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Which Way Forward for the Trotskyist Left?

The Partido Obrero (PO, Workers Party) of Argentina is experiencing a major crisis. In this article, two leading members of the PTS, which is part of the Workers Left Front (FIT) alongside the PO, take a look at the crisis of the PO to begin a discussion about which strategy is needed to build revolutionary parties today.

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20,000 people at a rally of the Workers Left Front at the Atlanta Stadium in Buenos Aires on November 19, 2016. Graphic: Juan Atacho

Translator’s note: The PO and the PTS in Argentina are two important Trotskyist organizations. A significant minority of the PO have declared their support for the “public faction” of Jorge Altamira, the PO’s historical leader, and both sides have made their case in the press. This article, written by two members of the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS, Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas, the sister organization of Left Voice in Argentina), takes a look at the crisis of the PO to begin a discussion about which strategy is needed to build revolutionary parties today. We think this of interest to socialists around the world. This text was written in Spanish for Argentine readers intimately familiar with the PO, the Argentine left and the country’s political system. We have done our best to make it comprehensible to English-speaking readers.

The Partido Obrero (PO, Workers Party) of Argentina is undergoing a major crisis. This became public when the division between the majority (led by figures such as Néstor Pitrola, Romina del Plá and Gabriel Solano) and a “public faction” around the PO’s historical leader Jorge Altamira (with the support of a large number of cadres and members) was revealed to the media.

Despite the split, both sides have voiced their continued support for the Workers Left Front (FIT, Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores). This is no minor question, given the tendency of capitalist politicians in Argentina to flip from one political alliance to another.

Outlines of the Current Crisis of the PO

As Lenin put it, one of the most difficult tasks is to build revolutionary organizations in nonrevolutionary times. After years of capitalist restoration (since the fall of the Berlin Wall) and neoliberal offensive, the crisis of 2008 allowed the global left to develop its projects in a context in which there are emerging new political phenomena and class struggles.

The Arab Spring and the Greek crisis, or more recently the “Yellow Vests” in France, have led to important episodes of class struggle. At the same time, we are witnessing the crisis and decay of bourgeois democratic regimes, giving rise to right-wing populist governments such as those of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, among others, but also to the emergence of neoreformist projects such as Podemos in the Spanish State, Syriza in Greece, Corbyn in the United Kingdom and Bernie Sanders in the United States (even though the latter is running in the imperialist Democratic Party, supported by the left-reformist group DSA). Yet despite capitalism’s profound tendencies toward ever greater crises, even in some imperialist countries, and the years of capitalist triumphalism, marked by talk of the “end of history,” we have not yet witnessed a generalized growth of workers’ struggles. Therefore, the perspective of socialist revolution is not yet on the masses’ political horizon.

In this scenario, the question is posed—not only in Argentina but internationally—of which strategy is needed to build revolutionary parties that can organize the vanguard and fight for influence among the masses. This is part of the preparatory work to win decisive influence over the class struggle, rejecting the dead ends of self-referential sectarianism or self-liquidation within reformist phenomena.

In this framework, the experience of the Workers Left Front (FIT) in Argentina is drawing attention among different sectors of the international left. The FIT is a coalition of parties united around a program of class independence. Since 2011 the FIT has consolidated itself as a force that, although small, cannot be ignored on the national stage, winning more than 1.2 million votes. Its 40 elected representatives (at the national, provincial and municipal levels across the country) make it the most successful electoral project of the Trotskyist left in the world. The uniqueness of the FIT, compared to reformist or center-left phenomena, is that it has thousands of active members in workplaces, universities, schools and neighborhoods who are all part of processes of struggle. This is recognized by broad sectors of the masses.

The lack, however, of generalized processes of struggle and political radicalization (as we will explain below) limits the FIT’s growth. This has led to certain setbacks in provinces where the FIT had advanced the most, as we saw in recent elections. At the same time, on a more strategic level, the fight to maintain and increase the political influence that has been attained, in order to become a decisive factor in the next ascent of the class struggle, demands reflections about the strategy needed to build a revolutionary party, and also about programs, practices and methods in parliament, in the unions, in the student movement, in the women’s movement and in the movement of the unemployed. Each left-wing organization responded to these problems differently, and this explains why they developed differently. We will return to this key issue later.

In our opinion, the crisis of the Partido Obrero is unfolding within the framework of these contradictions. After reading the public documents of both of the PO’s factions, one sees clearly that this organization gives little importance to theory, internationalism, strategic reflection or balance sheets of its political practice. This helps explain the intensity of the crisis. To any outside observer, it would seem that the PO is splitting because of tactical questions (about what slogans to raise in the current situation) or organizational ones (with one side questioning the “personalist” leadership methods of Altamira, and the other denouncing sanctions and “persecution” by the majority). Neither side is tackling the essential questions that we mentioned above, making the factional struggle both incomprehensible and also incredibly fierce.

Having said that, starting with questions raised by the PO’s crisis, we want to outline some reflections about the contradictions faced by all of us who want to build a revolutionary party, and our proposals for resolving them.

The Left and the Beginning of an Organic Crisis in Argentina

After reading the public documents of both of the PO’s factions, it appears as though one of the main reasons for the crisis is a debate about the current situation and whether or not it is opportune to raise certain political slogans (even though it is difficult to justify the split of a revolutionary organization on this basis). Let’s have a look.

As we write these lines, big majorities of voters in Argentina plan to vote for one or the other of the bosses’ two main political blocs, albeit with little enthusiasm. They see this as the only way to avoid a deepening of the economic crisis, which has already led to an increase in poverty and unemployment, to the surrender of the country to the International Monetary Fund and to the decay of wages, health care, and education. This passivity has been created by the union bureaucracy (all of its wings), the center-left opposition around Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Peronism-Kirchnerism) and the Catholic Church. All these forces have tried to hold back any resistance against the austerity measures of the Macri government, calling on workers to wait for the elections in October 2019.

For revolutionaries, however, the most important thing is that this scenario could change abruptly. The reality is that the worst of the crisis is yet to come. It will be the class struggle that decides whether the attacks of the IMF and the big capitalists can continue. A snapshot of the current political situation gives us a misleading impression—we need to look at the moving picture. Although the economy continues to contract and the masses’ situation worsens, the Macri government is trying to project an image of stability (with the help of the U.S. government and the forces mentioned above). This conceals a future of deepening crisis and increasing class struggle.

In the PO’s debate, the discussion about slogans seems to go in circles around the contradictory elements of the current situation. In his document, Altamira and his supporters maintain,

For a revolutionary party, every class struggle is a political struggle, that is, a question of power. […] The ups and downs of the class struggle do not change this methodology, only the form in which it is posed. […] In contrast to this Fourth Internationalist method, a current has developed within the party that demands an adaptation to the political process in the name of “realism,” which only allows the question of power to be posed when the masses unleash a potentially revolutionary offensive.

Based on this reasoning, the document proposes raising the slogans: “Down with Macri, Sovereign Constituent Assembly, Workers’ Government!”1In the article “The National Crisis and the Proposal for a Constituent Assembly,” we debated with the PO about the significance of the proposal for a constituent assembly and its articulation via the slogan of a “workers’ government.” For us this refers to a government of the workers and the poor masses, imposed by the mobilization of the exploited and oppressed, which dissolves the current repressive forces of the capitalist order and replaces them with workers organized for their own self-defense, in order to guarantee the bases of a new order, where a national assembly of councils of the workers and poor governs with deputies elected from the workplaces and neighborhoods.  defines this proposal in the following way:

the method itself differentiates us from Kirchnerism, because it counterposes two different programs and two different methods of action in opposition to the Macri government. If we denounce all the political protagonists (Macri, Kirchner, Massa, the governors, the mayors, the Pope […] etc.), this leads to a crude depoliticization. It functions as the self-proclamation of a left that continues to be the minority end of the political spectrum.

Altamira’s proposal not only expresses a great underestimation of the concrete evolution of the class struggle, but also exonerates the union bureaucracy, Kirchnerism and all the political forces that are allowing Macri to carry out his attacks, reinforcing the passivity of the masses in this electoral conjuncture. The proposal for only attacking the Macri government while rejecting a political struggle against the bourgeois opposition (which would supposedly be guaranteed by raising a certain slogan), puts them dangerously close to a left-wing version of an anti-Macri front.

The PO’s majority faction, led by Pitrola, del Plá, and Solano, replies,

JA [Jorge Altamira] claims that the slogans “Down with Macri! Constituent Assembly!” must be raised independently of the concrete stage of the mass movement and the evolution of the class struggle. It is supposedly just as valid in an insurrectionary period as in a period of working-class retreat with high expectations in the elections.

Altamira has intensified the mechanical catastrophism that has traditionally characterized the PO, which only fosters the illusion that the crisis or an upswing in the class struggle can itself complete the preparatory tasks that the left must necessarily face. But the PO’s majority, while rejecting such catastrophism, also does not say what preparatory tasks are posed (beyond defining a certain political slogan), nor how the left’s activity in the current period (with its precarious “stability”) is connected with the strategic perspectives of greater crisis and class struggle that will be posed by inevitable abrupt changes to the situation.

In our opinion, at a time when there are still no mass mobilizations in the streets or acute class confrontations, the slogan of the Workers Left Front—“Defeat the IMF, Macri and the Governors! The Capitalists Must Pay for the Crisis!”—seeks to organize the growing sectors of workers, youth and students who want to defeat the IMF regime and the bosses’ parties. This is part of a massive process of political agitation to present this perspective to large swaths of the working population—the goal is for millions of people to take up this program as their own. In this way, we seek to reinforce the left’s political preparation, so that when the masses begin to mobilize, breaking away from the apparatuses built to control them, the left can influence the situation. This would raise the concrete possibility for actions in the streets to bring down the government, even the IMF regime and all the bosses’ parties. We say that the masses need to create a workers’ government via the mobilization of the exploited and oppressed, as postulated in the program of the Workers’ Left Front—Unity.2In this sense, the PTS did agitation in social media this year, with a video in favor of a workers’ government that was viewed millions of times. This preparatory work is key, since there is no wall that separates moments of passivity from moments of class struggle. This depends entirely on the development of the masses’ activity.

In the debate within the PO, however, there has been no discussion about their political practice and methods in the mass organizations. This lack of discussion strategically disarms them when it comes to building a revolutionary party and intervening in the class struggle.

We must explain to the broad masses what is to come, and this cannot be accomplished without a policy of building up militant, class-struggle tendencies within the mass organizations. These must be capable of fighting the bureaucracies that seek to remove any active participation from the unions, student associations or unemployed workers’ movements. The goal is to fight to transform these associations into instruments for democratic self-organization to fight not only for the sectional interests of each sector, but also for a common program like the one we presented in the election campaign, namely for a struggle against the IMF regime and all the bosses’ parties.

Elections and Class Struggle

In the years after its founding in 2011, the FIT’s candidates were selected by an agreement among the three member parties. But in 2015, the PO rejected the proposal to have Altamira from the PO as the presidential candidate and Del Caño from the PTS as the vice presidential candidate. Because no agreement could be reached, the FIT held an open primary in which the PO and the IS ran against the PTS. The PTS slate won narrowly, and Del Caño subsequently became the FIT’s presidential candidate, which he is again in 2019. The documents of both PO factions show that the defeat of Altamira in the FIT primary elections in 2015 (elections that the PO preferred to force, rather than accepting Del Caño from the PTS as the FIT’s vice presidential candidate3The PTS slate called for a “renewal” of the FIT in the primaries. —translator) triggered the crisis that the Partido Obrero is experiencing. Neither faction asks itself why it underestimated Del Caño. Both are content to repeat the official explanation that the PTS triumphed in the primaries with an “democratizing” campaign that pandered to the youth. This is refusing to see reality.

Any serious opinion polls (which the PO could have carried out easily) would have shown that Del Caño’s popularity is not a mystery. People support him because they perceive him as someone who is always “with the workers.” How did he manage to achieve that? It’s simple: He was on the front line of the most important workers’ struggles. In 2014, it was the difficult struggle against the multinational corporation Lear, with 21 blockades of the main highway in Buenos Aires, 16 national days of struggle with pickets across the country, five incidents of major repression, 22 arrests, 16 legal decisions in favor of the workers, and two weeks of lockout by the bosses. Besides suffering repression alongside the workers, Del Caño was attacked publicly and systematically by Minister of Security Sergio Berni. In an unprecedented act, thugs from the bureaucracy of the autoworkers union SMATA went to the Congress to harass Del Caño in the middle of a session. In the same period, he was also standing side by side with the workers in another emblematic struggle, that of the Donnelley corporation (now Madygraf).

This is not just about Del Caño—the PTS’s orientation is that electoral and parliamentary figures must always be on the front lines of the main struggles. In this, we follow the proposals in the “Theses on Communist Parties and Parliament” of the Third International. But it is not just about public figures either: It is a political conception that orients all our members. We follow Lenin’s adage to make every important conflict, especially in the workers’ movement (where the bosses, the bureaucracy and all the state’s forces, from the ministries to the repressive organs, are concentrated) into a “school of war,” transforming them into big class campaigns against the bureaucracy that try to isolate or directly liquidate them. This element is a fundamental part of the education of new generations of revolutionary militants and the construction of a party that really “works” in the class struggle.

The idea that Del Caño won the primaries by being a adaptationist “democratizing” figure, which both factions of the PO agree on, only avoids the real discussion.

What Does “Democratizing” Mean? 

The two factions of the PO claim to resist “democratizing” adaptationist4The PO uses the term “democratizante” in Spanish to accuse the PTS of adaptations to the bourgeois democratic regime, but without ever explaining the meaning of this otherwise unknown term. Since the term does not exist in English, we have translated it as “adaptationist” or “democratizing” adaptationism. —translator tendencies in general and within the FIT in particular. In both cases, they refer exclusively to adaptation to the bourgeois-democratic regime in the parliamentary field. But neither side questions the “democratizing” adaptationist practices in matters of the first order, such as the administration of social plans (i.e., unemployment benefits) granted by the state. The PO (and most left groups, including the IS and the MST) participate in administering these plans.5Since 2002, the Argentine state has provided unemployment benefits referred to as “social plans” via the organizations of unemployed workers. This creates strong clientelist pressures on these organizations. —translator They do not question the privileges that are common for leaders of the trade unions, or the pressures involved in the administration of student centers and federations (including running campus bars, photocopy shops, etc.).6The student centers at Argentine universities run their own campus bars and photocopy shops. Whichever political tendency wins the elections to these centers usually fills jobs with their own supporters. The PTS is the only tendency to reject this model. —translator

As Trotsky explained extensively in his work, as did Gramsci with his concept of the “integral state,” the co-optation mechanisms of bourgeois democracy go far beyond its “representative” institutions. The capitalist state not only “waits” for the consent of the masses (and represses them when this fails) but actively “organizes” it. This is a book with seven seals for both wings of the PO, who both agree on their party’s orientation in recent decades, which has included alliances with different bureaucrats in the unions. Necessary episodic agreements are transformed into strategic ones, liquidating the struggle against the bureaucrats within such alliances.

This policy has failed again and again. Recently, two of the four trade union general secretaries who were at the heart of the PO’s Class Struggle Union Tendency (CSC) broke with the PO from one day to the next. They abandoned the supposed “class-struggle orientation” that the PO had ascribed to them and aligned themselves with leading bureaucrat “Cachorro” Godoy, from the Kirchnerist-oriented federation CTA. Both of them had in fact always claimed to be Peronists—but this did not stop the PO from presenting them as “representatives of class-struggle and anti-bureaucratic unionism,” even integrating them into the leadership of PO’s tendencies in the unions. One of them even became a full member of the PO and a delegate to its party congresses. This is nothing new for the PO: Over the years a number of its leaders in different sectors of the workers’ movement joined the bureaucracy.

The problem is not just when alliances with bureaucrats fail. While they last, they lead the PO to “democratizing” practices in the unions (i.e., adaptations to the bureaucracy). These alliances necessarily block the political struggle for class independence within the workers’ movement. This leads the PO to a “democratizing” dichotomy: In elections, it goes with the Workers Left Front, while in the unions they form strategic alliances with Peronist bosses (whom they refer to as “class-struggle union leaders,” even though they are not). The independence of the unions from the state is not only a problem of political delimitation, but also one of fighting the rules that the state imposes on the workers’ movement (preventing full union democracy, keeping their leaders in place indefinitely, representing only their members in the best of cases, excluding outsourced and precarious workers, etc.). Strategic alliances with bureaucratic leaders, as we have shown, directly contradicts this.

For this reason, the PTS has always used a different method. Whenever we managed to win the leadership of a union, for example in the ceramics workers union of Neuquén (after the struggle at the Zanon factory), we set out from the beginning to revolutionize the organization. This involved discussing and voting on new statutes that established democratic decision-making mechanisms, rights for minorities and the rotation of leaders, among other key issues, as well as striving to help coordinate and unify unemployed workers and oppressed people in the region and the whole country. On this long and difficult path, in the framework of the capitalist economy, sometimes we have been a majority and sometimes a minority, but we have always fought bureaucratization as a class-struggle tendency, without making concessions regarding strategy, with the sole aim of maintaining our leadership positions.

Neither wing of the PO questions the logic that a “general secretary” is worth more than genuine class-struggle minorities in the unions. For the PTS, on the other hand, the priority is to develop militant tendencies in the factories, workplaces and unions. This has borne fruit, as can be seen in the food workers’ union, where the PTS and the “Maroon List”7Tendencies within the unions in Argentina are usually defined by color. The “Maroon  List” is a class-struggle tendency in the food workers’ union led by the PTS. —translator (which have organized emblematic struggles such as at the Kraft factory in 2009 or at the PepsiCo factory in 2017), with triumphs and defeats, has remained a minority in the union for years.

In every place where the PTS has a strong presence, there are militant tendencies that focus not only on trade union questions but also on political ones. This contrasts, for example, with the lack of political influence of the PO in sectors where it leads trade unions. That is why in the discussions about how to regroup and coordinate the vanguard in the labor movement, the Partido Obrero maintains that the key is to win over the “general secretaries,” even when this means aligning with Peronist bosses, while it looks down on the class-struggle minorities that might represent 20%, 30% or 40% of their unions or workplaces. A more accurate assessment by the PO would reveal the weakness of its insertion in the workers’ movement.

According to the PO, the PTS is in retreat in the workers’ movement because it has lost union elections. The reality is that the tendencies that we lead advance and retreat according to the developments of the class struggle and the situation in each workplace. But when they retreat, they remain minorities with a broad influence on the left wing of the factories. They have militants, leaders and structures, with tactics and politics toward their workplaces. The strategy of the PO, in contrast, means that one day it supposedly “leads” a union via an alliance with its top bureaucrat, and the next day, if these bureaucrats break with it, the PO returns to zero and has nothing.

It is these truly class-struggle tendencies, if they develop sufficient strength, that will play a key role in decisive moments. This will be the basis for the tactic of the Workers’ United Front as formulated by Lenin and Trotsky in the first four congresses of the Communist International under the motto: “March separately, strike together!” “Strike together” so that the working class can face the capitalists as one, which requires demanding that the reformist leaders enter the struggle. “March separately” means that the strategic objective is to win reformist workers for the revolutionary program, using their own experiences with their official leaders. In this way, revolutionaries can conquer the majority of the working class for the struggle for a government of the workers and all exploited and oppressed people.

The Pressures to Adapt in the Movement of the Unemployed and the Student Movement

As far as the movement of the unemployed is concerned, the Altamira faction calls for a “plan for politicization that develops a strong class consciousness and turns these more conscious elements into militant Fourth Internationalists.” For its part, the majority wing replies that “the fact that this proposal is only directed at the unemployed workers displays a class prejudice sustained by the PTS and a large part of the media in the hands of the capitalists.”

This discussion shows two things. First, that neither wing of the PO is willing to question the essence of its practices of the last nearly 20 years. That is, they accept the form that the state gave to the movement of unemployed workers, in which each organization reaches an agreement with the state to administer social plans. A serious balance sheet should highlight that this mechanism allowed the ruling class to co-opt most of the movement, maintaining social peace and preventing any serious struggle for genuine employment.

That is why we from the PTS have always proposed a different path, which leads us to the second question, namely that both sides of the PO falsify the PTS’ position. Contrary to what has been written in the documents of the factional debate, the PTS never “underestimated” the movement of the unemployed. Our proposal was always that, as part of the struggle for genuine employment, it was necessary to establish a unified movement of unemployed that allowed different tendencies to organize within it. This is in opposition to the model of each organization administering its own social plans. This would mean that the social plans would be self-administered by all, independent of the organization to which each unemployed worker belongs. This would decouple the social plans from political affiliations, thus combating the clientelism that the state imposed on the movement.

No matter how much Marxist propaganda one provides in the movement of the unemployed, without a thoroughgoing critique of these state mechanisms it will be difficult to build up a revolutionary fraction. In this question there are no differences between the two wings of the PO.

With regard to the student movement, it is also necessary to underline that neither of the two PO factions questions the essentials of the practices they have been developing for almost 20 years.

We refer to the “FUBA8The FUBA is the University Federation of Buenos Aires, the main association for the student centers at the University of Buenos Aires (which has over 300,000 students). Since 2007, the FUBA has been led by the PO in alliance with left and center-left groups. —translator model,” launched after 2001, which consists of the PO forming all kinds of opportunist alliances to hold on to the leadership of a mass organization that has removed any kind of active participation by students, and is dedicated to running campus bars and photocopy shops, hiring an enormous number of full-time militants. This “model” was inherited from the liberal party UCR, which controlled the FUBA from 1983 to 2001. Today, the PO leads the FUBA in an alliance with the Kirchnerist group La Cámpora and the semi-Kirchnerist La Mella, and this is not questioned by either faction.

After so many years, this orientation has meant that the FUBA and the student centers lack connections to rank-and-file students. On top of that, the PO—despite “leading” the largest student federation—has failed to develop a large tendency in the student movement (no larger than the PTS youth, for example).

In contrast to this orientation, the PTS fights for a militant student movement that self-organizes in assemblies and delegate meetings, and that seeks to unite its struggles with those of the working class. It is no coincidence that student activism, when it arises, often clashes with the bureaucratism of the “official” bodies. In the student centers and federations, we do not accept paid political positions. Instead, we propose to separate the administration of “services” from the political leadership. All jobs should be distributed via lottery, with public and open auditing commissions for the finances.

The Real Meaning of Political Agitation

One of Lenin’s first great political battles, reflected in his classic “What Is to Be Done?,” was to forge a common social democratic newspaper for all of Russia, one that would be “part of an enormous pair of smith’s bellows that would fan every spark of the class struggle and of popular indignation into a general conflagration.” Lenin could not dream of the technological means at our disposal today to reach mass sectors. Why should the left limit itself to the superficial practice of addressing a mass audience only once every two years when there are elections (via the miserly spaces granted by the capitalist state and private media companies)?

This crucial Leninist debate is absent from the discussion in the Partido Obrero. From our point of view, we must now do everything possible to close the gap between the active membership of the left (numbering in the thousands) and the more than 1 million votes obtained by the Workers Left Front (FIT)—otherwise we will fall victim to routinism, trade unionism and electoralism. That is why we have been building the online newspaper La Izquierda Diario since 2014, which recently has gotten 3 million visitors per month.9According to SimilarWeb, which compares the traffic to different sites, the PO’s digital newspaper has slightly less than 200,000 visitors per month, and that of the Nuevo MAS between 50,000 and 70,000. In the case of the MST and IS, it is even less. It is a tool to take our program and our ideas to broad swaths of workers, women and youth, in opposition to the dominant ideologies of today, which as we know are the ones promoted by the capitalists via their media, universities and all kinds of institutions.

More specifically, we strive to maintain a permanent dialogue with the more than 1 million people who voted for the FIT or who participated in struggles alongside us. In the same way, we seek to use the most modern communication technology, such as social networks, in the service of the interests of the working class, as another form of daily agitation and propaganda.10This refers to an ongoing debate in which the PO accuses the PTS of abandoning Leninist propaganda and pandering to the youth because of its extensive use of Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc. —translator We host the radio program El Círculo Rojo (The Red Circle) which is broadcast every Sunday. The PTS’ online newspaper is part of the Left Voice / La Izquierda Diario international network, which is published in 12 countries and eight languages (Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, German, English, French, Italian and a section in Turkish). We are part of the Trotskyist Fraction—Fourth International, an international organization that carries out internationalist campaigns and debates on a permanent basis.

We cannot simply wait for an ascent of mass struggles—that can be no excuse for not using every means at our disposal to take our program and our ideas to mass sectors.

Internationalism and the Reconstruction of the Fourth International

The construction of a revolutionary party in one country is indissolubly linked to internationalism and to the struggle for an international party of socialist revolution (which for us, as well as for the PO, means the reconstruction of the Fourth International). The PO launched the Movement for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International (MRFI, later Coordinating Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International, CRFI), calling for a regroupment on the basis of four general points.11The CRFI’s four principles are the following: “The current validity of the struggle for socialist revolution and for the dictatorship of the proletariat; the need to struggle against any bloc with the democratic bourgeoisie […]; the need for social and/or political revolution in the former [workers’ states]; the need for the elaboration of a strategy for overthrowing capitalism based on the method of transitional demands.” Neither of the PO’s two factions questions this method. But the experience of the CRFI has demonstrated that it is impossible to develop a revolutionary regroupment that can intervene in the class struggle simply on the basis of general principles.

The CRFI has remained almost completely paralyzed since the outbreak of the global crisis in 2008. The PO suffered a split with the Workers Communist Party (PCL) from Italy, one of its original allies, and even temporarily broke with its group in Greece, the Revolutionary Workers Party (EEK), in 2015 when it called for a vote for Syriza. The CRFI reached total paralysis. The PO, however, did not draw any lessons from this, but instead continued its drift away from internationalism by organizing a conference in 2018 under the motto “Building the International” together with the United Communist Party (OKP) of Russia, a neo-Stalinist group. This matter is also not questioned by either wing of the PO.

The Trotskyist Fraction—Fourth International (FT-CI), to which the PTS belongs, has always tried to converge with other forces internationally.12In 2004, when the MRFI conference was held in Buenos Aires, we proposed holding a joint meeting with the FT, which was holding its conference at the same time. Instead, the PO invited none other than Raúl Castells, a reformist leader of the movement of the unemployed. But for this we use the method developed by Trotsky in the 1930s, which consists of finding agreements about the great strategic and programmatic questions that the capitalist crisis has posed for the international left, agreements that are then tested by political practice and the class struggle. Our starting point is Trotsky’s approach when he criticized the Stalinized Communist International because “the great struggles of the proletariat are approached here only as objective occurrences, as an expression of the ‘general crisis of capitalism’ but not as strategical experiences of the proletariat.” We seek agreements based not on diplomacy but on these lessons, as a basis for common action.

Of course, today this means swimming against the current. But there is no need to be paralyzed or to form totally opportunistic alliances. We believe that the evolution of the FT-CI is a modest sign that real internationalism is possible. We have invested lots of energy into the international network of online newspapers, several of which are reference points for the vanguard of their respective country. We have converged with the Revolutionary Internationalist Fraction (FIR) from Italy, whose militants originated in the youth of the PCL, as well as with the Socialist Workers Current (CST) of Peru and the Socialist Organization (CS) of Costa Rica. Our comrades in France, despite their modest forces, have played a prominent role in the Yellow Vest process, and a number of the FT’s sections have grown in size and influence, having participated in elections in Mexico, Chile and Brazil.

This is not a question of self-promotion, but rather one of showing that it is possible to maintain a certain level of international initiative on the basis of current phenomena. The PO, to avoid this real debate, has invented the “myth”—defended by both its factions—that the FT-CI advocates “broad parties,” a strategy that is at the root of the crises of many organizations of Trotskyist origin internationally. The justification for this myth is that the FT-CI in France, the Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR, which has an online newspaper that gets an average of 1.5 million visits per month) works as a tendency within the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). What the PO hides, however, is that the CCR fights openly against the project of a “broad party” without class delimitations (which is why it has never voted in favor of the NPA’s “founding principles”) and for a revolutionary party.13Unlike the PO’s supporters in France, who work in the NPA uncritically, without even a publication of their own. They spread a similar “myth” about the Brazilian section of the FT-CI, the Revolutionary Workers Movement (MRT, which also has a digital newspaper that has reached 7 million visits in one month), because the MRT applied to join the PSOL. The MRT, however, stated that it wanted to fight within the PSOL for a revolutionary program and strategy—which is why the majority of the PSOL leadership refused to let it enter.

These claims by the PO are made in bad faith, of course, but they do not affect the PTS, but rather the PO itself. They serve as justifications that prevent the PO from seriously addressing the fact that its internationalist practice is increasingly degenerating.

Without Marxist Theory, There Is No Revolutionary Left

Something similar to what we said about internationalism could also be said about the PO’s theoretical elaborations and ideological struggles. Neither of the two wings wonders if setbacks in this field have anything to do with the crisis they are experiencing. The PO, for example, once had the publishing house El Yunque, which was very important in its time for distributing Trotsky’s works in Spanish. Today, however, such editorial work is conspicuous by its absence, and there is no “objective” reason for that. Today, Trotsky’s books are available in all the main bookstores in Argentina—but this is due almost entirely to the efforts of the IPS, which is associated with the PTS. This is part of an effort that has been going on for nearly 20 years with the development of the CEIP León Trotsky (Center of Studies, Research, and Publications Leon Trotsky) with headquarters in Buenos Aires and Mexico.

Both factions of the PO debate who best expresses the tradition of their tendency in the revolutionary upsurge of the 1970s. But after more than four decades, the PO has inexplicably failed to produce a balance sheet of that working-class ascent. Even though we are a much younger current, the PTS published the book “Insurgencia Obrera en la Argentina” (Workers’ Insurgency in Argentina), by Ruth Werner and Facundo Aguirre, in which we investigate that period in depth. The PO’s documents intensely debate this or that partial aspect of politics in the women’s movement, but in reality the PO has no theoretical elaboration of socialist feminism, which should be a reflection of the first order for any coherent intervention in the incredibly important women’s movement that is currently developing. Several years ago, we took up this task with the book “Pan y Rosas” (Bread and Roses) by Andrea D’Atri (now translated into Portuguese, Italian, French and German, with an English translation in preparation), which was key to providing solid foundations for the women’s organization Pan y Rosas, which is now the main socialist-feminist organization in Argentina and has built groups in 13 other countries. We could point out similar things in the field of strategy, political theory, the history of the workers’ movement in Argentina, current theoretical debates, etc.14A few modest contributions we have made to this task in recent years include the following books: “Estrategia Socialista y Arte Militar” (Socialist Strategy and Military Art), by Emilio Albamonte and Matías Maiello; “Hegemonía y Lucha de Clases” (Hegemony and Class Struggle) and “El Marxismo de Gramsci” (Gramsci’s Marxism), by Juan del Maso; “Salir del Fondo” (Leave the Fund) and “La Economía Argentina en su Laberinto” (The Argentine Economy in its Labyrinth), by Esteban Mercatante; “Zanon: Fábrica Militante sin Patrones” (Zanon: Militant Factory Without Owners), by Raúl Godoy; “Villazo. La Gran Gesta Obrera en Villa Constitución” (Villazo: The Great Workers’ Achievement in Villa Constitución), by Octavio Crivaro; “Cien Años de Historia Obrera en Argentina” (One Hundred Years of Workers’ History in Argentina), by Alicia Rojo, Josefina Luzuriaga, Walter Moretti and Diego Lotito; along with many other publications. We should also mention the publication of the weekly magazine Ideas de Izquierda (Left Ideas), in which we constantly attempt to address the main ideological debates on the left.

There is no way for the revolutionary left to advance without Marxist responses to the challenges of our time, developing the weapons of criticism.

The Party We Need

To conclude, we would like to refer to a reflection by journalist Pablo Stefani about the PO’s crisis. He writes,

The PO is experiencing sociological changes, especially after its growth in the student movement (the sector led by Solano) or in the unemployed workers’ movement (the sector led by Pitrola), in addition to its active participation in the women’s movement (represented by Romina del Plá and Vanina Biasi). Altamira’s personalist leadership is functional to a small party of ultra-convinced cadres, but it represents an obstacle for a larger party. It is no trivial matter that the new leadership of the PO has accused Altamira of being messianic and sectarian.

According to this model, it would appear that the crisis of the PO is a result of Altamira’s sectarianism—which in Stefanoni’s view represents orthodox Marxism. This was supposedly useful for a small group but has become an obstacle as the different “branches” continue to grow, which would permit the construction of a bigger party.

With this article, we have tried to show that exactly the opposite is the case. Altamira is far from being “sectarian” if we talk about politics. It is precisely the party model that Stefanoni would consider a step forward that is at the root of the PO’s current crisis. If the left is in danger of “collapse,” as Altamira likes to say, this is not because it has lost electoral space, but because it has adapted its program and its theory (or the lack thereof) to the pressures of the state via the administration of unemployment benefits in the movement of the employed, or to the current structure of the unions via strategic agreements with bureaucratic sectors, or to the organization of services for to students, or to parliamentarism via seats that are separated from the class struggle. In other words, the danger lies in adapting party forms to the structures of the “extended state.” It is a question of using all available means but always maintaining independence from the state (in its “integral” sense) as the only way to maintain the independence of our program and strategy.

The FIT (and also the newly formed FIT-U, if we are successful) represents an important pole in the struggle for class independence today. The tasks before us, with a deepening of the crisis and a sharpening of the class struggle more than likely, mean we need to go further and set up a real revolutionary party, in which some of the hundreds of thousands of workers, women and youth who currently support the Workers Left Front could be organized to achieve a decisive influence in future confrontations between the classes.

That is why we have been advocating for a unified party of the working-class, socialist left, with a clear delimitation from reformism and general “anticapitalism,” a party for the class struggle with a revolutionary program and strategy. This proposal is far from being a “maneuver” as is claimed in some of the PO’s documents.

The discussions that we have summarized here15Here we are dealing with the central themes of the current discussion in the PO. In a future article we will address the debate that took place between Guillermo Kane and Jorge Altamira about the Cuban revolution. go beyond the crisis of the Partido Obrero. They address fundamental problems that any serious process of revolutionary unification of the left would need to address in order to advance toward the construction of a revolutionary party in Argentina, and also to fight for an international party of social revolution.

First published in Spanish in Ideas de Izquierda on July 7.

Translation: Nathaniel Flakin. Authorized by Matías Maiello.


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Matías Maiello

Matías is a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires and a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party (PTS) in Argentina. He is co-author, together with Emilio Albamonte, of the book Estrategia socialista y arte militar (Buenos Aires: Ediciones IPS, 2018).

Fernando Scolnik

Fernando is a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party (PTS) in Argentina


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