Marxism and the United Front Tactic Today: Chapter VI

VI.          Traditional Reformist Parties, New Workers Party and Electoral Tactics


In this chapter we will deal with the tactics of fighting for a new workers’ party – both in countries where no labor party exists at all as well as in countries in which one or more reformist workers’ parties already do exist. We will discuss the conditions under which revolutionaries can advance such slogans. Furthermore, we discuss the electoral tactics towards the traditional reformist parties – i.e., social democrat and Stalinist – under the present conditions.


Fighting for the New Workers’ Party (or “Labor Party”) in the Present Period


Concerning the New Workers’ Party tactic we wrote in our theses:


In countries, where no bourgeois workers’ party (not even a reformist one) exists or where the existing bourgeois workers’ parties are already so degenerated that they repel the workers’ vanguard, revolutionaries call upon the workers’ vanguard and mass organizations to found a new workers’ party (or “Labor Party”). Here, too, interim stages are conceivable. Revolutionaries might support alliances towards such a goal or the foundation of new organizations of oppressed layers (e.g., migrant organizations) which could also stand at elections.”


We have explained that the call for a Labor Party is a special application of the united front tactic used by small communist forces in countries where a mass bourgeois workers’ party does not exist. In such countries revolutionaries call on larger working class formations (e.g., trade unions) to enter the political field by forming independent workers’ parties. Such a party must be entirely independent of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois parties. In the USA, for example, we call on the trade unions to break with the Democratic Party and to found a Labor Party. The same tactic is applicable in Argentina towards the Peronist-dominated unions, or to the CTA in South Africa, where COSATU is bound to the popular front ANC government. It is also applicable in Egypt, where the independent trade unions are subordinated to bourgeois politicians. Basically, this tactic is applicable for the majority of the countries in the world.


Such a labor party must not refrain from running in elections against bourgeois and petit-bourgeois parties. Revolutionaries should fight against the “natural” tendency of opportunist labor leaders to hesitate and avoid confronting such parties on the electoral field.


In periods of intensified working class struggle, this tactic can be successful as, to a certain extent, we have seen in recent years in South Africa. Here NUMSA, the largest single trade union, split with COSATU after the latter continued to support the government despite the Marikana massacre and the government’s austerity policy. Subsequently NUMSA leaders founded the “United Front,” which while a political movement is still not a party running in elections.


Another example of such a labor party is the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil which was founded and led by Lula in the late 1970s in the period of the military dictatorship. However, it later degenerated into a reformist party.


The call for a New Workers’ Party (or “Labor Party”) is always an appropriate tactic in such countries where no workers’ party exists. Naturally, there will be more opportunities to apply it as agitation during periods of intensified working class struggle. In other words, it will be a particular relevant tactic in the coming period, given the acceleration of the political, economic and social contradictions in the historic period which began in 2008.


Revolutionaries fight against the danger of a reformist degeneration of such a new workers’ party. They do so by advocating a revolutionary program, i.e., a full transitional program as the program of this party. They will build a revolutionary tendency within such a party which will fight for the leadership of the party by exposing the betrayal of the reformists and the centrists in actual struggles. This can be done by putting forward a number of appropriate minimum and transitional demands which unify and mobilize the workers and the oppressed against the capitalist class enemy. On such a basis, revolutionaries should use the tactic of the united font with other forces against the common enemy according to the principle "march separately, strike together."


However, revolutionaries must not be ultimatimists. In other words, they don’t enter such a labor party, present their program and if rejected immediately leave the party. Such a sectarian tactic would only be in the service of reformist forces trying to control such a party. Communists must attempt to win over rank and file workers and youth and left-wing forces within the party by proposing concrete campaigns which help to advance the class struggle and the political development of the party in a militant, socialist direction.


Of course, sooner or later the party will stand at a crossroads: either it will develop into a revolutionary direction and become a truly socialist party or it will degenerate bureaucratically and be transformed into a reformist force. When revolutionaries prove too weak to halt the reformist degeneration of such a party, they will be obliged to split.


While the labor party tactic was originally developed for countries in which there no reformist workers’ party, today it can also be applied in countries where such a party exists. Why? The answer lies in the massive degeneration of the traditional reformist parties in recent years. As we outlined above, the period of neoliberal globalization has accelerated the degeneration of the social democratic and Stalinist parties. It has pushed them to the right; it has intensified the links between the bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie; it has increased the influence of the middle class and weakened the links with the working class.


Similarly, there has been a substantial bourgeoisification of the ex-Stalinist parties too. On the one hand this process has not developed as rapidly as in their social democratic twins. The reason for this is simply that they have, to a far lesser degree, been integrated in the executive of the capitalist state, i.e., they have been less often part of governments. On the other hand, a number of these parties also had fewer roots in the working class. In any case, in recent years we were witness to the increasing influence of the petty-bourgeois intellectuals in these parties (e.g., the Transform network of the Party of the European Left)


This does not mean, in most cases, that these parties have ceased to be bourgeois workers’ parties. However, while it is true that most of them are dominated by a bureaucracy with close links to businessmen and managers, they nevertheless still retain important links to the working class, mostly via their close relationships with trade unions. Marxists must undertake a concrete examination of each such traditional reformist party and, in each case, judge whether or not they have crossed the Rubicon and thereby have ceased to be bourgeois workers’ parties, and have thus been transformed into openly-bourgeois parties or, more precisely, popular front parties.


For example, in Europe the slogan calling for a new workers’ party is particularly relevant for Italy. The transformation of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) into the Partito Democratico is an example of such a development. In this case, the PCI transformed itself in the early 1990s first into the Democratici di Sinistra (Democrats of the Left) and later the Partito Democratico, via its fusion with other, openly-bourgeois parties. This is a classic case of regression from being a bourgeois workers’ party into a popular frontist or openly bourgeois party. While initially a left-reformist party existed in the form of the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista led by Fausto Bertinotti (its split when the PCI transformed it into a popular front party), this party entirely discredited by its participation in neoliberal governments, and consequently failed to get a single seat in parliament in the last elections.


However, opposite trends cannot be excluded – at least temporarily. Under certain circumstances such parties can even experience an initial rejuvenation (see, for example, the British Labour Party under Corbyn). [1] Nevertheless, the “neoliberalization“ of social democracy incites the breaking away from it of significant sectors of the workers’ vanguard and the proletarian masses. However, at the same time, the consciousness of these proletarian sectors is not sufficiently advanced to join a revolutionary organization. In such cases, revolutionaries must apply the New Workers’ Party tactic, directing a call to found a new workers’ party to those sectors of the vanguard and the working class who are ready to break with traditional reformist parties, but still do not have a revolutionary class consciousness. The principles of this tactic are the same as with the Labor Party tactic.


Such a tactic should not be confused with the opportunistic tactic of adopted by various left-reformists and centrists who advocate the formation of a pluralistic reformist party. Of course it is likely that, in the first phase, there will be reformist, centrist as well as revolutionary tendencies within such a new party. Bolshevik-Communists are not sectarian and don’t fear the application of the united front tactic under such circumstances.


But centrists consider such a party as a solution, a permanent model of a “pluralist left party.” They believe that this type of party can exist for an extended period of time. As a result, they don’t advocate a revolutionary program of struggle but “realistically” propose a left-reformist program. Rather than fight against the emerging reformist bureaucrats, they cooperate or “peacefully co-exist” with them.


In contrast to such an opportunistic approach, as Bolshevik-Communists, we would work inside such a party while openly advocating our independent program. While cooperating with other forces within the party, we would uncompromisingly fight against reformist and centrist tendencies. We would try to patiently convince the majority of the party to adopt a revolutionary perspective. If this fails and the party degenerates into an ossified reformist formation, revolutionaries would draw the conclusions and split from such the party, taking with us all amenable militant workers and oppressed, and found an authentic revolutionary party.


The present period characterized by the decay of traditional reformist parties is fertile ground for Marxists to advocate the slogan for new workers’ parties, taking advantage of the growing desire of significant sectors of the proletariat for a new alterative to these neoliberalized parties. Agitating for such a new alternative by no means involves ignoring those sectors of the vanguard and the working class who are still attached to the traditional reformist parties. But there can be no doubt that, in the current period of upheaval, revolutionaries have to outline a perspective that points forward in the forming of a new workers’ party and a new workers’ international.


The significant rise and growth in recent years of new political formations which base themselves on reformist or populist critiques of neoliberal capitalism and advocate the rights of workers specifically and popular democratic rights in general is ample justification for the RCIT’s tactic calling for the formation of new workers’ parties. Examples of this trend is the tremendous growth of SYRIZA in Greece, the electoral successes of centrist forces as well as Sinn Fein at the elections in Ireland, and the spectacular growth of Podemos founded only two years ago. While, in the formal sense, SYRIZA and Sinn Fein are not new parties, in recent years they have only constituted small forces but have now begun to grow because of the decay of the traditional reformist parties.


Of course, as we have indicated above, no one should have any illusions about these new reformist or populist parties. Ultimately they will betray the working class and the oppressed either when they have the opportunity to enter a government or when they play the leading role in a mass struggle. It is for this reason that revolutionaries must warn the masses in advance about the true nature of the leaderships of these parties. But at the same time, Marxists must not ignore the politicization and radicalization of sectors of the working class and the youth which currently find their expressions in support for these new parties. Any sectarian abstentionism against this process would only guarantee the isolation of revolutionaries. This is why critical electoral support for such parties, in addition to entryism under certain circumstances, can be a legitimate instrument for Marxists in the current period.


Engels, Lenin and Trotsky on the Labor Party Tactic


The Labor Party tactic was first developed by Marx and Engels. As is well know, in the late 19th century there were countries in which the growth of the trade union movement did not go hand in hand with the formation of independent workers’ party. [2] The most prominent cases were Britain and the USA. In Britain the trade unions entered into a political alliance with the openly-bourgeois Liberal Party. Only after decades did they break with the Liberals and turn to independent political representation. First, they founded the reformist Labour Representation Committee in 1900 and then, in 1906, they established the Labour Party.


Marx and Engels argued that it is essential for the working class to overcome its political subordination to the parties of the bourgeoisie and to constitute their own parties. Doing so would constitute an important step in their development of a political class consciousness. Hence, Marx and Engels supported every practical step towards the formation of an independent workers’ party, even when this process was fraught with reformist illusions in the minds of many participants.


In 1886 this is what Engels wrote in a letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge:


The worst aspect of the Knights Of Labor is their political neutrality whose only result is the sharp practice of the Powderlys, etc. But this last has had its sting drawn by the response of the masses in the November elections, more especially in New York. In a country that has newly entered the movement, the first really crucial step is the formation by the workers of an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is distinguishable as a labour party. And this step has been taken far sooner than we might have expected, and that's the main thing. That the first programme of this party should still be muddle-headed and extremely inadequate, that it should have picked Henry George for its figurehead, are unavoidable if merely transitory evils. The masses must have the time and the opportunity to evolve; and they will not get that opportunity until they have a movement of their own — no matter what its form, providing it is their own movement — in which they are impelled onwards by their own mistakes and learn by bitter experience. [3]


Later Lenin and the Communist International generalized this tactic. Lenin himself wrote in 1907:


Engels stressed the importance of an independent workers’ party, even with a poor programme, because he was speaking of countries where there had formerly been not even a hint of the workers’ political independence and where, in politics, the workers mostly dragged along behind the bourgeoisie, and still do. [4]


Later, after the foundation of the Communist International, Lenin wanted to further generalize this tactic. At the Second World Congress in 1920 he met with the US representative, Louis C. Fraina, and asked him his opinion about the applicability of the labor tactic in the USA. However, Fraina rejected the idea and Lenin did not push this matter. [5] However, Lenin saw to it that the Comintern would continue to discuss this issue. He raised it again in discussions around the Third Congress in 1921 and, by 1922, the Comintern and the American Party – now renamed the Workers’ Party after the name “Communist Party” had been declared illegal in America – adopted the labor party as the specific form of the united front in the USA. [6]


This correct approach was explained the same year in a pamphlet – “For a Labor Party” – published by the Workers’ Party and written by the Comintern representative in the US, John Pepper. It outlined the Comintern position on this issue. It called for the AFL – the US trade union federation – to build such a Labor Party:


The December Conference owes it to the American Labor movement to create a big independent political party of the workers, the Labor Party. If this Labor Party is to grow, it must be built on the trade unions. If the new Labor Party is not to sink into a swamp without any principles, it must admit the left wing of the working class, the Communistic Workers Party and the Proletarian Party. The Labor Party must adopt a class-conscious program. A program not considering the interests of the capitalists, but only the interests of the workers. A program clearly seeing the goal: the abolition of wage slavery the establishment of a workers' republic and a collectivist system of production. Sooner or later, a Labor Party will inevitably adopt such a program. It should do so at the moment of its birth. [7]


However, against the backdrop of the Stalinist degeneration of the Comintern, Pepper and the Workers’ Party’s leadership would soon replace the principled application of the labor party tactic with an opportunist tactic of building a cross-class Farmer and Labor Party. This experiment ended in a complete failure. [8]


Later, Trotsky would develop the labor party tactic into its most refined revolutionary form. In a discussion with leaders of the SWP – the US-American Trotskyist party – Trotsky explained what he considered the correct approach on the labor party question.


Question: How do you reconcile this with the original statement that we cannot advocate the organization of a reformist labor party? I would like to get clear in my mind what concretely does our comrade do when his trade union is affiliated to the LNPL and he is sent as a delegate to the labor party. There the question comes up of what to do in the elections and it is proposed: “Let us support LaGuardia.” (This was a Republican congressman and later mayor of New York City in 1917-45, Ed.) Concretely, how does the matter present itself to our comrades?


Trotsky: Here we are in a trade union meeting to discuss the affiliation to the LNPL. I will say in the trade union: First, the unification of the unions on a political plan is a progressive step. There is a danger that it will fall into the the hands of our enemies. I therefore propose two measures: 1) That we have only workers and farmers as our representatives; that we do not depend on so-called parliamentary friends; 2) That our representatives follow out our program, this program. We then map out concrete plans concerning unemployment, military budget, etc. Then I say, if you propose me as a candidate, you know my program. If you send me as your representative, I will fight for this program in the LNPL, in the labor party. When the LNPL makes a decision to vote for LaGuardia, I either resign with protest, or protest and remain: “I can’t vote for La Guardia. I have my mandate.” We get large new possibilities for propaganda ...


The dissolution of our organization is absolutely excluded. We make absolutely clear that we have our organization, our press, etc., etc. It is a question of the relationship of forces. Comrade Dunne says we cannot yet advocate in the unions support for the SWP. Why? Because we are too weak. And we can’t say to the workers: Wait till we become more authoritative, more powerful. We must intervene in the movement as it is ...


Question: If there were no movement for a labor party and we would be opposed to the creation of one, how does that affect the program itself – it would still be our transition program. I don’t understand when you say we can’t advocate a reformist party but we do advocate and become champions of labor-party movements for the purpose of imposing the workers’ will politically.


Trotsky: It would be absurd to say that we advocate a reformist party. We can say to the leaders of the LNPL: “You’re making of this movement a purely opportunistic appendage to the Democrats.” It’s a question of a pedagogical approach. How can we say that we advocate the creation of a reformist party? We say, you cannot impose your will through a reformist party but only through a revolutionary party. The Stalinists and liberals wish to make of this movement a reformist party but we have our program, we make of this a revolutionary…


Question: How can you explain a revolutionary labor party? We say: The SWP is the only revolutionary party, has the only revolutionary program. How then can you explain to the workers that also the labor party is a revolutionary party?


Trotsky: I will not say that the labor party is a revolutionary party, but that we will do everything to make it possible. At every meeting I will say: I am a representative of the SWP. I consider it the only revolutionary party. But I am not a sectarian. You are trying now to create a big workers’ party. I will help you but I propose that you consider a program for this party. I make such and such propositions. I begin with this. Under these conditions it would be a big step forward. Why not say openly what is? Without any camouflage, without any diplomacy. [9]


The Traditional Reformist Parties and Electoral Tactics Today


As we have outlined in our United Front Theses, the RCIT has always supported the tactic of critical electoral support for reformist parties as developed by Lenin and Trotsky. We have repeatedly explained that, where communist forces are very small, they should advocate the tactic of critical support for parties of the working class and the oppressed in their relations with the non-communist masses.


Our method of critical support implies raising a program of immediate and certain transitional demands which address the most burning needs of the masses. The purpose is to mobilize workers in the struggle and force a reformist party to take this or that act in the interests of workers. Such demands must always be combined with slogans for organizing the workers and oppressed, and which focus on establishing action committees composed of ordinary workers in workplaces and neighborhoods, and which are not controlled by the bureaucracy. This is crucial because, first, mass mobilizations are the only way to force the reformist bureaucracy to implement even limited progressive actions. And second, such organizing slogans can lay the groundwork for the workers to struggle for these demands independently if their bureaucratic leaderships refuse to carry them out.


In our predecessor organization, we explained the tactic of critical support in our Theses on Reformism:


Both of these elements of critical support—demands on reformists, and organising independent struggle in pursuit of these demands—are crucial because a government of a bourgeois workers’ party (i.e. a bourgeois workers’ government) will inevitably be the tool of capital against the working class. Organising for struggle is vital to prevent defeat and demoralisation amongst the masses when this becomes clear in practice. At the same time, the communists put forward their own programme, counterposing it to the reformist programme, even where they do not stand communist candidates. To win workers to a revolutionary alternative it is necessary to spell out, even for the duration of the united front (in this case, basically the election campaign) what the alternative is. The tactic of critical electoral support flows solely from the existence of the organic relationship between the bourgeois workers’ party and the working class. It is not in any way predicated upon the programme or promises of the reformists. Communist agitation and propaganda for electoral support must not be open to interpretation as support for the reformists as a “lesser evil” than the open bourgeois parties. The purpose of bringing the reformists to power is precisely to put them to the test, to prove that they are indeed as willing as the open bourgeois parties to defend the class rule and state power of the bourgeoisie and to attack the working class to serve that end. [10]


Unfortunately, a number of centrists and ultra-leftists believe that critical support for reformist parties, which have repeatedly betrayed the working class, would be a contradiction of Marxist principles. This is absolutely incorrect. In fact, Lenin explained a very long time ago that the issue is not whether we, the communists, understand the treacherous nature of the reformists, but if the mass of the working class understands this. In his famous book ’Left-Wing’ Communism – An Infantile Disorder written in 1920, Lenin advised the British communists to lend critical electoral support to the reformist Labour Party:


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 petit-bourgeois and treacherous by nature, and that their bankruptcy is inevitable; third, we must bring closer the moment when on the basis of the disappointment of most of the workers in the Hendersons, it will be possible, with serious chance of success, to overthrow the government of the Hendersons at once." [11]


At the time, the communists in Britain were a very small force numbering only a few hundred and were not yet united into a single party. [12] Nevertheless, or precisely for this reason, Lenin called his comrades to approach the mass of the working class with a tactic that addressed their current, non-communist, reformist consciousness:


We would take part in the election campaign, distribute leaflets agitating for communism, and in all constituencies where we have no candidates, we would urge the electors to vote for the Labour candidate and against the bourgeois candidate. Comrades Sylvia Pankhurst and Gallagher are mistaken in thinking that this is a betrayal of communism, or a renunciation of the struggle against the social traitors. On the contrary, the cause of communist revolution would undoubtedly gain thereby. At present, British Communists very often find it hard even to approach the masses, and even to get a hearing from them. If I come out as a communist and call upon them to vote for Henderson and against Lloyd George, they will certainly give me a hearing. And I shall be able to explain in a popular manner not only why the Soviets are better than a parliament and why the dictatorship of the proletariat is better than the dictatorship of Churchill (disguised with the signboard of “bourgeois democracy") but also that, with my vote, I want to support Henderson in the same way as the rope supports a hanged man- that the impending establishment of a government of Hendersons will prove that I am right, will bring the masses to my side, and will hasten the political death of the Hendersons and Snowdens just as was the case with their kindred spirits in Russia and Germany." [13]


Later Trotsky would continue to advocate such a method in relation to reformist mass parties. He emphasized that communists give critical support to reformists not because they have a better program or policy than openly-bourgeois parties, or because they are the “lesser evil.” He argued that communists should apply the united front tactic on the electoral field only because of the organic relationship between the reformists and the working class. For the same reason, he would criticize the centrist ILP in Britain when the latter called for critical support only for those candidates of the Labour Party who opposed imperialist sanctions against Italy after its 1935 invasion of Abyssinia.


No. Economic sanctions, if real, lead to military sanctions, to war. The ILP itself has been saying this. It should have given critical support to oll Labour Party candidates, that is, where the ILP itself was not contesting. In the New Leader I read that your London division agreed to support only anti-sanctionist Labour Party candidates. This too is incorrect. The Labour Party should have been critically supported not because it was for or against sanctions but because it represented the working class masses. The basic error which was made by some ILPers who withdrew critical support was to assume that the war danger necessitated a change in our assessment of reformism. But as Clausewitz said, and Lenin often repeated, war is the continuation of politics by other means. If this is true, it applies not only to capitalist parties but to Social Democratic parties. The war crisis does not alter the fact that the Labour Party is a workers' party, which the governmental party is not. Nor does it alter the fact that the Labour Party leadership cannot fulfill its promises, that it will betray the confidence which the masses place in it. In peacetime the workers will, if they trust in Social Democracy, die of hunger; in war, for the same reason, they will die from bullets. Revolutionists never give critical support to reformism on the assumption that reformism, in power, could satisfy the fundamental needs of the workers. It is possible, of course, that a Labour government could introduce a few mild temporary reforms. It is also possible that the League [of Nations] could postpone a military conflict about secondary issues-just as a cartel can eliminate secondary economic crises only to reproduce them on a larger scale. So the League can eliminate small episodic conflicts only to generalize them into world war. Thus, both economic and military crises will only return with an added explosive force so long as capitalism remains. And we know that Social Democracy cannot abolish capitalism. No, in war as in peace, the ILP must say to the workers: ‘The Labour Party will deceive you and betray you, but you do not believe us. Very well, we will go through your experiences with you, but in no case do we identify ourselves with the Labour Party program.’ Morrison, Clynes, etc., represent certain prejudices of the workers. When the ILP seeks to boycott Clynes it helps not only Baldwin but Clynes himself. If successful in its tactic, the ILP prevents the election of Clynes, of the Labour government, and so prevents their exposure before the masses. The workers will say: "If only we had had Clynes and Morrison in power, things would have been better." [14]


Trotsky repeated Lenin’s advise not to confuse the political conclusions of revolutionaries with those of the mass of the working class.


It is argued that the Labour Party already stands exposed by its past deeds in power and its present reactionary platform. For example, by its decision at Brighton. For us – yes! But not for the masses, the eight millions who voted Labour." [15]


Precisely because revolutionaries advocate electoral support for reformist parties not for their program but for their relationship with the working class, we usually do not give electoral support to small reformist or centrist lists. Their non-revolutionary program gives us no reason to support them, and because they lack a mass base in the working class, such a tactic would not help revolutionaries to come closer to non-revolutionary workers and the oppressed. Consequently, any support for such candidates would only be misinterpreted as support for their politics, something which communists can never give.


We have always insisted that it is foolish to believe that workers’ illusions in reformist parties can readily be overcome. This is particularly true in light of the absence of a large revolutionary party. The longevity of these illusions in reformist parties is related to the historic roots of the social democratic and Stalinist parties among the working class. Therefore, these illusions don’t automatically disappear when such parties enter a government.


However, while this has been the case for a number of decades after the World War II, important changes have taken place in the past 10–15 years. As we noted above, most reformist parties have not ceased to be bourgeois workers’ parties, but there have been significant breaks of sectors of the working class with these parties. These ruptures either led to the formation of new parties or to fusions with other, smaller reformist parties. In other cases, this development only results in a higher rate of abstention from elections.


As we have said above, raising the slogan for a new workers’ party does not necessarily mean that revolutionaries should drop the tactic of critical electoral support for the traditional reformist parties. It is the role of revolutionaries to alert workers to the need for building a new party. However, as long as this process has not taken shape, it may still be useful to relate in our electoral tactics to workers who – despite being fed up – still vote for the traditional reformist party as “the lesser evil.”


We therefore stated in our Theses that in general, “critical support for non-revolutionary workers parties is a legitimate tactic for helping class-conscious workers to overcome their illusions in reformist leaderships.”


At the same time, we must take into account that the decay of the reformist parties and their increasing discrediting in light of the pro-austerity, pro-war, and racist policy with which they are complicit because of their participation in the government, provokes more and more such ruptures with sectors of its working class base. For this reason, revolutionaries have to carefully study under what conditions the progressive sectors of the working class view the reformist party as a tool to resist the offensive of the bourgeoisie and when this is no longer the case, and these workers would rather turn away from the reformist party.


The latter situation is particularly likely when a bourgeois workers’ party is part of the government and serves as a whip or executioner in the implementation of severe attacks on the working class – austerity programs, imperialist wars, racist hatred, attacks on democratic rights, etc. Such a situation arose, for example, in France when Hollande imposed the state of emergency regime in 2015 or in Austria in 2016 when the government – led by the social democratic party – imposed harsh laws against refugees. Similar situations existed in Britain in the first decade of the new millennium when the Blair-led Labour Party became the strongest supporter of Bush’s imperialist war offensives in the Middle East.


In such circumstances it would be wrong for revolutionaries to call for the electoral support of these reformist parties. Here the aim is rather to relate to the vanguard workers who have already broken with them. In such cases Marxists should either call for critical support for another party which better reflects the desire of the progressive workers and oppressed to fight back or, if such a party does not run in the upcoming elections, call for a blank vote.


Let us illustrate our approach with the following example. The Austrian section of the RCIT called for a critical vote for the social democratic party (SPÖ) in Vienna’s regional elections in October 2015. As we have explained – in addition to the SPÖ’s traditional relations with the organized working class – our position was based on a certain rallying in the weeks before the elections of important sectors of the vanguard and the working class as a whole around this party. The reasons for this shift towards the SPÖ were, on the one hand, the fear of a victory of the right-wing racist FPÖ party and, on the other, the positioning of the SPÖ as a "Refugees are welcome" party in distinct contrast to the anti-migrant position of the right-wing racists. Our assessment was vindicated in the polls by SPÖ’s receiving more than 39% of the vote.


However, in the April 2016 Austrian presidential elections, we no longer called for critical support for the SPÖ candidate. This is because, in the period following the October 2015 elections, the SPÖ had diametrically shifted its policy and – as the leading party in the governmental coalition – implemented a harsh anti-refugee policy. Consequently, the vanguard and a huge proportion of former SPÖ voters turned away from the party and, as a result, the SPÖ candidate won only 11% of the vote – a historic low for this party. [16]


We note, in passing, that the Austrian section of the RCIT has had some successful experiences applying the united front tactic towards social democratic activists. For example, in the autumn of 2014, our section recruited the majority of social democratic youth organization activists from the largest and most proletarian branch in Vienna. [17]


In other words, revolutionaries have to relate their electoral tactics to an attentive study of the political development of the vanguard sectors of the working class and their readiness to break with the traditional reformist parties. This is particularly relevant in a situation of accelerated class contradictions when the chances for a rupture of sectors of the working class with the traditional reformist parties are higher.


On the other hand, revolutionaries must also carefully analyze the dynamic relationship of the working class and reformist parties, because under specific circumstances the progressive sectors of the working class might rally once again under the banner of social democracy or Stalinism in an attempt to form a defense line against a right-wing, neoliberal onslaught.


[1] Albeit, one has to note, this shift to the left is of a very nature, as one can observe in the current wave of expulsions of Antizionists and critics of Israel including the former mayor of London, , as well as the MP . See on this e.g. UK: Defend Nazeem Shah and Ken Livingstone against the Pro-Zionist Labour Leadership! Statement of RED LIBERATION (Socialists Active in the Labour Party), 30 April 2016,; Britain: Defeat Zionism in the Labour Party, Statement by RED LIBERATION, 30 March 2016,

[2] One of the best overviews of the history of the workers movement is provided by Julius Braunthal: Geschichte der Internationale, 3 Volumes, J.H.W. Dietz Nachf., Hannover 1961–1971

[3] Friedrich Engels: Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, 29 November 1886, in: MECW Vol. 47, p. 532

[4] V.I. Lenin: Preface to the Russian Translation of Letters by Johannes Becker, Joseph Dietzgen, Frederick Engels, Karl Marx, and Others to Friedrich Sorge and Others (1907), in: LCW Vol. 12, p. 365

[5] See Theodore Draper: The Roots of American Communism (1957), Elephant Paperbacks, Chicago 1989, p. 253

[6] See Theodore Draper: The Roots of American Communism, p. 280; see also Theodore Draper: American Communism and Soviet Russia. The Formative Period, The Viking Press, New York 1960, p. 36

[7] Workers Party of America: For a Labor Party: Recent Revolutionary Changes in American Politics: A Statement of the Workers Party, Oct. 15, 1922, New York, 1922, p. 47

[8] On this, see Leon Trotsky: The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol. I (1924), Author’s 1924 Introduction, New Park Publications, London 1973, pp. 12-14; see also Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin (1928), Pathfinder Press, New York 1970, pp.120-123; some historical background is provided in the introduction of James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism. Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928, Prometheus Research Library, New York City 1992, pp. 21-25

[9] Leon Trotsky on Labor Party: Stenographic Report of Discussion held in 1938 with Leaders of the Socialist Workers Party, Published by the Workers League, Bulletin Publications 1968, p. 14.

[10] Workers Power: Theses on Reformism – The Bourgeois Workers Party (1983), in: Permanent Revolution No. 1, pp. 88-89

[11] V.I. Lenin: ‘Left-Wing’ Communism – An Infantile Disorder, in: LCW Vol. 31, pp. 85-86

[12] See on this e.g. Michael Woodhouse and Brian Pearce: Essays on the History of Communism in Britain, New Park Publications, London 1975

[13] V.I. Lenin: ‘Left-Wing’ Communism – An Infantile Disorder, in: LCW Vol. 31, p. 88

[14] Leon Trotsky: Once again the ILP (November 1935), in: Trotsky Writings 1935-36, pp. 198-199

[15] Leon Trotsky: Once again the ILP (November 1935), in: Trotsky Writings 1935-36, p. 199

[16] On this see the following statements of the Austria Section of the RCIT: Österreich: In der Stichwahl: Jetzt Massenproteste organisieren und erneut ungültig wählen, 29.4.2016,; Österreich: Wahlaufruf zu den Bundespräsidentschaftswahlen 2016: Ungültig wählen, Widerstand organisieren! 21.4.2016,; Wien Wahlen 2015: Sieg und Niederlage im selben Zuge, 13.10.2015,

[17] See on this Austria: Founding Conference of a new Workers Organization, 11.11.2014,