On the MGKP Statement on the Presidential Election in Russia
Introduction by the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 16 March 2018, www.thecommunists.net
The statement below has been published by the Marxist Group ‘Class Politics’ (MGKP) in Russia. We reprint this statement not only we collaborate with these comrades since some time but also because we strongly agree with the general outlook and line of it.
The RCIT shares the position of the MGKP on the necessity of the revolutionary struggle for the destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus and for the creation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the assessment of the role of the parliament in capitalism, the Marxist approach to elections as a subordinated arena of class struggle and as a tribune for propaganda and agitation, etc.
We also agree with the comrades’ refusal to give electoral support for any of the candidates. We fully share the comrades’ denunciation of the Stalinist’s candidates and their social-patriotic adaption to Russian imperialism. Likewise we agree with their critique of the opportunist tactics of the Russian section of the centrist IMT. Given the information we have about the very small basis for the ROT Front candidate, the Stalinist Natalia Lisitsyna, we agree with the MGKP’s refusal to lend critical support to her.
We also agree with the general line of the MGKP statement concerning the Marxist approach towards electoral tactics. There is only one critical remark we wish to make: the statement suggests that small groups – unlike a revolutionary party – are not in a position to advocate critical support for reformist parties because of their small size. We do not agree with such an approach. If small groups can not advocate the tactic of critical electoral support because they are small and not a party, why is this not true for other tactics? With such an approach should we not also say that small Marxist groups can not advocate the tactic to call for a strike, for the application of the united front tactic in defense of democratic rights and national self-determination, for electoral support of this or that candidate in trade union or student union elections, to call for the anti-imperialist united front tactic in Syria etc.?! We think that if the small size of a Marxist group would not allow it to advocate critical support for a reformist party, why would its small size not also be an obstacle to advocate other tactics?!
Furthermore, such an interpretation would also be in contradiction to the approach of Trotsky and his supporters in the 1930s. In Britain, for example, the Trotskyists only numbered a few dozen people until the later 1930s. Nevertheless they undertook the tactic of entryism into the Independent Labour Party and later into the Labour Party itself. Trotsky himself and his British followers advocated critical support for the Labour Party at the election in 1935 despite their small size. Were they wrong to do so because of their small size? We don’t think so.
However, we hope to overcome this difference in joint discussion and collaboration with the comrades of the MGKP.
A final note on the English-language translation: we are fully aware of the limitations of the English translation in terms of grammar and style. However, given lack of time and resources we were not in a position to improve the translation. Nevertheless, we think it is preferable to publish the English translation as it is because it provides a revolutionary answer to crucial questions of the class struggle in Russia.
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The position of MGKP on presidential elections in 2018
The political power of the bourgeoisie and its "democratic" form
Political power is an ability of one class to establish the dictatorship over other classes. The essential basis for this definition in 'normal' conditions that are in periods of relative stability of bourgeois society, dictatorship is hidden under the facade of 'freedom and democracy'. Ruling class, especially in the epoch of its decline, mystifies this statement using its ideological apparatus. In fact, working class and its vanguard can be convinced easily how far ruling ideas about 'democratic' power are far from the truth. The media, universities, bureaucrats, opportunists, and centrists - this is united ideological front of the bourgeois army, which advertise form as essence and pseudo-knowledge as knowledge. All of them are necessary assistance of the bourgeoisie for its domination over the proletariat.
The bourgeoisie, being a relatively small class of parasites is not able to rule directly as armed lords could do. On the contrary, to control masses, it needs colossal apparatus of violence and deception. One of these instruments of control is the spreading ideas about the current situation as 'eternal and natural', and about that, all changes inside superstructure are determined by 'people'. The mythology of elections legitimizes well the current situation, presenting it as formally free and shifting responsibility for the shortcomings of power to the masses.
Dictatorial powers of representatives of the bourgeoisie
To understand falsity of 'bourgeois democracy', it is sufficient to look at the legal basis for the power of the modern bourgeois state. The right of 'state of emergency', 'emergency powers of government', 'defense of national security' - all of it is written in constitutions of the most 'free' and 'democratic' countries. But what is it if not a possibility of direct violence and open dictatorship against oppressed? Defenders of constitution insist that the basis of it is the social contract. For them, it is an effort to legitimize the status of the bourgeoisie. But at the same time, the contradiction in the bourgeois ideology of the treaty is neglected. If the right is a contract between all members of society then how it is possible that one part of it has extraordinary powers over others? Why 'equal contract' needs the initially unequal character of parties? Elections, therefore, look just like a farce which serves to hide this picture with beautiful words about the possibility of full influence on the fate of the national state.
The position of communists on the presidency
Unlike the parliament, the presidential post cannot be used for agitation and the development of class consciousness - for the awakening of the class hatred of proletariat to the ruling classes. The institution of the presidency, as part of the state system, is 'democratic' form of the rule of the bourgeoisie. Outwardly president appears to be representative of a “˜popular will’ that stands outside the classes, but in essence, the presidency is a machine for oppression and subjugation in the hands of ruling capital. Moreover, the presidential form of power is a definite form of state order; therefore it cannot at all be the form of communist society, which knows neither classes nor class struggle nor any state power. Presidential power, one of the apparatuses of the bourgeois state machine, cannot as such in the long run be taken over, just as the proletariat cannot at all take over the proletarian state. The task of the proletariat consists in breaking up the bourgeois state machine, destroying it, and with it the institution of the presidency.
Consequently, communism denies presidential power as a form of the society of the future. It rejects it as a form of the class dictatorship of the proletariat. It denies the possibility of taking over presidential power in the long run; it sets itself the aim of destroying the institution of the presidency. Therefore there can only be a question of utilizing the presidential elections for the destruction of this institution.
The center of gravity of political life has been removed wholly and finally beyond the bounds of elections, and the historical task of the working class to wrest this apparatus from the hands of the ruling class, to smash it, to destroy it, and replace it with new proletarian organs of power.
The institution of the presidency cannot be a form of proletarian state administration in the period of transition from the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie to the dictatorship of the proletariat. In the moment of sharpened class struggle, in the civil war, the proletariat must inevitably build up its state organization as a militant organization, into which the representatives of the previous ruling classes are not allowed. In this stage, any fiction of the “˜popular will’ is directly harmful to the working class. The proletariat does not need any sharing of power, and it is detrimental to it. The form of the proletarian dictatorship is the Soviet republic.
The Communist movement must correctly estimate the character of the present epoch: highest stage of capitalism; imperialist self-negation and self-destruction, etc. Therefore at stake for communists is the political and technical preparations for the revolt of the proletariat, the destruction of bourgeois power and the establishment of the new proletarian power.
Every class struggle is a political struggle, in the final analysis, it is a struggle for power. Any strike at all that spreads over the whole country becomes a threat to the bourgeois state and thus takes on a political character. Every attempt to overthrow the bourgeoisie and to destroy its state means carrying out a political fight. Creating a proletarian state apparatus for administration and for the oppression of the resisting bourgeoisie, of whatever type that apparatus will be, means conquering political power.
Consequently, the question of political power is not at all identical with the matter of the attitude towards the institution of the presidency. The former is the central question of the proletarian class struggle, which is characterized by the intensification of small and partial conflicts to the general fight for the overthrow of the capitalist order as a whole.
Methods of the struggle for power of the proletariat
The most important method of struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, i.e., against its state power, is above all mass action. Mass actions are organized and led by the revolutionary mass organizations (trades unions, parties, soviets) of the proletariat under the general leadership of a unified, disciplined, centralized Communist Party. Civil war is war. In this war, the proletariat must have its bold officer corps and its strong general staff, who direct all operations in all theatres of the struggle.
The mass struggle is a whole system of developing actions sharpening in their form and logically leading to the revolt against the capitalist state. In this mass struggle, which extends into civil war, the leading party of the proletariat must, as a rule, consolidate all its legal positions by making them into auxiliary bases of its revolutionary activity and subordinating these positions to the plan of the main campaign, the campaign of the mass struggle.
The rostrum of presidential elections is such an auxiliary base. The argument that presidential post is a bourgeois state institution cannot at all be used against participation in the presidential elections. The Communist Party goes to elections to help the masses from inside electoral campaign to break up the state machine through action.
This activity consists mainly in revolutionary agitation from the rostrum, given during elections in unmasking opponents, in the ideological unification of the masses who still, particularly in backward areas, are captivated by democratic ideas, look towards the electoral rostrum, etc., should be wholly and entirely subordinated to the aims and tasks of the mass struggle outside electoral campaign.
Participation in election campaigns and revolutionary propaganda from the electoral rostrum is of particular importance for winning over those layers of the workers who previously stood far away from political life.
Election campaigns should not be carried out in the spirit of the hunt for the maximum number of votes but in the spirit of the revolutionary mobilization of the masses for the slogans of the proletarian revolution. It is necessary to utilize all mass actions (strikes, demonstrations, ferment among the soldiers, etc.) that are taking place at the time, and coming into close touch with them. Drawing all the proletarian mass organizations into active work is necessary.
In observing all these conditions, as well as those in a specific instruction, electoral activity is the direct opposite of that petty politicking done by the social democratic and Stalinist parties, who go into the presidential campaign to support this “˜democratic’ presidential system or at best to “˜take it over’. The Communist Party can only be exclusively in favor of the revolutionary utilization of presidential elections in the spirit of the Bolsheviks.
Boycotting on principle, in the sense of absolute and categorical rejection of participation in presidential elections, is, therefore, a naive, childish doctrine below any criticism, a doctrine which occasionally has a basis in healthy nausea at politicians, but which does not see at the same time the possibility of a revolutionary use of elections. Moreover, this doctrine is often linked with an utterly incorrect conception of the role of the party, which sees in the Communist Party not the centralized shock troops of the workers, but a decentralized system of loosely allied groups.
On the other hand, an absolute recognition of the necessity of actual elections under all circumstances by no means flows from the recognition in principle of electoral activity. That is dependent upon a whole series of specific conditions. Boycotting can be necessary given a specific combination of these conditions. According to circumstances, a boycott of the elections and the immediate violent removal of not only the whole bourgeois state apparatus but also the bourgeoisie as a class can be necessary.
In this way the Communist Party, which recognizes the necessity of participating in the elections as a general rule, must resolve this problem concretely, starting from the specific peculiarities of any given moment. A boycott of presidential elections is mainly permissible when the preconditions for the immediate transition to the armed struggle and the seizure of power are already present.
In the process, one should always bear in mind the relative unimportance of this question. Since the center of gravity lies in the struggle for state power carried out outside election process, it goes without saying that the question of the proletarian dictatorship and the mass struggle for it cannot be placed on the same level as the particular question of the utilization of presidential elections.
Revolutionary tactics of the Communist Party during presidential elections
The Communist Party as a whole and its Central Committee, already in the preparatory stage, that is to say before the presidential election, must take care of the high quality of the candidate for the presidency. The Central Committee of the Communist Party must be responsible for the whole work of candidate and must have the undeniable right to raise objections to any candidate if there is no guarantee that if he will pursue communist policies.
Candidate must subordinate all actions to the activity of their Party outside the election campaign. In the event of demonstrations by workers in the streets and other revolutionary actions, the candidate must place himself in the most conspicuous leading place at the head of the masses of workers. Candidate must use every means at his or her disposal (under the supervision of the Party) to create written and any other kind of links with the revolutionary workers and other toilers. Under no circumstances can they act like social democratic candidates, bribing voters with promises that must be fulfilled, thereby abandoning independent policies. The candidate is responsible, not to the scattered mass of voters, but to his Party, be it legal or illegal.
Candidate must speak during elections a language that can be understood by every simple worker so that the Party can publish the speeches and distribute them widely. She or he must always be at the disposal of the Party for any propaganda work. Candidate must use the electoral rostrum for the unmasking not only of the bourgeoisie and its hacks, but also of the social-patriots, and the reformists, of the fluctuations of the politicians of the “˜center’ and of other opponents of communism, and for broad propaganda for the communist ideas. The candidate has to show a challenging attitude towards capitalism in his whole behavior. He or she must never forget that only he is worthy of the name of a communist who is an arch enemy of bourgeois society and its social democratic hacks not only in words but also in deeds.
Participation of Russian 'Communist Parties' in elections
Candidates of 'Communist Party of Russian Federation' and 'Communists of Russia' can be considered together since there are no significant differences between them under this consideration. Candidates of these parties do not set the goal of developing the class consciousness of the proletariat during the presidential campaign. They do not talk about preparing a proletarian revolution with the aim of destroying the bourgeois power and establishing a new power of the proletariat. They think that it is possible to win presidential power by the proletariat as a result of elections. These parties do not allow even the theoretical possibility of the boycott of elections, not to mention the boycott of concrete elections. And, of course, candidates of these parties do not use rostrum of elections for criticism of social-patriots and reformists as these parties are such parties.
Stalinist RKRP-KPSS ('Russian Communist Workers' Party of the Communist Party of Soviet Union') and OKP ('United Communist Party') and pseudo-Trotskyist RRP ('Revolutionary Workers' Party') were unable to nominate their candidates for the presidency with the program of their parties. This calls into question the fact that they are parties in essence, and not by name. It's hard to call as a party something that is unable to participate in politics. They look like preparty organizations and not parties.
At the same time the RRP 'party' could not even clearly formulate its position on elections in the statement of its Central Committee, where, among other
things, they affirm that the fate of capitalism turns out to be decided in elections:
"How should we act? Undoubtedly, we are resolutely against Putin and capitalism, but we correctly understand that their fate will not be decided in the current election. Undoubtedly, ruling regime will use all opportunities for victory, so we leave the question of who to vote on the conscience of the voters themselves." (http://rwp.ru/2018/02/07/%d0%b7%d0%b0%d1%8f%d0%b2%d0%bb%d0%b5%d0%bd%d0%b8%d0%b5-%d1%86%d0%ba-%d1%80%d1%80%d0%bf-%d0%be-%d0%b2%d1%8b%d0%b1%d0%be%d1%80%d0%b0%d1%85/)
RKRP-KPSS instead of fighting reformism in the labor movement, including during the presidential elections, nominated a candidate from the reformist party, created by it - ROT Front. But even with the resources of the latter, they failed to pass the stage of collecting the number of signatures required by the election law. You cannot seriously take their complaints to the 'Russian Post' because it is the party that collects signatures and if it is unable to deliver them in time to the Central Electoral Committee of Russian Federation, it says a lot about it. Particularly that ROT Front is not a mass party at the moment.
Tactics of support of candidates of mass workers' parties during presidential elections
The favorite argument of opportunists, which serves to substantiate their policy, is Lenin's 'Left-Wing' Communism: an Infantile Disorder (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/). But they see there only one thing - that Lenin opposed refusal to support the workers' parties in the elections.
But as it happens often they lost essential details:
"It is true that the Hendersons, the Clyneses, the MacDonalds and the Snowdens 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 “œrule” 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."
Henderson and MacDonald were leaders of UK Labour Party at the beginning of last century. Snowden was the leader of Independent Labour Party. Which interests of revolution Lenin mentions here?
Here is a description of the situation by Comrade Gallacher, who writes in the name of the Scottish Workers’ Council in Glasgow:
"The rank and file of the I.L.P. in Scotland is becoming more and more disgusted with the thought of Parliament, and the Soviets [the Russian word transliterated into English is used] or Workers’ Councils are being supported by almost every branch."
Can you say the same about any more or less mass parties in modern Russia?
Lenin: "Incidentally, as can also be seen from Lloyd George’s speech, both conditions for a successful proletarian revolution are clearly maturing in Great
And here is the direct speech of the then Prime Minister Liberal Lloyd George:
"The fact that Liberals are fighting among themselves undoubtedly drives a very considerable number of Liberals in despair to the Labour Party, where you get a considerable body of Liberals, very able men, whose business it is to discredit the Government. The result is undoubtedly to bring a good accession of public sentiment to the Labour Party. It does not go to the Liberals who are outside, it goes to the Labour Party, the by-elections show that.”
Is it correct to say that we are witnessing a turn of public sentiment towards the ROT Front (this small reformist party)?
The words of "left" communist Sylvia Pankhurst from this work:
“œWe must not dissipate our energy in adding to the strength of the Labour Party; its rise to power is inevitable. We must concentrate on making a communist movement that will vanquish it. The Labour Party will soon be forming a government, the revolutionary opposition must make ready to attack it. ...”
Is there any workers' party in modern Russia which could nominate a presidential candidate capable of making non-gaming competition to Putin?
The support of reformists in conditions when they are so weak that they are not even able to collect signatures for their candidate is not the situation that Lenin describes in his work. The support of ROT Front in this situation is the help to promote reformism in workers' movement against fighting it.
Lenin about conditions of support of reformists:
"If we are the party of the revolutionary class, and not merely a revolutionary group, and if we want the masses to follow us (and unless we achieve that, we stand the risk of remaining mere windbags), we must, first, help Henderson or Snowden to beat Lloyd George and Churchill (or, rather, compel the former to beat the latter, because the former are afraid of their victory!); second, we must help the majority of the working class to be convinced by their own experience that we are right, i.e., that the Hendersons and Snowdens are absolutely good for nothing, that they are petty-bourgeois and treacherous by nature, and that their bankruptcy is inevitable; third, we must bring nearer the moment when, on the basis of the disappointment of most of the workers in the Hendersons, it will be possible, with serious chances of success, to overthrow the government of the Hendersons at once"
Lenin writes here that support is possible by certain conditions - that there is a party of revolutionary class (that could lead and overthrow the bourgeois government) in a country and not many small groups that pretend to Marxist name. Small size defines that at the present moment such groups are incapable of capturing the masses.
In other words, Lenin in Infantile disorder write about tactics of the communist party and not about tactics of small groups.
International Centrist Tendency
Pseudo-Trotskyists from 'International Marxist Tendency' (IMT), and more properly to name it as International Centrist Tendency (ICT), once again have shown their capacity to take a class position as it already was before with their 'class' slogan "Down with authority of the rich". From one side they criticise elections, Stalinism, opportunism, sectarianism. On the other hand as soon as a kind of 'left' quasi-movement appears, they immediately try to take the most constrained position to avoid conflicts with the 'proletarian vanguard'.
This time they provided full support to the Stalinist reformist Lisitsyna, without giving any criticism of her parties RKRP-KPSS and ROT Front. ("Natalia Lisitsyna to the presidency!" (http://1917.com/XML/1FBJUO02SGFMKX0H6wV-IwHTErQ.xml) Without mentioning, for example, how well the RKRP-KPSS possesses 'Marxism-Leninism' - on the one hand, they oppose the imperialism of the Russian Federation, and on the other, are actively calling on it to fight 'fascism' all over the world. Of course, the center is inherent in adapting, like a chameleon, to any red shade of opportunism, even if it comes from social chauvinistic leftist-patriotic organizations.
All this, of course, is accompanied by assurances that the candidate must necessarily be a worker and preferably a female representative. There is no better
example of vulgar sociology:
"it is principally important that such candidate is the employed worker."
"Finally, it is important, that candidate must be a genuine representative of the majority. <...> Women are an important part of the modern industrial working class, in its mass, the low-paid and discriminated part of it."
First, how does a person's belonging to a class make her automatically avant-garde? Concrete workers could be against the dictatorship of the proletariat, for
bombings of Syria and love Putin by whole heart. History knows how often the proletarians took chauvinistic positions at the beginning of wars. Lisitsyna is not the exception here, in particular,
she does not think that revolution is necessary:
"We do not have another way: only agitation and propaganda. Only people masses, only unionizing of workers. And bourgeoisie will flee, and there will be no one to fight with, and revolution is not necessary. Because they are afraid of workers very much." (From the interview for Federal news agency https://riafan.ru/1019527-kandidat-v-prezidenty-rf-kranovshchica-natalya-lisicyna-ya-rodilas-krasnoi-naskvoz-i-menya-uzhe-ne-perekrasit)
Second, how a person's sex is related to her position? Women could be for ultra-conservative measures. Oppressed, to the knowledge of ICT, can be extremely religious and be adherents of the most obscure worldviews. Thus, the most religious in Russia, according to research, are pensioner women. For example, in the twentieth century, conservative parties gave rights to women also for this reason, as it was known that they would vote for religious figures who were supporters of conservative parties. All this suggests that centrists are not able to take a right political position and, in fact, behind their bright revolutionary rhetoric lies only the desire to occupy the most comfortable place in the movement.
Besides, the statement of the ICT supports illusions that the communists can come to power through elections:
"And, of course, such [presidential] powers could be in most proven and worthy hands. In whose - we choose, the citizens of Russia."
"So how are we - employees - we can choose a candidate for the President who would protect our interests?"
And there is also an example of a rather broad idea of Marxism in this 'Marxist' Tendency:
"the worker candidate must recognize: the basis for the existence of a capitalist society is its division into classes in relation to the means of production, that is, to be a Marxist."
At the same time, ICT believes that the socialists and reformists belong to Marxists, and therefore for the candidate it is not enough, in their opinion, to be Marxist, the Marxist must be a communist (ICT are wide 'Marxists', isn't it?):
"But this is not enough. Socialists and other reformists recognize such division, but they deny the antagonistic nature of interclass contradictions. Therefore only the communists can express the fundamental interests of the working class."
'Trotskyists' of ICT recognize Stalinist, that supports imperialist politics of Russian Federation and promotes reformism in workers' movement, as Marxist. And not any word of criticisms against reformist ROT Front party and Stalinist RKRP-KPSS, whose member is Lisitsyna.
Tactic of boycott
The absence of minimum turnout in Russia makes the boycott of elections meaningless. Elections as an instrument of power of minority will never allow the illegitimacy of any government.
Nevertheless, we are least interested in what formally legitimizes the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. It is crucial for us that radicalized young people and the vanguard of working class are actively advocating this position. Of course, 'democratic rights and elections' is a fraud, but we consider that it is necessary to turn to the politicizing layers of the oppressed.
Indefinite All-Russian Political Strike
In conditions when there is neither a revolutionary party of the working class nor candidates from mass workers' parties, who seriously pretend to power, there is no other option than a boycott.
Supporting all those who disagree with the current situation in the struggle against authoritarianism, we also call for self-organization beyond the Internet communities, namely: for the creation of associations at the place of study, work, residence. These associations are based on the unity of interests, unlike opposition network communities, people in them unite on specific problems and can act together (strike, for example).
As we can see from recent experience (2011-12 years), some rallies are not enough. In history, there are examples of successful removal of unpopular politicians from power as a result of strikes. For example, the president of France de Gaulle resigned not least due to the general strike, a significant role in the defeat of the Regime of the Colonels in Greece was played by the seizure by students of the Athens Polytechnic University. Strikes played a role in the recent removal of long stayed presidents Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak in Tunisia and Egypt.
We call for the creation of action committees whose task is not organization of one-day "strike of voters" at polling stations, but the organization of an indefinite all-Russian political strike at workplaces and at the place of study with the aim of resigning Putin and his government, as well as the dissolution of the State Duma and the Federal Council. But this is not our final goal. The ultimate goal for us is the dictatorship of the proletariat and the world revolution, step to it is updated transitional program since none of the transitional requirements (workers' control, expropriation, etc.) can be fully realized while preserving the bourgeois regime.
No to the bourgeois deception in the form of elections!
No to the reformism and opportunism!
For the dictatorship of the proletariat!