Revolution or War n°15

(May 16th 2020)

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Letter to the GCCF : Participating to Electoral Campaign for Propaganda Purpose ?

December 28th 2019

The IGCL to the Gulf Coast Communist Fraction,

Dear comrades,

We want to respond to your letter [1], dated November 30th on your website, and continue the debate about the basic positions of a communist organization nowadays, and more particularly the Points of unity [2] of the GCCF. Specifically, we want here to comment and critically respond only to the arguments that the letter provides on our objections [3] to point #12. It says that communists may stand in elections to expose the sham of bourgeois democracy, which we disagree with. We’ll deal with the other points in another letter, which don’t present such a head on disagreement.

But before all, we want to underline the seriousness of the reflection and arguments of your letter. We are convinced that the debate we’re developing will interest and concern many readers, contacts and sympathizers of the international Communism Left currents and their political expressions. In our opinion, the letter participates in deepening political questions, sometimes even through a unique approach, that can enrich and clarify the general political debates and confrontations within the proletarian camp.

Can revolutionaries and communist groups stand in elections on tactical grounds for pure propaganda in our historical period? "If combative workers are mobilized onto the electoral terrain, it may be necessary for revolutionaries to stand in elections to attempt to pull the workers away from the electoral terrain and onto the proletarian class terrain" your letter argues, after it rightly recalled "that the dictatorship of the proletariat must be established outside and against the bourgeois parliament or legislative bodies". According to it, the "standing in elections [would be tactical] and for purely propaganda purposes". The way the letter argues to defend exceptional running in elections is to be considered before rejecting it. It rightly rejects any anarchist drift and abstract slogans that would lead to political indifferentism. On this point, it refers to the Italian Left, which disagreed with the CI’s position on the issue of parliamentarism and electoral participation. The Left rightly proclaimed that its abstentionism had nothing to do with anarchist or anarchistic abstentionism, and that its disagreement with the majority of the CI was of a tactical and not principle nature.

1) Was the Italian Left position on parliamentarism really tactical only?

It matters to recall that the Italian Left declared this question as tactical only because the Communist International (CI) had adopted definitively the participation in elections at its second congress, July 1920, with the Theses on the Communist Parties and Parliamentarism. The Italian Left, whose organization’s name was precisely the Communist Abstentionist Fraction before the CP of Italy was set up, wanted to express its faithfulness and respect to the CI discipline. It is important to recall that it was mainly focused, after the battle for the 21 conditions for entry into the CI in which it had been at the forefront, on the political fight to impose the general discipline to the principles of the CI over the right wing tendencies and fractions that were adhering to the International, particularly in Italy and France; and which actually opposed, and sabotaged the effective, that is political, centralization of the International. So, it is worth relativizing, at least putting in perspective, the real meaning and utilization of the argument of tactic of that time by the Italian Left on this peculiar question.

What exactly was the position of the Italian Left? How did it base it? "The task of Communists at the present moment in their work of ideological and material preparation for the revolution is above all to remove from the minds of the proletariat those [democratic] illusions and prejudices. (...) This work is of a very [great] importance and comes among the first problem of revolutionary preparation. (...) The Communist parties will never obtain great success in propaganda on behalf of the revolutionary Marxist method if the severing of all contacts with the machinery of bourgeois democracy is not put at the basis of their work for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the workers’ councils" (Theses on Parliamentarism presented at the 2nd Congress of the CI by the Communist Abstentionist Fraction, we underline) [4].

The thesis #10 deals directly with the tactical dimension. "In spite of all the public speeches and all the theoretical statements, the very great importance which is attached in practice to the electoral campaign and its results, and the fact that for a long period the party has to devote to that cause all its means and all its resources in men, in the press, and even in money, helps to strengthen the feeling that this is the true central activity to achieve the aims of communism; on the other hand, it leads to complete cessation of the work of revolutionary organization and preparation. It gives to the party organization a technical character quite in opposition to the requirements of revolutionary work, legal as well as illegal".

The theses finally conclude that "the success in the electoral struggle will always be judged only by the number of votes or seats obtained. Every effort of the Communist Parties to give a completely different character to the practice of parliamentarism cannot but lead to failure, the energies spent in that Sisyphean labour, whereas the cause of the Communist revolution calls these energies without delay to the terrain of the direct attack against the regime of capitalist exploitation".

The fact the Italian Left called itself Abstentionist denies that it only gave only tactical character to this participation in the electoral campaign. The theses it presented at the CI Congress gave the theoretical and political foundation for such an abstentionist position in "the present historical period (...) opened by the end of the World War with its consequences for the social bourgeois organization, by the Russian Revolution which was the first realization of the conquest of power by the proletariat, and by the constitution of a new International in opposition to the social-democracy of the traitors (...) and in those countries where the democratic regime achieved its formation a long time ago..."(ibid.).

2) Standing for election for propaganda purposes?

Now, let’s see your arguments in the framework of this historical heritage. Your letter puts forwards and defends that "standing in elections on tactical grounds (...) is only potentially useful during a period of real class combativity". There is a fundamental difference between the period of the early class struggles dynamics of the 19th Century and their present dynamics, whose main characteristic is the Mass Strike as Rosa Luxemburg described it. In the first case, the massive class mobilizations could be articulated and even complemented by the participation in electoral campaigns - we can’t develop more on this specific point in this response and one can refer, among other documents of various Left Communist currents, to the Thesis #6 of the above text of the Italian Left [5]. In the second case, "in this historical period, running in elections is rarely, if ever, a productive tactic for communists" your own letter says. It would have been worthwhile for the letter to give an example of any "rare productive tactic" to base historically and materially your position. Let us note that, as such, the two sentences of your argumentation contradict each other.

Let’s see first an historical experience to debate and clear, using a scientific method, this question. In May 1968 in France, the dissolution of the National Assembly and the opening of an electoral campaign was the turning point of the mass strike and it opened up its reflux. May 30, the French President of that time, De Gaulle, dissolved the National Assembly of the Deputies in the midst of the general strike at a moment the latter was hesitating with no more clear perspectives – in part because of the unions and Stalinist Communist Party’s actions and maneuvers [6]. This dissolution and the announcement of the electoral campaign - the elections took place June 23 and 30 - were the main weapons for the state to regain control on the situation by derailing the whole ’population’ and most parts of the proletariat’s attention from the proletarian one, the one of the mass strike, onto the bourgeois democratic terrain, imposing its timing and political stakes. It successfully derailed and then defeated the class struggle. Any revolutionaries’ participation in it would have been directly in opposition to the strikes. Even the Trotskyists denounced the June 1968 elections and refused to participate and use it for propaganda purpose as they usually do and defend. We could refer to other historical experiences of the same ’nature’, such as the German Revolution’s failure in which the constitution of a Constituent National Assembly January 19th 1919 had been a key element of the bourgeois successful bloody counter-revolution [7].

Behind your position and the arguments put forwards by the letter, we believe there is a difference of understanding of the real dynamics of the class struggle [8]. When the proletariat is already massively mobilized and struggling, it begins to consider itself, act and think, as a collective class - and not as an addition of individuals. It would be seriously and dangerously mistaken to exceptionally participate in the electoral democratic campaign at the very moment the class actually tends "to pull [itself] away from the electoral terrain and onto the proletarian class terrain" and assert its collective class character. In our historical period, it would participate in driving back the workers to the bourgeois terrain, while they are tending to get away, distance themselves, from democratic ideology and electoral mystification as well as the capitalist state apparatus. For the revolutionaries, "running in elections" in such a situation would be objectively and actively participating to focus on the bourgeois electoral moment, a privileged moment for bourgeois ideology, and derail the workers from the proletarian terrain and struggle; from their tendency to act and think as a collective class to revert them to individual thinking and action.

Now, when there is no particular working class mobilization, there are no ’open’ collective class dynamics of struggle and the great masses of proletarians do not tend to act and ’think’ as a collective class, but as individuals. That is they, as individuals, globally remain on the bourgeois terrain and are massively submitted to democratic and individualist ideology proper to capitalism. Thus the ’one man/woman, one vote’ democratic slogan of the bourgeois elections is particularly adapted to maintaining and even strengthening the ideological submission of the greater parts of the proletariat to bourgeois ideology and political campaigns. The electoral periods are precisely the moment when the whole state apparatus, the whole ruling class, is mobilized and ’occupying’ all the political and ideological terrain. That is to say that the bourgeoisie is precisely on the offensive and allows no space today - contrary to the 19th century - for revolutionary propaganda in the framework of the election process. So, it is impossible to make any even partially efficient ’mass’ propaganda in the face of the overwhelming democratic and electoral campaign... unless one believes that the propaganda means of the present communist political minorities can compete with the present mass media and the whole state apparatus. And that the spreading of class consciousness can be reduced to individual processes and can develop thanks to Reason.

To conclude this point, running in elections nowadays, whatever is the country, would be tactically a huge loss of energy for no ’result’, nor ’success’. Politically it would be helping the ruling class to oppose the proletarian class dynamics to ’pull itself away’ from the bourgeois terrain and objectively participating in its campaign and offensive against the proletariat. At the level of principle, it would ultimately be very dangerous for the revolutionaries. For one part, the futility of this tactic for the proletariat, the sentiment of powerlessness and useless struggle, weakens political and class convictions. On the other, such a practice would inescapably lead to opportunist concessions to bourgeois democratic and petty bourgeois individualist ideologies, undermining the understanding of the class struggle dynamic as a collective one rather than the sum of individuals.

"Because of the great importance which electoral activity assumes in practice, it is not possible to reconcile this activity with the assertion that it is not the means of achieving the principal objective of the party’s action, which is the conquest of power. It also is not possible to prevent it from absorbing all the activity of the movement and from diverting it from revolutionary preparation" (Theses of the Communist Abstentionist Fraction, Il Soviet #16 and 17, June 1920, we underline,

Fraternally, the IGCL.



[4. They were thus rejected by the Congress, which adopted to the ones on the Communist Parties and Parliamentarism advocating the participation of communist parties in the elections in the name of revolutionary parliamentarianism (article in English in Programme Communiste #66, 1975).

[5. We did not find any English version on Internet of the Thesis on parliamentarism presented by the Italian Left at the Second congress of the CI. We only have it in the printed Programme communiste #66, 1975, which was an issue with French and English articles.

[6. May 27, after ’negotiations’ with the government, the Stalinist CGT leader of that time, Georges Seguy, came to the huge Renault factory of Billancourt in a suburb of Paris - today disappeared. He presented favourably the agreement (called ’accords de Grenelle’) and began to call for stopping the strike. The thousands workers attending this general assembly immediately began whistling and booing. The same occurred in many workplaces all around the country. The strike continued but without real perspectives. The workers could not contest the unions’ leadership of the struggle and they let them lead it despite their growing distrust. With no concrete perspectives to develop - nor were the few communist groups and circles present able to provide any -, the ruling class took the occasion to regain the political initiative by... using the democratic card and the elections. Then, despite the continuation of the strike until late June, the dynamics of the class confrontation had been reversed on May 30 with the dissolution and the state had now on, increasingly and until the end, the control on the timing and the terrain of the confrontation.

[7. It should not be believed that this use by the bourgeoisie of electoral mystification to counter mobilizations belongs only to history (or to European countries). The same was true of the ’student’ movement in Quebec in 2012, whose ’turning point’, the beginning of its ebb, was provoked by the triggering of an electoral period: ’the movement was emptied of its substance thanks to the September 2012 elections’ (Student Struggle and Neighbourhood Assembly, brochure of the Communist Internationalist Klasbatalo).

[8. We’ll certainly raise and develop this question while commenting your letter on point #13.