LRCI: The Trotskyist Manifesto (1989)
League for a Revolutionary Communist International, Summer 1989
Below we reprint the founding document of the predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) – the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI). This program was adopted at its congress in summer 1989. Naturally, a number of aspects of this program are already outdated or have been enhanced. The actual program of the RCIT, adopted in spring 2012, can be read here.
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1989 Preface to the English Language Edition
During 1989 the foundations of the world order were shaken. The magnitude of the upheavals in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union can scarcely be underestimated. They will profoundly affect the future of these states and Stalinism as a force within the world labour movement. Whilst the epicentre of this earthquake is found in Moscow its shock waves have hit Washington, Tokyo, Bonn and London. From Central America to Southern Africa the impact of Stalinism’s crisis has been felt.
Beginning with the February electoral debacle of the Polish United Workers’ Party and later the dissolution of the Hungarian Stalinist party, the concessions on civil liberties in these two states lit the fuse that was to explode the charges under the monolith of the Stalinist regimes in the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia.
In these countries beleaguered circles of dissident intellectuals gave way to mass movements of millions in a matter of weeks. Without the support and even with the security of the Kremlin, Honecker and Jakes came crashing down from their bureaucratic pedestals. Oppositionists who had been imprisoned were invited into dialogue and negotiations. An era of power sharing, pluralism and free elections was promised.
These events reverberated in the “west”. German imperialism stepped forward to voice its own project of a reunited capitalist Germany. The US administration and its British adjunct were caught without a policy beyond a visceral desire to restore capitalism in Eastern Europe. They recognise in Gorbachev and the “reformers” people willing to assist them in the dismantling the planned property relations. But the imperialists are deeply uncertain as to how far to go with economic aid and the dissolving of alliances.
Even if the USA had the resources equivalent to the Marshal Aid Programme that saved Western Europe for capitalism in the 1940s, Pouring this volume of investment into states where the capitalist class has yet to be re-established would be a gamble of major proportions.
Likewise, to undertake a dismantling of NATO in conditions where a return to power of the hardliners is far from impossible is a risk they dare not take. Yet if they make no concessions of substance, what will happen to the reformers’ uncompleted market “reforms”?
For these reasons the first flush of rejoicings amongst the imperialist leaders who launched the new Cold War has given way to dark mutterings about the dangers of instability. They preach the need for caution and the preservation of alliances-even or rather especially those of the “enemy”. The governments of Bush and Thatcher, Kohl and Mitterrand clearly fear the spectre of revolution even when it appears to be bearing the gift of capitalist restoration. Why? Because they fear the unleashing of class struggle in these countries above everything-a struggle in which they may be obliged to take sides, a struggle which will open the rifts and conflicts of interest amongst themselves.
The USA, Britain and France clearly fear that Germany and Japan their defeated rivals of forty years along ago-may begin a whole new career of political and military independence and rivalry. For the Anglo-Saxon powers any fundamental change is likely to be for the worse.
Yet if the forces of world imperialism are obliged to temper their public rejoicings with private anxiety, the forces of world Stalinism are in open disarray. Those, like the Euro-communists who had during the mid1970s period of detente come close to Social Democracy, welcome not only the collapse of the unbridled dictatorship of the bureaucracy, but also shout for joy at the impending collapse of planned property. Like all converts they try to outdo the old believers in the fervour of their devotion to the “mixed economy”, to market forces-in short, to capitalism. No abuse is too strong to hurl at the god who failed. Not only Stalinism but the October Revolution itself is vilified. The most important political event in twentieth century history is now an embarrassment to those who wish to fly headlong into the arms of the Social Democrats.
The erstwhile Stalinist parties of Eastern and Western Europe are forming an excited and disorderly queue at the portals of the Socialist International. The “party of Gramsci and Togliatti” can scarcely wait to transform itself into the Italian Labour Party and to bury the symbols of its past, the hammer and sickle.
Yet these unseemly celebrations cannot but alarm the vanguard workers who had falsely identified Stalinism with a more militant, class struggle policy and thought of it as some sort of builder of socialism. This anxiety will be shared by many on the left wing of Social Democracy and subjective revolutionaries who, whilst they never thought the USSR and its satellites were a socialist heaven on earth, at least saw them as bastions against the unbridled dominance of world capitalism. In the semi colonial world national liberation fighters also look with the gravest concern on the collapse of powers which, however capriciously and self-servingly, did occasionally supply them with arms, with training and with a place of exile.
Yet to all these vanguard fighters we have to say-it is not the god of socialism, communism or the planned economy that has failed, but the monstrous idol of Stalinism. For half of this century it stood apparently unshakable. Yet there was one voice that predicted its downfall-that of Leon Trotsky.
Trotsky analysed the fearful contradictions that lay beneath the monolithic facade. He predicted-albeit on too short a time-scale-its disintegration. But his error was of time-scale not one of substance. It was an error similar to those made in an earlier period by Marx, Engels Lenin and with all those for whom theory is a guide to revolutionary practice and not a form of intellectual consolation. It was Trotsky who realised that no bureaucratic tyranny erected on post-capitalist property relations could survive. The latter only made sense, could only develop and expand, could only conquer capitalism on a world scale if they were the tools of the conscious, revolutionary proletariat. He insisted against the combined forces of Stalinism and imperialism, against the Third and the Second Internationals that Stalin was not the continuer of Lenin’s work, but its destroyer; not the great leader of world revolution, but its grave-digger.
As a result the Trotskyists had to be annihilated in the USSR, as indeed they were, by the tens of thousands, fifty years ago. Stalin’s murderous hand was to reach out to the leaders of the young and weak Fourth International and finally to strike down Trotsky himself. Yet history, however painfully and slowly at times it seems to work, undermines and brings to destruction everything, no matter how powerful and imposing, that is based on force and fraud. Stalinism has proved itself an illegitimate, temporary setback in the proletariat’s struggle for its own emancipation.
Amidst the thunder and crash of its disintegration we, the Trotskyists, have least of all cause for pessimism or mourning. Neither shall we indulge in the smug self-satisfaction of the venal leaders of Social Democracy. We turn-full of revolutionary optimism-to the workers of the
degenerate(d) workers’ states. They are being roused to struggle for elementary civil liberties, for a decent standard of living, against the obscenity of bureaucratic privilege and are impelled to recreate a living workers’ movement, factory councils and trade unions. We turn to these workers recognising that in the first instance the leaders they may find will be more or less hidden agents of the world bourgeoisie. But if this bourgeoisie successfully enters the workers’ states, it will bear not only the offerings of consumer society, but also gross inequality, unemployment, and mass poverty. This ensures that if capitalism were to triumph then the class struggle will continue against the bourgeoisie and its agents.
Here and now we sound the alarm bells against the surrender of the nationalised economy, the monopoly of foreign trade and the centralised plan. With them goes the partial and inadequate commitment to full employment and the right to work. With them goes the equally inadequate social services and welfare system. These insufficient gains discredited even by the Stalinists identification of them with “actually existing socialism”-must be built on and not abandoned. They are the prerequisites for the transition to genuine socialism and can be used as such once they are £reed from the grip of the bureaucratic tyrants.
For actually existing capitalism is not the consumer dream-realised only to some extent in the lives of the west’s bloated middle classes and labour aristocracy. It is the poverty, exploitation and starvation of three quarters of humanity. The fate of most of the workers’ states, if the working class fails to defend its gains, will be similar-semi-colonial servitude and super-exploitation.
The working class can and will rise to this task and there is only one programme adequate to this task, that of the Trotskyists. Yet, this programme, as Trotsky wrote it, has long been abandoned by most of
those who now call themselves his followers. This programme-the Transitional Programme-has long gathered dust on their bookshelves whilst his successors have aped and parodied every passing fad and fashion in the world labour movement: Stalinism, Labourism, Maoism, Castroism, Sandinism, feminism and ecologism. Like chameleons they have appeared only in the colours of their surroundings. Consequently for forty years the programme of Leon Trotsky has made no solid conquests. This situation was historically explicable given the temporary strength of Stalinism and Social Democracy and the treason of the epigones such as Mandel, Lambert and Healey. But the historic changes now taking place open the road for the triumph of the Trotskyist programme. The pre-conditions for this are that this programme should be developed and elaborated to meet tasks not existing fifty years ago and that an internationally organised force of cadres exists to fight for new revolutionary parries and a new international. But the most essential pre-condition is that the defenders of this programme and the builders of this international party “disdain to conceal their views and aims”, in Marx’s words, and that “they openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”.
Today, these conditions include imperialist capitalism and moribund Stalinism. Our manifesto, our programme, is for the resolution of the long crisis of leadership that Stalinism and Social Democracy inflicted on the world labour movement. It is the programme for the revolutionary self-emancipation of the working class and for the liberation of the whole of exploited and oppressed humanity. Workers-in the semi-colonial, Stalinist and imperialist countries forward to the world socialist revolution!
London, December 1989
The Marxist programme is based on the principles of scientific socialism. It analyses all social and political development from the standpoint of dialectical materialism. It asserts that the class struggle is the motor force of history and it recognises the working class as the only consistently revolutionary class. However, whilst the general Marxist programme embodies the theoretical method of dialectical materialism and the strategic goals of socialism, the great programmatic contributions in the history of the Marxist movement have been focused on the practical tasks flowing from these fundamental principles. They embody the strategy and tactics to achieve the general goals and do not separate these questions off from the programme. There is no brick wall between strategy, tactics and principles in the Marxist programme. This is clear from the Communist Manifesto through to the Transitional Programme of 1938. With this method we set out to develop the programme of the LRCI.
Social Democracy continues to peddle the minimum-maximum programme pioneered in the epoch of free competition capitalism. This programme was characterised by the rigid separation of the minimum demands (economic or political reforms achievable within the framework of capitalism) and the maximum goal of socialism. This separation of the two elements of the programme, enshrined in German Social Democracy’s “Erfurt Programme”, was the basis of its opportunist interpretation and application by the developing reformist wing of the Second International. Present day Social Democracy differs from its classical forebears only in the ever increasing feebleness of its pleadings for minimal reforms and in the ever decreasing use it has for holiday speechifying about socialism.
In the epoch of free competition capitalism the working class, especially in Europe, was obliged to fight for a series of economic and political rights in order to build an organised mass movement of trade unions and political parties. However, in this very process a reformist bureaucracy was crystallised out of the labour aristocracy. For this bureaucracy selected elements of the minimum programme, achieved by purely peaceful, legal and parliamentary methods, were ends in themselves. This stood in sharp contrast to the position of Engels and Lenin who argued that they were only means for developing an actual struggle for socialism. The onset of the imperialist epoch strengthened the reformist bureaucracy considerably. Exploiting the methodological weakness of the minimum-maximum programme, it enforced the rigid separation of the struggle for reforms from any revolutionary perspective for the overthrow of capitalism.
Reformism’s strategic goal was to ensure a position of influence for itself within capitalism. To this end it attempted to subordinate working class struggles, transforming parliamentary electoral tactics into its central strategy for obtaining reforms under capitalism. World Stalinism, and even sections of petit bourgeois nationalism, misleads the masses with a variation of the minimum-maximum programme: the programme of stages based on the theory of socialism in one country. This programme and theory was fashioned by the conservative bureaucracy of the USSR in the 1920s during the period of its political counter-revolution against the working class. According to the programme of stages, the existence of the Soviet Union means that it is possible for revolutions to pass through a democratic stage prior to a peaceful evolution towards socialism. The theory argues that this democratic stage (variously called advanced democracy, people’s democracy, anti -imperialist democracy) is rigidly separated from a socialist stage. Capitalism must be preserved during the democratic stage and socialism can then gradually and peacefully evolve according to the unique laws operating in each country.
This rehash of Menshevism is a cynical policy by the bureaucracy to limit the struggles against capitalism and be rewarded for its services with an endless period of peaceful co-existence with imperialism. This variation of the minimum-maximum programme, even in its most “left” form which argues that the implementation of the democratic stage cannot be left to the bourgeoisie but must be led by the proletariat, is a noose around the neck of the proletariat and the oppressed. Its consequence is always counter-revolution either by a capitalist class able to regroup during the “democratic” stage (Chile, Portugal, Iran) or by a Stalinist bureaucracy obliged to liquidate capitalism to defend itself, but only on the condition that it has already successfully politically expropriated the working class-as in Eastern Europe, China: Indo-China, and Cuba.
Whether in its Stalinist or Social Democratic garb the minimum maximum programme has outlived its progressive role and has been transformed into a means of obstructing not only the fight for socialism, but even an effective fight to win or defend reforms. Capitalism can provide neither permanent systematic social reforms nor lasting and fully-fledged bourgeois democracy. To solve its recurrent crises the bourgeoisie is obliged to attack every serious economic gain together with the political rights of the working class. The struggle to accommodate to such a system by the bureaucracy can only mean sacrificing even the minimum programme to the needs of the profit system. The defence of working class interests demands economic and political warfare against capitalism, even to achieve a decent wage or to secure a job.
The limits of the minimum-maximum programme are felt over the entire globe. Imperialism is incapable of overseeing radical and consistent agrarian reform or sustaining parliamentary democracy in much of the semi-colonial world. Despite periods of boom, and the attendant granting of reforms by capitalism to some sections of the world working class, this apparent justification for the minimum programme is only superficial. Even the proletariats of the most highly developed countries increasingly need a programme that links the most immediate defensive struggles with the main task of the epoch, the struggle for working class power. To advance the spontaneous class struggle towards socialist goals a bridge is needed. The programme of transitional demands is such a bridge.
Such demands were first systematically presented in Trotsky’s Transitional Programme. Yet Marx and Engels formulated a set of transitional demands in the 1848 Communist Manifesto. Later, Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, followed by the Communist International (Comintern), at its first four congresses, formulated focused action programmes based on the transitional method. But Trotsky’s 1938 work, the programmatic basis of the Fourth International, was the clearest and most complete expression of the programmatic development that had occurred in the preceding ninety years of Marxism. At every stage the programmatic declarations of Marxism were enriched as capitalist society developed. In each case the Marxists have found it necessary to refine and re-elaborate the programme in the light of experience, which, in Trotsky’s words, is the supreme criterion of human re3son. In 1938 Trotsky produced a sharply focused action programme addressing the key questions of the day and answering them in the light of the experience of the previous two decades of struggle and crisis throughout the world. It embodied the lessons from the collapses of the first three Interntionals) as well as from the contributions that they made during their healthy years. It was a re-elaborated programme of revolutionary Marxism.
Fifty years on profound developments in world imperialism) world Stalinism) the semi-colonies) the struggles of the world working class and the oppressed all oblige us to re-elaborate the Transitional Programme. This we have done and our programme) like the 1938 programme) is a development of the previous programmes of revolutionary Marxism to date) not a break from them. It stands on the shoulders of the preceding gains of revolutionary Marxism. It bases itself on their method and incorporates all of their essential features as well as many of their demands. Like the preceding programmes it will have to be broken down into action programmes for particular countries) conjunctures or sections in struggle. Such action programmes will) like Trotsky’s own Action Programme for France) contain all of the key elements of the general programme itself but will sharply focus them to a particular situation or country.
Our programme is a world programme for the world party of socialist revolution) focused towards the burning problems characteristic of the crisis wracked closing years of the twentieth century. It is a programme of transition towards the socialist revolution and as such applies with full force to imperialist countries and semi-colonies alike. But it is equally a programme for the transition to socialism within the workers) states. It addresses the urgent tasks facing the workers in those states where capitalism has been abolished but where the Stalinist bureaucracy has politically expropriated the working class and the actual transition to socialism has) as a result) been blocked. It is a guide to action for the millions struggling to resolve the problems facing humanity. It is a programme that can pave the way to a society based on the satisfaction of human need) not one based on either the lust for profit or the satisfaction of the needs of a parasitic bureaucracy.
While our programme contains, at its core, a focused action programme similar to that of the 1938 programme it is also obliged to address problems not dealt with in that document. As a re-elaborated programme, it has had to confront the fact that the continuity of the revolutionary Marxist movement was broken in 1951 with the degeneration of the Fourth International into centrism. A period of almost forty years has elapsed since this degeneration. Perspectives, tactics and strategy during those forty years have never been analysed in a revolutionary manner, nor embodied in a consistently revolutionary programme. The lessons of the major events during this period-the creation of degenerate workers’ states, the long imperialist boom, the anti-imperialist struggles and lessons of the key class struggles and revolutionary situations-have not been incorporated into a series of programmes, theses and documents. Instead the record of the centrists emerging from the Fourth International is one of systematic errors, of various opportunist or sectarian distortions of the Marxist programme.
Our programme is, therefore, not based on an unbroken record of revolutionary positions and cannot base itself, as the 1938 programme could, on fifteen years of documents, positions, theses and programmes (from the Left Opposition through to the founding of the Fourth International). It is obliged to be more analytical, more expansive, than the 1938 programme needed to be. If Trotsky thought that in 1938 he was obliged to include more commentary than was proper in a programme we have had to do so to a far greater extent. In this sense it is an attempt not only to guide the struggles of millions, but also to clearly define the LRCI as against the many varieties of centrism that claim to represent Trotskyism. It also has to demonstrate to the militants of such tendencies, as well as to those of other organisations within the world workers’ movement, the lessons we need to draw from the past period and the answers to the crises which will arise in the future.
Clearly our programme is far from being the last word on the international class struggle and the tactics and strategy for revolution. Since 1984 the Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International (now the League for a Revolutionary Communist International-LRCI) has formulated resolutions and theses on the important questions of the international class struggle. They form a supplement to this programme. In addition we recognise that discussion with militants from countries where the LRCI has, as yet, no presence will enable us to enrich and develop the world character of our programme further. But we are firmly convinced that we have produced a programme that serves as the bedrock for such development. This programme, which in its method, its analysis, its demands and its tactics and strategy, embodies the living spirit of revolutionary Marxism, lays the basis for the re-establishment of authentic Trotskyism on a world scale.
Chapter 2 – The crisis of proletarian leadership
Capitalism, even in its imperialist death agony, will not depart the scene automatically. It needs to be consciously overthrown by the working class. For this to happen, a new revolutionary vanguard must be forged. This vanguard requires a conscious strategic plan, a programme and a working class vanguard party.
Today the central problem facing humanity remains: who leads the working class? On the eve of the last inter-imperialist war capitalism was gripped by a general economic depression which was plunging the whole world irreversibly into a revolutionary crisis. Trotsky’s Transitional Programme, written in these years, pronounced that the crisis of humanity was reduced to the crisis of leadership. However, today it would be wrong simply to repeat that all contemporary crises are “reduced to a crisis of leadership”.
The proletariat worldwide does not yet face the stark alternative of either taking power or seeing the destruction of all its past gains. Nevertheless, in many countries and, indeed, whole continents, the crisis of leadership does reach such a level of acuteness. Even in countries where this is not so a chronic crisis afflicts the workers’ organisations, bringing about defeat, stagnation and even decline as a result of the repeated betrayals of the reformist leaders. Capitalism’s inability to meet the basic needs of millions makes it both possible and necessary to transform the defensive struggles of the workers and poor peasants into the struggle for power. Yet none of the existing leaderships of the working class are willing or able to carry through such a fight. They are tied to the interests of the bourgeoisie or the parasitic bureaucracy of the Stalinist states. The imperialist bourgeoisie has long used its resources to sow divisions in the proletariat and even to accept the existence of a privileged layer, a “labour aristocracy”, whose living standards were substantially better than those of the mass of the working class. This section of the working class formed the principal basis for a “labour bureaucracy” whose role was to negotiate with capital and whose spontaneous political outlook, therefore, was one of class collaboration.
In Europe, by 1914, the mass workers’ parties had become dominated by the politics of the collaborators. This was true both of parties like the British Labour Party, which had been a reformist party from its foundation, and of the Social Democratic parties which maintained a formal adherence to Marxism. It culminated in the betrayal of the working class by the leaders of the Second (Socialist) International. In 1914 they became recruiting sergeants for the imperialist war. Then, as a wave of revolutions swept Europe (1917-23) they openly sided with bourgeois counter-revolution against the working masses.
Social Democracy thus took on its fundamental shape. It became strategically wedded both to the capitalist economy and the capitalist state, albeit in the idealised forms of state capitalism and bourgeois democracy. This was true even where capitalism had not yet developed fully-fledged labour aristocracies and bureaucracies. In Russia, for example, the Mensheviks, arguing for a long period of bourgeois democracy as a necessary stage of development, opposed the workers’ revolution and took up arms against it. For the reformists, direct action and military force were measures that could only be utilised against the opponents of their bourgeois democratic goals, never as means of defeating the opponents of the working class.
The degeneration of the Comintern
The Comintern was formed out of the consistent fighters against Social Democracy’s betrayals during the post-1917 revolutionary period. In its first four congresses the Comintern began to re-elaborate the revolutionary programme for the imperialist epoch. But it degenerated into bureaucratic centrism after 1923 under the impact of the political counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. The goal of world revolution was replaced by the reactionary utopia of “socialism in one country”. The centrist communist parties led the working class to bloody and unnecessary defeats in China (1927) and Germany (1933).
After the defeat of the German masses in 1933, Trotsky considered that the Comintern had become irreformable. Later that year he declared that the Comintern, having failed to recognise and to correct its mistakes, was, whilst still bureaucratic centrist, irreformable and, “dead for the purposes of revolution”. He, therefore, demanded, in the first instance, the building of a new party in Germany and then a new International world-wide, although the Stalinists had not yet definitively passed over to the camp of counter-revolution.
In 1934-35 the Comintern completed its evolution into a counter-revolutionary International. It concluded a strategic alliance with the bourgeoisie of the so called “democratic” imperialisms in the name of a new “strategy”, that of the popular front. This class collaborationist policy was imposed on the sections of the Comintern by the Kremlin bureaucracy, in order to satisfy its diplomatic needs. The Stalinist bureaucracy, trying to establish a utopian “peaceful coexistence” with “democratic” imperialism and its allies, transformed the Communist Parties of those states into reformist parties preaching collaboration and “peaceful co-existence” between classes. It commended to the masses the defence of their own imperialisms, thus following Social Democracy into the ranks of counter-revolution. The turn to social patriotism coincided with the liquidation of the old Bolshevik vanguard in the Moscow Show Trials. In the second phase of the Second World War, after the Nazi invasion of the USSR, the Stalinists in non-Axis countries became super-patriots and, in countries occupied by the Nazis or at war with Germany, gained a new mass following.
Today, these parties are hostile to the proletarian revolution, the self emancipation of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat based on soviets. Despite the stolen banner of communism they remain hostile to the goal of a communist, i.e. a classless and stateless, society. As such they are not the opposite of Social Democracy but its twin, sharing with it the ideology of social patriotism and reformism. The loyalty of the Stalinist parties to their own bourgeoisies cannot be as total as that of the Social Democrats because of the support they give to, and receive from, the bureaucracy of the degenerated workers’ state. Despite the advanced tendencies to “social democratisation” exhibited by certain Parties they cannot simply evolve into Social Democracy without a rupture. Even where the Stalinist parties have virtually eclipsed their Social Democratic rivals to become the major working class parties with a political practice essentially the same as the Social Democrats of other countries, their differing origins, structures and traditions set them apart, both in the eyes of the working class and of the bourgeoisie. Nonetheless, the division between Social Democracy and Stalinism is a division within reformism. Neither can be thought to have evolved into purely bourgeois parties, without internal splits, simply because of their ideological abandonment of programmatic pledges to “social ownership” or the “proletarian dictatorship”. For this, a rupture with their organic links to the proletariat would have to occur. Even fascism could not completely extinguish Social Democratic and Stalinist reformism. Their existence will only be ended when revolutionaries have won political dominance in the class.
Both the Stalinist and Social Democratic parties are servants of the bourgeois world order, yet both are rooted in organisations that the proletariat has created to fight for its class interests. Both are dominated by a privileged bureaucracy that selves the imperialist bourgeoisie. The fundamental roots of Social Democracy are within capitalist society. Stalinism’s historic roots lie in the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union and, therefore, in post-capitalist property relations. But Stalinism is no less a servant of the bourgeoisie than Social Democracy. Through its political dictatorship of the Soviet Union, and the other degenerate workers’ states, it blocks the advance to socialism and discredits the very goal of a classless, stateless society communism. It blocks the internationalisation of the revolution, spreading chauvinism and class collaboration. It objectively promotes the potential for capitalist restoration within the workers’ states and, in a decisive crisis, will provide in its upper layers the cadres for social counter-revolution.
The contradictory character that Stalinism and Social Democracy share is best summed up in the characterisation that they are bourgeois workers’ parties. Neither is qualitatively preferable to the other. Of course, the fact that a party possesses a Social Democratic or Stalinist ideology does not, of itself, prove that it is a bourgeois workers’ party. Significant numbers of parties of the Socialist International are bourgeois nationalist parties without any decisive organic links to their own proletariat. On the other hand there are Stalinist parties whose social base is the peasantry or the urban or rural petit-bourgeoisie. Yet, as world tendencies, both retain the character of bourgeois workers’ parties
In certain countries towards the end of the Second World War revolutionary struggles developed (e.g. in Italy, the Balkans and France). But the combined forces of Social Democracy and Stalinism resolutely dissipated the spontaneous will of the masses to settle accounts with their discredited bourgeoisies. The Social Democratic parties and the Communist Parties, having performed their role as agents of democratic counter-revolution, were thrust to one side by the capitalists who then installed, wherever possible, openly bourgeois parties at the helm of the booming economies of the 1950s and 1960s.
The late 1960s initiated a new period of intense class struggle in the imperialist heartlands, invariably started from below by a confident and well organised working class. Throughout Europe the Stalinist and Social Democratic leaders and their trade union allies successfully fought to contain these struggles, to keep them within the limits of legality and official organisation. In France, Portugal and Spain, Stalinism and Social Democracy were given the chance to demonstrate yet again their counter-revolutionary loyalty to capitalism. With serious defeats in many countries of Western Europe by the mid 1970s, the European workers’ movement was again thrown back and pacified for the next period.
By the onset of the second major recession, that of 1979-82, the existing leaderships had successfully demobilised working class resistance, opening the proletariat of the imperialist countries to a decade of austerity, anti-union laws and attacks on democratic rights. In government the traitors were only too happy to preside over and to initiate these attacks. Thus in the 1980s the crisis of leadership in the imperialist heartlands takes the form of the inability of the working class to resist the attacks of the Thatcherite-Reaganite economic liberals with its own existing parties, unions and politics, With the discrediting of Keynesian, social-liberal welfarism, with its “mixed economy” and state intervention in the economy, the Social Democratic and Stalinist Parties are thrown into ideological and policy crisis. The bourgeoisie does not want their old programme and, at the same time, that programme is pitifully inadequate to the needs of a working class hit by austerity and unemployment. The trade union bureaucracy cannot mount effective resistance to the attacks. The centrist forces of the 1970s are shrunken and demoralised. Yet the working class has fought back against its enemies. Massive and bitter workers’ struggles have marked the 1980s, but not one of them has been able to gain a decisive victory. Only a new leadership and a new programme can solve the chronic crisis in the workers’ movement of the imperialist heartlands. . In the degenerate(d) workers’ states, the Stalinist bureaucracy has f I managed to discredit the very idea of socialism and communism in the r I eyes of the working class. The ruling castes have failed to legitimise their role in these societies, have failed to overcome the fundamental objection to their very existence: they are unnecessary to-indeed are a drain upon- the system of planned property relations.
In the post-war decades this caste has tried to shore up its rule by lurching from market experiments (to overcome stagnation) to a tightening of bureaucratic command in the economy. This experience has created factional strife within the bureaucracies and even political openings for an opposition from below.
The working class of the degenerate(d) workers’ states has repeatedly proved itself to be the most determined force in this opposition. More than once it has hurled itself against bureaucratic privilege and political oppression. In the post-war era this struggle has taken the workers to the brink of proletarian political revolution. This has been demonstrated by the creation of soviets (Hungary 1956) and proto-soviet bodies (the inter-factory committees in Poland 1980 and China 1989).
But the absence of a political revolutionary strategy means that it has been defeated in every major political revolutionary crisis. Its spontaneous struggles have generated ideas that have served both to leave the power of the bureaucracy intact and, in certain instances, to positively strengthen the forces for capitalist restoration.
In Hungary and Poland in 1956 misplaced hopes in a section of the bureaucracy led the working class to ultimate defeat. Syndicalism and trade unionism, as with Solidarnosc in Poland, led the struggle away from the goal of political power and diverted it into a utopian struggle for independent trade unions co-existing with bureaucratic rule. Even the left wing of Solidarnosc peddled the illusion that self-managed enterprises rather than workers’ management of the centralised planning mechanisms could overcome the crisis of the command economy.
In the USSR, nationalism strengthens the hand of bourgeois and clerical restorationists. In Eastern Europe and China, the workers aspire to parliamentary democracy, a sentiment that springs from the experience of a stifling autocracy. The bloody slaughter of the courageous forces of China’s “Democracy Movement” by the tyrants of the Chinese Communist Party, served only to strengthen the bourgeois democratic current within the opposition movement.
But these hopes in “democracy”, emptied of a working class content, are a cruel deception, one fostered by imperialism to ease the passage of the masses of these countries into the camp of capitalist exploitation. Without revolutionary leadership, and a revolutionary programme, the break up of Stalinism in its heartlands will benefit only a ruling minority inside these states. By contrast a majority of the multi-national firms within the imperialist countries will prosper.
Without revolutionary leadership the potential for political revolution, embodied in the events of Hungary 1956 and China 1989, cannot be realised. Without such leadership the ruling Stalinist parties will continue to be either the handmaidens of capitalist restoration or the harbingers of military bureaucratic retribution.
Stalinism against permanent revolution
The counter-revolutionary character of Stalinism is also expressed in its violent opposition to the perspective and programme of permanent revolution in the semi-colonies and wherever bourgeois democratic questions assume a revolutionary importance. Social Democracy has been less enduring in the semi-colonies. In these countries the labour aristocracy and labour trade union bureaucracy has been less firmly established because of the under-developed nature of capitalism. Also the more craven legalism and parliamentarism of Social Democracy has ensured that it more completely disappears when democracy and parliaments themselves fall victim to Bonapartism or dictatorship. From Indonesia through Chile to South Africa today, Stalinism has clung to the perspective of a democratic stage, which excludes the fight for working class power, but embraces all kinds of bourgeois, petit bourgeois, clerical and military Bonapartist allies. This popular frontist strategy which ushered in democratic counter-revolution after 1945 has resulted since then in bloody and decisive defeats in key revolutionary situations.
In Indonesia the PKI, the largest Stalinist party in the capitalist world, entered the left nationalist government of Sukarno in 1965, claiming it to be at the head of a “people’s state”. Unarmed and unwarned by their leaders, the masses of the PKI were then slaughtered by the military. This disaster bears direct comparison with events in China in 1927 and Germany in 1933.
In Chile, Stalinism and the Social Democratic Socialist Party led the workers and poor peasants to disaster. Allende’s government, installed in 1970, was a popular front whose programme was limited to reforms. Allende renounced from the outset the arming of the workers and guaranteed the reactionary high command a monopoly of armed force.
Nevertheless, spontaneous working class militancy led to the creation of cordones industrial, proto-soviets, and even badly armed militias. It led to demands for expropriations which Allende stood firmly against. Economic crisis and sabotage created the climate for a coup d’etat by Pinochet in September 1973, which left tens of thousands dead, tortured or imprisoned and hundreds of thousands forced to flee the country. In Iran, the Stalinist Tudeh Party participated in the mass overthrow of the Shah, only to support the imposition of Khomeini’s Islamic Republic. In the name of revolutionary loyalty the Tudeh assisted Islamic reaction in the slaughter of masses of workers, leftists and Kurdish rebels. In return Khomeini unleashed his repressive apparatus against the Tudeh itself.
As the leading force within the ANC, the South African Communist Party squandered a revolutionary opportunity with its policy of using the township revolts to seek negotiations with the “enlightened” wing of South African imperialism. Now, it is beating a retreat from all forms of revolutionary activity in the interests of the “global stability” sought by the Kremlin. The bankruptcy of Stalinism and Social Democracy has prolonged the life of bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalism among wide sections of the semi-colonial working class. Despite their occasional ability to speak and act more radically than the workers’ parties, the mass nationalist movements and parties remain incapable of solving the plight of the workers and peasants. Garcia’s APRA, the Mexican PRI, the FSLN, the PLO, and Sinn Fein all remain strategically tied to capitalism. Their acts of defiance against imperialism are carried out only so long as the working class is absent, as an independent force, from the struggle. Once challenged by the distinct demands of the exploited, these “anti-imperialists” become the abject defenders of imperialism.
Unless a revolutionary party can dislodge all these forces from the leadership of the working class they threaten to repeat their mistakes in the mighty class battles ahead. To prevent this it is essential, in what remains of the twentieth century that the class conscious vanguard of workers and poor peasants throughout the world is regrouped around an international transitional programme.
Chapter 3 – A programme of transitional demands
The present period is punctuated by defensive mass economic struggles in the imperialist countries, by actual or latent political revolutionary crises in the degenerate(d) workers’ states, and by pre-revolutionary and revolutionary crises in the semi-colonial countries. This continuing unevenness makes it impossible to speak, as Trotsky did in 1938, of a general world pre-revolutionary situation. But this in no way detracts from the urgency of arming the working class movement with a transitional programme.
Only such a programme can ensure that the gains made by the masses in this or that partial struggle, are built upon and consolidated and not stolen from them by the forces of reaction at the earliest opportunity. Only such a programme can resolve the fundamental contradiction that afflicts the international workers’ movement: on the one hand the readiness of the masses to defend their gains, and even take the revolutionary offensive; whilst on the other, established leaderships are still capable of demobilising and betraying these same struggles.
A transitional programme strives to address this subjective weakness by building a bridge for the masses between their immediate defensive struggles and the struggle for socialist revolution. This bridge takes the form of an interlinked series of demands which, in their entirety, constitute an overt and direct challenge to capitalist rule. But revolutionaries are not sectarians. They fight for minimum demands, and in every partial struggle revolutionaries are the most thorough and most meticulous tacticians and organisers. We stand in the front line trenches of every struggle of the working class, no matter how partial. For this reason it would be false to counter pose the transitional programme to the existing struggles of the masses as an ultimatum.
But it is a centrist distortion of the transitional programme to dislocate individual demands entirely from the interlinked system and present them as thinly disguised isolated trade union demands. Similarly any attempt to present transitional demands as structural reforms of capitalism is grossly opportunist. The very purpose of transitional demands is to mobilise the masses against capitalism. The task of the revolutionary vanguard, therefore, is to use particular demands in the immediate struggles of the masses within the context of a fight for the programme as a whole.
In practice this will mean agitation within a particular struggle for focused, relevant transitional demands whilst making propaganda for the programme as a whole through the explanation of what the realisation of this or that demand will pose in the next phase of struggle. How is this gain to be consolidated, how can we prevent a counter-attack by the bosses? The relationship ‘between such agitation and propaganda, the point at which propaganda is superseded by mass agitation, will have to be determined in response to the scope, tempo and intensity of the struggle, the transitional character of the system of demands is expressed by several features. In the first place such demands address the fundamental economic and political needs of the masses as determined by the objective situation. The demands do not depend for their correctness on their acceptability to the reformist consciousness of the masses; nor are they invalidated if the capitalists or the Stalinist bureaucrats are forced to grant such demands. Secondly, transitional demands seek to organise the masses independently of the open political representatives of the bourgeoisie and their reformist agents within the labour bureaucracy. This we strive to do through unions, factory committees, workers’ councils and the revolutionary party.
Mobilised around these demands in such organisations the working class challenges the rule of the capitalists. It encroaches on this rule in the factory, office and school, on the picket line and on the streets, at the level of government itself. To this end each transitional demand embodies a fight for some element of direct workers’ control over the capitalists. In establishing even elementary workers’ control over production in the battle to protect jobs, the struggle will be forced onto a higher level. The question is posed: who is the power in the factory, the workers or the boss? In turn a successful struggle at plant level puts new challenges before the workers in relation to other branches of industry and to society as a whole.
In addition, the system of workers’ control, by training the masses in running the factories, prepares them for the tasks ahead under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus transitional demands are both the means of transition from today’s immediate struggles to a revolutionary assault on the whole capitalist regime and they are a school, a means of educating workers, in the tasks of the transition to socialism itself.
Against the capitalist offensive
The concerted offensive of the capitalists to resolve their crises and establish economic recovery has taken a heavy toll on the living conditions of the world working class and the oppressed peasantry. High prices, reaching the level of hyper-inflation in some semi-colonies, and mass unemployment are the cost of temporary stabilisation. To preserve its fighting strength, the working class is obliged to defend its right to work and earn a living wage. It is forced to defend and extend the welfare systems conceded by the bourgeoisie-the so called social wage. It is essential to advance demands that seek to put an end to the struggle for survival. In each country we fight for a legally guaranteed minimum wage at a rate decided by the labour movement not the bosses. This in no way implies that collective agreements limit themselves to such a minimum. The working class must constantly strive to advance beyond the minimum wage, which is merely a safety net to combat low pay and poverty for ‘the most oppressed section of workers.
Under conditions where the bosses use rising prices to pauperise the workers we fight to protect collective agreements against every price rise imposed by the bosses. To this end we fight for a sliding scale of wages which guarantees a rise to match any rise in the cost of living. Of course the bosses will try to dupe the masses with phoney indices to prove that the cost of living is not rising. Against this trickery we fight for a workers’ I Cost of living index, assessed and decided upon by price watch committees delegates elected from the workplaces and the working class communities: the housing estates, the workers’ districts, the barrios and shanty towns, the organisations of working class women and of proletarian consumers. In conditions of hyper-inflation further measures will be needed to protect the exploited and oppressed from starvation, the destruction of their security and meagre savings. They must fight for control over the necessities of life. This means workers’ control over the food industry, the large farms, processing plants, transport and supermarket chains. It means establishing direct commercial links between the workers and peasants over the exchange of goods. It entails the building of workers’ and peasants’ committees to control food pricing and distribution.
But to bring a halt to hyper-inflation the workers must seize control of the banks; force their complete nationalisation including the confiscation of the assets of the bourgeoisie and the foreign multinationals. We demand action to prevent the transfer of capital abroad, the immediate repudiation of the foreign debt and the cessation of all interest payments on it. The savings of the workers, peasants and petit bourgeoisie should be guaranteed at pre-hyperinflationary values, all these measures point to the necessity for a state monopoly of foreign trade and the introduction of democratic planning by the producers. To carry through a workers’ and peasants’ programme against inflation a government of these classes is the indispensable instrument. Without this the bourgeoisie will use hyper-inflation to demoralise the workers and turn the peasantry and petit bourgeoisie against them (Bolivia 1985-86). It will try to solve the inflationary crisis through crushing the workers and imposing savage deflationary measures-slashing of the state budgets for health, education, cuts in wages and closures of factories and mines. Inflation and deflation are both weapons of the bourgeoisie to break the revolutionary momentum of the working class. Against both we rally the masses to a programme which insists “Make the rich pay”!
The scourge of unemployment
Mass unemployment is today a permanent feature of every capitalist country. In the semi-colonies the collapse of raw material prices on the world market leads to the devastation of entire industries, while agribusiness has driven millions of landless peasants into the cities where, unable to find work, they are forced down into the ranks of the lumpen proletariat. In the imperialist heartlands capitalist restructuring has left millions on the scrap heap of unemployment. Against this scourge our programme advances the demand for work for all regardless of sex, race, age, creed or sexual orientation. This demand is only realisable on the road of militant direct action: strikes against redundancies, occupations against closures, militant protests by the organisations of the unemployed. Such struggles must set as their goal the achievement of a sliding scale of hours. Under the regime of workers’ control work should be shared amongst all the workers in an enterprise, and the working week reduced to facilitate this work-sharing. Under no circumstances should wages be reduced if hours are reduced. This is a conscious generalisation and revolutionary extension of the demands spontaneously being raised by workers for the 35 hour week with no loss of pay (Britain, Germany) or “30 for 40” (USA).
For those whom the capitalists leave on the dole queue we fight for work or full pay. If the bosses will not provide work we demand unemployment benefit, paid by the state at the level decided by the labour movement. When capitalism fails to provide socialised care and women are prevented from taking up full time work we demand full benefits. But this demand must be combined with the struggle for social provision for children, the sick and the disabled so that women are able to work. Full benefits should be demanded for all those whom capitalism casts aside from social production as a result of age, disability or sickness. For the elderly we demand the right to retire at an age agreed by the labour movement within each country. Pensions, indexed against inflation must be paid by the state and set at a level, decided by the labour movement that will maintain the living standards of the elderly. For those above the retirement age who wish to continue to work, jobs must be made available at full union rates.
The unemployed themselves must not be left as bystanders in the fight against unemployment. Communists strive to build fighting unity between the unemployed and the employed. We are for the right of the unemployed to be in the unions with full rights but reduced dues. We are also for the building of democratic mass unemployed workers’ movements, with substantial financial support from the labour movement, with no strings attached to such funding and with full rights of representation within the labour movement. Such organisations will play a role in preventing the unemployed falling prey to the ideology of fascism (or other reactionary ideologies and movements), criminalisation and lumpenisation. They are a vital means of pressuring employed workers to take up an active struggle in defence of their unemployed brothers and sisters. In order to integrate all the jobless into the production process and to allow them to do socially useful work, we struggle relentlessly for a programme of public works under workers’ control, paid for by the capitalist state. Everywhere the need for such a programme is evident in the imperialist heartlands all manner of public amenities are in need of improvement or renovation. In the semi-colonies the masses live in squalor, deprived of the most basic of amenities, (housing, water sanitation and fuel, education and health care). The programme of public works seeks to satisfy these burning needs-building houses, hospitals schools and amenities-as well as provide jobs for millions. More, it trains the working class to run the economy in a manner that meets their needs It is a school for the planned economy itself.
Allied to the fight for a programme of public works is the fight for or to defend and extend, the welfare provision that goes some way to protect the working class from the worst effects of capitalist exploitation Capitalism is not only willing to sacrifice our standard of living to satiate its lust for profits, it is prepared to sacrifice our right to be educated, t( enjoy what leisure time it leaves us and to be cared for when we are sick What more eloquent testimony to the rotten bankruptcy of capitalism could be required than the fact that the USA, the richest and most’ powerful country in the world, has one of the highest infant mortality rates of all the industrialised countries. To combat such iniquities we fight for free education, free public amenities and leisure facilities and a free health service for all. These rights must be guaranteed by state funding at levels determined by the masses themselves. Such provision must be directed, not by capitalist appointed managers, but though workers control of the public services.
The rapacious search for profit degrades and destroys individuals well beyond the factory or office. Under capitalism the use of drugs drive hundreds of thousands beyond the limits of enjoyment and stimulation to the wastelands of dependency and enslavement: alcoholism and narcotic addiction wrecks the lives of many potential class fighters against the system which breeds such dependencies. We demand the decriminalisation of drug use and the confiscation of the massive profits that the narcotic barons make from illegal import and export of drugs. We are for a state monopoly, overseen by the workers’ and peasants’ price commit tees, of the sale of drugs for pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical use
We demand scientifically based education and information on the dangers of the use of particular narcotics for non-medical purposes.
There will be no shortage of bosses, bourgeois politicians, economic “experts” and reformist apologists for capitalism, who will “prove” that our demands on wages, jobs and services are unrealisable and cannot be afforded. To this we answer, we cannot afford to live without the achievement of our demands. We do not start from what the capitalist system claims it can afford. Throughout history our every demand has been met with the cry that our rulers cannot afford them. Yet we have won them because what can be afforded is decided by struggle: in sum reforms are the by-product of the revolutionary struggle against capitalism. If the bourgeois state rejects the demands of the masses for wages, work or social services with the argument that the budget would go into deficit, then we propose a revolutionary programme of taxation.
The workers in the factories and in the banks should calculate the fixed and liquid assets of the employers. On the basis of this capital and other possessions a strongly progressive wealth tax should be levied against them. With this revenue it will be possible to begin financing the needs of the masses. On the other hand, indirect taxation on the items of mass consumption and income tax for the property less masses should be scrapped. The progressive income and wealth tax on the capitalists must be controlled by the workers in order to uncover evasion and corruption by financial experts. Also, any attempt to unload the extra taxation of the capitalists onto the prices of mass consumption goods must be prevented by workers’ control. If the capitalists refuse to pay their taxes, seek to evade them or claim inability to pay, then their assets must be confiscated.
The trade unions
In much of the world trade unions are durable, mass organisations of the working class. Revolutionaries must therefore have a central orientation to the unions, despite their reactionary leaderships. A correct revolutionary intervention into the unions requires a clear understanding of their nature, their limitations under capitalism, and a coherent strategy for their transformation into instruments of revolutionary struggle. ‘Trade unionism on its own represents the class struggle carried on within the boundaries of capitalism. The trade unions have, generally, constituted themselves as elementary organisations for the defence of the working class against the excesses of capitalist exploitation, and of achieving the means of subsistence and improving the living standard of workers and their families. As such, pure trade unionism accepts the wages system, the system of wage slavery. As a form of consciousness remains on the terrain of bourgeois society, pure trade union consciousness is, therefore, a form of reformist, bourgeois consciousness inside the working class. However, the system of capitalist exploitation generates the class struggle, even if initially on a purely economic and fragmented basis. It does so because the bourgeoisie is driven by competition to lower it labour costs and to increase the intensity or length of the working day: This class struggle creates the objective basis for a challenge to the reformist limits of pure trade unionism. The working class resorts to class struggle methods that threaten to go beyond the bounds of reformist trade union solutions. This objective gives trade union organisation a contradictory character. On the one hand they reflect the self-limiting reformism of pure trade union consciousness. On the other they represent, intermittently, the revolutionary potential of a working cla1 compelled to use strikes, occupations and picket lines. They can the serve as “schools of war” for the working class.
The contradictory nature of trade union organisation reveals itself in many ways. Even with the expansion of the proletariat in the semi-colonies; world the trade unions still only organise a minority of the international working class. The established bureaucracies are characterised by conservative sluggishness in their attempts to bring in new layers of worker fearful that an influx of such workers will challenge their privileges and their quiet lives. The unions tend to organise the labour aristocracy, the skilled and more privileged sections of the class. They reflect the sectionalism and narrow craft consciousness of such layers. They demonstrate a self-defeating tendency to spurn politics, in the name of neutrality though at the same time the leaders often deliver union members’ vote to reformist or liberal bourgeois parties.
Most importantly unions are generally dominated by a reformi1 bureaucracy. In the imperialist countries this bureaucracy arose out of the labour aristocracy during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and was centred on the organised skilled workers. In many semi colonies a bureaucracy has also arisen, again out of a labour aristocracy albeit one smaller and with fewer material privileges than that of the imperialist countries. This has been patronised by bourgeois nationalist or reformist forces interested in securing a base in society for themselves (as in Mexico, Argentina). In other cases, where an aristocracy of labour has either not yet developed or is not sizeable enough to influence the unions or reformist/nationalist parties, a reformist bureaucracy has constituted itself often through links with the international trade union movement and with the material aid of the bureaucracy of the imperialist countries.
The trade union bureaucracy is a distinct caste that owes its position and economic privileges (no matter how marginal they may be) to its role as a negotiator in the class struggle between workers and their employers. Its privileged position is often enhanced through its incorporation into the lower echelons of the capitalist state. To maintain its position the bureaucracy has an objective interest in maintaining the system of class exploitation and consequently strives to limit struggles and betray them. It acts as the labour lieutenant of capital inside the working class. It is the sworn enemy of militant class struggle and genuine working class democracy.
By contrast the rank and file of the unions have no objective interest in maintaining the system of capitalist exploitation. At moments of heightened or generalised class struggle the fundamental tendencies of rank and file workers stand revealed as the exact opposite of those of the bureaucracy. In the face of attacks from the bosses the rank and file repeatedly resort to direct action to defend their own interests. In the face of sectional divisions they strive to organise the unorganised and unite with rank and file workers from other industries and unions. And against the “non-political” stance of the bureaucracy there are countless examples of rank and file workers seeking to use their organisation for explicitly political objectives. The rank and file’s fundamental interests are thus not merely distinct from those of the bureaucracy but in direct contradiction to them.
To develop the elementary class consciousness of the rank and file into revolutionary consciousness, it is necessary to fight for the revolutionary transformation of the unions. Either they will be turned into organisations for the subordination of the working class to the interests of capital; they will become instruments of revolutionary struggle against capital. There can be no such thing as trade union neutrality in the class struggle. The outcome of the struggle to transform the unions depends, in the first instance, on the organised strength of revolutionary communism within them. We strive to build communist fractions in the unions, founded by members of the revolutionary party and its sympathisers, openly challenging for leadership on the basis of the revolutionary programme.
To achieve our goal of ousting the bureaucracy we advocate rank and file opposition movements committed to rank and file democracy, the election and accountability of all officials and a programme of class struggle. We fight all restrictions on rank and file democracy, all bureaucratically imposed divisions, and all attempts to keep the unions “above politics” or rather, free from revolutionary influence. We oppose all witch hunts of revolutionaries and militants. We resist all efforts to sell out or sell short the struggles of the working class. We defend the right of the oppressed (women, youth, sexual and racial minorities) to their own caucuses. We are for trade union unity on a class struggle, democratic basis and for industrial unions.
The tactic of the rank and file opposition movement (modelled on the Minority Movement experience in Britain in the early 1920s) is not counter posed to the building of communist fractions in the union. It is a movement within which the communists constitute a fraction but seek to become a mass force, and through which they seek to gain leadership on the basis of an action programme of transitional demands. It is the form of the united front suitable to the unions where the communists constitute a minority but have the possibility of mobilising non-communist workers.
A history of reformist betrayal and the close integration of some unions into the state have led many sectarians to abandon the mass organisations and build purified trade unions, or “red unions”, which do not comprise the masses or even significant sections of the working class. This policy of dual unionism is, in fact, a form of cowardly abstentionism. It abandons the masses to the bureaucracy. It leaves them under their influence and destined to defeat. Our policy is that we do not split from the reformist mass unions as a substitute for winning revolutionary leadership within them. We fight within them for full class independence from both the state and the bosses, organisationally and politically. Working class militants should even work within company or state controlled unions, if they group together large masses of workers, but only in order to encourage these masses to break to form a real class union. We do not fetishise trade union unity and are prepared to split with unions or confederations which become real scab organisations. It is especially the case that we should cut all links with gangster syndicates and with politicians of the openly bourgeois parties who pretend to be “friends of labour”.
Nor are we trade union fetishists. Trade union organisations, by their very nature, must seek to unite the broadest layers. They are heterogeneous, including backward as well as advanced workers. They cannot therefore replace the politically selected vanguard-the revolutionary party. Unlike syndicalists or industrial unionists we do not see the unions as ends in themselves or as substitutes for the party and for workers’ councils. Only the party can represent the strategic interests of the entire proletariat. Only the party can channel the many rivers through which the class struggle flows towards the defeat of the capitalist system itself. Trade unions, even ones led by revolutionaries, are but one of the many instruments for achieving our end-the socialist revolution. Only the triumph of the party and its programme in the unions, as in all other mass organisations of struggle, can guarantee a lasting victory for the proletariat against the profit system.
Workers’ control and factory committees
The system of capitalist exploitation requires that the bosses control every aspect of the production process. The search for higher productivity and profits endangers safety, erodes health and intensifies exploitation. Increasingly, therefore, the working class is obliged to counter capitalist control with workers’ control so that even basic and partial demands are met. For this reason the revolutionary vanguard places the struggle for workers’ control at the centre of its propaganda and agitation. Against capitalist exploitation we fight for workers’ control of production. In essence this means that we exercise the right of veto over the plans and actions of the bosses in every aspect of production, from the most basic level (speed of work, rights to breaks) to the higher level of factory administration itself (numbers employed, wages paid, production engaged in). We reject, categorically, the thousand and one schemes for worker participation that are advanced to try and incorporate the working ?ass into the machinations of capitalism. These aim to seduce the workers into taking responsibility for the failings of capitalist production. They are designed to secure agreement for attacks on jobs, wages and conditions. Workers’ control at the factory level is incomplete if it is not extended to capitalist production as a whole. The capitalists keep their books and accounts a closely guarded secret from the workers (though not from each other). By these means they cheat and manipulate the working class. Against the mud of business secrecy, therefore, we fight for the opening of all the books and ledgers of the capitalist class-its firms and companies, its banks, its state-to the inspection of the workers themselves. The purpose of such control is not to concede defeat if this or that company reveals itself to be genuinely bankrupt. The pain of individual capitalists is not our fault. Nor is it our concern. No, the abolition of business secrecy is designed to expose the bankruptcy of the capitalist system as a whole, its dishonesty and mismanagement of the economy, its parasitism, its tendency to squander the wealth that workers create, and its grossly inequitable methods of distributing that wealth.
However, the greatly increased application of science and technology to production since 1945, demands still further-reaching forms of workers’ control. Because science and technology are organised by capital the purpose and the consequences of the ‘introduction of new technologies become ever more hidden from the workforce. They get to know about them only through rationalisation, work hazards, intensification of work or through their disastrous effects on the environment. The question of workers’ control over technical and scientific planning of the state and business can even become a question of immediate survival, not only for the workforce but also for the surrounding community. This has been demonstrated time and again from Bhopal to Chernobyl. Workers’ control over the technical and scientific apparatus, however, means the workers overcoming the division between manual and mental work. Success along this road will enable technical and scientific workers to be won to workers’ control committees operating in co-operation with the factory floor workers.
The tendencies towards increased state regulation of industry in the epoch of imperialism have led various reformists and centrists to advance schemes for alternative production within capitalism. Workers have even been called upon to “manage” certain enterprises under the auspices of reformist or nationalist governments. Alternative planning under capitalism is a utopia. Of course in deep economic and social crises we advance a plan of action for a revolutionary workers’ government as a solution to the crisis. But even the most elementary plan, if it is to make headway against capitalist chaos and sabotage, must be grounded in workers’ control of production on a nationwide scale. To dislocate such a plan from a revolutionary struggle for workers’ control, to advocate workers’ management on the terrain of capitalist society, is to play the role of meek advisers to the bankrupt capitalist system. Workers’ control is not a means to achieve the socialist planned economy by stealth. It must rather fuel the revolutionary struggle for power in society as a whole and so serve as a pre-requisite for workers’ management once the revolution has triumphed.
Reformist led trade unions are at best only partially suited to exercising workers’ control of production. Craft divisions within the factories, often reflected in, and reinforced by, craft based union organisations, limit the ability of those unions to exercise control of production. Apart from special ad hoc control commissions established for specific purposes, the best form of organisation for conducting the struggle for workers’ control is the factory committee. By organising all the workers in a factory regardless of trade, shop, union affiliation or membership, the factory committee is able to unite the whole workforce, direct it towards a daily struggle for control and challenge the power of the boardroom. Moreover, it can playa role in the struggle to transform the unions themselves into class struggle industrial unions. The factory committee must be based on direct democracy, with delegates who are recallable and in daily contact with the workers elected by shop and mass meetings.
As “unofficial” bodies the factory committees will be attacked and sabotaged by the bosses and bureaucrats alike. The real reason for this hostility is their potential as fighting organs of the proletariat. They represent-as the factory occupation does-a challenge to management’s right to manage, to the sacrosanct nature of private property and to the power of the union “officials” over the workers. They establish a regime of dual power in the factory and their presence demands an answer to the question-who rules the factory, the workers or the bosses? As such they are characteristic of intense periods of class warfare. And, just as dual Power in society cannot last for a protracted period, nor can it in the factory. The factory committee is compelled to advance, ever more consciously, in the fight for workers’ control. If it does not it risks either disintegration or incorporation. In Germany and Austria after the First World War factory committees arose as organs of struggle. However, the defeat of the revolutions in those countries led to the transformation of these committees into organs collaboration with the bosses. These committees are used by the union bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie as pillars of social peace. This experience demonstrates precisely the danger of incorporation if the factory committee fails to develop in a revolutionary direction. Where they do not exist the factory committees must be built from the outset as organs of workers’ control. Where they exist as organs of bureaucratic control they must be totally transformed so that they can perform this function.
Defend the environment through workers’ control!
All modes of production have resulted in disturbance of the environment but the imperialist epoch of capitalism has made possible damage on a qualitatively new scale. The capitalist mode of production has created an environmental problem which embraces both physical damage (to living organisms, ecosystems, and the ozone layer) and its consequent social and psychological effects on human beings (disease, starvation, mental stress). The combination of scientific and technological advance has created the potential of abundance for all of humanity. However, continued private ownership of the means of production in the context of a world dominated by the imperialist powers has created a fourfold threat to humanity. Nuclear war threatens the complete destruction of humanity; the regenerative capacity of the natural environment is jeopardised by the reckless destruction of vital components of the ecological system; the population itself is threatened by the inadequately controlled application of dangerous substances and processes; the social consequences of imperialism’s world wide division of labour starves millions and turns urbanisation into an environmental hazard in its own right.
In the degenerate(d) workers’ states similar consequences have been created by the rule of a bureaucratic caste. This caste resorts to methods of production which are geared to maximising output in the short term. The long term impact on the environment is discounted. Like the bourgeoisie the bureaucracy has developed science but is indifferent to its consequences for the living conditions of the masses and therefore of the effects of the application of that science to production. Here too fundamental progress requires the overthrow of the ruling power.
Although it has been the proletariat and the peasantry that have suffered most from capitalism’s destructive capacities, the present threat was recognised on a large scale first by sections of the petit bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia of the imperialist countries. Since the second half of the 1970s, for example, in the Federal Republic of Germany and in Austria, but later also in France and Italy, single issue campaigns have multiplied and finally come together into a broad ecology movement. These movements were primarily of the petit bourgeoisie. For the first time their neighbourhoods, their children, their health were put at risk and, given their social and cultural advantages, they were able to make the environment a political issue; some even highlighted the effects on the semi colonial countries. The politics of this petit bourgeois layer were limited but progressive in that they posed the problem of environmental destruction in a systematic form. They undertook mass mobilisations and as a result the ecology question had an a impact on popular consciousness for the first time. Moreover they were successful in involving significant numbers of qualified and well paid workers. The mainly utopian, even explicitly reactionary, answers that they gave do not alter the progressive role that they played, given that the reformist dominated workers’ organisations stood complacently on the side of their bourgeoisies on this question.
At the same time the solutions proposed by the environmentalists, reflecting the social positions of the petit bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia, did not challenge the rule of private property in the means of production or the bourgeois state. The strategies and tactics proposed, apart from often being ineffectual, were also diversions from the necessary task of mobilising the social and economic power of the working class. However, where these movements initiate mobilisations for objectives which defend or advance working class interests then common actions between the working class and its organisations and these petit bourgeois movements are possible. Our aim in this is to win the most advanced elements to a proletarian orientation and, thus, to split the petit bourgeois movement.
The working class has a vital interest in combating imperialism’s endangering of the environment. Throughout its history it has fought to stop dangerous production methods and impose safety standards on the capitalists as a whole. Through forcing legislation on the ruling class it has made gains in these areas, helping to create a habitable environment in which to live. This struggle, while it continues and must intensify, cannot be irreversibly successful without the overthrow of capitalism. The most successful methods of struggle, even for immediate improvements, are the methods of the class struggle-local, national and international.
Despite the frequent complacency of the existing leadership of the trade unions, it is vital that the fight to impose working class solutions to the environmental question be taken into the mass organisations of the working class. This is an integral part of the struggle to wrench leadership of the trade unions away from the reformists. To ensure that workers ha’ access to independent expert advice, we demand the formation of advise commissions on environmental and safety matters within the union!
Against dangerous processes and practices within plants we fight £ factory committees and trade unions to impose a veto and to oversee t] introduction, at the expense of profits, of safer technology or working, conditions. Where the danger extends beyond the plant we are for dire action involving the workers in the plant and the local community, with the aim of forcing the government to impose the use of safer method and materials. Wherever the bosses or their state deny danger or the economic viability in defence of dangerous plants we call for the open of all relevant accounts and records to workers’ inspection. We reject the demand for the immediate closure of all nuclear power stations. That do not mean that we ignore the dangers created by nuclear power station Against the demand for immediate closure we counter pose the demand for inspection by the workers or their chosen representatives. The revolutionary party does not prejudge the decision of such a scientific enquiry. Where either a workers’ enquiry or a labour movement commission recommends closure, or in the face of acute or immediate danger. We rely on the mobilisation of the working class to demand and enforce closure. In such cases we demand the defence of the living standards the workforce by the state.
We fight for workers’ control over research and planning within the technical scientific institutions of companies and the state. This” involve revealing the full nature of research and development propos: and formulating health and safety demands in relation to them. It also mean devising other research objectives in the context of a programme of useful public works.
The environmental question for the working class is not only preventative struggle. Much damage has already been done and must repaired. We demand that within programmes of public works restoration of the environment be given a high priority. The provision of adequate sanitation and reliable drinking water in shanty towns is a burning need for millions. Integrated regional rehabilitation programmes in areas desertification are essential now in large areas of Africa. Resources need to be directed at the construction of river and sea defences in the monsoon regions. For all these programmes the bourgeoisie should be made to undertake the necessary repairs.
Many dangers cannot be counteracted at the level of plan t modification or closure. Atmospheric and marine pollution, the destruction of entire eco-systems by deforestation or by mono-culture, or the complete exhaustion of natural resources, are often international phenomena even if their effects are more noticeable in some countries before others. At the national and international level we are in favour of establishing legal safeguards for the environment-but we fight for them by the methods of proletarian class struggle and we place no trust in the imperialists’ international agencies to police such standards even when established. None of these demands may be made permanent without the seizure of political and economic control by the working class from the capitalists and the establishment of democratically managed international planning. Only along this road will it be possible to move towards the eradication of the conflict between town and country and harmonise human production with nature.
Expropriation and nationalisation
The socialist programme is for the complete expropriation of the capitalist class, the destruction of their state and the establishment of workers’ power. In the imperialist epoch a whole series of state capitalist nationalisations have been carried through either by “consensus” conservative and reformist governments in the imperialist nations or, in the semi colonies, by nationalist governments.
In the former, state capitalist nationalisations are generally favours to the capitalist class as whole. They ensure the survival of essential that are too unprofitable for individual capitalists to maintain. They usually provide products and services for other branches of the economy at cheap rates. They are also the means of bailing out bankrupt mismanagers who receive lavish compensation for their incompetence.
In the semi-colonies nationalisation has been a method whereby a weak or embryonic bourgeois class has gathered together the resources for capital accumulation formerly in the hands of imperialism. It has been essential for the growth of a national bourgeoisie. However, while this or that nationalisation may strike a blow against imperialism (Nasser in Egypt, the nationalisation of copper mining by Allende in Chile) and may represent concessions to the masses, it does not result in the expropriation of capitalism. Rather the rule of the capitalist class as a whole in a given sector, or sectors, of the economy is exercised by the capitalist state. Nationalisation dupes the masses into thinking that this or that part of the economy is “theirs”, whereas in fact it is a deceitful method of managing capitalism, not a method of overthrowing it. At the same time the workers in the state capitalist enterprises are prevented from exercising any control over production.
Where the workers are called upon to co-manage, it is generally to save the skin of the enterprise or of the bourgeois regime that has carried through the nationalisation and finds itself, temporarily at least, in conflict with imperialism (Mexico in the 1930s, Bolivia in the 1950s). The same is true for worker-management “buy-outs” of ailing industries or plants. Here the workers, often in the guise of “co-operatives”, engage in self exploitation; to maintain employment they are forced to ruthlessly hold back or cut wages. When these nationalised sectors are profitable again the capitalist state will have no compunction in handing back to the private capitalist the once nationalised enterprises at bargain prices (Egypt under Sadat, Britain under Thatcher) and the reformists and nationalists will not do anything serious to obstruct such handovers.
When the bosses engage in privatisation projects we recognise, despite our criticism of bourgeois nationalisations, that privatisation is a regressive step carried through at the expense of the working class. The working class is forced to pay for privatisations directly, through loss of jobs and often through wage cuts. General social benefits, union organisation and negotiating rights are the victims of privatisation. The working class paid for these measures indirectly too, since the taxes it has surrendered to the state paid for the nationalisations in the first place. When these firms are sold off the working class, unlike the old bosses, receives no compensation from the new private owners. And, at a more general level, the tasks of the transition to socialism are rendered more difficult by the existence of privatised companies.
While we do not regard nationalised industries as socialist we do recognise that their centralisation, in the hands of the state, will be a marked advantage for the workers’ state during the period of transition.
We demand of the reformists and nationalists who claim to oppose capitalism and imperialism that, in government, they re-nationalise all privatised industries with no compensation and under workers’ control.
Against reformist and nationalist claptrap we advance the slogan of expropriation. To destroy the economic domination of the capitalist class the working class needs political power. Nevertheless where the bosses try to close down a plant or even an industry we argue for expropriation under workers’ control and with no compensation to the bosses. A nationalisation carried out on such a basis forces the bosses as a whole to pay, through the state, for the crisis of their system. Nor do we shrink from the call to expropriate whole sectors of industry and of the key utilities (transport, fuel and water production) as a means of combating the anarchy of capitalist production. Every gain made by the workers in forcing through such expropriation poses to them the need for the expropriation of further sectors of the economy, to prevent those industries seized by the workers from being sabotaged by the capitalists. To break the monopoly the big capitalists exercise over information and propaganda through their so-called free press, we advance the slogan of the nationalisation of the newspapers, the television companies and the other media, under workers’ control and with no compensation to the media magnates. Far from preventing a free press, such a measure would enable the workers to end the capitalists’ ability to spread lies, attack workers in struggle and make filthy propaganda perpetrating sexism, racism and heterosexism. At the same time we defend the right of the workers’ organisations and their political parties to organise their own press independent of state control.
Although the strategic aim of the working class is the expropriation of all capital, the working class must take account of the tactical importance of neutralising certain small capitalists and petit bourgeois proprietors. For this reason this layer, often numerically very important in the semi-colonies, should be relieved of their onerous debts towards finance capital. The expropriation of capital, whether small or large, in a young workers’ state is decided upon by the rhythm of the class struggle within the country and internationally, and by the degree of expropriation required at any given moment to break capitalist resistance and ensure the development of the economy. Similarly, compensation can be paid to expropriated small capitalists and petit bourgeois investors where possible, if this helps neutralise these social layers.
Expropriation of a branch of industry places the workers in conflict with those who control the flow of money and credit-the banks and finance houses. Against the sabotage of these parasites, whose economic regime ruins not only the workers but also section of the petit bourgeoisie and the peasantry, we advance the slogan for the expropriation of the banks and finance houses. Only thus can credit for the peasants be made cheap. Only thus can the account ledgers of society be opened to the watchful eyes of the workers. Only thus can the debts piled up in numerous oppressed countries be repudiated without the risk of immediate internal economic dislocation. And only thus can steps to end the scourge of hyper-inflation be taken by the masses. Workers’ control of the banks and finance houses will ensure that the small savers, the working class home owners, the small farmers, and the peasants are not squeezed dry by rapacious financiers.
Expropriations of branches of industry and of the banks and finance houses is transitional to the complete economic liquidation of the capitalist class. Only then will real planning be possible, that is, production geared to the fulfilment of human need, not profit. Disproportions between branches of industry, endemic to the system of private ownership of the means of production, will be ended in progressive fashion. So too will the society in which constant over-production stands alongside unfulfilled need because useful goods must remain unsold if they cannot realise a profit. However, the expropriation of the capitalist class will provide the basis for socialist planning only if state power passes completely from the hands of the capitalists and the Stalinist bureaucrats into the hands of the workers.
From picket line defence to the workers’ militia
All decisive conflicts in history have ultimately been settled by force of arms. The reformists who bleat about a peaceful road to socialism are either naive fools, unaware of how history is made, or cynical servants of the bourgeoisie. No ruling class has ever departed from the scene of history without a fight. The proletariat is the only class in history whose interests lie in the abolition of all classes. To achieve this it must establish its dictatorship over the exploiters through an armed insurrection. The preparation of the working class for that insurrection passes through a series of demands and actions, all focused on the defence of workers in struggle and the destabilisation and destruction of the forces of the capitalist state.
From the earliest days of capitalist society the working class has been met with violence at work when it has attempted to fight for its rights. In the face of such attacks it has developed its own means of defence the picket line. For this reason the bourgeois state tries to restrict it to an ineffective protest on the other hand workers who are serious about winning have tried to build the picket into a mass force capable of routing strike breakers, company thugs and state police alike. But no matter how large it is, the picket line is insufficient to ensure either its own total effectiveness or the proper defence of workers in struggle. The workers must organise their own defence in every struggle and, in so doing, lay the basis for the workers’ militia.
The first step is the defence of the strike picket line, and of the factory or land occupation. Every time the workers and poor peasantry try to enforce their will they are met with repression. The agents of such repression vary according to place and circumstance. But whether the strike-breakers and their protectors are the police (Western Europe), the army (many of the semi-colonies), or paid gun-thugs and “national guardsmen” (the USA), their function is to physically smash the workers’ picket line. In conditions of extreme crisis the bourgeoisie will resort to fascist gangs on the model of Mussolini’s black shirts or Hitler’s brown shirts or to shadowy “death squads” linked to the armed forces in order to break the fighting strength of the working class.
The strike-breakers join the fray with confidence because they feel they have the full weight of the bourgeois state behind them. But their successes are in direct proportion to the lack of organisation inside the working class and poor peasantry. Special units of strikers, supported by the mass but specially drilled for the purpose of armed combat, can destroy this confidence and put the scab rabble to flight. Thus the picket line can be transformed from either a purely token gesture or a disorganised demonstration, into a disciplined and effective squadron of the working class army. Thus, too, can the first elements of a workers’ militia be assembled. In all phases of this struggle we are for the mobilisation and training of proletarian women so that they can play a full part in the military organisations of the working class.
Of course building such organisation must be carried through with due care for the existing consciousness of the masses and their existing levels of organisation. In a strike or occupation, defence squads are required. Even in “peaceful” periods of the class struggle, using whatever means and organisations we can, we recognise the need to train young working class fighters for the battles ahead. But under no circumstances must the task be postponed. Delay will lead to defeat and defeat to the prolongation of class society.
For the break up of the armed might of the state
Alone, the workers’ militia will not be able to smash the power of the bourgeois state. The armed forces of the ruling class will have to be broken from within as well as from without. As every revolutionary situation has shown, in a decisive showdown with the working class, sections of the armed forces (police, army, navy, air force) have wavered and broken with their capitalist masters.
The nature of the armed forces and police organisations differ in many pans of the globe. In general the police forces constitute the day to day repressive apparatus of the capitalist state. In emergencies, martial law situations and under military regimes the army will also play this direct repressive role. Everywhere, therefore, we oppose the utopian idea that these bodies of armed men/women can be democratised or transformed into a neutral force or ally of the working class. They must be smashed and replaced by a mass popular militia based on the workers and poor peasants.
However, the variation in composition and organisation of the armed forces (professional or conscript armies, poor peasant or proletarian recruits) requires different tactics to break them up. But all the tactics aim at destabilising and breaking the chain of command and discipline within them. To this end we prosecute the class struggle within the military. The officer corps constitutes the most irreformable and dedicated anti-working class vanguard of the ruling class. The workers must fight to organise the rank and file soldiers and the non-commissioned officers against the authority, the privileges and corruption of this caste. To guide this work we endeavour to build clandestine communist cells in the armed forces producing bulletins aimed at the rank and file.
As well as undermining discipline it is essential that communists support the legitimate grievances of the rank and file soldier. Only on such a basis can we hope to undermine the repressive role of the armed forces and win the rank and file to solidarise with the working class by, for example, refusing to attack demonstrations and pickets and refusing to torture prisoners. Therefore, we demand the right of rank and file soldiers and police to organise unions and political organisations, to circulate political literature and to strike.
Whilst it is not our duty to advocate better wages or conditions for the army or police of the capitalist state, we do support the struggles of the rank and file where these bring them into progressive conflict with the capitalist state. To this end we fight for an end to the barracks system and for the election of all officers by the rank and file. We fight for tribunals of the rank and file to try officers accused of brutality, corruption, plotting and reactionary coups. In pre-revolutionary situations we agitate for the soldiers to form councils and to send delegates to the local, regional and national workers’ councils of the workers and peasants.
However, so long as the police, prison guards and army remain under the unbroken command of the bourgeois state there can be no question of admitting their unions or organisations into the ranks of the labour movement, including its national or local union federations.
In fighting for the destruction of the bourgeoisie’s armed power we start from the maxim not a penny, not a person for this system. We condemn all workers’ representatives who vote for military budgets or war credits under the pretext of the defence of the nation. From this it follows that we oppose the bourgeoisie’s conscription of young workers into their armies. We oppose its introduction and its existence. But we do this not at all from the standpoint of pacifism. We are in favour of the right and opportunity of all to learn military skills and to bear arms. This includes the right of women to military training in bourgeois armies. Down with the capitalists’ monopoly of the means of coercion! Military training should be organised in the workplace and in the working class communities, under trade union control and in conjunction with soldiers’ committees.
We support the right of individuals to refuse to be conscripted into the armed forces, but to advocate such a step is an act of petit bourgeois pacifism. Revolutionary communists go into the armies where the workers are to be found and work for the revolution from within. Where mass movements exist against a reactionary imperialist war, but are under pacifist or reformist leadership, we give them critical support insofar as they obstruct or sabotage the war effort. But we insist that refusal to be enlisted will never deprive the bourgeoisie of its armed might.
Against bourgeois militarism, against imperialist war!
The proletariat is an international class which has no interest in defending the bourgeois nation state. In the imperialist countries workers must therefore be unswerving in their defeatism. The Leninist position developed during 1914-18 retains all its validity. Revolutionary defeatism is based on the principle that the main enemy of the working class is the bourgeoisie in it own country. The defeat of its “own” imperialist bourgeoisie, as a result of the revolutionary struggle of the working class for power, is a lesser evil than the victory of the ruling class as a result of class collaboration and the sacrificing of proletarian independence during the war. The social chauvinists, espousing social peace, will argue that during a war labour should bow to the needs of the “nation” by speeding up production and accepting legal restraints on the right to strike.
By contrast, we must fight for no working class participation in the war effort. The workers’ organisations must turn the imperialist war into a civil war. Faced with a war against a semi-colony or a workers’ state, workers must give solidarity and aid to the enemy of the imperialists. In a conflict with a workers’ state, no matter how degenerated and whatever the military means involved in the conflict (nuclear, biological, chemical or conventional weapons), workers must defend them against imperialist attack.
Outside the imperialist countries generalised defeatism is not the correct method with regard to all conflicts. Concrete conditions will vary and the revolutionary vanguard will have to fight for defeatism or defencism depending primarily on the nature of the states conducting the war. Within a semi-colony or degenerate workers’ state in conflict with imperialism the proletariat must have a defencist position. With regard to wars between semi-colonies (India-Pakistan) or between degenerate(d) workers’ states (China-Vietnam), workers’ should generally adopt a defeatist position on both sides unless it is the case that one combatant is a cat’s-paw for imperialism and that the international proletariat will be strengthened by the victory of one side.
The proletariat does not defend the semi-colonies and workers’ states by the same methods as the bourgeoisie or bureaucracy. The independent mobilisation of the working class is necessary to ensure international solidarity and the defeat of the imperialists. Even where an imperialist power is in a military alliance with a workers’ state, the proletariat in that imperialist country retains a defeatist position and under no conditions should suspend the class struggle. Only where the continuation of a particular action in the class struggle directly hinders the war effort of the workers’ state would the proletariat suspend its action. In no way, however, would such an exceptional case signal a suspension of the policy of defeatism in relation to the imperialist war and the capitalist class.
The existence of vast arsenals of nuclear warheads, of biological and of chemical weapons capable of destroying humanity several times over, rightly strikes fear into the hearts of millions. Posed with this threat, the reformists of Social Democracy and Stalinism preach to the working class about world disarmament and the banishing of war from the planet. The question is not an abstract one of disarmament, but who is to be disarmed and by what means? The bourgeoisie will never give up its arms, without a fight. It must be forcibly disarmed by the revolutionary proletariat. To attempt to unite the workers and sections of this same bourgeoisie in a disarmament campaign is to create illusions that the bosses can be persuaded to give up the weapons they have to defend their monopoly of the means of production. In fact the negotiated agreements between the imperialists and the degenerate(d) workers’ states to reduce certain types of weapons go hand in hand with a new round of re-armament. As before the two world wars international peace conferences can be a prelude to war as each side engages in elaborate propaganda ploys to present the other as the enemy of peace.
However, wherever the pacifists lead sections of workers and the petit bourgeoisie into direct conflict which undermines the military programme of the ruling class revolutionaries participate in such actions, whilst making clear their complete opposition to the utopian politics of the pacifists and advancing our transitional programme of demands on war and militarism.
The bourgeoisie will never give up its arms, unless it is forcibly disarmed by the revolutionary proletariat. To attempt to unite the workers and sections of this same bourgeoisie in a disarmament campaign is to create illusions that the bosses can be persuaded to give up the weapons they have to defend their monopoly of the means of production.
In fact the negotiated agreements between the imperialists and the degenerate(d) workers’ states to reduce certain types of weapons go hand in hand with a new round of re-armament. As before the two world wars international peace conferences can be a prelude to war as each side engages in elaborate propaganda ploys to present the other as the enemy of peace.
However, wherever the pacifists lead sections of workers and the petit bourgeoisie into direct conflict which undermines the military programme of the ruling class revolutionaries participate in such actions, whilst making clear their complete opposition to the utopian politics of the pacifists and advancing our transitional programme of demands on war and militarism.
The war industries are immensely profitable for the ruling class. We fight to expose their business secrets, to confiscate their military profits and to expropriate them under workers’ control. As the bourgeoisie prepares for war money and people will be pumped into the armed forces. In opposition to their obscene armaments programme we demand a programme of useful public works.
Even in times where there is no global conflict, the imperialists construct pacts and treaties in defence of their own interests, backed by the threat of military intervention. We demand the end to imperialist pacts and treaties and an end to secret diplomacy. All treaties and agreements should be exposed and published.
We place demands on the reformist bourgeois workers’ parties that when in government they carry through the following demands in the interests of the class they claim to represent. We demand that they withdraw from NATO, ANZUS, SEATO, oppose military budgets and refuse to use armed force against the workers or oppressed peoples.
They must support and encourage full democratic rights for soldiers, recognise the right to set up soldiers’ committees and unions, support workers’ inspection and control of barracks, abolish military conscription and recognise the right of workers to set up self-defence organisations.
We must use the progressive desire of the workers for peace to fight for such demands within the workers’ movement, whilst constantly warning against the bankrupt strategy of pacifism. The only way of preventing the horrifying barbarism of a nuclear war is the international socialist revolution.
Bourgeois democracy and democratic demands
In the imperialist countries, as long as they can maintain social and economic stability, the favoured form of rule is bourgeois democracy. It is the specific form of rule that the bourgeoisie, in its revolutionary epoch, developed as a means of enlisting the support of the masses in the struggle against feudalism, and of consolidating itself politically against the feudal estates.
Through parliament a democratic façade is erected to disguise the actual dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. By means of parliamentary democracy the bourgeoisie throws sops to the working class, grants it the right to vote every so often and incorporates its leadership into the administration of the bourgeois state. Through the media and the press the capitalists have a powerful propaganda machine at their disposal capable, for whole periods, of deceiving the masses and tying them to the illusion that under this system the people rule.
But behind the facade lies the reality of capitalist state power–the executive, the unelected (or where it is elected the unaccountable) judiciary and bureaucracy, the police and the armed forces. When the capitalists feel that their property or their rule are challenged by the working class, the full force of the repressive apparatus is brought into play.
The reformists in the parliamentary talking shop look on powerlessly as the police and army smash through picket lines and as the judges imprison trade-unionists. Even when a reformist majority in parliament attempts to enact the most feeble reforms in the interests of the workers the state bureaucracy sabotages them, the economic magnates use their financial control to blackmail the reformists into meek obedience and, always, the armed and security services wait in the wings, ever prepared to act should things get out of the control of the bosses. And in every bourgeois democracy the potential instruments of Bonapartist rule are maintained in the shape of monarchies or presidents.
In imperialist South Africa the parliamentary form of rule exists only for the white minority. The mass of the population, the blacks, are denied the most elementary democratic rights and are ruled by a ruthless dictatorship. In circumstances such as these the struggle of the working class for democratic rights, even those associated with bourgeois democracy, can serve as the detonator for revolutionary struggle. But while such a revolution can begin as a democratic one its victory will require its transformation into a socialist revolution.
The strategic task of the revolutionary vanguard lies in the destruction of all forms of bourgeois rule, including the democratic form. To this end we strive to expose the parliamentary sham to the working class and build organisations of proletarian democracy. However, the legal rights extracted by the working class under bourgeois democracy have been won in struggle from the bosses and represent gains to be defended against attack from the capitalists.
The recurrent crises of the present period do indeed oblige the capitalists to attack the democratic rights won by the workers. In the imperialist epoch there is always a tendency towards the negation of bourgeois democracy and its replacement with Bonapartist, openly dictatorial forms of rule.
This tendency is becoming more acute, throughout the imperialist heartlands. Anti-union laws, the curtailment of freedom of speech, the ability to enact laws by circumventing parliament altogether, the strengthening of the repressive apparatus, all represent embryonic forms of Bonapartism. In all such cases revolutionaries fight to defend the basic rights won by the workers’ movement under bourgeois democracy: the right to strike, to free speech, access to the media, the right to free assembly and to form unions.
Moreover, we defend parliamentary democracy when it is threatened by Bonapartism and where we are not yet capable of replacing it with proletarian democracy. We do so, not as an end in itself, but as a means of preserving the legal right of the working class to organise and prosecute its struggle against the exploiters.
We fight the “mini-apartheid” style restrictions on democratic rights that are placed on immigrant workers all over the world. These restrictions are a means of facilitating the super-exploitation of immigrant workers and dividing the working class of a particular country along racial or national lines.
Basing ourselves on the principles of revolutionary internationalism we fight for the right to the free movement of labour–against all immigration and emigration controls imposed by the imperialist states, for the right of all workers to full democratic rights, including the vote, in the country in which they live and work.
In the semi-colonies we oppose all immigration controls and fight for those democratic rights except in the case of colonial settlement. We are against all nationality legislation which serves as a means to persecute and oppress immigrant workers.
In the struggle to win or defend democratic rights the proletariat uses the methods of class struggle. The right to strike, for example, will be won or defended to the extent that the working class is prepared to use the strike action in the struggle.
Defiance of restrictions on our rights, a refusal to bow before capitalist class based laws, a preparedness to use all the working class’ fighting organisations and methods of struggle on the political terrain, including in the struggle for suffrage–these are the methods necessary to ensure that the working class gain from struggles over democracy. As in all struggles the sacrificing of the independent interests of the working class in the interests of unity with “progressive” or “democratic” bourgeois forces will be fatal for the proletariat and its struggle for socialist revolution.
Under conditions of deep social crisis the bourgeoisie can use a fascist movement in order to maintain their rule against the working class. Fascism, a reactionary mass movement mainly recruited from the ranks of a petit bourgeoisie and lumpenproletariat made desperate by the crisis of capitalism, has as its goal the destruction of the independent workers’ movement and the establishment of the rule of finance capital unfettered by any elements of bourgeois democracy whatsoever.
It is a last resort for the bourgeoisie since it involves the suppression of its own parliamentary representatives. As Nazi Germany and Musolini’s Italy show, it is a measure that will be taken if the situation demands it.
In the semi-colonial countries fascism can develop as a movement arising out of communalist conflicts or out of reactionary clerical movements. The phraseology of such movements can sometimes be anti-imperialist. But this should not blind us to the anti-communist, anti-working class nature of such movements.
This rhetoric is in the same mould as the demagogic “anti-capitalism” of the Nazis. With the triumph of communalism or clerical fascism in the semi-colonies the rule of imperialism wil remain intact or even strengthened.
From the moment that fascism emerges the working class must wage a merciless struggle to smash it. Even when it conceals its more general aims and concentrates on spreading the poisonous fumes of race hatred, the workers’ united front must be organised to fight it. No democratic rights at all can be accorded to the fascists.
However, we do not raise the demand for them to be banned by the bourgeois state. The bourgeoisie cannot be entrusted with this task since they are the ultimate backers of the fascists. The state will in fact use bans to disarm and hamper resistance to fascism. The revolutionary vanguard mobilises the working class around the slogans: no platform for fascists, drive the fascists out of the workers’ organisations.
We strive to physically confront their every mobilisation and organise workers’ defence units to combat fascist attacks on the racially oppressed and the workers’ movement.
The struggle to defend the democratic rights of the workers and to combat fascism does not in any way form a separate and distinct series of tasks from the transitional programme as whole. The struggle against Bonapartism and fascism will only be finally won through the realisation of the programme of transitional demands in its entirety.
Parliaments and elections cannot transfer power to the working class. It is the duty of revolutionaries to expose mercilessly all parliamentary cretinism while not yielding to the anti-electoral cretinism of the anarchists. Revolutionaries use parliaments as a tribune for addressing the masses. They give an opportunity to present the essentials of the communist action programme in a popular propaganda form.
The best method of doing so is to stand candidates of the revolutionary party on its programme. But if a revolutionary candidacy is impossible then it is possible to advance critical support to a reformist or centrist party that has the allegiance of a sizeable sector of the proletarian vanguard or the popular masses in general.
The purpose of the vote is to say to these layers–we will vote for your party, despite our total lack of confidence in its leaders and its programme, in order to help you put it to the test of action, in and out of government office. We call on you to fight to force your leaders to carry out measures clearly in the interests of the workers, to break with the bourgeoisie. This tactic requires revolutionaries to present their full criticism of reformism and centrism, of parliamentarism as well as of the record of betrayal of the given party.
Where only alien class parties or hopelessly insignificant reformist or centrist sects appear at the polls, we are obliged to call for a blank vote by the class conscious workers. This should not be confused with a boycott of the elections which is permissible as a tactic only when the workers’ mass revolutionary struggle poses, as an immediate perspective, the overthrow of parliament.
The workers’ and peasants’ government and proletarian dictatorship
The strategic goal of the proletariat’s struggle is the transition to communism. To effect that transition the proletariat must establish its own dictatorship. Having conquered state power the proletariat cannot immediately abandon it as the anarchists believe. On a national and international level the bourgeoisie will plot its counter-revolution.
To crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie, to protect the revolution, the working class is obliged to enforce its will over the whole of society. It openly exercises its class dictatorship on the basis of its own, distinctively proletarian, democracy (workers’ councils, factory committees, the workers’ militia). It centralises this democracy in a national government, a revolutionary workers’ or workers’ and peasants’ government. The only consistently revolutionary workers’ or workers’ and peasants’ government is that which exercises the dictatorship of the proletariat.
However, in the transitional epoch crises arise that pose the question of power to the proletariat before it has been won in its majority to the revolutionary party. In these situations the working class has naturally looked to its existing leaderships to enact a programme in its interests while in government.
It was under such circumstances that the Bolsheviks utilised, and the Commintern developed, the slogan of the workers’ and the workers’ and peasants’ government. The essence of the Bolshevik tactic in relation to the Provisional Government was to demand of the petit bourgeois leaders of the workers (Mensheviks) and the peasants (Social Revolutionaries) that they break with the bourgeoisie and enter on the road of struggle for a real workers’ and peasants’ government.
Revolutionaries demand, not only a formal break with the bourgeois parties in government, but that the workers’ leaders take immediate measures to solve the crisis at the expense of the bourgeoisie. This must involve the immediate expropriation of imperialist holdings and the big capitalists under workers’ control, the seizure of the big estates, the immediate arming of the workers’ organisations and the disarming of the bourgeois counter-revolution.
It must dismantle all of the repressive state forces used against the workers’ and peasants’ organisations and recognise the authority of all the organisations of workers’ and peasants’ democracy. On the road to such a government the working class offers its revolutionary aid against the attacks of the imperialists and the bourgeoisie, while maintaining its independence and taking no political responsibility for it as long as its majority consists of non-revolutionaries.
The experience of 1917 has shown that the refusal of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries to follow such a course was not an aberration. All subsequent experience confirms this. Either through the popular front or through bourgeois workers’ governments, the existing leaders of the workers and peasants will do their utmost to salvage capitalism from the ruins. Events in Spain and France during the 1930s, in Bolivia in the 1950s and 1980s, and in Nicaragua today testify to this fact.
Modern day centrists have followed the Stalinists in opportunistically distorting the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government. While the Stalinists revived Lenin’s abandoned formula of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” in the 1920s, declaring it to be a necessary bourgeois stage in the revolution, the latter day United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI) does the same to Trotsky’s formula of the “workers’ and peasants’ government”.
In Algeria and Nicaragua petit bourgeois nationalist governments which had made no moves to break with the bourgeoisie were declared “revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ governments” worthy of political support.
The designation of governments of the workers’ parties (Social Democrats and Stalinists) as “workers’ governments” by various strands of centrist “Trotskyism” (the Lambertists in France and Portugal in the 1970s and 1980s) is a further deceitful and opportunist use of the slogan. Only when a government of the workers’ parties is forced into a real struggle against the bourgeois order by the masses and obliged to base itself upon the mass organisations up to and including arming them, can it be regarded as a revolutionary workers’ government.
Despite the chronic opportunist distortion of this slogan it remains a vital weapon for educating and preparing the masses for power. We use it to place demands on the workers’ leaders, to expose to the rank and file their leaders’ refusal to break with the bourgeoisie. It provides the possibility of splitting the reformist and petit bourgeois nationalist parties, winning the rank and file and the best leaders to a real fight against capitalism and imperialism.
Because each crisis situation differs and throws different leaderships to the fore, the slogan is necessarily algebraic. That is, the actual composition of such a government cannot be declared as fixed in advance of an actual struggle. If a workers’ government that was other than the direct dictatorship of the proletariat came into existence, it would merely be a government of civil war against the bourgeoisie.
It would either have to retreat in the face of the bourgeoisie or prove itself a temporary bridge to that dictatorship. In no sense is the workers’ government, in a united front form, a necessary historical stage that has to be gone through prior to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Trotsky in his Transitional Programme posited the theoretical possibility that in an exceptional revolutionary crisis the traditional leaderships might be pushed into going further than they wished, breaking with the bourgeoisie and establishing a workers’ government. History has indeed proved this possibility in practice several times, but always with a counter-revolutionary outcome. In exceptional circumstances in Eastern Europe, China, Indo-China and Cuba, the Stalinists did overthrow capitalism. The agencies of these social overturns were bureaucratic workers’ governments They had nothing in common with a revolutionary workers’ government which opens the road to the struggle for socialism.
While the bureaucratic workers’ government liquidated capitalism it did so in a counter-revolutionary fashion, by at the same time strangling all independent organs of workers’ democracy and establishing its caste rule.
The task of the proletariat in such circumstances is not to call a halt to the expropriation of the capitalists but to fight against the bureaucratic fashion in which it is being carried out. By placing to the fore the struggle for proletarian democracy, by demanding of the Stalinists that they recognise the regime of workers’ control in the factories, by demanding the arming of the masses and the dissolution of the Stalinist controlled security forces, the masses can be organised to continue the process of expropriation but defeat the planned counter-revolutionary outcome: the creation of a degenerate workers’ state which blocks the road to socialism.
Workers’ councils and the struggle for working class power
The crowning slogan of the Transitional Programme is the slogan of soviets, or workers’ councils. If the factory committee is the organ of dual power in the factory, then the workers’ council, coordinated on a national basis, is the organ of dual power in society as a whole. As such real workers’ councils on a local and national basis arise when society enters a revolutionary crisis, when the masses outgrow the confines of their traditional organisations and turn to revolutionary forms of struggle and organisation.
A revolutionary crisis exists when society reaches an impasse: the bourgeoisie is divided and stricken by governmental crises, the masses refuse to tolerate the old regime and repeatedly demonstrate their will to sacrifice all to defeat it.
Throughout the history of capitalism there have been a series of revolutionary periods, consisting of an extended series of economic and political crises which were resolved only when a fundamental defeat had been inflicted on one of the contending classes. Thereafter a radically new economic and political relationship of forces allowed for the stabilisation and further development of capitalism. Periods of revolutionary crisis embrace one country, a continent or the whole globe. They vary in longevity and depth, with the most severe being related to wars, successful revolutions or counter-revolutions.
A revolutionary period can consist of several shorter phases, or situations. A pre-revolutionary situation exists when a profound economic crisis induces massive inflation (or deflation), unemployment and bankruptcies. Through these catastrophes the moribund nature of the capitalist system is exposed to millions. A pre-revolutionary situation may also arise from military defeat, as in Russia during 1905.
Such situations of crisis tend to produce a political crisis, forcing the bourgeoisie to resort either to more authoritarian methods of rule, or to co-opt the workers’ leaders into solving the crisis at the expense of the working class. Divisions within the ruling class over which course to take give an added impulse to the proletariat to embark on more and more militant, generalised and political forms of struggle. A revolutionary situation emerges.
In a pre-revolutionary situation the tasks of the revolutionary party centre on posing the most generalised slogans of political class struggle (general strike, workers’ self-defence, the building of embryonic workers’ councils such as councils of action, strike committees, united front committees). In a revolutionary situation it is essential to transform them into fully-formed workers’ councils: the direct struggle for power can be postponed no longer.
Should the working class fail to make a victorious revolution then the counter-revolution will triumph either in the form of a dictatorship (fascist or bonapartist) over the working class and its allies or in the more limited form of the ‘democratic counter-revolution. The latter leaves a bourgeois democratic constitution more or less in operation but subjects the revolutionary vanguard to military, police and judicial terror.
These counter-revolutions clearly terminate the revolutionary period. What ensues may prove to be a long counter-revolutionary period such as followed the defeat of the German workers in 1933 or the Chilean workers in 1973. On the other hand if a fundamental relaxation of the economic and political crisis occurs then a non-revolutionary period, a period of social stabilisation may occur.
However, where the fundamental contradictions giving rise to revolution persist and where the working class has not suffered a historic defeat then an inter-revolutionary period may open before battle is joined again between the working class and the bourgeoisie. The recognition of these changes of period can be critical to the growth or even the survival of a revolutionary party. It is essential to adopt the appropriate defensive or offensive, legal or illegal tactics and methods of organization.
Russia February 1917, Germany 1918, Spain in the 1930s and many other examples demonstrate that if the proletariat succeeds in establishing its own armed power but without simultaneously totally smashing the armed power of the bourgeoisie, then a situation of dual power comes into existence in which two regimes of different classes confront each other. This dual power situation is inherently unstable.
It can only exist for any length of time if the armed power of the workers is strong and the bourgeoisie has lost control over substantial sectors of its own armed forces and fears the final confrontation. Alternately, dual power can endure for some time if the proletariat’s reformist or centrist leadership dithers and vacillates when confronted with the task of leading the struggle towards a final showdown.
Such forces inside the workers’ movement either seek to dissolve dual power in favour of the “legitimate” (bourgeois) state or to create a permanent dual power state. This schema which seeks to create a hybrid state of parliament alongside workers’ councils always ends in failure (Germany 1918-1923) since it tries to reconcile the unreconcilable. The attempts by left reformists or centrists to “combine” workers’ councils with parliamentary democracy are simply ways of demobilising the revolutionary struggle of the masses.
A dual power situation, whilst it is a mighty step forward compared to the uncontested rule of the bourgeoisie, is not an inevitable stage nor a strategic objective in and of itself. Our objective is the total destruction of the bourgeois state, and we strive to replace dual power with the proletarian dictatorship established through the armed insurrection.
This goal can only be achieved if the revolutionary party wins leadership of the workers’ councils. Only then can counter-revolution be defeated and the slogan of “all power to the workers’ councils” actually be realised.
Embryonic workers’ councils can emerge in many different forms–from revolutionised trade unions, from factory committees, or from action councils built around particular struggles. However, while we do not fetishise the question of form, we do insist that there is no substitute for organs of struggle that express the essence of the workers’ council.
We seek to develop and direct the differing forms of embryonic workers’ council to become actual workers’ councils. Factory committees and unions, no matter how radical, cannot in themselves serve as workers’ councils. The reasons for this are embedded in the very nature of workers’ councils themselves.
Workers’ councils are not factory or industry specific. Indeed they are vital means of organising and winning to the side of the proletariat sections of society such as the poor peasantry and the rank and file soldiers. All of those engaged in struggle are represented in such councils. They are made up of delegates from the factories, the unions, all the workplaces, the working class districts, the peasant committees, the workers’ parties.
They break down sectional barriers and put fighting class-wide unity in their place. They have a territorial character drawing in all of the exploited and oppressed within a town or region. Through regular elections and recallability the most democratic form of representative organisation of the toilers in history is created. Free from pre-existing bureaucratic apparatuses they are immediately sensitive to the changes in mood, political outlook and militancy of the masses. Workers’ councils are the surest means for deciding the actual will of the struggling proletariat.
Because of these features workers’ councils are uniquely suited to revolutionary struggle. In periods of social peace the workers’ council cannot be a durable organisation. It lives and breathes through daily combat with the bourgeoisie, checking its every move, organising resistance to its every attack, struggling for the interests of the masses it represents and raising the fighting confidence of the masses with every success achieved. No other form of organisation is as flexible as the workers’ council in carrying through the tactical manoeuvres required in the revolutionary struggle with the bourgeoisie.
Last but by no means least, workers’ councils are the administrative base of the future workers’ state. They are organs of working class power. Likewise the workers’ militia will be transformed from the tool of insurrection to a bastion for the defence of the workers’ state against counter-revolution. Every revolutionary situation has proved that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the existing state machinery and use it to build socialism.
New proletarian organisations must take the place of the capitalist state. The workers’ councils, which in a dual power situation are obliged to exercise control over production, public life and distribution, are ideally suited to the task of running the workers’ state. They are both revolutionary instruments in the struggle for power and revolutionary organs of power. No one yet has invented a form of organisation superior to them for these purposes. Attempts to find substitutes for workers’ councils invariably lead to opportunist errors.
The task of the revolutionary party in the workers’ councils is to channel all struggles towards the goal of smashing the capitalist state. To realise this goal the general strike and the armed insurrection are key weapons. Insurrections have proven successful without a general strike (as in Petrograd, October 1917), but the general strike is under many circumstances a key revolutionary method of struggle since it paralyses the entire functioning of the capitalist enemy and its state.
It poses the question: who rules society, the bosses who own it, or the workers who run it? It places the struggle for power at the top of the agenda. But in itself a mass withdrawal of labour cannot answer the question, who rules? Therefore a general strike must prepare the way for the armed insurrection.
History shows that the proletariat can only deprive the bourgeoisie of state power by violent means. Of course, the amount of force needed will vary according to the balance of forces on the eve of the insurrection. It will particularly depend on the extent to which the armed forces have been won to the side of the proletariat. The working class must, however, count on meeting the maximum resistance from the bosses and must therefore maximise its own forces to counter and destroy this resistance.
Clearly, without a revolutionary situation in which the masses stand fully behind the revolutionary party, an insurrection led by a revolutionary minority will be an adventurist putsch and will lead to setbacks for the revolutionary struggle. The party must have won over the majority of the organised workers of the major cities and towns if the new regime established by the insurrection is to be stable and permanent.
Insurrections have, historically, occurred in two forms. First the “February revolution” (France 1848, Russia 1917): spontaneous mass insurrections against dictatorial regimes where no dominant conscious revolutionary party leads the masses. Here the outcome can be a democratic bourgeois regime, a dual power situation or, in rare and exceptional circumstances, a Paris Commune type triumph of the workers under a leadership that either does not wish to hold power or does not know how to consolidate or extend it.
The attitude of the revolutionary minority to such a spontaneous uprising is to participate fully in it, seeking to give it conscious leadership, especially through the fight for workers’ councils and a revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ government based on them.
The other type of insurrection is the conscious, planned forcible transfer of state power to the proletariat on the model of the October Revolution in Russia. The carrying through of the insurrection is a technical task which demands conspiratorial planning. The workers’ councils have to be won to the goal of insurrection and the workers’ militia and the pro-working class regiments are the means of carrying through the rising. But the revolutionary party alone can provide the general staff to direct that rising.
While the party can utilise the aid of the non-commissioned officers the command of such officers must always be restricted to military actions, monitored by elected company and regimental committees. The seizure of the key installations, the organisation of the new regime’s defence, the distribution of arms and the allocation of proletarian insurgents cannot be left to the spontaneity of the masses or “enlightened officers”.
The party is decisive in coordinating this action. But on the morrow of a successful insurrection the rewards of such preparation will be clear: the smashing of the capitalist state and the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship on the basis of workers’ council power.
Chapter 4 – Strategy and tactics in the semi-colonies
Since 1945 capitalism has completed its task of destroying or totally subordinating the remnants of previous modes of production. But despite this penetration of every corner of the former colonial world we have not witnessed the widespread development of strong national bourgeoisies. While imperialism has nurtured, even created, a semi-colonial bourgeoisie within formally independent states, it has not let slip its domination of the economic or political life of these states.
In the early part of the imperialist epoch the young and embryonic national bourgeoisies in the colonial countries experienced national oppression. Colonial, and later imperialist, powers pressed their large scale capital onto the oppressed nations and thereby destroyed many small local independent enterprises. In turn this deprived the local bourgeoisie of any serious political influence in the colonial administration.
Under these circumstances the colonial bourgeoisie was driven to play an important role in fighting imperialist rule. Using deceitful phrases and false promises, movements such as the Indian National Congress and the Kuomintang could mobilise a mass following of all plebeian classes in their service.
Yet these “national revolutionary movements”, as the Comintern described them, were under the leadership of a class (the bourgeoisie) which was to show itself again and again unwilling to pursue a consistent struggle against imperialism. The bourgeoisie’s fear of the revolutionary potential of the working class and of a land hungry peasantry made it a vacillating and treacherous leadership of anti-imperialist struggles. It showed itself willing at the first opportunity to compromise with, and sell out to, the imperialists, often drowning its “own” revolutionary movement in blood (Shanghai 1927).
After the Second World War, under the supervision of US imperialism, the old colonial empires were dismantled and gradually replaced by the semi-colonial system that prevails today. Throughout their empires the old weakened imperialist powers–Britain, France, Holland and Portugal–were forced to grant political independence to their colonies. The national bourgeoisie was unable, except episodically, to go beyond the strategy of peaceful pressure on the imperialists to withdraw.
In colony after colony, the petit bourgeois nationalists, often in alliance with the Stalinists, led the struggle for independence. Wherever the imperialists held on until the last moment (Algeria, Malaya, Vietnam, Aden, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe) the petit bourgeois nationalists resorted to revolutionary nationalist methods of struggle.
Despite promises to the masses to alleviate the crushing burden of imperialist rule, once having achieved state power these same “revolutionaries” used it to repress the proletariat and the poor peasants, to shore up and develop capitalism and protect the imperialists’ interests. Both bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalists showed themselves incapable of fulfilling even the most basic bourgeois democratic tasks of the revolution against the imperialists. National independence remained a fiction as long as the countries’ economies were dominated by imperialism.
Some of the new ruling classes–in Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, Iran, Kenya–relied on open collaboration with the imperialist powers to develop their industries and agriculture. These states developed economies tied totally to the world imperialist division of labour. They offered police state controlled labour movements and furnished a labour force that could be super-exploited as an encouragement to imperialist investment.
At the other extreme some semi-colonies experimented with nationally isolated attempts at development, minimising or severely reducing their links with imperialism, often through relying on economic links with the Soviet bloc. These regimes often took on a left Bonapartist character, balancing between imperialism on the one hand, and tightly controlled mobilisations of the masses on the other.
Consciously modelling their economic development on the experience of Stalin’s industrialisation policy, they pursued major “state capitalist” projects and established large state bureaucracies as an important social prop. Through these methods such regimes sought a road to “independent capitalist development”, in fact a road to join the select club of imperialist nations.
This strategy proved an economic disaster in country after country. Stagnation and imperialist pressure forced a collapse back into the arms of imperialism. Peron’s Argentina, Nasser’s Egypt, Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka, Nyerere’s Tanzania are just a few examples of where this strategy failed. The crises in Burma, Algeria and Angola in the late 1980s show that other state capitalist regimes are following suit. Autarchy is a utopia and it is always the masses who are obliged to foot the bill for its failure.
Whichever strategy the semi-colonial bourgeoisies pursued, and some, like India tried a combination of both, the result was the same–chronically dependent economies, enormous poverty for the masses, stagnation and growing indebtedness to imperialism. Only in the exceptional circumstances of South Africa did it prove possible for a semi-colonial power to break out of this cycle and join the imperialists as a junior partner.
The bourgeois nationalists were incapable of achieving real independence and they were equally incapable of maintaining political democracy. While the imperialists hypocritically sang the virtues of “parliamentary democracy”, even bequeathing constitutions modelled on their Westminster or Washington versions, they happily connived at its overthrow immediately democratically elected governments threatened their economic interests.
Only a minority of the most developed semi-colonies have been able to sustain parliamentary regimes for any significant period of time. And even here, as with the case of Chile in 1973, imperialism has directly intervened to overthrow democratic regimes that it felt threatened its interests.
Confronted with the demands of the peasantry for a comprehensive solution to land hunger, bourgeois nationalists have been unwilling to take any radical measures which could threaten their alliance with the semi-feudal landlords or big capitalist farmers.
Where they have been forced to introduce major land reforms–Bolivia, Peru, the Punjab in India–it has always been to avoid a revolutionary solution to the land question. A reformist solution imposed from above, while temporarily assuaging the land hunger of the peasants, merely delivered a new class of small peasants, starved of credit and machinery, into the hands of the usurers, banks and rich farmers.
In order to carry out and maintain its exploitation, part of the strategy of imperialism has always been to divide and rule. In many cases such divisions were introduced by imperialist powers who deliberately favoured a particular minority of the population in its colonial apparatus, as in Sri Lanka or Cyprus.
In other cases, where remnants of pre-capitalist and religious divisions were still in existence, these were seized upon, cultivated and preserved in imperialism’s interests. For example, the hereditary division of labour upon which the Indian caste system rests was institutionalised by British colonialism and it helped to preserve a measure of rural docility.
Indigenous landlordism and capitalism were able to exploit this system to their advantage. Today, the systematic discrimination and institutionalised inequalities of the caste system remain strong despite the development of modern capitalism in India. Here too the “independent” bourgeoisie has been unable to unify its nation on the basis of equality of rights.
Despite the claims of the “third worldists” and dependency theorists that extensive capitalist development in the imperialised world was not possible, imperialist capital has achieved just this and in the process has created millions of new wage labourers.
In the last two decades this semi-colonial working class has entered the road of independent class action only to run up against the limits of its own syndicalist, Stalinist and nationalist leaderships. There is a crisis of leadership within the semi-colonial working class. In most countries even the nucleus of a revolutionary communist party is absent. This has allowed petit bourgeois political formations of all kinds to come to the head of anti-imperialist mass action and inevitably betray it.
In the struggle against exploitation–in the factories, mines and plantations of native as well as imperialist capital–the world working class must use the full range of transitional demands and tactics. In addition it falls to the working class to lead a revolutionary struggle for the completion of the remaining bourgeois democratic tasks.
National unity and independence, agrarian revolution and political democracy are the burning demands of millions of workers, peasants and semi-proletarians. The working class must approach the struggle for their complete fulfilment from the standpoint of permanent revolution.
The national, agrarian and democratic questions are themselves historically bourgeois questions. But in the imperialist epoch it is no longer possible to fully resolve these questions under capitalism. The military, political and economic dependence of the semi-colonies, their backwardness and economic unevenness are fundamental to the imperialist world order.
There can be no separate stage of the revolution in which capitalist property relations are maintained while the bourgeois democratic tasks are fully achieved. The whole history of the anti-imperialist struggle after 1945 confirms this basic tenet of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. The “victories” of anti-imperialist mass movements confirm it even more graphically than the numerous defeats.
By refusing to expropriate the companies and banks of the national as well as the imperialist bourgeoisie, by refusing to satisfy the demands of the poor and landless peasantry, the leaders of the revolutions in Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Iran set the seal on their continued subservience to imperialism.
Even where, as in Burma, Egypt and Libya, military Bonapartist regimes were forced to nationalise the economy and create a state owned infrastructure, they have failed to break the economic chains binding the country to imperialism. Stagnation born of autarchy, debt, the re-emergence of a national bourgeoisie outside the state sector: this has been the pattern for the countries where Bonapartism entrenched itself.
Only where capitalism has been completely uprooted (China, Cuba, Vietnam, Kampuchea) have semi-colonial revolutions had the possibility to break the grip of the imperialist world economy over their countries. But even here the Stalinists have aborted the permanent revolution and have not successfully overcome the legacy of imperialist domination. In many of these states the oppression of national minorities has intensified, e.g. the Chinese in Vietnam or the Tibetans in China.
The combination of bureaucratic planning and Stalinism’s “national road to socialism” has strangled the potential of the post-capitalist property relations, leaving the former semi-colonies as the weakest link in the chain of degenerate(d) workers’ states. They remain heavily dependent on the willingness of the Soviet bureaucracy to underwrite their economies.
The growing reluctance of the Moscow bureaucracy to do this will increase internal restorationist pressures, strengthening the hand of those sections of the Stalinists who wish to open up the economies to imperialist penetration under the guise of “market socialism”. In these countries only a political revolution which destroys the Stalinist bureaucracy and establishes genuine soviet democracy can offer a way forward for the workers and poor peasants and enable them to finally settle accounts with imperialism.
The expropriation of the major industries, banks and finance houses, the imposition of a state monopoly of foreign trade and the internationalisation of the revolution must be the first steps of every victorious semi-colonial revolution.
But only the proletariat, mobilised in workers’ councils and a workers’ militia can carry out these tasks in a wholly progressive manner. In the process the working class must draw to itself the massive peasant and semi-proletarian strata around the complete fulfilment of the national, agrarian and democratic questions.
Agrarian revolution in the semi-colonies
Today in the semi-colonies, taken as a whole, and despite the growth of the industrial proletariat, the peasantry remains an absolute majority of the population. The proletariat must harness the grievances and aspirations of the poor and landless peasants if its revolution is to be a truely global one.
Throughout the imperialist epoch the agrarian question has proved to be one of the major, and most explosive, uncompleted tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution. The fight of the peasantry for land has been the locomotive of the fight for national independence against imperialism. So it was in China in the 1930s and 1940s and in Indo-China in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition the agrarian revolution provided a mighty social force for political democracy against autocracy in Russia in 1917.
Since the Second World War it has been a key detonator of uprisings against hated ruling oligarchies in the semi-colonies (e.g. Nicaragua 1979, Philippines 1985). Wherever the struggle of the peasantry for land has been deliberately separated from the fight for national independence (Ireland 1880-1921) or political democracy (Spain 1931-39) none of the bourgeois democratic tasks at hand were completed.
In the imperialist epoch the bourgeoisie, both imperialist and semi-colonial, abandoned any pretence of revolutionary struggle against pre-capitalist landlordism.
The imperialists attempted to curb the proletariat and the peasantry by alliances with the feudal landowners. In this way imperialism preserved the backwardness of the semi-colonies and subjected agriculture to its rule through trade or colonial plantation.
With the dissolution of the colonial empires and the establishment of US world hegemony the fight against the vestiges of semi-feudalism has been joined in the colonies and semi-colonies by the struggle against the effects of finance capital’s deeper penetration of agriculture. Taking as its starting point the creation of a profitable world market for agricultural goods, finance capital spurred on the concentration and centralisation of land in the semi-colonies.
It placed huge territories under cultivation for cash crops aimed at the export market. On the one hand, finance capital helped buy out out the semi-feudal landlords or transformed them into agrarian capitalists, while on the other, they bullied, defrauded and expelled millions of peasants from their land.
As a result countries which were self-sufficient in food for the internal market have been transformed into importers of the basic necessities of life while huge profits accrue to the landed oligarchies and the multinational corporations. The main dynamic of the agrarian revolution today lies in the contradiction between the mass of peasants squeezed into smaller and smaller plots of infertile land on the one side and huge capitalist plantation owners producing for export on the other.
In the post-war decades agrarian reform from above has attempted to avert a revolutionary solution to the land question from below by creating a stable strata of conservative middle peasants.
While meeting with partial success in certain countries for limited periods of time, these programmes did not, and cannot, solve the fundamental dilemma facing the semi-colonial bourgeoisie; namely, that their enslavement to imperialism ensures that they are unable either to turn the surplus, land hungry peasantry into industrial or service workers in the urban centres, or to provide sufficient aid to the smallholders to prevent their descent into poverty.
The surviving semi-feudal landlords collude with finance capital to subordinate the peasant economy to the needs of large scale agrarian capitalism. This dictates that the peasantry’s solution to land hunger, high rents, rural debt and primitive technique can only be reached through an alliance with the working class in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and imperialism–permanent revolution.
Naturally, not all the rural classes will be firm allies along this road. The peasantry is not a modern class with a homogeneous relationship to the means of production. The further it has evolved from communal land ownership and working, the more it separates into rich capitalist farmers at one pole and rural proletarians at the other.
Where the peasantry has been able to establish a stable hold on small scale private property in the countryside it has always been capable of being mobilised as the mass base of support for reactionary Bonapartist regimes. When faced with a challenge from the proletariat these regimes demagogically portray the working class as the enemy of the small peasant.
Along the path of revolution the urban working class will look first to the growing agricultural proletariat who labour on the plantations, farms, ranches and the processing mills full time. Small in number but with great social power, these workers have shown themselves time and again to be the first to put down solid organisations (unions, committees) to fight for higher pay and better conditions. From the sugar workers in Cuba to the coffee workers in Nicaragua, it is this class that has often, by its action, decisively tipped the balance against hated dictators.
They must fight for immediate economic and transitional demands and establish a regime of workers’ control and union organisation in plant and plantation alike. The history of this epoch also proves that it is vital for this layer to take the lead in defending their gains from the death squads of the landlord and planter by forming a workers’ militia.
Next to this layer in importance comes the semi-proletariat: the seasonal farm labourer who has to scrape a living on his or her own tiny plot for the rest of the time; or the small peasant whose family cannot survive on the land and takes on work in the towns and cities. This class is large in Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia, often outnumbering the rural wage workers by ten to one.
Their contact with the plantations has raised them above a purely peasant outlook and they have embraced much of the fighting spirit and organisation of the proletariat. Their seasonal, migratory character has meant they have become, too, the key base of the guerrilla armies of Central America. For them it is essential to fight for equality of pay and conditions on the plantations; for permanent contracts for those who want them; for land to those who are forced to migrate because of land hunger.
The most desperate class in the countryside is the landless peasant, robbed of his or her inheritance by the oligarchy, colonial planter and “green revolution” alike. Today there are over 600 million landless peasants in the semi-colonies. In Pakistan, India and Bangladesh between a quarter and a half of the peasants are without land. In Central America over half of the rural population is landless. Most face starvation, a prospect relieved occasionally by day or seasonal labour. Many migrate to the towns in the hopeless search for work.
This class is a necessary ally of the proletariat and is the largest class. The continued support of this class must be won, even at the cost of the parcellisation of the larger estates. Before them the revolutionary working class must pledge itself to fight to realise the demands: land to those who work it; occupy the idle and under-used land; defend the land invasions of the plantations in the fight for subsistence; for committees and militias of landless peasants.
Trotskyists must stand at the head of the fight of the land hungry for land seizures, whether directed against semi-feudal or capitalist plantations. But it is essential to fight for the earliest possible formation of co-operatives as a transitional measure. To those already driven to the barrios and shanties of the big cities we must fight for a programme of public works to find them useful work and a living wage. This must go hand in hand with the organisation of the unemployed.
Struggling to prevent their own descent into the army of the landless are the poor peasants. Their smallholdings are either weighed down with onerous rent obligations or burdened with debt as a result of harsh purchase terms. Borrowing to buy equipment and fertilisers has added to this debt, a step forced on them because the size of the plot cannot guarantee subsistence for the poor peasant family.
The poor peasant may be oppressed by the big estates or by the richer peasant. Here the key immediate demands must be: abolition of rent and renunciation of all debts to the rural usurer and urban merchant; for state credits to purchase machinery and fertiliser; for incentives to encourage the subsistence farmers to voluntarily join production and marketing co-operatives.
Many peasants find that the only way to make a living is to cultivate crops related to the narcotics industry. They are ruthlessly exploited by the narcotic barons and persecuted by the imperialist “anti-narcotic” agencies. We demand the right of the peasants to cultivate narcotic related crops on a free and legal basis. We demand the purchase of such crops by the state at prices fixed by workers’ and peasants’ price committees.
The middle peasantry, usually a small layer that is suspicious that the proletariat plans to abolish its private property, generally has enough surplus to sell at a profit in the towns. Nevertheless, they too are often exploited by the middleman. In any clash over wages and conditions between the middle peasant and any labourers they employ the proletariat must support the latter.
Against the demands of the middle and small peasants for better prices for their products (a demand that arises especially in situations where the workers have forced governments to control the prices of basic goods) we put forward a different solution: make the bosses and landowners pay, not the workers! We demand the abolition of debt, extension of credit, the promotion of co-operatives and the building of joint price committees of workers and peasants, to plan and exchange the respective fruits of their labours.
The rich exploitative peasants will in general find themselves on the side of the bourgeoisie wherever semi-feudalism has been eradicated and imperialism, in alliance with the imperialised state, has integrated the rich peasant into the world market. Here revolutionaries will side with the poor peasants to expropriate the land of the rich peasant. But wherever semi-feudal bonds remain that also oppress the rich and the poor peasant a common struggle is possible to end that oppression.
The imperialist agribusiness, capitalist farmer and the absentee landlord will on the other hand find in the working class an implacable enemy. Their property stands before the workers and poor peasants as the mechanism of impoverishment.
We must impose upon the national bourgeoisie or petit bourgeoisie struggling against landed oligarchies the demand: nationalise their land without compensation; nationalise the imperialist plantations and place them under workers’ and poor peasants’ control; for a massive programme of public works to improve conditions for the masses of the countryside–electrification, irrigation of the land, provision of clean water and adequate sanitary facilities, the provision of cultural facilities.
Only such a programme can prevent the mass exodus of peasants, driven by sheer hunger to the cities. The transformation and planning of agricultural production will decrease the dependence on cash crops for export, improve the productivity of the land and increase the amount of food for home consumption.
Such measures in themselves will help ease the pressure on the rural environment. In transforming the countryside capitalism has extended the ecological crisis into ever new regions of the globe. Deforestation, destruction of traditional water systems for irrigation, pollution of rivers by industrial waste and chemical fertilisers continue to create real ecological disasters in many parts of the “third world”. The proletariat and poor peasants’ fight must include a programme of immediate measures to prevent ecological catastrophe–the ending of massive deforestation and the undertaking of replanting and irrigation schemes.
The years since 1945 have shown that the only real solution to the servitude of the poor peasantry and land hunger is the abolition of capitalism itself. The revolutionary party must lead the class struggle in the countryside to its culmination.
We put forward a programme for the revolutionary expropriation of all capitalist plantations and rich peasant farms without compensation by councils of workers and poor peasants. We fight for a policy of state farms together with voluntary collectivisation for the small and middle peasant as a programme of socialist transition in agriculture.
The national question in the semi-colonies
Although national unity and independence were political goals for the bourgeoisie, they had a social and economic purpose: the creation of a unified national market, protected against foreign competition, within which domestic capital could expand.
Today, despite formal national independence, imperialism’s former colonies and mandates are in reality no nearer to this economic independence than they were at the dawn of the imperialist epoch. They remain oppressed nations. Backwardness and, at best one-sided, dependent industrialisation remain the norm in the semi-colonies. No amount of formal political independence can compensate for this.
The chains of economic dependence are forged from capitalist social relations and can only be smashed by the expropriation of capitalism itself. For this reason only the working class has the interest and ability to fully abolish the national oppression of the semi-colonies. It must fight for:
- The expulsion of all of imperialism’s armed forces, the forces of its gendarmes, including the UN, and its security installations and advisers.
- The abolition of the standing armed forces–trained by and loyal to imperialism–and their replacement by an armed workers’ and poor peasants’ militia.
- The cancellation of all debts and interest payments to the imperialist finance houses. The imperialists do not want the debt to be paid off because this will mean an end to the super-profits it generates and the loss of one of its weapons for exercising economic, political and military control of the semi-colonies. The debt has been contracted under terms set by imperialism. But the limitations of the semi-colonial bourgeoisie’s challenge to imperialist domination is evidenced by their acceptance of these terms. The practical effect of this cowardice is austerity for the masses, unemployment, restrictions on political and trade union activities, export oriented production and, as a result, starvation.
- Against the strategy of limiting repayments to a percentage of exports or GNP. Against the moratorium on the external debt which only means paying imperialism more later. This debt has been paid off several times already through extortionate interest rates and the looting of the semi-colonies’ natural resources.
- The repatriation of all payments and the restoration of natural resources. For the repatriation of the priceless archaeological heritage stolen over the years by the imperialist plunderers.
- The nationalisation without compensation of the banks, finance houses and major industries and the cancellation of all special arrangements and joint ventures between state owned industries and finance capital.
As well as breaking imperialism’s stranglehold on the semi-colonial economy the proletariat must fight for both national unity and the right of self-determination for the nationalities oppressed within the semi-colonies.
The arbitrary borders carved out by imperialism in its collective division and re-division of the world in the 1880s, 1919 and 1945 divided many nationalities and peoples, creating national minorities within the colonial and semi-colonial states. Whereas the nationalism of the developing bourgeoisie of the colonies had a relatively progressive content insofar as it was aimed against remnants of feudalism or against imperialism, on achieving political power this nationalism was often transformed into a weapon of oppression against national minorities, as in Turkey and Burma.
Far from solving the many national problems caused or exacerbated by imperialism’s division of the world, the inability of the semi-colonial bourgeoisie to unify or economically develop the nation results in the deepening of regional economic differences, the re-emergence of old national antagonisms and the creation of new ones (e.g. in India).
Wherever a real national movement based in consciousness, language, culture and territory exists, the proletariat must support its right, as an oppressed nation, to self-determination. This support is unconditional: that is, we do not demand that the nationalists adopt communist methods of struggle before we give our support. However, just as we are critical of the goal of the nationalists, so we criticise their methods which frequently reduce the national struggle to the armed actions of a select few. However, no right to separate statehood exists where the exercise of self-determination is based on the national oppression of another people e.g. Israel, Northern Ireland.
The proletariat is an internationalist class seeking to unify, on a socialist basis, peoples and nations, through voluntary union or federation. Our general programme is not for the creation of ever more separate nation states or the breaking up of large “multi-national” states into a number of constituent parts as a means of liberating such countries from either imperialist or capitalist enslavement.
While arguing against these false solutions, communists recognise that once such a demand is embraced by the mass of workers and peasants, expressed for example in referenda or by mass armed struggle and civil war (Bangladesh), revolutionaries must move into the forefront of such a struggle to achieve a separate state. Both within the oppressor nation and in the secessionist area, communists raise this demand, while continuing to warn that only socialist revolution, not secession, will offer a lasting solution to the masses.
While the working class must champion the legitimate national rights of oppressed peoples, its internationalist strategy means that it fights all nationalist ideologies, even of those held to by the oppressed. Such nationalism will inevitably clash with the development of the working class into a conscious force, defending its own class interests, and will thus become reactionary. While we support the struggles for self-determination, up to and including secession, for example in Kurdistan, Tamil Eelam, Kashmir, Euskadi etc, we point out the utopianism of the nationalist project of developing these areas as truly independent bourgeois states.
The proletariat must fight for the expropriation of capitalism and the extension of democratic planning on the largest possible scale. There can be no solution to the basic economic demands of the oppressed nations through a retreat behind even more limited economic boundaries.
Against the imperialists’ deliberate policies of “Balkanisation” aimed at dividing and ruling weak and unstable nation states, communists put forward the demand for a genuine federation of socialist states for those countries that are linked by historical ties of language, culture, trade etc. Such transitional slogans can have a powerful mobilising effect for the masses, for example in the Middle East, in Latin America and on the Indian sub-continent, cutting across both imperialist engineered divisions and bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalist prejudices.
The struggle against military dictatorship and Bonapartism in the semi-colonies
Retarded in their economic and social development by imperialism, most semi-colonial regimes have been unable to sustain a stable bourgeois democracy. Elections and parliaments have been episodic, temporary or generally attenuated by various restrictions on the right to vote, the introduction of literacy and language qualifications, and a myriad of obstacles to voter registration.
Consequently various forms of Bonapartism have been the norm. Such regimes, while being resolute defenders of capitalism, have achieved a degree of independence from the ruling class, normally through their control of the army and state machine. They have deprived the capitalist class of its own direct political rule, as well as containing or repressing the exploited classes.
Bonapartist rule in the semi-colonies has varied between “anti-imperialist” and pro-imperialist forms. The “left” variant of Bonapartism has often taken the form of nationalist officers’ movements drawn from the petit bourgeois middle strata and reflecting the outlook of this class.
This layer, seeing its future blighted by economic stagnation, corruption and the subservience of its own bourgeoisie to imperialism, has seized power in numerous countries since the Second World War–as in Argentina, Peru, Libya, Egypt, Burma for example. Their ideologies have borrowed elements from Stalinism, occasionally from fascism, and typically have proclaimed a “third way” between capitalism and communism.
These regimes have attempted to overcome the failure of economic development in their countries by restricting imperialist penetration. They have staked all on promoting “independent capitalist development”–utilising trade barriers, state capitalist industrialisation and land reform. They have often combined a vicious anti-communism with attempts to develop and co-opt the trade union movement and peasant organisations as a prop of support for their regimes against imperialist pressure from without and within.
But nowhere have such regimes opened the road to socialism, nor could they by their very nature. In fact they have re-fortified the capitalist state and economy through attacks on the workers, not stopping at full-scale repression and even massacres.
In the event of a serious clash between these regimes and imperialism and its most reactionary agents the proletariat may be obliged to struggle alongside the nationalist and democratic military sectors. But throughout the workers must maintain the firmest class independence and opposition to these temporary allies. The proletariat needs no military saviours or leaders. It can seize power only through its own insurrection, not by army coups.
It is the gravest error to establish strategic blocs with sections of the officers or to sow illusions in their capacity to arm and lead the proletariat. It leads to class collaboration and programmatic concessions and can do nothing but weaken the proletariat’s drive to establish independent workers’ militias and to organise the rank and file of the army.
The inevitable failure of this economic and political strategy, the repeated concessions to the imperialists and the resulting disillusionment of the masses, all prepare the way for the overthrow of these regimes and their replacement by more pliant, pro-imperialist ones.
Millions of workers and peasants throughout the world suffer at the hands of vicious right wing Bonapartist regimes. Such regimes have often emerged either from the failure of left Bonapartism (Indonesia 1965, Argentina 1955, Peru 1975) or, as in Chile during 1973 and Bolivia after 1971, from the crushing of revolutionary situations. These regimes are marked by their subservience to imperialism, their attempts to crush the workers’ and peasants’ organisations, and their use of death squads, torture and widespread violation of human rights.
The repeated utilisation of such dictatorships by the imperialists and their agents means that the demand for political democracy remains a burning issue for millions of proletarians and non-proletarians around the globe, from Indonesia to Paraguay. Wherever the proletariat fights alongside petit bourgeois and bourgeois forces for democratic rights it must do so from the standpoint of its strategic goal: workers’ council power.
What it defends within bourgeois democracy is essentially its organisations of struggle, those legal and constitutional concessions wrung from the bourgeoisie and those forms of bourgeois democracy (parliaments etc) that the working class uses as a tribune to mobilise and agitate among the masses. But workers’ council power is the most democratic form of class rule in history and it supersedes the democratic republic as a strategic aim in the imperialist epoch.
Despite our rejection of the confinement of the revolution to a separate democratic stage, we cannot conclude, like the sectarians, that democratic slogans are unnecessary. Brutal dictatorships constantly give rise to democratic aspirations and to illusions in bourgeois democratic institutions.
Only hardened sectarians, disdainful of the necessity of relating to what is progressive in the democratic illusions of the masses can believe that it is possible to “skip over” the consciousness of the masses. If these illusions are to be broken in practice more than the demand for socialism is necessary.
Where the ruling classes attempt to deny the full democratic rights of the masses, we mobilise around democratic slogans including that of the sovereign constituent assembly. We must fight for an election process in which there are no prior limitations or secret agreements, one which is really democratic for the masses: universal, direct, secret and equal suffrage with no property or literacy qualifications.
There should be freedom of publications and assembly for all the parties of the workers and peasants, defended by an armed militia. We must also demand the proportional representation of all parties in the assembly according to votes received, without any minimum threshold.
However, recognising the importance of such demands does not mean embracing the opportunist methods of the centrists who have turned the fight for the constituent assembly into a democratic stage through which the masses must pass. Centrism of a Trotskyist origin (Lambertism, Morenoism, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International) has consistently tailed the Stalinists or petit bourgeois nationalists by using the constituent assembly slogan in a way which relegates the fight for workers’ councils and workers’ power until after such an assembly has been won.
At the same time the centrists have sown illusions in the “socialist” potential of such assemblies. The “anti-imperialist” left Bonapartists have shown themselves equally adept at this. Be it the Dergue in Ethiopia, Mugabe’s “one party state”, Ortega’s powerless “popular committees”, or Qadhafi’s people’s committees, these organisations are actually used to deprive the workers and peasants of their freedom to organise.
The constituent assembly, therefore, contains no inherently progressive essence. It can be, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred has been, merely a bourgeois parliament charged with drawing up a constitution. Worse, in semi-colonial countries (Brazil 1982), and even in some imperialist countries (Portugal 1975) it is only convened subject to military Bonapartist restrictions on its powers, and with a prior pact already made between the reformist parties and the military as to the constitutional outcome.
Often constituent assemblies have proved reactionary bodies counterposed to the revolutionary organs of struggle and power of the workers and peasants. This can happen in the semi-colonies where the huge weight of the peasantry can be used by the bourgeoisie against the working class.
The capitalists mobilise the equal votes of all “citizens” to act as a brake on the revolution. For this reason it is essential to fight for, and convene, the constituent assembly through the building of workers’, soldiers’ and poor peasants’ councils. Only then can the assembly be a weapon of revolutionary democracy and not a tool of Bonapartism, only then can the assembly be pushed aside by the workers’ and poor peasants’ councils when its role has been exhausted.
Even under constitutional regimes in the semi-colonial countries, massive elements of Bonapartism exist and are repeatedly used against the working class: the presidency with its power to declare states of emergency; the senate, with its ability to check legislation; the unelected judiciary, and above all the paramilitary police and the standing army. All these offices and forces repeatedly reduce “democracy” to a completely empty shell.
Against these assaults on democratic rights, the working class should raise in its action programme the abolition of the presidency and the senate and the creation of a single chamber assembly elected at least biennially, with the power of the electors to recall their deputies. To this we should add the demand for the dissolution of the paramilitary squads, the police and standing army and the creation of an armed popular militia.
Stalinism, petit bourgeois nationalism and bourgeois democratic tasks
In all its forms Stalinism has remained implacably hostile to the theory and strategy of permanent revolution. The triumph of Stalinism was marked by the official adoption of the doctrine of socialism in one country by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The idea of a national road to socialism flowed from this theory.
In the semi-colonial and colonial countries this road involved passing through distinct and separate political stages: first the stage of fighting for political democracy and independent capitalist development in alliance with the national bourgeoisie; then the evolution towards socialism when the level of the productive forces were deemed ripe for this stage.
In the imperialist epoch this strategy could only mean the Stalinists sanctioned the denial of the proletariat’s independent interests wherever they clashed with those of the national bourgeoisie in the democratic stage. Since the Second World War Stalinism has often abandoned any pretence that the second stage is possible for the semi-colonies, given that independent industrialisation is impossible.
We do not rule out that there may emerge “stages” in the living struggle for working class power. But there can never be self-contained stages, each based on a separate strategy for a separate period. The distinct tasks, bourgeois democratic and proletarian, are combined and openly fought for at every moment, with the single strategic goal of working class power.
But the working class must lead the urban and rural petit bourgeoisie in the fight for the democratic tasks. The whole of post-war development proves that the complete fulfilment of remaining democratic tasks will only be accomplished under the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, on the basis of the destruction of capitalist private property and its system of nation states.
So thoroughly committed to the “democratic stage” has Stalinism been that it has even fused with petit bourgeois nationalist formations, all the better to “tighten the noose around the proletariat’s neck”, as Trotsky said.
Wherever the working class has spontaneously broken out of the limits that Stalinism has designated for the proletariat in the revolutionary process Stalinists have become the most fervent advocates of crushing the workers and pressing them back inside those limits. The bitter consequence has often been, not the realisation of the democratic stage, but bloody counter-revolution and dictatorship (Indonesia, Chile, Iran).
As the imperialist epoch has progressed petit bourgeois nationalism has increasingly taken up the mantle of the “national revolutionary” struggle in the semi-colonial era. It has often taken up revolutionary methods of struggle (insurrections, guerrilla warfare) in pursuit of national independence. On some occasions petit bourgeois forces have sanctioned, even if they have not organised, class struggle methods (strikes, occupations, land seizures). Nevertheless, the goal petit bourgeois nationalism sets out to achieve is a reactionary utopia.
The fight for an “independent capitalism” which espouses “social justice” at home and “non-alignment” abroad is, in the epoch of imperialism, an illusion. Usually led by urban professional classes, members of the intelligentsia and disillusioned sons and daughters of the ruling oligarchies, the petit bourgeois parties cannot break with capitalism. Only in exceptional circumstances can the aid of existing Stalinist states make it possible for such parties to bureaucratically overthrow capitalism. This course of action has only taken place when it has been forced upon them as their only means of surviving in a conflict with imperialism. In the process they fuse with or are transformed into Stalinist parties.
Where such parties rule for any length of time without overthrowing capitalism (Nicaragua) they rob the workers and peasants of the fruits of their struggle in the attempt to conciliate a “patriotic” capitalist class. This invariably ends with a conservative counter-revolution within the regime (Egypt, Algeria, Iran) and the ascendancy of the bourgeoisie or the overthrow of the petit bourgeois regime by pro-imperialist forces (Guatemala, Grenada).
Since their Stalinist degeneration the official pro-Moscow Communist Parties have time and again discredited not only themselves but the very idea of proletarian leadership by supporting reactionary dictatorships in the interests of the Kremlin’s diplomatic manoeuvres. Bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalism have drawn strength from these betrayals.
But in their turn these forces too have led the workers and peasants to defeat. This has allowed the masses to turn to religion for comfort and the inspiration to fight. Thus ideologies which at the dawn of capitalism receded in the face of a confident and rising bourgeoisie with its rationalism and secularism, now, in the reactionary epoch of capitalism are strengthened.
Religious institutions generally play a counter-revolutionary role in the struggles of the oppressed. For most of the time they purvey the ideology of submission or of peaceful reform. But at times they stand at the head of mass revolts with the aim of preventing the masses from attacking the capitalist order itself.
Most often in the guise of the leading church hierarchies they have acted to pacify resistance and poison the minds of the workers and peasants. On occasion in certain countries (e.g. Central America) the lower levels of the clergy or lay priests have helped peasants and rural workers to organise independent trade unions, encourage literacy, stimulate political consciousness and overcome passivity.
The reformist and class collaborationist projects that have informed this work have often in turn been cast aside by the workers and peasants; then the clergy have turned against the workers. This does not of course preclude individual members of the clergy, still less the mass of believers, becoming involved in militant or even revolutionary struggle. But the task of Marxists is resolutely to oppose the influence of all religious ideologies.
In Iran such a reactionary ideology hegemonised the majority of the exploited and oppressed even at the moment when the mass movement overthrew the pro-imperialist Shah. In power the full reactionary content of religious ideologies has been displayed: the denial of democratic rights, the persecution of independent proletarian organisations and the oppression of women, have all been the staple diet of semi-colonial capitalist states which have been infused with religious dogma. In the face of this revolutionaries must fight to protect proletarian democracy against religious castes and for the separation of church and state.
The anti-imperialist united front
Despite its dependence on imperialism, the semi-colonial bourgeoisie remains a national class capable of limited conflict with imperialism. The more openly imperialism solves its crises at the expense of the semi-colonial ruling class, the more the latter tends towards rhetorical and even actual resistance.
In no sense does this make the national bourgeoisie, or even fractions of it, revolutionary. But so long as bourgeois or petit bourgeois forces have a real mass influence in the anti-imperialist struggle it is necessary for the working class to use the tactic of the anti-imperialist united front. This involves striking tactical agreements with non-proletarian forces at both leadership and rank and file level. Such agreements might involve formal alliances or committees.
Where this is the case the fundamental pre-conditions for entering such blocs are: that the bourgeois or petit bourgeois forces are actually waging a struggle against imperialism, or its agents, that no limitations are placed on the political independence of the revolutionary organisation within this bloc and that there are no bureaucratic exclusions of significant forces struggling against imperialism.
It is even possible that this united front may have to be carried out within the base organs of a mass organisation with a popular frontist character within which distinct class parties have not yet emerged. What is vital is that this unity should be aimed at mobilising the broadest anti-imperialist forces for precise common objectives such as the introduction of democratic rights and the expulsion of the imperialists.
Whilst the struggles of the semi-colonial bourgeoisie are aimed at broadening their own scope for exploitation, the entry of the working class into that conflict carries the threat of ending exploitation altogether. Thus there is nothing consistently anti-imperialist or revolutionary about the semi-colonial bourgeoisie, and no permanent place for it should be reserved in an anti-imperialist united front.
The purpose of anti-imperialist united action must be to aid the proletariat to mobilise the masses so that they burst through the restraints of their traditional leaderships and organisations. For that reason the proletariat must advance the most audacious forms of mass direct action and organisation, strike committees, popular assemblies, mass meetings (cabildos) etc, which will aid the development of workers’ and peasants’ councils, workers’ militias and soldiers’ committees.
The proletariat must never give political support to “left” regimes or collude with their suppression of democratic rights. The working class vanguard should refrain from an armed insurrection against these regimes whilst democratic liberties exist and the majority of workers still support such regimes. The only support possible for these regimes is joint military co-operation against a reactionary coup, or against imperialist intervention. Thus Trotskyists can support military actions by bourgeois governments against imperialism. But we at no stage renounce our struggle to overthrow and replace these governments with a workers’ and peasants’ government.
The nationalists and reformists always want to transform the front for action against imperialism into a strategic bloc to win political power (a popular front). They seek to fuse the anti-imperialist forces into a governmental coalition that will guarantee the survival of “national capital” against the socialist revolution. Revolutionary communists fight to install governments which are based on workers’ and peasants’ councils and militias. Only a government of the proletariat, in alliance with the poor peasantry, can solve the unfinished tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution.
The class content of the government is spelt out in advance. The slogan is for a revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ government. Such a government will not, indeed cannot, confine the revolution to a distinct democratic stage or it will succumb to the pressures of the counter-revolution. With this perspective the Bolsheviks were able to draw behind them the radicalised movements of the petit bourgeoisie like the left SRs and the peoples’ parties of Central Asia. The constitution of a strategic bloc with diverse left forces without this objective will simply obstruct the road to the proletarian dictatorship. Entry into a government or a coalition government on the basis of the maintenance of private property, its armed forces and state, constitutes the highest form of treason to the proletariat.
The working class and the guerrilla strategy
Trotskyists are opposed to the strategy of guerrilla war whether in a “foco” or “peoples war” variant. Petit bourgeois guerrillaism is opposed to the construction of a workers’ party, to workers’ councils and to a Bolshevik insurrection. It wants to dissolve the proletariat’s interests into the cross-class programme of the petit bourgeoisie. It wants to impose bureaucratic organisations and avoid the development of workers’ councils and autonomous democratic workers’ militias.
Even where it succeeds in downing a decrepit dictatorship (Cuba, Nicaragua) it paves the way for a Bonapartist solution. Guerrilla victories, even in the exceptional form of bureaucratic social overturns or, more usually, military-Bonapartist regimes, are always accompanied by the crushing of the proletariat’s independent organisations.
Behind an ultra-left phraseology and methodology guerrillaism in fact evinces a tremendous lack of confidence in the working class and a predisposition to make deals with sections of the bourgeoisie. It involves surrendering political leadership to the urban bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie and, in so far as it seeks a mass base for its actions (i.e. people’s war), it dissolves the independent interests of the working class into that of the petit bourgeoisie. In that sense guerrillaism as a strategy always has the tendency to be an armed popular front.
Guerrillaism downgrades economic and political struggle in favour of episodic and often desultory military action. Individual terrorism, the destruction of factories (centres of proletarian concentration) and spectacular military actions are methods counterposed to the strategy of the working class. Against Marxism’s dictum that the emancipation of the workers can only be carried out by the workers themselves, the guerrillaists proclaim that liberation will be the act of external saviours.
By its undemocratic and elitist attitude towards the masses they claim to represent, the guerrilla leaders can often leave the masses defenceless in the face of the state’s superior military forces or of vigilante groups.
To withdraw the most fearless and combative fighters from the factories, the urban centres and densely populated rural districts, is to strip the workers’ and peasants’ organisations of their cadres and their leaders. Guerrillaists may also attack the workers’ organisations themselves, as in the case of Sendero Luminoso in Peru.
For Trotskyists guerrilla action is a tactic that can be used in the anti-imperialist struggle. We do not reject the military united front with guerrilla armies, either in the form of separate battalions or of communist cell work within bourgeois or Stalinist led armies. But the aim of this military united front is to prepare the widespread and independent arming of the working class and poor peasantry. By these means communists fight to force the guerrilla armies and their political apparatus to expropriate plantations, back land seizures and recognise the sovereignty of workers’ and peasants’ councils and militias.
But this remains a subordinate tactic to a strategy whose principal protagonist is the working class. The programme of permanent revolution subordinates all military action to what is politically appropriate, given the level of class struggle and revolutionary consciousness of the working class and poor peasantry. In general, broad military action by armed militia in town and country should only be undertaken when the existence of dual power and generalised workers’ control sharply poses the need to organise the insurrection.
We categorically reject all generalised military action of a non-defensive nature that leaves the masses politically passive. At all costs the working class has to maintain its independence and opposition to guerrillaism. It must criticise, and in extreme cases condemn, any actions which are opposed to its perspectives.
In the armed conflict between the petit bourgeois guerrillas and the bourgeois state we at all times defend them against state repression. We do not recognise the state’s right to judge those fighting against it. We fight for the right of prisoner of war status for captured guerrillas and for their release. In the case of guerrillas attacking the workers’ organisations we do not call for defence by the capitalist state.
We demand the workers’ movement itself, through meetings and in its trade unions, issue a verdict by organising workers’ and peasants’ defence squads against the guerrilla attacks. We do not flinch from the inevitable military confrontation with the bourgeois and Stalinist commanders which flow from the divergent programmes of the proletariat and the petit bourgeoisie.
Chapter 5 – Against capitalist restoration! For proletarian political revolution!
The counter-revolutionary character of the degenerated workers’ states
From 1945-1991 the USSR acted as one of the two central pillars of the imperialist world order. Despite the military and economic rivalry between the USSR and the USA which spanned nearly half a century the Kremlin, its satellites and indeed its Stalinist rivals repeatedly acted to divert and abort the development of a victorious world-revolutionary wave which could have isolated and eventually defeated imperialism.
However the limited hot wars with imperialism; Korea, Vietnam, the logistical support for various national liberation struggles, the overthrow of capitalism by Stalinist parties covered the counterrevolutionary role of Stalinist strategy. Thus the downfall of the USSR appears an unmitigated catastrophe for millions of subjective anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist fighters world-wide. Certainly, the collapse of the USSR and other degenerate workers states represents an enormous material and moral victory for imperialism.
But it is a contradictory one since it involves not only the near destruction of the historic economic gains of the October revolution but also of a counter-revolutionary agency of imperialism within the movements of the exploited and oppressed world-wide.
The counter-revolutionary consequences of this victory are immediate and obvious. The pyrrhic nature of this victory will emerge relentlessly in the decade to come. Indeed the crisis of the very restoration process contributes mightily to deepening the period of general crisis which characterises the end of the twentieth century.
The prestige of the Kremlin was greatly enhanced by its victory over German imperialism and its territorial expansion after the war. The essential role of the planned economy, a key conquest of the October Revolution in the achievement of this victory, its post-war survival, reconstruction and extension, were the material preconditions for the creation of a series of degenerate workers’ states, the political and economic duplicates of the USSR.
The very existence of the USSR and the defensive manoeuvres of its bureaucracy against imperialism led to the defeat and overthrow of a number of weakened capitalist classes in Eastern Europe and later in the colonial and semi-colonial world. These overthrows of capitalism took place either through the agency of the Soviet Armed forces or by means of Stalinist parties and guerrilla forces under their leadership. In the case of Cuba a petty bourgeois nationalist movement assimilated to Stalinism and transformed the island into a degenerated workers state.
Under Stalinist control, however, these victories over capitalism did not result in the international spread of the proletarian revolution but, rather, in the achievement of a relatively stable balance of power between the USSR and imperialism.
The Stalinist parties ensured that all elements of independent working class organisation were destroyed prior to the liquidation of capitalism. For the world proletariat the overall consequences of the social overturns were thus counter-revolutionary.
Although the pace and circumstances of these bureaucratic social overturns necessarily varied they had a number of essential features in common; Stalinist parties, or proto-Stalinist national liberation movements, came to lead powerful armed forces in the struggle against fascism and imperialism. The armed forces of the bourgeois states were defeated and disintegrated by the Stalinist forces.
The bourgeoisie were deprived completely or in large measure of political power. The Stalinists crushed all independent working class organisations, preventing the creation of healthy workers’ states based on workers’ democracy and ensuring that the regime created was a replica of the bureaucratic tyranny established by Stalin in the USSR. Despite widespread nationalisations of industry and the expropriation of the semi-feudal landowners there was originally no systematic expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a whole.
True to their counter-revolutionary stages programme, the Stalinists had initially no intention of overthrowing capitalism but on the contrary sought to preserve it via a popular front, open or concealed, with the local bourgeoisie and with the imperialist powers. The “peoples democracies” were in no way intended to be “socialist” states.
Throughout this phase the Stalinists actively prevented any attempt by the working class to take power from the virtually prostrate bourgeoisie. The Soviet occupation authorities systematically liquidated its revolutionary vanguard and, indeed, any independent political parties, trade unions or proto-soviet bodies. It defended capitalist property relations whilst seeking via nationalisations, joint enterprises etc to exploit them for the reconstruction of the Soviet economy.
The armed forces of the bourgeois state were defeated and smashed by the Stalinist forces. However originally, the resultant states were not workers’ states. Rather Stalinism’s intention was to maintain the existence of capitalism, which it proceeded to do. Stalin’s objective was to ensure these states utter subordination, forming a buffer zone, a defensive glacis, for the USSR. The Stalinist bureaucracy thus carried out a pre-emptive bureaucratic counter-revolution against the working class and the poor peasantry, aborting the nascent revolutionary situation that the collapse of Nazi power had created.
Whilst doing this the Stalinists could rely on the active support of the indigenous bourgeoisie and the imperialist powers. In this way a form of dual power was established with the armed power of the Stalinists (the Soviet Armed forces or guerilla armies led by them) replacing that of the bourgeoisie.
However, the abortion of the post-war revolutionary wave and crushing of any independent proletarian class forces necessarily encouraged imperialism and the remaining forces of the bourgeoisie in eastern Europe to return to the offensive.
The continued pressure of Stalinist forces in the Balkans (without Stalin’s approval) and the inability of British imperialism to stem it unaided, gave the new US administration the pretext to launch a economic and military push to strengthen the bourgeois states of the continent. Truman Iaunched Marshal aid as the carrot and the return of large numbers of US troops as the stick to prevent any further successes for the Stalinists and to encourage a roll-back in central and eastern Europe.
But the first attempts of bourgeois forces to use the contradictions of dual power and the popular front governments to pressure the Stalinists to accept Marshal aid or relax their grip on the armed power produced a defensive reflex fatal for capitalism in Eastern Europe.
At this point the Stalinists, using their control of the repressive forces of the state, acted to remove the threat from imperialism and its indigenous bourgeois agents, by expelling the representatives of the bourgeoisie from government and expropriating the capitalist class as a whole. By a series of bureaucratic and military measures the capitalist system was uprooted and replaced by the nationalisation of industry and land and a system of bureaucratic command; planning-modelled on the USSR-was introduced.
This bureaucratic overturn destroyed capitalism but because the working class, acting as an independent and conscious force, was excluded the revolution in property relations did not result in the creation of healthy workers’ states. For us the consciousness, fighting capacity and revolutionary action of the working class is decisive for the prosecution of genuine proletarian revolutions.
Thus, while limited united fronts with the Stalinist regimes during the bureaucratic revolutions would have been permissible, the strategic aim of Trotskyists would have been to break the control of Stalinism over the destruction of capitalism, fight for genuine organs of workers’ democracy and force the withdrawal of the the Soviet Armed forces from Eastern Europe.
The bureaucratic social revolution, despite depriving the bourgeoisie of their property, was essentially a counter-revolutionary act in that it took place against the rhythms and flow of the class struggle. It could only take place because both the working class and the bourgeoisie had previously been disarmed and the state forces lay in the hands of the Stalinists.
Nevertheless the expropriation of the capitalist class and the suppression of the operation of the law of value meant that the property relations this state defended were proletarian ones, albeit ones controlled by a totalitarian bureaucracy. Thus like the USSR by whose agency, direct or indirect it was created, these states were degenerated workers states even though they, unlike the USSR, had not undergone any degenerative process themselves from being a healthy (i.e. workers council) states.
Throughout this phase, the Stalinist governments ensured that there were no independent working class mobilisations that could have used the impetus of the defeat of the bourgeoisie to challenge the political dictatorship and parasitic privileges of the Stalinists, thus opening a political revolutionary crisis where the state power of workers’ councils was posed as an alternative to the totalitarian dictatorship.
They were carried out by the Stalinist forces as a defensive reaction against imperialism and as a pre-emptive measure against a proletarian social revolution. Thus, these bureaucratic social overturns were, at the same time, political counter-revolutions against the proletariat. Their outcome was a blocking of the transition to socialism, the attempt to realise the reactionary utopia of “socialism in one country” rather than the international revolution.
This was also counter-revolutionary from the standpoint of the historic and strategic goals of the proletariat The transitional Stalinist governments which were the agencies of these bureaucratic social overturns can best be described as “bureaucratic, anti-capitalist” variants of the “workers’ government” category identified by the Comintern.
In Cuba the key role in an essentially similar bureaucratic overthrow of capitalism was played by the July 26 Movement centred around the caudillo figure of Fidel Castro. It was a popular front with both bourgeois nationalist and left Stalinist wings. During its march to power and its first phase in government its overall tactics and programme remained those of revolutionary petit bourgeois nationalism. US hostility to its victory and to its attacks on US investments in Cuba led to a counter-offensive by the Cuban bourgeoisie in mid 1960.
This forced Castro to side with the left Stalinists, to seek alliance and fusion with the Cuban CP and massive economic and military assistance from the Soviet bureaucracy.
The Kremlin was willing to support this development for military-strategic purposes (missile siting), as well as to increase its ideological influence. From mid-1960 to early 1962 a bureaucratic anti-capitalist workers’ government expropriated the native and imperialist bourgeoisie and instituted bureaucratic planning, creating a degenerate workers’ state.
Thus, although all the degenerate workers’ states share the counterrevolutionary character of the USSR, they were not created in the same manner. In the USSR, initial bureaucratic deformations grew until a qualitative leap, the Soviet Thermidor, or political counter-revolution, transformed the state into a degenerated workers’ state.
By contrast, the other states were established as replicas of the USSR, they were degenerate from their very creation. Consequently, the programme of political revolution raised by Trotsky against the bureaucratic dictatorship of Stalin was applicable to these states from their establishment. As with the USSR, the bureaucracies of these states have consistently acted to hold back and to divert anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles around the world. Despite their own anti-capitalist measures, their strategic but utopian goal was peaceful coexistence with imperialism.
Stalinism cramped the planned economies within the confines of its various “one countries”. It actively prevented the spread of the proletarian revolution to the more economically developed areas, thus cutting the various economies off from all the benefits of access to the highest concentrations of the means of production, and integration into the international division of labour.
The state monopoly of foreign trade provides indispensable protection for the workers’ state against competition from cheaper capitalist goods. But the aim of this monopoly is not to establish all possible agrarian and industrial sectors within the borders of one workers’ state, such as can be found in the rest of the world. This path proved utopian (e.g. North Korea and Albania) and led to unneccesary and useless sacrifrices being made by the working class in those countries with a planned economy.
Only the spread of the social revolution to the centres of world capitalism will allow a decisive breakthrough to socialist construction and a world planned economy. However despite the bureaucratic stranglehold, these post-capitalist economies did achieve dramatic growth in the early stages of the creation, or reconstruction, of an industrial base. However, the more sophisticated and diverse the requirements of economic development have become the less the bureaucracy was able to fulfil them.
Because it suppressed proletarian democracy, it also ensured that its own planning was ill-informed and ignorant of the actual operation of the economy and the needs of society. Thus, in all respects, the narrow, nationalist programme of “socialism in one country” served to retard relatively and eventually absolutely the development of the productive forces. Bureaucratic planning scored some successes in the first decades when it was primarily a case of extensive industrial development. Increasingly however, innovation and constant technological renewal proved beyond the capacities of bureaucratic planning.
Having abolished the dynamic mainspring of competition the ruling caste refused to replace it with the creative, self-interested participation of the direct producers in the planning process. The result was an inevitable decline in labour productivity and a further catastrophic falling behind of imperialist democratic capitalism.
While the bureaucracies could marshal resources to meet their own lavish consumption needs, and to defend their tyrannical rule the further production and distribution was from these priorities the more shortages and poor quality of goods were the norm. Thus Military and defence spending, including the maintenance of a vast police apparatus, received top priority and were performed relatively efficiently.
But when it came to the consumption needs of the masses the bureaucratic planning mechanisms proved utterly unable to provide high quality and plentiful goods to lighten domestic labour, to both lighten and shorten productive labour and to increase the amount and quality of leisure. After some striking initial successes in the sphere of education and social welfare etc. even these fell victim to the stagnation of bureaucratic planning.
This experience eventually undermined the very idea of “planned” production in the consciousness of the working class, nationally and internationally. Bourgeois propaganda has spread with ever greater success the “lesson” that this was the necessary result of any attempt to plan an economy.
But Stalinist bureaucracy was and is not an expression of the logic of planning itself. Planning presupposes conscious control of production by the centralised and conscious will of the producers themselves. The goals of Stalinist command planning was drafted by a tiny core of planners, themselves dictated to by a bonapartist clique of top bureaucrats. The operation of the plan was thrown out of balance and disrupted by rival layers of the party and managerial bureaucracy.
The atomised and alienated work force who neither decided nor understood the goals of the plan increasingly treated production with apathy. A chronic stagnation moved in the 1980s into a critical situation throwing the ruling bureaucracies into ever deeper political crisis. From Moscow to Beijing, from Belgrade to Hanoi, the ruling bureaucracies divided into warring factions.
All attempts by the bankrupt bureaucracy to revive their system by admixtures of “market forces’, so-called market socialism was doomed to failure. First in Hungary and Yugoslavia and then most spectacularly under Gorbachev in the USSR these measures disrupted and disorganised bureaucratic planning without creating a real capitalist economy. Dislocation and collapse of production, a rampant black market and corruption, gigantic state budget deficits and enterprise bankruptcy, staved off only by hyperinflation, mark the terrible final death agony of the bureaucratic planned economies
For the working class, the purpose of post-capitalist property relations is the transition to a classless, communist society. They make possible the planning of production to meet human need, to end oppression and progressively eradicate inequalities. To do this they need the conscious and active participation of the proletariat as producer and consumer.
They need the sovereignty of the direct producers themselves who, for the first time in history, have an immediate interest in, as well as the creative ability to, unleash the productive forces. The various workers’ states have to follow a path of progressive economic integration and common planning in order to make the most effective use of the principle of international division of labour which remain valid even for a socialist economy.
The Stalinist bureaucracies were not capable of taking advantage of this principle. The first step in this direction for a healthy workers’ state would be the formation of common planning bodies for important branches and common plans for two or three states together with a common currency. Such a system can only be created by the revolutionary action of the working class itself, conscious of its goals and objectives. If everywhere bureaucratic planning is in various stages of its death agony late twentieth century capitalism has shown no capacity to rapidly step in and fund the restoration process.
An extended period of crisis where the moribund planning system shorn of its central co-ordination obstructs the definitive triumph of the law of value creates the opportunity for the working class to shed its illusions in the market and rediscover the programme of democratic planning and workers council democracy.
The fracture and downfall of the Stalinist bureaucracies
The Stalinist bureaucracies are historically illegitimate castes with no title to their privileges. From their birth they tended to develop factions and wings in response to the long term pressure upon them both from imperialism and the working class. In the USSR, Hungary, Yugoslavia and China dominant sections of the ruling bureaucracies developed which sought to dismantle planning altogether and to determine prices, wages and production by “market mechanisms”.
They sought to put an end to the social wage represented by subsidised foodstuffs, social services and amenities that have directly benefited the workers as a result of the abolition of capitalism.
These advocates of decentralisation, the free market and the opening of their economies to the imperialist multinationals became ever more openly restorationist despairing not only of the bureaucratic central plan, but eventually of their caste’s ability to hold on to political power.
This faction was closely enmeshed with the managerial strata and hoped to emerge as direct agents, if not members, of a new capitalist class. Such conscious restorationists were, as events in the USSR/ClS after 1990-91 showed, able to shed their Stalinist skins with remarkable speed and take on a Social Democratic, Liberal, Christian democratic, and proto-fascist colours.
Trotsky expected a small revolutionary pole of the bureaucracy to emerge, one that would side with the working class in a political revolution. He never accorded to this faction any independent role let alone that of leading the political revolution.
This faction has not materialised in the death agony of Stalinism, nor is it inevitable that it should do so. In 1938 Trotsky could point to the figure of Ignace Reiss a defector to the Fourth International from the KGB in 1937. Likewise he could point to Fyodor Butenko a Soviet diplomat in the Romanian embassy who defected to Mussolini’s Italy in 1938, as the representative of a proto-fascist restorationist wing of the bureaucracy. Trotsky saw the majority of the bureaucracy under Stalin as trying by ever more savage totalitarian means to avoid being crushed either by restoration or proletarian political revolution.
Whilst estimating that Stalin’s trajectory was taking him nearer and nearer to the restorationist camp (in its fascist form) he did not rule out the possibility of Stalin and Co resisting a restorationist attack and therefore of the need to form a limited military united front in defence of the USSR. this latter perspective proved to be necessary after Trotsky’s murder, in the second imperialist war.
The death agony of Stalinism was postponed for forty years by the victory of the USSR in the second world war. Therefore the factional line-ups within the Soviet bureaucracy and the other workers states were profoundly changed. The triumph of the imperialist democracies and the expansion of the productive forces for three decades or more gave new life and vitality to liberal, free market capitalism.
This in turn exerted a different pressure on the Soviet and other workers’ states bureaucracies, creating a preponderantly pro-marketising faction.
The elapse of time and the destruction of the revolutionary generation of 1917-23, the crisis of revolutionary leadership including the destruction of Trotsky’s Fourth International meant the disappearance of the “faction of Reiss”. Only a profound development of independent class organisations in a political revolutionary crisis plus the recreation of a significant international revolutionary force could lead to the re-emergence of such a wing of the bureaucracy. But such a development is not, nor was it for Trotsky, an essential part of the revolutionary programme.
The preponderant faction of the bureaucracy in the post 1985 death agony phase was the Market-socialist wing. At the same time openly restorationist forces became increasingly stronger within and outside of the bureaucracy. Gorbachev, echoing elements of Bukharinism, did not seek the restoration of capitalism. Rather, he aimed at first to utilise market mechanisms to shore up the caste dictatorship on the basis of post-capitalist property relations.
This alliance eventually fractured the bureaucratic dictatorship and created a duality of power with the old bureaucracy. In his last two years Gorbachev was forced to raise himself more and more above the divided camps, giving rise to a weak form of bonapartism. Possessing only a utopian economic and political programme of its own-one incapable of realisation-this bonapartism veered between the two camps drawing strength in turn from one camp to resist the pressure of the other.
Finally, in August 1991 the heads of the CPSU party bureaucracy and interior security services attempted an abortive coup to forestall the rise of the open pro-imperialist and USSR disintegrationist comprador forces led by Yeltsin.
The abortive coup revealed the lack of a solid social base of the conservative bureaucracy in the population at large but also demonstrated a lack of belief in its own mission by the hard line elements in the bureaucracy as a whole. As a result of this failure Yeltsin inherited the Gorbachev executive and Presidential machinery, increased its powers and used them in the service of a fast track shock therapy restorationist economic policy.
But the failed coup and Yeltsin’s seizure of the executive did not resolve the dual power between the rival sections of the bureaucracy but merely heightened it and brought it into direct confrontation with each other free from the obscuring effect of Gorbachev’s bonapartism.
In the degenerate workers states of Eastern Europe the policies of Gorbachev after 1985 acted as a catalyst to quicken the tempo of developments in the economy and to hasten the denouement between the conservative bureaucracy and the bourgeois restorationists. By 1989 Gorbachev has signalled that the the Soviet Armed forces would not play any role in protecting the national bureaucracies from domestic protest.
The swift rise of amorphous “democratic” mass movements provided a solid base for the democratic intelligentsia and marketising wing of the bureaucracy-social layers far larger in Eastern Europe than in the USSR. In 1989/1990 the ruling Stalinist party apparatus in EE and armed forces crumbled in the face of mass protest.
Between 1989 and 1991 bourgeois elections brought to power bourgeois, bourgeois workers’ or popular front governments throughout the region (including the seceding Baltic republics of the USSR)-with the exception of Serbia. Dual power in the state superstructure no where long survived, as it did in Russia. Here the protracted nature of the restoration process has been entirely due to the objective economic difficulties of converting the main means of production into capital
In China on the other hand Deng Xiaoping has attempted to combine radical marketisation with continued party dictatorship, resorting to bloody repression in Tiananmen Square to enforce this. The Chinese bureaucracy have a short lived historic opportunity to make this combination; police dictatorship for the workers and the urban intelligentsia and a near free market for the peasantry plus enormous concessions to capitalism in special economic zones.
The historic factor which created this opportunity is the enormous size of China’s peasantry and its role not only on the farms but in the barracks. Deng and Co have allowed a near total market economy to develop in the countryside and have thus for a limited period won the passivity if not the support of the peasants. They thus have the historic foundation stone of bonapartism But the whole logic of the rapid growth of market forces in rural China and in the special zones will act to pressurise and fracture the Chinese bureaucracy.
When it splits and is forced to take its internecine warfare onto the streets (as it did in the mid-sixties and seventies and again at the end of the eighties), China too will face the alternatives of social counter-revolution or proletarian political revolution. In China too revolutionary leadership will be the deciding factor.
But not all the shock-treatment rapid restorationist elements within the bureaucracy are bourgeois democrats or liberalisers. Nor are most of the authoritarian bureaucratic conservatives committed to the defence of bureaucratically planned property relations.
In the USSR, for example, the conservative bureaucracy has evolved rapidly into Great Russian Chauvinists and anti-semites using populist and nationalist slogans to mobilise the most backward sections of society against the democratic rights of the workers and oppressed minorities fascist and proto-fascist parties have arisen with profound links to the ex-KGB and the army. Groups like Nashi and Zhirinovsky’s LDP reject collaboration with western imperialism only because their programme is for the restoration of a specifically Russian imperialism.
The most authoritarian elements within the bureaucracy recognise in such proto-fascism a bulwark against the threat of proletarian political revolution and a potential alternative to future domination by foreign capital. The growth of fascist and semi-fascist forces was most clearly reflected in the electoral victory of Zhirinovsky in December 1993. The further development of fascism as a mass force depends partly on the degree of revival by the workers movement in the coming years.
If working class resistance to the economic and political attacks of the restorationists mounts the danger will become greater that the latter will turn to a mass fascist movement in order to crush this resistance.
On the other hand it is also possible that the weakness of the Russian embryo bourgeoisie and the stagnation of the restoration process itself could strengthen those bureaucratic forces which support a state-capitalist road to capitalism under chauvinist and fascist slogans which might then turn to mobilising the lumpenproletarian and petty-bourgeois masses to smash both rival bureaucratic factions and the threat of an explosion of working class resistance.
The restorationist governments all look to look to imperialism for assistance. But imperialism, though it ardently wishes the final and complete restoration of capitalism in the degenerated workers’ states simply does not posses the resources to ensure a rapid transformation, one free of revolutionary crises.
Only in one state, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was a rapid restoration possible and this has proved a tremendous strain on the strongest European imperialist power. Thus despite the installation of restorationist governments there still exists subsequent to this an extended period in which the programme of political revolution has to be combined with an anti-capitalist programme against restoration.
The remaining gains of the workers states must be fought for to the bitter end. Only those who can defend old gains will be able to make new ones. Not only the working class of the degenerated workers’ states, but that of the entire world would suffer as a result of their wholesale destruction. On a global scale this would leave the working class at !east for a certain period, disoriented and ideologically disarmed. In addition, the anti-imperialist struggles of the semi-colonies would lose an important, if ultimately inadequate, source of weapons and aid.
Imperialist access to the raw materials, cheap labour and markets of the degenerate(d) workers’ states could open the way to a new if limited expansion period in the imperialist epoch. Nevertheless this itself could heighten inter-imperialist rivalry and promote such a conflict-ridden new division of the world as would re-raise the spectre of war and revolution.
As bureaucratic planning disintegrates, only proletarian political revolution can defend, restore and then extend the planned property relations and, thereby, prevent the revitalisation of imperialism. The world proletariat, therefore, must stand with its brothers and sisters in the degenerated workers’ states in defence of the remaining planned property relations.
The state monopoly of foreign trade, the nationalisation of industry, the principle of planning must be defended against internal restoration and imperialist attack. In defending these economic conquests we are defending the pre-requisites for the transition to socialism, not the bureaucracy that presides over them.
At present the imperialists are relying primarily on economic levers to engineer the restoration of capitalism. But any halt, any serious reverse to the process of social counterrevolution could lead to direct military intervention to complete the restoration of capitalism in the face of working class resistance. The world proletariat must continue to stand for the unconditional defence of the workers’ states against imperialism and its agents. Therefore, we oppose any reductions in the military capabilities, of the degenerate workers’ states, nuclear or conventional, that would open up these states to military or diplomatic coercion.
5For the working class, however, the best defence of planned property in the degenerated workers’ states is an attack on the Stalinist bureaucracies who have led and are leading them to ruin. The proletarian programme for the degenerate workers’ states, as well as for the struggle against imperialism, is not one of mere “democratisation” of the existing state and cannot be reduced to non-class specific demands for “people’s power”.
It is a programme of revolution, a programme for the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship against both bureaucrats, restorationist “democrats” and imperialists.
For a political revolution! For workers’ council democracy!
The essence of the programme of political revolution, like that of the programme of social revolution in the capitalist states, lies in linking the ongoing struggles for the immediate needs of the working class to the fight for political power.
By combining intransigent defence of working class interests with the tactics of mass mobilisation, independent political organisation and the imposition of workers’ control, revolutionaries can prepare the working class for the seizure of power. In all spheres of struggle, the proletariat must become conscious of its separate interests and identity, must become a class for itself.
For independent workplace organisation!
Because of the nature of the degenerated workers’ states, any independent mobilisations of the working class immediately collide with the power of the bureaucratic state machine. Whatever the issue that led to the mobilisation, this collision poses the need for the working class to win the right to organise itself. Independent class organisations and consciousness is a pre-condition for acting as an independent force within the broad mass movements of opposition to Stalinism.
The social power of the proletariat is rooted in production and the class must be organised at the point of production. Within every workplace, democratic mass meetings must become the highest authority. Workers’ committees, elected and recallable by mass meetings must fight to impose workers’ control on every aspect of life in the plant, including the right to strike and the right to veto management and state plans.
For free trade unions!
Beyond the workplace, the proletariat must have trade unions independent of the Stalinists as a central element in its organisation as a class. Whether these are formed as the result of a thorough purging of the existing “state” unions or are created anew in struggle, they must be accountable to, and controllable by, their members. All officials of the unions must be elected and recallable, free from the, “leading role of the party”, and be paid the average wage of their members.
From democratic rights to a real workers’ democracy
In the struggles that announced the death agony of Stalinism the masses have primarily been drawn into battle against the bureaucracy behind demands for key democratic rights. The task of constructing the revolutionary party involves pushing the working class to the head of this struggle, to lead it and use revolutionary and working class forms of organisation to achieve them. In this fight the workers must not allow the bureaucracy or any section of it to decide who can and cannot be allowed to take advantage of any democratic rights.
The bureaucracy-in part or in whole-has proven itself to be the chief agent of restoration and in no wise can be trusted to be the guardian of the post-capitalist property relations.
Precisely because the bureaucracy is interested only in conceding as much democracy as will allow it to strike coalitions with other forces to become a new exploiting class the working class has every interest in the fullest and most revolutionary expansion of democratic rights in order to forestall this and to hasten the development of its own class consciousness, that is, recognise who is and who is not its enemy
Where the CP still monopolises the media and electoral process we fight to end this. Down with the bureaucracy’s censorship laws! The workers themselves must decide what is to be published or broadcast. For access to the press, radio and television for all working class organisations under workers’ control. Workers must enforce their own ban on fascist, pogromist, racist propaganda.
Likewise they will allow no freedom of the press or access to the media for pro-restorationist forces that are organising to overthrow the workers state by force. All candidates in elections must clearly account for their electoral funding. The masses should fight for a veto over any candidate receiving clandestine financial support from the regime or from counter-revolutionary agencies such as the CIA, the churches, or reactionary NGOs (non-governmental organisations). Any new legal code that the “reformist” wing of the bureaucracy proposes must be freely discussed by workers.
Any code must place elected workers’ courts at the centre of the legal machinery. For the release of all political prisoners to workers’ courts who shall decide on their future.
For the freedom to form political parties, except for fascists, pogromists, racists, for those restorationists (including those originating from within the bureaucracy) who are actively organising for civil war, and those which for other reasons have received the veto of the workers movement.
Whilst we will not defend these parties from repression by the conservative Stalinist regimes or from bourgeois restorationist governments, we recognise no government’s right to judge who is a counter-revolutionary other than a revolutionary workers’ government. The workers themselves, not the bureaucracy, must decide which parties they recognise as loyal to their own state power.
We fight to expose the anti-working class programme of confused or covertly restorationist parties and by political struggle to deprive them of mass support. We would advocate careful surveillance of their activities and severe measures against any attempts to overthrow the proletarian dictatorship. For the right of any group of workers and small peasants to put forward candidates in any elections.
For the smashing of the bureaucracy’s repressive state apparatus, the instrument of tyranny against the working class and the instrument used by the Stalinists for capitalist restoration. This apparatus has been fashioned by the bureaucracy in the image of the capitalist state machine.
The political revolution must smash it on the road to the creation of healthy workers’ state. For full political rights for soldiers, the right to hold meetings in the barracks to elect soldiers’ councils free of all control by the officers and commanders, for the right to publish newspapers and have access to the media.
We fight for the right of rank and file soldiers, sailors etc to elect their own officers. For the right of all returning soldiers stationed abroad to have decent affordable housing for themselves and their families and the right to retraining and a new job after being demobilised. For the dissolution of the secret police and the punishment of all those guilty of crimes against the workers. A democratic workers state needs no secret police.
The plots of counter-revolutionary forces can be countered by workers’ security commissions on the lines of the revolutionary Cheka of 1917. Dissolve the standing army of the bureaucracy and replace it with a revolutionary workers army linked to workers’ territorial militias.
Down with privilege and inequality!
One of the earliest indications of the victory of the Stalinist political counterrevolution in the USSR was the arrogant condemnation of egalitarianism as a petit bourgeois deviation. But, as Trotsky predicted, the desire for equality and the hatred of privilege are instinctive and fundamental elements of proletarian class consciousness. On the road to the elimination of the bureaucracy’s rule altogether the workers must fight to end abuses now.
They must mobilise to end the grotesquely privileged lifestyle of the bureaucracy. The special shops must be closed and the sanatoria, health resorts and leisure facilities currently reserved for the bureaucracy must be thrown open to the workers and poor peasants.
The role of a party or state official must cease to be a route to privilege and luxury. No party or state official should earn more than the average wage of a skilled worker.
In the workplaces a fight must be launched for the right of the workers to dismiss all officials/managers known to have profited from corruption or to have persecuted workers.
Workers’ control of production and the plan
Economic decisions in a planned economy are not hidden behind a smokescreen of “market forces” as they are under capitalism. They are political decisions taken by the bureaucracy. Consequently any fight against the bureaucracy’s decisions, in whatever sphere, are inherently challenges to the right of the bureaucracy to control the economic plan.
As that control breeds stagnation and decline, so the marketising wing of the bureaucracy and other restorationist forces attempt to divert working class struggle away from the state by encouraging workers to demand “self management” of their enterprises, free from the bureaucratic interference of the central plan. This doctrine of “market socialism” is a reactionary diversion designed to strengthen the most narrow forms of factory isolationism, to divide the proletariat as a class force and to break up the central plan itself.
Against it revolutionaries must fight to make every working class struggle a conscious challenge to bureaucratic power by raising the demand for workers’ control of the plan. At the level of the workplace, this must include opening the books to workers’ inspection and, at local, regional and national levels, a fight, drawing in the workers of the planning ministries, to expose the real priorities-and the swindles, the corruption and the sheer incompetence-of the bureaucracy’s leaders.
Through its fight to defend itself against the bureaucracy’s plan and to impose its class priorities on planning, the working class will not only safeguard its living standards and conditions but create the organisations which will be the very foundations of a revolutionary workers’ state. These organisations will be the mechanism through which the workers’ state will achieve a democratically centralised planned economy.
An isolated revolutionary workers’ state will have to co-exist with, and utilise, market forces at the same time as seeking to overcome them. Without a doubt elements of the Stalinist bureaucratic elimination of the market have actually served to retard the development of sectors of the Soviet economy. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in agriculture and the meeting of the consumption needs of the masses. In these sectors our programme must be based on the following elements:
- Down with the serfdom of workers on the state and collectivised farms. For collective farms run by the toilers themselves. Down with any return to private family farming .
- For the democratic re-organisation of the farms, based on the democracy of the rural toilers, not on the whims of the functionaries. For councils of agricultural workers comprised of farm workers representing working units, and directly accountable to them. Agricultural production must be integrated into the national plan of production.
- For a massive injection of funds to raise the material and cultural level of the countryside to that of the cities, thereby overcoming the glaring inequalities in the conditions of life between town and country.
- Against all reforms which increase the influence of imperialist finance capital on the economies of the workers’ states; against the abandonment of the state monopoly of foreign trade, against joint ventures in which workers’ rights are reduced in comparison to those obtaining in state run plants. We oppose the bureaucracy’s policy of subordination to the IMF. The disastrous consequences of this for the working class are already most clearly visible in Yugoslavia, Poland and Hungary.
- We demand that the bureaucracy repudiates the debts it has incurred towards international finance capital. A revolutionary workers’ government will judge what obligations to honour from the point of view of revolutionary expediency. A workers council state will call on the exploited masses worldwide to mobilise for the total renunciation of the external debt and the expropriation of the imperialist multinationals.
Illusions in parliamentary elections and assemblies
The consequence of decades of political repression and economic failures of the bureaucracy have created widespread illusions in bourgeois parliamentary democracy. Both the bureaucracy and the pro-bourgeois opposition have used these illusions to block the self-organisation of the working class, to obstruct the creation of such workers’ councils as arose most clearly in the Hungarian revolution of 1956 but also existed in less developed forms in Poland and in Czechoslovakia during the political-revolutionary situations of the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1980-81 Solidarnosc upheaval.
But only in Romania during the 1989-90 uprising did the embryos of workers committees develop and play an important role in the strikes which helped bring down the Ceaucescu regime. Elsewhere multi-party parliamentary elections were hastily improvised to block the road to working class self-organisation, direct democracy and mass participation in politics.
Our programme is not for the creation of bourgeois parliaments in workers’ states. Elected by an atomised electorate, incapable of holding their representatives to account, and separated from the executive power parliaments can never be an adequate expression of workers’ power. These institutions directly aid the restoration plans of the bureaucracy or the nascent bourgeoisie.
Parliamentary representatives, not recallable by their electors are eminently corruptible by those who have wealth and power. When the ruling bureaucracy attempts to stabilise its rule through the organisation of parliamentary elections we counterpose to this the proletarian democracy of workers’ councils. We fight for their formation as organs of struggle against the bureaucracy and as the organs of the democracy of a revolutionary workers’ state.
But where such revolutionary slogans find as yet no echo in the consciousness or experience of the masses it would be utterly sectarian bankruptcy to rest content with this. We must seek out every way of organising the working class to actively intervene as a politically independent force in the existing political situation. If contrary to our wishes this is the terrain of parliamentary elections then it is there we must fight.
We oppose every attempt of the bureaucracy to manipulate or restrict the electoral process by imposing its vetoes on the lists of candidates or of eligible parties. Against bureaucratically rigged elections we we fight to impose the principles and certain of the forms of proletarian democracy. We fight for workers to stand their own candidates, elected by workers’ assemblies in the workplaces and the workers districts.
We fight for them to stand on a workers’ programme against bureaucratic rule and privilege and restoration in all its forms, for the defence of the rights of national minorities, for a fighting action programme to defend all the workers rights and gains. We fight for all candidates to be directly responsible to workers’ assemblies and to be paid no more than the average wage of a skilled worker.
We take no responsibility for the existence of the form of a bourgeois parliament in a workers state (the Volkskammer, the Supreme Soviet etc)
These were the creation of the Stalinists who destroyed or dared not create soviets. But we have to seriously address the democratic illusions of the masses, when the nascent bourgeois forces seek to utilise the “democratisation” of such parliaments to create a permanent and stable instrument for the restoration of capitalism.
Our aim is to prevent the creation of such a stable parliamentary regime. When the restorationists try to create a legal and institutional basis for the capitalist regime, by means of bonapartist plebiscites or the votes of existing undemocratic assemblies, but where the workers still have no experience of soviets or where their memory has been obliterated, revolutionaries can and should return to the revolutionary democratic demand for a sovereign constituent assembly.
This is not to call for a parliament (i.e. a permanent legislative body, part of a division of powers within a bourgeois regime), but rather to create an arena within which representatives of the conflicting classes will meet and fight over the political form and the very class basis of the state-embodied in its constitution. Of course we do not believe that the fight between restoration and proletarian power will be decided in any assembly. But the disguised and open agents of restoration can be exposed to the masses there.
The task in such conjunctures is for revolutionaries to become the vanguard of the revolutionary democratic struggle, in order if possible to tear the very weapon of political democracy out of the hands of the inconsistent (semi-bonapartist) bourgeois democrats.
We should advance the slogan of the CA in order to outflank the restorationists who will try and monopolise democratic slogans while in reality seeking to heavily restrict the powers of the parliament and surround it with bonapartist safeguards in case it falls too closely under the pressure of the masses. We can do this by fighting for the revolutionary democratic right of re-call. Every deputy must be subject to immediate recall by a majority of their electors.
We must fight to ensure that as much of the electoral campaign takes place before mass meetings in the work places where candidates can be cross-examined in detail on their programmes. We must fight for free and equal access to the media for all candidates except those of fascists or those seeking to overthrow planned property by force.
Of course, any actual constituent assembly can prove to be a force for counter-revolution, for the destruction of the workers’ state’s property relations. As such we must seek to expose it to the masses and mobilise the workers to dissolve it.
For workers’ council democracy
For the working class to overthrow the dictatorship of the bureaucracy it must forge its own means of exercising state power. The independent organisations generated in the struggles against the bureaucracy must be welded together into genuine workers’ councils. It will be these councils which will organise the mass insurrection of the working class, and their allies amongst the rural poor to smash the whole repressive machine of the Stalinist state apparatus which is the means of maintaining the political dictatorship of the bureaucracy over the proletariat.
Like the bourgeois state, upon which it is modelled, the essential elements of the Stalinist state machine are the “specialised bodies of armed men” and their apparatus of spies, gaolers and torturers. As the massacre of Tiananmen Square once again confirmed, even where the bureaucratic caste is internally divided, so long as the dominant faction has control of this apparatus they will use it to defend themselves against the insurgent masses. The spearhead of the programme of political revolution, then, is the formation of workers’ councils and the arming of the proletariat.
As the Russian Revolution demonstrated, the workers’ council is the form through which the working class exercises state power in a healthy workers’ state. Rooted in the factories, the working class communities and the oppressed layers of society, they organise the great mass of the once-exploited to become rulers of their own state. Workers’ council deputies will be directly elected by mass workers’ meetings.
They are responsible to their electorates and, therefore, permanently recallable by them. Workers’ councils are organs of class power, i.e. capitalists are excluded from the elections. The ruling sections of the bureaucracy must be also denied the right to vote. We fight politically against those representatives of the bureaucracy in whom the working masses still have illusions. The political revolution will only be successful if the bureaucrats are driven out of the workers’ councils.
The workers’ council combines in itself both executive and legislative functions which means that a living workers’ council democracy will control the state bureaucracy, reduce it and, in the long term, replace it altogether with the self-administration of society. Such bodies have nothing in common either with the present soviets in the USSR which have a mock parliamentary form, or the “popular committees” of Cuba, which exist to rubber stamp the decisions of the bureaucracy.
Down with all forms of social oppression!
Thermidor, in the USSR, marked not only the establishment of bureaucratic tyranny over the economy and the state but also the reversal of many of the reforms introduced after 1917 to counter social oppression. This re-introduction of reactionary legislation and moral norms has since served as a model for the other degenerate workers’ states.
The victorious bureaucracies have all sought to strengthen the bourgeois family and to determine its size in accordance with their immediate economic and military requirements. Bureaucratic planning abandoned the goal of the socialisation of child care and domestic labour. Women remained subordinated to the double and triple burden of job, household and child-rearing. Nor do the “reformers” intend to reverse the effects of Stalin’s Thermidor on the family.
On the contrary, Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika, for example, strengthens a reactionary image of women which will be used to reduce women’s principal roles to those of wives and mothers and to force them out of certain branches of production.
Youth are taught their “rightful place” in the educational establishments, they are stultified by the reactionary morality of Stalinism, they are denied free cultural expression. Likewise the great gains made by the October Revolution in legally defending the rights of homosexuals have long since been smashed and the daily diet of lesbians and gay men from Cuba and Asia through to Eastern Europe and the USSR is repression and even persecution. Against oppression on the grounds of sex or sexuality we fight:
- Against the oppression of women-for real socialisation of housework. For the plan to provide the crèche facilities that can make this possible. For a massive programme to build restaurants, canteens and social amenities in order to lift the burden that women bear.
- For a woman’s right to work and equal access to jobs not subject to protective legislation. In order to fight the legacy of male chauvinism and oppression, a legacy preserved by the bureaucracy, we fight for an independent working class based women’s movement.
- No limitation on abortion right, but for the provision of free contraceptive devices for all to give women real control over their fertility. No to any enforced family size imposed by the bureaucracy.
- Abolish the reactionary laws against homosexuality and release all those imprisoned or condemned to psychiatric “hospitals” on this basis. For an end to all forms of discrimination against lesbians and gay men. For open recognition that AIDS exists in these states; for a state funded programme of research, treatment and education about the virus.
- Down with the oppression of youth. For student, parent and education workers’ control of the schools and for committees of the youth to control their own entertainment, sporting and cultural facilities, clubs etc. Down with censorship which, far from protecting youth from reactionary ideas, cripples their intellect and fighting spirit and thus leaves them prey to such ideas. Abolish all laws that discriminate at work or in society against youth.
Political revolution and the national question
From its foundation, the revolutionary Soviet state had a federal character. As with every other aspect of Bolshevik political practice, Stalinism retained the form but emptied it of revolutionary content. Far from being a voluntary federation of peoples the USSR became a prison house of nations.
The pattern of denial of the rights of minority nationalities has been repeated in other degenerated workers’ states, whether they have a federal character (as in Yugoslavia), are unitary states with supposed “autonomous regions” (as in China) or give no constitutional recognition to the existence of minorities (as in Rumania). The Kremlin has also oppressed nations outside the borders of the USSR and launched invasions to crush proletarian revolts against bureaucratic rule.
Opposition to the ruling bureaucracies has thus frequently taken on a nationalist character. Amongst these oppressed peoples revolutionaries champion and fight for the democratic rights of the oppressed nationalities as part of their struggle for the political revolution. We oppose every manifestation of Great Russian, Chinese and Serbian oppressor nationalism.
We support the right to the full cultural self-expression for all oppressed nationalities. This means full support for their right to use their own language in all public and state business as well as the right to be educated in their own language We fight against any discrimination in jobs and for the right of oppressed nationalities to veto immigration policies determined by the bureaucracies of the oppressor nationalities. Likewise we are against any reverse discrimination of former national majorities now turned minorities in newly independent states (e.g. Russians in Lithuania).
We fight for all multinational workers’ states to be free federations of workers’ republics. In general we do not seek the fragmentation of the degenerated workers’ states into their component nationalities both because we are in favour of the largest integrated territories in order to advance the development of the productive forces, and because nationalism threatens to divide the working class and blind it to the need to destroy the bureaucracy and imperialism.
It can lead workers to side with “their own” national bureaucracy or to a belief that it is possible to achieve “independence” through capitalist restoration and with the aid of imperialism.
The capitalist offensive is attempting to disintegrate every element of class identity and collectivist consciousness, and develop in their place individualistic, religious and nationalist-ethnic ideas. In various republics, regions, small areas and even enterprises the restorationists are trying to spread the idea that only total independence from the official state will give them better access to the international market, better prices for their exports and better conditions for purchasing imports and attracting investments.
The USSR has disintegrated into fifteen independent republics and there are many further autonomous republics and regions within them which have serious separatist tendencies The bureaucrats and nationalists that are behind these independence movements are trying to create miniature bourgeois semi-colonies. In most of them other ethnic minorities suffer discrimination and oppression.
In the Baltic states,, for example, the Slavic minorities are not recognized as citizens and suffer a new apartheid. In former Yugoslavia, in the Caucasus, Moldava, Central Asia and other former “socialist block” states bloody and non-progressive inter-ethnic wars are under way.
In fact genuine independence for any of the presently oppressed nationalities in the workers’ states is only achievable on the basis of democratically planned proletarian property relations. “Independence” under the leadership of restorationists can only lead to the subordination of any newly established states to imperialism, to their becoming semi-colonies.
This would see the working class ever more directly exploited by international capitalism and their democratic aspirations brutally suppressed in the interests of profit. We do not advocate secession because it weakens the workers state and hampers the development of the productive forces. But, in the concrete case where within a particular oppressed nation the great majority of its working class has illusions in separation we should raise the slogan for an independent workers council republic.
Which side we take in the case of a military conflict between an oppressed nation’s pro-independence movement and the centralised Stalinist apparatus must depend on all the concrete circumstances. Should this movement be carrying out pogroms against other national minorities or be in an armed alliance with imperialism, it would be possible to side with the Stalinist central apparatus whilst not supporting it politically.
We could do this whilst simultaneously raising the slogan for an independent or autonomous workers council republic (as in Azerbaijan in 1990). On the other hand where it is a legitimate movement based on the working people we could take sides with the independence movement (without supporting its aims or the popular front) against military repression (as in Lithuania in 1990/91).
However, the alienation of so many nationalities from the degenerate workers’ states is the product of decades of vicious national oppression. The vanguard of the political revolution must seek by the most vigorous means to allay the fears of these peoples and win them to the side of the preservation of their own planned property by unconditionally supporting their right to self determination, including to secession.
Where the majority of the people concerned call for independence, in mass demonstrations or workers’ assemblies, in elections or plebiscites we will support by all means the winning of such independence. To do otherwise would be to cut ourselves off from the democratically expressed will of masses of workers and, therefore, to ensure they will fall under the leadership of reactionary forces.
However, only proletarian political power and proletarian property relations can guarantee the independence to which such mobilisations aspire. Therefore our positive slogan in these conditions is for an independent workers’ council state
Even where existing separatist movements have espoused an overt social counter-revolutionary platform we will still defend the right to state independence whilst continuing the struggle against restoration. National independence is not simultaneous with the restoration of capitalism and the ending of national oppression will begin to untie the bonds between the representatives of opposing class interests.
We will continue to organise the workers for armed defence of the post-capitalist property relations. However, in conditions of war (external or civil) in any given workers state we may be obliged temporarily to subordinate the right of secession to the defence of workers’ states under attack from the forces of imperialism and counter-revolution.
As an expression of our opposition to the reactionary utopia of building socialism in one country we stand for the widest federation possible of workers states, starting with regional federations. Thus the victorious political revolution will re-unite on a voluntary and equal basis the republics of the former USSR, Eastern Europe and beyond. In the regions where Stalinism and its successors have sown national antagonisms and wars we fight for workers state federations (e.g. in the Balkans and Indo-China) as a step toward their integration within the World Socialist Republic.
For a return to the proletarian internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky!
The Stalinists sullied the slogan of proletarian internationalism by identifying it with submission to the Soviet bureaucracies state interests. The foreign policy of a revolutionary workers’ state has as its aim not primarily its own defence nor even the defence and support of other workers’ states but the interests all those struggling against capitalism and imperialism.
The defence of any single workers states or any grouping thereof is a part of and therefore subordinated to the World Revolution. This is the unfalsified programme of proletarian internationalism. It is the polar opposite of the foreign policy of the degenerated workers’ states over the last half century which were geared to their attempts to achieve peaceful coexistence with imperialism.
The Stalinists cynically manipulated and betrayed the struggles of the working class and colonial peoples around the world. Side by side with strengthening market mechanisms and capitalist forces inside the workers’ states, the remaining ruling bureaucracies are globally in retreat in the face of imperialism. Stalinism has always pursued an essentially counter-revolutionary policy at home and abroad. In Afghanistan, Kampuchea, Central America and Southern Africa the USSR over the last decade played a counterrevolutionary role, both in the manner of its support for progressive forces and in its shameful desertion of those forces in pursuit of a deal with imperialism.
The secret diplomacy operated by the Stalinist bureaucracies must to be abandoned completely. This policy was part of the bureaucratic monopoly of information in the degenerated workers’ states and only served to misinform and deceive the working class.
Negotiations between workers’ states and capitalist states or other workers’ states have to be carried out in view of the working class. The demands from both sides should be made public. Negotiations have to be used in order to make revolutionary propaganda. The nature of the negotiations have to be revealed to the masses.
Relations with capitalist states also have to be used by a workers state as a weapon. Diplomatic ties and trade relations with each country have to be examined carefully. Stalinists used diplomatic ties with capitalist countries to excuse the drowning of workers’ movements in these countries in blood and also caused the Stalinists to raise the prestige of these butchers (e.g. China’s relations with Pinochet). This was a common practice among Stalinists. Diplomatic and trade relations have to be useful for the building of a workers’ state and must not limit or harm the formation of a revolutionary movement
In a situation of direct military attack on a workers’ state, in or out of a political revolutionary crisis, it is legitimate to seek an armed united front with the armed forces of another workers’ state.
In that united front the working class must not allow its forces to be subordinated to those of its allies, but must struggle for arms and assistance to be put under the control of its organisations and argue amongst the allied forces of the degenerated workers’ state for internationalist political revolution.
We defend the right of the degenerate workers’ states to possess nuclear weapons and, in wars with imperialism, use them when militarily necessary for the defence of the workers’ states. But we oppose the bureaucracy’s overall defence and military policy which has as its aim the realisation of the utopian goal of peaceful co-existence with world imperialism.
The foreign policy of a workers’ state has to be subordinated to a revolutionary international. A genuine international can place the foreign policy of a workers’ state in its rightful context within the pursuit of the world revolution. Only an international can effectively defend workers’ states against imperialist intervention by co-ordinating the mobilisation of the working class across various imperialist countries.
For a Leninist-Trotskyist party!
The programme of political revolution, understood both as a linked system of demands and all the strategic and tactical means of achieving them, will not be arrived at by the spontaneous struggles of the working classes of the degenerate(d) workers’ states. The experience of Hungary, Poland and China tragically shows that, as under capitalism, spontaneity must be harnessed to scientific class consciousness in the organisational form of a revolutionary party.
Although the first small nuclei of such a party may originate amongst the intelligentsia, the test of their ‘communism” will be their recognition of the need to win and organise the working class leaders thrown up by the anti-bureaucratic struggle. All the norms of membership, organisation, internal life and external activity developed by the Leninist Bolshevik Party and, later, by the Left Oppositionists and the Trotskyists, will be applicable.
We reject the “leading role” of the Stalinist parties. They are the parties of the bureaucracy. The experience of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1968 and of the “horizontal movement” within the Polish Workers’ Party during the height of Solidarnosc’s struggle, suggests that proletarian mobilisations will find a reflection in the ruling Communist Parties. This is so because a large number of workers are captive members of these parties.
We reject the idea that the ruling parties can be reformed or can peacefully evolve into centrist formations. These parties must be broken up as instruments of mass mobilisation in support of the repressive and privileged bureaucracy. Nevertheless, we do not ignore the fact that in an escalating political revolutionary situation, the bureaucracy may come under challenge from sections of the party membership or the proletariat.
The united front tactic, levelled at these forces and opposition groups outside the party, will be vital in breaking the masses from these mis-leaders, new or old. Where we cannot directly win rank and file working class elements to the ranks of Trotskyism, and recognising that such opposition will often be the first expression of political independence by such workers, we should encourage them to put the Communist Party, which they remain within, to the test by demanding:
Elections at every level, elections based on open platforms and political competition in open debate. For the lifting of the ban on the formation of factions and on the circulation of platforms, which was imposed as a purely temporary measure in the Russian Communist Party of Lenin and Trotsky in 1921, but which was turned into a repressive norm under Stalin.
The revolutionary party, forged anew in struggle must inscribe onto its banner the overthrow of the Stalinist dictatorships, the creation of a democracy of workers’ councils, the installation of a democratic plan and above all the extension of the revolution internationally. If the workers’ states undergo revolutionary regeneration then the death knell of imperialism and class rule will sound across the globe. Turn the bureaucratic prison houses once more into fortresses of the world revolution!
The programme during the restoration process
Due to the accumulated betrayals of the Stalinist bureaucracy and the prolonged crisis of revolutionary leadership a new form of transitional period has opened up-the transition from degenerated workers state to capitalism. The task of revolutionaries is to re-orient their programme to guide a struggle against the remains of bureaucratic tyranny and disorganisation and against the restoration of capitalism.
The road to restoration has most frequently been opened by the rise to power of a faction of the bureaucracy that set in train a series of concessions to the market. These had been advocated with ever greater insistence from economic experts from within the bureaucracy from the 1960s onwards; (Liberman, Ota Sik etc). They were carried out first on a significant scale in Hungary.
They centred on the stage by stage weakening and narrowing of the scope of the central plan, the creation of real or simulated market mechanisms between the enterprises, the puncturing of the state monopoly of foreign trade, the entry into the economic institutions of world capitalism, the IMF etc.
The utopian aspect of this programme for the bureaucracy was the idea that it would increase the efficiency, the level of technical innovation or the responsiveness of the economy to the needs of the consumers. Instead it hampered and disrupted the working of the planned economy whilst the continued existence of the latter obstructed the development of a real market, creating instead a massive “black economy”, it created a criminal class before it created a bourgeoisie.
Both in those states where the marketising faction of the bureaucracy tried to carry out this programme with democratic reforms and in those where it tried to maintain its political dictatorship intact the result was the same-a severe political crisis where three fundamental alternatives were posed;
(a) restoration of the bureaucratic dictatorship and a halting or slowing of market reforms,
(b) the seizure of power by an openly restorationist regime that would set about the destruction of the central planning system and the rapid transition to the operation of law of value as the dominant force within the economy or,
(c) a proletarian political revolution introducing workers democracy and a democratically planned economy. Only the latter two alternatives were and are fundamentally viable. Bureaucratic-dictatorship however bloodily restored or maintained can never solve the death agony of bureaucratic planning and it alienates the masses hurling them into the arms of the democratic restorationists. Whilst in China, Korea, Vietnam and Cuba the bureaucracy tries by repressive means to avoid the fate of Gorbachev the development of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary situations are inevitable.
A greater or lesser degree and duration of dual power creates a situation where the forces of the old bureaucracy, the proletarian political revolution or the bourgeois counterrevolution must engage in a life or death struggle. If the forces of political revolution fail to develop then sooner or later, with this or that violent backward or forward lurch, restoration is possible and indeed inevitable.
Thus far the weaknesses of the forces consciously seeking to defend the planned economy and the other proletarian gains has resulted in the seizure of power by a series of bourgeois restorationist governments. These have set out first of all to resolve any remaining duality of power with the old bureaucracy via the purging of the state machine.
This purgation will vary according to the degree of political homogeneity of the armed forces. Where an important part remains convinced of the viability of bureaucratic rule, the purging may take on a violent form, even leading to civil war. At the end of this process the degenerate workers state will have been smashed. The resolution of this dual power, the simultaneous prevention of the working class from intervening to establish its own organs of power, is vital to the successful restoration process.
But even the establishment of a reliable state machine, bourgeois not only in its class form but in its class character in that it actively defends the growing elements of capitalism and attacks the disintegrating remnants of the planned economy, is not the end. Only when the laws of the former predominate over those of the latter, only when the economic base of the workers state has been destroyed can we say that the process is complete and capitalism restored.
The economic programmes of capitalist restoration striven for are extremely varied. The one immediate “success” was the integration of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) into the West German imperialist state, via a prolonged combination of state capitalist and privatisation measures after the central organs of the planned economy were abolished. In the other states where the resources of a major imperialism are not available the neo-liberal shock therapy has been applied.
This means freeing prices, dissolving the central planning and resource-allocation institutions, the abolition of the old state bank monopoly and its replacement with a fully commercial credit system under which loss making enterprises can and must go bankrupt, the transformation of the enterprises into private and/or state capitalist trusts.
The massive economic slump which is the result of the implementation of this policy itself creates repeated political crises, pre-revolutionary situations which a deepening class consciousness and militancy of the proletariat and the emergence of anti-restorationist defenders of workers democracy can turn into a fully developed revolution. This revolution will have a combined character.
It will be a political revolution in the sense that the expropriation of the bourgeoisie is not its central task but with enormous social, i.e. anti-capitalist tasks. If it remains a political revolution it is nevertheless aimed at a bourgeois regime which holds all or part of the state power. It will have the task of seizing state power and creating a workers state based on soviets.
The Action Programme Against Restoration
In the moribund degenerate workers states, where restorationist governments are in the process of carrying out the restoration of capitalism we must fight for a programme of immediate and transitional demands to halt and reverse the social counter-revolution; a programme which in its totality can only be the programme of a revolutionary workers government.
- For a basic living wage that guarantee a shopping basket of goods as determined by the rank and file workers’ organisations
- For a sliding scale of wages-an automatic, equivalent rise in wages for every rise in prices determined by elected committees of workers, particularly women and pensioners-to fully compensate for every increase in prices.
- Stop all price rises. Prices of food, clothing, transportation, rents and fuel should be prevented from rising. Only a workers’ government can reform the currency in the interests of the toilers rather than that of the speculators.
- Put all private and state warehouses and food storage under the control of armed workers’ detachments, under workers inspection and distribution. Confiscate all goods hoarded by the bureaucrats, the black marketeers, or private businesses. Workers must control and distribute any aid received from imperialist countries.
- Elected committees of workers must inspect the accounts of the enterprises and the planning ministries, the bureaucracies special shops and the accounts of the new speculators. Only then will the scale of corruption, siphoning off and theft of the produce of the workers state be known, the culprits punished and a new plan of production and distribution be possible.
- Organise direct exchange between the cities and the countryside. The rural and urban workers should together work out fair exchange ratios and even prices between the products of industry and agriculture.
- Restore the right and opportunity to work. The existing unemployed must be offered work or paid at the average industrial wage. No to all redundancies without equivalent work at equivalent pay. Occupy all factories, mines, shops or offices declaring redundancies or attempting closure. Demand that the idle members of the bureaucracy, the enterprise managers and the parasitic speculators perform useful work in the factories and on the land at the average wage of a worker.
- For workers’ management in every enterprise. No to privatisation even in the form of alienable shares distributed in whole or in part to the workers themselves. In a workers’ state the factories already belong to the workers. No to expropriation of the workers’ property.
- No cuts in the social services. For a massive programme of housing repairs and construction of new dwellings, crèches, schools and clinics. No one should be unemployed and no one should be idle whilst people lack these elementary necessities.
- For a minimum living wage for all and for all pensions to be no lower than this and to be protected by a sliding scale
- For emergency action to alleviate the housing shortage. Seize the dachas and the big apartments of the former bureaucrats and the new rich. Occupy all state buildings that are not serving the collective good of the working class and convert them to accommodation for young families, the unemployed.
- Workers committees must draw up an inventory of all state property as it stood before the restorationist governments came to power. The misappropriation and hoarding of the former bureaucracy must be brought to light and all the resources of the workers state restored to collective ownership. All the “expropriation” of state property must be reversed.
- Down with national chauvinism. Summary execution for the organisers of pogroms and “ethnic cleansing”. Merciless repression of the fascists and anti-semites, racists, chauvinists that organise attacks on national minorities, on women, gays and on the workers organisations. No platform, no “democratic rights” for these vermin.
- Respect the decisions of minority nationalities to independence if that was their choice. Unconditionally defend the democratic rights of all the nationalities against old style Stalinist or new style nationalist or religious repression. But just as we defend the democratic rights of all the minorities inside Yugoslavia, China or USSR, we should defend the democratic rights of all the Great Russian, Serb and Han Chinese workers in areas in which now they are minorities and may suffer oppression.
- For a workers’ militia to protect the workers’ struggles, to crush the fascists and pogrom organisers and to smash the armed insurrections of the counterrevolutionaries.
But to prevent the restoration of capitalism the workers face a combined task, a struggle against a bourgeois executive power and a struggle to save the remains of the planned state-owned means of production and distribution. To do the latter they must take up the struggle to overthrow the restorationist governments and put into power workers’ governments based on workers’ councils.
The restorationist forces cannot be removed by peaceful means alone though the more decisively and the more strongly the workers mobilise the less costly will such a victory be. They can organise a workers militia which in turn must win over the rank and file soldiers.
There is no shortage of arms or the opportunity to acquire them. Most workers have undergone military service. The workers can and must arm themselves. Arms in hand workers can snuff out the flames of national hatred, protect all minorities, protect the strikes and occupations and as soon as the opportunity of seizing power arises armed units attached to the soviets can carry this through and establish a workers’ government.
The workers government would have to organise the election of workers tribunals to try all those who have committed crimes against the working people either under the Stalinist dictatorship or under the restorationist regimes.
The central tasks of a workers’ council government will be the crushing of the restorationists’ plans and the rallying of the world working class movement to its defence against the inevitable imperialist pressure and blockade. In the economy the workers’ government will have to develop and implement an emergency plan to save the economy from total disintegration. This [word missing?] an emergency plan drawn up by the workers representatives and put into action by the working class itself. The most urgent measures for such a plan should be:
- Restore the state monopoly of foreign trade with control of all international commerce by elected organs of workers’ inspection. The seaport, airport, communications and banking workers can rapidly decide on what trade is in the interests of the workers’ state and what is speculation or harmful profiteering. Urge the workers’ movements of the capitalist countries to force their governments into undertaking trade agreements that will benefit the workers’ government’s emergency plan.
- Stop all de-nationalisation of the large scale means of production and renationalise all sectors already sold-off. Close down the stock exchanges and the commodity exchanges that have been set up. Inspect all previous dealings and punish those guilty of anti-working class profiteering.
- Restore a state monopoly of banking. Nationalise all private banks installing workers ‘control and inspection. The dollar hoards of the speculators, the joint ventures, the pseudo-cooperatives and the private accounts of the bureaucrats must be confiscated for the workers state.
- Refuse to recognise the foreign debt, stop all payments and break all the chains to the IMF, the World Bank and the European Bank of Restoration! Kick out all the imperialist “economic advisers”.
- Carry out a monetary reform in the interests of the toilers. Money as a measure of value must as accurately as possible gage the labour time embedded in the products of industry and agriculture. The inflation of the last years of bureaucratic mismanagement must be brought to an end so that workers can undertake rational accounting without which planning is impossible.
- Transform the collective farms into genuine democratic co-operatives on a one worker one vote basis. Establish workers control in the state farms. Aid the small farms towards co-operation by the provision of collective resources.
- Small sized private businesses, industrial production, distribution, retail trade and services should be left to operate and even to expand in number as in spheres where the state and the cooperatives cannot meet demand. This sector of private small capitalists and petty bourgeois can even be useful to the workers’ state providing their workers are all unionised and have their working conditions and hours regulated by the local soviets, providing their accounts are subject to inspection and taxation is levied for the benefit of the workers’ state.
- Re-organise a Central Commission for the Co-ordination of the Plan and create similar commissions at local, regional and city levels. The skilled statisticians, economists and administrators must be assembled and put to work under the control of elected workers representatives. There must be no re-emergence of bureaucratic privilege. No expert should earn more than the wage of a skilled worker and all planning organs must carry out the decisions of the appropriate organs of worker’s democracy.
- The Emergency Plan must provide for a massive construction programme to improve the social infrastructure; house building and repairs, clinic and hospital building, and expansion of the nurseries, schools and further and higher education.
- The Emergency Plan must rapidly improve the communication, distribution and transport system. Military vehicles and aircraft must be drafted into an improved freight system so that food does not rot before it can reach the consumers. A longer term programme of road and railway construction, upgrading the telecommunication systems, creating a nationwide network of warehousing, cold storage, and freezer plants can ensure that the labour of the farmers is not shamefully wasted.
- The Emergency Plan must set as one of its central goals a series of measures that improve the condition of women. Improvements in the quality of goods, distribution and retailing must remove from women the crushing burden of the search for food and the endless queuing. Improvements in housing, in crèche and childcare facilities, in care for the sick and the elderly should take up the struggle to socialise domestic toil and liberate women so they can at last play a fully equal role in social and public life.
- For a woman’s right to work, with equal pay for work of equal value; defend maternity leave and pay and the protection of women from harmful work. Resist moves to force women to work part time with lower pay and poor working conditions-reduce the working week for all workers. Defend the rights of women to abortion, and extend the availability of contraception.
- The churches and the mosques have begun to make claims to organise schools and to censor culture and education. They must have no control over the schools, the hospitals or the media. For scientific and rational education on sexuality free from clerical superstition and taboos.
The Workers’ Government must offer international solidarity
The workers’ government must break resolutely from the counter-revolutionary policies of the Walesas, the Yeltsins or the Havels. The allies of a workers’ state cannot be the imperialist world devourers and the exploiters of the proletariat of the capitalist countries.
The victorious political revolution must appeal for direct aid and support to the workers’ movements of the entire world and particularly to the rank and file. The victorious Russian Revolution in 1917 rallied massive support in Europe, Asia and the Americas such that the heroic resistance of the Russian workers could beat off the imperialist intervention. The international policy of the victorious political revolution must in return offer economic and military support to the struggles of the world’s workers and oppressed peoples.
- Imperialist hands off Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea and the other bureaucratically ruled workers states. Military and economic assistance against the US blockade or intervention. For a socialist reunification of Korea, no to a capitalist reunification!
- Aid to the workers of these states to make a political revolution. Only revolutionary workers and peasants council governments will be able to save these states. For a world-wide alliance and ultimately a federation of workers states. For economic co-ordination of the plans of all the workers’ states.
- Support for all national liberation struggles against imperialism. Support for all workers and oppressed peoples who are fighting austerity and privatisation plans dictated by the IMF.
- Opposition to the sell-outs deals and betrayals in the Middle East, Southern Africa, South-East Asia, Afghanistan and Central America.
- Support for the struggles of the workers of Eastern Europe against capitalist restoration.
- Support for both the immediate and the revolutionary class struggles of the workers of the entire capitalist world.
- For a new voluntary federation of socialist republics of the ex-USSR; for a new voluntary federation of the socialist republics in the Balkans.
- For a world socialist federation of workers council republics.
Chapter 6 – The fight against social oppression
All exploited classes face oppression. The systematic denial of real political and economic equality and personal freedoms is both an expression and a reinforcer of the exploitative relationship between the ruling class and the direct producers. But in addition to this class oppression, there are other systematic economic, social, legal and political inequalities which specifically affect women, youth, different racial and national groups, lesbians and gay men.
These specific forms of social oppression are a fundamental feature of class society. They are rooted in the social structures of the family and the nation state. The oppression of women was the first form of systematic oppression and originated alongside the emergence of classes.
Women’s oppression remains the most fundamental form of social oppression. But all the special forms of social oppression have been transformed with each mode of production. They have reached their most developed, and in many ways most naked, form in the imperialist epoch.
The social structures upon which social oppression is based are essential to capitalism. Their functions are intimately and inseparably connected to the process of exploitation, but they create an oppression which is not confined to the working class.
Women of all classes face discrimination and disadvantage as a result of the particular role they have within the family of their class. But it is working class women, and likewise working class youth, blacks, lesbians and gay men, who face the most intense social oppression.
The working class is the only class with the decisive interest and capacity to overthrow the system which maintains all forms of oppression. Only under the leadership of the working class can oppressed sections of the exploited classes be drawn into the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship, which is a precondition for the ending of all oppression. The working class, therefore, must at all times be in the forefront of the struggle against all inequalities, oppression and exploitation.
However, the existing workers’ organisations often fail to take up the battle against social oppression. Indeed, it is frequently the case that the reformist bureaucrats who dominate the labour movement actively encourage attitudes of hostility amongst the masses to the needs and plight of the oppressed.
The oppressed are subject to sexism, racism and heterosexism in such a way as to block their participation in trade union and political life. The task of the revolutionary vanguard lies in combating these prejudices and putting the mass organisations of the working class in the forefront of the struggle against oppression.
The oppressed themselves are not necessarily in the vanguard of struggles simply as a result of being the most down-trodden sections of society. Capitalist exploitation and oppression produce not only revolutionary fighters, but also backward and submissive layers.
Many may embrace reactionary ideas or retreat into private life. The most class conscious elements of the oppressed will be in the vanguard of the struggle for their own liberation. This vanguard’s participation within the overall class struggle can ensure that their interests are actively taken up by the working class.
Special methods of agitation, propaganda and forms of work need to be used to win the socially oppressed to the communist programme, and as a result special forms of organisation may be necessary both to mobilise them to fight their own oppression, and to enable them to enter the ranks of the organised workers’ movement on an equal basis with all other workers.
Within the working class movement revolutionaries must defend the right of the oppressed to organise and caucus in order to press for their demands to be taken up by the whole of the class. In certain conditions, working class movements of the oppressed have also proved necessary to achieve these goals.
Such special methods and organisational forms have nothing in common with separatism. They are a means of facilitating fighting unity inside the working class and ensuring that the workers’ movement as a whole champions the struggles of the oppressed.
In the first place the revolutionary party has a duty to ensure that in its daily work and in its internal organisation it is responsive to the needs of the oppressed. Where mass revolutionary parties exist party sections, or party-led movements can be formed. These sections will organise the oppressed for communist struggle as party members and take the struggle against oppression into the heart of the workers’ movement.
However, revolutionary communists are as yet a tiny minority inside the workers’ movement, so the building of mass sections of the party organised to carry out special forms of work has to be approached by other forms of the united front.
In many countries, the common experience of the oppressed has led to the development of movements and campaigns amongst women, lesbians and gays, youth and the racially oppressed. The party cannot leave the leadership of these movements to the petit bourgeois utopians, the Social Democrats or the Stalinists.
We support the building of fighting united fronts against oppression, and argue that they must be based on, and led by, the proletariat utilising class struggle methods. In certain cases these united fronts may take the form of fully fledged movements, with branches, congresses and executive committees. But in each case the organisational form must be related to the concrete circumstances.
The length of time that such organisation may be needed depends upon the degree to which we are successful in winning the labour movement as a whole to our programme. Furthermore, if our temporary allies seek to split or sell out the struggle of the oppressed we will not flinch from splitting them.
We counterpose this tactic to all forms of autonomous or class collaborationist movements of the oppressed. Where bourgeois forces are involved in movements of the oppressed the revolutionary vanguard seeks to break the working class and other oppressed classes away from any alliance with them.
Indeed, by building proletarian movements of the oppressed and by fighting relentlessly for communist leadership within them, we are combating the tendencies to separatism and popular frontism that arise amongst the oppressed. Our aim is to build communist movements of the oppressed, although not all participants in such movements will be members of, and therefore under the discipline of, the revolutionary communist party.
The fight against discrimination
Other sections of society, who are not socially oppressed, face discrimination under capitalism. The elderly, the disabled and the sick, who do not fulfil the requirements of capitalism for wage labour, are discarded and treated as a burden on society. Important sections of the poor are stigmatised and criminalised for actions they take in order to survive. Others are defined as mentally ill and excluded from society. Bourgeois society utilises the marginalisation of these groups in order to impose its concepts of “normality” and its moral code upon the whole working class and to pursue its strategy of divide and rule.
For instance the enforced isolation of the elderly makes them prey to conservatism, the restrictions imposed on people with disabilities allow them to be used as non-union cheap labour. Revolutionaries must support the struggles of the elderly, the sick and people with disabilities against the discrimination they face.
This will facilitate their integration into the working class and thereby strengthen the fight against the common enemy. They should fight to ensure that the workers’ movement allows the fullest possible access for all members of the working class to its organisations, meetings and social life. The revolutionary party should ensure that it sets an example to the rest of the workers’ movement.
Revolutionaries seek to win the militant fighters from within the ranks of those who suffer discrimination. While supporting all struggles for reforms and improvements under capitalism, communists explain that the profit motive makes it impossible for capitalism to meet the needs of those it puts on the scrap heap. Furthermore, its rapacious nature creates sickness and disability. Only socialised and planned production can release the necessary resources to fully integrate these groups into society and lay the basis for liberation.
The epoch of imperialism condemns millions of women all over the world to suffer the misery of raising children and running homes in conditions of enormous deprivation. Women bear the full brunt of inadequate housing, insufficient food and the struggle to stave off or cope with the effects of disease. Super-exploitation in the factory and on the capitalist or small peasant farm are likewise the norm for the majority of women in the world.
Women of all classes are denied economic, social, legal and political equality with men. The universal nature of women’s subordination makes it appear as a natural result of their role in child-bearing. But the systematic social oppression of women only began with the birth of class society and the creation of the patriarchal family as the basic unit within which reproduction, child-care and day to day survival occur.
Throughout the different forms of class society the particular features of women’s oppression have changed. But they all contain at their kernel, privatised domestic labour, a sphere of life which is the prime or exclusive responsibility of women.
In the imperialist epoch women perform much of the work on the land and in the factories, but their first responsibility remains to their household and family. This means that the two sexes have an unequal relationship to paid employment, which is at the root of women’s continued oppression.
In many semi-colonies the family continues to function as a productive unit, with women and children integral to collective production. But women are still primarily responsible for domestic labour and child rearing, occupying a subordinate position to the male heads of household.
Capitalism has proved unable and unwilling to systematically socialise the labour done in the home and thereby is incapable of ending the oppression of women. The provision of socialised laundries, child-care and canteens has proved to be too much of a drain on surplus value for the bosses to provide them, other than partially in the exceptional situation of war.
For non-working class women oppression takes on a very different form. Even amongst some ruling classes women are denied full rights over property and inheritance and are kept as decorative assets and producers of heirs by their husbands. Their continued oppression, whilst a million miles away from the drudgery and misery of the working women of the world, is also due to their role in the family.
The production of heirs requires the strictest adherence to monogamy by the wives. However, ruling class women can offset many of the worst aspects of their oppression through the employment of working class women to perform their domestic labour and raise their children. Moreover they can be never be real allies of working class women since their stake in bourgeois society means they are completely wedded to the very society that is the material basis for women’s oppression.
In the imperialist countries the numbers of women employed in wage labour has massively increased since the Second World War. In many countries the majority of married women now have paid employment. Whilst this development has tendencies towards undermining the economic and social dependence of women, the circumstances under which it has happened have proved a mixed blessing for women. Now most women have to combine their hours worked in the factory or office with their hours of domestic labour in the home.
There has been little increase in the amount of household work done by men, so women now have even longer hours to work to balance against the gain of receiving a wage. But since women still receive substantially lower wages than men, their economic independence is largely fictional. Legal restrictions reinforce continuing dependence of women on their husbands or fathers in most imperialist countries.
In addition to its role in the reproduction of labour power, the family also plays an important role in maintaining the social order of capitalist society. The family acts to reinforce the dominant ideas of the ruling class, maintaining the respective roles of men, women and children, inculcating obedience and servility.
Even when the nuclear family has ceased to be the most numerically common form of the household, as is now the case in many imperialist countries, the strength of it as the “ideal” is such that it continues to influence every aspect of women’s lives. From the type of education girls receive, through the jobs women do, to the relationships they seek – all these are shaped by this bourgeois family “norm”. This family is based on monogamy and heterosexuality, with intense pressure being exerted upon women and girls to conform. The roles of men and women in the family restrict the development of both sexes, but have a particularly repressive effect on women.
The family leads to a division within the working class which is maintained by the ideology of sexism. In the labour movement this is not just a question of backward ideas about women’s role. It involves condoning or participating in the exclusion of women from many unions. Such sexism leads to a failure to fight for equal pay and refusal to support women in struggle. Whilst women’s oppression is not caused by the attitudes of male workers, their sexism continually reinforces it. Often, through domestic violence and abuse, this happens in the most brutal way.
Male workers do enjoy real material benefits as a result of the oppression of women. They have a higher status within the household and social life. They secure better jobs and wages and have a lighter burden of domestic chores. These privileges help to reinforce sexist ideas and behaviour within the working class.
However, working class men will receive far more important gains from the final liberation of women–the collective responsibility for welfare, freedom in relationships, sexual liberation and the economic gains of socialism. All this means that viewed historically, working class men do not benefit decisively from the oppression of women, but are hindered in the realisation of their fundamental class interests. It is the ruling class, aided by their agents in the labour bureaucracy, who benefit from the division created between male and female workers.
The struggle against women’s oppression in the semi-colonies
Proletarian women are, from earliest childhood, forced to work for pitiful wages and, after the extremely long working day, have to do the housework or take on extra work to ensure subsistence for the family. Things are no better for peasant women who often, on top of the housework, must also work the land because their men have to work in the cities. Poverty, miserable working conditions and unemployment force many women into prostitution.
Although imperialism undermines the economic basis for traditional patriarchal systems in these countries, nonetheless, old forms of women’s oppression, such as dowries, bride price, clitorodectomy and polygamy, are retained. Widow burning in India is a brutal example of this. Among the women in the semi-colonies illiteracy is even higher than among the men.
Despite medical advances the mass of women in the semi-colonies have no control over their fertility and in Africa and Asia half a million babies die at birth each year. Only a very thin upper layer of society benefits from the advantages that capitalism brings, for example, in education and health services.
Under these conditions of oppression it is no wonder that thousands of women have taken part in the anti-imperialist struggles in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Palestine, the Philippines and paid a heavy price with their lives. But their interests have always been betrayed. The petit bourgeois and Stalinist movements have proven themselves completely incapable of carrying through the liberation of women. The PDPA in Afghanistan, for example, was prepared to halt the literacy campaign amongst women to win a compromise with the Islamic tribal leaders.
Against such betrayals we pose the struggle for the liberation of women as an inseparable component of any proletarian revolutionary strategy. Working class and peasant women must be organised around economic demands and for protective measures against rape, forced sterilisation, trade in women, and enforced confinement for sex tourism.
Even when semi-colonial women escape these miseries millions of immigrant and migrant women are drawn into the workforce within the imperialist heartland. There they perform the most menial tasks for very low pay, in apalling working conditions.
Immigration controls and restrictions on visas or work permits constantly menace migrant women. In particular they are denied access to many jobs and so are forced into working conditions that isolate them from other workers, the trade unions and labour movement. They are often employed in domestic service to rich families, where they remain unorganised and highly exploited.
They frequently have no right to unemployment benefits or protection from arbitrary dismissal. In addition they are denied political rights and social welfare provisions. In all countries we demand the right of domestic and home workers to be unionised, for an eight hour day, a minimum living wage and the right to social welfare. We demand of the trade union and labour movement special measures to organise this section of workers.
For a working class women’s movement!
To end the oppression of women the fundamental separation of domestic labour from the totality of social production must be abolished. Only with women drawn fully and equally into production, with domestic work being organised collectively in a planned socialist economy, can women be free from oppression.
The socialist programme alone can guarantee the socialisation of housework and child care. But even under capitalism we can march towards this goal by struggling for women’s rights to waged labour. Where the bosses say that there is no work available for women we argue for the sliding scale of hours, to share all available work with no loss of pay. Part time jobs for women have been used by the bosses to increase the exploitation of women workers through low pay and no employment protection, while providing a flexible workforce.
We demand full employment protection for part time work combined with the fight for reductions in the hours of all workers, with no loss of pay. We demand the provision of socialised care for children and other dependants to allow women to participate in social production equally with men.
Even where women have been drawn into waged labour on a large scale they have not become economically independent. Women must be granted equal pay for work of equal value to guard against the super-exploitation they currently suffer. This is in the interests of the whole working class.
The low wages of women, far from protecting male wage rates as many reformist union leaders have maintained, have a tendency to undermine male wage rates and therefore the living standards of the whole class. For an equal minimum wage for men and women at a level to be decided by the working class.
Women’s earnings must be protected by the sliding scale of wages, where rising prices are matched by rising wages. Working class women will be essential participants in committees that determine price rises and set wage claims. For women in the semi-colonies there is an additional urgent need for equal rights to land holding and ownership.
The inequalities that women and girls experience in education and training make them unable to gain the same employment as men. Women must be given equal opportunities through education and re-training, paid for by the bosses and under the control of the unions, women workers and apprentices. Girls must have equal access to education. Literacy programmes must be instituted for women in countries where there are high levels of female illiteracy.
Since women still have primary responsibility for the raising of children, to have an equal ability to take up paid work there must be free child-care for all, under the control of women workers and the unions, with full pay for maternity leave. Paternity leave should be made available for fathers.
For women who are unable to get paid employment as a result of the inability of capitalism to provide social support for dependent children or other relatives, we demand that the state provides full unemployment benefits, at a level to be decided by the labour movement in each country. This demand must be combined with a struggle of the working class for precisely the social provision which would enable women with children or sick or disabled relatives to be able to work. We are for the collective provision of laundries and restaurants, subsidised by the state, under working class control.
A woman’s reproductive role also means that there are certain types of work which may be dangerous to her health or that of her children. Protective legislation must be enacted to prevent the harm which may be done by certain types of work.
Where this has already been enacted by the bosses’ state it has been due to a combination of working class pressure and the realisation by some sections of the ruling class that unbridled exploitation in pursuit of short term gains threatened the reproduction of the working class in the long term, and therefore the very basis of the profit system itself. In addition big capitalists also realised that such legislation would help to drive the smaller capitalists out of business.
However, the working class must oversee the implementation of protective legislation, as the bosses will cheat and always find ways to avoid the law so that they can maximise their exploitation of women. The labour aristocracy and trade union leaders have used the notion of protective legislation to exclude women from certain skilled trades in order to protect their sectional craft interests.
Women must not be excluded from any trade or industry. Committees of women workers, not union bureaucrats, must decide what tasks, if any, within a trade may be harmful to women’s health.
Women are systematically denied control of their own bodies and are forced into having unwanted children, or prevented from having children they do want. Women are also forced into arranged marriages and obstructed from getting divorced. In short, women are denied control over their own fertility. Child-bearing must be a choice for women if they are to participate equally with men in production, social and political life.
The provision of free contraception and abortion on demand for all women is essential. In many parts of the semi-colonial world women suffer oppression stemming from previous modes of production and the attendant religious ideologies. We are against the forcible circumcision of women, which is part of that oppression. The semi-colonies also suffer from the pressure of imperialism to solve their so-called “population problem” at the expense of women’s rights.
No woman should be forcibly sterilised. Women are restrained from participating in social life by legal, social and religious codes and frequently face psychological and physical abuse. Enforced marriage and the sale and trade of women must be legally outlawed and these laws enforced by the working class. Full legal rights and benefits must be available to all women regardless of their age or marital status. Down with the compulsory veiling of women or their exclusion from any aspect of public life.
Women cannot be liberated unless these demands for the immediate interests of women form part of a programme for working class power. But the fight for immediate and transitional demands can draw working class and peasant women into the united fight of the workers for that goal.
Unless women are won to such a united working class struggle they can remain a passive or even backward section of the class, subject as they are to the impact of bourgeois propaganda, particularly religion. But won to such action women can break working class men from the sexist ideology that splits and weakens the labour movement, as well as secure real gains for themselves as they advance towards the goals of socialist revolution and women’s liberation.
Women must be recruited to the unions, and organised to press their demands on the union leaders. Where women work alongside men in industry we oppose the call for separate women’s unions, even where the sexism of the union bureaucrats makes participation of women very difficult.
The struggle must be waged to unite male and female workers, whilst defending the right of women to caucus and organise within the unions and at all levels of the labour movement. We must demand that the union leaders fund and support campaigns for the recruitment of women, including part time workers who should be given full rights and reduced rates of dues.
We recognise that the legacy of women’s role under capitalism as the prime carers and child rearers will mean that many women will be drawn into struggle around the organisation of welfare in times of heightened class struggle and revolutionary crises. However, the revolutionary party must agitate for special measures to ensure that women play a full a role in all aspects of the class struggle, and are not held back from any form of political activity due to their welfare role.
A proletarian women’s movement, led by revolutionaries armed with a programme for the dictatorship of the proletariat, is essential if women are to play a positive and vital role in the revolutionary struggle. A movement which draws in wide layers of working class women is an essential way of organising those women who are excluded from production, i.e. housewives, unemployed and disabled women.
Such a movement, based on women organised in the factories, offices, on the farms, in the communities and in the unions can, at one and the same time, fight for the interests of women, against the prejudices of male workers, and for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
In key battles of the working class, women frequently organise their own committees and groups. Whatever form these initial organisations of women take, revolutionaries must argue for their transformation into a proletarian movement which draws in all layers of women workers, poor peasants and oppressed sections of the petit bourgeoisie.
In the present period, where revolutionaries are not in the leadership of the mass of working class women, the tasks of organising such a movement still exist. We demand of the Social Democratic and Stalinist leaders of the working class that they provide resources and support for the building of such a movement. In this way we can enter in to a united front with the most militant sections of working class women and, through joint actions and communist propaganda, seek to win them away from their misleaders.
Women of other classes, most importantly peasant women but also urban petit bourgeois women, especially in the imperialised countries, will be drawn into this struggle, behind the leadership of proletarian women. To follow the feminist line of an all-class women’s movement would be to surrender the interests of working class women.
The possibility exists of a temporary alliance with parts of the bourgeois women’s movement in some semi-colonial countries. But such movements must fight and mobilise for at least bourgeois democratic demands (for instance the fight of the Congress Party in India against the burning of widows). United action also depends on freedom of propaganda and organisation for all tendencies that are prepared to fight. There must be no restrictions on Trotskyists in their revolutionary work.
We oppose the idea of an “autonomous” movement because it excludes the possibility of the women’s movement being won to the revolutionary programme, and seeks to prevent communist women from intervening as disciplined members of their organisation. Communist women seek to win the majority of a proletarian women’s movement to supporting the revolutionary programme and electing communists to its leadership.
The slogan of “autonomy” also involves the exclusion of men from the organisations, and often meetings, of women. Working class women cannot destroy capitalism and end their own oppression without uniting in struggle with the rest of their class, namely, men. The exclusion of men from the activities of a women’s movement places an unnecessary barrier in the path of the fight against sexism. This fight must involve the education of male workers in the process of common struggle with women.
Youth and children
The sons and daughters of workers and peasants experience the most intense forms of capitalist exploitation and abuse. Youth are denied the most elementary rights to independence. Youth have no legal right to dispose of their own wages, no independent access to state benefits and, indeed, no right to choose where and how to live their lives. Despite this youth are deemed mature enough to be forcibly drafted into the armed forces where they will be sacrificed by the million in the military defence of the bourgeois order.
The social structure which creates and sustains the oppression of youth is the family. As with women, this subordination is not an eternal feature of human life but a product of class society. The individual family is where infants and children are raised and where the basic skills are learned. In addition it serves to instil into youth the rules by which they are expected to abide in adult life.
Working class children are raised to be obedient workers, and likewise the male children of the bourgeoisie are taught to be efficient captains of industry and generals of the armed forces, and girls, obedient wives and producers of future heirs.
Youth of the working class and poor peasantry are subject to the most intense oppression: oppression in the family co-exists with super-exploitation in production and poor levels of education. Such youth are the backbone of low waged industries. This reflects the position of youth in the family: their wage levels generally assume that they are part of a larger economic unit.
This in turn reinforces youth dependence on parents. As students in schools and colleges working class youth are given little or no income, poor quality training and an education designed to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie.
In its most extreme form the position of youth and child labour is a form of slavery, with all wages being paid to the head of the family, usually the father. Where child labour is common, as in many semi-colonies, the welfare of the growing child is of no concern to the bosses who grind these children into ill health and an early grave.
For the parents such is their own desperate poverty that they feel there is no alternative but to send their children into the hell of super-exploitation. Child protection laws are ignored by bosses and parents alike, proving the truth of Marx’s dictum that right can never be higher than the economic foundation of society.
Another consequence of this economic and legal dependence is the repression of young peoples’ sex lives. In class society this is an essential starting point for instilling conformity and obedience. Children are not allowed to achieve a rational understanding of their sexual feelings or the interaction of their sexual feelings with social responsibilities.
In fact their sexuality is denied any frank expression; even those feelings that conform to the heterosexual norm prescribed by bourgeois society are repressed. Instead young people are subjected to moral and religious taboos. These serve to cloud their consciousness with irrational fears. The child’s whole emotional life is obliged to be centred and fixed on their parents. By these means bourgeois notions of the individual and the private are nurtured as against any co-operative or collective ideal.
To liberate youth from their economic, social, legal and sexual subordination requires the transformation of society to ensure that the individual family household is no longer the exclusive place for the performance of domestic labour and the raising of children.
Along with creating the conditions for the liberation of women, this would also free youth to be independent of their parents, with as much or as little contact with them as they wished, but with the social provision of housing, food, cleaning, clothing and leisure facilities, and childcare available to all.
Economic independence, proper education and freedom from super-exploitation are the key demands for youth. For those in paid employment, equal pay for work of equal value must be achieved under workers’ control to overcome the gross pay differentials which exist between youth and adult workers.
Reduced hours should be worked by youth when they first enter employment, and they should have the right to longer holidays than adult workers. For youth and children under the school leaving age hours of work must be strictly limited and conditions of work overseen by the working class and committees of young workers. Protective legislation is necessary to forbid night work, long hours, and other work which may be injurious to the health and development of youth. This must be under the control of the workers and youth themselves.
Education and training for children and youth must be fought for by the whole class. The bosses must be forced to provide full time schooling with financial support for families and later for the students. Education should be free with all expenses paid by the state. It should be comprehensive and available to all, being compulsory up to an age agreed by the labour movement.
We fight for the abolition of tests or exams designed to restrict entry into educational institutions. A living grant must be paid to those staying in education beyond the school leaving age, at a level set by committees of students, workers and teachers and protected against inflation.
Education should be equally available for girls and boys and the workers’ movement should strive to integrate boys’ and girls’ schooling. It must be secular–no religious propaganda in schools, no state funds to religious schools. We fight against the bourgeois class bias of the curriculum, for instruction in the history of the workers’ movement and in the nature of capitalist exploitation.
In schools and colleges we fight for the integration of education and training with the experience of production, aiming to overcome the distinction between mental and manual labour which is a feature of all bourgeois education. At the same time, the workers’ movement must fight to prevent the capitalists using students, apprentices and trainees as cheap labour. We fight for adequate cultural and sporting facilities, for free discussion of sexual, social and political questions in schools. We demand instruction for the youth in the use of weapons, while opposing any presence of the police or army in the schools, colleges and campuses.
We fight to place all educational facilities under the control of the working class and students. While fighting against private educational institutions and for the nationalisation of the universities, we fight for the autonomy of educational institutions from the capitalist state. The running of all educational institutions should be under the direct control of the workers, students and teachers involved and representatives of the labour movements.
The representatives must be elected from the mass meetings of all involved on the basis of one vote per person. For the right of school and college students to form unions and political organisations, for the right of access to the schools and colleges for the workers’ representatives. Drive the fascists from the schools, colleges and campuses. Worker and student control bodies must fight for the right to veto the appointment of reactionary teachers.
Students as a whole are not automatically a natural ally of the working class. Many students are drawn from the upper and middle classes. Full time students are in a privileged position because they are not subject to the daily routine of the working class. Moreover, many students can and do receive privileges as a result of their education. Nevertheless many students–future scientists, technologists, lawyers and artists–can and must be won to the side of the revolutionary workers’ movement, thereby strengthening it. Since the time of Marx and Engels the best elements of the intelligentsia in each generation have been won to the proletarian cause.
Mass student struggles–in the degenerated workers’ states as well as the capitalist countries–show that students have a vital role to play, shoulder to shoulder with the proletarian vanguard, in the struggle for socialism.
We therefore fight for worker and student unity expressed in permanent links between the workers’ movement and the student organisations, where students can be won to the side of the working class and where the enthusiasm and idealism of the students can help rank and file workers overcome their bureaucratic and conservative leaders. Students should take up class struggle tactics–strikes and occupations–to win their demands.
They should fight for rank and file control over the student unions, against state interference and control. In some countries a layer of student bureaucrats exists which, while not being part of the trade union bureaucracy, actively propagates the same ideology and methods of operation. These leaders must be challenged and the student organisations won to the support of workers’ real struggles.
Unemployed youth must fight for genuine training and education with full economic support, plus the sliding scale of hours to share out available work under workers’ control. For those not in work, full benefits must be available as soon as young people leave full time education, to ensure that unemployment does not result in complete economic dependence on the family.
Within the family the parents are the people immediately responsible for implementing the oppression of their children. This is true even where parents hold progressive ideas. More often parents oppress their children in a brutal way, treating disobedience with violence and abuse. Youth must therefore be given full legal and political rights within the family, as elsewhere, in order to help break the domination and power that parents exert over them.
Social restrictions that the family places on youth, often related to religion, are unbearably oppressive for many young women and men. Since the family denies them the right to pursue their chosen social and sexual activities, social centres must be provided where all the facilities for these activities are freely available. Information and education about sex should be available at the social centres, together with free contraception and abortion referrals.
Age of consent laws do nothing to protect youth in the family from sexual abuse. They do punish consensual sexual relations for individuals below a certain age. Abolish the age of consent!
Youth must also be given full political and legal rights in the public sphere. If youth are mature enough to be drafted into the bosses’ army to defend their system of exploitation then they are mature enough to make responsible decisions in peacetime. The right to vote should be fixed at a legal minimum no higher than 16, and to be determined by each national labour movement. The right to make legally binding decisions in financial and civil matters must be guarateed at the same age.
Youth, mainly male, are the cannon fodder of bourgeois armies. Whether it be in the service of US imperialism in Vietnam or pursuing a diversionary war in Iran, hundreds of thousands of youth, of both genders, have been cynically sacrificed in the service of reaction.
It is necessary to educate the youth in the spirit of proletarian anti-imperialism and anti-militarism. Pacifism only dulls the mind and prepares the way for future slaughter. The youth must be trained in military techniques under the guidance of the labour movement. Youth will provide the backbone of the picket line defence squads and the core of the future workers’ militia.
In times of acute crisis and class struggle, young unemployed workers who have no experience of production and solidarity can be mobilised as supporters for fascist gangs, or used to break strikes. In order to overcome these dangers the organised working class must draw youth into the unions. Reduced dues must be available for young workers joining unions, but with full membership rights. Youth must organise sections within the unions in order to press for their demands, educate themselves and recruit other young workers.
Great opportunities exist to win youth to the revolutionary vanguard of the working class. Naturally more concerned about the future than any other generation they can be quickly won to a revolutionary and socialist outlook. Youth generally lack the conservatism which has broken the spirit of so many older workers.They have not been worn down by experiencing years of reformist misleadership and betrayal.
A revolutionary youth movement must therefore be built as a key organisation in the struggle for working class power and youth liberation. Armed with the revolutionary transitional programme this movement will draw in youth from other classes, notably the poor peasants and urban petit bourgeoisie.
It should be represented at every level of the labour movement. This principle applies with redoubled force in the revolutionary party which should set an example to the whole of the labour movement.
Lesbians and gay men
Sexual oppression has been a feature of all class societies. The imposition of monogamy on women accompanied, and was integrally linked with, the rise of private property and classes. Under capitalism general sexual oppression still exists, especially for women and youth.
Capitalism has also given rise to the systematic oppression of lesbians and gay men. Capitalist society, whatever liberal gestures it has proved capable of in periods of prosperity, is inherently anti-homosexual.
The ideological and economic centrality of the family for capitalism means that any groups who undermine the monogamous, heterosexual “norm” of the bourgeois family are regarded as a dire threat to society and stigmatised accordingly. Lesbians and gay men pose a threat to the ideological underpinnings of the family and to its ideal nuclear structure, by demonstrating that sex is neither a purely functional activity related to reproduction nor a means of cementing the monogamous heterosexual marriage.
They testify to the fact that sex is a pleasurable pursuit in its own right. The fact that lesbian and gay sex is openly non-reproductive is a threat to the legitimacy of the bourgeois family.
Under capitalism lesbians and gay men have been systematically denounced, abused and criminalised. This has led to sexual misery for millions of individuals and fomented harmful divisions within the working class. The bourgeoisie through the manipulation of education, the media, religion and the legal system , and with the connivance of the trade union bureaucracy, promotes the idea that homosexuality is “unnatural”.
In the 1980s the bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries used the development of the AIDS epidemic to step up the persecution of homosexuals, especially gay men, who were blamed as the perpetrators of the disease. Inside the working class these arguments have generally been accepted and a deep rooted fear of homosexuality (homophobia) is the norm.
This homophobia often creates the basis for active, and frequently violent, anti-lesbian and gay bigotry in the working class. However, the proletariat as a whole has no material or fundamental interest in maintaining lesbian or gay oppression or in perpetuating anti-lesbian and gay bigotry.
Lesbians and gay men suffer discrimination in all spheres, including legal sanctions. Whilst this oppression affects lesbians and gay men of all classes, it is again working class lesbians and gay men who are most acutely affected. Oppression affects employment opportunities. Men and women who are openly homosexual are less likely to get work, will be isolated and abused at work, and are more likely to lose their jobs, their homes and their children.
Unlike oppressed members of the ruling class, working class lesbians and gay men have no alternative but to seek work. Consequently they are frequently forced to deny their sexuality, suffering the psychological damage that such denial and suppression produces.
The working class must fight for an end to all legal discrimination against lesbians and gay men. This is a basic democratic right. The state should have no rights to interfere in people’s sexuality where consenting individuals are concerned. Abolition of the age of consent is necessary to deprive the police and the courts of another weapon to harass and abuse young lesbians and gay men.
Discrimination in every sphere–including employment, housing and custody of children–must be fought. Legal rights should be campaigned for and defended by the working class. The state must be made to provide information about sexuality in schools without proscribing homosexuality as generally happens today. Religious anti-gay bigotry must be swept out of the classroom.
Millions of lesbians and gay men form part of the working class. The great majority do not acknowledge their sexuality through fear of victimisation or persecution. Those who have done so have suffered as a consequence.
The organisations of the working class must be won to supporting the right of all homosexuals to be open about their sexuality, to resist police or fascist harassment, to defend the right to work and to earn a living wage. An atmosphere of mutual respect for people with different sexual orientations must replace the atmosphere of sexist and heterosexist bigotry that currently pervades the world workers’ movement.
Working class lesbians and gay men must have the right to caucus within the organisations of the working class in order to fight against homophobia and for full political and social equality. In order to take the struggle beyond specific sectional or local issues, such caucuses need to be linked up with specific united fronts and campaigns which could form part of a proletarian movement for lesbian and gay liberation.
Revolutionaries will fight for political leadership in such united front organisations to win lesbians and gay men to the programme of lesbian and gay liberation and revolutionary socialism.
The systematic oppression of lesbians and gay men will not be ended whilst the bourgeois family is promoted and defended as the model for social life. That is why the struggle to end this form of oppression must be linked to the programme for working class power.
Such a revolution will be able to free lesbian and gay proletarians from the material deprivations that are inflicted on them as a direct result of their oppression and exploitation by capitalism, and end the regime of sexual misery that blights the lives of millions throughout the world.
Modern nations cannot be identified with so-called races. Racial oppression is the product of the emergence of the bourgeois nation. In the mercantilist period of early capitalism slavery was fundamental to the primitive accumulation of capital in certain countries. The extension of capitalist colonial empires brought with it the systematic denial of basic human rights and even genocide for the indigenous populations.
Racism has taken its most virulent form in the imperialist epoch: economic catastrophes, revolutions and wars have given birth to a modern pseudo-scientific racism. It exists as both a feverish fantasy of the petit bourgeoisie and a conscious tool of the imperialist bourgeoisie.
The “race” problem in our century is not one of supposed racial differences but is a function of racism: the oppression of people because of their (supposed) race. The victims of this systematic racism are many.
In the forefront stand the Jews, who suffered genocide during World War Two, and the black people of Africa, the Caribbean, the USA and those who have emigrated to Europe.
In South Africa the black majority has long laboured under the savage oppression of apartheid. In addition, the post-war boom sucked millions of workers from the semi colonies to the imperialist heartlands, from one semi-colony to another and from less developed to more highly developed imperialist countries. These migrant and immigrant workers are also racially oppressed.
The victims of racial oppression are systematically denied democratic rights. Police and state racism pour down on them. This further serves to encourage violent attacks by individual racists, gangs and organised fascists. The racially oppressed suffer discrimination in education and all spheres of welfare provision. They are subject to super-exploitation at work. Whenever capitalism enters recession racial minorities suffer most from unemployment and low pay.
For the working masses of the racially oppressed there is no capitalist solution to their oppression. Capitalism’s tendency to integrate and stratify immigrant communities always benefits the petit bourgeois and bourgeois strata at the expense of the poorest masses. Even this tendency is repeatedly thrown into reverse as capitalism resorts to crude racism and national chauvinism in its periods of crisis.
The slaughter of over six million Jews under Hitler demonstrates the epoch’s barbaric potential. No matter what level of “equal opportunity” or “affirmative action” is reached, imperialism’s sharp turns in politics and economics will always leave the oppressed prey to the genocidal “final solution” of desperate finance capital.
Revolutionary communists conduct agitation and propaganda within the oppressed communities for the strictest separation of the class interests of the workers from the bourgeoisie, petit bourgeoisie and clergy. For this purpose the revolutionary party may set up special forms of organisation, but it resolutely opposes the call for a separate political party of any racial group, no matter what ultra-radical political content this is given. Separatism, nationalism and all lead to a dead end from the point of view of the struggle to end oppression and super-exploitation.
The experience of the black struggles in the USA demonstrates both the pitfalls and the revolutionary potential of the struggles against racial oppression. During the long post-war boom blacks lived under a “democratic” constitution and the formal abolition of slavery was a century behind them.
Yet even in these decades of “prosperity” blacks in the USA were still massively disenfranchised, super-exploited and subject to a form of apartheid in the southern states. Beginning with passive protest, led by the black clergy and the intelligentsia, the black resistance developed into mass revolt and armed clashes with the police and national guard.
But it was faced with a massive crisis of leadership. On the one side the integrationist petit bourgeoisie were ready to demobilise mass revolt for the sake of reforms and greater access to local and state government. The radical opposition to these sell-outs–the Black Panthers, Malcolm X–was unable to make a complete break with separatism and guerrillaism.
Cut off from the mass of white workers and from the masses of the black community the vanguard was crushed by the US state. After inflicting this defeat US imperialism incorporated a black bourgeoisie and a caste of professional politicians, leaving the overwhelming majority to rot in America’s disintegrating inner-cities.
Only the overthrow of imperialism, the freeing of the productive forces from the chains of national capitalism, can remove the material roots of racial oppression. The struggle against racism must form an integral part of the programme and activity of the revolutionary party in every period.
It must focus its transitional action programme around the day to day struggles of the racially oppressed which hit at discrimination in education, wages, employment and working conditions. The party can and must find masses of heroic fighters amongst the men, women and youth of the racially oppressed to rally around this programme.
Because they are led by class collaborators and social chauvinists, the official labour movements of the imperialist heartlands reflect the racism and chauvinism of the ruling class, and are frequently instruments of it. But there is no road to liberation for the oppressed other than through a struggle to win the majority of the working class to united action against racism.
Revolutionary communists fight within the workers’ movement for united action against all racist attacks and laws and for workers’ defence squads against racist and fascist attack. We struggle for full citizenship and democratic rights for all racial and national minorities, immigrant and migrant workers.
We fight to abolish all immigration controls in the imperialist countries. In the semi-colonies we stand against colonial settlement and support the imposition of time limits and other restrictions on citizenship on white settlers. We are against all new colonial settlements by capitalists and rich farmers. This is the only exception we make to our generalised opposition to immigration controls in semi-colonial countries.
It is scandalous to suggest that the racially oppressed should remain passive or patiently endure racism until the mass of white workers and their organisations have been won to an anti-racist perspective. We demand workers’ movement support for self-defence against racist attacks.
To help the racially oppressed to organise against racism within the labour movement and to participate fully within the struggles of the whole working class, we stand for the right of the oppressed to caucus and be represented at every level of the workers’ movement, including within the revolutionary party.
The class struggle and the full system of transitional demands are not suspended within the oppressed communities, whatever the acute common oppression they may suffer. Whilst it is possible to conclude limited tactical agreements with non-proletarian organisations within the communities, these must be based on united action and the strictest separation of programmes. At all times the working class of the oppressed communities must be mobilised against its own exploiters of whatever race, and for the liberation of women, youth, lesbians and gay men.
Chapter 7 – For a revolutionary communist international
The working class needs a revolutionary party in order to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only a revolutionary party, which wins over the majority of the organised working class in the revolutionised unions, the factory committees, workers’ militias and workers’ councils, can take power.
Only a party can hold onto power against counter-revolution, protect it against bureaucratic degeneration and extend the revolution internationally. The building of a Leninist party in each country is the fundamental task of revolutionaries.
The revolutionary party must separate itself from all reformist or centrist elements while at the same time offering the firmest fighting unity to all layers of the working class. Any tendency to subordinate the party to united front bodies, or dissolve it into a permanent front which only addresses the masses on the basis of the lowest common denominator will lead the revolutionary party into centrist degeneration. The Argentinian MAS in the 1980s provides a classic example of this danger.
The Leninist vanguard party functions on the basis of democratic centralism. Democracy in the choice of leaders and the determination of strategy and tactics trains critical, self reliant cadres. Free expression of differences is thus essential.
Bureaucratism trains pliant tools not militant fighters. When serious and prolonged differences emerge in the party the formation of organised tendencies and even factions may be a “necessary evil”. Therefore the right to form tendencies and factions must be jealously safeguarded. Just as Stalinism has corrupted and devalued the word “communism”, so to it has turned Leninist party organisation into a bureaucratic caricature, based on a dead monolithism.
Centralised discipline is an essential means of concentrating all the force of the revolutionary vanguard on the bourgeoisie and its state. It renders each action of the party more effective. Discipline can be a life and death question when carrying on work in conditions of illegality, or in the face of brutal repression. Consequently, the revolutionary organisation is not a discussion club.
When political disputes are resolved by a vote inside the organisation then it is the duty of all members to carry out all decisions and actions that flow from such a vote, in a loyal and systematic fashion. After the carrying out of such decisions and actions it is entirely permissible to review the policy under dispute and attempt to change it. Such genuine democratic centralism is essential at all stages of party building.
Very often the initial stages of party building will be devoted primarily to propaganda. Where there are only a handful of revolutionaries in a given country the main task will be to clarify the most fundamental questions of programme.
Nevertheless, we always aim to test and apply our programme through intervention into the class struggle wherever possible. As the organisation grows to become a fighting propaganda group it will increasingly take part in mass struggles, fighting for leadership, making practical proposals for how struggles can be won and drawing the lessons of them in order to win over the most advanced elements of the class to the revolutionary programme.
The passage from the fighting propaganda group to the Leninist combat party cannot be achieved by launching a handful of cadre into shallow “mass work”, or by making opportunist adaptations in situations of heightened class struggle. Where important leftward moving centrist forces exist within centrist or reformist parties it may be necessary to enter such organisations, with the twin objective of a united struggle against the right wing party leaders and the construction of a revolutionary tendency.
In this way the best class fighters can be rallied to the perspective of building a revolutionary party. This tactic is in no way an inevitable stage in party building. Nor does it have anything in common with the strategic “deep entry” practiced by various right centrist “Trotskyist” organisations since the late 1940s. These have become buried deep within the reformist parties and long ago abandoned the struggle for the revolutionary programme.
A genuine revolutionary party exercises a strong influence on the vanguard of the class. It is composed of communist cadres, has a sizeable national implantation in the advanced sectors of the proletariat, and is able to organise mass struggles. In revolutionary and pre-revolutionary situations the party must develop into a mass party in order to organise the masses for the seizure of power.
For a mass revolutionary workers’ party
In many countries in the imperialised world, and even in certain imperialist countries, decades of capitalist growth have seen a massive expansion of the proletariat and its trade unions, without a corresponding growth in its political parties. The workers and the unions frequently remain loyal to bourgeois or petit bourgeois nationalist parties, or even to forms of Bonapartism. Under such conditions the fight to build a revolutionary party will be closely intertwined with the struggle for the political independence of the working class.
In the 1930s in the USA, Trotsky advanced the slogan of a workers’ party based on the trade unions as a way of overcoming the political backwardness of the US workers and of answering the felt need for political organisation in the wake of the massive class struggles of the mid-1930s. This was in no way a call for a reformist, Social Democratic party, but a tactic advanced by Trotsky in the fight for a revolutionary party.
Generally an important device for making propaganda for class independence and to expose the bureaucrats’ subservience to the bosses, the workers’ party slogan can become on occasion a sharp agitational weapon. The call for a workers’ party is a call for the trade unions to break with the open parties of the bourgeoisie and to fight for the construction of a party of the whole working class.
They should cease to pledge the loyalty of the working class to its class enemies. The unions are central to this call, precisely because it will generally become operative under conditions of heightened class struggle in which a massive influx of radicalised workers into the unions has taken place (USA in the 1930s, South Africa and Brazil in the 1980s).
In such circumstances the danger exists that if revolutionaries do not utilise the workers’ party tactic and intervene in the process of its creation then the reformists themselves may well direct the radicalised workers towards the creation of a reformist party, or a renegotiated pact with the bourgeois or petit bourgeois parties.
The workers’ party tactic is not an inevitable stage in the political development of the working class. Its agitational use will depend upon the concrete circumstances in each country. However, we are quite clear that in fighting for the creation of a workers’ party, we propose that it should be based on the revolutionary programme.
We fight to prevent a reformist or centrist noose being placed around the neck of the proletariat. But the nature of this party cannot be laid down in advance as an ultimatum. Its nature will be determined by the struggle between revolutionaries and the misleaders.
Where there is no tradition of mass political organisation of the working class, the political struggle inside the workers’ party to defend the interests of the workers allows for the polarisation of the existing political tendencies within the working class. This is shown by the development of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) during the 1980s.
The revolutionary International
The imperialists and their henchmen in the semi-colonies and the workers’ states co-ordinate their actions against the proletariat on an international scale through the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, Comecon, and military blocs such as NATO, the Warsaw Pact. Against their “Internationals”, we have to build a working class mass revolutionary International, in order to overcome the chauvinism and racism that bourgeois society imposes on the ranks of the world working class.
The goal of this international will be the revolutionary destruction of capitalist and Stalinist rule throughout the world. It will take the lead in the liberation of the whole of humanity from the twin yokes of exploitation and oppression. The international dictatorship of the proletariat will lay the basis for a world socialist system and move to eradicate all traces of the old order in the march to world communism.
Before and after the revolution, the task of creating a revolutionary programme and party is an international one. There can be no question of fighting to build large national parties first and then linking them together in a mass international. National parties built in isolation will succumb to national narrowness and one-sidedness.
In the imperialist countries this will involve a tendency to accommodate to economism and social chauvinism. In the semi-colonies it will lead to yielding to petit bourgeois nationalism and to blunting the class independence of the proletariat.
In the Stalinist states it will result in accommodation to the “reforming” wing of the Stalinist bureaucracy. If the national pressures of each country are to be overcome it is vital to develop a global perspective and intervene in the international class struggle. At all times it is essential to forge practical solidarity between workers in different countries.
No proletarian revolutionary International exists today. The Socialist International collapsed into reformism in 1914 when its major sections supported their “own” bourgeoisie in the First World War. Today it acts as a co-ordinating centre for Social Democratic reformists and their anti-working class plans.
The Comintern, under the crushing weight of Stalinism, collapsed politically in 1933 when its policy facilitated Hitler’s coming to power. In 1943 Stalin cynically dissolved it. Nevertheless, the links between Communist Parties and the ruling castes in the degenerate(d) workers’ states are still strong.
A hidden bureaucratic international links a majority of the world’s Communist Parties to Moscow. But the Kremlin no longer commands a monopoly of loyalty. Eurocommunism put distance between Moscow and the western CPs and for others Cuba and China provide an alternative source of inspiration and funds. All this testifies to the continued process of disintegration of the world Stalinist movement.
The last revolutionary International, the Fourth International (FI), founded by Trotsky in 1938, no longer exists. The FI was founded on the perspective that it would rapidly come to lead millions during the revolutionary crises provoked by the Second World War. This did not take place, as Stalinism and Social Democracy emerged strengthened from the conflict.
The FI, however, continued to operate with its pre-war perspectives of imminent war and revolution. Weakened by Stalinist and imperialist repression, and having suffered political and organisational dislocation and disarray during the war, the FI was unable to chart a course for the world working class in the new conditions which opened up after the end of the Second World War.
Between 1948 and 1951 the Fourth International moved further and further away from the Marxist method as it made a series of political adaptations, ceding the leading role in the class struggle to supposedly “centrist” forces of Stalinist, Social Democratic or petit bourgeois nationalist origin. The first and most dramatic example was that of Yugoslavia. Following the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, the FI declared that Tito was no longer a Stalinist and opposed the slogan of political revolution in Yugoslavia.
Underpinning this degeneration was a perspective of an impending world war which would be rapidly transformed into an international civil war. The failure to re-elaborate programme and perspectives led to the adoption of a systematic centrist method by the 1951 World Congress of the Fourth International; the FI was politically destroyed. In the Bolivian revolution of 1952 the centrist FI supported a bourgeois government of the nationalist MNR and criminally squandered the potential for proletarian power.
In 1951 the FI ceased to exist as a revolutionary organisation. In 1953 it ceased to exist as a united organisation when it split into warring centrist factions, none of which represented a political continuity with the revolutionary Fourth International of 1938-48.
After 1953 the International Secretariat (IS) side of the split pioneered the right centrist deviation of the FI. In its subsequent incarnation after 1963, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI), this trend has consistently adapted to various Stalinist, petit bourgeois nationalist and social democratic trends. The main opposition to the IS after 1953 was the International Committee (IC).
Despite certain partially correct criticisms of the IS, the IC fundamentally continued to apply the method of the centrist FI. Its British section’s deep entry work into the Labour Party was thoroughly opportunist. It bent the knee to petit bourgeois nationalism and Maoism. Its hallmark was a catastrophist perspective woodenly lifted from the 1938 Transitional Programme.
As with the “Socialist” and “Communist” Internationals, the legacy of the political and organisational degeneration of the Fourth International persists today. There exist several international centrist currents which claim its heritage and with which we are in political combat. Yet all of them share the same incapacity to use the method of Lenin and Trotsky to guide the world working class to victory. The task of the day is clear: the construction of a new Revolutionary Communist International.
The LRCI is the instrument for the creation of a new Leninist-Trotskyist mass revolutionary international. We do not start this struggle from scratch. We stand in the political tradition of Marx and Engels’ First International, the struggle of the revolutionary internationalists inside the Second International, the first four congresses of Lenin’s Communist (Third) International, Trotsky’s struggle for the defence and re-elaboration of the revolutionary programme, and the revolutionary positions of the Fourth International from 1938-48. We therefore begin our work on the basis of the struggles and programmatic gains of the last century and a half.
The struggle against centrism
Centrism occupies a middle position between revolutionary communism and reformism, eclectically combining theory stolen from the former and adapting to the “practical politics” of the latter. It is not a new phenomenon. Right from the outset of the Marxist movement, a century and a half ago, centrism has developed in the form of organisations moving rightwards away from revolutionary politics (the Socialist International pre-1914, the Stalinist Comintern in the 1920s and early 1930s, the Fourth International in the late 1940s and early 1950s). But as with the Pivertists in the French SFIO in the mid-1930s and tendencies within the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, we have also witnessed centrist tendencies moving leftwards away from reformism.
Centrism is congenitally incapable of leading the working class to victory. It makes fine sounding “revolutionary” declarations whilst refusing to commit itself to a definite strategy or a concrete programme. Unable to unite theory and practice, centrism’s theoretical method is fundamentally based on impressionism: a light-minded development of “new theories” for an ever “new” reality which tramples on the doctrine and method of Marxism.
In the rapids of revolution centrism’s wild zig-zags allow vital opportunities to pass and hand the initiative back to the consciously counter-revolutionary forces of Social Democracy and Stalinism. Hence its danger for the working class. Each time centrism has led the workers in a decisive conflict (Germany 1919, Italy 1920, China 1927, Spain 1937, Bolivia 1952, 1971 and 1976, to name but a few), the result has been disastrous.
The example of the POUM in the Spanish Civil War shows how a centrist organisation can obstruct the building of the revolutionary party. Far from leading the masses to victory, the centrist POUM provided left cover for the Stalinists’ counter-revolutionary popular front and covered up for the betrayals of the anarchists, thus helping to pave the way for the crushing of the Spanish working class by Franco.
Centrism is above all a phenomenon of movement–of development or degeneration–to the left or the right. But in the absence of both mass revolutionary events and of a powerful revolutionary pole of attraction, centrism may be able to maintain itself for extended periods, taking on an ossified existence. This was the nature of the developing centrism of Karl Kautsky inside the Socialist International before 1914. Such right-centrism is consistently reformist in practice, but is prepared to use pseudo-revolutionary phraseology until its passage into the camp of reformism. This is the nature of many organisations around the world which claim to be “Trotskyist”.
Sectarianism fears the living struggles of the working class. It justifies its inactivity in the name of the “preservation of principles”. Sectarianism abstains from the mass organisations of the workers and prefers to hide in fake “revolutionary” bodies. In short, it has nothing in common with revolutionary Marxism and everything in common with centrism.
Despite what wooden sectarians might wish to imagine, sectarianism and opportunism are not opposites, but are the product of the same political method: both have no confidence in the ability of the working class to mobilise around the revolutionary programme. The opportunist seeks to dilute the programme, the sectarian abstains from decisive intervention in the class on the basis of that programme.
The essential identity of the two methods is shown by the sectarian lurch of the centrist Communist International between 1928-33, and the ultra-leftism of the USFI (1967-74).
The struggle against centrism of all sorts has been a decisive feature of the construction of every revolutionary international. Marx and Engels fought against the anarchists; Lenin and Luxemburg led the fight against the centrist leadership of the Socialist International. The Comintern won over the left centrist syndicalists in France and the German USPD, and broke the left wing from the Italian PSI.
In the fight to build the Fourth International, Trotsky directed his polemics against the centrist forces emerging from the Comintern (e.g. Bordiga, Treint, Souvarine) and from the Social Democracy (e.g. the Independent Labour Party–ILP–in Britain and Pivert in France). At the same time he proposed unity in action with centrists wherever possible. This is the way we orient to today’s centrist forces.
The transition from centrism to revolutionary politics involves not merely a development but a decisive break. It is not a gradual or inevitable process. The great majority of centrist organisations have not become revolutionary.
Either they have disintegrated (like the ILP and the POUM in the 1930s) or they have degenerated into reformism (the MIRs of Latin America). Where centrist parties have become sizeable mass formations they cannot long balance between reform or revolution. Thus the PUM of Peru and Democrazia Proletaria in Italy are developing ever more pronouncedly reformist wings.
Forms of unstable centrism have also appeared during the last forty years under the impact of Maoism and of the Cuban Revolution, notably in the semi-colonies. Although the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1964-69) was in reality a bureaucratic faction fight, the radical phrase-mongering of the Maoist wing struck a sympathetic chord amongst both opponents of the Moscow Stalinists and anti-imperialist forces. Maoist groups in West Germany, Italy and a number of semi-colonies were founded upon radicalised, generally youthful forces, and many briefly passed though a period of centrist development.
The reactionary reality of Maoism, as expressed in the massacres of proletarian forces in Wuhan and Guangdong during the Cultural Revolution, and the rapprochement with Nixon and Pinochet, coupled with the rise in European Social Democracy, brought this period to an end in the early 1970s.
In the semi-colonial world the MIR groups, born under the influence of Guevarism and the Cuban Revolution, rapidly declined into Social Democratic, petit bourgeois nationalist or even outright bourgeois parties. Different in origin again, centrist tendencies inside the degenerate(d) workers’ states have developed, faced with the crisis of Stalinism. They combine revolutionary hostility to the regime with confused, often Social Democratic influenced, programmes.
The main form of centrism which currently exists on an international scale is that which has its roots in the degeneration of the Fourth International. Organisations which have developed from this root have put forward partial critiques of Social Democracy, of Stalinism or of the degenerate fragments of the Fourth International.
Many have tried to re-establish a revolutionary continuity and yet in every case we know of this attempt has failed. None of these groups have been able to consistently put forward a revolutionary programme for the masses, nor to implement it in struggle on either a day to day basis or in the major revolutionary situations of the last forty years.
In general, their errors have been of little immediate consequence to the outcome of the struggles of the world proletariat due to their lack of implantation in it. Nevertheless, centrists who claimed to be Trotskyists have played important roles in the failure of the 1952 revolution in Bolivia and in the throwing away of a mass movement in Sri Lanka in 1964 and Peru 1978-80.
Corrupted by opportunist adaptation, these organisations have all repeated the mistake of the centrist Fourth International by placing their faith in the “revolutionary process”, in tailing this or that “left” tendency within reformism or petit bourgeois nationalism in the hope that they will prove the new vehicle for the disembodied “world revolution”.
This is true of the systematic adaptation of the USFI. They consider Nicaragua to be a healthy workers’ state and do not fight to overthrow the bureaucratic Castro regime in Cuba. It is also the case for the International Workers League, founded by Nahuel Moreno, which first adapted first to Peronism and then to Stalinism in its home country, Argentina.
It is to be found no less obviously in the tailing of petit bourgeois nationalists and reformists which led the Lambertist current which founded the Fourth International (International Centre of Reconstruction) to hail Algerian nationalists as “Bolsheviks”, and today leads them to propose the construction of a “workers’ international” around a reformist programme centred on bourgeois democratic demands. The international tendency around the British “Militant” group, which hides its origins in the Fourth International, aims to transform Social Democratic parties.
The groupings around the British Socialist Workers Party and the French organisation Lutte Ouvrière tail the spontaneous working class struggle and make no operative use of a transitional programme. The fact that these organisations have continued to exist, in one form or another, for forty years, is a testimony to their isolation from the international working class, not to the strength or validity of their politics.
The forces for a new International will include many of the best class fighters who currently find themselves trapped within the centrist organisations. The sections of our own international organisation all have their origins in breaks with centrism. Splits, fusions and regroupments will prove necessary and for the LRCI it is particularly important to engage in polemic and joint action with those centrists who falsely lay claim to be Trotskyists. In this we start with Trotsky’s injunction “programme first!”.
Build the LRCI, build a Revolutionary Communist International!
Imperialism is a formidable enemy. It has rich resources which it uses to corrupt and coerce the proletariat’s reformist leaders; it deploys a huge state apparatus to oppress and kill workers all over the world. But it cannot stop the class struggle that erupts ceaselessly out of capitalism’s fundamental contradictions. Every cycle of expansion and prosperity brings confidence to the struggle. In every crisis it rouses the exploited to further assaults against the rulers of the world.
Whether the opportunity comes sooner or later to cast all the agents of capitalism into the abyss, the world working class needs an international revolutionary party. The LRCI is setting out to build such a world party of communist revolution. We have begun with the elaboration of a series of revolutionary positions on key international struggles, and with the re-elaboration of the international revolutionary programme.
This task is nearly fifty years overdue but in tackling it we base our programme on the politics and the method of unfalsified Trotskyism, of revolutionary Marxism. Our objective is the construction of a new world party of communist revolution, a refounded Leninist Trotskyist International.
Is the LRCI far from this goal? Are its forces too small faced with a challenge of this magnitude? It is certainly true that our forces are weak, weaker by far than Trotsky’s Fourth International at its foundation in 1938. We have as yet but a handful of cadres in a handful of countries. But we have no right to let this fact daunt us, or deter us from taking up the struggle.
Despite a long mid-century period of imperialist stability, the imperialist epoch remains one of wars and revolutions. Yet events do not move at an even pace nor are parties built simply by a slow accumulation of cadres. There come periods of crisis and revolution when the tasks of years or decades can be accomplished in weeks or months. But for the proletariat to take advantage of such periods we must have a programme to build on and cadres to give leadership.
That is why there is no time to lose. We must lay the foundations now. We appeal to all militants who lay claim to the revolutionary traditions of the international proletariat, repulsed by centrist vacillations; we appeal to all working class fighters, revolted at the betrayals of reformism, petit bourgeois nationalism and the trade union bureaucracy: join us!
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