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At the Limits of the “Bourgeois Restoration”

On the Relevance of the Legacy of Leon Trotsky and the Fourth International (first published in Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) No. 27, March 2011.)

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The second phase of the global economic crisis now centered in Europe, with its “currency wars” and multimillion-dollar bailouts that seem increasingly incapable of stemming the crisis, demonstrates the limits of capitalism’s ability to guarantee even its own reproduction as a system. At the same time, the historic decline of U.S. imperialism has only deepened, and while no power has yet emerged with the ability to replace it, it is forced to deal with the growing geopolitical tensions that the crisis has created.

We are already seeing the first consequences of the global crisis on the terrain of the class struggle. After Greece, the powerful French working class has entered the stage, flexing its muscles and undertaking a first test of strength, which in spite of parliamentary approval for retirement reforms, has opened up a new phase in France with pre-revolutionary characteristics. Meanwhile, attempts to offload the crisis onto workers open up the possibility for new confrontations in a number of European nations. As we finish writing this article, the process that began with the uprising in Tunisia has extended throughout Northern Africa and other Arab countries, and today finds its highest expression in the revolutionary process unleashed in Egypt.

These first battles take place after years of a process of social recomposition within the working class, as well as its increased focus on economic demands. However, this recomposition is still part of an unprecedented situation of political backwardness within the workers’ movement. This acute crisis of subjectivity of the proletariat is the fruit of the neoliberal offensive, capitalist restoration in the former bureaucratized workers’ states and the demoralization that flowed from the identification of Stalinism as “real socialism.” 

This contradiction between the reactualization of the objective prerequisites for proletarian revolution and the crisis of subjectivity affecting the workers’ movement is the starting point for a deeper understanding of the tasks of revolutionaries today. If the relevance of Marxism is proven by the persistence of the conditions that gave rise to it, and within that, of classical twentieth century Marxism by the continuing conditions within the imperialist epoch of capitalist decline; then within this tradition the legacy of Trotsky, the founder of the Left Opposition and the Fourth International, has an invaluable significance. This is the only starting point for understanding the contradictions that we live under today (between the objective and subjective conditions), for unraveling their causes and consequences and for considering the tasks of revolutionaries in a historic situation where the crisis is beginning to create new conditions for moving towards the reconstruction of revolutionary Marxism, and as it can be no other way, indissolubly linked to the development of the great events of the class struggle.

Part I: The Period of Bourgeois Restoration

The 20th century gave birth to the imperialist epoch, with the first part of the century moving through two world wars, the victory of the Russian Revolution, the crisis of the 1930s and the rise of fascism. The second part of the 20th century arose with the postwar period and was marked by the ‘Order of Yalta’, which we will refer to further on. The year 1989 is symbolic as it crowns the beginning of the third stage of the epoch of crises, wars and revolutions, one whose distinguishing feature can be summed up in two words: bourgeois restoration. Today, the global crisis and the profound historical consequences which arise from it place us at the dawn of a fourth stage characterized by the reactualization of the classical conditions of this epoch. But history does not repeat itself; understanding the contradictions accumulated during the “bourgeois restoration” represent the new starting point for delineating the characteristics of the theater of operations for the class battles in the coming years.

Absolutist Restoration and “Bourgeois Restoration” 

Comparisons between the bourgeois revolution and the proletarian revolution have always served as a point of reference for classical Marxists. It was no coincidence that, as far back as 1926, many Bolsheviks looked to the process of bourgeois revolution in France in 1789 to explain the new phenomenon of the bureaucratization of history’s first workers’ state. As this revolution had come full circle, its different stages were able to shed light on the process in the USSR. If the discussion of Lenin’s “Jacobinism” filled pages of debate in the early twentieth century, discussion about “Thermidor” was at the center of the polemic around Stalinism from the moment it first arose. The analogy referred to the coup of 1794 and the adoption of the Constitution of 1795. The polemics of 1926 identified “Thermidor” with the counterrevolution itself, a comparison made by the “Democratic Centralist” group which Trotsky polemicized against. Nevertheless, nine years later Trotsky returned to this debate to make it clear that “Thermidor” in the French Revolution had not represented the counterrevolution but, more precisely, “reaction on the basis of the victorious revolution.” Trotsky then took up this historical analogy and made it his own. 

One can continue this analogy, in terms of process, with the Bourbon restoration in 1814 which established a neo-absolutism and the confirmation of the Holy Alliance; for the counterrevolution which the imperialists unleashed on the world after the revolutionary upsurge that occurred between 1968 and 1981, and defeated with a combination of physical defeats and diversions, can also be called a “bourgeois restoration”. 

This reactionary advance, which bore the name “neoliberalism,” was first seen in the imperialist nations with the arrival of the Reagan administration in the United States and Thatcher in Britain, and occurred through the implementation of a series of economic, social, and political “counter-reforms” under the banner of the free market, that sought to reverse the gains obtained by the workers’ movement during the postwar boom (social security, public services, living and working conditions) in order to guarantee capitalist profits. This was later extended to the semi-colonial countries through the so-called “Washington Consensus,” and saw its expression in the former bureaucratized workers’ states through the restoration of capitalism, which had different consequences in the USSR than it did in China.

The whole process was a veritable counter-revolution/restoration which changed the relationship of forces in favor of imperialism, and was carried out in an essentially peaceful manner through the extension of liberal democracy across broad areas of the globe. The extension of this democracy coincided with its mutation from that found in imperialist countries during the 20th century, one which was based on the plunder of colonies and semi-colonies. While expanded geographically, it was a degraded democracy, one based fundamentally on the urban middle classes and some privileged sectors of the working class (especially in the advanced economies), on those who had the door of expanded consumption opened to them. The deideologization of political discourse, through a combination of the glorification of the individual and their realization through consumption (“consumerism”) was the basis of this “new pact,” one which was far more elitist than that of the postwar period, and which coexisted with the increasing exploitation and social degradation of the majority of the working class, together with high unemployment, and the exponential growth of poverty, of slums and favelas, that all spread throughout the world. For these sectors, “clientelism” and criminalization became the political basis of neoliberalism.

This “new order” was imposed upon the basis of the defeat of the previous rise in class struggle, and in many cases directly on the basis of dictatorships—of what we call “post-counterrevolutionary democracies”;1Lif, Laura and Chingo, Juan, “Transitions to democracy,” Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) 16, July 2000 . but above all it was based on the unprecedented fracturing and division of the working class. To the age-old divisions imposed by capital between the working class in imperialist countries and the semi-colonies, others were added; the proliferation of the permanently unemployed, the emergence of “second-class” workers (short-term contracts, workers employed by subcontracting firms, workers with no legal contract, “illegal” immigrants, and combinations of these) that make up almost half the world’s working class,2According to the ILO, at the end of 2009, some 45.6% of the world’s workers live in poverty with less than 2 dollars a day. About half of the world’s workers have a “vulnerable employment.” International Labour Organization, “Global Employment Trends,” January 2010. all in contrast to the unionized, “legal” sector of the working class with wages and working conditions that are well above the average.

The Restoration Within the Restoration 

The capitalist restoration which took place in the former bureaucratized workers’ states was at the very center of this scenario. Along with the neoliberal offensive against the gains of the working class obtained during the postwar boom, the Reagan administration redoubled its confrontation with the USSR as a new strategic objective after defeat in Vietnam. This aggressive policy, with the arms race as a principal method, accelerated the process of economic decline and disorganization that marked Gorbachev’s perestroika, which had terrible consequences for the lives of the masses. In this context, the mobilizations of 1989-91 that led to the collapse of the Stalinist regimes had a very low level of political subjectivity as a result of the previous defeats of the processes of political revolution.3Cinatti, Claudia, “La actualidad del análisis de Trotsky frente a las nuevas (y viejas) controversias sobre la transición al socialismo” (The relevance of Trotsky’s analysis to new (and old) controversies on the transition to socialism), in Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) No. 22, Buenos Aires, November 2005. In this manner, they were easily hegemonized by pro-capitalist leaderships, which resulted in the restoration of capitalism in the USSR, the states of Eastern Europe, and the key capitalist reunification of Germany.4These processes against the Stalinist regimes, with mass mobilizations which were in the majority of cases peaceful, except in Romania which ended with thousands of dead and the execution of Ceausescu, arose as opposition to the attacks against the living conditions of the masses and the plans of the IMF implemented by the bureaucracy, but in the absence of a revolutionary leadership they ended up being led by restorationist sectors, which meant that their result was, at the hands of the capitalist restoration, new suffering for the masses and a generalized decline of their living conditions.

The results obtained by imperialism far exceeded their original objectives. In this way, the imperialist reaction that began in the early 1980s transformed into a counterrevolution. This element would leave its imprint on this whole stage of “bourgeois restoration.” To return to our comparison with absolutist Restoration, the distinctive trait of “bourgeois restoration” is determined by the fact that the relationship between capitalism and socialism is fundamentally different from that between feudalism and capitalism. Socialism, as a mode of production, has no historical basis outside of the winning of political power by the working class, while capitalist relations are, so to speak, reproduced “automatically” (until the explosion of the crises inherent within it).

Trotsky emphasized this element in his comparison to bourgeois “Thermidor” when he wrote: “Napoleon’s downfall did not, of course, leave untouched the relations between the classes; but in its essence the social pyramid of France retained its bourgeois character. The inevitable collapse of Stalinist Bonapartism would immediately call into question the character of the USSR as a workers’ state. A socialist economy cannot be constructed without a socialist power. The fate of the USSR as a socialist state depends upon that political regime that will arise to replace Stalinist Bonapartism.”5Trotsky, Leon, “The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism” (February 1, 1935).

In this same sense, while the Bourbon restoration rapidly reconfigured the map of Europe and reinstated new versions of absolutism, in socio-economic terms it did not signify a return to feudalism; capitalist relations continued to develop under the new regimes, and the illusion of a “return to the past” was no more than that, an illusion. As opposed to this, “capitalist restoration” implied, not only the fall of the bureaucracy and its dictatorship “over the proletariat”; it also means, as is clearly demonstrated by the “orderly” process by which the bureaucracy of the Chinese CP have become capitalists, the destruction of the conquests that remained from the revolution in the bureaucratized workers’ states (such as the sectors of the economy outside of the laws of capital and new property relations in the means of production). In most cases, this has meant the imposition of IMF austerity measures, the reversal of social rights and a social regression that can be seen, for example in the case of the former USSR, in an abrupt fall in the population’s life expectancy. 

The Consequences of the Restoration: More Trotsky and Less Smith 

A fundamental element in understanding this restoration is the different ways that capitalist restoration has evolved in the West and Russia compared to the East, and in particular to China. If restoration for Russia, which came to be the world’s second superpower, has meant the dismantling of its major industry and its transformation into a country highly dependent on oil and gas exports; for China, from the moment that Deng Xiaoping’s reforms began in 1979 when it had a rural population of over 80%, this has meant a level of unprecedented industrial development which has made it, in GDP terms, the second largest economy in the world today.

This dizzying rise has led, for example, to Giovanni Arrighi to argue that current developments in China will make “the realization of Smith’s vision of a world-market society based on greater equality among the world’s civilizations more likely than it ever was in the almost two and a half centuries since the publication of The Wealth of Nations.”6Arrighi, Giovanni, Adam Smith in Peking: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century, London, Verso, 2007. 

However, if we compare China with neighboring countries such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, the reality appears very different. As Perry Anderson notes, despite the extensive high growth cycle in China that in ten years has already surpassed that enjoyed by its neighbors at any point since the Second World War, China’s dependence on exports since the 1990s has been overwhelmingly greater, consumption as a proportion of GDP has been much lower, dependence on foreign capital much greater, the gap in income (and investment) between city and country much larger, and the weight of the state sector in the economy continues to be much higher.7Anderson, Perry, “Two Revolutions,” New Left Review 61, Jan/Feb 2010 . Another factor that Anderson passes over is that China, despite having some of the largest companies in the world, such as oil company Sinopec, the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and the state energy company State Grid, does not have any multinationals on the level of a Toyota, a Honda or Hitachi, of which Japan has dozens, or even a Samsung or Hyundai like South Korea, or a Hon Hai Precision Industry like Taiwan.

What is certain is that the reality of China is far from supporting the thesis of Arrighi. Its GDP per capita is only just ahead of that of Congo and Angola, while 135 million people live on less than one U.S. dollar a day and 400 million living on less than two. Meanwhile, it suffers from rapidly rising environmental destruction and high energy wastage compared to international standards, it maintains a “commodification” of manufacturing which is the consequence of the pressures of the “export model,” has a relative technological backwardness compared to that of imperialist powers, and sees a persistent domination by the imperialist enterprises of the Chinese market for technology products.8Chingo, Juan, “Mitos y realidad de la China actual” (Myths and Reality of Modern-Day China), in Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) No. 21, August 2004. 

It is not Adam Smith’s hypothesis of greater equality between nations that allows us to explain this, but the analysis of Trotsky, with whom we can say what has occurred here is a spectacular process of uneven and combined development, which has exacerbated the contradictions between the countryside and the city in a country that has 23 percent of the world’s population and only 6 percent of its arable land. Thriving cities of millions of people and modern buildings, with great concentrations of workers that have no defined length of the work day (up to 16 and 18 hours and even longer) coexist with a countryside that has very low productivity, and where the largest part of the population survives thanks to remittances sent from their children in the cities.9These represented some 80% of peasants’ income; Poch-de-Feliu, Rafael, La actualidad de China. Un mundo en crisis, una sociedad en gestación (China Today: A World in Crisis, a Society in Gestation), Barcelona, Ediciones Crítica, 2009.

It is in this context that March and May 2002 saw the largest workers’ mobilizations in China since Tiananmen: in three cities in Dongbei (Liaoyang, Daqing and Fushun) tens of thousands of workers who were either owed wages, retrenched or retired, and who worked in the metal industry, the mines and the furnaces, staged protests and demonstrations for several weeks.10Poch-de-Feliu, op. cit. However, what is new here is that in recent years, in a situation where independent trade unions and the right to strike continue to be banned, this new Chinese working class began protesting against the non-payment of wages and for democratic rights, even when in many cases those who have left the countryside are classified as ‘illegals’ in the cities.11See: Chingo, Juan, “El capitalismo mundial en una crisis histórica” (World Capitalism in an Historic Crisis), in Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) No. 25, Buenos Aires, December 2008. They are the new working class of 100 to 200 million workers who have migrated from the country to the city in the last two decades.

In the middle of 2010 we saw a wave of struggles with the workers at Honda in the province of Guandong at its center. After the plant was paralyzed for two weeks, these struggles spread to other regions, as seen in the clashes of workers at KOK Machinery on the outskirts of Shanghai with the police.

As Richard Walker points out in his critique of Arrighi, the objections he makes to account for the dizzying development of the working class as such (a term Arrighi does not use until Chapter Twelve of his book) and the emergence of an actual capitalist class (too concentrated in the mechanisms of “accumulation by dispossession”12A concept coined by David Harvey, who tends to oppose it to the mechanisms of accumulation through capitalist exploitation itself. See: Noda, Martín, “Países imperialistas e imperialismo capitalista” (Imperialist Countries and Imperialist Capitalism), in Lucha de Clases (Class Struggle) No. 4, Buenos Aires, November 2004.) are serious obstacles to an analysis that tries to account for China today.13Walker, Richard, “Karl Marx between Two Worlds: The Antinomies of Giovanni Arrighi’s Adam Smith in Beijing”, in Historical Materialism, Volume 18, Issue 1, Leiden, Koninklijke Brill NV, 2010. 

In summary, basing ourselves on Trotsky’s theory of uneven and combined development, we can say that the process of restoration meant, on the basis of the national unity won by the Revolution of 1949, an unprecedented industrial development, driven primarily by the penetration of international finance capital that entered either directly or through the state, that at the same time exponentially developed the size of the working class (now around 400 million urban workers), without any analogous rise in the magnitude of the bourgeoisie taking place. That is, a development where finance capital and the state have played a dominant role which has resulted in a very strong proletariat (the world’s largest in a single country) and a comparatively much weaker bourgeoisie.

To paraphrase Arrighi, rather than confirming Adam Smith’s prediction in The Wealth of Nations, we would say that China’s current evolution makes Trotsky’s prediction in his book The Permanent Revolution written over seventy years ago with regards to the Chinese proletariat and its revolutionary potential as leader of the oppressed, a whole lot more likely.

Bourgeois Restoration as a Stage of the Imperialist Epoch

The current capitalist crisis is occurring despite a series of transformations that since the 1980s have favored capital, such as the restoration of capitalism in the former bureaucratized workers’ states in Russia, Eastern Europe and the East, that have meant the reconquest of new arenas for the valorization of capital; the extreme liberalization of the financial system after barriers between investment banking, commercial banking and insurance were brought down; a new global division of labor that incorporates peripheral nations into international manufacturing production and allows for the intensive exploitation of these labor forces; advances towards the integration of a global labor market based on increased competition between workers, forming the basis for the increase in absolute surplus value obtained by capital; the development of “niches of accumulation” (such as the NIC’s [Newly Industrialized Countries] and the new NIC’s, the so-called “new economy” and later on the real estate bubble which burst in 2008) that include China; all of which over the last decades have allowed for the sustaining of profit rates, but provided for a generally weak accumulation of capital as a whole.

One of those who have interpreted this stage in terms of a restoration is David Harvey, whose particular views we have criticized elsewhere.14See: Noda, Martín, op. cit. In his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, he takes up the ideas of Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy, who define neoliberalism as a project of the “restoration of class power.” Harvey analyzes the history of neoliberalism as “a political scheme aimed at reestablishing the conditions for capital accumulation and the restoration of class power.”15Harvey, David, “Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 610, NAFTA and Beyond: Alternative Perspectives in the Study of Global Trade and Development (March 2007), p. 29. That is to say, while he speaks in terms of restoration, he maintains that it is essentially limited to a policy, or to a “political scheme.” This is no minor thing, for what this allows him to put forward in The New Imperialism is the potential reversibility of this process. Harvey says in his book that “The US could, however, downgrade if not turn away from its imperialist trajectory by engaging in a massive redistribution of wealth within its borders and redirection of capital flows into the production and renewal of physical and social infrastructures […] A new ‘new deal’ is the very minimum, but it is by no means sure that this would really work in the face of the overwhelming excess capacity within the global system.”16Harvey, David, The New Imperialism, New York, Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 75-6. On the following line he is obliged to declare that: “It is salutary to remember the lessons of the 1930s: there is very little evidence that Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ solved the problem of the Depression. It took the travails of war between capitalist states to bring territorial strategies back into line so as to put the economy back on a stable path of continuous and widespread capital accumulation.”17Ibid, p. 76. 

It is precisely because of this that the success of the new “New Deal” proposed by the author of The New Imperialism is not simply “by no means sure,” but simply impossible in the current conditions, because the Second World War and the massive destruction of productive forces which it induced are not just one element among others, but the key to explaining the conditions for the possibility of the postwar boom.

In this sense, the recovery that began in the early 1980s, even with the recognition that it saw the depression of wages internationally and multiple defeats for the mass movement, and even with the successive crises that acted to partially “cleanse” excess capital, none of this compared to the destruction of productive forces during the Second World War that the postwar boom was based on. It was because of this and not any kind of “political scheme” that none of these transformations we have mentioned earlier could prevent the historic crisis that we are living in today. On the contrary, these same measures have multiplied the contradictions of a capitalism that is more and more incapable of guaranteeing the conditions for its own reproduction.18Chingo, Juan, “Crisis y contradicciones del ‘capitalismo del siglo XXI’” (Crises and Contradictions of ‘Capitalism of the 21st Century’”), in Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) No. 24, Buenos Aires, December 2007 / January 2008.

In this context, and contrary to Harvey’s insinuation, post-war Keynesianism did not represent the erosion of the class power of the bourgeoisie, but was a form of recomposition of its class power under the conditions imposed by the outcome of World War II. What is certain is that the “bourgeois restoration” with the characteristics we have pointed out, as well as the boom that followed the massive destruction of the Second World War, correspond to different stages of the same epoch: the imperialist epoch of capitalist decline.

To return to the comparison with the Bourbon Restoration, we can say that today the very state intervention of unheard of proportions that went to save the capitalists demonstrates the deteriorating character of capitalism, and that the dynamism (and automatic reproduction) which the relations of capitalist production reveled in at the beginning of the nineteenth century under the Restoration, in spite of the form that the states then took, were infinitely superior to the capitalism of today.

In this sense, by the end of the 1820s it could be said that, while absolutism had won a “reprieve” after the defeat of Napoleon, it was unable to regenerate the conditions that gave rise to it. We can say something similar about today’s capitalism: that while the defeat of the 1968-81 upsurge (which included revolutions in capitalism’s center, periphery and the bureaucratized workers’ states) opened the way to restoration and granted capitalism a reprieve, it has been unable to reverse the historical conditions of its decline as a social system.

The Epoch of Bourgeois Revolution and the Epoch of Proletarian Revolution

We find another interpretation of this stage in terms of restoration in Daniel Bensaïd, who in his book La Discordance des temps (The Discordance of Times) starts with the comparison to the Bourbon Restoration made by philosopher Alain Badiou19Badiou, Alain, De un desastre oscuro (Of an Obscure Disaster), Éditions de l’aube, 1998., and then defines the process as: “‘The opposite of a revolution.’ The result of the asymmetry between the forces of conservation and the forces of transformation. This is the original secret of these collapses and slumps without an inaugural gesture, without any new promise, whose meaning is reduced to a restoration. No, it is the purely economic restoration of the ‘laws of the market.’ Just complete Restoration, all down the line.”20Bensaïd, Daniel, La discordance des temps (The Discordance of Times), París, Éditions de la passion, 1995, our translation.

Bensaïd’s analogy of “Restoration, all down the line” not only failed to acknowledge the reality of the limitations of the Bourbon Restoration at the time, but also failed to take into account the limits of the historical comparison itself, thus conforming to the ideological climate prevailing in the 1990’s. What is certain is that, with what has been said earlier, the appropriateness of the historical analogy ends because the defeat of Napoleon, and this is the fundamental starting point, not only signified absolutist restoration and a return to the old regime for the bourgeoisie, but also coincided with the end of the last bourgeois revolution,21Then there would be only “passive revolutions,” as Gramsci rightly pointed out: These would come about in very different ways, put in check by the emergence of proletarian revolution. and with it of the epoch of the bourgeois revolutions. This cycle comprised four revolutions in no less than three centuries (Netherlands in the sixteenth century, the English Civil War in the seventeenth century, and the American War of Independence and the French Revolution of the eighteenth century). 

The fundamental difference is that the end of the cycle of bourgeois revolutions was not due to the challenge of feudal forces but to the consequences of the development of capitalism itself, and in the first place to the emergence of the proletariat as a new independent actor from 1848 onwards.22As Trotsky pointed out in Results and Prospects (1906): “The year 1848 already differs tremendously from 1789. In comparison with the Great Revolution, the Prussian and Austrian Revolutions surprise one with their insignificant sweep. In one way they took place too early and in another too late. That gigantic exertion of strength which is necessary for bourgeois society to settle radically with the lords of the past can only be attained either by the power of a unanimous nation rising against feudal despotism, or by the mighty development of the class struggle within this nation striving to emancipate itself. In the first case, which was what happened in 1789-93, the national energy, compressed by the fierce resistance of the old order, was wholly expended in the struggle against reaction; in the second case, which has never yet occurred in history, and which we are considering merely as a possibility, the actual energy necessary for overcoming the dark forces of history is generated within the bourgeoisie nation by means of an ‘internecine’ class war.”

From this point of view, to end the era of proletarian revolution after a couple of decades of capitalist restoration is as stupid as ending the era of bourgeois revolutions in 1680 because it had been 20 years since the restoration of the House of Stuart. Bensaïd tended to forget this fundamental element in his analogy, thus allowing the ambiguity that nourished the ideology of restoration to persist. It is not by accident that subsequent debates within the former LCR considered “the era of the October Revolution” closed and searched for new subjects.

Nevertheless, today the relations of capitalist exploitation have expanded like never before in history, subsuming the most varied of human activities; the working population has come to number about 3 billion people worldwide. For the first time in history, wage earners, along with semi-proletarians, constitute the majority of the world’s population, with a demographic that also for the first time has the urban population surpassing the rural population. Far from being a uniform process, capitalism has been unable to proletarianize all of the masses who have flocked to the cities, simultaneously creating vast armies of the unemployed, wide-ranging processes of social disintegration, and along with this, what Mike Davis calls the “Planet of Slums,” referring to the world’s shantytowns and favelas which house over one billion people, one sixth of the world’s population. In other words, there are processes of semi-proletarianization, the ruin of the old middle sectors and peasants who have emigrated, and a large lumpenproletariat.

During the 1990s, with the restoration of capitalism, China, Russia and the East European states (along with India) accounted for 1.47 billion new workers in the global market, which together doubled the labor force available to capital, which without these countries was already at 1.46 billion.23Freeman, Richard, “China, India and the doubling of the global labor force: who pays the price of globalization?”, The Globalist, 03/06/2005. Among these new workers entering the international labor market, there were not only previously existing workers who had moved into the orbit of capitalism, but a new working class from the countryside, that in China, as we have said, makes up an army of between 100 and 200 million new urban workers that has emerged just over two decades; and the same can be said of India. While much of this new working class in India is centered on the service sector (with 14% of employees in industry and 34% in services in 2003), in China there has been more of a development of the industrial working class (27% compared to 33% in services in 2009). That is, during the decades of restoration, while imperialist propaganda about the “end of the working class” flourished, there has not only been a widespread process of “proletarianization” of new sectors in the “West,” reconfiguring the working class and giving it greater presence in the service sector, but in countries such as India and China, there was the emergence of a vast new working class of hundreds of millions of people, not just employed in the service sector but also, in the case of China, with a large presence in industry. 

On the one hand, the effect of the incorporation of these 1.47 billion workers into the capitalist market created enormous pressure on wages and working conditions, which has allowed for the exponential increase of absolute surplus value that resulted from a loss of bargaining power in the context of competition in a much more integrated global labor market. On the other hand, an important part of these 1.47 billion consists of hundreds of millions of new workers who have come to swell the ranks of the international working class.

Any analogy must start from the fact that, far from ending the epoch of proletarian revolution, as we saw with the epoch of the bourgeois revolutions when the proletariat emerged as a new revolutionary class, bourgeois restoration has extended this same proletariat, in objective terms, further than ever before in history.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the beginning of the stage of “bourgeois restoration.” Since that time we can, broadly speaking, distinguish three sub-periods.

The first, whose characteristics we have already referred to, was marked by a capitalist triumphalism and which saw declarations about the end of history, the end of work, the end of national states, of grand narratives and Marxism, and much else besides.

The second is characterized by a series of crises that did not go as far as to disrupt the world market (the Asian crisis, the Russian default of 1998, the later rise and fall of the “new economy” between 1998-2001), by regional wars and imperialist aggression that never broke the world order apart (in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, countries in Africa), and a class struggle that, as we shall see, led to the political awakening of millions of young people (from Seattle to the movement against the war in Iraq) and the move to direct action by mass sectors in Latin America, which failed to become revolutions. 

The third subperiod began in 2002, in which there developed a cycle of global economic growth (based, among other things, on the “housing bubble,” the unprecedented expansion of financial assets and a renewed export boom in China which will lead to a leap in the process of overinvestment), which coincided with increasing geopolitical tensions marked by the war in Iraq. On the other hand, while the “anti-globalization” movement and later on the anti-war movement were channeled into various forms of reformism, the processes of “direct action” left Latin America center stage, where a series of “post-neoliberal” and nationalist governments arose24Molina, Eduardo, “¿A dónde va América Latina?”(Where is Latin America going?), in Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) No. 22, Buenos Aires, November 2005.. All the while, the working class moved forward in its process of objective social recomposition, as we have previously mentioned. 

Today, the global crisis opens a new situation where the accumulated contradictions which give this crisis a historic character lay the foundations for a change in the relationship of forces; which while still in an undefined form, nevertheless reconfirms the validity of the imperialist era as one of crisis, wars and revolutions.

The Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat after Restoration

Despite the fact that, as the above mentioned elements show, the objective conditions that mark the era of proletarian revolution have not been extinguished but have instead deepened, imperialist propaganda has succeeded in imposing a sense of the epoch as one of not only the end of proletarian revolutions, but of social revolution in general. The form that this process has taken has contributed to this objective. It was not like the historic defeat suffered by the proletariat with the Paris Commune (1871), where the heroic Communards fought to the death against the French army (supported by the Prussian army), the example of which served as an inspiration to the revolutionaries of the twentieth century, even though its immediate consequence was the absence of revolution for over thirty years. During the neoliberal offensive, workers have instead witnessed their own organizations turn against them.

As Bensaïd said: “Faced with the collapse of bureaucratic dictatorships, we are threatened with the same stupor as that which affected Hegel when Napoleon was undone by a united Europe. He knew well that, according to his own philosophy, the tyrant should disappear once his work was consummated. […] But ‘when this occurred’, he ‘became blind to the realization of his own words’. […] Because he had conceived of the destruction of the imperial order from within, by the Spirit, and behold, it took place under ‘the entire mass of mediocrity, with its irresistible leaden weight.’”25Bensaïd, Daniel, La discordance des temps (The Discordance of Times), París, Éditions de la passion, 1995, our translation..

However, it is at this point that the analogy again becomes inadequate. The bourgeois Restoration was not accompanied by a military defeat like that of Waterloo, but was effectively “from within” in a counterrevolutionary sense, and this is its distinctive feature.

So at this point we should instead compare it with the bankruptcy of the German Social Democracy after 1914. On this, Trotsky pointed out that: “History has been so shaped that in the epoch of imperialist war the German Social Democracy proved—and this can now be stated with complete objectivity—to be the most counter-revolutionary factor in world history. The German Social Democracy, however, is not an accident; it did not fall from the skies but was created by the efforts of the German working class in the course of decades of uninterrupted construction and adaptation to conditions prevalent under the capitalist-Junker state. […] The moment war broke out, and consequently when the moment arrived for the greatest historical test, it turned out that the official working-class organization acted and reacted not as the proletariat’s organization of combat against the bourgeois state but as an auxiliary organ of the bourgeois state, designed to discipline the proletariat. The working class was paralyzed, since bearing down upon it was not only the full weight of capitalist militarism but also the apparatus of its own party.”26Trotsky, Leon, “A Creeping Revolution,” The First Five Years of the Communist International, Volume 1.

This dialectic of partial proletarian conquests turned against themselves was, on an enlarged scale, the sign of the epoch of restoration.27With regards to a broader period of time, this dialectic acted in two phases. In the postwar period, when every conquest, in the context of the capitalist boom, served to shore up the bureaucracy and the counterrevolutionary apparatuses, and thus moulded the workers’ movement in reformism. And in the stage of restoration, when these conquests were lost, the “perverse” phenomenon of those past few decades, which had been fundamental to the defeats of the 1970’s, came to reveal all their historical significance in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Not only were the bureaucracies of the degenerated workers’ states at the head of restoration and transformed themselves into capitalists, they were, in many cases, those that implemented the plans of the IMF. In the capitalist states, Social Democracy, which from the outbreak of World War I had repeatedly demonstrated its politically counter-revolutionary nature yet had maintained a reformist role in the social sphere, now became a direct agent of the employers’ offensive as the one implementing neoliberal counter-reforms. The Communist Parties followed a similar course, being on several occasions part of “social-liberal” governments in alliance with the Socialist Parties.

It would be a gross error to underestimate this element of the comparison between the situation of the bourgeoisie after the absolutist Restoration and the situation of the proletariat after the “bourgeois restoration,” because the proletariat faced two exploiting classes in one case,28At that time, there were even common interests, especially among the upper layers of the bourgeoisie, as opposed to the proletariat that in its attempt to build a society without exploitation is irreconcilably antagonistic to the bourgeoisie. but not the other. If the bourgeoisie, under the domination of the Holy Alliance, ensured the development of its interests through the continuation of the accumulation of material wealth, the proletariat cannot guarantee the development of its historical interests through its spontaneous reproduction as a subject of exploitation. 

As Lenin said “The strength of the working class lies in organization. Unless the masses are organized, the proletariat is nothing. Organized—it is everything.”29Lenin, V. I., “Party Discipline and the Fight Against the Pro-Cadet Social-Democrats” (November 23, 1906), Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pp. 320-323. In this sense it is of utmost importance that for the working class, within the framework of general decline, trade unions continue to exist as mass organizations, and are extended as widely as possible within the working class (in spite of all the limits imposed by the bureaucracy through the exclusion of the unemployed, the non-representation of workers in the “black” economy, temporary and precarious workers, etc. which means unions only represent a minority of the working class). Nevertheless, this is insufficient, because for the working class the essential element of the maturation of their interests is determined by its accumulated historical experience and education in the process of class struggle; such continuity can only be sustained by an organized vanguard, because under the conditions of capitalism, and even less in times of decline, this can never be the consciousness of the whole class at the one time.

This continuity was broken after the Second World War. Why it happened and how to find the historical threads that bring them back together is now, in the twenty-first century, a fundamental task for revolutionary Marxism, without which it is impossible to define the strategic framework of the epoch. This experience is the only “heritage” that the proletariat can accumulate under the chains of capitalism, and it is the indispensable condition for returning to the revolutionary struggle without starting from scratch.

Part II: The Legacy of Trotsky and the Fourth International 

In his Considerations on Western Marxism, Perry Anderson makes a summary of the legacy of Trotsky. Anderson starts with The History of the Russian Revolution which is described as “the most commanding example of Marxist historical literature to this day”; then there are the writings of Trotsky on the rise of fascism “whose quality as concrete studies of a political conjuncture is unmatched in the records of historical materialism” and are “the first real Marxist analysis of a twentieth century capitalist State”; as well as his analysis of France, England and Spain, and finally his theory on the nature of the Soviet state and the fate of the USSR under Stalin. With regards to this theoretical legacy, Anderson argues that “[t]he historical scale of Trotsky’s accomplishment is still difficult to realize today.” Yet the above is only a part of this theoretical legacy, to which must be added the theory of permanent revolution, Trotsky’s military writings, his analysis of Mexico under Cárdenas, his writings on literature, etc.

Nevertheless, these writings are no more than the expression of the vast legacy of Trotsky in the field of theory. After being subjected to imperialist war, three years of civil war and imperialist invasions, isolation after the defeat of the German revolution, the death of Lenin and the new possibilities of “social differentiation” that arose from the first successes of the NEP, then the USSR saw the start of “Thermidor,” and with it began Trotsky’s great battle against both the bureaucratization of the workers’ state which emerged from the Russian revolution and the degeneration of the Third International. As part of this struggle, which moved through the Left Opposition, the International Communist League and the Movement for the Fourth International, Trotsky dedicated the latter part of his life to the education of a new generation of revolutionaries and the foundation of the Fourth International in the face of great catastrophic events—the rise of fascism, global crisis, and preparations for the Second World War. In this task, Trotsky considered himself to be irreplaceable, as opposed to the triumph of the October Revolution which occurred while Lenin was still alive.

Isaac Deutscher, the great biographer of Trotsky, considered that this task was, on the contrary, a voluntarist one. In his trilogy he speaks ironically of the founding congress of the Fourth International: “Throughout the summer of 1938 Trotsky was busy preparing the ‘Draft Programme’ and resolutions for the ‘foundation congress’ of the International. In fact this was a small conference of Trotskyists, held at the home of Alfred Rosmer at Perigny, a village near Paris, on 3 September 1938.”30Deutscher, Isaac, The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky 1929-1940, p. 340. According to Deutscher, Trotsky would have been better off dedicating himself to developing his unfinished intellectual projects rather than ‘wasting time’ on the formation of political and programmatic foundations for the Fourth International and the training of its cadres and members. Even the very title of one volume of his biography of Trotsky, The Prophet Unarmed, is an implicit reference to Machiavelli who once said that “all armed prophets have conquered, and the unarmed ones have been destroyed.” Returning to The Prince, we see Machiavelli’s assumption that “the nature of the people is variable, and whilst it is easy to persuade them, it is difficult to fix them in that persuasion. And thus it is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force.”31Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, (written c. 1505, published 1515), translated by W. K. Marriott, p. 25. This suggestion appears to be consistent with the expectation that the regeneration of the revolution would come from a wing of the bureaucracy. However, Trotsky, who refused to take power with the bayonets of the Red Army against the rise of Stalin, was perfectly aware that socialism was a conscious construction that could not be replaced by any Bonaparte. Therefore Marxist theory and program, and a revolutionary organization were the only tools that could serve the proletariat in relation to its objectives.

Despite the great post-war revolutionary upsurge, the Fourth International failed to acquire the mass influence which Trotsky envisioned. The assassination of Trotsky and the main leaders of the Fourth International, and as we will see, the contradictory outcome of the war that saw the defeat of the Nazis at the hands of the USSR and gave the bureaucracy renewed prestige, as well as the blocking of the revolution in the countries of western Europe due to Stalinism’s pacts with imperialism, prevented the realization of this perspective.

However, as Gramsci said, the leadership of a party should be judged: “1. in what it actually does; 2. in what provision it makes for the eventuality of its own destruction.” To which he added: “It is difficult to say which of these two facts is the more important.”32Gramsci, Antonio, “The Political Party,” Selections from the Prison Notebooks, International Publishers, New York, 1971, p. 153. Once we take this into account we can see that, from the postwar period to today after restoration, the legacy of the Fourth International and the political and theoretical elaborations of Trotsky are without doubt the great legacy for revolutionaries of the twenty-first century. 

Daniel Bensaïd reluctantly recognized this when he said that: “Its instruction-deficient legacy is certainly insufficient; but it is nonetheless necessary for those who wish to unravel the association between Stalinism and communism, to free the living from the weight of the dead, and to turn the page on the disillusions of the past.”33Bensaïd, Daniel, “Who are the Trotskyists?”, in Strategies of Resistance and “Who Are the Trotskyists?”, London, Resistance Books, 2009, p. 96. If by its “instruction-deficient legacy” we understand the necessity of revitalizing a legacy by those who apply it to new conditions, this is indisputable. However, if we take into account that within his “Writings” you can follow the development of Trotsky’s policy to fight as a faction within the Communist International and its parties until 1933, the tactics towards the “Bloc of Four,” entrism within the Socialist Parties (the “French turn”) in several countries in order to converge with revolutionary workers who in a turbulent decade became radicalized and joined Social Democratic parties (such as the Pivert tendency in France), the fight to build independent revolutionary organizations and the Fourth International itself, for whose founding conference the Transitional Program was written, then, seeing the route of the Trotskyist currents after the Second World War, we can say clearly that Trotsky’s legacy was more than an “instruction-deficient legacy”; it was, above all, a legacy which was very little used.

Postwar Trotskyism and a Little-Used Legacy

Despite having only a handful of hardened cadres, as we have mentioned, Trotsky argued that “[w]hen the centennial of the Communist Manifesto is celebrated, the Fourth International will have become the decisive revolutionary force on our planet.”34Trotsky, Leon, “Ninety Years of the Communist Manifesto” (October 30, 1937). However, the alternative prognosis that Trotsky made was that: “If the bourgeois regime comes out of the war with impunity, every revolutionary party will suffer degeneration. If the proletarian revolution conquers, those conditions that produce degeneration will disappear.”35Trotsky, Leon, “Manifesto of the Fourth International on Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution” (May 19-26, 1940).

The result of the Second World War was that neither of these two variants appeared in their pure form; imperialism did not go unpunished, for the bourgeoisie was expropriated across one third of the planet after the war; but neither did the proletariat win power and do away with the conditions which lead to the degeneration. The defeat of Nazism at the hands of the Red Army led to a renewed prestige for Stalinism, which in turn used it to put a brake on revolution in the postwar period (the Yalta and Potsdam agreements). It succeeded in betraying the revolutions in the countries of France, Italy and Greece, but failed to contain revolution in the colonies and semi-colonies.

Where the revolution did triumph, it confirmed the hypothesis that Trotsky considered least likely, namely that under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.), “the petty bourgeois parties, including the Stalinists, may go further than they wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie.”36Trotsky, Leon, The Transitional Program (May-June 1938). The fact is, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie (China, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and beyond the immediate postwar period in Cuba, etc.) advanced largely as a measure of self-defense—Mao against Chiang Kai Shek and Tito against Mikhailovich, and Ho Chi Minh and General Giap against the French. In turn, in the states of Eastern Europe there were phenomena which we refer to as “passive proletarian revolutions”37Albamonte, Emilio and Romano, Manolo, “Trotsky y Gramsci. Convergencias y divergencias” (Trotsky and Gramsci: Convergences and Divergences), in Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) No. 19, Buenos Aires, January 2003., where under the control exercised by the Red Army the expropriation of the bourgeoisie also advanced, as a measure of “self-defense,” through the establishment of a “buffer zone.” These new workers’ states emerged from the outset as degenerated and bureaucratized states, and far from developing proletarian internationalism, these revolutions resulted in the emergence of “national Stalinisms” that were subject to mutual conflicts (disputes between China and the Soviet Union, the conflict between China and Vietnam, the national oppression of the Eastern European states by the USSR, etc.).

All the while, the Fourth International had been decimated, with its main leaders, starting with Trotsky, murdered by either Stalinism or Nazis. In this context, what remained of Trotskyism had to confront great pressures of centrist degeneration. On the one hand, there was the strengthening of Stalinism as a product of the outcome of the war and the proliferation of “national Stalinisms” in the new bureaucratic workers’ states, all of which created the illusion of a struggle between “camps” and not between classes. On the other, there was a strengthening of the reformist currents in the advanced economies on the basis of the ‘partial development of the productive forces’ during the postwar boom, the product of the massive destruction of productive forces in the previous period. And finally, there was the rise of “Third Worldist” movements in the colonies and semi-colonies that denied the revolutionary role of the proletariat in the countries of imperialism. 

It was in no way predetermined that Trotskyists would not be able to resist these pressures, through the further development of the strategic foundations of Trotsky’s legacy to the new postwar conditions and the construction of revolutionary wings of the workers’ movement on this basis. However, they did eventually adapt to these conditions.

 After various splits in the late 1940s (Rousset, Shachtman, C.L.R. James, Dunayevskaya, Castoriadis, Tony Cliff, etc.) the Fourth International majority was in the hands of Mandel and Pablo. The latter in 1951 published the document “Where Are We Going?”, in which, contrary to one of the central definitions of Trotsky (i.e. the unstable nature of transitional social formations that emerged from the proletarian revolution, and their additional instability due to the dominance of the Bonapartist bureaucracy) he argued that “this transformation will probably take an entire historical period of several centuries.” Linked to this was a view of the world now divided into two camps (capitalist and Stalinist) and the imminence of a new world war, which were the foundations for the formulation of a generalized “entrism” into the mass parties (Social Democrats, Stalinists and even nationalist parties in the semi-colonies such as the Bolivian MNR). Such ‘foundations’ could not be more alien to Trotsky. “To try to shake, still more to replace,” Pablo said, “the bureaucratic leadership of the masses from the outside, by opposing to them our own independent organizations, would under these conditions threaten to isolate us from these masses.” 

On the other hand, the International Committee (IC), comprised of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) of the United States, the Socialist Labour League (SLL), the Organization Communiste Internationaliste (OCI) in France, and the Nahuel Moreno tendency, correctly resisted the liquidationist politics of the International Secretariat. Moreno at this time denounced the policy of “critical support” to the government of Paz Estenssoro in Bolivia. However, even these sectors were unable to present an alternative strategy. The very same Moreno in 1952 proposed the Anti-Imperialist United Front as a “programmatic rearmament,” and then took this adaptation further with “entrism into Peronism.”

What is certain is that after the period of 1951-53, the Fourth International became a centrist movement, where the common denominator of its principal tendencies was their loss of a strategic orientation to the independent revolutionary party, through their eclectic adaptation to whichever leadership gained strength within the mass movement, such as their adaptation to Tito, Mao, Castro, etc., and thus breaking the continuity of revolutionary Marxism. In this framework, the dynamics of a certain partially correct resistance to the more open acts of submission and adaptation to these leaderships (for example, those of the IC which we have mentioned) means that, despite the breaking of revolutionary continuity, we maintain that there are “threads of continuity” which still remain, and which form a point of support for the reconstruction of Trotskyist strategy.

With regards to the development of the proletariat after the Paris Commune of 1871, Trotsky noted that “the prolonged period of capitalist prosperity that ensued brought about not the education of the revolutionary vanguard, but rather the bourgeois degeneration of the labor aristocracy, which became in turn the chief brake on the proletarian revolution.”38Trotsky, Leon, “Ninety Years of the Communist Manifesto” (October 30, 1937). To paraphrase Trotsky, we could say that in relation to postwar Trotskyism, the advance of reformism within the working class in the advanced economies, together with the development of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalism in the colonies and semi-colonies, and above all the succession of triumphant revolutions with petit-bourgeois or Stalinist leaderships that under exceptional conditions moved to expropriate the bourgeoisie, created the illusion of an advance to socialism through the leaderships and revolutions that gave rise to bureaucratically deformed workers’ states from the beginning. That is, a strategic framework according to which socialism can be extended by means of “any kind of revolution” with “any kind of leadership.”

However, nothing is further from the thinking of Trotsky, who emphasized in 1940 that, having redefined the strategic framework of revolutionary Marxism in the face of the Second World War, the bureaucratization of the USSR, the degeneration of the Third International, the ascent of fascism, etc. the greatest achievement of the Fourth International consisted in keeping itself together while ‘swimming against the stream’. Far from any teleology, Trotsky would have subscribed to the statement of Walter Benjamin who said that: “There is nothing which has corrupted the German working-class so much as the opinion that they were swimming with the tide.”39Benjamin, Walter, “On the Concept of History” (1940). Something similar might be said of postwar Trotskyism; nothing contributed more to its centrist degeneration than the idea of swimming with the stream, and that the map was progressively being ‘painted red’ by the progressive advance of international socialism. 

The Upsurge of 1968-81 and the Costs of Years of Adaptation

From the end of the 1960s, with the end of the capitalist boom and the upsurge of 1968-81, the perspective re-emerged that, with the struggle of the proletariat in the West against imperialist governments, in the East against Stalinist bureaucracy and in the semi-colonies against pro-imperialist bourgeoisies, the tendencies towards confrontation with the pillars of the ‘order of Yalta’ would strengthen. As a result, tendencies towards class independence, seen in the “cordones industriales” (industrial cordons or belts) in Chile, the Asamblea Popular (Popular Assembly) in Bolivia, the tenants’ and soldiers’ councils in the Portuguese Revolution, etc. began to resurface. However, although weakened, the order of Yalta and the leaderships that sustained it were not defeated.

In his Considerations on Western Marxism, Perry Anderson noted that, with the confluence of the revolutionary upsurge that began with the “French May” and the first capitalist crisis since the Second World War (in 1974), there was a real possibility for the reestablishment of the unity between Marxist theory and the practice of the masses through the struggles of the industrial working class. This possibility highlighted the existence of Trotskyism as an alternative tradition within Marxism: “throughout this period, another tradition of an entirely different character subsisted and developed ‘off-stage’—for the first time to gain wider political attention during and after the French explosion. This was, of course, the theory and legacy of Trotsky.”

However, the different Trotskyist tendencies had not taken advantage of the years before this upsurge to reappropriate this legacy in order to define the strategic framework and construct revolutionary currents within the workers’ movement. The unification of the Trotskyist movement in 1963 in the context of the Cuban Revolution took place without any serious assessment of the previous differences and the actions of each current. With regard to Latin America, the Ninth Congress (1969) adopted a policy of armed struggle as a strategy (“Resolution on Latin America,” Livio Maitan). On the other hand, the degeneration of those who had not participated in the unification accelerated, as in the case of Lambertism that ended up refusing to participate in “The Night of the Barricades” in May 1968; and Healyism which ended up denouncing the largest demonstration against the Vietnam War in England in October of 1968.

Even though the majority of forces of Trotskyism found themselves dissolved into Stalinism and social democracy at the beginning of the upsurge, tendencies towards class independence emerged from confrontations with the official leaderships of the workers’ movement; these strengthened the currents of Trotskyist centrism which in several cases transformed into currents of several thousand members (for example, the Ligue Communiste of France, the SWP in the United States and the development of the PST in Argentina). 

With the Portuguese Revolution in 1974, there was a great revolutionary process with classic characteristics in a key country, which emerged in direct relation to the consequences of revolutionary processes in the colonies of Angola and Mozambique, and where tendencies towards dual power in the form of tenants’ and soldiers’ committees developed. The currents that were part of the United Secretariat (which arose from the unification of 1963), even if we can say that, in general terms, they posed the need to develop these committees and to fight the subordination that the CP and SP wanted to impose on the mass movement against the MFA (Armed Forces Movement), these currents were confined to extreme weakness during this revolutionary process. However, the most important thing here is that each one of these national groups did not take the strategic lessons of this process to the level of orientation.

This was more significant if we consider that the process in Portugal was also a laboratory for imperialism which, weakened by its defeat in Vietnam, would later promote the politics of “transitions to democracy” to stem such revolutionary processes. This tactic, which would be continued in Spain and Greece, was initially applied in a defensive manner but began to take on an offensive character from the beginning of the 1980s as a component part of “bourgeois restoration.”40Lif, Laura and Chingo, Juan, “Transitions to Democracy,” Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) 16, July 2000. 

The cycle of revolutions reopened between 1978 and 1981, after the first cycle was diverted in the advanced economies and crushed by fire and sword in South America. The defeat of this second cycle moved without interruption into the beginning of the process of capitalist restoration, which had as its starting point the defeat of the Polish revolution.

The Last Great Opportunity to Head Off Restoration Was Lost in Poland

In a previous article we asked: “The 1974-75 Portuguese revolution was a ‘classical’ one, combining anti-colonial uprisings in Angola and Mozambique under the impact of the Vietnamese struggle, with a popular and working class upsurge against the dictatorship of Salazar at home, in a weak link of the chain of imperialist countries. Was it then, as Anderson points out, the last great chance that Trotskyism had to rejuvenate its strategic foundations? Did history not furnish a second great chance in the 1980s, in what was the last great ‘rehearsal of political revolution’, namely Poland 1980? That development might have also boosted the forces of the Fourth International as well, in anticipation of the 1989-91 upswing in Eastern Europe, the USSR and China.“41Albamonte, Emilio and Romano, Manolo, “Trotsky and Gramsci: A posthumous dialogue,” Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) 19, January 2003.

We believe that we are safe in saying that the last opportunity to head off restoration was lost in Poland. Capitalist restoration, far from being a process that fell from the sky, or a simple product of the mobilizations of 1989, was prepared by a series of uprisings against the bureaucracy and defeated political revolutions, such as in East Germany in 1953, the Hungarian Revolution in 1956,42See: Fryer, Peter, Hungarian Tragedy (1956), London, New Park Publications, October 1986, and Nagy, Balász, Budapest 1956: The Central Workers’ Council (1961), originally published in English in International Socialism No. 18, Autumn 1964. and the Prague Spring in 1968. Poland was without doubt one of its centers with the defeated revolution of 1956, the processes of struggle in the 1970s, and the last major political revolution that began with the outbreak of the wave of strikes in the 1980s, with its symbolic center in the shipyards of Gdansk, which gave rise to the Solidarność union that eventually grew to ten million members. In the course of this process, there developed important elements of direct democracy, but there was also the strong influence of the Catholic Church which dedicated itself to promoting the pro-capitalist wings of the movement. 

Without a doubt, one of the most distinctive parts of Trotsky’s legacy was the program of political revolution, a type of revolution that was anticipated but never witnessed. This program, enshrined in the Transitional Program, was the only one capable of responding to the situation which opened up in Poland in the 1980s, that posed the need for questioning the authority of the bureaucracy and its privileges, and for the constitution of a soviet democracy, that included the freedom to organize trade unions and pro-soviet political parties that defended previous conquests, and indissolubly linked this to a democratic program of demands such as a complete revision of the economic plan in the interests of producers and consumers, greater pay equality for all types of work, etc., which contribute to the preservation of the structural gains. One key element was to never confuse the banners of the revolutionaries with their opponents, the restorationists. 

However, none of the main currents of Trotskyism at that time were able to maintain this unity of the program. Their focus was on how the bureaucracy could be overthrown, whether with the slogan “All Power to Solidarność” and the arming of the trade union, as Moreno argued, or whether the soviets should emerge from Solidarność as Lambert sustained; but none of them raised their demands together with those, for example, for a revision of the economic plan in the interests of producers and consumers, and all those demands that responded to the needs of the masses while at the same time maintaining the defense of the conquests, all in order to clearly delineate themselves from the restorationist currents that led Solidarność. This led to adaptation to the restorationist currents which were seen as a part of an anti-bureaucratic bloc. The United Secretariat, unlike the other currents, called for a policy of self-management for the nationalized companies, but detached as this was from the defense of the plan and the monopoly of foreign trade, such a demand was not inconsistent to the course of capitalist restoration. As quoted in Stutje, for Mandel, while Lech Wałęsa was in no way a Trotskyist, he was at that time identified as part of an anti-bureaucratic bloc: “What does he (Wałęsa) matter, if millions of workers are on the move; we must not keep busily looking for small, pure groups, but simply support the revolutionary dynamic as a whole.”43Stutje, Jan Willem, Ernest Mandel: A Rebel’s Dream Deferred, London, Verso, 2009. p. 226. [Indirect translation from Spanish].

In this way, the legacy of the program of political revolution was diluted into a general anti-Stalinism, which could then converge with the leadership of the movement while the conditions for the negotiation of the restoration of capitalism were prepared, and thus an independent position was not presented (beyond the fact that the intervention, without preparation or organization, was very limited). Nor were any consequences ever drawn from this strategic deviation.

The fact that no alternative was put forward, and later that the causes of the defeat were not understood, had implications that went well beyond Poland. They were already completely disarmed in the face of the restoration process that unfolded, while for the bureaucracy of the USSR it was this that finally convinced them of the need to accelerate the process of capitalist restoration in the bureaucratically degenerated workers’ states. 

So it was that, with the incomprehension by Trotskyist centrism, the Polish revolution definitively destroyed the strategic framework of “any kind of revolution” with “any kind of leadership” which they had constructed after World War II, outside of the legacy of Trotsky and with catastrophic results.

The Zero Point of Trotskyist Strategy

The consequences of the strategic deviation post-Poland soon followed. Mandel increasingly affirmed his adaptation to the bureaucracy, first placing hopes in Gorbachev and supporting Glasnost, and then later on in Yeltsin. Under the leadership of Barnes, the American SWP directly moved on to abandon Trotskyism in 1983. In his document “Their Trotsky and Ours,” he pointed to the theses of permanent revolution as an obstacle to directing linking up with the traditions of Marx and Lenin, erased the political revolution as part of the program and rehabilitated the formula of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.” For his part, Lambert called for a vote for Mitterrand in France and developed the “democratic line” which sealed his adaptation to the regime of the Fifth Republic, and then diluted his organization in a syndicalist fashion, first into a “Movement for a Workers’ Party” and then into a self-proclaimed Workers’ Party. For his part, Moreno, who back in 1977 correctly analyzed the imperialist policy first implemented in Portugal as a “democratic counter-revolution,” went on to change his characterization of these processes to instead speak of “democratic revolutions,” and revise the theory of permanent revolution in the process.

Thus the years 1989-91, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the pro-capitalist processes with their “democratic” ideology, saw these currents openly turn to the right, increasingly distancing themselves from the legacy of Trotsky and swimming with the stream which, in spite of the hopes in Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Castroism, “democratic revolutions,” Socialist Parties, etc., inexorably flowed towards restoration.

If Bensaïd said that members of the left intelligentsia such as Foucault and Deleuze have arrived at a “degré zéro de la stratégie” (strategic zero point)44Bensaïd, Daniel, Éloge de la politique profane (In Praise of Profane Politics), Paris, Albin Michel, 2007. in relation to revolutionary Marxism; the immediate result of the shift in the world situation, capitalist restoration and the strategic deviation of the centrist currents was that they had arrived at a “zero point” of Trotskyist strategy. In this framework, faced with a new turn in the centrist degeneration of the LIT in the midst of the wave of reaction of the time, the nucleus of what today is the FT-CI took its first steps towards forming a small principled pole within the international Trotskyist movement.

 Far from undertaking a thorough examination of its own tradition, what remained of Morenoism further deepened its thesis of democratic revolution, despite all the evidence that reality provided. In this fashion, the events of 1989-91 were declared to be great revolutions that did not lead to capitalist restoration, because that had already been consummated (according to the LIT’s new explanation),45See: Martín Hernández, El veredicto de la historia (The Verdict of History), São Paulo, Sudermann, 2008. and were in fact some of the greatest victories of the international working class. For the LIT, the great problem for Trotskyism (and any sensible Marxist) was supposedly seeing profound defeat where there was victory. But this only resulted in their inability to account for the almost uninterrupted succession of triumphant “February revolutions” (ranging from the early twenty-first century events in Latin America, including the “Argentinazo,” to the “Orange Revolutions”46This was the name given to the process of mobilization in Ukraine that opposed the results of the 2004 presidential elections, in which official candidate Viktor Yanukovich was elected. As a result of these protests, new elections were held in which U.S. ally Viktor Yushchenko was elected. This name has been used to refer to similar processes of government change. in parts of the former USSR) which were supposed to be followed at some point by “October Revolutions”; in the case of the events of 1989-91, they have been waiting for 20 years. The LIT says the same thing today regarding Cuba where, applying the same logic to the process there, capitalism has already been restored and the task of the hour is to overthrow the “capitalist dictatorship.”

At the other extreme of this unthinking obstinancy, and unlike those which have definitively cast off the legacy of Trotsky, there are the weak political elaborations of the United Secretariat. These reflections, embodied after the death of Mandel by its principal leaders, did not focus on a critical balance of their own current (in this it coincided with Morenoism) but assumed the end of the hypothesis of the “insurrectionary general strike” and with it the “era of the October Revolution.” This was on the basis on Mandel’s own developments about “mixed democracy,” themselves based on a revision of the relationship between Soviets and a constituent assembly, with this “dual representation” supposedly being the finally-discovered formula to exorcise the dangers of bureaucratization in post-capitalist societies. This allowed them, with a few decades’ delay, to emulate “Eurocommunism” and definitively abandon the perspective of the dictatorship of the proletariat in favor of a supposed “democracy to the end,” all with the help of the institutions of the bourgeois democratic regime.

In opposition to these “revisions,” it was necessary to call upon the most advanced revolutionary thinking in order to understand the new conditions of the epoch. “Bourgeois restoration” had demonstrated, against the vision of “any kind of revolution” with “any kind of leadership,” that these were not simply an expression of history moving in favor of the working class but a much more complex reality that, while blocking the internationalist development of the revolution, were radically incapable of plotting a course of progress towards socialism and in this way, as Trotsky argued, prepared the conditions for capitalist restoration. 

Trotskyism in Times of Restoration

If the imperialist war of 1914 marked the beginning of the period of crisis, wars and revolutions, and its first stage, which spanned the decades of the biggest upheavals in the twentieth century, saw the revival of revolutionary Marxism in the hands of Lenin, Trotsky and the Third International; its second stage, marked by the second postwar period shaped by the Order of Yalta, which partially blocked the permanentist dynamic of the processes of proletarian revolution (in its international aspect and in the struggle for the transformation of social relations within the workers’ states), saw the centrist degeneration of the organizations of the Fourth International take place.

In the same sense, the third stage characterized by “bourgeois restoration” signifies a second leap in the degeneration of the currents of Trotskyism, a sort of “social democratization” (which in some cases retains the character of centrism and in others passes into open liquidationism) which has been marked by a profound adaptation to the framework of the bourgeois regime (“normal” trade unionism, elections, “folklorized” demonstrations, university life etc.), based on both their further moving away from the Trotskyist legacy (which, as we saw, was prepared in the 1980s) as well as their defeatism towards the workers’ movement.

The so-called “end of history,” with the defeat of the Polish revolution and the processes of resistance to the neoliberal offensive, seen in the symbolic struggles of the U.S. air traffic controllers and the British miners, along with the events of 1989-91 that veered towards restorationist objectives and the restoration of capitalism in the former bureaucratized workers’ states in Eastern Europe, Russia and the East; all saw a state of profound retreat within the working class. However, this state of retreat started to turn around after 1995, with the public workers’ strike against the Juppé plan in France, followed by the “workers’ wars” of South Korea in 1996, the UPS strike of 1997 (U.S.), etc. In Latin America the peasantry exploded onto the scene with the Zapatista uprising of 1994 and in Argentina movements of the unemployed emerged.47In the ideological field, amidst the gale of postmodernism, there was a shift to the left by the intelligentsia reflected in the publication in 1993 of “Specters of Marx” by Derrida and one year later of “The Weight of the World” by Pierre Bourdieu. The first, in which Derrida defined himself as a non-Marxist, helped to re-legitimize discussion around Marx, while the second contains a detailed investigation on the living conditions of the French working class from one of the most prestigious sociologists of the time.

A second moment began with the demonstrations in Seattle in 1999; the “anti-globalization” movement marked the political awakening of millions of young people, which in 2003 took a massive leap when it transformed into the movement against the imperialist war in Iraq. Along with this, sectors of the masses in Latin America, predominantly the peasantry and the middle classes, moved to direct action against the governments that had embodied the neoliberal offensive, which led to the downfall of governments in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina. 

Then, in a third moment, the “no-global” movement was finally channeled into reformist projects of “humanizing capitalism” with the Social Forums, etc.; in the case of the processes in Latin America, they were diverted by the rise of different governments of reformist hues, leading to the political phenomena of Chavismo and Evomoralismo. 

On the other hand, the crises of the “bourgeois workers’ parties,” as the continuators of neoliberal policy, also deepened, both within the historic leaderships of the workers’ movement such as the German Social Democratic Party, the French Socialist Party, the British Labour Party, the Italian and French CPs etc., but also within bourgeois nationalist leaderships in the case of Peronism and the more recent “bourgeois workers’ parties” like the Brazilian PT.

If the end of the last century and the beginning of this one produced what in general terms Bensaïd described as a “return to the strategic debate,” for Trotskyist centrism this has not led to a return to revolutionary strategy, but instead has led to different forms of adaptation to new phenomena and the discarding of the compass of class independence.

A liquidationist wing headed by the French LCR and the British SWP was configured around the project of building “broad anti-capitalist parties,”48Politics which were also expressed in the foundation of the Scottish Socialist Party in 1998, the Left Bloc in Portugal in 1999, Sweden’s Left Party, the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark in the early 1990’s, and the Socialist Alliance in Britain. See: Cinatti, Claudia, “¿Qué partido para qué estrategia?” (What Strategy for What Party?), in Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) No. 24, Buenos Aires, December 2007. which had their most recent expression in the founding in Britain of the electoral alliance RESPECT in 2004, composed of the SWP, outcast figures from bourgeois politics and religious leaders from the Muslim community (mainly merchants, clerics, and even bourgeois), and in 2009 with the liquidation of the French LCR into the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) without any class demarcation and with the abandonment of any reference to the dictatorship of the proletariat and to Trotsky. This tendency was expressed in South America with the founding of the PSOL in Brazil after a split by a part of the PT left-wing, in Venezuela with the sectors that entered the PSUV of Chávez, and in Argentina with the failed attempt by the MST to do likewise. These projects were in most cases accompanied by the explicit abandonment of Trotskyism by those who initiated them.

The loss of all reference to class was also demonstrated by the complete adaptation to the new bourgeois governments in Latin America and especially to Chavez. However, Chavismo and Evomoralismo not only had its impact on this liquidationist wing, but also dragged the sectors of the “center” of the movement, such as the PO in Argentina and the LIT, to the right, which while maintaining the Trotskyist program in general, revived old theories outgrown by the revolutionary movement, such as the Anti-Imperialist United Front, in order to give their political support to these governments. Later on they passed without any real explanation into opposition to these same governments, without ever maintaining an essential delineation of class.

Today, all these “broad party” projects have demonstrated their narrow limits: they have either collapsed or are in total crisis, not only because they proved powerless to provide an alternative in the face of the crisis, but even from the point of view of their own objectives. RESPECT exploded, the PSOL divided over which candidates to support in the 2010 elections and became a receding electoral phenomena, the NPA demonstrated the limits of its electoralist course not only at elections but also in its poor role during recent class struggle events in France, and the MST’s “New Left” ended up joining the petty-bourgeois center-left project led by “Pino” Solanas.

The same applies to Chavismo and Evomoralismo, which in the face of the crisis are in increasing confrontation with sectors of the working class that have moved into struggle. In the case of Chavez, this can be seen in his moves towards controlling and disciplining the workers’ movement, such as his attempts to curtail the right to strike and repression against the conflicts of the vanguard, the passive attitude towards the proliferation of hired killers and the murders of workers’ leaders, as well as his new Bonapartist measures. Then there is Evo Morales, who in 2010 militated against the wage increases of workers who confronted him with strikes and mobilizations, and then in early 2011 started a legal attack on the living conditions of the great majority, the “gasolinazo” (removal of fuel subsidies), whose reversal was the product of workers’ and popular mobilization.

Defeatism Towards the Workers’ Movement

 Along with the phenomena mentioned in the preceding section, the last cycle of global growth led to a social strengthening of the working class (millions of new workers around the world) which also expressed itself in the terrain of struggle (in the majority of cases centered on economic demands).

 The relative recomposition of the workers’ movement has not provoked a strategic reorientation. The common denominator was the abandonment of the perspective of constructing revolutionary wings in the workers’ movement capable of carrying out a battle in the mass organizations for a transitional program of class independence against the bureaucracy and against the subordination of organizations in the workers’ movement to different wings of the bourgeoisie.

In the liquidationist wing of centrism, we have seen the abandonment of any strategic perspective linked to the development of the working class, its struggles and its organization, and instead its preoccupation with the arithmetic of the electoral expressions of multi-class phenomena. In the case of the center wing, we have seen either an absolute separation of trade union work from political work (Lutte Ouvrière), or the “colateralización” (establishment of party fronts) of work in the labor movement (PSTU and PO) as a way of avoiding a fight with the bureaucracy in the mass organizations. If in the case of the PSTU, this was seen in the transformation of CONLUTAS into a “corralito” (little corral or playpen) for the historic work they maintain in the workers’ movement, in the case of the PO, this was reflected in the constitution of the Polo Obrero (Workers’ Pole) as a fragment of the piquetero (unemployed workers’) movement without fighting for the one united movement with the freedom of tendency within it, and its respective isolation from the trade unions with its theory of the “new piquetero subject.” In the first cases, this meant a deepening of trade union routinism; in the second, the adaptation to the clientelist mechanisms of state welfare and withdrawal from the trade unions.

The first consequences of the crisis in 2009 and 2010 saw the working class, in an uneven manner, having to face the first onslaughts of capital which placed the burden of the crisis onto the backs of workers; these onslaughts revealed all the consequences of the defeatism of the various currents in the workers’ movement when taken into the class struggle.

France was, without doubt, the most important laboratory in this first stage. The French working class, along with the militant secondary student movement, was the protagonist in the great mobilization process that confronted Sarkozy’s pension reform project. In the eight days of strikes and mobilizations, where three and a half million people took to the streets across France, and despite the bureaucracy’s strategy of attrition, a round of revolving strikes also developed (for an indeterminate time) in strategic sectors such as in refineries, the ports and the railroads, along with blockades of companies, oil depots, public places, etc. and along with all this there were tendencies toward self-organization, as expressed in the Interprofessionnelles (cross-industry rank-and-file committees).

Overall, there were clear tendencies towards a general strike. However, the French “far-left” did not rise to the occasion. Neither Lutte Ouvrière (LO) nor the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) represented an alternative to the bureaucracy of the CFDT and the CGT, which spent the conflict waiting for negotiations with a government that never opened the door to them, and did not raise the demand for the withdrawal of the bill and wagered on the movement’s exhaustion. In the case of LO, it directly opposed the raising of the general strike slogan, subordinating itself to the official leaderships with the argument that the “relationship of forces” was not ready for this. Despite the fact that many of NPA militants were in the front line of the blockades, the NPA’s official position was to abstain from public criticism of the bureaucracy, sidelining both the proposal to withdraw the law and the perspective of throwing Sarkozy out, as well as the call for a general strike. Only the Collective for a Revolutionary Tendency (CTR) of the NPA put forward the necessity, against the bureaucracy’s policy of attrition and division, of fighting for the withdrawal of the reform and the expulsion of Sarkozy with a general strike and the extension of organs of self-organization allied with the students.

However, neither the tendency towards a general strike or the conservative orientation of LO and the NPA majority leadership fell from the sky. In the struggles that took place in France since 2009 (Continental, Molex, Sony, Freescale, Total, Philips, New Fabris, SNCF, Toyota, Goodyear, Caterpillar, etc.) we could see the first examples. On the one hand, we saw how Lambertism, in the places it had a presence, fused with the bureaucracy of Force ouvrière (FO) to put a brake on the development of these struggles; on the other, we also saw how LO was incapable of posing any alternative to the closure of Continental. In the case of LO, there is also its intervention in the pickets and general strike in Guadeloupe, where it was a leading part of the “Collective against Exploitation” (a united front of political and union organizations), and yet posed no alternative to the bourgeois nationalist sectors of the UGTG federation, did not develop the tendencies towards self-organization or put French colonial domination into question, and allowed the great potential of the movement to be contained to the securing of a pay increase without ever proposing to develop any of this in a revolutionary sense.49Chingo, Juan, “Lecciones político-estratégicas del Otoño Francés 2010. A la luz del legado olvidado de León Trotsky en Francia” (Political-strategic lessons from the French Autumn of 2010. In the light of the forgotten legacy of Leon Trotsky on France), in Estrategia Internacional (International Strategy) No. 27, March 2011.

At the same time, we can see that the majority leadership of the NPA overlooks these struggles without giving them the slightest significance, even though it has party militants in the very leadership of a conflict such as that at Phillips Dreux. It is not by chance that the leader of the left wing of this factory became one of the founders of the Collective for a Revolutionary Tendency, which poses an alternative to the electoral drift of the majority leadership. We are talking about a whole series of conflicts in which the workers fought very hard, and yet none of these leaderships were able to rise to the occasion.

All these examples demonstrate that on the terrain of the class struggle, there was not only the refusal of these tendencies to transform each of these working class conflicts into great class combats that would try to in some way modify the real relationship of forces, or as Rosa Luxemburg said, to transform “protest strikes” into “struggle strikes”,50Luxemburg, Rosa, The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions, 1906. but there was also a defeatism in the face of the possibility of fostering the maturation of the vanguard sectors of the workers’ movement that had gone through these class combats. The process of strikes and mobilizations in October-November 2010 in France demonstrated the consequences of this defeatism and its impotence in the face of these superior events in the class struggle. These conclusions are fundamental, not only for Europe but also for those countries where the capitalist crisis, in spite of the impact produced in 2009, has not yet fully hit.

In the case of Brazil, we have seen how the PSTU never put forward any proposal for a serious struggle against the dismissal of 4,270 workers at Embraer, even though they led the Metalworkers’ Union of Sao José dos Campos (the city where the factory is located). 

In the case of Argentina’s PO, as a result of its withdrawal from the unions, it has found itself outside of the main phenomenon of organization outside the bureaucracy that the Argentine working class has seen in decades, the so-called “sindicalismo de base” (grassroots or rank-and-file unionism).

On the positive side, the conflict at Kraft-Terrabusi in 2009 was a small demonstration of how a combination of preparation by a vanguard sector within the factory together with the subjective willingness on the part of the PTS to transform a workers’ conflict into a great class battle, achieve solidarity with sectors of the student movement and the unemployed, force reformists into a united front while fighting them at the same time, with a correct program, all allowed for confronting the joint attack of one of the main U.S. multinationals, the Argentine state, the union bureaucracy, and even the U.S. embassy. We believe it is no exaggeration to say that the struggle at Kraft-Terrabusi, which was of great national significance, was an important element in stopping the wave of layoffs that were taking place under the excuse of the crisis.

But it is not a question of winning or losing. In the examples that we mentioned earlier, both in the case of Continental or the process in Guadeloupe, these could be classified as victories or partial victories from the point of view of the basic demands of the conflict; however, in the case of the workers at Continental, this meant getting their severance pay while the factory disappeared, and in the case of Guadeloupe, this meant the unleashing of an enormous revolutionary energy, with a one hundred day general strike, all for the movement to win something as transient as a wage rise. The question then has to be asked: what does the intervention of LO in these conflicts leave behind in terms of the development of a revolutionary, or even potentially revolutionary, workers’ vanguard?

Continuing with the example of Kraft (and without taking another great example into account, that of Zanon and the Ceramic Workers’ Union of Neuquén (SOECN)), the new comisión interna (shop floor committee) that emerged during the 2009 conflict, after the workers had their experience with the Maoist leadership (who betrayed the struggle), and which consisted of a group of PTS members along with independent workers, together with the comisión interna at Pepsico led by this same group, is the engine powering the regroupment of the workers’ vanguard in the Northern Zone of Greater Buenos Aires, the largest concentration of workers in the country.

But again, this is not just about winning; the experience at Kraft would have been impossible if there had not previously, during times of government strength, been symbolic struggles which were defeated, like that at the textiles factory Mafissa, or semi-defeated like at the soap factory Jabón Federal. It was the experience and lessons of these conflicts that allowed for the preparation of future conflicts like the one at Kraft. But what lessons for future revolutionary struggle can be drawn from a struggle that never happened, such as that at Embraer?

Finally, not only should these conflicts be exploited as real “schools of war,” as part of the preparation for generalized processes such as that of October-November 2010 in France, and on a larger scale for the class war itself, the revolution, but these same “schools of war” demand their own preparation so that they can become just that, and this implies the construction of revolutionary factions that can lead these battles. As it was at Kraft, so it was in Zanon, and so it was in 2010 in the struggle of the workers of the Roca railroad in Buenos Aires. A struggle against outsourcing and for permanent jobs for 2,052 workers moved to the center of the Argentine political stage, when in this same context, the Railway Union (UF) bureaucracy assassinated PO militant and University Federation of Buenos Aires (FUBA) activist Mariano Ferreyra, which set off a national crisis that was only dampened by the death of President Néstor Kirchner. This struggle was the highest point in a series of battles on the railroads that have been taking place since 2002. Since then, the Agrupación Bordó (Burgundy Group, made up of PTS members and independents) has been leading the struggles against outsourcing, first against the layoffs of outsourced workers at Técnica Industrial and then in Poliservicios to 2005, when with the unity of the unemployed workers’ movements, the workers of Catering World were transferred to permanent jobs. So it was that outsourcing was eliminated on the Roca railroad, where the unemployed were also incorporated into permanent jobs. Thirty-eight “cortes” (“cuts”—roadblocks) of railways and 127 blockades of ticket offices were part of this fight that prepared for the battle in 2010 that saw 2,052 workers who were outsourced after 2005 move into permanent jobs.

 As opposed to those who categorized the demand for permanent jobs for all 2,052 outsourced workers as “ultimatist,” the Agrupación Bordó placed itself at the head of the continuity of the struggle for this objective that was finally won, and that constitutes perhaps one of the most important victories in a company conflict since the fall of the dictatorship, transforming itself today into one of the great banners of the workers’ vanguard in Argentina. 

To conclude, we can say that ending defeatism towards the workers’ movement is the fundamental starting point for Trotskyism, as a continuity of revolutionary Marxism, so it can recover what distinguishes it from all other traditions, the method for fusion with the workers’ vanguard for a revolutionary perspective.

Part III: The Limits of Bourgeois Restoration and the New Conditions for the Reconstruction of Revolutionary Marxism

 The crisis that capitalism is currently going through poses new historical conditions that place the stage of “bourgeois restoration” within its own limits. Even though this has meant a wide-ranging defeat for the world proletariat that has then given a new impulse to capitalist domination (and in this sense we can speak of “restoration” and draw a parallel with the Bourbon Restoration); as we pointed out at the beginning, it does not mean the emergence of a capitalism a la Adam Smith, but a deepening of the contradictions of capitalism and them gaining an increasingly explosive character. At the same time, although in conditions of high internal fragmentation, the working class has extended its numbers to unprecedented levels.

Today we are facing the first consequences of the crisis. Currency wars, frictions within the G20 to figure out who is going to pay the costs, renewed geopolitical tensions, revelations that lead to the exposure of imperialist diplomacy as well as the relative retreat of the U.S. as a hegemonic power. In Europe, at the same time that the very existence of the Euro is threatened, there is a succession of deflationary attacks, in Greece, Spain, Portugal, etc., in a context where two years of crisis had already begun to undermine the living conditions of the masses and those of the most exploited in particular.

In 2010, we saw the first responses from the working class and the oppressed. On the one hand, the explosive proletariat of the East, which in China has almost 200 million new workers who have migrated to the cities in the last 20 years, has begun to flex its muscles in enterprise-level conflicts. On the other hand, the powerful European working class, with its epicenter in France with its strikes and massive mobilizations against the attacks of Sarkozy, has led to the first confrontations against an imperialist bourgeoisie that has tried to offload the crisis onto the workers.

 The year 2011 began with the uprising of the oppressed in North and Middle East Africa. Revolutionary processes are multiplying, from Tunisia to Egypt, from Egypt to Libya. They are the most forceful responses of the masses so far to the world crisis that are shaking the structure of the pro-imperialist dictatorships that dominate the region.

The crisis shows us a capitalism that has become incapable of guaranteeing even the elitist conditions of its own “neoliberal pact” with the middle classes and the privileged sectors of the working class, while at the same time it threatens to plunge the great majority of the world’s working class and oppressed even further into misery. Similarly, the massive state bailout of imperialist capital and the necessity for new reactionary advances increasingly reveal the degraded character of neoliberal democracy, not only in the semi-colonies but in the countries of imperialism, while exposing the hypocrisy of an imperialism that props up dictatorships of all kinds in order to protect its interests in Africa and the Middle East.

The evolution of these tendencies, along with the growth of geopolitical tensions resulting from the crisis, demonstrate the limits of a peaceful advance of imperialist reaction, and with them the conditions for the end of the stage of “bourgeois restoration” and the reactualization of the conditions of the imperialist epoch of crisis, wars, and revolutions.

These are the conditions for the reconstruction of revolutionary Marxism at the beginning of this present century.

As we pointed out at the beginning, for the working class the essential element of the maturation of its interests is determined by its accumulated historical experience and its education in the very process of class struggle, and this continuity can only be sustained by its organized vanguard, for under the conditions of capitalism it can never be the heritage of the class as a whole. This accumulated experience had its highest expressions in the Third International, in its first four congresses before its degeneration took place, and had its continuity in the legacy of Trotsky and the Fourth International. But this tradition broke down after the Second World War, remaining tenuously as “threads of continuity” within post-Yalta Trotskyism, reflected in the partially correct resistance against the most open political collapse, and whose tenuousness became more profound after thirty years of bourgeois restoration.

This rupture of the revolutionary tradition and the absence of revolutions for decades (and perhaps Egypt, Libya and the process in the Arab world may mark a change in this trend), means that establishing a close relationship with the working class without reconstructing a strategic framework from the most advanced experience of the workers’ movement and revolutionary theory, together with a profound assessment of previous experience, inevitably means degeneration, since the working class comes from decades of subjective regression in the conditions imposed by the restoration.

But, as the founder of the Bolshevik Party noted, “a correct revolutionary theory […] assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a truly mass and truly revolutionary movement.” Thus it is impossible to redefine this strategic framework outside of close connection to the real working class, because even though revolutionary theory can be developed in some circumstances in conditions of isolation (such as Marx in the British Museum, or Lenin in Switzerland during the First World War), revolutionary Marxism can only move toward its living and definitive forms when it is linked with the struggle and the organization of the working class. 

We are now at the dawn of a new historical period. Faced with the limits of “bourgeois restoration,” a new “Springtime of the Peoples” arises, the depth of which cannot yet be determined. In 1848 that “spring” crossed the whole of Europe and its periphery, from France where the first classic confrontations of the modern class struggle took place, to the Hungarian revolution for independence, making its way through Prussia, Italy, Austria, and even reaching countries like Brazil. The “Springtime of the Peoples” in 1848 marked the birth of the modern proletariat.

In these revolutions, as Trotsky pointed out in “Ninety Years of the Communist Manifesto,” Marx and Engels believed that they saw the symptoms of capitalism’s historical exhaustion as a system and overestimated the revolutionary maturity of the proletariat. But things were different in the imperialist epoch of the decline of capitalism, which was transformed into an absolutely reactionary system, and we saw how the bourgeoisie had to resort to the massive destruction of two world wars in order to maintain its dominance in the face of crises unparalleled in the era of the founders of Marxism and the proletarian revolutions that moved across the planet in the 20th century.

Today, this new spring marks the beginning of the resurgence of the working class in the conditions imposed by decades of bourgeois restoration. But history does not repeat itself, and we must not prepare ourselves for that. We know that in the very decay of imperialist capitalism, its triumph can only bring barbarism. And what is more important, we are not currently facing the first chapter in the history of the modern proletariat, but its most recent chapter after more than a century and a half of revolutionary struggles.

The reactualization of this experience and its transformation into a material force, with revolutionary parties and the reconstruction of the Fourth International, will depend on the possibility that the new developments of the class struggle, inscribed in the capitalist crisis, can break the continuum of history. It is for this that we are preparing ourselves.

17 February 2011

Translation: Sean Robertson


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Emilio Albamonte

Emilio is a leading member of the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS) in Buenos Aires.

Matías Maiello

Matías is a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires and a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party (PTS) in Argentina. He is co-author, together with Emilio Albamonte, of the book Estrategia socialista y arte militar (Buenos Aires: Ediciones IPS, 2018).

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