Reply to a Neo-Bordigist Polemic of the “Liaison Committee of Communists”
By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 24.5.2014, www.thecommunists.net
The “Liaison Committee of Communists” (LCC) has published a polemic against the RCIT’s statement on the recent military coup d’état in Thailand. (1) Their criticism is an illustrative example of ultra-left confusion which completely ignores the importance of democratic struggles. In fact, the LCC’s critique is a remake of the sterile accusations of the Italian ultra-left communist, Amadeo Bordiga, against the Bolshevik method as developed and defended by Lenin and Trotsky.
In our statement – as well as in other documents on Thailand – we have elaborated the necessity for socialists in Thailand to mobilize against the military coup d’état and to call for joint actions with the Red Shirt movement. We have stated that, in the actual confrontation between the government and the military putschists, socialists have to defend the former against the latter. While socialists should work towards a united front with the workers and poor peasants who have repeatedly shown their support for the ruling Pheu Thai Party, they should not give any political support to this party. We have called for the formation of a revolutionary workers party which will aim to break the workers and poor peasants away from the Pheu Thai Party and win them for a revolutionary socialist perspective.
The LCC considers the RCIT’s approach as “Menshevism, Kautskyism and even Stalinism”. According to this neo-Bordigists caricature of communism, it is impermissible to defend a bourgeois-democratic government which has clear support among the popular masses against a military coup d’état:
“The May 20th coup by the commanders of the Thai army is indeed a military coup by any classical criteria. Nevertheless, we are not champions of the kind of “democratic elections” that bring pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party politicians to power, anymore than elections that lead to Democratic Party governments. It is not permissible for socialists to call upon the workers to shed their own blood for the defense or the restoration of any of these “democratically elected” governments! You cannot pass off any such call as a Leninist United Front tactic. This has nothing to do with Lenin and everything to do with Menshevism, Kautskyism and even Stalinism. We reject the agency of alien class forces and institutions as the necessary precondition for entry of the masses onto the revolutionary road.”
The Unfortunate Comparison with Egypt
The LCC comrades correctly draw a parallel with our disagreements over policy in Egypt. In the latter case, they have similarly attacked the RCIT in the past for defending the Muslim Brotherhood against the bloody military dictatorship. However, in the case of Egypt their position was even more inane, since they actually denied the counter-revolutionary nature of the military coup d’état (in fact, astonishingly, they deny it’s having been a coup d’état at all!) and called it “an advance in the Arab revolution”. (2) In present day Thailand, they too again somehow envision a “revolutionary advance” when, in fact, the counter-revolution is advancing: “In the concrete circumstance of the masses own discontent with the Thaksin dynasty to call for the restoration of the status-quo ante is to pronounce a retreat in a revolutionary advance.”
These comrades clearly imagine “acting revolutionarily” as denying defeats and passing off a retreat as an advance. Unfortunately, delirium is the diametric opposite of an authentic recognition of reality. No one who has followed the events in Egypt can deny that the military dictatorship is consolidating its control by suppressing all forms of resistance. Since their coup d’état on 3 July 2013, the regime of General Sisi has slaughtered thousands, arrested tens of thousands, its judges have ruled in favor of imposing the two greatest mass death sentences, anywhere, in living memory, and more and more political organizations are becoming suppressed and outlawed. Only pro-imperialist reactionaries and ignorant sectarian boneheads can deny that it is the counter-revolution which is advancing in Egypt and not the revolution.
Similarly in Thailand: anyone who has followed the events there in the past six months has to recognize that a “revolutionary advance” could only have been perceived as having taken place in the confused fantasy world of a neo-Bordigist. No, unfortunately, it was the reactionary Yellow Shirt movement which was continually mobilizing and advancing during the last half year, and now the counter-revolution has pulled off– it would seem – a successful military coup.
The LCC claims that the RCIT is urging the workers towards bourgeois parliamentarism when we call for the defense of a democratically-elected government against a military coup:
“It is non-dialectical and it is schematic in the extreme to keep repeating this idea that the workers movement must pass through a stage of bourgeois parlimentarism when concrete conditions show that the bourgeoisie has no especial confidence in or patience for bourgeois parlimentarism. Not only will they not fight for it themselves, but in the general world crisis of capitalism they find “democracy” unnecessarily expensive and dispense with it at their earliest opportunity. Trotsky in 1938 thought bourgeois democracy might prove too expensive even for the bourgeoisie of the U.S.A.”
Here the orthography is in accordance with the political substance. It might well be the case that the bourgeoisie has lost confidence in “bourgeois parlimentarism (sic!)”. But, for a Marxist, it should be of primary interest to determine whether the workers and peasants have lost confidence in bourgeois democracy, and whether they are striving towards a higher form of democracy, i.e., proletarian soviet democracy.
Unfortunately, in Egypt, reality has shown that the masses are not – until now – striving towards higher forms of democracy. The reactionary sectors of the petty bourgeoisie support the dictatorship, while important sectors of the popular masses continue to support the strongest mass force – the bourgeois Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Other sectors of the masses are currently passive and don’t follow any political force.
Similarly, until now we have seen in Thailand no indications that the popular masses have overcome their illusions in bourgeois democracy. The reactionary sectors of the middle class follow the Democrat Party, the Yellow Shirts and the army command. The progressive sectors of the popular masses have repeatedly demonstrated their support for the pro-Thaksin forces and the Red Shirts through mass mobilizations, militant street battles, as well as electoral support. Would the LCC comrades have the courtesy to prove their thesis – preferably by providing a concrete analysis of the situation in Thailand or Egypt, and not by quoting Trotsky’s Transitional Program?! Such a sober analysis of the class struggle might really be disappointing for couch potato “revolutionaries.” But such an analysis is precisely the precondition for any serious revolutionary work.
Would Lenin have “called upon the workers to shed their own blood for the defense of bourgeois democracy”?
What, exactly, is at the heart of the LCC’s sterile ultra-leftism towards the mass movements struggling against the suppression of democratic rights? It is primarily not their ignorance of the class struggle situation in the respective countries, but rather a methodologically rejection of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s program on the democratic question, as well as their approach to the united front tactic in such cases were mass movements follow a non-revolutionary, bourgeois leadership.
The LCC comrades shout: “It is not permissible for socialists to call upon the workers to shed their own blood for the defense or the restoration of any of these “democratically elected” governments!” We reply that it is not permissible to claim such nonsense while pretending, at the same time, to be a Marxist. In fact, the Marxist classics have repeatedly called workers “to shed their own blood“ in defense of bourgeois democracy against the threat of a dictatorship and fascism.
We have already demonstrated this to the LCC comrades in detail in previous documents. (3) Unsurprisingly, they have never replied to our arguments and facts we have presented. Let us briefly summarize a few examples.
As is well known, the Bolsheviks were prepared to make practical agreements with petty-bourgeois and even bourgeois forces against Czarism. During the Russian Revolution in 1917, they called for united front actions for the defense of the bourgeois-republican Kerensky government when General Kornilov attempted a reactionary coup d’état against it in August 1917.
Lenin generalized the invaluable experience of the Bolsheviks in his famous book Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder in 1920. He emphasized the importance for every revolutionary party to recognize the possible contradictions between the classes and even those within different factions of the same class. He insisted that revolutionaries must take advantage of such divisions and conflicts and must be prepared to form alliances for the purpose of practical actions without giving any political support to such allies and under the condition that such practical agreements help to advance the working class struggle.
“After all, the German Lefts cannot but know that the entire history of Bolshevism, both before and after the October Revolution, is full of instances of changes of tack, conciliatory tactics and compromises with other parties, including bourgeois parties! (…)
The more powerful enemy can be vanquished only by exerting the utmost effort, and by the most thorough, careful, attentive, skilful and obligatory use of any, even the smallest, rift between the enemies, any conflict of interests among the bourgeoisie of the various countries and among the various groups or types of bourgeoisie within the various countries, and also by taking advantage of any, even the smallest, opportunity of winning a mass ally, even though this ally is temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable and conditional. Those who do not understand this reveal a failure to understand even the smallest grain of Marxism, of modem scientific socialism in general. (…)
Prior to the downfall of tsarism, the Russian revolutionary Social-Democrats made repeated use of the services of the bourgeois liberals, i.e., they concluded numerous practical compromises with the latter. In 1901-02, even prior to the appearance of Bolshevism, the old editorial board of Iskra (…) concluded (not for long, it is true) a formal political alliance with Struve, the political leader of bourgeois liberalism, while at the same time being able to wage an unremitting and most merciless ideological and political struggle against bourgeois liberalism and against the slightest manifestations of its influence in the working-class movement. The Bolsheviks have always adhered to this policy. Since 1905 they have systematically advocated an alliance between the working class and the peasantry, against the liberal bourgeoisie and tsarism, never, however, refusing to support the bourgeoisie against tsarism (for instance, during second rounds of elections, or during second ballots) and never ceasing their relentless ideological and political struggle against the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the bourgeois-revolutionary peasant party, exposing them as petty-bourgeois democrats who have falsely described themselves as socialists. During the Duma elections of 1907, the Bolsheviks entered briefly into a formal political bloc with the Socialist-Revolutionaries.” (4)
Based on such a method, the leadership of the revolutionary Communist International called the Bulgarian communists to defend the bourgeois-populist Stamboliyski government, which had mass support among the peasants, against a military coup d’état in June 1923.
In short, the Bolsheviks have repeatedly called workers “to shed their own blood“ in defense of bourgeois democracy against the counter-revolution.
Is Raising Democratic Slogans “Menshevik Stageism”?
However, this is not the only example in which the LCC demonstrates its unfamiliarity with the writings of Lenin and Trotsky. Another criticism raised by them against the RCIT is our demand for a republic and the abolition of the monarchy in Thailand. The LCC claims that this amounts to the Menshevik concept of inventing a special state before the socialist revolution.
“Still we wonder why the RCIT raises a special slogan for the establishment of a republic? What would the class character of such a republic be? And what does the establishment of a republic have to do with the permanent revolution the world has seem many dictatorships that have been republics. The whole history of the west is littered with them. Connelly’s program for a workers republic in Ireland and the Socialist Republics of the USSR were qualitatively different than any republic established by capitalists. The five republics of French history have solved none of the problems of humankind’s future existence. So this is not an idle question for us. We wonder while reading the RCIT’s program how many stages the workers must endure before they can establish their own state.”
Obviously the RCIT openly propagates a “workers’ and peasants’ republic,” as the LCC comrades would know if they would have only actually read the resolution which they condemn so strongly. (5) However, having raised this strategic goal, Marxists must not renounce employing a number of democratic slogans in order to advance the struggle for the proletarian revolution. This is urgent, first because, given the coup d’état, the issue of democratic rights, is in the forefront of the current situation; and, second, because the popular masses still have many illusions in bourgeois democracy.
In the history of the Bolsheviks and the Trotskyists the slogan of a republic in the struggle against the monarchy has repeatedly played a prominent role. For example, in answering similar ultra-left criticism by the Bordigists, Trotsky himself emphasized the role of democratic slogans, including the slogan of a republic, in the program of the Bolsheviks before 1917.
“The whole work of the Bolsheviks between the two revolutions went under the slogans of 1. A democratic republic; 2. the land to the peasants (democratic-agrarian reform); 3. eight-hour day (demand for workers democracy). The Bordigists will certainly explain that all this was a compete error, that it belongs to the dark period in which the truth about the proletarian dictatorship had not yet been discovered.” (6)
Trotsky also raised the slogan of a republic at the beginning of the Spanish Revolution in 1931 when the masses rose up against the reactionary monarchy.
“The slogan of the republic is, it is understood, also the slogan of the proletariat. But for this, it is not merely a matter of replacing the king with a president, but of thoroughly purging the whole of society of feudal refuse. (…) To oppose the course directed towards the dictatorship of the proletariat to the problems and slogans of revolutionary democracy (republic, agrarian overturn, the separation of church and state, the confiscation of church properties, national self-determination, revolutionary constituent assembly), would be the most sorry and lifeless doctrinarism.” (7)
So, we see that Trotsky understood that the slogan of the “republic,” meant as the democratic abolition of a monarchy, was part and parcel of the revolutionary program. But perhaps Trotsky himself adhered to the Menshevik program of stageism, and did not have the advantage of the fruits of the LCC’s wisdom.
Revolutionary Use of Bourgeois Democracy
The LCC’s rejection of the Bolshevik understanding of the democratic program as part of the revolutionary strategy is a prime example of the sterility of ultra-leftism. They maintain that defending a bourgeois government, elected in parliamentarian elections, against a military coup d’état raises “bourgeois democratic illusions” and retards the progress of the worker’s consciousness towards socialism. Nothing could be further from the truth!
It is the first duty of revolutionaries to derive their analysis and their tactics not from their own desires but from a concrete analysis of the political and organizational condition of the working class and oppressed masses. Based on facts – and not pseudo-Marxist imaginings – one has to concretely determine whether the masses have overcome their bourgeois-democratic illusions. If – as we have seen in Thailand during the past thirteen years – the masses continue to defend their bourgeois democratic rights (to elect their government, to assemble freely, etc.) with huge scarifies against the repeated intervention by the old elite; and if these masses are still bound to the bourgeois-populist pro-Thaksin forces because of a lack of a revolutionary workers’ party; then it is utter nonsense to fantasize that these same masses have lost their illusions about bourgeois parliamentary democracy. In these circumstances, it is pure lunacy to maintain that defending the government of Yingluck Shinawatra against the coup could “pronounce a retreat in a revolutionary advance” as the LCC accuses us.
Similarly in Egypt – as well as in many other Arab countries – we saw the masses rise up against the dictatorship in 2011. Yet, until now, they have not built soviet organs – as they existed in the Russian Revolutions in 1905 and 1917 – and begun fighting for their seizing of power. In Egypt, the masses on the streets are fighting for bourgeois democracy and the return of the Mursi government. Naturally, communists do not share such illusions, but it would be a political crime not to base ones tactics on these facts.
Lenin once warned young communists with politically infantile disorders about the dangers of ultra-leftism: “It is obvious that the ‘Lefts’ in Germany have mistaken their desire, their politico-ideological attitude, for objective reality. That is a most dangerous mistake for revolutionaries to make. Parliamentarianism is of course ‘politically obsolete’ to the Communists in Germany; but -- and that is the whole point -- we must not regard what is obsolete to us as something obsolete to a class, to the masses.” (8)
Unfortunately, the leaders of the LCC have neither the privilege of youth nor are they politically inexperienced. Here, we seem to be dealing, rather, with politically senile stubbornness.
Under the circumstances described above in both Thailand and Egypt, revolutionary democratic demands like fighting for democratic rights and defending a bourgeois democratically-elected government against a coup d’état are imperatives for communists. Such tactics don’t spread democratic illusions, because the masses already have such illusions independent of the communists. The task of communists is to help the masses to overcome these illusions by fighting with them for such democratic demands, by showing them, that their present leaders (like the Pheu Thai Party or the Muslim Brotherhood) are incapable of fighting consistently for such democratic demands, and by explaining to them that coherent democracy is only possible via a socialist revolution.
In addition, it should be clear to revolutionary communists that the working class and the oppressed masses have to defend bourgeois democracy against a military coup d’état, because such a defense provides the masses with advantageous conditions to organize, to fight and to spread revolutionary ideas.
The political illness of neo-Bordigist ultra-leftism makes revolutionaries incapable of grasping the contradictory development of the class struggle and mass consciousness. It condemns revolutionaries to stand passively at the sidelines of mass struggles and movements, as they concretely take place today – with all the backwardness in consciousness and leadership characteristic of the latter. It is only to be hoped that the LCC comrades will one day learn to break with their own neo-Bordigist method, so that they can overcome their passive propagandist method of purely commenting on the class struggle, and instead play an active, intervening, i.e., revolutionary, role in the class struggle. We call on comrades in the LCC who want to break with such neo-Bordigist senile stubbornness to join the RCIT, with the aim of building a strong international revolutionary organization.
(1) LCC: Thailand: Defeat the Coup d’etat! A Response to the RCIT, May 22, 2014, http://redrave.blogspot.com/2014/05/thailand-defeat-coup-detat-response-to.html (Emphasis by the LCC)
The original RCIT’s statement is: Thailand: Smash the Developing Military Coup! No Trust in the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai PartyLeadership! Mobilize the Working Class and Poor Peasants to Defeat the “Yellow Shirts”, Army Command, and Monarchy! 21.5.2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/thailand-coup/
We also refer our readers to past statements by the RCIT on the recent crisis in Thailand:
Thailand: Defeat the looming reactionary Coup D’état! Mobilize the Working Class and Poor Peasants as an independent force against the “Yellow Shirts”, Army Command and Monarchy! 4.12.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/thailand-looming-coup-d-%C3%A9tat/
Michael Pröbsting: Thailand: CWI’s Disgraceful Support for the Bosses’ “Yellow Shirts”, RCIT, 15.1.2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/cwi-on-thailand/
(2) We have dealt with the confusion of the LCC comrades in our documents:
Michael Pröbsting: The Military’s Coup d'État in Egypt: Assessment and Tactics. A reply to the criticism of the WIVP and the LCC on the meaning of the Military’s Coup d'État and the slogan of the Revolutionary Constituent Assembly, 17.7.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/egypt-meaning-of-coup-d-etat/
Michael Pröbsting: The Coup d'État in Egypt and the Bankruptcy of the Left’s “Army Socialism”. A Balance Sheet of the coup and another Reply to our Critics (LCC, WIVP, SF/LCFI), 8.8.2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 13, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/egypt-and-left-army-socialism/
For a closer analysis of the events in Egypt in the past 11 months, we refer our readers to the RCIT’s latest statement on Egypt and the list of documents in the appendix there: General Sisi – The Butcher of the Egyptian People – Sentences another 683 People to Death. Statement of the RCIT, 1.5.2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/egypt-mass-death-sentences/
As the readers of our numerous documents on Egypt will recognize themselves, the LCC claims such as the following are a pure pipe dream: “The RCIT initially called for a Untied (sic!) Front with the Muslim Brotherhood in defense of the Mursi government. Shortening their jib after this gaffe, they still continued to call for the restoration of the Mursi government claiming it was democratically elected and called for a united front to accomplish this restoration, and failing that called for a constituent assembly to assemble democratic forces to fight the ‘coup.’” As a matter of fact, we never called for restoration of the Mursi government. Naturally, the LCC comrades fail to provide any evidence for their claims and are forced to rely to nonsensical inventions.
(3) See on this in particular Michael Pröbsting: The Coup d'État in Egypt and the Bankruptcy of the Left’s “Army Socialism”, Chapter III. “The Marxist classics on reactionary coups d’états”.
(4) V. I. Lenin: Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder (1920), in: LCW Vol. 31, Progress Publishers 1966, pp. 70-72
(5) See Thesis 6 in the RCIT’s statement: Thailand: Smash the Developing Military Coup!
(6) Leon Trotsky: Critical Remarks about Promoteo's Resolution on Democratic Demands (1931), in: Trotsky Writings 1930-31, Pathfinder 1973, p. 136
(7) Leo Trotzki: Die Revolution in Spanien (1931), in: Leo Trotzki: Revolution und Bürgerkrieg in Spanien 1931-39, Band 1, ISP-Verlag 1986, p. 66 and 68; in English: Leon Trotsky: The Revolution In Spain (1931), http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/spain/spain04.htm (our emphasis)
(8) V. I. Lenin: Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder (1920), in: LCW Vol. 31, Progress Publishers 1966, p. 58