The CP position of refusing to participate in bourgeois government
Communist Review 2012, issue 2
Translation to English: Lenin Reloaded
First, please allow me to elaborate on the rich experience the KKE has garnered from its participation in bourgeois governments, an experience that is even richer when it comes to Europe more broadly. This doesn't concern very special cases, but facts and results that offer generalizable conclusions and that confirm one thing: that in the period of the transition from capitalism to socialism a CP has no reason to take responsibility in a bourgeois government or, more generally, in a government of bourgeois management. For as long as the working class and its allies have not taken power into their hands, the CP must be an oppositional power and use that position to enact its vanguard role in the movement, exploiting of course all available forms of struggle -- including the bourgeois parliament.
Participation in a bourgeois government is a mistake that cannot easily be redressed and that may prove impossible to redress.
The first experience we obtained regards the participation of the KKE in the government formed after the liberation of Greece from German, Italian and Bulgarian conquest. A bourgeois politician, Giorgios Papandreou (the father and grandfather of two subsequent Greek Prime Ministers, leaders of Social Democracy), was ordained to form a government after he was selected by the king and by Britain, next to which the bourgeoisie of Greece had long attached itself. He was selected because he had their full trust, because they figured that, using political machinations and conspiracies, he would be able to deal with the postwar correlation of forces, that was to the advantage of the KKE and of the militant patriots of the Greek resistance, and that he would lead to bourgeois stabilization. This development began to unfold in April 1944, before Greece was liberated. Giorgios Papandreou had consciously distanced himself from the struggle of the Greek people against foreign occupation; he had steadfastly refused proposals by the KKE and EAM for unity and for participation in the Resistance. Since 1943, he had been sending memos to the British government, with which he was proclaiming his allegiance to it, and of course his will to collaborate against the armed national resistance that was led by the KKE, with the objective of preventing a popular victory, as he did manage to do. The ordainment to form this government was also based on the unacceptable compromise that the KKE -- the heroic party of Resistance, its bloodgiver and leader -- along with the leadership of the National Resistance, submitted to when, before the end of the war, in mid April 1944, they made an agreement to form a united government with bourgeois political forces, coordinated by the British Strategic HQ of the Middle East. The envoys who went to Cairo, Egypt, to sign the agreement accepted the participation of EAM and of the KKE in the postwar government. The agreement violated the correlation of forces and the principles of national liberation struggle, which from the outset had posed the issue of the outcome of the struggle toward popular democracy.
The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the KKE characterized the compromises of its envoys, who did not abide by the relevant directives, unacceptable, yet the provisional government that had been formed in Greece, and that also constituted an expression of the KKE's alliance, saw the agreement as necessary. What followed were futile efforts to improve the agreement, and finally, the CC of the KKE that convened on 2-3 August 1944 approved it. The consensus of the CC of the KKE led to the participation in the Giorgios Papandreou government on the basis of the following argument: lack of participation would strengthen the more extreme parties that sought to destroy the unity and to impose an anti-popular regime by causing an open Civil War. The KKE foregrounded as its principal pursuit the obstruction of the forces that had a fascist and anti-popular tendency. The signing of the agreement gave the British imperialists the objective capacity to advance their plans successfully and to crush the movement of national resistance and provide armed support for the orgy of murder against the KKE. One compromise led to another, to new agreements that gave bourgeois parties the opportunity to return to the bourgeois apparatus and to restore the shattered mechanisms of bourgeois power, such as the "national" army -- a process that took a number of years and that gave the opportunity to the bourgeoisie, which did not at that time possess popular legitimacy, to form a political and party system that was capable of subverting the correlation of forces, turning it against the people.
Of course, the party's mistaken policy, its participation in the postwar bourgeois government, was no momentary error. Our evaluation as KKE today relates to the party strategy, which did not at the time involve any ability to predict and any of the stability necessary to connect the war against the conqueror with the struggle for political power. The leadership of the KKE and the leadership of the movement of National Resistance did not predict, did not see the danger that bourgeois forces in the country constituted for the people, even if they were momentarily disorganized; nor did they factor in the British pursuits against our country's social movement. So they did not properly evaluate the strategic issue and were not prepared for it.
During the 1940s, the KKE undertook public self-criticism for its unacceptable compromises; it resisted anticommunist terror, that was not only ideological but involved persecution, executions, assassinations and losses of communist forces. The murderous persecution of the KKE led to the formation of the Democratic Army of Greece, to the three-year Civil War that constituted, and still constitutes, the apogee of the Greek class struggle, and that left us with an important legacy, irrespective of the defeat that came as a result of the negative correlation of forces and the American imperialist intervention.
The fact that the KKE did not correctly evaluate the developments shortly before and shortly after the end of the war, that it failed to do so as a result of problems in its strategy, the fact that it did not evaluate as it should have the intentions of the British imperialists, this does not cancel out its irreplaceable contribution to the years of national resistance, to the liberation of Greece.
In the postwar era, the European experience from the participation of CPs in bourgeois governments -- usually formed under the pressure of objective factors and conditions or as a result of parliamentary delusions and above all, under the influence and hegemony of opportunist ideas and practices -- is exclusively negative. Communist Parties in France and Italy, starting from the end of WW II and until a few years ago, took part in bourgeois governments. We don't have a single example that confirms that thanks to this, the people's lives changed radically, or that they managed to curtail compromises and to block the political direction of Social Democracy. After every such period of participation, CPs lost power to the benefit of Social Democracy; they were weakened, precisely because they were seen as sharing the responsibility, but also because partnership with Social Democracy exerts a higher pressure on CPs than they can exert on Social Democracy.
The KKE possesses contemporary experience of this, out of a kind of peculiar participation in two consecutive governments in the period 1989-90, in the first case with the liberal party (ND) and in the second with Social Democracy (PASOK) as well. The participation in government was due to very special reasons, as it was impossible to form a government after elections, and according to the law there had to be a short time span until the next election so that the legal violations of which the then leader of Social Democracy [Andreas Papandreou] had been accused would not become annulled. Our party was not forced into harmful compromises, given the nature of these two governments, but a part of the people, led by Social Democracy, attributed to us a policy of "unholy alliance." This cost us in votes, but what was far more important was the development, in a period when opportunism had reared its head inside our party, of the perception that the participation of the party in bourgeois government is not a matter of principle. Even worse was the spreading of the perception that at a crucial moment, when the bourgeois political system faces obstacles, the KKE has to abandon its strategy and to support the formation of a government based on the so-called "minimum program", which in fact has never caused a rupture in the bourgeois political system, but on the contrary allows it to regroup its forces.
Recently, and in the middle of 2012, the KKE was immensely pressured to adopt the choice of participating in a "left" government, as they called it, along with opportunist forces that were abruptly catapulted to great parliamentary power, as a result of the dissolution of Social Democracy in conditions of rising poverty, because of the capitalist economic crisis that erupted in Greece and in the Eurozone. The abrupt parliamentary strengthening of opportunism was not exclusively the result of popular discontent, but was combined with a mass transfer of votes [from PASOK] through the guidance of a large number of Social Democratic cadres and mechanisms. To this transfer of power toward opportunism, a key role was also played by parts of the bourgeoisie that could see the need to shape -- even temporarily -- a different pole in the place of Social Democracy before the working and popular masses could move to real radicalization.
Our electoral losses due to our refusal to support such a government and indeed to take part in it were heavy. We lost 50% of our vote, either because a part went to the direction of opportunism, or, principally, because they chose abstention from the vote.
This development did not scare us, however much it may have caused disappointment and certainly a measure of political trauma to the electoral body. We are convinced that our stance in a period marked by fatalism, by compromise, by disappointment, is a positive legacy for the people, but also for the party itself. If we had not withstood the pressure, we would have entered a path that is slippery and without return. In such cases, there is no hope of finding the brake in time when you hit the downward spiral.
At the same time, we received a good lesson, which we must of course use to our benefit. It's not enough for your strategy to be correct, though today this is of course a basic precondition. But no relaxation of vigilance can be allowed: to allow this strategy to exert influence, to affect an important part of the working class, you must first attain the greatest abilities. First of all, the party cannot relax its systematic work to concentrate forces in the places of work, in different production sectors, in party construction within the working class, in the propagation of the social alliance of the working class with poor social strata in the rather large, in Greece, middle layer of the self-employed.
Though we have experience in ideological conflict, we did not fight as much as we should have in the last few years the parliamentary delusions shared by party friends and supporters and even by a part of party members, who don't have long-term experience and the necessary ideologico-political defenses. The major bearer of these delusions was the bourgeois political system itself, along with its parties, the reservoir of the petty bourgeoisie, and the activity of the labor aristocracy, which together form the social roots of right and left opportunism within the worker movement.
In conditions of rapid deterioration of the people's standard of living and while the workers' movement -- despite its important struggles, ones with a broader resonance in Europe -- still lags very much behind in terms of organization and impact, the bourgeoisie manages, despite its own dead-ends, its own difficulties in managing the crisis and in achieving a speedy economic recovery, to maintain the stability of its power. Indignation and rage may grow, yet class consciousness may well lag behind in such conditions. In these conditions, there are grounds for both radicalization and roll-back, decrease of demands. This second trend is currently powerful, whereas radicalization does occur, but in a slow pace and with setbacks.
In these conditions, the formation of a coalition government, based on the prestige of the KKE, appeared to be something positive or at least as a lesser evil.
Today , the KKE's estimations and predictions are being confirmed. The bourgeois government has adjusted itself to a new form, that of coalition between bourgeois parties despite their differences. We have witnessed attempts and plans to reshape the bourgeois political system. A part of this process is the restoration of modern Social Democracy through the opportunist formation of SYRIZA, whose basic organizational structure derives from the KKE split and is accompanied by Social Democratic, Trotskyist and Anarchist forces. Today, in Greece, instead of the ND-PASOK binary we have the ND-SYRIZA binary, as a transitional stage toward the reshaping of the bourgeois political system.
The political antagonisms between liberal and reformist-opportunist policy move, despite occasional differences, in the direction of an open support of monopoly capital, and share as a feature the recovery of capitalist profit-making, accompanied by great unemployment, relative and absolute immiseration, while bringing within them the seeds of a new cycle of crisis, deeper than the current one. Post-elections [of 2012], opportunism has accomplished a blatant right-wing turn in its program and slogans, since it knows that it has the chance to govern.
The antagonisms between the liberal and the Keynesian model of management have been thoroughly tested throughout the twentieth century.
The alteration between the liberal and the Keynesian model of economic management has brought, throughout the twentieth century, cycles of economic crisis, has intensified intra-bourgeois and intra-imperialist contradictions and has led to two World Wars.
In the period 1989-1991, opportunism rejected Marxism-Leninism. It applauded the victory of counter-revolution and indeed proclaimed that humanity will now enter the path to democracy and peace. Today, when capitalism has been demystified in the eyes of the peoples, when the EU has belied the expectations of millions of workers in Europe, opportunists appear as accusers of the KKE and of its refusal to participate in government, arguing that we refuse Leninist doctrine, the directions of the Communist International, etc.
Let me open a parenthesis here. We must underline that our party, having studied its own history and the history of the International Communist movement, is critically disposed toward older, mistaken approaches and draws conclusions from them. Thus, after the decision of the 18th Congress of the KKE we have appraised, for instance, that the 20th Congress of the CPSU (February 1956) and its thesis on the "diversity of paths of transition to socialism under certain preconditions", its position, as well, on "peaceful coexistence" had been connected with the possibility of a parliamentary transition to socialism in Europe, a strategy that preexisted in some CPs and that dominated others eventually. This position was essentially a revision of the conclusions drawn from Soviet revolutionary experience and constituted a reformist and social democratic strategy.
Antagonisms between capitalist states, which of course contained the element of dependency, as happens in the imperialist pyramid, were not properly analyzed. What predominated was the mistaken view that there was a relation of "subjection and dependency" of every capitalist state from the USA. As a result, what was adopted was the strategy of "anti-monopoly government", a form of a stage between capitalism and socialism, which was expected to solve problems of "dependency" on the USA. Thus CPs chose a policy of alliances with bourgeois forces as well -- those characterized as "nationally minded", in opposition to the so-called "comprador" elites.
The stance of many CPs toward Social Democracy was also integrated within this strategy. CPs were dominated by a mistaken assumption that Social Democracy is divided into a "left" and a "right" wing, something which drastically weakened the front against it. In the name of the unity of the working class (which had as its goal the creation of coalition governments with Social Democracy or a part of it), CPs made serious ideological and political compromises, while the proclamations of unity on the part of Social Democracy did not aim at overthrowing the capitalist system, but at detaching the working class from the influence of communist ideas and at the alienation of its consciousness.
We must acknowledge that our party, the KKE, was for a long time oriented toward similar strategic approaches, ones that were historically not justified. The CP strategy that had as its goal, within advanced capitalist states, the creation -- on the basis of the Parliament -- of an antimonopoly parliamentary government, the strategy that saw the passage to socialism as one that comes through the broadening of bourgeois democracy and the state ownership of corporations, the great electoral percentages of CPs in France and Italy and their participation in bourgeois "center-left" governments of EU states, not only failed to substantially change the correlation of forces, but they further bolstered opportunist deviation and the shrinking of communist forces throughout Europe.
The tactic of the opportunists is to reintroduce the superseded and mistaken strategy of stages, indeed positing as a first stage the exit from the crisis in the path of capitalist development and the incorporation into the EU and NATO. The program that is promoted by them defends a capitalism that will not be too unjust, a capitalism without decay and parasitism, a "more humane" capitalism that will resolve international conflicts, that is to say intra-imperialist competition, through political negotiation and peaceful means!
The detachment of politics from the economy is a provocative aspect of the positions of opportunists. They argue that the bourgeois state can become a social state for all the people. What is also provocative is their interpretation of imperialism. To them, imperialism in Europe is simply Germany, in Latin America the USA. They reject the economic essence of imperialism, which is the export of capital, the concentration of capital in the form of capitalist stock property, and monopolies. And of course they don't see imperialism as monopoly capitalism, as the highest stage of capitalism. They mechanically transfer to contemporary circumstances the period of colonialism, arguing that Greece and all the countries in a middle and lower position in the imperialist system have turned into colonies [all these were "Left Platform" positions, primarily]. They accuse the bourgeoisie for not being patriotic enough, arguing that it is its cowardice that makes it surrender jurisdiction to decision centers like the EU Commission. They divide the bourgeoisie into a productive and a parasitic section, into healthy and immoral capitalists. Their criticism of capitalism is primarily moralistic, they don't make the slightest reference to capitalist relations of production.
They attack the KKE using fragments and phrases from Marx and Lenin, which they decontextualize from specific conditions, in order to justify the policy of stages, the minimum program, the support for reform against revolution.
They pretend not to understand that in the era of bourgeois revolutions, the first duty posited by Marx and Engels, while the working class still did not have its own party, was the distinction of the working class from the revolutionary mass of the bourgeois, the petty bourgeois and the farmers. Even in the conditions of the realization of bourgeois revolution, Marx and Engels argued that the working class must come forth to the foreground and obtain consciousness of itself.
The opportunists obscure the great Leninist legacy which posits that working-class victory, the victory of the exploited people, and even the intensification of class struggle are unthinkable without a relentless and uncompromising struggle against opportunism. They obscure the fact that the content of struggle in conditions of development for the bourgeois revolution was different than it is today, at an age of transition from capitalism to socialism under the highest stage of capitalism.
They arbitrarily use Lenin's estimation, in his well-known work Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, that only a handful, a very small number of states rob the great majority of the nations of the earth. According to this view imperialism is identified with a very small number of countries, to be counted on the fingers of one hand, while all the other countries are subject, oppressed, colonies, conquered territory.
Today too, the countries at the top, in the top ranks of the imperialist pyramid, are only a few, one might even say they are still a handful of nations. But this doesn't mean that other capitalist states are their victims, that they are subject, it doesn't mean that the line of struggle for the peoples needs to have an anti-German direction in Europe or exclusively an anti-US direction in the American continent. It's not accidental that the opportunists foreground as positive examples for coping with the crisis Brazil and Argentina, while also praising Obama's policy.
Today we have a lot more indications that government within the framework of the capitalist system, formed on the basis of the general voting right, cannot be the launching pad for a revolutionary situation, since the latter has an objective character; but neither can it force capitalists to accept losses in their profit-making for the sake of workers, at a time indeed when the capitalist system is at a phase where it is having difficulty attaining expanded capitalist reproduction in the way it had done in the past. The hope that a parliament-based government can push toward the opening up of the revolutionary process has been proven groundless and utopian, much more so at a time when we have the examples of Chile and Portugal but also the contemporary examples of Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, countries advertised by the opportunists as Socialism for the 21st Century.
It is unquestionable that Venezuela has opened a window toward the improvement of the people's lives --particularly of the most immiserated section -- through Chavez's decision to move to a nationalisation of major sectors of the petrol industry, as petrol forms a major advantage of the country. Partial nationalisation has funded some programs for health care and food to the extremely poor, with Cuba's help. The issue of course is not to satisfy the immediate demands of extreme poverty but to open the path for the people to live on the basis of the country's potential and its contemporary needs. These positive measures did not reduce the great concentration of wealth and of income to the bourgeoisie and the higher middle strata. Agrarian reform did not manage to change the life of land workers, of poor farmers against big landowners.
It is also a fact that in Bolivia, the Morales government has increased the minimal wage, daily wages and pensions. Yet the largest part of the native American population lives below the poverty line. It is in fact this social stratum that has given Morales the victory. Data shows that there is plenty of foreign investment from multinationals in Bolivia, while the government supports capital export. The increase of small and mid-size mine owners, with particularly exploited wage labor has grown, and these companies are turning into allies of the multinationals.
We have similar developments in Ecuador, where the critical factor is that multinationals have increased their ownership in sectors of strategic importance, like mining and energy sources. The strategy of the Corea government involves the development and exploitation of mineral wealth by foreign capital.
Anti-poverty programs do not eliminate poverty but sustain it, through the blunting of its very extreme aspects; the improvement of the position of the middle strata is the dimension of capitalist development that contains the seeds of inevitable crisis, of the concentration of capital and the intensification of social injustices.
Opportunists in our country, those accusing us because we don't want to support a government of bourgeois management, argue that this is the path to socialism, that this is socialism for the 21st century. This line doesn't even presuppose an anti-imperialist and anti-monopoly policy, it has nothing to do even with the policy of stages, which of course has been superseded long ago, even before the period of 1917.
The policy of robbery, of annexation, of the turning of nations into protectorates, the policy of dismantling countries, is not a result of political immorality, nor is it an issue of dependency and cowardice on the part of the bourgeoisie of a country with stronger and unequal dependencies. It is an issue of economic and political position that derives from capitalist uneven development, from the place of the country in the international capitalist market. The bourgeoisie that feels that its partners don't treat it equally knows that it can't do otherwise, because, beside everything else, its alliance with a stronger partner guarantees strong political protection in the country's interior; protection from the threat of the intensification of class struggle.
The bourgeoisie cannot defend its sovereign rights in the people's own interests, but only and exclusively for its own interests. And if it needs to ignore particular interests of its own as the price it must pay to maintain its power, to hold on to it as much as it can, it will do so.
The answer to capitalism is not the groundless return to pre-monopoly capital, to scattered capitalist businesses, but the necessity and contemporaneity of socialism, the attainment of revolutionary readiness, through daily struggle and through experience, within conditions of a revolutionary situation.
The KKE prioritizes the development of unity in the action of the working class and the formation of an alliance between it and poor, self-employed petty owners and the poor farmers. The objective interest of the working class is the abolition of all forms of ownership, of big and concentrated ownership and of middle and small ownership, since ownership means exploited wage labor, alienation of the worker from the wealth s/he produces. Because of their middle position, the self-employed have an interest in anti-monopoly struggle, but do not find it easy to commit themselves to the abolition of the exploitation of Man by Man, to the abolition of every form of individual ownership. They hope that from petty and poor business men they can become middle-rank, satellites of the monopolies, though their labor and social rights can only be guaranteed in socialist conditions. The compromise the KKE offers them is the meeting between anti-capitalist forces and anti-monopoly ones, their common action, which of course does not abolish their differences, an action in the direction of popular power and the abolition of the power of monopolies. This alliance is a social one as regards the question of which forces have to coalesce in the struggle, and a political one, in the sense that it has to have popular power as a direction of struggle -- a direction that is not identical to the KKE program, and cannot be identical to it. It is only affected by certain of its basic elements, such as the socialization of monopolies, the formation of agricultural production cooperatives, the disengagement from NATO and the EU. But these elementary aspects objectively constitute a set of compulsory choices if the country is to hope to exit the crisis in the interests of the popular majority, to allow the people to live on the basis of contemporary needs, to stop having the country used as bridge and as an ally of various imperialist centers, to stop its involvement in imperialist war and to put an end to dependencies and commitments that turn against the working people.
The seeds of this alliance are being shaped in contemporary Greece; of course, they will be developed into new forms, particularly in the grassroots, and of course we will have a reshuffling of positions that it is impossible to determine today.
Popular power is a political and a governmental solution; hence the KKE and the Movement are not restricted by a struggle of opposition, a struggle to cause damage to bourgeois governments without having an alternative proposition for power.
To the extent that the development of class struggle leads to the formation of petty bourgeois political forces that adopt a struggle in the direction of popular power, the KKE will develop both a dialogue and collaboration with them, but it will not sacrifice its autonomy by integrating itself into a unified political formation. The common action of the KKE with other political forces will express itself in the lines and the instruments of the Popular Alliance, whose ground is the workplace and the popular neighborhood, and whose forms of organization are the Union, the general meeting, the struggle committees. This is to say that the basis of alliance is in the people, in the lines of the social movement, and is addressed to everyone, independently of what they voted for politically, on the basis of their class and social stratum position. But at the level of power, there is no place for compromises, tacticisms and adventurist maneuvering. It's one thing to choose the right slogans and forms of struggle to attract and unite the working popular masses, to attain the unity of the action of the working class, and quite another thing to foreground reform as a strategic choice, marginalizing and effacing revolution in the name of a negative correlation of social forces.
Lenin, in his talk in the 7th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic and Labor Party (Bolsheviks), in April 1917, asked for and obtained the abandonment of the slogan of a "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the farmers" as a superseded slogan; there was agreement that the coming revolution would be socialist. Lenin in fact showed that the basic aspect of the "two tactics of Social Democracy" was not the institution of the power of the "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and farmers", but the shaping of the social alliance of farmers and workers.
It's obvious that in the contemporary era, the alliance policy of a CP cannot be identical to that which prevailed in a period when the revolutionary workers' movement was formed (a period to which Marx and Engels refer even before the completion of bourgeois revolutions and the formation of the Political Party of the New Type). It cannot be the same with the politics of the Bolshevik party before World War I, when feudal power had not completely been abolished in Russia. Today, we don't have a single example of an intermediate form of political power between capitalism and socialism. Power will either be in the hands of the bourgeoisie, in which case it cannot function in the interests of the people, or it will be socialist. It's one thing to consider "moments" in the development of power under revolutionary conditions, or moments in the evolution of power when a socialist revolution has not yet won, and another to speak of an intermediate stage of political power.
As in any other country, the capitalist system in Greece will not collapse on its own, because of its contradictions. The great intensification of social contradictions will lead to conditions of a revolutionary situation, to conditions where capitalist policy cannot impose itself, to conditions of a great intensification of the class struggle while, through daily struggles, a strong workers' movement, in a alliance with exploited popular strata, will mature and grow. In conditions of a revolutionary situation it will be time to determine, through the right choice of slogans and of forms of struggle, the will, the determination of the people to break and abolish the chains of class exploitation, of oppression, of involvement in imperialist war. This presupposes a workers' movement that is not trapped by diversionary alternatives, which the bourgeois political system uses to organize the crushing of the movement, the attack against radicalism, against revolutionary mood and will, in order to pre-empt and cancel, for as long as it can, its overthrow.