Election or Revolution!

Posted on April 9, 2014


The attitude and position that a revolutionary communists should take towards working within the bourgeois parliamentary system and participation in elections, had been discussed since time of Marx and Engels and was well settled by the pronouncement of the Second Congress of the Comintern. Yet, due to both the right and left wing deviations that have come to grip the movement, particularly after the complete capitulation of the CPI/CPI-M to parliamentary cretinism on  one hand and the ‘abstentionism’ being propagated by the CPI -Maoist and some other groups, under the sonorous revolutionary phrase mongering of ‘active boycott’, terming that participation in elections itself amounts to class betrayal, the question has come to the fore again, at least in context of Indian Communist Movement. The boycottists advocate a somewhat deformed caricature of ‘Chinese Path’ to claim that the pronouncement of Comintern has become anachronistic to the present polity of India. And only an active boycott of this institution is the revolutionary discourse.

Today again, the question needs to be revisited and here we are making an attempt to understand the issue essentially based on the Marxist-Leninist viewpoint.

While the reformist CPI and CPI –M and now CPI-ML (Liberation), have shred all pretention of being committed for an overthrow of the existing state machinery, based upon the revolutionary struggle of working class, under the vanguard leadership of Communist Party, for them contesting elections and winning few seats has become the sole motive. This social-democratic trend is itself not new. In the late 19th and early 20th century it blossomed and found in Bernstein and Kautsky ideologues who could give this reformism a Marxist veneer though when countered by the revolutionary trend of Marxism their anti-Marxist character became known to all. Eduard Bernstein denied the prospect of revolution that he termed as catastrophe while supporting what he termed as, a steady advance, euphuism for reformism he wrote:

…for a long time yet the task of social democracy is, instead of speculating on a great economic crash, “to organise the working classes politically and develop them as a democracy and to fight for all reforms in the State which are adapted to raise the working classes and transform the State in the direction of democracy.”

“…No one has questioned the necessity for the working classes to gain the control of government. The point at issue is between the theory of a social cataclysm and the question whether with the given social development in Germany and the present advanced state of its working classes in the towns and the country, a sudden catastrophe would be desirable in the interest of the social democracy. I have denied it and deny it again, because in my judgment a greater security for lasting success lies in a steady advance than in the possibilities offered by a catastrophic crash.” (Eduard Bernstein, Evolutionary Socialism, Preface, B.W.HUEBSCH, New York, 1911)

Similarly Karl Kautsky, after his capitulation to social democracy, viewed the conquest of state power as essentially winning a majority in parliament by the Social Democratic Party, and elevating the Parliament to a commanding position and not destruction of the state power. A line that is being assiduously being followed by the CPI (M) led Left Front in India and similar parties’ world over.

The restoration of capitalism in Soviet Union and China, the fall of the Eastern Bloc, and the Chinese Party going down the path of neo-liberalism shunning revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, the old anarchist petty bourgeoisie idea has again made a worldwide comeback now in grab of ‘Maoism’, preaching the same complete abstention from the bourgeois parliaments, an idea that, was smashed by Marx and Engels; almost one and half centuries ago. The followers of Bakunin, had declared in words of Engels, not to participate in any form of elections that they said was crime worthy of death. Slamming the Bakuninist, Engels in “Bakuninists at Work” wrote:

That is what Bakuninist “abstention from politics” leads to. At quiet times, when the proletariat knows beforehand that at best it can get only a few representatives to parliament and have no chance whatever of winning a parliamentary majority, the workers may sometimes be made to believe that it is a great revolutionary action to sit out the elections at home, and in general, not to attack the State in which they live and which oppresses them, but to attack the State as such which exists nowhere and which accordingly cannot defend itself. This is a splendid way of behaving in a revolutionary manner, especially for people who lose heart easily; and the extent to which the leaders of the Spanish Alliance belong to this category of people is shown in some detail in the aforementioned publication.

As soon as events push the proletariat into the fore, however, abstention becomes a palpable absurdity and the active intervention of the working class an inevitable necessity.

The effect of boycott and the negative impact they did on the working class movement, in the Spanish general elections of 1873, and how could the working class would have become deciding factor in the Cortes (National Parliament) was brilliantly said by Engels.

…and the bulk of the workers took part in the elections. Given the enormous attraction which the name of the International still enjoyed at that time among the Spanish workers and given the excellent organisation of the Spanish Section which, at least for practical purposes, still existed at the time, it was certain that any candidate nominated and supported by the International would be brilliantly successful in the industrial districts of Catalonia, in Valencia, in the Andalusian towns and so on, and that a minority would be elected to the Cortes large enough to decide the issue whenever it came to a vote between the two wings of the Republicans…

… The result of this declaration of political bankruptcy was that the workers, as always in such cases, voted for those who made the most radical speeches, that is, for the Intransigents, and considering themselves therefore more or less responsible for subsequent steps taken by their deputies, became involved in them.

Does the above statement not sound familiar with the current condition of this country?

Marx while addressing the central committee of the Communist League in 1850 said:

…Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers’ candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory.

The above two statements clearly demonstrates that even in 1850’s that is immediately after the revolutions of 1848 as well as in 1870, the founding teachers of revolutionary communism, were in complete opposition to the bogus proposition of boycott and abstention, terming them as ‘palpable absurdity’ and unambiguously supported the intervention of the revolutionary party’s position and stand in the bourgeoisie parliament as necessity.

Since the time of Marx and Engels, till today the Bakuninists polity has made comeback several times, unfortunately now donning the grab of Marxism or more specific Maoism. From passive abstention to violent boycott, the tactics and phraseology might have changed but the anarchist essence remains the same.

The tactical line and approach was clarified by authoritative pronouncement of Lenin and in the Second Congress of Comintern that was held between July 19 to August 7, 1920.

In 1919 Lenin in his article titled: “Greetings To Italian, French and German Communists”, explained the possibility of utilising the parliament, and further he said that refusal to participate is ‘as an undoubted mistake’

The Communist Party, experiencing exactly the same (essentially the same) differences as were experienced by Bolshevism, will grow stronger and become as hard as steel.

The differences among the German Communists boil down, so far as I can judge, to the question of “utilising the legal possibilities” (as the Bolsheviks used to say in the 1910-13 period), of utilising the bourgeois parliament, the reactionary trade unions, the law on works’ councils (Bet riebsratge setz), bodies that have been hamstrung by the Scheidemanns and Kautskys; it is a question of whether to participate in such bodies or boycott them.

We Russian Bolsheviks experienced quite similar differences in 1906 and in the 1910-12 period. And for us it is clear that with many of the young German Communists it is simply a case of a lack of revolutionary experience. Had they experienced a couple of bourgeois revolutions (1905 and 1917), they would not he advocating the boycott so unconditional nor fall from time to time into the mistakes of syndicalism.

This is a matter of growing pains; the movement is developing in fine style and as it grows they will pass. And these obvious mistakes must be combated openly; the differences Must not be exaggerated since it must be clear to everyone that in the near future the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat, for Soviet power, will wipe out the greater part of them.

Both from the standpoint of Marxist theory and the experience of three revolutions (1905, February 1917 and October 1917) I regard refusal to participate in a bourgeois parliament, in a reactionary (Legien, Gompers, etc..) trade union, in an ultra-reactionary workers’ council hamstrung by the Scheidemanns, etc., as an undoubted mistake.

At times, in individual eases, in individual countries, the boycott is correct, as, for example, was the Bolshevik boycott of the tsarist Duma in 1905. But the selfsame Bolsheviks took part in the much more reactionary and downright counter-revolutionary Duma of 1907. The Bolsheviks contested the elections to the bourgeois Constituent Assembly in 1917, and in 1918 we dispersed it, to the horror of the philistine democrats, the Kautskys and other such renegades from socialism. We worked in the ultra-reactionary, purely Menshevik, trade unions which (in their counter-revolutionary nature) yielded nothing to the Legien unions—the foulest and most reactionary trade unions in Germany. Even now, two years after the conquest of state power, we have not yet finished fighting the remnants of the Menslievik (i.e., the Scheidemann, Kautsky, Gompers, etc.) trade unions—so long is the process! So strong in some places and in some trades is the influence of petty-bourgeois ideas!

At one time we were in a minority in the Soviets, the trade unions and the co-operatives. By persistent effort and long struggle—both before and after the conquest of political power—we won a majority, first in all workers’ organisations, then in non-worker and, finally, even in small-peasant organisations.

Only scoundrels or simpletons can think that the proletariat must first win a majority in elections carried out under the yoke of the bourgeoisie, under the yoke of wage-slavery, and must then win power. This is the height of stupidity or hypocrisy; it is substituting elections, under the old system and with the old power, for class struggle and revolution.

The second congress of the Communist International defined the position of communists in no uncertain terms:

“The attitude of the socialist parties towards parliamentarism was in the beginning, in the period of the First International, that of using bourgeois parliaments for the purpose of agitation. Participation in parliament was considered from the point of view of the development

of class consciousness, i.e. of awakening the class hostility of the proletariat to the ruling class. This relationship was transformed, not through the influence of theory, but through the influence of political development. Through the uninterrupted increase of the productive forces and the extension of the area of capitalist exploitation, capitalism, and with it the parliamentary state, gained continually increasing stability.

Hence there arose: The adaptation of the parliamentary tactics of the socialist parties to the ‘organic’ legislative work of the bourgeois parliament and the ever greater importance of the struggle for reforms in the framework of capitalism, the domination of the so-called minimum programme of social democracy, the transformation of the maximum programme into a debating formula for an exceedingly distant ‘final goal’. On this basis then developed the phenomena of parliamentary careerism, of corruption and of the open or concealed betrayal of the most elementary interests of the working class.

The attitude of the Communist International towards parliamentarism is determined, not by a new doctrine, but by the change in the role of parliament itself. In the previous epoch parliament performed to a certain degree a historically progressive task as a tool of developing capitalism. Under the present conditions of unbridled imperialism, however, parliament has been transformed into a tool for lies, deception, violence and enervating chatter. In the face of imperialist devastation, plundering, rape, banditry and destruction, parliamentary reforms, robbed of any system, permanence and method, lose any practical significance for the toiling masses.

Like the whole of bourgeois society, parliamentarism too is losing its stability. The sudden transition from the organic epoch to the critical creates the basis for a new tactic of the proletariat in the field of parliamentarism. Thus the Russian Labour Party (the Bolsheviks) had already worked out the nature of revolutionary parliamentarism in the previous period because since 1905 Russia had been shaken from its political and social equilibrium and had entered the period of storms and shocks.

At present, parliament, for communists, can in no way become the arena for the struggle for reforms, for the amelioration of the position of the working class, as was the case at certain times in the previous period. The centre of gravity of political life has at present been removed finally and completely beyond the bounds of parliament.

On the other hand the bourgeoisie is forced, not only by reason of its relations to the toiling masses, but also by reason of the complex mutual relations within the bourgeois class, to carry out part of its measures one way or another in parliament, where the various cliques haggle for power, reveal their strong sides, betray their weak sides expose themselves, etc.

Therefore it is the historical task of the working class to wrest this apparatus from the hands of the ruling class, to smash it, to destroy it, and replace it with new proletarian organs of power. At the same time, however, the revolutionary general staff of the class has a strong interest in having its scouts in the parliamentary institutions of the bourgeoisie in order to make this task of destruction easier. Thus is demonstrated quite clearly the basic difference between the tactic of the communist, who enters parliament with revolutionary aims, and the tactics of the socialist parliamentarian. The latter proceeds from the assumption of the relative stability and the indeterminate duration of the existing rule. He makes it his task to achieve reform by every means, and he is interested in seeing to it that every achievement is suitably assessed by the masses as a merit of parliamentary socialism. (Turati, Longuet and Co.).

In the place of the old adaptation to parliamentarism the new parliamentarism emerges as a tool for the annihilation of parliamentarism in general. The disgusting traditions of the old parliamentary tactics have, however, repelled a few revolutionary elements into the camp of the opponents of parliamentarism on principle (IWW) and of the revolutionary syndicalists (KAPD). The Second Congress therefore adopts the following Theses.”

While Marx, Engels, Lenin and the deliberations of Comintern pronounced the attitude towards the parliament as one to participate and not boycott, unfortunately the parliamentary cretinist revisionist parties capitulated towards it and took the line of Bernstein and Kautsky. They conveniently forgot what Marx and Engels had to say to such leaders who sought to convert the party of proletariat into a party of electioneering machine a disease that has come to inflict all our parliamentary parties.

To such Marx and Engels wrote in 1879:

The programme is not to be relinquished, but merely postponed — for some unspecified period. They accept it — not for themselves in their own lifetime but posthumously, as an heirloom for their children and their children’s children. Meanwhile they devote their “whole strength and energies” to all sorts of trifles, tinkering away at the capitalist social order so that at least something should appear to be done without at the same time alarming the bourgeoisie. Here I can only commend that communist, Miquel, who gives proof of his unshakable belief in the inevitable downfall of capitalist society within the next few hundred years by swindling it for all he’s worth, contributing manfully to the crash of 1873, and thus really doing something towards the collapse of the existing order. (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Circular Letter to August Bebel, Wilhelm  Liebknecht, Wilhelm Bracke and Others)

 Even Lenin was clear about the role that the bourgeoisie parliament could play for the greater cause of proletarian revolution. He was clear that the participation in elections constitutes only a small part of the activity and can never be replacement for the struggle in the streets and factories.

We shall not refuse to go into the Second Duma when (or “if”) it is convened. We shall not refuse to utilize this arena, but we shall not exaggerate its modest importance; on the contrary, guided by the experience already provided by history, we shall entirely subordinate the struggle we wage in the Duma to another form of struggle, namely strikes, uprisings, etc

  Today one finds it difficult to see that at one side there are the complete degenerated parties who are Communist only in name and have morphed into a complete parliamentary outfit, following the lines of Kautskys and Bernsteins , and on other extreme are those prophesying Maoism and Chines Path but actually their path is not of Marxism-Leninism but that of Anarchist and Bakunins.

The need is for following the line of Marxism-Leninism!

Source: The Communist, Number 1, April 2014