The following statement was issued in response to an e-mail from Argentine militant Vicente Balvanera. Cde. Balvanera’s e-mail, written in response to our statement, Argentina: Crisis and Revolutionary Program, is available here. The letter and reply were published in Proletarian Revolution No. 64 (Spring 2002).
Part I, March 16, 2002
The LRP recently issued an initial statement on the Argentine upheaval on our website (see Argentina: Crisis and Revolutionary Program). We now wish to start to answer the polemic against it by Vicente Balvanera, posted on the "Argentina Solidarity” list on March 4. In order not to delay further, we are issuing only a partial response. Other major questions, like the Constituent Assembly slogan, will be taken up later. (For now we simply note that some good criticisms of the use of this slogan in the present situation have already been made on the list.)
A major point of ours was that the Argentine left has generally failed to fight for revolutionary leadership and mass working-class action within the major trade union federations, the two CGT’s and the CTA. We used the Partido Obrero (PO) and Partido de los Trabajadores por el Socialismo (PTS) as prominent examples, even though the problem is more widespread. We pointed to the fact that even where they have been raising the general strike demand, it is not being posed as a challenge to the top union leaders.
In coming to the defense of the PO and PTS, Cde Balvanera never denies our fundamental criticism. Nor does he attempt to prove that we were wrong. Indeed, he calls our statement “a serious, internationalist document written by a serious organization.” He credits us, among other things, with an “excellent” exposition of “the developments in Argentina as living proof of the theory of permanent revolution.” But for all that he is “passionately opposed to the conclusions reached."
Here is a key part of our conclusion:
"The only way to overcome the union bureaucracy is to make the fight within the unions for action and for leadership. The bureaucracy can’t be side-stepped. Tied to the call for a general strike is the need to call for workers’ strike committees to conduct the strike. Such committees will develop as the arena for a struggle for an alternative leadership to displace the bureaucrats as workers see their own power. As well, we point out that they can be the embryo for workers’ soviets or councils, institutions that are unambiguously proletarian. The general strike demand should also be placed on other existing formations and organizations of the masses; besides the unions, this would mean chiefly the organizations and groupings of the unemployed. As well, action committees should be formed in the neighborhoods and non-urban areas…. Middle class layers, especially the lower and middle layers, are needed and welcome to the struggle. But they can’t be the leading force if the struggle it to take a serious anti-capitalist direction."
Rejecting this approach, Balvanera points to the existing popular assemblies and, in particular, the decisions of the recent National Assembly of Piqueteros as the alternative path to what we advocate. He argues that we ignore the gains and value of these struggles. But in fact the opposite is true. It is we who face up to the total picture. These gains are fragile and these struggles remain vulnerable as long as they stay isolated from the unions, which represent the industrial core of the working class, as well as the great preponderance of employed workers in general. In Salta and elsewhere piqueteros are beaten and incarcerated. While unemployment, starvation and desperation among the masses is increasing dramatically, the IMF and the U.S. pound away with impunity, demanding more blood money. Meanwhile the media clamors away about the growing danger of “anarchy’ in the society—an advance line of political justification for more armed repression to come.
What makes all this possible is the shameful alliance of the unions with the Duhalde government, which is getting stronger all the time. This is the political scene exactly because the big battalions of the working class are not yet on the battlefront. In order to dramatically alter the balance of forces, proletarian revolutionaries must utilize the tactic of the mass united front, as Trotsky advocated, as a challenge on the existing leaderships and mass organizations. The demand on the unions to mobilize their full resources for a general strike against the current attacks is also designed to expose the misleadership. As we pointed out, “This form of demand on the bureaucrats was always a critical part of Trotsky’s action proposals where the unions were under non-communist control. Either they will be forced to actually carry it out or they will stand exposed before the ranks if they refuse. If the labor bureaucrats do accede to mass pressure and call such a strike, revolutionary workers must continue to warn that the union leaders will inevitably seek to betray the strike. They must be open about the fact that only a revolutionary leadership will go all the way in the fight for proletarian interests, and therefore it is urgent to build this party leadership."
The campaign for the general strike provides an impetus to the building of the needed opposition within the unions. The union leadership proved its decisive power to control the employed working class when it refused to call a general strike for December 19-20—having just demonstrated on December 13 how powerful even just a one-day passive transport “general” strike could be in threatening the system. That is how the organized working class was kept essentially out of the decisive days. But not only this. Having easily put itself at the head of the second piqueteros assembly in September, the union leadership refused to call a third assembly before or during the decisive December days; thus the militant piqueteros movement, the biggest spark for the whole struggle in the past few years, was far from in command.
Were we fortunate enough to have forces in Argentina, now and in the decades leading up to the present time, we would be concentrating on building a revolutionary opposition within the unions and workplaces; we maintain that this question is central to the Argentine revolution. Cde. Balvanera says “we must base ourselves on the real development of the working class forms of organization, as it really is in its contradictions, movement, development.” Today we would be intervening in the piqueteros’ assemblies for sure; we would be campaigning in these assemblies for our general strike strategy, in addition, of course, to supporting many of the existing demands. (We would also be fighting to win adherence to our strategy in the popular assemblies, where workers and middle class both participate.) But revolutionaries cannot refuse to ground themselves first of all in the unions, the central working-class “form of organization” in Argentina.
Revolutionaries should be trying to convince unemployed workers, as well as those employed workers that come to the piqueteros assemblies, of the need to wage a fight against the union leaders. Simply denouncing them from the outside, and even carrying out exemplary militant local struggles, is not enough. Fighting workers, employed and unemployed, must challenge the unions to mobilize all their resources to defend the working class. Again, we must expose the treachery of the union bureaucrats in practice, right in front of the ranks. This is the only way to win over the masses of workers who are still tied to these leaders and respond only to their calls—that is, the great majority of the working class. It is only through winning over the bulk of workers, not only the minority vanguard of the struggle that is already in militant motion, that the tremendous barrier of the union bureaucracy will be displaced by a new leadership.
The interrelationship between sectarianism and opportunism is demonstrated by the refusal of the PO, PTS and other groups to advocate this strategy among employed and unemployed workers. The sectarian aspect is exactly the refusal to fight for the mass workers’ united front. In this way the left’s rhetorical disdain for the Peronist union misleadership actually becomes in practice disdain for the mass of workers who are currently following them. The left heralds the militant struggles of the unemployed, and exemplary workers’ struggles such as in Neuquén and Córdoba, as well as the popular assemblies that are spreading now. But it is done in a manner that builds illusions that these struggles can grow and unite without directly combating the central union bureaucracy. Instead of calling for a united front of the leadership and ranks of the mass organizations, i.e. the unions, the left pronounces that the ranks must adhere to the Left call for a general strike and break away from their current leaderships in advance. This is not only a fantasy but a variation of the left Stalinist tactic of the “united front from below,” which Trotsky classically fought against in Germany in the early 1930’s. The German Communist Party’s hostility to the Social Democratic leadership, which led the masses of workers, was catastrophically used as an excuse to reject the only tactic that could actually forge the unity of the communist workers with the workers who still mistakenly followed the Social Democrats.
As Trotsky put it at that time, in the section “It is Not A Question of the Workers Who Have Already Left the Social Democracy, But of Those Who Still Remain With it” in the article “For a Workers’ United Front Against Fascism” (Dec 8, 1931):
To say to the Social Democratic workers: “Cast your leaders aside and join our “nonparty’ united front,” means to add just one more hollow phrase to a thousand others. We must understand how to tear the workers away from their leaders in reality. There are and doubtless will be Social Democratic workers who are prepared to fight hand in hand with the Communist workers against the fascists, regardless of the desires or even against the desires of the Social Democratic organizations. With such progressive elements it is obviously necessary to establish the closest possible contact. At the present time, however, they are not great in number. The German worker has been raised in the spirit of organization and of discipline. This has its strong as well as its weak sides. The overwhelming majority of the Social Democratic workers will fight against the fascists, but—for the present at least—only together with their organizations. This stage cannot be skipped. We must help the Social Democratic workers in action—in this new and extraordinary situation—to test the value of their organizations and leaders at this time….
So must the Peronist-led workers in Argentina be helped in action to test the value of their leaders at this time.
When the left abstains from waging a political fight against the union bureaucrats, the practical consequence is opportunism. The domination of the labor bureaucracy and labor aristocracy over the whole workers’ movement is accepted. (Thus in reality the left’s trade-union policy fits together with the more obvious opportunism in its calls for the constituent assembly.)
The argument may be made that it is impossible to fight the Peronist union bureaucracy directly or openly, due to the violent and thuggish control by their apparatus. This is not a question to be taken lightly. But neither can it be said, unfortunately, that such thuggery among union bureaucrats is an attribute of the Argentine labor bureaucracy only. Revolutionary workers around the world face this problem. Flexibility in tactics and proper caution is necessary. But we reject any argument that this bureaucratic apparatus represents an insurmountable barrier to building a revolutionary opposition in the unions.
In order to avoid confronting the weaknesses of the current level of class struggle, Cde. Balvanera must exaggerate the proletarian successes of the current PO strategy. And so, for example, he says that the working class is already leading the popular assemblies “in a real sense"!
True, the popular assemblies are spreading to working-class neighborhoods and militant workers representing existing struggles come to popular assemblies side-by-side with the middle classes. But our point is still valid; these are mixed class formations and workers in the main are not participating in them as conscious working-class representatives. The leading role of the middle class in the popular assemblies poses the growing danger of radical populism rather than conscious working-class politics dominating the movement.
Like Cde Balvanera, we consider teachers, bank clerks, government workers and transport workers to be part of the working class. However, significant middle class forces are at play in the popular assemblies. They cannot be treated as marginal “pressures” or simply identified with tiny petty bourgeois sects, as he appears to do.
On the other hand, only in exceptional situations are working-class delegations based on particular union or workplace struggles—because such struggles are themselves exceptional right now. Given the lack of central struggle by the working class, the working class can not be in the decisive lead of the popular assemblies. Moreover it cannot begin to form its own independent organs of class struggle, workers’ councils. We don’t deny the need for assemblies or councils representing the middle classes. But the popular assemblies, which were kicked off by the cacerolazos, are not turning into workers’ soviets simply because workers are joining them. Cde. Balvanera doesn’t even acknowledge the need for such an independent working-class development.
Of course workers’ soviets do not appear by decree or because the left summons them. They are a result of mass struggles like the general strike we propose. But the principle of fighting for working-class leadership and independence, which Trotsky advocated, is reduced by our critic to “preaching from a mountaintop,” “abstract propaganda” and the like.
Both Lenin and Trotsky emphasized the necessity of deepening the consciousness of the advanced workers, even when the vanguard is trying to influence the masses. To skip over the task of addressing the most advanced is sheer opportunism and will undermine the vital task of constantly expanding the cadres for the revolutionary party, which is key to everything. Propaganda is precisely the Bolshevik means of reaching the most advanced workers with specific ideas as to the best way to mobilize our class as an independent and leading force. To consider that “abstract” is perilous, to say the least.
In contrast, as a substitute for taking on the unions the PO has for some time celebrated the idea of the “fusion” between “pickets and pots"—that is between the popular assemblies and the piqueteros assemblies—in an attempt to have a more working-class call. We put in the forefront the essential need to unite the employed and unemployed workers. Only that unity can give effective leadership to the distraught middle classes.
In the eight-point program passed by the Piqueteros Assembly that Cde. Balvanera touts, there are calls for more roadblocks, cacerolazos and active support for the existing struggles. There is a plan for a big National March. All this is good and necessary but not sufficient. There is no call for a general strike, despite the fact that Cde. Balvanera claims the PO has called “repeatedly” for it!
This is no accident. According to the PTS (a group which Cde. Balvanera also considers “revolutionary,” along with the PO), in its article “PO: a diversionary balance sheet” (La Verdad Obrera, 26/2/02):
The Polo Obrero [Workers’ Pole, the Partido Obrero’s labor front] column in the Plaza de Mayo carried a big banner with the general strike slogan. Furthermore, in that same number of Prensa Obrero [No. 742], Jorge Altamira affirmed that “the new stage will see the eruption of struggle of the factory movement itself, as the CGT of San Lorenzo and the Neuquén Ceramist Union stated very intelligently in the Piquetero Assembly last weekend. It may be that in new and explosive conditions the way to the general strike will be opened."
But the Polo Obrero didn’t open its mouth in the deliberations about this “intelligent statement,” reducing its intervention to upholding the unity of “pickets and pots” and permitting the point of the general strike to be absent from the resolutions presented by Nestor Pitrola to be voted on. That amounts to a backward step in relation to the resolutions of the Second Piqueteros Assembly in La Matanza (of last September)….
The PTS goes on to point out that the PO was capitulating to the Communist Party current in the Assembly, which opposes the general strike slogan.
The PTS notes that there are “eight thousand witnesses” to these events. Cde. Balvanera says we ignore the important developments of the assembly. In fact we wrote our document before it met, even though it appeared on our website afterward. And the events of the Assembly prove our point! Not only is the PO not fighting for the general strike within the unions; it is not fighting for it in a real way among the unemployed either.
An attendance of eight thousand is remarkably important. But the fact is that on February 16 and 17 the PO and the PTS, as well as assorted smaller groups, still showed that they are not a substitute for present power of the labor bureaucracy—when it comes to representing forces which can summon the employed working class. It is excellent and necessary that the piqueteros have been the vanguard in advancing the need for unity of the employed and unemployed. It is criminal what the union bureaucrats are doing. But does the piqueteros assembly, even with the most vigorous and dedicated support of all the left, have the clout to summon the working class to its assemblies, much less to call out the working class on an indefinite general strike? No, the demand must be made on the central union federations to do so.
One possible tactic in this direction would have been for the forces of the Assembly to march on CGT headquarters to demand a general strike. There could have been mass leafleting and other appeals to employed workers to fight for a general strike to repudiate the debt, for secure jobs for all and so forth. Even the forthcoming National March could have been posed as a march to build for a general strike.
The support of local militant struggles and the piqueteros movement demonstrate that events have broken away from national CGT control, to some degree. But the notion that the bulk of the working class will be won to the left and to the militant piqueteros through this process is false. To defend the current gains, revolutionaries must transcend the current level of consciousness and struggle, not just cheerlead what is going on. The employed workers, and the unemployed workers as well, have not yet in their majority broken with Peronism. The fight can only be won by thoroughly exposing and therefore defeating their present “working-class” representatives, the treacherous union bureaucrats, once and for all.
Part II, March 25, 2002
We also want to open a deeper discussion of Marxist method, because this will get to the heart of our differences with Cde. Balvanera and the Partido Obrero (PO). The disputes over slogans like the constituent assembly are important exactly because they reflect a root difference between us in how we approach the working class, as we shall see.
But first we have to go back a bit. We previously focused on the need for united action of employed and unemployed workers. We argued that a broad and powerful defense is lacking against the attacks that the masses are increasingly suffering under Duhalde. We argued for the central value of the general strike demand in this situation.
In fact, now the piqueteros have been taking more blows; the prolonged and extensive struggle in North Salta has been defeated by a rotten deal, enforced by misleadership within the movement as well as repressive attacks against some of the more militant and independent minded combatants. (See for example the report in the PO’s Prensa Obrero, No. 746.) Other militant struggles, like the prolonged takeover of the Zanon ceramics factory in Neuquén, have also been inspiring; but there too there is the danger of a reversal due to its isolation from the larger forces of the working class. Unionized workers are by and large enduring worsening conditions and wages, and the threat of unemployment, to say the least. The union ranks, along with the bulk of the working class, are demobilized. In sum, the majority of the working class now see no way out of the current impasse.
The middle class has been on the move but has not been able to pose its own answer to the crisis. And now the popular assemblies are beginning to flounder. (We say this based on assessments by both the PO and the Partido de los Trabjadores por el Socialismo, PTS, after the first National Assembly of Popular Assemblies on March 17.) It was just on March 4 that Cde. Balvanera wrote to us that “the PO and PTS have put a maximum of resources into guaranteeing that they grow strong and extend, and coordinate and take on more and more revolutionary tasks.” This was a hostile rebuttal to our initial analysis of February; we had said that the popular assemblies were in fact limited middle-class dominated entities that would fail as a substitute for the needed massive independent proletarian mobilization, which must be launched by the existing mass organizations, chiefly the unions.
Certainly there are ebbs and flows in the class struggle. But popular assemblies, originally driven by the cacerolazos which played their role in the December uprising, could not just continue to grow and grow, simply because of left exhortation. Nor will they be transformed into working-class bodies. Balvanera was already claiming they were, and the PTS has advocated such a transformation as its goal. (See the March 15 issue of La Verdad Obrera, No. 98.) As well, we said that the active layers of the working class, like the unemployed who block the highways and the militants who occupy particular factories, cannot hold out indefinitely on their own. Nor can they look to the popular assemblies for basic sustenance and conclusive political answers.
We wrote in our first document: “A mass action strategy designed to address the needs of the immediate situation, hallmarked by key slogans and demands, is also absolutely critical.” Cde. Balvanera responded by saying, “It is in this context that the call for a sovereign Constituent Assembly must be understood, which the PO has repeatedly insisted can only come about as part of a continuous general strike."
Thus, in response to our advocacy of the general strike, Balvanera basically said: we are already doing it! In fact, yes, the words general strike could be found in print in Prensa Obrero (the PO’s press), on and off in the period leading to the present. But note that even where the PO has been calling for a general strike, as in Balvanera’s proud citation above, it is using this call for mass action as a mean for achieving the goal of the constituent assembly! It is using the working class to achieve a bourgeois electoralist solution.
As Trotsky pointed out long ago, a general strike poses the question of which class should have state power. Revolutionaries are therefore obligated to give a proletarian revolutionary answer.
As well, Balvanera was really making a lawyerly point rather than a truly complete one. For the general strike was not being put forward as a demand on the central union leaders, which is the only real way for it to occur. And in fact the PO has not insistently campaigned for a general strike in the period under discussion. But why should they? Because for them it is a rather subordinate question, subordinate not to bigger revolutionary strategic questions but to the constituent assembly. (The reason we suggested that interested readers review their website for this whole past period is that this is the best way of showing what their main campaigns have been. A few quotes can not prove that reality, even though we cite them.)
We note that now, at the current impasse, the PO has heightened its call for a general strike—"against a coup attempt.” ( PO 746 .) How long they will stick with it we have no idea. But we know that such a working-class mobilization is still subordinate, for them. Their practical emphasis is on continuous calls for more popular assemblies, cacerolazos and marches… all toward the overall goal of a constituent assembly.
The PO’s leaflet for the March 24 march ( reproduced in PO 746, Out with Duhalde and the IMF) states:
The Workers Party calls on everyone to mobilize to repudiate the policy of the IMF and Duhalde’s government, who wish, through a state of siege and repression, to overcome the dead end in which capitalism and its state find themselves. It calls on everyone to mobilize to demand ’Down with Them All’, to do away with Duhalde’s bankrupt government so that it may be replaced by a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly in the nation, the provinces and the municipalities.
It is noteworthy that the constituent assembly was not one of the slogans passed by the “National Assembly of Workers,” the Third National Piqueteros’ Assembly of February 16-17. Then, at the First National Assembly of Popular Assemblies convened on March 17, the majority of attendees voted for the following wording: “a government of the Popular Assemblies, the workers and the picketers, which must convene a Sovereign Constituent Assembly."
Regarding the motion passed, the PO commented that “This posing of the Popular Assemblies and the picketers’ movement as an alternative for power, is still abstract. For the Assemblies to take power they must be strengthened enormously.” ( Balance Sheet: The National Assembly of Popular Assemblies, PO 746..) In reality, the PO has most consistently called for the constituent assembly itself to take power, which has caused consternation for those on this list who prefer that the popular assemblies take the power. But neither of these “alternatives” represent workers’ revolution or the path to it.
We still believe that a central campaign for an indefinite—that is, a real—general strike is needed. It fits the actual objective need of class unity in action in Argentina right now. Because it is a qualitative leap of action that is needed, not just a small step beyond what has already occurred. The working class has to show decisive strength, an ability to score victories against the ruling class, in order prove—even to itself—that it can represent an alternative. The initial victories will have to be defensive in nature, in line with the current conjuncture and the escalating attacks. But the very fact of concerted action by the entire class will change the political landscape and bring even more dramatic confidence to the whole class than was accomplished by and for certain layers in December.
Cde. Balvanera, in contrast, champions the PO’s overall campaign for the constituent assembly. Time and again one finds in their press formulations that say that the mobilization of the masses should culminate in the constituent assembly. In the face of working-class setbacks and an admitted “reflux” in the popular assembly movement (the PO’s word), in the face of an aggressively threatening plan on the part of imperialism and the Argentinean regime, the PO’s answer is… still, overall, the Constituent Assembly. This is a case of a stopped clock that is not even right twice a day!
There is nothing wrong in having a consistent policy, a framing demand, over a whole period of time. There is nothing wrong with consistently propagandizing for a major tactic as long as it continues to fit the fundamental needs of the situation. (One can even use the word “strategy” as long as one makes clear that it is a subordinate part of the overall revolutionary strategy.) But we believe that the constituent assembly slogan in Argentina was as wrong last year (and the year before that) as it is now. Even then it was foreseeable that the slogan would not meet the objective needs of the working class in Argentinean conditions. Nor would it meet the direction of struggle.
Of course, the constituent assembly slogan is part of the revolutionary arsenal. For example, we favored this demand in Indonesia in 1998, in addition to the general strike demand—because there was the need for the proletariat there to gain the adherence of the peasantry and middle classes in a fight against dictatorship. (See Indonesia’s Revolutionary Crisis in Proletarian Revolution No. 57.) It is not that the democratic questions have been all answered in Argentina; that would be impossible, given the domination of imperialism, to be sure. But the fact is that the dominant democratic questions specific to the material experience of the peasantry, national minorities or masses suffering under a dictatorship are simply not at work in Argentina today. The Argentine working class itself is not consumed by the quest for democracy as a separate stage in its own struggle.
In cases where the constituent assembly demand would be necessary, revolutionaries go through the struggle with the masses, saying all along that the experience would prove the need for workers’ revolution. It would be necessary in advance to do everything possible to strengthen the independent organizations and fighting spirit and consciousness of the proletariat. It would be absolutely necessary to raise the need for arming the working class, as we do in conjunction with the campaign for the general strike. But the PO does none of this. While authentic revolutionaries would unite with the masses in a demand for the constituent assembly, where it is applicable, they would not hold back from saying that the answer was proletarian revolution, not the constituent assembly. They would in fact do and say everything possible in order to prevent the constituent assembly from becoming a separate stage of bourgeois democracy. They would warn in advance that a separate bourgeois democratic stage would be a disaster.
As Trotsky wrote of the Russian revolution:
The Russian peasant, only just awakened by the revolution to political life, found himself face to face with half a dozen parties, each of which apparently had made up its mind to confuse his mind. The Constituent Assembly placed itself across the path of the revolutionary movement and was swept aside….
The watchword, ’All power to the Soviets,’ was put forward by our Party at the very beginning of the revolution – i.e., long before, not merely the decree as to the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly but the decree as to its convocation. True, we did not set up the Soviets in opposition to the future Constituent Assembly, the summoning of which was constantly postponed by the Government of Kerensky, and consequently became more and more problematical. But in any case, we did not consider the Constituent Assembly, after the manner of the democrats, as the future master of the Russian land, who would come and settle everything. We explained to the masses that the Soviets, the revolutionary organizations of the laboring masses themselves, can and must become the true masters.(Terrorism and Communism, 1961 ed., pp. 43-45.)
Are the working-class masses in Argentina today analogous to the Russian peasants, or to the Chinese, or to the Spanish struggle of the 1930’s? Yes, the masses have a hatred of the military, of repression and of imperialist national oppression. And these are all democratic questions. But not purely so in reality, according to the theory of permanent revolution. And, as an advance over the situations in Russia, China and Spain, they are not purely democratic questions in the consciousness and activity of the working people either. The masses are also dominated by the quest for economic survival, which is seen already as inextricably linked to any struggle against imperialism. That is why we proposed a general strike to repudiate the debt, to link the economic struggle with the struggle against imperialism that is already so obviously needed.
The problem is that even the vanguard doesn’t yet believe it is necessary or possible to make the socialist revolution as the solution; that is, they still accept capitalism in general even though many of their actions and demands are objectively against capitalism. This is mixed consciousness but not bourgeois democratic consciousness as such. In particular, the working masses are still tied to Peronism, hardly the ideal “democratic” answer but the one that at least historically seemed to deliver the most. It is sections of the left middle class that in the past were more seduced by liberal democratic promises; we suspect the PO is still catering to them.
Balvanera argues that “the illusions in bourgeois democracy are very high in Argentina, including important sectors of the working class. Therein the importance of the mistrust of political parties, the widespread conviction that at the bottom of it all is a problem of ’corruption,’ a theme so readily managed by the social democrats and reformists.” Certainly the middle class and working class are interpenetrated, but he can not even bring himself to state that the mass of the working class is caught up in bourgeois democratic demands, much less a constituent assembly.
If Cde. Balvanera wants to advocate a constituent assembly now, it is incumbent upon him to explain how it fits the objective situation, particularly the needs of the working class, beyond just explaining that the masses have illusions in the bourgeois-democratic form of capitalism. Soviets were a “standing demand” of the Bolsheviks, as the quote above from Trotsky pointed out. But “All Power to the Soviets” was withdrawn for a period in summer of 1917, and the Bolsheviks concentrated on factory committees as a revolutionary instrument. The constituent assembly is hardly a standing demand of revolutionaries on the same level as soviets (!), exactly because it is not a proletarian form of democracy but a bourgeois one. Those who argue for it have to show not only that the general contours of the situation in Argentina are conducive to it but also why is it being specifically put forward in the current conjuncture.
We have argued above why we feel that the general strike is the appropriate weapon for the working class at this conjuncture, and was for the period leading up to it. But we do not hide the fact that as internationalist revolutionaries our interests go beyond the immediate aims for which such a strike may be launched. Above all, we emphasize the question of class consciousness, which is decisive for the fate of the Argentinean struggle, and in fact all of our struggles. In Argentina today, a general strike could not only forge the desperately needed working-class unity but in so doing could go along way toward resolving the gulf between the objective strength of the working class and its subjective feelings of weakness. In agitation, dialogue with the masses, the revolutionary proposal for the general strike may only be understood in terms of its immediate tactical advantages as the best way to unite the struggles already occurring and draw in the workers not yet involved. But at the same time in our dialogue with the vanguard workers, the more politically advanced, we openly stress the role of the general strike in raising class consciousness. That is the function of Bolshevik propaganda.
There is no question that qualitative gains were made in terms of the subjective element through the piqueteros’ struggles, the militant workers’ struggles, and particularly the battles of December 19-20 which took down the De la Rúa regime. We considered these events decisive in characterizing the Argentinean political situation as pre-revolutionary. The mass struggle showed what it could do and that was the qualitative leap forward. But it also showed what it could not yet do. We considered false the PO’s characterization that the Argentine struggle had entered a “revolutionary” period.
The fact that the PO called the situation “revolutionary” makes it even more absurd to have the constituent assembly as the crowning demand. Balvanera misreads what took place in order to justify this: “the uprising which overthrew De la Rúa was sparked out of demands democratic in character before all other considerations! It was the Martial Law, the State of Siege, which broke the camel’s back.” At another point in his post, he raises the fight for jobs for all as being at the “heart” of the uprisings in North Salta, whose spreading all over Argentina is at the heart of the piquetero movement.” (Why he would wish to counterpose a fight for jobs for all to the fight against the debt, rather than link the two the way we did, he doesn’t say.) In any case, in fact the piqueteros’ struggle over the past years was the spark for the entire movement against the economic crisis, which in turn was engendered by a growingly vicious imperialism. Balvanera “forgets” to mention that on the decisive days of December 19 and 20, the most oppressed layers of the masses were not only demonstrating against the state of siege—but were also looting the supermarkets because of the “democratic” demand that they did not wish to starve.
The December events represented nothing less than the culmination of struggles against the crisis—mass unemployment, poverty and hunger, the freeze on bank holdings. This was a struggle on the rise; it was spreading, and therefore it moved forward rather than backward in response to De la Rúa’s desperate state of siege attempt. The extremely popular nature of the resistance to his rule, as well as divisions within the bourgeoisie itself, doomed the state of siege to failure at that time. But to cast those events “above all” as a struggle for bourgeois democracy is a great disservice to what took place and to the consciousness of the fighting layers.
Lenin clearly defined a revolutionary situation as one in which the system had come to such a political crisis, through the clash of the classes as well as the objective economic destruction, that neither class could go on as it had been doing. It was the fact that the working class did not have its own power alternative, that the mass of the working class and its existing organizations, the unions, was not even involved in the clash, that made the pre-revolutionary situation so fragile and tenuous in the concrete.
The absence has become even more troublesome now. The longer the large battalions of the working class continue to be kept on the sidelines, that its rotten bureaucratic misleadership is allowed to wheel and deal with the government, the greater the tendency for the working-class layers that have been so valiant in the struggle to become exhausted or demoralized. The Argentinean bourgeoisie, in conjunction with U.S. imperialism, has been given more time to concoct a more useful solution. It aims to break off middle-class support from the working class and over time to win support for increased repression as well. The more weeks and months that the undefined slogan “Down with Them All” continues to be the rallying call, celebrated uncritically by the PO, the PTS and the bulk of the left—without a sharp class alternative even suggested—the more hollow it becomes. And because there is no such thing as a municipality, province or nation with no politicians, it can only strengthen the middle-class populist influence that the PO already acknowledged is at work. Even worse, it prepares the ground for the grander bourgeois Bonapartist alternative that is already in the wings.
When the working class sees it own power in unity, through mass actions like the kind of general strike we advocated, more workers see the possibility of a proletarian revolutionary alternative as real. We, like Trotsky, have pointed out that the general strike does pose the question of power because it is so clearly an act of major class against major class. It doesn’t resolve the question in itself, but it goes a long way to making an answer possible. The self-activity of the working class, with the intervention of revolutionary workers, would represent a tremendous leap in class consciousness beyond what was accomplished in December. It could actually bring the working class into a real revolutionary period.
The constituent assembly that the PO proposes doesn’t have the power to enact the laundry list of transitional demands that they often attach to it. It is the active general strike, that is, the action of the working class against the capitalist class, which has the power to shut down production and capitalist functioning. The mass strike could therefore actually win, at least in part, demands that the PO and other left groups have been advocating and that they report are growing in popularity—repudiation of the debt and the IMF, jobs for all, etc. (In actuality there have been left obfuscations on the debt question as well, but we must leave that aside for now.)
We not only put forward the most overall pertinent demands for the class but a battle plan, a way forward to fight for these demands. Our method in putting forward these transitional demands and the battle plan is to explain openly that we believe workers’ revolution and a workers’ state are necessary to secure these demands fully and permanently. But we also propose a united front so that we can fight side by side, communist workers with non-communist workers, to prove whether these demands can be won under capitalism or not. We believe this is the most effective way to dispel illusions in capitalism.
The PO is stuck on the constituent assembly call not because the objective situation demands it but because they do not actually see the question of working-class consciousness and self-activity as key. They persistently use the demand, without even warning the masses that if such an assembly were to convene, the bourgeois parties will be in there, trying to win off parts of the middle class and confuse the workers too. They don’t warn that such a bourgeois body is fraught with dangers. They don’t tell the full truth of what the constituent assembly is, that workers must at least prepare their own party to counter the bourgeois and radical middle-class parties that will be there. In short they are acting to build up illusions in the constituent assembly, not dispel the existing illusions.
Cde. Balvanera insists that the PO’s use of the constituent assembly slogan rests on a Trotskyist application of the Transitional Program. But the heart of the Transitional Program is not democratic demands; it is that it puts forward political, social and economic demands that are a bridge to socialism, that outline how a workers’ state would function. It does so through demands that are understandable under capitalism (like the sliding scale of hours, escalating scale of wages and nationalization of failing industries) and can be fought for now. But it was never advocated as a laundry list of demands to be plopped down on leaflets or recited at meetings without arguing for its revolutionary content and intervening as proletarian revolutionaries. As Trotsky explained, the Transitional Program substituted for the minimal reformist program, not for the revolutionary program. In the way the PO uses it, not only the constituent assembly but the other demands are a decorative disguise to conceal the necessity of revolution.
Centrism by its nature vacillates, caught between the pulls of advanced workers and petty bourgeois fear of workers’ revolution. The fact that the PO uses the Transitional Program, and particularly the Constituent Assembly demand, in the way it does, is one manifestation of its centrist nature.
Comrade Balvanera and his allies don’t like our sharp polemics; in particular they don’t like that we label the PO, the PTS and other groups as centrist. The Argentine Solidarity list got flooded with charges that the LRP is “arrogant” and “ultra-left.” And there were echoes of Balvanera’s complaint: “Aren’t we tired yet of the method you [the LRP] put forward, abstract and propagandistic to the core, invalidating all that exists as real leadership in the revolutionary struggle itself?"
Our “arrogance” stands in the tradition of both Lenin and Trotsky, who always believed in sharp polemics and in telling the truth to the working class as they saw it. We hold no loyalty to the more humble “Trotskyism” that bows down in favor of bourgeois democracy and betrays the centrality and independence of the working class. Rather we insist on confrontation with pseudo-Marxist rhetoric and practice. Centrism is not an Argentinean or an American problem but an international phenomenon. The pseudo-Trotskyist call for a constituent assembly to take power in Argentina today is no accident or inexplicable fetish, any more than are the capitulations of like minded “Trotskyists” in the U.S. to the Democratic Party and labor bureaucracy.
The big dividing line separating revolutionaries from centrists everywhere is the class question. The whole notion of whether or not working-class consciousness is key to the revolution has been answered in two clashing ways for a long time among those that call themselves Trotskyist. This problem originated with the counterrevolutionary Stalinist defeat of the Russian revolution and the postwar proletarian struggles. The postwar “Trotskyists” came to accept that Stalinism had a revolutionary capacity; this reflected their altered class position. By believing that petty-bourgeois Stalinists could create “workers’ states,” however deformed, little was left for the working class itself to do but the superstructural and democratic tasks of a follow-up political revolution. (See the article Was Trotsky a Pabloite? .) Why would the question of working-class consciousness and an independent working-class party be so important if other class forces could do the main job? Permanent revolution is stood on its head; instead of the workers completing the democratic tasks through proletarian revolution, the workers are just needed to be vigilant about the democratic tasks.
It is no accident, likewise, that our insistence on propaganda for the revolutionary party and proletarian independence is disparaged as “abstract.” Our insistence on fighting against the stream is called “a class destructive approach” which must be “abandoned in a hurry.” That is Balvanera’s conclusion! This in fact represents the denigration of the Leninist party’s prioritizing the need to constantly develop advanced consciousness among the cadres, even when doing mass work. Propaganda is, as Lenin said over and again, the vital means by which the party communicates its complex ideas to the growing vanguard, the advanced workers. Skipping over the heads of the advanced layers by stressing only agitation (singular or simple proposals directed toward immediate action by the mass of workers) always results in opportunism.
For us, the vanguard party is decisive. It represents the advanced consciousness of the proletariat itself. Propaganda, “cadre education,” is the key to building the party and therefore the key to the revolution itself.
Simply to defend the necessity of revolution is a major step forward when “Trotskyists” like the PO do their best to hide the fact from workers. But we have advocated much more. We have said that the entire working class has to learn through struggle the need to fight united and independent against capitalist imperialism. Unlike the “revolutionaries” who wish to adopt a less “arrogant” world view, we instead want to aid the advancing revolutionary-minded workers.