The letter below represents our response to only part of a lengthy critique and discussion which we received from the Argentine Liga Obrera Internacionalista (LOI or Workers Internationalist League.) Unfortunately we do not have the resources to translate and provide the entire LOI document on our website at present. We chose to highlight this particular section first because of the widespread misuse of the boycott tactic by the left at this juncture in Argentina. We hope to stimulate further exchange on this vital topic and we look forward to input from our readers. Please note that the letter from the LOI to the LRP was published in its entirety in the LOI’s newspaper, Democracia Obrera. Readers who wish to follow both sides of the debate are encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for their material.
Traducción en español
December 26, 2002
Dear Comrades of LOI,
We extend our sincere apologies that we could not begin to respond to your polemical letter before now. We were busy with our own convention and then quickly moved into a great deal of activity within the transit workers’ struggle, where Comrade Eric has been doing an excellent job leading the opposition to the union bureaucracy. We are still engaged in the heat of this struggle. I hope that you have been able to follow some of our material on our website. Of course we have also been rather active within the anti-war and pro-Palestinian struggles here in the heart of U.S. imperialism.
...I did want to write back my thoughts much sooner. We all here certainly respect the fact that you are engaged in struggles in Argentina which put tremendous demands upon your forces. We do not therefore underestimate the effort that you have gone to promote international discussion. So now, at least we can begin our response here, touching upon some of the points of contention that relate to Argentina today.
Please note that this letter is based on the material of your group that I have been able to study up through the beginning of November. We have not been able to study your more recent material yet, although we have received it. As well please note that some of our polemics against the LOI are points that we think could be made against the PTS and other groups as well. Our views will probably show up in a different form in our public material in the future.
To begin with, we consider positions taken in this vital struggle to be a true test of revolutionaries because it is based on a concrete struggle. Many centrists can take good-sounding positions in the abstract, but succumb to pressures in actual struggle. At the present time we consider the Liga Obrera Internacionalista the most left-wing tendency that we know of in Argentina. You have been virtually unique in raising the need for working class armed self-defense. You have put forward a good understanding of the left’s misuse of the constituent assembly slogan, exposing it as an inevitable capitulation to bourgeois and petty-bourgeois radicalism, given the Argentine context. I also thought a polemic written against the PTS relating to the transitional program and the need for expropriation of entire branches of industry (not just individual workplaces) was good.
Compared to other groups, the LOI seems more ardent in their opposition to the political lines and practical actions of various reformist and centrist outfits. Rather than just cheerleading the movement, your group does regularly warn the ranks against impending betrayals of misleadership of the movement, including bourgeois radicals, social democrats and self-proclaimed “Trotskyists.” At the same time, you still issue non-sectarian calls for practical action blocs with other left groups. You issue popular leaflets which often include explicitly anti-capitalist arguments, and refreshingly, they frequently end with the necessity of socialist revolution.
However, despite these attributes, a substantive look at the politics of the LOI has convinced us that your similarity to the PTS and other centrist outfits far outweighs your differences with the pseudo-Trotskyist centrist milieu at this point in time. This is based on an assessment of what is the basic thrust of both your material and activity. We made our assessment mainly by reading through a substantial quantity of your material in the past year, and also one of our comrades had the opportunity to meet with you in person. (We again thank you for the visit and eagerness to discuss.)
As we have already pointed out, on the positive side, you do challenge other left groups to action. Our problem is that you have made it a principle to refuse to use this same methodology or approach in the trade unions; you refuse to challenge the union leaders for united mass working class action. The LOI understands that leftish leaders within the existing movement can be both challenged for united action and criticized politically as “traitors” – but the LOI will not bring this same Leninist method into the unions in an effort to undermine the bureaucracy. As well, like the PTS and the others, the LOI champions the slogan “Que Se Vayan Todos,” without posing a political alternative that the masses can take seriously. (Like so many others, the LOI’s alternative generally seems to be the vague populist call for “the mass movement” – that is for the “people” – to replace the politicians.)
We believe that the centrist milieu is, consciously or not, catering to populism with this slogan. Populism can take many forms. In Argentina and elsewhere what predominates on the anti-establishment political scene is the popular notion that “politicians can’t be trusted”, “they are all corrupt” and so forth. Obviously hatred of politicians can be a starting point for developing a class understanding, but only if bourgeois politicians are openly countered by a proletarian revolutionary party. There is not one major Argentine left group that has not happily championed the movement’s slogan as one of their own leading slogans – while each of course adds a slight variation of other slogans afterward to reflect what they believe is the path to “kicking them all out.” To the politicians, the left in one form or another counterposes the mass movement, just “us” versus “them.”
No! We must tell the masses that our problem is not politicians and political parties but capitalist politicians and all their political parties. Why have you not even considered raising the slogan “Down with all Capitalist Politicians!“ That would show a higher level of consciousness than that currently held by the movement. Yet the duty of Marxists to counterpose the ideas of class versus class, and of revolution versus reform, is not consciously being carried out. In practice, the left is really saying, “The masses don’t have to understand that they hate these people because they are carrying out the capitalist program; it is enough that we understand it and that we cheer them along.”
But what would it mean in fact if the LOI or others in the movement did raise the slogan “Down with all Capitalist Politicians!“? For us that would at least signify an attempt to raise class consciousness instead of just singing along with the chorus. But then we would ask you this immediate question: what is the alternative? For if you have no alternative, no alternative for state power, then your call, however ardent, is still hollow and useless as agitation! If there is no working class alternative yet available, to call for getting rid of all politicians now is only paving the way for the return or new appearance of a “heroic” bourgeois politician or general. The masses need leadership – not just the workers and poor but even the downtrodden middle class masses. Society needs leadership, no modern society can run without centralized leadership. If proletarian revolutionary leadership is not constructed, the capitalist class cannot continue with eternally divided and despised leadership. It will find its Bonapartist solution, a “man on a white horse,” who will claim to represent the popular will against the rotten politicians and would impose an iron rule supporting the capitalists’ power. Let us not in any way inadvertently help this tendency along, by above all winning the vanguard to the class conscious alternative of the revolutionary party and teaching the vanguard to win the masses to this proletarian solution.
While Peron came to power based on building up the Argentine industrial economy, in today’s imperialist environment, the next populist “man of power” will certainly be even more dangerous since there are no material crumbs to give the masses at large as sops. Before we can reasonably talk about “ousting them all” we must have at least a workers’ alternative. A politically undefined “us” – “the movement” – “the masses” – cannot by itself take state power and carry out a definite solution to the crisis. In upheaval, it can form alternate institutions, dual power institutions within which different solutions and programs vie for leadership. But only centralized working class political parties can put forward definite programs for action which can be supported and carried out or be rejected and removed by the mass movement and its dual institutions. The defined party can be held responsible by the masses. The “us” to power is an invitation to Bonaparte to take power, a Benevolent Leader who claims to reflect the masses but will not define what he will do. The most conscious advanced workers must organize the communist vanguard party based upon an openly revolutionary program and plan of action and lead the class to take state power.
We suspect that you will agree with many of our contentions about the need for the working class revolutionary party as the alternative to all bourgeois politicians. But apparently you do not see it as a critical or major theme to constantly push and hammer away at within the struggles of the past year that you have been intervening in. We do.
Unfortunately, in our opinion, you have also now followed the pseudo-radical bandwagon in adopting the boycott tactic. We think that your enthusiastic advocacy of this tactic in the current Argentine circumstance is consistent with your general denial of the need to address the masses of workers. In the case of the elections, you deny the need to address the workers that will vote for Saa – in the Peronist unions and elsewhere. Let us emphasize our contention that you have no strategy for addressing the employed industrial workforce first, in order to get back to our view on the elections tactic.
To illustrate what we consider your denial of the centrality of the working class and its industrial core: The following were your lead slogans in opposition to an August 30 rally in Buenos Aires sponsored by a range of pseudo-radical figures (Presidential candidate Elisa Carrio, ex-Morenoist deputy Luis Zamora, and CTA head De Gennaro). [According to the translation of the LOI]
Out with them all! Not one alone should remain!
The only way to impose this goes through
We feel the material cited above is representative of the thrust of the LOI’s interventions in the past year. Particularly since the early elections were announced, your slogans are politically very similar to those of the PTS. Like the PTS, you go on to call for “a great workers and people’s Congress where the workers and fighter’s organizations – as the picketers movement in all its factions, the popular assemblies, the committees of the seized factories, the unions released from the grip of the bureaucracy – would send their delegates...”.
Comrades, you have argued that the LRP underestimates the influence that the left itself has, directly and indirectly, in the Argentine working class. I believe Comrade Eric reported that you argued that the left held direct or indirect influence over 50% of the working class in Argentina today. (!) However if the left really held decisive influence it would have accomplished a lot more than it has. But even if we were to accept your exaggerated calculations for just a moment, there is still an even more decisive influence than the numerical influence of the left amongst workers in general. That question is: what sectors does the left have decisive influence in – and is this sufficient for the struggle to move forward, and for the revolution itself which is our goal?
(I am leaving aside all the questions of the politics and disunity and sectarian and opportunist games of the left itself for the sake of this argument.)
Okay. You say that this Congress you advocate, a Congress launched only with the specific inclusion of the small number of unions that have already gone independent, will “immediately awaken the enthusiasm of thousands of employed workers... Hundreds of factories and establishments would send their delegates to that great workers and popular congress!“
Comrades: you have openly rejected the centrality of the industrial proletariat that we have argued for. In turn you have tried to taint us with a position of “narrow trade unionism.” (In reality the notion that our program for the Argentine revolution, which you have seen in its entirety, deviates toward any form of unionism is unsubstantiated. In our work in the United States we are always vilified for our insistence on intervening in the unions as open revolutionaries whenever possible. So we could not take this very seriously.)
But consider this: you wrote that you do agree that the unionized industrial working class should be included in the struggle. Nevertheless the congress idea you have been putting forward follows your general method of sidestepping any direct political confrontation with the Peronist bureaucrats. You claim that somehow agitation for the idea of this Congress is an effective device for attracting the ranks away from their unions – and making a general strike – without making any calls on the current union leaders. This is not only false. In Argentina right now it is a sheer fantasy. After all, the LOI started raising this call for a Congress to launch the general strike during the uprising itself. You offer no explanation why it could succeed now, when the call didn’t have an impact before. We do not believe that employed workers will spontaneously send delegates to a left-called Congress, bypassing their own union leaders, in the current political scene.
Comrades there is the matter of winning the thousands of employed workers into a class struggle perspective via mass action. We think that only mass action like the general strike can build their confidence and knowledge of their own power which is so necessary. But your propaganda isn’t even designed to educate the vanguard, which should be the top priority. You are not giving the most advanced workers any way to show their fellow workers how to move forward within their unions and factories.
And even if you believe that the current vanguard resides outside these unions and that this is sufficient – which is basically what you have argued – then you still have to teach that vanguard of the piqueteros and the existing vanguard, as you define it within the working class, the greatest lessons of our Marxist movement and how to properly do work among the masses. There is an important sector with illusions in De Gennaro. Inspired by Lula, he will surely probe raising those illusions further.
We absolutely believe that the LOI attracts people who are subjectively dedicated to proletarian revolution. But from our vantage point there is a gap between this desire to dedicate to the revolution and a practice which avoids dealing with the power center of the actual working class. In order to bridge this gap, the LOI rewrites the actual circumstances that confront Marxists in Argentina today. We think you are miseducating revolutionary-minded elements amongst the piqueteros and elsewhere. The LOI insists that Argentina has been in a continuous revolutionary situation since last December. Such a vast overestimation of reality serves to deny or belittle the significant division in belief and conduct which exists between the unionized industrial working class on the one hand and piqueteros and other workers. (The LOI has also failed, like the rest of the Left, to delineate what the relation of forces between the working class and the middle class is at present, and how that alliance needs to actually be forged in order to have a proletarian revolution. This is no small matter but a subject for a different letter.)
The chasm within the working class, itself a result of the lack of authentic proletarian revolutionary leadership, has been the most decisive factor in holding back the raging mass struggle. But the LOI “solves” this problem by denying it. To this end it offers it own “interpretation” of recent history. Here’s what you wrote:
On December 13th, the workers led a political general strike against De la Rua and Cavallo’s government. But this general strike was different from the six previous general strikes that the union bureaucracy was forced to call.... From December 13th, the workers overcame the dams of the regime and the trade union bureaucracy. Finally, on December 19th and 20th, the trade union bureaucracy of the official CGT and of the ‘dissident’ CGT, was surpassed by an independent action of the workers and the masses.
This is astounding! It is exactly the opposite of what happened. Yes, it is true that on December 13, in conjunction with the powerful transport strike, the masses – including the unemployed, the middle classes, and other layers – were all mobilized and in active protest against the regime. But the striking workers themselves did not overcome their union leaders decisively. In fact they obeyed the bureaucrats’ call to return to work at the end of that one-day strike. In doing that they did what they had consistently done in the recent past. That is, they had been loyal to the calls for strike action both raised and ended by their leaders all along. That is why on December 19th and 20th, the bulk of the industrial proletariat was working – because the rotten leaders of all three unions boycotted the big confrontations then occurring. This in fact meant that the sectors of the masses that did take up the battle were far more limited in what they could accomplish. The LOI wanted a national Congress to launch a general strike on December 20, 2001. You warned that the overthrow of De la Rua would only mean the continuation of the regime with someone else – unless this happened. Indeed, such mass united working class action as a general strike was absolutely necessary. In this you were right.
However, the big battalions of the working class did not respond to the exhortations of the left on that day (or since). The organized industrial proletariat was not part of that uprising. Sadly, it is a fact. The continuation of the De la Rua regime via the Duhalde regime which succeeded it was exactly what the LOI was agitating against on December 20. Yet it was in fact unavoidable given the balance of forces. An uprising certainly took place. However, the mobilized proletarian forces which were capable of bring down capitalism and installing any kind of working class regime at that time, or now, were not actively on the scene confronting the bourgeoisie. That it why it was and still is a pre-revolutionary, not a revolutionary situation. The LOI calls this terminological dispute “secondary.” For us, it is an important evidence of a problem we think goes even deeper.
For now let us cite from the Boletin de Informaciones Obreras Internacionales, August 2002 to make our point. In this section you are defending the notion of the Congress in a polemic against the LRP:
It [the Congress] would greatly strengthen the industrial workers that have been blocked by the union bureaucracy, and it would give their struggle to throw them out a tremendous push! It would be, for them, the shortest and most economical path including that it would force the union bureaucracy to be impelled to call a general strike, facing otherwise the perspective of losing total control of the mass movement. For example, you put forward that the service workers as in transport have a crucial importance, strategic. We agree but, how can these workers enter into a strike, how can they paralyze transport? Comrades, to demand today that the union bureaucracy, in this case, Moyano who controls the transport unions – call a general strike and paralyze transport, as you put forward, would be the surest way that transport would not even be paralyzed. On the contrary, the shortest road to paralyze transport would be in the first place that the unemployed workers return to blocking all the routes, access and railway routes of the country. In one day, and without Moyano, a national workers and popular Congress would vote it and organize it, and it could guarantee pickets on all the routes and roads of the country, and we assure you that no even one car, one bus, or one train would move!
Even on the surface level, this reply from the LOI made little sense. Frankly, the careful reasoning that was apparent in your polemic about the constituent assembly against the PO, and against the PTS about the use of the Transitional Program that I mentioned in the beginning of this letter, seemed to be completely lacking here. The LOI, as well as everyone else, knows exactly what kind of enormous power the transport strike had on December 13, what it accomplished and how it encouraged the whole mass movement.
You know it was initiated by union bureaucrats like Moyano. The unemployed piqueteros have been heroically blocking roads on and off for years but they can not control the whole transportation system in the way that the transport workers themselves can and have done.
You tell us that a strike by Moyano would “be the surest way that transport would not even be paralyzed.” But then you say that the Congress is a great way to pressure Moyano into calling a strike. By the way, in the same document you already argued against our idea of demanding that Moyano call a strike, saying at a different point that any strike initiated by Moyano would automatically be a disaster. (Of course that’s not even your own opinion of the December 13th strike, a call which he initiated under pressure! It was no disaster, it was an experience that the workers needed to go through. But in order to transcend the limitations imposed by Moyano, that was a process that requires the intervention of a vanguard party.)
At another point you say that strike action to paralyze transport is a bad idea because the workers have to get around during an active strike. (As if workers on a prolonged general strike would be incapable of controlling what runs and what doesn’t run and how – why the very purpose of an indefinite general strike is to establish such dual power.) All in all you make so many contradictory points that at times it seems you are more arguing against yourself.
But what was most frightening and disturbing to us about LOI’s arguments here was the notion that the aim of communists should be to find the shortest road for paralyzing transport. No one could read LRP articles about the industrial proletariat and prospects for Argentina and come to that conclusion about our aims. After all, the shortest road to paralyzing transport could even be the actions of middle class-led guerrillas or suicide bombers! Yes, both working class unemployed and non-working class forces could do the job if speed were our primary goal. There are many ways to foul up the roads or paralyze transport. Our goal of proletarian revolution heavily conditions our methods in the struggle.
But are you saying that it doesn’t matter to you at all in what matter the roads are blocked? Is fouling up the transport in itself the goal? This is shortsighted and misses the point of what should be the main revolutionary goals. For us it is necessary to utilize the general strike to develop the unity and capacity and consciousness of the working class, while your approach does the opposite. Your approach says nothing about advancing the class’s consciousness and developing its capacity for its revolutionary tasks and to run the future society. To think that you can leave the actual transport and industrial workers out of this and just substitute the piqueteros is again shocking to us.
The working class is driven to class struggle by its experience of exploitation. At the point of production, the core of the working class is organized by capitalism itself to work together collectively in running parts of the economy. This crucial material factor is the basis by which a basic class consciousness is developed and the material basis exists for the development of an even more advanced consciousness, what I would refer to as vanguard consciousness or communist class consciousness. And only when a significant layer of the working class itself has developed advanced class consciousness – the Marxist worldview – can the revolutionary communist perspective be achieved. As Marx said, it is only through struggle and the achievement of consciousness that the gravediggers of the system, the working class, “fits itself for power.”
This understanding does not at all exclude unemployed workers from being part of the vanguard. They already have proven that they are part of the advancing struggle. The Argentine revolution will not be a copycat of the Russian Revolution or the French uprisings in the 1930s. But nevertheless the Russian Revolution did show that it was the position of proletarians in the society and their development of consciousness, not the quantitative number of proletarians compared to other strata, that made the revolution necessarily proletarian and also made it successful. (Trotsky never changed his view about this, and certainly not in France when he put forward the committees of action tactic for a time. You try to argue elsewhere that Trotsky’s policy in France at that time was equivalent to your policy today. I hope to respond to this in a subsequent document rather soon.) As well, layers that are the vanguard at the beginning of a struggle are not necessarily the most decisive layers of the vanguard later on.
The unemployed can not substitute for the employed industrial working class, because the key role of the industrial proletariat in action and in the development of the party program is still vital.
Trotsky took for granted that the importance of the proletariat at the point of production was understood by authentic Marxists and that the general strike had an importance far beyond the particular action itself. He expressed himself this way at one point in discussing the general strike:
The fundamental importance of the general strike, independent of the partial successes which it may and then again may not provide, lies in the fact that it poses the question of power in a revolutionary manner. By shutting down the factories, transport, generally all the means of communication, power stations, etc., the proletariat by this very act paralyzes not only production but also the government.... The leaders of the proletariat must understand this internal logic of the general strike, unless they are not leaders but dilettantes and adventurers. Politically this implies that from now on the leaders will continue to pose before the proletariat the task of the revolutionary conquest of power.
In other words, real leaders of the proletariat intervened within the general strike to raise the consciousness within the proletariat of the revolutionary tasks ahead. The LRP argues that only a vanguard party, based on the most politically conscious Marxist workers can lead the working class and humanity to free itself.
Contrary to middle class moralists, the world is not just. The most viciously oppressed people on Earth are not necessarily thereby endowed with the ability to lead the revolution, although their struggles can be a mighty asset for communists. The unemployed sectors of the working class in Argentina have fought back with enormous courage and have sharply wounded the bourgeoisie and the imperialists. They are and will be part of the vanguard. There is no iron law that dictates in all nations what percentage of members in the vanguard party will consist of unemployed workers versus employed workers, or which industries will be key. That is a question of consciousness and struggle as well as the objective material factors. However, at the same time, the smashing of the present state power and the installation of proletarian rule is a task which history shows can only be led by the industrial working class. Past struggles have showed that when the pseudo-communist intelligentsia in Latin America tried to use peasant guerrillas as their battering ram for power, they utterly failed. The history of middle-class pseudo-Trotskyism in Europe shows that Ernest Mandel’s strategy of relying upon using the “periphery” of the working class as a means to someday reach the industrial “center” of the working class was equally bankrupt. Your attempt to substitute piqueteros for industrial workers, instead of telling the piqueteros that they must have a strategy to weld their struggle to the struggle of the industrial proletariat in order to succeed – that is our difference.
Our program, like Trotsky often said, can be summed up in two words, “socialist revolution.” Our aim is to find the shortest road to that revolution, of course. But what can not be skipped over is the development of class consciousness which is the only way to build the vanguard proletarian party to make the revolution. This the LOI does not see. Because for this revolutionary goal, it is not a matter of simply advocating actions, using the unemployed or any other sector of the masses, to simply damage profit making or stopping the system from transporting its goods. Our advocacy of the general strike stresses its political value in raising the consciousness of the working class as to its power and ability to overthrow the capitalist state. If the general strike poses the question of the state power, only the conscious and organized proletariat can answer that question. Advancing class consciousness in struggle is the most critical factor for the development of the party, because the party itself if it is a vanguard must represent advanced working class consciousness.
This view is not that of the LOI (any more than it is that of the PTS). In fact the LOI just emphasizes the rights of the rank and file in general and de-emphasizes the question of the party and leadership. To us your most profound departure from being the Trotskyists that you truly believe that you are, is over the question of the party. In a multitude of leaflets, extensive articles and documents you have argued ardently for rank and file democracy and for the rights of the working class and oppressed. You have opposed all the current misleaderships. But you have not centrally addressed building the new leadership, the revolutionary party leadership. For example, if you think that Moyano and all the rest are so completely exposed to the workers, if you feel it is so ruled out that he can be pressured into initiating strike action which can be a springboard to mass struggle and so forth, then it is incumbent upon you to develop a campaign for a new leadership of the trade unions. We are open about the fact that we think that a revolutionary party leadership is needed in the trade unions and for the working class as a whole. But you completely avoid the question of leadership for the unions altogether, just talking about how the ranks will come to the Congress. What happened to Trotsky’s lesson that the main crisis is the crisis of leadership? (Likewise if you truly believe that the unions in Argentina are now so completely statified that they in no way can ever be utilized even as defensive organs of the working class, then why do you not actively campaign against them? That is the logic of your position as best as we can understand it. In fact we do not think that you are committed to this opinion, because it would mean giving up completely on something which still remains a partial gain of the working class.)
We want to say more about what we see as your failure to center your propaganda on the question of leadership and the party. It is no accident that you have intervened in Argentina as Democracia Obrera (“Workers’ Democracy”), the name of your newspaper. You frequently celebrate the “spontaneity” of the masses and end your documents with calls for a new uprising “to sweep the infamous regime away and to impose a workers’ and popular government based on the fighting organizations of the insurgent masses.” (Democracia Obrera, January 9, 2002) This celebration of spontaneity dominates to the degree that you have failed to emphasize that workers’ rule cannot be accomplished except through the development of the revolutionary party. What Trotsky fought time and again for was the idea that the proletariat must have its own advanced party. For this to develop, spontaneity must be transformed into consciousness and this can only happen through the intervention of existing revolutionary party forces at every stage of the struggle.
In the coming revolution, the organs of workers’ democracy – whether they are called soviets, juntas or assemblies – will be vital. However, as the Bolsheviks showed, by themselves they will not make the revolution. It is only when they are led by a conscious proletarian internationalist party, that the new world will be born.
Perhaps you believe that if you prove yourself to be the most ardent champions of the existing struggles and the activist ranks today, that in the future the vanguard party will come together as a result. We disagree. We believe that the propaganda task of openly calling for the revolutionary party is the most important task in Argentina right now.
This leads us to the election dispute actually.
We do not believe that political conditions have ripened for a boycott that can bring down the regime and present an alternative. Despite the evident crisis of Peronism today, capitalism has proven many times over, unfortunately, that it will not permanently collapse by itself, but only via a successful revolutionary alternative. If it proves impossible for some wing of Peronism to resurrect itself (which I doubt) then there can be a bourgeois alternative to fool and repress the masses with another name. But at the present time a significant percentage of workers will vote Peronist – for Rodriguez Saa, for Nestor Kirchner, or even for a Duhaldist candidate if one can be patched together.
It is necessary to go back to the “ABC’s” of Marxism. Leninists, even when intervening in the electoral front, always use that platform to put forward the notion that it is the action of the masses and not the election itself which can address the interests of our class. Therefore it is not necessary to boycott the elections in order to fight for general strike action, but rather it is necessary to use the election platform to publicize the campaign for the general strike.
Lenin also stressed that the aim in all cases was to use the electoral platform to expose the bourgeois elections process itself, to always counterpose the independent action of the working class. We must gain the ear of the workers who are paying attention to the elections in so doing. That is the job of the vanguard. Revolutionaries go through the experience side by side with other workers showing them the way forward.
Lenin pointed out repeatedly in his pamphlet, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder that:
it has been proved that participation in a bourgeois-democratic parliament even a few weeks before the victory of a Soviet republic, and even after such a victory, not only does not harm the revolutionary proletariat, but actually helps it to prove to the backward masses why such parliaments deserve to be dispersed; it helps their successful dispersal, and helps bourgeois parliamentarism to become ‘politically obsolete.’ To refuse to take this experience into account and at the same time to claim affiliation to the Communist International, which must work out its tactics internationally (not narrow or one-sided national tactics, but international tactics), is to commit the gravest blunder and actually to retreat from real internationalism while paying lip service to it.
It is no accident that Lenin’s classic pamphlet focused on the dual errors of refusing to participate in the reactionary trade unions and refusing to participate in the reactionary parliaments. On the trade union question, he noted, the revolutionary, but foolish, “Left” Communists stand by, shouting “the masses, the masses!“ – and refuse to work in the trade unions!! Refused on the pretext that they are ‘reactionary’!! and invent a brand-new immaculate little “Workers’ Union,” which is guiltless of bourgeois-democratic prejudices and “which they claim will be (will be!) a wide organization.”
Time and again he pointed out that, in terms of both the trade unions and the parliament, the vanguard must be trained in how to win over the masses. “You must not sink to the level of masses, to the level of the backward strata of the class.” But at the same time you must soberly observe the actual state of class consciousness and preparedness of the whole class (not only of its Communist vanguard). “Even if not ‘millions’ and ‘legions’ but only a fairly large minority of industrial workers follow the Catholic priests – it undoubtedly follows that parliamentarism in Germany is not yet politically obsolete, that participation in parliamentary elections and in the struggle on the platform of parliament is obligatory for the party of revolutionary proletariat precisely for the purpose of educating the backward strata of its own class.”
In some aspects of your work in Argentina it is absolutely clear that you have been willing to go against the stream. You came to reject the use of the constituent assembly slogan. We respect that this happened through a serious reevaluation of that slogan’s appropriateness in Argentina, even in its most revolutionary garb. But because of your staunch opposition to actually intervening in the Peronist unions in general, and your turn away from intervening in the elections, you have been forced to concoct a fantasy about the current balance of forces as a political justification for a self-contradictory policy. This is how at least I see it at present. It is true that since the uprising, the tendency toward frustrated abstentionism is great. But I think revolutionaries should deal with this mood with an open statement that we understand and agree with the hostility to corrupt and lying politicians. However, the answer is not to ignore the reality of politics and power but to create an alternative. We should tell our fellow workers that if we do not yet have the forces to do so, we certainly aim to put forward a workers’ candidate when we can, one who will run to say that the problem is capitalism and that no elections will end that. This candidate and this party will stand for the end of capitalist politics by ending their state, by workers taking state power. Today we can expose those bigger groups and people who claim that they are pro-worker or anti-capitalist and already have the resources to run a candidate – whether it be De Gennaro, Zamora, or the PTS.
I hope you will reconsider some of the points made in this letter. And I hope to be writing you again soon. In the meantime LRP/COFI comrades and friends look forward to continuing to receive your materials and to studying them.
With revolutionary greetings,
for the League for the Revolutionary Party