Remarks on the TPR's pro-Kirchnerist Slogan “Bring Christina Back NOW!”
By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 19.02.2016, www.thecommunists.net
Argentina is currently undergoing a wave of mass protests against the new right-wing government of President Macri. As we stated in our resolution last December, after his victory in the presidential elections, Macri’s government represents a tremendous threat to the working class, upon which a series is attacks has already been launched. (1)
In response to these attacks, a number of demonstrations and strikes have already taken place. In addition, trade unions in Argentina have called for a general strike on 24th February to protest the government’s dismissal of workers on the municipal, provincial, and national levels.
It’s hardly surprising that these protests are being led by various strands of populist and reformist forces, in particular pro-Kirchnerist ones. Until last December, Christina Fernández de Kirchner and, before her, her late husband Nestor, ruled the country for 12 consecutive years. The Kirchners were able to make some concessions to the working class and poor, with the support of important sectors of the labor bureaucracy, on the backdrop of a certain economic upswing for the Argentinean economy resulting from the increased price for the country’s raw materials (including soya, a major export commodity), together with the rise of China as a new Great Power which also became a major trading partner. However, the Kirchners always ruled in the service of the bourgeoisie and, when export prices dropped, Christina Fernández de Kirchner’s government began attacking the working class.
Therefore, we stated in our December resolution that the Kirchner government “represented a bourgeois-populist sector which strongly rests on workers and popular mass support.” As Marxists we defend the principle of not calling for a vote – however “critical” it may be – for bourgeois parties. For this reason, when so-called “revolutionaries” called for a vote for the Kirchnerist candidate Daniel Scioli in the second round of the last presidential election, they were breaking with this important principle; as we wrote after the election of Macri: “In the second round of the elections, revolutionaries should have cast a blank vote, refusing to give support to either Macri or Scioli, since both candidates represented different factions of the ruling class.”
Thus, when the Kirchnerist bureaucracy now halfheartedly offers resistance to the Macri government, there should be no doubt that in the end “they want to reach a deal with Macri and “wait it out” for the next elections in four years. They offer to stop the protests and to ensure the “governability of the country” in exchange for legal impunity for the Kirchnerist leaders.“ However, this does not mean that authentic Marxists are ignoring the fact that, behind the current conflict, there is a mass revolt against the grave attacks by the Macri government. It would be utterly sectarian if revolutionaries would ignore the substance of the present developments and only look superficially at the leading representatives in this conflict.
As we pointed out in December’s RCIT statement: “However, this bureaucratic motivation of the Kirchernist leadership must not confuse revolutionaries into ignoring the objective, important class conflict which is behind the current confrontation between the Kirchernists and the Macri administration: the latter represents the anti-democratic and aggressive austerity offensive of the bourgeoisie, while the former represent a bourgeois-populist sector which strongly rests on workers and popular mass support. In such a conflict revolutionaries must form a united front bloc with those Kirchnerist sectors which are prepared to resist in the streets and the workplaces. Such a bloc must be focused on practical actions and must not be allowed to limit the independent propaganda and agitation of revolutionaries.”
Given the current mass protests and the substantial popular illusions in Kirchner, it is not at all surprising that many workers and poor people wish to bring the old Kirchnerist government back. Such a sentiment is currently expressed in the slogan "¡Que Vuelva Cristina YA!" (“Bring Christina Back NOW!”).
An Impermissible and Opportunist Concession
Regardless of how popular such a mood might be among the masses, it is absolutely impermissible for revolutionaries to adopt in their own propaganda such a slogan calling for the return to power of former President Christina Kirchner. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the comrades of the Argentinean group Tendencia Piquetera Revolucionaria (TPR) have done in their recent “Open Letter to Christina” which is embarrassingly titled "¡Que Vuelva Cristina YA!" (“Bring Christina Back NOW!”). (2)
Here the TPR comrades have stepped over the important dividing line which demarcates the legitimate application of the united front tactic with reformist and populist leaderships in the practical class struggle on one hand, from the illegitimate and opportunistic deviation of political support for such a leadership on the other. If such a slogan comes from ordinary workers, it merely reflects their illusionary hopes and their immature political class consciousness. Naturally, revolutionaries have to deal with such illusions in a clear and pedagogical manner.
However, when such a slogan appears within the headline of a socialist manifesto, this is something truly astonishing! Is it possible that the TPR comrades have forgotten that calling for the return of the Kirchner government is nothing but the call for the return to power of a party of a sector of the bourgeoisie?! Isn’t it clear that such a slogan can only highly disorient the masses in the extreme? In the current conjuncture of rising mass struggles, revolutionaries must clearly orient the workers to mobilize for an indefinite general strike and create action committees in the workplaces and neighborhoods. Revolutionaries have to warn workers and youth against the illusion that their problems can be solved by “bringing Kirchner back to power.” Rather, we must warn against such illusions and explain to the workers and poor that they can only trust their own power and that of no one else!
Lenin and Trotsky against Popular-Frontism
The fundamental problems of revolutionary strategy and tactics in Argentina today are inextricably related to the notion of the popular-front. By the term “popular front,” Marxists in the tradition of Leon Trotsky understand a political alliance between forces/parties of the working class and the bourgeoisie. Such an alliance can only result in the political subordination of the working class to the interests of the bourgeoisie.
Leon Trotsky emphasized the importance of Marxists’ understanding the treacherous character of the popular front, a warning which has been confirmed by many tragic developments in the history of the class struggle (e.g., France in 1936, Spain in 1936–39, Chile in 1973, as well as Venezuela and Greece in more recent history). Trotsky wrote: “The question of questions at present is the People’s Front. The left centrists seek to present this question as a tactical or even as a technical maneuver, so as to be able to peddle their wares in the shadow of the People’s Front. In reality, the People’s Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch. It also offers the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism.” (3)
Such a popular front must not be confused with legitimate joint actions with such forces in the class struggle. In the case of the popular front, the reformist representatives of the working class forces consciously subordinate their struggle to the demands of the capitalists in order to maintain a long-term alliance with them. In the latter, legitimate application of the united front, the working class retains it complete political independence and limits itself only to “striking together” with petty-bourgeois or even bourgeois forces (e.g., conducting a joint demonstration or strike). Adopting a popular front approach includes supporting the taking (or keeping) of power by such a force and rallying behind a joint political program. By contrast, a bloc or a united front is limited to joint actions on the basis of this or that specific concrete demand.
It is crucial for Marxists to understand this distinction, since it marks the difference between Bolshevism, i.e., authentic Marxism, on one hand and sectarianism and opportunism on the other. Lenin explained this in August 1917 when the Bolsheviks were faced with the need to defend the popular front Kerensky government against a right-wing coup d’état by the forces of General Kornilov.
“Like every sharp turn, it calls for a revision and change of tactics. And as with every revision, we must be extra-cautious not to become unprincipled. It is my conviction that those who become unprincipled are people who (like Volodarsky) slide into defencism or (like other Bolsheviks) into a bloc with the S.R.s, into supporting the Provisional Government. Their attitude is absolutely wrong and unprincipled. (…)
Even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. This is unprincipled. We may be asked: aren’t we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing Line here, which is being stepped over by some Bolsheviks who fall into compromise and allow themselves to be carried away by the course of events. We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness. There is the difference. It is rather a subtle difference, but it is highly essential and must not be forgotten.
What, then, constitutes our change of tactics after the Kornilov revolt? We are changing the form of our struggle against Kerensky. Without in the least relaxing our hostility towards him, without taking back a single word said against him, without renouncing the task of overthrowing him, we say that we must take into account the present situation. We shall not overthrow Kerensky right now. We shall approach the task of fighting against him in a different way, namely, we shall point out to the people (who are fighting against Kornilov) Kerensky’s weakness and vacillation. That has been done in the past as well. Now, however, it has become the all-important thing and this constitutes the change.
The change, further, is that the all-important thing now has become the intensification of our campaign for some kind of “partial demands” to be presented to Kerensky: arrest Milyukov, arm the Petrograd workers, summon the Kronstadt, Vyborg and Helsingfors troops to Petrograd, dissolve the Duma, arrest Rodzyanko, legalise the transfer of the landed estates to the peasants, introduce workers’ control over grain and factories, etc., etc. We must present these demands not only to Kerensky, and not so much to Kerensky, as to the workers, soldiers and peasants who have been carried away by the course of the struggle against Kornilov. We must keep up their enthusiasm, encourage them to deal with the generals and officers who have declared for Kornilov, urge them to demand the immediate transfer of land to the peasants, suggest to them that it is necessary to arrest Rodzyanko and Milyukov, dissolve the Duma, close down Rech and other bourgeois papers, and institute investigations against them. The “Left” S.R.s must be especially urged on in this direction.” (4)
The Example of the Popular Front in Spain in 1936-39
Trotsky defended this method when he explained the Marxist approach to the popular front government in Spain in 1936. At that time, General Franco launched a coup d’état against the popular front government which resulted in three years of civil war. Trotsky rejected any ultra-left sectarians who refused to defend the bourgeois democratic republic against the threat of the Franco coup d’état.
“The difference between Negrin and Franco is the difference between decaying bourgeois democracy and Fascism. Everywhere and always, wherever and whenever revolutionary workers are not powerful enough immediately to overthrow the bourgeois regime, they defend even rotten bourgeois democracy from Fascism, and they especially defend their own position inside bourgeois democracy.” (5)
However, he continued in the same article by emphasizing that such a defense must be strictly limited to practical actions and must not involve any support for the bourgeois democrats taking power:
“The workers defend bourgeois democracy, however, not by the methods of bourgeois democracy (e.g., Popular Fronts, electoral blocs or governmental coalitions, etc), but by their own methods, that is, by the methods of revolutionary class struggle. Thus, by participating in the military struggle against Fascism, they continue at the same time to defend their own organizations, their rights and their interests against the bourgeois-democratic government.” (6)
Trotsky also differentiated between Marxists’ forming a bloc with bourgeois forces in a practical struggle against a right-wing threat, and their supporting the later as an (aspiring) governmental force. He discussed the case of the confrontation between the German ex-General and conservative right-winger Hindenburg and Hitler in Germany in the second round of the German presidential election of 1932, when communists correctly refused to call for a vote to Hindenburg. Trotsky explains this tactic and compares it with his military defense of the popular front government led by Negrin in its civil war with Franco.
"The civil war between Negrin and Franco does not signify the same thing as the electoral competition of Hindenburg and Hitler. If Hindenburg had entered into an open military fight against Hitler, then Hindenburg would have been a 'lesser evil'. We do not choose the 'greater evil', we choose the 'lesser evil'. But Hindenburg was not the 'lesser evil' - he did not go into open warfare against Hitler; the Social Democrats hoped for that - that was stupid - but that was not the case. But here [in Spain] we do have a war of the Social Democrats against fascism.
To support Hindenburg against Hitler meant to give up political independence. Here too we do not support Negrin politically. If we were to have a member in the Cortes (the parliament in Spain, Ed.), he would vote against the military budget of Negrin. We charge Negrin with the political responsibility for the conduct of the war. But at the same time, we must repulse the fascist hordes until the moment when we ourselves can take into our hands the conduct of the war.
To affirm that to fight together with the Negrin forces against Franco is the same as to vote for Hindenburg against Hitler is an expression, I am sorry to say, of what is known as parliamentary cretinism. The war against fascism cannot be resolved by parliamentary means because fascism is an army of reaction that can be crushed only by force. That's why we were against the policy of the Social Democrats in Germany -- the pure parliamentary combination with Hindenburg against Hitler. We called for the creation of workers' militias, etc.“. (7)
It would be utterly mistaken to believe that Marxists, while rejecting support for a popular front taking power in imperialist countries (as Russia was in 1917 or France and Spain in 1936), but could do so in semi-colonial countries.
When the Mexican trade union bureaucracy called to support the “progressive “ bourgeois candidate Ávila Camacho at the Presidential elections in 1940, Trotsky strongly opposed this. He explained that support for a bourgeois candidate was illegitimate: “At the present time there is no workers party, no trade union that is in the process of developing independent class politics and that is able to launch an independent candidate. Under these conditions, our only possible course of action is to limit ourselves to Marxist propaganda and to the preparation of a future independent party of the Mexican proletariat.” (8)
To summarize, we stress that revolutionaries in Argentina today must participate in the popular mass movement against the Macri government. Such participation has to include the application of the Marxist tactic of the united front which has to be addressed to the trade union and other mass organizations of which many are currently under the leadership of pro-Kirchnerist forces. However, such a united front tactic must be limited to joint practical actions and must not include support for the Kirchnerist return to political power.
Calling for Kirchner to return to power obviously is an opportunist mistake which blurs the difference between the united front tactic and popular-frontism. It is highly unfortunate that the comrades of the TPR ignore the lessons of Lenin and Trotsky and call for Kerensky-Kirchner to take power. In our opinion, they run into danger of repeating the opportunist mistakes of Nahuel Moreno – the father of post-war Argentinean centrist “Trotskyism” – when he opportunistically cuddled General Peron in the 1950s and supported the latter attempts to hold respectively regain power. (9) We sincerely hope that the TPR comrades reconsider their mistake.
Instead of giving any kind of political support to Kirchner, revolutionaries must apply the united front tactic in a principled way so that it enhances the most important Marxist principle: proletarian class independence. Hence, as we stressed in our statement from December, revolutionaries must politically struggle “against all forms of popular-frontism (like Kirchnerism, Castro-Chavism, etc.)”. This remains true, now even more than ever.
(1) See RCIT: Argentina: Prepare for Workers’ and Popular Mass Resistance against the New Macri Administration! For a United Front of all Workers and Popular Organizations against the New Austerity Offensive and the Macri Administration! For a Break with the Policy of Class Collaboration of Kirchnerism! For an Independent Mass Workers’ Party! 19.12.2015, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 45 (January 2016), http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/argentina-macri/
(2) TPR: CARTA ABIERTA DE LA TPR A CRISTINA: "¡QUE VUELVA CRISTINA YA!" 14.2.2016, http://tpr-internet.blogspot.com/2016/02/carta-abierta-de-la-tpr-cristina-que.html
(3) Leon Trotsky: The Dutch Section and the International (1936), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-36), Pathfinder Press, New York 1977, p. 370 (Emphasis in Original)
(4) V. I. Lenin: To the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. (1917), in: LCW, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1977, Vol. 25, pp. 289-290, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/aug/30.htm (Emphasis in Original)
(5) Leon Trotsky: Answers to Questions on the Spanish Situation (1937), in: Leon Trotsky: The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939), Pathfinder Press, New York 1973, p. 282
(6) Leon Trotsky: Answers to Questions on the Spanish Situation, p. 282
(7) Leon Trotsky: Answers to Questions on the Spanish Situation, pp. 287-288 (Emphasis in Original)
(8) Leon Trotsky: Clave and the Election Campaign (1939), Writings of Leon Trotsky 1938-39, p.176
(9) On this and our criticism of Morenoism see e.g. Michael Pröbsting: RCIT: Summary of our main differences with the UIT-CI, October 2015, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/critique-of-uit-ci/; LRCI: Barbaric Trotskyism: a History of Morenoism (Part 1), http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/morenoism-part-1/ and Barbaric Trotskyism: a History of Morenoism (Part 2) http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/morenoism-part-2/.