How International Working-Class Defense Was Built

PDC Forum Hails Victory of Muñoz Campaign

[from Workers Vanguard, No. 123, 3 September 1976]

NEW YORK, August 29—A hundred people attended a forum here last night on class-struggle defense work and the successful campaign to save Mario Muñoz, the Chilean miners leader whose safe exit from Argentina was brought about by a broad international campaign of protest and pressure. The talk by Reuben Shiffman—cochairman of the Partisan Defense Committee (PDC) which initiated the campaign for Muñoz in the U.S.—wrapped up a PDC victory tour which included forums in Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit.

The Committee to Save Mario Muñoz was sponsored jointly by the PDC and the Europe-based Committee to Defend Worker and Sailor Prisoners in Chile. Shiffman explained that the campaign was a prodigious undertaking for an organization with the PDC’s limited resources. The impressive international solidarity and generous financial support mobilized by the campaign testifies to the deep revulsion among trade unionists, liberal intellectuals and civil liberties exponents against the Latin American junta butchers.

The obstacles were immense. Although known in Chile as a militant miners’ leader, Mario Muñoz is not a figure of the sort who would be familiar to the liberal and radical intelligentsia and labor movement activists in Europe and the U.S. His case and political history had to be widely publicized. The Committee’s task was to make Muñoz a symbol of the thousands of political refugees in Argentina for whom international protest is the only hope of escape from imprisonment, deportation, torture and murder.

The Committee had to contest the giant whitewash attempted by the Videla government, which sought to portray itself as “moderate” and even “democratic” and the coup as “bloodless.” Initially, the Committee was faced with a bourgeois press which blacked out or downplayed the escalating rightist terror. As reports began to filter through of arrests of Argentine leftists and unionists, raids on refugee centers and summary executions of “terrorists” by the extra-legal “AAA” death squads, the Committee’s own publicity efforts played a significant role in exposing the whitewash and drawing attention to the mortal danger faced by Argentine left and labor militants and political refugees.

Bourgeois efforts to lend the Argentine junta a “respectable” image were abetted by the Communist Party (CP) Stalinists, Shiffman explained. The Argentine CP had acclaimed the democratic hypocrisy of the Videla junta, echoing the junta’s lies and welcoming the generals’ “respect for representative democracy, social justice, the reaffirmation of the State’s role in controlling society, and defense of the capacity for national decisiveness” (quoted in Militant, 23 April). As the murderous junta increasingly displayed “national decisiveness” in suppressing the Argentine CP, the Stalinist movement began to interrupt its silence with an occasional tepid protest.

The Stalinists’ traditional sectarianism toward any campaign which includes Trotskyists was reinforced in the case of Muñoz by the Chilean miners leader’s record of criticism of the betrayals of the Allende government in Chile. The Chilean Stalinists and their counterparts internationally were the foremost proponents of the Allende popular front, which physically and politically disarmed the workers as the reactionary forces massed for the coup. To cover their crimes in Chile—crimes which they now repeat in Argentina— the Stalinists and their apologists resorted to suppression and slander against the Muñoz campaign.

The goal of the reactionary Videla regime, Shiffman explained, is the total destruction of all democratic liberties and of all organizations outside the military and government apparatus. The direct danger facing Muñoz from the Argentine central government— which showed no hesitation in deporting MIR leader Edgardo Enriquez back to probable execution in Pinochet’s Chile—was compounded by the virtual autonomy of official armed units of the state as well as the “AAA.”

Furthermore an arbitrary military regime such as the Videla junta, Shiffman noted, might respond to efforts to publicize the case of a leftist political refugee by killing him rather than letting him go. The Committee undertook to secure Muñoz’s release through open legal channels rather than by other possible means, recognizing the dangers this strategy implied if the protests were not forceful enough to compel the junta to release Muñoz unharmed.

As part of the pressure exerted by the Committee, approaches to the United Nations were important. Shiffman pointed out that the UN is “no different than its member states (the U.S., Chile…)"—merely more impotent. He reminded the audience that Muñoz was seized at a UN refugee [camp] and arrested, and read a section from Muñoz’s European press conference speech which described how the police had quoted verbatim from Muñoz’s statement to a UN refugee committee.

In order to secure asylum for Muñoz, not only the UN but also various bourgeois governments had to be approached. The Committee centered its efforts especially on countries with social-democratic governments, in the hope of exploiting the lip-service which these bureaucrats must pay to working-class solidarity in order to maintain their capacity to mislead their working-class base. It was the social-democratic government of Austria which granted Muñoz a visa out of Argentina. The speaker pointed out that at the very moment that Muñoz was arriving in Austria, the Austrian government was engaged in prosecuting the Austrian Trotskyist ÖBL in an attempt to suppress its publication.

Shiffman concluded by expressing the gratitude of the PDC toward all, those who solidarized with and worked on behalf of the campaign to save Mario Muñoz. He asked all those who consider themselves partisans of the oppressed and exploited throughout the world to continue to support the PDC in its struggle for freedom for all class-war prisoners.

Posted: 17 January 2006