Showing posts with label workers goverment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label workers goverment. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

***The Struggle For The Labor Party In The United States- American Socialist Workers Party Leader James P.Cannon-Early Years of the American Communist Movement-The Passaic Strike

Click on the headline to link to a James P. Cannon Internet Archives online copy of Early Years of the American Communist Movement-The Passaic Strike

Markin comment on this series:

Obviously, for a Marxist, the question of working class political power is central to the possibilities for the main thrust of his or her politics- the quest for that socialist revolution that initiates the socialist reconstruction of society. But working class politics, no less than any other kinds of political expressions has to take an organization form, a disciplined organizational form in the end, but organization nevertheless. In that sense every Marxist worth his or her salt, from individual labor militants to leagues, tendencies, and whatever other formations are out there these days on the left, struggles to built a revolutionary labor party, a Bolshevik-style party.

Glaringly, in the United States there is no such party, nor even a politically independent reformist labor party, as exists in Great Britain. And no, the Democratic Party, imperialist commander-in-chief Obama's Democratic Party is not a labor party. Although plenty of people believe it is an adequate substitute, including some avowed socialists. But they are just flat-out wrong. This series is thus predicated on providing information about, analysis of, and acting as a spur to a close look at the history of the labor party question in America by those who have actually attempted to create one, or at to propagandize for one.

As usual, I will start this series with the work of the International Communist League/Spartacist League/U.S. as I have been mining their archival materials of late. I am most familiar with the history of their work on this question, although on this question the Socialist Workers Party's efforts run a close second, especially in their revolutionary period. Lastly, and most importantly, I am comfortable starting with the ICL/SL efforts on the labor party question since after having reviewed in this space in previous series their G.I. work and youth work (Campus Spartacist and the Revolutionary Marxist Caucus Newsletter inside SDS) I noted that throughout their history they have consistently called for the creation of such a party in the various social arenas in which they have worked. Other organizational and independent efforts, most notably by the Socialist Workers Party and the American Communist Party will follow.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

From The Archives-Labor Day Round-Up 2011(U.S.-Our Real Day Is May Day-The International Workers' Holiday) - The One-Sided Class Struggle Continues- And Labor Is Not Winning

Markin comment:

My headline slogan The One-Sided Class Struggle Continues- And Labor Is Not Winning kind of says it all for this past year (with a few exceptions)like the previous several as the American (and most of the international working class) continues to take a beating-without a serious fight back. Never a good situation for labor. In lieu of an in any case sparse American labor news summary for this year I am placing some of my blog comments for the year that will be germane as we face the ahead until next Labor Day.
Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Latest From The Wisconsin Public Workers Unions' Struggle-Wis. troopers sent to find Democrats, no one home- Hands Off The Democratic Legislators!

Markin comment:

The story below tells the tale in the headline. Last week when the Wisconsin struggle first broke out I mentioned that we might need to send workers' defense guards to the Wisconsin borders to insure that the legislators are not "kidnapped" back into the state. I might not be so far off on that one after all. As I also said in that post we are living in strange time indeed when I am worrying, in the year 2011, about the safety and fate of Democratic legislators. So be it. Victory to the Wisconsin Public Workers Unions!

Wis. troopers sent to find Democrats, no one home
3 hours ago

Loading... Share No Thanks Must Read?Thank YouYes 185
Teamsters President James Hoffa speaks at a rally in the state Capitol in Ma...
Share |
Email Story Discuss Print
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin state troopers were dispatched Thursday to try to find at least one of the 14 Senate Democrats who have been on the run for eight days to delay a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to strip collective bargaining rights from nearly all public employees.

Meanwhile, the state Assembly appeared close to voting on the union rights bill after two days of filibustering the measure with a blizzard of amendments. Democrats reached an early morning deal after 43 hours of debate to limit the number of remaining amendments and time spent on each.

Troopers went to multiple homes Thursday morning hoping to find at least one of the 14 Democrats, some of whom were rumored to have made short trips home to pick up clothes and other necessities before again fleeing the state. But they came up empty handed, Senate Sergeant at Arms Ted Blazel said.

"Every night we hear about some that are coming back home," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who hoped sending the move to send the troopers would pressure Democrats to return.

But Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who was in the Chicago area, said all 14 senators remained outside of Wisconsin and would not return until Walker was willing to compromise.

"It's not so much the Democrats holding things up, it's really a matter of Gov. Walker holding things up," Erpenbach said.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie issued a statement praising the Assembly for nearing a vote and renewing his call for Senate Democrats to come back.

Thousands of people have protested the bill for nine straight days, with hundreds spending the night on the Capitol's hard marble floor as the debate was broadcast on monitors in the rotunda. Many still were sleeping when the deal to only debate 38 more amendments, for no more than 10 minutes each, was announced shortly after 6 a.m. The timing of the agreement means the vote could come as soon as noon Thursday.

"We will strongly make our points, but understand you are limiting the voice of the public as you do this," said Democratic state Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison. "You can't dictate democracy. You are limiting the people's voice with this agreement this morning."

Democrats, who are in the minority, don't have the votes to stop the bill once the vote occurs.

Passage of the bill in the Assembly would be a major victory for Republicans and Walker, but the measure still must clear the Senate. Democrats there left town last week rather than vote on the bill, which has stymied efforts there to take it up.

The battle over labor rights has been heating up across the country, as new Republican majorities tackle budget woes in several states. The GOP efforts have sparked huge protests from unions and their supporters and led Democrats in Wisconsin and Indiana to flee their states to block measures.

Republicans in Ohio offered a small concession Wednesday, saying they would support allowing unionized state workers to collectively bargain on wages — but not for benefits, sick time, vacation or other conditions. Wisconsin's proposal also would allow most public workers to collectively bargain only for wages.

In Ohio, Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus denied protests have dented the GOP's resolve, saying lawmakers decided to make the change after listening to hours of testimony. He said he still believes the bill's core purpose — reining in spending by allowing governments more flexibility in dealing with their workers — is intact.

Senate Democratic Leader Capri Cafaro called the changes "window dressing." She said the entire bill should be scrapped.

"We can't grow Ohio's economy by destroying jobs and attacking the middle class," Cafaro said. "Public employees in Ohio didn't cause our budget problems and they shouldn't be blamed for something that's not their fault."

Wisconsin Democrats have echoed Cafaro for days, but Walker has refused to waver.

Walker reiterated Wednesday that public workers must make concessions to avoid thousands of government layoffs as the state grapples with a $137 million shortfall in its current budget and a projected $3.6 billion hole in the next two-year budget.

The marathon session in the Assembly was grand political theater, with exhausted lawmakers limping around the chamber, rubbing their eyes and yawning as Wednesday night dragged on.

Around midnight, Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, accused Democrats of putting on a show for the protesters. Democrats leapt up and started shouting.

"I'm sorry if democracy is a little inconvenient and you had to stay up two nights in a row," Pocan said. "Is this inconvenient? Hell, yeah! It's inconvenient. But we're going to be heard!"

The Ohio and Wisconsin bills both would strip public workers at all levels of their right to collectively bargain benefits, sick time, vacations and other work conditions. Wisconsin's measure exempts local police, firefighters and the State Patrol and still lets workers collectively bargain their wages as long as they are below inflation. It also would require public workers to pay more toward their pensions and health insurance. Ohio's bill, until Wednesday, would have barred negotiations on wages.

Ohio's measure sits in a Senate committee. No vote has been scheduled on the plan, but thousands of protesters have gathered at the Statehouse to demonstrate, just as in Wisconsin.

In Indiana, Democrats successfully killed a Republican bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment by leaving the state on Tuesday. They remained in Illinois in hopes of derailing other parts of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' agenda, including restrictions on teacher collective bargaining.

And in Oklahoma, a Republican-controlled state House committee on Wednesday narrowly approved legislation to repeal collective bargaining rights for municipal workers in that state's 13 largest cities.


Associated Press writers Ryan J. Foley in Madison and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

The Assembly deal was announced shortly after 6 a.m. while the troopers were sent after the Democrats at 7 a.m.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
From The Wisconsin War-Zone- The Lines Are Further Drawn- The Fight For A General Strike Of All Labor In Wisconsin Is Directly Posed-And Solidarity Actions By Those Outside The State- Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Get To It

Click on the headline to link to an AP report on the latest turn of events in the struggle by Wisconsin public workers unions to retain their collective bargaining rights against a right-wing directed onslaught to eliminate them.

Markin comment:

Over the past few week as the events concerning the fate of collective bargaining rights, the core of any union’s reason for existence, of Wisconsin’s public workers unions have unfolded I had joined the voices of those who have argued that passage of the ant-iunion legislation by the Republican Senate majority should trigger the call for a one day general strike of all Wisconsin as the start of a push back. Well that day has arrived and every pro-labor militant from Madison to Cairo (Illinois or Egypt, it matters not) should be joining their voices in that call, and agitating in their unions and other organization to carry it out. The lines could not be more clearly drawn, the survival of the Wisconsin public workers unions are at stake, the survival of all public workers unions are now at stake, and the survival of unionism in the United States as well. This is only the start of the right-wing onslaught. Let Wisconsin’s labor response make it the end. Fight for a one day general strike now!
Friday, March 04, 2011

On The Question Of General Strikes In Defense Of The Wisconsin Public Workers Unions- Don't Mourn, Organize- A Short Note

Click on the headline to link to a James P.Cannon Internet Archive online article about the lessons of the Minneapolis Teamsters strikes of 1934 mentioned in the post below.

Markin comment:

Recently, in the wake of the front-line struggle of the Wisconsin public workers unions (now heightened by the latest news that the Ohio Senate has also voted to curb collective bargaining rights in that state), I, along with others, have been agitating for a one day general strike by organized labor, unorganized, but desperately in need of being organized, workers, and other allies, in support of those efforts. I have also placed the propaganda of others, individuals and organizations, who are advocating this same general position in this space, and will continue to do so as I see it come up as I scan the leftist universe. Before I go on, just to make things clear on this issue, I would draw the reader’s attention to the distinction between propagandizing, the general task for communist organizers in this period pushing issues on behalf our communist future, and agitation which requires/requests some immediate action. The events in the public sector labor movement over the past several weeks, as they have rapidly unfolded, call for immediate action whether we can cause any motion on the issue or not.

That said, I would also note that I have framed my call to action in terms of posing the question of a general strike, the objective need for such action. That proposition is the axis of intervention for leftist and trade union militants today. And that is the rub. Of course, right this minute (and as the Ohio situation foretells maybe only this minute), any such one day general strike would, of necessity, have to be centered in Wisconsin, and the tactical choices would have to be made on the ground there ( how to make the strike effective, what unions to call in, what places to shut down, etc.). My original posting did not make a distinction on location(s)though, and I make none now, about whether such a strike would be localized or not. Certainly, given the centrally of the collective bargaining principle to the lifeblood of any union, and the drumbeat of other states like Ohio, it can hardly be precluded that it could not be a wider strike than just in Wisconsin.

And that is the rub, again. I am perfectly aware, after a lifetime of oppositional politics of one sort or another, that it is one thing to call for an action and another to have it heeded by some mass organization that can do something about it, or even have it taken for more than its propaganda value. And it is the somewhat fantastic quality of the proposition to many trade unionists that I have been running up against in my own efforts to present this demand. Now, as I have noted previously, in France this kind of strike is something of an art form, and other European working classes are catching on to the idea. Moreover, in the old days the anarchists, when they had some authority in the working class in places like Spain,thought nothing of calling such strikes. And some Marxists, like the martyred Rosa Luxemburg, saw the political general strike as the central strategic piece in the working class taking state power. However the low level of political consciousness here, or lack of it, or even of solid trade union consciousness, is what the substance of this note is about.

Although the Wisconsin public workers unions have galvanized segments of the American labor movement, particularly the organized sector (those who see what is coming down the road for them-or who have already been the subject of such victimizations in the roller coaster process of the de-industrialization of America) the hard fact is that it has been a very, very long time since this labor movement has seen a general strike. You have to go back to the 1930s and the Minneapolis Teamsters strikes of 1934, or to the San Francisco General Strike of that same year to even been able to provide an example to illustrate how it could take place in this country. That, my friends, is over seventy-five years ago, a long time in anybody’s political book and, more importantly, a couple of generations removed from the actual experience. Hell, it has been as far back as the period immediately after World War II since we have seen massive nation-wide industrial strikes. The closest situation that I can think of that would be widely remembered today, and that was also somewhat successful and well supported, was the UPS strike in the 1990s. All of this points to one conclusion, our class struggle skills are now rather rusty, and it shows.

How? Well, first look at the propaganda of various leftist and socialist groups. They, correctly, call for solidarity, for defense rallies and for more marches in support of the Wisconsin struggle. But I have seen relevantly little open advocacy for a one day general strike. That is damning. But here is the real kicker, the one that should give us all pause. The most recent Wisconsin support rally in Boston was attended by many trade union militants, many known (known to me from struggles over the years) leftist activists, and surprisingly, a significant segment of older, not currently active political ex-militants who either came out for old times sake, or understood that this is a do or die struggle and they wanted to help show their support. In short, a perfect audience before which a speaker could expect to get a favorable response on a call for a political general strike. And that call that day, was made not by me, and not by other socialists or communists, but by a militant from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a well-known union with plenty of militants in it. The response: a few claps in a crowd of over two thousand.

Time has been, is, and will be our enemy here as we struggle to win these pubic workers union fights. Why? Our sense of leftist legitimacy, our class struggle sense has so atrophied over the past several decades that people, political people, trade union political people and even leftist political people have lost their capacity to struggle to win. Still, the objective situation in Wisconsin, hell, in Boston and Columbus, requires that we continue to fight around a class struggle axis. And central to that fight- Fight for a one day general strike in support of the Wisconsin public workers unions!
Monday, March 14, 2011
Rally to Support WGBH Workers In Boston- Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 4:00 pm

Rally to Support WGBH Workers In Boston- Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 4:00 pm

Rally to Support WGBH Workers
Submitted by ujpadmin1 on Fri, 03/11/2011 - 8:26am.
When: Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 4:00 pm
Where: 10 Guest St • Brighton
Start: 2011 Mar 15 - 4:00pm

From Wisconsin to Boston, show your support for workers' rights!

Please join us to show support for WGBH’s AEEF/CWA Local 1300 in their current struggle.

Workers at WGBH, our local public television station, are fighting for the basic right to have a union in their workplace. Workers are members of AEEF/CWA Local 1300, and have been organized for nearly 40 years.

In the past, WGBH has bargained in good faith with their workers. Management and the union have been in negotiations since August, and management has recently decided to end collective bargaining. The union now faces the implementation of an unfair contract, and needs your support today!

Keep the union-busting in Wisconsin out of Massachusetts.

Sponsored by AEEF/CWA Local 1300, Greater Boston Labor Council, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
From The Wisconsin War-Zone- The Lines Are Further Drawn- The Fight For A General Strike Of All Labor In Wisconsin Is Directly Posed-And Solidarity Actions By Those Outside The State- Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Get To It

Markin comment:

Over the past few week as the events concerning the fate of collective bargaining rights, the core of any union’s reason for existence, of Wisconsin’s public workers unions have unfolded I had joined the voices of those who have argued that passage of the ant-iunion legislation by the Republican Senate majority should trigger the call for a one day general strike of all Wisconsin as the start of a push back. Well that day has arrived and every pro-labor militant from Madison to Cairo (Illinois or Egypt, it matters not) should be joining their voices in that call, and agitating in their unions and other organization to carry it out. The lines could not be more clearly drawn, the survival of the Wisconsin public workers unions are at stake, the survival of all public workers unions are now at stake, and the survival of unionism in the United States as well. This is only the start of the right-wing onslaught. Let Wisconsin’s labor response make it the end. Fight for a one day general strike now!
Friday, March 04, 2011

On The Question Of General Strikes In Defense Of The Wisconsin Public Workers Unions- Don't Mourn, Organize- A Short Note

Click on the headline to link to a James P.Cannon Internet Archive online article about the lessons of the Minneapolis Teamsters strikes of 1934 mentioned in the post below.

Markin comment:

Recently, in the wake of the front-line struggle of the Wisconsin public workers unions (now heightened by the latest news that the Ohio Senate has also voted to curb collective bargaining rights in that state), I, along with others, have been agitating for a one day general strike by organized labor, unorganized, but desperately in need of being organized, workers, and other allies, in support of those efforts. I have also placed the propaganda of others, individuals and organizations, who are advocating this same general position in this space, and will continue to do so as I see it come up as I scan the leftist universe. Before I go on, just to make things clear on this issue, I would draw the reader’s attention to the distinction between propagandizing, the general task for communist organizers in this period pushing issues on behalf our communist future, and agitation which requires/requests some immediate action. The events in the public sector labor movement over the past several weeks, as they have rapidly unfolded, call for immediate action whether we can cause any motion on the issue or not.

That said, I would also note that I have framed my call to action in terms of posing the question of a general strike, the objective need for such action. That proposition is the axis of intervention for leftist and trade union militants today. And that is the rub. Of course, right this minute (and as the Ohio situation foretells maybe only this minute), any such one day general strike would, of necessity, have to be centered in Wisconsin, and the tactical choices would have to be made on the ground there ( how to make the strike effective, what unions to call in, what places to shut down, etc.). My original posting did not make a distinction on location(s)though, and I make none now, about whether such a strike would be localized or not. Certainly, given the centrally of the collective bargaining principle to the lifeblood of any union, and the drumbeat of other states like Ohio, it can hardly be precluded that it could not be a wider strike than just in Wisconsin.

And that is the rub, again. I am perfectly aware, after a lifetime of oppositional politics of one sort or another, that it is one thing to call for an action and another to have it heeded by some mass organization that can do something about it, or even have it taken for more than its propaganda value. And it is the somewhat fantastic quality of the proposition to many trade unionists that I have been running up against in my own efforts to present this demand. Now, as I have noted previously, in France this kind of strike is something of an art form, and other European working classes are catching on to the idea. Moreover, in the old days the anarchists, when they had some authority in the working class in places like Spain,thought nothing of calling such strikes. And some Marxists, like the martyred Rosa Luxemburg, saw the political general strike as the central strategic piece in the working class taking state power. However the low level of political consciousness here, or lack of it, or even of solid trade union consciousness, is what the substance of this note is about.

Although the Wisconsin public workers unions have galvanized segments of the American labor movement, particularly the organized sector (those who see what is coming down the road for them-or who have already been the subject of such victimizations in the roller coaster process of the de-industrialization of America) the hard fact is that it has been a very, very long time since this labor movement has seen a general strike. You have to go back to the 1930s and the Minneapolis Teamsters strikes of 1934, or to the San Francisco General Strike of that same year to even been able to provide an example to illustrate how it could take place in this country. That, my friends, is over seventy-five years ago, a long time in anybody’s political book and, more importantly, a couple of generations removed from the actual experience. Hell, it has been as far back as the period immediately after World War II since we have seen massive nation-wide industrial strikes. The closest situation that I can think of that would be widely remembered today, and that was also somewhat successful and well supported, was the UPS strike in the 1990s. All of this points to one conclusion, our class struggle skills are now rather rusty, and it shows.

How? Well, first look at the propaganda of various leftist and socialist groups. They, correctly, call for solidarity, for defense rallies and for more marches in support of the Wisconsin struggle. But I have seen relevantly little open advocacy for a one day general strike. That is damning. But here is the real kicker, the one that should give us all pause. The most recent Wisconsin support rally in Boston was attended by many trade union militants, many known (known to me from struggles over the years) leftist activists, and surprisingly, a significant segment of older, not currently active political ex-militants who either came out for old times sake, or understood that this is a do or die struggle and they wanted to help show their support. In short, a perfect audience before which a speaker could expect to get a favorable response on a call for a political general strike. And that call that day, was made not by me, and not by other socialists or communists, but by a militant from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a well-known union with plenty of militants in it. The response: a few claps in a crowd of over two thousand.

Time has been, is, and will be our enemy here as we struggle to win these pubic workers union fights. Why? Our sense of leftist legitimacy, our class struggle sense has so atrophied over the past several decades that people, political people, trade union political people and even leftist political people have lost their capacity to struggle to win. Still, the objective situation in Wisconsin, hell, in Boston and Columbus, requires that we continue to fight around a class struggle axis. And central to that fight- Fight for a one day general strike in support of the Wisconsin public workers unions!
Thursday, April 28, 2011
No More Wisconsins!-Anti-Union “Mission Creep” In Massachusetts- State House Of Representatives Votes To Eliminate Bargaining Over Health Care

Click on the headline to link to a Boston Globe article, dated April 26, 2011, detailing a vote on a bill by the State House of Representatives essentially eliminating heath care issues as bargaining items in public union contracts.

Markin comment:

Okay, one more time by the numbers. Unions exist to bargain over wages, conditions of work, and benefits. Bargain in good or bad faith, but bargain. The defeat in Wisconsin over the right to collectively bargain on, in reality, anything has found echoes in other states using a slow fuse method to attain the same results-break the unions’ task as bargaining agent and go back to the good old days of workers taking what you get, and like it. The Massachusetts House of Representatives recent vote, in a so-called liberal, pro-labor state, on a bill to essentially take heath care issues off the bargaining table is a prime example of this latter strategy. If we do not want unions, public and private, to become mere company unions (or mere dues-paying fraternal organizations, like the Elks)then we had better do a better job of fighting to save the collective bargaining process before there is nothing left. And work under the slogan- No More Wisconsins! No More Massachusetts’! An injury to one is an injury to all!
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
On The Wisconsin Recall Elections- The Limits of Parliamentary Tactics In Today's Class Struggle

Click on the headline to link to a news article concerning the recent Wisconsin recall elections in which those who advocated such a tactic were defeated.

Markin comment:
In the class struggle which is now raging more than somewhat in this country, a one-sided class struggle for the most part that we are not winning or even close to doing so, the militant labor movement has learned to use many forms of protest strategy and tactics. One such arena is the parliamentary struggle. But as the results here from the special recall election in Wisconsin show that is not always our most effective way to win what we need. Especially in this case where the fundamental labor right to have our own organizations for collective bargaining was at stake.

The attempt to try to defend that right, as has now happened in Wisconsin, by parliamentary means, has always struck me as somewhat utopian. Depending on the whims of an electorate, any electorate, where labor’s votes count for no more than a tea-partyite or those of any other political persuasion just did not make sense to me. Not these days. During the past winter when the Wisconsin organized working class was up in arms, both public and private, and with many in-state supporters as well as a groundswell of others nationally, there were calls for a general strike as a way to fight back. I raised that call in this space and others did in theirs as well. Who knows if that would have stopped this frontal attack on labor’s basic rights. What I do know is that it should have been tested under those circumstances. Yesterday’s defeats in Wisconsin only makes that more evident.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Victory To The Verizon Workers!- All Out In Support Of The Communcation Workers Of America (CWA) And International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers (IBEW)!- Labor Needs A Victory Here Now!-Defend The Picket Lines At All Costs!

Click on the headline to link to the Communication Workers Of America website for the latest in their strike action against "fat cat" Verizon.

Markin comment:

The issues: wages, health care, conditions of work, pensions and out-sourcing a now familiar litany of things that used to be negotiated without much muse or fuse but now entail a "cold" civil war in the class struggle. We need a win here, especially after the last few years. Victory to the Verizon workers! All out in solidarity with the Verizon workers! In the Northeast walk the pickets lines in solidarity!
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Victory To The Verizon Workers!- All Out In Support Of The Communcation Workers Of America (CWA) And International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers (IBEW)!- Labor Needs A Victory Here Now!-Defend The Picket Lines At All Costs!

Click on the headline to link to the Communication Workers Of America website for the latest in their strike action against "fat cat" Verizon.

Markin comment:

The issues: wages, health care, conditions of work, pensions and out-sourcing a now familiar litany of things that used to be negotiated without much muse or fuse but now entail a "cold" civil war in the class struggle. We need a win here, especially after the last few years. Victory to the Verizon workers! All out in solidarity with the Verizon workers! In the Northeast walk the pickets lines in solidarity!
Thurday August 11, 2011 update

Verizon is threatening to take legal action against its unions (CWA, IBEW) in Massachusetts for allegedly blocking access to their sites and "harassing" scabs and others trying to enter workplaces. B.S.- Picket Lines Mean Don't Cross- Defend The Picket Lines At All Costs!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Verizon Workers Head Back To Work- No Contract Victory In Sight

Click on the headline to link to a Boston Globearticle detailing the return ot work of the Verizon strikers.

Markin comment:

The Verizon strikers are heading back to work without a new contract. From the outside it is sometimes hard to see what negotiations will produce without a picket line to back them up, if anything. A workers’ strike, short of the struggle for state power, is a moment in the class struggle and a union contract is an “armed truce” in that struggle. Not all strikes, obviously, are successful, or produce the hope for results but returning back to work without a better contract on this one does not make sense. First, the picket lines were holding, and being held militantly in many cases. Secondly Verizon acknowledged that the strike was hurting their customer base. In short the strike was hurting the company’s basic concern-profits. This did not seem like a time to walk off the lines. Period.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"-Greece: Defend Electric Power Unionists!-For A Workers Government Now!

Click on the headline to link to the International Communist League website.

Workers Vanguard No. 996
17 February 2012

Greece: Defend Electric Power Unionists!

The following February 4 protest letter was sent by the Komitee für soziale Verteidigung (Committee for Social Defense), which is associated with the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany, to Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos and to his Labor and Justice ministers.

The Komitee für soziale Verteidigung strongly protests the outrageous persecution of 15 trade unionists of the Greek public power company union, GENOP-DEH, including its president, Nikos Photopoulos. The unionists had occupied the offices of the state power company DEH, to stop the company printing letters cutting off the electricity supply to thousands of families who refuse to pay the new property tax and thousands more who can no longer pay their bills. Squads of riot police violently removed the unionists, who were then charged with trespass, “obstructing the functioning of a public institution” and “obstructing the forces of order.” For their courageous action in defense of working and poor families they now face possible jail terms of up to five years.

The Greek capitalist government’s agencies of repression are carrying out the dictates of the European Union, which is dominated by German imperialism. From its formation, the purpose of the European Union was to serve the interests of the imperialist powers and their junior partners in squeezing their own working classes and attacking their unions, and more effectively dominating the weakest countries like Greece. The multiethnic working class in Germany has also seen its wages, pensions and living standards driven down by the German capitalists’ drive to rule Europe.

Class-conscious workers in Germany applaud the actions of the victimized trade unionists. The KfsV will make this case known to workers here. In solidarity with our class brothers in Greece, we demand: Drop all charges against the Greek power worker unionists!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"-The Question Of Calling For A Constituent Assembly And The Theory Of Permanent Revolution In The 21st Century-A Short Note

From Workers Vanguard No. 993- 6 January 2012-Tunisian Elections: Victory for Islamic Reactionaries-Workers Must Fight for Their Own Class Rule!

"...For Permanent Revolution in Tunisia

Tunisia is a neocolonial country whose bourgeoisie, including after the fall of Ben Ali, is tied by a million threads to world imperialism. France, the former colonial ruler, continues to benefit from the deep oppression of Tunisia’s masses. Indeed, the subordination of Tunisia to imperialism serves to ensure the brutal exploitation and oppression of its people. In order to win real national and social liberation, the proletariat must be mobilized against both the imperialists and the domestic bourgeoisie, the deadly enemies of Tunisia’s workers and oppressed.

In countries of belated capitalist development like Tunisia, the inherent weakness of the national bourgeoisie ties it so strongly to imperialism that even the most elementary democratic tasks, such as legal equality for women, complete separation of religion and state and agrarian revolution to give land to the peasants, cannot be achieved without the overthrow of the capitalist order. Moreover, the consolidation of proletarian rule requires its international extension to the imperialist centers, particularly France, the former colonial oppressor. This is at bottom what Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution is all about.

In an October 29 statement (La Forge, November 2011), the PCOT whined that the dismal results of the left in the recent elections were due to the role of money in the form of corruption, vote-buying and partiality of the mass media, as well as voting instructions given in the mosques. The truth is that bourgeois elections serve to bolster bourgeois rule; they cannot actually express the will of the masses, particularly in a period of social turmoil and upheaval. This was once again proven in a spectacular fashion in the Tunisian elections.

The call for a constituent assembly was a popular demand following the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime. It was argued that this was the way that democratic demands could be addressed. In fact, only proletarian power can satisfy these demands. We insisted in our propaganda on the need for the working class to establish “factory committees, organs of dual power at the point of production, and from there setting up workers militias, drawing in the urban poor and unemployed, for self-defense against the state’s thugs” (supplement to Le Bolchévik, 4 February 2011 [see “Tunisia: Dictator Flees, Protests Continue,” WV No. 973, 4 February 2011]). However, we also raised the call for a revolutionary constituent assembly in the immediate aftermath of Ben Ali’s removal, as well as in Egypt shortly thereafter. In examining this question more deeply, we in the International Communist League have changed our position. While we have called for a constituent assembly numerous times in the past in other circumstances, as did our forebears in the Trotskyist movement (including Trotsky himself), we felt it necessary to question whether, in light of historical experience, this call is valid or principled from the standpoint of the proletarian revolution. A resolution recently adopted by the International Executive Committee of the ICL pointed out:

“While the Constituent Assembly played a progressive role in the great French bourgeois revolution of 1789, historical experience since has demonstrated that this ceased to be the case thereafter. Beginning with the revolutions of 1848, in every situation where a constituent assembly or similar bourgeois legislative body was convened in the context of a proletarian insurgency its aim was to rally the forces of counterrevolution against the proletariat and to liquidate proletarian power. This was evident in the Paris Commune of 1871, the October Revolution of 1917 and the German Revolution of 1918-19. Though never subsequently codified by the CI [Communist International] as a general statement of principle, the thrust of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky’s leadership following the October Revolution was to treat the constituent assembly as a counterrevolutionary agency.”

The ICL has thus rejected on principle the call for a constituent assembly. We have insisted in our propaganda on Tunisia on the need to address the burning democratic demands of the masses after decades of dictatorial rule, as a lever to mobilize the working class and the oppressed behind it for socialist revolution. Such demands include freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, a real separation of church and state, etc. However, the call for a constituent assembly is not a democratic demand but a call for a capitalist government. Our rejection of such a call reflects both the historical experience of the proletariat and the extension of the Marxist program over the years. (This is a different question than that of running candidates in such elections with the aim of using the electoral campaign, as well as parliamentary seats if elected, as a platform to call on the workers to organize as a class for itself—that is, to struggle for their own class rule.)

Marx drew on the experience of the revolutions of 1848, in which the European bourgeoisies made common cause with the forces of aristocratic reaction, to propound the “revolution in permanence.” Pointing to the treachery of the democratic petty bourgeoisie, Marx argued that the task was to “make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been forced out of their position of dominance, the proletariat has conquered state power” and the revolution spread internationally (“Address of the Central Authority to the Communist League,” March 1850). Trotsky extended this understanding to tsarist Russia in his writings of 1904-06 and then, at the time of the Second Chinese Revolution, generalized the program of permanent revolution to countries of combined and uneven development globally. Our understanding of the reactionary character of the bourgeoisie, in the semicolonial countries as well as the advanced capitalist states, means that there can be no revolutionary bourgeois parliament. The call for a constituent assembly consequently runs counter to the permanent revolution.

In the revolt in Tunisia, the anger of the masses, as well as their hopes for real change, were channeled into calls for elections that would simply change the names and faces of the capitalist oppressors. In fact, from its inception, the Tunisian bourgeoisie has always wrapped its rule in the envelope of a (bourgeois) constitution. That has been the case from the demand for a constitution against the colonial-feudalist beylicat [Tunisian monarchy prior to independence] to the constitution later crafted by Habib Bourguiba, the strongman of the early years of the Tunisian republic, and to the recent efforts to prevent a proletarian upheaval. The historic party of the Tunisian bourgeoisie was long called Neo-Destour (“destour” means “constitution” in Arabic). The full name of the party was the “New Tunisian Constitutional Liberal Party”; it was renamed the “Destourian Socialist Party” in 1964. Years later, Ben Ali renamed it…the “Democratic-Constitutional Rally.”

A workers revolution in Tunisia, tearing state power from the capitalist class in an Arab country, would have tremendous impact throughout the region. It would immediately reverberate in the imperialist countries, notably in France, where several million people of North African origin live, concentrated in the proletariat and the most oppressed layers of the population. They constitute a living bridge for socialist revolution on both sides of the Mediterranean. To fight for the overthrow of the capitalist order, the working class needs a proletarian revolutionary party, which can be built only in an intransigent struggle against all bourgeois forces. We fight to reforge the Fourth International founded by Trotsky on the basis of the legacy of the October Revolution."
Markin comment on this article:

I admit that I was taken aback a little while reading this article concerning the ICL line change proposed for countries, mainly third-world countries, especially those which have just come out of popular movements against dictatorial regimes, around the call for revolutionary constituent assemblies. I have always been somewhat queasy about the simple call for constituent assemblies in these cases because it seemed too similar to the French revolutionary model that has long ago had its day. But as a transitional slogan, and as an affirmation of Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution for more economically backward countries, it made more programmatic sense.

Some of the argumentation for the line change does make sense (the perfidy of the bourgeoisies in secondary, semi-colonial and colonial countries, as noted even in Marx’s time, popular frontism, two-stage revolution, etc.) but I am still left with an odd feeling that calling (as I have in my headline for this post) a workers republic in some of these places (although not Tunisia) like Afghanistan, Nepal and Tibet just seems too far out to be programmatically sound. This one is harder to figure out that the question of a revolutionary attitude to the running for executive offices of the bourgeois state. Another long held position of the common orthodox Trotskyist movement. More, much more later.

Monday, February 20, 2012

From #Ur-Occupied Boston (#Ur-Tomemonos Boston)-General Assembly-The Embryo Of An Alternate Government-Learn The Lessons Of History- From The Pages Of The French Revolution- Ernest Belfort Bax-The Last Episode of the French Revolution Being a History of Gracchus Babeuf and the Conspiracy of the Equals (1911)-VII. The Catastrophe

Click on the headline to link to updates from the Occupy Boston website. Occupy Boston started at 6:00 PM, September 30, 2011. I will post important updates as they appear on that site.
An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!-Defend All The Occupation Sites And All The Occupiers! Drop All Charges Against All Protesters Everywhere!
Fight-Don’t Starve-We Created The Wealth, Let's Take It, It’s Ours! Labor And The Oppressed Must Rule!
Below I am posting, occasionally, comments on the Occupy movement as I see or hear things of interest, or that cause alarm bells to ring in my head. The first comment directly below from October 1, which represented my first impressions of Occupy Boston, is the lead for all further postings.
Markin comment October 1, 2011:

There is a lot of naiveté expressed about the nature of capitalism, capitalists, and the way to win in the class struggle by various participants in this occupation. Many also have attempted to make a virtue out of that naiveté, particularly around the issues of effective democratic organization (the General Assembly, its unrepresentative nature and its undemocratic consensus process) and relationships with the police (they are not our friends, no way, when the deal goes down). However, their spirit is refreshing, they are acting out of good subjective anti-capitalist motives and, most importantly, even those of us who call ourselves "reds" (communists), including this writer, started out from liberal premises as naive, if not more so, than those encountered at the occupation site. We can all learn something but in the meantime we must defend the "occupation" and the occupiers. More later as the occupation continues.
In the recent past as part of my one of my commentaries I noted the following:

“… The idea of the General Assembly with each individual attendee acting as a “tribune of the people” is interesting and important. And, of course, it represents, for today anyway, the embryo of what the “new world” we need to create might look like at the governmental level.”

A couple of the people that I have talked lately were not quite sure what to make of that idea. The idea that what is going on in Occupy Boston at the governmental level could, should, would be a possible form of governing this society in the “new world a-borning” with the rise of the Occupy movement. Part of the problem is that there was some confusion on the part of the listeners that one of the possible aims of this movement is to create an alternative government, or at least provide a model for such a government. I will argue here now, and in the future, that it should be one of the goals. In short, we need to take power away from the Democrats and Republicans and their tired old congressional/executive/judicial doesn’t work- checks and balances-form of governing and place it at the grassroots level and work upward from there rather than, as now, have power devolve from the top. (And stop well short of the bottom.)

I will leave aside the question (the problem really) of what it would take to create such a possibility. Of course a revolutionary solution would, of necessity, have be on the table since there is no way that the current powerful interests, Democratic, Republican or those of the "one percent" having no named politics, is going to give up power without a fight. What I want to pose now is the use of the General Assembly as a deliberative executive, legislative, and judicial body all rolled into one. In that sense previous historical models come to mind; the short-lived but heroic Paris Commune of 1871 that Karl Marx tirelessly defended against the reactionaries of Europe as the prototype of a workers government; the early heroic days of the Russian October Revolution of 1917 when the workers councils (soviets in Russian parlance) acted as a true workers' government; and the period in the Spanish Revolution of 1936-39 where the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias acted, de facto, as a workers government. All the just mentioned examples had their problems and flaws, no question. However, merely mentioning the General Assembly concept in the same paragraph as these great historic examples should signal that thoughtful leftists and other militants need to investigate and study these examples.

In order to facilitate the investigation and study of those examples I will, occasionally, post works in this space that deal with these forbears from several leftist perspectives (rightist perspectives were clear- crush all the above examples ruthlessly, and with no mercy- so we need not look at them now). I started this Lessons Of History series with Karl Marx’s classic defense and critique of the Paris Commune, The Civil War In France and today’s presentation noted in the headline continues on in that same vein.
A Five-Point Program As Talking Points

*Jobs For All Now!-“30 For 40”- A historic demand of the labor movement. Thirty hours work for forty hours pay to spread the available work around. Organize the unorganized- Organize the South- Organize Wal-Mart- Defend the right for public and private workers to unionize.

* Defend the working classes! No union dues for Democratic (or the stray Republican) candidates. Spent the dough on organizing the unorganized and other labor-specific causes (example, the November, 2011 anti-union recall referendum in Ohio).

*End the endless wars!- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops (And Mercenaries) From Afghanistan! Hands Off Pakistan! Hands Off Iran! Hands Off The World!

*Fight for a social agenda for working people!. Quality Healthcare For All! Nationalize the colleges and universities under student-teacher-campus worker control! Forgive student debt! Stop housing foreclosures!

*We created the wealth, let’s take it back. Take the struggle for our daily bread off the historic agenda. Build a workers party that fights for a workers government to unite all the oppressed.

Emblazon on our red banner-Labor and the oppressed must rule!
Ernest Belfort Bax-Gracchus Babeuf-VII. The Catastrophe

DURING the course of the events described in the last chapter, that is, between the 1st and the 10th of May 1796, it has been proved by recent researches that the government, namely, the executive Directory, together with the Minister of Police, was kept fully informed of everything important that was taking place. We have already spoken of Grisel, the government spy, who was in the innermost councils of the Babouvist Committee, or Secret Directory, as it was called, and himself a member of the Military Committee, upon which the task of drawing up and carrying out the plan of the insurrection devolved. But it would appear that, although perhaps the principal, he was by no means the only agent to keep the authorities au courant with the progress of the insurrectionary movement. In addition to the ordinary police spies, of which there were the usual contingent of eavesdroppers, in cafes or elsewhere, where political questions were likely to be canvassed, there were undoubtedly other more important sources of information as to the places of assembly and the actions of the chiefs of the conspiracy.

Among the principal informers was the keeper of the Café des Bains Chinois, which was a rendezvous of the Babouvists and those favourable to the movement. Of especial interest, as regards the relations of the government and the insurrectionary movement of Babeuf and his colleagues, is the question of the part played by Barras, who was the most influential of the five Directors, and the most prominent man at the time. Buonarroti states, in general terms, that Barras had coquetted with the Babouvists, but does not give particulars. In fact, for long the precise relations between Barras and the movement remained in historical obscurity. In a recent work, however (Histoire et Droit, 1907, vol. i. pp. 267-293), M. Paul Robriquet has collected evidence of the part played by Barras in the affair, including some unpublished documents in the Archives nationales. The next strongest man to Barras on the Directory was Carnot, and between these two men was implacable discord, which culminated later in the affair of the “18th Fructidor”. Hippolyte Carnot, the son of the famous “organiser of victory”, in his memoirs of his father, alludes to the complicity of Barras in the matter of the “Equals”, thinking that it was only the timely arrest of Babeuf and his friends that averted catastrophe (i.e. from the point of view of the government and the dominant classes). In confirmation of this, M. Robriquet cites a letter he has discovered, signed by one Armand, who was evidently a police agent, to the Minister of Police, containing the words, “I am persuaded that Barras is betraying us, for he has interviews with Rossignol”; and later, in another letter, “the director Barras is more than ever suspect to me. He has had Rossignol informed that he begs the Committee of Insurrection to send him ‘a confidential man’, because, says he, ‘the moment of the insurrection’, he wishes to pass over to the Faubourg St Antoine with a part of the État major”, explaining, however, at the same time, that in case the committee does not send him the man he asks for, he would, none the less, “throw himself into the arms of the people”.

The same author quotes, further, a letter of Charles Germain to Babeuf, relative to an interview he had had with Barras on the 30th Germinal, anno IV (19th April 1796). “You ought to know from Darthé or others,” writes Germain, “that I was sent for by Barras this morning, the 30th of Germinal. I have had an audience with the director.” Germain goes on to give a statement of his conversation with Barras, as much as possible in the language used. After enlarging on the dangers the country ran from the Royalists, Barras asked his visitor what the patriots thought. “We know,” he said, “they are preparing a movement. Good men, their zeal has blinded them; they are going to get themselves prairialised, whereas, in order to save the country, we have got to vendémiarise.” This, of course, referred to the abortive insurrection of the populace on the 1st of Prairial of the previous year, when the Convention was invaded, but which, after a few hours’ triumph, was suppressed, and which led to the expulsion and indictment of the Mountainist section of the Convention for having supported the demands of the insurgents. Barras opposes this to his own exploits, with the aid of Napoleon and his cannon, on the 13th of Vendémiaire, when the Royalist insurrection was suppressed.

Here follows a remarkable utterance of Barras, as reported by Germain: “Like you,” Barras is alleged to say, “I know myself that the present state of things is not the end which was contemplated by the men who overthrew the Bastille, the Throne, and Robespierre. Like you, I recognise myself that a change must be made, and that this change is not so far away as some might think; and when one has the most need of patriots to effect this change, they are meditating our ruin, our death! They are making themselves, without intending it, perhaps, the instruments of the emigrants, the fanatics, the Royalists, who have ever seen the restored monarchy near at hand.” Barras continued, alluding to the pretended complicity of the Babouvists with the Royalists in their intrigues with Pitt and Cobourg, and wound up by challenging Germain to give his own opinion. The latter replied, denying any knowledge of the alleged intrigues with Cobourg, Pitt, Isnard, Robert, etc., but assuring the Director that the people was tired of its oppressors, and would be no more satisfied with a Vendémiaire than with a Prairial, the former having proved of no more benefit to them than the latter. Barras, here interrupting him, expressed regret at not having worked the oracle (“travaillé la marchandise”), if for only three days, in a manner to satisfy the patriots.

He then launched forth into an invective against the Royalists, expressing the wish that the movement might become general and be directed against the Royalists. “I have confidence,” he exclaimed, “in the means at my disposal.” He then went on to relate that he had lately made an excursion through the popular faubourgs, and that the people all appeared calm and peaceable. “If I had seen anything stirring,” he said, “the thing would have been done. I should have marched with the people, for it is by and through the people that, as I hold, the national will manifests itself. The people,” he added, “is not represented by a handful of clumsy agitators.” He thereupon renewed his suggestions that the Babouvists should rally round the Directory rather than maintain a secret directory of their own, in opposition to the governmental one. “You cry out,” said Barras, “against us, Crucify them! and yet to whom do you propose to attach yourselves? To the Court of Verona! Yes, my friends, it is thither that they want to lead you, whereas that is the very thing we have to kill and destroy. You ought now, my comrade,” said he, “to know my mind, my sentiment, and my principles. More than one patriot knows me already; my existence is bound up in that of the Republic and the people. Believe me, that, like all true patriots, I shall neglect nothing for their success; and it is only in order to serve them that I resist my own pressing inclination to abdicate my position, and to retire peacefully into an obscurity which is very dear to me.” Barras, in bidding good-bye to Germain, invited him to come and see him from time to time, giving him a carte de circulation to facilitate his movements in official regions.

Barras admits in his memoirs that he had received Germain sometimes, but denies absolutely that he had any relations whatever with Babeuf himself, whom, he states, he regarded as a great fool. He naturally was afterwards anxious to excuse himself from the suspicion of having actively favoured the movement of the Equals, but the testimony of others, among whom was Buonarroti, was to the effect that Barras had actually offered his services to “the conspiracy”, which certainly seems to be confirmed by the letter above quoted from, and which indeed, even apart from this, might be inferred from the admission of Barras himself, that he had “sometimes received” the ardent Germain. The fellow-director of Barras, Larivellière-Lèpeaux, certainly held strongly to the opinion of his having negotiated with the conspirators. “The conduct of Barras,” he says, “his relations, his sinister look, his opinions, sufficed to convince us.” He also states that this was the opinion of the other directors, and that so strongly were they impressed with the unreliability of their colleague, that the measures to be taken against the conspiracy were only discussed when Barras happened to be absent from the directorial sittings.

That Barras, from what we know of the man, was not actuated by disinterested enthusiasm or regard for principle in his attitude may be taken for granted, though what precisely his “game” was is not quite clear, any more than as to whether Napoleon was privy to it or not. It would seem, however, pretty evident that, notwithstanding the aggressive luxury of his private life, a luxury that had alienated many, as also the role he had played as a Thermidorean, he thought he might attain an influence with the revolutionary party by avowedly favouring their aims on the one side, while playing up to the representatives of property and the status quo on the other by posing as a man of moderating counsels. Whether Bonaparte knew of the matter, and had visions of a forestalled 18th of Brumaire, and an entry upon the scene as the saviour of society, as already said, cannot be determined for certain.

However this may be, and whatever the motives underlying the attitude of Barras, there is no doubt whatever of his haste to adopt an “I know not the man” attitude so soon as he saw the way things were turning. The moment he was apprised of the imminent arrest of the Babouvist leaders, and perceived that the movement was lost, he made a violent scene with his colleagues, extracting from them a declaration that they had given no credence to the reports of his treachery circulated by malevolents. At the same time he talked of appearing before the Council of Five Hundred, in order to obtain a public satisfaction. Not caring to show a divided counsel at a moment of peril, the other Directors calmed Barras, assuring him that they had no thought of bringing any accusation against him.

On the 10th of May (21st Floreal, anno IV), Carnot, who was president of the executive Directory, sent a message to the Council of Five Hundred to inform them that a horrible plot was to be hatched on the morrow, and that its object was “to overthrow the French Constitution, to slaughter the legislative body, all the members of the government, the État major of the Army of the Interior, and to deliver this great city to general pillage and frightful massacres.” It concluded with the information that the executive Directory were informed of the place of meeting of the chiefs of this conspiracy, and had given orders for their immediate arrest. The same day, indeed, at the very moment when the Secret Directory was planning the final arrangements for the insurrection, a body of soldiers invaded the room where the sitting was being held and seized the principal leaders, amongst them being the ex-conventionals belonging to the Mountainist section of the now united revolutionary party – Vadier, Ricord, Laignelot, and Drouet. Babeuf himself, however, was not there, neither was he to be found at his old address, No. 29 Faubourg St Honoré, but at the house of the tailor Tissot, No. 21 Rue de la Grande Truanderie, where the meeting of the 11th of Floréal was held, and where, as before related, he had taken refuge as a measure of precaution, which events proved was ineffectual.

At the moment that the police burst into his apartment he was engaged in drawing up, in company with Buonarroti and another, the manifestoes intended to determine the lines of the insurrection. All the important papers relating to the movement were seized. In spite of the generosity of the one man of means in the party, Le Pelletier, [This Le Pelletier, it should be noted, was the younger brother of the well-known Louis Michel Le Pelletier de Saint Fargeau, who was assassinated in a café on the day after the vote in the of the king’s death, i.e. the 21st January 1793.] there was only found in ready cash 2000 livres in assignats. What this amounted to in the depreciated currency of the time is easy to reckon. The poverty, indeed, of the movement threatened to cause its failure, even had it not been prematurely betrayed. Without the co-operation of military, or at least a considerable section of them, it was impossible that the insurrection could have succeeded; and to ensure the support of the military, it was necessary that they should be paid. It was proposed to divide the insurgent army onto three divisions; three generals were to command it, under the order of the general-in-chief. Fion, Germain, Rossignol, and Massart were those designated. All was arranged up to the moment when the tocsin should ring out, and when, at the beat of the générale, the popular wards of the city would rise to claim the heritage the revolution had promised them. The arrest immediately produced a great sensation on the general public.

The press gave blood-curdling accounts of the projected movement and the objects of the stillborn insurrection. Every day brought reports of fresh arrests of the insurrectionists, besides those of Royalists and others. Babeuf and his friends were removed at once to imprisonment in the Temple. All were apparently at first taken to the prison of the Abbaye. This was on the 21st Floreal (10th May). Brought up the same day before the Minister of Police, Charles Cochon Laparent, a former member of the Convention, Babeuf claimed to be the author of the plan of insurrection found among the papers seized. This was, of course, not strictly true, but Babeuf was anxious not to incriminate his associates, whom he steadily refused to name. Two days later he indicted the following letter to the executive Directory:–

CITIZENS AND DIRECTORS, – Would you regard it as beneath you to treat with me as between power and power? You have already seen the vast confidence of which I am the centre! You have seen that my party may well balance yours! You have seen its vast ramifications! I am more than convinced that the outlook has made you tremble!

Is it to your interest, is it to the interest of the country, to give special notoriety to the conspiracy and its inspirers? I do not think so. I will give you the reasons why my opinion ought not to appear suspicious. What would happen if this affair should appear in the full light of day? That I should play the most glorious of all roles! I should demonstrate with all the force of character, with all the energy of which you have known me to be possessed, the righteousness of the conspiracy, of which I never denied having been the ringleader. Departing from that cowardly path strewn with denials, which the common ruck of accused persons use to justify themselves, I should dare to develop great principles, plead the eternal rights of the people, with all the advantage which close absorption and the grandeur of the subject gives me. I should dare, I say, to demonstrate that this trial is not one of justice, but it is one of strength against weakness, of oppressors against oppressed and their magnanimous defenders, of the strong against the weak. You may condemn me to deportation or death, but your judgment will be at once seen to be pronounced by powerful vice against feeble virtue. My scaffold will figure gloriously beside that of Barneveldt or of Sidney. Would you fear to see, after my execution, altars raised to me beside those where to-day Robespierre and Goujon are revered as illustrious martyrs? It is not in this way that governments and rulers are rendered secure. You have seen, citizens and directors, that you hold nothing when I am in your hands. I am not all the conspiracy, it is clear; nay, I am only a single link in the long chain that composes it. You have to fear all the other parties no less than mine. You have, indeed, the proof of all the interest they take in me, that you strike at them all in striking at me, and you will irritate them.

You will irritate, I say, the whole democracy of the French Republic. But you know already that it is not such a small matter as you may have imagined at first. You must recognise that it is not only in Paris that it exists in strength, you must see that there is not one of the departments where it is not powerful. You would judge of the matter still better if your agents had seized the vast correspondence which enabled us to form the lists of which you have only seen a fragment. It is all very well to seek to stifle the sacred fire which burns and will burn. What though it seems at certain instants extinguished if its flame threatens to revive suddenly with the force of an explosion? Would you undertake to deliver yourselves entirely to that vast sans-culotte sect which has not yet deigned to declare itself vanquished ? Even in any possibility of this where would you find yourselves afterwards? You are not quite in the same position as he who after the death of Cromwell ruled some millions of English republicans. Charles II was king, and whatever you may say you are not that yet. You have need of a party to support you, and if you removed that of the patriots you are left alone in the face of royalism. What do you think would be your lookout if you were standing before it single-handed? You will say that the patriots are as dangerous as the royalists, and perhaps more so. You deceive yourselves. Consider well the character of the enterprise of the patriots. You will not find that they desire your death, and it is a calumny to have allowed the statement to be published. For myself, I can tell you that they do not desire it. They wish to walk in other paths than those of Robespierre. They desire no blood. They would force you to confess of yourselves that you have made an oppressive use of power, that you have got rid of all popular forms and safeguards, and they desire you to replace them. They would not have gone as far as they have, if, as you promised after Vendémiaire, you had made the attempt to govern popularly.

I myself in my earlier numbers [of his paper] have sought to open the door to you. I have said how I thought that you might cover yourselves with the blessing of the people. I explained how it seemed possible to me that you might cause to disappear all that the constitutional character of your government exhibits in contrast to true republican principles.

Well, there is still time. The turn the latest events have taken may become profitable, and the salvation alike of yourselves and the public interests. Do you disdain my advice and my conclusions, which are that your own interest and that of the country consists in not giving notoriety to the present affair? I seem to perceive that it is already your intention to treat the matter politically. It seems to me that you would be wise in doing so. Don’t think that my present action is interested. The open and unusual manner in which I do not cease to declare myself guilty, in the sense in which you accuse me, must show you that I do not act from weakness. Death or exile would be to me the pathway to immortality, and I shall tread it with a heroic and religious zeal, but my proscription, like that of all other democrats, will not advance you one whit, or ensure the salvation of the republic.

I have seen, on reflection, that in the last resort you have not always been the enemies of this republic. You were once evidently republicans in good faith. Why will you not be so again? Why will you not believe that you who are men have been temporarily led astray like others by the inevitable effect of exaggerations into which circumstances have thrown you? The patriots and the mass of the people have a lacerated heart. Would you tear it still more? What would be the final result? Do not these patriots rather deserve that, instead of aggravating their wounds, you should think at last of curing them? You have, when it pleases you, the initiative of well being, since in you resides the whole force of public administration. Citizen Directors, govern popularly! Such is all these patriots ask of you! Speaking thus for them, I am sure that they will not interrupt my voice. I am sure of not being repudiated by them. I see but one policy that it is wise for you to take. Declare that there has never been any serious conspiracy. Five men, in thus showing themselves great and generous, can to-day save the country. I allege still further that the patriots will cover you with their bodies, and that you will have no more need of entire armies to defend you. The patriots do not hate you; they only hate your unpopular acts. I will then give you, on my own account, a guarantee as extended as is my habitual frankness. You know the measure of influence that I have with this class of men – I refer to the patriots. Well, I employ it to convince them that if you are at one with the people, they ought to act at one with you. It would not surely be an unhappy thing if the effect of this simple letter were to pacify the internal condition of France in checking the notoriety of which this affair is the subject. Would it not, at the same time, check all that now opposes itself to the calm of Europe?


This letter, not perhaps very wise or altogether dignified under the circumstances, had, as might be expected, no effect on its recipients. Four of the Directors at least were uncompromising in their determination mercilessly to stamp out the movement, while the fifth, Barras, whatever may have been his private ideas or inclinations, found himself already an object of secret suspicion to his colleagues, and had to fall in with their projects, with all the alacrity he could assume, if he was to avoid placing himself in a false, and even a dangerous, position. The president of the Directory, Carnot, that “organising genius”, carried everything before him at this juncture by his energy and determination. His struggle with the only other man of real ability at the head of affairs, Barras, was deferred to a later day. Barras won on the 18th Fructidor, though only himself to be overthrown by Bonaparte on the 18th Brumaire.

But, to return to our prisoners, they were all at first interned in the Abbaye, three days later to be brought up before the Directors and Jury of the department of Paris. But the Government took an early opportunity of transferring the more important of the prisoners, amongst them Babeuf and Buonarroti, to the prison of the Temple. One important prisoner, however, was allowed to remain at the Abbaye. We refer to Jean Baptiste Drouet, whose name has been several times mentioned in connection with the proceedings of the Secret Directory. Drouet had a special significance as being a Mountainist member of the Convention, and one of the few who succeeded in getting into the new Council of Five Hundred. It was he who was the postmaster at the small town of Ste. Menehould, and who procured the arrest of Louis XVI at the time of his flight to Varennes in June 1791. He was a man whose past gave him influence with all the existing parties, and his adhesion the movement of Babeuf obtained for him additional importance.

Now this man Drouet, in his capacity of political prisoner, was rather a white elephant to the executive Directory. In the first place, his being among the accused prevented the great trial coming under the jurisdiction of the High Court of Justice of Paris, as in the ordinary course it would have done. For by article 265 of the Constitution of year III. it was provided that members of the Legislature were not to be tried before the ordinary tribunals, but that a special high court to be established to deal with their cases. Hence it was that the government decided that whole process should take place before a special high court, whose seat was fixed at the town of Vendôme, in the department of the Loir et Cher. But, for reasons of his own, Barras was particularly unwilling that Drouet should be brought to trial at all. Hence, shortly before the time of the trial came on, on the 1st Fructidor, ann. IV (17th August 1796), Drouet was allowed, it has now been proved, with the connivance of Barras, to effect his escape from the Abbaye. Drouet succeeded in getting away from France into Switzerland. From thence he went to Teneriffe, where he took a leading part in the successful resistance to the attack of Nelson in the following year. He became a sub-prefect under the Empire, and died at Mâcon in 1824.

On the 9th Prairial, ann. IV (26th May 1796), the old members of the Society of the Pantheon, together with some of the Mountainists, attempted to raise the populace to deliver the prisoners. The attempt, however, was a failure. During the earlier period of his detention in the Temple, Babeuf’s enthusiasm for the cause seemed at times to render him indifferent to every other consideration, even to the welfare of his wife and family. As the weeks went on, however, he softened, and the following letter to his well-to-do friend Felix Le Pelletier is of interest, as expressing at once his political testament and his regard for the domestic affections, and, lastly, as a specimen of his literary style at its best. It is dated – , “The Tower of the Temple, 26th Messidor, anno IV (10th of August 1796),” and is as follows:–

Greetings, dear Felix! Don’t alarm yourself on seeing these lines traced by my hand. I know that all that bears the imprint of relations with me gives the right to disquietude. I am the being that all fly from; that all regard as dangerous, and of a deadly approach. However, my conscience tells me that I am pure; and my true friends, that is, certain just men, know also that I have nothing wherewith to reproach myself. If even they shun me it is not from any real aversion which I inspire in them, but it is the effect of the factitious terror imposed upon them by malice, lest by chance they should be reputed criminals, and treated as such. In this position the consideration that I owe to good men prescribes to me the interdiction of all intercourse with them, in order to avoid giving them the smallest alarm. But urgent considerations, such as present themselves naturally to the thoughts of a man on the brink of the tomb, have decided me to make one more advance towards one of my fellow-citizens whom I especially esteem. I do this the more willingly inasmuch as I am sure to run no other risk than that, perhaps, of somewhat disquieting him. It is a sacrifice that friendship can make. I shall lighten it in reassuring you, as quickly as possible, my good Felix, that there is nothing to fear. I was certain, in getting this epistle conveyed to you, the last that I shall address to you, that it would overcome without peril all the obstacles that might come between you and me.

Behold us, then, without doubt, more at ease with one another – you to read me, I to conclude what I have to tell you! I have built my text, in speaking to you, on friendship. I have called you friend! I have believed, and I believe, that I may do so. It is by this title that I address you in confidence – respecting do you know what? – my testament, and last recommendation.

I make the following assumptions subordinate to its execution – that proscription will not always pursue you; that the tyrants, sated with my blood and that of some of my unhappy companions, will be contented, and their own policy will not counsel them, perhaps, to do what they at first appeared to propose doing, namely, to make a hecatomb of all republicans. On the other hand, it might still happen, after my martyrdom, that fortune will tire of striking our country, and then that her true children may breathe in peace. If it is otherwise, I lose all hope as to what shall survive me. Then all will perish in the vast cataclysm that crime against virtue and justice will engender. The work of the good, their memory, their families, will fall into eternal night, and be involved in one universal destruction. Then, again, all is said: I need take no more care for those who are still dear to me, whom my thought has followed up to the repose of nothingness, the last inevitable end of all that exists.

It is on the first supposition that I am acting, my friend. I believe I have remained worthy of the esteem of men who are as just as you are. I have not seen you in the ranks of those evil Machiavellian politicians who multiply my sufferings a hundredfold, and are looking forward to my death. The traitors! In causing those for whom they appeared to have interested themselves most to appear in a cowardly and shameful light, they have pictured me – whose every public act has testified to the rectitude, to the purity of my intentions; to me, whose sighs and tenderness ever for unfortunate humanity are painted in unequivocal traits! – me, who have worked with such courage and devotion for the enfranchisement of my :brothers! – me, who in this sublime enterprise have had at the moment of misfortune, following on the great success which attests that I have at least brought some intelligence to the work before me! – they have pictured me, I say, either as a miserable dreamer in oblivion, or as a secret instrument of the perfidy of the enemies of the people. They have not blushed to agree with the tyrants as to the culpability of the most generous efforts to break down slavery and to cause the horrible misery of the country to cease. They have not blushed, finally, to seek to cast upon me alone this capital offence, in ornamenting it with all the accessories by which they thought to be able effectively to give it the colour of crime; and, nevertheless, I myself had the delicacy to compromise no one by name, only involving in the charge brought against me the coalition of all the democrats of the entire Republic, because I thought it, at first useful to strike at despotism with terror, and because I thought it would be an insult to any democrat not to present him as a participant in an enterprise so obligatory for him as that of the re-establishment of equality! What have. they gained, these false brothers, these apostates from our holy doctrine? What have they gained by this evil system which they appear to regard as the non plus ultra of cleverness? They have gained nothing beyond dishonour to themselves, to discredit revolutionaries with the people, who necessarily always disperse when they see themselves abandoned by their leaders. They have also succeeded in encouraging the enemy by the spectacle of such weakness. They have succeeded, finally, in precipitating the more rapidly their own protéges into the abyss. You have not taken part in these turpitudes, my friend. You have already begun to render to us the tribute of homage, which a just posterity will pay in full.

The letter then proceeds to exculpate Le Pelletier still further from any share in the base conduct of others, and to recall his loyal expressions of devotion to the cause, and to those who were now in prison as its martyrs. Babeuf continues, that to a man who has spoken and who. thinks thus, he has no hesitation in addressing the appeal for himself and his family, which forms the concluding portion of the letter.

I have no need – writes Babeuf – to assure you, that, in my complete devotion to the people, I have not thought of my personal affairs, neither have I ever forecast as to what might happen in the case of the failure that has now befallen me. I leave two children and a wife, and I leave them without a cent, without the means of livelihood. No! for a man like Felix, it will certainly not be too onerous a legacy to impose upon him, to charge him to aid these unhappy creatures in not dying of want. The daughter of Michel Le Pelletier [the before-mentioned murdered member of the Convention] will assist in this worthy work; her character, that I have had the opportunity of observing, her unmistakable sensibility, already accustomed to exercise itself towards those unfortunates that the world has made, assure me of all her movements, and of her resolution when you cause her to read this letter. You will permit me to give a little more in detail what I wish to be done for the unfortunates that I am abandoning. My two sons: the elder, as far as I can judge from the little that has been done for his education, will not have a great aptitude for the sciences. This would seem also to argue that he will not have the ambition to play any important role in the political arena. Hence he may pass his life quietly, and thus avoid the painful lot and misfortunes of his father. This boy has at least an excellent judgment and an independent spirit, the result of all the ideas in which he has been nourished. I have sounded him as to what he would like to be. Workman, he replied, but workman of the most independent class possible, and he cited that of the printer. He was not so far wrong, perhaps, and I desire nothing more than that he should follow his tastes. I can say nothing as regards his younger brother, who is too young as yet to decide anything as to his capacities; but if I have ground to hope that you will do as much for him as for the elder, I am content. Gracchus Babeuf has never been ambitious for himself or for his children. He has only been anxious to procure some good for the people. He would be too fortunate if he knew that his children were by way of becoming some day good and peaceable artisans, among the classes of which society has always need, and which consequently can never be wanting to her.

As regards my wife, in the face of the fact that she only has the domestic virtues and the simple qualities belonging to the mother of a family, all that will be necessary to preserve her from a pitiable want will be very little. It will suffice to advance her some small sum to place her in a position to undertake one of those minor occupations such as furnish all that is necessary to keep a small family.

And now, my good friend, I will ask of you one more favour. The nature of my trial and its slow progress tell me that I have still a certain number of days to live before that day when I shall go to sleep myself on the bed of honour, to expiate the acts which render me supremely culpable in the eyes of the enemies of humanity. I can wish, for consolation, that my wife and my children might accompany me, so to say, to the foot of the altar where I shall be immolated; that will do me much more good than a confessor. Place them, I pray of you, in a position to make the journey, so that I shall not be deprived of this last satisfaction.

My body will return to earth. There will remain no more of me than a sufficient quantity of projects, notes, and sketches of democratic and revolutionary writings, all tending to the last aim, to the complete philanthropic system for which I die. My wife will be able to collect them all; and one day, when the persecution shall have slackened, when perchance good men shall breathe again, with freedom enough to be able to cast a few flowers on our tomb, when people will have come to think again on the means for procuring to the human race the happiness we have proposed for it, you may look into those fragments, and present to all the disciples of Equality, to those of our friends who preserve our principles in their hearts – you may present to them, I say, for the benefit of my memory, a selection of these divers fragments, containing all that the corrupt of to-day call my dreams. I have finished. I embrace you and bid you adieu.

G. Babeuf.

It was not until the 10th Fructidor, ann. IV (27th August 1796), that Babeuf and his associates were transferred to Vendôme during the night, in cages made on purpose, as Buonarroti alleges, to make of them an exhibition as of wild beasts. Gendarmes and a strong detachment of cavalry escorted the vehicles conveying the accused, which were followed by others containing their wives and children, among whom were Madame Babeuf and her son Emile. Three days later the cortége arrived at Vendôme, the accused being placed in the cells under the court buildings, to which all access from outside was severely prohibited. According to Buonarroti, the evenings were relieved by the singing of revolutionary songs on the part of the prisoners, in which the inhabitants of the town who happened to be in the neighbourhood of the prison frequently joined.

The high court which was to try them was composed of the president, Gandon, and of five other judges, Coffinhal, Pajou, Moreau, Audier, and Massillon. There were, in addition, two supplementary judges, Lalonde and Ladève. The public prosecutors were Viellart and Bailly. The jury was composed of sixteen members, four adjuncts, and four supplementary members. But the prisoners had still some months to wait in durance. At last, after the usual formalities, the trial began on the 2nd Ventose, ann. V (the 20th February ’97), and was destined to drag on its course to the 7th Prairial, ann. V (27th May 1797).

Meanwhile, the remains of the party of which Babeuf was the leader were not inactive in Paris. Babeuf and his associates had been scarcely a month in the dungeons beneath the courthouse of Vendôme before a final attempt, which had been some weeks in preparation, was made to win over to the revolutionary cause the military in the camp at Grenelle, near Paris. On the 7th of September some hundreds of followers of the Babeuf movement rose in abortive insurrection. Their plan was first of all to seize the palace of the Luxembourg, the official residence of the Directory, and where the five directors were sitting, and next, after securing the persons of the directors, to proceed to the camp of Grenelle, there to induce a movement among the military, and to bring back those favourable to their scheme as an armed force to Paris.

But the attack on the Luxembourg failed. The authorities, warned in time of the movement that was on foot, reinforced the guards round the governmental palace, and the attacking force was driven off, although not effectively dispersed. The insurgents rallied but did not a second time attempt to penetrate into the Luxembourg. Abandoning this part of their plan, they proceeded in a body to Grenelle. Here they had every hope of success, judging from the reports they had received, but here also they were likewise doomed to a failure that proved the final disaster to their party. On summoning the camp, in which General Latour was in command, to join them, they were greeted with an unexpected resistance, under the immediate orders of Colonel Marlo. Instead of, as they had hoped and expected, tokens of fraternisation, they were met by a series of volleys fired into their number. In a few minutes they were in panic-stricken flight, leaving more than a hundred dead and wounded on the field.

This attempt on the camp at Grenelle was the last dying flicker of the spirit of popular insurrection in Paris and France for a long time to come, and may be fittingly regarded as the closing episode of the French Revolution, considered as one distinct and connected historical event.

The Government could have wished for nothing better than this abortive demonstration. It afforded them an excuse for hunting down all suspected of revolutionary sympathies in Paris and the departments surrounding the capital. Those arrested soon approached the number of 800. These prisoners were not brought before the ordinary tribunals, but were tried by a specially appointed military commission, in other words, a court martial. As might be expected, numerous sentences of death were pronounced, and as many as thirty persons were executed by military platoons on the plain of Grenelle. In addition to this, a large number were sentenced to penal servitude and to deportation. The only prominent person who had the courage to defend the vanquished democrats was the noble-minded Pache, the late Mayor of Paris, during the period of the first commune, who issued, from his residence in the country, whither he had retired, a pamphlet zealously championing the unfortunate victims, and denouncing in scathing terms the conduct of the governing classes of the day.

Monday, December 26, 2011

From The Archives-The Struggle To Win The Youth To The Fight For Our Communist Future-From Spartacist English edition No. 61- Spring 2009-Down With Executive Offices of the Capitalist State!-Marxist Principles and Electoral Tactics

From The Archives-The Struggle To Win The Youth To The Fight For Our Communist Future-

Markin comment on this series:

One of the declared purposes of this space is to draw the lessons of our left-wing past here in America and internationally, especially from the pro-communist wing. To that end I have made commentaries and provided archival works in order to help draw those lessons for today’s left-wing activists to learn, or at least ponder over. More importantly, for the long haul, to help educate today’s youth in the struggle for our common communist future. That is no small task or easy task given the differences of generations; differences of political milieus worked in; differences of social structure to work around; and, increasingly more important, the differences in appreciation of technological advances, and their uses.

There is no question that back in my youth I could have used, desperately used, many of the archival materials available today. When I developed political consciousness very early on, albeit liberal political consciousness, I could have used this material as I knew, I knew deep inside my heart and mind, that a junior Cold War liberal of the American For Democratic Action (ADA) stripe was not the end of my leftward political trajectory. More importantly, I could have used a socialist or communist youth organization to help me articulate the doubts I had about the virtues of liberal capitalism and be recruited to a more left-wing world view. As it was I spent far too long in the throes of the left-liberal/soft social-democratic milieu where I was dying politically. A group like the Young Communist League (W.E.B. Dubois Clubs in those days), the Young People’s Socialist League, or the Young Socialist Alliance representing the youth organizations of the American Communist Party, American Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) respectively would have saved much wasted time and energy. I knew they were around but not in my area.

The archival material to be used in this series is weighted heavily toward the youth movements of the early American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S). For more recent material I have relied on material from the Spartacus Youth Clubs, the youth group of the Spartacist League (U.S.), both because they are more readily available to me and because, and this should give cause for pause, there are not many other non-CP, non-SWP youth groups around. As I gather more material from other youth sources I will place them in this series.

Finally I would like to finish up with the preamble to the Spartacist Youth Club’s What We Fight For statement of purpose:

"The Spartacus Youth Clubs intervene into social struggles armed with the revolutionary internationalist program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We work to mobilize youth in struggle as partisans of the working class, championing the liberation of black people, women and all the oppressed. The SYCs fight to win youth to the perspective of building the Leninist vanguard party that will lead the working class in socialist revolution, laying the basis for a world free of capitalist exploitation and imperialist slaughter."

This seems to me be somewhere in the right direction for what a Bolshevik youth group should be doing these days; a proving ground to become professional revolutionaries with enough wiggle room to learn from their mistakes, and successes. More later.
Spartacist English edition No. 61- Spring 2009-Down With Executive Offices of the Capitalist State!-Marxist Principles and Electoral Tactics

Corrections Appended

The Fifth Conference of the International Communist League in 2007 adopted the position of opposition to Marxists running for executive office in the capitalist state—e.g., president, mayor, provincial or state governor—as a matter of principle. This position flows from our understanding that the capitalist state is the executive committee of the ruling class. At its core this state consists of bodies of armed men—the military, police, courts and prisons—which function to protect the class rule of the bourgeoisie and its system of production.

Communist deputies can, as oppositionists, serve in the U.S. Congress, parliaments and other legislative bodies as revolutionary tribunes of the working class. But assuming executive office or gaining control of a bourgeois legislature or municipal council, either independently or in coalition, requires taking responsibility for the administration of the machinery of the capitalist state. The ICL had previously held that communists could run for executive offices, provided that we declare in advance that we don’t intend to assume such offices. But in re-examining this question, we concluded that standing for election to executive positions carries the implication that one is ready to accept such responsibility, no matter what disclaimer one makes in advance. For self-proclaimed Marxists to engage in such activity only lends legitimacy to prevailing and reformist conceptions of the state.

As we stated in our 2007 conference document:

“In adopting the position against running for executive office, we are recognizing and codifying what should be seen as a corollary to Lenin’s The State and Revolution and The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, which are really the founding documents of the Third [Communist] International [CI, or Comintern]. This understanding was attenuated by the time of the Second Congress of the CI, which failed to draw a distinction between parliamentary and executive office in pursuing electoral activity. Thus we are continuing to complete the theoretical and programmatic work of the first four Congresses of the CI. It is easy enough to pledge that you won’t take executive office when the chance of winning is remote. But the question is: what happens when you win?...

“Our earlier practice conformed to that of the Comintern and Fourth International. This does not mean that we acted in an unprincipled way in the past: the principle had never been recognized as such either by our forebears or by ourselves. Programs do evolve, as new issues arise and we critically scrutinize the work of our revolutionary predecessors.”

— “Down With Executive Offices!” Spartacist No. 60, Autumn 2007

Behind the question of running for executive office stands the fundamental counterposition between reformism and Marxism: Can the proletariat use bourgeois democracy and the bourgeois state to achieve a peaceful transition to socialism? Or, rather, must the proletariat smash the old state machinery, and in its place create a new state to impose its own class rule—the dictatorship of the proletariat—to suppress and expropriate the capitalist exploiters?

Since the October Revolution of 1917, social democrats and reformists of various stripes, beginning with the Russian Mensheviks and exemplified most notably at the time by the German Social Democrat and erstwhile Marxist Karl Kautsky, have denounced the October Revolution, arguing that the Bolsheviks should not have led the proletariat to seize power. Instead, the reformists maintained that the Russian proletariat should have given the lead to and supported the liberal bourgeoisie—all in the name of defense of “democracy.” The State and Revolution, written on the eve of the October Revolution, and its companion piece, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, written a year later, together represent a striking refutation of these views. In these works Lenin rescues Marx and Engels from the distortions and apologias of the opportunists, who selectively quoted, misquoted and, indeed, at times suppressed the views of Marx and Engels in order to justify their own anti-revolutionary course.

The revisionists and reformists are no less active today. Their politics consist of activity completely defined by the framework of bourgeois society. Such a policy was sharply characterized by Trotsky as “the actual training of the masses to become imbued with the inviolability of the bourgeois state” (Trotsky, The Lessons of October, 1924). Such accommodations to capitalist class rule by organizations claiming adherence to Marxism is, if anything, more pronounced today in a world defined by the final undoing of the October Revolution and the widespread acceptance that “communism is dead.”

Having made common cause with “democratic” imperialism against the Soviet degenerated workers state and the bureaucratically deformed workers states of East Europe, these organizations are now even more shameless in their embrace of bourgeois democracy, by and large dispensing with even lip service to the aim of proletarian revolution. In France, the fake Trotskyists of Lutte Ouvrière (LO), the Lambertist group (now calling itself Parti Ouvrier Indépendant) and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), flagship section of the United Secretariat (USec), regularly stand candidates for the semi-bonapartist presidency. The Lambertist candidate in the 2007 presidential election was a town mayor who ran as the “candidate of the mayors,” while LO and LCR help finance their electoral activity with direct and substantial subsidies from the French capitalist state. In Brazil, a leader of the USec group, Miguel Rossetto, actually served as a minister in the popular-front bourgeois government headed by the social democrat Lula. The French LCR has now transmuted itself into a “New Anti-Capitalist Party” that disavows any reference to communism or revolution. In Britain, Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party (core of the Committee for a Workers’ International), which in an earlier incarnation spent decades trying to reform the old Labour Party from within, now calls for a “mass workers party” defined by “Old Labour” reformism as an alternative to Blair/Brown’s New Labour Party.

Among the few avowedly Marxist groups that still sometimes speak the language of the October Revolution are the Bolshevik Tendency (BT) and the Internationalist Group (IG). The BT was formed by a handful who quit our organization in the early 1980s in response to the onset of Cold War II and is led by a sociopath named Bill Logan, whom we expelled in 1979 for crimes against communist morality and elementary human decency. The founding cadre of the IG defected from our party in 1996, following the capitalist counterrevolutions in East Europe and the Soviet Union, in pursuit of an opportunist orientation toward various “radical” petty-bourgeois milieus. These political bookends of the Cold War have come together in denouncing our line against running for executive office.

The IG denounced our position as a break in “the continuity of genuine Trotskyism” (“France Turns Hard to the Right,” Internationalist, July 2007), alluding to our 1985 election campaign running Marjorie Stamberg, now an IG supporter, for mayor of New York. In following the practice of our revolutionary forebears, our previous position was not subjectively unprincipled. But the IG’s continuing defense of such campaigns is unprincipled. The IG asserts that communists can run “for whatever post,” including that of imperialist Commander-in-Chief, arguing: “In the unusual case in which a revolutionary candidate had enough influence to be elected, the party would already have begun building workers councils and other organs of a soviet character. And the party would insist that, if elected, its candidates would base themselves on such organs of workers power and not on the institutions of the bourgeois state.” The BT then approvingly quoted this passage and the IG’s description of our position as a “novelty,” adding its own parliamentarist twist: “Perhaps the ICL comrades will eventually conclude that running for parliament is also ‘an obstacle’ because the winning party ends up exercising executive power” (“ICL Rejects ‘Executive Offices’: Of Presidents & Principles,” 1917, 2008).

In allowing that communists should run for executive office, the IG leaves open, and certainly does not disavow, the possibility of taking such office “if elected,” at least in a revolutionary situation. For its part, the BT obliterates any distinction between ministerialism—i.e., serving as a minister in a bourgeois cabinet—and contesting to serve as revolutionary workers deputies in a bourgeois parliament. Behind the BT’s whine lurks the implicit assumption (profoundly false and expressing petty-bourgeois prejudice) that bourgeois parliaments are sovereign bodies expressing the “will of the people.” Clearly what the BT has in mind is Her Royal Majesty’s Mother of Parliaments. The BT intones: “Of course, the only way to ‘abolish’ the institutions of the bourgeois state is through socialist revolution” (ibid.). But this is merely a Sunday sermon for the gullible.

The IG and the BT invoke a “revolutionary situation” as a deus ex machina—a screen for their opportunist position. Had the Bolsheviks, emulating the Mensheviks, entered the bourgeois Provisional Government in 1917 in the midst of that revolutionary situation, it would have rendered hollow the Bolsheviks’ call for “All power to the Soviets” and turned them into the left wing of bourgeois democracy. The IG and BT to the contrary, history is littered with “unusual cases” where would-be socialists and communists pleaded special circumstances to get their fingers on the levers of bourgeois state power. Moreover, the IG and the BT willfully ignore the fact that it is historically quite usual for reformist workers parties to get their first experience in administering the bourgeois state through winning electoral control of municipal councils, often in the absence of any hint of a revolutionary situation. Such municipalism, or “municipal socialism,” has served not to further proletarian revolution, but to derail it.

In a very real sense, the question of running for executive office goes right back to an incomplete fight against ministerialism initiated by left-wingers like Rosa Luxemburg in the Second International at the dawn of the 20th century. The arguments raised by the IG and BT in defense of their line on executive office place them to the right of the left wing of the pre-World War I social democracy.

The proletariat finds itself in a deep trough in this post-Soviet period. In these circumstances, it is even more crucial that revolutionaries defend the vital programmatic conquests of the past and, through critical study, debate and application, deepen and extend our understanding of the Marxist program. In doing so, it is necessary to look to the highest expressions of proletarian struggle and consciousness, like the lessons of the revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871 and of the proletariat’s greatest conquest yet, the October Revolution of 1917, which demonstrated conclusively that taking executive office in a capitalist government is counterposed to the fight for proletarian state power.

Marx and Engels on the State

In the Communist Manifesto, drafted just before the revolutionary upheavals in 1848, Marx and Engels made clear that the proletariat would have to erect its own state as “the first step in the revolution by the working class” (Manifesto of the Communist Party, December 1847-January 1848). They went on, “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.” As Lenin notes in The State and Revolution, the question of how the bourgeois state was to be replaced by the proletarian state is not addressed in the Manifesto; nor, correspondingly, is the question of a parliamentary road to socialism—universal suffrage barely existed.

By early 1852, Marx had come to the understanding that “in its struggle against the revolution, the parliamentary republic found itself compelled to strengthen, along with the repressive measures, the resources and centralisation of governmental power. All revolutions perfected this machine instead of breaking it” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852). But it was above all the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 that led Marx and Engels to conclude that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes” (The Civil War in France, 1871). Marx noted in this work that the “State power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism.” The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people. The Commune, which replaced the bourgeois state power, “was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time” (ibid.).

Several times, would-be supporters of Marx and Engels in the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) tried to defang or deflect their revolutionary internationalist perspective, centrally on the issue of the state. Marx is scathing in his treatment of the demand for a “free state” raised in the 1875 founding program of a unified SPD. Capturing in passing the essence of the Kaiser’s Germany of the 19th century, Marx excoriated the Gotha Program for resorting to the subterfuge

“of demanding things which have meaning only in a democratic republic from a state which is nothing but a police-guarded military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms, alloyed with a feudal admixture and at the same time already influenced by the bourgeoisie, and bureaucratically carpentered, and then assuring this state into the bargain that one imagines one will be able to force such things upon it ‘by legal means.’

“Even vulgar democracy, which sees the millennium in the democratic republic and has no suspicion that it is precisely in this last form of state of bourgeois society that the class struggle has to be fought out to a conclusion—even it towers mountains above this kind of democratism which keeps within the limits of what is permitted by the police and not permitted by logic.”

— Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875

Engels was compelled to return to this theme—and, at the same time, to denounce ministerialism—in his critique of the 1891 Erfurt Program. He wrote:

“If one thing is certain it is that our party and the working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the Great French Revolution has already shown. It would be inconceivable for our best people to become ministers under an emperor, as Miquel. It would seem that from a legal point of view it is inadvisable to include the demand for a republic directly in the programme, although this was possible even under Louis Phillippe in France, and is now in Italy. But the fact that in Germany it is not permitted to advance even a republican party programme openly, proves how totally mistaken is the belief that a republic, and not only a republic, but also communist society, can be established in a cosy, peaceful way.”

— A Critique of the Draft Social-Democratic Programme of 1891, June 1891

Johannes Miquel was a member of the Communist League until 1852, after which he deserted to the German bourgeoisie, eventually serving as a leader of the National Liberal Party and as a government minister for a number of years.

The German SPD had grown enormously in size and influence in the last decades of the 19th century, despite the Anti-Socialist Law enacted by Bismarck in 1878, and even more so after the law’s repeal in 1890. A string of electoral successes resulted in the emergence of a huge municipal and parliamentary component. A sizable party treasury and other resources and a ponderous party and trade-union apparatus all combined to exert a conservatizing influence and to provide the material basis for a strong and ever more pronounced opportunist tendency. In his manuscript of an 1891 introduction to Marx’s main work on the Paris Commune, Engels wrote:

“Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

— Introduction to Marx’s The Civil War in France, March 1891

When the book was published, the SPD editors substituted “German philistine” for “Social-Democratic philistine”!

In the years following Engels’ death in 1895, leading SPDer Eduard Bernstein gave theoretical expression to the growing opportunist tendency by openly renouncing revolutionary Marxism in favor of an “evolutionary socialism” premised on gradual reform of bourgeois society. Bernstein pronounced that for him the “movement” was everything, the final goal of socialism nothing. Already by 1895, the reformist impulses in official German Social Democracy had become so strong that when Engels submitted his introduction to Marx’s The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850, the SPD Executive objected that the work was excessively revolutionary, and asked Engels to tone it down. He reluctantly tried to oblige.

The SPD Executive did not print the entire redraft, omitting certain passages behind Engels’ back so as to make it appear that he had abandoned his revolutionary views. Most famously, they included his statement that “Rebellion in the old style, street fighting with barricades, which decided the issue everywhere up to 1848, had become largely outdated” (Introduction to The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850, 6 March 1895). But they excised his categorical assertion, “Does that mean that in the future street fighting will no longer play any role? Certainly not. It only means that the conditions since 1848 have become far more unfavourable for civilian fighters and far more favourable for the military. In future, street fighting can, therefore, be victorious only if this disadvantageous situation is compensated by other factors” (ibid.). Among these factors, explained Engels earlier in the introduction, was the need for the insurgents to make “the troops yield to moral influences.… If they succeed in this, the troops fail to respond, or the commanding officers lose their heads, and the insurrection wins” (ibid.).

Engels’ point was clearly not, as the reformists would subsequently maintain, that revolution was outdated, but that the proletarian forces had to split the bourgeois army. As early as 1856, acutely aware of the large peasant base at the core of the Prussian army, Marx had bluntly noted: “The whole thing in Germany will depend on whether it is possible to back the Proletarian revolution by some second edition of the Peasants’ war. In which case the affair should go swimmingly” (“Marx to Engels,” 16 April 1856).

Marx on the Question of a “Peaceful” Road

Social Democratic reformists also seized on isolated statements by Marx and Engels leaving open the possibility of peaceful transitions to socialism in certain countries. In a speech in Amsterdam, reported in the newspaper La Liberté, Marx said:

“We know that the institutions, customs and traditions in the different countries must be taken into account; and we do not deny the existence of countries like America, England, and if I knew your institutions better I might add Holland, where the workers may achieve their aims by peaceful means. That being true we must also admit that in most countries on the Continent it is force which must be the lever of our revolution; it is force which will have to be resorted to for a time in order to establish the rule of the workers.”

— Marx, “On the Hague Congress,” 8 September 1872

Marx based his argument on the understanding that these particular states lacked militarist cliques or significant bureaucratic apparatuses. But his speculation was in error. Britain and Holland both had vast colonial empires that required large bureaucracies, and attendant military forces to subdue the masses. During Victoria’s reign (1837-1901) Britain waged, in addition to the Crimean War of 1853-56, an almost nonstop series of lesser and not-so-lesser military actions and wars, capped off by the Second Boer War, to extend and maintain its empire.

The United States was then in the midst of its most democratic period, the era of Reconstruction. But the Civil War gave an enormous boost to Northern capital, so that by the time of the Grant administration all the pieces were in place that would blossom into full-blown imperialism over the coming decades. It was in this period that American capital began in earnest its economic subjugation of Mexico (already vastly diminished in territory as a result of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48), grabbing prime agricultural land, rail and mining concessions. The smashing of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and, in that same year, the dismantling of Reconstruction were the unmistakable signposts of this process.

At the time of the 1848 Revolution, Marx had a different appreciation of whether England could undergo a peaceful transition to socialism. Writing of the defeat of the French working class at the hands of the bourgeoisie that year, Marx stressed the need for a successful rising against the English bourgeoisie:

“The liberation of Europe, whether brought about by the struggle of the oppressed nationalities for their independence or by overthrowing feudal absolutism, depends therefore on the successful uprising of the French working class. Every social upheaval in France, however, is bound to be thwarted by the English bourgeoisie, by Great Britain’s industrial and commercial domination of the world. Every partial social reform in France or on the European continent as a whole, if designed to be lasting, is merely a pious wish. And only a world war can overthrow the old England, as only this can provide the Chartists, the party of the organised English workers, with the conditions for a successful rising against their gigantic oppressors.”

— “The Revolutionary Movement,” 31 December 1848

Following the failed revolutions of 1848, capitalism grew enormously on the continent. But while the ratios of economic power shifted somewhat, Marx’s observations on Britain retained their essential validity, certainly through to the time of the Commune and later.

Whatever Marx may have speculated in 1872, we are now in a fundamentally different period of world history: the imperialist epoch characterized by the domination of monopoly finance capital, where a handful of great capitalist powers compete for world supremacy. Under such circumstances the idea of a peaceful, parliamentary transition to socialism is worse than a pipe dream: it is a reformist program that ties the proletariat to its class enemies.

As if to illustrate this point, in polemicizing against our opposition to running for executive office the misnamed Bolshevik Tendency cites an 1893 letter by Engels. Engels was replying to an émigré socialist (F. Wiesen of Baird, Texas), who argued that the practice of fielding candidates for the U.S. presidency constituted a denial of revolutionary principle. Engels dismissed Wiesen’s request for a principled position as “academic,” observing that the goal of workers revolution in the U.S. was still “a very long way off” and that it was premature to draw a principled line against running for Senate or president. He argued:

“I don’t see why it should necessarily represent an infringement of the Social-Democratic principle if a man puts up candidates for some political office for which election is required and if he votes for those candidates, even if he is engaged in an attempt to abolish that office.

“One might consider that the best way to abolish the Presidency and the Senate in America would be to elect to those posts men who had pledged themselves to bring about their abolition; it would then be logical for one to act accordingly. Others might consider this method to be inexpedient; it’s a debatable point. There could be circumstances in which such a mode of action might also involve a denial of the revolutionary principle; why it should always and invariably be so, I entirely fail to see.”

— “Engels to F. Wiesen,” 14 March 1893

Engels’ central concern was to prod the émigré-dominated Socialist Labor Party (SLP) into helping a political working-class movement get started. To that end he had some years earlier stressed the importance of the 1886 United Labor Party candidacy of single-taxer Henry George for New York mayor, viewing this as a step toward an independent workers party on the model of the social-democratic parties in Europe. In 1893 Engels did not know where principled lines would be drawn in the parliamentary arena when the hour of battle arrived. How could Engels at that point have unraveled the questions of what kind of party the workers needed to take power, of the principles of Bolshevik parliamentarism, of the dynamics of critical support to reformist misleaders? Even so, he knew enough to point the way to civil war.

Not so the BT, whose motivation in citing Engels is to engage in a backhanded defense of ministerialism. As Trotsky wrote in polemicizing against Kautsky in 1920:

“The bourgeois democratic state not only creates more favorable conditions for the political education of the workers, as compared with absolutism, but also sets a limit to that development in the shape of bourgeois legality, which skilfully accumulates and builds on the upper strata of the proletariat opportunist habits and law-abiding prejudices. The school of democracy proved quite insufficient to rouse the German proletariat to revolution when the catastrophe of the war was at hand. The barbarous school of the war, social-imperialist ambitions, colossal military victories, and unparalleled defeats were required. After these events, which made a certain amount of difference in the universe, and even in the Erfurt Programme, to come out with common-places as to the meaning of democratic parliamentarism for the education of the proletariat signifies a fall into political childhood.”

— Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism, 1920

Perhaps the BT will now change the name of its journal from 1917 (is the reference to February?) to 1893!

The Struggle Against Millerandism, 1900

The question of the nature of executive office in the bourgeois state was posed pointblank in June 1899, when Alexandre Millerand became the first socialist leader to accept a portfolio in a bourgeois government. In an 1894 letter not cited in the BT’s tract, Engels had specifically warned against just such a possibility in the event that the Italian Republicans came to power at the head of a revolutionary movement supported by the Socialists. Writing to Italian Socialist leader Filippo Turati, Engels argued:

“After the common victory we might be offered some seats in the new government, but so that we always remain a minority. That is the greatest danger. After February 1848 the French socialist democrats (of the Réforme, Ledru-Rollin, Louis Blanc, Flocon, etc.) made the mistake of accepting such posts. Constituting a minority in the government they voluntarily shared the responsibility for all the infamies and treachery which the majority, composed of pure Republicans, committed against the working class, while their presence in the government completely paralysed the revolutionary action of the working class which they claimed they represented.”

— “Engels to Filippo Turati,” 26 January 1894, Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1955)

Five years later, Millerand justified serving as Minister of Commerce under Prime Minister René Waldeck-Rousseau by arguing that the French Republic was otherwise in danger of being overthrown by a reactionary alliance of monarchists and aristocrats in league with the officer corps and the Catholic church. Sitting alongside Millerand in this government of “republican defense” was the bloody suppressor of the Paris Commune, General Galliffet.

The background to all this was the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that had thrown France into a profound political crisis. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the General Staff, was convicted by secret court-martial in 1894 of selling military secrets to a foreign power and sentenced to life in prison. Soon it was revealed that Dreyfus had been framed by the army tops to hide the guilt of another officer, a member of the aristocracy. After years of captivity on Devil’s Island, off French Guiana, Dreyfus was retried and again found guilty in September 1899; he was finally given a presidential pardon later that month. Millerand had been brought into the government as a way to defuse the ongoing crisis.

Already polarized over the Dreyfus Affair, the French Socialist movement was split over Millerand’s action. One wing supported Millerand—especially Jean Jaurès, who in 1898 became one of Dreyfus’s most ardent and eloquent defenders, albeit strictly within the bounds of bourgeois liberalism. The other wing, the French Workers Party (POF), led by Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue, had refused to defend Dreyfus and opposed Millerand joining the government.

Joining in the debate on Millerandism was Rosa Luxemburg, a founder of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania who then became prominent in the left wing of the SPD, particularly through the fight against Bernstein. In her eloquent refutation of Bernstein’s reformism, Luxemburg observed:

“People who pronounce themselves in favor of the method of legislative reform in place of and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modification of the old society.”

— Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution, 1898-99, reprinted in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970)

Luxemburg rightly argued that socialists should defend Dreyfus, using the case to indict French capitalism and militarism and to further the class struggle. But she opposed Millerand’s entry into the government and argued:

“The character of a bourgeois government isn’t determined by the personal character of its members, but by its organic function in bourgeois society. The government of the modern state is essentially an organization of class domination, the regular functioning of which is one of the conditions of existence of the class state. With the entry of a socialist into the government, and class domination continuing to exist, the bourgeois government doesn’t transform itself into a socialist government, but a socialist transforms himself into a bourgeois minister.”

— “Affaire Dreyfus et cas Millerand” (The Dreyfus Affair and the Millerand Case), 1899, Luxemburg, Le Socialisme en France (1898-1912) (Socialism in France [1898-1912]) (Paris: Editions Pierre Belfond, 1971) (our translation)

Once in government the logic of Millerandism came to the fore—preservation of the Waldeck-Rousseau government at any cost. As Rosa Luxemburg commented ironically, “Yesterday, the cabinet must take defensive action in order to save the Republic. Today, the defense of the Republic must be given up in order to save the cabinet” (“Die sozialistische Krise in Frankreich” [The Socialist Crisis in France], 1900-01 [our translation]). Following the resignation of Waldeck-Rousseau, the Jaurès group supported the Radical government of Emile Combes and voted for the ministerial budget, including funding for the army and navy.

Lenin noted the evident link between Bernstein’s revisionism and Millerandism:

“Millerand has furnished an excellent example of practical Bernsteinism; not without reason did Bernstein and Vollmar rush so zealously to defend and laud him. Indeed, if Social-Democracy, in essence, is merely a party of reform and must be bold enough to admit this openly, then not only has a socialist the right to join a bourgeois cabinet, but he must always strive to do so. If democracy, in essence, means the abolition of class domination, then why should not a socialist minister charm the whole bourgeois world by orations on class collaboration? Why should he not remain in the cabinet even after the shooting down of workers by gendarmes has exposed, for the hundredth and thousandth time, the real nature of the democratic collaboration of classes?”

— What Is To Be Done? (1902)

The discussion on ministerialism dominated the Paris Congress of the Second International in 1900, with Luxemburg, pioneer Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov, American SLP leader Daniel De Leon and other leftists pitted against the right wing, exemplified by SPDers Bernstein and Georg von Vollmar, who backed Jaurès and Millerand. Politically in the center, as was increasingly the case in the German party, was SPD theoretician Karl Kautsky, who was still widely deemed to be “the pope of Marxism” in the International. As historian G.D.H. Cole observed: “It was Kautsky’s task to devise a form of words that would satisfy the centre and disarm the extreme Left without driving the right wing out of the International, and without making Jaurès’s position impossible” (Cole, The Second International 1889-1914 [London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1960]).

The compromise resolution cooked up by Kautsky is instructive as to how deeply social-democratic reformism permeated the Second International:

“In a contemporary democratic state the conquest of political power by the proletariat cannot be the work of a mere putschist action but can only constitute the conclusion of a long and laborious work of political and economic organization of the proletariat, of its physical and moral regeneration and of a step-by-step conquest of elective seats in communal representative assemblies and legislative bodies.

“But where governmental power is centralized, its conquest cannot take place piece by piece. The entry of an individual socialist into a bourgeois ministry cannot be regarded as the normal beginning of the conquest of political power but can be only a temporary and exceptional makeshift in a predicament.

“Whether in a given case such a predicament exists is a question of tactics and not of principle. Here the Congress shouldn’t decide. But in any case this dangerous experiment can be advantageous only if it is approved by a united party organization and the socialist minister is and remains the mandate-bearer of his party.”

— Internationaler Sozialisten-Kongress zu Paris 1900 (International Socialist Congress in Paris 1900) (Berlin: Expedition der Buchhandlung Vorwärts, 1900) (our translation)

The gratuitous warning against putschism and the arguments in favor of gradual penetration of municipal councils and legislative assemblies were intended to placate the revisionists and were recognized as such by them. The “exceptional makeshift” escape clause was also happily accepted by Millerand and Jaurès, because they shamelessly wielded that argument to support their own ministerialism. In fact, it was the bourgeoisie that embraced this socialist minister in an “exceptional” move to liquidate the political crisis engendered by the Dreyfus Affair.

The minority resolution introduced by Guesde and Italy’s Enrico Ferri reaffirmed that “by conquest of public powers one should understand the political expropriation of the capitalist class, whether this expropriation takes place peacefully or violently.” It continued:

“Therefore it only allows, under a bourgeois regime, for occupying elective positions which the Party can seize through its own forces, i.e., the workers organized as a class party, and it necessarily forbids any socialist participation in bourgeois governments, against which socialists must remain in a state of irreconcilable opposition.”

— Congrès Socialiste International Paris 23-27 Septembre 1900 (Geneva: Minkoff Reprint, 1980) (our translation)

Thus the minority resolution left open the possibility of taking positions in the bourgeois regime that “the Party can seize through its own forces.” Plekhanov went further, accepting the possibility that participation in a bourgeois cabinet might be a valid tactic under certain exceptional circumstances. Thus he initially supported Kautsky’s resolution but tried to amend it to include at least an implicit criticism of Millerand, arguing that if a socialist is forced to join a bourgeois cabinet in extreme cases, he is obliged to leave if it reveals a bias in its relation to the struggle of labor and capital. Plekhanov himself acknowledged that on a theoretical level his amendment “cannot stand up to criticism: what kind of bourgeois government could possibly be unbiased toward the struggle of labor with capital?” (“Neskol’ko slov o poslednem Parizhskom mezhdunarodnom sotsialisticheskom kongresse” [A Few Words About the Latest International Socialist Congress in Paris], April 1901 [our translation]). Jaurès then deftly amended Plekhanov’s amendment to say that a socialist must leave the cabinet if a unified socialist party deems the government biased in the struggle of labor with capital—but France did not have a unified party! Trapped, Plekhanov ended up voting with the minority while complaining that Guesde’s motion was too categorical in its opposition to entering a bourgeois cabinet.

Guesde also introduced a motion opposing socialist participation in class-collaborationist coalitions with bourgeois parties. While asserting that “class struggle forbids any kind of alliance with any fraction whatsoever of the capitalist class,” the motion allowed that “exceptional circumstances make coalitions necessary in some places” (Congrès Socialiste International [our translation]). This loophole was large enough that even the hardened opportunists could vote for the resolution, and it passed unanimously.

Amsterdam 1904: Millerandism Revisited

The Second International returned to the subject of Millerandism at its 1904 Amsterdam Congress. A year before, at the 1903 SPD Congress in Dresden, Kautsky had joined in endorsing a resolution condemning revisionism and, implicitly, Millerandism. American SLP leader Daniel De Leon commented acerbically: “At the Paris Congress an anti-Millerandist attitude was decidedly unpopular; there Kautsky was ‘running with the hares’,” while at Dresden Kautsky was “again to the fore, now ‘barking with the hounds’” (“The Dresden Congress,” Daily People, 3 January 1904).

The Guesdists then introduced the SPD resolution for endorsement at Amsterdam. As passed in 1904, the resolution “condemned in the most decisive way revisionist efforts to alter our previously proven and victorious class-struggle tactics in such a way that a policy of accommodation to the existing order of things takes the place of the conquest of political power through vanquishing our opponents” (Internationaler Sozialisten-Kongress zu Amsterdam [International Socialist Congress in Amsterdam], [Berlin: Expedition der Buchhandlung Vorwärts, 1904] [our translation]). It proclaimed itself frankly against any “party which contents itself with reforming bourgeois society” and further declared that “the Social Democracy, in keeping with Kautsky’s resolution at the International Socialist Congress in Paris in the year 1900, cannot strive for a share of governmental power within bourgeois society.” The positive reference to the 1900 Kautsky resolution was a characteristic sop to the right wing. The rebuke of the revisionists did not lead to a parting of ways, as all wings accepted the conception of a “party of the whole class,” i.e., a single, unified party of the working class encompassing all tendencies from Marxism to reformism. Nonetheless, delegates on both the left and the right at Amsterdam saw the 1903 Dresden resolution as a sharp counter to the conciliation of Millerandism in 1900.

De Leon had voted against Kautsky’s resolution at the 1900 Paris Congress. In 1904, De Leon again objected to endorsing Kautsky’s stand in 1900, submitting the following resolution:

“Whereas, At the last International Congress, held in Paris, in 1900, a resolution generally known as the Kautsky Resolution, was adopted, the closing clauses of which contemplate the emergency of the working class accepting office at the hand of such capitalist governments, and also, especially, PRE-SUPPOSES THE POSSIBILITY OF IMPARTIALITY ON THE PART OF THE RULING CLASS GOVERNMENTS IN THE CONFLICTS BETWEEN THE WORKING CLASS AND THE CAPITALIST CLASS….

“Resolved, First, That the said Kautsky Resolution be and the same is hereby repealed as a principle of general Socialist tactics;

“Second, That, in fully developed capitalist countries like America, the working class cannot, without betrayal of the cause of the proletariat, fill any political office other than such that they conquer for and by themselves.”

— De Leon, “Millerandism Repudiated,” Daily People, 28 August 1904

Failing to get any support for his resolution, De Leon voted for the main resolution.

In allowing for the filling of political offices conquered by the workers “for and by themselves,” De Leon’s resolution again avoided the key issue—the necessity of smashing the machinery of the capitalist state and replacing it with the dictatorship of the proletariat. While De Leon took a principled stand against bourgeois ministerialism, he was also committed to electoralism. Founding American Communist and, later, Trotskyist James P. Cannon honored De Leon’s pioneering role in the formative period of the American socialist movement while rightly noting that he “was sectarian in his tactics, and his conception of political action was rigidly formalistic, and rendered sterile by legalistic fetishism” (Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1962]).

As he made clear in a 1905 address originally published as “The Preamble of the I.W.W.,” De Leon left open the possibility that, at least in the U.S., the proletariat could conquer political power peacefully through the ballot box, after which the new socialist government would disband itself and cede power to an administration of “socialist industrial unions” (“The Socialist Reconstruction of Society,” De Leon, Socialist Landmarks [New York: New York Labor News Company, 1952]). According to De Leon, such unions, formed under capitalism, would grow organically, progressively seizing and wielding economic power against the capitalists. Beginning in the 1890s, De Leon’s SLP faithfully, every four years, put up its own candidate for the U.S. presidency. Following De Leon’s death in 1914 and the SLP’s rejection of the lessons of the October Revolution as applicable to the American terrain, the party was transformed into a fossilized shell of its former self.

But in its electoralism, there was little to distinguish the SLP even under De Leon from the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs. From 1900 onwards, Debs was to run five times for the office of president of the United States. Debs intoned: “The workers must be taught to unite and vote together as a class in support of the Socialist Party, the party that represents them as a class, and when they do this the government will pass into their hands and capitalism will fall to rise no more” (“The Growth of Socialism,” 1906, Writings and Speeches of Eugene V. Debs [New York: Hermitage Press, 1948]). Debs ran his last presidential campaign in 1920, winning over 900,000 votes, from a prison cell in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was serving a ten-year sentence (as well as being disenfranchised for life) for his opposition to World War I. Debs’ presidential campaigns as well as his great authority cemented a tradition of socialists running for Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism that was by and large uncritically accepted by all except anti-parliamentary opponents of any electoral activity whatsoever. But where Debs advocated the overthrow of capitalism, many Socialist leaders, such as Morris Hillquit, were virulently anti-Leninist reformists. Another, Victor Berger, was aptly described as a “sewer socialist” for a program of municipal reform that was nearly indistinguishable from that peddled by the bourgeois Progressive movement.

Municipalism and the Second International

Municipalism was not the preserve solely of overt reformists. The deep division between the reformist and revolutionary wings of the Second International over socialists taking responsibility for bourgeois government at the ministerial level did not extend to the municipal level. In fact, the 1900 Paris Congress was unanimous in approving a resolution on municipalism that asserted:

“In consideration that the municipality can become an excellent laboratory of decentralized economic life and at the same time a formidable political bastion to be used by local socialist majorities against the bourgeois majority of the central power, once serious autonomy has been achieved;

“The International Congress of 1900 states:

“That all socialists have a duty, without ignoring the importance of general politics, to explain and appreciate municipal activity, to give to municipal reforms the importance given to them by their role as ‘embryos of the collectivist society’ and to strive to turn communal services—transit, lighting, water supply, electricity, schools, medical services, hospitals, baths, wash houses, municipal stores, municipal bakeries, food service, heating, workers’ housing, clothing, police, municipal works, etc.—into model institutions, from the standpoint both of the public interest as well as of the citizens employed in these operations.”

— Congrès Socialiste International (our translation)

This is perhaps the most graphic example of the dilemma of the parties of the Second International—a real program of minimum reforms, and a maximum program of socialism, all too often to be dragged out for Sunday political sermons, but nothing more. Even those who were most outspoken and consistent in their opposition to Bernsteinism and Millerandism thought socialists could participate in municipal administrations. Thus Rosa Luxemburg wrote:

“The question of participating in a town council is entirely different. It’s true that both the town council and the mayor are tasked, inter alia, with administrative functions that have been transferred to them and with the carrying out of bourgeois laws; historically, however, both constitute entirely counterposed elements....

“For socialist tactics the result is a fundamentally different stance: the central government of the present state is the embodiment of bourgeois class rule, whose elimination is an absolutely necessary prerequisite to the victory of socialism; self-administration is the element of the future, with which the socialist transformation will link up positively.

“Admittedly, the bourgeois parties know how to infuse their class content even into the economic and cultural functions of the municipality. But here socialists will never get into a situation of being untrue to their own politics. As long as they are in the minority in town representative bodies, they will make opposition their guideline in the same way as in parliament. But if they attain a majority, then they will transform the municipality itself into an instrument of struggle against the bourgeois central power.”

— “The Socialist Crisis in France,” 1900-01 (our translation)

This view was in part a holdover from the period of the ascendancy of the revolutionary bourgeoisie, when the commune was a weapon of the urban classes against the feudal monarchical state. In the late Middle Ages, the communes in Italy and France served as bastions in which the mercantile bourgeoisies developed the roots of capitalism within feudal society and against the forces of absolutism. But after the bourgeoisie came to power, it pushed the autonomous communes aside in order to cohere a strong centralized state to defend its class interests at the national level. The adoption of municipalism by the Second International reflected not only theoretical confusion but also the fact that those reforms that were attained through class struggle in the last decades of the 1800s were often dispensed by socialist-controlled local governments.

In fact, Marx and Engels had sought to dispel municipalist illusions on several occasions. Following the revolutions of 1848, they cautioned that the proletarians “must not allow themselves to be misguided by the democratic talk of freedom for the communities, of self-government, etc.” (“Address of the Central Authority to the League,” March 1850). And in his writing on the Paris Commune, Marx warned against confusing the functions of the medieval commune with the tasks of proletarian socialism:

“It is generally the fate of completely new historical creations to be mistaken for the counterpart of older and even defunct forms of social life, to which they may bear a certain likeness. Thus, this new Commune, which breaks the modern State power, has been mistaken for a reproduction of the mediaeval Communes, which first preceded, and afterwards became the substratum of, that very State power.... The antagonism of the Commune against the State power has been mistaken for an exaggerated form of the ancient struggle against over-centralization.... The very existence of the Commune involved, as a matter of course, local municipal liberty, but no longer as a check upon the, now superseded, State power.”

— The Civil War in France

In a similar vein, in the aftermath of the 1905 Russian Revolution Lenin denounced the “philistine opportunism” of Menshevik schemes for “municipal socialism”:

“They forget that so long as the bourgeoisie rules as a class it cannot allow any encroachment, even from the ‘municipal’ point of view, upon the real foundations of its rule; that if the bourgeoisie allows, tolerates, ‘municipal socialism,’ it is because the latter does not touch the foundations of its rule, does not interfere with the important sources of its wealth, but extends only to the narrow sphere of local expenditure, which the bourgeoisie itself allows the ‘population’ to manage. It does not need more than a slight acquaintance with ‘municipal socialism’ in the West to know that any attempt on the part of socialist municipalities to go a little beyond the boundaries of their normal, i.e., minor, petty activities, which give no substantial relief to the workers, any attempt to meddle with capital, is invariably vetoed in the most emphatic manner by the central authorities of the bourgeois state.”

— The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution 1905-1907, November-December 1907

Indicative of the contradictions inherent in the support for socialist control of municipal governments by many revolutionary social democrats was that Luxemburg vehemently rejected parallel arguments applied by Vollmar’s cothinkers to defend voting for the budget of the Baden state government in May 1900. Citing their assertion that “the budgets of the individual German states, in contrast to that of the Reich, contain for the most part expenditures for culture, not the military,” Luxemburg retorted:

“Whether the budget contains more or fewer military expenditures or expenditures for culture, such quantitative considerations would be decisive for us only were we in general to base ourselves on the present state and merely fight its excesses, as for example the military state.... In fact, we refuse to vote funding from the taxpayers for the German Reich not just because it is a military state but rather above all because it is a bourgeois class state. The last applies, however, equally to the German federal states.”

— Luxemburg, “Die badische Budgetabstimmung” (The Vote on the Baden Budget) (our translation)

The false distinction between national and state as opposed to municipal governments left the opponents of ministerialism wide open to attack by Millerand’s supporters. Thus Jaurès seized on the fact that the Guesdists of the POF themselves occupied a number of executive offices at the municipal level to indict the Guesdists’ opposition to ministerialism as inconsistent and hypocritical. In a 26 November 1900 debate in Lille (a city with a POF mayor), Jaurès argued:

“One speaks of the responsibilities that a socialist minister assumes in a bourgeois ministry; but don’t your municipal elected officials assume responsibilities? Are they not a part of the bourgeois state?... I could say that the socialist mayor, even though he is socialist, can be suspended by the central power and disqualified from holding office for a year; I could say to you that he necessarily agrees, because he is mayor, to enforce and administer a great number of bourgeois laws, and I could say to you that if there are violent conflicts in your streets, he too is forced, for fear of it being said that socialism is plunder and murder, to call on the police.”

— “le Socialisme en débat” (Socialism Under Debate), l’Humanité hebdo supplement, 19-20 November 2005 (our translation)

Jaurès’ jibe at the Guesdists’ municipalism, while in the service of defending Millerandism, was on the mark and reflected an abiding weakness in the Second International that was to carry over into the Third International.

World War I: A Watershed

The reformism deeply ingrained in the Second International manifested itself in its incapacity to sort out the questions of parliamentarism, ministerialism and coalitionism. The Second International did not assimilate the lessons of the Paris Commune on the need to smash the bourgeois state and erect in its place a proletarian state of the Commune type. Indeed, the leadership of the SPD, Marx and Engels’ avowed heirs, did much to bury or obscure the lessons drawn by Marx and Engels from this epochal event.

The first interimperialist world war brought all the accumulated problems of the Second International to a head. Confronted with the onset of the war in August 1914, the International spectacularly collapsed into social-chauvinism. In the belligerent countries, only the Bolsheviks and some Mensheviks in Russia and the Bulgarian and Serbian parties opposed war funding for their governments. The social-patriots rallied behind their own bourgeoisies in the name of “defense of the fatherland,” falsely claiming as a precedent national wars of 19th-century Europe in which a victory for one side or the other had represented social progress against feudal reaction. World War I signaled that capitalism had entered the imperialist epoch: both sides were dominated by great powers fighting to redivide the world among themselves. Thus Marxists opposed both sides in the war, advocating revolutionary defeatism.

World War I was a watershed, provoking a profound realignment in the revolutionary workers movement internationally. Prepared by their years-long struggle and decisive split with the Russian opportunists—the Mensheviks—Lenin and his Bolsheviks emerged as the leadership of an international movement to recapture the banner of revolutionary Marxism. Beginning with his first writings on the war in September 1914 and continuing with the Bolsheviks’ interventions at the 1915 Zimmerwald and 1916 Kienthal conferences of antiwar socialists, Lenin hammered away at two intertwined themes: the need to break irrevocably with the social traitors of the Second International and their centrist apologists and to fight for a new, Third International; and the call to turn the imperialist war into a civil war against the capitalist system. (For a documentary account of Lenin’s struggle for a new International, see Olga Hess Gankin and H.H. Fisher, The Bolsheviks and the World War.) The revolutionary wave created by the continuing interimperialist slaughter broke at imperialism’s weakest link, tsarist Russia. With the collapse of the autocracy following the revolutionary upheavals of February 1917, the possibility presented itself to turn the Bolshevik slogan into a reality. Key to politically arming the Bolshevik Party to lead the struggle for proletarian state power was Lenin’s The State and Revolution, written in the summer of 1917, in which he exhumed Marx and Engels’ writings on the state and the lessons of the Commune.

The call to turn the imperialist war into a civil war left no room for electoral/parliamentary coalitions with bourgeois parties. Nevertheless, great struggles by Lenin, later joined by Trotsky, were required to keep the Bolshevik Party on the revolutionary course that was to lead the workers and peasants of Russia to triumph in October of 1917, posing acutely at every step the issue of which class would rule. Illusions in electoralism and parliamentarism, growing out of a failure to recognize that the old state power had to be swept away, threatened at every turn to derail the revolution. Ministerialism and municipalism had their decisive test in the crucible of this great revolution.

The Bolshevik Revolution and the early Communist International demarcated a line of principled opposition to coalitionism. The Trotskyists upheld this line against its reversal by the Stalinized Comintern (see, for example, James Burnham’s 1937 pamphlet, The People’s Front: The New Betrayal). But the issue of executive office was not clearly resolved even by the early, revolutionary CI.

Lessons of the Bolshevik Revolution

The February Revolution, as Trotsky noted, presented a paradox. (All dates referring to Russia in 1917 are in the old Julian calendar, which was 13 days behind the modern calendar.) The Russian bourgeoisie and its liberal parties dreaded the revolution and tried to hold it back. The revolution was made with great determination and audacity by the masses who, as in 1905, threw up soviets (councils) that quickly became the masters of the situation. But these soviets were initially dominated by the petty-bourgeois Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) and the Mensheviks, who were wedded to the idea that the revolution in Russia must be a bourgeois revolution and thus sought to thrust power into the hands of the impotent bourgeois Provisional Government. Referring to these Compromisers, Trotsky wrote:

“A revolution is a direct struggle for power. Nevertheless, our ‘socialists’ are not worried about getting the power away from the class enemy who does not possess it, and could not with his own forces seize it, but, just the opposite, with forcing this power on him at any cost. Is not this indeed a paradox? It seems all the more striking, because the experience of the German revolution of 1918 did not then exist, and humanity had not yet witnessed a colossal and still more successful operation of this same type carried out by the ‘new middle caste’ led by the German social democracy.”

— Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, 1930

Referring to this situation of dual power, Trotsky explained, “The February overturn led to a bourgeois government, in which the power of the possessing classes was limited by the not yet fully realized sovereignty of the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets” (ibid.). (In Germany 1918, the workers and soldiers councils remained under Social Democratic leadership and were soon subordinated to and liquidated by the bourgeois government.)

In the first weeks after the February Revolution, the Bolshevik Party had lost its revolutionary voice. In March, after ousting more left-wing Bolsheviks from the editorship of Pravda, Stalin and Kamenev proclaimed in the paper that the Bolsheviks would support the Provisional Government “in so far as it struggles against reaction or counter-revolution” and declared: “Our slogan is pressure upon the Provisional Government with the aim of compelling make an attempt to induce all the warring countries to open immediate negotiations...and until then every man remains at his fighting post!” (quoted in ibid.). Such declarations caused great anger in the ranks of the Bolshevik Party. Party locals reacted by demanding the new Pravda editors be expelled from the party. But the conciliators—the “March Bolsheviks”—stuck to their guns, with Stalin, for example, arguing that the workers and peasants had achieved the revolution and the task of the Provisional Government was to fortify those conquests!

When Lenin returned to Russia on 3 April 1917, he immediately launched a furious struggle against the March Bolsheviks and the capitulationist parties of the soviet majority. Lenin demanded a perspective aimed at convincing the workers and peasants to form a Paris Commune-type government based on the soviets. In so doing, he explicitly renounced his earlier conception that the Russian Revolution would take the form of a “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.” Lenin’s conclusion was operationally congruent with Trotsky’s conception of permanent revolution—that the Russian proletariat could win power in advance of the Western proletariat and would be compelled to transcend the bourgeois-democratic tasks of the revolution and undertake socialist measures. This congruence found expression some months later in the fusion Trotsky facilitated between the Inter-District Committee (Mezhraiontsy), in which he played an influential role, and the Bolsheviks.

Lenin was able to prevail in spite of his previous erroneous analytic formula, most fundamentally because his views were in accord with the revolutionary temper of the proletariat and because throughout the whole of its existence Bolshevism had maintained a steadfast stance of class independence and irreconcilable opposition to both the tsarist regime and the Russian bourgeoisie. It is the most graphic example of the critical role of party leadership in a revolutionary situation. Had the Bolsheviks not been able to make the turn away from being the left critics of the Compromisers, the party might well have let slip the revolutionary opportunity, which would not repeat itself for a very long time.

It is from this standpoint that the experiences of the 1917 Russian Revolution have great significance in assessing the role of parliamentarism, ministerialism and municipalism, and starkly highlight the question of contesting for executive office. The Provisional Government grew out of the rump of the old tsarist Duma. The great ministerialist of 1917 was of course Alexander Kerensky, a deputy chairman of the Provisional Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, who on 2 March 1917 eagerly and with no formal approval accepted the post of Minister of Justice in the newly minted Provisional Government. Although none of Kerensky’s colleagues in the Committee were at that time eager to follow in his footsteps, by May 1 the majority of the Executive Committee decided (opposed only by the Bolsheviks and Julius Martov’s Menshevik-Internationalists) to enter into a coalition government with the bourgeoisie. In so doing, they hoped to work for a gradual dissolution of the soviets, seeking to replace them on the local level with new municipal governments (local dumas), and on the national level with a constituent assembly. The coalition government was thus to be a bridge to a bourgeois parliamentary republic. But the soviets persisted.

The Bolshevik response to this coalition of class treason was the slogan, “Down with the ten capitalist ministers!” As Trotsky explained, the slogan “demanded that the posts of these ministers be filled by Mensheviks and Narodniks. ‘Messrs. bourgeois democrats, kick the Cadets out! Take power into your own hands! Put in the government twelve (or as many as you have) Peshekhonovs [a “socialist” minister], and we promise you, so far as it is possible, to remove you “peacefully” from your posts when the hour will strike, which should be very soon!’” (The Lessons of October, 1924). The Bolshevik tactic was not aimed at capturing the Provisional Government, but at exposing the reformists for refusing to take power in the name of the soviet majority. The Bolsheviks sought to show the workers that this bourgeois government should be swept into the trash bin of history and replaced with a workers government based on the soviets of workers, soldiers and peasants. This was, if you will, a concretization of the slogan, “Down with executive offices!”

An integral part of Lenin’s rearming of the Bolshevik Party in April 1917 was a sharp dispute over how to orient to local duma elections. Highlighting the failure of the revolutionary wing of the Second International to correctly address the question of municipalism, L.M. Mikhailov, chairman of the Bolshevik Petrograd Committee, cited the 1900 Paris Congress as his authority to advocate a classic social-democratic program of municipal reform:

“The municipality, urban public administration, has always been regarded and is regarded by socialists of all existing tendencies and shades as ‘the embryo of a collectivist society.’

“And even though we firmly understand and remember that the victory of a ‘collectivist society’ is predicated on fundamental reconstruction of the entirety of the modern class state, socialists nonetheless unanimously declared at their Paris International Congress (1900) to charge their supporters with the duty of struggling to take control of local public self-administration, seeing in this ‘an outstanding laboratory of decentralized economic life and a powerful political bastion’.”

— Sed’maia (aprel’skaia) vserossiiskaia konferentsia RSDRP (Bol’shevikov), Petrogradskaia obshchegorodskaia konferentsia RSDRP (Bol’shevikov), Protokoly (The Seventh [April] All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP [Bolshevik], Petrograd Citywide Conference of the RSDLP [Bolshevik], Minutes) (Moscow: Gozpolitizdat, 1958) (our translation)

On this basis Mikhailov argued for electoral blocs with the Mensheviks and SRs—right after these parties had meekly accepted the Provisional Government’s pledge to Russia’s imperialist allies to keep fighting on the side of the Entente. Lenin responded by denouncing any conception of an electoral bloc with the bourgeoisie or defensists as a betrayal of socialism. Without overlooking immediate issues such as food provisioning, etc., Lenin insisted that the local duma campaign had to center on explaining to the workers the Bolsheviks’ differences with the bourgeoisie and Menshevik-SR conciliators on “all present-day key issues, especially those concerning the war and the tasks of the proletariat in regard to the central power” (Lenin, “Resolution on the Municipal Question,” Petrograd City Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. [Bolsheviks], 14-22 April 1917).

As is clear from Mikhailov’s comments, the conflicting attitudes toward the municipal councils were merely a subset of the more fundamental conflict in the party: Would the Bolsheviks confine themselves to being the left wing of the democracy or would they struggle for proletarian power? In the new local dumas in Petrograd and Moscow, elected under the widest franchise, the Bolsheviks were a small but growing minority. The Mensheviks and SRs, the majority in both the dumas and the soviets, held the position that the dumas should supplant the soviets. But as Trotsky explains:

“Municipal governments, like any other institutions of democracy, can function only on the basis of firmly established social relations—that is, a definite property system. The essence of revolution, however, is that it calls in question this, the very basis of all bases. And its question can be answered only by an open revolutionary test of the correlation of forces.... In the everyday of the revolution the municipal governments dragged out a half-fictitious existence. But at critical moments, when the interference of the masses was defining the further direction of events, these governments simply exploded in the air, their constituent elements appearing on different sides of a barricade. It was sufficient to contrast the parallel roles of the soviets and the municipal governments from May to October, in order to foresee the fate of the Constituent Assembly.”

— The History of the Russian Revolution

Following the Bolshevik-led rout of General Kornilov’s abortive counterrevolutionary coup in August, the Bolsheviks were catapulted into majorities in the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. Lenin responded to the decisive surge toward the Bolsheviks and growing social turmoil, especially among the peasantry, with a series of writings centered on the necessity to prepare for insurrection. For its part, the Kerensky-SR-Menshevik bloc attempted to raise a series of “democratic” obstacles to the impending workers revolution. These included the September 14-22 Democratic Conference and its offspring, the Pre-Parliament, which opened on 7 October 1917.

Those elements in the Bolshevik Party who back in April had resisted Lenin’s perspective of a proletarian seizure of power now resisted its implementation. With Trotsky in prison and Lenin in hiding, on September 3 the Bolshevik Central Committee decided to take seats in the Petrograd Duma administration, including designating the head of the Bolshevik parliamentary fraction, Anatoly Lunacharsky, for one of three Deputy Mayor positions! In so doing, the Bolshevik fraction not only joined Kerensky’s SR and Menshevik Provisional Government partners in overseeing the city administration, but sat alongside the bourgeois Cadet Deputy Mayor, F.M. Knipovich! This despite the bluster of the Bolshevik opening statement to the Duma which renounced “any form of collaboration with patent enemies of the revolution [i.e., the Cadets] in executive organs of the city government” (cited in The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution, Minutes of the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party [Bolsheviks], August 1917-February 1918 [London: Pluto Press, 1974]).

The Bolshevik conciliationists also joined in legitimizing the Provisional Government’s “democratic” confabs. Still in hiding, Lenin retrospectively condemned Bolshevik participation in the Democratic Conference and hailed Trotsky for having advocated a boycott of the Pre-Parliament. Denouncing the Pre-Parliament as “in substance a Bonapartist fraud,” Lenin warned: “There is not the slightest doubt that at the ‘top’ of our Party there are noticeable vacillations that may become ruinous” in consummating the revolution (Lenin, “From a Publicist’s Diary,” 22-24 September 1917).

On October 11, Lunacharsky publicly solidarized with Zinoviev and Kamenev’s strikebreaking denunciation of the plans for insurrection and their declaration that a “Constituent Assembly plus the Soviets, that is the combined type of state institution toward which we are traveling” (quoted in The History of the Russian Revolution). Lenin and Trotsky carried the day against the vacillators and led the October Revolution to victory. But even after the insurrection, those who had flinched continued to wage a rearguard action. On November 4, Lunacharsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev resigned all their responsibilities after Lenin and Trotsky refused to accept their demand for an “all-socialist” government including the Mensheviks and SRs—a government that would, moreover, have excluded Lenin and Trotsky! As he had following Zinoviev’s and Kamenev’s strikebreaking, Lenin again called for expelling the capitulators if they maintained their course. Finding no support in the party and no Menshevik takers for a coalition government, the capitulators soon vacated their line, and Lenin advised their reintegration into responsible positions.

Critical Support vs. Ministerialism

The fundamental features of the October Revolution were not limited to Russia alone, nor was its impact. It polarized the workers movement worldwide, as revolutionary internationalists embraced the cause of October and struggled to forge new revolutionary parties based on its lessons. Bolstered by their victory, the Bolsheviks took the first steps in forging the new, Communist International Lenin had called for since the collapse of the Second International into social-patriotism.

At its First Congress in 1919, the Comintern raised the banner of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the lessons of The State and Revolution. The Second Congress a year later tackled among other things the issues of parliamentarism and revolutionary electoral tactics. To sift through the reformist posturers and the accidental centrist elements gravitating toward the Comintern a set of conditions was imposed on all parties seeking affiliation. On the parliamentary front, Condition 11 stated:

“Parties that wish to belong to the Communist International have the duty to review the individual composition of their parliamentary fractions, removing all unreliable elements from them, and to subordinate these fractions to the parties’ executive committees not just in words but in deeds, demanding that each Communist member of parliament subordinate all of his activity to the interests of truly revolutionary propaganda and agitation.”

— “Theses on the Conditions for Admission,” Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920 (New York: Pathfinder, 1991)

Lenin’s The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism and other polemics were aimed at drawing clear programmatic lines against the social democracy, especially the Kautskyan center. At the same time, Lenin sought to win over the anarcho-syndicalist and ultraleftist elements whose rejection of social-democratic parliamentarism led them to renounce as reformist any electoral or parliamentary activity. On the eve of the Second Congress, Lenin wrote his handbook on Communist tactics, “Left-Wing” Communism—An Infantile Disorder (April-May 1920). He urged that Communists adopt a posture of critical support to, e.g., the Labour Party in the pending elections in Britain. Lenin explained:

“It is true that the Hendersons, the Clyneses, the MacDonalds and the Snowdens [British Labour leaders] are hopelessly reactionary. It is equally true that they want to assume power (though they would prefer a coalition with the bourgeoisie), that they want to ‘rule’ along the old bourgeois lines, and that when they are in power they will certainly behave like the Scheidemanns and Noskes. All that is true. But it does not at all follow that to support them means treachery to the revolution; what does follow is that, in the interests of the revolution, working-class revolutionaries should give these gentlemen a certain amount of parliamentary support....

“The fact that most British workers still follow the lead of the British Kerenskys or Scheidemanns and have not yet had experience of a government composed of these people—an experience which was necessary in Russia and Germany so as to secure the mass transition of the workers to communism—undoubtedly indicates that the British Communists should participate in parliamentary action, that they should, from within parliament, help the masses of the workers see the results of a Henderson and Snowden government in practice, and that they should help the Hendersons and Snowdens defeat the united forces of Lloyd George and Churchill. To act otherwise would mean hampering the cause of the revolution, since revolution is impossible without a change in the views of the majority of the working class, a change brought about by the political experience of the masses, never by propaganda alone.”

— “Left-Wing” Communism

Lenin categorically insisted that the British Communists must “retain complete freedom of agitation, propaganda and political activity. Of course, without this latter condition, we cannot agree to a bloc, for that would be treachery; the British Communists must demand and get complete freedom to expose the Hendersons and the Snowdens in the same way as (for fifteen years—1903-17) the Russian Bolsheviks demanded and got it in respect of the Russian Hendersons and Snowdens, i.e., the Mensheviks” (ibid.).

The whole point of Lenin’s tactics was obviously not that the Communists would seek to replace a Labour majority with a Communist majority—on the contrary, Lenin insisted that “the number of parliamentary seats is of no importance to us” (ibid.). Rather, such tactics would assist in exposing the reformist obstacles to revolution. As Lenin put it, “I want to support Henderson in the same way as the rope supports a hanged man—that the impending establishment of a government of the Hendersons will prove that I am right, will bring the masses over to my side, and will hasten the political death of the Hendersons and the Snowdens” (ibid.). Nowhere in “Left-Wing” Communism did Lenin entertain the possibility of a Communist capturing an executive office in a bourgeois government, or its functional equivalent—a parliamentary majority. As he had made clear in an earlier statement:

“Only scoundrels or simpletons can think that the proletariat must first win a majority in elections carried out under the yoke of the bourgeoisie, under the yoke of wage-slavery, and must then win power. This is the height of stupidity or hypocrisy; it is substituting elections, under the old system and with the old power, for class struggle and revolution.”

— Lenin, “Greetings to Italian, French and German Communists,” 10 October 1919

The electoral tactics Lenin proposed were completely congruent with opposition to fielding candidates for executive office. In a document written on the eve of the Second Congress, Lenin made clear that revolutionary parliamentarism meant only having “deputies to bourgeois representative institutions (primarily the national, but also local, municipal, etc., representative institutions)” (“Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International,” 4 July 1920). Only workers deputies in the legislature—Lenin never mentioned administrators, mayors, governors or presidents in the executive branch as representing workers’ conquests in the enemy camp.

The Second Congress, Municipalism and the Bulgarian Communists

The draft theses on “Communist Parties and the Question of Parliamentarism” submitted by the Executive Committee of the CI (ECCI) for discussion at the Congress were in line with Lenin’s documents. They likewise made no mention of taking executive office—including at the municipal level—and instead argued the opposite. However, the theses that were presented by the Parliamentary Commission to the floor of the Congress and subsequently adopted had been modified in certain critical respects. Trotsky, who, along with Bukharin, was assigned to be part of the Russian delegation to the Commission, authored a new historical introductory section, replacing the first thesis in the original draft. The third section of the theses, originally authored by Zinoviev as a separate document of instructions for parliamentary deputies and reviewed by the Political Bureau of the Russian party before its submission, was adopted with no substantive changes. But in the second section of the document, originally drafted by Bukharin, a number of anti-Marxist amendments were introduced, watering down the revolutionary intent of the draft. Thus the (renumbered) Paragraphs 4 and 6 no longer categorically rejected the possibility of Communists taking over bourgeois parliaments, but rather allowed for that possibility on a temporary basis (we have indicated amendments in emphasis):

“4. Bourgeois parliaments, among the most important organizations of the bourgeois state machine, cannot as such be taken over permanently, just as the proletariat cannot possibly take over the bourgeois state. The proletariat’s task is to break up the bourgeoisie’s state machine and to destroy it, and with it parliamentary institutions, whether republican or constitutional-monarchist.

“5. It is no different with the bourgeoisie’s institutions of local government. To counterpose them to the organs of the state is theoretically incorrect. They are in reality organizations similar to the mechanism of the bourgeois state, which must be destroyed by the revolutionary proletariat and replaced by local soviets of workers’ deputies.

“6. Thus, communism rejects parliamentarism as a form of the future society. It rejects it as a form of dictatorship by the proletarian class. It rejects the possibility of taking over parliaments on a permanent basis; its goal is to destroy parliamentarism. Therefore it is possible to speak only of using bourgeois state institutions for the purpose of destroying them. The question can be posed in this sense and in this sense alone.”

— “Theses on the Communist Parties and Parliamentarism,” Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress

Most significantly, the Commission added a new Thesis 13 that effectively contradicted Thesis 5:

“13. Should Communists hold a majority in institutions of local government, they must (a) organize revolutionary opposition against the central bourgeois government; (b) do everything possible to serve the poorer sectors of the population (economic measures, creating or attempting to create an armed workers’ militia, and so forth); (c) at every opportunity point out how the bourgeois state blocks truly major changes; (d) on this basis develop vigorous revolutionary propaganda, never fearing conflict with the state; (e) under certain conditions, replace municipal governments with local workers’ councils. In other words, all of the Communists’ activity in local government must be a part of the general work of undermining the capitalist system.”

— Ibid.

This stands in sharp contrast to Lenin’s arguments against municipalism, as in 1907, cited earlier.

The stenographic reports of the Second Congress and its associated Commissions are notoriously spotty, and we have not located any record of the proceedings of the Parliamentary Commission. But the available evidence points to the political import of the relevant amendments—a concession to the municipal practices that pervaded the work of some of the parties. In this regard, it is notable that the Commission also introduced an amendment to Thesis 11, adding the Communist Party of Bulgaria (CPB) to the examples of Karl Liebknecht in Germany and the Bolsheviks as models of revolutionary work in parliament. Only months before the Congress, the CPB, which already had a sizable parliamentary fraction, had scored a stunning victory in municipal elections throughout Bulgaria. The French Socialist Party, whose application for admission to the CI was then pending, also controlled some 1,500 to 1,800 local governments at the time; the Italian Socialist Party likewise ran a substantial number of municipalities.

The main report on parliamentarism to the Congress, by Bukharin, did not address the Commission’s amendments at all. They were presented to the delegates without comment in a short supplementary report by the German delegate Wolfstein (Rosi Frölich). The ensuing discussion was dominated by a debate with the Italian ultraleftist Amadeo Bordiga, who gave a minority report opposing parliamentary activity and presented a counterposed set of theses on behalf of the Communist-Abstentionist Faction of the Italian Socialist Party. Lenin’s remarks in the discussion, which allowed three speakers for and three against the majority resolution, dealt exclusively with Bordiga’s arguments.

Only one of the speakers in favor of the majority theses, the Bulgarian Nikolai Shablin (Ivan Nedelkov), addressed the question of municipalism. Shablin boasted:

“In the local elections of December 1919 and the district elections of January 1920, the party received 140,000 votes, winning a majority in the councils of almost every city and in about a hundred villages. In many other city and village councils the party holds large minorities. For the local and district council bodies, the party has a program for organizing workers’ and peasants’ soviets in the cities and villages whose individual units, in time of revolution, are to replace the local and provincial representative bodies and assume their functions....

“We use campaigns in Communist municipalities to explain to the masses that they alone, through their organizations, can make the central government respect the decisions of Communist municipal councils on questions of food, housing and inflation and on all the working population’s other immediate needs.”

— “Parliamentarism,” Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress

The only delegate to respond to Shablin was the Swiss Jakob Herzog, who opined that the CPB’s parliamentary work was not as sterling as Shablin claimed. Herzog recounted:

“In the commission we had a long discussion about how Communist representatives on municipal councils should conduct themselves, about what they should do when they are in the majority. Comrade Bukharin said there, ‘When they have a majority, they must try to improve the workers’ conditions in order to heighten the contradiction between the Communist municipal council and the state.’ That is exactly what the opportunists also tell us when they go into parliament.”

— Ibid.

However, Herzog opposed any form of parliamentary activity and made no distinction between controlling a municipal council, which meant administering a local organ of the bourgeois state apparatus, and being a Communist oppositionist in a bourgeois legislative body. But this distinction is decisive. Trotsky’s introductory section to the theses states that Communist members of parliament act for the revolutionary working class as “scouts in the bourgeoisie’s parliamentary institutions.” Thesis 8 in the third section of the resolution further insists:

“Every Communist member of parliament must be mindful that he is not a legislator seeking agreements with other legislators but is rather a party agitator sent into the camp of the enemy in order to carry out party decisions there.”

— “Theses on the Communist Parties and Parliamentarism”

In contrast, functioning as a Communist majority in a local or national legislative body comes down to the same thing as holding executive office: it means control of the budget and administration. The question of taking control of such bodies needed to be explicitly addressed and opposed.

In his remarks at the Congress, Shablin himself hinted at the problem with Communists administering local governments. He asserted that the CPB’s program was to replace these bodies with soviets in “time of revolution.” Until that time, however, the Bulgarian Communists found themselves administering these local bodies and taking responsibility for maintaining order and rationing scarce resources within the framework of capitalist class rule. Moreover, Shablin falsified the CPB’s actual practice. The Bulgarian party was not organizing soviets to replace the bourgeois municipal administrations, but rather aimed at organically transforming those administrations into soviets at the time of revolution. CPB founder Dimitar Blagoev made that clear when he wrote in 1919 that

“winning the municipalities can be the beginning of the soviet system of rule.... The struggle to take over municipal power, and especially the struggle that our party will have to wage to reinforce the power of the proletariat and poorer classes wherever we run the municipalities—this struggle will in essence be for the spread of soviet power (CP), for the soviet system of rule as a whole.”

— quoted in G. Tsonev and A. Vladimirov, Sentiabr’skoe vosstanie v Bolgarii 1923 goda (The September Uprising in Bulgaria in 1923) (Moscow: Gosizdat, 1934) (our translation)

The Bulgarian Communists were not municipal socialists à la Victor Berger in the U.S. The CPB was a revolutionary party violently sucked into the vacuum of Bulgaria’s post-WWI collapse, and thrust into office by an upheaval of popular support for the Russian Revolution. The precursor of the CPB was the Tesnyaki, Blagoev’s Bulgarian Social Democratic Labor Party (Narrow), which had suffered intense persecution for opposing the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and World War I and for voting against war credits in parliament. The CPB took municipal office not to sell out socialism, but to try to realize it in the best traditions of yesterday’s social democracy and what little Bolshevism they knew. The contradictions between its aims and its position in administering the bourgeois state apparatus at a local level could not, and did not, last.

Despite its identification with Bolshevism, the CPB carried over a lot of social-democratic baggage from the left wing of the Second International. Lenin expressed deep concern over the party’s abstentionist policy in the September 1918 Radomir Rebellion, a large-scale mutiny by peasant soldiers in the Bulgarian army. On the eve of this rebellion, soldiers had already begun forming soviets under the direct inspiration of the Bolshevik Revolution. Rank-and-file Tesnyaki joined as many as 15,000 rebel soldiers in three days of pitched battle, determined to overthrow Tsar Ferdinand. But the party opposed any organized intervention into the uprising, which subsequently helped catapult Peasant Union leader Alexander Stamboliski to power. The CPB did not take up Lenin’s criticisms and Blagoev later defended the party’s failure to seek to lead the uprising in the direction of a proletarian revolution. The CPB’s refusal to intervene in the Radomir Rebellion reflected, in good part, its longstanding hostility to the peasantry.

The party had grown rapidly during the war and amid the postwar upheavals, though this meant an infusion of a large number of raw elements, who were not in the main industrial workers. At the same time, the CPB developed a large network of publishing houses, cooperatives and other enterprises while spawning a huge parliamentary and governmental apparatus. By 1922 over 3,600 Communists sat on municipal councils, another 115 served at a provincial level, and nearly 1,500 sat on school boards. This amounted to a hefty percentage of the CPB’s 38,000 members.

The Bulgarian experience demonstrated anew that control of bourgeois municipal government was counterposed to the fight for soviet power. When the bourgeoisie was finally able to “restabilize” the country in the bloody Tsankov coup against the peasant-based Stamboliski government in June 1923, the CPB was cleared out of its “municipal communes.” Instead of preparing for united-front action with the Peasant Union forces against the looming right-wing coup on the basis of the Communists’ own independent mobilization of the workers and peasants, the CPB veered between confidentially appealing to the regime for arms in the run-up to the coup and then refusing to oppose the coup at all once it happened.

In the aftermath, the CPB embarked on a series of adventurist military actions, including an abortive insurrection in September 1923, which simply brought down increased bourgeois repression. The party that had until then been held up as a model was physically crushed in the White Terror of 1923-25. Shablin was one of no less than 5,000 Communists who paid with their lives for the CPB’s political failings. The zigzagging CI leadership under Zinoviev pushed the Bulgarian party onto its adventurist course while simultaneously establishing a Red Peasant International, the Krestintern, and supporting the formation of bourgeois “workers and peasants parties” around the world. By this time the CI was no longer the revolutionary international party it had been when it held its first four Congresses. Beginning in 1923-24 the Soviet party, and with it the CI, underwent a process of qualitative bureaucratic degeneration. This was politically codified in late 1924, when Stalin promulgated the anti-internationalist dogma of “socialism in one country.”

The CI on Municipalism: A Problematic Legacy

The Second Congress began with correct insights on municipalism, but concluded by amending them into a contradictory hodgepodge that licensed ministerialism in embryo. In considering the failure to pursue this question, it should be noted that as the first real working congress of the CI, the Second Congress had to address a large number of other questions—including the basis for admission into the Comintern, the national and colonial questions, the trade-union question, etc. Moreover, the Congress took place at the height of the war with Poland and the Red Army’s counteroffensive against Pilsudski and his French imperialist patrons; had the Soviet forces succeeded in taking Warsaw, they would have opened up a direct bridgehead to the powerful German proletariat. A Red Army victory in Warsaw would have rocked Versailles Europe to its foundations and possibly spread the revolutionary fires of 1920 into a conflagration across Europe. Then the question of participation in municipal administration would have been posed directly in the context of a proletarian struggle for power, as in 1917.

While the Second Congress touched on the question of executive office only implicitly, the question had been explicitly posed in the American Communist movement. Unlike the parliamentary system in Europe, the American presidential system made a clear distinction between legislative and executive offices. This distinction did not figure at all in the floor discussion on parliamentarism at the Second Congress, though a member of the Communist Party of America (CPA), the Russian-born Alexander Stoklitsky, had been assigned to the Parliamentary Commission. At its founding conference in 1919, the CPA had adopted a correct position against running for executive office. When a section of this party broke away to fuse with the Communist Labor Party in May 1920 to found the United Communist Party (UCP), this position, argued for by C. E. Ruthenberg, carried over to the new party. The UCP founding conference asserted: “Nominations for public office and participation in elections are limited to legislative bodies, such as the national congress, state legislatures and city councils” (UCP Program, reprinted in Revolutionary Radicalism, Lusk Commission Report to New York State Senate, submitted 24 April 1920).

The position was controversial at the UCP conference debate: one tendency upheld the above position, while a second opposed all electoral activity and a third supported running for all offices. A contemporary account reported: “The opponents of executive elections argued that the election of Communists as Governor, Mayor, and Sheriff will corrupt them and will be detrimental to the movement; that we have no right to take upon ourselves the responsibility for the bourgeois state” (The Communist, 1 September 1920). However, these correct arguments were linked to an ultraleft insistence in the UCP Program that Communist representatives in legislative bodies “will not introduce nor support reform measures.” In the wake of the fight against ultraleftism at the Second Congress, the American Communist movement dropped the distinction between running for executive as opposed to legislative office. In 1921, Ben Gitlow ran as the Communist candidate for mayor in New York City. The following year, a CI document for the August 1922 American Communist convention insisted, “The communists must participate as revolutionists in all general election campaigns, municipal, state and congressional, as well as presidential” (“Next Tasks of the Communist Party in America,” printed in Reds in America [New York City: Beckwith Press, 1924]). In 1924 the American party ran William Z. Foster as its candidate in the U.S. presidential elections.

The absence of clarity on the linked questions of executive office and municipal administration was to plague the Comintern and its affiliated parties, as seen in Trotsky’s own writings. At the Fourth Congress, Trotsky authored its 2 December 1922 resolution on France, in which he amalgamated “mayors and the like” with “Communist parliamentarians, municipal councilors, general councilors” and stated that the former could likewise become “one of the instruments of the revolutionary mass struggle” (“Resolution of the Fourth World Congress on the French Question,” Trotsky, The First Five Years of the Communist International [New York: Monad Press, 1972]). In his May 1924 introduction to The First Five Years, he welcomed the French CP attaining these posts: “The fact that our party received about 900,000 votes represents a serious success, especially if we take into account the swift growth of our influence in the suburbs of Paris.” The French CP’s “influence” in the suburbs had grown over to administration of some large number of municipalities.

It must also be noted that Trotsky did not change his views on this question. In a 1939 article (unpublished at the time), he wrote:

“The participation of the trade unions in the management of nationalized industry may be compared to the participation of socialists in the municipal governments, where the socialists sometimes win a majority and are compelled to direct an important municipal economy, while the bourgeoisie still has domination in the state and bourgeois property laws continue. Reformists in the municipality adapt themselves passively to the bourgeois regime. Revolutionists in this field do all they can in the interests of the workers and at the same time teach the workers at every step that municipality policy is powerless without conquest of state power.

“The difference, to be sure, is that in the field of municipal government the workers win certain positions by means of democratic elections, whereas in the domain of nationalized industry the government itself invites them to take certain posts. But this difference has a purely formal character. In both cases the bourgeoisie is compelled to yield to the workers certain spheres of activity. The workers utilize these in their own interests.”

— “Nationalized Industry and Workers’ Management,” 12 May 1939

That Trotsky could refer to the PCF in the context of its control of municipalities as being “free of any sort of political obligations to the bourgeois regime” in 1924 and suggest a parallel formulation on municipalities in 1938 is not to impute to him municipal reformism, but to recognize that an unsettled problem of communist strategy has been handed down to us.

In our report on the executive office discussion at the ICL’s Fifth Conference in 2007, we noted:

“The position that communists should under no circumstances run for executive offices of the bourgeois state is an extension of our longstanding criticism of the entry of the German Communist Party (KPD), with the support of the Comintern, into the regional governments of Saxony and Thuringia in October 1923. The KPD’s support to these bourgeois governments run by ‘left’ Social Democrats—first from outside the government and then from within—helped to derail a revolutionary situation (see “A Trotskyist Critique of Germany 1923 and the Comintern,” Spartacist No. 56, Spring 2001).”

— Spartacist No. 60, Autumn 2007 (executive office excerpts reprinted, along with the Germany 1923 article, in ICL Pamphlet, The Development and Extension of Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution, April 2008)

The KPD’s entry into these governments was prepared by the flawed and confused resolution on “workers governments” adopted at the Fourth Congress of the CI less than a year earlier. That resolution confused the call for a workers government—which for revolutionaries is nothing other than an expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat—with all manner of social-democratic governments administering the bourgeois state apparatus, and left open the possibility of Communist participation in such a government in coalition with the social democrats. While Trotsky fought for a revolutionary perspective in Germany in 1923 and insisted that the KPD make concrete preparations and set a date for an insurrection—as had Lenin in September and October of 1917—Trotsky wrongly supported the KPD’s policy of joining the Saxon and Thuringian governments, arguing that this was a “drill ground” for revolution. If these were indeed “workers governments,” as the masses had been told, then presumably extraparliamentary revolutionary struggle and the formation of workers councils and workers militias would be totally superfluous. In the upshot, the KPD and the CI leadership under Zinoviev let slip a revolutionary opportunity. The ensuing demoralization of the Soviet proletariat was a critical factor in allowing the Stalinist bureaucracy to usurp political power.

In the aftermath of the German debacle of 1923, Trotsky began an evaluation of the political reasons for the failure. In The Lessons of October (1924), which was implicitly self-critical, Trotsky contrasted Lenin’s successful struggle in 1917 to overcome the resistance of the Kamenevs, Zinovievs and Stalins, who flinched when the question of power was posed, with the capitulationist politics that prevailed in Germany in October 1923. Trotsky later noted the need for a more systematic and thorough review of the CI and KPD intervention into the German events of 1923. However, he never explicitly criticized the KPD’s entry into the Saxon and Thuringian governments nor the flawed resolution on workers governments at the Fourth Congress.

A corollary to Trotsky’s support for Communist administration of local governments was his acceptance of the practice of running Communist candidates for executive office. In addition to numerous campaigns for mayor, the French CP ran a campaign for president in 1924. In Germany, the KPD ran Ernst Thälmann for president in 1925 and then again in 1932. Trotsky fought for the KPD to engage in united fronts with the Social Democrats and mobilize workers militias to smash the Nazis and open the road to a direct struggle for power by the Communist-led workers. This was the urgent task of the day, and the KPD’s 1932 electoral campaign, with its shrill Third Period characterization of the Social Democrats as “social-fascist,” was a noisy disguise for its refusal to carry out that task. Trotsky hammered away at the bankruptcy of the Stalinists’ “social-fascist” line, but he mentioned the KPD’s electoral campaign only in passing and did not criticize them for running for president.

In 1940, Trotsky explicitly mooted the possibility that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the U.S. run a candidate for the presidency against Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt (“Discussions with Trotsky,” 12-15 June 1940). When the SWP leaders ruled this out on logistical grounds, Trotsky raised the possibility of fighting for the labor movement to launch an independent candidacy against Roosevelt. He also posed the question of giving critical support to the CP candidate, Earl Browder, who then stood in opposition to Roosevelt and the imperialist war. In the discussions, Trotsky made clear his concern that the SWP was adapting to the “progressive” pro-Roosevelt trade-union bureaucracy. What is obvious from these discussions is that neither Trotsky nor the SWP leaders considered the question of running for the presidency as controversial in principle. Beginning in 1948, when it ran a candidate against the Stalinist-supported bourgeois Progressive Party of former FDR vice-president Henry Wallace, the SWP regularly ran in presidential elections.

Trotsky’s proposal regarding the Browder candidacy was quite appropriate. In the wake of Stalin’s August 1939 pact with Hitler, the American Stalinists had made a temporary turn to the left—from being avid supporters of FDR’s “New Deal” to posing as fighters against American imperialism. They would revert to support for Roosevelt in the name of the “fight against fascism” after Hitler invaded the USSR in June 1941. Trotsky’s arguments for critical support to Browder were aimed at taking advantage of the CP’s temporary anti-imperialist stand in order to expose the party before its base in the working class.

In arguing against running for executive office, the ICL does not preclude giving critical support to other workers organizations in appropriate instances where they draw a crude class line. When a Leninist organization gives critical electoral support to an opponent, it is clearly not because we think it will apply the same principles as we do. Otherwise one could never extend critical support to a mass reformist party, because on winning an election it will inevitably seek to form the government, i.e., administer capitalism. Indeed, this argument is an essential polemical aspect of our critical support. The point in such instances is to demonstrate that despite the claims of such parties to represent the interests of the workers, in practice they betray these interests.

Their Heritage and Ours

A necessary element of maintaining our revolutionary continuity is the critical assimilation of the lessons of past struggles in the international workers movement. In our fight to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International, founded in 1938 over the political corpses of the Second International and the Stalinized Comintern, we stand on the first four Congresses of the CI. But we are not uncritical of the early CI and from the early years of our tendency we expressed reservations over the resolutions on the “anti-imperialist united front” and the “workers government” at the Fourth Congress.

In contrast, our political opponents gut or reject the principles of the October Revolution and the programmatic fundamentals of Lenin and Trotsky’s Communist International and cherry-pick those “traditions” that lend an aura of historical authority to their opportunist pursuits. Such is the case with the Internationalist Group and the Bolshevik Tendency, whose lawyers’ arguments in defense of running for executive offices in the bourgeois state have far more in common with the Kautskyite wing of the Second International than with Lenin’s Bolshevism. As for the IG and BT’s reformist big brothers, occasional references to Trotskyism notwithstanding, their tradition is that of the Millerands and MacDonalds.

The IG and BT’s feigned anguish over the supposed dilemma posed by communists winning an executive position or a majority in a bourgeois legislature reveals a thoroughly opportunist impulse. In her highly favorable account of the left-Labourite Poplar borough council in 1920s Britain, historian Noreen Branson poses much the same question: “What do you do when you get a majority? How far does the existing legal and administrative framework allow you to bring about the changes for which you stand?” (Branson, Poplarism, 1919-1925 [London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1979]). Citing Branson’s question, a 1982 article on municipalism by the then-centrist British Workers Power group, which has since split into two competing reformist outfits, replies by citing Thesis 13 from the CI Second Congress (“The Struggle in Poplar 1919-21: Communism vs. Municipalism,” Workers Power, May 1982)!

The WP article enthuses over the militancy of this Labour-led council—which included two Communists, Edgar and Minnie Lansbury—in London’s poor, working-class East End to promote what it describes as “the revolutionary attitude to the municipal struggle.” The failure of the CI to win over the syndicalist-inclined elements in the British revolutionary movement during and after the Second Congress left British Communism stillborn and under the leadership of elements who were more than comfortable in the Labourite parliamentarist milieu (see “British Communism Aborted,” Spartacist No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86). The two Communist councillors were in practice virtually politically indistinguishable from the rest of the Labour majority on the council, which was led by Christian pacifist George Lansbury, Edgar’s father. And this was at a time when Britain was in the midst of intense social turmoil. At the height of the Poplar Council’s activity, in 1920, the country was swept by strikes and demonstrations demanding “Hands off Russia” and opposing British arms shipments to Pilsudski’s Poland. The councils of action that sprang up in this campaign pointed toward the emergence of organs of dual power.

Where the burning task is to expropriate and reorganize the means of production under proletarian power, reformists simply tinker with the system of distribution. While the Poplar councillors were certainly more militant than the mainstream Labour politicians even of their day—going to jail and organizing mass demonstrations on behalf of their policies—their power and political horizons were limited to rationing the threadbare resources at their command by increasing relief payments for the poor and unemployed and raising the meager wages of council employees for a period of time. As George Lansbury put it, “The workers must be given tangible proof that Labour administration means something different from capitalist administration, and in a nutshell this means diverting wealth from the wealthy ratepayers to the poor” (quoted in Branson, Poplarism). In fact, control of municipal councils in working-class areas was critical to Labour’s leap to becoming a party of government at the national level, as it did for the first time in 1924. When the King visited the East End in 1921, the newly elected Poplar councillors greeted him with the sign: “Poplar Borough Council expects this day the King will do his duty by calling upon His Majesty’s Government to find work or full maintenance for the unemployed of the nation” (quoted in ibid.)!

Six decades later, when the fake-Trotskyist Militant Tendency led by Ted Grant and Peter Taaffe (who subsequently split to form separate organizations) took control of the Labour council in the clapped-out city of Liverpool, they did not even hold a candle to the Christian pacifist Lansbury and his crowd. At one point, these “Trotskyist” administrators of the local capitalist government threatened to lay off all of the city’s more than 30,000 municipal workers, claiming that this was a “tactic” to deal with the budget crunch imposed by the Tory Thatcher government. We have no evidence, however, that they petitioned Queen Elizabeth II.

Local administration has historically served as a means for integrating working-class parties into the bourgeois order. This was the case not only in Britain, but also in France, Italy and elsewhere. An exchange on “The Italian Communists & the US” observed: “Communist control of regional and city governments...were in fact important in strengthening the trend within the PCI toward a pragmatic reformism” (New York Review of Books, 11 May 2006). Running for or assuming executive office at any level is not a stepping-stone toward the revolutionary mobilization of the working masses but rather serves to deepen prevailing illusions in the reformability of the capitalist state and to strengthen the chains that bind the proletariat to the class enemy.

On the other hand, a Marxist workers party would actually seek to win some seats in bourgeois legislative bodies, where the party’s deputies would use their positions to advance exemplary bills—as the Bolsheviks did in the tsarist Duma in condemning anti-Semitism and pogromism—“designed not for adoption by the bourgeois majority, but rather for purposes of propaganda, agitation, and organization” (“Theses on the Communist Parties and Parliamentarism,” Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920). Through such means—in the U.S. or Japan, for example, proposing legislation to abolish the death penalty—and by placing the communist deputies “in the very first rank” of workers demonstrations and strike rallies, a Marxist party would use its parliamentary positions as “auxiliary bases for its revolutionary activity” (ibid.). Such a perspective is clearly at odds with running for or taking executive positions.

For communists, running for electoral office is not simply a propaganda effort or the political photo-op envisioned by the likes of the Internationalist Group. In periods of relative stability, and in the absence of any perceived challenge to their class rule, the bourgeoisies in the imperialist “democracies” may tolerate revolutionaries running for office, the better to reinforce illusions that the government represents “the will of the people.” Or they may not: witness the fact that during the post-World War I “red scare,” five Socialists duly elected by their districts in November 1919 to the New York State Assembly were denied their seats for no reason other than their membership in the Socialist Party. In the semicolonial countries, where democratic institutions are far more fragile and the masses feel the whip of imperialist exploitation, election campaigns often pose deadly clashes with the forces of the bourgeois state and right-wing thugs. To demand time and blood from the already hellishly squeezed and terrorized toilers for a candidate for executive office who vows not to take his position if elected is a mockery.

All of this serves to underline that the question of the state is a life-and-death question for a revolutionary workers party. It is the question of revolution. In adopting our position against running for executive offices of the bourgeois state and in critically reviewing the policies and practices inherited from our forerunners, we seek to illuminate the political gulf between the ICL and all the opportunists who falsely claim to be Marxists and to represent the historic interests of the working class. Our task is nothing other than the organizing, training and steeling of the proletarian vanguard parties, sections of a reforged Fourth International, necessary for the seizure of state power and the establishment of workers rule around the globe.



The article “Marxist Principles and Electoral Tactics” in Spartacist (English edition) No. 61 (Spring 2009) implies on page 20 that Trotsky is referring to municipal elections in his May 1924 introduction to The First Five Years of the Communist International when he hails the French Communist Party (PCF) getting about 900,000 votes as “a serious success, especially if we take into account the swift growth of our influence in the suburbs of Paris.” In fact, as stated in the French (No. 39, Summer 2009) and Spanish (No. 36, November 2009) editions of Spartacist, “Trotsky was likely referring to a parliamentary election that had been held that month.” However, as we also noted, “the PCF’s ‘influence’ in the suburbs also included its administration of several municipalities.” Just after the above quote, Trotsky’s “Nationalized Industry and Workers’ Management” is correctly dated as 12 May 1939, though the subsequent paragraph incorrectly refers to 1938. On page 18, the caption implies that the drawing of Nikolai Shablin is to the left and that of Amadeo Bordiga to the right; it is rather the converse. (From Spartacist [English edition] No. 62, Spring 2011.)