An epoch of crises and class struggles in all countries: Tactics and the Mass Organisations.
The winds of revolution are once again blowing over the African continent, like in Europe few years back. From Burkina Faso to South Africa, from Burundi to Nigeria, we have seen a radicalisation of the workers and the youth and the rise of mass movements that have challenged corrupt capitalist regimes in one country after another. Zimbabwe today is facing a mass uprising.
Perspectives are a science, but tactics are an art. In order to work out correct tactics, we cannot base ourselves on general schemes and perspectives for the future. One must also remember that perspectives are conditional, a working hypothesis, they are not the tablets brought down from the mount, valid for all times and in all situations. Perspectives must be developed and updated, and be constantly compared with the living reality. On the basis of events, we must modify and change the perspectives, or, if necessary, tear them up and start again.
Tactics must be based on concrete circumstances, which are constantly changing. When discussing tactics, we must remember we are not looking for a formula that fits every possible scenario. We need a flexible approach, need to keep an eye on the situation and how it changes, and in the meantime, build our forces so as to be able to intervene when the opportunity arises.
In working out our tactics we must pay careful attention to the processes taking place in the mass organisations. These will change over time, reflecting the ebb and flow of the mass movement. Over long periods of relative class peace the labour movement comes under the pressure of alien classes. The mass parties and unions acquire a thick bureaucratic crust.
Without the active participation of the workers, their internal life becomes stagnant. Their upper layers fall increasingly under the influence of the bourgeoisie. For decades before the crisis the so-called socialist and social democratic parties were carrying out counter-reforms: deregulation, privatization and cuts. When the crisis broke out in 2008, the bourgeoisie in many cases handed power to the reformists to carry out the dirty work of saving capitalism, introducing savage attacks on the workers (Spain, Greece, etc.). Under such conditions, old and established parties can lose their mass base quite quickly. The old equilibrium has been destroyed. We have entered a period characterised by sudden changes, crises, splits, the disappearance of some parties and the emergence of new political formations.
It was the decay and degeneration of the PASOK that led to rise of Syriza in Greece. Similarly, it was the betrayals of the PSOE and the reformist degeneration of the Communist Party that led to the rapid rise of Podemos in Spain. This type of phenomenon was already anticipated by the rise of Chavez and the Bolivarian Movement in Venezuela.
Where such movements emerge we will have to keep an eye on these formations and work in and around them. But these formations also have limits. They tend to be ideologically confused and organisationally fragile. If they do not develop roots in the working class and adopt a clear anti-capitalist policy, they can unravel as quickly as they arose.
In the last period the dominant tendency in the labour movement was right-reformism. But under conditions of capitalist crisis the reformist organizations will tend to enter into crisis. This can lead to shifts to the left in the direction of left-reformism, as we already see in Britain, or to a collapse of these organisations where no left wing develops.
Where the traditional mass parties have either collapsed or been severely weakened we have seen new formations appear in some countries. The main point we need to understand is that the masses do not move through small groups. The idea of the sectarians that it is possible to create a revolutionary party simply by proclaiming it is absurd, and in contradictions with the facts. Where the old organisations have betrayed, the masses can coalesce around new formations, but always mass formations. These formations will tend towards left reformism, or even centrism under the pressure of events.
We must never forget that the difference between right- and left-reformism is only relative. The essence of reformism – whether of the right or left variety – is the idea that it is not necessary to overthrow the capitalist system, that it is possible gradually to improve the conditions of the workers and oppressed within the framework of capitalism. But the experience of Greece, Venezuela, and everywhere else this has been attempted shows that this is not possible. Either you take the necessary measures to destroy the dictatorship of Capital, or Capital will destroy you.
That is what we mean when we say that betrayal is inherent in reformism. It is not a question of deliberate betrayal but of the simple fact that if you accept the capitalist system, then you must accept the laws of that system. In the present day situation that means you must carry out a policy of cuts and austerity. The case of Tsipras is very instructive in this respect.
While giving critical support to the left reformists we must not foment any illusions, or accept any responsibility for their actions. Let us recall that Tsipras enjoyed great popularity until his policies were put to the test. In the end he compromised and surrendered to the pressures of the bourgeoisie. Now people who had illusions in Tsipras and thought we were too critical are more open to our ideas.
We must differentiate ourselves. Of course, we must avoid the shrill denunciatory tone of the sects. We must enter a dialogue, keeping a friendly tone and stressing what we support, but also explaining the need to go further, to move to the abolition of capitalism. We ask: how will they pay for the reforms they propose if they don’t nationalize the banks and key industries?
The sharp shift to the right in the mass organisations in the past period led many left groups to develop ultra-left conclusions, writing off the mass organisations altogether. They believed they could build an alternative to the left of the old organisations. However, all the attempts of the sects to declare new revolutionary parties have ended in miserable failure. The ultra-lefts fail because they ignore the real movement of the masses and their organisations. But ultra-leftism also leads inevitably to opportunism. In trying to get the ear of the masses, they end up by watering down the programme in order to try and get a wider audience.
This opportunism, which usually attempts to disguise itself by appeals to “transitional demands”, always ends in a blind alley. If the masses want a reformist programme they already have plenty of reformist leaders to turn to. The transitional programme is not a series of individual reformist demands that you cherry pick to “fit in” in a reformist milieu. It is a complete and worked out programme for international socialist revolution, for workers’ power.
Our priority at this stage is to orient to that layer in society where we can build now, not in the future. That is generally the youth, which is open to revolutionary ideas. By winning the youth and training them in the ideas of Marxism we are laying the basis for successful work in the mass organisations when the conditions present themselves.
A new period
The long period of economic growth that characterised the two decades before the First World War was the soil upon which reformism first took root. The illusion was created that capitalism could be reformed peacefully and gradually through parliamentary and trade union activity. Those illusions were shattered in 1914. The World War ushered in an entirely new period – a period of war, revolution and counterrevolution.
The period that lasted from 1914-1945 was entirely different to that which preceded it. It was a period of turbulence in which the old equilibrium was destroyed. Through the experience of stormy class struggles, the workers were drawing revolutionary conclusions. The social and economic crisis shook the old reformist organizations to their foundations. The parties of the working class entered into crisis. Mass left currents crystallized under the influence of the Russian Revolution, leading to the formation of mass Communist Parties.
This is not the place to deal with these processes in detail. Suffice it to say that the defeats of the German and Spanish revolutions, as a result of the betrayals of the Social Democratic and Stalinist leaderships, led directly to the Second World War. The Second World War ended in a peculiar way, which was not foreseen by Trotsky, just as it was not foreseen by Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill or Hitler.
We have dealt with this in the past and there is no need to repeat the reasons for the recovery of capitalism following the Second Word War. The world economy entered into a period of upswing that lasted for decades and left its imprint on the consciousness of the masses in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe, North America and Japan. Like the period that preceded the First World War this led to a strengthening of reformist illusions. For decades the Marxists were isolated from the masses and fighting against the stream.
We refer here to the situation in the industrialised capitalist world. The situation was entirely different for the masses of what were then the colonial and semi-colonial countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Throughout this whole period there were constant upheavals in China, Algeria, Indochina, Bolivia, Cuba, Chile, Argentina, Sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia and the Indian Subcontinent. But the colonial revolution that brought millions of people to their feet was distorted by Stalinism. In many cases the Stalinists led the masses to terrible defeats. Even where they succeeded in taking power, as in China, they created regimes on the model of Stalinist Russia that had no appeal to the workers of the industrialised countries of Europe and the USA.
The negative role played by Stalinism in that period was an enormously complicating factor on a world scale. In relation to the bureaucratically deformed workers states of Russia and Eastern Europe, suffice it to say that the revolutionary developments in 1953 in East Germany, 1956 in Hungary and the movements in Poland and Czechoslovakia were either diverted along nationalist lines or brutally crushed by the Russian bureaucracy. The bourgeoisie of Western Europe and America could point an accusing finger at the Stalinists and say to the workers: “You want Communism? There is Communism for you!” And most workers would draw the conclusion: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”
The enormous revolutionary potential of the European proletariat was shown even at the height of the post-war upswing in 1968 when the workers of France staged the greatest revolutionary general strike in history. In reality, power was in the hands of the French workers in 1968, but that magnificent movement was betrayed by the Stalinist leaders of the CGT and CP. The French events of 1968 were an anticipation of the even more dramatic developments that swept Europe in the 1970s, which coincided with the first serious economic recession since 1945. There were revolutions in Greece, Portugal and Spain and revolutionary movements in Italy and other countries.
Once again, as in the 1930s, there was the formation of left wing and even centrist currents in the mass organisations in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Britain, France and Italy. But this tendency was cut across when the revolutionary movements were derailed by the leadership. As the left reformist leaders got close to power, they soon dropped their left-wing rhetoric and moved sharply to the right. This was the political premise for a recovery of capitalism. For three decades the pendulum swung back to the right. The workers fell back into a state of apathy. The advanced layers became demoralised and sceptical. A period of what we characterized as mild reaction set in.
Under these conditions the pressure of the bourgeoisie on the upper layers of the labour movement became multiplied a thousand fold. This process was enormously exacerbated by the collapse of Stalinism. The bourgeoisie was exultant. They boasted of the end of Communism, the end of Socialism and even the end of History. But history has finally taken its revenge on the bourgeois and its apologists in the leadership of the labour movement. Dialectically, everything has turned into its opposite.
The new period into which we have entered will be far more similar to the stormy years of the inter-war period than to the last half century. But there are also profound differences. In the 1920s and 30s a pre-revolutionary situation usually did not last long. The contradiction was settled rapidly by a movement in the direction of revolution or counter-revolution. In Italy the occupation of the factories in 1919-1920 was separated from Mussolini’s March on Rome by just two years.
Now, however, the processes are more drawn-out. The basic reason for this is the changed correlation of class forces. In most European countries the peasantry remained a sizeable percentage of the population even after 1945. In Greece it was the majority. That provided a reservoir for Bonapartist and fascist reaction. The same was true of the students and white collar workers: teachers, civil servants, bank employees, etc. But now the peasantry has been largely liquidated in Europe; the white collar workers have been absorbed into the proletariat and have become transformed into a very militant layer. The students, who before 1945 provided a solid base for reaction and fascism, are now overwhelmingly in the camp of revolution.
For this reason the crisis can be prolonged for far longer than in the past before the final denouement is reached. That does not mean that things will be more tranquil, but quite the opposite. There will be ebbs and flows, both politically and economically (the downswing of capitalism does not signify the end of the boom and slump cycle, nor does it rule out the possibility of temporary recoveries, which occurred even during the Great Depression).
The inevitable ups and downs of the economic cycle will solve nothing from the capitalists’ standpoint. After a long period of economic recession and high unemployment, even a small recovery (which is the best they can hope for) will lead to an upswing of strikes on the industrial front as the workers struggle to win back what was taken away during the slump. In a slump, however, there may be a falling-off of strike activity, but there will also be a tendency towards political radicalization.
Already there is a profound malaise in every part of the world. After a short delay, people are beginning to understand that there is no way out as long as the present unjust and oppressive system remains in existence. The revolutionary process is still developing, becoming broader and deeper. There will be wave after wave of strikes and demonstrations, which will act as training grounds for the masses. New layers of the population are being drawn into struggle – like the junior doctors in Britain, the Greek farmers and the Air France flight attendants. But such is the depth of the crisis that even the stormiest strikes and demonstrations in themselves solve nothing.
Only a fundamental change in the social order can solve the crisis. That requires radical political action. The political scene will be characterised by violent swings to the left and to the right. The existing parties will enter into crisis and split. All kinds of different left and right electoral formations can develop. The working class will move from the political front to the industrial front in turn. New and even more severe attacks on the workers are being prepared. The class struggle will be fought out on the streets.
The present crisis can last for years – possibly decades – because of the absence of the subjective factor: a mass revolutionary party with a genuinely Marxist leadership. But it will not move in a straight line. One explosion will follow another. Sharp and sudden changes are implicit in the situation. There will be a whole series of mass movements and struggles in one country after another. The old organizations will be shaken to the foundations. Let us recall that Podemos grew from nothing to 376,000 members in the space of 18 months.
In one country after another the masses will eventually say “enough is enough.” But without a clear Marxist, revolutionary policy and programme, without the ideas of Marxism, we would have no reason to exist as a separate tendency, independent of the left reformists. The prior condition for our success is to maintain our revolutionary identity and keep our ideas sharp and clear. Any attempt to achieve short term popularity by merely going along with the left-reformist stream would ultimately end in disaster.
The road to great victories is paved by innumerable small successes. Our task is still to win the ones and twos, to educate them on the basis of sound Marxist theory, to build firm links with the most advanced layers of workers and youth and through them to build links with the masses. On the basis of events, the masses will learn. Ideas that are now listened to by handfuls will be eagerly sought by tens and hundreds of thousands, preparing the way for a sizeable tendency of Marxist cadres that can form the basis for a mass Marxist current that is capable of fighting for the leadership of the working class.
At present we are a small minority. That is mainly the result of objective historical factors. For a whole historical period the forces of genuine Marxism were weak and isolated. We were swimming against the tide. But now the tide of history has changed. We are beginning to swim with the current. Our task is to re-establish the traditions of Bolshevism internationally and to build a mighty proletarian International that is destined to change the world. That is the goal we have set before us: the only goal worth fighting and sacrificing for: the sacred goal of the emancipation of the working class.