Marxism and the United Front Tactic Today: Chapter IV

IV.          The Struggle for Proletarian Hegemony under Present Day Conditions: Political Changes


Note of the Editorial Board: The following Chapter contains several figures. They can only be viewed in the pdf version of the book here for technical reasons.


After having outlined some crucial social and economic developments that have transpired in recent decades, we shall now move on to examine the field of politics. We will outline in summary the most important changes that have taken place among the parties which claim to represent the interests of the workers and oppressed.


The Crisis of Bourgeois Workers’ Parties


One of the most important developments in the past two or three decades has been the extraordinary bourgeoisification of the traditional reformist parties of the social democratic and Stalinist hue. At the same time, we have witnessed a surge of new left-wing reformist or petty-bourgeois populist forces. These changes constitute the crucial backdrop for the development and the application of the Marxist tactic of the united front during the present period.


Let us examine these developments and changes in more detail. The most important factor in the world situation – and this is even truer today than at the time of Trotsky in the 1930s – is the complete lack of a strong revolutionary world party. Trotsky’s words – „Without the slightest exaggeration it may be said: the whole world situation is determined by the crisis of the proletarian leadership [1] – are even more relevant today, more than half a century after the political and organizational collapse of the Fourth International, when the numbers of authentic revolutionary forces are so abysmally small compared with the historic task ahead of us. [2] This absence of a world party for socialist revolution is the main reason why so many class struggle eruptions leading to pre-revolutionary and revolutionary situations are ultimately defeated. And it is precisely for the same reason that the right-wing shift of traditional reformism resulted in the surge of new left-wing reformist and populist political formations.


The historic crisis of social democracy and Stalinism expresses itself in a dramatic political shift to the right, a bourgeoisification of its composition and leadership, and its precipitous decline in membership and electoral strength. Let us examine some examples.


The German SPD led Germany – in a governmental coalition with the Green Party – to the country’s first war abroad when NATO attacked Serbia in 1999. They did the same in Afghanistan in 2001 and during the imperialist occupation afterwards. The SPD imposed the draconian Hartz IV reforms which led to substantial cuts in unemployment benefits and social subsidies. Since then this party has been the junior partner in pro-austerity coalitions with the CDU, the conservative party of Angela Merkel, in the years 2005-09 and once again since 2013.


It is hardly surprising that this neoliberalization of the SPD had dramatic effects on its support and membership. Its electoral support has declined from 40.9% (1998) to 23.0% (2009) and 25.7% (2013). The number its members has more than halved between 1990 and 2014 (the latest available data). While the party had 943,402 members in 1990, this figure has dropped to 459,902 by the end of 2012. [3] 50% of these members are aged 60 years and above and only 16% are below the age of 40! The social composition of the party is particularly revealing: pensioners constitute the largest group (34%), followed by “Beamte” (a German word for privileged employees in the public sector, 23%), white-collar employees (15%), blue-collar workers (8%) and unemployed (5%). The remaining 15% are housewives, students, self-employed, etc. [4]


True, none of this means that the SPD has ceased to be a bourgeois workers’ party, given its close connections with the trade union federation and other workers’ organizations. Furthermore, many pensioner members were previously workers. But it is clear that the party has substantially weakened its links with the working class and barely represents the working class in its composition, but rather the oldest and most-privileged (Beamte!) sectors of the working class as well as a sector of the lower middle class.


The situation is similar to that of the Spanish PSOE. The party has moved dramatically to the right and has for decades adhered to the neoliberal agenda. Its electoral support has halved since the beginning of the new historic period which began with the start of the Great Recession – dropping from 43.9% (2008) to 22.0% (2015) of the votes cast. The party’s constituency is dominated by “inactive” people (i.e., pensioners) who constitute 41.4% of its entire membership [5] (see Figure 4).



Figure 4: Distribution of Supporters of Political Parties in Spain, 2015 [6]





However, despite this decline and the progressive aging of its membership, a majority of them are from the working class. Also, the PSOE still maintains close relations with the UGT, one of the two major trade union federations in Spain. However, this close relationship helped bring the UGT leadership (together with the Stalinist-led CCOO union), to sign a “social pact” with the then PSOE-led government. This pact is more appropriately termed an “anti-social pact,” and included increasing the official retirement age from 65 to 67.


The French Socialist Party, too, is deeply in crisis, having been transformed into a neoliberal party long ago. This crisis has accelerated since President Hollande’s ascension to power in 2012. Under his leadership, the PSF has waged unprecedented attacks on democratic rights (an indefinite “state of emergency,” since November 2015; anti-democratic amendments to the constitution; thousands of raids against Muslim migrants, etc.). Furthermore, Hollande’s government has engaged in a series of imperialist wars in Mali, the Central African Republic, Iraq and Syria.


Unsurprisingly, these developments go hand in hand with the decline of the party. While it officially had a membership of 203,000 in 2009, this figure declined to about 120,000 in 2015. Since Hollande took power, 40,000 of the PSF’s members have left the party. [7]


No less important is the traditionally petty-bourgeois social composition of the PSF – a characteristic which doubtless has exacerbated in the last few years. According to the French political scientists Laurent Bouvet, only 16% of PSF members are workers and low-ranking wage earners as opposed to 35% who belong to higher management and the professions. The party’s membership is also strongly dominated by the relatively privileged public sector employees (58% of all members). Like all other social democratic parties, PSF members has a high average age (67% being above 50 years old). Furthermore, Bouvet reports: “It [the PSF’s electorate, Ed.] comprises mainly voters from the middle and upper strata and few from the working classes (especially from the social and occupational groups »employees« and »workers,« who represent more than 50 percent of the active population in France). Furthermore, the proportion of voters from the public sector is particularly significant in relation to their weight in the active population. [8]


Furthermore, nearly one quarter of all party members are elected representatives in municipal, regional, or national parliaments, governmental authorities, etc. [9]


The British Labour Party underwent a very similar development until the summer of last year (2015). When the Blair government took power in 1997, it abolished the party’s close links with the trade unions (albeit these links still do exist) and deleted the party program’s famous Clause 4 which declared the goal of nationalizing key sectors of British industry. Blair’s government implemented a neoliberal agenda and was a driving force in the imperialist war offensive in the Middle East. In fact, the “social democrat” Blair was the closest collaborator of US-President Bush and his militaristic, neo-conservative administration. Likewise the Labour Party has proven to be a loyal supporter of Israel and the latter’s colonial wars against the Palestinian people. Recently, despite the new left-reformist leadership of Corbyn, the party has started to expel Anti-Zionist members. [10]


Like in other countries, the Labour Party’s membership figures declined from about 400,000 individual members in 1997 to about 200,000 in 2015. However, with the successful campaign of the left-reformist Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn in summer 2015, this decline has been turned around. Despite open hostility by the pro-Blairite party establishment, Corbyn’s campaign was based on an anti-austerity and anti-militaristic platform which created huge enthusiasm among young people. In the space of a few months, the Labour Party’s “membership jumped from 201,293 on 6 May 2015, the day before the general election, to 388,407 on 10 January 2016.” [11]


This development is an important indicator that bourgeois workers’ parties, even after a long period of decline, can revive and be rejuvenated if newly-radicalized youth and workers see no alternative to them to politically express their desire for change. Labour’s membership comeback also demonstrates how wrong numerous centrists (like, for example, the CWI) were when they declared in the early 1990s that the Labour Party (and social democratic parties in general) are no longer bourgeois workers’ parties. We authentic Marxists have always rejected this assumption while, at the same time, having also consistently denounced the opportunistic adaption to Labourism and never-ending entryism as practiced by the CWI’s former comrades, the IMT of Ted Grant and Alan Woods.


While we are not aware of a concrete study of the party’s social composition, an internal report which was recently published contains some interesting conclusions. The British newspaper The Guardian reported about the findings of this report: “The report portrays a party in transition, attracting a higher proportion of new members from wealthy inner-city areas. While there has been a dramatic rise in members across the entire party, Labour’s traditional supporters from poorer parts of society are now a smaller proportion of the total membership. (…) But the report’s summary warns: ’Groups which are over-represented as Labour party members tend to be long-term homeowners from urban areas (particularly inner city area) who have high levels of disposable income.’ ’Those who are under-represented tend to be either young singles/families who rent properties on a short-term basis and require financial assistance or those who live in rural communities.’ (…) It points out that ‘high-status city dwellers living in central locations and pursuing careers with high rewards are highly over-represented.’ ’As a group they make up 4% of the general population in contrast to 11.2% of party membership,’ it says. [12]


Similar developments can be observed in the Austrian social democratic party and even more in the Irish Labour Party. The latter suffered an historic defeat in the 2016 elections after having participated in an aggressive pro-austerity government since 2011. It lost two third of its voters (dropping from 19.5% to 6.6% of the votes cast) and most of its parliamentary seats (from 37 to 7).


Finally, one should not forget the sad fate of the Socialist Party and the Communist Party in Italy. Both the PSI as well as the PCI simply dissolved themselves and fused with openly bourgeois parties.


The Stalinist and ex-Stalinist parties have faced a somewhat different fate, but they too are in crisis. With important exceptions, they have not participated in government coalitions and thus have avoided the same sharp decline in membership that the neoliberalized social democratic parties have experienced, because they could still present themselves as anti-austerity opposition parties which enabled them, to a certain degree, to attract workers and youth who were disgusted by social democracy. This, for example, was evinced with electoral rise of the Italian Partito della Rifondazione Comunista which split from the PCI when the latter dissolved. A similar manifestation occurred in Germany with the founding of LINKE after the ex-Stalinist PDS in Eastern Germany fused with the West German WASG, which had previously split off from the SPD. And in France, the Front de Gauche (FdG) – a fusion of the ex-Stalinist PCF and the Parti de Gauche, the latter having split from the PSF – experienced some electoral successes, as did the Spanish Izquierda Unida (which was initiated by the Stalinist PCE).


However, the respective successes of these ex-Stalinist parties – most of which are united in the Party of the European Left (PEL) – was not sustainable. In France, the PCF participated in the neoliberal PSF-led government of Lionel Jospin in 1997-2002 which implemented many privatization programs and took part in the NATO wars against Serbia and Afghanistan. The PCF was severely punished for this betrayal during the 2002 presidential election when its general secretary, Robert Hue, received only 3.37% of the vote, less than the centrist-Trotskyist candidates Arlette Laguiller (5.72%) and Olivier Besancenot (4.25%). Later, after the creation of the FdG, the PDF revived. But in the last several years, the FdG has been plagued by internal tensions and PdG leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon – the FdG’s candidate in the 2012 presidential elections who received 11.1% of the vote –is currently preparing a separate project.


In Germany, LINKE has continually been moving to the right. In the first decade of the new millennium, this party participated in a regional coalition government in Berlin with the SPD and was responsible for implementing various privatization programs. Some of its leaders openly supported Israel’s wars against Gaza in 2008/09 and subsequently. The party officially forbids its members to support solidarity activities with the Palestinian people in Gaza (like participating in the Freedom Flotilla) or supporting the boycott campaign against the apartheid State of Israel. [13] Locally, Sahra Wagenknecht, the chairwomen of the LINKE parliamentary group, recently stated that refugees in Germany are only “guests” and if they do not behave like “guests” and respect the German law, they should be expelled from the country! [14] LINKE’s obvious pandering to the ruling class in order to be accepted as a coalition partner is both embarrassing and disgraceful.


In passing, we note that the same pro-imperialist and pro-Zionist policy has being practiced for years by the LINKE’s sister party in Austria – the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ). As we have reported elsewhere, leading officials of the PEL and the KPÖ (as well as their Zionist pro-war allies) have for more than a decade repeatedly made public accusations against the RCIT – including in the bourgeois press – claiming that we espouse “Anti-Semitism,” “revolutionary insanity,” etc. [15]


Despite all their opportunism, or rather because of it, LINKE continues to lose members – dropping from 78,046 (2009) to 60,547 (2014). [16] In contrast to right-wing parties, it has proven itself completely incapable of profiting from the decline of social democracy and increasing unrest among the working class and youth.


The same is true for the Spanish IU. After some electoral successes, it suffered several defeats and has been overshadowed by the rise of the left-wing populist Podemos party. During the most recent, December 2015 elections, IU received only 3.7% of the vote. In addition to its working class base, IU somehow remarkably still counts among its supporters a significant sector of very professional, well-paid middle class individuals – the gauche divine, as the Spanish sociologist Jorge Galindo calls them. [17]


In Italy, Fausto Bertinotti’s PRC collapsed after it twice entered neoliberal governments and supported austerity attacks as well as the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. Since its collapse, the PRC has been unable to garner sufficient votes to pass the electoral threshold and thus currently has no seats in parliament.


Other Stalinist parties who remained outside of the PEL also face stagnation. Despite years of general strikes and political upheavals in Greece, the KKE has been unable to make any electoral advances, and draws an unimpressive 4-6% of the vote. Similarly, in Portugal the PCP, which runs together with the Green Party, has steadily maintained only 7-8.8% of the vote in all elections since 1991. None of these traditional reformist parties has proven itself capable of gaining in strength despite repeated waves of radicalization among the youth and workers, who instead have more readily been able to identify with newer formations (like SYRIZA or the Portuguese Bloco de Esquerda).


The decline of the traditional reformist parties has gone hand in hand with a substantial weakening of the trade unions. While an extensive study of the trade union movement is beyond the scope of this present document, we must nevertheless point to the fact that in the old imperialist countries (North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia), on the average trade unions have lost about half of their members since the 1980s. Trade union density in the OECD countries has decreased from 34% (1978) to 17.0% (2010). In France, the decline has been even more severe during the same period, membership having shrunken from 20.5% to 7.7%. In Germany, membership approximately halved from 35.5% to 18.1%, in Britain the drop was similar, from 48.8% to 25.8%, and in Italy, while the negative trend has been less precipitous, the reduction in trade union membership has gone from 50.4% to 37.3% (see Table 8).




Table 8: Trade Union Density (%) in Selected OECD Countries, 1978-2013 [18]


1978                       2013


Australia                              49.7%                    17.0%


France                                   20.5%                    7.7%


Germany                             35.5%                    18.1%


Italy                                       50.4%                    37.3%


Japan                                    32.6%                    17.8%


Britain                                  48.8%                    25.8%


USA                                       34,0%                    10.8%


OECD                                   34,0%                    18.1%




The bourgeoisification and decline of the reformist parties has not been confined to Europe alone, but has been witnessed in a number of important semi-colonial countries. In South Africa, the Stalinist SACP has undergone intense bourgeoisification. As part of the ANC, the SACP has been part of the government for more than two decades (1994). Today the party has five ministers and three deputy ministers in the coalition cabinet. Its thoroughly reactionary nature was shockingly revealed during the Marikana massacre of 2012 when the SACP leadership supported the killing of miners on strike. Later they sided with the collaborationist pro-government COSATU leadership against the more militant unions which coalesced around NUMSA. The SACP is a prime example of a party which formally adheres to the principles of “Marxism-Leninism” while in practice acts as a spearhead of capitalist counterrevolution. [19]


A similar example is the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) in Brazil. The PT emerged in the 1980s as a militant left-reformist workers’ party closely related with the radical trade union movement. However, it subsequently formed a popular-front coalition with bourgeois forces (like the PMDB) and has been in power since 2002. (This, of course, is liable to change in the upcoming weeks and months with the coup d’état engineered by right-wing forces – at this stage manifesting itself in the senate trial of the impeached president Dilma Rousseff). As a result of its bourgeoisification, PT increasingly acquiesced to neoliberal demands by pursuing austerity programs. The party is intimately connected with various prominent capitalist tycoons, and thus has unsurprisingly been involved in various corruption scandals. [20]


In India too, we have a good example of the bourgeoisification and decline of a reformist parties in the evolution of the Indian CPI(M). This party ruled West-Bengal, the fourth most populous states in the country, for 34 consecutive years (1977-2011). During this period, the party not only suppressed peasant rebellions but increasingly collaborated with imperialist monopolies. It dispossessed peasants whose land was handed over to multi-national corporations, while unleashing the police and its own party thugs against those who fought back. Unsurprisingly, on the backdrop of massive protests, the CPI(M) lost power in the elections of 2011. [21]


The Marxist Classics on the Labor Bureaucracy


All these developments are hardly surprising, because both the reformist parties as well as the trade unions are dominated by the conservative labor bureaucracy and their social base – the labor aristocracy, i.e., the upper strata of the working class which is extremely privileged and bribed by the bourgeoisie. Marxism characterizes the labor bureaucracy in their twin versions – in the reformist party as well as in the trade union – as agents of the ruling class inside the workers’ movement. The labor bureaucracy is inextricably linked with the capitalist state and the bourgeoisie via countless bonds (positions in parliaments, social security institutions, other state institutions, corporations, etc.) These privileges are based on the super-exploitation of oppressed peoples by the imperialist monopolies and constitute the objective economic sources from which the labor bureaucracy and labor aristocracy are bribed, and in this way tie them to the rule of the imperialist bourgeoisie.


Of course, since the working class forms the social base of the labor bureaucracy, the latter can come under pressure from below in periods of heightened class struggle. In such periods it can even be positioned at the top of a strike movement – or better, be dragged there – and half-heartedly implement reforms as a governmental party. However, it will always act with the purpose of undermining all forms of independent proletarian activity and liquidate any radical movement which could endanger the capitalist system.


The following quotes from Lenin and Trotsky demonstrate that this was the view of the Marxist classics. Hence, the leader of the Bolshevik stated in 1916: „… objectively the opportunists are a section of the petty bourgeoisie and of a certain strata of the working class who have been bribed out of imperialist superprofits and converted to watchdogs of capitalism and corruptors of the labour movement.“ [22]


In a preface for his book on imperialism, written in 1920, Lenin explained the economic basis of reformism and the role of its leaders:


Obviously, out of such enormous superprofits (since they are obtained over and above the profits which capitalists squeeze out of the workers of their "own" country) it is possible to bribe the labour leaders and the upper stratum of the labour aristocracy. And that is just what the capitalists of the "advanced" countries are doing: they are bribing them in a thousand different ways, direct and indirect, overt and covert. This stratum of workers-turned-bourgeois, or the labour aristocracy, who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook, is the principal prop of the Second International, and in our days, the principal social (not military) prop of the bourgeoisie. For they are the real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real vehicles of reformism and chauvinism. In the civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie they inevitably, and in no small numbers, take the side of the bourgeoisie, the "Versaillese" against the "Communards". Unless the economic roots of this phenomenon are understood and its political and social significance is appreciated, not a step can be taken toward the solution of the practical problem of the communist movement and of the impending social revolution.” [23]


And in another document Lenin stated: „Opportunism, or reformism, inevitably had to grow into a phenomenon of world-wide importance, socialist-imperialism, or social-chauvinism, because imperialism brought to the fore a handful of very rich, advanced nations, engaged in plundering the whole world, and thereby enabled the bourgeoisie of those countries, out of their monopolist superprofits (imperialism is monopoly capitalism), to bribe the upper strata of the working class. [24]


After Lenin’s death, Trotsky and his co-fighters continued the struggle for revolutionary Marxism. Based on the experience of reformism, and in particular its English version, Trotsky wrote:


The question of the source of this bureaucratic danger is no less important. (…) In the capitalist states, the most monstrous forms of bureaucratism are to be observed precisely in the trade unions. It is enough to look at America, England and Germany. Amsterdam is the most powerful international organisation of the trade union bureaucracy. It is thanks to it that the whole structure of capitalism now stands upright above all in Europe and especially in England. If there were not a bureaucracy of the trade unions, then the police, the army, the courts, the lords, the monarchy would appear before the proletarian masses as nothing but pitiful and ridiculous playthings. The bureaucracy of the trade unions is the backbone of British imperialism. It is by means of this bureaucracy that the bourgeoisie exists, not only in the metropolis, but in India, in Egypt, and in the other colonies. One would have to be completely blind to say to the English workers: “Be on guard against the conquest of power and always remember that your trade unions are the antidote to the dangers of the state.” The Marxist will say to the English workers: “The trade union bureaucracy is the chief Instrument, for your oppression by the bourgeois state. Power must be wrested from the hands of the bourgeoisie, and for that its principal agent, the trade union bureaucracy, must be overthrown.” Parenthetically, it is especially for this reason that the bloc of Stalin with the strikebreakers was so criminal.


From the example of England, one sees very clearly how absurd it is to counterpose, as if it were a question of two different principles, the trade union organisation and the state organisation. In England, more than anywhere else, the state rests upon the back of the working class which constitutes the overwhelming majority of the population of the country. The mechanism is such that the bureaucracy is based directly on the workers, and the state indirectly, through the intermediary of the trade union bureaucracy.


Up to now, we have not mentioned the Labour Party, which in England, the classic country of trade unions, is only a political transposition of the same trade union bureaucracy. The same leaders guide the trade unions, betray the general strike, lead the electoral campaign and later on sit in the ministries. The Labour Party and the trade unions – these are not two principles, they are only a technical division of labour. Together they are the fundamental support of the domination of the English bourgeoisie. The latter cannot be overthrown without overthrowing the Labourite bureaucracy. And that cannot be attained by counterposing the trade union as such to the state as such, but only by the active opposition of the Communist Party to the Labourite bureaucracy in all fields of social life: in the trade unions, in strikes, in the electoral campaign, in parliament, and in power.“ [25]


These conclusions have not lost their relevance. Quite the contrary, given the crisis of revolutionary leadership and the massive expansion of resources to bribe the labor bureaucracy and aristocracy through the intensification of the imperialist super-exploitation of oppressed peoples, these features have even substantially increased. We drew attention to this development already in the RCIT Program where we stated: “In this deep crisis of leadership - combined with the possibilities of the imperialist bourgeoisie for the systematic bribery of the labour bureaucracy and aristocracy - the ultimate cause can be found in the extraordinary bourgeoisification of the labour movement and the De-revolutionisation of Marxism, as is has been distorted by left reformism, centrism and the left-wing academics in recent decades. [26]


Furthermore, as we have repeatedly emphasized, the deepening of the capitalist crisis in the age of globalization and in particular in the present historic period of capitalist decay which commenced in 2008, have only accelerated this development. The capitalist crisis forces all governments to intensify the attacks on the working class and oppressed people and to accelerate the rivalry against other capitalist states. The ruling classes are forced to implement bigger and bigger austerity packages, to attack more and more democratic rights at home, to wage more and more colonial wars in the South, and to whip up chauvinism against imperialist rivals. As we stated above, the entire raison d'être of the labor bureaucracy is to be admitted by the bourgeoisie into the government and other areas of the state apparatus. For this reason, the reformists are forced (not too much against their will) to adapt to the policy of the ruling class which again is adapted to the objective needs of imperialist capitalism. Therefore it is unavoidable that social democracy and Stalinism become more and more bourgeois and reactionary.


Of course, this is not a unilateral process. Since reformism is a contradictory phenomenon – with the labor bureaucracy constituting a petty-bourgeois stratum serving the bourgeoisie but based on the upper strata of the working class – the class contradictions in the society leave their mark on reformism too. Hence under specific circumstances, reformism can again temporarily swing to the left, albeit mainly in words but hardly in deeds (as we currently observe in Corbyn’s Labour Party).


However, in such a period the possibilities substantially increase that the accelerated contradictions between the classes and the radicalization of the working class and the youth lead to either splits in the reformist parties and / or the emergence of new reformist or petty-bourgeois left-wing populist formations. This is exactly what we have seen in the recent years.


The Rise of New Reformist Parties and Petty-Bourgeois Populism


Latin America clearly was the most important region in which petty-bourgeois populist formations dramatically grew during recent years. This rise took place after two decades of unchecked neoliberal offensives by the imperialist monopolies and their local bourgeois governments, with devastating consequences for the workers, peasants and urban poor. [27]


As a result this has led to a substantial weakening of the trade unions, with the important exception of Brazil, in the 1980s and 1990s as we see in Table 9.




Table 9: Trade Union Density in Latin America [28]


Country                                                1982                       1998                       Change                  Percent Change


Argentina                                            42                           22                           –20                         –47


Bolivia                                                  25                           9                              –16                         –65


Peru                                                       21                           6                              –15                         –73


Venezuela                                            26                           14                           –12                         –47


Uruguay                                               21                           12                           –9                           –43


Colombia                                             9                              6                              –3                           –36


Mexico                                                  25                           22                           –3                           –11


Honduras                                            8                              6                              –2                           –30


Ecuador                                                11                           9                              –2                           –21


Costa Rica                                           13                           12                           –1                           –9


Chile                                                      12                           13                           1                              8


El Salvador                                          4                              5                              1                              28


Dominican Republic                        12                           14                           2                              19


Brazil                                                    15                           24                           9                              57




However, with the turn of the millennium, Latin America experienced a sharp upswing in class struggle. At the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, the popular masses in Argentina rose up in a spontaneous rebellion against the neoliberal government of Fernando de la Rúa. These “revolutionary days” or “Argentinazo” resulted in the overthrow of four presidents in only one week! Furthermore popular assemblies were created in Buenos Aires and other cities, and a number of factories abandoned by capitalists were occupied and run by workers. [29]


Likewise, the workers and poor in Bolivia heroically rebelled against reactionary liberal governments resulting in a series of strikes and uprisings in 2003-05. [30]


Venezuela already witnessed the heroic popular uprising against the IMF-dictated austerity program in February and March 1989 which resulted in a brutal crackdown by the government in which about 2,000 people killed (“Caracazo”).


Given the lack of revolutionary leadership these mass protests resulted in the strengthening of existing left-reformist or populist formations.


In 1998, Hugo Chavez won the presidential election after he transformed his underground organization MBR-200 into an open political party (Movimiento V [Quinta] República, MVR). Chavez successfully built the MVR as a mass party rooted among the urban poor. For this he utilized the so-called Circulos Bolivarianos which spontaneously emerged in 2000 and which were a kind of community groups which addressed issues such as health and education. Each circle had 7-11 members. After some time the party officially had 200,000 circles (as the branches were called) and 2.2 million members (in a country of 30 million people!). These figures may have been inflated, but beyond doubt the MVR had built a significant social base among the popular masses. However, the populist leadership under Chavez never actually wanted that these Circulos become real organs of power (like the soviets in Russia 1917), but rather that they should remain pressure-groups to increase the influence of the party among the masses and fight back against the counter-revolutionary mobilizations of the right-wing opposition. They proved particularly valuable during the mass demonstrations against the failed reactionary coup d’état in April 2002. [31]


In Bolivia, Evo Morales built a party which was later named Movimiento al Socialismo–Instrumento Político por la Soberanía de los Pueblos (Movement for Socialism–Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples, MAS-IPSP). This was a radical petty-bourgeois populist party based strongly on the coca growing peasants and the indigenous people. Among its founding member organizations were the largest peasant federation – the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB) – as well as another peasant union (the Confederación Sindical de Colonizadores de Bolivia). The party also created close links with the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia, a mass movement representing the indigenous peoples. (The indigenous peoples together constitute 59% of the Bolivian population and, historically, have been severely discriminated against by the white minority.)


Later the MAS-IPSP also succeeded in getting the support of important workers’ and popular organizations like the Regional Workers Centre (COR) from El Alto, the rural teachers federation and Fencomin which represents the mining cooperatives (founded by former miners who played a crucial role in all revolutionary events in Bolivia since the 1940s, but which were crushed after an heroic uprising in 1985).


In Brazil, as already stated above, the PT could tremendously strengthen itself. From 1988 onwards it won a number of local and regional elections. In 2002 its leader, Lula da Silva, won the presidential elections and formed a popular-front government.


Similar developments took place in other Latin American countries. In Argentina, a progressive, bourgeois-populist force which emerged out of the Peronist movement coalesced around the Néstor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. First Néstor and later Cristina Fernández de Kirchner headed the country as president from 2003 until 2015. Kirchnerism succeeded in incorporating numerous popular organizations which had emerged during the Argentinazo in 2001/02.


Likewise, in Ecuador we saw the Alianza Patria Altiva y Soberana (PAIS, Proud and Sovereign Fatherland) led by Rafael Correa who became president of the country in 2007. This alliance combines a nationalist program with socialist rhetoric and social reforms. PAIS has an official membership of 1.5 million people (in a country of 16 million people!)


In their first phase, most of these political movements can be characterized as progressive petty-bourgeois populist forces. (Exceptions are Kirchernism in Argentina, given the decades-long bourgeois-populist character of the Peronist movement which spawned it, and the Brazilian PT which was founded as a workers’ party.) These progressive populist forces formations were not workers’ organizations, since their main base was not in mass working class organizations (like the trade unions, etc., or key parties like the Stalinists); neither were they bourgeois parties, as their emerged out of radical mass mobilizations and struggles against the bourgeoisie. Rather they were dominated by petty-bourgeois forces (poor peasants, the lower urban middle class, etc.) which were dramatically affected by the devastating consequences of capitalist globalization. Furthermore, in many cases they succeeded in gaining the support of important sectors of the working class including trade unions. For all these reasons we characterize these parties, in their first phase, as progressive petty-bourgeois populist forces which had strong roots among the popular masses.


However, as Marxists know, in the long run petty-bourgeois parties cannot play an independent role. They have to follow either the working class – represented by a revolutionary mass party – or the bourgeoisie. The temporary coalition government of the Bolsheviks with the Left S.R. from October 1917 until the summer of 1918 is an example of the first case. However, if there is no Bolshevik-like party, sooner or later the petty-bourgeois parties align themselves with sectors of the bourgeoisie and imperialism.


Trotsky summarized this historic lesson in his book on the permanent revolution:


[N]o matter how great the revolutionary role of the peasantry may be, it nevertheless cannot be an independent role and even less a leading one. The peasant follows either the worker or the bourgeois. (…) A democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, as a regime that is distinguished from the dictatorship of the proletariat by its class content, might be realized only in a case where an independent revolutionary party could be constituted, expressing the interests of the peasants and in general of petty bourgeois democracy – a party capable of conquering power with this or that degree of aid from the proletariat, and of determining its revolutionary programme. As all modern history attests – especially the Russian experience of the last twenty-five years – an insurmountable obstacle on the road to the creation of a peasants’ party is the petty-bourgeoisie’s lack of economic and political independence and its deep internal differentiation. By reason of this the upper sections of the petty-bourgeoisie (of the peasantry) go along with the big bourgeoisie in all decisive cases, especially in war and in revolution; the lower sections go along with the proletariat; the intermediate section being thus compelled to choose between the two extreme poles. Between Kerenskyism and the Bolshevik power, between the Kuomintang and the dictatorship of the proletariat, there is not and cannot be any intermediate stage, that is, no democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants. [32]


Indeed, in Russia we could see that first the Mensheviks and the right wing of the S.R. aligned themselves with the White counterrevolutions after the October uprising. Later, they were joined by the left S.R. after the latter broke with the Bolsheviks in the summer of 1918.


This experience has been repeated numerous times. For example, with the end of the 1911-1917 civil war which broke out following the Mexican Revolution, the new regime kept the capitalist relations of production and consolidated the power of the bourgeoisie (albeit with some reforms and a different political regime). [33]


A similar development took place in Bolivia after the revolution of 1952 brought the MNR to power with the help of the working class – in particular the miners. While many mines were nationalized and some land reforms took place, the bourgeoisie could again consolidate its power under the regime of the MNR which ruled until 1964. [34]


It is crucial to understand that, once they take power, petty-bourgeois populist parties are invariably forced to transform their character since they must find a stable social base from which they can consolidate their power. In other words, they have to align themselves with one of the main social classes in society, i.e. the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. Under the conditions of capitalism, taking power usually mean that a radical petty-bourgeois populist party has to create close bonds with sectors of the bourgeoisie. Since the party does not aim to abolish capitalism, the bourgeoisie invariably retain their economic and social power as the ruling class. Furthermore, the capitalist state apparatus – i.e., the bureaucracy of the army, police, legal authority, public administration, etc. – is kept in place, which also plays an important factor in integrating and bourgeoisifying a populist party which recently took power. In short, all petty-bourgeois populist parties which take over the government in a capitalist system eventually build links with sectors of the bourgeoisie and one imperialist power or another. In this way they become popular-front bourgeois parties.


Of course, we cannot exclude here the possibility for exceptions. One important such exception was Castro’s Movimiento 26 de Julio which took power in Cuba in January 1959 and which was later forced – under the pressure both of US imperialism and the revolutionary upheaval of the workers and peasants – to go much farther then it initially planned. As we have elaborated elsewhere, [35] as a result of these developments, the Castroites established a bureaucratic anti-capitalist workers’ government in the summer of 1960, which in turn led to the creation of a degenerated workers’ state in Cuba. But here again, while the Castroites expropriated the bourgeoisie in the economic field, the also expropriated the working class in the political field.


Such an exception was already foreseen by Trotsky himself as he wrote in the Transitional Program:


Is the creation of such a government by the traditional workers’ organizations possible? Past experience shows, as has already been stated, that this is, to say the least, highly improbable. However, one cannot categorically deny in advance the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.), the petty bourgeois parties, including the Stalinists, may go further than they wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie. In any case one thing is not to be doubted: even if this highly improbable variant somewhere at some time becomes a reality and the “workers’ and farmers’ government” in the above-mentioned sense is established in fact, it would represent merely a short episode on the road to the actual dictatorship of the proletariat. [36]


However, as we have already said, usually the petty-bourgeois populist party in power eventually becomes a bourgeois populist party, as it fuses with the bourgeois state apparatus and with a sector of the capitalist class. In cases where it undertakes substantial nationalizations, it may also create a new sector of the capitalist class – a class of state-capitalist managers and associated businessmen. This has been the case in countries like Mexico, Iran or, more recently, Venezuela.


Through such a process, such a party becomes a popular front because it combines sectors of both the capitalist class as well as of the popular masses. Likewise, in power such a populist party will establish relations with one imperialist power or another. For example, the Mexican predecessor organizations of the PRI under Plutarco Calles and Lázaro Cárdenas tried to get the support of US imperialism against the British. So did the Peruvian APRA. Another example is the attempt of Indian nationalists under Subhas Chandra Bose who, while not in power, aligned with the German and Japanese imperialists in order to liberate India from the British.


A similar process took place in Latin America during the past decade. The petty-bourgeois populists – also dubbed “Castro-Chavistas” – defended capitalist property relations after coming to power. While they introduced several political, economic and social reforms under the massive pressure of the popular masses (including nationalization or reform of some key enterprises like the oil industry), they didn’t touch the economic base of the capitalist class as such – their private property in the industrial, service and financial sectors. Nor did the Castro-Chavistas fundamentally change the apparatus of the state. Of course they replaced a number of key figures, but the bureaucratic caste as a whole with its tens of thousands of state officials, remained in place.


This meant that the old ruling class, while allowing the new populist forces to take over the government, could essentially keep its wealth and its economic base. Consequently, when the populists in power lose much of their popular support, the old ruling class is still in possession of all the resources they need to easily remove them from power.


Furthermore, the Castro-Chavistas channeled the revolutionary energy of the popular masses towards passive support in elections or – in emergency situations – used them for temporary and controlled mass mobilizations against the counter-revolutionary forces (as, for example, happened in Venezuela in April 2002 when their was an attempted coup against the regime of Chavez).


In fact, Chavez, Morales, Correa, etc. have altered the concrete configuration of the capitalist system by expanding the state-capitalist sector (similar to a number of Western European capitalist countries after World War II). In this way they formed close relations with the Boliburguesía, as the Bolivarian capitalists are called in Venezuela. [37]


The stint of the Castro-Chavistas in power also enabled them to expand social benefits for the popular masses (like the Misiones Bolivarianas in Venezuela or the Bolsa Família in Brazil). This was, however, only possible because of exceptional and temporary circumstances. During the first decade of the new millennium, various Latin American countries reaped tremendous economic gains from the global rise of prices of raw materials – in particular oil and gas, but also soya in the case of Argentina and lithium in the case of Bolivia.


In addition, the rise of China as a new great power rivaling US imperialism – which traditionally dominated Latin America – granted the Castro-Chavista governments some room to maneuver and withstand the pressure of US imperialism and the IMF. As a result, China has become one of the largest trading partners of and investors in Latin America. [38]


However, the decline of the world economy has led to a fall in export commodity prices – in particular for oil and soya (see Figure 5) – with disastrous effects on the liquidity of the Castro-Chavista governments and their ability to fund the social benefits they previously instituted.



Figure 5: Price Indices of Selected Groups of Commodities, August 2013–September 2015 [39]






It is precisely on this backdrop that we have witnessed the exacerbating crisis and decline of the various populist or popular front governments in Latin America since 2015. These circumstances have has already resulted in the Macri victory in Argentina, the impeachment process against Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, and the MUD victory at the last elections in Venezuela. [40]


In Cuba, the Stalinist Castro leadership has opening led the country towards capitalism, with massive layoffs of workers in state industries and the opening of its economy to Chinese, US and other foreign corporations. [41]


This is hardly a surprising development, as the Castro-Chavistas never even attempted to expropriate the capitalist class. As a result, they were invariably unable to overcome the fundamental causes of poverty and unemployment. They were able to temporary mitigate the consequences of the fundamental economic contradictions in their countries by taking advantage of the raw material price boom. But when this boom ended, the social reforms had to stop and the Castro-Chavistas, having already demoralized their supporters during many years of bureaucratically-imposed political passivity, have now themselves started to implement austerity policies.


Historically, the ideological origins of Bolivarian populism can be traced back to the Russian S.R. party which similarly sought to define a theoretical hodgepodge composed of the working class, the peasantry and the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia as a single unity they called the "revolutionary people." The S.R., and Bolivarian populism in its wake, rejected the strict division of these social forces into distinct classes, with the working class being the only consistently revolutionary force and the other social layers constituting its allies. [42]


However, despite the current crisis of the Castro-Chavista regimes, it is important to indicate that these petty-bourgeois populist parties both still exist and continue to exert massive influence on the workers and oppressed. Secondly, as long as there is no mass-based revolutionary party as an alternative, a revival of these petty-bourgeois populist parties can by no means be precluded, let alone the emergence of some new influential petty-bourgeois populist parties.


As we have stated in our Theses on the United Front Tactic and in various other documents, the emergence of petty-bourgeois populist forces is by no means limited to Latin American. We need only cite Julius Malema‘s EFF in South Africa; various Islamist-type petty-bourgeois populist forces like Hamas, Dr. al-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT, Pakistan People's Movement), and the Houthis in Yemen; and various democratic nationalist or Islamist rebel organizations in Syria, Libya, and Egypt.


Similarly, various petty-bourgeois populist forces of the nationalist-type have played leading roles in the national liberation struggle of oppressed peoples in the semi-colonial world as well as in some imperialist countries. Until its defeat and demise in 2009, the LTTE (“Tamil Tigers”) in Sri Lanka was a prominent example of this, as were various petty-bourgeois nationalist forces in Kashmir and Balochistan (Pakistan). The Sinn Fein/IRA in Northern Ireland, before its 1998 capitulation, is another example. Herri Batasuna in the Basque Country and Candidatura d'Unitat Popular in Catalonia are also important progressive petty-bourgeois nationalist forces active within the Spanish state.


Recently Sinn Fein, which has for a long time been an opposition party in the Republic of Ireland, has significantly increased its influence by playing a leading role in the Right2Water campaign, which has become the largest social movement in Ireland for decades in its struggle against the imposing of water fees by the government as part of its austerity program to make ordinary citizen pay for the crisis of the banks. In the latest election (2016), Sinn Fein received 13.8% of the votes cast becoming the third-biggest party in Ireland’s parliament.


Yet another example of a specific type of petty-bourgeois populist party in an imperialist country is the Respect Party in Britain. Its most prominent leader is George Galloway, a long time MP from the left wing of the Labour Party. Galloway has been playing a prominent role in the movement against the imperialist wars in the Middle East and in solidarity with the Palestinian people. (However, he has also taken reactionary positions as, for example, his support for the Assad dictatorship against the Syrian Revolution and his collaboration with the right-wing racist UKIP party in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU). After Galloway’s 2003 expulsion from the Blairite Labour Party for his opposition to the imperialist war in Iraq, he founded Respect together with the centrist SWP and with the support of a number of Muslim migrant organizations. This amalgamation was the result of the anti-war movement in which Muslim migrant organizations played a major role. While Respect never succeeded in building a stable organized mass constituency, it has nevertheless been able to achieve some electoral successes, most prominently Galloway’s two elections to parliament (first in Bethnal Green and Bow 2005–10 and later in Bradford West 2012–15). These two successes were almost entirely based on the support of Muslim migrant communities who had previously supported the Labour Party, but who had broken with it given Labour’s submissive support for British participation in the imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and the rise of Islamophobic racism in Britain itself. There is no question that these Muslim migrant communities were politically dominated by a small, petty-bourgeois layer of small businessmen, doctors, religious leaders, etc. However, this does not change the fact that Respect has for some time become a political expression of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist protest of migrants.


There are also numerous petty-bourgeois populist organizations of migrants in other imperialist countries, as well as among the oppressed black and Latino minorities in the USA.


Of particular importance for revolutionaries are those developments in the working class which led to the formation of new workers’ parties. Naturally, revolutionaries advocate such a process, because it helps the workers’ vanguard to become politically independent both of bourgeois or petty-bourgeois parties on the one side or of rotten bureaucraticised bourgeois workers’ parties on the other. The most spectacular examples of new parties e