Partido Obrero (Argentina) and its class collaboration with the bourgeoisie
By Icaro Kaleb
The following article was originally published in February 2013, as part of a polemic on the incoherent position of the Brazilian Workers’ Cause Party (PCO). While criticizing other Brazilian organizations for their capitulations to class-collaborationist governments and electoral coalitions, they at the same time upheld their support for the coalition headed by the Workers’ Party (PT) in the presidential elections of 1989 and 1994, which already counted with significant sectors of the bourgeoisie in its composition . In this polemic, we pointed out that the roots of PCO’s capitulation to class collaboration could be found in its association with the Partido Obrero of Argentina, led by Jorge Altamira, with which the PCO had political relations for many years . Small modifications were made for the publication of this text as a separate piece from the rest of the original.
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The question of the “popular front” was, in the times of Leon Trotsky, the “main question for proletarian strategy” (his words, from the Letter to the Dutch RSAP, June 1936). Today, it has the same importance, given the role that leftist organizations have been playing around the world, by leading the working class to support governments based on the assumption of the possibility of “class collaboration” as a path for improvements and gains. Ironically, most of the organizations which sprang up after the destruction of the Fourth international by revisionism have backtracked to the same conceptions which were denounced by Trotsky in his time: identifying the “popular front” (i.e. the class collaborationist coalitions) with the working class, defending electoral support to them as a “tactic”, or even becoming integral part of some of them.
Jorge Altamira’s Partido Obrero (Argentina) has a history of polemics against the practice of class collaboration. In various occasions, they denounced the capitulations of other leftist tendencies to class-collaborationist electoral coalitions, such as the ephemeral bloc between the tendencies of Nahuel Moreno (headed by the Argentinean PTS) and Pierre Lambert (whose main section was the French OCI). The “Parity Commission/International Committee” of Moreno/Lambert (1980-81) received, amongst others, the following criticism from the Partido Obrero in the end of the 90’s:
“The political basis of its unification was the support given to the popular front headed by Mitterrand in France. In this sense, the ‘record’ of the International Committee is really impressive, considering it only existed for nine months: support for the French popular front headed by Mitterrand (to which the OCI attributed a revolutionary objective, the destruction of the Fifth Republic); support to the bloc with the bourgeoisie in Nicaragua; application for an entry (by the PST) to the ‘multiparty [bloc]’ of the main Argentinian bourgeois parties; the demand for the Peruvian Constitutional [Assembly] (that is, the bourgeois parliament – in which a united front which incorporated the parties of the IC had obtained 12% of the votes) to take power and ‘solve the contradictions of the exploited peoples’. The list goes on: Bolivia, El Salvador, Brazil …”
La cuestión del programa, Luis Oviedo, EDM No. 16, March 1997
However, as is usually the case with centrist organizations, the formally correct position not always translates itself into correct practice. Despite its polemics, the Altamiraite tendency was never a consistent proponent of independent working class politics. Many years before the 1989 and 1994 Brazilian elections, in which they advised their Brazilian associates to support the popular front, the PO had already upheld positions of class collaboration such as that taken in 1971 by their then international partners of the Bolivian POR (Partido Obrero Revolucionario), associated with its historical leader Guillermo Lora. In the potentially revolutionary situation in which Bolivia was at the time, Lora’s party organized a bloc with the bourgeois fraction directed by General Torres, which had been deposed from the Presidency, under the facade of an “anti-imperialist revolutionary front”. This “revolutionary front” with the “patriotic general”, the former President of the bourgeois regime, was in fact a class collaborationist bloc, even if it wasn’t concluded during an electoral dispute. It served to deceive the advanced workers on the supposedly “anti-imperialist” character of this section of the bourgeoisie. This policy was supported by Altamira’s Argentine group, then called Politica Obrera, which would reunite with Lora in a “Latin-American Conference” next year. The two leaders would only separate in the end of the 80’s.
Soon Altamira would give an example of an “anti-imperialist front” in his homeland. During the Argentinian re-democratization process in the beginning of the 80’s, his tendency (already named Partido Obrero) constantly appealed for the formation of an “all-left anti-imperialist front” for the 1983 elections. This bloc would include, in addition to the pro-Moscow Stalinist party, the social-democratic party and the Maoist tendencies, also the “left wing” of the (bourgeois nationalist) Peronist movement. This “Peronist left” included characters and parties historically tied to the ruling class and the preservation of capitalism. This bloc did not come into existence because none of these sectors wanted to engage in negotiations with Altamira, and instead launched their own bourgeois electoral fronts. But this made it clear that, even before the support to the 1989 Workers’ Party coalition, the PO already aimed towards class-collaborationist politics. A more recent and obvious example was the electoral support, in 2005, to Evo Morales’ Movimento al Socialismo in Bolivia. We will now get in detail about these policies.
The association with the Bolivian POR and their “anti-imperialist revolutionary front” (1971)
The Bolivian POR and the then Politica Obrera grouped up in July 1972, through the “Latin-American Conference”, which also included the international grouping directed by Pierre Lambert and his French OCI (Organisation Communiste Internationaliste). One of the bases for the formation of this international bloc was the support of these tendencies to the policy adopted by the Bolivian POR in 1971. Furthermore, the OCI, which had criticisms of the POR’s line, set those aside in the interest of the formation of this “International” with extremely opportunistic political foundations. Which policy of the POR served as the basis of this fusion?
In 1971, the then president of Bolivia, the “patriotic” general J. J. Torres, was overthrown by a reactionary military coup. During the organization of the resistance to the coup, the POR (one of the few Trotskyist organizations with mass influence in one point of history) was a prominent factor on the Bolivian left. However, its policy was not of an unforgiving denunciation of the national bourgeoisie (including Torres) and their reformist allies, such as the Stalinist party. Instead of adopting a principled political position of this kind, Lora and his comrades formed a bloc with the reformists – a popular front which subordinated the resistance of the proletariat to the bourgeois ex-president, under the facade of an “anti-imperialist revolutionary front”.
Even before the coup, the POR supported the perspective of the creation of an “anti-imperialist” government with General Torres. This way an expression of the typical Menshevik/Stalinist stage-ism of wanting to create a government of all supposedly “progressive” or “anti-imperialist” classes (including the national bourgeoisie) as a pre-requisite to the struggle for socialism. In the set of thesis endorsed by COB (the main union federation of the Bolivian workers) before the coup, written by POR’s leadership itself and in which the party voted, it’s written that:
“In order to attain socialism, it seems necessary first of all to make a unity of all the revolutionary and anti-imperialist forces. The people’s anti-imperialist revolution is linked to the struggle for socialism. The people’s front is an alliance of related classes, and the unitary instrument for making the revolution. The expulsion of imperialism and the realization of national and democratic tasks will render possible the socialist revolution.”
— La Verité, October 1970, cited in “Centrist Debacle in Bolivia”, Workers Vanguard n. 3, December 1971.
After the coup happened, the COB (which was largely influenced by the POR) launched a “Popular Assembly” which the POR considered to be an embryo of Soviet dual power, which is a symptom of the gravity of the situation. But the line of the POR was one of collaboration with the President of the deposed bourgeois regime, not one of working class independence. In a declaration signed jointly with the Communist Party (Stalinist), with left-nationalist groups and by General Torres himself, the POR declared that:
“Therefore the need is undeniable to build a fighting unity of all the revolutionary democratic and progressive forces that the great battle can be begun in conditions offering a real perspective for a popular and national government….
“This is not a battle that concerns only one sector of the exploited people, or one class, institution or party. … Any form of sectarianism is counterrevolutionary. Let us be worthy of the sacrifice of those who fell August 21 defending Bolivia.”
In its inconsistent struggle against the popular-frontism of the Moreno-Lambert bloc (built after the Lambertist OCI split from Lora and Altamira in the end of the 70’s), Altamira upheld the politics of the POR in 1971 as if it had not meant a subordination to the national bourgeoisie and the POR had made “no concession” which compromised the revolutionary struggle of the masses. At the same time, Altamira said that a revolutionary party should under no circumstances have called the masses to break from the “allied forces in the front”:
“… What is not purely occasional is the tactic of the Anti-Imperialist United Front, directed at all organizations which find themselves under the pressure of the masses, striving for a common revolutionary struggle.
“The political leadership of the COB (October 1970) lasted three months, and the POR defended that, in view of the radicalization of the masses, it had exhausted itself, and that it should launch the Soviet slogan of a Popular Assembly.
“The opportunity of the AUF tactic is related to a situation where the inertia of the masses was shaken, and due to that, a perspective had opened, with advances and retreats, of a prolonged anti-imperialist struggle.
“In the Anti-Imperialist Front, the proletarian party must in the whole maintain its political independence. There can be no concessions which compromise the revolutionary struggle of the masses only to keep its allies in the common front. The revolutionary party doesn’t enter the front in the quality of a sect, but of a party, and therefore it does not aim at splitting, nor engages in campaigns so that the masses break from the allied forces of the front […]. The duration of a determined form of Anti-Imperialist Front (for instance, a bloc of parties directed towards mass struggle or an electoral campaign) and its passage to others (Soviets of workers, farmers, soldiers and oppressed nationalities) which include such breaks, depend on the very experience of the masses and the changes in the conjecture of the political situation”.
— Las ‘tesis’ del Comité Internacional, por Jorge Altamira e Julio N. Magri, Internacionalismo No. 3, agosto de 1981. IN: “No fue un martes negro más” p. 343.
It’s shocking how far from Trotskyism these positions are. Trotsky even came to declare that “There is no larger crime than that of a coalition with the bourgeoisie in a period of socialist revolution” (Trotskyism and the PSOP, July 1939) The Russian revolutionary explained in detail the policy of the Bolsheviks in relation to this kind of Popular Front in a revolutionary situation:
“For it is often forgotten that the greatest historical example of the People’s Front is the February 1917 revolution. From February to October, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, who represent a very good parallel to the “Communists” and Social Democrats, were in the closest alliance and in a permanent coalition with the bourgeois party of the Cadets, together with whom they formed a series of coalition governments. Under the sign of this People’s Front stood the whole mass of the people, including the workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ councils. To be sure, the Bolsheviks participated in the councils. But they did not make the slightest concession to the People’s Front. Their demand was to break this People’s Front, to destroy the alliance with the Cadets, and to create a genuine workers’ and peasants’ government.”
— The Dutch Section and the International, July 1936, emphasis in the original.
Since then, the “revolutionary anti-imperialist front” (or “anti-imperialist united front”) has become one of the central threads, almost a guide, to the politics of the tendencies of Lora and Altamira. The meaning of this policy is nothing less than the “popular-frontist” betrayal to working class independence, tying the proletariat to projects of maintenance of the bourgeois capitalist order.
The call for building of a “popular front” in Argentina (1983)
The continuation of this opportunist position is put in evidence by the fact that, in the Argentine elections of 1983 and even after their end, the main demand of the Partido Obrero was for the formation of an “all-left anti-imperialist front”, which had the objective of uniting the PO with the Stalinists, social-democrats and especially with the “Peronist left”:
“The most important question here is that what is happening be denounced to the workers: that the reactionary political connections of the Peronist leadership be uncovered, and that this be understood by the Peronist left. To do this, it is essential that an all-left anti-imperialist front be articulated in the country.” (our emphasis).
— El Partido Obrero y el Peronismo”, Prensa Obrera, septiembre de 1983, pg. 117.
The Partido Obrero explained which organizations composed the “left” which were supposed to form the “anti-imperialist front”:
“Everything is clear: the Peronist electorate is called to vote for two collaborators of the dictatorship. One and the other both have support to imperialism and the clergy (especially the last one). The Peronist Intransigence, the tendency in which Cambiaso and many others were active, is called to vote for the collaborationists and whitewashers of the system and apparatus of the assassins of Cambiaso and others. The Intransigent Party, the CP, the authentic and popular socialists, the Labour and New Democracy parties – all of those which promised to vote for Peronism or for the first minority in the Electoral College – are called to vote for the candidates of imperialism and of the Vatican. And they have said they will do it. It is necessary to refine the venom to the last drop.
“The political position of the majority of the left parties is clear, but contains a contradiction. … The position of most on the left reflects the position of the petty-bourgeoisie which seeks to keep avoiding the inception of a revolutionary struggle with the proletariat, and which keeps dreaming in rebuilding the democratic system on top of the traditional bases of capitalism.
“The call for an all-left anti-imperialist front, carried out by the Partido Obrero, tends to fight against this political confusion and has had great repercussion amongst the left activists”.
Idem, pages 120 e 121.
“The very idea of rebuilding the Peronist left is doomed to fail as Peronism has lost all its progressive features. The physical death of Peron only crowned the inevitable political death of Peronism as a mass movement with any progressiveness in the anti-imperialist struggle. To the former Peronist left, what is put now (if it wants to play a progressive role in this struggle) is not the reconstruction of a left-wing of Peronism, but split from the bourgeoisie and dedicate to building an Anti-imperialist Revolutionary Front. This way it could effectively fight against the dictatorship and imperialism, for social and national liberation.”
Idem, pages 95-96.
A clarification on the character of those groups with which the Partido Obrero wished to build a common “leftist” front with is necessary. The “Peronist Intransigence” fraction, led by Vicente Saadi, was part of the Partido Justicialista (the main Peronist party). Saadi was senator and governor of the province of Catamarca, where his family had political hegemony for decades. When Saadi was elected senator in the 1983 re-democratization, he led the Peronists in the Congress. The Intransigent Party (a spawn of the Radical Civic Union) had been founded a decade before the 1983 elections by Oscar Allende, a bourgeois politician with a long trajectory of collaboration with military governments. During the Argentine bourgeois dictatorship of 1955-58, for instance, Oscar Allende had been part of a “National Consultative Junta” to aid the military rule.
The Stalinist CP dispenses presentation given the rivers of blood which separate Stalinism from Trotskyism. It was with these gentlemen (and some others), because of the popularity they had within the mass movement, that the Partido Obrero wanted an “all-leftist anti-imperialist front”. It is unnecessary to expose the reactionary character of individuals and groups with this kind of political record. How did the PO think they could “uncover the reactionary political connections of the Peronist leadership” while in an alliance with the “left” components of this party (such as Saadi) and some other “democratic” parties which were fully immersed in the mire of the bourgeois state? The most ironic detail in this whole story is that the PO counter-posed its own “anti-imperialist front” to other class-collaborationist projects:
“The PI [Intransigent Party] clearly emerges as the head of a future ‘popular front’ (bourgeois front of conciliation with imperialism), which subordinates the working class through a section of the bureaucracy and the CP. But it is precisely because of the existence of a tendency towards popular-frontism that we must uphold the revolutionary anti-imperialist front, to oppose to the ‘anti-imperialist unity’ headed by the bourgeoisie (towards conciliation with imperialism and the subordination of the working class), an anti-imperialist unity which allow a consequent struggle against national oppression and which fosters the construction of a working class hegemony in the revolution.”
Idem, page 153.
It seems that, with a play on words, it changes completely from water to wine; it is enough to add some “revolutionary” rhetoric and, of course, include the Partido Obrero. By this logic, a bloc with bourgeois parties could be both a “popular front” harmful to the workers’ movement or one which could “allow a consequent struggle”.
Trotsky conducted a harsh struggle against the idea that “agreements” or blocs with the bourgeoisie could prevent that, in such fronts, the bourgeoisie have a dominating role. Blocs of this kind (even if wrongly termed “anti-imperialist”) include formations which depend on the maintenance of bourgeois order for their existence (as was the case with the Intransigent Party, the Peronist Intransigence and others). Therefore, this kind of bloc could never aid the proletariat to break from the demagogy of the bourgeois state, but instead it can deceive workers into supporting another variety of bourgeois regime.
The proletariat cannot benefit from a political bloc which includes their oppressors, nor have an equal stand on it. As Trotsky said: “The middle bourgeoisie exploits the petty bourgeoisie not only economically but also politically, and it itself is the agency of finance capital. To give the hierarchic political relations, based upon exploitation, the neutral name of ‘bloc’ is to make a mock of reality. A horseman is not a bloc between a man and a horse.” (Whither France?, 1936). Same goes for the fancy name of “anti-imperialist revolutionary front”. The proletariat can only achieve victory if it remains in political opposition to all sections which want to maintain it as an exploited class under an oppressive regime. But this lesson was then “forgotten” by the Partido Obrero.
The call for a vote on Evo Morales (2005)
A more recent example of support for bourgeois coalitions was when the PO called for a vote on Evo Morales in the 2005 Bolivian elections. Bolivia was going through a new eruption of sharp class struggles, which had led to the downfall of a president and the anticipation of elections. In this context, the candidacy of Evo Morales’ MAS (Movement towards Socialism) fulfilled a clear role in restraining the outcries of the workers, the poor peasants and indigenous peoples, seeking to maintain the limits of capitalism disguised with nationalist/nativist rhetoric. The candidacy of MAS sought the support of sections of the bourgeoisie and called for the construction of an “Andean Capitalism” with some reforms and nationalizations within the boundaries of capitalism. Morales also identified himself with the bourgeois governments of Lula (Brazil) and Kirchner (Argentina). Despite recognizing this, Altamira’s PO defended a vote for Morales as a form of supposedly “striking a blow against imperialism”. In the time of the Bolivian elections in December 2005, the Partido Obrero stated that:
“The confuse program of the MAS is an expression of its political impasse, that is, of its pretension to amalgamate the country’s violent social contradictions. It consists of an attempt of the feeble professional petty-bourgeoisie, which tends to be co-opted by the multinationals or their secondary dependencies, to impose their course on the masses of the Altiplano, which live in misery. It definitely wants nothing more than to theorize a transition from the revolutionary period to a stage with democratizing characteristics, with the supervision of the neighbouring bourgeoisies and imperialism”.
Llamamos a votar por Evo Morales y el MAS, El Obrero Internacional No. 4, dezembro de 2005. Reproducido en La Revolución Boliviana 2003-2006, p. 40.
Such a characterization, however, didn’t stop the PO and its “International”, the CRFI, from supporting and celebrating the electoral victory of the MAS and of saying, in the same article, that its rise to the head of the bourgeois state would be a “blow against imperialism”, by assuming that the electoral victory of Evo Morales would strengthen the other oppressed nations in Latin America against international imperialist powers:
“A victory of the MAS would be a blow against imperialism; including if this blow is conditioned to the perspectives opened by his victory. We call for a vote to the MAS. It won’t increase the leeway for Lula and Kirchner to manoeuvre, but instead puts them face to face with the struggle of the workers in their countries. It broadens the field for class struggle in Latin America. It would reinforce Chavez’s government against imperialism, because Chavez is clashing with imperialism, but it wouldn’t reinforce his intention of reducing the independent activity of the Venezuelan masses.”
Idem, page 41.
It is clear that PO’s perspective that a victory of the MAS would supposedly “broaden the field for class struggle in Latin America” has shown to be completely false. This victory only served to put in power a government which was “co-opted by multinationals and their secondary dependencies” and which was certainly the craftsman of a “transition from a revolutionary period to a stage of democratizing characteristics, with the supervision of the neighbouring bourgeoisies and imperialism” which deceived the Bolivian masses. This was demonstrated both by the course of events as by the Partido Obrero itself in other occasions. But, as usual, it did nothing to critically re-valuate its December 2005 position.
 The original article was named PCO, Partido Obrero and the popular fronts and it is available (in Portuguese) at: https://rr4i.milharal.org/2013/02/21/pco-partido-obrero-e-as-frentes-populares/. It is important to emphasize that, since around mid-2013, the PCO started a series of systematic capitulations to the popular frontist government of Dilma Rousseff and the Worker’s Party, as we denounced
 The PCO [Worker’s Cause Party] had integrated the “Coordination for the Re-foundation of the Fourth International” (CRFI), the international grouping led by the PO. To this day, none of the two groups publicly elucidated the motivations for the departure of the PCO. If there were relevant political-organizational reasons for the end of an international relationship which lasted decades, any group which intends to struggle for the reconstruction of the Fourth International in as many countries as possible should explain why they have broken from their Brazilian comrades (in the case of the CRFI and the PO) or the international grouping they were a part of (in the case of the PCO). But the CRFI simply launched their new Brazilian grouping (which publishes the newspaper “Tribuna Classista”) without an explanation. Every now and again the PCO and Partido Obrero exchange some criticisms, but they usually do not even go as far as mentioning their previous association. Whatever the reason for the split is, the silence from both sides indicates a strong tendency to minimize the importance of the question of the International and that the CRFI is not an organization bound by concrete politics, theoretical and political agreement, but a federation of groups united for convenience’s sake.