8. The Slogan of the Constituent Assembly: Bolshevism versus Revisionism


The Bolshevik application of the strategy of permanent revolution in general and of its democratic program in particular has been repeatedly attacked and distorted by revisionists. A particular point of confusion is the slogan of the Constituent Assembly. Below we will deal with a number of criticisms and distortions of the Bolshevik application of this slogan.

 

Ultra-Left Rejection: The Sectarian Tradition of the Spartacists

 

The most consistent rejection of the Constituent Assembly slogan – if we leave aside the Bordegist tradition – has been advocated by the so-called Spartacists. This is an ultra-left, sectarian and passive propagandist middle-class outfit whose biggest group is based in the United States and which – based on a total misunderstanding – see themselves as “Trotskyists.” The main group of the Spartacist tradition is the so-called International Communist League (ICL). In late 2012 the ICL published an essay in which it revised its old position and formulated a new one which entirely rejects the slogan calling for a Constituent Assembly in all circumstances. [1]

The ICL justify their ultra-left rejection of the Constituent Assembly slogan with a combination of silly criticism and historic falsification. For example, they erroneously claim that Lenin dropped this slogan after the 1917 revolution.

In re-examining the historical record, it became clear that every authoritative Communist document that touched on the question in the first several years after 1917 flatly rejected the idea that a constituent, or national, assembly could be in the proletariat’s interest.

They continue by claiming:

In May 1920, Lenin wrote ‘Left-Wing’ Communism—An Infantile Disorder’ for distribution to delegates at the CI’s Second Congress. His aim was to combat ultraleft tendencies among the young and inexperienced Communist parties. Urging them to assimilate the lessons of Bolshevik history, Lenin explained that participation in bourgeois elections and use of the parliamentary rostrum to rally the workers could be valuable Communist tactics. He noted that “the Bolsheviks did not boycott the Constituent Assembly, but took part in the elections both before and after the proletariat conquered political power.” But nowhere in this manual of Communist tactics—or anywhere else at the Second Congress, including in its “Theses on the Communist Parties and Parliamentarism”—was there any attempt to revive the slogan for a constituent assembly, which had been central to “old Bolshevik” agitation for 15 years.” (Emphasis in the Original)

As a matter of fact, Lenin explicitly defended the Bolsheviks’ application of the Constituent Assembly slogan. In the very same book on ‘Left-Wing’ Communism Lenin restated the correctness of the Bolshevik tactic to advocate the Constituent Assembly slogan.

We did not proclaim a boycott of the bourgeois parliament, the Constituent Assembly, but said—and following the April (1917) Conference of our Party began to state officially in the name of the Party—that a bourgeois republic with a Constituent Assembly would be better than a bourgeois republic without a Constituent Assembly, but that a “workers’ and peasants’” republic, a Soviet republic, would be better than any bourgeois-democratic, parliamentary republic. Without such thorough, circumspect and long preparations, we could not have achieved victory in October 1917, or have consolidated that victory.[2]

Not only did Lenin continue to defend the Bolsheviks’ not boycotting the Constituent Assembly but even convened it after the successful seizure of power in October 1917! Lenin – like Trotsky, as we showed above – was convinced that this tactic was useful for the working class’ and the peasants’ overcoming any illusions they may still have in bourgeois parliamentarism and allowing them to understand the superiority of soviet democracy. Let us reproduce his lengthy quote from his book:

We took part in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, the Russian bourgeois parliament in September-November 1917. Were our tactics correct or not? If not, then this should be clearly stated and proved, for it is necessary in evolving the correct tactics for international communism. If they were correct, then certain conclusions must be drawn. Of course, there can be no question of placing conditions in Russia on a par with conditions in Western Europe. But as regards the particular question of the meaning of the concept that “parliamentarianism has become politically obsolete”, due account should be taken of our experience, for unless concrete experience is taken into account such concepts very easily turn into empty phrases. In September-November 1917, did we, the Russian Bolsheviks, not have more right than any Western Communists to consider that parliamentarianism was politically obsolete in Russia? Of course we did, for the point is not whether bourgeois parliaments have existed for a long time or a short time, but how far the masses of the working people are prepared (ideologically, politically and practically) to accept the Soviet system and to dissolve the bourgeois-democratic parliament (or allow it to be dissolved). It is an absolutely incontestable and fully established historical fact that, in September-November 1917, the urban working-class and the soldiers and peasants of Russia were, because of a number of special conditions, exceptionally well prepared to accept the Soviet system and to disband the most democratic of bourgeois parliaments. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks did not boycott the Constituent Assembly, but took part in the elections both before and after the proletariat conquered political power. That these elections yielded exceedingly valuable (and to the proletariat, highly useful) political results has, I make bold to hope, been proved by me in the above-mentioned article, which analyses in detail the returns of the elections to the Constituent Assembly in Russia. The conclusion which follows from this is absolutely incontrovertible: it has been proved that, far from causing harm to the revolutionary proletariat, participation in a bourgeois-democratic parliament, even a few weeks before the victory of a Soviet republic and even after such a victory, actually helps that proletariat to prove to the backward masses why such parliaments deserve to be done away with.[3]

Likewise, the ICL claims that Trotsky was confused about the Constituent Assembly slogan and advocated it incorrectly. However, the ICL finds consolation in Trotsky’s ostensibly having confined his confusion mostly to the late 1920s and early 1930s. Thus they write:

Trotsky’s revival of the constituent assembly slogan came a decade later, following the defeat of the Second Chinese Revolution of 1925-27. Indeed, the vast majority of his arguments in favor of the demand were made in articles and letters written between late 1928 and early 1932, many of which are compiled in the collection ‘Leon Trotsky on China’

In fact Trotsky remained convinced of the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly slogan until 1940, i.e. the end of his life. In his most important document – the Transitional Program which served as the foundation program of the Fourth International in 1938 – he repeated:

It is impossible merely to reject the democratic program; it is imperative that in the struggle the masses outgrow it. The slogan for a National (or Constituent) Assembly preserves its full force for such countries as China or India. This slogan must be indissolubly tied up with the problem of national liberation and agrarian reform. As a primary step, the workers must be armed with this democratic program. Only they will be able to summon and unite the farmers. On the basis of the revolutionary democratic program, it is necessary to oppose the workers to the “national” bourgeoisie. Then, at a certain stage in the mobilization of the masses under the slogans of revolutionary democracy, soviets can and should arise. Their historical role in each given period, particularly their relation to the National Assembly, will be determined by the political level of the proletariat, the bond between them and the peasantry, and the character of the proletarian party policies. Sooner or later, the soviets should overthrow bourgeois democracy. Only they are capable of bringing the democratic revolution to a conclusion and likewise opening an era of socialist revolution. [4]

Furthermore, the ICL incorrectly claims: “Particularly in light of the experiences in Russia and Germany, the Communist movement under Lenin and Trotsky recognized that, at least in the imperialist countries, the slogan could only be used to anti-revolutionary ends in the epoch of capitalist decline.

Contrary to the fancy of these charlatans – and as we have shown above – Trotsky also advocated the Constituent Assembly slogan for imperialist countries like Italy and Spain. In the Transitional Program he even discussed the possibility of the application of the Constituent Assembly slogan in Germany. He believed that the fascist regime factory committees would collapse before trade unions and soviets, before a new Constituent Assembly.

Of course, this does not mean that the Fourth International rejects democratic slogans as a means of mobilizing the massesagainst fascism. On the contrary, such slogans at certain moments can play a serious role. But the formulae of democracy (freedom of press, the right to unionize, etc.) mean for us only incidental or episodic slogans in the independent movement of the proletariat and not a democratic noose fastened to the neck of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie’s agents (Spain!). As soon as the movement assumes something of a mass character, the democratic slogans will be intertwined with the transitional ones; factory committees, it may be supposed, will appear before the old routinists rush from their chancelleries to organize trade unions; soviets will cover Germany before a new Constituent Assembly will gather in Weimar. The same applies to Italy and the rest of the totalitarian and semi-totalitarian countries.[5]

While this prognosis has not been vindicated, it underlines once more that Trotsky considered the democratic program (including the Constituent Assembly slogan) as a legitimate part of the revolutionary program in the imperialist countries. However, he insisted that such slogans – democratic slogans, the Constituent Assembly, formation of trade unions, etc. – must not become strategic goals, an obstacle to advance the rank and file organization of the working class and its strategic orientation to the creation of mass organs of struggle and the seizure of power.

Faced with the uncomfortable fact that Trotsky also raised the Constituent Assembly slogan in Spain in 1930/31, the ICL tries to console itself by remarking: “But he raised the call for a constituent assembly, or constituent Cortes, only in a handful of letters and articles in January-February 1931.

Again, the truth is otherwise. Trotsky raised the slogan, among others, in the most important public programmatic document he wrote during the entire Spanish Revolution in 1930/31 – his only pamphlet at that time which was called “The Revolution in Spain”!

While the ICL claims throughout its article that Trotsky’s “arguments for the constituent assembly were confusing and contradictory”, it is rather the ICL which is confused. It writes: “The idea [of Trotsky, Ed.] that the proletariat in power ‘will have to convoke a national assembly’ to consolidate support among the peasants is also foreign to the conclusions drawn by Lenin and the early CI.” In fact, far from being “foreign,” this was the praxis of the Bolsheviks after the seizure of power in October 1917 and was always defended by Lenin and Trotsky as we have shown above.

The ICL claims “the constituent assembly is not a democratic demand but a call for a new capitalist government.” This is simply wrong. Yes, the reformist and petty-bourgeois forces raised this slogan as synonym for a bourgeois government. But revolutionaries did not and do not raise it in this sense. Rather, they call for a Constituent Assembly whose exclusive purpose is to meet and formulate a constitution. Revolutionaries use such an assembly in order to unmask the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces and to propel forward the revolutionary road to socialism. Furthermore Bolshevik-Communists call for a Constituent Assembly which is convened and controlled by popular mass assemblies. Such a program can either stop the bourgeoisie from utilizing such a Constituent Assembly as a hotbed for counter-revolution or – in the event that the bourgeoisie succeeds in this – prepare the way for dissolving such a reactionary assembly.

The crucial point, foreign to the mindset of the ultra-leftists, is that as long as the workers and peasants still harbor illusions in bourgeois democracy, revolutionaries must advocate slogans which can help them overcome such illusions. In this way the slogan calling for a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly can be one of a set of slogans preparing the popular masses for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

An offshoot of the Spartacist tradition – the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) – does not go as far as the ICL, denouncing the Constituent Assembly slogan in all circumstances. However, they do raise another typical sectarian argument:

In our view the call for a constituent assembly is inapplicable in Spain today [2011, Ed.], because the population has experienced bourgeois democracy for a generation. (…) Raising the call for a constituent assembly in a country where bourgeois democracy had existed for almost two decades [they spoke about Argentina in this context, Ed.] could only confuse matters.[6]

So it is, according to the IBT, not the popular masses who should decide whether they still have illusions in bourgeois democracy but … the small sectarian groups who know better. This is the same sectarian nonsense as that of centrists who claim that, since a reformist party has already been in power, the workers can no longer have any illusions about this party and thus it is not necessary for revolutionaries to deploy united front tactic vis-à-vis such a party. Unfortunately for such sectarians, the mountain usually refuses to come to the prophet and it is rather the prophet who has to go to the mountain!

The IBT simply has no idea (or does not want to have an idea) of Lenin’s important doctrine, that „the point is not whether bourgeois parliaments have existed for a long time or a short time, but how far the masses of the working people are prepared (ideologically, politically and practically) to accept the Soviet system and to dissolve the bourgeois-democratic parliament.[7]

The masses will demonstrate through their deeds – their demands, their hopes, their actions, their participation (or lack of it) in parliamentary elections, their support for reformist parties – how many illusions they still retain in bourgeois democracy or in some reformist party. Revolutionaries will have to listen and patiently explain. They will raise demands and tactics which will address the current consciousness of the flesh and blood working class and not some fancy picture of an unreal working class existing only in the confused mind of sectarians!

 

The Criticism of Imperialist Economism: Alan Woods and the Right-Centrist IMT

 

Another criticism of the slogan of the Revolutionary Constituent Assembly has been raised by Alan Woods, the central leader and theoretician of the right-centrist International Marxist Tendency (IMT). In contrast to the Spartacist tradition which is nothing but sterile sectarianism, the IMT is characterized by an unabashed opportunism towards the labor bureaucracy and popular front parties. Throughout their decades-long existence they have acted as “left wing” inside social-democratic and Stalinist parties and have at times even openly participated for many years in bourgeois, popular-frontist parties (i.e. parties which consist of capitalists, petit bourgeois as well as workers like the Pakistani PPP or the South African ANC). In open conflict with the doctrine of Lenin and Trotsky, the IMT advocates the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism, even by parliamentary means. Thus, Woods wrote in one of the key texts of his organization:

A peaceful transformation of society would be entirely possible if the trade union and reformist leaders were prepared to use the colossal power in their hands to change society. If the workers leaders did not do this, then there could be rivers of blood, and this would entirely be the responsibility of the reformist leaders. (…) it would be entirely possible to carry through the socialist transformation peacefully, and even through parliament, provided the trade unions and Labour Party were led by Marxists.[8]

In short, Woods’ group advocates “Marxism” in reformist clothing. As so often happens, such right centrism is often mixed with economism, i.e., the refusal to raise a complete political program for permanent revolution which includes revolutionary-democratic demands.

Hence on many occasions the IMT has criticised Trotskyist organization in the semi-colonial world for raising revolutionary-democratic slogans like the Revolutionary Constituent Assembly. In a lengthy polemic, Alan Woods attacks the Argentinean Partido Obrero (PO) for having raised this slogan during the revolutionary crisis of 2001/02. [9]

While Woods does not out rightly reject the Constituent Assembly slogan, he erroneously draws the limits of its legitimate application, writing:

Under what circumstances should one advance such slogans? There are two possibilities: 1) in a semi-feudal or semi-colonial country and 2) in a country where a parliament, elections and other democratic rights did not exist. But none of these conditions apply to Argentina. It is certainly not a backward, semi-feudal country. And, as it has been independent for almost two hundred years, and is the second biggest economy in South America, it hardly falls into the category of a semi-colonial nation (the fact that the oligarchy have reduced the former tenth industrial nation on earth to a situation of ruin and penury, so that many of the privatised industries have fallen into foreign hands, is a separate matter). (Emphasis in the Original)

This is wrong for two reasons. First it is certainly true that democratic slogans usually contain more urgency under conditions of a dictatorship. However, as we have shown above, the increasing anti-democratism of the ruling class, the unresolved fundamental problems of the capitalist society in the semi-colonial countries, the backwardness in the political consciousness of the popular masses – all these mean that illusions in bourgeois democracy remain an important factor in many countries. Marxists who wish away such factors are doomed to isolate themselves from the revolutionary-democratic struggles of the masses.

It is characteristically patronizing for an ignorant centrist theoretician from an old imperialist country with centuries of bourgeois parliamentarism to claim that the Argentinean people shouldn’t have illusions in bourgeois democracy since they have “already” experienced a much for two decades. Thus Woods writes: “For the last two decades, Argentina has had a bourgeois democratic regime, which does not differ in any essentials from the bourgeois democratic regimes in Europe or the USA. (…) But all that it proves is that Argentina is a perfectly normal bourgeois democracy. Neither more nor less.” (Emphasis in the Original)

It is no accident that such imperialist-economist nonsense is repeated not only by opportunists but also by sectarians in order to justify their refusal to support revolutionary-democratic struggles in semi-colonial countries. Thus the Internationalist Group (IG) led by Jan Norden – another offshoot of the Spartacist tradition – claims that the Latin American countries have already completed the democratic revolution.

Hence the slogan is not appropriate in an imperialist country, or where those tasks have already gone beyond the bourgeois-democratic level. In Mexico or Bolivia or Ecuador today, no democratic demand can break the stranglehold of imperialism or of capitalist agribusiness – this can only be accomplished by workers revolution. [10]

Again, these centrists ignore the doctrine of the Bolsheviks – as elaborated by Lenin in his “Left-Wing Communism” (see the quote above) [11] – that the issue is not if or how long bourgeois democracy has already existed but the extent to which the popular masses still retain illusions in this system.

Woods and Nordens assertion is of course completely ridiculous! Countries like Argentina (and many other Latin American countries) have in the past century experienced many decades of dictatorships, semi-dictatorships, successful or attempted coup d'états, etc. There is no Argentinean who has not either personally lived through a dictatorship or whose parents have not. It is true that in the past two decades there have been more bourgeois-democratic conditions in Latin America than which has been usual during the past two centuries. But this does not and cannot negate the historical experience of entire nations. This is even truer now that the threat of coup d'état looms once again in a number of Latin American countries. Maybe Mr. Woods has “forgotten” the failed coup d'état in Venezuela in 2002, in Paraguay in 2008, in Honduras in 2009, the attempted coup in Ecuador in 2010 and the recent crises in Brazil and Ecuador?! All this clearly demonstrates how different Latin America is from Western Europe and that it is most definitely not “a perfectly normal bourgeois democracy”!

Similarly foolish, if not more so, is the claim that Argentina is not a semi-colonial country. True, this claim is not new but has been raised both by opportunists and sectarians based in the imperialist metropolises. Again, it is no accident that sectarians like Norden’s IG repeat the same nonsense:

In economically backward capitalist, semi-feudal or colonial countries, such an assembly could be the vehicle for mass struggles for agrarian revolution, national independence and basic democratic rights. But both before and after December 2001, Argentina was an independent, fully capitalist country which doesn’t even have a real peasantry but rather agricultural workers. To pretend that there is a “democratic revolution” to be accomplished in Argentina is to capitulate to and adopt the democratic illusions of the masses, not to lead them to socialist revolution.

The IMT and its predecessor organization (the CWI from which Woods and Grant split in 1992) have always denied the semi-colonial status of Argentina – as well as of many other countries of the South. They do so in order to justify their refusal to defend such countries in conflicts – including wars – against imperialist powers. Thus, for example, the CWI – whose centre is located in Britain (as is the case with the IMT) – refused to support Argentina against the aggression of British imperialism in the Malvinas War of 1982. Even more chauvinistically astounding was its call for a Labour Government (at that time Britain was ruled by the Tories under Prime Minister Margret Thatcher) to continue the war against Argentina!

A Labour government could not just abandon the Falklanders and let Galtieri get on with it. But it would continue the war on socialist lines.[12]

In our book The Great Robbery of the South we have dealt extensively with Argentina’s supposed “fully independent capitalist statutes.” There we have demonstrated with facts and statistics that Argentina was and remains a dependent semi-colonial country which has been super-exploited by imperialist monopoly capital for more than a century. [13] The economic collapse in 2001/02, the huge indebtedness of Argentina and the arrogant bullying of the country by imperialist hedge funds in recent years are just a few examples of this. The denial of the semi-colonial status of countries of the South exploited by imperialism is nothing but an ideological cover for “left-wing” social-imperialists who objectively (against their muddled intentions) serve the interests of the monopolies and great powers.

The IMT also raises another, methodological argument against raising the Constituent Assembly slogan in countries like Argentina. They write:

The article in Prensa Obrera is quite specific on this. It says that the constituent assembly will be "convened by the mobilised people". But here we immediately enter into a contradiction. If the Argentine working class is strong enough to impose its will on the ruling class, and strong enough to convene a constituent assembly, then it is also strong enough to take power. The way in which the working class takes power is through its own organisations of struggle - the Popular Assemblies (soviets). That idea was correctly expressed by the article when it says: "Let us multiply the Popular Assemblies to the point where they become a power of the exploited people." But why then introduce the question of the constituent assembly? (Emphasis in the original) [14]

Alan Woods could have posed the same question to the Bolsheviks who first took power in October 1917 and then convened a Constituent Assembly (and later dissolved it). The point is – and this seems to be a miracle to Woods – that the masses can (and did) retain bourgeois democratic illusions even after they founded soviets and even after these soviets might have taken power. This was exactly what happened in Russia and it would be nonsense to preclude the repetition of such a development in the future.

Woods also justifies his criticism of the Constituent Assembly slogan by pointing out that it has been utilized a number of times by the bourgeoisie.

Let us remind ourselves that the Argentine constitution has been changed many times - from 1853 to 1857 it was changed four times. One more change would make little difference to the bourgeoisie

Norden too repeats this argument: We also noted that while Bolivia was the continental champion in the number of coups d’état, it also led in the number of constituent assemblies or congresses (at least 19 by our count)

Now, it is certainly true that the bourgeoisie has repeatedly utilized constituent assemblies to retain their power. But the opportunist and sectarian imperialist economists draw the wrong conclusions from this. Instead revolutionaries conclude:

i) The Constituent Assembly will unavoidably become a tool of reaction if it is convened and controlled by the ruling class. This is why revolutionaries do not call upon capitalists to convene a Constituent Assembly but rather the worker and peasant soviets participating in a revolutionary government.

ii) Secondly, the fact that Constituent Assemblies have been convened numerous times by the Latin American bourgeoisie is a proof that the issue of a constitution has always been a central issue on this continent. (How many times have Western European bourgeoisies convened a Constituent Assembly in the past century?) This is concrete proof that the continent has not experienced “perfectly normal bourgeois democracy” and that revolutionaries must therefore not allow factions of the ruling class to monopolize the Constituent Assembly slogan. The Bolshevik-Communists have to raise the slogan for a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly themselves whenever and wherever it is appropriate and they have to raise this demand in a revolutionary and not an opportunistic way.

 

The Opportunist Application: The Right-Centrist Tradition of Nahuel Moreno (LIT-CI, UIT-CI)

 

While until now we have examined the fallacious arguments of the sectarian and economist opponents of the Constituent Assembly slogan, now we’ll deal with the reverse side of the same coin: the opportunistic application of this demand. To do this we will focus on the program of the most important Trotskyist current in Latin America – the organizations in the tradition of the late Nahuel Moreno which today are first and foremost the International Workers League – Fourth International (the Spanish abbreviation: LIT-CI) and International Workers Unity – Fourth International (UIT-CI).

While many militants of Moreno’s organizations have played a heroic role in the underground struggle against Latin American dictatorships (including the Brigade Simon Bolivar in Nicaragua 1979), Moreno’s programmatic tradition has always been characterized by extraordinary opportunism vis-à-vis all kinds of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces. Moreno was quite right when he called his tradition “Barbaric Trotskyism.[15] During its history, Moreno’s current has posed as “left Peronists” and “pro-Castroites”; has whitewashed the military dictatorship of General Videla in Argentina which massacred more than 30,000 people in the mid-1970s, calling it “the most democratic military government in Latin America”; has created the illusion of “absolute democracy of the Armed Forces”; has called for the unification of imperialist West Germany and the Stalinist workers’ state in East Germany which could only mean the capitalist restoration in the latter; etc. He revised the program of permanent revolution and replaced it with a Menshevik stagist conception which focuses on the “February Revolution” (i.e., a democratic revolution) and only later on an “October Revolution” (i.e., a socialist revolution). This is evident from various statements made by Moreno:

It seems that the fact of capitalist counterrevolution has restated the need that we have to have a democratic revolution. And ignoring that what arises in the developed countries where there are a counterrevolutionary regimes is also a democratic revolution, it’s maximalism; it’s as serious as ignoring the bourgeois-democratic revolution in backward countries. This is very important. I don’t know whether it’s correct or not. If correct, we need to change the entire formulation of the Theses of permanent revolution. It seems to me that it’s correct and that Trotsky was aiming there. If correct, it changes our entire strategy in regard to the opportunist parties, and in good measure in regard to the bourgeois parties that oppose the counterrevolutionary regime. As a step towards the socialist revolution, we’re in favour of the arrival of a bourgeois regime completely different [from the counterrevolutionary regime]. Just as we were in favour of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and we said it was different from the other, [the socialist revolution], that had to be done, the Tsar had to be overthrown, which was a specific bourgeois democratic task, we need to discuss whether there is now a specific bourgeois democratic task, which is to overthrow the counterrevolutionary regime so it can come, at least a bourgeois regime.[16]

Furthermore Moreno grotesquely claimed that the socialist revolution could be led without the working class as its leadership and without a revolutionary party. He simply confused a Stalinist-led social transformation with a working class-led socialist revolution. [17] For a comprehensive analysis of Morenoism we refer readers to our respective documents. [18]

At this point we will focus only on the Morenoite application of the Constituent Assembly slogan. Basically Moreno saw the implementation of the slogan, which the sectarians utterly condemn, in an inherently opportunist fashion, transforming it from a revolutionary-democratic demand designed to expose deceit of the bourgeoisie into a Menshevik caricature. He repeatedly created the illusion that a Constituent Assembly could elect a workers’ government in order to build a socialist society. In 1972, his party called for the emergence of a “socialist” government via the parliamentary road through the “Constituent Assembly [which would] appoint a workers’ and people’s popular government which would expel the [foreign] bases and construct a socialist Argentina”. [19]

The same logic was applied by Moreno a decade later in Brazil: “In the constituent assembly we will struggle for the workers to secure the vote for a constitution that will organize the country in a new way, under socialist planning. Or we will struggle for it to vote in a workers’ government and a socialist constitution that will create the basis for the construction of a socialist Brazil.[20]

The Argentinean PTS comrades correctly accused the Morenoite tradition as advocating “the Constituent Assembly as a privileged way to socialism in Argentina”. [21]

In 1980, Moreno attributed so much importance to the Constituent Assembly slogan that he proposed raising it in all countries throughout the world: “Hence the enormous importance the slogan of Constitutional Assembly or something like that, has acquired in all countries of the world.[22]

The tradition of the late Pierre Lambert – a central figure of French Trotskyite centrism – is at least as bad as Morenoism in the application of the Constituent Assembly slogan. Lambertism raised the slogan of a Constituent Assembly as a strategic demand in France and many other countries. They have never posed it as a revolutionary-democratic demand but rather as an electoralist appeal to the ruling class. Together with another strategic slogan of Lambertism – the call for a coalition government of the reformist social democratic and Stalinist parties dubbed “workers government” – these demands served in fact as a replacement for the perspective of building working class soviets and an authentic workers government based on such councils. [23]

In fact, Morenoism and Lambertism are not Trotskyism but simply parliamentary cretinism! As we have outlined above, Bolshevik-Communists have to be the most consistent fighters for a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly. But we do so in order to attack the illusions of the masses in bourgeois democracy and to help them to overcome them. We will apply such democratic tactics – as Lenin demanded – as long as the popular masses retain illusions in bourgeois democracy and until „the masses of the working people are prepared (ideologically, politically and practically) to accept the Soviet system and to dissolve the bourgeois-democratic parliament.

At the same time revolutionaries will utilize such a Constituent Assembly as a public forum in which they can unmask the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces and at the same time outline a socialist program. However, Bolshevik-Communists must not reinforce the popular illusion in bourgeois democracy which envisions a Constituent Assembly creating a workers’ government and facilitating the transition towards socialism. Such a workers’ and peasant government can never emerge as a result of a Constituent Assembly but can only do so on the basis of soviets and armed popular militias. The transformation towards socialism will develop along the road of armed insurrection and civil war in which the working class is led by a revolutionary party. In sum, these differences draw the line between the Morenoite and Lambertist right-wing centrism and authentic Trotskyism.

To conclude this chapter, we emphasize one crucial conclusion: All these examples of revisionism – not to speak about the reformist appendixes of the imperialist bourgeoisie – show once more how crucial it is to found new revolutionary parties and a new revolutionary Workers’ International. The former must break with all the old apparatus of the labor bureaucracy. In fact, the growing gap between the old, traditional labor movement and the lower strata of the working class masses makes such an orientation of revolutionizing the existing trade unions while in parallel re-building the workers’ movement from below –including building action committees in workplaces and neighborhoods, founding new workers’ parties, etc. – as crucial tasks for all revolutionaries in the coming period.



[1] ICL: Marxism and Bourgeois Parliamentarism. Why We Reject the “Constituent Assembly” Demand; in: Spartacist English edition No. 63, Winter 2012-2013. All following quotes from the ICL in this sub-chapter are taken from this article.

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

[3] V.I. Lenin: ‘Left-Wing’ Communism— An Infantile Disorder, in: LCW Vol. 31, pp. 59-60

[4] Leon Trotsky: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. The Transitional Program (1938); in: Documents of the Fourth International, Pathfinder Press, New York 1973, pp. 205-206

[5] Leon Trotsky: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, p. 209

[6] IBT: On the Revolutionary Constituent Assembly, 11 August 2011, in: 1917 Nr. 34 (2012)

[7] V.I. Lenin: ‘Left-Wing’ Communism— An Infantile Disorder, in: LCW Vol. 31, p. 59

[8] Alan Woods: Marxism and the State, December 2008, http://www.marxist.com/marxism-and-the-state-part-one.htm (Emphasis in the Original)

[9] Alan Woods: On the constituent assembly slogan: Is it applicable to Argentina? IMT, 9 February 2002, http://www.marxist.com/Latinam/arg_const_assly.html. All following quotes from the Alan Woods in this sub-chapter are taken from this article. Another issue is the question if Argentinean Trotskyists like the PO were right in raising the slogan of the Revolutionary Constituent Assembly as the central political slogan. But this is a question of the concrete application of such a slogan while in this chapter we focus on considerations in principle.

[10] IG: Fight for Power to Workers and Peasants Councils! Trotskyism vs. “Constituent Assembly” Mania, October 2007, in: The Internationalist No. 27 (May-June 2008). All following quotes from the IG in this sub-chapter are taken from this article. See also in the same article: But to raise the call for a constituent assembly in Ecuador or Mexico today, where the formal structures of bourgeois democracy, however stunted, exist and semi-feudal latifundia have long-since been replaced by capitalist agriculture, would be to call to “refound” the country on a bourgeois basis when what is called for is socialist revolution.

[11] V.I. Lenin: ‘Left-Wing’ Communism— An Infantile Disorder, in: LCW Vol. 31, p. 59

[12] Lynn Walsh: Falklands war: what lessons for the labour movement? in: Militant International Review, Nr. 22, June 1982 (reprinted in: Socialism Today, Nr. 108, April 2007, http://www.socialismtoday.org/108/falklands.html)

[13] Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South, see in particular chapter 9, http://www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net/great-robbery-of-south-online/download-chapters-1/chapter9/

[14] The same argument has been repeated by another IMT leader, Fred Weston. He asks rhetorically: “We could however pose the question once more: if the masses are so strong as to be able to form a “provisional government” that can remove the present bourgeois parliament, why do they need to limit their scope to that of electing another bourgeois parliament?” (A precious lesson from Trotsky on the Constituent Assembly and other matters, May 2004, http://www.marxist.com/trotsky-constituent-assembly090604.htm)

[15] Now, I think we’ve made a lot more mistakes than Trotsky and the Bolsheviks. When I say that ours has been a barbarian Trotskyism is because I really think it, I’m not doing demagoguery.” (Conversations with Nahuel Moreno, 1986, Ediciones El Socialista, in English: 2012, p. 65)

[16] Nahuel Moreno: Party Cadres’ School: Argentina 1984; in English: Ediciones El Socialista, Buenos Aires, 2015, pp. 47-48. See also e.g. Nahuel Moreno: Revolutions of the XX Century, Buenos Aires, 1986, Ediciones El Socialista, Buenos Aires, 2014

[17] We believe that in the last 40 years there have been different phenomena to those that Trotsky witnessed, and they force us to start developing between us all— or some of you will in a few years— a new formulation, a new way of writing the theory of permanent revolution, taking into account all these problems. We have to state that it isn’t mandatory for the working class and for revolutionary Marxist party with mass influence to lead the process of democratic revolution to socialist revolution. It’s not required to be so. On the contrary: there have been, and it isn’t t ruled out there will be, democratic revolutions that in the economic field become socialists. This is to say, revolutions expropriating the bourgeoisie without having as essential axis the working class— or having it as important participant— and not having revolutionary Marxist and revolutionary workers’ parties at their head, but petty-bourgeois parties. (Nahuel Moreno: Party Cadres’ School: Argentina 1984; in English: Ediciones El Socialista, Buenos Aires, 2015, p. 15)

[18] See LRCI: Barbaric Trotskyism: a History of Morenoism (Part 1); in Trotskyist International No.1 (1988), http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/morenoism-part-1/ and Barbaric Trotskyism: a History of Morenoism (Part 2); in Trotskyist International No.9 (1992), http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/morenoism-part-2/. We refer readers also to another thoughtful criticism of the Moreno tradition which has been elaborated by the Argentinean-based PTS/FT. See: Manolo Romano: Polemic with the LIT and the Theoretical Legacy of Nahuel Moreno, PTS; in: Estrategia Internacional N°3 (December 1993 / January 1994), http://www.ft.org.ar/estrategia/ei3polemica_con_lit_english.html

[19] “The Basis for Unification of the PSA/PRT”, in: Intercontinental Press 13, November 1972; quoted in: LRCI: Barbaric Trotskyism: a History of Morenoism (Part 1)

[20] Convergencia Socialista, No. 5, November 1978, p. 4; quoted in: LRCI: Barbaric Trotskyism: a History of Morenoism (Part 1)

[21] Manolo Romano: Polemic with the LIT and the Theoretical Legacy of Nahuel Moreno

[22] Nahuel Moreno: The Transitional Program Today (1980); in English: Ediciones El Socialista, Buenos Aires, 2014, p. 72

[23] On this, see for example our predecessor organization’s book: Workers Power (Britain): The Death Agony of the Fourth International, 1983, chapter 3 and 4 as well as Denis Folias: Die Revolution in Permanenz. Theorie der proletarischen Weltrevolution von 1848 bis heute, intarlit, Dortmund 1981