Hardly a day now passes without a political assassination, attempted assassination, kidnapping or bombing taking place somewhere in the world. The Herrema kidnapping in Ireland is only the most recent example of what has become almost a world epidemic. The exploits of the seemingly endless array of guerrilla groups – the Basque nationalists, ETA: the Argentinian ERP and Montoncros; the American SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army); and the Provisional IRA, to mention some of the best known – seem to be continually in the news.
Denunciation combined with the bolstering of their “counter-terrorist” apparatus has been the predictable reaction of the ruling class to this threat. But condemnation sits uneasily on their lips. Their whole system is built on violence and terrorism against the peoples of the world. Witness the recent barbarism of American Imperialism in South-East Asia – 10% of the population of Cambodia, for instance was wiped out. Then there is the “international balance of terror”.
Science and technique are used to perfect fiendish weapons of destruction – enough to kill every human being on the planet a number of times over – while millions face starvation. A ‘fireball bomb’ capable of setting whole cities alight is the most recent ‘triumph’ of science in this field! But perhaps the most nauseating example of the hypocrisy of the capitalists was the condemnation of ‘terrorism’ by the butcher Franco and his supporters. He rode to power over the bones of a million workers and peasants and enslaved the Spanish people for 40 years.
The mushrooming of individual terrorist groups is on the one side a symptom of the growing revolt against capitalism on a world scale. But, on the other side, it reflects the lack of authority of the leaders of the ‘Communist’ Party and the labor leaders in the eyes of a section of youth – particularly middle class youth – who are looking for a way to overthrow landlordism and capitalism.
They are repelled by the opportunism of those leaders and seek a short cut in single combat with the capitalist state. Yet their actions have the opposite effect of that intended. The capitalist state is enabled to strengthen itself by introducing repressive measures under the guise of fighting ‘terrorism’. Repelled by the actions of the individual terrorists, the workers are also driven behind the leaders of the mass organizations, thus strengthening these leaders. And, not infrequently, individual terrorist campaigns end up in the installation of military dictatorship – as was the case with the Tupamaros in Uruguay.
Many of these groups claim to be ‘Marxist’; and there are even some alleged to be ‘Trotskyists’ – as in Spain today and Argentina only yesterday – who justify these methods – usually from the sidelines. But from its inception Marxism has combated the ideas of individual terrorism. It has done so not for pacifist reasons but because it believes that the methods of individual terrorists are harmful forms of struggle against capitalism. Marxism starts with the fundamental idea that the liberation of the working class from the yoke of capital is the task of the working class itself. Only those methods which facilitate this task, which assist the working class to raise its level of understanding and make it conscious of its power to change society can be justified.
But in common with liberals the individual terrorist believes that the capitalist system rests on individuals. They over-estimate the role of the individual minister, policeman or capitalist. The liberal strives for a position of influence – as a minister etc. – in order to effect change. The individual terrorist stalks the representatives of the capitalist state with bomb and bullet believing that his actions can overthrow or prepare the downfall of capitalism. But the capitalist system does not rest on individuals and cannot be destroyed with them. Tory luminary, Lord Hailsham, recently indicated this: ‘when 1 was in Cabinet we did say to one another that if anything was done to any of us he was expendable and expended. I think that was right.’ (The Times 7.10.75)).
The capitalists will always find new men to replace those who are assassinated. At the same time they invariably use the actions of the individual terrorist to bridle the working class with further repressive legislation. Individual terrorists – or urban guerrillas – substitute themselves for the masses. They believe that it is their actions and not the conscious organization of the masses which will effect the necessary change. They actually ‘lower the masses in their own consciousness, reconcile them to impotence and direct their glances to the great avenger and emancipator who will some day come to and accomplish his mission’ (Trotsky).
The experience of the Russian Revolution is the best answer to the ideas of individual terrorism. Russian Marxism had fought against the proponents of individual terror for decades before the revolution. The terrorists, who only assassinated known torturers, hated policemen and executioners, were in the most cases self-sacrificing heroes, although mistaken in their methods. Can the same thing be said today about those who leave bombs to indiscriminately maim and injure the innocent under the guise of fighting imperialism?
Tsarism was overthrown by the mass mobilization and arming of the Russian workers and peasants under the guidance of the Bolsheviks. Once in power ‘Mass terror’ – an armed people – was used to hold down and defeat the counter-revolution organized by the dispossessed landlords and their international supporters – the ruling classes of Britain, France, USA etc. Even the defeated 1905 revolution had so illuminated the effectiveness of mass action as compared to the puny efforts of the individual terrorist that the influence of terrorism waned. Thus Trotsky could write in 1905: ‘Terrorism in Russia is dead … Terror has migrated to the East … but in Russia it is already part of the heritage of history.’ It was the Bolsheviks and leaders like Lenin and Trotsky who ensured that the advanced workers understood the correct lessons from the Russian Revolution. There has been no shortage of examples of the colossal power of the working class in those countries where the ideas of individual terrorism hold sway over a section of the youth. But what has been lacking is a mass organization and leadership capable of drawing all the necessary conclusions.
Argentina and Spain
Argentina today provides a classic example of this. The urban guerrilla organizations, principally the ERP and Montoneros, undoubtedly are composed of self-sacrificing opponents of Argentine landlordism and capitalism. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions! Albeit unwillingly, they have exercised a baleful effect on the course of the Argentinian Revolution. The guerrillas conducted a violent campaign against the junta which was replaced by the Peronist candidate in March 1973.
But it was the fear of the masses not the actions of the guerrillas which compelled the Argentine landlords and capitalists to switch from the military junta to Peronism. The temper of the Argentine workers had been demonstrated in the virtual insurrectionary general strike which proceeded the overthrow of the junta. The guerrilla campaign temporarily subsided following Peron’s accession to power. But with his death it was started up again with renewed ferocity, first by the ERP and then by some of the young Peronists in the Montoneros.
Spectacular kidnappings were undertaken by the ERP and Montoneros. For instance, the Born Brothers – chairman and managing director of Bunge y Born, one of the world’s largest grain dealers -were kidnapped by the Montoneros and only released on payment by the firm of a $60 million ransom. The Montoneros also stipulated that one million dollars’ worth of food and clothing were to be distributed to the poor – “as punishment for the supply shortages which the company inflicted on the people”. Actions like this reveal the gulf separating Marxism from the guerrilla groups.
Marxism, scientific socialism, sees the task of the working class as the struggle to remove the causes of exploitation, misery and poverty by eliminating – through the socialist revolution – private ownership of the means of production. The guerrillas merely seek ‘compensation’ for the masses for the crimes of capitalism. At best their philosophy is that of Robin Hood – ‘robbing the rich to help the poor’ – rather than that of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.
At the same time, in the last year, the ERP – together with the Montoneros – have re-stated the assassination campaign against army generals, policemen, torturers etc. This was just the excuse which the counter-revolution sought to launch a vicious ‘counter-terrorist campaign’ against the organizations of the working class. Since Isabel Peron succeeded to the Presidency – following the death of Peron himself – more than one thousand people have been slain. Those who died were mostly victims of the notorious AAA – policemen directed by Isabel Peron’s guru, the hated Lopez Rega.
Reaction seized the opportunity to behead the Argentine labor movement. Those who perished at the hands of the AAA were trade union leaders, shop stewards, labor leaders, and liberals – mostly unconnected with any of the guerrilla movements. Moreover, the government – under the guise of fighting ‘terrorism’ – outlawed illegal strikes, sent in government ‘intervenors’ to occupy the offices of unions and forced left union leaders to go into hiding.
This situation demanded of a Marxist tendency worthy of the name the raising of the need for mass workers’ defense – through a Trade Union Defense Force – to defend their organizations against fascist attack, not ultra-left adventures. This would have found an enormous echo amongst the Argentinian working class particularly if combined with serious work within the Peronist movement itself as has been consistently advocated by the Militant. [The British Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party]
The resumption of the guerrilla campaign in turn allowed the counter-revolution to escalate its campaign. The government, emboldened by its success, also undertook to carry out drastic reductions in the living standards of the working class by holding down wages below the more than 100% inflation rate.
But the answer of the Argentine working class to these attacks came in the magnificent General Strike in July of this year. In 36 hours they achieved what the guerrillas had been incapable of accomplishing in more than a year of guerrilla action! The strike was the first called by the Peronist-dominated CGT – the equivalent of the TUC in Britain – against a Peronist government. Three and a half million workers responded magnificently to the strike call. Industry ground to a complete halt with only gas, electricity and telephones functioning – and then only by permission of the unions.
But so successful was the strike, and so frightened by its effect were the right wing Peronist leaders, that they hastily called off the action ten hours before its scheduled 48 hour duration. Yet this was sufficient to bring the Cabinet crashing down. Lopez Rega was forced to flee into exile and the AAA were cowed into a ‘truce’. The wage cutting measures which were the immediate cause of the strike were cancelled and Isabel Peron herself was forced to take ‘sick leave’ as the demands grew from within the Peronist movement for her removal.
In the struggle against landlordism and capitalism individual terrorism can be compared to a peashooter while mass action can be likened to an atomic bomb! The Argentine General Strike has underlined the invincible power of the working class once it is on the move. The Argentine ruling class has been shaken by these events, as have the summits of the Peronist movement – including the tops of the unions. Thus the New York Times‘ service recently reported the comments of one union leader: ‘I would rather have my throat cut by the guerrillas than by members of the Textile Workers Union’.
Militant, November 1975