V. The Lockdown Left: A Critique




Lenin once commented that war is often useful in exposing what is rotten and discarding the conventionalities.[1] The same can be said about the current COVID-19 crisis. The recent weeks have helped to “expose what is rotten” in the reformist and centrist left.


As we have shown in previous chapters the capitalist classes all over the world have launched gigantic economic attacks on the working class. Millions and millions of people have been thrown on the streets, the urban and rural poor are desperately fighting for survival, and many small shops have been driven into bankruptcy. However, there is hardly any resistance by the official workers and popular movements against these attacks of the bourgeoisie. Likewise the reformists launch no protests against the rapid expansion of the police and surveillance state. And, as we have also shown, all these capitulations by the reformists have taken place under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis.




Stalinist and left-reformist executors of the state-bonapartist lockdown policy




In many countries the leaderships of the trade unions and popular organizations agreed to the emergency economic, social and health programs decreed by the bourgeois governments. In several cases, reformist parties were even active promoters of the austerity and state bonapartist programs. As we have shown in an article, “left-wing” parties like PODEMOS, the Partido Comunista de España (PCE, Communist Party of Spain) – the historic party of Spanish Stalinism – and its ally Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) are part of the government coalition led by the social democratic Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. [2] They have all fully supported the state bonapartist attacks. The PCE published statements saying explicitly: “We welcome the declaration of the state of alert, which allows the Government to coordinate and plan measures and functions of any public administration.[3]


The same is the case in South Africa where the Communist Party is a crucial part of the government coalition since 1994. As such, the SACP shares full responsibility for the nationwide military-patrolled lockdown which has been imposed on the people and which has caused massive hunger and poverty.


These are not isolated examples. In many countries Stalinists and social democrats actively support the lockdown policy. In Austria, the Stalinist party only dared to appeal to the conservative-led government to violate fundamental democratic rights for not too long: “While many measures to contain the spreading of the Corona Virus COVID-19 are reasonable we also note that these restrictions of freedom of assembly and the massive interference in personal civil rights and liberties as well as in labor rights must be only of limited duration.[4]


In countries where a lockdown and the suppression of democratic rights have not been already imposed, the Stalinists call for such – of course all under the cover of COVID-19. In Brazil, the PCB even opens its statement by praising and demanding “largest possible scale, of social isolation” which means nothing else but a ban of mass assemblies and activities. “All over the world, the necessary actions to combat the spread of the coronavirus include the adoption, on the largest possible scale, of social isolation, which significantly reduces the economic activity of the countries.[5]


Even in countries where the lockdown has very visibly provoked dramatic consequences for the popular masses, the Stalinists refrain from calling for its end and from calling for any struggles. In a recently published statement, the Political Bureau of the CPI(Marxists) in India is forced to admit the brutal consequences of the lockdown. The experience of the three week lockdown has shown the large scale spread of hunger and inadequate shelter for a significant section of our people.“ They are also forced to admit that the Modi government did not do any mass-testing during the period of the lockdown. The lockdown period should have been utilised for conducting large scale testing to identify the clusters where the pandemic is spreading in order to isolate and contain. Testing, however, remains at a very low level, one of the lowest in the world.” What a surprise! As if this would have ever been the intention of the Modi government! The whole purpose of the lockdown is to atomize and weaken the people and not to improve their health situation!


However, irrespective of all this obvious devastating and useless role of the lockdown, the CPI(M) limit itself to … call the right-wing Modi government to do better! “It is most unfortunate that the Prime Minister did not decry some attempts that seek to sharpen social and communal polarisation. The government must ensure that such disruptive efforts do not occur. We can only win this battle against Covid-19 with complete unity amongst our people. The Prime Minister said that the government will review the situation on April 20 and then take measures for some relaxation. Arrangements must be made to transport the migrant workers back to their homes. The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) calls upon the Central Government to immediately address these issues and issue the necessary guidelines.[6] Not a single word about bringing down the state of emergency or about the need for the masses to fight back!




“Trotskyist” cheerleaders of the bonapartist state of emergency




A number of self-proclaimed “Trotskyist” organizations share this outlook. The International Marxist Tendency (IMT) led by Alan Woods is an example for social-bonapartism in “Trotskyist” clothes. The IMT’s central statement on the COVID-19 crisis praises the draconic lockdown policy of the Stalinist-capitalist regime in China as an example. It even supports China’s criticism of the lockdown policy of the Italian Conte government that it is not draconic enough! „The emergency efforts must be organised by neighbourhood and workplace committees, which must be connected on a local and national level to organise a fully effective lockdown as the fastest means of dealing with the virus. (…) China today is undoubtedly a capitalist country. But it is a peculiar form of capitalism, which still retains some of the elements of central planning and state-controlled industries that it inherited from the past. It is precisely these elements that gave China a colossal advantage in combating the present pandemic, with quite remarkable results. This fact has been commented on by people who would not be normally sympathetic to socialism. The advantages China had in facing the Wuhan outbreak was that it could lockdown a huge area with around 50 million people, while using the resources of the rest of the country to come to the aid of the people in lockdown. They could send in nurses and doctors from other parts of the country; they could send resources from all around the country. Italy faced a very different situation. It received no help from the rest of Europe. In fact, countries like Germany blocked the export of face masks for instance, thinking in very short-term national terms. Had there been an internationally coordinated operation, things could have been very different. Here it is worth noting what Chinese doctors presently in Italy are saying needs doing. They have observed the situation in the country and from their experience of how they combatted the virus in Wuhan, they are of the opinion that there is still too much movement of people on the streets. This confirms what we have been saying ever since this new virus broke out: all non-essential production must be stopped. Italy could have been totally locked down, with the rest of Europe sending material and human resources to combat the initial spread of the virus. By doing so, the period of lockdown could have been shorter and more effective. Instead we had each national member state of the European Union acting in different ways and at different speeds.[7]


The editor of the IMT’s website states in another article: “For now, restrictions in China are being eased, but they are likely to be reimposed once a new outbreak takes off. Denmark and Italy are under lockdown. Many other countries will have to do the same. The governments are trying to appear to be “doing something”. While some of the measures taken make sense from an epidemiological point of view, they are undermined by private property, the anarchy of capitalism and the existence of the nation state.” [8]


In Nigeria, the IMT is forced to admit that the lockdown results in hunger. Its conclusion: we want a lockdown without hunger! Our concrete demand is: there should be adequate food, appropriate housings and other essentials for all while we keep safe at home to keep the virus at bay. (…) We demand: No to lockdown enhanced hunger – lockdown must come with adequate provision of food and essential household requirements for all in need.[9] What a self-contradictory and illusionary demand! This is like accepting the cobra snake in your bed but asking it to leave one alone! As the RCIT comrades in Nigeria explained, one can not force the government to provide sufficient aid without mass struggles, i.e. without breaking the lockdown and the banning of public demonstrations and assemblies! [10]


The extremely opportunist nature of the IMT’s social-bonapartism becomes very obvious when looking to its concrete implementation. In Austria the government coalition led by the conservative party of Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz imposed a state of emergency on 15 March. The central component of it is a decree by the minister of health banning people to leave their homes except for most necessary activities. The same decree also bans any public assembly and demonstration. (Later the government extended this ban of public assemblies until June.) The government also ordered the deployment of the army and the civil service (the alternative to the military service). [11] Naturally, the Austrian section of the RCIT immediately issued a public statement which strongly condemned this state of emergency and the suppression of democratic rights. [12]


The IMT in Austria however took a very different stance. It reacted with enthusiasm to the decree of the conservative-led government. In an official declaration of its leadership, the IMT stated: Europe is confronted with the biggest emergency situation since World War II. It is necessary to follow the instructions of the health authorities to isolate oneself physically. We support these provisions in content and practice. (…) People are now conscripted to the civil service in order to manage the foreseeable health emergency situation. We appeal to the conscripted age groups to quickly follow the draft, to volunteer and to put themselves into service to fight the catastrophe.[13]


We leave aside at this point that at the time when the IMT issued this statement, no more than three people had died in Austria and until now the number of death is still a fraction of those who die every year because of influenza. We also leave aside the cynical imperialist arrogance of the IMT speaking of “the worst catastrophe in Europe since World War II” when more than 200.000 people were killed during the Bosnian War in 1992-95 (most of them Bosniaks). Surely, these were “only” people from the Balkans and not from “civilized” Western Europe so they seem not to count for the IMT. They count even less so for the IMT as these centrists shamefully refused at that time to defend the Bosnian people against the genocidal Serbian chauvinists – in contrast to our movement and to all authentic revolutionary internationalists. [14]


Anyway, the public call of the IMT Austria to wholeheartedly support the state of emergency measures of the conservative government (including the ban of public assemblies and demonstrations) is a shameful demonstration of servile social-bonapartism. The same with the call to the youth to volunteer for the civil service, which is a low-paid service for the capitalist state similar to the military service. When World War I began, social democrats called the youth to patriotically serve the government “in this difficult hour”. When the COVID-19 crisis began, the IMT called the youth in the same spirit to patriotically serve the government “in this difficult hour”.


The IMT is unfortunately not the only self-proclaimed Trotskyist organization supporting the lockdown policy. In Germany, well-known intellectuals of the Mandelist Fourth International like Winfried Wolf have also welcomed the lockdown policy. They even criticized the conservative-led government for doing so “two weeks too late”. [15] It is only logically that they also accept the massive attacks on democratic rights. They only appeal to the bourgeois government not to overdo their anti-democratic assault. Hence they demand that “restrictions of constitutional rights should be clearly limited and temporarily”. [16] No doubt, the ruling class will not be worried too much about such “criticism”!


Another example for such a capitulationist policy is the “League for the Fifth International” whose most prominent section was “Workers Power” in Britain (before it began its deep entryism in the Labour Party five years ago and renamed itself into “Red Flag”). It criticizes the bourgeois governments for not imposing earlier and stricter a lockdown! Having delayed its response while it worked out what was in its long term interest, the government has now been stampeded into an increasingly authoritarian stance, imposing the lockdown it should, and could, have imposed weeks ago.[17] While it is aware that the policy of atomizing the working class “is not a long-term solution”, it supports it as a short- and middle-term solution. “Social distancing is not a long-term solution. (…) While socialists support and call for measures that limit social contact and place restrictions on people’s movement and contact with each other, so long as these measures are necessary for public safety, we in no way sign away our rights to determine how they are used and for how long they should last.[18] The L5I suggest a lockdown policy for a longer period as “the restrictive control of the epidemic would shut down large parts of production for several months, but then allow production to resume with a largely undiminished workforce.[19] Evidently, these former revolutionaries are either not aware of the dramatic consequences for the working class if it is disabled to fight in the midst of a new 1929-like slump and the dramatic build-up of a police- and surveillance state … or it willingly hazard the consequences. Even if it is only ignorance, such stupidity borders to political criminality! [20]




Excurse: Revisionist misunderstanding of the nature of the capitalist state




The IMT’s and others criminal illusions in the capitalist state are not accidental. They are inextricably linked with their failure to understand the class nature of the capitalist state and the consequential tactics for revolutionaries. As we have pointed out in the previous chapter III, Marxists base their understanding of the bourgeois state on recognizing that it is a “special organisation of force, an organisation of violence for the suppression of some class.“ (Lenin) From this follows that the socialist revolution can not take place as a peaceful transformation but only as a violent, armed uprising aimed at the destruction of the capitalist state machinery as Lenin stated. “The supersession of the bourgeois state by the proletarian state is impossible without a violent revolution.“ [21] The proletarian revolution is impossible without the forcible destruction of the bourgeois state machine. [22]


However, sectors of centrism – like the whole tradition of Ted Grant, Peter Taaffe and Alan Woods – have always refused the Marxist approach as this would have undermined their pacifist and opportunist adaption to the bourgeois state in general and the reformist bureaucracy in particular. Alan Woods stated in a theoretical article on the IMT’s theory of state: 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.“ [23] This is even more so, according to Woods, because bourgeois institutions of the capitalist state could become instruments of socialist transformation. Hence, in the dream world of the IMT, a revolution could even take place via parliamentary elections! Under these circumstances, there is not the slightest question, not only that the revolution in Portugal could have been carried out peacefully, but that it could have been done through parliament.” [24]


(Dis)armed with such a petty-bourgeois pacifist theory, it is not surprising that the IMT considers the capitalist state as capable of progressive tasks. In their world view, the capitalist state has a dual nature. Sometimes it acts against the interests of the working class and sometimes (as in the case of the current COVID-19 crisis) it acts in favour of the proletarian interests. They ignore that the health politics of the capitalist state is simply a continuation of its general reactionary politics. Lenin once remarked: In these circumstances, in view of the unprecedentedly wide-spread distortion of Marxism, our prime task is to re-establish what Marx really taught on the subject of the state.[25] Observing the tremendous theoretical and practical confusion of the IMT, this task has not lost its importance!




“Speech is silver, silence is golden.” Not in revolutionary politics!




Other centrists have not gone that far. However, hardly any of them has been prepared to oppose the lockdown and the banning of democratic rights. The International Socialist Alternative (ISA), which split last year from Peter Taaffe’s CWI [26], indicates in a long statement of its international leadership that they support the lockdown at least in some regions. In those regions where quarantine is necessary, the distribution of food and other necessary items has to be organised publicly by democratically elected committees to prevent a situation where those with more money get “served” better than others.[27]


The ISA’s former comrades have published several extensive statements on the COVID-19 crisis. However while the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) raises all possible demands in terms of defense of wages, health protection etc. they do not challenge the lockdown itself and hence the very conditions which make it hardly possible to fight for all those demands!


In lockdowns, the CWI demands action to immediately safeguard living standards for those unable to work, to maintain necessary food and medical supplies and to protect the poorest in society.[28]The union leaders have for the most part been invisible during this crisis. They should be going onto the offensive demanding everything necessary for workers to withstand a lockdown.[29] A so-called workers’ charter to tackle the crisis”, issued by the “mother section” of the CWI in England and Wales, does not even mention the issue of the lockdown! [30]


This is not because the CWI would not be aware of the consequences of the lockdown of the popular masses. In a statement issued by its international leadership, the CWI notes: “Repression has also been a feature of the lockdowns, using force and fines, rather than trying to both provide effective material and financial support for those living under lockdown arrangements and taking the necessary steps to try to limit the virus spread.” [31] However, they refuse to call for an end of the lockdown policy which currently affects a third of humanity and which dramatically reduces the democratic space for the working class and the oppressed to fight for their rights!


We see a similar scenario in the case of the so-called Lambertists with the POID in France as their major component. Many demands, many denunciations of the capitalists … but no call for mass struggles against the state of emergency and the lockdown policy! [32]


Such policy of centrism has a lot of parallels with the semi-hidden support for imperialist war provided by various groups of Russian social-chauvinists during World War I. While Plekhanov and his supporters openly and proudly called for the defense of the imperialist fatherland, other social-chauvinists were more cautious or more skillful. An influential current of Menshevik reformists around the paper “Nasha Zarya” called the workers “to offer no resistance to the war”. As Lenin noted:The liberal-labour politicians are behaving essentially in exactly the same way, but in a different environment and in a slightly modified form. These range from Nasha Zarya, which teaches the people and the proletariat “to offer no resistance to the war”.[33]


The centrists mentioned above act in a similar fashion. While they do not openly praise the lockdown, neither do they call for its end not to speak about calling the masses to fight against it. The proverb “speech is silver, silence is golden” might be a useful advice for silly people speaking nonsense. It is however alien to any revolutionary policy where speaking out the truth is a precondition for acting in the interests of the working class!


What unites all these revisionists is an artificial separation of the current economic and political crisis of capitalism, on one side, and the health crisis of capitalism on the other side. They do not recognize that all these three crises are related with each other and that the response of the ruling class is to these three crises is an expression of one and the same counterrevolutionary line. They are incapable of viewing these three areas as part of one and the same totality. In his notes on Hegel, Lenin once emphasized that it is “the essence of dialectical cognition” to recognize “the sum-total, the entirety of the moments of Actuality. [34] Unfortunately, the revisionists are far away from such recognition of the total nature of the current world situation! However, without understanding the “true essence” of the present period, it is impossible to arrive to the necessary programmatic conclusion! [35]


Before we deal with some specific issues of the reformist and centrist policy in the current period, we shall summarize the main differences between Marxists and Social-Bonapartists in the COVID-19 crisis in the form of a diagram.

Obviously this is a schema which covers the general tendency of the main features. Not all social-bonapartists necessarily implement all aspects of such policy.





Diagram: Practical Consequences of the Differences between Marxists and Social-Bonapartists in the COVID-19 Crisis


             Marxists                                                               |                              Social-Bonapartists


Call for an End of the                                                    |              Oppose calls for an End of the


Lockdown policy and the                                           |              Lockdown policy and the


suppression of democratic rights                             |              suppression of democratic rights


to demonstrate and assemble                                    |              to demonstrate and assemble




When the popular masses spontaneously            |              When the popular masses spontaneously rise up


rise up Marxists will support them                         |              the Social-Bonapartists will either openly oppose it or they


and try to bring direction and                                    |              will limit themselves to show only “understanding” for the


organization into the struggle                                   |              masses’ concerns but will refuse supporting such struggles


----------------------------------------------------- --------|-------------------------------------------------------------------


Marxists call to organize for                                       |              Social-Bonapartists wait with calling for struggles


and launch the class struggle now                          |              until the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The only


and not to wait until                                                     |              kind of struggles they support are those at


the COVID-19 pandemic is over                               |              workplaces in order to shut these enterprises also down


----------------------------------------------------- --------|-------------------------------------------------------------------


Marxists call to prepare and organize                    |              Social-Bonapartists ignore the dangers of state repression


for semi-legality also in imperialist countries      |              and are silent on the issue of semi-legal political work




“Workers control” over state bonapartist Lockdown?




Some pseudo-Trotskyist forces are advocating a slogan with which they hope to circumvent the unpleasant fact of supporting the state bonapartist assault on democratic rights. They advocate the slogan of “workers control” over the lockdowns and over the banning of all public assemblies and demonstrations. Such, for example, does “Socialist Resurgence” – a Trotskyist organization in the U.S. which was founded last year after splitting from the left Mandelite group “Socialist Action” on the basis of a number of correct criticisms. However, in its statement on the COVID-19 crisis, it does not actively call for a lockdown but raises the slogan: “Democratic decision-making carried out through public discussion on all restrictions of movement![36]


The above-mentioned L5I also tries to connect its support for the lockdown policy with the “workers control” slogan: “Workers and their unions must take the lead and control this lockdown. They have the power to stop non-essential work and insist on adequate protection for those workplaces required to remain open. Working class action and organisation is clearly needed right now.[37]


We think that such a slogan is a poor attempt to cover-up a de facto support for the state bonapartist lockdown policy. The whole idea of “workers control” is to challenge the power of the capitalists over the means of production as a first step to expropriate them and to ultimately transfer them in a planned economy. However, Marxists have always strongly rejected the idea of mixing the slogan of workers control with the bourgeois repression apparatus. If the L5I leaders would not have completely forgotten their revolutionary past, they would remember that we always strongly condemned the arch-opportunist slogan of the CWI calling for “democratic workers control over the police”.


Revolutionaries do not call for “control” of the bourgeois repression apparatus but call for smashing it. Neither do Marxists call for “workers control” over immigration, imperialist war or the limitation of rights of lesbian and gay people. [38] They always and unconditionally fight against immigration control in imperialist countries, against imperialist wars and for all democratic rights of lesbian and gay people. Likewise, revolutionaries do not want to “control” the state bonapartist measures which lock up the workers at home and ban their right to meet and demonstrate but desire to smash this largest assault on democratic rights in the imperialist countries since 1945!


This slogan is even more illusionary and dangerous in the current confused climate when the workers and oppressed face a ferocious offensive of the unholy alliance of the monopoly bourgeoisie, the media and the bureaucratic leaderships of the workers and popular movements. Under such conditions of widespread confusion and fear, it is quite possibly that a majority in the trade unions or the working class as a whole might accept the suppression of democratic rights to assemble and to demonstrate. However, revolutionaries have to defend the right of the vanguard of the workers and oppressed to fight for its possibilities to organize and to demonstrate – even if a majority of the people, under the impression of the gigantic bourgeois media campaign, would momentarily not support this!


The practical significance of such “workers control” is that it provides a theoretical loophole for the centrists to justify their failure to denounce the state bonapartist lockdown policy and the suppression of democratic rights. No, the slogan of “workers control” over lockdown and the suppression of democratic rights is an intellectual balancing act which can only end in a painful belly-flop.




Social-Bonapartism: an offspring of economism and Menshevism




The failure to fight against the state bonapartist lockdown policy and the suppression of democratic rights is closely related with the classic features of economism, i.e. the policy of prioritizing economic demands over political demands. This is the case in several respects. First, the Lockdown Left separates the economic demands from the political demands. It calls for economic and health measures – against austerity, for public health care etc. – now while, at the same time, it does not call for the defense of democratic rights today but reserves such calls for a while later, when the pandemic is over. No one knows when this will be case or if there will be not another pandemic.


This reflects that these forces consider the economic and health demands as much more important, much more urgent than the political demands. In fact, it is the opposite. As we did show above, not a single economic or health demand can be achieved without breaking the state bonapartist suppression of democratic rights! Hence, it is impossible to fight for a program against austerity or against the pandemic without, at the same, fighting for the democratic rights. The failure to do so reflects a policy of social-bonapartist economism.


Related to this is the classic economist mistake to ignore the central importance of educating the working class about the crucial role of political demands and fighting for political power. Revolutionary socialism is impossible without revolutionary democratism. Revolutionary democratism is impossible without fighting against capitalist state bonapartism – in general as well as in times of pandemic.


Lenin once characterized economism [as] a bourgeois, opportunist trend, which strove to subordinate the workers to the liberals.[39] This is particularly true today. Emphasizing only the economic and health demands without, at the same time, putting the political, democratic demands in the forefront can only play in the hands of the chauvinist bonapartist state machinery. In other words, it serves the both the “liberal” as well as the “state-capitalist” bourgeoisie which dominate the state in most imperialist countries in West and East.


In addition, the left’s failure to fight against the state bonapartist lockdown policy and the suppression of democratic rights in the current situation reflects an ineptitude to swim against the stream in such a historic moment of global counter-revolutionary offensive. It is not difficult to oppose dictatorship and chauvinism when it is popular and “trendy”. But only authentic revolutionaries are capable to swim against the stream when it is necessary albeit temporarily “unpopular”. Lenin once observed during World War I: Like every crisis in the life of individuals or in the history of nations, war oppresses and breaks some, steels and enlightens others.[40] It is already obvious that most of the so-called left has not stood the current historic test!


It is crucial in this context to call to mind the very foundation of the Marxist theory of the revolutionary party. As we have elaborated in our book on this issue the basic idea of the revolutionary party is that it combines the most consciousness elements of the working class on the basis of a revolutionary program. Hence, it is not a party of the whole class but only of the vanguard. Hence, the clarity in program, the iron discipline, etc. Such a separation allows the vanguard to withstand the pressure of the more backward sectors of the proletariat which easier come under the influence of the bourgeois media.


The Communist International in the times of Lenin and Trotsky summarized the lessons of Marxism in its Theses on the Role of the Communist Party in the Proletarian Revolution adopted at the Second Congress in 1920.


The communist party is a part of the working class, the most advanced, most class-conscious, and hence most revolutionary part. By a process of natural selection the communist party is formed of the best, most class-conscious, most devoted and far-sighted workers. The communist party has no interests other than the interests of the working class as a whole. The communist party is differentiated from the working class as a whole by the fact that it has a clear view of the entire historical path of the working class in its totality and is concerned, at every bend in this road, to defend the interests not of separate groups or occupations, but of the working class in its totality. The communist party is the organizational and political lever which the most advanced section of the working class uses to direct the entire mass of the proletariat and the semi-proletariat along the right road.” [41]


The Comintern warned against blurring the conception of the party and class, and emphasized the need to constitute the vanguard as a separate party which fights against bourgeois and petty-bourgeois influences inside the working class and which does not adapt to consciousness of backward workers.


A sharp distinction must be made between the concepts of party and class. The members of the 'Christian' and liberal trade unions of Germany, England, and other countries are undoubtedly parts of the working class. The more or less numerous groups of workers who still follow Scheidemann, Gompers, and their like, are undoubtedly part of the working class. In certain historical circumstances it is even quite possible for the working class to include very numerous reactionary elements. It is the task of communism not to adapt itself to these backward sections of the working class but to raise the entire working class to the level of the communist vanguard. Confusion of these two concepts — party and class — can lead to the greatest mistakes and bewilderment. It is for example clear that in spite of the sentiments and prejudices of a certain section of the working class during the imperialist war, the workers' party had at all costs to combat those sentiments and prejudices by standing for the historical interests of the proletariat which required the proletarian party to declare war on the war. Thus, on the outbreak of the imperialist war in 1914 the parties of the social-traitors in all countries, when they supported the bourgeoisie of their 'own' countries, always and consistently explained that they were acting in accordance with the will of the working class. But they forgot that, even if that were true, it must be the task of the proletarian party in such a state of affairs to come out against the sentiments of the majority of the workers and, in defiance of them, to represent the historical interests of the proletariat. In the same way, at the beginning of this century, the Russian Mensheviks of that time (the so-called Economists) rejected open political struggle against Tsarism on the ground that the working class as a whole had not yet reached an understanding of the political struggle. In the same way the right wing of the German Independents always insist, when acting irresolutely and inadequately, on 'the will of the masses', without understanding that the party is there to lead the masses and show them the way.[42]


The failure of the Leviathan Left to fight against the state bonapartist lockdown policy and the suppression of democratic rights reveals also an adaption to the classic conception of stagism as it was advocated first by Menshevism and later Stalinism. Hence, the Lockdown Left promotes the idea of advocating first economic and health demands and only later democratic, anti-bonapartist demands. In fact, this is not possible. Victory of state bonapartism means strengthening of the monopoly bourgeoisie and hence of the counter-revolutionary program of austerity and cuts in the health sector.


The approach of the Lockdown Left to the COVID-19 pandemic reminds one also to a theory which was popular among Stalinist parties in the 1980s. In order to promote Moscow’s peace campaign against the NATO nuclear armament program, the Stalinist stated that there are, on one hand, class issues and, on the other hand, so called “humanity issues”. While the first were relevant for the working class, the later were relevant for “all people”, i.e. also for sectors of the bourgeoisie. Hence, so the Stalinists argued, it would be possible to build a popular front alliance with the “peace-loving bourgeoisie”.


Today, large sectors of the reformist and centrist left claim – openly or disguised – that the COVID-19 pandemic is a danger which threatens all and, hence, it would be possible to fight such pandemic together with the “reasonable” sectors of the ruling class (like Xi, Merkel, Macron, Sanchez, etc.). Such an approach is the theoretical basis for these leftists to accept (or even to advocate) the lockdown policy and the suppression of democratic rights “for a limited time”. It is true that there are “intelligent” sectors of the bourgeoisie. These are those who cleverly exploit the COVID-19 pandemic in order to advance the economic and political counterrevolution. But this can hardly constitute a basis for an alliance with self-proclaimed socialists. At least not with intelligent socialists!




Spontaneous mass actions against the lockdown conditions: a litmus test for the left




It seems to us that the decisive litmus test for all socialists in the current situation is which stance they take regarding the current food riots and anti-police protests. As already mentioned above, there are spontaneous mass actions in a number of countries all over the world where the workers, youth and poor protest against the repressive lockdown conditions. There have been food riots in various Latin American and African countries, there were clashes in Hubei with the Chinese police, there was a mass protest in North-Ossetia against the lockdown imposed by the Russian government, there have been youth riots against the police in Paris and Brussels and many more mass protests will certainly come. All these protests violate the lockdown conditions and reflect the popular hatred against this regime. Of course, these are raw and spontaneous mass actions because of hunger and repression as a result of the draconic conditions of the capitalist crisis and the lockdown policy.


Objectively, these are mass protests against the global lockdown regime. The RCIT and all authentic revolutionaries enthusiastically support such spontaneous mass actions. Naturally, we are aware of their limitations. This is why more organization and more political direction are necessary. But it is a beginning. These protests pose the question: what will self-proclaimed left-wing organizations do? Will they support these mass actions? If they do so, they have to recognize that this is in complete contradiction to their policy of supporting or tolerating the lockdown policy since these mass protests are a fundamental violation of these repressive conditions. If they remain consistent supporters – or at least non-critics – of the lockdown policy, they will not support such mass protests. While such a position is consistent, it is a consistent counter-revolutionary stance!


It is quiet likely that various self-proclaimed Marxists will denounce such protests as “backward”. They will say that while they surely “understand” the concerns of the masses they should accept the priority of containing the pandemic by staying at home. The Lockdown Left will surely raise all possible demands to improve the economic situation of the masses, etc. However, if they are consistent in their support for the state bonapartist lockdown policy they will not support such riots and protests and consider the masses as “backward”.


The experience of the past years shows that most reformist and centrist organizations fail to support such spontaneous mass protests. An example for this has been the August Uprising in Britain in 2011. During this historic event, the lower strata of the working class and the nationally and racially oppressed rose up after the police shot Mark Duggan, a father of six children. According to Scotland Yard more than 30,000 working class youth, black and migrants fought against the police on the streets and expressed their anger between 6 and 10 August. It forced the Tory/Liberal-Democrat government to mobilize 16,000 police on the street to put down the uprising and even to consider the use of the army against its own population. Despite all its limitations and weaknesses, it was definitely one of the most important class struggles in Britain since the miners’ strike of 1984/85. While the RCIT welcomed and supported this uprising, most reformists and centrists – like the CPB/Morning Star, CWI, IMT, L5I, etc. – failed to support it or even denounced the youth. Pseudo-Marxist academics like Slavoj Žižek even denounced the youth as “rabble”! [43] The approach of French reformism and centrism to the youth uprisings in the banlieues around Paris was not better.


All these self-proclaimed leftists are so much integrated into the middle class milieu of the reformist bureaucracy and the liberal academic world that they fail to understand and support the struggles of the poor and oppressed masses. They have the petty-bourgeois intellectualist idea that the masses should first acquire a “progressive”, “socialist” world view and then they will be capable to launch meaningful struggles. They forget (or want to forget) that masses learn in struggle, that they often join a struggle with raw or backward ideas and learn in the process of struggle, that it is the task of a revolutionary organization to transmit socialist ideas during such struggles and by supporting such struggles!


Lenin explained – in discussing the approach to liberation struggles of “backward” nations – that revolutionaries must unconditionally support such struggles. To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.-to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch”. Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.


The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It consisted of a series of battles in which all the discontented classes, groups and elements of the population participated. Among these there were masses imbued with the crudest prejudices, with the vaguest slid most fantastic aims of struggle; there were small groups which accepted Japanese money, there were speculators and adventurers, etc. But objectively, the mass movement was breaking the hack of tsarism and paving the way for democracy; for this reason the class-conscious workers led it.


The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of tile petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses slid errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will be able to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the trusts which all hate (though for difficult reasons!), and introduce other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which, however, will by no means immediately “purge” itself of petty-bourgeois slag.“ [44]


The petty-bourgeois left fails to understand that as long as capitalism oppresses the workers and popular masses it is only possible for them to a limited degree to develop a socialist consciousness. This is why the leadership of a revolutionary party, based on the vanguard and rooted in the masses, is decisive for the struggle for socialist revolution. Lenin already pointed out this problem and explained the failure of reformism and centrism.


The petty-bourgeois democrats, their chief present-day representatives, the “socialists” and “Social-Democrats”, are suffering from illusions when they imagine that the working people are capable, under capitalism, of acquiring the high degree of class-consciousness, firmness of character, perception and wide political outlook that will enable them to decide, merely by voting, or at all events, to decide in advance, without long experience of struggle, that they will follow a particular class, or a particular party. It is a mere illusion. It is a sentimental story invented by pedants and sentimental socialists of the Kautsky, Longuet and MacDonald type. Capitalism would not be capitalism if it did not, on the one hand, condemn the masses to a downtrodden, crushed and terrified state of existence, to disunity (the countryside!) and ignorance, and if it (capitalism) did not, on the other hand, place in the hands of the bourgeoisie a gigantic apparatus of falsehood and deception to hoodwink the masses of workers and peasants, to stultify their minds, and so forth.[45]


It would be not surprising if the current historic shift results in a widespread process of demoralization among significant sectors of the left. Many will use the counterrevolutionary offensive and the danger of pandemics as a pretext to withdraw from active political work and to limit themselves to comment on social media. They will excuse themselves by referring to the health risks and might even praise such demoralized retreat as “a demonstration of solidarity and a contribution to public health” (remember the explanation of the L5I group for cancelling a public meeting which we quoted above). The following quote reflects that there is a growing acceptance among such leftists to refrain from public manifestations.


All the while, the main tactic of leftist opposition has become impossible: public manifestations. Believing that socialism is upon us simply because governments are, in times of crisis, considering a universal basic income or universal healthcare, is naïve. If we should have learned one thing from decades of austerity, it is that neoliberals never let a serious crisis go to waste. Keynesian and Neo-Marxist policies might be considered in times of need, but they will quickly disappear in the annals of history if there is no substantial political backdrop to solidify their effects. If the Left fails to grasp this momentum, it will be business as usual once things go back to normal. But how do you organize opposition from the comfort of your home that exceeds free-floating clicktivism? The Left is confronted with a challenge of reconstructing the world after COVID-19 and has lost the most powerful weapon in its arsenal. Corona has hitherto only changed the world in various ways; the point, now, is to give it the correct interpretation to not let it go to waste.[46]


Clearly, the class struggle is not the appropriate place for such professional cowards disguised as hobby revolutionaries!


In summary, all these political and theoretical failures have resulted in a situation where large sectors of the left do not limit themselves to fight for progressive demands in a half-hearted, reformist way. We are rather faced with the tragic situation that such “leftists” support the counterrevolution under the cover of combating the pandemic. There can be no doubt that the failure of these sectors of the workers movement and the left is of no less serious as the failure of the majority of the Second International was in 1914 when they refused to oppose the imperialist war.








[1] V.I. Lenin: The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination (1916); in: LCW 22, p. 115

[2] Michael Pröbsting: COVID-19 and the Lockdown Left: The Example of PODEMOS and Stalinism in Spain, 24 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-lockdown-left-podemos-and-stalinism-in-spain/

[3] PCE: In light of the situation created by the expansion of the COVID-19 epidemic and its impact in Spain, 16 March 2020, https://www.pce.es/in-light-of-the-situation-created-by-the-expansion-of-the-covid-19-epidemic-and-its-impact-in-spain/ (This statement has been published in English language by the PCE itself.)

[4] Kämpferische Arbeiterfront statt „Team Österreich“! Stellungnahme des Parteivorstands der Partei der Arbeit Österreichs (PdA), 19. März 2020, http://parteiderarbeit.at/?p=5937. Here is the German-language original: „So sinnvoll viele Maßnahmen, die derzeit zur Eindämmung der Ausbreitung des Coronavirus COVID-19 in Kraft sind, sein mögen, so sehr ist auch festzuhalten, dass diese Einschränkungen der Versammlungsfreiheit und der massive Eingriff in persönliche Freiheitsrechte und ins Arbeitsrecht nur von befristeter Dauer sein dürfen.“

[5] Brazilian CP: It is time to save working people, not capital! 8 April 2020, http://www.solidnet.org/article/Brazilian-CP-It-is-time-to-save-working-people-not-capital/

[6] Polit Bureau of the CPI(M): Extended Lockdown: Poor & Marginalised Will Continue to Suffer, 14 April 2020, http://www.solidnet.org/article/Marxistindia-Extended-Lockdown-Poor-Marginalised-Will-Continue-to-Suffer/

[7] IMT: COVID-19 pandemic: the threatening catastrophe and how to combat it, 20 March 2020, https://www.marxist.com/covid-19-pandemic-the-threatening-catastrophe-and-how-to-combat-it.htm

[8] Hamid Alizadeh: Coronavirus pandemic opens a new stage in world history, 13 March 2020, https://www.marxist.com/coronavirus-pandemic-opens-a-new-stage-in-world-history.htm

[9] Oke Ogunde: The impact on Nigeria of the coronavirus pandemic: socioeconomic pandemonium! 14 April 2020, https://www.marxist.com/the-impact-on-nigeria-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic-socioeconomic-pandemonium.htm

[10] See on this the statements of the Nigerian section of the RCIT: RSV: COVID-19 Crisis in Nigeria: State Repression and the Left, 13 April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/report-on-covid-19-crisis-in-nigeria-13-4-2020/; WHAT DOES THE INVITATION OF CHINESE MEDICAL PERSONNEL MEAN FOR THE NIGERIAN HEALTH SECTOR? 10 April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/what-does-the-invitation-of-chinese-medical-personnel-mean-for-the-nigerian-health-sector/; Nigeria: Against State Repression! For a Mass-based Alternative To The Pandemic! Cancel All Local and National Debt! 8 April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/nigeria-against-state-repression/; Nigeria: Oppose the Lock Downs! 1 April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/nigeria-oppose-the-lock-downs/

[11] Bundesgesetzblatt Für Die Republik Österreich, Jahrgang 2020, Ausgegeben am 15. März 2020, Teil II, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/Dokumente/BgblAuth/BGBLA_2020_II_98/BGBLA_2020_II_98.html

[12] RKOB: COVID-19: Nieder mit dem Ausnahmezustand! Für ein ernsthaftes Gesundheitsprogramm statt Polizeistaat! 16 März 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/home/deutsch/covid-19-nieder-mit-dem-ausnahmezustand/

[13] Gesundheit vor Profite! - Erklärung der Funke-Redaktion zur Corona-Krise, Stellungnahme der Funke-Redaktion zur aktuellen Lage und den Aufgaben der Arbeiterbewegung, 15 March 2020, https://derfunke.at/aktuelles/oesterreich/11329-gesundheit-vor-profite-erklaerung-der-funke-redaktion-zur-corona-krise (our translation). Here is the German-language original: „Europa ist mit der größten Notsituation seit dem 2. Weltkrieg konfrontiert. Es gilt den Aufforderungen der Gesundheitsbehörden, sich körperlich zu isolieren, Folge zu leisten. Wir unterstützen diese Maßnahme inhaltlich und praktisch. (…) Jetzt werden Zivildiener eingezogen, um den absehbaren Gesundheitsnotstand bewältigbar zu machen. Wir appellieren an die eingezogenen Jahrgänge, der Einberufung schnell Folge zu leisten, sich freiwillig zu melden und sich in den Dienst der Bekämpfung der Katastrophe zu stellen.

[14] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Are the Bosnian Muslims a Nation? March 1994, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/bosnian-muslim-nation/

[15] Verena Kreilinger, Winfried Wolf und Christian Zeller: Corona. Kapital. Krise für eine solidarische und ökologische Alternative, 4. April 2020, p. 1 (our translation)

[16] Ibid, pp. 54-55 (our translation)

[17] Red Flag: The Impending Catastrophe And How To Combat It, 24 March 2020, https://www.redflagonline.org/the-impending-catastrophe-and-how-to-combat-it/

[18] Jeremy Dewar: Why the government is lying about coronavirus, 16 March 2020, https://www.redflagonline.org/why-the-government-is-lying-about-coronavirus/

[19] Markus Lehner: Covid-19: From pandemic to global economic crisis (Part 2), translated from Neue Internationale 245, April, 2020, https://fifthinternational.org/content/covid-19from-pandemic-global-economic-crisis-2

[20] In passing we point out a small anecdote which illustrates the kind of political thinking of the L5I. Its Austrian section cancelled its planned public meeting already several days before the lockdown in Austria began. They explained their decision in a statement on their website as follows: “We have decided, in the light of the fast expansion of the Corona Virus, to cancel our meeting on international women’s movements. (…) The current situation indicates the infection of tens of thousands of people in Austria and an overloading of the health systems. Thereby we want to show responsibility and contribute to the containing of the virus. („Angesichts der derzeitig raschen Ausbreitung des Coronavirus haben wir uns entschieden unsere heutige Veranstaltung Frauenbewegungen International abzusagen. (…) Die derzeitige Lage deutet auf eine Infektion von Zehntausenden allein in Österreich und eine Überlastung des Gesundheitssystems hin. Wir wollen damit Verantwortung übernehmen und zur Eindämmung des Virus beitragen. [AST: VERANSTALTUNG: Frauenbewegung international (ABGESAGT), 11 March 2020, http://arbeiterinnenstandpunkt.net/?p=4078]) It seems that these comrades believe they can better contribute to the struggle for public health by cancelling their public activities instead of increasing them! A Marxist organization would think higher of its activities!

[21] V. I. Lenin: The State and Revolution, in: LCW Vol. 25, p. 405

[22] V. I. Lenin: The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, in: LCW Vol. 25, p. 237

[23] Alan Woods: Marxism and the State, December 2008, https://www.marxist.com/marxism-and-the-state-part-one.htm

[24] Alan Woods: Marxism and the State

[25] V. I. Lenin: The State and Revolution, in: LCW Vol. 25, p. 391

[26] See on this e.g. Crisis in the CWI: For a Marxist Way Out! A proposal to all current members and former members of the CWI to discuss the way forward in these tumultuous times. Open Letter from the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 29 June 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/open-letter-to-cwi/; The Crisis in the CWI - Background and Perspectives, Special Double Issue of Revolutionary Communism (New Series No.20&21) https://www.thecommunists.net/publications/revolutionarycommunism-new-series-20-21/ 

[27] ISA: Socialists and the Covid-19 Pandemic. How the virus is used by the ruling class and big business in their interests, and what should we demand? Statement from the International Executive of the International Socialist Alternative, 4 March 2020 https://internationalsocialist.net/en/2020/03/coronavirus-international-statement

[28] CWI: An emergency programme to fight Covid-19 and protect working people, 18 April 2020, https://www.socialistworld.net/2020/04/18/cwi-emergency-programme-to-fight-covid-19-and-protect-working-people/; see also Coronavirus plunges capitalism into global turmoil -The need for a socialist alternative, Statement from International Secretariat of the CWI, 23 March 2020, https://www.socialistworld.net/2020/03/23/coronavirus-plunges-capitalism-into-global-turmoil-the-need-for-a-socialist-alternative/;

[29] Covid-19: Organise to fight for health and safety – socialist planning not capitalist chaos, 10 April 2020, The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales), https://www.socialistworld.net/2020/04/10/covid-19-organise-to-fight-for-health-and-safety-socialist-planning-not-capitalist-chaos/

[30] Coronavirus – A workers’ charter to tackle the crisis, 17 March 2020, Socialist Party (England and Wales section of the CWI), https://www.socialistworld.net/2020/03/17/coronavirus-a-workers-charter-2020/

[31] Covid-19: Economic catastrophe spurs state intervention and workers’ resistance, 9 April 2020, Statement by the International Secretariat of the CWI, https://www.socialistworld.net/2020/04/09/covid-19-economic-catastrophe-spurs-state-intervention-and-workers-resistance/

[32] See e.g. A threat and the means of combatting it. Editorial of La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers’ Tribune) Issue n°.230, 11 March 2020, in: IWC Newsletter No. 154, 13 March 2020; Wage war on the epidemic, give oneself the means to do so, Statement by the Independent and Democratic Workers Party (POID), 20 March 2020, in: IWC Newsletter No. 155, 27 March 2020