In the summer of 1967, the Venezuelan communist party (PCV) leader Pompeyo Márquez published an essay entitled “Guerrillas y partidos comunistas” [Guerrilla Armies and Communist Parties]. This was the beginning of a debate that ensued between segments of the the PCV and Fidel Castro – a series of disagreements Márquez alludes to in a recent edition of his column for Tal Cual [see my translation here]. Márquez and PCV members such as Teodoro Petkoff were in the process of moving away from armed struggle toward a social democratic stance that would eventually lead to their founding of the party Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) in the early 70s. Márquez became a communist as a teenager in 1937, and he was a legendary clandestine combatant in the struggle against the dictatorship of General Marcos Pérez Jiménez in the 50s. Today he continues to be an active participant in Venezuelan politics, warning of the grave danger posed by the militaristic project being installed by Chavismo.
I discovered Márquez’s essay while researching the Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton, whose book ¿Revolución en la revolución? y la crítica de derecha (Casa de las Américas, 1970) is partly a response to the former. Dalton is mainly concerned with commenting on his friend Régis Debray’s essay ¿Revolución en la revolución? (Casa de las Américas, 1967) and the critiques the book sustained from sectors of the Latin American left. While elucidating Debray’s thesis that a small guerrilla army, and not the communist party, should be the vanguard of the fight against imperialism in Latin America, Dalton identifies several currents within Latin American communist thought, including a “right” within the left, which is where he situates Márquez. I haven’t been able to find a copy of Márquez’s essay but Dalton quotes from it extensively, enough to give an idea of its central argument. For Márquez, the party was to have precedence over the guerrilla army, which is always dependent on specific political and social contexts. He writes:
“Today’s task is to ideologically, politically and organically strengthen the communist parties, to place them at the height of the great tasks that remain to be accomplished and to equip them with an effective domain over all the forms of struggle, adequately managing their opportune and skillful combination, learning to engage, at every opportunity, in legal and illegal combat, peaceful and violent, according to the political juncture of each of our countries.”
I don’t have the time to discuss Dalton’s eloquent critique of Márquez’s position. But he sides with Fidel Castro against Márquez and Petkoff in the debate about the direction to be taken by the left in Latin America at that political juncture. Dalton’s ignominious death at the hands of his fellow guerrillas in San Salvador within years of writing ¿Revolución en la revolución? y la crítica de derecha, points to the mistake of his position. That same revolutionary vanguard he invokes in defense of Debray, with its Leninist conception of a small group imposing the will of the masses by violent means, eventually executed Dalton precisely for his stance as an intellectual first and soldier second. Joaquín Villalobos and the other members of the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP) have in recent years admitted they were mistaken in accusing Dalton of being a spy, but in 1975 they were merely following the Leninist-Maoist line the poet had invoked in his essay. Dalton’s essential identity as an intellectual seemed suspicious to the ERP guerrillas who were barely out of their teens, and who believed that guns precede words in a revolutionary struggle.
One wonders whether Dalton’s thinking would have progressed beyond the desperate belief in the necessity of violence in a revolutionary project, as Márquez and Debray have ended up doing. In some ways, the rise of Chavismo is merely a continuation of a debate that’s been going on within the Latin American left for decades. In his Tal Cual column Márquez writes about his shift away from Marxism-Leninism toward democratic socialism, in an effort to think dialectically over time:
“In 1971 I helped found the MAS political party, with an accent on democracy within socialism. I had been educated in the “immediate collapse of capitalism” and what collapsed was the “socialist world.” From that point until today my thinking has continued to evolve until reaching the conclusion of social democracy, as a synthesis of the aspirations of the great popular masses to which I’ve dedicated my life from the time I was 14 years old until my 85 years today.”