Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3
Robert J. Alexander,
The text below continues from the general review of this book, and the addenda on Trotskyism in individual countries, which appeared in Revolutionary History, Volume 4, no. 4, and Volume 5, no. 2.
I will deal here with the section in Robert Alexander’s book on the history of Trotskyism in Peru, and I will deal with his treatment of the movement in Bolivia in the next issue.
Much of what Alexander presents on Trotskyism in Peru is vacuous and inaccurate. For a start, he repeats the mistaken idea in his Trotskyism in Latin America that Trotskyism in Peru was founded after the Second World War. Peruvian Trotskyism emerged prior to the Second World War. The first Trotskyist group was formed in Arequipa in the late 1930s around the paper Izquierda Roja (Red Left). This group, led by the poet Luis García Nuñez, suffered repression under the Benavides dictatorship, and García Nuñez and other Peruvian Trotskyists escaped to Bolivia. García Nuñez worked in collaboration with the Pérez brothers, Salazar Mostajo and other supporters of Tristán Marof in the indigenous school at Warisata. This was a peasant school which educated the Aymara in their own language in the face of opposition from the pro-Western landowners. After his participation in the founding congress of the PIR (Revolutionary Left Party) in 1941, García Nuñez was arrested, and he was confined to a cold island on Lake Titicaca. The PIR was a broad pro-Stalinist party which enjoyed a mass following, in which there were non-Stalinist intellectuals and workers. García Nuñez attempted to form a Trotskyist faction in it. He lived for several years in Potosí, where he was a leader of the Revolutionary Workers Committee (COR), a group which sympathised with Liborio Justo’s criticism of the Fourth International, and which became an autonomous section of the Bolivian POR. After being one of the most prominent Trotskyists on the Altiplano, he moved to Argentina, where he was to die in one of Perón’s jails. The Peruvian POR that was formed in 1946–47 was to render homage to García Nuñez and his comrades.
The Peruvian Trotskyists had from the start maintained ties with Bolivia. Some members of the Bolivian POR were exiled to Peru. The main Peruvian Trotskyist leader, Tomás Robles, participated in some of the congresses of the Bolivian POR in the late 1940s. He was very critical of the Theses of Pulacayo and of the manner in which the leadership of the Fourth International adapted to the mistakes of the Bolivian POR. He denounced the politics of the Bolivian POR as stagist and Menshevik. He rejected Lora’s opportunist deals with Lechín. The Shachtmanite press republished his criticisms of the Bolivian POR, and it is possible that he later joined this current. Several leaders of the Peruvian POR were in Bolivia during the revolution of 1952. None of this appears in Alexander’s book.
Alexander correctly says that the Peruvian POR split into two wings after the fall of Odría’s dictatorship in 1956, with one side supporting the International Committee of the Fourth International, and the other supporting the International Secretariat of the Fourth International. He does not, however, say much about the politics of the pro-ICFI POR.
In 1956 the most important mass party in Peru was the APRA, a bourgeois nationalist party with a ‘Marxist’ past that controlled the unions. In the same year, the APRA was supporting the reactionary oligarchic new ‘democratic’ government of Prado, and a new bourgeois nationalist party, Belaúnde’s Acción Popular, was formed. The pro-ISFI POR (later named the POR-Trotzkyst), headed by Ismael Frías, tried to form a Marxist wing within the APRA. The pro-ICFI POR decided that it was better to carry out entry work within the new bourgeois nationalist organisation. It participated in the formation of Belaúnde’s party, and formed a faction within it, the Acción Socialista de Izquierda (Left Socialist Action), and it launched a paper called Izquierda (Left) with such slogans as ‘for a government of national unity headed by Belaúnde’. This strategy was the same as that which Nahuel Moreno carried out in Argentina at the same time, when he entered the Peronist party, and accepted the programme and discipline of General Perón. Such ‘entrism’ ran contrary to Trotsky’s concept of entryism. Nor did it bear fruit. After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the pro-ICFI POR campaigned for the Communist Party, the APRA Rebelde and the bourgeois third worldist Social Progresistas to fuse into a single Castroite party under a stageist democratic programme. Later, they fused with some dissident Communists to form the FIR (Revolutionary Left Front), which had a programme of a people’s war and an all-class popular government. Hugo Blanco and Moreno said that in Peru the peasant unions would take the place of soviets and the party.
There are many gaps and mistakes in Alexander’s examination of the post-1959 evolution of the POR-T. He does not mention the Jauja adventure in which the POR-T participated, which provided the subject for Vargas Llosa’s The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta (cf. my review in Revolutionary History, Volume 4, no. 3, pp. 113–9).
Alexander says that in 1960 Ismael Frías split from the POR-T, and ‘in 1965 he had organised the Liga Socialista Revolucionaria (LSR) as a “national Marxist organisation”‘ (p. 640). Alexander’s assertion that the POR-T split in 1960 is doubtful. It probably broke up around 1962, the time when Juan Posadas moved to create his own International. After his expulsion from the POR-T, Frías formed the Workers and Peasants Revolutionary Party (PROC), and he later joined the MIR (Revolutionary Left Movement), a Castroite guerrilla group formed by former members of the APRA Rebelde. Frías was the most prominent Trotskyist in Latin America to support Michel Pablo after his expulsion from the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.
The LSR was formed in 1969 to support the regime emerging from Velasco’s nationalist military coup of October 1968. Alexander does not mention that this new group included Zevallos and Howes, the leaders of the ‘anti-Pabloite’ pro-ICFI POR of 1956. Without exception, all the leaders of both wings of the POR capitulated to the new junta. They backed both the dictatorship’s front party, the Sinamos, and the small official unions against the biggest and most combative union federation, the CGTP.
Whilst he ignores important Trotskyist groups, Alexander pays too much attention to Posadas’ sect, which by the late 1960s had little influence, and which nobody took seriously. The chapter on Posadas’ Fourth International is bigger than that on Trotskyism in all the Central American countries put together, or those on Venezuela, Uruguay or Colombia. He constantly tries to ridicule Trotskyism by referring to Posadas’ idiocies. Even then, he gets things wrong about Posadas. He says that the POR-T participated in the creation of the Revolutionary Left Alliance (ARI) in 1980, although the POR-T no longer existed by then.
Alexander does not accord any importance to Vanguardia Revolucionaria (VR: Revolutionary Vanguard). This was a pro-Castro group that was formed in 1965 with Ricardo Napurí as General Secretary, simultaneously supported the views of Mao, Guevara, Lin Piao and Trotsky, and won leading positions in the unions, peasant communities and student organisations.
The VR suffered its first split in 1970, the Revolutionary Workers Tendency (TOR). It was a self-proclaimed Trotskyist group led by Valencia, a former Posadist who had carried out entry work in the VR. He produced several theoretical documents and one of the few histories of Peruvian Trotskyism, La bancarrota de la izquierda en el Perú. The TOR, which is not mentioned by Alexander, evolved in a sectarian and ultra-leftist direction, and it soon collapsed. Some of its members formed a state capitalist group in the early 1980s which accused Lenin of being a Social Democrat, and they won over Emilio Roca, a leader of the Spanish PORE, and the newly-formed Peruvian section of the Varga-Ramos ‘Fourth International’.
In 1971 Napurí split from the VR to form the Revolutionary Marxist Workers Party (POMR, not, as Alexander says, the PMOR). This was a significant Trotskyist organisation, and it had a base in important unions. It was very active during the early 1970s in promoting ‘class and non-collaborationist plenums’ in which they attempted to unite the left-wing unions that were opposed to the junta and its Stalinist supporters. Its members also played a leading role in strikes by copper workers and bank workers.
The POMR suffered its first split in 1972 when the Healyite Liga Comunista (LC: Communist League) was formed. The discussion around the split centred on Bolivia, and the POMR was extremely pro-Lora. The Healyites accused Lora of supporting the Torres government, and of forming a Popular Front with him. The LC published a bi-weekly paper, and carried out much theoretical work. But it combined ultra-left politics with right-wing positions. It characterised Velasco’s Nasserite regime as ‘Fascist’, demanded its overthrow, and called for a general election in which the pro-Moscow Communist Party – a relatively insignificant organisation – should win and form a ‘Socialist government’, a thoroughly illusory perspective. In 1975 the LC expelled a group, which was to form the Partido Socialista Internacionalista (PSI: Internationalist Socialist Party). Initially, the PSI was more Healyite and ultra-left than the LC, but within a year it was calling for the reunification of all ‘Trotskyist’ groups into one party. All that happened, however, was that its leading cadres joined other currents.
The LC became increasingly isolated during the late 1970s. In 1978, when Blanco’s FOCEP (Workers, Peasants, Students and Peoples Power) was winning 12 per cent of the vote, and he was the most popular left-wing politician in Peru, the LC accused him of being linked with both the CIA and the GPU. Along with the Stalinists, in 1980 the Healyites supported the candidature of General Rodríguez, who was responsible for the bloody suppression of a miners’ demonstration in Cobriza in 1971, and who won under two per cent of the vote. When the LC was expelled from Healy’s ICFI, it started to break from Trotskyism. Along with part of the PRT (Revolutionary Workers Party), it formed the Socialist Unification Committee, which dissolved itself into the Castroite UDP (Popular Democratic Union).
The POMR’s second split was in 1977, when Raúl Wiener was expelled. He formed the Revolutionary Trotskyist Organisation (later known as the POR), which was to win positions in the Insurance Federation, the Inresa engineering factory, the Continental Bank and the public workers’ unions. Wiener had been a leader of the guerrillaist MIR, and had formed the Unión Comunista (Communist Union), which entered the POMR in 1975. In 1976 the POMR attempted to form an ‘anti-imperialist’ government with one wing of the ruling generals, and the differences in the POMR at first arose over the application of the slogan for a ‘common anti-imperialist united government’ with them. Differences later evolved over participation in the elections for the Constituent Assembly in 1978. The groups led by Lambert and Wiener called for a boycott, but Altamira and the POMR leadership formed an electoral bloc, the FOCEP, which won almost half a million votes. After this, Lambert changed his position, supported the POMR, and a few weeks later Altamira fused with Wiener’s group to form the Fourth Internationalist Tendency in Lima. In 1979 Wiener’s group fused with Juan Quesada’s Bolshevik Youth of Piura and the UJS (Union of Socialist Youth), and launched the new POR.
As a member of the FIR, Quesada had led land occupations in the early 1960s, and founded the shanty town ‘El Indio’. When Velasco launched his agrarian reforms, Quesada led peasants from his Castilla community against the regime. His group was the only ‘Trotskyist’ organisation in the far north of Peru, and in 1978 it joined the Stalinists’ list for the Constituent Assembly.
The FIR was reconstituted in the late 1960s. The most important old leaders did not participate in this process, as they had joined the military government. The FIR split in 1969 in line with the divisions in the USFI. The Mandelite Raúl Castro Vera remained with the majority, and a few young comrades went with Blanco, aligning with the US Socialist Workers Party and Moreno, and forming the FIR Reorganising Committee, and in 1974 the PST (Socialist Workers Party). The PST was a small organisation, and its principal attraction was Blanco. However, he was constantly either in jail or in exile, and his differences widened as the PST backed Moreno and he sided with the US SWP. In 1976 Fernando Lozano, one of the leaders of Castro Vera’s FIR, was killed by the Peruvian police. The left united in a vigorous campaign to denounce this crime. In 1978 the FIR, after having lost an important section (which formed the openly anti-Trotskyist FIR-Marxist-Leninist), fused with the FIR-FI, Blanco’s group and some small circles, to form the PRT.
The FIR majority took the name FIR-POC (Workers and Peasants Party) – a two-class party, a Stalinist concept which Trotsky criticised. The FIR-POC won important posts in the engineering and shoe factory unions, and it was at first very close to the Argentinean PRT-ERP. The FIR-POC suffered two splits in the mid-1970s over the question of its pro-Santucho position. The first produced the FIR-POC (Trotskyist), which was to fuse with the PST in 1978. The second split produced the FIR-Fourth International, in which were Hipólito Enríquez and Roberto Chiara. They were for most of the 1970s the General Secretaries of the unions at Moraveco and Diamante, major Peruvian engineering and shoemaking plants. In 1977 some intellectuals from the PSI joined the FIR-FI, and under their leadership it was the most important group in the foundation of Blanco’s PRT in 1978. Enríquez was a senator for the PRT in 1980–85, but later abandoned active politics. In the 1980s Chiara veered between the PRT and the Sendero Luminoso, but he was killed by the Maoists because he refused to obey all their orders.
Alexander recognises that in 1978 the Trotskyists were the third largest electoral force in Peru, and the biggest on the left. He also describes how the different Trotskyist groups participated in the first elections convened by the junta since they took power 10 years previously. The Mandelite FIR and FIR-FI entered as minor players in the Maoist Barrantes’ UDP, and the PST and the POMR formed the FOCEP with the reformist lawyer Ledesma. Alexander also shows that the Trotskyist deputies called on the rightist Constituent Assembly to take power and implement Socialist demands – to transform the parliament into a soviet. He omits, however, the groups (such as Healy’s and Wiener’s) which called for a boycott.
Alexander does not mention the five general strikes which rocked Peru in 1977–80, and the spread of popular assemblies and defence fronts. The POMR was the first organisation to call for the centralisation of these bodies into a National Popular Assembly. But in 1979 the POMR proclaimed the formation of a National Supreme Soviet around its own members and sympathisers, and without the involvement of most of the biggest unions and left-wing parties. The Morenoite PST raised as its main slogan the demand for an immediate presidential election, with the intention that Blanco be elected as president, and then proceed to build Socialism in Peru.
In 1979 the entire left, with the exception of the satellites of the pro-Moscow Communist Party, the Sendero Luminoso and the PST, formed the Revolutionary Left Alliance (ARI), in order to promote Blanco as the presidential candidate. At this time, Blanco was probably the first self-proclaimed Trotskyist in history who was a leading candidate in a presidential election, with polls predicting him to win between a quarter and a third of the votes. The pro-China Stalinists and the newly-formed Moreno-Lambert Parity Committee boycotted the ARI. The former did not wish to make programmatic concessions to the Trotskyists and to raise such demands as workers’ control and militias, whilst the latter adopted the purely selfish stance that it could win more MPs if Blanco stood alone within a ‘Trotskyist formula’ than in a wide left-wing coalition. As a result of this pressure, the ARI collapsed, and the left put forward five candidates.
Blanco stood under a front entitled ‘Toilers to Power’, which raised the demand for a workers’ majority in the new parliament that could form a workers’ government. Blanco received 3.7 per cent of the vote. The POR entered the UDP, and the LC supported General Rodríguez. Blanco lost the majority of his previous electoral support. The collapse of the ARI discredited the ‘Trotskyists’, as it split for purely electoral reasons. The programme of the new ‘Trotskyist’ bloc around Blanco promoted illusions in a parliamentary road to Socialism. In 1979–80 it was essential for Trotskyists to defend and radicalise the ARI, to form mass rank and file committees in it to promote strikes, street demonstrations and soviet-style bodies, and to criticise both the centrist and reformist bodies within the ARI and the centrist limitations of its programme.
A few months later, the majority of the left formed a genuine Popular Front, the United Left (IU), which excluded the ‘sectarian Trotskyists’. When the IU was formed, the PST, the PRT, the POMR, the LC and the POR gave critical support to it, and some attempted either to join it or to be on one of its lists. The majority of the PRT and the POR joined the IU, as did the Partido Unificado Mariateguista (PUM: Mariateguists United Party), which was formed in 1984. Wiener became the editor of the PUM’s paper and the leader of its left wing. Wiener’s Socialist Current split from the PUM in late 1993. Juan Quesada joined the Barrantes-Murrugara current. The old PRT intellectuals drifted off into various bourgeois forces. Nicolás Luccar, the former USFI leader in Peru, headed the Fujimori dictatorship’s most loyal political television programme.
Alexander does not mention the activity of the Peruvian Trotskyists in the class struggles of the 1980s. They held important positions in the unions representing the workers in the mines, metalworking, textiles, banks and chemical industries. They were particularly active in the formation of the National Popular Assembly in November 1987, in the organisation of four general strikes in 1988, in the Union and Popular Coordination in 1991, and in the workers’ mass assemblies in 1990–91.
As regards the attitude of the Trotskyist movement to the Sendero Luminoso, Alexander only reproduces quotations from Blanco, who has not been in a Trotskyist group since 1984. Blanco is now well into the reformist PUM, and he supported its right-wing leadership against the left-wing faction, which had the support of a third of the delegates to the PUM’s latest congress (and which now exists as an independent group – the Socialist Current, led by Raúl Wiener). Blanco attended the last National Peasant Congress in April 1994, having only returned to Peru from Mexico a month before, specifically to help the PUM’s leaders to remove the Socialist Current from the leadership of the Peasant Confederation of Peru.
When the PUM critically reassessed its support for Fujimori in 1990, Blanco disagreed, and said that it had been correct to have supported the most bloody and anti-working-class Peruvian president for decades. Like all Castroites, Blanco prefers to support the bourgeoisie, army and state against the Sendero Luminoso. On the other extreme were the LC and Castro Vera’s cell, which did not join the PUM, and retained the name of the PRT. In the late 1980s they said that the Sendero Luminoso was a revolutionary force fighting for a workers’ and peasants’ government. Poder Obrero, which has written the most about the Sendero Luminoso, considers that it is a petit-bourgeois militarist Stalinist movement that fights imperialism, but is also against the independence and organisations of the working class, and indeed is against soviets and revolution. The Trotskyists should defend the Sendero Luminoso against state repression, but at the same time the working class must defend itself against its provocations and Popular Front strategy.
At present, all parties in Peru are heavily discredited. Fujimori and the ‘independents’ won the last four elections. The working class is under attack, and is suffering serious defeats. The left is in decline. The Trotskyist groups are tiny, and none of them has more than 50 real militants. At least in the past they had contacts and traditions which would have helped them revive under changed circumstances. The PST was the most important Trotskyist group. In 1985 it stood Napurí in the presidential elections, winning 0.2 per cent of the vote. In 1990 the PST and the Labour Party (PT) together won 0.07 per cent of the vote in Lima, and since then the PST has won even less. In 1992 Fernández Chacón supported Zamora’s minority in the LIT (Workers International League), and broke from Napurí with the majority of Lima’s PST. The self-proclaimed Trotskyist groups now consist of two PSTs, the PT, Poder Obrero, the PRT and the POR.
Alexander does not mention the PT. After their split from Moreno, the Peruvian Lambertists attempted to join up with several reformist union leaders, and such figures as Letts, Tazza, Simons, etc., to create a party like Lula’s in Brazil. They recruited Leonor Zamora, a former member of the PADIN, a bourgeois party, under which banner she had been elected mayor of Ayacucho. She was murdered in 1991 by a paramilitary death squad. The PT has also promoted several trade union conferences.
Poder Obrero was formed in late 1987, and was a co-founder of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International. It has criticised the other Peruvian Trotskyist groups for their demand for a United Left government. This group is noted for its interventions in the activities of the working class, and for its analyses and theoretical and programmatic positions.
Despite their numerical smallness and lack of influence, the Peruvian Trotskyists will recover once the ‘democratic’ reactionary offensive starts to break up. However, the movement requires the drawing up of a clear balance sheet of its mistakes before it will be able to play a revolutionary role.
Updated by ETOL: 21.9.2011