"Workers' government": what it means. 2. Trotsky and the CI.

Submitted by martin on 21 December, 2003 - 7:56

Below are three excerpts from the writings of Leon Trotsky, and a resolution of the 4th Congress of the Communist International.
Des textes similaires (pas exactement les memes) disponibles en francais:
Le gouvernement ouvrier en France, novembre 1922
Gouvernement ouvrier et Etats-unis d'Europe, juin 1923
Leon Trotsky: Report on the 4th Congress (1922), from The First Five Years of the Comintern, Volume 2

From the united front flows the slogan of a workers' government. The Fourth Congress submitted it to a thorough discussion and once again confirmed it as the central political slogan for the next period. What does the struggle for a workers' government signify?
We Communists of course know that a genuine workers' government in Europe will be established after the proletariat overthrows the bourgeoisie together with its democratic machinery and installs the proletarian dictatorship under the leadership of the Communist Party. But in order to bring this about it is necessary for the European proletariat in its majority to support the Communist Party.

But this does not obtain as yet and so our Communist parties say on, every appropriate occasion:

"Socialist workers, syndicalist workers, anarchists and non-party workers! Wages are being slashed; less and less remains of the 8-hour working day; the cost of living is soaring. Such things would not be if all the workers despite their differences were able to unite and install their own workers' government."

And the slogan of a workers' government thus becomes a wedge driven by the Communists between the working class and all other classes: and inasmuch as the top circles of the Social Democracy, the reformists, are tied up with the bourgeoisie, this wedge will act more and more to tear away, and it is already beginning to tear away the left wing of Social-Democratic workers from their leaders. Under certain conditions the slogan of a workers' government can become a reality in Europe. That is to say, a moment may arrive when the Communists together with the left elements of the Social Democracy will set up a workers' government in a way similar to ours in Russia when we created a workers' and peasants' government together with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. Such a phase would constitute a transition to the proletarian dictatorship, the full and completed one. But right now the significance of the slogan of a workers' government lies not so much in the manner and conditions of its realization in life as in the fact that at the present time this slogan opposes the working class as a whole politically to all other classes, i.e., to all the groupings of the bourgeois political world.

Leon Trotsky, "The slogan of 'The United States of Europe'," June 1923. The First Five Years of the Comintern, volume 2

In connection with the slogan of "a workers' and peasants' government", the time is appropriate, in my opinion, for issuing the slogan of "The United States of Europe". Only by coupling these two slogans shall we get a definite systematic and progressive response to the most burning problems of European development...

It might be argued that we are in reality speaking of a European Socialist Federation as an integral part of the future World Federation, and that such a régime can be brought about only by the dictatorship of the proletariat. We shall not, however, pause to answer this argument, since it has been refuted by the international analysis made during the consideration of the question of a "workers' government". "The United States of Europe" is a slogan in every respect corresponding with the slogan "a workers' (or workers' and peasants') government". Is the realization of a "workers' government" possible without the dictatorship of the proletariat? Only a conditional reply can be given to this question. In any case, we regard the "workers' government" as a stage toward the dictatorship of the proletariat. Therein lies the great value of this slogan for us. But the slogan "The United States of Europe" has an exactly similar and parallel significance. Without this supplementary slogan the fundamental problems of Europe must remain suspended in mid-air.

Leon Trotsky, From the ECCI to the Paris Convention of the French Communist Party, September 1922. The First Five Years of the Comintern, volume 2

Only a tireless, persistent and flexible propaganda in favour of unity, on the soil of the living facts of mass action, is capable of breaking down the barriers of sectarianism and of shut-in circles within the working class, raising its feeling of class solidarity and thereby necessarily increasing our own influence.

On the basis of all this activity, the slogan of a workers' government, raised at a proper time, could generate a powerful attractive force. At a suitable time, prepared for by events and by our propaganda, we shall address ourselves to the working masses who still reject the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat or who have simply not yet matured sufficiently for these questions, and speak to them as follows: "You can now see how the bourgeoisie is restoring its own class unity under the sign of the 'Left Bloc' and is preparing its own 'left' government which actually unifies the bourgeoisie as a whole. Why shouldn't we, the workers, belonging to different parties and tendencies, create together with non-party workers our own proletarian bloc in defence of our own interests? And why shouldn't we put forward our own workers' government?" Here is a natural, simple and clear statement of the whole issue.

But can we Communists conceivably participate in the same government with Renaudel, Blum and the rest?-some comrades will ask. Under certain conditions this might prove temporarily unavoidable, just as we Russian Communists were willing, even after our October victory, to permit Mensheviks and SRs to enter the government, and we actually did draw in the Left SRs. But at the present time the question does not, unfortunately, arise in France in such a practical manner. At issue is not the immediate or impending formation of a workers' government with the participation of Frossard and Blum, but rather the question of counterposing agitationally a workers' bloc to the bourgeois bloc. For matters to reach the point of creating a workers' government, it is first necessary to rally the majority of the working class around this slogan. Once we achieve this, that is, the moment when the worker-Dissidents and the members of the General Confederation of Labour demand a united labour government, the stock of Renaudel, Blum and Jouhaux would not be worth much, because these gentlemen are able to maintain themselves only through an affiance with the bourgeoisie, provided the working class is split.

It is perfectly obvious that once the majority of the French working class unites under the banner of a workers' government, we shall have no cause whatever to worry about the composition of this government. A genuine success for the slogan of a workers' government would already signify, in the nature of things, the prelude to the proletarian revolution. This is what those comrades fail to understand who approach slogans formally and assay them with the yardstick of verbal radicalism, without taking into account the processes occurring within the working class itself.

Fourth Congress of the Communist International (1922), Theses on Tactics

The slogan of a workers' government (or a workers' and peasants' government) can be used practically everywhere as a general agitational slogan. However, as a central political slogan, the workers' government is most important in countries where the position of bourgeois society is particularly unstable and where the balance of forces between the workers' parties and the bourgeoisie places the question of government on the order of the day as a practical problem requiring immediate solution. In these countries the workers' government slogan follows inevitably from the entire united front tactic.

The parties of the Second International are trying to rescue the situation in these countries by advocating and forming a coalition of the bourgeoisie and the social democrats. The recent attempts by certain parties of the Second International (e.g. in Germany) to take part in this kind of coalition government secretly, whilst refusing to be openly involved, are nothing but a manoeuvre to pacify the indignant masses, just a more subtle deception of the working masses. In place of a bourgeois/social-democratic coalition, whether open or disguised, Communists propose a united front involving all workers, and a coalition of all workers' parties around economic and political issues, which will fight and finally overthrow bourgeois power. Following a united struggle of all workers against the bourgeoisie, the entire state apparatus must pass into the hands of a workers' government, so strengthening the position of power held by the working class.

The most elementary tasks of a workers' government must be to arm the proletariat, disarm the bourgeois counter-revolutionary organisations, bringing control over production, shift the main burden of taxation onto the propertied classes and break the resistance of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.

Such a workers' government is possible only if it is born out of the struggle of the masses and is supported by combative workers' organisations formed by the most oppressed sections of workers at grassroots level. However, even a workers' government that comes about through an alignment of parliamentary forces, i.e., a government of purely parliamentary origin, can give rise to an upsurge of the revolutionary workers' movement. It is obvious that the formation of a genuine workers' government, and the continued existence of any such government committed to revolutionary politics, must lead to a bitter struggle with the bourgeoisie or even to civil war. The mere attempt by the proletariat to form such a workers' government will from its very first days come up against extremely strong resistance from the bourgeoisie. The slogan of a workers' government therefore has the potential to rally the proletarians and unleash revolutionary struggle.

In certain circumstances, Communists must declare themselves ready to form a workers' government with non-Communist workers' parties and workers' organisations. However, they should do so only if there are guarantees that the workers' government will conduct a real struggle against the bourgeoisie of the kind already outlined. The obvious conditions on which Communists will participate in such a government are:

1 Communists participating in such a government remain under the strictest control of their Party;

2 Communists participating in such a workers' government should be in extremely close contact with the revolutionary organisations of the masses;

3 The Communist Party has the unconditional right to maintain its own identity and complete independence of agitation.

For all its great advantages, the slogan of a workers' government also has its dangers, as does the whole tactic of the united front. To avoid these dangers and to confront now the illusion that the stage of 'democratic coalition' is inevitable, the Communist Parties must be aware of the following:

Every bourgeois government is simultaneously a capitalist government, but not every workers' government is a truly proletarian, socialist government.

The Communist International must consider the following possibilities:

1 A liberal workers' government, such as existed in Australia and is possible in Britain in the near future.

2 A social-democratic 'workers' government' (Germany).

3 A workers' and peasants' government. Such a possibility exists in the Balkans, Czechoslovakia, etc.

4 A social-democratic/Communist coalition government.

5 A genuine proletarian workers' government, which can be created in its pure form only by a Communist Party.

Communists are also prepared to work alongside those workers who have not yet recognised the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Accordingly Communists are also ready, in certain conditions and with certain guarantees, to support a non-Communist workers' government. However, the Communists will still openly declare to the masses that the workers' government can be neither won nor maintained without a revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie.

The first two types of workers' governments (the workers' and peasants' and the social-democratic/Communist governments) fall short of representing the dictatorship of the proletariat, but are still an important starting-point for the winning of this dictatorship. The complete dictatorship of the proletariat can only be a genuine workers' government (type 5) consisting of Communists.