July 18, 2024

In Greece, Mexico, Turkey, and Spain, among others, the communist parties are developing or have already adopted strategies for participation in their countries’ elections at all levels. Electoral strategies are not without precedent in the communist movement. Most notably, we can see the tactic of utilizing bourgeois elections as a platform for advancing a communist program in the victory of the Bolsheviks, who, in the course of the socialist revolution, participated in the state and town dumas under the Tsar and in the various parliamentary bodies that emerged after the February Revolution.

In outlining the experience of the Bolsheviks in their role in the course of three revolutions over twelve years, Lenin took up the task of passing these experiences on to the communists of Eastern Europe. We refer to his work, “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder, completed in time for the 2nd World Congress of the Communist International. In that work, Lenin answers the timely question, “Should We Participate in Bourgeois Parliaments?” [1]. At the Congress, Lenin also played a leading role in developing the “Theses on the Communist Parties and Parliamentarism” [2], which were accepted. The Theses provided a guiding theoretical framework for a communist approach to bourgeois elections and governments, one contrasted by those of the “left” communists, who rejected the use of any electoral strategy, and those such as Karl Kautsky in Germany or Filippo Turati in Italy, who completely submerged themselves in the capitalist governments effectively managing capital and proposing that socialism will emerge from a series of reforms.

Regarding the left communist approach, we can draw great lessons from Lenin’s criticism of the “Dutch Lefts” and the “German Lefts,” who both claimed that “parliamentarianism is politically obsolete.” He also critiques Bordiga and his Abstentionist Communists, who advocated non-participation in parliament, but also points out Bordiga’s correct attack on the opportunists led by Turati. Together, these criticisms further develop the theories of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the necessity of the struggle against opportunism. Against their ideas, Lenin explains that while parliamentarianism, like capitalism, may be obsolete in the historical sense, it persists as a reality for the working class and broader masses. We cannot conflate the aims of the communists, based on our political-ideological framework, with objective reality. The communist party, as the subjective factor in the socialist revolution, must use every tool at its disposal to develop the necessary conditions for realizing our desired reality.

Thus, participation in elections and struggle within government institutions is obligatory for communists, despite our understanding that revolutionary change will not manifest solely through this method. They are an essential means of educating and mobilizing the politically underdeveloped sections of society. The electoral and parliamentary struggles are an auxiliary base from which the communists can help the masses break up the state machine and bourgeois apparatuses from the inside. Failure in or refusal of this task, especially at our current low level of organization, is to risk sinking into total political obscurity and irrelevance. With this understanding, we can now point to a few modern examples of communist parliamentary strategy: the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), with its success in the Greek legislative elections, the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) participating in municipal elections, the Communist Party of the Workers of Spain (PCTE), the Communist Party of Mexico (PCM), which is currently active in the Mexican electoral arena, and the recent announcement of the candidate of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) running in the upcoming presidential elections.

Against this understanding, some might argue that the historical conditions in which the Bolsheviks operated have since passed out of existence. We must remind them that our epoch remains the epoch of imperialism. Under imperialism, parliamentarianism loses its progressive character, instead becoming a tool of deception and violence that serves only to drain the vitality and energy of the masses, with all reforms losing any significance to the exploited. We have a plethora of international examples attesting to this new character—SYRIZA in Greece, MORENA in Mexico, PSUV in Venezuela, PODEMOS in Spain, the Libertarian Party in Argentina, Brothers of Italy in Italy, and the list goes on—to say nothing of our own Democratic and Republican Parties. And what of the “communist” parties that actively participate in the governments of capitalist countries? To these, we ask: Can a government in capitalism manage it for the benefit of the people? A government, even with the participation of the Communist Party, in bourgeois conditions objectively cannot implement a policy against the laws that move this society, against the law of profit. Thus, communists must take up a strategy aiming not to win seats or join the government but to mobilize the masses for the proletarian revolution.

In the United States, one cannot tune out the chatter at work, at lunch, in the breakroom, on the train or the bus, over the supposed helplessness of the people in the face of two heinous criminals presented as our only options. We reject the false choice of the “lesser” of two great evils, but who can the revolutionary alternative be? The Democratic Socialists of America, with its caucuses that profess socialism and Marxism but refuse to break from that moribund organization? The Communist Party USA, which long ago degenerated into an appendage of the Democratic Party? Or the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which correctly channels its energy toward electoral struggles but deceives the people by raising the banner of “multipolarity” [3] and fails to agitate for the smashing of the bourgeois state and the construction of a proletarian state? None of these offer much hope for the Socialist Revolution.

In 2020, the US presidential election had the highest voter turnout of the 21st century [4]. The options presented then are the same that we confront in 2024, reflecting the decay of the capitalist system in the US and the ripening antagonisms between rival sections of the ruling class. Once again, we are without a revolutionary alternative for the workers and people. The communists must approach these historical turnouts by providing a revolutionary alternative. Though it cannot be now, the CWPUSA proposes that, in its ranks, we can reconstitute the only option for the working class.

(To be continued)

References:

  1. “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder (“Should We Participate in Bourgeois Parliaments?”), Vladimir Lenin
    https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch07.htm
  2. Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International (“Evening Session of August 2”)
    https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch08a.htm
  3. “Letter from Johannesburg: Socialism is an achievable necessity,” Dilemmas Of Humanity Conference
    https://www.liberationnews.org/letter-from-johannesburg-socialism-is-an-achievable-necessity/
  4. “2020 Presidential Election Voting and Registration Tables Now Available,” United States Census Bureau
    https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/2020-presidential-election-voting-and-registration-tables-now-available.html