The Attack on Muñiz Air Base: On the Question of Armed Struggle in Puerto Rico
By Luis Ángel Torres Torres
This article was published in two issues, on 26 January to 8 February, and 16 February to 1 March 1981, in the “En la lucha” section of the newspaper Bandera Roja, then official organ of the Popular Socialist Movement (MSP).
Translated by the MST-NYC for the Edgardo Alvelo Burgos Socialist Summer School.
The recent military action of the Boricua Popular Army (EPB-Macheteros) against the Muñiz Air Base [Base Muñiz] has left an unprecedented loss for the U.S. military in the 82 years of colonialism to which our people have been subjected: nine combat aircraft destroyed and three more partially damaged.
The reaction of the colonial government and the imperialist U.S. government spokesmen had to be one of alarm and surprise at what for them has been the worst “terrorist act” ever conducted on “U.S. soil.” To be expected as well, [Governor] Romero Barceló lashed at the attackers calling them “fanatics, madmen and criminals.” However, this is “the pot calling the kettle black”: Romero Barceló is a fanatic, a madman, and a confessed criminal responsible for the slaughter at Cerro Maravilla and the cover up of dozens of acts of corruption. His virulent attack on the Macheteros is an attack against anything that fights back against his imperialist masters, his condemnation of violence is pure hypocrisy to try to confuse the people so that they do not understand the need, at the correct moment, to use revolutionary violence against imperialism. For Romero the repressive violence of the police, the FBI and the US army is justifiable, but when the revolutionaries use violence he wastes no time in condemning it.
Now, beyond demagogy and historic denunciations on the part of the spokesmen of the bourgeoisie and imperialism, we the revolutionaries should evaluate the correctness of the actions by the Macheteros at Base Muñiz. We strongly repudiate the siren calls and hypocrisy of the colonialist politicians, but we cannot stop there.
Is it justified from the standpoint of revolutionaries to carry out actions of this nature at this time in Puerto Rico?
In analyzing such actions we must start from the following considerations:
a) the specific situation of the revolutionary movement in Puerto Rico and the characteristics of the state of development of the revolutionary process as a whole;
b) evaluate the objectives and the specific consequences of actions taken.
This is because what determines the correctness of a form of struggle at a given moment is whether or not it contributes effectively to advance the revolutionary process. That is, if it helps raise awareness, organization and mobilization of the working class and the people, and the accumulation of power by the revolutionary movement (better training, gain allies, etc.) to enable revolutionary goals.
At first glance the Base Muñiz operation has several positive aspects that should be mentioned. The strength and efficient execution once again confirms (since other similar actions had already highlighted this fact) a very important lesson: Yankee military forces are not all-powerful, they may receive hard blows from the revolutionary forces. The myth of invincibility of the Yankees and the inability of our people to confront them militarily is left quite battered by actions such as Base Muñiz, albeit in a still incipient manner. In this regard actions of this nature have an important effect of [mental] decolonization for diverse sectors of the people, an effect that as the revolutionary process advances will acquire a higher profile and begin to open up possibilities of understanding for vast sectors of the working masses.
Secondly, the international impact of this action is one of undeniable importance. On the one hand, it dramatically denounced the colonial status of Puerto Rico to the peoples of the world and on the other hand, it carries a clear message of concern to the ruling circles of the United States. The coverage obtained in major media outlets of the U.S. ruling class and statements, sometimes hysterical, by some spokesmen of the Yankee government, speak to what we are saying. However, the recognition of these positive elements cannot lead us to lose sight of the analysis of all factors and consequences involving such actions in the present circumstances in Puerto Rico. To do so, would idealize as correct under all circumstances all armed actions against imperialism, without considering the [negative] consequences thereof for the revolutionary movement. In this context we believe that the action of the Base Muñiz along with other similar actions developed in recent years contain a number of negative elements that can be extremely dangerous for the future development of the revolutionary struggle in this country and that far from contributing to advancement of the revolutionary process can contribute to its stagnation and decline in the medium and long term.
DOES NOT MATCH THE CURRENT STAGE OF DEVELOPMENT OF THE REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT
We believe that action on the scale of the Base Muñiz do not correspond to the stage of development of the class struggle in Puerto Rico today. As we have stated in other articles, the stage that the revolutionary movement currently live is characterized, among others, by the following factors:
- Although there is a deep economic crisis of capitalism, it is not reflected in all its intensity over the working class and the people because of the crisis control mechanisms (food stamps, federal transfers, etc.) These mechanisms promote an attitude in the masses of material and psychological dependency toward imperialism and the native bourgeoisie.
- A situation of reflux in the mass struggle. Although there are signs pointing to a slow revival in social struggles, the general characteristics of reflux is maintained. That is, we are not before a rising tide of mass struggle.
- The revolutionary movement is in a strategic defensive position defined by:
- The mighty ideological domination of imperialism and the native bourgeoisie on our people which is reflected in the massive support and majority of the people to the PNP and PPD;
- Within of the independence movement the majority force is the PIP, which is a bourgeois and anti-communist nationalist party;
- The revolutionary movement is divided and fragmented into various ideological and political trends within its bosom, dominated conceptions of bourgeois nationalism;
- There is no revolutionary party of the working class. The Marxist-Leninist movement is young and weak and poorly linked to the working class and barely just beginning during the past decade.
In these circumstances such military actions are an escalation of the armed struggle in a situation in which the revolutionary movement is not ready to face the political and repressive consequences of these actions. The attack on the Base Muñiz is a direct attack against the U.S. military forces at a time when most people support the parties of the bourgeoisie and the revolutionary movement is very weak, precisely because of the lack of popular support of the masses. The main problem of the revolutionary movement at this stage is not the presence of the Yankee military in PR, but the lack of popular support for independence and socialism. In fact the way that the presence of the military forces of the United States manifests itself now in this country is precisely a result of the low level of consciousness, organization and mobilization of the working class – if the majority of the working masses had revolutionary consciousness and the class struggle had reached a higher level of development, the repressive character of Yankee military forces would become more evident, not only to revolutionaries but also for the people.
In a situation like the one currently in PR, the methods used by the revolutionaries – including military action – should be used to win the population to the side of the revolution and thus undermine support for the bourgeoisie and imperialism, from the premise that this support is the main problem facing the revolutionary forces at this stage. In this regard the revolutionary struggle, armed or not, should seek to develop awareness, organization and mobilization of specific sectors of the working class and the people which allows to accumulate forces and strengthening the revolutionary movement as a whole. That is, revolutionary actions in all of its forms must correspond to the degree of development of the class struggle and ensure the organizing of people’s revolutionary consciousness. Attacks such as the Base Muñiz one ignore the real condition of the class struggle at this stage and fail in understanding the unfavorable correlation of forces between the revolutionaries and imperialism.
The experience of the revolutionary struggles in other countries teaches us that the development of military actions that do not correspond to the level of class struggle in a given stage leads to polarize the struggle between an armed vanguard and imperialism, not to the organization and preparation of the working class and the people. In such conditions imperialism manages to isolate the revolutionaries their key base of support, the people, and this facilitates repression against the revolutionary movement. In a situation like ours where isolation of the people is the basis of the revolutionary process the consequences of unleashing a “vanguard war” can be seriously detrimental for the whole revolutionary movement.
NOT TIED TO A SPECIFIC MASS STRUGGLE
Another point of great importance that characterized the attack on the Base Muñiz is that it is not linked to a specific mass struggle outside of the armed action which it complements or completes. The Macheteros’ action happens at a time that there no major (political or social) struggle major could be a major strike process, major demonstrations by any section of the masses, etc. In fact the most outstanding event of this period has been the electoral “jubilation” mounted by the Elections Commission as a result of November 4.
In this sense it is very important to realize the difference between an armed action that takes place within a process of mass struggle, social or political, and one that takes place outside a concrete mass struggle, based solely on the [self-] justification or the will of its authors. It is not the same to engage in armed struggle to deepen and possibly win in a struggle of a section of the masses, where their [immediate] interests are at stake, than it is to plan and execute an armed action in a different context. When the armed struggle is part of a major mass struggle, if harnessed correctly and in favorable conditions, it undoubtedly contributes to education, organization and mobilization of various sections of the masses, who then accumulate some experience and prepare to defend their class interests in a more effective manner. In this manner, in subsequent class battles, in addition to the revolutionary vanguard, it is possible that other specific sections of the masses are ready to pursue the armed struggle, based on past experience. That is precisely what should be sought.
In this context of an attack on the repressive forces (police, National Guard), in answer to their actions against the workers not only contributes to achieving the objectives of the process of struggle of said workers, but also engages with the specific demands of the masses against the repressive and bourgeois military forces, which helps raise awareness of the sectors involved. The same could be said of a situation where there are repressive criminal actions against a section of the masses that is fighting for democratic demands. In this case the armed action or actions to be carried out are not only justified in political terms, but also could be a very important ingredient for the raising of revolutionary consciousness of the various sections of the masses.
By contrast, the Macheteros’ action at Base Muñiz is given outside the kind of context to which we refer – mainly it reflects the will of a pro-independence armed organization that, given the weak degree of development, awareness and mobilization of the workers, have opted to offset these limiting factors with an armed offensive.
REPRESENTS A MILITARISTIC TENDENCY IN THE MOVEMENT
The Base Muñiz action, along with other similar actions such as the attack on a Navy vehicle in Sabana Seca and the attack on army officers on Domenech Avenue in Hato Rey among others, confirm the development of a militaristic tendency in the independence movement that has decided to develop a war against imperialism regardless of existing socio-economic conditions, the level of mass struggle, the degree of consciousness of the working class and the balance of power between the revolutionaries and the imperialist enemy.
For the Macheteros and other sections of the independence movement in Puerto Rico there is a state of war with the United States and, according to them, to deepen the development of armed struggle is to create conditions conducive to the independence of Puerto Rico. Their logic seems to be this: through armed struggle we can precipitate a confrontation with the U.S. armed forces to force Yankee imperialism to unleash repression of the independence movement and then the people will become more aware of the need to fight against imperialism. Ultimately what they want is to transform the existing reality of relative legality, into one of all-out war against imperialism under the presumption that the people will then assume a revolutionary consciousness. Hence they hold (and are doing it in practice) that armed struggle is the primary method of struggle at this stage.
This concept reflects a voluntaristic and subjectivist stance of the petty bourgeoisie in its military variant, which lacks a scientific analysis of Puerto Rican reality, and believes that armed struggle can be the trigger of a revolutionary situation at this stage. This distorted view of reality loses sight of what is the actual state of class struggle in PR, the strategic defensive position that the revolutionary movement is in, and the strength of the enemy. By not taking into account the actual conditions of the revolutionary movement it becomes involved in the development of armed actions that can only mobilize some pro-independence sectors, mostly petty bourgeois in extraction, thus overlook that most of the working class and workers are unaware of their class interests and the need to fight for independence and socialism. The insistence on these military actions is leading to neglect the education and mobilization of the working class, the only class capable of leading the revolutionary process to the end.
For armed actions that can actually contribute to the awareness of the working class and the people, they must be an essential part of the struggles that this class develops, it cannot be executed by specialists divorced from the class. The education of the working class and workers in the difficult conditions in Puerto Rico warrant patient work in factories and workplaces that cannot be replaced by spectacular actions that are more compelling. To want to superimpose on the class struggle, a method which is not based on the level of awareness of social class is essential to revolution will add many years to the existing the gap between the revolutionaries and the people. This is to simply to develop what is called in the field of military studies a “vanguard war” based primarily on desperate sectors of the petty bourgeoisie that given the difficult actual situation in our revolutionary movement opt for armed struggle as a shortcut to independence.
But revolutionary struggle is not about the war between the “armed vanguard” and imperialism. It is about developing a people’s war, for which it is not enough to struggle for an organization with larger military capabilities, but also one must ensure that it is the very people who develop the war. We are not suggesting that all or most of the people have to take revolutionary consciousness so that then we can develop armed actions against imperialism.
No, what we propose is that in all stages of the process, revolutionary armed actions undertaken must be placed in context and correspond to the level of consciousness and struggle of the working class and the people so that the armed struggle can play the specific role it deserves in each stage. At the stage in the strategic defense of the revolutionary movement and of the strength the enemy, like the one currently in PR, the armed struggle must assume a secondary role subordinate to the task of organizing the mass struggle. In a [future] era of strategic offensive of the revolutionary movement, where military confrontation is the order of the day, the armed struggle can and must come to the fore as a guarantee of the triumph of the revolution.
Revolutionary War has its laws, which must be observed by the revolutionaries. At each stage the laws of war assume a specific character under the conditions that define each stage. Ignoring this rule of thumb is about putting the subjective factors over material reality, it is to want to run a war from a subjective point of view only. All of which leads usually to a militaristic conception, whose political consequences can be disastrous.
For these reasons we believe the action taken by the Macheteros at the Muñiz Air Base, while recognizing the positive aspects of it, is an incorrect action that clearly represents a conception of military struggle that far from contributing to the development of the revolutionary process is a very dangerous diversion from it.
 Translator’s Note: two independentistas, Arnaldo Darío Rosado and Carlos Soto Arriví, were entrapped and executed by the Police at Cerro Maravilla, in Villalba, Puerto Rico, on July 25, 1978. The colonial regime attempted, unsuccessfully, to cover up the premeditated crime.
 Translator’s Note: This is a reference to the contested General Elections of 1980 elections, in which the pro-status quo PPD won the legislature, but the pro-statehood PNP was declared winner of the governor’s seat, possibly through fraud. Following this event, the bourgeois parties celebrated the “responsible” way in which the Commission handled the resulting tensions.