[Marxism] Political situation, anti-capitalist party and revolutionary party in Europe

Fred Fuentes fred.fuentes at gmail.com
Fri Dec 10 23:10:52 MST 2004

FI-press-l                             Fourth International Press List

Political situation, anti-capitalist party and revolutionary party in Europe
François Sabado*

The articles by Alex Callinicos and Murray Smith open a necessary discussion on
the problems of orientation and construction in Europe. Unlike Callinicos, we do
not start from the existence of so-called models: electoral coalitions of the
"Respect" type, broad parties like the Scottish Socialist Party or electoral
alliances like LCR-LO. These forms of political intervention or organization are
too much the specific product of the history of the class struggles and the
revolutionary movement of each country. They are not generalizable. We will
choose rather to start from the broad features of the political situation in
Europe and clarify certain important questions of orientation. 

Political effects of bourgeois attacks
1) The situation in Europe is marked by the brutality of the new offensive
around neoliberal counter-reforms: the reduction of unemployment benefit and
demolition of social security in Germany; pensions and social security reform
and new privatizations in France; attacks on pensions, the health system and
social security in Holland. After the "Thatcherism" of the 1980s in Britain, a
new wave of deconstruction of the social relationships established after 1945 is
underway. This radicalism of the capitalist attacks results from an aggravation
of inter-imperialist competition in the framework of the current phase of
globalization, with the European bourgeoisies seeking to carve out new margins
of maneuver in relation to the USA and the Asian powers.

2) The brutality of these attacks creates new social and political tensions.
This provokes social resistance through strikes, struggles and demonstrations
(demonstrations in Germany against the Hartz 4 plan, strikes and demonstrations
in France against pensions reform and the privatization of EDF, demonstrations
and strikes in Holland) as well as a rejection of the ultra neoliberal policy of
the governments: rejection of the neoliberal right in France and Italy but also
of Schröder's SPD-Green government or Blair's government. 

3) This brutality of these attacks also generates elements of political crisis:
a crisis of political representation with the confirmation of high abstention
rates in most countries, weakening of all the political apparatuses on the right
and the left — how can a party of government establish social bases while
endorsing neoliberal restructuring? This weakening is accompanied by internal
divisions, here again on both right and left. In France, the majority party is
riven by a confrontation between the president of the Republic, Jacques Chirac
and the future president of the party, Nicolas Sarkozy. On the left, if the
global evolution of the majority sectors of the trade union movement and the
institutional left in Europe is to the right, in a growing integration with
social liberalism, fractures and divisions are emerging. In Germany a part of
the union bureaucracy and the SPD, in the image of the posture of Oscar
Lafontaine, opposes Schröder. In France, against all expectations, Laurent
Fabius — one of those who incarnate social-liberalism — calls for a "no" to the
referendum on the European Constitution. The steamroller is such that it leads
to fractures and sharp turns.

4) These evolutions repose the question of the analysis of social democracy and
the left in general. Contrary to what is often presented by the British SWP, we
do not think that the socialist parties have become bourgeois parties. That has
never been our analysis. In the same way, if we have underestimated the fact
that the popular electorate can use the left to beat the right — but we were not
the only ones, the most surprised being the socialists themselves — we explained
in the documents of our last congress that in the framework of alternation, the
socialist parties could win an electoral majority. What we have explained and
what we maintain is that under the pressures of neoliberal capitalist
globalization, social democracy has undergone a process of
"social-liberalization", with a rightwards shift in its politics and an advanced
social interpenetration of its leadership with the highest levels of
administration and the capitalist summits. We have noted, with unequal
development, that this process leads to the delinking of significant sectors of
the popular classes from the organizations of the traditional left. Effectively
the improved electoral standing of the PS, or the stabilization of the PCF's
electoral score, are not reflected in the growth of these parties, nor by a
dynamic of reconstruction of the left. The electoral gains of the PS in 2003 are
not reflected in a dynamic comparable to that of the 1970s with the Union of the
Left or the developments of the Italian or Spanish CPs.

5) But all these struggles, all these confrontations, have until now ended in
setbacks or social defeats. The strength of the anti-war movement or the dynamic
of the movement for global justice has not reversed the deep underlying
tendencies of the situation. As a result, the capitalist offensive is deepening
and, globally, the positions of the traditional workers' movement are pushed
back. This has effects on the level of consciousness of broad sectors but it is
not strong enough to outflank the trade union apparatuses, which accept the
neoliberal framework. These defeats have effects on the morale of wage earners;
and if, in certain historic circumstances, the experience and lessons of partial
defeats have led to the development of workers' organizations, the social
movements and the growth of class struggle currents, this is not the case today.
The successive waves of struggles, but also setbacks, weigh on the radical
currents. As Alex Callinicos puts it, "the relation of social and political
struggles with the electoral process is extremely complex, combined and
indirect" but it is this combination of factors that explains for example, the
setback for the LCR-LO lists in France. As for the electoral results of the PRC
in Italy, which have improved, we cannot consider them as those of a radical
left organization "strictly speaking. In many aspects, it can be placed on the
radical left but its implantation as well as its electoral influence smack above
all of a segment of the traditional communist movement.

An anti-capitalist politics
6) In these conditions what are the key elements of an anti-capitalist political
orientation? First, because revolutionaries "have no interests distinct from the
working class", they must reaffirm a policy of unity and class independence.
That requires a tactic of the united front of the workers and all their
organizations — which we carry out through social mobilizations, of the anti-war
movement or the movement for global justice, combined with the defence of an
anti-capitalist programme. We would like to use this article to reject all the
accusations that have been made against the LCR, claiming that we have been
"external" to the movement of rejection of the right. Our politics against the
government and the right — unity of action of all the social, trade union and
political left — was first concretized in the struggles. This orientation was
then translated into the electoral campaign, in presenting our action as that of
the real opposition against the government and the right. We did not, it is
true, call for a vote for the left in the second round. This question is a
question of electoral tactics, linked to the French particularities of the
majority ballot over two rounds, so this is not the last word of a united front
policy. We did not cease, throughout the whole electoral campaign, to make
proposals for common action to the whole left. Our arguments differentiated
between right and left. We have never had so much influence on the internal
debates on the left. That is why, for any observer of French political life, the
accusation of "anti-politics" does not stand. Since the presidential campaign of
2002, with Olivier Besancenot, we have never done so much "politics". But we did
not call for a vote for the left, judging that, during these elections, to call
for such a vote was to give a blank cheque to the socialist leaders. Moreover,
even if the majority of our voters did vote in the second round for the left,
few people have reproached us for our failure to call for a vote. For beyond the
vote for the left, there is not the same type of relationship between the wage
earners and the traditional left as existed in the 1930s or 1970s. A vote for
the PS — or even for the PCF — is more a vote against the right than a vote of
support for the policy of the PS. Once again, there are not, as in the 1930s or
1970s, interconnected relations between struggles, the organic growth of the
reformist organizations and a political outcome to the struggles which would be
a PS-PC government. The meaning of the call for a vote is not the same today as
in the 1970s because the world of labour does not have the same relations with
the reformist leaderships.

7) This tactic of the united front should be accompanied by the defence of an
anti-capitalist programme, what we have called in France an emergency social and
democratic plan in the service of the workers. From this viewpoint, we would
like to stipulate that our electoral campaigns, contrary to what Alex Callinicos
has said, are not "openly revolutionary socialist", in the sense that our
electoral programmes take up the totality of the revolutionary programme. No, we
choose some key axes of the transitional programme — the struggle for a ban on
collective layoffs, wage increases, the defence of public services and
democratic rights — and we explain that these immediate and anti-capitalist
demands can only be satisfied by social mobilization and a government which
breaks with the bourgeoisie, a government of the workers. 
This government is defined by the tasks it must accomplish to satisfy the main
popular demands and to begin to break with the capitalist institutions.
This formula remains "algebraic" — it can moreover go under a number of names:
anti-capitalist government, a government as loyal to the workers as the right is
to the bosses and so on. — but it allows us to make a distinction from all the
governmental policies of management of the state and the capitalist economy. It
is a question of avoiding the question of power, as Holloway or others suggest
to us. The revolutionary left must face the question of power and of government
but by giving its own responses, not by entering class collaborationist
governments. Of course, the actuality of a discussion on this question depends
on the political situation in each country, but it is decisive to define a
general orientation on this question of power. Thus, there should be some
flexibility in forming electoral alliances, but there where these alliances are
confronted with the governmental question, we cannot skirt the question... under
the threat of paralysis or breakup of the coalitions that we set up. The
construction of an anti-capitalist party, as a medium and long-term project,
should clarify its positions on the governmental questions. This debate is a
debate on the entire international radical left: should we participate in or
support governments dominated by social-liberalism? The response of the PT in
Brazil with Lula, that of the PRC in Italy, that of the CPs of the European left
is positive. These parties lead or prepare to support or participate in this
type of government. We think, as the whole of historic experience teaches us,
that this is a grave error. This type of participation subordinates the workers'
movement to the interests of the dominant classes. It holds back the dynamic of
mass mobilization. It provokes disillusionment and demoralization. It is this
that underpins our opposition to the politics of class conciliation.

Towards a new party, how?
8) The united front and the anti-capitalist programme are the two fundamental
pillars of the construction of a new anti-capitalist force. But this perspective
is, more fundamentally, a coordinate of the new historic period. From 1992
onwards, the LCR indicated that its activity took place in the following
triptych, "new epoch, new programme, new party". The crisis of neoliberal
policies, the social resistance and the evolution of social democracy and the
decline of Stalinism liberated a space for a new political force, for a
refoundation of the workers' movement. That means that the politics of the
revolutionary organizations should define, at each stage, initiatives to advance
along this road. That presupposes firstly defining the content of a new party.
It should include, to a good extent, the essential elements of the transitional
programme, combining immediate demands, demands for an anti-capitalist
transformation of society and a perspective of power linking the necessity of a
workers' government and democratic socialism. It should be clear that an
anti-capitalist party rejects support for or participation in governments of
management of the established order. This party has, then, "class struggle"
strategic and programmatic delimitation but these latter are not completed in
the sense that they do not precise a priori the modalities of revolutionary
conquest of power, and leave a series of programmatic questions open. In fact
many programmatic definitions will be made on the basis of experience, but the
foundations of this new party should be solid. In the same way, if the choice
between reform and revolution, or different conceptions of the revolution, is
not a discriminant in building this party — we can work with partisans of a
transformation of society by radical reforms — the basis of this party should
clarify key questions: class struggle, democracy, refusal to participate in
governments of capitalist management, internationalism. How then, do we advance
on the political-organizational level? As indicated by Alex Callinicos, in the
current period, it is improbable that a new party will be born in similar
conditions to those of the 1920s, resulting either from a fusion of the
revolutionary wing and currents originating from social democracy and moving
towards revolutionary positions, or from a fusion between the revolutionary
Marxist nuclei and entire parts of the socialist or communist parties. New
hypotheses should be retained. The axis of a new party will probably be exterior
to the old traditional organizations. Its social and political base will rest on
the new generations, experiences of struggle and social movements. It will take
up the red thread of revolutionary history while expressing above all a
revolutionary policy for the 21st century. But this new party will not be
established by decree. It should result from a whole process of political
experiences marked by events or the convergence of significant forces which
create the conditions for a reorganization of the workers' movement and the
construction of a new party. In Scotland, it is the specific combination of the
social question and the national question which has allowed the emergence of the
SSP. In Portugal, it is the convergence of several currents originating in the
CP, the UDP (ex-Maoist), the PSR (section of the Fourth International) and
independent personalities which has given birth to the Left Bloc. It is decisive
that the revolutionaries organize this process on "class struggle" bases, but
they can only constitute this new party on the basis of a dynamic that largely
goes beyond the current framework of the revolutionary organization. A new party
cannot be a self-disguising of the revolutionary organization. The new
anti-capitalist force must broadly transcend the revolutionary organization.
Without this surplus value, the new force can only appear as a projection of the
revolutionary organization or one of its fronts. In France, if the LCR has for
some years taken initiatives for a new political force, it has not proclaimed a
new party that would only have been an enlarged LCR, but without its history and
without its programmatic bases.

9) This dialectic between revolutionary and new broad party is decisive. For the
importance of a new political force is effectively the construction of a
strategic mediation between the current revolutionary organization and the
construction of a new mass revolutionary party indispensable to the
revolutionary conquest of power by the workers. A mediation linked to an entire
historic period where it is necessary to reorganize the workers' movement on a
broader basis, and remake a series of experiences on an anti-capitalist basis.
This is the practicality of a new political representation for the workers. But
all this experience of a broad party should be undergone without forgetting the
objective — the socialist revolution — and then the construction of a party
which can meet the height of its objectives, which presupposes the preparation
and education not only of militants but also of sectors of the mass movement.
That presupposes preserving, cultivating and strengthening the animation of a
revolutionary current inside this broad party. And this pursuit of the
construction of a revolutionary leadership through a broad party in unfinished
contours can only be done if the new party is much broader, much more extensive
than the revolutionary organization. If the conditions of a real transcendence
of the revolutionary organization do not exist, if the forms of a new force are
less significant than those of the revolutionary organization, and we hurry the
rhythms and modalities of construction of such a party, we lose in substance —
programme, history, and revolutionary experience — without gaining in political
and organizational breadth. Thus, inasmuch as the conditions for a broad party
do not exist, the accumulation of forces for a revolutionary leadership in the
broad sense is done essentially through the construction of the revolutionary
organization and by initiatives favoring the conditions for this new party,
rather than by the proclamation of a new force on the cheap.

* François Sabado is a member of the Political Bureau of the Ligue communiste
révolutionnaire (LCR, French section of the Fourth International), and of the
Executive Bureau of the Fourth International. (subtitles by IV)

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