This paper aims to provide short-list of experiences in different countries where Lenin and other Marxist parties participated in bourgeois election, the question of political party of the working class and how they understood such and conducted their struggles. Also, we will try to analyze Philippine electoral process and how the Left engages in electoral struggle.
Marx in his letter on the Gotta Programme sharply condemns eclecticism in the formation of principles. Marx wrote to the party leaders who enters into agreements to satisfy the “practical” aims of the movement, but do not allow any bargaining over “principles” and who do not make “theoretical concessions”. This was Marx’s idea, and yet there are people among us who seek in his name to belittle the significance of theory. Lenin reminded the working class that without revolutionary theory, the struggle of the working class will fall into simply trade-union struggle. Revolutionary consciousness has to be brought from without and there can be no revolutionary movement without a revolutionary party and there can be no revolutionary party without a revolutionary theory.
“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement…We have said that there could not have been Social Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness…” (Lenin, What is to be Done?)
The working class cannot formulate their independent ideology in the process of their movement. The only choice is either bourgeois or socialist ideology for there is no middle course for mankind has not created a “third” ideology and moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology.
“To belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it is the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology” (Lenin, What is To Be Done?)
Let us start from how the party should use elections?
What attitude do Marxists take to elections and representative government? In the history of the socialist movement there have developed or coexisted two principal and, in the end, quite different and opposing views of the question. One, reformism, argues that modern representative government affords the working class the opportunity to achieve socialism by electing a socialist majority into office. This view emphasizes the peaceful, gradual transition to socialism, and sees campaigns around elections and the work of socialist elected officials as the most important aspect of socialists’ activity. The other trend, first outlined by Marx and Engels, and then elaborated by Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin, argues for a revolutionary overthrow of the state, based upon the mass struggle of the working class, and its replacement by new organs of workers’ power.
The reformist trend flourished in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s, expressed most fully by a former collaborator of Engels, Eduard Bernstein, who wrote in his reformist bombshell Evolutionary Socialism, to quote:
“The task of social democracy is to organize the working classes politically and develop them as a democracy and to fight for all reforms in the State which are adapted to raise the working classes and transform the State in the direction of democracy.”
But even Karl Kautsky, the foremost theoretical leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a critic of Bernstein’s views, saw “the conquest of political power” as essentially the conquest of parliament. He wrote, for example, in 1912: “The objective of our political struggle remains what it has always been up to now: the conquest of state power through the conquest of a majority in parliament and the elevation of parliament to a commanding position within the state.” Certainly not the destruction of state power.
Kautsky considered mass action–street protests and strikes–to be abnormal methods of struggle, denouncing an emphasis on them as being “one-sided” and reflecting a “cretinism of mass action.”
In the early socialist tradition, these two tendencies were often blurred by the fact that both reformists and revolutionaries used the term “conquest of political power” by the working class to describe two very different sets of aims.
Marx and Engels on the state, parliament and elections
Throughout their political lives, Marx and Engels always argued that the working class–whatever its size and state of development–must organize itself independently as a class “and consequently into a political party,” as they wrote in The Communist Manifesto.
Just months later, during the revolutions of 1848 that swept across Europe, Marx and Engels, as leading members of a small group of socialists in the Communist League, participated in the revolution in Germany as the far left wing of the radical bourgeois-democratic movement. With only a few hundred members across Europe, the League was simply not big enough to assert itself as an independent force. But in the course of the revolution, it became clear to Marx that, due to the cowardly and tentative nature of the radical middle-class elements, it would be necessary for the working class to organize independently to safeguard its own class interests.
In his March 1850 “Address to the Communist League,” Marx recommended that in the future course of the revolution, the workers’ party “‘march with’ the petty-bourgeois democrats against the faction whom it aims at overthrowing,” but that it oppose “them in everything whereby they seek to consolidate their position in their own interests.”
In addition to arming themselves and organizing centralized and independent clubs, the workers’ party should put candidates up for elections in Germany in the event of the creation of a national assembly as a result of revolutionary upheaval.
Even when there is no prospect whatsoever of their being elected, the workers must put up their own candidates in order to preserve their independence, to count their forces, and to bring before the public their revolutionary attitude and party standpoint. In this connection they must not allow themselves to be seduced by such arguments of the democrats as, for example, that by so doing they are splitting the democratic party and making it possible for the reactionaries to win. The ultimate intention of all such phrases is to dupe the proletariat. The advance which the proletarian party is bound to make by such independent action is indefinitely more important than the disadvantage that might be incurred by the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body.
The argument for voting against left-wing or socialist candidates on the grounds that they can’t win and are therefore helping the right wing into power has, of course, been a time-worn argument in the U.S. against bucking the two-party system. Engels, in an 1893 letter to an American colleague, pointed out that in the U.S., the formation of a workers’ party is hindered by the “Constitution…which makes it appear as though every vote were lost that is cast for a candidate not put up by one of the two governing parties.”
Marx’s March circular was shelved after revolutionary upsurge ebbed. But Marx and Engels lived to see the formation of the first mass socialist workers’ party in Germany that was able to use the German parliament, the Reichstag, to advance their cause. The SPD in Germany was formed in 1875 out of a merger between two different parties–one influenced by Marxism, the other based on “winning reforms through a compromise with the Prussian state.” But as much as they came to consider this their party, Marx and Engels were from the start critical of what they considered its political shortcomings and always fought any attempt to dilute its working-class character.
As early as 1879, Marx and Engels wrote a circular letter to party leaders in which they asked if the party had not been “infected with the parliamentary diseases, believing that, with the popular vote, the Holy Ghost is poured upon those elected.” The circular letter also attacked an article written by, among others, Eduard Bernstein. The article applauded the idea of a socialist movement led by “all men imbued with a true love of mankind,” and attacked those who “trivialized” the movement into a “one-sided struggle of the industrial workers to promote their own interests.” The article called upon the party to be “calm, sober and considered” in order not to scare “the bourgeoisie out of their wits by holding up the red specter.” It also called for “educated” men to represent the party in the Reichstag.
Marx and Engels attacked the authors, arguing that they should leave the party if they intended to “use their official position to combat the party’s proletarian character.” For Bernstein and the others, the program is not to be relinquished, but merely postponed–for some unspecified period. They accept it–not for themselves in their own lifetime but posthumously, as an heirloom for their children and for their children’s children. Meanwhile they devote their “whole strength and energies” to all sorts of trifles, tinkering away at the capitalist social order so that at least something should appear to be done without at the same time alarming the bourgeoisie.
For almost 40 years we have emphasized that the class struggle is the immediate motive force of history and, in particular, that the class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat is the great lever of modern social revolution; hence we cannot possibly cooperate with men who seek to eliminate that class struggle from the movement. At the founding of the International we expressly formulated the battle-cry: The emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class itself. Hence we cannot cooperate with men who say openly that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves, and must first be emancipated from above by philanthropic members of the upper and lower middle classes.
Engels lived long enough to witness the growing electoral votes of the German party. In 1884, the year after Marx’s death, the party got more than a half a million votes. By 1890, their vote doubled, doubled again in 1898, and again by 1912 to more than four million votes. The Anti-Socialist Laws, in effect between 1878 and 1891 and aimed at curbing socialist influence, actually enhanced social democracy’s reputation as the opposition party. Engels was effusive over the party’s successes, seeing in parliamentary elections a brilliant means for the party to extend its political influence and membership.
In his 1895 introduction to Marx’s The Class Struggles in France, Engels summed up the significance of the use of the Reichstag elections by German social democracy: “If universal suffrage had offered no other advantage than that it allowed us to count our numbers every three years; that by the regularly established, unexpectedly rapid rise in our vote it increased in equal measure the workers’ certainty of victory and the dismay of their opponents, and so became our best means of propaganda; that it accurately informed us of our own strength and that of all opposing parties, and thereby provided us with a measure of proportion second to none for our actions, safeguarding us from untimely timidity as much as from untimely foolhardiness–if this had been the only advantage we gained from the suffrage, it would still have been much more than enough. But it did more than this by far. In election propaganda it provided us with a means, second to none, of getting in touch with the mass of the people where they still stand aloof from us; of forcing all parties to defend their views and actions against our attacks before all the people; and, further, it provided our representatives in the Reichstag with a platform from which they could speak to their opponents in parliament, and to the masses outside, with quite a different authority and freedom than in the press or at meetings. Of what avail was their Anti-Socialist Law to the government and the bourgeoisie when election campaigning and socialist speeches in the Reichstag continually broke through it?”
In short, Lenin made it very clear that the engagement of socialist organization to bourgeois election is a form of tactics and a small part of revolutionary activity:
(a) Propaganda and expanding membership- the spread of revolutionary platforms of the working class interest. In election propaganda it provided the revolutionary organization with a means, second to none, of getting in touch with the masses of the people where they still stand aloof from us, of forcing all parties to defend their views and actions against our attacks before all the people and it provided our representatives/candidates with a platform from which they could speak to their opponents in parliament and to the masses outside, with quite a different authority and freedom than in the press or at meetings.
(b) It allows the revolutionary organization to determine its numbers and influences- that it accurately informs the revolutionary organization of its strength and that of all opposing parties.
(c) It safeguards the revolutionary organization from untimely timidity as much as from untimely foolhardiness.
(d) It also sees that electoral success was engendering a tendency for party leaders to abandon long-term goals for immediate gains.
For party work, it meant using the election campaigns to conduct propaganda among masses it normally did or could not reach. And, for the party members who were elected as deputies, it meant using the Duma as a platform to disseminate propaganda, to expose the right wing and the liberal bourgeoisie and to assist in the organization of struggles outside the Duma. Socialist deputies could use their parliamentary immunity to conduct propaganda that outside the Duma would normally be considered illegal. They could make Duma speeches that, reprinted in the party and non-party press, could reach a wider audience than other types of party propaganda, and they could use the Duma rostrum to expose, in the form of “interpolations,” the various abuses of the system against peasants and workers.Lenin was clear that revolutionaries considered participation in elections as only a small part of their activity, and that the struggle in the workplaces and streets was far more important.
And that the organization of open political party of the working class must be distinct and independent from bourgeois parties. The open political party must be composed of working class, must be embodied with the platform of the working class, it must use the electoral and parliament to disseminate propaganda, expose the right wing and the liberal bourgeoisie, and assist in the organization of struggles outside of parliament. Its candidates must conduct their campaign tactics different from that of bourgeois candidates.
Communist politicians- Lenin regarded this as a dangerous mistake. The party should use elections to gather support and spread its message. It should be completely different from the usual breed of privileged politicians. They should be working class, and go to the Duma dressed in their ordinary clothes, treating all the ceremony and show of parliament with contempt. They were to use their position as a platform for exposing the Tsar and calling on the workers outside parliament to rise up in struggle. These what makes the open political party of the working class independently from bourgeois parties.
Engels also could also see that electoral success was engendering a tendency for party leaders to abandon long-term goals for immediate gains. The more or less smooth growth of electoral support from year to year, the expansion of the German economy, combined with many years where the class struggle remained at low ebb, tended to reinforce reformist tendencies inside the party. This was particularly true among the upper strata of trade union leaders, parliamentary representatives and party administrators, who saw in “precipitate” action the possibility of state repression that might jeopardize the organizations they had so painstakingly built. The German party leadership, in their desire to bolster their own opportunism, censored Engel’s “Introduction” cited above, removing, for example, a paragraph that argued, in place of the old revolutionary tactics of street fighting around barricades, the need for “the open attack.”
Engels in his Critique of the Draft Program of 1891, he criticizes the Erfurt program of the German SPD for thinking that in Germany the Reichstag–which was, after all, a powerless body answerable to the Kaiser–could be anything more than a fig leaf for Prussian absolutism. Engels warns of the opportunism, which is gaining ground in a large section of the Social-Democratic press. Fearing a renewal of the Anti-Socialist Law, or recalling all manner of over-hasty pronouncements made during the reign of that law, they now want the party to find the present legal order in Germany adequate for putting through all party demands by peaceful means. These are attempts to convince oneself and the party that “present-day society is developing towards socialism” without asking oneself whether it does not thereby just as necessarily outgrow the old social order and whether it will not have to burst this old shell by force, as a crab breaks its shell.
This forgetting of the great, the principal considerations for the momentary interests of the day, this struggling and striving for the success of the moment regardless of later consequences, this sacrifice of the future of the movement for its present, may be ‘honestly’ meant, but it is and remains opportunism,
and ‘honest’ opportunism is perhaps the most dangerous of all!
The two positions–one that the shell of the old society must be burst by force; the other, that the existing state can be taken over peacefully by gaining control of bourgeois representative institutions–reflect different views of the state under capitalism.
The only change Marx and Engels made to The Communist Manifesto came after the Paris Commune of 1871–when for a brief moment the armed (literally armed) workers of Paris seized control of the city and formed their own institutions of direct democracy. The Commune taught Marx that the working class cannot “lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” That is, a state designed to enforce the rule of the most economically powerful class cannot be simply taken over and used by workers to create a new, socialist society.
“From the very outset,” says Engels in his 1891 introduction to Marx’s Civil War in France, the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, the working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment.
In his famous Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Engels argues that because the state is the most powerful, economically dominant class, suffrage (election) cannot be a tool to bring workers to power, but can only be a gauge (test or measurement) of socialist influence inside the working class. This means that we will use bourgeois election to measuring our socialist influence to the masses and cannot be used as a tool to bring workers into power.
“The modern representative state,” Engels argues, “is an instrument for exploiting wage labor by capital.”
“The highest form of the state, the democratic republic, which in our modern social conditions becomes more and more an unavoidable necessity and is the form of state in which alone the last decisive battle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie can be fought out.”
But while Engels argues that “in the measure in which [the working class] matures towards its self-emancipation…it constitutes itself as its own party and votes for its own representatives, not those of the capitalists.” He also argues that universal suffrage is not the key to working-class emancipation.
That will require a clash that votes cannot decide:
“Universal suffrage is thus the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more in the modern state, but that is enough. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage shows boiling point among the workers, they as well as the capitalists will know where they stand.”
Engels on the United States
But what of countries, unlike Germany, where workers’ parties have not even been formed and the working-class movement is in its infancy? This was certainly the case in the U.S. in the last few decades of the nineteenth century, which witnessed a nationwide wave of struggle in which U.S. workers took the first steps to organize themselves economically and politically.
In his advice to socialists in the U.S., Engels emphasized the importance of them supporting, and participating in, any movement of the working class that, whatever its limitations, would help it to develop its own independent political party. In 1886 the Central Labor Union in New York formed the Independent Labor Party of New York and Vicinity in order to participate in New York City’s mayoral race. The new party chose single-tax advocate Henry George as its candidate. George himself was not from the labor movement. Indeed, he was a middle-class populist. He had recently written a popular book, Progress and Poverty, which attacked poverty and inequality. In it he advocated a single tax on landed property as a panacea to solve most of society’s ills. In a hotly contested race in which the local ruling class pulled out all the stops to prevent a labor-party victory, George came in second in a three-way race with 31 percent of the vote.
Engels was positive about the election in spite of its shortcomings:
In a country that has newly entered the movement; the first really crucial step is the formation by the workers of an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is distinguishable as a labor party. And this step has been taken far sooner than we might have expected, and that’s the main thing. That the first program of this party should still be muddle-headed and extremely inadequate, that it should have picked Henry George for its figurehead, are unavoidable if merely transitory evils. The masses must have time and opportunity to evolve; and they will not get that opportunity unless they have a movement of their own–no matter what its form, providing it is their own movement–in which they are impelled onwards by their own mistakes and learn by bitter experience.
Engels reserved special criticism for the German socialists in the U.S. for counterpoising their “pure” doctrine to the shortcomings of the American labor movement. He argued that they should work inside organizations like the Knights of Labor–the first truly mass labor organization in the U.S. that reached its height of popularity in the great labor upsurge of the mid-1880s–in spite of the fact that its leader Terence Powderly, for example, opposed strikes. The movement, he argued, “ought not to be pooh-poohed from without but to be revolutionized from within.” This was possible, Engels argued, without the socialists simply dissolving themselves in the movement.
Engels said: “I think all our practice has shown that it is possible to work along with the general movement of the working class at every one of its stages without giving up or hiding our own distinct position and even organization.”
Luxemburg and Lenin
Though Lenin was not aware of it until the outbreak of the First World War, the Bolshevik Party was being constructed on a fundamentally different basis than German social democracy. Whereas the German party, as a party that aimed to represent the German working class, embraced all shades of politics in the movement, from reformist to revolutionary, Lenin fought to create a party independent from any reformist trend in the Russian socialist movement. Lenin attributed the differences between Russia and Western European socialists to the conditions of illegality faced by socialists in Russia. But in practice, the Bolsheviks were building not an organization of the whole working class, but only of its most advanced, revolutionary elements. Hence Lenin engaged in unrelenting polemics against the reformist Mensheviks, who argued for a broad, legal party (in conditions under which a legal party could be nothing but a reformist party), and who argued that Russian workers must not “frighten” the bourgeoisie. More than that, he also argued that the revolutionary Bolsheviks should have their own, distinctly organized fraction, and, by 1912, that they should be a separate party that excluded reformists from its ranks.
In Germany, Rosa Luxemburg was far more critical than Lenin of the opportunist character of the German party–its ossification, bureaucratism and parliamentary “cretinism.”
The kind of parliamentarism we now have in France, Italy, and Germany provide the soil for such illusions of current opportunism as overvaluation of social reforms, class and party collaboration, the hope of pacific development toward socialism, etc.
Luxemburg could write clearly about the proper way in which revolutionaries should approach the state and the use of parliament: “In order to be effective, Social Democracy must take all the positions she can in the present State and invade everywhere. However, the prerequisite for this is that these positions make it possible to wage the class struggle from them, the struggle against the bourgeoisie and its state”.
Luxemburg was clear that even if socialists were able to achieve a majority in parliament in a given country, this would not signal the victory of socialism. The ruling class would rally around its most trusted state institutions–the police, the army, the state bureaucracy and corrupted party politicians–against parliament if necessary: “In this society, the representative institutions, democratic in form, are in content the instruments of the interests of the ruling class. This manifests itself in a tangible fashion in the fact that as soon as democracy shows the tendency to negate its class character and become transformed into an instrument of the real interests of the population, the democratic forms are sacrificed by the bourgeoisie and by its state representatives”.
This is not some theoretical debating point, but has often been the bitter historical experience of the workers’ movement internationally. In Chile, for example, Salvador Allende’s reformist socialist government was overturned in a bloody military coup in 1973. Moreover, in many countries, such as China, Saudi Arabia and many others, capitalism and the market go hand in hand with military, monarchic or one-party rule. Democracy–even bourgeois democracy–is in some cases seen as a luxury that those who rule cannot afford.
Luxemburg belonged to a party the majority of whose leaders viewed the state and parliament along the same lines as Kautsky did. They wanted to “take all positions” in “the present state” not as a means to destroy that state but as an end in itself. Without a revolutionary party rather than the hodge-podge that was German social democracy, a revolutionary line in parliament could not be, and was not, carried out by the majority of delegates–though Karl Leibknecht and a handful of other revolutionary delegates did play that role.
The Bolshevik Party was the first to utilize elections in a really revolutionary way. The fact that the Bolsheviks organized independently of the reformists, the Mensheviks, freed them to follow the course outlined by Luxemburg, to utilize the rostrum of parliament to conduct revolutionary propaganda and agitation.
Like Germany, Russia had not undergone a bourgeois revolution and was still under the heel of a semifeudal autocracy. Revolutionaries were driven underground, forced to operate clandestinely in order to escape persecution, arrest, exile and even execution.
In the mass upheaval of the 1905 revolution, the Tzar issued a manifesto announcing the creation of a parliament (Duma) as a sop to the revolutionary movement. This was not to be a real legislative body but a consultative council to the Tzar that the latter could dissolve at will. Moreover, the Duma election system was weighted to give more representation to big landlords. The Bolshevik Party advocated an “active” boycott of the first Duma. But once the revolution began to ebb, Lenin changed his position and argued that socialists should participate in the Duma.
We were obliged to do–and did–everything in our power to prevent the convocation of a sham representative body. That is so. But since it has been convened in spite of all our efforts, we cannot shirk the task of utilizing it.
Lenin had to wage a determined fight against party members who argued that on principle Marxists should boycott the Duma. He argued that under changed, non-revolutionary conditions, the boycott was meaningless:
“The boycott is a means of struggle aimed directly at overthrowing the old regime, or, at the worst, i.e., when the assault is not strong enough for overthrow, at weakening it to such an extent that it would be unable to set up that institution, unable to make it operate. Consequently, to be successful the boycott requires a direct struggle against the old regime, an uprising against it and mass disobedience to it in a large number of cases.”
Lenin therefore attacked the idea of a “passive” boycott–that is, simply abstaining from elections or parliament, a refusal to “recognize” existing institutions even if the movement cannot destroy them. He did not glorify the work, but said, “since the accursed counter-revolution has driven us into this accursed pig-sty, we shall work there too for the benefit of the revolution, without whining, but also without boasting.”
Even so, Lenin was clear that revolutionaries considered participation in elections as only a small part of their activity, and that the struggle in the workplaces and streets was far more important.
We shall not refuse to go into the Second Duma when (or “if”) it is convened. We shall not refuse to utilize this arena, but we shall not exaggerate its modest importance; on the contrary, guided by the experience already provided by history, we shall entirely subordinate the struggle we wage in the Duma to another form of struggle, namely strikes, uprisings, etc.
What did that work consist of? For party work, it meant using the election campaigns to conduct propaganda among masses it normally did or could not reach. And, for the party members who were elected as deputies, it meant using the Duma as a platform to disseminate propaganda, to expose the right wing and the liberal bourgeoisie and to assist in the organization of struggles outside the Duma. Socialist deputies could use their parliamentary immunity to conduct propaganda that outside the Duma would normally be considered illegal. They could make Duma speeches that, reprinted in the party and non-party press, could reach a wider audience than other types of party propaganda, and they could use the Duma rostrum to expose, in the form of “interpolations,” the various abuses of the system against peasants and workers. Unlike in the German SPD, where parliamentary representatives were the stars in the party crown, the Bolshevik Party subordinated their Duma deputies to party control and saw them as servants of the working-class struggle.
The basic approach taken by the Bolsheviks provided the backbone of the position on elections and parliament taken up in the Communist International in 1920.
The Communist International (Comintern) was formed in 1919 on the initiative of the Bolshevik Party after it successfully seized power in Russia in 1917. Its aim was to reconstitute a new international of workers’ parties founded on revolutionary principles–and practice–that is, on leading the workers’ movement to seize state power. Its politics were based not only on the successful seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, but also on the betrayal of the German Revolution by the reformist SPD leaders, who helped organize the counterrevolutionary forces that murdered Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in 1918.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks, along with a handful of revolutionaries in other countries, set up the International with the aim of creating new, revolutionary, communist parties that would be independent of the reformist parties and capable of leading the mass upheavals of that period toward victory.
The First Congress in 1919 emphasized the need for socialists to replace parliaments with soviets, or workers’ councils–to replace sham democracy with workers’ power. The Comintern hammered away at the importance of building communist parties that could overthrow bourgeois democracy and replace it by workers’ democracy. Throughout Europe revolutionary movements were making these ideas not distant dreams but concrete possibilities.
But many militant young revolutionaries in the newly formed German Communist Party (KPD)–impatient and eager for revolutionary change–interpreted this to mean that revolutionaries should reject in principle all participation in parliaments. “They were for workers councils and against parliaments,” writes Duncan Hallas.
Therefore they must have nothing to do with any parliament. To do so could only confuse the workers: “All reversion to parliamentary forms of struggle, which have become politically and historically obsolete,” a group of the boycottists wrote a little later, “and any policy of maneuvering and compromise must be emphatically rejected.”
Parliamentarism was certainly obsolete from the point of view of the few thousand members of the KPD and even, at that time, for a wider circle of working class militants, perhaps some hundreds of thousands. But it was evidently not at all obsolete from the point of view of the millions of workers who voted for the SPD.
At the Second Congress of the Comintern, held in 1920, Lenin had to carry on a fight against these “ultralefts” in Germany and elsewhere. It was one thing, argued Lenin, to recognize that parliaments were historically outmoded and another to be powerful enough to defeat them in practice.
Parliamentarism has become “historically obsolete.” That is true as regards propaganda. But everyone knows that this is still a long way from overcoming it practically. Capitalism could have been declared, and quite rightly, to be “historically obsolete” many decades ago, but that does not at all remove the need for a very long and very persistent struggle on the soil of capitalism.
Participation in parliamentary elections and in the struggle on the platform of parliament is obligatory for the party of the revolutionary proletariat…As long as you are unable to disperse the bourgeois parliament and every other type of reactionary institution, you must work inside them, precisely because there you will still find workers who are stupefied by the priests and by the dreariness of rural life; otherwise you risk becoming mere babblers.
In the Comintern floor debates on parliament, Lenin’s main adversary was the Italian delegate Bordiga, who argued that “the tactical experience of the Russian revolution cannot be transported to other countries where bourgeois democracy has functioned for many years.” Any participation in parliament, according to Bordiga, contained the “twofold danger” of assigning too much importance to elections and wasting valuable party time that could be spent on mass work. In effect, Bordiga was arguing that the parliamentary cretinism of the pre-war Socialist parties was the only possible experience that socialists could have in the electoral arena–even revolutionary socialists.
“You say that parliament is an instrument with the aid of which the bourgeoisie deceives the masses,” Lenin answered Bordiga, but this argument should be turned against you, and it does turn against your thesis. How will you reveal the true character of parliament to the really backward masses, who are deceived by the bourgeoisie? How will you expose the various parliamentary maneuvers or the positions of the various political parties if you are not in parliament, if you remain outside parliament?
If you say, “fellow workers, we are so weak that we cannot form a party disciplined enough to compel its members of parliament to submit to it,” the workers will abandon you, for they will ask themselves, “How can we set up a dictatorship of the proletariat with such weaklings?”
To the smaller and still-divided revolutionary movement in Britain, Lenin advanced a somewhat different argument. The Labour Party, which drew its support from the trade unions, was as thoroughly reformist as the SPD in Germany–Lenin in fact called it a “bourgeois workers party.” He encouraged various revolutionary groups in Britain to unite into a single communist party, but he also urged them to affiliate with the Labour Party and, according to Hallas, “carry on the fight for revolutionary politics inside its ranks.”35 Lenin argued that in order to move beyond the reformism of the Labour Party, workers would have to experience the Labour Party in power. Revolutionaries, therefore, needed to stand alongside the majority of workers who looked to Labour as “their” party and give Labour critical support in elections, and in this way win workers to communist politics. (Lenin hastened to add that the Communists should only work inside the Labour Party if they were given full freedom to operate as an independent organization with its own publications.).
The fact that the majority of workers in Great Britain still follow the lead of the British Kerenskys or Scheidemanns and that they have not yet had the experience of a government composed of these people…undoubtedly shows that the British Communists should participate in parliamentary action, that they should from within Parliament help the masses of workers to see the results of a Henderson and Snowden government in practice, that they should help the Hendersons and Snowdens to defeat Lloyd George and Churchill combined. To act otherwise would mean placing difficulties in the way of the revolution; for revolution is impossible without a change in the views of the majority of the working class, and this change is brought about by the political experience of the masses, and never by propaganda alone.
The Comintern’s “Thesis on the Communist Parties and Parliament,” drafted by Leon Trotsky, summing up decades of experience of revolutionary socialists in Russia and elsewhere, outlined the approach taken in general by revolutionaries to the question of parliament and elections:
“Communism rejects parliamentarism as a form of the future society…It rejects the possibility of taking over parliament on a permanent basis; its goal is to destroy parliamentarism. Therefore it is possible to speak only of using bourgeois state institutions for the purpose of destroying them. The question can be posed in this sense and in this sense alone. The Proletariat’s most important method of struggle against the bourgeoisie, that is, against the bourgeoisie’s state power, is first and foremost mass action. The activity in parliament consists primarily of revolutionary agitation from the parliamentary rostrum, unmasking opponents, and ideological unification of the masses, which, particularly in areas that lag behind, are still prejudiced by democratic illusions and look to the parliamentary rostrum. This work must be completely subordinate to the goals and tasks of the mass struggle outside parliament.”
Revolutionaries in the U.S. and elections
Rosa Luxemburg pointed out in her famous debate with Bernstein.
People who pronounce themselves in favor of the method of legislative reform in place of and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modification of the old society.
Reformism in modern times has degenerated to an even lower point than that set by Bernstein. Many European social democratic parties who formerly espoused the classic reformist view–so brilliantly skewered by Luxemburg–now argue, in today’s “globalized” economy and since the collapse of Stalinism, that socialism is no longer possible. The best we can do is tinker with the system to make it more humane. Though this has always been the real practice of reformism, it now openly proclaims socialism as an impossible goal.
As Luxemburg points out, the debate is not about whether socialists are for reforms or whether socialists should turn their backs on the electoral system. As socialists we fight for all reforms that improve the conditions of life for workers under capitalism and give workers the confidence to fight for more. But any real fight for reforms requires struggle to achieve them. Reformists tell workers to sit passively and rely on elected officials. By doing so, they weaken and demobilize the class struggle that makes real reform possible and prepares workers consciously, organizationally and politically to overturn capitalism.
The U.S. has historically been dominated by a bourgeois, two-party system to the exclusion of a third party–let alone labor or social-democratic–alternative. Moreover, organized, revolutionary socialist organization is still far too small to even consider running its own candidates. More often than not, socialists have found themselves–when not sucked into the maelstrom of the Democratic Party–placed in the role of arguing what is essentially a negative position: socialists should have nothing to do with the two capitalist parties. This has often meant, out of sheer necessity, an argument that those who are looking for real change should sit out the presidential election.
But as Engels’ writings on the U.S. in the 1880s show, there have been moments when working-class, third-party alternatives have, if only for a time, been on offer. In those cases socialists could call for at least a protest, class vote against the two major bourgeois parties, in the hope of cracking the two-party system and creating an opening for independent, working-class politics.
Whatever the tasks that lay ahead, when dealing with the question of elections in the U.S., socialists must remember Lenin’s concluding remarks in Left-Wing Communism:
“It is far more difficult–and far more useful–to be a revolutionary when the conditions for direct, open, really mass and really revolutionary struggle do not yet exist, to defend the interests of the revolution (by propaganda, agitation and organization) in non-revolutionary bodies and even in downright reactionary bodies, in non-revolutionary circumstances, among the masses who are incapable of immediately appreciating the need for revolutionary methods of action. The main task of contemporary Communism in Western Europe and America is to learn to seek, to find, to correctly determine the specific path or the particular turn of events that will bring the masses right up against the real, last, decisive, and great revolutionary struggle”.
Marxist Principles and Electoral Tactics
The Fifth Conference of the International Communist League in 2007 adopted the position of opposition to Marxists running for executive office in the capitalist state—e.g., president, mayor, provincial or state governor—as a matter of principle. This position flows from the understanding that the capitalist state is the executive committee of the ruling class. At its core this state consists of bodies of armed men—the military, police, courts and prisons—which function to protect the class rule of the bourgeoisie and its system of production.
To summarized Lenin’s position on election:
Communist politicians- Lenin regarded this as a dangerous mistake. The party should use elections to gather support and spread its message. It should be completely different from the usual breed of privileged politicians. They should be working class, and go to the Duma dressed in their ordinary clothes, treating all the ceremony and show of parliament with contempt. They were to use their position as a platform for exposing the Tsar and calling on the workers outside parliament to rise up in struggle.
Lenin’s stress on the need to combine legal and illegal work was extremely successful. When the workers’ movement began to recover with a wave of mass strikes in 1912, the Bolshevik faction was far more representative of workers’ groups on the ground than the Mensheviks or the Liquidators. The Bolsheviks finally established themselves as a completely separate party.
Everything seemed set for a final confrontation with Tsarism. But then, in 1914, the whole of Europe plunged into the chaos and mass murder of World War One. Of all the Social-Democratic and working class parties of Europe, only one stood firm against nationalism and war: the Bolsheviks.
The Philippines, Pnoy and the Left
No real changes after the elections but worsening of the situation. Can the successor of Gloria Arroyo do something for the people?
The dominant ideology of society is the ideology of the ruling class. And electoralism and parliamentarism are one of its manifestations in the era of imperialism. Basically the platforms and programs of the candidates and parties are the same. There is no difference between the Administration and Opposition for there is no third ideology, it’s either proletarian ideology or bourgeois ideology. The ideology of the ruling classes both Administration and Opposition is bourgeois ideology. The only choice is either bourgeois or socialist ideology for there is no middle course for mankind has not created a “third” ideology. This ideology in order to be considered alive, it must be translated into their form of organization and this is where political parties and other form of organization came into existence. Political parties carries an ideology-a class ideology and moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology, therefore, it is necessary that the revolutionary working class must have an “independent party, independent political stance and platform” which are far different and far opposite to political parties of the bourgeoisie and trapos and to turn aside from socialist ideology in its slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.
Reading and listening their campaigns and platforms, they shouted for reforms and anti-corruption but the “essence” is the same: defend national capitalism and the government will do all it can to make national capital survives under the very intense competition within the rapidly saturated world market. This means: cheaper labor-power (wages) to make the Philippine products competitive in the world market, maximization of labor-power, more widespread contractualization, increase taxes and government’s debt. In the next 3-6 years, toiling masses will suffer more because world capitalism is in its permanent crisis and the state is completely bankrupt.
Role of the Left?
For the first time, the Left openly support big bourgeois opposition parties against the Arroyo regime. In the past, they were ashamed to openly support and just secretly campaign bourgeois candidates and parties. This is a clear manifestation that the only difference between the Right and Left is the language used and the formulation. But “essentially”, they have the same interest: “develop” national capitalism, in which in imperialist epoch and permanent crisis is impossible to happen. “Development” means worst sufferings and intense exploitation on the people. The masses and the Left, they viewed corruption in GMA’s administration as mere abused of power or breached of laws instead of seeing this corruption as part of the capitalist system. I will discuss this topic on capitalism and corruption later.
The two biggest Left factions (maoist CPP-NPA and Akbayan) are also supporting the two oldest bourgeois parties in the country – Nacionalista Party and Liberal Party – and to the two strongest contenders for the presidency in the last election (Manny Villar and Noynoy Aquino).
If the other factions seems silent (Sanlakas, Partido ng Manggagawa, KPD, atbp) on the bickerings of NP and LP, this is because they are not against in allying with them. It so happen that the maoist Bayan Muna and social-democratic Akbayan sealed the deal first.
And since it is certain like the rising of the sun that the new president will be the spokesperson and defender of the capitalist-haciendero classes, there is a strong possibility that after the elections, the Left will immediately stand as “opposition” to the new administration to evade the anger of the people, and once again fool the masses that they are for “social change”. If Villar won in the last election, Akbayan will be the first to be in “opposition” but since Aquino won, the Maoists will be the first to act against as the “opposition”. It will be easier for the “silent” other factions of the Left to ride the opportunism as “opposition” on whoever wins since they are not openly endorsing them. Currently, the role of the Left in the Philippines is: an “opposition” to the Right to divert the workers away from the revolutionary road and imprison them in the mystifications of reformism using radical language like “armed struggle”, “revolution” and “system change”.
On the other hand, as in the past, there will be an exodus of politicians of the Right to the party of the new president. The ideologies “everyone for himself” and “one against all” will intensify more within the various factions of Right and Left. Allies before elections will be enemies again; enemies will become friends again; all depends which is favorable to maintain and advance one’s self-interest.
However, conscious workers will not forget the open endorsement and licking the Left on the asses of the big bourgeois parties of the exploited classes whatever the outcome of the elections. What the Right and Left did is the fertile ground for the raising of class consciousness against all factions of capitalist-hacienderos.
Corruption: Built-in in Capitalism
The manifestations of corruption creep up in all aspects of government. There is big corruption in a big arena, like the Bank of Japan scandal, and there is small corruption in a small arena, like a police officer that accepts a bribe to forget about a traffic violation. Any type of corruption, though, no matter how big or small, is a blow to democracy. In a system that should be ruled by transparent and predictable processes of law, corruption creates favorites, loopholes, and connections-based advantages, and fosters an unpredictable and opaque rule of personality.
When everything is a commodity, why wouldn’t power be up for sale?
Major political corruption scandals have recently made headlines in newspapers around the country. The increased attention to the issue raises important questions: Are politics getting more corrupt? The source of the corruption is not in the individual perpetrators found guilty of a crime, but rather the nature of the system itself. With such interconnection existing between private corporations and the trapos, how could one not expect the interests of “national security” and profit-making to become one and the same?
Politics, like all else under capitalism, becomes commodities. Those with political power and influence sell their favors to the highest bidders. Most corruption is sanctified by law: campaign contributions, corporate lobbyism, coveted corporate positions doled out to former and present state officials. The rest is swept under the rug—the not-so-secret stuff everyone in the ruling circles knows but no one talks about, until something becomes too big to hide.
As long as the banks and corporations hold the keys to power in all the major institutions of the government, these same relationships between politics and private business and the associated corruption will continue unabated.
To resolve this increasingly dangerous contradiction, the dictatorship of the banks and corporations must be replaced with people’s power. The myth of a government of, by and for the people must be made a reality by smashing the current government of, by and for the banks and corporations. Only then can corruption be meaningfully confronted.
Is Corruption the Cause of poverty?
According to an Economist Walden Bello the issue of corruption resonates in developing countries. In the Philippines, for instance, the slogan of the coalition that is likely to win the 2010 presidential elections is “Without corrupt officials, there are no poor people.”
Not surprisingly, the international financial institutions have weighed in. The World Bank has made “good governance” a major thrust of its work, asserting that the “World Bank Group focus on governance and anticorruption (GAC) follows from its mandate to reduce poverty — a capable and accountable state creates opportunities for poor people, provides better services, and improves development outcomes.”
Because it erodes trust in government, corruption must certainly be condemned and corrupt officials resolutely prosecuted. Corruption also weakens the moral bonds of civil society on which democratic practices and processes rest. But although research suggests it has some bearing on the spread of poverty, corruption is not the principal cause of poverty and economic stagnation, popular opinion notwithstanding.
World Bank and Transparency International data show that the Philippines and China exhibit the same level of corruption, yet China grew by 10.3 percent per year between 1990 and 2000, while the Philippines grew by only 3.3 percent. Moreover, as a recent study by Shaomin Lee and Judy Wu shows, “China is not alone; there are other countries that have relatively high corruption and high growth rates.”
Limits of a Hegemonic Narrative
The “corruption-causes-poverty narrative” has become so hegemonic that it has often marginalized policy issues from political discourse. This narrative appeals to the elite and middle class, which dominate the shaping of public opinion. It’s also a safe language of political competition among politicians. Political leaders can deploy accusations of corruption against one another for electoral effect without resorting to the destabilizing discourse of class.
Yet this narrative of corruption has increasingly less appeal for the poorer classes. Despite the corruption that marked his reign, Joseph Estrada is running a respectable third in the presidential contest in the Philippines, with solid support among many urban poor communities. But it is perhaps in Thailand where lower classes have most decisively rejected the corruption discourse, which the elites and Bangkok-based middle class deployed to oust Thaksin Shinawatra from the premiership in 2006.
While in power, Thaksin brazenly used his office to enlarge his corporate empire. But the rural masses and urban lower classes — the base of the so-called “Red Shirts” — have ignored this corruption and are fighting to restore his coalition to power. They remember the Thaksin period from 2001 to 2006 as a golden time. Thailand recovered from the Asian financial crisis after Thaksin kicked out the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Thai leader promoted expansionary policies with a redistributive dimension, such as cheap universal health care, a one-million-baht development fund for each town, and a moratorium on farmers’ servicing of their debt. These policies made a difference in their lives.
Thaksin’s Red Shirts are probably right in their implicit assessment that pro-people policies are more decisive than corruption when it comes to addressing poverty. Indeed, in Thailand and elsewhere, clean-cut technocrats have probably been responsible for greater poverty than the most corrupt politicians. The corruption-causes-poverty discourse is no doubt popular with elites and international financial institutions because it serves as a smokescreen for the structural causes of poverty, and stagnation and wrong policy choices of the more transparent technocrats.
The Philippine Case
The case of the Philippines since 1986 illustrates the greater explanatory power of the “wrong-policy narrative” than the corruption narrative. According to an ahistorical narrative, massive corruption suffocated the promise of the post-Marcos democratic republic. In contrast, the wrong-policy narrative locates the key causes of Philippine underdevelopment and poverty in historical events and developments.
The complex of policies that pushed the Philippines into the economic quagmire over the last 30 years can be summed up by a formidable term: structural adjustment. Also known as neoliberal restructuring, it involves prioritizing debt repayment, conservative macroeconomic management, huge cutbacks in government spending, trade and financial liberalization, privatization and deregulation, and export-oriented production. Structural adjustment came to the Philippines courtesy of the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Trade Organization (WTO), but local technocrats and economists internalized and disseminated the doctrine.
Corazon Aquino was personally honest — indeed the epitome of non-corruption — and her contribution to the reestablishment of democracy was indispensable. But her acceptance of the IMF’s demand to prioritize debt repayment over development brought about a decade of stagnation and continuing poverty. Interest payments as a percentage of total government expenditures went from 7 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1994. Capital expenditures, on the other hand, plunged from 26 percent to 16 percent. Since government is the biggest investor in the Philippines — indeed in any economy — the radical stripping away of capital expenditures helps explain the stagnant 1 percent average yearly growth in gross domestic product in the 1980s, and the 2.3 percent rate in the first half of the 1990s.
In contrast, the Philippines’ Southeast Asian neighbors ignored the IMF’s prescriptions. They limited debt servicing while ramping up government capital expenditures in support of growth. Not surprisingly, they grew by 6 to 10 percent from 1985 to 1995, attracting massive Japanese investment, while the Philippines barely grew and gained the reputation of a depressed market that repelled investors.
When Aquino’s successor, Fidel Ramos, came to power in 1992, the main agenda of his technocrats was to bring down all tariffs to 0–5 percent and bring the Philippines into the WTO and the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), moves intended to make trade liberalization irreversible. A pick-up in the growth rate in the early years of Ramos sparked hope, but the green shoots were short-lived. Another neoliberal policy, financial liberalization, crushed this early promise. The elimination of foreign exchange controls and speculative investment restrictions attracted billions of dollars from 1993-1997. But this also meant that when panic hit Asian foreign investors in summer 1997, the same lack of capital controls facilitated the stampede of billions of dollars from the country in a few short weeks. This capital flight pushed the economy into recession and stagnation in the next few years.
The administration of the next president, Joseph Estrada, did not reverse course, and under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, neoliberal policies continued to reign. Over the next few years, the Philippine government instituted new liberalization measures on the trade front, entering into free-trade agreements with Japan and China despite clear evidence that trade liberalization was destroying the two pillars of the economy: industry and agriculture. Radical unilateral trade liberalization severely destabilized the Philippine manufacturing sector. The number of textile and garments firms, for instance, drastically reduced from 200 in 1970 to 10 in recent years. As one of Arroyo’s finance secretaries admitted, “There’s an uneven implementation of trade liberalization, which was to our disadvantage.” While he speculated that consumers might have benefited from the tariff liberalization, he acknowledged that “it has killed so many local industries.”
As for agriculture, the liberalization of the country’s agricultural trade after the country joined the WTO in 1995 transformed the Philippines from a net food-exporting country into a net food-importing country after the mid-1990s. This year the China ASEAN Trade Agreement (CAFTA), negotiated by the Arroyo administration, goes into effect, and the prospect of cheap Chinese produce flooding the Philippines has made Filipino vegetable farmers fatalistic about their survival.
During the long Arroyo reign, the debt-repayment-oriented macroeconomic management policy that came with structural adjustment stifled the economy. With 20-25 percent of the national budget reserved for debt service payments because of the draconian Automatic Appropriations Law, government finances were in a state of permanent and widening deficit, which the administration tried to solve by contracting more loans. Indeed, the Arroyo administration contracted more loans than the previous three administrations combined.
When the deficit reached gargantuan proportions, the government refused to declare a debt moratorium or at least renegotiate debt repayment terms to make them less punitive. At the same time, the administration did not have the political will to force the rich to take the brunt of bridging the deficit, by increasing taxes on their income and improving revenue collection. Under pressure from the IMF, the government levied this burden on the poor and the middle class by adopting an expanded value added tax (EVAT) of 12 percent on purchases. Commercial establishments passed on this tax to poor and middle-class consumers, forcing them to cut back on consumption. This then boomeranged back on small merchants and entrepreneurs in the form of reduced profits, forcing many out of business.
The straitjacket of conservative macroeconomic management, trade and financial liberalization, as well as a subservient debt policy, kept the economy from expanding significantly. As a result, the percentage of the population living in poverty increased from 30 to 33 percent between 2003 and 2006, according to World Bank figures. By 2006, there were more poor people in the Philippines than at any other time in the country’s history.
Policy and Poverty in the Third World
The Philippine story is paradigmatic. Many countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia saw the same story unfold. Taking advantage of the Third World debt crisis, the IMF and the World Bank imposed structural adjustment in over 70 developing countries in the course of the 1980s. Trade liberalization followed adjustment in the 1990s as the WTO, and later rich countries, dragooned developing countries into free-trade agreements.
Because of this trade liberalization, gains in economic growth and poverty reduction posted by developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s had disappeared by the 1980s and 1990s. In practically all structurally adjusted countries, trade liberalization wiped out huge swathes of industry, and countries enjoying a surplus in agricultural trade became deficit countries. By the beginning of the millennium, the number of people living in extreme poverty had increased globally by 28 million from the decade before. The number of poor increased in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, the Arab states, and sub-Saharan Africa. The reduction in the number of the world’s poor mainly occurred in China and countries in East Asia, which spurned structural readjustment policies and trade liberalization multilateral institutions and local neoliberal technocrats imposed other developing economies.
China and the rapidly growing newly industrializing countries of East and Southeast Asia, where most of the global reduction in poverty took place, were marked by high degrees of corruption. The decisive difference between their performance and that of countries subjected to structural adjustment was not corruption but economic policy.
Despite its malign effect on democracy and civil society, corruption is not the main cause of poverty. The “anti poverty, anti-corruption” crusades that so enamor the middle classes and the World Bank will not meet the challenge of poverty. Bad economic policies create and entrench poverty. Unless and until we reverse the policies of structural adjustment, trade liberalization, and conservative macroeconomic management, we will not escape the poverty trap.
No lessons reviewed
What struck us most about the left analysis of Cory Aquino and her years was the lack of any serious assessment of the lessons that this critical period in history holds for left strategy today. In this sense the analysis has been a historical. In most cases it hasn’t gone beyond the role of Cory Aquino as an individual or the reviewing of some facts of her administration’s record, instead of analysing and attempting to understand the lessons they hold for left strategy today.
Does this mean that the left has nothing to learn from the revolution that overthrew Marcos and stabilised the system of elite rule? Or is this a form of denial, a refusal to collectively look at the period head on and draw the relevant lessons for today?
After all, the Aquino years were a traumatic period for the revolutionary left, having to come to terms with its own failure in losing the leadership of the political revolution, as well as having to suffer ongoing repression with the massacre of farmers in Mendiola, as well as the assassination of leaders of the movement, Rolando Olalia and Lean Alejandro. The people power revolution was a double-edged sword for the revolutionary left: a partial victory in building a mass movement that overthrew the dictatorship, but also a defeat of the left’s strategy. Most importantly, today, we continue to live with the legacy of all this.
I think that the Left has only made a partial assessment of the 1986 revolution and its aftermath. I have always believed that a more comprehensive assessment is necessary, because it is of the utmost importance that we learn the lessons for today.
As historical materialists our starting point should be, “it is classes and not individuals that make history and class struggle brings social progress”.
We should also internalise that Napoleonic dictum that “Defeated armies learn well’’. This is something that the Cuban revolutionaries managed to do in the aftermath of the defeat of the Moncada rebellion on July 26, 1953, and then went on a few years later to lead a successful insurrection resulting in the Cuban Revolution in 1959.I think that the Philippine Left is still grappling with this and is an army that has not, as yet, learned its lessons well.
Some lessons and more questions
Some lessons have been drawn by sections of the left and its importance that these are summarised. While these positions are differently nuanced amongst the various political parties or blocs, the main lessons can be identified as follows:
(i) The importance of the left intervening in the electoral arena?
(ii) The rejection or questioning of the Maoist strategy of protracted people’s war. Others have also pointed to the important role that the military plays in an insurrection or political revolution?
The transitional demand for a “Transitional Revolutionary Government’’ put forward by Laban ng Masa during the height of the struggle to oust the Gloria Macapagal regime was also partially referenced by the government of Cory Aquino which was then referred to as a “revolutionary government’’.
A key lesson of the 1986 revolution is the importance of the electoral tactic in the mobilisation of the masses and the capture of government and political power. The CPP’s ultraleft, electoral boycott tactic was a fatal error leading to the isolation of the left and the victory of the elite in the anti-dictatorship upsurge. If the CPP had fully participated in the election campaign and used the electoral tactic to the fullest extent possible to mobilise the masses, the outcome of the revolution would have been different. Aquino’s and the elite forces’ victory in February could have been followed by a revolutionary October, as the CPP chair Sison then promised. This never came to pass and instead we experienced a period of decline of the revolutionary movement.
The left learned this lesson hard and through the 1990s started to run its own candidates and participate in the electoral arena. However, the overall character of the left electoral intervention has been to play the electoral card in an extremely conventional way, within the boundaries set by traditional bourgeois politics, that it has become impossible to differentiate the left’s electoral campaigns from those of the trapo [traditional elite] candidates. “We have to play the game’’ was the justification given. And the left certainly did “play the game’’. So much so that the CPP’s electoral organisations were the de facto party list of choice of the Gloria Macapagal regime in the 2001 and 2004 elections. The mobilisation of the masses has not been the aim, but the winning of seats by any means necessary.
The revolutionary movement in Latin America has once again placed the electoral tactic on the agenda. In Venezuela and Bolivia the revolutionary movement used the electoral tactic to capture government and then proceed to extend and consolidate revolutionary political and state power. This lesson and experience is now being extended to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Uruguay and Ecuador. The lesson for us in the Philippines is that the electoral tactic, under certain conditions, such as during an extreme crisis of elite rule and a sharp rise in the class struggle (as was the case in the period leading to the collapse of the Marcos dictatorship), can be used to mobilise the masses to create a major breach in the system of elite/bourgeois rule. This is a key lesson of the 1986 revolution and a lesson from the advances being made by the revolutionary movements in Latin America today. However, as long as we use the electoral tactic purely within the boundaries set by trapo politicians, our political gains will be extremely limited and our movement will suffer the problems of opportunism, that so marks the left’s electoral interventions today.
We also need to start by asking ourselves the right questions in the process of trying to draw useful lessons. Why is it that sections of the elite have time and again been able to use populist rhetoric, to mobilise and lead the masses to serve their own interests, including in winning leadership from the left? For me this is a key question, or maybe even the key question, that needs to be posed over and over again, especially during periods of crisis such as the one we face in the Philippines today.
Resist and Reject Bourgeois Ideology
The dominant ideology of society is the ideology of the ruling class. And electoralism and parliamentarism are one of its manifestations in the era of imperialism. In order for the proletariat to advance its own struggles against capitalism and for the proletariat to hold its own struggles, bourgeois ideology of the Right and Left must be rejected. This is not easy because the influence of bourgeois propaganda that Leftism, especially the maoist CPP-NPA is the “true radical” and “communist” is still strong. The propaganda of the ruling class in the Philippines that CPP-NPA is “communist” is in line with the propaganda of the international bourgeoisie that Stalinism or Trotskyism is “communism”.
The victory of the workers’ fight cannot be achieved through the tricky proposals of the Left to be laws under the capitalist order. In bourgeois parliamentarism under decadent capitalism, a proposal can only be law if the ruling class approves it. Victory is in the struggles of the conscious and united toiling people in the streets and outside parliament. The success of the proletariat can be achieved outside the control of the unions. Let us be reminded that in order to transform capitalism to socialism it cannot be done through natural-peaceful means (evolutionary path) just like in the case of feudalism transforming into capitalism but it necessitates “force”- the smashing of the state machineries through forcible use of force as Lenin said “major questions in the life of nations are settled ONLY BY FORCE”.
Class struggle can only be strong when these struggles spread out to many factories and participated by the maximum number of workers – regular, contractual, unionists, non-unionists, in private and in public sectors. The only form of organization for these is the workers’ assemblies and councils which are independent from the control of the unions, independent from the control of bourgeois parties and independent from the influence of the Right wing Opportunist and Left wing Opportunist.
Most of all, class struggle is not to defend “national interests” but for “class interests” because the former is the interests of the bourgeoisie while the latter is for the Filipino workers. “National unity” exposes by the Right wing Opportunist and Left wing Opportunist only means that the mass of workers should surrender to its mortal enemy: capitalist-haciendero classes. Central task of the new CEO of Malacanang is to convince the working masses to defend and sacrifice for “national interests” and forget class interests. And if the proletariat resists, the iron arm of the state – its armed forces and prisons – will be whipped out by the new president against the proletarian masses.
Marxist Role of the Left
The Left must be “organizers and agitators of class struggle” onward seizure of political power (immediate aim) and socialism (ultimate goal) and not organizers for the Administration neither for the Opposition. The role of the Left is to weaken the political power of the ruling class and not to help strengthen their rule. In situation where there is a national crisis and that the ruling class cannot rule in an old way, this is advantageous for the Left to intensify agitation and propaganda to isolate the ruling class and on the period where there is absent of revolutionary situation, the challenge for more intensification of agitation and propaganda is necessary and such agitation and propaganda must not be in line with the call for reforms but system change (socialism). The message of the Left must be as clear as crystal ball with no rhetoric and it must reach the masses in the ground, to their very soul of consciousness.
Now let us put this into proper context of the Philippines. The plan of GMA to abort the 2010 national election could trigger “mass discontent that might manifest into uprising” (and polarity) and this is beneficial for the Left to intensify agitation and propaganda and leadership but the US imperialist and the ruling class in this country does not want this “mass uprising” (and polarity) to happen and therefore, there is a need for a “peaceful transfer of political position from one bourgeoisie into another of the same kind/class” and this can be done through the process of election. What will happen to the discontent mood of the masses? The discontent masses will be appeased or pacified and this condition is not favorable for the Left as far being an organizer and agitator of class struggle and sad to say that in many times the Left has been allowing this to happen consciously or unconsciously and therefore, working class revolution is always betrayed.
The transformation of underground party into an open legal party?
The first of these was a right-wing trend. A grouping of the most extreme Mensheviks – the “Liquidators” – decided that the RSDLP’s secret underground organization should be dissolved. In its place they wanted to concentrate on building a legal party alone. Lenin opposed this fiercely, convincing the party as a whole to reject this as an attempt to abandon the job of revolution and fight only for peaceful reforms.
The second trend that Lenin fought against was an ultra-left current within the Bolshevik faction. They argued the opposite of the Liquidators: that the RSDLP should concentrate only on underground work, and refuse to take advantage of any legal opportunities. In particular they opposed the participation of the RSDLP in elections to the Duma, Russia’s parliament.
In 1905 at Soviets the storm broke. A peaceful march to the Tsar’s palace was drowned in blood as the army opened fire on the workers, killing men, women and children. All hell broke loose. The Russian workers launched the biggest General Strike in history: their calls for bread quickly broadened into demands for free speech, a parliament and a republic. Most important of all, the workers set up a new form of organization: the Soviets. These democratic councils brought workers together from every industry and area. The workers’ delegates were directly elected, and could be recalled at any time. They organized the struggle and showed the way in which the working class could organize society itself. They were the seeds of a future working class state.
In many areas the soviets limited themselves to strike action and defending themselves from the police. But in Moscow the Bolsheviks had real influence. Lenin argued for an armed uprising against the Tsar. He wrote to Bolshevik activists:”contingents may be of any strength, beginning with two or three people. They must arm themselves as best they can (rifles, revolvers, bombs, knives, knuckle dusters, sticks, rags soaked in kerosene for starting fires, ropes or rope ladders, shovels for building barricades, pyroxylin cartridges, barbed wire, nails against cavalry etc”. The Soviet rose and fought courageously, but by December 17 they had been defeated. The Menshevik leaders drew from this the conclusion that the masses should never have taken to arms. Lenin disagreed: “On the contrary, they should have taken to arms more resolutely, energetically and aggressively; we should have explained to the masses that it was impossible to confine things to a peaceful strike and that a fearless and relentless armed fight was necessary.”
The years following the defeat of the 1905 revolution were hard ones for Marxists. Every reverse for the working class movement inevitably finds its reflection in a decline of revolutionary ideas. During the following years of repression, Lenin fought against two trends in the RSDLP which would have prevented the revolution from succeeding if they had been allowed to grow unchecked.
Future of the Left
At present, the proletariat in the Philippines does not trust anybody even itself. It does not trust the administration, opposition, leftist organizations and the unions. It does not yet trust its own solidarity and unity. That is why both the administration and the different forces of opposition have difficulty to mobilize the workers in accordance to their own agenda. To advance the workers’ struggles to revolution the class must understand that: “The autonomy of the proletariat in the face of all the other classes of society is the first precondition for the extension of its struggle towards the revolution. All alliances with other classes or strata and especially those with fractions of the bourgeoisie can only lead to the disarming of the class in the face of its enemy, because these alliances make the working class abandon the only terrain on which it can temper its strength: its own class terrain” (Point 9, Platform of the ICC).
The inter-classist movement in the Philippines is initiated by the leftist Maoist movement. This is one of their “three magic weapons” for their bourgeois national-democratic revolution. Its concept of revolution is the Stalinist “bloc of four classes” (i.e., alliance of workers, peasants, petty-bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie). That’s why it is part of its basic principles the tactical alliance with the faction of the ruling class. But this Maoist strategy is also practice by the anti-Maoist leftists in the Philippines. This only means that frontism of whatever type is inherent to all leftist currents to derail the proletariat to achieve its own class consciousness.
When the proletarian movement integrates itself to the struggle of the non-proletarian classes especially with the faction of the capitalist class, it weakens itself as a class. In 1986, the relatively strong militant workers movement was weaken due to the united front policy and armed guerilla actions of the Maoist CPP. In 2001, the already weak proletarian movement was further weakened by the inter-classist “People Power” to oust Joseph Estrada. Now, once again, all factions of the bourgeoisie and the unions are calling the atomized and demoralized workers to participate in the struggles led by its class enemy.
What happened in Latin America is also what happened in 1986 and 2001 in the Philippines: “The fact that significant parts of the proletariat have been sucked into these revolts is of the greatest importance, because it marks a profound loss of class autonomy. Instead of seeing themselves as proletarians with their own interests, workers in Bolivia and Argentina saw themselves as citizens sharing common interests with the petty-bourgeois and non-exploiting strata.” (ICC, ‘Popular revolts’ in Latin America: Its class autonomy is vital to the proletariat)
Thus it is not surprising that the Right and Left of capital expressed the same sentiment on the outcome of the inter-classist movement last February 29. Both the Right and Left of the bourgeoisie have the same task: DERAIL THE DEVELOPMENT OF PROLETARIAN CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS.
The masses will have more frustrations in Pnoy administration as the saying goes: “With great expectancy so with great frustration” because for sure the system (capitalism) cannot and will never bring about real progress and worker’s emancipation and no Marxist in his right mind will have an illusion of good governance and progress under capitalism. The current Left movement in the Philippines is divided and is continuously dividing and can no longer lead tens of thousands of masses in the streets without the power of money or money from other faction of the ruling class. The Left is losing their integrity and independence. The masses saw the Left how they supported the trapo politicians from Cory Aquino regime until Noynoy coming into power and nothing has changed and these trapos dig their grave so with them is the Left movement if the later will not rectify its errors and stands for its mission.
The Left can regain sympathy of the masses if they will do away with their opportunism and reformism and rise as an independent Left movement with independent class stance and go back to class struggle and do away with their so-called social movement or civil society movement with no class struggle. In fact, the opportunists and reformists would love for class struggle to just be considered an “old-fashioned” notion from the past but as Marxists we believed that class struggle is the key to social progress and this struggle is the very heart of the capitalist system. It explains how it works and where it is going.
A political organization that expresses the interests of a social class or its strata, uniting its most active representatives and directing them toward the attainment of certain goals and ideals. A political party is the highest form of class organization.
Independent working class Political Party
The emergence and development of political parties are associated with the division of society into classes and with the history of the class struggle, especially the struggle for political power.
Lenin said: “In a society based upon class divisions, the struggle between the hostile classes is bound, at a certain stage of its development, to become a political struggle. The most purposeful, most comprehensive and specific expression of the political struggle of classes is the struggle of parties” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 12, p. 137).
In contrast to the spontaneous process of class formation, the emergence of political parties is possible only when the ideologists of a particular class become aware of its fundamental common interests and express them in the form of definite conceptions and political programs. The political party educates and organizes the class or social group and lends an organized, purposeful character to its actions. Furthermore, the political party is the repository of a particular ideology. To a considerable degree, ideology determines the leading principles of the party’s policies, organizational structure, and practical activity, which are usually specified in the party’s programs and rules.
Lenin emphasized: “To see what is what in the fight between the parties, one must not take words at their face value but must study the actual history of the parties, must study not so much what they say about themselves as their deeds, the way in which they go about solving various political problems, and their behavior in matters affecting the vital interests of the various classes of society—landlords, capitalists, peasants, workers, etc.” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed, vol. 21, p. 276).
The parties of monopoly capital hold the dominant position in the party systems of many modern bourgeois states. The existence in one state of several such parties and their struggle among themselves do not affect the essence of the political power of the monopolies and the economic basis for their dominance. The social function of a bourgeois party is to express the interests of the ruling class and to make the masses ideologically and organizationally subordinate to that class. This is the impetus for creating not only parties that openly defend the bourgeois system (for example, Great Britain’s Conservative Party) but also parties that carry out the policies of the monopolies but have a broader social base (for example, the Christian Democratic and Christian Social parties in a number of Western European countries).
If the working class is to fulfill its historical mission of creating a socialist society, it must be organized into an independent political party that differs fundamentally in character, ideology, organization, and methods from the political parties of all other classes. The ideology, program, and tactics of the independent political party of the working class are based on the scientific world view of Marxism-Leninism. The independent working-class party acts as a vanguard, uniting and organizing the working class in the struggle for the interests of the entire class and giving it unity of goals, will, and actions. The historical role, tasks, and principles of building a political party of the working class are defined by K. Marx and F. Engels in the Communist Manifesto (1848).
In the new historical period, when the socialist revolution became the immediate task, it became necessary to form a
new kind of working-class party, radically different from the bourgeois parties. Creatively developing Marxism and adapting it to the epoch of imperialism, Lenin created an integral doctrine of the party as the highest form of revolutionary organization of the working class and elaborated the party’s theoretical and organizational foundations, the strategy and tactics of Bolshevism, and the standards of party life and principles of party leadership. The new type of party was established for the first time in 1903 by Russian Marxists under Lenin’s leadership. Subsequently, Socialist parties were founded in most of the capitalist countries. The organization and activity of a Socialist party rest on many principles:
1. Loyalty to Marxism-Leninism and an uncompromising struggle against all attempts of right-wing or left-wing opportunists, revisionists, and dogmatists to distort the party’s programmatic, tactical, or organizational foundations.
1. Loyalty to proletarian internationalism and a decisive struggle against all manifestations of nationalism;
2. Democratic centralism, the basis of party structure; an organic link with the masses, which entails considering their experience in working out tactics and educating them on the basis of this experience; and collective leadership.
3. Strict and universally applicable party discipline and continuous attention to the quality of party membership; firmness in carrying out basic principles, with maximal flexibility regarding tactical means and methods of struggle, taking into account specific internal and international conditions; and a self-critical attitude, an open admission of errors, and correction of them.