IV. Revolutionary tactics and slogans for the class struggles ahead




As we have explained in the previous chapters the current triple crisis of Third Depression, Leviathan and COVID-19 has resulted in a major global counter-revolutionary offensive by the ruling classes. We have explained that the political line of this counterrevolution is the key feature as it severely attacks and endangers the future ability of the working class and the oppressed to fight for their rights and their health.


From this follows that revolutionaries need to advocate tactics and slogans which are most suited to help the popular masses defending their conditions to exist and to fight. There is an excellent slogan which has started to spread as graffiti on walls: “Corona is the Virus – Capitalism is the Pandemic”. Indeed, the main problem is not the Corona Virus but the capitalist system. It is the capitalist system which provokes mass impoverishment by its chronic economic crisis as well as wars. And, as it is well know, it is poverty and unhealthy living conditions which weaken the immune system of human beings and, hence, make them prone to diseases. It is the capitalist system which is responsible for the decades-long austerity policy resulting in cuts and closures in the public health service. It is the capitalist system in which a small elite of super-rich and powerful people dominate the popular masses and which lends emergency powers to police and army. In other words, the main danger for the workers and popular masses and the main threat for lives is not the Corona Virus but the continuing existence of capitalism.


For all these reasons the strategy and tactics of the class struggle must be elaborated from the point of view how can the workers and oppressed fight against the main dangers and against the main enemies – the ruling capitalist class – under the present conditions?




The current situation and its consequences for the class struggle




Let us start with a brief characterization of the consequences of the current situation for the conditions of the global class struggle. As we have already stated the RCIT considers the consequences of the current triple crisis for the perspectives of the workers and popular struggle as profound in the extreme. The economic slump is increasing unemployment with a single stroke by three, four or more times. The shift to state bonapartism will expand the powers of governments and build-up the police and surveillance state and hence severely undermine and reduce the democratic rights. And the Corona Virus pandemic is a serious health risk costing many lives and spreading fear around the world (which the capitalist classes in nearly all countries utilize to cover their political and economic attacks).


These factors have contradictory consequences for the class struggle. On one hand they complicate the conditions of the workers and the popular masses to defend their rights. High unemployment and impoverishment means that workers can easily be fired by the capitalists and that the rural and urban poor have to struggle even more every day to make ends meet. An expanded repression apparatus, limitation of democratic rights, perfected high-technology surveillance methods, etc. will also worsen the conditions to organize and fight. And, likewise, the fear caused by the pandemic will make people cautious to meet others and to participate in mass activities.


However, this is only one side of the coin. The other side is that the very same triple crisis will sooner or later impel the masses to fight. The lockdown policy has immediate and dramatic effects on the living conditions of the popular masses as it increase hunger and poverty. There have been already first hunger riots (e.g. Colombia, Honduras, Panama, Zimbabwe, etc.) and more will follow inevitable. More generally, the triple crisis is opening an era of a profound and deep crisis of capitalism all over the world. As we have pointed out above, it is exactly because the ruling circles increasingly recognize the dramatic character of the current crisis that they tighten the repressive measures and expand the emergency powers of the capitalist state apparatus.


All this means that, as an immediate consequence, the COVID-19 crisis has caused a global counterrevolutionary situation – as we have outlined in our Manifesto. This is because in these weeks the political utilization of the Corona Virus allowed an enormous strengthening of the state’s emergency powers and, in parallel, a massive reflux of all mass movements and struggles which shattered the bourgeois order since late 2019 in many countries – from Hong Kong to Chile.


However, as we also said in our Manifesto, “the accumulation of massive contradictions will sooner or later result in massive political explosions. It is not possible to predict how long this situation will last. It might be a matter of only a few months. However, what is clear is that the counter-revolutionary offensive of the ruling classes will create explosive political contradictions. Sooner or later, it will be difficult for the state-bonapartist regimes to justify their massive attacks on democratic rights. It will become soon obvious that while they give billions of dollars to the big capitalists, many workers face unemployment and wage cuts. (…) Likewise, a massive increase of global tensions between the Great Powers is inevitable. In other words, the global counter-revolutionary offensive can only temporarily cover up the accelerating political and economic contradictions between the classes and the states. Sooner or later, this will result inevitable in new and massive political explosions, probably in the form of major domestic crisis, wars as well as revolutionary uprisings – in the Global South as well as in the imperialist states of the West and the East.”


In other words, the current counterrevolutionary situation does not and can not open a “long dark period”. The offensive of the ruling classes is incapable of providing any dynamics resulting in political and economic stability. Quite the contrary, these emergency measures can no more than temporarily covering gigantic contradictions and postponing their tremendous explosions. In short, the current reactionary offensive prepares future political explosions, i.e. it results in the maturing of a major revolutionary crisis.


Such political explosions are inevitable because the current stage of capitalism is one of decay. In this historic period – which began with the Great Recession in 2008 – the decline of capitalism is aggravating all political, economic and social contradictions. The crisis of civilization – climate change, ecological disasters, etc. – is worsening. Social inequality and misery is spreading and the antagonism between the capitalists on one side and the workers and poor on the other side becomes more and visible. Likewise, imperialist aggressions and wars in the Global South are increasing. The same is the case with the rivalry between the Great Powers – in particular the U.S. and China. All this resulted, as we already mentioned above, in a dramatic increase of class struggles in the past decade – not seen since 1945. Such basic lack of equilibrium on the world stage is the reason why the RCIT characterizes this historic period as "revolutionary." We have arrived at such an assessment of this period already in January 2009 and, since then, we have elaborated our analysis in a number of documents. [1]


As we already indicated above, some intelligent bourgeois observers have also become increasingly aware of the explosive nature of the period ahead in the course of the current triple crisis. Here are a few more examples. Leading economists of the International Monetary Fund are warning about “social unrest” once the lockdowns are over. “New waves of social unrest could erupt in some countries if government measures to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic are seen as insufficient or unfairly favoring the wealthy, the IMF said in a new report on Wednesday. (…) While mass protests are unlikely with strict lockdowns in place, unrest could spike when the crisis appeared to be under control, Vitor Gaspar, director of the IMF’s fiscal affairs department, told Reuters in an interview. In India’s commercial capital of Mumbai, thousands of jobless migrant workers protested on Tuesday at a railway station, demanding to be allowed to return to their homes in the countryside, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended a lockdown of the population of 1.3 billion. (…) IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said previous crises and disasters had fostered solidarity, but there could be a different outcome this time. “If the crisis is badly managed and it’s viewed as having been insufficient to help people, you could end up with social unrest,” she told Reuters.[2]


Andreas Kluth form Bloomberg – a mouthpiece of the monopoly bourgeoisie – issues the same warning. In this context, it would be naive to think that, once this medical emergency is over, either individual countries or the world can carry on as before. Anger and bitterness will find new outlets. Early harbingers include millions of Brazilians banging pots and pans from their windows to protest against their government, or Lebanese prisoners rioting in their overcrowded jails. In time, these passions could become new populist or radical movements, intent on sweeping aside whatever ancien regime they define as the enemy. The great pandemic of 2020 is therefore an ultimatum to those of us who reject populism. It demands that we think harder and more boldly, but still pragmatically, about the underlying problems we confront, including inequality. It’s a wake-up call to all who hope not just to survive the coronavirus, but to survive in a world worth living in.[3]


And Henry Kissinger, the long-time voice of American imperialism, also expresses the deep worries of the ruling elite in an article published by the Wall Street Journal under the title “The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order”. Nations cohere and flourish on the belief that their institutions can foresee calamity, arrest its impact and restore stability. When the Covid-19 pandemic is over, many countries’ institutions will be perceived as having failed. Whether this judgment is objectively fair is irrelevant. The reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus. (…) Leaders are dealing with the crisis on a largely national basis, but the virus’s society-dissolving effects do not recognize borders. While the assault on human health will—hopefully— be temporary, the political and economic upheaval it has unleashed could last for generations. (…) Now, we live an epochal period. The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure could set the world on fire. [4]


We point out in passing that throughout history epidemics are usually a reflection of social and economic crisis of a society. Hence, they often result – directly or indirectly – in political instability and popular unrest. [5] As we have pointed out somewhere else, this has been already the case in the 14th century in Europe the "Black Death" resulted in a series of peasant uprisings which ultimately resulted in revolutionary mass uprisings and the decay of feudalism in Western Europe. Likewise there were a number of epidemics in the 19th century which correlated with revolutionary crises in Europe. [6]


What will be the immediate effects of the global counter-revolutionary assault on the class struggle? Of course, we can only elaborate some hypotheses at such an early stage of the crisis. But it seems to us that, on one side, the masses are still in a certain stage of shock. If nearly all capitalist governments and their media – plus the cowardly leaderships of the workers and popular movement – agree about the devastating nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, about the necessity of “social distancing” and lockdown, then it must be true and everyone should try to hole up and wait until it is over. All this is increased by the massive blitz of imposing a state of emergency and the banning all forms of public meetings and protests. Hence, we see widespread confusion and fear. On the other side, such extreme conditions also create hatred as well as hunger. Hence, we have already seen riots in Hubei, Nigeria, Honduras, Panama, Columbia, Bolivia, etc. True, these are raw and spontaneous mass protests. However, we think that such struggles are harbinger of the future. Obviously, revolutionaries must fully support such spontaneous protests and try to help organizing and raising the consciousness.


The analysis which we have presented leads to important consequences for the tactics and slogans which Marxists should put forward in the current situation. On one hand, given the dramatic scale of economic, political and health attacks, the nature of the response must be inevitable defensive. As we have stated in our documents, the priority will be to oppose sackings and wage cuts, to defend social benefits, to get food for survival, to get free access to health care, to have the right to assemble and demonstrate, to remove the state of emergency laws etc. It is hardly necessary to emphasize that revolutionaries must fully support such demands. (See on this our Health Action Program as well as the list of demands at the end of our Manifesto, both are attached in the Appendix.)


So on one hand, due to the nature of the situation, revolutionaries have to focus on raising a number of defensive slogans. However, these demands have to be raised in a highly “explosive” way. By this we mean, as we said in the previous chapter, that revolutionaries must not raise such demands as petitions to the bourgeois governments but rather by calling for mass struggles. Under the current conditions, these are highly revolutionary forms of struggles as they are tantamount with breaking the state of emergency laws which ban all forms of public protests. Hence, the defensive struggle for economic and democratic demands contains a highly explosive potential if it challenges the current authoritarian forms of rule. This means that such slogans – formulated as demands for struggle and not for begging petitions – can result, if the masses really fight for them, relatively quickly in revolutionary struggles for power.


Naturally, we do not have the illusion that the capitalist system will fall soon. The crisis of revolutionary leadership – i.e. the domination of the workers and popular movements by treacherous reformist bureaucrats due to the weakness of authentic revolutionary forces – does not allow this. Rather we are entering a longer period of ferocious class struggles which will result in a number of pre-revolutionary, revolutionary and counter-revolutionary situations. The revolutionary democratic struggle can and will play an important role in this. Lenin already pointed out that the socialist revolution is not a single act but a whole epoch of class struggles: The socialist revolution is not a single act, it is not one battle on one front, but a whole epoch of acute class conflicts, a long series of battles on all fronts, i.e., on all questions of economics and politics, battles that can only end in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. It would be a radical mistake to think that the struggle for democracy was capable of diverting the proletariat from the socialist revolution or of hiding, overshadowing it, etc. On the contrary, in the same way as there can be no victorious socialism that does not practise full democracy, so the proletariat cannot prepare for its victory over the bourgeoisie without an all-round, consistent and revolutionary struggle for democracy.[7]




The main slogan: Conversion of the State of Emergency into a Popular Uprising




For revolutionaries the starting point of any tactic must be the refusal of the bourgeois propaganda calling for “national unity” in order to fight the pandemic. It is under the cover of such reactionary “national unity” that the capitalists are making millions of workers unemployed and cut social benefits. It is under the cover of such reactionary “national unity” that the ruling classes are imposing state of emergency and building up their repression apparatus. The support for “national unity” by the reformist bureaucracy, which dominates the workers and popular organizations, is tantamount to class truce, i.e. the refusal to fight for the interests of the popular masses. In other words, the ideology of “national unity” results in the political and ideological disarming of our class. However, without mass struggles, the workers and popular masses will not achieve anything in the struggle against the political and economic attacks.


Lenin and the Bolsheviks had a lot of experience in fighting against attacks of the ruling class under the cover of “national unity”. During World War I, they were faced with a huge wave of patriotism and calls not to weaken their government in such a difficult hour like a major war. As it is well known, the Marxists refused any such capitulation and rather strived to utilize such situations in order to weaken and ultimately defeat the ruling class. Hence, soon after the beginning of the war in August 1914, the Bolsheviks raised in their Manifesto as the central slogan: “The conversion of the present imperialist war into a civil war is the only correct proletarian slogan.[8] During a cholera epidemic and a famine in Russia in 1910-11, they emphasized in similar spirit that the Marxist propaganda must explain that “a real struggle against famine is inconceivable … without a revolution”. (See on this below)


We think that revolutionaries need to elaborate a similar slogan which summarizes the central line of the whole period. As we have explained above, we have identified the chauvinist bonapartist state machinery as the key obstacle, the central enemy for advancing the liberation struggle in the present phase. And we also concluded that the coming period is full of explosive potential since the contradictions are sharpening dramatically and struggles for immediate demands can easily result in violent clashes with the regimes.


For all these reasons we consider the following slogan as an appropriate summary of the strategic line for the coming period: “Conversion of the State of Emergency into a Popular Uprising”. As mentioned above, revolutionaries have to make a concrete assessment of the consciousness of the masses in each country in order to derive to the necessary slogans for immediate action. But what has to be done now is to explain the masses that they need to fight against the state of emergency regimes and to bring them down in an insurrection. Hence, it is important now to prepare politically and organizationally for the struggles against the new Leviathan. Naturally, such a slogan has to be combined with concrete demands as outlined in our Manifesto or our Health Action Program as well as other appropriate demands from the Transitional Program.


It is particularly urgent to emphasize the necessity that the popular masses must not trust the government and their manipulations which they spread in order to cover their attacks. Hence, revolutionaries must raise slogans like “Workers and Oppressed: Don’t trust the State of the Rich and Powerful! Trust only Yourselves! Such a slogan expresses the necessity to fight the pandemic not in collaboration with the ruling class but rather against it. This must be combined with concrete proposals for grassroots initiatives to improve the health conditions, to organize popular health initiatives, to organize self-defense units for defense against the repression, to fight within the trade union is possible and outside if necessary against the economic attacks, etc.


As said above, revolutionaries must support spontaneous mass protests and help to give them direction and organization. Building action committees in workplaces, neighborhoods, schools and universities is key for this.


In the imperialist countries it is urgent for revolutionaries to agitate for massive aid programs for the oppressed peoples living in the Global South. It is these peoples which will be affected most dramatically by the breakdown of the world economy with all the horrible consequences like hunger and epidemics. Hence, it is urgent that the workers and popular organizations, particularly in the imperialist countries, mobilize for an immediate cancellation of all debts as we as for massive international aid for the peoples of the Global South. Their slogan should be: “The imperialists took the wealth, the health and lives of our people in the East and South! It’s time that the imperialists pay back their debts!


Another crucial task of revolutionaries in the imperialist countries is to oppose all forms of chauvinism against Great Power rivals. As the RCIT has outlined repeatedly, Marxists advocate the policy of revolutionary defeatism in such cases and emphasize that “the main enemy is at home“. In cases of imperialist wars in semi-colonial colonial countries, revolutionaries will advocate the defense of the oppressed people and the defeat of the imperialist enemy.


Furthermore, it is indispensable for revolutionaries to wage an intransigent fight inside the workers and popular movement against the bureaucracies which support the policy of “national unity” and class truce, austerity programs, lockdown policy and the suppression of democratic rights. It is not possible to fight against the counter-revolutionary offensive without fighting against its supporters within the workers and popular movement. “Fight Social-Bonapartism! Break with the Lockdown Left!” – these are slogans which summarize such an orientation.


This does not mean that revolutionaries should refrain from fighting within the workers and popular mass organizations for a correct orientation. They must demand from any “progressive” parliamentary representatives to vote against all reactionary laws enabling mass lockdown, state of emergency, against banning of public assemblies, financial aid programs for the capitalists, etc. No to any participation in or support of bourgeois governments! Likewise they should demand from all workers and popular mass organizations to publish unambiguous statements refusing any policy of class truce and denouncing all these political and economic attacks of the bourgeoisie. They should call for the preparation for and organizing of mass protests. Finally, revolutionaries should call for international coordination and initiatives in order to fight against the global counter-revolutionary offensive as well as against any Great Power chauvinism.


In many circumstances, the class struggles in this initial conjuncture will be limited to basic, immediate demands. Workers stage protests at their work places for better health protection or urban poor break the lockdown and loot supermarkets to get food. In Nigeria’s capital Lagos we have seen first initiatives to build neighborhood self-defense committees. [9]


Naturally, revolutionaries have to support such struggles. They should intervene in order to bring organization and direction into these struggles as well as to explain the connection of such issues with the political counter-revolutionary agenda of the ruling class and the necessity to link all immediate demands with slogans directed towards defeating the state of emergency regimes.


Finally, it is urgent to point out that revolutionaries must adapt their political work to the dramatic change of the conditions. In a number of countries it has been possible until now to work relatively unrestricted under conditions of bourgeois democracy. Of course, there have been always limitations and different forms of repression – in some countries more than in others. However, what we see now is a deterioration of the legal conditions for revolutionary work all over the world. It seems that for the foreseeable future it will be legally banned to have larger public meetings and demonstrations under the pretext of the pandemic. Surveillance will increase dramatically and it might not last long until even disputing the real nature of this pandemic could become punishable.


This means that Marxists have to learn from the experience of countries where political work had to be done under semi-legal or illegal conditions (e.g. Egypt) respectively from the experience of revolutionaries in the past (e.g. the Bolsheviks in Tsarist Russia).




Famine and epidemics: some lessons from Lenin and the Bolsheviks




The approach of Marxists to catastrophes like famine and epidemics was pretty clear. While they recognized that such catastrophes often have “natural” causes (e.g. bad harvest), they explained that it is the duty of the society to help the victims in such circumstances. However, they emphasized that Marxists must not do so by subordinating to the governmental policy. They refused any support for the actions of the Tsarist regime. Quite the opposite, Lenin emphasized that Marxists must explain in such situations that no solution can be achieved within the existing social order and that the only way forward is the revolutionary overthrow of the regime.


Naturally, this did not mean that the Bolsheviks had a passive, fatalist approach. They supported grassroots initiatives of workers and poor peasants to help the victims of such famine and cholera. However, they stressed that such support should be not limited to philanthropically aid but should be combined with political agitation and propaganda among the popular masses.


Finally, it was inconceivable for Lenin and the Bolsheviks to refrain from calling for mass struggles in such periods of famine and cholera. Contrary, they emphasized that such catastrophes are an additional reason for the working class and the poor peasants to fight against the regime and to overthrow it. They did not delay the struggle but called for demonstrations and strikes in the given situation.


As an example for this we refer to the famine and cholera catastrophe which shattered Russia in 1910-11. The cholera begun in June 1910 and had devastating effects. Overall, more than 230,000 cases and 110,000 deaths occurred during this epidemic. The case-fatality rate was a staggering 45 percent. About 20 million people suffered from the consequences of the famine. [10]


Lenin explained in various articles that Marxists must utilize the masses’ experience with the incompetent and greedy regime in order to explain the necessity for the revolutionary overthrow of the autocracy. In an article published at the end of 1911, he wrote: “A real struggle against famine is inconceivable without the appeasement of the peasants’ land hunger, without the relief from the crushing pressure of taxes, without an improvement in their cultural standard, without a decisive change in their legal status, without the confiscation of the landed estates—without a revolution. In this sense this year’s crop failure is a new reminder of the doom that awaits the entire existing political system, the June Third monarchy.[11]


The same idea was repeated in another article published three months later: But famine in present-day Russia, after so many boastful speeches by the tsarist government on the benefits of the new agrarian policy, on the progress of the farms that have left the village commune, etc., is sure to teach the peasants a great deal. The famine will destroy millions of lives, but it will also destroy the last remnants of the savage, barbarian, slavish faith in the tsar, which has prevented the peasants from seeing that there must inevitably be a revolutionary fight against the tsarist monarchy and the landowners. The peasants can find a way out of their condition only by abolishing the landed estates. Only the overthrow of the tsarist monarchy, that bulwark of the landlords, can lead to a life more or less worthy of human beings, to deliverance from starvation and hopeless poverty. It is the duty of every class-conscious worker and every class-conscious peasant to make this clear. This is our main task in connection with the famine. The organisation, wherever possible, of collections among the workers for the starving peasants and the forwarding of such funds through the Social-Democratic members of the Duma—that, of course, is also one of the necessary jobs.[12]


And a resolution of the Sixth (Prague) All-Russia Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party – as the Bolsheviks called themselves at that time – in January 1912 explained the Marxist approach in more detail. This resolution titled “The Tasks of Social-Democracy in the Struggle against the Famine” was drafted by Lenin and sharply criticized the government’s response to the catastrophe as well as the weak response by the liberal opposition parties. It drew three central conclusions which we quote in full.


Having considered all these points, the Conference resolves that it is essential:


(a) To enlist all Social-Democratic forces to extend propaganda and agitation among the broad masses of the population, and in particular among the peasantry, explaining the connection between the famine and tsarism and its en tire policy; to distribute in the villages for agitational purposes the Duma speeches, not only of the Social-Democrats and Trudoviks, but even of such friends of the tsar as Markov the Second, and to popularise the political demands of Social-Democracy—the overthrow of the tsarist monarchy, the establishment of a democratic republic and the confiscation of landed estates;


(b) To support the desire of the workers to aid the famine-stricken as far as possible, advising them to send their do nations only to the Social-Democratic group in the Duma, to the workers’ press, or to workers’ cultural-educational and other associations, etc., and forming special nuclei of Social-Democrats and democrats upon their joining groups, committees or commissions for aid to the famine-stricken;


(c) To endeavour to give expression to the anger of the democratic masses aroused by the famine in demonstrations, mass meetings, and other forms of mass struggle against tsarism.[13]


While we are fully aware of the differences between the concrete conditions of the famine and cholera in Russia in 1910-11 and that of the COVID-19 pandemic, we think that the method of the Bolshevik’s approach is highly instructive for revolutionaries today.


In this context we should also refer briefly to the experience of the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union after taking power in October 1917. It would go beyond the constraints of this work to deal with this issue in detail at this place. However, there exist a number of informative works on this subject. [14]


In summary, the revolutionary government in the times of Lenin and Trotsky was faced with extraordinary challenges. Four years of imperialist war and then another three years of civil war had killed millions of people and destroyed large parts of the country’s economic resources. As a result, Russia faced a drastic decline in public health and was devastated by various plagues. The country experienced a horrible famine in 1921/22. A typhus epidemic between 1918 and 1922 caused 2.5 million deaths and a cholera outbreak between 1921 and 1923 resulted in an estimated 13 million deaths. Add to this the so-called “Spanish flu”. Naturally, these were highly infectious and deadly plagues. The death rate for typhus was 8 to 10% and higher rates in rural areas. There was a high mortality rate of approximately 50% among doctors treating typhus patients in public hospitals.


However, through determined efforts in public health, as part of the construction of a workers and peasant state with a planned economy, the Soviet government was highly successful to overcome this catastrophic situation. As a result, and despite all these mentioned catastrophes, the Soviet government was able to raise the life expectancy from 32 years (1913) to 44 years (1926).


The focus of the Soviets health policy was to improve the social and hygienic conditions of the popular masses in order to undermine the basis for the spread of these diseases. “A Health Statute in 1921 declared “the Communist Party of the Soviet Union will base its public health policy on a comprehensive series of health and sanitary measures designed to prevent the development of disease”. An outbreak of malaria in 1920 prompted the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Moscow to pass a raft of measures to reduce the spread of the disease, establishing compulsory registration of sufferers and those exposed to the disease, malarial stations to provide treatment and clinical and laboratory work. Quinine was distributed duty-free. (…) In April 1919 there was further compulsory vaccination against smallpox and health education campaigns and committees in districts, villages, factories, barracks together with numerous poster campaigns. By March 1920 the Commissariat of Public Health’s focus of attention was the health of school age children, especially those suffering from TB. The Regional Institute for Microbiology and Epidemiology in South East Russia opened in Saratov in 1919. During epidemic outbreaks its epidemiological teams were sent out to assist affected areas. By 1925 a network of medical observation stations, anti plague laboratories and hospitals covering ten towns organised sanitation programmes led by sanitation and anti plague teams to clean workplaces and workers domestic accommodation, incinerate dwellings, carry out autopsies, organise burials and enforce isolation zones, combat rodents and fleas and run health education campaigns. [15]


The health policy of the Soviet government can be summarized in an official slogan which was propagated at that time: “On from the struggle against epidemics to the fight for more healthful working and living conditions”.


However, it is equally noteworthy that despite the highly infectious and deadly epidemics which devastated the country at that time, the Soviet government did not resort to lockdowns of the population. Neither did they ban mass gatherings or propagate “social distancing”. Such individualistic and backward measures were alien to the Bolsheviks. Of course, they refused to resort to such measures not because they were not aware of the infectious nature of diseases like typhus (especially spotted fever).


Dr. Mühlens, a German professor of medicine who worked in Russia in the early 1920s in order to support the efforts of the Soviet health authorities, published a pamphlet on his experience in 1923. His report demonstrates that the Bolsheviks were fully aware of the fact that mass gatherings increase the danger of spreading diseases. In Moscow one could see an increase of the number of diseases after all larger celebrations, after gatherings of workers who were already infected. [16]


But as Marxists the Bolsheviks recognized that the main instrument to fight such epidemics is to improve the living conditions of the people so that any disease does not find conditions for easy transmission. At the same time the Soviet government recognized that any social improvement is only possible if the workers and popular masses unite in collective action and do not separate individualistically via “social distancing”.


These are important lessons to be learned for today. It is absurd that so-called leftists today support such reactionary concepts like mass lockdown and “social distancing” with banning of mass actions. The Bolsheviks in the early 1920s faced much worse epidemics than COVID-19 and they had much more primitive social and medical resources to combat such diseases than it is the case today. Nevertheless, they never resorted to similar measures of mass repression against the population as most bourgeois governments are doing today.


The same is true for the whole communist movement. The so-called “Spanish flu” which raged the world from January 1918 to December 1920 was one of the worst pandemics in human history. It infected 500 million people – about a third of the world's population at the time. There are different estimations of the death toll but they range from about 17 million to 50 million or even up to 100 million. [17]


However, the response of the communists at that time was certainly not to call people to stay home, to stop their mass actions and class struggles or even to call for repressive state measures like mass lockdown. Contrary, the communists at that time intensified the class struggle and the collective mass activities. They fought for the overthrow of the capitalist class in order to create the conditions for a better, socialist society – a society which will overcome poverty and misery and with it the conditions for the spread of such deadly pandemics. It is absurd if groups which claim to stand in the tradition of the early Communist International have a completely contrary approach today. It is a shameful fact that such leftists support the state bonapartist suppression of democratic rights in times of COVID-19 while the communists totally opposed this and called for mass struggles in times of the “Spanish flu” (which was much more deadly than the Corona Virus)! The RCIT and all authentic revolutionaries today can not but follow the tradition of the communist movement in the times of Lenin and Trotsky!




Reactionary opponents of the lockdown




Left-wing supporters of the state-bonapartist lockdown policy like to refute our arguments by referring to reactionary forces which oppose the lockdown policy. They demagogically accuse us that we would “have the same position like Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro”. This is an argument which can be diplomatically characterized as mind-bendingly stupid.


It is a well-known method of anti-Marxist demagogues to slander revolutionaries as “supporters” or “agents” of evil powers. In World War I the Bolsheviks were accused of being “agents of German imperialism” because they called for the defeat of Russian imperialism. Such accusations were also raised by the “left-wing” parties of the Kerensky government in summer 1917, i.e. the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries. Similarly the Stalinists and social democrats accused the Trotskyists as “agents of Hitler” and “objective accomplice of fascism” in the 1930s because they refused to defend Western imperialism against Germany. In short, such accusations are well-known reactionary methods of slander.


Of course, in the real world it often happens that this or that project of a bourgeois government is opposed not only by revolutionaries but also by reactionaries. There exist always differences – sometimes smaller and sometimes larger – within the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois classes. There were pro-German circles within the ruling clique of the Tsar which opposed Russia’s war against the Central Powers in 1914-16. For the Russian social-imperialists this was all the same – the Bolsheviks opposed Russia’s war efforts and so did the pro-German aristocrats in Saint Petersburg. Likewise, there were pro-Nazi circles in the ruling class in France and Britain in 1939-40 which opposed a war against Hitler. We will find similar phenomena in more recent time. The extreme right-wing party of Le Pen (the father) opposed France’s participation in the imperialist war against Iraq in 1991. Naturally, this did not stop us to oppose this war too – of course from an internationalist and anti-imperialist point of view. When U.S. imperialism demagogically “supports” the rights of the nationally oppressed Uyghurs in China, should we reduce our real, internationalist support for the Muslim brothers and sisters?! Or if Russia and China condemn the aggression of U.S. imperialism against Iran, does this reduce our opposition against Trump’s sanctions and saber-rattling?! Sometimes, right-wing forces in opposition oppose this or that austerity plan of a government with demagogic “pro-people” phrases. Should this mislead revolutionaries to stop their opposition to such attacks? Of course not!


In the concrete case of the COVID-19 crisis things are pretty obvious. As the RCIT has explained in its documents since the beginning of this phase, revolutionaries call for opposition against all austerity cuts, for the expansion of the public health service, for free mass testing, etc. In order to fight for such demands, it is necessary to defend democratic rights instead of supporting the lockdown which nothing but disarms the working class. Needless to say that right-wing opponents of the lockdown do neither call for mass mobilizations against austerity and the capitalist crisis nor do they call for an expansion of the public health care.


But what are the specific reasons why Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro initially were opposed to the lockdown and in the case of Trump and Bolsonaro remain critical? It seems to us that there are basically two reasons. First, as we have seen in a number of other cases, Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro are rather clowns than strategic thinkers. Their governments are highly instable and they reduce their considerations to focus on winning the next election by any means. Hence, for example Trump prefers to build a “Mexican Wall” with money from the Pentagon budget instead of keeping the strength of the U.S. military abroad. Politically speaking, these clowns are incapable of acting as representatives of the “ideal total capitalist”.


Second, and related to the first point, the kind of right-wing forces like Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro usually represent only a minority faction within the monopoly bourgeoisie. Hence, they need to rely – more than other factions of the bourgeoisie– on the support of petty-bourgeois forces and small and middle capitalists. Such forces – small business people, small and middle capitalists, workers in rural areas who are employed in small enterprises, etc. – are strongly and immediately affected by the shutdown of the economy as they lose the material basis of their income. Since politicians like Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro depend particularly on the support of such layers, they are more reluctant to support lockdowns.


Marxists support social and economic programs which defend first and foremost the interests of the working class and the oppressed. However, we will also defend the economic interests of petty-bourgeois layers in so far as we can turn them against the monopoly capitalists and hence create a basis for unity with the working class. We therefore support aid programs (financed by higher taxes of the big capitalists) in support of such petty-bourgeois layers in times of economic slump. Again, needless to say that such a policy is diametrically opposed to that of the right-wing reactionaries a la Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro.


Finally, the idea that right-wing reactionary governments would tend to oppose the lockdown is simple not true. Yes, Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro hesitate or hesitated for the reasons mentioned above. However, other right-wing governments – which are no less reactionary than Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro – enthusiastically support the lockdown policy. See e.g. Modi in India, Netanyahu in Israel or Orbans in Hungary.




Allies and opponents in future mass struggles




As we have outlined in our analysis above, the current events are a historic watershed. It will accelerate and deepen a process which has been taking place already in the years before. We have seen a rise of class struggles resulting in the emergence of new layers of young activists. These militants, on one hand, have a raw consciousness and lack experience. On the other hand, they are free from the conservative political ballast of the past.


Furthermore, the aggravation of the capitalist crisis as well as the escalating rivalry between the imperialist Great Powers have deepened the contradictions within the official workers and popular movements. Reformist parties like SYRIZA in Greece have led governments which imposed years of brutal austerity and privatization on the popular masses. Bolivarian parties like the PSUV in Venezuela are a driving force in subordinating the country to Russian and Chinese imperialism. The French “Communist” Party as well as Jean-Luc Mélenchon supported the military intervention of Paris in Mali in 2013. The increasing distance between the leading reformist and populist parties in the official workers and popular movements, on one hand, and the new generations of militants active in the revolutionary uprisings of the past decade, on the other hand, has become very visible. One just needs to remember the vulgar denunciations of the liberation struggles in the Arab world by these reformist parties which in a number of cases mounted to the shameless support for the counterrevolution (e.g. support for Assad or the military coup of General Sisi in Egypt in July 2013 by Stalinists and Bolivarians). Many so-called Trotskyists also shared such position or have taken a neutral stance in such conflicts. Likewise we see many Stalinists, Bolivarians and “Trotskyists” who – in open or disguised fashion – side with Russian or Chinese imperialism against the U.S. rival. There have also been various leftists who refused to support the Gilet Jaune movement in France.


All these developments have been put on a qualitatively higher (or one could also say lower) level by the recent global counter-revolutionary offensive. Nearly all leaderships of the official workers and popular movements and large sectors of the so-called left support the lockdown policy and the banning of public assemblies in the current period. In short, these forces are supporting the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie more than ever before in recent history.


For these reasons, we believe that the developments in the new Leviathan era will massively exacerbate the polarization within the workers and popular movement. The healthy elements – most likely a minority among these forces – will break with the majority and move to the left. However, the majority will continue and accelerate their turn to the right and to the camp of counter-revolution.


Since World War I Marxists have traditionally characterized those reformists within the workers movement supporting the imperialist policy as “social-chauvinists” or “social-imperialists”. Given the fact that the major element of the current crisis is the global counter-revolutionary shift to state bonapartism we have to characterize reformist and centrist forces supporting these measures as “social-bonapartists”. Such a Lockdown Left (or Leviathan Left) has joined the other, the counter-revolutionary side of the barricade.


The RCIT and all authentic revolutionaries will strengthen their efforts to fight against the social-bonapartist forces within the trade unions and the workers and popular movements in general. We welcome any rapprochement with leftward-moving socialist forces which share our broad analysis and conclusions in the current world situation and which are willing to break with the Lockdown Left. We are ready to participate in any concrete project which can advance such a process. The goal can only be to open a process of discussion and close collaboration and, if possible, to work towards fusion of forces. This is the only way to drive forward the work towards building a new World Party of Socialist Revolution.


It is important in this context to emphasize that when we speak about such forces moving to the left we don’t limit this exclusively to self-proclaimed Trotskyists. Lenin recognized during World War I that potential companions of the revolutionary movement could not only be found among the Marxist forces in the Second International but also from outside. Hence, he looked to potential allies among syndicalists. Later in the early times of the Communist International, revolutionaries also opened discussion and tried to win – in some cases with success – sectors of Anarchism, Chinese, Indian and Korean nationalists as well as black nationalists in the U.S. (e.g. the so-called “African Blood Brotherhood”). [18]


Likewise, revolutionaries today have to be open and actively approach progressive forces from outside the “Trotskyist” and even outside the “Marxist” milieu. It would be surprising if the current conclusions in world politics will have no repercussions with Maoism, Pan-Africanism, various petty-bourgeois democratic movements, etc.


Furthermore, revolutionaries should be open to collaborate with forces with which we share no programmatic outlook and with which no fusion can be possible. However, if there is a common ground in terms of opposing state bonapartist oppression, imperialist wars, austerity attacks, etc. joint activities should not be excluded. Naturally, such collaboration must be limited to a strict united front tactic, i.e. joint practical activities without mixing the political banner.


Most importantly, we repeat, revolutionaries must refuse any orientation towards the middle class, the liberal intelligentsia and the labor aristocracy – an orientation which is typical for most of the so-called left. The RCIT has always criticized such an aristocratic orientation of the left. In fact, the left’s current collapse into social-bonapartism is the result of its political and ideological integration into this petty-bourgeois milieu. No, revolutionaries must – now more than ever – orientate towards the lower and middle strata of the working class and the oppressed. It is these layers which are most dramatically affected by the current triple crisis of capitalism. It is these layers which will rebel first against the counter-revolutionary attacks. It is these layers which are least affected by all the Stalinist and reformist prejudices. In summary, the slogans of revolutionaries in building a new World Party of Socialist Revolution must be to break with the so-called “Left” and to orientate towards the working class and oppressed masses.


Our orientation is based on the approach of Lenin and Trotsky as we have explained in detail in other works. [19] Here we reproduce only three quotes to underline our argument. Lenin emphasized the fundamental difference in the orientation between the opportunists and the Marxists when he wrote in 1916: “And it is therefore our duty, if we wish to remain socialists, to go down lower and deeper, to the real masses; this is the whole meaning and the whole purport of the struggle against opportunism. By exposing the fact that the opportunists and social-chauvinists are in reality betraying and selling the interests of the masses, that they are defending the temporary privileges of a minority of the workers, that they are the vehicles of bourgeois ideas and influences, that they are really allies and agents of the bourgeoisie, we teach the masses to appreciate their true political interests, to fight for socialism and for the revolution through all the long and painful vicissitudes of imperialist wars and imperialist armistices.[20]


Likewise, in explaining the strategic orientation of Bolshevism, Trotsky said: „The strength and meaning of Bolshevism consists in the fact that it appeals to oppressed and exploited masses and not to the upper strata of the working class.“ [21] And in the famous founding program of the Fourth International – the Transitional Program Trotsky stated: „Opportunist organizations by their very nature concentrate their chief attention on the top layers of the working class and therefore ignore both the youth and the women workers. The decay of capitalism, however, deals its heaviest blows to the woman as a wage earner and as a housewife. The sections of the Fourth International should seek bases of support among the most exploited layers of the working class; consequently, among the women workers. Here they will find inexhaustible stores of devotion, selflessness and readiness to sacrifice.“ [22]


Some years ago, the RCIT summarized its approach on this issue in a major document on the world situation. We think that our conclusions are more relevant than ever: It is because of its orientation to the labor bureaucracy and the petty-bourgeoisie intelligentsia that the bulk of the centrist and left-reformist milieu is increasingly poisoned by pessimism, skepticism, moaning about the lack of “left unity”, hysterical renunciation of the “Leninist hyper-centralism” and the “vanguard party” concept as well as praising of liquidationism. Authentic revolutionaries however orientate towards the new, militant layers from the working class and the oppressed who are looking for a program and a strategy to fight against exploitation and oppression. This is where our optimism and firmness stems from. Those who wish to develop in a revolutionary direction must break from an orientation towards the centrist and left-reformist swamp and look for rooting themselves in the healthy, militant proletarian milieu.


This does not mean that revolutionaries should ignore the reformist parties or the centrist groups. The policy of the united front tactic remains in full force as well as the need for a hard struggle to remove these revisionists’ influence in the workers vanguard. But in the first line the RCIT orientates towards new militants and initiatives from the ranks of the workers and the oppressed. From these layers only, new promising forces and a new dynamic will come. And such developments might affect healthier elements from the ranks of left-reformism and centrism and help them to break with the revisionists’ rotten method.


Revolutionaries have to understand in depth that not only has capitalism entered a new historic period of massive instability and sharp turns, but the international workers’ movement has done so too. No stone is left unturned. Those forces, who don’t understand the character of the period and its corresponding tasks, are doomed to degenerate more and more and get pushed to the right. For those forces, however, who are coming closer to an understanding of the sharply antagonistic nature of the present period, who are willing to join the masses in their struggles – in particular the lower strata of the working class and the oppressed – without arrogantly sneering about their “backward consciousness” and who are at the same time determined to fight intransigently for the revolutionary program and who ruthlessly attack the reformist and centrist traitors – those forces can revolve themselves and play a healthy and utterly positive role in the struggle to build the new World Party of Socialist Revolution. Being aware of the limitations of historic analogies, one has to see that to a certain degree the present period bears similarities to the years after the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In this period the workers’ movement went through sharp crises, splits and transformations. In this period the rottenness of the centrist majority of the Second International – which already existed before 1914 but was less obvious – came to full light. The orientation and tactics of Lenin and his supporters are highly instructive for the Bolshevik-Communists today.[23]




[1] See e.g. chapter 14 in Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2013, http://www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net/. See also the annual World Perspectives documents which the RCIT has published in the past years: RCIT: World Perspectives 2020: A Pre-Revolutionary Global Situation. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, 8 February 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2020/; RCIT: World Perspectives 2019: Heading Towards a Volcanic Political Eruption. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, 2 March 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2019/; Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, RCIT Books, Vienna 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2018/; RCIT: World Perspectives 2017: The Struggle against the Reactionary Offensive in the Era of Trumpism, 18 December 2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2017/; RCIT: World Perspectives 2016: Advancing Counterrevolution and Acceleration of Class Contradictions Mark the Opening of a New Political Phase, 23 January 2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2016/; RCIT: Perspectives for the Class Struggle in Light of the Deepening Crisis in the Imperialist World Economy and Politics, 11 January 2015, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-january-2015/; RCIT: Escalation of Inner-Imperialist Rivalry Marks the Opening of a New Phase of World Politics. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation Adopted by the RCIT’s International Executive Committee, April 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism (English-language Journal of the RCIT) No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-april-2014/; RCIT: Aggravation of Contradictions, Deepening of Crisis of Leadership. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation Adopted by the RCIT’s International Executive Committee, 9.9.2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 15, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-september2013/; RCIT: The World Situation and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Communists. Theses of the International Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, March 2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 8, www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-march-2013

[3] Andreas Kluth: This Pandemic Will Lead to Social Revolutions. As the coronavirus sweeps the world, it hits the poor much harder than the better off. One consequence will be social unrest, even revolutions, Bloomberg, 11. April 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-04-11/coronavirus-this-pandemic-will-lead-to-social-revolutions?srnd=premium-europe

[4] Henry Kissinger: The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order, Wall Street Journal, 3 April 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-coronavirus-pandemic-will-forever-alter-the-world-order-11585953005

[5] See on this e.g. Richard J. Evans: Epidemics and Revolutions: Cholera in Nineteenth-Century Europe, in: Terence Ranger and Paul Slack (Ed.): Epidemics and Ideas. Essays on the historical perception of pestilence, Cambridge University Press, New York 1992, pp. 149-173

[6] Yossi Schwartz: The 2019 Corona Virus and the Decay of Capitalism, February 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-and-decay-of-capitalism/

[7] V.I. Lenin: The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination (1916); in: LCW 22, p. 144

[8] V.I. Lenin: The War and Russian Social-Democracy (1914); in: LCW Vol. 21, p.34

[9] See on this RSV: COVID-19 Crisis in Nigeria: State Repression and the Left, 13th April, 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/report-on-covid-19-crisis-in-nigeria-13-4-2020/; Fidelis Mbah: Nigeria: Lagos residents defend homes against curfew bandits, 15 April 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/nigeria-lagos-residents-defend-homes-curfew-bandits-200414165917113.html

[10] See on this e.g. Charlotte E. Henze: Disease, Health Care and Government in Late Imperial Russia. Life and death on the Volga, 1823–1914, Routledge, New York  2011 (chapter 5); George Childs Kohn: Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence: From Ancient Times to the Present, Third Edition, Facts On File, New York 2008, pp. 327-329; John P. Davis: Russia in the Time of Cholera: Disease under Romanovs and Soviets, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018 (Chapter IV)

[11] V. I. Lenin: Famine and the Reactionary Duma, in: LCW Vol. 17, p. 449

[12] V. I. Lenin: Famine, in: LCW Vol. 17, p. 528

[13] V. I. Lenin: The Tasks of Social-Democracy in the Struggle against the Famine, Resolution of the Sixth (Prague) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P., January 5–17 (18–30), 1912, in: LCW Vol. 17, p. 475

[14] See on this e.g. Christopher Williams: Health and Welfare in St. Petersburg, 1900–1941: Protecting the Collective, Routledge, New York 2018; Sir Arthur Newsholme and John Adams Kingsbury: Red Medicine: Socialized Health in Soviet Russia, William Heinemann (Medical Books), London 1934; Dorena Caroli: Bolshevism, Stalinism, and Social Welfare (1917–1936), in: International Review of Social History, 2003, Vol.48(1), pp.27-54; Susan Gross Solomon: The Limits of Government Patronage of Sciences: Social Hygiene and the Soviet State, 1920–1930, in: Social History of Medicine, Vol. 3; Issue 3 (1990), pp. 405-435; Barbara Khwaja: Health Reform in Revolutionary Russia, 26 May 2017, https://www.sochealth.co.uk/2017/05/26/health-reform-revolutionary-russia/; Prof. Dr. P. Mühlens: Die russische Hunger- und Seuchenkatastrophe in den Jahren 1921-1922, Verlag von Julius Springer, Berlin 1923, https://www.springer.com/de/book/9783642940422

[15] Barbara Khwaja: Health Reform in Revolutionary Russia

[16] Prof. Dr. P. Mühlens: Die russische Hunger- und Seuchenkatastrophe in den Jahren 1921-1922, p. 28 (our translation; emphasis in the original)

[17] See on this e.g. Jaime Breitnauer: The Spanish Flu Epidemic and its Influence on History. Stories from the 1918–1920 global flu pandemic, Pen and Sword Books Ltd, Philadelphia 2019

[18] See on this e.g. James P. Cannon: First Ten Years of American Communism: Report of a Participant, Pathfinder, New York 1973; Hakim Adi: Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939, Africa World Press, Trenton 2013

[19] See e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Building the Revolutionary Party in Theory and Practice. Looking Back and Ahead after 25 Years of Organized Struggle for Bolshevism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2014

[20] V. I. Lenin: Imperialism and the Split In Socialism (1916), in: LCW Vol. 23, p. 120

[21] Leon Trotsky: Perspectives and Tasks in the East. Speech on the third anniversary of the Communist University for the Toilers of the East (21 April 1924); in: Leon Trotsky Speaks, Pathfinder 1972, p. 205

[22] Leon Trotsky: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. The Transitional Program (1938); in: Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, p. 218

[23] RCIT: The World Situation and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Communists (March 2013). Theses of the International Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, March 2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 8, p. 42, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-march-2013/