October 2007  

Fight for Power to Workers and Peasants Councils!

Trotskyism vs. “Constituent Assembly” Mania

Petrograd Soviet in 1917. For the Bolsheviks, the call for constituent assembly was a tactical
demand against anti-democratic regimes not an all-purpose slogan for all times. Trotskyists fight
for the program of the October Revolution, power to workers and peasants councils (soviets).

Over the last several years, calls for the establishment of a constituent assembly have been increasingly heard in various countries of Latin America. Most recently around the mass strike and quasi-uprising in Oaxaca, Mexico during May-November 2006, demands were raised by the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) and a host of left groups for a constituent assembly, a “revolutionary constituent assembly,” a “democratic and popular national constituent assembly,” etc. Although a constituent assembly elected by universal suffrage is no more than a bourgeois-democratic demand, it has been put forward by revolutionary communists in fighting against a variety of pre-capitalist and colonial regimes or bonapartist dictatorships. It was one of the key planks of V.I. Lenin’s Bolsheviks in tsarist Russia, in the 1905 Revolution for example, until it was superseded as the central demand by “all power to the soviets” in the course of 1917. Trotsky raised the call for a national assembly in China under the warlords, while emphasizing that it would only be part of a program for the taking of power by workers and peasants councils (soviets). But the current deluge of calls for a constituent assembly in ostensibly bourgeois-democratic regimes is counterposed to Bolshevism. It replaces the program of proletarian revolution with that of (capitalist) “democracy,” a hallmark of social democrats everywhere.

In its various formulations, the slogan harks back to the 18th century French Revolution when the Third Estate (representing the rising bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces) formed a National Constituent Assembly in June 1789 to sweep away the remains of the Old Regime (ancien régime), of an absolutist monarchy atop a decaying feudal social order. Their initial aim was to establish a constitutional monarchy to put an end to the chaotic conditions which impeded the growth of a national market, with power to be shared between the king and the assembly. But revolutionary events soon outstripped the plans of the bourgeois “moderates.” By 1792 the National Assembly had been replaced by the National Convention led by the Jacobins under Robespierre. With the further development of capitalism, the working class came to the fore. By the time of the June Days of the 1848 Revolution in France, the National Assembly became the focal point of bourgeois reaction against the proletarian uprising. In Germany and Austria as well, bourgeois constituent assemblies in Berlin, Vienna and Frankfurt in 1848 made their peace with the forces of reaction out of fear of workers revolution.

Generically, a constituent assembly is not simply a parliament but a body which would set up (constitute) a state structure, for example, by issuing a constitution. In France, the second, third and fourth republics were all established by constituent assemblies. In Latin America today, demands for such an assembly are typically accompanied by calls to “refound” the country. It can be a key demand in a country where whole sections of the population have been excluded from exercising democratic rights (for example, in Ecuador the large Indian population was effectively disenfranchised until 1978 by requirements that voters be literate in Spanish). It is also appropriate where a feudal or semi-feudal social structure prevents the vast mass of the rural population from any participation, with landless peasants tied to the landed estates through debt peonage, such as in Mexico prior to the 1910-17 Mexican Revolution. In such cases demands for a “national convention” or constituent assembly to resolve the land question through agrarian revolution, eliminate clerical domination of education and carry out other democratic tasks can be powerful levers to rouse the masses to revolutionary action. The same could be true in the struggle to bring down military dictatorships, as held sway in much of Latin America in the 1970s.

Supporters of Evo Morales march to defend Constituent Assembly, December 15. To defeat right-wing reaction what is needed is revolutionary class mobilization, fighting for a workers, peasants and Indian government. (Photo: Juan Karita/AP)

But to raise the call for a constituent assembly in Ecuador or Mexico today, where the formal structures of bourgeois democracy, however stunted, exist and semi-feudal latifundia have long-since been replaced by capitalist agriculture, would be to call to “refound” the country on a bourgeois basis when what is called for is socialist revolution. In Bolivia, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) of Evo Morales campaigned for a constituent assembly, in order to foster the illusion that it was calling for fundamental change while not touching the capitalist foundations of the country. This demand was then repeated by various left groups that tailed after the MAS, in an effort to pressure Morales to the left and pick up support among his plebeian followers. In the 2003 and 2005 worker-peasant uprisings that brought the country to the brink of insurrection, we noted that what was called for was not a bourgeois-democratic constituent assembly (or even a left-sounding “people’s assembly”) but the formation of workers and peasants councils (soviets) to serve as the basis for a revolutionary worker/peasant/indigenous government. We also noted that while Bolivia was the continental champion in the number of coups d’état, it also led in the number of constituent assemblies or congresses (at least 19 by our count)1. So Morales was elected in December 2005, and thereupon called the constituent assembly he had long promised. What was the result? Right-wing racists have hijacked the assembly to push their reactionary demands for regional autonomy from the Indian-dominated highlands (altiplano).

So while in certain contexts it is appropriate for communists to call for a constituent assembly, this demand is by no means inherently revolutionary-democratic. On occasion, it can even serve as a cover for “democratic” counterrevolution. Our tendency, the League for the Fourth International (LFI), and the International Communist League/international Spartacist tendency (ICL/iSt) from which we originated, has had some experience with this issue. In an article, “Why a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly” (Workers Vanguard No. 221, 15 December 1978) we noted that when in Chile the Pinochet dictatorship staged a plebiscite and the Christian Democrats (DC) were talking of replacing the dictator with a reformed military junta, we denounced the rigged vote, calling for a revolutionary constituent assembly and to smash the junta through workers revolution. Our article, by the Organización Trotskista Revolucionaria of Chile, explained:

“Counterposed to reformist adaptations to the bourgeoisie’s program, as Trotskyists we raise the demand for a constituent assembly with full powers, directly and secretly elected by universal suffrage. A genuine constituent assembly by definition could only be convoked under conditions of full democratic liberties, permitting the participation of all the parties of the working class. Thus it requires as a precondition the revolutionary overthrow of the junta, something which the DC and the reformists, despite their lengthy list of democratic demands, fail to mention.

“For Leninists, democratic demands are a subordinate part of the workers’ class program. As Trotsky wrote of the role of democratic demands in fascist-ruled countries: ‘But the formulas of democracy (freedom of the press, the right to unionize, etc.) mean for us only incidental or episodic slogans in the independent movement of the proletariat and not a democratic noose fastened to the neck of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie’s agents (Spain)’ (Transitional Program). In countries with a bourgeois-democratic tradition and a politically advanced working class, such as Chile, the demand for a constituent assembly is not a fundamental part of the proletarian program. Thus following the junta takeover, the iSt did not raise this slogan. We raise it tactically at present against the bourgeoisie’s efforts, aided by their agents in the workers movement, to make a pact with sectors of the military. Our purpose is to expose the bourgeoisie’s fear of revolutionary democracy.”

–“Condemn Pinochet Plebiscite!” Workers Vanguard No. 190, 21 January 1978

In contrast, on other occasions the call for a constituent assembly has been raised in order to head off the spectre of workers revolution. This was the case in Portugal in the summer of 1975. Following the fall of the dictatorship of Marcelo Caetano in April 1974, at a time when right-wing reaction was gathering around the sinister General Antônio Spínola, we initially called for immediate elections to a constituent assembly, as well as for the formation of workers councils. But a year later, as we pointed out in our 1978 article, “Why a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly?” “workers commissions, popular assemblies and various other localized, embryonic forms of dual power were springing up everywhere around the country.” At that point, while the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) was allied with leftist officers of the bourgeois Armed Forces Movement (MFA), with Spínola sidelined, counterrevolutionary forces cohered around the Socialist Party (PS) of Mário Soares, which with bourgeois backing won the April 1975 elections to a constituent assembly.

What policy should revolutionary Marxists take? The largest ostensibly Trotskyist organization at the time, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec), was split down the middle. The majority, followers of Ernest Mandel, hailed the “revolutionary officers” of the MFA, just as today many would-be radicals hail the bourgeois populist colonel Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. The minority, led by the U.S. Socialist Workers Party of Jack Barnes and Argentine pseudo- Trotskyist Nahuel Moreno, sided with the Socialists (heavily financed by the CIA via the German Social Democrats’ Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung) in the name of defending the “sovereignty” of the constituent assembly. So as “socialist”-led mobs were burning PCP offices, the USec was on both sides of the barricades! In contrast, authentic Trotskyists supported neither of the contending bourgeois coalitions, and called instead for the formation of workers soviets in Portugal counterposed to the rightist-dominated constituent assembly (see our two-part article, “Soviets and the Struggle for Workers Power in Portugal,” Workers Vanguard Nos. 83 and 87, 24 October and 28 November 1975).

Member of the Grupo Internacionalista/México (with microphone, left) addressing forum on democracy
called by the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), Mexico, in August 2006. He said that
talk of democracy for the poor and working people under capitalism is an illusion. What was needed
at height of struggle was to form workers and peasants councils (soviets) to fight for workers revolution,
not a (bourgeois) democratic constituent assembly within capitalist framework.
(Photo: El Internacionalista)

Returning to the current situation, in September-November of 2006 articles appeared in radical media around the world acclaiming a “Oaxaca Commune,” most of them uncritical enthusiasm, others adding a “left” twist by calling on this commune to seize power, expropriate the bourgeoisie, etc. How it was supposed to do this in the most impoverished, peasant-dominated state of Mexico was not explained. Our comrades of the Grupo Internacionalista in Mexico actively intervened in Oaxaca over the space of many months, but at the same time pointed out that while a number of unions were part of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, the APPO was not based on the working class or peasantry and thus was not an embryonic workers and peasants government – which is what the Paris Commune of 1871 or the Russian Soviets of 1917 were (see “A Oaxaca Commune?” in The Internationalist No. 25, January-February 2007). In fact, several top leaders of the APPO were supporters of the Party of the bourgeois-nationalist Democratic Revolution (PRD). The GI and LFI called for a national strike against repression and to break with the popular front around the PRD and its leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and form a revolutionary workers party.

Following the bloody repression of 25 November 2006, the “far left’s” facile talk of a Oaxaca Commune has gone up in smoke, so today various radicals are focusing their calls on the demand for a constituent assembly. By far the largest left group in Oaxaca is the Communist Party of Mexico (Marxist-Leninist), which writes that in order to achieve a “revolutionary democratic outcome,” the left must focus on “the discussion of a new constitution,” “achieving a common platform” and “placing in the strategy of the mass movement the building of a National Democratic and Popular Constituent Assembly” (Vanguardia Proletaria, 5 March 2007). It’s not surprising that the PCM (m-l) should raise this call, for it is entirely in line with its reformist Stalinist program of a “two-stage revolution” and the popular front, and indeed, in the same issue an article praises Stalin’s policies as “a classic of Marxism-Leninism.” But the latter-day Stalinists are not the only ones to defend this bourgeois-democratic line. Another champion of the constituent assembly anywhere and everywhere is the Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo (LTS – Workers League for Socialism), part of the Trotskyist Faction (FT).

In its balance sheet, “Crisis of the Regime and the Lessons of the Oaxaca Commune” (31 December 2006), the LTS writes that the APPO should have fought for “a provisional government that should call a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly.” More specifically, APPO should have “transformed itself into a genuine organ of direct democracy of the exploited and oppressed, which would raise a workers and people’s program,” in order to “reorganize the state in the interests of the big majorities of the exploited and oppressed” and that a “government of the APPO and other working-class and popular organizations” as “an expression of the Commune” would “institute a genuine Revolutionary Constituent Assembly” in which the “working people, peasants and Indians, along with the whole of the people, could discuss how to reorganize society.” Just about everything here is contrary to Marxism. In the first place it is necessary not to “reorganize the state” but to smash the capitalist state and replace it with a workers state. Secondly, a genuine soviet is not simply an example of direct democracy of the poor, but a class organ of workers power. The LTS/FT systematically glosses over the working-class character of the program Trotskyists fight for, replacing it with mushy rhetoric about “democracy” and the “people” who sit around discussing what kind of society they want.

The “democratist” rhetoric of this current is no accident, for it comes straight from the FT’s progenitor, Nahuel Moreno. The FT gets offended when we call them neo-Morenoite, as they claim to have broken with Moreno some years after his death in 1986. (See their “Polemic with the LIT and the Theoretical Legacy of Nahuel Moreno,” Estrategia Internacional No. 3, December 1993-January 1994.) But while objecting to various of Moreno’s most blatantly opportunist formulations, such as his call for a “democratic revolution,” the FT keeps his methodological framework and many of his slogans. Thus the leading section of the FT, the Argentine PTS (Workers Party for Socialism) wrote following the December 2001 cacerolazos (pots and pans demonstrations) against the succession of bourgeois presidents:

“The slogan, ‘Get rid of them all!’ expresses the lack of legitimacy and the popular hatred against the regime of political representation…. But it still has not advanced to identifying this regime, in its social content, with capitalist rule. It is in the sense of extending a bridge between the ‘democratic’ consciousness of the masses and the need for revolution and workers power that Marxists raise the slogan of a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly.”

–“The Constituent Assembly and Workers Power, a Debate on the Left,” La Verdad Obrera, 18 July 2002

Of course, Trotsky himself presented the 1938 Transitional Program “to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between the present demands and the socialist program of the revolution.” But what the PTS/FT does here is quite different, for the slogan of a constituent assembly, whether you label it revolutionary or not, does not by itself go beyond the limits of capitalism. In economically backward capitalist, semi-feudal or colonial countries, such an assembly could be the vehicle for mass struggles for agrarian revolution, national independence and basic democratic rights. But both before and after December 2001, Argentina was an independent, fully capitalist country which doesn’t even have a real peasantry but rather agricultural workers. To pretend that there is a “democratic revolution” to be accomplished in Argentina is to capitulate to and adopt the democratic illusions of the masses, not to lead them to socialist revolution. And that is exactly what Moreno did in making the call for a constituent assembly a centerpiece of his program, from Portugal (where he borrowed it from the U.S. SWP) to Argentina to the whole of Latin America.

Leon Trotsky arriving in Petrograd in May 1917. Trotsky and Lenin fought for all power to the soviets of workers, soldiers and peasant deputies.

The cornerstone of Trotskyism is given in the first sentence of the Transitional Program: “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.” The purpose and raison d’être (reason for being) of the Fourth International, of which this was the founding document, was to provide that independent revolutionary vanguard to lead the struggles of the workers and oppressed to international socialist revolution. Moreno, however, rejected Trotsky’s view. In a 1980 document titled Actualización del Programa de Transición (Bringing the Transitional Program Up to Date), he argued that “despite the defects of the subject (i.e., that in some revolutions the proletariat was not the main protagonist) and of the subjective factor (the crisis of revolutionary leadership, the weakness of the Trotskyists), the world socialist revolution achieved important victories, expropriating the national and foreign exploiters in a number of countries, even though the leadership of the mass movement was still in the hands of the opportunist and counterrevolutionary apparatuses and leaderships.”

According to Moreno, an independent Trotskyist leadership was not necessary to carry out what he called “February revolutions,” as opposed to October Revolutions. He then “updated” Trotsky’s program by postulating a whole stage of February Revolutions. In Thesis 26 of his article, Moreno wrote:

“Our parties must recognize the existence of a pre-February revolutionary situation in order to come up with democratic slogans suitable for the existence of petty-bourgeois leaderships who control the mass movement and the need to establish unity of action as soon as possible in order to carry out a February revolution. We must understand that it is necessary to do so and not try to leap over this stage, but rather to draw all the necessary strategic and tactical conclusions.”

So Moreno the pseudo-Trotskyist is calling for putting forward democratic slogans appropriate for the petty-bourgeois leaderships, not a program for the revolutionaries. And what might those slogans be? In Thesis 27, he emphasizes “the general democratic character of the contemporary February Revolutions.” Moreno goes on: “Hence the enormous importance acquired by the slogan for a Constituent Assembly or similar variants in almost all the countries in the world.” He refers to the constituent assembly as “the highest expression of democratic struggle,” saying that “we call for a constituent assembly while saying, ‘we are the biggest democrats’,” etc. He talks of “developing workers and people’s power,” whatever that means, saying that ultimately the objective is for the working class and its allies to take power. But the bottom line is that he is here putting forward a democratic program for petty-bourgeois (or even bourgeois) misleaders.

Moreno’s 1980 “updating” of the Transitional Program was part of a whole evolution in his political conceptions. Prior to that point, the Argentine pseudo-Trotskyist had distinguished himself primarily by his facility as a political quick-change artist, so much so that we referred to Nahuel Moreno as the Cantinflas of the Marxist movement, after his Mexican namesake, the comedian Mario Moreno. The Argentine Moreno was constantly trying to pass himself off as the left wing of whatever movement was in vogue at the time. After posing as a left-wing Peronist in Argentina, in the early 1960s he put on the olive green fatigues of Castro/Guevera guerrillaism. For a while in the mid-’60s, he enthused over the Maoist Red Guards in China. When some of his associates took him at his word and actually began to form a guerrilla front in Argentina in the late ’60s, with disastrous results, Moreno quickly backpedaled and put on the suit-and-tie of a respectable social democrat, joining up with the remnants of the Argentine Socialist Party. In 1975-76 he was backing CIA-financed social democracy in Portugal. By the late ’70s, he was back to guerrillaism, this time as a socialist Sandinista. We documented this history in the Moreno Truth Kit (1980) first published by the international Spartacist tendency and now available from the League for the Fourth International.

Back in Argentina, Moreno defended the bloody military dictatorship under General Videla against boycotts sparked by his European USec comrades, even as the junta was arresting and murdering Morenoite cadres. But by the early 1980s, the junta was on its last legs, mortally wounded by its ill-fated military adventure in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands (which the Morenoites loudly hailed), and Moreno sided with the bourgeois Radical opposition led by Raúl Alfonsín, which took office after winning elections in 1983. Moreno proclaimed this A Triumphant Democratic Revolution in a book which bore that title, and thereupon invented a whole theory of “democratic revolutions.” The programmatic linchpin of this anti-Marxist dogma was his call, anywhere and everywhere, for a constituent assembly. This was Moreno’s final “contribution” to the annals of pseudo-Trotskyism. Genuine Trotskyists, in contrast, as we have repeatedly insisted, fight for international socialist revolution, led by authentic Leninist communist parties and based on worker and peasant councils, i.e., soviets.

But even before his infatuation with “February revolutions” (which came around the time Ronald Reagan was calling for a “democratic revolution” in Latin America), Nahuel Moreno was highlighting the call for constituent assemblies in the semi-colonial “Third World.” Thus in the mid-1970s, his publishing house (Editorial Pluma) put out a collection of Trotsky’s writings on La segunda revolución china covering the period from 1919 to 1938, which prominently featured the Bolshevik revolutionary’s call for a constituent assembly around 1930, following the defeat of the second Chinese Revolution in 1927. However, this 220-page book left out all of the many articles by Trotsky calling for the formation of soviets in China, which was the focus of his calls for action by the Chinese Communist Party at the height of the revolutionary upheaval of 1925-27. Moreno’s skewed selection of documents was a deliberate distortion of Trotsky’s policies in semi-colonial countries. To this day, Spanish readers of Trotsky have never seen his repeated calls for workers revolution in China based on worker, peasant and soldiers soviets and only know the Morenoite bowdlerization.

Note also that Moreno called for constituent assemblies not just in the “Third World” but rather “in almost all the countries of the world.” Including the imperialist “democracies”? How about in the United States? Indeed, the short-lived Morenoite organization in the U.S. called at one point in the early 1980s for a constituent assembly. At the same time, they attacked our comrades with claw hammers – pro-capitalist “democratist” politics and anti-communist thuggery go hand in hand.

In Bolivia, where the question of a constituent assembly has been a hot issue due to Evo Morales’ calls for one, a leading spokesman for the section of the Moreno-derived FT, Eduardo Molina, published an article at the outset of the 2003 upheaval calling for a “Revolutionary Constituent Assembly” (Lucha Obrera No. 11, 24 February 2003). In a section titled “Trotskyism and the Constituent Assembly,” Molina wrote:

“Leon Trotsky raised the demand for a National Assembly as a great banner to unify the masses following the Second Chinese Revolution, he put forward the slogan of a Revolutionary Constituent Cortes at the outset of the Spanish Revolution, in the early 1930s; and he demanded a national assembly, together with a program of radical-democratic slogans against the regime of the French Republic in his Program of Action for France in 1934.”

This has been a standard Morenoite argument for years, as they rewrite Trotsky in the spirit of bourgeois democracy. It has been more recently taken up by the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), the section of the United Secretariat, as it becomes ever-deeper incrusted in bourgeois parliamentarism. (The leaders of the long-since reformist LCR have been trying for years to get rid of the “C” and the “R” in their name, but they keep running up against reluctance in the ranks.) LCR theoretician Francisco Sabado is now toying with calls for a constituent assembly in France, citing the same 1934 program as justification (“Quelques éléments clés sur la stratégie révolutionnaire dans les pays capitalistes avancés”, Cahiers Communistes No. 179, March 2006).

Once again, this is a distortion of Trotsky’s revolutionary politics. In China, as we have pointed out, Trotsky put the call for a constituent assembly in the forefront of his agitation following the defeat of the Second Chinese Revolution, where it was directed against the rule of warlords and the dictatorship of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek; at the high point of the battle, his central call was for the formation of soviets. The Spanish Revolution in 1931 was developing in struggle against the monarchy and the military dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera, which had ruled the country with an iron hand since 1923. Trotsky’s call intersected pent-up demands for democratic elections and proclamation of a republic, for agrarian revolution, the separation of church and state and confiscation of church properties. Thus the demand of a revolutionary constituent assembly or Cortes was the generalization of a whole series of democratic demands which were the portal to the socialist revolution. Of course, Trotsky combined this with propaganda for the formation of soviets. And by the time of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, the demand for a constituent assembly was no longer appropriate under the Republic.

The situation in France in the mid-1930s was very different, and Trotsky did not call for a constituent assembly there, contrary to Morenoite mythology. So what did his June 1934 “Program for Action in France” advocate? At the time, right-wing reactionaries and fascists were pushing the country toward an authoritarian “strong state” regime, reflecting a general trend throughout Europe symbolized by Hitler’s seizure of power the year before and the February 1934 defeat of an uprising of the Vienna workers by the clerical-fascist Dolfuss regime in Austria. Trotsky’s central slogan in the face of this bonapartist threat was not for a bourgeois-democratic constituent assembly, as the Morenoites suggest, but rather “Down with the Bourgeois ‘Authoritarian State’! For Workers and Peasants Power!” As part of the fight for a “workers and peasants commune,” Trotsky vowed to defend bourgeois democracy against fascist and royalist attacks. In that context, he called for abolition of various anti-democratic aspects of the French Third Republic, including the Senate, elected by limited suffrage, and the presidency, a focal point for militaristic and reactionary forces, and proposed a “single assembly” that would “combine legislative and executive powers.” We raised these points in our recent article, “France Turns Hard to the Right” (The Internationalist No. 26, June-July 2007). But this is quite distinct from calling for a constituent assembly in a country that already has a bourgeois-democratic regime, however tattered and threadbare.

In laying out his program of permanent revolution in the economically backward capitalist countries, Trotsky emphasized: “The central task of the colonial and semi-colonial countries is the agrarian revolution, i.e., liquidation of feudal heritages, and national independence, i.e., the overthrow of the imperialist yoke.” He emphasized that revolutionaries cannot merely “reject the democratic program; it is imperative that in the struggle the masses outgrow it. The slogan for a National (or Constituent) Assembly preserves its full force for such countries as China or India. This slogan must be indissolubly tied up with the problem of national liberation and agrarian reform.” Hence the slogan is not appropriate in an imperialist country, or where those tasks have already gone beyond the bourgeois-democratic level. In Mexico or Bolivia or Ecuador today, no democratic demand can break the stranglehold of imperialism or of capitalist agribusiness – this can only be accomplished by workers revolution.

To pretend that a “democratic revolution” is posed in Latin America or Europe today is to play into the hands of bourgeois reaction, just as Moreno did in adopting the Reaganite rhetoric in the 1980s, which was then turned against the Soviet Union. It’s not surprising that many of the pseudo-Trotskyists joined in the anti-Soviet chorus over Afghanistan and Poland at the beginning of the 1980s and stood with the counterrevolutionary Boris Yeltsin in 1991, as the Morenoites and the United Secretariat did. And it is equally logical that in taking up the call for a constituent assembly in France today, LCR/USec “theorist” François Sabado should hark back to Rosa Luxemburg’s criticism of the Bolsheviks who had dispersed the Constituent Assembly in Russia in January 1918 as a focal point for opposition to Soviet rule. In her unfinished manuscript, On the Russian Revolution, Luxemburg criticized Trotsky’s defense of this revolutionary measure (in his 1918 pamphlet From October to Brest-Litovsk) and wanted a new Constituent Assembly to be elected alongside the Soviets, in the name of “democracy.” This is exactly what occurred a few months later following the German Revolution of November 1918, when the National Constituent Assembly became the base for the governing Social Democrats in smashing the Congress of Workers and Soldiers Councils while murdering Luxemburg and her fellow communist leader Karl Liebknecht2. We stand instead with Lenin, whose December 1917 “Theses on the Constituent Assembly” are excerpted below.

What was posed in Oaxaca in June-November 2006, in Bolivia in June 2005 and September-October 2003, and in Argentina in December 2001 was not to call for bourgeois-democratic resolution of the crisis, synthesized in the slogan of a constituent assembly, but to explain to the masses (and the left) that none of the objectives of the struggle could be achieved without the formation of organs of working-class power, backed by the urban and rural poor, hand-in-hand with the fight to build authentic Trotskyist parties and a reforged Fourth International to lead the struggle for international socialist revolution. ■

1 In 1825, 1826, 1831, 1834, 1839, 1843, 1851, 1861, 1868, 1871, 1878, 1880, 1899, 1920, 1938, 1945, 1947, 1961, 1967. See Luis Antezana E., Práctica y teoría de la Asamblea Constituyente (2003).

2 It should be noted that Luxemburg never published On the Russian Revolution, nor is it clear that she intended to do so; it remained an unfinished manuscript. It was first issued as a pamphlet in 1922 by Paul Levi (in an incomplete and inaccurate version) after he had split from the Communist Party and returned to Social Democracy, and has been used ever since as a banner by all manner of anti-communists. Moreover, when the issue of a national assembly and/or workers councils was posed in Germany in November-December 1918, Rosa the revolutionary came down squarely for a government of workers councils against the bourgeois “democracy” of the National Assembly.

V. I. Lenin, “Theses on the Constituent Assembly” (Excerpts)
(December 1917)

1. The demand for the convocation of a Constituent Assembly was a perfectly legitimate part of the programme of revolutionary Social-Democracy, because in a bourgeois republic the Constituent Assembly represents the highest form of democracy and because, in setting up a Pre-parliament, the imperialist republic headed by Kerensky was preparing to rig the elections and violate democracy in a number of ways.

2. While demanding the convocation of a Constituent Assembly, revolutionary Social-Democracy has ever since the beginning of the Revolution of 1917 repeatedly emphasised that a republic of Soviets is a higher form of democracy than the usual bourgeois republic with a Constituent Assembly.

3. For the transition from the bourgeois to the socialist system, for the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Republic of Soviets (of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies) is not only a higher type of democratic institution (as compared with the usual bourgeois republic crowned by a Constituent Assembly), but is the only form capable of securing the most painless transition to socialism….

14. … The course of events and the development of the class struggle in the revolution have resulted in the slogan "All Power to the Constituent Assembly!"—which disregards the gains of the workers’ and peasants’ revolution, which disregards Soviet power, which disregards the decisions of the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, of the Second All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies, etc.—becoming in fact the slogan of the Cadets and the Kaledinites and of their helpers….

16. The result of all the above-mentioned circumstances taken together is that the Constituent Assembly, summoned on the basis of the election lists of the parties existing prior to the proletarian-peasant revolution under the rule of the bourgeoisie, must inevitably clash with the will and interests of the working and exploited classes which on October 25 began the socialist revolution against the bourgeoisie. Naturally, the interests of this revolution stand higher than the formal rights of the Constituent Assembly….

17. Every direct or indirect attempt to consider the question of the Constituent Assembly from a formal, legal point of view, within the framework of ordinary bourgeois democracy and disregarding the class struggle and civil war, would be a betrayal of the proletariat’s cause, and the adoption of the bourgeois standpoint….

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com