On the 8th of November 1996 Jorge Villaran, the traditional leader of one of the Trotskyist groups in Peru and an executive leader of the Lambert's Fourth International died. He had a cancer and one day before he died he attended a meeting of his organization's leadership. Many people went into his funeral which was also a militant demonstration.
In the late 1960s he was one of the leaders of the powerful union of the Banco de Credito (one of the most important banks) and he was one of the founders of the new CGTP (Confederacion General de Trabajadores del Peru).
For around two decades comrades educated by him led that union on several occasions and were the "classist" left opposition against the CP in the Union of Bank Workers (Federacion de Empleados Bancarios).
He was a member of Vanguardia Revolucionaria, one of the most important far left organisations in Peru, which was founded in 1965 by Ricardo Napuri and Ricardo Letts with the impossible aim of fusing the ideas of Trotsky, Che Guevara, Lin Piao and Mao. In 1971 Villaran, Napuri, Narrea and Cuentas split from VR and founded the Revolutionary Workers Marxist Party (POMR). The POMR was very much influenced by Politica Obrera in Argentina (now the Workers Party) and Guillermo Lora's Bolivian Revolutionary Workers Party (POR) which played a significant role in the People's Assembly in 1971.
The POMR did very important work among the metal and fish-industry workers in Chimbote, in the copper miners in the south, among metal and bank workers in Lima and in many other places. The POMR characterised the Velasco (1968-75) regime as a bonapartist nationalist dictatorship. They were for the defence of every measure against imperialism while at the same time attacking the military junta. The POMR played a very important role in the creation of the Comite de Coordinacion y Unidad Sindical Clasista (CCUSC). The CCUSC was founded by all the left parties which were in opposition to the junta and to its CGTP/CP capitulation. Nevertheless the Maoist party Patria Roja (Red Fatherland) transformed this united front into a sectarian party front.
The POMR also played a very important role in the fish-industry workers strike in 1976 and in the organisation of the 24 hour total general strike on 19 July 1977. This was the first general strike in decades, and pressured the military junta to convene a constituent assembly. The POMR led one of the national unions which convened the 19 July 77 strike: the FETCOS (insurance workers union). Around the time of that strike Villaran and Napuri expelled Wienner who led that union and a faction inside the party.
This was the second big crisis in the POR. The first occurred in 1972 when a group of young followers of Gerry Healy's International Committee decided to attack Lora as a traitor for his policy during the Bolivian People's Assembly and denounced Velasco as a fascist dictator who had to be replaced by a CP "socialist government" through a process that needed immediate general elections. In 1976-77 the POMR debated in depth the question of how to implement an anti-imperialist unity government. One wing was in favour of working in alliance with a section of the new junta's cabinet. The other wing was in favour of dealing with nationalist and Stalinist forces outside the cabinet. Both sides were incorrect. The only government which Marxists fight for is a workers and peasant one based in toilers' councils. A common government with the nationalists, with pure anti-imperialist democratic goals is inevitably a popular front.
In late 1977 the POMR, the morenoite PST and the lawyer Genaro Ledesma created the Workers, Peasant, Student and Popular Front (FOCEP) which was a (confused) independent socialist workers front. In mid-1978, after a very militant 48 hours general strike, Peru had its first elections in 10 years. Surprisingly the "Trotskyite" FOCEP got 12% of the votes. This was the first and only time in all the western hemisphere that a so-called Trotskyist- led front obtained more than 10% of the votes. Hugo Blanco became the most important electoral figure from the left and the opposition. Immediately after the elections the FOCEP became the fast growing force in Peru and the POMR was its main and most organised party. At that time the POMR was the only "Trotskyist" party in the hemisphere that had 3% of the parliament. The possibilities were great for the building of a mass revolutionary party.
Nevertheless, Villaran's POMR was not prepared to undertake that task. The POMR constantly shifted between sectarianism, workerism and popular-frontism. In 1973 the POMR decided to "proletarianise", ie to try to get rid of every non-wage worker. It was decide that the POMR was a party only for proletarians. Villaran left his job and at great sacrifice to himself became a very dedicated party full-timer. Only later did the POMR come to understand the necessity of opening the party to other layers and to work in other social sectors.
The first thing that the POMR did in the constituent assembly was to draft a "red motion" which demanded that the bourgeois parliament, despite its pro-junta and right-wing majority, should take power and undertake the revolutionary tasks. The POMR and the FOCEP adopted a parliamentary cretinism which would end in the most terrible capitulation to imperialism by the rest of the left. This action was the last straw that caused an international split with Lora and Altamira and a national split with Narrea and Alternativa Obrera, a group in which there were a few of the founders of the group that in 1987 would become Poder Obrero.
In 1979, after failing in its attempt to transform the constituent assembly into a soviet, the POMR decided to create its own "supreme soviet" with their members, supporters and friends. The POMR promoted the creation of a People's Assembly without the participation of the biggest trade union forces (like the CGTP).
In 1979 the POMR and the rest of the no-CP left created the ARI (Alliance of the Revolutionary Left, which means "Yes" in Quechua). The ARI adopted a programme in favour of the expropriation of imperialism and big capitalism, for workers control and militias. Despite its confusions, it was a very radical and anti-imperialist MASS force which had between 20%-30% in the opinion polls (its separate members obtained more than 1/5 of the votes in the 1978 elections). The ARI had the opportunity to contest the first place. Of course, the idea was not that revolutionaries could take power through that elections but that they can use that platform to organise the workers for the revolution.
Nevertheless, in 1980 few months after the general elections, the ARI exploded. The pro-China parties were against any front led by "Trotskyists" and, Moreno and Lambert, who were the main international leaders of the two biggest FOCEP parties, were trying to unite and they thought that if they could monopolise the electoral figure of Blanco they could obtain a lot of votes and more Members of the Parliament.
Lambert pressed the POMR to provoke an split. The POMR and the Morenoite PST said that the ARI was a popular front because, despite considering its main figure and leader as a "Trotskyist", it included a supposedly strong bourgeois component, which was a tiny ten-people party led by a lawyer who claims that he was as "Leninist".
The POMR and the PTS compelled Blanco to split the ARI. As a result the left ended divided into 5 mini-fronts. All combined they won less than 15% of the votes and Blanco only had 3.7%, losing 2/3 of his previous percentage. Belaunde, who was the very unpopular right-wing president overthrown by the nationalist junta in 1978, was elected because he could fulfil the vacuum created by the divided and electoralist left. A few months after the elections the majority of the former ARI members decided to unite with the CP and other real bourgeois parties and they founded the United Left.
This was a real popular front which would support repressive measures and privatisation. The same so-called Trotskyist forces which divided the ARI under the pretext that this was a counter-revolutionary front, tried to enter in the United left or several of its committees.
Between 1980 and 1982 the POMR and the PTS started to create a united party, which was by far the biggest so-called Trotskyist force. In 1982 the Morenoite and Lambertist currents decided to split and Napuri didn't agree with Lambert. Villaran, became the main supporter of Lambert in Peru.
Villaran followed Lambert's orders to try to justify in moral terms a rupture with Napuri. Napuri was expelled after the accusation of taking his parliamentary wage for himself and not for the party. This was not the first bureaucratic rupture which Villaran led. This was a scandal and Moreno seized the opportunity. He set up an international moral tribunal to investigate the case. This considerably damaged the POMR and Villaran's image. Half of the POMR and Napuri were recruited by the Morenoites.
In 1985 Napuri stood as a presidential candidate, winning only 15,000 votes. His party went into a process of decline. Since that time no Trotskyist has been elected to any parliament. Villaran's POMR became even smaller and they wanted to dissolve the party with the aim of creating a Workers Party with the same name and symbols as Lula's Brazilian PT.
The Lambertists initially considered the Brazilian PT as a reactionary party which has to be boycotted. Later they made a complete U-Turn and decided to adapt to Lula and to create similar PTs to the one that the Brazilian reformists had made. The Lambertists were wrong. It was correct to participate in the creation of the PT but at the same time it is important to try to build a revolutionary tendency in opposition to Lula's increasing reformism.
Villaran tried to create a Peruvian PT in fusion with several trade union bureaucrats and popular-frontists (like Letts, Simons, etc.). Villaran abandoned the project of building a separate Trotskyist revolutionary party and united fronts in the Lenininist way. He wanted joint parties with centrists and reformists in which programmes have to be compromised. His PT decided to fight for other governments rather than the workers and peasant one. Some times he was in favour of a government that would not pay the foreign debt or for the popular front, etc. All of these were variants of a stageist strategy in which the lambertists ended up.
Villaran became one of the main Latin American organisers of the constant "international conferences" which the lambertist apparatus launched. In all of them the idea was to try to invite as many "left" bourgeois figures (like Cardenas in Mexico) and trade unions bureaucrats (like the COB leadership in Bolivia) into events that would not decide nothing and would substitute the fight for a revolutionary international with joint proclamations against the IMF.
Villaran was never a great theoretician. His own international never promoted independent minded people. He was a very energetic and self-sacrificing activist. He wrote a book on Mariategui, the founder of Andean Marxism, in which he adopted a conciliatory position in relation to Mariategui's mistakes.
One of the worst tragedies of Villaran was his split with his most eminent collaborator: Hernan Cuentas. They were together in the creation of the POMR and in the not pleasant and some times very nasty expulsion of the Healyites, Wienner, Lora-Altramira and Napuri. Cuentas was elected twice to the parliament. He was in charge of the party's print operations. The lambertist international accused him of stealing the party print-shop and Villaran and the rest of the PT expelled him. Cuentas is still ill and demoralised.
In his last years Villaran was very friendly with us. He was sorry about the way he treated Wienner. Napuri apologised for his misbehavior to Wienner and the comrades who created the Fourth Internationalist Tendency in 1979. Villaran never apologised to Napuri or any of the POMR's founders.
At this stage, not many people would remember him. The left in Peru is terribly diminished. Despite his mistakes he was a man who dedicated his entire life to the revolution. I knew him since the beginning of my political life in the Trotskyist movement. I was with him in the FOCEP's first days but I had to break with him when he demanded all power to the right-wing constituent assembly. In many trade-union conferences the comrades from Poder Obrero and the PT worked together. Over around two decades we have had many differences but he was always a very self-sacrificing and humble man. Last time I saw him he was working as a very low paid employee in the library of the Social Security Institute.
Like many centrists he suffered very much from the pressure of the democratic counter-offensive. Nevertheless, he never broke with his working class, as many Peruvian left-wingers did. He never capitulated to the bourgeoisie. He never abandon his subjective Trotskyism like most of the former fourth-internationalists in the Andes. He died as a man that never left the red banner or the aim of the proletarian revolution.
Jorge, old friend and also opponent in many discussions, we will always remember you. We extend our embraces to his children and relatives, to his comrades from the Peruvian PT and his Fourth International and to his hundreds of his trade union comrades.