May 2008   

“Theoretical” Justification for Abstentionism, and Tailing After the PRD

Flim Flam from the GEM on Workers Control

Translated from El Internacionalista No. 7, May 2009.

We’ve grown accustomed of late to receiving barbs from the Grupo Espartaquista de México consisting of scholastic arguments of the purest water, adorned with amalgams and sophistry, all in order to justify its opportunist and tailist policies. A case in point is its curious “polemic” under the title, “Menshevik Symptomology” which appeared in Espartaco (Winter 2008-09). What they seek to do is to put an equal sign between the policies of groups like the Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo (LTS – Socialist Workers League) and the Grupo de Acción Revolucionaria (GAR – Revolutionary Action Group) – whose political strategy consists of  pressuring the Broad Progressive Front (FAP), the National Democratic Convention (CND) and other bourgeois formations led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known by his initials, AMLO) – and the Grupo Internacionalista which consistently fights against the popular front which has been built up around AMLO and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

The GEM itself fought for a decade against the Cárdenas popular front. But just as the PRD under Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was on the verge of winning the elections for the government of the Federal District [Mexico City], it abandoned what had been its most distinctive policy in Mexico. Just at that moment they suddenly “discovered that there was not, there had not been nor could there be any popular front in Mexico. Its “theoretical” justification: that a popular front requires a mass workers party, which would rule out popular-frontism in the vast majority of semi-colonial countries. As we have repeatedly pointed out, this criteria was never raised by Leon Trotsky, whose heritage the GEM erroneously claims. We responded, “To Fight the Popular Front, You Have to Recognize That It Exists” (see The Internationalist No. 3, September-October 1997). We noted that real purpose of this new “theoretical discovery” of the GEM was to no longer fight for the unions to break with the PRD-led popular front. Thus even as the GEM says it has no confidence in AMLO and the PRD, it simultaneously adopts policies which in the concrete copy the PRD and López Obrador.

Take a look at its recent article: AMLO says he is defending Pemex, Mexico’s nationalized oil company, against the privatizing offensive of the imposed president Felipe Calderón, period. The policy of the GEM is summed up in the slogan, “Down with the privatizing reform of Pemex!” period. Did the GEM put forward the demand to open the books of Pemex, in order to demonstrate the fraud of the supposed bankruptcy of the state oil company, the main argument used to justify its privatization? No. Did it call for any labor action to block the Calderón counterreform? No. In fact, they polemicize against our call for a national strike to block this pro-imperialist measure. Here’s how the operation is carried out: first, they replace the call for a national strike with a general strike, which they identify with the definitive struggle for proletarian power, which would be doomed to failure because of the absence of a Leninist-Trotskyist party, in order to then argue that such a strike is “mutually exclusive” of our call for workers control. “For workers control of production to exist, there must obviously be production,” they write sagely. Elementary my dear Watson. This line of reasoning is so labyrinthian and schematic that we don’t know if it should be called jesuitical or talmudic. In any case it is anti-dialectical to the hilt.

These would-be theoreticians are utterly at a loss to comprehend that a national strike could lead to the imposition of workers control in various sectors, or that plant takeovers imposing workers control could be part of an upsurge of struggles resulting in a national strike. They do not see this because they are incapable of understanding the dynamic of the class struggle. For the latter-day Spartacists, whose tendency continues to mistakenly call itself the International Communist League (ICL), these are purely abstract categories which they play with in order to elaborate their formalist arguments. It is also worth pointing out that their renunciation of the demand for workers control is only the most recent of a series of revisions in which they are abandoning step by step the revolutionary Trotskyist program which they defended for three decades.

The GEM complains: “Our call [for a strike for price subsidies for tortillas] didn’t seem sufficiently r-r-radical to the GI, which counterposed to it ‘workers control of the whole chain of tortilla production and distribution,”1 as well as calling to ‘impose workers control!’ in Pemex.” The core of the GEM’s argument is that workers control can only be achieved in a revolutionary situation. “Workers control of production means dual power at the point of production,” they write. As a result, they argue, “This slogan is only appropriate in the context of a level of class struggle qualitatively distinct from and more climactic than that which exists today.” They go on to cite a text by Trotsky: “the regime of workers’ control, a provisional transitional regime by its very essence, can correspond only to the period of the convulsing of the bourgeois state, the proletarian offensive, and the failing back of the bourgeoisie, that is, to the period of the proletarian revolution in the fullest sense of the word.”

“This has nothing to do with the present situation in Mexico,” decrees the GEM. Although they allow as “while Mexican society has proved to be highly explosive in recent years,” they dismiss this because “the outbreaks of proletarian class struggles have been sparse, and fundamentally defensive, and the proletariat is firmly tied ideologically to the bourgeoisie, above all by bourgeois nationalism.” In its opinion, the takeover of the steel plant in Lázaro Cárdenas in April 2006, when the workers chased off the state and federal police as well as the Marines; the occupation of the city of Oaxaca and much of that state by tens of thousands of militant teachers, backed by government workers and Indian groups, mounting hundreds of barricades and keeping the police out of the capital for six months in June-November of 2006; and the miners strike in Cananea2, which has lasted almost two years, represent “sparse” outbreaks, or are insufficiently proletarian for their tastes. It won’t be until Mexican workers throw off the burden of bourgeois nationalism, they claim, that one can call on them to undertake radical action. “All quiet on the Western front,” conclude these learned observers.

What is striking is that the text by Trotsky which they cite to uphold their theoretical revision (“Workers Control of Production” [August 1931]) has the opposite intent than that which the GEM ascribes to it. In this article, the founder of the Fourth International is polemicizing against the Stalinists in Germany who at the time were defending the very same position as the GEM holds today, namely, that only in a revolutionary situation can one raise the call for workers control. Immediately after the passage cited by our opponents, Trotsky adds:

“This correspondence, however, should not be understood mechanically, that is, not as meaning that dual power in the enterprises and dual power in the state are born on one and the same day. An advanced regime of dual power, as one of the highly probable stages of the proletarian revolution in every country, can develop in different countries in different ways, from differing elements. Thus, for example, in certain circumstances (a deep and persevering economic crisis, a strong state of organization of the workers in the enterprises, a relatively weak revolutionary party, a relatively strong state keeping a vigorous fascism in reserve, etc.) workers’ control of production can come considerably ahead of developed political dual power in a country.”

In reality, the German workers’ struggles at the time were essentially defensive, against the ravages of the economic crisis and the advance of the fascists. Nevertheless, instead of insisting as does the GEM that workers control can only arise in a revolutionary situation, what Trotsky argues is that “dual power in the country can develop precisely from workers’ control as its main source.”

By all indications, the threadbare “polemic” of the GEM was written for internal purposes, in order to provide a couple of quotes to shore up their refusal to raise one of the main demands of Trotsky’s Transitional Program. They’re certainly not going to convince anyone who has not been trained in their school of scholastic distortion, selective quotes and empty formulas. For any member of the GEM who wants to take the question seriously, we suggest that they read Trotsky’s article in its entirety, which for their convenience can be found on our site on the Internet. Here we would like to point out that this new revision is part of a whole political reorientation of the Spartacist tendency following the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union. Arguing that this historic defeat for the proletariat has produced a qualitative regression in workers’ consciousness (whereas in Mexico, for example, the political consciousness of the workers has been dominated by bourgeois nationalism both before and after 1991-92), they conclude that the crisis of humanity is no longer reduced the crisis of proletarian leadership, as Trotsky held, but instead the problem is with the proletariat itself. Basing themselves on this, the ICL and the GEM renounce in theory and in practice the founding program of the Fourth International.

It is striking that in their writings on Mexico or the acute global crisis of the capitalist economy, when it is imperative to build a bridge between the present struggles of the working class and socialist revolution, nowhere do they present a program of transitional demands to that effect: sliding scale of wages and hours, open the books of the companies, workers self-defense groups, and, of course, workers control of production, among others. They only counsel to await better times. In the few cases where they put forward any concrete slogan, as in the case of the strike for subsidized tortilla prices, they take it over from the PRD union leaders. Their pompous, high-flown digressions explaining why this or that slogan should not be raised only serve to justify their policy of fleeing from the class struggle – leaving the workers in the hands of the pro-capitalist bureaucracies. Since the ICL and GEM don’t call on the unions to break with the López Obrador popular front, their admonitions to have no illusions in AMLO or the PRD are nothing but a fig leaf to hide their own capitulation before these forces.

As far as their pusillanimous accusations that the Grupo Internacionalista supposedly has a “union-busting, pro-management” policy are concerned, an unwary reader of Espartaco would have no idea that the GI calls to struggle both inside and outside the corporatist “unions” – which are organically part of the bureaucratic control apparatus of the bourgeois state3 – seeking to form genuine workers  unions; that the GI fought for a national strike to defend the miners against the attempt by the Calderón government to impose their preferred charro4 as union leader rather than  the charro Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, whereas the GEM didn’t call for any action other than abstractly “supporting” a strike which didn’t even last a single day; and that the GI supported the Cananea miners in their strike (calling on unions in Mexico City to carry out solidarity action, as well as delivering material donations and financial aid) while the GEM has done nothing in this respect. And with its defense of the corporatist regime of the STPRM (the oil workers’ “union”), it turns its back on the thousands of “temporary” workers who have been fighting for decades to be hired directly by Pemex.

But what else would one expect from these professional desk-bound “socialists” and academic apologists for corporatism, who seek above all to “pull their hands out of the boiling water”5 of the class struggle? ■ 

1 See “Mexicos Tortilla Crisis, Product of Capitalism,” in The Internationalist No. 26, July 2007

2 See “Mexican Miners Strike for Safety, Against Anti-Worker Attacks,” The Internationalist supplement, January 2008

3 During the one-party rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which at the national level lasted from 1929 to 1999 and still persists in many states like Oaxaca, the major labor bodies were not workers unions but were incorporated into the state/party apparatus. Under this corporatist system, the “unions” of the CTM, CT, CROC, CROM and other federations were literally part of the PRI, their leaders appointed by the Mexican president or other high government functionaries.  With the election of PAN presidents (Vicente Fox in 2000, Felipe Calderón in 2006) this system of state labor control has frayed but not disappeared. The oil workers “union” (STPRM) remains a thoroughly corporatist entity. For additional discussion of the corporatist “unions,” see “Mexico: Women Workers Battle Gun Thugs,” in The Internationalist No. 10, June 2001.

4 Charro (literally, cowboy) refers to the state-imposed leaders of the corporatist “unions,” named after the government flunkey who was installed by the PRI-government at the head of the railroad workers union in the late 1940s, nicknamed El Charro because of his fondness for dressing up in Mexican cowboy costume.

5 See The ICL Leaders Cover Story: Smokescreen for a Betrayal, The Internationalist No. 1, January-February 1997.

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