When Ultra-Leftism marries Social-Bonapartism and Gives Birth to “Post-Marxist” Obscurantism


A reply to the CWG/ILTT


By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 5 May 2020, www.thecommunists.net




As our tendency has repeatedly pointed out in the past weeks we are living in the midst of a historic moment – a triple crisis consisting of the Third Depression of the capitalist world economy, a global shift towards Chauvinist State Bonapartism and the COVID-19 pandemic. [1] In the RCIT Manifesto on the present crisis we warned: “It is also likely that the new era will provoke further crisis and divisions within the self-proclaimed Marxist milieu (…) we can expect political capitulations and organizational splits and collapses.


Indeed, the past weeks have provided numerous examples confirming our prognosis. We see various self-proclaimed socialist and “Marxist” organizations capitulating to social-bonapartism, i.e. supporting the lockdown policy of the bourgeois state which atomizes the working class and suppresses fundamental democratic rights under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Stalinist and left-reformist parties support such a lockdown policy – or even execute it as part of a government coalition (e.g. in Spain). [2] In addition, a number of “Trotskyist” organizations have also joined the social-bonapartist bandwagon. [3]


In this article we want to deal with another example of such a political collapse of an ostensibly “Marxist” organization – the so-called “International Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency” (ILTT), based in the U.S. and New Zealand (where they call themselves “Communist Workers Group”). This grouplet recently published an article which can be diplomatically characterized as … extraordinary. [4] The CWG/ILTT is an organization which, to its merit, has been able to recognize and to approach correctly some important world development in the past decade (e.g. the rise of Chinese and Russian imperialism, the significance of the Arab Revolution). However, it never managed to overcome a sterile, undialectical method which repeatedly led them into a combination of ultra-leftist and arch-opportunist debacles. Examples for these, among others, are their failure to defend bourgeois democracy against reactionary coup d'états (e.g. Egypt 2013, Thailand 2014, Brazil 2016) or their social-imperialist support for immigration control in rich countries (e.g. U.S., New Zealand). [5]


In the above mentioned statement on the COVID-19 crisis the CWG/ILTT raises various criticisms against the RCIT. Some of them are … “original”. For example they attack us for publishing an “Open Letter to the FIT-U” in late March which included the proposal for an international virtual conference on the current COVID-19 crisis. [6] FIT-U is an alliance of several Trotskyist organizations in Argentina which have gained some deputies in national resp. regional parliaments. The CWG/ILTT denounces us for approaching this alliance because it is supposedly “acting as the left wing of the bourgeoisie in parliament”. While we also have our criticism of the political orientation of the organizations involved in the FIT-U, it is simply hilarious to call them “the left wing of the bourgeoisie”. [7] This is an ultra-left caricature of ultra-leftism, an expression of political delirium in a parallel universe which does not serve anyone, and much less the reputation of the CWG/ILTT comrades!




A barely disguised support for the bourgeois lockdown policy




However, this article reveals once more the universal truth that ultra-leftism is the unacknowledged twin of opportunism. After lambasting the RCIT for raising proposals to Argentinean Trotskyists, the ILTT denounces our opposition against the lockdown policy of the bourgeois states.


More damaging to the workers internationally is the conspiracy put up by some on the self-professed Trotskyist left. For example the RCIT attributes the measures adopted by imperialist and semi-colonial powers that ‘lockdown’ the working masses to a deliberate counter-revolutionary strategy to finally defeat and destroy the revolutionary potential of the international proletariat. It labels those who do not share their view as the ‘lockdown left’ for accepting lockdowns as necessary to fight the pandemic and therefore siding with the bourgeoisie in shutting down business with huge loss of jobs. We reject this type of un-Marxist conspiracy theory since there is a good Marxist explanation for the adoption of these ‘lockdown’ measures to deal with the pandemic.”


The CWG/ILTT does not only denounce our explanation of the lockdown policy, it also rejects our very opposition to it. In fact, the CWG/ILTT supports the lockdown policy! “In the current pandemic, health and safety principles demand the isolation of workers from conditions in the workplace and in public life that threaten their lives. At the same time it demands that workers resist measures in the name of ‘public health’ that leave them destitute in living conditions that exacerbate the pandemic. Therefore, Marxists do not reject public health ‘lockdowns’ on principle because of a loss of jobs and income.


Consequently, following the lead of Stalinism and semi-Stalinism, the CWG/ILTT sympathises with the “Chinese” draconic response to the pandemic: “The China model of combatting [sic!] the pandemic did not impose unusually draconian controls over workers compared to the ones that bourgeois democratic regimes have themselves used under war-time ‘blitz’ conditions. (…) It was the failure to impose the China solution when there was plenty of advance warning of a pandemic that left China’s imperialist rivals resorting to panicked, confused and draconian blanket curfews, economic shutdowns, and punitive lockdowns of the working people. This was the result of the chaos of the market, not a capitalist conspiracy.”


In short, we see how close, in fact, how inseparable, ultra-left sectarianism is wedded to opportunism! In the current crisis, when the international working class experiences the worst attack on democratic rights in many countries since 1945, we see such ultra-leftists proudly stating that they “do not reject lockdowns on principle”, in other words, that they join the reformist caravan of social-bonapartist cheerleaders!




A “new class society” which would “render Marxism redundant”?




The CWG/ILTT’s political capitulation is not limited to the opportunist support for state bonapartism. Its political demoralization also finds expression in theoretical speculations about an impending “historical defeat of the working class” and “a new society, no longer capitalist, but a Bonapartist dictatorship ruled by a new bureaucratic class.” The emergence of such a new, post-capitalist, class society – according to the CWG/ILTT – would not only remove the perspective of socialist revolution away into the far distance, it would even “render Marxism redundant and the proletariat no longer the historic agent of socialist revolution.


It is clear from the above that capitalism has failed to restore the conditions for profitability since the 1970’s. (…) The explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic and the panic it has created is an opportunity for capitalism to break workers resistance with a counter-revolutionary offensive that can resolve the crisis for capitalism. But it also poses a threat to capital, a revolutionary coup de grace even. Yet for the revolution to defeat the counter-revolution, we must understand the enemy and not play into its hands. If the exit from the terminal crisis is an historic defeat for the proletariat, it would be of the same order that Trotsky foresaw regarding the outcome of World War 2, an historic defeat for humanity. It would signal the arrival of a new society, no longer capitalist, but a Bonapartist dictatorship ruled by a new bureaucratic class. This outcome would render Marxism redundant and the proletariat no longer the historic agent of socialist revolution.


Of course, associating Trotsky with such theoretical nonsense is bizarre to the extreme! In 1939, Trotsky explained his refusal of any theory of a “new bureaucratic class” by elaborating the theoretical consequences of such a wrong conception. Even more so he discussed this theory in relation to possible future developments of Stalinism, i.e. of a deformed workers state, not of monopoly capitalism.


In best case, we see a vulgar example of theoretical neglect. Until now Marxists have been of the opinion that capitalism in general – and imperialism in particular – represents the last and final stage of class society. Lenin and Trotsky were of the opinion that only socialism is capable of developing the productive forces to a higher level. Now, the geniuses of the CWG/ILTT tell us that the Marxist classics were wrong and that there might be another, historically progressive, class society after capitalism led by a new ruling class which could develop the productive forces to a higher level. Hence, we don’t need a socialist revolution. The “new bureaucratic class” will save humanity!


The comrades of the CWG/ILTT might deny such conclusions. But for Marxists it is an axiom that, in the words of Leon Trotsky, “the historical justification for every ruling class consisted in this—that the system of exploitation it headed raised the development of the productive forces to a new level. [8] So if a “new bureaucratic class” can replace the bourgeoisie, it has to be capable of developing the productive forces in a superior way, i.e. it has to be historically progressive. To put it in diplomatic words, such a prognosis seems to us being … pretty premature!


True, there is no guarantee that the international working class will successfully overthrow the bourgeoisie and build a socialist society based on planned economy. But the alternative to socialism is not a new, historically progressive class society, but rather barbarism – a world characterized by mass slaughter and the historically regression of humanity as well as the destruction of the very living conditions on this planet.


And what are the programmatic consequences of such ideas? If a “new bureaucratic class” based on “Bonapartist dictatorship” can develop the productive forces better than capitalism, one would have to support such forces and work towards their victory over capitalism. The CWG/ILTT comrades might not consciously have already drawn such conclusions but there is an inevitable logic in their position which will push them in such direction. In any case, such theoretical nonsense already serves as a cover for the CWG/ILTT’s social-bonapartist support for the lockdown policy.




The political and moral collapse of ultra-leftism




In short, we see a striking example of political and moral collapse of ultra-leftism. After refusing to defend bourgeois democracy against bonapartism, after attacking Trotskyists like the RCIT for applying the united front tactic towards non-revolutionary forces, these ultra-leftists … adapt to social-bonapartism (“we do not reject lockdowns on principle”) and speculate about the end of class struggle and the irrelevance of Marxism. An extraordinary race towards the theoretical abyss – and this only a few weeks after the beginning of the global counterrevolutionary offensive! It shows that when ultra-leftism marries social-bonapartism it gives birth to “Post-Marxist” obscurantism!


We note in passing that the CWG/ILTT is not the only example for such political collapse of ultra-left sects. Another U.S. group – the “League for the Revolutionary Party“ (LRP) – published a remarkable document a few weeks ago in which they renounced their long-standing opposition to voting for any party of the imperialist monopoly bourgeoisie, i.e. neither for the Republicans nor the Democrats. In the past decades, this group attacked our movement for lending critical electoral support to reformist workers parties, i.e. parties with roots in trade unions and other mass organizations of the working class. Today, the LRP has arrived at the conclusion that it will support Joe Biden, the Democrats’ Presidential candidate at the elections in November! [9] Another example of the pathetic combination of ultra-leftism and arch-opportunism!


In our recently published book about the COVID-19 Counterrevolution we pointed out that the current developments have no doubt a demoralizing effect on large sectors of reformism and centrism. Their failure to understand the nature of this global counterrevolutionary offensive has resulted in political capitulations to social-bonapartism and vulgar belly-flops in the field of Marxist theory. We have no doubt that many more examples of similar political and moral collapses in the revisionist camp will follow.


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.[10] This statement is no less relevant today! While the current triple crisis is not characterized by a major war between Great Powers (yet), it is of no less historic significance as a far-reaching event in world politics. It will result in profound changes within the international liberation movement of the workers and oppressed as it will strengthen the healthy elements and destroy the rotten.


[1] For our analysis of the current crisis we refer to the new book by Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It. A Marxist analysis and strategy for the revolutionary struggle, April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-covid-19-global-counterrevolution/; see also the RCIT Manifesto: COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive. We are at a turning point in the world situation as the ruling classes provoke a war-like atmosphere in order to legitimize the build-up of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes, 21 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-a-cover-for-a-major-global-counterrevolutionary-offensive/. The RCIT has published several dozen documents on the COVID-19 crisis which are all collected at a special sub-page in our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-the-2019-corona-virus/

[2] See e.g. 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] See on this various examples provided in chapter V of our above mentioned book “The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It”. See also Michael Pröbsting: Social-Bonapartism in Argentina. The Partido Obrero (Tendencia) of Jorge Altamira supports the State of Emergency, 29 April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/social-bonapartism-in-argentina/

[4] ILTT: Workers Unite! The historic task of workers is to overthrow rotten capitalism and fight for world socialism! 24.4.2020, http://www.cwgusa.org/?p=2395

[5] See on this e.g. RCIT: It is Time to Break with a Wrong Method! Open Letter from the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) to the Members of the Liaison Committee of Communists, July 2015, https://rcitarchive.wordpress.com/rcit/open-letter-to-lcc/; see also Michael Pröbsting: Patriotic “Anti-Capitalism” for Fools. Yet Again on the CWG/LCC’s Support for “Workers’” Immigration Control and Protectionism in the US, 30.5.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/cwg-lcc-us-protectionism/; Michael Pröbsting and Andrew Walton: The Slogan of “Workers’” Immigration Control: A Concession to Social-Chauvinism, 27.3.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/workers-immigration-control/; Michael Pröbsting and Andrew Walton: A Social-Chauvinist Defence of the Indefensible. Another Reply to the CWG/LCC’s Support for “Workers’” Immigration Control, 14.5.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/cwg-immigration-control/

[6] RCIT: For an International Conference on the Struggle against the Global Capitalist Crisis! Open Letter to the Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores Unidad (FIT-U) in Argentina, 31 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/open-letter-to-fit-u-for-an-international-conference-on-the-struggle-against-the-global-capitalist-crisis/

[7] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Social-Bonapartism in Argentina; Michael Pröbsting: The Catastrophic Failure of the Theory of “Catastrophism”. On the Marxist Theory of Capitalist Breakdown and its Misinterpretation by the Partido Obrero (Argentina) and its “Coordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International”, RCIT Pamphlet, May 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-catastrophic-failure-of-the-theory-of-catastrophism/; The New Global Wave of Class Struggles and the Slogan of the Constituent Assembly. How to apply a crucial revolutionary democratic tactic (and how not) – a critique of the opportunist deviations of the Argentine-based PTS/FT and PO/CRFI, 26 November 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/new-global-wave-of-class-struggles-and-slogan-of-constituent-assembly/; Some Thoughts on the Split in the Argentinean “Partido Obrero“, 10 July 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/split-in-argentinean-partido-obrero/; see also the chapters IX, X and XXV in the book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, January 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/.

[8] Leon Trotsky: The USSR in War (1939), in: Leon Trotsky: In Defense of Marxism, Pathfinder Press, New York 1942 (1973), p. 6

[9] See e.g.: “Most LRP members believe we should therefore advocate voting for Democratic candidates as a temporary defensive measure. That would include voting for Joe Biden if he turns out to be the Democratic presidential candidate.” “And if Biden is the candidate, many LRP members support voting for him and for Democrats in general, in order to defeat the Trumpist threat to democratic rights that working-class and oppressed people need to effectively defend themselves against attacks supported by either party.“ (Rethinking Voting for Capitalist Parties. A Statement by the Central Committee of the League for the Revolutionary Party, March 13, 2020, http://www.lrp-cofi.org/statements/elections-capitalist-parties.html)

[10] V.I. Lenin: Reply to P. Kievsky (Y. Pyatakov) (1916); in: LCW 23, p. 22