An appeal for a rational discussion: Reply to Luis Oviedo - Part Two

Alan Woods continues his reply laying emphasis on the position of the Communist International on the mass organisations and stressing the need to unite the piqueteros movement in Argentina.  To be continued.

Importance of the mass organizations

It is important to understand that everything that Lenin and Trotsky wrote about strategy and tactics is inseparably linked. It is impossible to select this or that point that appeals to you and ignore the rest. Real revolutionary Marxists are not those who shout loudest about the "dictatorship of the proletariat", but those who ceaselessly work to reach the masses, to penetrate the reformist trade unions and to build a firm base in the mass organizations.

Luis Oviedo makes a tremendous fuss about the fact that our Argentine comrades refer to a "democracy of the working people" (democracia de los trabajadores). How does this position compare with that of the Bolsheviks? The theses of the first four congresses of the Communist International provide us with a treasure house of ideas. They are the summing-up of the whole historical experience of the Bolshevik Party. In the Theses of the Communist International on the dictatorship of the proletariat we read the following:

"The second is to inspire, and lead in the footsteps of the revolutionary advance-guard of the proletariat (the Communist Party) not only the whole proletariat or its large majority, but the entire mass of workers and those exploited by capital; to enlighten, organize, instruct and discipline them during the course of the bold and merciless struggle against the exploiters; to wrench this enormous majority of the population in all the capitalist countries out of their state of dependence on the bourgeoisie; to instill in them, through practical experience, confidence in the leading role of the proletariat and its revolutionary advance-guard". (Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, page 131.)

This is very clear, and immediately disposes of comrade Oviedo's hair-splitting objections to the use of the word "trabajadores" used by our Argentine comrades in their leaflet. That word means precisely "the entire mass of workers and those exploited by capital" – that is, the proletarian vanguard must by all means strive to unite around itself the mass of the working class. That is precisely the essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat as understood by Marx and Lenin. For how could it function unless the mass of wage-earners, and also the mass of semi-proletarian elements, were involved?

The whole essence of a socialist revolution is the active involvement of the masses, both in the revolution itself and in the socialist reconstruction of society after the revolution. That is what we mean by a democracy of the working people – a conception that was well known to Lenin and the Bolsheviks, although not, it seems, to the chief theoretician of the PO. Let us see what the Communist International had to say on the subject:

"The Soviet system is not an abstract principle opposed by Communists to the principle of parliamentarianism. The Soviet system is a class apparatus which is destined to do away with parliamentarianism and to take its place during the struggle and as a result of the struggle. Waging a merciless struggle against reformism in the trade unions and against parliamentary cretinism and careerism, the Communist International at the same time condemns all sectarian summonses to leave the ranks of the multi-millioned trade-union organisations or to turn one's back upon parliamentary and municipal institutions. The communists do not separate themselves from the masses who are being deceived and betrayed by the reformists and the patriots, but engage the latter in an irreconcilable struggle within the mass organisations and institutions established by bourgeois society, in order to overthrow them the more surely and the more quickly". (Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, pp 168-9.)

Here we find the essence of Bolshevism. The central idea is the absolute necessity for the proletarian vanguard to establish close links to the mass of workers. It stresses the need to win over the mass of workers who remain under the influence of the reformist trade union leaders, and to conduct systematic work in the reformist mass organizations. This is something for which comrade Oviedo criticized us for very sharply in his last article. He talks in grandiose terms about the dictatorship of the proletariat, but he does not understand that, without winning over the mass of the working class, all this is just empty demagogy.

The dictatorship of the proletariat will not drop from the clouds. The embryo of a new, socialist society already exists today. It exists in the organizations of the working class – in the shop stewards committees, the trade unions (yes, in the COB, the CTA and the CGT!), in the mass workers' parties. True, under capitalism these organizations are heavily encrusted with the filth of bureaucracy. In their upper layers they contain many elements from alien classes that strive to tie them to the bourgeois and the state. But Marxists must be able to see the inner contradictions within these organizations, must be able to see how they reflect the pressures of society and the class struggle. Most importantly, we must be able to establish firm links with them, penetrate them and work in them to win over the workers. This is how the Communist International posed the question while it was still a revolutionary International:

"This means that we Communists must do ten times as much work in the trade union movement. We must at all costs wrench these trade unions from the hands of the capitalists and social-traitors. Therefore we must be inside these unions; we must direct our best cadres to work in the unions.

Our supporters will stay inside the unions; they will act not in isolation, but in a co-ordinated way. We must organize a Communist group, a Communist cell in every section of the unions. It is our job to use the day-to-day struggles to expose the tricks of the Jouhauxs of this world. We must open the eyes of the rank-and-file members of the unions. We must drive the social-traitor leaders out". (Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, p. 88.)

The CI made the active participation of Communists in the reformist mass organizations a condition of membership. This is perfectly logical. The dictatorship of the proletariat presupposes that the working class can count on the support of the broadest masses of the labouring people. Without this, it would collapse immediately. Therefore, the way in which the party prepares for the dictatorship of the proletariat is precisely by winning over the broad masses. This preparatory work presupposes systematic work to penetrate the mass organizations, particularly the trade unions.

It is criminal to separate the proletarian vanguard from the mass of the working class. Lenin emphasised this a thousand times. Yet everything he and Trotsky wrote on the subject remains a closed book for the sects who babble on about the "dictatorship of the proletariat" while in practice destroying any possibility of ever reaching it in real life.

How will the dictatorship of the proletariat be established in Bolivia? Certainly not through a Constituent Assembly, which, no matter how you embellish it, is nothing more than a bourgeois parliament. No! It can only come through the rule of the soviets. But what are the soviets in Bolivia and how can they be built? They will not drop from the clouds, as the sects imagine. They can only come from the real movement of the Bolivian working class, from the strike committees that will be set up by the workers in and around the COB.

The soviets in the Russian revolution began life as extended strike committees in 1905. They reappeared in February 1917, when they were under the control of the reformists (Mensheviks and SRs). The Bolsheviks were then in a small minority. But by a combination of iron firmness on principles and flexible tactics, the revolutionary tendency gradually won the majority and took power in November.

What was the key to the success of the Bolsheviks? The fact that, without making any principled concessions, they based themselves on the mass organizations of the proletariat that had been created by the workers themselves: the trade unions and the soviets. The same tactics apply in Bolivia and every other country today.

What should the Bolivian Marxists do? Stand on the sidelines, shouting insults at the COB leaders and calling on the masses to leave their leaders and join them? Or to participate shoulder to shoulder with the rank and file of the COB, impelling the creation of action committees, participating in the general strike, earning the respect of the workers, gathering the most conscious and militant elements around them, and striving to win the majority for the programme of the proletarian revolution? The answer is not only to be found in the resolutions and theses of the Communist International – it is to be found in the common sense and healthy class instincts of every Bolivian worker.

On the piqueteros

"Alan Woods does not know ANT". This is the headline of Luis Oviedo's next article. He is responding to my criticism of the PO's tactics in the piqueteros movement, where I made the following observation:

"Every sectarian group wishes to create the illusion of its own mass movement. We see this in the case of the Piqueteros movement. Although the PO has done good work in building the movement, it plays a negative role in refusing to unite the piqueteros in one common organization. Objectively, the interests of the piqueteros is to unite; division is harmful to their interests and only serves the interests of the ruling class. The only reason why they remain divided is because the different political groups (not only the PO) insist on maintaining control of 'their' piqueteros. This conduct is frankly lamentable. We said so and we repeat it. If this is construed as being 'against the piqueteros' we can only shrug our shoulders. What is really against the piqueteros is the kind of tactic that subordinates the interests of the class to the prestige of this or that clique."

Before we say anything else, I must make a rectification. I confess that I used a term that was unnecessarily harsh, and has clearly caused some offence. I said that the failure of the PO to press for the unity of the piqueteros movement was "lamentable". Given the very good work the comrades of the PO have done in developing the movement, I can understand that such sharp language is excessive, and I withdraw it unreservedly. Nevertheless, I still maintain that the failure to unite the piqueteros movement is a very serious mistake and will have negative consequences for the revolutionary movement as a whole.

In reply, Comrade Luis draws my attention to the National Assembly of Workers (de la Asamblea Nacional de Trabajadores) that met in June 2001. He asks if I have ever heard of the ANT and of other national meetings of the piqueteros and other sections. I have not only heard of them but have written articles praising them – and also praising the PO for its role in calling them. In February 2002 I wrote:

"In all this, a key role is being played by the Trotskyists of the PO and other organisations and parties. The convening of the National Assembly of Workers was a great success for the revolutionary vanguard. We salute this success with every possible enthusiasm. We are pleased to say that, whereas we disagreed with the slogan of the constituent assembly, we are in complete agreement with the slogans that were approved last weekend. This gives us every confidence that, on the basis of the above demands, the Argentine revolution is now moving in the right direction". (The way forward -A footnote by Alan Woods- in Argentina: National Workers' Assembly meeting - a big step forward by Jordi Martorell, February 20, 2002)

We could quote many similar passages, but you can read all this in the original. So yes, Luis, I have heard about the ANT. These were excellent initiatives in the line of a united front. That is very good, but it was not the point I was making. If we take the piqueteros movement as a kind of "trade union" of the unemployed, then it is clear that we stand for the unity of all piqueteros in one organization. That was always the position of the Marxists, for the simple reason that the only strength of the working class is its unity. That is true for the workers who have jobs but it is a thousand times truer of the unemployed.

In my article I asked the question: why does the piqueteros movement remain divided? Luis Oviedo did not answer this question, but avoided it by referring to the ANT. There is no objective reason why the movement should not be united – except the fact that it is split up under the control of different political groups. If there is any other reason, then comrade Oviedo should have said what it is. He did not do so, which I regard as a tacit confirmation of what I said.

If the PO is confident of the superiority of its ideas and methods, then it should be prepared to work patiently within a united piqueteros movement, striving to unite the broadest layers of the unemployed in a single, militant mass movement, while fighting to win over the majority. That was always the method of Lenin and Trotsky, and was expressed repeatedly in the documents and resolutions of the first four congresses of the Communist International.

Luis' references to the ANT does not answer the question I asked. So I will repeat it: why does the PO not take the initiative in offering unity to the other piqueteros organizations? It is clear that the disunity that exists is not the sole responsibility of the PO. Other groups, like the MST, also maintain separate organizations of piqueteros, and must also be held responsible for the present situation. But the Marxists have a duty to press for the greatest possible unity of the workers and unemployed in the struggle against Capital.

Maybe Luis will reply that the others will refuse. In that case, you will place the responsibility for splitting the movement on the shoulders of those who oppose unity. If they agree, then the movement will emerge strengthened, and the authority of that tendency that pressed for unity will be far greater. In either case the tendency that fights for unity should gain.

London, February 16, 2004