The Struggle for a Revolutionary Party Today

The protracted crisis of global capitalism which is developing at an increasing speed and tempo accompanies an unprecedented crisis in leadership and, partially, the organisation of the working class. The absence of mass revolutionary parties and even of reformist mass workers’ parties has left an enormous political vacuum. The need for a mass socialist alternative and for the working class to have political independence and offer an alternative is stark. The absence of this in practically all countries has allowed the right populists and far-right to garner more support in many countries although on an unstable basis.

Since the 1990s the question of building new broader mass workers’ parties and our demand for them has distinguished the CWI from others on the left including the far left. It is important at this stage to draw a balance sheet of the experience on this question since the CWI first began to widely raise the issue in the 1990s, in order not to be caught unawares by future developments. This is important to be ready and able to respond to them rapidly. The formation of new mass workers’ parties has already been an extremely protracted process and encountered many obstacles. It is possible, although not certain, that it will continue to be an even more protracted process. Alternatively, the process could be speeded up in some countries depending on how the class struggle develops.

We need to emphasise that for the CWI our strategic objective is the building of large and mass revolutionary Bolshevik parties, as crucial instruments necessary for a successful socialist revolution. These are our primary objectives. The question is how this is to be achieved.  For Marxists the building and formation of broad mass workers’ parties would signify a step along the road in achieving our primary objectives. This however is not an iron law set in stone that rules out building significant or mass revolutionary parties independent of broader formations. In the early 1930s Trotsky warned, in the US, that reformist leaders could try to use the formation of a broad Labor Party to try and cut across the building of a revolutionary party. This would be in the context of a large or mass revolutionary party developing. This did not prevent Trotsky in the late 1930s agreeing, after mass industrial trade unions had been built in key sectors, with the need to support the demand for forming a Labor Party in the US and, at the same time, building a revolutionary party. The building of a broad party of the working class is therefore not an end in itself.

The issue first arose more widely for the CWI in the 1990s flowing from the consequences of the collapse of the former Stalinist states in the USSR and Eastern Europe and the counter revolutionary restoration of capitalism which took place in those countries. Amongst other issues this accelerated the process of the bourgeoisification of the former mass social democratic parties and some of the Communist Parties.  One reason for this lay in the development of reformism and Stalinism in the preceding era. But the process sped-up in the 1980s and rapidly accelerated following the collapse of the former Stalinist states. The situation faced by Marxists in the US, Nigeria and some other countries was different as there no traditional reformist workers’ parties or large Stalinist parties existed.

Where they did exist the social democratic parties always had a dual character for decades. They had a mass base, membership, and were rooted amongst the working class. However, they also had a reformist pro-bourgeois leadership. However, as they swung further and further to the right by the 1990s a tipping point was reached. Quantity became quality and a qualitative change eventually took place. Although at differing rhythms in different countries the trend was globally in the same direction. This process also took place in some of the Communist Parties, like in Italy and Britain, which both dissolved themselves in 1991.

The ideological offensive of the ruling classes combined with the collapse of the former Stalinist states resulted in a collapse in support for the idea of socialism as an alternative social system to capitalism. In the main the majority of the left buckled to this pressure. The political consciousness of the working class and amongst society in general was thrown back. This did not mean that no struggles took place. 1994 saw the Zapatista uprising in Mexico which signalled the first major revolt against the new neo-liberalism. An anti-globalisation mass protest movement achieved international recognition after the protests in Seattle in 1999 and peaked in Genoa in 2001. The ‘pink wave’ in Latin America was ushered in by the election of Chavez in Venezuela in 2002.

This was followed by anti-capitalist protests and movements elsewhere including the two anti-Iraq war protests. However, these movements assumed an “anti-system” character without raising socialism as an alternative social system with the notable exception of Venezuela and to an extent Bolivia. Even in Venezuela and Bolivia this took a distorted form of top-down bureaucratic methods and a failure to fully break with capitalism.

Different world post-USSR 

These movements were extremely significant, but they reflected an entirely different world situation and with a different political consciousness to previous movements which had erupted historically prior to capitalist restoration in the former USSR and Eastern Europe.

Despite the degenerate, repressive, corrupt character of the Stalinist regimes they gave credence to the idea that an alternative social system – “socialism” – was possible. This re-enforced the powerful historic socialist tradition which existed in the workers’ movement in many if not most countries.

The changed world situation following the collapse of the Stalinist regimes represented a fundamental transformation in world relation. This was reflected in the workers’ movement and the class struggle. It provoked debate, divisions, and splits in all organisations on the socialist left including in the CWI. A struggle broke out within the CWI about how to respond to this historical epoch. A split took place with a small section which eventually formed the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), today rebranded as the Revolutionary Communist International. Up until the recent period (when they undertook a political summersault with no accounting of their previous position), the IMT maintained for decades an ossified insistence on staying in the old parties despite the evident changes that had taken place. Even in Italy when the Party of Communist Refoundation was formed in 1991 by a large left-wing break from the old Communist Party they brushed it aside.

The IMT were also in denial for a period about capitalist restoration in the former-USSR and eastern Europe. They dogmatically clung to what had become an outmoded formula. The CWI majority concluded that the new world situation following the collapse of the former USSR and developments flowing from it required a reappraisal of the world situation. This included the tactics for Marxists in relation to the former mass workers’ parties.

The majority concluded that it was necessary for the working class to struggle to build new workers’ parties following the bourgeoisification of the former parties which had taken place or was rapidly developing. At the same time, it stressed the need for revolutionaries to continue to build their own forces. Blair in Britain epitomised the process within the social democracy and led it in the British Labour Party. In Italy in 1994 one of the leaders of the mass Communist Party, which at one stage had over 2 million members, Achille Occhetto, travelled to Wall Street. Whilst there he declared its banks “the temple of democracy” and referred to NATO as the “centre of civilisation”. By then he had organised the PCI’s dissolution and become the leader of its initial successor, the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS).

Despite the dual and reformist character of the former workers’ parties, they were points of reference for the working class, especially in the industrialised capitalist countries, apart from the US. Struggles over programme, the class struggle and international developments were sometimes fought out within them. Then these parties, including the Communist Parties in countries like India, Greece, France, Chile, and others continued to express, albeit it in an increasingly distorted manner, the idea that an alternative social system to capitalism was possible. This was despite the leaders of these parties presenting this in a reformist manner and posing no threat to capitalism. The loss of such a reference point represented a crucial set-back for the working class. This, when combined with the effects of neo-liberalism, increased alienation, attacks by the ruling class, including its political offensive, together with the ideological collapse of the socialist left, tremendously complicated the situation in all countries. These processes were reflected in accumulating social changes.

Membership Slumps 

For decades there has been slump in the membership of what were the traditional parties of the working class in many countries. This reflected a steady erosion of their roots amongst the working class. This process has also been mirrored in many bourgeois parties. Reflected in this was a weakening of the superstructures on which capitalist society has rested – that is to say; the political parties, the social and culture organisations and elements of the state. There was a weakening of the organisations of the working class, especially those which gave a collective expression of the working class. Class consciousness was pushed back for a period. This reflected objective and subjective processes. The capitalists not only conducted an ideological offensive against the idea of socialism but also against the very idea of class, struggle and solidarity.

This change not only affected the membership of political parties but other social organisations, institutions, clubs etc. The German SPD went from 1 million members in the mid-1970s in west Germany to 380,000 at the end of 2022 in the much larger reunified Germany; the Dutch Labour Party went from 60,000 members in 2003 to around 40,000 today. The French Communist Party crashed from 632,000 in 1978 to 210,000 in 1998; the Italian Communist Party fell from 2.3 million members in 1947 to 621,670 in 1988 and eventually largely disappeared into the Partido Democratico. The Labour Party in Britain recorded 675,906 in 1978 falling to a low of 156,000 in 2009. It grew substantially under Corbyn to over 564,000 but has, since Corbyn’s removal, continually fallen back and is now around 366,000.

The British Conservative Party lost 1 million members between 1973 and 1994. At one stage it received more money from dead party members than the living! Whilst the French Gaullists crashed from 760,000 to 80,000! More recent figures show a continuing decline in membership of all these and other parties. Around these mass parties an array of social groups existed at one stage including social cubs, cycling associations and others. These have largely disappeared. It has reflected broader social trends within capitalism flowing from the inability of capitalism to offer significant, lasting social and economic reforms as it did in the post war period. There was a growing alienation in society from all the established institutions including the political parties and institutions.

New workers parties demand

It is against this background that the CWI has raised the demand for the formation of new mass parties of the working class. As Marx and Engels argued in 1850 in their Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League their formation would represent an important advance and, as Lenin later argued, ultimately be a possible step along the way to build large or mass revolutionary socialist parties. This was how the US Trotskyists developed the idea when they advanced the slogan for a Labor Party in the wake of the massive explosion of mass industrial unions in the mid-1930s. In 1938 the CIO had over one million members. However, the formation of such parties is not the end of the question.

It is important when the demand for a new mass workers’ party is raised that it also linked with an explanation of what they should do and the socialist programme they would need. Amongst other issues it is important to raise the question that a new workers’ party should not simply be an electoral machine, but that it should actively build a base and intervene in the struggles of the working class and local communities. In the US whilst the Trotskyists in the late 1930s raised the slogan of a Labor Party, they still emphasised the need to build their newly founded Socialist Workers’ Party.

The demand for a new workers’ party is one aspect of a Marxist programme where it is applicable. Where the demand is raised it is important that the impression is not given that the revolutionary party is reduced to merely being a campaign for a new mass workers’ party. Activity in this sphere can take the form of applying the method of the ‘united front’. Thus, in Nigeria the Democratic Socialist Movement of the CWI whilst campaigning for the trade unions to sponsor the creation of a democratic party of the working class also took the initiative to approach others to form a socialist party. At the same time the DSM continued to build its own forces and maintain its own organisation within the Socialist Party along with others. A similar method has also been applied by the Socialist Party in England & Wales and Scotland in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, TUSC.  The demand for a new mass workers’ party whilst being very important in some situations is not the revolutionary programme which is the basis for building a revolutionary party and international that needs to be fought for and combined with struggle and intervention in the class battles which erupt.

Proposing a socialist programme for a new broad party does not mean it should be done as a precondition for supporting such a new workers’ party. Marxists would try to convince those in such a party of our programme but work alongside them with the aim of convincing them through joint experience. Where no workers’ party exists the step of forming an independent party of the working class even without a Marxist or socialist programme would represent a significant advance. Marxists would support such a development and orientate and intervene in it despite any weaknesses and deficiencies in its programme especially at its initial stage of development.  The formation of new workers’ parties, even with programmatic weaknesses would reflect the working class politically beginning to act as an independent class and become a class for itself.

Despite programmatical limitations the formation of a new party by the working class would represent a crucial step forward. It is important to grasp that in general the mass of the working class does not, in the main, firstly adopt a revolutionary socialist programme and draw all the conclusions that arise from it. The mass of workers will mainly come to that conclusion through their experience in the class struggle including a political battle over programme and demands. In this process the intervention of revolutionary socialists is crucial to assist workers drawing such conclusions. For this reason, the formation of new mass broad parties of the working class can be a crucial step in assisting workers drawing revolutionary conclusions through experience.

Yet the formation of a new workers’ party would rapidly bring with it debates, clashes, and struggles over its programme, strategy, and tactics. This is particularly the case in the highly conflicted and polarised capitalist world which now exists. The character of the era we are now in leaves no prospect of any new party having a stable tranquil existence based on winning reforms and social peace of a lasting character. The depth of the crisis and the social and political questions arising from it will mean that any new party is likely to be unstable and rapid political divisions will open from the outset. Eventually splits and divisions in old and new parties are highly likely at a certain stage.

Marxists need to be prepared for this and develop extremely flexible tactics depending on the concrete situation which exists. This was done in Germany by CWI members when the WASG emerged, and later in Die Linke. In England & Wales the Socialist Party also was able to apply flexible tactics as it orientated to intervene in the Corbyn movement. Splits from a new party would not be new from an historical perspective. We saw left splits from the SPD in Germany by the USPD, the PSIUP and PRC in Italy and more recently PSOL in Brazil. Thus, a new workers’ party in this period would not be a return to the relatively stable lengthy existence of the social democratic parties in the post Second World War period. Within a new party the need for the revolutionary core to be strengthened during intervention or orientation to it would be essential. Such a core would be the crucial motor to bring about real and lasting change.

The process of the formation of new workers’ parties has been more protracted than initially anticipated. Whilst the general perspective for the need for them to be created was correct no time scale for their development could be laid down in advance. The delay in the formation of new workers’ parties has arisen from two crucial factors. One, the ideological collapse of the socialist left in general. Two, the current political consciousness of the working class, including the more advanced combative layers. These flowed from the consequences of the disintegration of the former Stalinist states and in some countries the political collapse of the old social democracy. However, crucial developments and twists in the historical process and class struggle have taken place since then.

The ‘Great Recession’

The ‘Great Recession’ in 2008 ushered in another new world situation. This was followed by the decade of 2010-20 in which a series of multiple uprisings, social explosions and revolutions broke out. Chile, the Arab Spring, Sudan, Brazil, Ecuador, Iraq, Lebanon, Hong Kong and the pre-revolutionary situation in Greece and later Sri Lanka were amongst the many movements that followed the crisis which broke in 2008.

We had hoped that because of the crisis in 2008 a broader socialist consciousness would again have emerged in response to the deep crisis capitalism had entered. However, in the main this did not happen during this period. The mass movements which erupted were powerful and historic in that they ushered in a new period. They demonstrated the potential power of the working class and poor masses. The mass uprisings and social movements which took place involved varying levels of active participation by the organised working class. This was not uniform in all these movements. In the main however, the working class lent its support, often participated in the movements, but was not clearly at the head of them in a class conscious or organised manner. However, it frequently played an important role in driving the movements forward for a period.

However, the political consciousness reflected in these social explosions signified a very significant important but limited step forward. Rage against the elite, politicians, corruption, profiteering, neo-liberalism, “the system” was rife. This was also the case in the ‘Occupy’ movement at the turn of the century. Yet the idea of an alternative social system – of socialism or of the working-class taking power into its own hands – was not present. The shadow of the effects of the collapse of the former Stalinist states was, and remains, present although not in the same way as during the decade immediately following those historic events. Inevitably, given this and the lack of a revolutionary socialist leadership, the movements ran out of steam, stagnated, were pushed back in one form or another and some were defeated. However, this does not mean an end to the process. Some made gains, if limited, others resulted in a change of government or regime. The social conditions and anger giving rise to the movements remain or have worsened. New explosions are certain.

New forces on the left and populism

However, in some countries where these crises erupted new left formations did eventually emerge. In some cases, new organisations were formed or in others small existing groups took on flesh. Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Left Bloc in Portugal, France Insoumise (FI) in France. In Chile the Frente Amplio (FA – Broad Front) developed, the left within it was defeated.

Although established earlier PSOL in Brazil and Die Linke in Germany were formed via a different route. PSOL was partly composed of an array of Trotskyist groupings and tendencies, Die Linke was born from a fusion of the PDS (the successor to the former East German ruling party SED) and the WASG. The WASG was initiated by some social-democrat trade union functionaries along with others.

The rapid growth of some of these organisations – especially Podemos and Syriza – vindicated in a distorted manner what we had raised of the need for new parties of the working class. However, these formations proved to be of a different character politically and in class composition. They were not mass workers’ parties.

Although winning electoral support and in the case of Syriza, Podemos and the FA forming governments or joining a coalition they were not rooted nor primarily based on the organised working class. The youth activists who made up much of the membership were from the precariat, radicalised petty bourgeois sometimes of a semi-plebian character.

The new formations – apart from Die Linke or PSOL which involved different forces – lacked structure and organisation. They reflected a powerful “anti-party”, “anti-centralised” mood, in reaction to the betrayals and character of the old parties. This is still present today in varying degrees in many countries. Most embraced the alleged “horizontal” form of organisation with online registration, referenda, etc. as opposed to structured debate and election. They were virtually digital parties! Allegedly more “democratic” they were in fact less so in practice. Often ultimate decision making lay in the hands of the inner core around the leaders – Tsipras, Iglesias and Mélenchon.

They functioned more like a cloud rather than structured parties where issues were debated and decided upon by the party members and activists. The organisational form they took flowed from the lower level of political consciousness that existed. This form of organisation and politics dialectically impacted further on the political consciousness. They also reflected the price of betrayal of the old organisations on the consciousness of the new generation. They tended to lack a distinct collective class consciousness.

This also reflected the polices and programme they advocated which were also vague, more akin to an aspiration for better things rather than a programme to break with capitalism and support a new social system – socialism. They assumed more of a left-populist character rather than a socialist one. Ideologically it has been an era of populism. The phrase “the people” rather than the working class was to become their lexicon. Syriza, Podemos, La France Insoumise, FA and some others fundamentally became evangelists for the Argentinean academic Ernesto Laclau (who died in 2014). He had taken a “post-Marxist” stance since the 1980s. He had urged the European left to abandon antiquated references to “class” and adopt “the people versus the elite”. Íñigo Errejón, a onetime collaborator of Iglesias urged the movement to “move beyond left and right”. In some countries left-populism has also included a nationalistic element.

The development of left populism has also been mirrored by the growth of right-wing and far-right populism especially as the crisis deepened and the left populists offered no solution or way forward. Populism in all its varied forms, left and right, by its very nature is vague, lacking precision and assumes a certain formlessness. It can also assume a multi-class element which was reflected in the character of the social forces involved in some of them. “Populism” as a term finds its origin in the nineteenth century in the US when in 1891 a group of rebellious farmers in Nebraska started a movement to run in elections. This morphed later into the Peoples Party which adopted the term “populist” and known as the “pops” in election campaigns. As the party disintegrated many of its activists eventually went with Eugene Debs and joined the Socialist Party when it was formed in 1901.

In the bourgeois revolutions of 1848, there were politically “populist” features reflecting the class character of those events. Politically that was to be followed by the founding of the First International in 1864 and eventually to the explosion of the socialist movement in Europe. In a sense the populist trends of that era were a precursor for the ideas of socialism eventually winning massive support. Today, “populism” on the left emerged as a reaction to the perceived betrayals of the old “socialist parties” and of “socialism”. In that sense it has been an ideological retreat.  However, it can also be a precursor to the resurgence of the ideas of socialism.

The opinion polls in the UK and US showing support for the idea of “socialism” amongst young people are very significant. Even though what socialism means may not be clear to many of those polled and it may include a certain “populist” notion of simply greater equality etc. Yet they are still significant in showing the beginnings of the emergence of a new layer which are open to socialist ideas. That a small layer of young students and some others in some countries are also receptive to the idea of “communism” indicates a similar beginning of a change. It also indicates that for a layer the effects of the collapse of the Stalinist states and the memory of the crimes of Stalinism have dimmed. They are not the same as during the 1990s and the early part of this century. This is reflected in the recent electoral growth of the Communist Party in Austria. At the same time, reflecting the polarisation which exists, other polls reflect that a layer of youth has also lent support to the right-wing populists and even the far-right.

One feature of populism apart from its formless vagary of programme and organisation is its reliance and dependency on an individual leader – Tsipras, Iglesias, Mélenchon. Of course, in other parties – both bourgeois and workers’ parties – leading figures played a key role. Yet there was a greater collective influence and check on them and others were always present ready or eager to replace them for whatever reason. This is not the same in these populist formations.  As has been said of Mélenchon, paraphrasing Louis XIV, King of France, “Le parti c’est moi” – I am the party! The leaders and character of these formations are a product of the era through which we are passing. As the Arab proverb says “Men resemble their times more than they do their fathers.” Ironically, Mélenchon, when he split from the Socialist Party, formed a party, Parti de Gauche in 2009. Now he is clear that FI, formed in 2016, will not be a party.

For a period, these leaders and formations grew in popularity, authority and confidence. Tsipras on a visit to the US reflected this quoting from Leonard Cohen, “First we take Manhattan then we take Berlin”. However, they were then put to the test on the stormy seas which hit in the capitalist crisis and class struggle. The populism they espoused was totally inadequate for the demands of the situation they confronted. The hopes aroused by the emergence of Tsipras, Iglesias, Sanders, Corbyn, Boric were to be shattered one by one as they were tested in action on the political battlefield. Tsipras capitulated to the EU and IMF. Iglesias joined PSOE in a coalition having failed to support the mass movement for independence in Catalonia. Sanders failed to break with the Democrats and Corbyn failed to defeat the right and a counter-revolution in the Labour Party was successfully executed.

So far has the counter-revolution in the Labour Party gone that the former party leader, Corbyn, is excluded from the party. In Austria the new “left” leader of the SPÖ, Babler, faces the same dilemma as Corbyn did in dealing the right-wing of the party. Although, there is not a struggle of the same intensity as developed around Corbyn. In Chile, Boric and the FA in power betrayed in a matter of weeks and have allowed the far-right to step into the political vacuum. In some cases, this was a conscious move to the right. Sanders for example spoke at a meeting in New York in 1989 to launch the ‘Campaign for a Labor Party’ alongside the late Terry Fields a member of the British Parliament at the time and member of Militant and the CWI. Following this Sanders later abandoned support for the idea of a Labor Party and became wedded to the dead-end of the Democratic Party.

As the crisis deepened internationally, during the COVID pandemic and subsequently with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and then the genocide in Gaza the ideological collapse of these forces on the left led to them failing to advocate an independent class position.

Die Linke in Germany and PSOL in Brazil coming from a different root and political trajectory have both faced internal turmoil and splits largely arising from the leaderships’ willingness to participate in government coalitions with pro-capitalist parties and failure to develop, or consistently offer, a socialist alternative. The question of joining a coalition government could be a central part of the debate in any new workers’ party. It arose in Die Linke and PSOL and was a crucial factor leading to the demise of the PRC in Italy as it joined coalition governments at local and regional level. Other parties have also grown in support in some countries like Belgium where the PTB/Pvda, from a Maoist stable, has won increased electoral support. Whilst not assuming the “horizontal” form of organisation, in fact just the reverse, it has moved in a reformist direction with populist features.

The failure and betrayal of movements like Podemos, Syriza, Frente Amplio, etc. does not mean that the idea of new mass workers’ parties is no longer posed or relevant. The massive political vacuum which exists means objectively it is even more necessary as the crisis and class struggle unfolds. However, the failure of these parties can and has complicated the situation. Having experienced one failed attempt and betrayal by Syriza, Podemos, FA etc., sections of workers and youth can recoil against the idea of yet another party. It can re-enforce the “anti-party” sentiment. This mood can exist in other countries amongst a layer.  However, the objective situation demands new workers’ parties, and the issue will inevitably be posed again at a certain stage.

As we see in England & Wales and Scotland the issue can attract support amongst a significant section of workers and young people. Transforming this support into reality however can still prove to be a complicated and quite possibly still a protracted process. This is related to the character of the left, including the trade union left leaders. They are generally weak, often a product of the union apparatus and bureaucracy, including divisions within it, rather than a product of workers experience in bitter class battles. They act as a break on the movement, often industrially but also politically. This is not to view the past generations of left leaders of the trade unions through rose-tinted glasses. They also had big weaknesses and deficiencies. However, those of today are usually of an even weaker brand.

Trade unions 

To avoid the political struggle even sections of the more combative trade union leaders can adopt a syndicalist approach and try and to abstain from building a new political party or any political alternative. This can get an echo for a period amongst a layer of workers who are alienated from all the political parties. However, it is unlikely trade union leaders articulating a syndicalist approach will be of the same revolutionary spirit as the syndicalists in the original International Workers of the World (IWW) founded in the US in 1905, or activists like Alfred Rosmer in France later. They were of different character and origin.

In some countries where the trade union leadership has been driven by the pressure of workers to formally call for a new workers’ party, they have derailed the process. In South Africa, NUMSA, the largest trade union in Africa proposed the idea of a new workers’ party in the 1990s only to derail it at every turn. In Bolivia the COB at one stage formally launched a PT (workers party) only to smother it at birth. In Zimbabwe the trade union federation in 1999 launched a party which was almost immediately taken over by a section of the capitalists. This of course does not mean this will always be repeated, but the trade union bureaucracy, or big sections of it, will undoubtedly attempt to delay, derail, or oppose initiatives for workers to establish a new party. They will not however be able to prevent the issue arising at a certain stage for debate and struggle within the workers’ movement.

Marxists can play an important role in propagating the idea of a new party and intervening in the process to try and help initiate one. However, transforming a mood of sympathy or support for the idea into reality is a massive task. It depends on the role of individuals, social and trade union organisations and above all the existence of significant layers of workers and youth who not only support the idea but are also prepared to actively fight to build one. It is not enough merely to proclaim a party. It is necessary to build it on the ground through active intervention in the class struggle, leading and initiating struggles and putting down roots in working class communities. In general workers need to go through the experience of a series of bitter, intense class struggles to form a wider active layer of working class activists ready and determined take up this aspect of the struggle. This requires a further raising of political consciousness. This can develop during specific struggle amongst a layer of workers  and possibly lead to some initial steps being taken to begin the process of establishing a new workers’ party.

United fronts and elections 

In some countries a somewhat different situation exists for example in Argentina and Turkey where relatively large parties already exist that regard themselves as revolutionary – the parties that make up the FITU in Argentina and the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP). Marxists would not suggest these parties should become “broad parties”. In such situations the application of united front methods is crucial. In Argentina a front of various parties aligning with Trotskyism, the FITU, has conquered a sizeable but not mass base winning over 5% in national election and more in some important areas. The FITU faces some of the same challenges as confronted the early period of Communist International in that having won a base amongst significant sections of the working class it was still a minority and needs to win an even bigger layer.  This challenge confronted the French Trotskyists when they won 10% of the votes in elections in 2002 and the Scottish Socialist Party when it won 6.7% of the vote in 2003. In France and Scotland, the wrong political positions adopted by the forces involved prevented the potential to be realised.

In Argentina it is the question of how to reach the disaffected workers who were aligned to Peronism and draw them into the struggle not only industrially but also politically. The thrust of this following Meili’s election victory is to move beyond the FITU acting as only an electoral alliance. It needs to intervene in the impending class struggle. A national assembly of all workers prepared to fight the governments attacks would be an important step to drawing a broader layer of workers under the influence of Peronism to a revolutionary socialist alternative. The forces involved in the FITU are now going to be tested to see if they can apply the correct programme, strategy, and tactics to meet the challenges posed.

For revolutionary socialists and the working class, the role of elections is an important question. The need for a new mass workers’ party can be linked to the idea of building an alternative to the existing parties in elections. Election campaigns can be an important platform to put forward a socialist alternative and win support. At the same time interventions in elections needs to be linked with the idea of building struggles and campaigns beyond the electoral process. In some countries the alienation from all the existing political parties can result in low turnouts and a significant layer of workers and young people abstaining from the process for a period. It is important for revolutionary socialists to take this into account when deciding how much emphasise and resources are invested in contesting elections. In general interventions in elections are not the main sphere of intervention for revolutionary socialist parties at this stage.

In other situations, the polarisation is such that the elections can assume a far greater importance in the consciousness of the masses. A crucial political issue that arises in such situations is the issue of lesser evilism – workers voting to defeat a particularly vicious right-wing or far-right candidate. This situation arose in Brazil in the recent battle between Bolsonaro and Lula. PSOL wrongly decided not to stand its own candidate in the first round. This provoked a split in the party. It would have been possible for PSOL to stand in the first round without threatening to let Bolsonaro win. Standing would have been important to prepare for the struggles that will take place under the Lula government.

In reality, Syriza and Podemos have in essence largely morphed back to play the same role as PASOK and PSOE – the very parties they had been born to replace. PSOL broke from Lula’s PT only to become its cheer leader under the banner of combating Bolsonaro and now has members sitting in Lula’s government.

Revolutionary socialist parties and new mass workers’ parties 

The question of new mass workers’ parties is crucial given the massive political vacuum which exists. It will become an even greater issue in the coming period in many countries. However, the formation of new workers’ parties is a complicated and a complex issue compounded by the character of the left in this era and the current political consciousness of the new layers that are moving into activity. The recent significant upturn in strikes in some European countries and the US does represent an important beginning of a developing class consciousness. This is extremely positive and represents an important step forward.  Yet it is only the beginning industrially and has yet to be reflected politically in concrete steps being taken by workers to take the steps necessary to begin to build new mass workers parties. There is a political fragmentation affecting all political trends including the left. Many workers who support the idea of a new class-based party are often dispersed. Marxists have a responsibility to try and reach out to them and draw them into activity on this and other issues where possible. Those drawn into such work may be relatively small at this stage. Yet this is work in preparation for upheavals and political earthquakes, including the emergence of new mass workers’ parties. Marxists cannot simply sit and wait upon events to develop.

It is however possible that the formation of new parties can be delayed still further and at the same time the crisis of capitalism and the rhythm of the class struggle intensifies. It is possible that in some countries prior to the emergence of new broad parties of the working class we could see other transitional, even single-issue parties, emerge reflecting a particular type of populism. These may be transient organisations that, for a short period of time, it may be necessary to intervene and orientate towards depending on the situation.  At the same time, it is also possible that the process leading to the formation of new workers’ parties will speed up.

Should the process be delayed important issues are posed for revolutionary socialists. The formation of broader mass workers’ parties would represent a very important step forward for the working class. However, the building of large and mass revolutionary parties is not solely dependent on the formation of new broader parties of the working class. In this era of intense capitalist crisis and class struggle a significant layer of workers and youth can also be won directly to a revolutionary socialist party and its programme.

Whilst the establishment of broader parties of the working class could be an important step along the road to building mass or large revolutionary socialist parties it is not the only road in all situations or all countries. Historically, large and mass revolutionary Trotskyist parties have been built and become the primary or important parties of the masses. In Sri Lanka the LSSP with a Trotskyist core was the first party to be formed in the country and was for a period the primary party of the working class. In Vietnam and Bolivia, the Trotskyist parties conquered important influence and a strong base amongst key sections of the working class. In some countries, especially in the neo-colonial world the formation of the Communist Parties following the Russian revolution in 1917 led to a rapid growth of them especially in Asia and Latin America. They were of course aided by the authority they accrued as a result of the victory of the Bolsheviks and the revolution’s triumph.

In this era of dystopian capitalist crisis such processes could be repeated in some countries although this is possibly not the most probable perspective in most countries. However, if the process of new workers parties proves to be even more protracted than it has already been, revolutionary socialist parties can still develop and make crucial qualitative leaps forward. For this reason, it is important that we do not interpret the demand for a new workers’ party as being the prerequisite for building strong revolutionary socialist parties.

Events can also change the speed and dynamic leading to the establishment of broader parties of the working class in some countries more rapidly. Yet this is not certain. Revolutionary socialists need to be prepared for both possible scenarios in the coming months and years. Yet the crucial issue is within this process is the struggle to build revolutionary parties of the working class which are indispensable for the socialist revolution. In this era of political populism an ideological struggle is essential to reconquer support for the need for an independent political voice and organisation of the working class with a programme to abolish capitalism and carry through the socialist transformation of society. That is the challenge faced by today’s generation. A task which is now more urgent than ever.

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March 2024