Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Syriza: Revolutionary lessons from Russia to Greece!


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Antarsya (anti-capitalists) protest the 'accord' between Syriza and the EU. But where are their workers councils and militias for the socialist insurrection?


Mike Treen, National Director of Unite!, the NZ trade union, argues that Syriza’s success in Greece may vindicate those who claim that bourgeois parliament can open the road to socialist revolution in the 21st century. He attempts to justify this political conviction by illustrating how history proves him right. Of course we reserve the same right. We follow him through his historical examples from the Russian October to the Greek March and prove him wrong!

Mike Treen states: “The SYRIZA victory and the electoral victories of left-wing governments in Latin America over the past 15 years have placed on the political agenda the issue of whether socialists can use elections in capitalist society as springboards to a deeper revolutionary socialist transformation of society in the interests of the majority of working people.”

The Russian Revolution

We agree that this is an important question. But the examples Mike Treen uses don’t prove his point. The political tendency he once belonged to, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP-US), in the 1980s revised their view of the Bolshevik revolution claiming that while Lenin called for ‘soviets to power’ he was actually for a “democratic dictatorship” in which workers and poor peasants shared power with rich capitalist peasants! This shared power was supposedly necessary because Russia still had to complete the bourgeois tasks of national independence and overthrow the feudal landlords. The bourgeois revolution had to be completed before the socialist revolution was possible.

Lenin famously rejected the workers sharing power with rich peasants. In his April Theses he stated: 


“The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution—which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie—to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.”

Yet, the SWP now claimed that Lenin, despite the April Theses, never abandoned power sharing with rich peasants in April 1917 and that the Bolshevik program remained the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry. The implication must be that the Bolsheviks made a mistake and were premature in sending the Cossacks (rich peasant soldiers) to disband the Constituent Assembly (parliament) for which elections had already been held, and replacing this bourgeois parliament with a ‘Workers’ and Poor Peasants Government' based on soviets of workers, poor peasants and soldiers and sailors.

Mike Treen may no longer subscribe to the SWP (US) theory today, however in his blog post he infers that in practice, the Bolsheviks realised their mistake and encouraged the rich peasants to enrich themselves in a desperate attempt to bolster the economy (the New Economic Program or NEP). Stalin’s dictatorship, in reversing these market reforms and collectivising everything, led ultimately to the decline and fall of the Soviet Union.

What the SWP was actually trying to do in its revised version of the Bolshevik Revolution was to return to the pre-April Theses position that workers would share power with the capitalist peasants in a “democratic dictatorship”; that is, a bourgeois parliament that would destroy the remnants of feudalism and develop capitalism sufficiently to allow the majority of workers and working peasants to make a socialist revolution.

This was an open attack on Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, which argued that such ‘democratic tasks’ could not be completed in a power-sharing alliance with any capitalist class whose interests firmly aligned it to imperialism. In the epoch of imperialism all democratic tasks could only be completed under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Lenin in the April Theses endorsed this theory. It meant that henceforth, only the workers and poor peasants in power could complete the outstanding tasks of the bourgeois revolution such as national independence and the end to landlordism. It excluded all power sharing, later known as popular fronts, with the bourgeoisie, including the rich peasants.

But the SWP needed to revise the history of the Bolshevik revolution and the theory of Permanent Revolution so as to legitimate the power-sharing popular front parliamentary road as the correct revolutionary strategy for socialists today.

In reality, the Russian Revolution did not succumb to a wrong strategy on the part of the Bolsheviks. Russia faced either a workers revolution where workers led the poor peasants to power, or a Tsarist counter-revolution supported by the rich peasants. The rich peasants could only become part of the revolution if the counter-revolution was defeated and their petty capitalist interests were subordinated to the workers state.

This was proved when the Provisional Government under Kerensky allied itself to the Tsarist General Kornilov in an attempt to smash the soviets and was defeated when his troops were won over to the soviets. The October Revolution took power and incorporated the rich peasants into the socialist plan but never shared power with them.

As to the degeneration (bureaucratisation) of the revolution, this was due not to the mistaken revolutionary program of the Bolsheviks, but rather to the capitalist counter-revolution that surrounded, invaded and isolated it, and defeated the revolution in Germany. One of the results of this setback was the reliance upon the rich peasantry in the New Economic Policy (NEP).

The German revolution

In Germany, the soviets were, as Treen says, defeated by social democracy committed to bourgeois parliamentary elections. This was inevitable because the Spartacists (the German Bolsheviks) were too weak to win a majority in the workers councils (soviets) and make a proletarian revolution. Therefore the new bourgeois republic had to go through a stage of sharing power with the bourgeoisie in preparing the working class for socialist revolution. 


However, in fact, the conditions for proletarian revolution did exist as the soldiers and sailors mutinied and formed armed soviets all over Germany. What was lacking was the revolutionary leadership to guide the armed workers towards revolution.

The Spartacists led by Luxemburg and Liebknecht had only recently broken from the United Social Democratic Party (USPD) of Kautsky (which advocated a parliamentary transition) and the old Social Democratic Party (SPD - the Second International Party that voted to go to war in August 4, 1914), and did not have the influence of the Bolsheviks to win majorities in the soviets and lead an insurrection. The USPD and SPD were able to persuade the majority of workers to vote them into power in the new capitalist republic. Ebert, the SPD leader became the Chancellor.

Yet, instead of ushering in a progressive transition to socialism, these capitalist elections became the front for a counter-revolution in which the SPD, USPD led Government allied to the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy (Junkers) and the fascists smashed the armed soviets, and assassinated its leaders, including Luxemburg and Liebknecht, ushering in a long period of fascist reaction in Europe that culminated in the rise of Hitler to power. 


As mentioned above, the defeat of the German revolution isolated the Soviet Union. So it was German social democracy in league with fascism that led directly to the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution under Stalin.

Revolution in Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam, Cuba...

The revolutions that followed in China, Cuba, Vietnam etc all followed more or less the Russian model of workers and poor peasants governments replacing capitalist governments. While the leaders of these revolutions were Stalinists or petty bourgeois nationalists who attempted to share power with the bourgeoisie (including the rich peasants), as in the “bloc of four classes” of Stalin’s famous popular front in China in the 1920s, they were always faced with armed counter-revolution, and survived only because the mass pressure from below of workers and poor peasants forced them to go all the way to socialist insurrection.

Events proved that the bourgeoisie will never share power in parliaments with the working class when that class is armed and fighting a civil war. We saw it in Germany in 1923, in China in 1927, in Italy and Germany when the fascists staged parliamentary coups. In Spain during the civil war the Republican parliaments trapped the workers in the popular fronts in Madrid and Barcelona where they were disarmed and slaughtered by the fascist army.

History shows that bourgeois parliaments are death traps disarming workers in the face of fascism, and so must be overthrown and replaced with Workers and Peasants Governments.

The defeat of the fascist regimes in Europe (mainly by the sacrifices of the Soviet Union) created the conditions for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. In Eastern Europe the Red Army kicked out the capitalists. In Yugoslavia Tito’s partisans took power. 


In China the long March led to a peasant uprising in 1949 which became a Government of poor peasants allied to the workers. In Vietnam a war of independence against the French liberated the North but was met by the armed intervention of US imperialism in the South. Cuba threw out the US mafia bourgeoisie in 1959 and despite attempts to remain on good terms with the US was attacked militarily and forced into the arms of the Soviet Union.

In each of these cases, these revolutions fell short of the Russian Revolution because the armed workers and soldiers were not in command. Such was the total blockade by imperialism, their isolation and dependence on the Stalinist Soviet Union that these revolutions were born as bureaucratised ‘deformed workers’ states.

So it was not any failure to follow the parliamentary road in these countries that led to the eventual collapse of their revolutions and the restoration of capitalism. It was armed counter-revolution, encirclement, cold war and imperialist propaganda that resulted in their bureaucratisation and ultimately to the restoration of capitalism.

In fact, the strategy of the imperialists to destroy the workers states was one of ‘democratic counter-revolution’. The capitalists sucked in most of the ‘left’ including all those who long held illusions in the parliamentary road, to propagandise the ‘parliamentary road’ back to capitalism. The ‘evils’ of ‘communism’ were portrayed as godless collectivism counter-posed the righteous capitalist democracy and free market. The bureaucratic elites in the workers states played along with ‘reforms’ ushering in ‘democracy’ and market freedoms.

In most cases the restoration of capitalism was via the ‘democratic’ road of replacing ‘One Party States’ with bourgeois democracies. However, these ‘democracies’ arose as the result of bloody invasions as in Vietnam, or of murderous ethnic cleansing as in Yugoslavia. Only where imperialist intervention failed to create a ‘democratic’ faction within the Stalinist bureaucracy to take control of the party, did restoration take the form of ‘market socialism’ as in China and Cuba.

All this proves, contrary to the ideology of the parliamentary road opening the road to socialism, that it has proved to be either a barrier to socialist revolution, or, a counter-revolutionary means of opening the door to the restoration of capitalism under the guise of ‘bourgeois democracy’.

The Bolivarian Revolution

The Bolivarian Revolution that Treen speaks of has so far failed to build soviets based on workers and poor peasants capable of taking power from the popular front capitalist governments of the Chavistas in Venezuela and the MAS (Movement for Socialism) in Bolivia. 


This is because there is no vanguard party in Venezuela or Bolivia capable of breaking workers out of their popular front parties, as Trotsky called them, the PSUV and the MAS. These are the more commonly called ‘populist’ parties which combine workers and petty bourgeoisie ‘sharing power’ with the so-called progressive national bourgeoisie, in one political party.

When Trotsky was exiled to Mexico in 1936 he was in the box seat to observe the nationalisation of the Anglo-American oil companies in 1938 by the regime of General Cardenas. He said that while workers should support these nationalisations they did not amount to the socialisation of capitalist property. The state in essence remained the state of the capitalist class and would have to be overthrown and state property turned into workers property. 


Failing that, it was easy for the capitalists, especially a coup backed by the US, to ‘privatise’ state property back into the hands of privately owned companies. Therefore, the task for revolutionaries was to break from the populist parties and their regimes, seize power, and install Workers and Peasants’ governments with the armed workers, peasants and soldiers in command.

These lessons were written into the Transitional Program that Trotsky drafted in 1938, two years before his assassination by an agent of Stalin. The first major test of this program in Latin America was in 1952 when the miners in Bolivia staged an armed insurrection against the Bolivian ruling class. 


Instead of taking power and installing a Workers’ and Peasants’ government, the miners abandoned their program (Theses of Pulacayo) and shared power with ‘progressive’ capitalist leader Paz Estenssoro in the “petty bourgeois” MNR government. This allowed the ruling class to rally and arm its supporters, and defeat the revolution.

A revolution that finishes in a “half-way house” power sharing government with the bourgeoisie is already half dead. Many such betrayals of workers in Latin America including that of Peron in Argentina, and Allende in Chile, right up to the populist party/regimes in Venezuela and Bolivia today, follow the same pattern of revolutions strangled by workers ‘sharing power’ with the bourgeoisie in popular fronts.

Therefore it is defeatist to wait for the populist leaders like Allende, Maduro or Morales to call for ‘communes’ when they actively suppress independent workers and peasants armed mobilisations. Not until armed soviets are built from below and workers split from the popular front parties will the bourgeoisie be thrown out of power and replaced by workers and peasants governments that advance the “revolutionary transformation.”

Syriza and the Greek Revolution

Syriza and Podemos have arisen to replace the betrayals of PASOK and the Socialist Party but are modelled on the Latin American popular front of class collaboration between workers and the bourgeoisie. Syriza has formed a popular front with ANEL a right wing nationalist party and is talking about nominating a former minister in the bourgeois New Democracy party as its Presidential candidate. As with all popular fronts, its purpose is to contain the demands of the masses within what is acceptable to the bourgeoisie. In this case the Germany imperialist bourgeoisie.

Thus the Syriza leadership has turned its back on the rank and file demand to repudiate the debt and end austerity and is negotiating with the banks for more favourable terms. All of the left in Syriza with the exception of the Communist Tendency accepted the bloc with the right wing ANEL, and none have protested the appointment of its leader as Minister of Defence. So much for parliamentary democracy opening the road to revolution!

Syriza’s parliamentary strategy immediately came to grief. The EU as part of the world capitalist economy is in trouble. German imperialism if facing decline as its economy stagnates and is in no position to grant Greece even minor favours. Letting Greece off even part of its debt repayment would send a message all the bankrupt fellow PIIGS. So Syriza has already betrayed its supporters in doing a deal that recycles Greek debt and delays the implementation of its anti-austerity program.

The reaction of the left wing of Syriza however, does not question the parliamentary road only that Syriza must get off the highway and take the byway in renouncing the debt and leaving the Euro.

Apart from the Communist Tendency It does not even call for a break from ANEL or for mass popular organisation to defend it against a right wing coup! Thus the left version of the popular front is still a death trap. The Minister of Defence can stage a coup from inside cabinet!

The revolutionary left in Syriza must draw the historical lessons. Workers participation in bourgeois parliaments cannot be progressive in the epoch of imperialism. This is true of workers parties forming governments which are powerless in the face of the institutions of the state including the armed forces, the bureaucracy and its paramilitaries. 


It is even worse when workers are trapped in popular front parties like the PSUV and the MAS, or workers parties enter parliamentary blocs with open bourgeois parties like ANEL. They are no more than fascist fodder. As we saw above, Bolivia, 1952, tells the truth about the popular front!

The next step towards the Greek revolution is for workers to split Syriza from its bourgeois partners in Greece, and from its imperialist masters in the EU, to unite to build a mass workers party and to form independent workers’ councils and militias to defend the class from the state and its fascist paramilitaries. Only then can it open the road to a victorious socialist revolution the formation of a Greek socialist republic within a wider Federations of Socialist Republics of Europe.

Forward to the Revolution!

Bourgeois elections can only advance the revolutionary transformation by default. That is, by dashing the hopes of the masses that support them and in the process exposing bourgeois parliaments, as in Germany 1920 and 2015, as no more than a ‘democratic’ front for the counter-revolution.

That is why it is a matter of urgency to build revolutionary parties with a program for armed soviets of workers and the oppressed in every country to resist the inevitable reactionary fascist movements that will be unleashed by the bourgeoisie to smash the revolutionary mobilisation of the masses.
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