The Greek crisis and the Fourth International (1) – the view of Greek Marxists

 

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As I noted in a previous post, the debate in the Fourth International sometimes has a rather high-level and abstract flavour and the arguments of the majority and opposition often go past each other.  There appears no real engagement on what the differences signify.

However, the different approaches of the FI majority and the opposition come to the fore and are put to the test in two documents on the Greek crisis.  The lack of clarity and diffuseness of the main documents are left behind and the practical consequences of the alternatives are made more explicit.

The opposition document is written by the Greek section of the FI, which adds concreteness to discussion of events and assists in making an analysis.  In broadly accepting the evaluations of the forces involved and the significance of events taken, any alternative views of my own must rest on more general conceptions rather than an alternative understanding of the particular course of the struggle.

This means that my view must be seen as tentative.  This however is less important than it may appear since what I propose is a different view of the general strategic perspectives proposed.

The Greek section’s document asks a number of questions as a way of explaining its opposition to the FI majority’s ‘broad party’ policy and its particular expression in the shape of Syriza.  In doing so it counterposes building an independent anti-capitalist project ANTARSYA to the critical support offered by the FI majority to Syriza.

This review does not deal in detail with decisive issues such as the question of Euro membership, or the potential to limit, or repudiate the debt, or of whether socialists should have favoured nationalisation of the banks.  These are touched upon in other posts, including this one and the comments made to it.

The first question asked is – has SYRIZA been an expression of the rise of the social movement?

The reply of the FI’s Greek section is:

“Most international left people would reply “yes”, with no hesitation. SYRIZA represented the mass movement, and this is why we should have all supported it. However, this is not exactly true. SYRIZA did receive the majority of the votes of the working class and the poor strata, and this could not have happened if it wasn’t for the mass movement that developed in the country. However, SYRIZA was never organically linked with the movement. The party had always a very small membership, with particularly few workers and unionists. SYRIZA did never lead a single mass movement or workers’ strike, and its intervention in class struggles was always marginal. To present SYRIZA as a party of the mass movement is a myth. Its relation with the working class and the oppressed was a relation of electoral representation.”

The authors claim that Syriza’s electoral growth took place not during the rise of mass struggle but during its retreat, and that “one reason for this setback was definitely the easy solution that SYRIZA proposed: wait for the election to vote for a left, anti-austerity government. SYRIZA has not been an expression of the rising mass movement, but an expression of its fatigue and deceleration. And it has also been a reason for this deceleration.”

The second question posed addresses the crux of the matter – Was there any strategic alternative to the proposal for a left government?

The document states that “ever since 2011, SYRIZA has been declaring that the mass movement has shown its limit, and it is time to give a “political” (that is, electoral) solution. But no government can save the people . . . The calls of OKDE-Spartakos and other anticapitalist groups for generalized self-organization was confronted with skepticism or sarcasm by the majority of the left, who argued that it would be invented and utopian to speak of councils or Soviets in a situation where such things simply don’t exist. . . . “

“However, it was not true that self-organization structures did not exist. The Syntagma square hosted a daily people’s assembly for nearly two months. The assembly formed sub-committees charged with various tasks. A self-organized radio station was installed on the square. Several every-day popular assemblies were created in different neighborhoods of Athens and in almost all relatively big cities of the country.”

The text therefore argues that:

“It was possible to build an alternative proposal based on those, limited but actual and important, experiences of self-organization. It was possible to call for assemblies in workplaces as well. It was possible to propose that local assemblies elect their revocable representatives and turn the Syntagma Square into a national assembly. It was possible to explain that this assembly represents working people much better than the parliament and the government, and should thus claim power for itself. It was possible, even if very hard, to put forward a concrete revolutionary perspective. But SYRIZA could only fiercely oppose this perspective, and the Communist Part as well. The anticapitalist left did try, but it was still weak and not well prepared.”

The third question is less important but is a recurrent theme in the approach of building ‘broad parties’ – Was SYRIZA something different from a reformist party?

The text observes that “militants coming from revolutionary Marxism have developed a large spectrum of theories to deny the reformist character of SYRIZA before it took power, in order to justify their support to the party. They were those who saw an anticapitalist party in SYRIZA. Alan Thornett was definitely not the only one who could claim that “the leadership of SYRIZA wants to trigger the overthrow of capitalism.”

“A different idea was that SYRIZA represents a new kind of reformism where “bureaucratic crystallization is not as strong as it is in the leaderships of the Communist parties of Europe” and “it lacked links to the state bureaucracy.”

The text argues that “in relation to its small size, SYRIZA had a large number of long-time national or local deputies, municipal councillors, cadres in the state’s apparatus, in the administration of universities etc. The only reason why the party was not more actively involved in the management of the system is that it was very small, and nobody would offer them this opportunity. However, as soon as SYRIZA appeared ready to win the election, it immediately adopted entire sectors of the social-democratic state, local government and unionist bureaucracy. As for its will to manage the system, there was nothing exceptional in the reformism of SYRIZA.”

The Greek section therefore sees itself justified in rejecting criticism by the FI majority that “”the comrades of the KKE and ANTARSYA made an elementary error in seeing SYRIZA’s proposal for a left government as something that would simply manage capitalism.”

So the next question posed by the Greek section is – would the election of a left government bring self-confidence and combativity to the people?

The text quotes a comrade of the majority that a “Syriza-led anti-austerity government of the left” would be “a workers’ government in Marxist parlance”, “a pre-revolutionary situation could quickly emerge if Syriza is elected and implements its programme.”

However, the Greek section states that “No progressive reforms or “emergency” measures were implemented. SYRIZA’s broken promises did not bring combativity, but disillusionment and confusion. Passivity and parliamentary expectations, both nurtured by SYRIZA and its supporters, had rendered the people unprepared for a new round of strikes. The resistance of the working class against the introduction of the 3rd austerity pact (memorandum) in July 2015 was weaker than the one against the 1st and the 2nd memoranda. The situation got worse afterwards. . . .  it is undoubted that the SYRIZA government did not favor workers’ mobilization. On the contrary, it was the government that managed to restrain, and thus suppress, social and workers’ reactions more than any previous one amid the crisis.”

The text further argues that “one of the innumerable arguments that always concluded that everybody should support SYRIZA is that, if SYRIZA fails to deliver on its promises, its base will revolt and follow the left wing of the party. People would trust the left wing more than the anticapitalist opposition outside SYRIZA, because it is with the former that they have fought together for years. A very old and dogmatic concept was repeated here: revolutionaries should stand alongside the working class in labour parties so as to gain their trust, and be ready to lead them out of those parties when the leadership betrays them. However, SYRIZA was never a massive party, with a vivid internal life and strong bonds between the leadership and the rank and file. The period is not the same anymore, neither are parties. The above abstract scenario failed altogether.”

Finally, the document dismisses claims that the FI (and other left organisations) did not support Syriza, and rather uncritically as well.  It complains that “no balance sheet was ever drawn of this huge mistake” so that the FI “avoids the main conclusion: the need for political and organizational independence from reformism.”

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In the next post I will look at the reply to this analysis by the FI majority.

See previous post on the Fourth International here 

The 17th World Congress of the Fourth International (8) – mutual aid and self-management

In this series of posts I have argued that the development of working class consciousness is a crucial task for socialists.  This reflects the often unacknowledged decline of such consciousness, reflected in the general disappearance of mass workers parties that had previously developed at the end of the 19th and first part of the twentieth centuries.

Both the majority and opposition in the FI, to different degrees, realise this decline but do not in my view put forward a perspective that addresses this fundamental problem.  The opposition in particular, in its defence of what it sees as revolutionary politics, puts forward a ‘strategic hypothesis’ of protest and strikes etc., which, when combined with capitalist crisis and intervention by revolutionaries, is regarded as the road to socialist revolution.

I have argued that this is inadequate both as a way of conceiving a transition to a new economic and social system (and not just a change in political forms) and as a purely political project that will radically change the consciousness of the working class.  This consciousness is rooted in social existence, the class’s subordinate position in the existing relations of production, which generates resistance and more or less coherent ideas about alternatives among certain layers at certain times.  However, this resistance, made up of strikes and protest etc, is neither consistent, permanently structured or rooted enough to adequately develop a consciousness adequate to socialist transformation and revolution.

The material alternative to capitalist relations of production is abolition of the capitalist class’s monopoly ownership of the means of production, which naturally involves the lack of such ownership by the working class.  The development of workers’ cooperatives as a social and political movement, and not as isolated individual producers, has in the past been seen as a crucial part of the development of an alternative to capitalism based on the growing power of the working class and development of its class consciousness.

The most surprising document put forward for the Congress of the Fourth International is entitled ‘Mutual Aid and self-management: a multiple implantation project’, which appears to have many ideas in common with this view.

The authors explicitly acknowledge the problem: “The workers movement of the 20th century has exhausted its cycle. This does not mean that the working class has dissolved or that there is no longer any trade union or labour movement. What no longer exists is the synergistic whole that had forced capitalism, in Europe and in the world, to change in order to survive.”

I don’t agree with all the judgements made or all the perspectives adopted, and this isn’t necessary for me to recognise an important step forward. The document states that: “The end of the labour movement has been accelerated and centrifuged by the end of “real socialism”. . . The end of the workers’ movement also has another consequence: the necessity for the opposition that lived inside the movement to change its outlook and practices.”

The document reviews the recent history of the working class, mainly relevant to Europe:

“In the last decades in Europe the structure of the lower classes has changed: because of the defeats that have weakened and dismembered the working class, greatly reducing its capacity to be a point of reference for the weaker and more fluid layers of the population.”

It then very briefly notes the more positive recent developments such the movements around Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain before stating what is lacking:

“What appears to be missing everywhere is a strong social connection based on robust experiences of one-off but lasting counterpositional struggles, of alternative societal embryos. “Bastions” that resist the clashes and cultivate alliances, spaces of self-activity that do not end on Saturday in the street, political and cultural discourse that really raises the question of the quality of an economic and social alternative.”

It then explains how it sees its proposals:

“The direction we have adopted is that the present phase resembles the dawn of the labour movement in the second half of the nineteenth century, when the movement experimented with ideas and practices. Today we can also experiment with new organizations, instruments of direct work organization, employee and cooperativist. Using self-management as an instrument to practice the objective, one able to build political subjectivity and to propose a new democracy in which the state really begins to decline. And organisms that finally break the old dichotomy between spontaneity and organization, between political consciousness codified only in party forms to “import” into the experiences of struggle. The two moments can coexist in a phase where the social practice can no longer be separated from theoretical and cultural elaboration.”

It then notes that “is Marx who points to two of the successive positive factors to the defeat of 1848: the law on the ten-hour work day and the cooperative movement. Marx is aware of the limitations and difficulties and in fact writes that “experience has proved that cooperative work, the practice of which can be excellent, is not in a position to stop the geometric progress of the monopoly, to emancipate and not even to lighten the burden of their misery, if it is limited in a narrow circle of partial efforts of isolated workmen”. But Marx’s contempt is mainly directed at the use of co-operative work by “self-proclaimed philanthropists of the middle class” from whom the “nauseating compliments” of cooperative work originate.”

What is noteworthy in the extracts above is the separation and opposition of the working class movement to the state – “Using self-management as an instrument to practice the objective, one able to build political subjectivity and to propose a new democracy in which the state really begins to decline.”

The document notes some historical experience of the workers’ movement with ‘mutualism’ and what it sees as its mistaken approach developed in the 19th century and carried into the twentieth: “Thus at the end of the 19th century integration into the state created the conditions for the end of the constitutive autonomy of the workers’ movement, its existence outside and against the bourgeois state, its structural otherness.”

In terms of the relevance of its approach for today “The opportunities for politicization in the globalized world of the 20th century are infinitely greater than those of a hundred years ago.”

The authors’ conception of revolution and the development of class consciousness is that:

“Each revolutionary passage and each mass action that did not have a decisive military dimension showed a plurality of instruments, functions, and options, in which, in essence, the difference was represented by the degree of mass consciousness, by the forms of self-organization. And so by instances where the political and the social have been superimposed until they are indistinct. For Marx the social is always political, the revolutionary subject is not separated from the class and the idea of political consciousness imported from the outside does not exist.”

“To act by oneself is the necessary precondition for the formation of a process of subjectivization. The mechanism of formation of a political consciousness – which is the distinctive element of Marx’s “class for itself” – does not begin only at the very important moment of criticism of the existing, the mechanisms of exploitation, rhythms and working times, forms of domination and hierarchy of capitalist societies. It does not come only from the negation of the given reality, although negation is an important form of the process of human identity. The process of subjectivization needs association, the coordination of ideas and common practices, solidarity. “When communist workers get together, their primary purpose is doctrine, propaganda, and so on. But with that, they take ownership together of a new need, the need of society and what seems to be a means has become a goal.” The centrality of associationism as a place of thought and common life allows us to get out of the trap of the consciousness brought to the workers “from the outside” by an enlightened avant-garde of intellectuals.”

The authors appear to be putting forward what they see as a positive element in contrast to the current preponderant approach of the left, which is one simply of opposition, resistance and protest – of saying no, weakly expressed as ‘not in my name.’ Just as the working class must emancipate itself so, it seems to say, workers must develop their own socialist consciousness: “The “working-class” societies of the 21st century will build their own study centres, libraries… because only in this way can the mutualist experience and a project of multiple implantation contribute to the formation of a new Subject, a consciousness adequate to the challenges for social transformation.”

The document is short but it condenses a different view of the role of the Fourth International than that of the majority and opposition. In doing so it is less than clear how the organisations of the FI, even if they agreed or accepted its analysis, would incorporate its views into their programme and practice.

The document situates its views historically in this way: “Starting from the 19th century does not mean cancelling out the past and pretending that the film produced by the labour movement can be rewound again and again . . . At bottom, the great tragedy of the third millennium is this: to have seen the progressive crisis of all hope of emancipation of humanity and to be forced to live a daily life without solutions.”

Back to part 7

For the next post on the debate in the Fourth International click here

The 17th World Congress of the Fourth International (7) – a second opposition

A second opposition document has a quite different analysis than that of the text reviewed in the previous posts.  It is written by a member of the German FI section and a member of the French Anti-capitalist Party, into which the section in that country dissolved itself.

It argues that there has been a second major wave of capitalist globalisation, which amounts to a new phase of capitalist development.  It notes that “this new stage [of capitalism] results from the development of the properties and contradictions of capitalism, which it accentuates and brings to a higher level, an “epoch of transition from capitalism to a higher social and economic system”, the objective conditions of which have matured and strengthened worldwide.”  Unfortunately this line of analysis is not explained or developed further.

This new phase of development has taken place “after a long period of defeats and decline of the labor movement”.  It also notes that the victory of Stalinism in the world labour movement and suppression of its revolutionary rivals “left the revolts of oppressed peoples the prisoner of nationalism in the aftermath of World War II.”

It notes that “the proletariat was unable to give it an internationalist perspective. This revolutionary wave, however, shook the world by enabling millions of oppressed people to break the yoke of colonial and imperialist oppression. But far from moving towards socialism, the new regimes sought to integrate the world capitalist market.”

“A new international division of labor is taking place through the economic development of former colonial or dominated countries, especially the emerging ones – a globalization and not a mere internationalization of production, “an integrated world economy” in Michel Husson’s words.”

It also notes that “the neoliberal offensive . . . led to the collapse of the USSR”; that “capitalism has triumphed worldwide” and that “the balance of power has changed, the combination of economic neoliberalism and imperialist militarism has destabilized the entire planet. The first world power no longer has the supremacy it enjoyed: a new rival, China, is emerging in a multipolar world. The instability of international relations can no longer be contained by a single power which, in turn, feels threatened.”

“The emergence of new powers with imperialist views or regional powers which defend their own interests increasingly undermines America’s leadership capacity and makes the international situation more chaotic. The US response is Trump’s policy “Make America great again”, to assert their economic and military supremacy through trade war, protectionism and militarism.”

“How far can the tensions and imbalances go? In the long run, nothing can be ruled out. We need to understand the possible evolution of the world situation to formulate a solution to the crisis we are being dragged into by the ruling classes. There is no reason to rule out the worst hypothesis, a globalization of local conflicts or a widespread conflagration, a new world war, or rather a globalized one. The evolution of the war in Syria is another example of that as was the war in Ukraine.”

“A more aggressive imperialist policy of China could result from its internal contradictions, from the inability of the Chinese ruling classes to address social issues, to perpetuate the social order without providing an outlet for social discontent. We are not there, but nothing allows us to rule out the possibility that a war for global leadership may be the outcome.”

This section of the text is concluded with the following summary:

“The ruling classes and countries face a crisis of hegemony which opens a revolutionary period. It creates the conditions for the birth of another world.”

The next section, “the rise of a powerful international working class”, notes that “the world working class has grown considerably within a global labor market in which workers compete, jeopardizing the gains of the “labor aristocracy” in the old imperialist countries and undermining the material basis of reformism of the last century.”

“The working class is more numerous than ever: in South Korea alone, there are more wage-earners than there were in the whole world at the time of Marx. The working class forms between 80 and 90% of the population in the most industrialized countries and almost half of the world population. Overall, the number of industrial workers rose from 490 million worldwide in 1991 to 715 million in 2012 (the data is from the International Labor Organization).”

“We must make our main concern the task of rebuilding or building a class consciousness. The labor movement is on the defensive but is engaged in a long and deep process of reorganization we want to help and contribute to its organization as a class, ‘as a party’.”

The document makes a number of points on what it believes are the implications of its analysis for the elaboration of revolutionary strategy.  This includes the view that the material basis of reformism is weakened because imperialist superprofits are eroded, and that the internationalisation of the world economy “gives internationalism a concrete expression rooted in the daily life of millions of proletarians.”

While the latter is more straightforwardly true and needs to be elaborated, the former assumes that greater hardship will generate, or at least more readily facilitate, development of class consciousness among the working class; and this is controversial and not at all obvious.

The document states that “the fight against the rise of reactionary, nationalist, neo-fascist, or religious fundamentalist forces generated by the social decomposition produced by the policies of the capitalist classes is now the central political issue. The solution lies in a class policy for the revolutionary transformation of society.”

Again, this is true; we only need look at the reaction in Britain to the rise of some far-right forces to see the left rush to action in order to oppose this far-right, with little more than a platform of opposition.  The blindness of some is revealed by some groups doing this while also being supporters of Brexit, which has strengthened the far right they wish to oppose.

Unfortunately, again, while it is correctly noted that “our main concern [is] the task of rebuilding or building a class consciousness”, the problem is how this is to be done and, for a workers’ party, how to assist the development of the working class movement upon a socialist basis.

The document notes that “a revolutionary party cannot be proclaimed. It is formed in the struggles and will only play a decisive role when it becomes a mass party and has the political and organizational means of putting forward a consistent revolutionary orientation, of organizing mass struggles and of leading broad sectors of the working class. ”

Its answers however, which consist of two parts, are not convincing:

The first is organisational: “Aware that this mass party cannot be the result of a linear development of any small organization whatsoever, we seek to bring together and unite the revolutionary forces, organizations and militants who fight against capital and the bourgeois order, for the abolition of the capitalist system and for socialism.”

The second is programmatic: “we should define the central elements of a transitional program for the twenty-first century and its declination according to the different regions of the world, especially at the level of Europe, and from there, the bases and the framework from which we could combine construction policy and initiatives for regrouping anti-capitalists and revolutionaries.”

The first seeks a solution in uniting revolutionary organisations around a revolutionary programme when they seek to justify their separate existence on the basis of their programme.  Upon such unity it is argued that others will then be convinced to join, begging the question why they have not joined one of the existing organisations already.

The document states that “consequently, our efforts of political and organizational regroupment can in no way allow any misunderstanding: an association of revolutionary and reformist forces can ultimately only weaken the strength of our program and our intervention.”

There is however a world of difference between weakening your politics in order to create a reformist or politically confused organisation, until you don’t know what your ‘real’ politics are, and working alongside larger numbers of workers with confused or reformist ideas in parties and movements, in the knowledge that it is only with the workers that one can move forward.

The text provides a better analysis of the development of world capitalism and also of the historic development of the working class and its movements, and a more sober assessment of their subjective weaknesses compared to the working class’s growing objective strength.  It also makes salutary points on the need to rebuild or build class consciousness, and that the labour movement is on the defensive but is engaged in a long and deep process of reorganisation.

But its perspective on how all this can happen is weak and it has nothing to replace the idea of the majority that the leap to relevance of small Marxist groups can be made by the perspective of trying to collaborate in building “broad parties”, even though its criticisms of the latter are correct.

Ultimately it suffers from the same debilitating perspective of the other opposition; that it seeks to build a separated revolutionary party that will lead the working class to state power when it must see the process from the other way round.  This is, that it is in the development of the existing working class and its existing movement from which a working class party will be created.

Working alongside reformist workers will therefore be inevitable.   The question is, on what basis do you work with them, what sort of movement do you seek to build with them and on what programme do you seek to unite in struggle with them?  Once you understand that you can build no movement without them and therefore develop no meaningful programme separate from them, the questions facing Marxists appears differently from one of numerical recruitment to organisations with revolutionary programmes that are incapable of implementation because they are divorced from the mass of the working class.

Back to part 6

Forward to part 8

The 17th World Congress of the Fourth International (6) – the opposition “strategic hypothesis”

Given the circumstances as set out in the opposition document, the key question for  revolutionary politics would seem to be how working class political consciousness can be advanced. And the authors are aware; the text says “In that sense, our main task is to re-build class consciousness.”

To this question, they provide the following answer:

“The most effective way to do so is still by the struggle of the working class interest against that of the bourgeoisie. Rallies, demonstrations, occupations, assemblies, strikes; those are still the best tools for raising the consciousness of the oppressed. This does not mean that we ignore parliamentary elections. But we do subordinate them to mobilization.”

No doubt the comrades would say that this must be combined with revolutionary propaganda and agitation and raising the demands contained within the transitional programme, but this is still a very incomplete understanding of how class consciousness is created.  It also involves an instrumental view of the working class, one that sees it coming to socialism not through well thought-out conviction, based on its experience within the forces and relations of capitalist production, but because it arises as a result  of carrying out much more limited aims that have been posed through strikes and assemblies etc.

It is assumed that more or less spontaneous and partial opposition to the harmful effects of capitalism, which by their nature can only be episodic (see below reliance on this not being the case), will be transformed into comprehensive opposition to the system itself and commitment to a socialist alternative. The missing catalyst being revolutionary propaganda, slogans and agitation; in other words, the presentation of socialist ideas.

Of course, it is always rejected that this is a rather idealist (propagandist) view, and that it is the experience of collective action and struggle, combined with socialist agitation and propaganda, that will effect the necessary changes in consciousness. But it is nevertheless the case that, in the case of the traditional Trotskyist conception of a transitional programme, that workers are led to socialist revolution through a rising set of demands that arise from more limited struggles over narrower objectives.

One problem is that such periods of heightened class struggle are necessarily brief, and the period in which the more advanced demands and slogans of the struggle are to be raised even briefer.  Yet this is not consistent with the need for the working class to be fully informed and committed to the task of owning, controlling and developing the complex society within which we live, with a more or less clear idea of what it will do as the new ruling class.  Instead such a role is to fall to it as a necessary, but initially unforeseen, requirement in order to achieve more limited objectives.[i]

This is not such a stretch if the objective is simply seen as the capture of political power, however conceived (involving governmental office, regime change, or a brand new machinery of state), but this is not what socialist revolution is primarily about.  Political power is necessary in order to defend new relations of production, not to create them, otherwise these new relations will more likely become the creation of the state itself.  We know that this has failed and has never been the definition of socialism anyway.  Socialist revolution is above all a fundamental social revolution and such nature distinguishes it from all the radical political revolutions that do not signify fundamental reorganisation of society.

The conception of how working class consciousness develops put forward in the document  is therefore a limited and partial conception, one that also ignores the economic and social circumstances of workers as lived in their everyday lives, and which has historically been the impulse behind their seeking after an alternative society, one that arose even before Marx studied this experience and developed his ideas on how the development of capitalism gives rise to its gravediggers.

Since this has been a long-standing theme of the blog I won’t go into it here, except to say that the anticipation of socialism through worker cooperatives, and the role that these can play as concrete ‘schools of socialism’, and not just strikes as “schools of class-struggle”, has not been appreciated by the opposition.

This is important because consideration of this would help the opposition grapple with some of the problems they recognise but which their overall “strategic hypothesis” blinds them to a solution:

“The strategic hypothesis we advance to end capitalism and patriarchy is a non-stop series of mobilizations that make the working class aware of the necessity of taking power for real social change. Strikes are not a fetish but an essential route to raise workers’ reliance on their own potential power. Strikes are “schools of class struggle” because they are moments in which the working class can self-organize. It is by means of conflict that workers create automatic responses and mechanisms to resist the bourgeoisie’s policies. Revolutionaries should not ignore today’s struggles, even if they are small. To the contrary, we must take part in them. Therefore, we need to find solutions to our deficiency in having a strong presence within the working class and taking part in its battles.”

It is not so much that the perspective of an ‘insurrectionary general strike’ is wrong; although with a large worker-cooperative sector and a perspective of taking state power, a simple strike is clearly inadequate if not misdirected.  It is that the “automatic response and mechanisms to resist the bourgeoisie’s policies” is also obviously inadequate since the point of revolution is to impose an alternative, not simply to resist the existing one. Why should those demanding such an alternative become the leader of the working class when the class fights simply within the existing relations of production and assumes their continuation, which is, after all, what strikes in and of themselves do?

What has come to fill this incomplete and inadequate conception of working class consciousness and revolution is a conception of the revolutionary party as an unduly separate agency in the revolution.  As I have noted in earlier posts on the FI debate, the working class party is often seen as arising from Marxists building their own organisations instead of it being the creation of the working class itself.

Obviously, Marxists will debate what they have to do; but what they have to do must proceed from what has to be done, in the sense of what has to happen, what has to be achieved, by the working class itself, which must itself build its own party. Otherwise it will not be its own party, but a political layer of the working class with greater potential to separate itself from it. As it has done, repeatedly, in the past.

So, the question is, how does the working class generate the class consciousness and organisation to fight capitalism and impose its alternative? This is not the same as, and is not reducible to, capitalist crises generating mass mobilisations, which a bigger or smaller party leads to overthrowing the state and introducing a different one.

The opposition seeks to replicate the experience of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, but even this paradigmatic conception of the revolutionary party fails to understand that the Bolshevik Party became the party it was because the working class made it their own instrument of revolution.  The subsequent failure of that party and revolution was the failure of the Russian working class itself, its size, its own weakness, dissolution, re-composition and incorporation of its best (and worst) elements into the bureaucratisation of the state.

The perspective of building mass action to a climacteric episode reduces the goal of socialist revolution to a single event and to a single path to it, one focused on state power and destruction of the capitalist state. It is to reduce such revolution to a political process only, which is only one (crucial) aspect of a wider and deeper social transformation.

Political revolution can only also be a social revolution if it is the culmination of much deeper developments within the social and economic progress of capitalism.

If the destruction of the capitalist state is to inaugurate working class power, or rather to be a necessary step to creation of a workers state that will defend the already advancing social and economic power of the working class, the working class must already have taken major steps to economic, social and political hegemony, steps which political revolution seeks to complete.

The more common reduced focus, reflected in the opposition “strategic hypothesis”, leads to many weaknesses, some of which appear in the text. So, in promoting a “transitional programme for the 21stcentury” it is stated that:

“A primary focus of this program is the expropriation of the key sectors of the economy. The bank crisis and bail-outs provided a new opportunity to explain and popularize the need for bank nationalization.”

But expropriation is not at all the same as nationalisation and those who think ownership by the capitalist state is progressive have not, for example, considered the experience of the Irish State, in which nationalisation was the means of transferring the liabilities of the banks to the shoulders of working people.

Similarly, we are invited to have illusions in the progressiveness of the creation of new capitalist states:

“In the oppressed nations we support a balance between the democratic fight for the right to self-determination and the fight for a society without classes. It means that, according to our strategy, the struggle for national freedom can be useful for working class emancipation only when led by the working class itself.”

While, with regard to the second sentence of this extract, it may sometimes be necessary for the working class to seek to lead such struggles, it is not always the case that this assertion is true.  It is however very definitely not the case that we should seek to balance the struggle for democratic freedoms under capitalism with the struggle for socialism. If the former is not a necessary part of the struggle for the latter why would socialists and workers support it? Why should workers sacrifice any of their struggle for socialism in some balancing exercise?

This repeated deference to the state, the capitalist state, which is the only one existing, arises from the surrender of tasks that belong to the working class to this state – nationalisation rather than workers’ cooperative ownership; welfare states rather than workers control of welfare provision, previously done through friendly societies, and defence of the democratic rights of capitalist states as the default position in national conflicts rather than workers unity.  It reflects the growing power of the capitalist state over the twentieth century; the influence of social democracy and Stalinism, and the increased role of the capitalist state in the capitalist mode of production, ‘neoliberalism’ notwithstanding.

Socialism has thus become synonymous with statification for many, and this error is not corrected by thinking a workers’ government or a workers’ state carrying out the task of social transformation solves the problem.  The workers’ state is a transitional concept in which the latter part of the term suffocates the former to the extent that it predominates.  This is because the state, even a workers’ state, is a body separate from society and standing over and apart from it. Socialism involves the withering away of the state and this can only be so if working class rule is based outside the state and reflects its role in the new relations of production, which the state is called upon to defend but not be the substance of.

In summary, the opposition is caught between defending what it considers the historic programme of the Fourth International in a different historical period and attempting to square this with the decline of working class consciousness that has occurred since that programme was first promulgated.  The answer is not to stake a claim to false optimism, which foresees a future rapid radicalisation sweeping all before it in rather short order, but understand why it didn’t work before and what the lessons are of the much longer and wider experience of the vastly larger working class has been since 1938.

The majority appear to have a more sober appreciation of the political situation but no way of not capitulating to it, while the opposition seeks not to capitulate but unable to come to terms adequately with the demands placed on revolutionaries arising from it.

[i]This is not to deny that socialists should not seek to radicalise such struggles and the working class itself in the process; but it is to deny that this is the highway to socialist revolution, considered in its totality.

Back to part 5

Forward to part 7

The 17th World Congress of the Fourth International (5) – the opposition need for a revolutionary party

The documents of the opposition to the leadership of the Fourth International have the benefit a greater clarity of exposition. In their document ‘Let’s seize the opportunities, and build an international for revolution and communism’ the opposition criticises the majority line of building broad parties “without clear programmatic and strategic boundaries”, leading to betrayal of the traditional revolutionary programme of the International.

Thus, they point out that in Italy for example the “FI comrades supported in Parliament the formation of a Prodi government and voted for the war budget.”  Furthermore –

“Our ability to defend either the principle of class independence or to maximize the ability of our social class to act independently from the bourgeoisie and its State, is undermined when support is given to a politician linked to a bourgeois party, like Bernie Sanders, or to a personality with no ties to the labour movement, like Pablo Iglesias.”

Through this mistaken policy of the FI, the opposition argues that the majority “implicitly gave up on the relevance of revolution, seeing it as something to be accomplished in the distant future.”

It is not however clear to me that the opposition document makes any more convincing case that (their conception of) revolution is more relevant today, or in the short term, than that of the majority.  Small organisations without the participation or support of the mass of the working class bring the reality of revolution no nearer if they have no means of making their revolutionary programme the activity of the working class itself.

As Marxists, and therefore laying claim to a theoretical understanding superior to that of the mass of reformist (at best) workers, the opposition text should set out what the preconditions for socialist revolution are, and how Marxists might contribute to the working class accomplishing such a revolution.  But these preconditions appear to be assumed rather than explained.

Assertion of working class independence is fine and many of the criticisms of the experience of carrying out the majority perspective are true, but the traditional programme put forward by the opposition is presented in abstract terms and for Trotsky a programme must be concrete and have practical relevance.  I have addressed this problem before – here, here and here – so I will not repeat the arguments there.

The document fails to explain what independent working class politics means in a period like today, which is decidedly not a revolutionary one, or to be more specific, not one in which the working class in its majority seeks to conquer political power.

The problem that I pose is not one that the opposition would probably recognise, for they see the working class coming rapidly to political consciousness out of capitalist crises and the mass action prompted by such crises.  In the document they explain their conceptions, which are the traditional ones of many Marxists.  So, let’s look at what these are.

The opposition states that “We do not share the current FI leadership’s appreciation of the current situation. While it does feature an increasingly violent onslaught by the bourgeoisie, it is nonetheless contradictory and holds possibilities for revolutionary communists to be heard and to gain strength.”

It must be said that the last part of this involves a weak claim and one rather solipsistic.  No explanation is given as to how the mass of workers will come to socialist political consciousness, although it might be inferred this is a result of “revolutionary communists” being heard and gaining strength, that is, mainly through propaganda.

The epochal task of transforming the capitalist mode of production to socialism is however reduced to building an organisation that is currently without significant influence.  How this might be expected is unexplained.

One is left with an impression similar to that of listening to bold and incredible religious claims – the more enormous the claim the more requirement there is to provide equivalent justification for it.

The main opposition text asserts that the tendency for the rate of profit to fall is at the root of the capitalist crisis but this is neither proved, nor is it necessary.  In the document, it is implied that the capitalist crisis will not be escaped from spontaneously but through a historic defeat of the working class. The assessment is therefore incapable of understanding the massive growth of capitalism over the last period, which is reflected in the document’s own acknowledgement that:

“In fact, the working class is globally more numerous today than ever. In South Korea alone there are as many wage-earners today than there were in the whole world at the time of Karl Marx. The working class, which in our view is composed of wage workers who do not exercise management power, today constitutes between 80 and 90 per cent of the population in the most industrialized countries, and almost half of the total global population.”

“Globally, the number of industrial workers worldwide went from 490 million in 1991 to 715 million in 2012 (ILO data). Industry even grew faster than services between 2004 and 2012! The industrial sector did not shrink, but the agricultural sector did, from 44 to 32 per cent of the global workforce.”

But this incredible growth could only happen through rapid accumulation of capital, which makes a nonsense of any claim that capitalism has been in more or less permanent crisis during this period.  How could such accumulation have occurred with a declining rate of profit?  Either it did not fall or a fall does not reduce massive accumulation of capital.  Neither of which is a comfortable view for those making the argument.

A large number of the authors are Greek and it is understandable that the crisis conditions in that country may have coloured conceptions of the world capitalist system. But Greece is not the world and the world is not Greece.

What the authors have confused is the ever-present contradictions of capitalism, with its exploitation, oppression and inequality, and its tendency to war and violence, with capitalist crisis.  The former exist, even when capitalism is booming, in fact such things as exploitation must increase in such circumstances, but this does not mean capitalism is in crisis, as if a non-crisis capitalism entailed peace, equality, and humane and genial progress.

The problem with capitalism is that even when it achieves progress it does so through brutal oppression and exploitation, and yes, through recurrent crisis, which is how the system resolves temporarily some of its contradictions, only to create the basis for further crises in the process.  But this isn’t the same as crisis as understood by the document, which is one that calls into question the reproduction of the system.

The authors of the document note that:

“By reorganizing industry worldwide, capitalist globalization created new working classes in the southern countries, whose potential was shown by the recent mobilizations: the wave of strikes happening in China since 2010, the 2015 massive strikes in Bursa, Turkey, the formation of mass militant unions in Indonesia, the role of the union movement and of mass strikes demanding the resignation of South Korea’s Prime Minister in late 2016.”

They note that:

“we also see the renewed interest in socialism illustrated by Jeremy Corbyn’s double leadership victory in the British Labour Party, and the renewed interest in socialist ideas in the United States. All these signs indicate that the elements for anti-capitalist awareness are present. It is, nonetheless, a very uneven and limited process. Currents hostile to socialism are reaping the fruits of the deep discontent. The electoral audience of the FIT in Argentina, the recomposition of the union movement in South Africa, despite the limitations of both experiences, and above all, the renewed interest in “socialism” in the United States indicate that anti-capitalist ideas can acquire a mass audience.”

The document notes that they need to build the labour movement independent of the official union leaderships, and so capable of self-organisation.  But they state that the “elements for anti-capitalist awareness” that are present are “very uneven and limited’, that anti-capitalist ideas “do not yet have “a mass audience” and the type of labour movement they seek has yet to be built.

So, we have recurrent capitalist crises.  We have huge growth in the size of the working class and the creation of new working classes across the globe with enormous potential. We are told that the elements for anti-capitalist awareness are present (but not what they are), while anti-capitalist ideas “do not yet have “a mass audience” and the type of labour movement sought has yet to be built.

We are also told that there is “an increasingly violent onslaught by the bourgeoisie”, and one that is usually considered to have gone on for years, with more than a little success.  Yet one other, it would seem, is that the current, more or less immediate, relevance of socialist revolution has not diminished.

To be continued.

Back to part 4

Forward to part 6

The 17th World Congress of the Fourth International (4) – a return to Marx?

The FI majority has opened up the question of what sort of party the militants of the Fourth International should be building, and it is not the traditional answer of a ‘revolutionary party.’  Any objective evaluation of the experience of it in practice would judge it a failure, but it isn’t the practical experience that I want to review.

I want to consider the views of the leaders of the Fourth International in light of those of Marx and his understanding of the building of a workers’ party and the role of communists within it.  This was set out a long time ago in the Communist Manifesto –

“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?”

“The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.”

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”

And –

“The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.”

“In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.”

“In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.”

Marx and Engels realised that achieving the aims of the Communist Manifesto would take time.  So, for example, after the revolutions of 1848, they considered that German workers would need to go through “a lengthy revolutionary development”, through a process that involved “clarifying their minds as to what their class interests are.”

In this process he would rely “for the ultimate triumph of the ideas set forth in the Manifesto . . . solely and exclusively upon the intellectual development of the working class, as it necessarily had to ensue from united action and discussion.”

How these principles were, and are today, to be applied depends on the circumstances pertaining in a particular country and at a particular time, but it is clear that for Marx the working class was to be as united as possible and that the communists were not to separate themselves from them or from their movement on account of “any sectarian principles of their own.”

Their role included being “practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others”.  And this image of “pushes” is in some ways better than that prompted by the more often used word “leads”, since it leaves little room for believing that the party will overthrow capitalism with more or less aware workers in tow behind.

Instead communists would, with their “advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement”, help the working class in “clarifying their minds as to what their class interests are”, based “solely and exclusively upon the intellectual development of the working class, as it necessarily had to ensue from united action and discussion.”

This approach to the creation and building of a working class party may be described as one “useful” to workers, as embodying as wide a gathering of workers as possible in defence of their interests, even if yet imperfectly understood.  But if this approach of Marx is clearly not consistent with the conceptions of the FI opposition in relation to the nature of the party that must be built, it is also not the approach proposed by the majority either.

This is because the majority also does not propose to accept the working class and its movement as it exists and fight within it “In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through”, including “for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class . . .”

It may be argued that both the working class movement and the approach to building working class parties has evolved and developed since these early conceptions of Marx and Engels, and this is true.  But it is not true that these principles were discarded by them, and for all their apparent elementary, if not rudimentary, nature, they are still more developed than the formulation of the FI majority text, which may be considered consistent with Marx and the Manifesto only through some addition to the FI formulation and not through simple interpretation.

Marx and Engels made clear that their approach held good, not just by repeatedly standing by the Communist Manifesto in their later political careers, but by their intervention into the evolution of the workers’ movement subsequent to its writing.

Both argued the necessity of a separate working class party opposed to the bourgeoisie and both recognised the different circumstances and evolution that such a party might go through in each country – “our theory is not a dogma but the exposition of a process of evolution, and that process involves successive phases”, said Engels.  In France at one point, in relation to a party with roots in the working class, they believed it would be a step back to seek to scrap their more or less developed socialist programme for the sake of greater numbers.

On the other hand, in relation to America Engels stated that “a million or two of working men’s votes . . . for a bona fide working men’s party is worth more than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect programme.” And “anything that might delay or prevent that national consolidation of the working men’s party – no matter on what platform – I should consider a mistake.”

This did not mean that the theoretical gains of Marx and he should be ‘parked’, as it would be described now.  When Marx wrote that “every step of the real movement is more important than a dozen programmes” it did not prevent him simultaneously defending the theoretical gains he had made in the “Critique of the Gotha Programme’.  He favoured unity between the two German working class parties meeting in Gotha but did not approve the programme on which it was to be based, writing that “if, therefore it was not possible  . .  to go beyond the Eisenach programme, one should simply have concluded an agreement for action against the common enemy.”

This too might seem not inconsistent with the view that the working class party must be ‘useful’, as the FI majority text puts it, except that, as I have said, this can only be the case for a party that can be considered a genuine section of the working class; not one defined solely in relation to it being an ‘advance guard’ or some unclear consideration of ‘broadness’; and what is useful is what is useful to the working class in its immediate and long-term struggle, as noted above.

Such an approach may seem closer to Marx and Engels’ collaboration in the First International and its explicit expression as an organic development out of the existing working class movements in various countries.  Such a template might seem more fitting for an international organisation.

Of course, Engels considered that the next Workers’ International would be “directly Communist and will openly proclaim our principles” (those of Marx and himself).  This proved not to be the case, although the Second International was heavily influenced, at least initially, by them.

However, it should not be expected that mass phenomenon, such as a mass workers’ movement, can escape the material basis on which it is to be built and the political weaknesses of the Second International ultimately reflected the growth and development of imperialism and nationalist division.

Subsequent attempts to build an International arose out of a world-wide crisis occasioned by World War and based itself on the initially successful revolution in Russia.  The subsequent Fourth International was based on a view of the irrevocable, immediately tangible decline of capitalism and a more or less proximate socialist revolution.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and the material basis for the party as envisaged by Trotsky did not exist.  The mass of the working class in Europe did not move to a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism; so the FI shifted its attention to where there were struggles that appeared to offer something comparable, in what was known as the third world and to other layers and components of the population.

For Marx and Engels however the development for a workers’ party could only be a product of the development of the working class itself. The role of Communists was to work with them at all times – “it is possible to work along with the general movement of the working class at every one of its stages without giving up or hiding our own distinct position or even organisation”.  What mattered was that any working class party was a “distinct workers’ party”, reflecting the masses “own movement – no matter in what form so long as it is their own movement.”

In the Communist Manifesto this meant that in France the Communists allied with the Social Democrats and in Switzerland they supported the Radicals.  In the First International it meant uniting Proudhonists and English trade unionists amongst others. Their judgement depended on the criteria we have just set out and at what stage of evolution they considered the working class and its movement was at, not from the criteria of a revolutionary programme in itself, divorced from where the working class had reached.

It would seem obvious today that we do not unite the most active parts of the working class and its movement by positing the unity of small revolutionary organisations, which is entirely inadequate, or of creating “broad’ parties which are broad only in their political heterogeneity and not in their mass.  It should be obvious that you do not go to the working class by first seeking new “broad” parties that do not yet have its allegiance, at least not unless it can be reasonably confidently said that this is where the working class is, or shortly will be.

Engels gave this advice to Marxists in the US:

”….It is far more important that the movement should spread, proceed harmoniously, take root and embrace as much as possible the whole American proletariat, than that it should start and proceed from the beginning on theoretically perfectly correct lines. There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than “durch Schaden klug tererden” [to learn by one’s own mistakes]. And for a whole large class, there is no other road, especially for a nation so eminently practical as the Americans. The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class; that once obtained, they will soon find the right direction, and all who resist, H.G. or Powderly, will be left out in the cold with small sects of their own.”

Taking this into account, the sense in which being ”useful” makes most sense is being organised as part of the broader working class movement; being useful not only, or even mainly, in practical terms but also in theoretical and political terms.  But this will only be so if the working class itself finds the workers’ party a useful instrument for defending and advancing its interests.

And yes, “the ultimate goal of such a party’ would “obviously [be] to get rid of the existing (capitalist) system, in whatever general terms this may be expressed.”  These general terms to be worked out and developed by the workers’ party, with input from its “most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others.’  This advanced section has “over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”

From such a vantage point the majority view makes more sense seen from the perspective of the First International, updated and modified by a clear understanding of the evolution of the working class and workers’ movement from this time.  As this series of posts has been at pains to argue, it is from the latter that any programmatic and organisational lessons must be drawn and applied.

The next post will look at the documents of the minority opposition.

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Forward to part 5

The 17th World Congress of the Fourth International (3) – broad parties

The third document  of the majority is entitled ‘Toward a text on Role and Tasks of the Fourth International’.  Its basic premise is the following:

“Our understanding of the role and tasks of the Fourth International at a national level is that we want to build parties that are useful in the class struggle. That is to say parties that can assemble the forces and decide on actions that have an effect and advance the class struggle on the basis of a class struggle approach and programme, the ultimate goal of such a party being obviously to get rid of the existing (capitalist) system, in whatever general terms this may be expressed.”

This is presented as a continuation of long standing policy, a policy its critics in the opposition have branded a failure, one admitted to, at least by implication, in the immediately following sentence – “This perspective commits the forces of the FI to being an integral and loyal part of building and leading these new parties, not simply aiming to recruit or wait to denounce eventual betrayals.”

It might be said that if the ultimate point of building these parties is to lead the overthrow of capitalism, but that instead it leads to eventual betrayal, an obvious objection arises – what’s the point? If these parties must lead the overthrow of capitalism, do they not have to have this objective in the first place in order for this to be so, to be revolutionary in their programme, as their opposition critics claim, and not merely “useful”?

Of course, there is no guarantee of success.  But surely, if one believes that a party can and must overthrow capitalism, then having an explicit programme of doing so is a necessary prerequisite?

I stated in the first post that small Trotskyist organisations suffer from an inability to learn from their capacity to actually implement their programme, but in this case the objective of the FI for some time has been to build large and successful anti-capitalist parties, and the experience has been one of repeated failure.

Instead of learning from this failure however the objective now appears to be so diluted as to become almost homeopathic, with an inability to actually measure the positive content of the proposal.  No balance sheet, no real evaluation and learning from experience becomes possible, partly explaining why it appears not to have been carried out.

It should be noted that the document situates this perspective within a period of “geopolitical chaos” and “crisis of class-consciousness,” and in my view states correctly that:

“The project of a socialist society offering an alternative both to capitalism and to the disastrous experiences of bureaucratic “socialism”, lacks credibility: it is severely hampered by the balance sheet of Stalinism, of social democracy, and of populist nationalism in the “third world”, as well as by the weakness of those who put it forward today.”

“In a large number of dominated countries, broad vanguard forces are now sceptical about the chances of a success of a revolutionary break with imperialism; and sceptical about the possibilities of taking power and keeping it in the new world balance of power”… “revolutionary internationalism appears as a utopia”.

This view has been criticised by the opposition within the FI as unnecessarily pessimistic and a means of ditching the historic revolutionary programme of the movement. In my view the assessment of the majority about the generally low level of class consciousness and of the working class movement across the world, with obvious national and regional variations, is broadly correct.

To deny it is to retreat into make-believe, and to do so only in order to hold tight to an historic politics, which it is believed requires the possibility of more or less short-term potential for socialist revolution. But this period of working class history has passed.  We do not live in the shadow of the Russian Revolution and do not see mass efforts to repeat it in any form in important capitalist countries.

This tide of rising working class struggle was smashed by reaction, including fascism, and world war; then solidified by a strong hegemonic US capitalism, in which genuine working class socialism, Marxism, was capped and suffocated by a mass of Stalinist and other state-socialist concrete.

When the level of class struggle rose again in more developed countries in the late 1960s and 1970s, it was defeated not by fascism but by bourgeois democratic forces, aided by the role of Stalinist and social-democratic parties. Now the latter have been severely weakened or discredited in most countries, a view has arisen that there exists some ever-present working class constituency on the left which only has to be tapped into by revolutionaries.  This, however, has been exposed as a rather naïve, marketing-type view of politics.

What the FI majority (and opposition) have failed to do is to explain how working class political consciousness has been formed in the past and how it can be reconstructed today.  The betrayals of Stalinism etc. ultimately reflect the strength of capitalism, but more importantly the relative weakness of the working class as a revolutionary subject.  In periods of defeat all sorts of confusion and misdirection takes place and the policy of the FI shows this confusion in spades.

We have a formulation of the task of Marxists that reeks of equivocation.  So, the majority FI “want to build parties that are useful in the class struggle.” But this invites questions, such as what on earth does useful mean? How useful and useful for what, to whom, and to what end?  If it is to overthrow capitalism then we are no step forward, but are invited to accept any such claim in “whatever general terms this may be expressed.”

The text says, “that is to say parties that can assemble the forces and decide on actions that have an effect and advance the class struggle on the basis of a class struggle approach and programme.”  What change in the conduct of the class struggle is intended; as a contribution to what working class organisation, strategy and raising of consciousness? What exactly is the class struggle programme proposed, or is it one useful to the class struggle as it spontaneously, or if one prefers, organically arises?

We are told that “the ultimate goal of such a party being obviously to get rid of the existing (capitalist) system, in whatever general terms this may be expressed.”  Unfortunately, the first sentence is not only imprecise but also incomplete – and replace capitalism with what and how?  “In whatever terms this may be expressed” leaves nothing excluded and nothing by which to evaluate inclusion.

Building a party that is useful in these terms appears vacuous.  Not for nothing is it therefore explained that “the key idea is that we cannot generalise a model for what the FI has to do”.

The appearance is given of a leadership that is politically exhausted and has nothing much to say.

There are lessons that have been, or need to be, learned from the struggles of the working class in the last two centuries, which might be considered to be the foundation of the programme that socialists should advance, in order to make themselves “useful”.  What are they?

One of these explains a fundamental problem with the formulation, which is that it implies abrogating a task of the class and devolving it to the party, for it is the working class that must overthrow capitalism and create a new society, because that new society is precisely the expression of its own power – through the relations of production and the subordination of its own state to its social power and control.

It is no answer to such a criticism to say that what is being proposed is that the party leads the working class, because the party is itself created by the class through its struggles, and the party can only arise from a class conscious working class.  If the party is to be a mass phenomenon it can arise in no other way.

The working-class party has an important role to further the development of class consciousness in the working class, so the role of the ideology and programme of the party, as well as the quality and dedication of its members, is crucial.

The struggle for an adequate Marxist politics therefore loses none of its importance, and it is not a question of surrendering its theoretical gains to court popularity, or surrendering its politics in pursuit of alliances with those who would betray it.  But the overthrow of the system can only be accomplished by the working class itself. As I have said before, the working-class party cannot rise further than the class is aims to lead, or to make itself “useful” to.

If it is far in advance of the class consciousness of the mass of workers then it will not be a mass party and its programme can be as revolutionary as you could wish, but it will be an ideal construct on a very different material base, and will be in vain.  A working-class party can only truly be revolutionary if it represents, is part of and helps raise the political consciousness of, the mass of the working class through its theoretical and political clarity; but it is the working class which is the revolutionary subject.

This, anyway, was the view of Marx, and it will be necessary to look at his approach in the next post in order to contrast it again with the approach of the FI.  Ironically, such a comparison makes more sense of the view that the working-class party must be “useful”.

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Forward to part 4