Note: The article below was written in May 2023, by Tom Hoffman, a member of the German section of the CWI (Sol -Socialist Organisation Solidarity). From the end of last year, young Sol members, who were previously involved in the DIE LINKE’s youth wing, were part of a process of building a new socialist youth organisation in Germany – as was reported here. This article marks a response to a different initiative around the so-called “Revolutionary Break”, which appealed to young members of DIE LINKE and its youth wing to leave both of them, in order to “break with Reformism”. Sol, the German section of the CWI, did not participate in this call of “breaking” with DIE LINKE. This article highlights the differences between the Marxist approach of Sol and what was in effect an ultra-left, sectarian approach to the question of confronting reformism.
“DIE LINKE” – The German Left Party
“Left Youth” – DIE LINKE’s youth organisation
“Sol” – Socialist Organisation Solidarity, German section of the CWI
“Revolutionary Break” – Campaign to leave both the Left Party and its youth wing
“RIO / Klasse gegen Klasse” – Revolutionary Internationalist Organisation, the dominating organisation behind the “Revolutionary Break” – German section of the FT-CI (Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International)
In January 2023, a conference of the so-called Revolutionary Break took place in Berlin. A small group of (former) members of DIE LINKE and/or its youth organisation had organised a faction, which was to prepare and carry out a collective exit from DIE LINKE and the Left Youth. This was initiated by RIO (Revolutionary International Organisation), which had previously won over some of the dissatisfied members of Left Youth. Together with other organisations, they discussed at the conference the state and crisis of DIE LINKE and the conclusions to be drawn from their point of view. Sol members did not participate in this faction or the conference.
Since the conference, nothing more has been heard from the “Revolutionary Break”, which is contrary to the many plans laid out in the final declaration that was adopted. The majority seems to be aligning itself with the (more or less) new RIO project “Weapons of Critique”, which confirms our suspicion that this initiative was never seriously about building a broader youth organisation, but rather a recruitment initiative for their own organisation. So why are we now commenting on this initiative again? Admittedly, we are late to the party. Young Sol members have had their hands full in recent months, working with other Left Youth members to form a new socialist youth organisation, Youth for Socialism, which organised a summer camp and its first congress over the recent Whitsun holiday. This initiative differs in many ways from Revolutionary Break, as we will more closely outline in this article.
Even though we do not know if, and how much, will be heard again from the Revolutionary Break, the debate about it is nonetheless of political value in illuminating the differences in programme, strategy, tactics, perspective, and especially the application of the Marxist method between the various groups involved (who often present themselves as Trotskyist).
These debates touch on important questions: What actually is DIE LINKE and what role did and does it play in the class struggle today? What are the reasons for its crisis? How is the consciousness of the working class and its organisations developing? What is reformism and how do revolutionaries deal with this phenomenon? And how can we create a large revolutionary organisation capable of leading a socialist revolution to success? Clear answers to these questions are sought by many young left activists and many more will seek them in the coming years. We are convinced that the “Revolutionary Break”, but also the organisations behind it, like RIO, are pointing them in the wrong direction when it comes to finding these answers.
First of all, much of the criticism of DIE LINKE and Left Youth, which the supporters of the Revolutionary Break express, is justified, even if we would formulate some of it differently. But the final declaration and other documents around the conference also contain many formulations and theses that we do not share. We want to focus on the most important differences with the majority statement, which goes back to a draft authored by RIO members.
Fundamental positions of SoL
Before developing our critique of the Revolutionary Break, however, we want to take a step back and make clear some of the fundamental positions of Sol. We feel this is necessary to make our critique more understandable to those who are not yet familiar with our main ideas. These ideas are the foundation of what we call the “dual task” – a tactical conclusion drawn by Sol and the Committee for a Workers’ International, which is regularly criticised (but unfortunately usually not properly understood) by other organisations with a Trotskyist self-understanding.
Sol is a revolutionary Marxist organisation. We do not believe that capitalism can be transformed in a socially just way or that it can be abolished slowly – step by step, and by parliamentary majorities alone. Only a revolutionary mass movement of the working class and the socially disadvantaged can overcome capitalism and begin to build a socialist democracy. The working class and such a movement ultimately need a revolutionary programme and a revolutionary mass organisation with a far-sighted Marxist leadership to succeed. Building such an organisation is the goal of Sol and the CWI.
The first prerequisite for building such an organisation, in our opinion, is a correct understanding of Marxism (not as a collection of dogmatic doctrines, but as a method for understanding and changing the world) and a correct assessment of the history of the workers’ movement and past revolutions. On this basis we have developed our programme. But correct ideas and a revolutionary programme alone are not enough for a revolution. Conversely, a Marxist organisation needs the support of the majority of the working class to be able to win the leadership of a revolutionary movement once it has broken out.
With this insight, we are in good company: even in the storms of the German revolution of 1918/1919, the Spartacus League, founded by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, held this thought in its programme: “The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power other than by the clear, unequivocal will of the great majority of the proletarian masses in Germany, never otherwise than by virtue of their conscious consent to the views, aims and fighting methods of the Spartacus League.” The Third and Fourth Congresses of the communist Third International, which was still the center of the revolutionary socialist movement before Stalinisation, also state that one must first conquer the masses before one can think of conquering power. Anything else would lead to ultra-left adventurism.
But how do you win the majority of the class? What factors influence this struggle? Even Marx knew that “social existence determines consciousness.” No matter how correct a set of ideas may be, whether or not these ideas prevail or in which period they do and do not prevail, depends on many factors beyond our influence. A correct analysis of the objective situation (that is, among other things, the development of capitalism and the class struggle, the balance of forces between the classes, the economy, consciousness, etc.) is essential for revolutionaries in order not to lose their bearings and come to the wrong conclusions.
Correct analysis of the objective situation necessary
The Sol and the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) therefore always base their work on an accurate study of the objective situation, encompassing the various factors and developments, and establish perspectives on this basis. We have never shied away from analysing the objective complications of our time instead of closing our eyes to them. There is no doubt that capitalism is currently in its deepest crisis in decades. It has already led in recent years to enormous political polarisation, a massive questioning of bourgeois institutions and parties, and also to impressive mass movements up to and including revolutionary uprisings. The next few years will be marked by that instability to a much greater degree. The fundamental causes of this crisis are structural in nature and thus cannot be overcome on the basis of capitalism. This shows how necessary socialism has become.
But overcoming capitalism must be a conscious act of the working class. The consciousness of the working class, the degree of its organisation and the state and political orientation of its organisations (parties, unions, etc.) are therefore important factors to analyse. To do this, we use the Marxist method; that is, we look at these phenomena in their development, their contradiction and dependence on each other and the changes in society; looking for cause and effect in order to derive conclusions for practice.
Effects of the collapse of Stalinism
One aspect of this analysis is the enormous multiple crisis of recent years we have mentioned. This will lead a part of the working class and especially of the youth to draw revolutionary conclusions and possibly be won for Marxism. But each historical phase is influenced by the previous one. Therefore, another part of the analysis is also the effects of past periods that continue to this day, especially the collapse of Stalinism, as well as the bourgeoisification of the workers’ parties in the 1980s and 1990s. The restoration of capitalism in the former Eastern bloc countries meant an ideological triumph for capital over the idea of a socialist alternative to its system.
Stalinism was a dictatorial regime over the working class, a caricature of the idea of socialist democracy, the goals of the Russian Revolution, and Bolshevism. But it was also a non-capitalist society without private ownership of large means of production, thus preserving during its existence, in an extremely distorted way, many positive achievements of this revolution. For example, the fact that the economy was state-planned rather than dominated by the anarchy of the market meant that, unlike today, there was virtually no unemployment or homelessness.
The impressive economic development of the former Soviet Union, and other Stalinist states modeled on it, enjoyed over decades, as well as the prestige of the Russian Revolution, had a major impact on class struggle in many capitalist and neocolonial countries. There was an obvious systemic alternative to capitalism (albeit extremely distorted), which (falsely) called itself socialist. There is the idea that the Soviet Union was present at every wage negotiation as an invisible third party at the negotiating table – as an (unspoken) quasi-threat to the capitalists as an example to workers that there was an alternative to capitalism. Since this planned economy was not organized democratically by the working class but bureaucratically by a caste of party bureaucrats, it was bound to fail – and the question was would a political revolution establish a real workers’ democracy. But this did not happen, because the process of political revolution that began with the mass protests of 1989 was diverted into the paths of capitalist counterrevolution.
Current State of the Workers’ Movement
Thus, one can explain that the collapse of Stalinism had devastating consequences for the workers’ movement. Capitalism was able to discredit the idea of socialism. The collapse led to a widespread decline of socialist consciousness in the broader working class and also in its organized layers, the effects of which we still feel today. Along with the neoliberal offensive of capital, there was also a weakening of the organisations of the working class: unions shrunk and became even more bureaucratic. Workers’ parties, like the SPD (German social democratic party), had for decades already had a pro-capitalist leadership anchored in the system, really having become bourgeois workers’ parties. But they had remained workers’ parties until then; at the grassroots there were hundreds of thousands of socialist-minded workers around them and large parts of the working class saw the SPD as “their ” party. This changed and these social democratic or even some of the (ex-)communist parties became completely bourgeoisified in many countries or disappeared into insignificance. A whole politically advanced stratum of tens of thousands of workers who were basically socialist and active in political parties, trade unions and movements disappeared. To this day, this legacy not only complicates the work of revolutionaries, but generally complicates the struggle of the working class against attacks by capital.
It is these complications that some groups with revolutionary pretensions close their eyes to or fail to draw the necessary conclusions from. They often quote Leon Trotsky, who in the 1930s attributed the crisis of the workers’ movement (i.e. its political inability to overthrow capitalism at that time) to the crisis of the leadership of the workers’ movement (Stalinism, reformism). There is no question that such a “crisis of leadership” exists today, as well, and that it is even deeper than in the 1930s. Part of it is also the failure, and in some cases the open betrayal, of those left formations and leaders who rose, and in some cases fell, in the years since the 2007-08 financial crisis. But today we are also dealing with a crisis in the consciousness and organisation of the class, precisely as a result of the collapse of Stalinism. This is not to “blame” the working class for the lack of revolution, but to raise awareness of the challenges of our time. Of course, these hurdles are only relative; first, in the sense that they do not exclude struggles or potentially even revolutions, which inevitably develop out of the crises of capitalism; second, in the sense that through such new struggles and experiences the workers’ movement can be rebuilt and socialist and revolutionary ideas will again become more widespread. We have seen the beginnings of this process in many countries in recent years, from the so-called Arab Spring, the protests against the euro crisis and austerity policies in Southern Europe, to the mass movements of recent years in Chile, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and many others. Marxists can also accelerate this process by intervening in it, but to do so they must first recognize it as a task.
The “Dual Tasks”
From this, the CWI and Sol have derived the “dual task”. While we remain committed to building an organisationally independent, revolutionary Marxist organisation, we also understand the need to contribute to the reconstruction of the broader workers’ movement on a socialist basis. This includes the task of spreading the fundamental ideas of socialism again, and that means, among other things, advocating the building of a broad workers’ party with a socialist programme.
In the face of the setback of consciousness and the crisis of the working class movement, we put forward the perspective that important parts of the working class will not come directly, by leaps and bounds, to revolutionary Marxist conclusions. This is certainly not true for the entire working class. But especially in the developed capitalist countries, Marxists will have to deal with widespread illusions in reformist ideas and leaders even as mass movements erupt. Propaganda alone will not be enough to dispel them; as in the past, the masses will have to make their own experiences.
However, the existence of a new workers’ party would be a step forward even if it did not immediately adopt a revolutionary programme, because it would give (back) to the working class an important tool in the class struggle. What a step forward today would be the existence of a militant party that would unite striking and unionising workers, socialists, rent activists and other representatives of social movements and declare war on the power of the banks and corporations. It would not only shift the balance of power between the classes in our favour, but at the same time would be a forum for debates (and thus also for revolutionaries) on how the interests of the working class could be asserted and capitalism abolished.
Crucially for Sol, it constitutes progress if a relevant section of the working class organizes politically, independently of capital, to advance its class interests; when there is a point of reference for the hopes of broader layers; and when their success would lead not only to material improvements but also to greater self-awareness, organisation and activity.
Proposing or supporting the formation of new workers’ parties does not mean political support for possibly reformist positions of such parties. Marxists must always warn of the limits and consequences of reformist politics. But it is also important to understand that it makes a difference whether reformist illusions are part of the path of the working class on the way from a “class in itself” to a “class for itself” or whether these illusions are used as a weapon in the hands of a bourgeois bureaucracy against the struggle for socialism with the aim of consolidating illusions. Marxists must recognize the former as a necessary intermediate stage in the development of consciousness of at least parts of the masses and help the masses to quickly leave this stage behind and come to revolutionary conclusions. The latter must be recognized as preserving capitalism and must therefore be opposed and fought against politically.
This is comparable to the task Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels set themselves in building the First International. Having previously established the ideas of scientific socialism, they did not make their full acceptance a prerequisite for joint organisation. The First International was by no means a homogeneous Marxist entity; Marx and Engels engaged in sharp debates with anarchists and reformists. Their aim was first to organize a leading layer of workers internationally on the common basis of political independence from capital and a socialist objective, on the basis of which they could argue for their more far-reaching ideas. The experience of the First International and growth of socialist parties meant that the Second International fairly quickly adopted a Marxist programme and defended Marxist ideas until the majority of its leaders decided to support their “own” ruling classes in the First World War. Another example is Leon Trotsky’s support for the slogan for a Labor Party in the U.S. in the 1930s when the rapid development of mass trade unions organised key sections of the working class but there was no sizeable independent workers’ party.
Repeating the past?
When organisations like RIO criticize our ideas, they either don’t understand them or misrepresent them, or at worst do both. For example, RIO accuses us in an article of claiming that the “workers’ movement […] must make the same developments that it made in its formation”; that it must “first go through a long period of joint organisation of revolutionaries and reformists as before World War I”; and that “only after a long period of struggle and opportunist mistakes would there be the possibility of revolutionary organisation” It is no accident that RIO does not or cannot cite any quotations or evidence for these assertions-because it is a misrepresentation of our ideas that springs solely from their own interpretation. Elsewhere in the article, they rip a quote from a Sol article out of context and use it to construct positions of Sol that we do not have – which is easy to see if you read the relevant article in full. We therefore call on RIO to apply basic methodological standards, such as correct reproduction of content.
Nowhere do we say that today it is a matter of building workers’ parties over decades, as before World War 1, which then have to take the same development until a revolutionary party can be formed. Firstly, because the historical-economic conditions of capitalism, which has entered an imperialist stage, preclude such a development. The basis for the slow development of reformism in the SPD was the certain economic upswing at the end of the 19th century – this perspective does not exist today. Secondly, because we in no way exclude the possibility of “revolutionary organising” today, but in fact firmly advocate and implement such organising (both within and outside broader parties). The ‘dual task’ is also not about forcing the reconstruction of the workers’ movement into a dogmatic perspective scheme, i.e. firstly, a broad workers’ party, then revolutionary organisation. Especially in view of the mass movements of recent years, it cannot be ruled out that revolutionary organisations will grow by leaps and bounds and become a point of reference in certain countries. But even then, they still have the task of winning a majority for their programme. It is a matter of learning from the past and examining whether or not certain methods or elements of them correspond to the conditions of today.
That is why we are orienting (in different ways from country to country) towards processes that point in the direction of a new workers’ party, and why Sol supports every approach that potentially takes a step towards such a political vehicle that would advance and defend working class interests. Everywhere, however, we advocate for our Marxist ideas and for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism; at the same time, however, we do not make agreement with revolutionary conclusions a precondition for participation in such formations. For these reasons, Sol or rather its predecessor organisation, SAV, first became active in the WASG and, after their merger, in DIE LINKE – not because we thought that these were already workers’ parties, but because they represented such points of reference and we saw the possibility of processes developing out of these formations under the impact of class struggles, representing a step on the way to a real workers’ party. At the same time, at no point did we refrain from building a revolutionary Marxist organisation with the SAV or, later, Sol.
We hope that the readers now have an idea of the Fundamental approach taken by Sol. On this basis, it will be easier to understand our critique of the Revolutionary Break or RIO.
Crisis of DIE LINKE
So what does the Revolutionary Break say? It declares what has always been the position of RIO. DIE LINKE and the Left Youth, in light of the pro-capitalist policies that the party has supported in governments, is not to be supported in any way, not even critically: “For 15 years they have been steadily deepening their perspective of co-management of capitalist misery.” and “The failure of the Left Party is not a coincidence or a product of adverse circumstances, but a consequence of its entire strategy.” This is not changed by “the fact that a small minority of the party takes a ‘critical’ view of government participation, nor by individual ‘leftist’ local groups of its youth organisation.” The conference equates its break with and its public repudiation of DIE LINKE with an overall break with “reformism”.
The crisis of DIE LINKE is obvious. We also believe that the central cause lies in the party’s political orientation and its alignment with the SPD and the Greens, especially in pro-capitalist government participation. In times of pandemic, war and inflation, DIE LINKE has largely failed to put forward socialist positions and build a militant opposition to the government. A split in the party is increasingly likely, which could lead to DIE LINKE disappearing into irrelevance. Nevertheless, we believe that the comrades make it too easy for themselves when they say that this has nothing to do with the objective situation, or when imply that this development has been a linear process for 15 whole years (in the case of RIO, it must be noted that they actually see no development at all and have always had this exact assessment of DIE LINKE).
The latter is simply not the case. In 2009, after the financial crisis, DIE LINKE reached almost 12 percent and over five million votes in the federal elections. This provided a real opportunity to create a mass socialist opposition to capitalism which however was not taken up. Nevertheless for many, DIE LINKE was an important point of reference with a socialist aspiration that Marxists could participate in with positive proposals and corresponding criticism. For many years, there were lively debates in the party and, especially on the question of government, disputes between the reformist camp and a left wing of various (left-)reformist to revolutionary forces. The situation in DIE LINKE has been complicated by the establishment of various unprincipled power blocs in recent years. Despite the limited nature of its reformist leadership, however, the party’s existence in the Bundestag was, on balance, a plus in the balance of power between the classes, because it meant there was a party that, among other things, spoke out against the power of the banks and corporations, partly posed “the property question” and nationalisations and put pressure on those in power from the left.
It is not a matter of glorifying DIE LINKE or making it look better than it was or currently is. The Sol, and until a split, its predecessor organisation, SAV, never did that, but always fought for a militant and socialist change of course. This also included a struggle against the social roots of reformist limitations with concrete demands, such as demanding elected officials take an average skilled workers’ wage, as well as the right to elect or deselect them at any time and being directly accountable (ideas which one looks for in vain in the Revolutionary Break declaration). But it is important, despite all correct criticism of the party leadership and especially the parliamentary groups and ministers in state government responsibility, where DIE LINKE is increasingly perceived as part of the establishment, to maintain some balance. It is correct, for example, to attribute the near-failure of DIE LINKE in the last federal election to the party’s extensive alignment towards SPD and Greens. At the same time, one should realise that a failure of DIE LINKE in the federal elections to enter parliament would have been a major win for the capitalists and would have demoralised, not radicalised, many hundreds of thousands of people. Last but not least, some important trade union struggles, such as the hospital movements, were supported by the party. All of this is missing completely in the consideration of the Revolutionary Break and by RIO.
But also the objective situation sets certain limits for revolutionaries (whether inside or outside DIE LINKE). It is easy to write that the crisis of DIE LINKE has nothing to do with adverse circumstances or, as a comrade of RIO does in an article against Sol, to point to the crisis of DIE LINKE today and postulate that it does not work “on the one hand to want to build a revolutionary organisation and on the other hand at the same time to walk in step with a reformist mass party” (despite the fact that SoL and DIE LINKE have never walked “in step”) and to justify that by saying that “there has been no noticeable effect of this strategy”, “DIE LINKE is drifting further and further to the right” and “hardly any people could be won for revolutionary politics”. Unfortunately, however, Sol’s “strategy” simply has not been the decisive factor in the development of DIE LINKE. RIO, too, has not built up a larger revolutionary organisation with roots in the working class in recent years – so we too could make it easy for ourselves and postulate no “noticeable effect of this strategy”. But the fact that this is the case, that there has not been a process of differentiation between a left and a right wing of the party in DIE LINKE, also has a lot to do with the relatively low level of class struggles in recent years and the complications in the consciousness of the working class.
New Left Formations
The Revolutionary Break draws a parallel with other left or left-populist formations that have emerged in other countries in recent years, some of which have gained the support of millions of people on the basis of large mass movements, for example: “Syriza in Greece, Podemos in the Spanish state or La France Insoumise in France “. But to this the RB adds: “They are not expressions of the class struggle. On the contrary, they divert the class struggle into statist channels.”
This formulation is, at best inaccurate, at worst, a repudiation of Marxism. In any case, it shows the degree to which they are simply on the wrong track. All political formations are expressions of the class struggle, whether Syriza and Podemos or CDU or the U.S. Democrats. It is crucial to recognize their function in the class struggle. It is far from reality to claim that the electoral successes of Syriza and Podemos were not the result of the class struggles and mass mobilizations that took place in these countries before. Of course, the electoral success of these formations would have been unthinkable without these movements, strikes and struggles and the millions of people who were mobilized by them and placed their hopes in these forces. In this sense, they were political expressions of these protests, even if the politics of their leaderships were usually to the right of the consciousness of the masses, or at least of those actively involved in the protests.
The leaderships of Syriza and Podemos have betrayed the hopes of the masses in the most blatant way when it came to asserting their interests against capital. The Sol and the CWI have always sharply repudiated this betrayal. As a result, these forces have also lost the support of broad layers and their prestige has fallen massively. Was this inevitable given the reformist nature of the leadership? In some respects, yes. Unless one is prepared to go beyond the limits of capitalism, which is only possible through socialist measures and a mobilization of the masses, sooner or later the moment of betrayal of the interests of the working class arrives. Therefore, it is necessary to stand up for a socialist transitional programme within the framework of such movements and to fight for the self-organisation of the masses and their democratic control over the leaderships, so that in case of mistakes or betrayals it is possible to draw the political and personal consequences from them.
It will be the rule rather than the exception, especially in the developed capitalist countries, that large sections of the working class will not draw revolutionary conclusions immediately, but will first want to try supposedly “easier” ways for change on their behalf. The question is how to deal with such cases. Was it wrong, when the masses had these hopes, to positively engage with these and attempt to show a way forward to enforce their interests? To use the movement to practically prove the superiority of Marxist ideas? While, at the same time, warning against the rotten compromise and betrayal of the leaderships, fighting against it with the organized layers and building your own revolutionary organisation? We do not believe that this is wrong, but rather that this is exactly the tradition of the united front.
On the contrary, we believe that it is the wrong approach to propagate revolution from the sidelines, bypassing the hopes and practical experience of the masses. This was the method of RIO, which in Greece, for example, promoted the more “radical left” Antarsya project as an alternative to Syriza. However, the majority of Antarsya did not understand that the largest parts of the population and the mass movement had placed hopes in Syriza and that it was a matter of engaging with this mood and not isolating oneself from it. It was necessary in this situation to make proposals for the construction of a new left mass force and, above all, the formation of a left government with a socialist programme, or participating in such a process, without renouncing either criticism of the Syriza leadership or one’s own socialist ideas. Antarsya did not do this and (also for this reason) was never regarded by the masses as the next best alternative after Syriza’s betrayal.
Of course, it can also become wrong to support such parties when they have completed their betrayal and the masses rightly turn away from them. We therefore do not share the schematic position of another organisation belonging to the revolutionary left, namely “Der Funke” (the German Section of the International Marxist Tendency), which in its article calls Podemos or Syriza “workers’ parties” and writes that they “remain the first point of contact for the masses in the class struggles, as long as the hopes for a parliamentary solution to the problems of the working class have not been abandoned”. Not every reformist force with support at the electoral level is immediately a workers’ party. The new left formations, for example, did not have a sufficient social base in the working class to be called such, which is also the reason large parts of the masses rapidly turned away from them, at a certain point.
It is important to distinguish in which situations one applies which politics. But a division into black and white, which in principle denies critical support to a non-revolutionary political force, leads in the worst case to a weakening of the working class. For example, we did not lump France Insoumise (FI) or Jean-Luc Mélenchon together with Syriza and Podemos above. This force – despite its political narrowness and its undemocratic organisation – continued to express the interests and hopes of a large part of the French working class in the most recent phase of events. The sister organisation of Sol in France has been calling for years for the FI to democratise and take steps to build a workers’ party, and express much criticism of the leadership around Mélenchon. Nevertheless, we have critically supported the party because its success would have improved the conditions for class struggle.
It was extremely damaging that in last year’s presidential election, groups with a revolutionary posture, including RIO’s sister organisation, chose to argue against voting for Mélenchon instead of critically supporting him, as the CWI did. The votes of the “revolutionary” left, which insisted on its own candidacy, would have been enough for Mélenchon, and not the right-wing populist Le Pen, to get into the runoff against Macron! There cannot be any doubt whatsoever that a duel between Mélenchon and Macron would have been a hundred times better for revolutionaries and the workers’ movement, both in terms of political debates and in terms of the possibility of further building a truly socialist party or movement. Conversely, Le Pen had the opportunity to try to latch onto and express the discontent against the Macron government from the right.
In truth, the Revolutionary Break shies away from acknowledging and confronting the complex challenges that arise during the course of the class struggle, because they can result in opportunist mistakes. But revolutionary politics, in practice, does not mean simply branding reformist leaders as (potential) traitors, at all times. Reformism sooner or later always amounts to betrayal of the interests of the working class. But the mass of the working class is not aware of this. One must recognize the difference between when these leaders express the hopes of (parts of) the working class and, within certain limits, advance the class struggle (or are driven by it) and when they betray it. It is necessary to know when to put critically-supportive demands to these leaders (without fomenting illusions) in order to pressure them and thus politically prepare the working class for the essential next steps or dangers. And one should not exclude that in the future even left reformist leaders or leaders wavering between reformist and revolutionary politics can be driven to the left by the pressure of mass struggles. This means to remain flexible in our tactical approach according to the respective situation without going back on our revolutionary principles.
The RB and RIO instead retreat to the position of simply building a truly revolutionary organisation, “that can lead the most advanced sections of the working class, youth, women and LGBTQIA+, [and] migrants in the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and for socialist revolution. “ To this end, the RB put many correct (but also some incorrect) programmematic guiding principles in its final declaration at various points. Implementing the programme, it says, requires a “united front for the struggle against the government and capital.” “To this end, it is necessary to overcome the restraining role of the bureaucracies of the SPD, the trade unions and NGOs and to contrast it with a perspective of self-organisation and coordination of struggles.”
The United Front
Unfortunately, here, there is also confusion about the character of the united front policy. In the historical sense, the united front in the 1920s was the policy of the Communist International towards opportunist social democracy, which was still supported by a large section of the working class in many countries. The principle is not complicated and can be roughly summarized: The communists, who already constitute a large party, insist on the necessity of revolutionary politics to overthrow capitalism. At the same time, they recognize that this must not be a hurdle to joint struggle with the non-revolutionary sections of the class, and that social-democratic workers will not be convinced by propaganda alone. So they propose to the reformist leaders, as well as to the workers following them, to fight together for the immediate demands of the working class or against the immediate attacks of capital (later also the fascists). In doing so, one does not enter into a political partnership that blurs the fundamental differences, but preserves the freedom of critique. Through the experience of common struggle, communists can demonstrate their superiority and make clear the necessity of revolutionary politics in the face of the attacks of capital, the hesitation of reformist leaders, and so on.
Today we have a different historical situation and no mass revolutionary parties. However, the method of the united front remains an important tool if one understands under what conditions and in what way it is to be applied. This means first of all to understand that the united front does not have as a prerequisite to “overcome the restraining role of the bureaucracies” (then it would be superfluous), but that it is the means to advance struggles and self-organisation despite this restraining role and enables revolutionaries to win support for their programme. But what does this look like in concrete-practical terms? Reading the final declaration, one gets the impression that the Revolutionary Break is simply about putting forward all sorts of different demands, propagating the struggle for these demands, and exposing the leaderships of the unions as ultimately pursuing social partnership policies instead of class struggle policies (without even mentioning in the document that it is also necessary to address demands to the leaders of these unions).
This points to a wrong understanding of the united front method. In practical terms, it is not about simply demanding struggle and mobilization for a transitional socialist programme (and certainly not to leave demands hanging in the air without addressing them to anyone). It is about advancing struggles of the working class for its (partial) interests arising from the immediate crisis and day-to-day necessity, helping them succeed as much as possible, and thereby strengthening the self-organisation and political understanding (of parts) of the class. These struggles must be used by Marxists to demonstrate the superiority of revolutionary socialist ideas practically (and often in tangibly dealing not only with reformist leaders but also sections of the class) and to win the best sections for a revolutionary programme.
And as always, the truth is concrete. The exact practice depends on the specific and often complicated conditions. This can also mean, for example, recognizing that certain positions held by Marxists can be a hurdle to the immediate involvement of broader sections of wage workers, etc., in struggles/united fronts and can jeopardize unity of action on other important issues where there is agreement. That’s why last fall, for example, Sol members argued for not making politically correct but highly contested positions on the Ukraine war (rejection of arms shipments, not to support for NATO and the Zelensky government) the basis for joint mobilisations against price increases in a possible “Hot Autumn.” At the same time, we fought for each group to be allowed to express its position on this topic, at any time, and to represent and explain these positions, some of which are controversial in the working class, as a whole. For it would indeed be opportunism to conceal one’s own programme and not “tell the truth.”
Therefore, it is necessary to apply the united front method flexibly according to the objective and subjective conditions. This really amounts to a mobilization of larger parts of the working class for their common interests; to put demands accordingly to the trade union and other leaderships, relevant organisations or movements of the working class and the left; to make one’s own proposals for struggle and, at the same time, never to let one’s socialist programme be swept under the rug.
Voluntarism in politics and practice
The method of the RB and RIO is political and practical voluntarism. One’s own programme and one’s own revolutionary will-to-action here become the central condition for the political and practical proposals one makes – the consciousness of activists or the broader working class, the state of the workers’ movement, etc. are left out.
The RB’s final statement, as an alternative to participating in the building of broader left or working-class parties, boils down to simply postulating one’s programme in as many places and struggles as possible, in order to convince new comrades-in-arms. This is followed by a long list of plans and goals for the future (of which, as mentioned, not much has been heard since).
This includes the “necessity of revolutionary-socialist candidacies apart from the reformist parties” as well as the organisation of a “campaign against the renewed government participation of DIE LINKE in RRG (‘Red, Red, Green’ coalitions)”. Finally, the RB calls for “taking steps to build a common revolutionary front. This front must be based on common experience in class struggle and political intervention in strikes, social struggles, and, prospectively, elections at the local, state and national levels.” We currently do not consider candidacies of a “revolutionary front” of various small left groups without any roots in parts of the working class or social movements (the involvement of which does not even appear in the conditions named by RB) to be an adequate alternative. With DIE LINKE there is still a larger reformist electoral alternative and a reference point for layers of wage earners, trade unionists and activists, whose parliamentary representation influences the balance of power in favour of the working class.
A campaign against the renewed government participation of DIE LINKE in Berlin (in the sense of a public campaign, not an inner-party struggle, as we have been waging for years) that puts this at the centrer is far removed from the state of consciousness and fails to understand that while this position must be put forward publicly in the election campaign, it must also be explained to many and thus involves swimming against the tide, especially among left-wing and trade union activists, with concerns about a “more right-wing” government. The original draft introduced by RIO members went even further, proposing a campaign against electoral support for DIE LINKE, which would only have created an unnecessary barrier to important parts of the workers’ movement.
Conclusions drawn by Sol
What conclusions should then be drawn from the crisis of DIE LINKE and its youth organisation? We too think that the crisis of DIE LINKE has reached a new quality and that it can no longer be considered, as in the past, as the main reference point for the development of a new workers’ party. It is impossible to say whether it will recover from its current crisis. We are aware that there is also no force in the party that could currently implement the necessary change of course towards truly consistently socialist and militant politics. But what we wrote at the end of last year remains relevant:
“In the absence of a strong left alternative to it, it also remains a field of activity for socialists* and we will support it in elections. But we also assume that a mass-based political vehicle for the interests of the working class will form anew in the future and will be fed by various sources (trade unions, social movements, local left-wing initiatives, etc). DIE LINKE and a possible Wagenknecht Party (most prominent member of DIE LINKE who plans to build a new party) may be one of these different sources, but this is not at all certain. It is certain, however, that such a new attempt will be more promising the stronger Marxist forces will be. Therefore, it is all the more important to continue to build Sol, exactly such a Marxist force.”
Youth for Socialism
We drew a different conclusion, however, from the crisis of Left Youth and therefore initiated, with others, the founding of “Jugend für Sozialismus” (Youth for Socialism- or JfS). Criticism of the Left Youth is missing completely in the RB’s final declaration. Not only does the Left Youth have much less social relevance than DIE LINKE, it is also less and less a point of attraction for young people who are becoming radicalised. It is also not an organisation in which one can fight for a change of course and an anti-capitalist programme, without regularly being confronted with bureaucratic attempts at exclusion. Identity politics and other false ideas have become increasingly dominant or accepted in the organisation, as explained in the founding declaration of Youth for Socialism, among other things.
The Revolutionary Left, a current of Marxist comrades within the Left Youth, has therefore founded a new youth organisation, Jugend für Sozialismus. We believe that the Left Youth can no longer be saved. At the same time, we are aware that there are comrades in some places and state organisations [of the Left Youth] who share our criticism and our positions, but for various reasons want to continue to work within the Left Youth. We did not want to create an unnecessary obstacle for cooperation with these comrades. Therefore, the decisive factor for us was the common political basis for building a socialist youth organization and not that everyone must share our assessment that it is better not to continue to put one’s energy into the Left Youth. Unlike the RB, JfS did not call for a break with DIE LINKE, nor did it make leaving the Left Youth a condition for cooperation with JfS. This was noted with approval by some who took offense at the sectarian behavior of the RB.
Instead, JfS correctly writes: “We hold fast to the goal of building a mass socialist workers’ party. There are thousands of activists organized in DIE LINKE, many of whom could play a role in building such a party in the future. Therefore, we will continue to critically support DIE LINKE. But it is unclear how the crisis in the party will develop in the future. We are aware that the party stands on a precipice and that a split seems increasingly likely. Since there is as yet no other major left alternative, we will continue to work within the party both for the much-needed socialist and oppositional change of course and to oppose government participation with pro-capitalist parties and alignment with the SPD and the Greens, as well as the ‘left-conservative’ ideas of Sahra Wagenknecht, which do not represent a left alternative to the current political course. “
We do not believe that RIO or “Weapons of Critique”, with their approach, will be able to build a large revolutionary organisation anchored in the working class. They do not, in their analysis, face up to the complications of our present time, and therefore practice political and practical voluntarism. Their radicalism may attract some young activists, especially at universities, and win them over for a time. It is quite another thing, however, to put down roots among the working class and show a way forward to win a majority of the working class to Marxism. The CWI can, in this regard, build on the successes of the Militant Tendency in Britain, which led mass movements in Liverpool and nationwide of millions, leading the anti-poll tax struggle, against the Thatcher government in the 1980s and early 1990s. With this article we hope to have made clear to interested readers how the Sol and the Committee for a Workers’ International face up to these tasks, and we hope to be able to convince them of this approach.