Leon Trotsky, Escritos Latinoamericanos, Compiled by Gabriela Liszt and Marcelo Scoppa, Leon Trotsky Centre for Study, Research and Publication (CEIP), Buenos Aires, 1999, pp33
Those who read Spanish. It is in two parts, the first consisting of articles, letters and interviews, the second of items from Clave, the Mexican Trotskyist journal. From his arrival in Mexico in January 1937 until his murder in August 1940, Trotsky was preoccupied with the Moscow Trials and with his efforts to refute the Stalinist allegations that he was an agent of British, German and French intelligence. As he was unable to visit any other Latin American country, and was forbidden to take part in Mexican politics, the range of this compilation is surprising.
Trotsky paid close attention to the Mexican section of the Fourth International, most of whose members were either teachers or building workers. One of the most interesting articles here is an account of a lively discussion on Latin America between Trotsky and some of his secretaries, which is far from being merely an encounter of master and disciples. Charles Curtiss, a member of the US Socialist Workers Party, is particularly sharp on the mechanical and abstract approach of the Latin American comrades, and their difficulty in grasping the concept of Permanent Revolution.
In ‘Problems of the Mexican Section’, written in December 1938, Trotsky discussed the break with Luciano Galicia, a leader of the section, who combined an abstentionist line on the trade unions with a suggestion that sabotage could be a weapon in the struggle against price rises. It is curious that Latin American Trotskyists, whose patriotism and fondness for Popular Fronts have puzzled observers in other continents, once criticised Trotsky for accommodation to bourgeois forces. Trotsky defended the painter Diego Rivera against Galicia’s attacks, arguing that the Fourth International should be glad that such an outstanding artist was a member, just as Lenin had valued Gorky’s participation in the revolutionary movement. However, by early 1939, Rivera had broken with Trotskyism, and was backing Mujica, a right-wing general, as candidate for President.
Three interviews with the Argentinian trade unionist, Mateo Fossa, will be familiar to many readers, as they have been extensively mined for quotations on what the revolutionary position should be in a hypothetical war between Britain and Brazil. It is a pity that the rest of the interviews, giving Trotsky’s views on Latin America, have received less attention. Whilst stressing that he had no detailed knowledge of the region, Trotsky emphasised the need to work in the trade unions and their importance in educating the workers in democratic methods.
The selection from Clave includes contributions by Trotsky and his supporters, and others written by Trotsky, but signed by Diego Rivera. Some unsigned articles were probably written by Trotsky in collaboration with others. The Latin American tendency to abstraction shows up strongly. ‘Problemas Nacionales’ by Octavio Fernández, and ‘The Lima Conference’ by Adolfo Zamora, describing a meeting devoted to gaining support for US ‘democratic imperialism’, are honourable exceptions.
The world has changed in the six decades since most of these articles were written, so some are now more relevant than others. Given his isolation, his other commitments and his brief stay, Trotsky could not have produced a strategy for the Latin American working class. He devoted considerable attention to the Mexican Communist Party and its agents. That was hardly surprising, given its strength, its campaign to have him deported, and its complicity in attempts to kill him. Stalinism has declined of late, but even in the 1940s it was destined to play a minor part in most Latin American countries, often being marginalised by populist movements such as Peronism. The lessons which Marxists have drawn from experience in Europe were inadequate in situations where Stalinism was weak, and Social Democracy even more so, except in Chile. Many Trotskyists, who realised that Stalinism was a menace to the workers’ movement, swapped their early ultra-leftism for addiction to populist alliances. Trotsky’s comments on movements such as the Peruvian APRA, which he saw as a Popular Front in the form of a party, remain relevant, but seem to have had little influence on his supporters.
Until now, Latin American Trotskyists have concentrated on publishing the works of their local gurus, so this scholarly volume is a pleasant surprise. The compilers give generous acknowledgement to other publications, including the Cahiers León Trotsky, published in France, and Revolutionary History. The CEIP is backed by the Argentinian Partido de Trabajadores Socialistas, but as material such as this is invaluable to the entire workers’ movement, it deserves the support of all Marxists, both in Argentina and elsewhere.