Liborio Justo

Liborio Justo. Art: Marcelo Guimarães Lima


Entry on the Argentine revolutionary from the “Dictionary of Marxism in America”

Life and political praxis

Liborio Justo (1902-2003) was born into the Argentinian oligarchy at the turn of the XNUMXth century. In an early autobiography (record, 1940), presents the roots, plots and political ties that marked his life, describing how generations of his family were linked to processes and characters in national history.

One of his great-grandfathers arrived in Argentina in 1829, during the war between unitary e federal (between 1820 and 1853), becoming a landowner. His paternal grandfather, born in Corrientes, was a deputy, poet, historian, Freemason, author of the first Correntino Rural Code and, briefly, governor of this province (1871). His maternal grandfather, son of Spaniards, joined the Corps of Hunters, in charge of the fight against the Araucanian indigenous people on the southern border, having later participated in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay, in 1865. His parents belonged to old families of property owners. “decadent” lands, but proud of their social position and eager to recover it.

His father was a captain in the army, which is why the family settled near Campo de Mayo (a military zone close to the federal capital) – a period that he would remember as years of social isolation. Young Justo still lived under the excessive care of relatives and employees, in an atmosphere of strong religious feeling, which suffocated him.

In 1911, he entered La Salle College in Buenos Aires – having hated both the school and the city. His interest in literature and his extravagant attitudes were his response to an education that he considered “bookish and indigestible”, facing the social privileges of an aristocratic and religious environment that he rejected. His concerns were about the origin of life, the world, the destiny of man and his own destiny, the Americanist expressions he discovered – rejecting the Europeanist inclinations of his family.

At that time, he devoted himself seriously to reading Russian authors, such as Dostoevsky, and Latin American ones, such as Horacio Quiroga, in addition to participating in sports competitions. Young Justo's scant and confused knowledge of the world situation at the beginning of World War I led him to admire the strength of Germany and to ignore the social events that shook Tsarist Russia.

In 1918, he entered the Faculty of Medicine, impelled by his family. These were the times of the student struggle for University Reform, with the occupation of National University of Cordoba, and the intensification of workers' struggles that would explode in the insurrectionary strike known as Tragic Week. University agitation and fraternization with young people from different social sectors opened up a new perspective for their concerns and searches. He was a candidate for delegate, which allowed him to strengthen ties with students from the right and left. During this time, he devoted himself to photography and wrote his first articles – on university issues.

He advanced in medical studies, continuing his militancy with the academic center; became a vaccination assistant and laboratory assistant. The university agitation of the Reformation, which proposed the destruction of the old university and the construction of a new world, brought him closer to the so-called New Generation – who questioned World War I and welcomed the Socialist Revolution in Russia. In the midst of the student movement, he traveled with his father to Chile, getting closer to the indigenous footprints of the Inca Trail and being moved by the imposing mountain landscape of Aconcagua and Patagonia. This was one of the times she walked away from the Faculty, which she wasn't interested in.

Despite opening up to new political and social horizons, between 1921 and 1924 he remained trapped in a social environment he despised. The contradictory feelings generated by his status as a bourgeois intellectual made him act frivolously, although his reflections were strengthened by reading writers such as Jack London, Kipling, Joseph Conrad (being interested in Anglo-Saxon culture and Italian Renaissance art ).

Returning to the Medicine course put him back in contact with the New generation and the reformist movement – ​​in whose debates the imperialist expansion of the United States in Mexico and Central America was denounced. This would lead him to study the history of South America and begin to consider the possibility of a continental revolution as a solution to social problems.

His father's appointment as Minister of War in 1922 made this rebellious young man withdraw. His refuge was the study of the history of Argentina and Latin America, whose countries were subject to the expansionist interests of the USA and its Monroe Doctrine. In 1924, on the occasion of the centenary of the Battle of Ayacucho, he traveled with his father to Peru, together with the official delegation, participating in opulent celebrations. In this country, he observed the misery and oppression of the indigenous and mestizo masses, proving the bad condition imposed by the colonial and imperialist domain on these territories – which had been the center of the great Inca Empire and where vestiges of the ancients still remained. ayllus origin (form of community social organization).

In 1925, he sailed from the port of La Plata to Tierra del Fuego, traveling through the provinces of Santa Cruz and Chubut, visiting the oil field belonging to the state company Fiscal Petroleum Deposits. He left again for the North of Argentina, crossing Entre Ríos, Corrientes and Misiones. On this new itinerary, he listened to the Guarani language and discovered the exuberant nature of the jungle. Following through Alto Paraná to the Iguaçu Falls, he met the mensus – workers hired to work in mills and yerba mate plantations, treated as “true human cattle” –, listening to reports of exploitation and slavery. On the way, he came across rebellious Brazilian lieutenants, coming from the 1924 Paulista Revolt, through whom he learned about General Isidoro Dias Lopes and the Column by Luiz Carlos Prestes.

With no resources to continue his adventures, he signed up as an electrician at International Products, from Asunción, an American company that severely exploited its workers. When he arrived at his destination, he was not an electrician, but a carrier of tannin bags; he fell ill, returned to Asunción and continued on to Buenos Aires.

In 1925, he participated in the celebration of the centenary of Bolivia's independence, as a member of the Argentine delegation, already aware of regional conflicts, the interests of Yankee oil companies and the outbreak of the Chaco War. At the time, the New generation and the reformist movement grew, bringing together Latin American figures that he would describe as romantic – which is why he did not fully integrate.

The following year, he set sail for Liverpool, but had to redirect his destination to Spain and France. In Paris, she participated in a demonstration for the freedom of workers sentenced to death in the USA; and that's when she started reading about the Soviet Union and becoming interested in the figures of Lenin and Trotsky. Her journey continued through Italy, where her focus was on artistic grandeur rather than Mussolini's fascist repression. He was later appointed as a clerk to an Argentine diplomatic mission in Washington; though troubled, he traveled to the US. For all his youthful questioning of American politics, he was dazzled by modernity, practicality and mechanization, the bustle of life and social well-being. The work took up little of his time, so he was able to visit several states and also African-American neighborhoods – checking the precarious social conditions and racism in particular.

In 1928, he again traveled through Argentine territory, now through Patagonia, recording its large estancias (farms), mostly English. His adventurous spirit led him to reject bureaucratic work, preferring practical services. Dissatisfied and with little economic autonomy to wander wherever his curiosity led him, young Justo then dedicated himself to the study of national history.

His anti-imperialist position, overshadowed during his trip to the US by an evolutionist democratic vision, would resurface when he obtained a scholarship to research US ideas and institutions; before leaving, he decided to undertake his “true journey of daring” – going to Tierra del Fuego and Chile, where he discovered the famine conditions of the indigenous people. His new stay in the USA allowed him to visit many states and universities, making contact with several intellectuals; there he defended Argentina's right to the Malvinas Islands and Antarctica, and questioned the Pan-Americanism driven by US power.

By that time, the Wall Street stock exchange had already crashed, and Liborio Justo discovered that the people there still had no idea how serious the crisis was, considering it a “passing stumbling block”. His walks through the poorest areas – of blacks and Latin Americans, in the revolutionary neighborhood of Union Square – allowed him to verify the strong racism against blacks. And the growing penetration and domination of the US in Latin America, with the “good neighbor” farce, worried him.

At that time, he was also affected by the news of the Argentine military coup, in 1930 (against the government of Hipólito Yrigoyen). He expected critical and revolutionary reactions from the youth of New generation, but the passivity of its main figures let him down. He believed that it was necessary to build a political party in the style of American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), oriented towards anti-imperialist unity in the face of the US advance, but he was discouraged by the poor response to the coup by the leaders of the Socialist Party. Faced with this situation, he turned his efforts to journalistic work, with brief and anonymous articles that appeared in the “News” section of the newspaper. La Prensa.

The new situation in Argentina made him perceive new issues that, together with a more exhaustive knowledge of the USSR and the Third International, led him to ideological reformulations. The contradictions generated by his father's electoral triumph as president of the country put pressure on him; his family forced him to continue his medical studies and to accept a municipal office (which he soon gave up).

The systematic study of historical materialism allowed him to question many of his previous ideas: he rethought the role of the proletariat for the unity of South America, the scarce effectiveness of the postulates of the reformist movement to destroy the outdated capitalist regime, and the decisive importance of participating and to know the character of the class struggle in the revolutionary process. He also discovered, practically and theoretically, the peculiarity and incidence of imperialism in his continent.

He found no affinity with the American revolutionary parties, considering them alien and ignorant of the socio-economic problems of their own countries; he believed that America's communist parties were more attentive to the Soviet process and the demands of Russian nationalism than to their own issues. He insisted that Marxist internationalism must be rooted in national realities.

After publication of cursed land, in 1932, he went to the USA with the idea of ​​presenting his book in New York. During the visit, he saw the dismay and dismay of a city in ruins, which contrasted with the atmosphere of prosperity and confidence that he had seen before. He recorded in photographs the bankrupt business, the thousands of unemployed piled up in the squares, the abandoned houses. However, the manifestations and publications of the socialist revolutionaries grew, putting the preexisting structure in check. The US crisis generated an effervescence of debates, exhibitions, political and artistic actions, which brought together artists, professors and writers. Witnessing this process of destruction of the gigantic productive forces of the USA allowed him to reaffirm Marx's thesis about the “anarchy of capitalist production”.

Upon returning to Buenos Aires, he came into contact with the Argentine Communist Party (PCA). However, he soon criticized what he considered a lack of national and American ideals in this party – necessary to promote a revolutionary process – and questioned the policy of “popular fronts”, which established an alliance with the so-called “national bourgeoisies”. Anyway, he joined the Group of Intellectuals, Artists, Journalists and Writers (AIAPE), writing, giving lectures and exhibiting photographs. Simultaneously, she began to meet with Trotsky's followers in Argentina.

He maintained a relationship with his father, then-president Agustín Pedro Justo, “with resignation and philosophy” until 1936, when the Argentine leader received the American FD Roosevelt – when Liborio Justo interrupted the visitor’s speech with a shout (“Down with the imperialism!”), boldness that earned him a few days in prison. From then on, Liborio Justo would lead political debates and write his texts under the pseudonym Quebracho.

In 1936, he broke with the PCA, with his “Open Letter to Communist Comrades”, published in the magazine Clarity, in which he presented the need to build a new Communist International (CI). His fleeting approach to communism, when he was already critical of the PCA's Stalinist positions, was simultaneous with his links with supporters of Trotskyism. Trotskyists in Argentina had formed a first group of Left Opposition, born of a split in the Communist Party; but Justo joined another Trotskyist group, along with Héctor Raurich, Antonio Gallo, Mateo Fossa, Aurelio Narvaja, Nahuel Moreno and Jorge Abelardo Ramos. Justo's perspective centered on a social revolution of Latin American unity against US imperialism. His criticisms were directed not only at communism aligned with the Third International, but also at the various Trotskyist strands that, according to his position, did not understand the national and Latin American aspect.

Some Trotskyist strands managed to unify, in 1935, in the Internationalist Communist League. In this new organization, Liborio edited a magazine to publicize the group, New Course, and then the Home, until 1941. Quebracho was one of the most dynamic polemicists in both publications. His text “Cómo salir del pantano” contained incisive criticisms of the regrouping, referring to the What to do?of Lenin, and Permanent Revolution of Trotsky.

With the Communist League fragmented, in 1939, Justo published as Quebracho a series of pamphlets, under the seal Acción Worker, and the newspaper La Internacional, which would later be called The New International, giving rise to the Grupo Obrero Revolucionario, formed by students from La Plata and anarchists. The intense discussions on the issue of national liberation and the characterization of the Argentine economic and social structure dispersed the group, and Justo would then form the League of Revolutionary Workers (LOR).

In 1941, the international secretary of the Fourth International, Terence Phelan (Sherry Mangan), arrived in Argentina with the intention of unifying the various Trotskyist groupings. However, the positions and terms used in the League of Revolutionary Workers about “national liberation”, “imperialism” and “war” were questioned and ended up not being approved. Quebracho responded immediately to these questions, stating that the critics were unaware of the conditions of repression and political persecution imposed by the conservative government. There was, then, a rupture with the leadership of the IV International, which had repercussions in the dissolution of the League of Revolutionary Workers in 1943.

Liborio Justo questioned the position of Latin American Trotskyism in the face of the unilateral decision of the Socialist Workers Party [Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores] (SWP) of excluding the LCI of Mexico from the Fourth International, and later questioned Trotsky himself, accusing him in his book Leon Trotsky and Wall Street (1959) of having become an ally of the bourgeois government of Lázaro Cárdenas and an informant for the US government.

Having abandoned his attempts at collective construction and the organization of a new IC, he began a period of seclusion in the interior of the country (1943 to 1959). In 1955, under the pseudonym Lobodón Garra, with the novel down river resumed the publication of his writings – which were followed by a series of historical-political and literary critical essays.

Liborio Justo remained lucid and active until his death, in 2003, at the age of 101 – consequently maintaining his precocious rebellion against his own class and against social oppression.

Contributions to Marxism

Although of oligarchic lineage, Liborio Justo dedicated his life to “fighting the outdated conservative oligarchy”. He broke with an education defined by him as “religious and aristocratic” and, touched by the University Reform and the Soviet Revolution, began a journey in which he deepened the critical view of his own origins and the social conditions of his nation and continent. Economic comfort provided him with travel and access to theoretical preparation; his eagerness for knowledge, for understanding the world, brought him closer to Marxism.

In its hundred years of life, it has developed multiple facets: traveler, worker in the quebrachales (wood extraction camps), politician, journalist, photographer, essayist, novelist and, always, polemicist. It was Quebracho and Lobodón Garra, heteronyms he adopted as a political essayist and writer, respectively.

Liborio Justo identified the core of the economic interests of the Argentine oligarchy and its links of subordination with imperialisms. Starting from an analysis of the economic and social structure, he completed his theoretical course with a critical study of the history of Argentina and Latin America. Through journeys through the most forgotten regions of the country, he learned about the forms of exploitation, racism and discrimination imposed by the Argentine ruling class on native communities. Traveling through various productive regions, he was able to verify the penetration of British and US imperialism – which, with the complacency of the dominant elites, opened doors for the looting carried out by these foreign capitals.

Analyzing the socioeconomic structure and national reality, he observed the essential importance of indigenous communities for the nation's identity, through their heroic struggle in defense of their territories, their freedom, their own identities and resources - subjugated by colonialism and, later by landowning elites as well as by imperialism.

The characterization of the economic and social structure of Argentina and Latin America as a whole was one of the points in which his analysis differed from the communist parties and the different strands of Argentine and Latin American Trotskyism, an essential aspect that he understood so much in his travels through the backward rural areas, as well as in his critical study of liberal history (a distorted view that imposed the idea of ​​a “white” Argentina, exalting the gaucho as a symbol of nationality).

At the time, neither communist party militants nor Trotskyists questioned the liberal view of official history, minimizing or ignoring the conditions of exploitation of rural work, usually carried out in pre-capitalist conditions, ignoring the complexity of social and labor issues in rural areas. ; they concentrated their political action on salaried workers in urban areas (where, however, industrial development was still scarce). Justo thus questioned them for not addressing local issues.

Justo's anti-imperialist perspective began with the reformist principles of Nueva Generación, approaching Haya de La Torre and Scalabrini Ortiz. However, these positions became narrow when he began to deepen his knowledge of the Leninist theory of imperialism – in a period in which the international order was changing, due to the worsening of the world crisis and the imminent world war.

The question of imperialist penetration was another essential axis of differences with the parties of the left: not only the socio-economic structure, but also the penetration of foreign powers determined Justo's characterization of Argentina as a "semicolonial" country - first, due to to the interference of Great Britain, then of the United States. He considered national liberation an essential point in the revolutionary struggle – and this was one of the deepest and most radical issues that distanced him from Trotskyist currents, which denied the importance of imperialism.

His anti-imperialism also distanced him from the pro-Stalinist communist perspective and the Third International, which promoted the “United Front” in alliance with the supposed “national bourgeoisies”, with a view to overthrowing fascism; he considered these incipient “national bourgeoisies” incapable of carrying out the struggle for national liberation, the working class being the main revolutionary and anti-imperialist force. From this anti-imperialist perspective, Justo also questioned the anti-fascist policy of the PCA which, due to the conjunctural alliance between the USSR and the USA, exalted Roosevelt's presence in Argentina, qualifying him as a great "democrat" and "progressive". ”, when in fact it was the president of an imperialist power.

Another key point that differentiated him from the socialist positions that dominated the political landscape in the 1930s and 1940s was his conviction that only a socialist revolution would allow significant changes in political and economic conditions, a process that should be continental, involving all countries of the Latin America. He argued that such a revolution could only be built in these still dependent countries, where the working class had not been bribed by the ruling classes – as had occurred in the great imperialist powers. In Latin American countries, a social revolution was possible, as their economies, backward due to the deformation imposed by imperialism, had not yet completed the “bourgeois-democratic” tasks (unfinished after the triumph of the independence revolutions in Latin America).

Comment on the work

Liborio Justo's editorial output and controversial articles published in different magazines were abundant. Most of his work was published, almost systematically, when he had already distanced himself from any military attempt by a socialist party. What moved him was the conviction that his opinions, sooner or later, would be known and that, finally, his revolutionary assumptions would triumph.

The story of a large part of his origins, the justification for the break with his class and the new path that took him away from the family nucleus was traced by himself in Prontuario, an autobiography (Editorial Fragua, 1940), written early, at the age of 36. In the publication's prologue, he states that he "fought in search of the path that would lead to the liberation of humanity, through the rupture with all the limitations to which the existing order submits it", thus seeking "the liberation of itself".

His two novels had great repercussions on the occasion of their release: La tierra maldita: brave tales of saving Patagonia and the southern seas (Editorial Cabaut, 1933), and river below (Ediciones Anaconda, 1955) – both social accounts in which the meticulous description of nature shows us his interest and knowledge of geography and fauna (the first centered on Patagonia, and the second on the swampy estuaries the region known as the “coastline”, between the Paraná and Paraguay rivers). Its stories are realistic, describing the daily movements of its inhabitants, oppressed and ignored masses. river below was also brought to movie screens in 1960.

Pampas and spears (Editorial Palestra, 1962) is one of his most important works, in which he describes in documented form the struggle of the Araucanian peoples in defense of their lands, against the policy of annihilation and submission by the Argentine oligarchy – a struggle that ended with the elimination of the Indian, the subjugation of the gaucho (turning him into a pawn or soldier), and the establishment of the cattle oligarchy (which would then govern the country).

In the book By blood and spear, the last combat of Captain Nehuen: tragedy and misfortune of the Epic of Desire (Ediciones Anaconda, 1969) reports the details of the battle against the Araucanian Indians in the old frontier of the pampa desert. Based on research in official documents, journalistic notes and archives (such as the Rural Society), describes the extermination campaign against the original peoples to take their lands.

Yes, Pasta and candy (Edición de la Flor, 1974) features five stories that bring together episodes that took place in various parts of America between 1931 and 1935 – “during the most dramatic days of the world economic crisis” –, such as the arrival of a multitude of European immigrants in Argentina .

Justo also develops the question of the gaucho and his glorification, when analyzing the figure of Leopoldo Lugones, in Argentine Literature and American Expression (Editorial Rescate, 1976), which he later published as Cien años de las argentine letters (Ediciones Badajo, 1998), a work in which he examines literary production through authors who, in his view, embody the literary expressions of the social forces that govern Latin American societies. In the chapter on Lugones, he scrutinizes the policy of the Argentine ruling classes – which gave perks to supposedly progressive young intellectuals, favoring them with paid positions and stifling their revolutionary ideals – and denounces the opportunism of Leopoldo Lugones, who abandoned the rebellious path to become the “jester-poet” of the oligarchy.

Em Revolutionary strategy: struggle for unity and for national and social liberation in Latin America (Editorial Fragua, 1956) describes a meticulous history of Trotskyism in Argentina, harshly questioning its leaders and positions, establishing the guidelines that the “proletarian vanguard of the colonial countries” should follow, and pointing to the “agrarian and anti-imperialist revolution” as part of of a process of “permanent revolution”.

Another of his controversial books, which divided the waters of Argentine Trotskyist currents, was Leon Trotsky and Wall Street (Editorial Gure, 1959), in which he characterizes the Russian leader as a centrist “closer to the Mensheviks than to the Bolsheviks”, who only coincided with Lenin during the fall of tsarism, following a “systematic practice of opportunism”. It should be noted that Justo, considered one of the founders of Argentine Trotskyism, was, however, an acid critic of Trotsky, questioning him for inconsistency and lack of knowledge of Latin American problems. According to the Argentine Marxist, “Yankee imperialism” was for Trotsky “the good imperialism, which actively helped him in his struggle against Stalin and welcomed his articles, which were always prominently published in the United States”.

Em Nuestra patria vasalla, history of the Argentine colony [5 volumes] (Editorial Schapire, 1968/1993), materializes his aspiration to rewrite national history. For more than two decades, he has published this great work in which he analyzes the country's history, from the colonial period to the last military dictatorship, substantiating his characterization of Argentina as a "semicolonial" country subjugated to the interests of the dominant land-owning classes and to the imperialists – first from Great Britain, then from the USA. With his re-elaboration of national history, criticism of official-liberal history, he bases his revolutionary political proposal and his rupture with the aristocratic family order.

In the book Bolivia: the defeated revolution (Cochabamba: Rojas Araújo Editor, 1967), Justo elaborates an analysis that starts from the Inca Empire and goes until the defeat of the revolution. The most important ideas he develops here refer to the Bolivian economic and social formation, in debate with those who considered Inca society a primitive communist system. According to his reading of Marxism-Leninism, he assesses that the “Asian mode of production” and “collective slavery” predominated among the Incas; and that it is necessary for socialists to know the history of this empire, since the “Quechua and Aymara population remains alive”, even if deformed by the “colonial and republican culture”, thus constituting a “rich reservoir for the anti-feudal and anti-imperialist struggle”.

Liborio Justo also analyzes the general situation in Argentina and Brazil in Argentina and Brazil in continental integration (CEAL, 1983), concluding that the relationship between the two countries is fundamental for Latin American unity; analyzes the Argentine and Brazilian economies and their complementarity, reaffirming that the liberation and integration of Latin America depends on the integration of both countries.

The publication "Subamerica”: Latin America from the Colony to the Socialist Revolution [2 volumes] (Ediciones Badajo, 1995/1997) initially addresses the colonial period and English domination, and then Yankee domination throughout the XNUMXth century.

Em Andesia (Ediciones Badajo, 2000), Liborio Justo returns to a recurring theme, referring to the debate over the name of the American continent; argues that the United States appropriated the word “America”, and that the denomination “Latin America” is not appropriate, since the American population “is composed of Indians and oppressed blacks, for whom the term 'Latin' is synonymous with the oppressive nations”. Thus, he proposes the name Andesia, which arises from the recognition of the value of the Andean mountain range as a structuring element in this part of the continent.

Posthumously, his position on the fall of Salvador Allende after the 1973 coup d'état was published, Así se murió en Chile (Cienflores y Maipue, 2018) – a chronicle containing statements by political and party forces, as well as testimonies from industrial workers , in which he explains the agony of Allende's socialist government, and then returns to defending the need for a continental revolution to eradicate imperialism and establish working-class power.

Other articles and documents of yours can be found on the net, in the case of Liborio Justo portal.

*Cristina Mateu is a professor of economic and social history at the University of Buenos Aires. She is the author, among other books, of Argentine workers' movement (The tide).

Translation: Yuri Martins-Fontes e Carlos Serrano.

Originally published on the Praxis Nucleus-USP


BOSCH ALESSIO, Constanza D.“The origins of the Fourth International in Argentina: Liborio Justo and the case of the Grupo Obrero Revolucionario and the Liga Obrera Revolucionaria”. Dialogues Electronic Journal of History, v. 18, no. 1, 2017. Disp.:

BREGA, Jorge. “The photography of Liborio Justo”. La Marea Magazine, Buenos Aires, no. 24, 2005. Disp.:

COGGIOLA, Osvaldo. History of Argentine Troskyism (1929-1960). Buenos Aires: Centro Editora de América Latina, 1985.

GRAHAM-YOOLL, A. “A tour with Liborio Justo por el siglo que termina” [interview]. Page 12, Buenos Aires, Feb. 1999. Disp.:

______. Liborio Justo: alias Quebracho. Buenos Aires: Intellectual Capital, 2006.

MATEU, Christina. “Liborio Justo, filiation of a rebel”. La Marea Magazine, Buenos Aires, no. 21, 2004. Available at

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