviedo one always learns something new. From the article to which I replied last December I learned that I was a counterrevolutionary. In his latest articles that are intended as a reply to the reply I discover that I am not only a counterrevolutionary but also a monarchist, a war-monger, a colonialist and an imperialist. Moreover, it would appear that in my spare time I am in the habit of parading up and down the streets of London, wrapped in a British flag, shouting "Argies get out!" I am grateful to Luis for pointing this out to me, since, without reading his articles, I would never have learned these things about myself.

From the indignant tone of his reply, I fear that comrade Oviedo was offended by some of the things I wrote. I regret this very much. I would like us to be friends, and to understand one another. If my article caused Luis some distress, I apologise unreservedly. I hope this will enable Luis Oviedo to stop protesting and answer at least some of the points we have raised.

Luis complains repeatedly about the length of my reply, and has even used a function on his computer to check the number of characters. This reminds me of the Austrian monarch who complained to Mozart that his music contained too many notes. Luis finds that my reply had too many words (and far, far too many quotes). However, one cannot deal seriously with complex questions in a few sentences, in which rational argument is replaced by distortions and insults. Such a method is really not very scientific, although it is true that one is never bored!

Luis' own articles do not suffer from any of these defects. They are short and to the point – the point being to show that Alan Woods is a counterrevolutionary imperialist and generally a very bad person, with whom all respectable people should have nothing to do. His text is not cluttered up with quotes, for why bother to prove things that are so evident? It is sufficient that these assertions are made ex cathedra – from the pages of Prensa Obrera. This gives them approximately the same weight as an excommunication pronounced by the Pope of Rome. And there the matter ends. This seems to be the usual method with which the leaders of the PO dispose of their critics – both inside and outside the party.

Now we should be very sorry to leave things like this and thereby spoil a beautiful friendship. The members of the PO and all other interested parties wish to see a serious debate about the very serious matters that comrade Oviedo has raised. And a serious debate is impossible if one of the parties persists in presenting a falsification of the views of his opponents. That is what I criticised Luis Oviedo for in my last article. He has taken offence at the criticism, but instead of rectifying, he has repeated the distortions and added a few more for good measure. In order to establish the facts and eliminate some of the confusion, I have no alternative, reluctantly, but to reply at some length. I will also be obliged to include some more quotations.

I do not know why comrade Luis complains about this. A serious polemic is necessarily a lengthy affair. In the first place it is necessary to quote one's opponent accurately and at length. It is also necessary to demonstrate the classical positions of Marxism, and this also requires lengthy quotes. I understand that this habit of mine annoys Luis very much, as he is a busy man and has no time to provide any quotations or facts to back up his arguments. Members of the PO are expected to take his word on everything he says. But I believe it is always better to prove what one is sayinglength notwithstanding.

From what he writes, not only has Luis not understood a word of what we have written. He has not even read the articles and documents he so severely criticises. I therefore venture to give my friend Luis a piece of very good advice: if you wish to understand what I am trying to say, please take the trouble to read what I write. That is an excellent way of improving your comprehension!

The purpose of a polemic between Marxists, as I have pointed out, is not to score cheap debating points, but to raise the political level of the cadres. This is my sole intention in replying to comrade Luis. So yet again, I am afraid there will be "too many notes" for his liking. What are we to do? I would like to please Luis Oviedo, but I am also obliged to pay some attention to the facts.

'Arabs and Turks'

In his three articles, Luis has not clarified any of the questions raised, but only introduced new elements of confusion. I will not waste much time dealing with the numerous secondary arguments raised by comrade Oviedo. But there is one detail I feel I cannot omit. The title of Luis' first article is a strange one: "An Arab who lost his way". As a matter of fact, I am not an Arab but a Welshman by birth and a proletarian internationalist by conviction. I have by no means lost my way, but remain very firmly on the ground of revolutionary Marxism.

I find it hard to understand Luis' references to Arabs and Turks. The Arabs and Turks whom I have met have been very pleasant, hospitable and cultured people, with a very rich civilization and literature. To use "Arab" and "Turk" as terms of ridicule seems to me to reveal a mentality that is not at all that of proletarian internationalism. If it is intended as a joke, then it is a joke in very poor taste. At the very least one can say that it smacks of national narrowness. This is not the only example of such nationalist one-sidedness, as we shall see.

Evidently, the confusion about my national status comes from the fact that I prefaced my last article by an old Arab proverb "The dogs bark, therefore the caravan is moving". Luis Oviedo complains that this is not an Arab proverb at all, but is taken from the pages of Don Quixote. Evidently, a person who does not know his Quixote from his Arabs is not to be trusted! As a matter of fact I am fairly well acquainted with Cervantes' masterpiece, which, by coincidence, I recently reread. The quotation my friend is thinking of is (in Spanish) "Ladran, luego cabalgamos", which is not quite the same as the quotation I used. In fact, Cervantes was paraphrasing the Arab proverb.

Cervantes knew the Arabs and Turks very well, being captured in the battle of Lepanto and serving as a galley-slave under Arab masters for some years. Despite this experience, he always had a great respect for the culture of these peoples. He even says that the story of Quixote was written by an Arab. Up to this time, in fact, the Arabs had a higher cultural level than the Christian Spaniards, and their poetry, literature and (dare I say it?) their proverbs, had a profound influence on Spanish literature. Luis Oviedo does not seem to know this. But since there are so many other things he does not know, this need not surprise us.

He also writes that "more than an Arab in a caravan, he [AW] is like a Turk in the mist". Having been in Istanbul on several occasions, I can assure Luis Oviedo that there is no mist to be found there. Nor, contrary to the general belief, is there much fog in London nowadays (since Thatcher closed all the industry). The only fog is the fog in Luis' brain. We will now do our very best to help him to clear it.

Immediate tasks of the Bolivian revolution

The content of the first part of comrade Oviedo's trilogy is even stranger than this. It is entitled "Woods confirms Prensa Obrera", and is merely a repetition of the earlier accusations about our alleged slavish "following of the existing leaders". This foolish accusation was answered in detail in my previous article. I do not feel it is necessary to add anything to what is written there. I suggest that anyone with a reasonable doubt on this should read the material on our website, which would rapidly convince them that this accusation is utterly groundless

He says: "In spite of the length of his 'Reply,' plagued by long quotations, obvious remarks, insults and deprecating remarks against Oviedo and the leadership of the PO, Woods hides the central fact that the COB defended the 'constitutional way out' and the replacement of Sánchez de Lozada by his Vice-President Mesa, just as Morales and Quispe did. This is why we denounced Woods' position that the COB leadership played 'a very positive role'."

We will not repeat here what was said in the last article. We will merely reiterate that there is not a word of truth in the accusation that we uncritically supported the COB leadership. To underline the point, here are a couple of quotations from recent articles on our web site:

"At the end of the COB meeting, its general secretary paid a visit to the new president. But instead of adopting a firm position and demanding from the government the fulfilment of the workers' demands within a given period of time and declaring his complete mistrust of the new government, Solares adopted a conciliatory line". (...)

"This is really a scandalous position which will only cause confusion and disorientation amongst the masses. Luckily, so far, the masses have had a much better instinct than their leaders at all crucial points. How can one imagine that Carlos Mesa will create jobs and sources of well being for the people? That can only be achieved through the abolition of capitalism, something Mesa will never carry out. It is not a question of "good faith" but rather of the crisis of Bolivian capitalism which forces it to maintain the privileges of the ruling class by increasing attacks on the well being and living standards of workers and peasants". (Bolivia: first balance-sheet of the insurrection, "A revolutionary party was missing" by Jorge Martín, October 20, 2003, our emphais).

Where is the uncritical support for the COB leaders that Oviedo claims we have? But before we say anything else, let us see what position the COB leaders are actually putting forward here and now. In his latest article, comrade Jorge Martin writes:

"Already on December 30, the leader of the El Alto Regional Workers Union, Roberto de La Cruz 'questioned the failure of the new government to meet the demands of the people formulated in October and demanded the closing down of parliament'. (Bolpress, 30/12/03.)

"Also the main leader of the COB, Jaime Solares, addressing the Ordinary Congress of the Potosí Departmental Workers Union, made an appeal for ‘strikes, blockades and other measures to paralyse the country's economy in order to fight against a government which only follows US economic recipes' and added that ‘the theory of revolution will be put into practice through the road of insurrection'. In the same statement, quoted by Econoticiasbolivia.com on January 15, Solares pointed out 'that the oligarchy must fall so that the people take power'.

"All these statements, which undoubtedly reflect the pressure and growing impatience of workers and peasants, prepared the way for the decisions of the national enlarged meeting of the COB on Thursday, January 22". (Bolivia is moving towards a third uprising, by Jorge Martín, January 29, 2004).

"It is clear that although there is still some confusion regarding the slogan of a Constituent Assembly, the workers' organisations clearly oppose this manoeuvre of the ruling class when they pose the People's Assembly as an alternative. At the same time the call to close down parliament has a clear class and anti-capitalist content. Thus Solares stated that, ‘the Constituent Assembly will not solve the economic and social crisis, as long as the current capitalist structure remains' and added that, ‘capitalism in the world cannot be maintained without wars, corruption and lies, while in Bolivia this model has destroyed the national economy'. Roberto de la Cruz said that, ‘the people want a legislative power expressing a real participatory democracy and to close down the current bourgeois parliament that does not want to make structural changes and represents a fictitious democracy' (Bolpress, 26/1/04)". (ibid.)

We leave aside for the moment the question of how far the COB will carry out what they threaten and to what extent their actions will correspond to their words. We will just say this: that despite certain elements of confusion, the position publicly advocated by the COB leaders is a hundred times more correct than the PO's demand for a constituent assembly. In the meantime every tendency must immediately define its attitude to the practical tasks posed by the class struggle in Bolivia.

Let us ask a direct question to comrade Luis. Are you not aware that the COB has just called an indefinite general strike? If you did not know we are now pointing it out to you. Moreover, we ask you a straight question: What position does the PO take on this? Do you or do you not support the general strike called by the COB leaders? Do you or do you not consider this a positive development?

Luis Oviedo and the PO leaders are still convinced that the COB leaders only call general strikes in order to betray them! The possibility that, under certain circumstances, the trade union leaders might be pushed by the pressure of the masses to act does not occur to them. They are so used to repeating mechanically "the leaders always betray" that when the leaders actually do call for action, they are left with their mouths open. That is to say, they have not the slightest idea of how the real movement of the workers proceeds. They will therefore never be capable of intervening in it.

But things get from bad to worse, when comrade Oviedo accuses me of supporting not only the COB leaders but also Mesa: "The COB leadership celebrates Mesa's assuming office as a 'peoples triumph' (Woods also celebrates it)…" (My emphasis.)

Where and in what way did we "celebrate" the coming to power of the bourgeois Mesa? Luis Oviedo once again makes an outrageous assertion without a single piece of evidence or quotation to prove it. Anyone who reads our article will see at once that this is a stupid lie. This is what we actually said: "The overthrow of Lozada was the first great success of the Bolivian revolution. But it is too early to shout victory. The most important tasks of the revolution have not been achieved. Its most important battles lie in the future." Moreover: "the army of the proletariat must not be stood down. The war is not over. It has only just begun! In order to guarantee that the most pressing demands of the people will be met, it is necessary to prepare for another general strike – one that will place on the order of the day, not the overthrow of a President, but the overthrow of the corrupt and reactionary Bolivian oligarchy that is blocking the way to progress."

And what was our attitude to Mesa? Luis Oviedo says we celebrated his coming to power. In fact, what we celebrated was the overthrow of Lozada by the masses. But did we also "celebrate" the coming to power of Mesa, as comrade Oviedo alleges? This is what we wrote:

"Despite this cosmetic change, there is no real difference between Mesa and Lozada. It is like a tactical retreat in war. Since the first line of defence has been swept aside by the masses, Mesa is forced to retreat to a second line of defence, to address the masses, and to promise – above all to promise, anything and everything – the sun, the moon and the stars – with one condition: that the masses leave the streets and go home, that 'normality' be restored, that 'law and order' should reign. Once
the movement has died down, the oligarchy can go onto the offensive and take back all the concessions." (Bolivia, The key to the Andean revolution, Alan Woods and Jorge Martín, October 22, 2003)

Is this not clear? We pointed out that there was no real difference between Mesa and Lozada. We said that, in pushing Mesa to power, the bourgeoisie was only making a tactical retreat, and that Mesa represented a second line of defence for the ruling class. We warned the masses that nothing was solved and that they must prepare for another general strike, not just to overthrow Mesa but to take power and transform society. Luis nevertheless regards all this as a celebration, but I very much doubt whether Mr. Mesa would be of the same opinion.

We have already explained that critical support for the COB leaders when the latter are actually calling a general strike does not at all mean uncritical support. The Bolivian Marxists must at all times retain their political and organizational independence. But this explanation is not enough for Luis Oviedo. He demands that we shout from the rooftops that the COB is counterrevolutionary! This is what he writes:

"The masses must be told the truth. Not lied to as Woods does. It is such an elementary question which requires no quotations from 1848 or 1932 [Luis, as we know, is allergic to quotes]. The PO tells the masses: the politics of the leadership of the COB was counterrevolutionary."

So this is what the leadership of the PO suggests to the Marxists of Bolivia: They must immediately go before the working class of Bolivia and inform them that the leaders of the COB are counterrevolutionary – and they must do this precisely at the time when these same leaders are calling for an indefinite general strike, with roadblocks and even the closing down of the bourgeois parliament and its replacement by a popular assembly.

The national enlarged meeting of the Bolivian Workers' Union (COB) gathered in Cochabamba on January 22, and decided to call for an indefinite general strike with road blockades in twenty days time if Mesa's government does not concede the demands of the October insurrection and continues with its announced austerity measures. The COB meeting "ended with the decision to take power, by closing down Parliament". (El Diario, January 23, 2004.) This decision marks the end of the truce given by the worker and peasant leaders to Carlos Mesa's government, which came to power after the overthrow of Sanchez de Lozada through an insurrectional general strike in October last year.

In a meeting which took place in the headquarters of the La Paz Urban Teachers' Federation and which lasted for more than ten hours, the COB declared "war against the government". The workers' union decided to "declare a national state of emergency in the whole of the country, to establish and prepare an indefinite strike with mobilisations (to be carried out in 20 days), to plan the basis for the definition of strategy for measures to pressure the government and to establish a political front of struggle against the government" (Econoticiasbolivia.com, January 23, 04). To the demands already made to the government in October they now added the "refounding of Comibol and YPFB [the former publicly owned mining and oil companies] under workers control". (La Razón, January 24, 04).

Comrade Oviedo will remind us that these are only words. Yes, of course, these are only words. But then we should demand that these words should be immediately translated into deeds. Instead of doing what ought to be done: namely energetically supporting the COB's demand for a general strike, roadblocks, etc., and doing everything in their power to carry this into effect, the leaders of the PO recommend that their supporters in Bolivia should attack the COB leaders as counterrevolutionaries!

The sum total of this wisdom can be summed up in a single sentence: one must constantly denounce all other trends as traitors and counterrevolutionaries, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and fifty two weeks a year. This task must be performed regularly, shouting at the top of one's voice. Then the mass revolutionary party will be built! Such methods as this are not new. They are as old as the hills. This represents the sum total of the wisdom of the sects, like the ideas of the Left Communists that Lenin criticised so severely, and bear an even closer resemblance to the Third Period madness of the Stalinists that Trotsky condemned.

These methods would completely cut us off from the masses in every country. They would spell complete isolation and impotence for the proletarian vanguard. Yet to the leaders of the PO this is the very pinnacle of revolutionary politics. The ultra-lefts have learned nothing and forgotten everything. For such people the writings of Lenin and Trotsky are a book sealed with seven seals. To such people, one can only sigh and shrug one's shoulders. As the Bible says: "as a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly." (Proverbs, xxvi, ii)

What is the purpose of all this denunciation of the COB? Only to draw the readers' attention away from the central question – the slogan of the Constituent Assembly. It goes without saying that we do not accept any responsibility for the policies and conduct of the COB leaders. The Marxist tendency must always maintain its independent political line. Our position in relation to the tasks of the Bolivian revolution is well known. We stand for socialist revolution and workers' power. There is nothing ambiguous about this. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the position of the PO.

The idea that the reformist trade union leaders can never express the aspirations of the workers is pure formalism. The mass organizations by their very nature come under the pressure of the masses. It is true that the upper layers express far more faithfully the pressure of the bourgeoisie. But in a situation when the masses are aroused to struggle, the leaders (even the most bureaucratic and right wing leaders) can come under the pressure of the workers and begin to echo their demands. They can move into semi-opposition to the government, or even outright opposition. Bolivia is a good example of this dialectical relation between the class and the leadership

The line that has been advocated by the COB leadership may not be a finished programme for socialist revolution, but at the very least it is a big step in the right direction. The call for an indefinite general strike and the replacement of the bourgeois parliament with a Popular Assembly is a good starting point. What is needed is to ensure that the words of the leaders do not remain on paper but are put immediately into practice. Therefore, the position of the Bolivian Marxists must be one of critical support. We must support the general strike with all our energy, strive to broaden and deepen the mass movement against the government and give it an organized expression in the form of action committees (soviets). We demand deeds not words!

The COB leaders, in calling for the strike and blockade, are acting under the pressure of the working class and the rank and file of the union. But in turn, by calling the strike, the COB leaders have given an impetus to the movement. This will lead to a further radicalisation of the masses, which in turn can push the leaders further than they wish to go. Only the most thick-headed sectarian could fail to notice this. But the movement can only succeed to the degree that it arouses the broadest layers of the working class and poor peasants.

It is not necessary to have illusions in the COB leadership, to support the strike. We do not know how far the COB leaders will go, because they do not know themselves. It is quite possible that, in the moment of truth, they will become alarmed and retreat. We must be prepared for this, of course. In any case, the success of the general strike – as any other strike – will depend on the degree to which the leadership of the movement comes from below. Therefore the appropriate slogan for Bolivia under present conditions is soviets (although we should use a word that the Bolivian workers will understand). We call on the Bolivian workers to support the general strike, whilst developing and extending their committees of action, linking them up on a local, regional and national level.

Under favourable conditions, this movement could lead to the working class taking power. But the most important condition for victory is the creation of a Marxist party. The Bolivian revolution will be faced with powerful enemies, inside and outside its frontiers. The working class can come to power in Bolivia, but it cannot consolidate that power unless the revolution spreads to the neighbouring countries. The presence of a Marxist leadership, which knows what it wants and how to get it, is of fundamental importance, above all to give the revolution an internationalist perspective.

The conditions for revolution are maturing in a number of countries, beginning with Peru. A militant appeal to the workers of Peru, Chile and the rest of Latin America would have an immediate effect. The imperialists and their allies would find themselves fighting on many fronts. That is the only way to defeat imperialism – by spreading the revolution throughout Latin America. That is why national one-sidedness is impermissible for revolutionaries in Latin America. Not nationalism but only proletarian internationalism can guarantee victory.

But where are the cadres of such a Marxist party to be found? They will not drop from the clouds in Bolivia or any other country. The forces for such a party can only come from the existing mass organizations of the proletariat in Bolivia – that means the COB. Therefore, we must have a correct attitude to this organization. Shrill sectarian denunciations are completely counterproductive. Our advice to the Bolivian Marxists is the same as Lenin's advice to the Bolsheviks in the soviets in 1917: Patiently explain!

Unfortunately, the position of the PO leaders in relation to the Bolivian revolution is wrong from start to finish. It combines elements of ultra-leftism and opportunism in equal measure: on the one hand, hysterical attacks against the COB leaders – at a time when the latter are calling for a general strike – on the other hand, the hopelessly reformist bourgeois democratic slogan of the Constituent Assembly. On this road no progress can be made. If the Bolivian Marxists accept these methods, they will destroy the party before it has even begun to come into existence.

The Constituent Assembly – yet again

As we have explained many times, the slogan of the CA is appropriate for a backward semi-feudal society with a large peasantry or a dictatorial regime. Tsarist Russia fulfilled all these conditions. But the position of Argentina (or Bolivia) has very little in common with Russia a hundred years ago.

One of the main reasons why the Bolsheviks stressed the bourgeois democratic demands was to win over the peasantry. But in Argentina no peasantry exists. What is required is not the division of the big estates to the peasants, but the nationalization of the big capitalist farms and their direct conversion into collectives, as part of a nationalized planned economy. In other words, the objective character of the coming Argentine revolution is socialist, not bourgeois democratic, and it must be brought about by the coming to power of the Argentine proletariat.

In order to cover his backside, Luis Oviedo tries to qualify the demand for a Constituent Assembly by adding the phrase "with power". What does this mean? We cannot imagine that the PO would demand a Constituent Assembly without power. This is meaningless as all the other qualifications they have introduced, like "sovereign" and "independent" (of whom?). The fact remains that the slogan of Constituent Assembly is a bourgeois democratic slogan that is counterposed to workers' power. And no amount of juggling with words will change that.

In Bolivia the position is still clearer. The whole logic of the situation is pushing the workers towards power. In such a situation what is the duty of Marxists? Our duty is to raise before the workers the perspective of taking power. The movement towards a new general strike raises the question of action committees (soviets), not as abstract propaganda but as an urgent and immediate necessity.

The PO attacks the COB leaders in a completely irresponsible and light-minded way, just when they are calling for a general strike. That is stupid and only serves to discredit the Trotskyists. But we are very conscious of the fact that there are grave dangers in the present situation. An indefinite general strike (as opposed to a 24 hour general strike) poses the question of power, but cannot resolve it. It asks the question: "Who is master of this house?" It paralyses the productive forces and makes it impossible for capitalist society to function. But society cannot continue indefinitely in a state of paralysis. The struggle for power must be settled – one way or another.

In a general strike of this character, society is split between two antagonistic powers. One must prevail. The COB leaders have called for an indefinite general strike and the replacement of the bourgeois parliament with a Popular Assembly. This amounts to a call for an insurrection. But this cannot be left in the air. The key to the situation lies in the workers' committees. They must link up and confront the old state as an alternative power. Everything depends on this.

A slogan that under certain conditions can play a progressive role in rallying the backward masses under the banner of revolution, under other conditions can become the rallying point for the forces of reaction. Not to see this is to play the game of the counterrevolution. Incidentally, the counterrevolution can be carried out under the banner of democracy, and this has happened many times in history.

To raise in such a situation the demand for a Constituent Assembly is an entirely false policy that plays into the hands of the bourgeoisie and can shipwreck the revolution. At a moment when the question of workers' power is implicit in the whole situation, it is a diversion, which is why the bourgeois and reformist politicians are all united around the same demand.

Events have entirely vindicated everything we wrote in the past about this slogan. Evo Morales in Bolivia, whom the PO attacks so violently, is now calling for a Popular Constituent Assembly precisely the same term that Oviedo uses. The Bolivian section of the PO calls for the same thing. The PO says Morales is a traitor, but he is using their slogan. Is this not clear enough?

The PO tries to justify their use of this slogan as a transitional demand. A transitional demand is supposed to act as a bridge between the present consciousness of the masses and the socialist revolution. But in the context of the present situation in both Argentina and Bolivia it is not a bridge to the socialist revolution but a barrier blocking the way to it. That is why the bourgeois and reformist politicians in Bolivia have embraced it so enthusiastically. We predict that tomorrow, when the Argentine bourgeoisie finds itself threatened with overthrow it will act in the same way.

The PO leadership have landed themselves in a mass of contradictions because they have thought out nothing to the end. The fact that all the bourgeois politicians in Bolivia have accepted the CA slogan is proof enough of its reactionary content. As we have seen, even the World Bank accepts it! It really is time to think again. The PO leaders are organically allergic to admitting mistakes. But now the dangers implicit in this incorrect slogan are quite clear. It is time to change course and admit what everyone can see: the CA slogan is the slogan, not of the proletarian dictatorship, but of the counterrevolution in a democratic formas it also turned out to be in Russia.

The Constituent Assembly slogan in 1917

The PO leaders imagine that, in advocating the slogan of the CA for Argentina and Bolivia, they are faithfully following the line of the Bolshevik Party in 1917. That is not the case. Given the concrete conditions of tsarist Russia, the democratic demands played an important role and therefore the slogan of the CA was included in the programme of the RSDLP along with other bourgeois democratic demands. However, by 1917 this slogan had already outlived its usefulness. It played a very subordinate role and finally a counterrevolutionary one.

In 1917 the Bolshevik leadership was split between the Leninists, who stood for workers' power and the Compromisers (Kamenev, Stalin and Zinoviev) who, in practice, had abandoned the position of socialist revolution in favour of vulgar bourgeois democracy. Only after a sharp struggle, beginning in the April Conference, were the Compromisers defeated. What was the main slogan put forward by the Compromisers to attack the Leninists? The slogan of the Constituent Assembly.

In The History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky describes the scene at the April Conference when Lenin confronted Stalin and Kamenev, who had abandoned the perspective of workers' power in favour of the programme of vulgar bourgeois democracy. It was these Compromisers, and not Lenin, who emphasised the slogan of the CA, which was put forward by the bourgeois in order to divert the revolution into safe channels. To the demands of the workers and peasants for peace, bread and land, they answered: "wait for the Constituent Assembly!" At the April Conference, Lenin fulminated against the Compromisers, accusing them of wasting time and losing the opportunity of taking power:

"On April 4 Lenin appeared at the party conference. His speech, developing his ‘theses', passed over the work of the conference like the wet sponge of a teacher erasing what had been written on the blackboard by a confused pupil.

"‘Why didn't you seize the power?' asked Lenin. At the Soviet conference not long before that, Steklov had confusedly explained the reasons for abstaining from the power: revolution is bourgeois –it is the first stage– the war, etc. ‘That's nonsense,' Lenin said. ‘The reason is that the proletariat was not sufficiently conscious and not sufficiently organised. That we have to acknowledge. The material force was in the hands of the proletariat, but the bourgeoisie was conscious and ready. That is the monstrous fact. But it is necessary to acknowledge it frankly, and say to the people straight out that we did not seize the power because we were unorganised and not conscious.'

"From the plane of pseudo-objectivism, behind which the political capitulators were hiding, Lenin shifted the whole question to the subjective plane. The proletariat did not seize the power in February because the Bolshevik Party was not equal to its objective task, and could not prevent the Compromises from expropriating the popular masses politically for the benefit of the bourgeoisie." (Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, p. 320.)

The Compromisers tried to hide behind the slogan of the CA, which they counterpoised to the dictatorship of the proletariat, but Lenin poured scorn on this, as we see from the following passage:

"The day before that, lawyer Krassikov had said challengingly: ‘If we think that the time has now come to realize the dictatorship of the proletariat, then we ought to pose the question that way. We unquestionably have the physical force for a seizure of power.' The chairman at that time deprived Krassikov of the floor on the ground that practical problems were under discussion, and the question of dictatorship was out of order. But Lenin thought that, as the sole practical question, the question of preparing the dictatorship of the proletariat was exactly in order. ‘The peculiarity of the present moment in Russia,' he said in his theses, ‘consists in the transition from the first stage of the revolution, which gave the power to the bourgeoisie on account of the inadequate consciousness and organization of the proletariat, to its second stage which must give the power to the proletariat and the poor layers of the peasantry.' The conference, following the lead of Pravda, had limited the task of the revolution to a democratic transformation to be realized through the Constituent Assembly. As against this, Lenin declared that ‘life and the revolution will push the Constituent Assembly into the background. A dictatorship of the proletariat exists, but nobody knows what to do with it'." (The History of the Russian Revolution, pp. 320-1, my emphasis.)

The fact is that the slogan of the CA did not play a central role in the propaganda of the Bolsheviks in 1917. The central demand was All Power to the Soviets – that is, the slogan of workers' power. The bourgeoisie and the Compromisers constantly hid behind the slogan of the CA, appealing to the masses to wait for the convening of the latter. In order to unmask them, the Bolsheviks said to the masses: let the soviets take power, that is the only guarantee that the CA will be convened. The fact is that the CA played an entirely secondary role in the lead-up to October, as Trotsky explains on more than one occasion, as in the following passage:

"Not one party had yet withdrawn the slogan of the Constituent Assembly, and this included the Bolsheviks. But almost unnoticeably in the course of the events of the revolution, this chief democratic slogan, which had for a decade and a half tinged with its colour the heroic struggle of the masses, had grown pale and faded out, had somehow been ground between millstones, had become an empty shell, a form naked of content, a tradition and not a prospect. There was nothing mysterious in this process. The development of the revolution had reached the point of a direct battle for power between the two basic classes of society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. A Constituent Assembly could give nothing either to the one or the other. The petty bourgeoisie of the town and country could play only an auxiliary and secondary role in this conflict. They were in any case incapable of seizing the power themselves. If the preceding months had proved anything, they had proved that. Nevertheless in a Constituent Assembly the petty bourgeoisie might still win —and they actually did win as it turned out— a majority, And to what end? Only to the end of not knowing what to do with it. This reveals the bankruptcy of formal democracy in a deep historic crisis. It reveals the strength of tradition, however, that even on the eve of the last battle neither camp had yet renounced the name of the Constituent Assembly. But as a matter of fact the bourgeoisie had appealed from the Constituent Assembly to Kornilov, and the Bolsheviks to the Congress of Soviets." (The History of the Russian Revolution, pp. 937-8.)

I reproduce this passage in full, so that there can be no doubt about what is being said. Trotsky explains very clearly something that Lenin already predicted in the April Conference, namely that the CA slogan would play an entirely subordinate role in the revolution. The words he uses are clear and unambiguous: "pale and faded out, had somehow been ground between millstones, had become an empty shell, a form naked of content, a tradition and not a prospect."

Let us recall that tsarist Russia was a backward, semi-feudal, semi-colonial country with an autocratic regime. In such a country the defence of bourgeois democratic demands – including the Constituent Assembly – was very important. Yet in the course of the revolution, this particular demand lost all of its revolutionary significance and became an obstacle. Not for nothing did Kamenev and Zinoviev cling to this demand when they tried to oppose the seizure of power in November. And, as we know, in the end, the Bolsheviks dispersed the CA and ruled through the soviets.

There is a very simple explanation for all this. Trotsky explained as early as 1904 that, although the objective tasks of the Russian Revolution were bourgeois democratic in character, they could not be carried out by the Russian bourgeoisie. Only the working class, in alliance with the poor peasants, could carry out the bourgeois democratic tasks, once it had taken power. But when the proletariat takes power it will not stop at the bourgeois democratic tasks, but will proceed immediately to the socialist tasks. Herein lies the "permanent" nature of the revolution.

Over 80 years later the PO (and other groups) insist in advocating for Argentina a slogan that Lenin and Trotsky already considered to be "pale and faded out, an empty shell, a form naked of content, a tradition and not a prospect" even before the October revolution. Worse still, they assign to this inappropriate slogan the central place in all their propaganda and agitation – which the Bolsheviks never did. If there was no basis for such a slogan in Russia in 1917 there is absolutely no basis for it in Argentina today. Argentina, as we have pointed out many times, is a relatively developed capitalist country where the working class constitutes a decisive majority of society. That is why the content of the Argentine revolution is socialist, not bourgeois democratic, and all slogans must flow from this fact.

The dictatorship of the proletariat

Luis Oviedo accepts what is obvious, namely that the CA slogan is not a socialist but a bourgeois democratic demand. In Bolivia, this slogan is not complimentary to the perspective of workers' power but in direct contradiction to it. You can have bourgeois parliamentarism (even "with power") or you can have a workers' state: but you cannot have both.

While theoretically standing for socialist revolution, the PO leaders' insistence on the CA actually points in the opposite direction. They do not want to admit this, so they counterattack by claiming that we do not advocate workers' power. The implication of comrade Oviedo's words (though no doubt he will deny it) is approximately as follows: "OK, so the PO does not stand for the socialist revolution, but neither does Socialist Appeal."

Anyone who takes the trouble to read our articles on Bolivia will know that we have consistently put forward the perspective of workers' power and have shown how it can be achieved:

"No confidence in the Mesa government. Maintain the mobilisation. Strengthen the democratic organisation of workers and peasants. Organise the workers' and peoples' self-defence. For a national assembly of elected and recallable delegates to pose the taking of power. For a Socialist Bolivia within the framework of a Socialist Federation of Latin America". (Bolivia: first balance-sheet of the insurrection "A revolutionary party was missing" by Jorge Martín, October 20, 2003.)

In desperation, Luis tries to say that we do not support the dictatorship of the proletariat. He asserts that nowhere does the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat" appear in my writings. If my good friend only knew how to use the "find" function as well as the word count on his computer, he would have discovered that I have dealt with this subject many times. Comrade Oviedo is in such a hurry to "discredit" us that he doesn't even do his homework properly. In my article, On the constituent assembly slogan: Is it applicable to Argentina? (February 11, 2002) there is a subheading, Dictatorship of the proletariat, in which I wrote the following:

"If what is meant is that the constituent assembly must have no power above it, in other words, must concentrate all power in its hands in order to crush the resistance of the bankers and capitalists, then what we are talking about is no longer a bourgeois democratic parliament, but a revolutionary dictatorship of the working class which puts itself at the head of the Nation in order to carry through the expropriation of landlordism and capitalism. This is most probably what the comrades of the PO mean. But then it should be made absolutely clear.

"If this interpretation is correct, then we are not talking about a constituent assembly, but the dictatorship of the proletariat. Given the fact that the word "dictatorship", after Hitler, Stalin and the Argentine Junta, has certain connotations which have nothing to do with the original conception of Marx and Lenin – for whom the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat' meant nothing more than a regime of workers' democracy – we do not expect the Argentine comrades to utilise this expression in their propaganda. That would merely provide an excuse to the counter-revolutionaries to distort and discredit our arguments."

Anyone reading this will clearly see that we have not renounced the "dictatorship of the proletariat". We merely explain the idea of workers' power (which is what the slogan means) in language that the workers can understand, since we must always explain the ideas of Marxism in a way that can get an echo among the working class. Is this so difficult to understand?

When Marx first put forward the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, he had a very definite historical analogy in mind: namely, the Roman Republic, which in times of war gave extraordinary powers to the military leader (the "dictator"). However, this was a temporary situation, lasting not more than one year. At no time did Marx ever support the idea of a totalitarian regime, which is what most people today imagine when they hear the word "dictatorship".

From where did Marx get the idea of dictatorship of the proletariat? He got it from the Paris Commune, the state – or, more correctly, semi-state established by the working people of Paris in 1871, when they rose up against the dictatorship of Louis Bonaparte. This was, apart from the early Soviet state in Russia, the most democratic form of government in history. It was based on free elections (there was no question of a one-party state – there were many parties and groups represented in the Commune), the right of recall, limitation of the salaries of officials and the replacement of the standing army by the armed people. Anything less like a totalitarian regime it would be hard to imagine!

Today, over a century since Marx first put forward the idea of dictatorship of the proletariat, things have changed a lot. After the experience of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, when people hear the word dictatorship, they immediately think of concentration camps and secret police. This is a tremendous bonus to the enemies of socialism, who always claim that communism means totalitarian slavery. In Argentina, where the memory of the Junta is till fresh, any party that was foolish enough to agitate for dictatorship of any kind would immediately alienate a large number of people. They would say: "the present ‘democracy' is bad enough – but the other was much worse. We don't want another dictatorship, thank you!"

While loudly protesting about our alleged abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the PO leaders understand this quite well. Luis Oviedo evidently does not have a very high opinion of the intelligence of his readers. He hopes they will not notice that the PO itself has modified the way in which it presents the dictatorship of the proletariat. In his article he says the following:

"The PO has never stopped developing its politics on the basis of the strategy of the workers government (for us, the popular denomination of the dictatorship of the proletariat) even when raising the slogan of People's Constituent Assembly... and especially when raising this slogan, a transitional slogan, and not a "stageist" one. Woods, in contrast, is a unique case world-wide: he opposes, at the same time, the slogan of Constituent Assembly and dictatorship of the proletariat."

Really? Our friend Luis admits that even the r-r-r-revolutionary leaders of the PO need a "popular denomination" for the dictatorship of the proletariat. You see, they do not actually call it the dictatorship of the proletariat but a workers' government. In fact, a workers' government does not necessarily signify the dictatorship of the proletariat, though in some circumstances it might do so. But let that pass. For the moment, we will limit ourselves to congratulating the comrades of the PO for their good common sense in avoiding an unnecessary complication and choosing a perfectly acceptable alternative slogan that can actually get an echo in the working class.

All over the world the ultra-lefts make fools of themselves when they repeat like parrots the phrases they have learned by heart from Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, without understanding what they mean. For their part, the PO leaders use the slogan of a workers' government instead of dictatorship of the proletariat. In principle, we can accept what Luis says: that the slogan of a workers' government can serve as a transitional slogan that implies workers' power, though this may not be the case.

To be absolutely precise, whether a workers' government means the same thing as the dictatorship of the proletariat depends on the nature and composition of the government. Luis Oviedo knows perfectly well that the international Marxist tendency to which I belong has consistently stood for workers' power (the "dictatorship of the proletariat"), and all attempts to deny this will rebound against those who are responsible.

Oviedo goes on quoting: "In Bolivia he says, 'what is needed is workers' democracy leading to socialism' ("The Bolivian workers had power within their grasp - Los trabajadores bolivianos tuvieron el poder al alcance de la mano")." He then proceeds to twist and distort its meaning:

"Which is to say that he supports, not 'dictatorship' but instead democracy, like the LCR. Moreover, he supports 'labor' democracy, not workers democracy, which is to say, the popular front version of the democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants which The Transitional Program denounces." [Note: whoever has translated this article has rendered the Spanish phrase "democracia de los trabajadores" as "labor democracy"; it would be more correct to express this as " workers' democracy" or "democracy of the working people"]. 

This method is completely dishonest. He tries to present us as defenders of bourgeois democracy, "the same as the LCR". This method has a name: it is called an amalgam. This method was frequently used by the Stalinists against Trotsky, but it is unprecedented that it should be used by Trotskyists.

We note in passing that he quotes Los trabajadores bolivianos tuvieron el poder al alcance de la mano, from the web site of our Argentine comrades, claiming that I wrote it, when in actual fact what he is quoting is a leaflet produced by our Argentine comrades. But that is not the most important question. It just shows how much of a hurry he is in, that he doesn't even check what he is quoting. Even so, he quotes only isolated phrases, distorting them in the process. In that leaflet we read the following:

"In order really to satisfy the demands of the masses (end the poverty and exploitation of the workers (trabajadores) and peasants, nationalization of the natural resources, a viable distribution of the productive land, respect for the native people, punishment of those responsible for the killings, whether materially or politically – that is to say, the solution for the urgent social needs) power must pass into the hands of the working people (trabajadores) (workers, miners and peasants) through their organs of power. That is to say, what is needed is a workers' democracy (una democracia de trabajadores), leading to socialism. With this objective, it is necessary to form a revolutionary Marxist party, beginning with, for instance, the most advanced workers of the COB, since they are drawing similar conclusions to those outlined above."

Are these lines not absolutely clear? Is it not clear that our comrades are calling for a workers' government in Bolivia, based on the organs of power of the masses – that is, soviets? And is it not equally clear that Luis Oviedo has deliberately quoted an isolated phrase ("democracia de los trabajadores") out of context in an attempt to distort its meaning and demonstrate the opposite of what we say? We say that power must be taken by the workers, in alliance with the poor peasants. How a democracy of the workers can be construed as meaning merely "democracy" in the bourgeois sense, or a popular front, only a genius like comrade Oviedo can explain.

All that the dictatorship of the proletariat means is a workers' democracy (which in Spanish may be translated either as democracia de los trabajadores or democracia obrera). Let us put this issue still more concretely. In a bourgeois democracy, the workers are allowed to say, more or less, what they like, to strike, demonstrate, and vote in elections, but in reality all the important decisions are taken by the big banks and monopolies. Thus, a bourgeois democracy is just another way of expressing the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

In a workers' democracy, the situation is reversed. The working class rules through the soviets, while the former owners are stripped of their economic and political power. That is what the dictatorship of the proletariat is. In other words, the expressions "dictatorship of the proletariat" and "workers' democracy" mean exactly the same thing and can be used indifferently. And because of the negative connotations of the word "dictatorship", which does not at all convey what was intended by Marx and Lenin, we prefer to use an alternative – as does the PO, on Oviedo's own admission.

To confuse a workers' democracy with bourgeois democracy shows a very poor level of understanding of the ABCs of Marxism, since the two things are polar opposites, antagonistic and mutually incompatible. But then, such confusion is only to be expected from a tendency that thinks that the dictatorship of the proletariat is compatible with a Constituent Assembly.

On the history of the Fourth International

Having failed to produce a single shred of evidence, the advocate for the prosecution turns triumphantly to the jury and shouts: "I rest my case!" The absence of the aforementioned phrase clearly disqualifies me as a revolutionary Marxist, and Luis underlines the point by placing these words in inverted commas hereafter (this "revolutionary Marxist") to indicate his complete disgust at this omission:

"Our readers", he continues, "know that this 'revolutionary Marxist' [that is me, AW] does not defend the dictatorship of the proletariat in any of his numerous and extensive ["too many notes"] writings; neither does he defend it on a theoretical terrain [?]; for him, this concerns, at most, some far off historical reference. Woods, for example, dedicates hours of his valuable time attacking the Partido Obrero but has not found a single free minute to fix a position on the resolution of the Congress of the LCR [the French Mandelite organization] which has publicly repudiated the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The more you search on his web site the less you will not find anything on this point. Neither he, as head of his 'international,' nor his French section have felt compromised, because they agree with the LCR: for all of them, the dictatorship of the proletariat is a 'has been.' Just as with the leaders of the COB, here also silence is complicity."

Here at last, Luis Oviedo mentions the fact that he is really polemicising, not against Socialist Appeal, but against an international tendency, which through the person of comrade Ted Grant can trace its history in a direct and unbroken thread to Trotsky's Left Opposition, and has consistently defended the ideas, principles, methods and traditions of Trotsky.

Luis Oviedo makes much of the smallness of our forces in Argentina. Yes, in Argentina for the moment we are weak in numbers, but we are strong in ideas, and that is a guarantee that we will grow in Argentina, as we have grown in other countries. The fact that comrade Oviedo finds it necessary to attack our international tendency and our group in Argentina in the way that he has is proof that he himself realises that this is the case.

What is the reason for these continuous attacks? Oviedo wishes to raise such a mountain of calumnies that it will frighten off those who are looking for an alternative. He says: "Don't listen to these people! They are very bad!" But serious members of the PO and others who are discontented with the conduct of the existing groups in Argentina who claim to be Trotskyists will not be so easily deterred. They are capable of thinking for themselves and are not prepared to accept unproven allegations just because they come from the leadership. Any Marxist who adopts an attitude of blind faith in the leadership cannot be regarded as serious. As Lenin once told Bukharin: "If you want obedience you will get obedient fools."

When comrade Oviedo claims that we agree with the Mandelites of the LCR, he shows his complete ignorance of the history of the Fourth International. Our tendency waged a continuous struggle against the tendency of Mandel for decades. Finally, we decided that enough was enough and broke with them. We have never regretted it.

It goes without saying that any person can make a mistake, and that goes for the party or the International also. But if a party or an International always makes the same mistake, then it is not a mistake but a tendency. In the case of the so-called USFI – the "International" of Mandel and co. – this is an organic petty bourgeois tendency that has nothing in common with Trotskyism. This was plain to us a long time ago, which is why we broke radically with Mandel, Hansen and co. in 1965. Since that time we have had nothing to do with them – or any other of the pseudo Trotskyist sects who are constantly fiddling and fussing on the margins of the Labour movement.

It is therefore strange that Comrade Oviedo tries to establish a connection between the LCR and our tendency. On what grounds does he make such an extraordinary claim? He says we attack him but don't say a word about the LCR, which has abandoned the call for the "dictatorship of the proletariat". On the PO's web site there are a lot of articles attacking the LCR for this position, he says, but on Marxist.com there is not a word. Why is this? The answer is very simple. Because we have better things to do with our time than follow the political meanderings of petty bourgeois groups, which are constantly studying their navel, squabbling among each other about this or that and, of course, splitting into ever smaller fragments. What these groups say or think is of no interest to the working class, and certainly of no interest to us.

Why, asks Luis, do we criticise the PO and not the LCR? The answer is very simple. The PO leaders have attacked our tendency publicly, accusing us of all sorts of heinous crimes and systematically distorting our positions. The LCR, to our knowledge, has not attacked us publicly. Oviedo has done so. That is the only reason we have taken the time and trouble to answer the PO, and not the LCR. However, that does not mean in the slightest that we agree with the LCR either on the dictatorship of the proletariat or anything else. This is a revisionist organization that abandoned Trotskyism many years ago, so we are not surprised at anything they do or say – nor are we particularly interested.

Our attitude to the French LCR is the same as our attitude to all the other sects: we pay no attention to this group and the other 57 varieties of pseudo Trotskyist groups who have falsely laid claim to the banner of the Fourth International, but have absolutely nothing in common with the ideas, programme and methods of Trotsky. It seems that the PO has all the time in the world to study and comment upon the bizarre twists and turns of such groups. For our part, we spent about 30 years in the so-called Fourth International – always in a minority.

From 1946 onwards the British RCP, led by comrade Ted Grant waged an unceasing struggle to return the Fourth International to the ideas of Trotsky. All the other leaders failed in their duty and succumbed to opportunism or ultraleftism: not only Mandel and Pablo, but also Healy, Lambert, Hansen and Cannon. The political degeneration of the leadership led inevitably to organizational degeneration. That is always the case.

The only authority a Bolshevik leadership can have – or wish to have – is a political and a moral authority. If the leaders are confident in their ideas, they will not object to criticism. They will use political differences as a means of raising the theoretical level of the cadres of the party or the International. Internal democracy is the life-blood of the party and the International. It is necessary to allow the fullest freedom of discussion because only in this way can the party develop its programme, policy and perspectives. It is not a formal question or an expression of liberalism. It is a matter of life and death.

After Trotsky's assassination, the Organization of the Fourth International soon degenerated on the lines of Zinovievism. This development was no accident but reflected the political degeneration of the leaders of the Fourth. They made many serious political mistakes (See Ted Grant, History of British Trotskyism) and were not prepared to admit them for reasons of prestige. This is absolutely fatal for the International! Being unable to answer the criticisms of the RCP, they resorted to intrigues and organizational manoeuvres against the opposition. That was a recipe for crises and splits. That is what destroyed the Fourth International as an organization.

We have an entirely different conception of how the party and the International will be built. We stand, on the one hand, for the defence of the basic principles of revolutionary Marxism and the creation of a cadre organization. Unlike the sects, our tendency is firmly oriented towards the working class and its mass organizations, and is firmly rooted in them. At the same time we consistently defend the revolutionary ideas of Marxism at all times and in their entirety. We do not, however, waste our time with futile polemics with the sects. We answer the ideas of the bourgeois, the right and left reformists and the Stalinists, because these are ideas that have a real basis in society. Occasionally – very occasionally – we take up one or other of the ultra left groups in order to provide the workers and youth with concrete examples of how not to work.

From these pages we call upon the revolutionary Marxists of Latin America to study carefully the ideas of the international tendency, and to see for themselves the truth of this assertion. Do not listen to the slanderers! Find out the truth for yourselves! Our record is clear for all to see. Our principal documents are available for inspection on the web pages Marxist.com, Trotsky.net and TedGrant.org, and we cordially invite the members of the PO and anyone else who is interested in the history of the Trotskyist movement, to study them carefully.

London, February 13, 2004.