Source: Fourth International Vol.7 No.1, January 1946, pp.18-22;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford, 2003.
Public Domain: Marxists’ Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2005. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists’ Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.
For two years there has been a dispute in the Socialist Workers Party concerning problems of the European revolution. The position of the SWP majority was last stated comprehensively by William Simmons in his Trotskyist Tasks in Europe in the July Fourth International. His article is very useful because it serves to make clear what still remains in dispute.
In particular it makes clear that we remain in disagreement on the correctness and importance of democratic demands in general and two in particular: the republic in Italy and Belgium; the Constituent Assembly in Italy, France, Belgium and Holland. We of the minority insist that these demands have been and continue to be of primary importance. Comrade Simmons, as we shall see, denies that.
Originally our disagreement on this question flowed from our differing estimates of the present stage of political consciousness of the European proletariat. As early as 1943 we predicted the emergence from underground of the traditional workers’ parties as the principal leadership of the masses; that on the one hand this fact would be the result of the revival of democratic illusions during the war; that on the other hand these parties would foster these illusions, teaching the masses that their needs can be satisfied within the framework of the bourgeois-democratic state; that this situation dictated to the parties of the Fourth International an emphasis on democratic demands as the lever with which to reach the masses and arouse them to struggle for ever more thoroughgoing demands.
The SWP majority, on the contrary, either denied the existence of these democratic illusions or, if it granted them for a moment, it was only to predict their speedy disappearance because of the catastrophic economic situation. As crushing proof they quoted Trotsky’s 1940 statement that “Today almost nothing remains of the democratic and pacifist illusions” and refused to understand that the further development of the war since 1940 had revived these illusions: the revival of national feeling under the Nazi occupation, the rise of a generation without experience of bourgeois democracy (not only in Italy, Germany and eastern Europe, but also in the five years of Nazi occupation in western Europe), the acute dependence on America for food and economic aid, etc.
Typical of the original position of the SWP majority was this statement of its spokesman E.R. Frank:
I have read and heard it bruited about that there is going to be a tremendous revival of democratic illusions among the masses because the younger generation has not gone through the school of parliamentarism, that it must first go through this “body of experience” until it is able to shed democratic illusions. What inability to understand the meaning of events and to sense the mood, the aspirations, the feelings of the masses! (December 1944 Fourth International, p.378.)
And in an editorial condemning the minority, the majority stated:
The convention rejected Morrow’s contention concerning the prospects of bourgeois democracy in Europe. Developments since the downfall of Mussolini have reinforced the party’s prognosis that the program of Anglo-American imperialism is so reactionary that the initial illusions of the masses concerning the intentions and plans of the Allied occupying authorities are swiftly dispelled by their own experiences. In other words, the crisis in Europe is so catastrophic in nature that bourgeois democratic illusions can find no fertile soil. This is further attested to by the recent events in France, Italy, Belgium and Greece. (Ibid., p.359.)
The majority deduced the impossibility of democratic illusions, from the economic situation. It was thus guilty of a false theory of the relation between economics and politics, deducing automatic political consequences from the economic situation. The minority, on the other hand, insisted that the (political) democratic illusions could disappear only as the result of a political experience of the masses with bourgeois democracy.
Now, at long last, the minority position is conceded by. Simmons, who writes:
Among the important factors emerging from European developments, as listed by Morrow, are the following: “the revival of democratic illusions among considerable sections of the masses” because “... new generations have grown up without any experience of bourgeois democracy and without active participation in political life.” This is undeniably so. He estimates that “these masses may well have to go through a certain body of experiences before they will understand that their needs cannot be satisfied within the framework of the democratic republic.” No doubt this is true, although the experience may be gained in a concentrated form and within a brief period.
Comrade Morrow also concluded from Italian experiences so far that “the traditional workers’ parties, as well as centrist and liberal-democratic parties, will emerge throughout Europe as the principal parties of the first period after collapse of the Nazis and their collaborators.” This is already the case in a number of European countries. It cannot yet be said for Germany, the most decisive sector of the European revolution, although, to a much more limited extent, it may also come true there.
Still there is no need, or desire, on my part to quarrel with these general formulations cited in the above paragraph...
In this situation the parties of the Fourth International, whether small or large, must go with the masses through this body of experience... In conformity with the needs of each situation they must advance, and fight for, democratic demands... (Fourth International, July, p.216.)
We of the minority can only welcome this statement, which removes an issue hotly disputed since October 1943.
Unfortunately, however, Comrade Simmons and those he speaks for fail to understand the logical conclusions which follow from recognizing the existence of democratic illusions.
If the masses have democratic illusions, what follows? How shall we prove to the masses that their needs cannot be satisfied within the framework of the bourgeois-democratic state?
This is of course not a new problem, and our answer is the Leninist answer: The more complete democracy we can win, the more it will become clear to the workers that it is not their lack of liberties but capitalism itself which is the cause of their suffering. In the fight for the most complete democracy, the Bolsheviks can demonstrate to the workers that it is the revolutionists and not the reformists who are the most devoted fighters for the needs of the people.
Against this approach the SWP majority interposes an objection which, if true, would dictate an entirely different attitude toward democratic demands. The objection is that reformists also advance democratic demands and that therefore the advancing of democratic demands cannot distinguish the revolutionists from the reformists in the eyes of the workers. Simmons states this objection as follows:
In Northern Italy the militant partisan movement, evidently under the leadership of Stalinists, Social Democrats and left wing liberals, demand the republic. Even the Belgian Social Democrats have given feeble voice to such a demand. In France and elsewhere demands have been made by these parties for a constituent assembly, always taking care, of course, that actual measures are delayed as much as possible...
The mere advancing of democratic demands will not serve in itself to distinguish the Fourth Internationalists from the position of these parties. It is important therefore to recognize the fact that democratic demands are for us only incidental and episodic in the independent movement of the proletariat; and they are now especially so in view of the utter capitalist collapse. (My italics.)
From this assertion of the impossibility of distinguishing ourselves from the reformists on the plane of democratic demands, Simmons quite logically draws a very sharp distinction between my approach and his:
How are the revolutionists to win out in this crucial conflict for leadership? By emphasizing and underlining the role of democratic demands? No! Our conclusion must be the exact opposite to that drawn by Morrow. This conclusion must proceed from the idea that the parties of the Fourth International possess the enormous advantage of a revolutionary program. This is the main program which they must bring forward now. Therefore, if in this main struggle anything is to be especially emphasized and underlined, it is the revolutionary content of this program. They must emphasize the socialist way out of the capitalist collapse in clear and precise revolutionary slogans. In fact they must put forward as their most pressing demand the expropriation of the capitalists and the socialization of the means of production. (My italics.)
The issue, then, is clear: we of the minority assert the tremendous importance of such democratic demands as the republic and the constituent assembly precisely from the point of view of enabling the revolutionary party to find its way to the masses. On the other hand Comrade Simmons asserts that the revolutionary party cannot distinguish itself from the reformists on the plane of democratic demands and that therefore the revolutionists must make “their most pressing demand” the expropriation of capitalism. While Comrade Simmons doesn’t make it clear we shall see that in actual practice his position means either opposing or ignoring the slogans of the republic and the constituent assembly.
Unlike the earlier period of this dispute when we were limited to theoretical considerations, we can now argue in terms of the experience of our comrades and the proletariat since the expulsion of the Nazis from western Europe. Ever, now we have only fragmentary information from our comrades, but it is enough to settle this dispute.
Very early in the Leopold crisis, and before we were able to hear on it from our Belgian comrades, the question arose how to treat the events in The Militant and Fourth International. Here was an acid test of the difference in approach between us and the SWP majority for whom Comrade Simmons speaks.
At the Political Committee meeting of June 21, I introduced the following motion:
That in our analysis of the Belgian working class struggle against the return of King Leopold, we condemn the Socialist and Communist parties for having failed to take the following steps:
1. Expulsion from the government of the bourgeois ministers, who are favorable to Leopold’s return. Thereby the government would he transformed into a Socialist-Communist government.
2. Arrest of the royal family, including the Regent, and other reactionaries and industrialists who are plotting with Leopold for his return.
3. Immediate proclamation of the democratic republic.
4. Authorization of election of soldiers’ committees by the Belgian regiments.
5. Arming of the workers. Control of production by elected factory committees to assure continued production for the needs of the workers.
My motivation for this motion, briefly, was that the problem of problems for the Trotskyist movement is to tear away the masses from the Socialist and Communist parties. This is not to be done by propaganda for the virtues of socialism, of which the socialist-minded proletariat of Belgium is well aware, nor by equally abstract propaganda for the proletarian revolution, which the Communist party workers and many of the Socialist party workers believe their parties stand for. Our task is to contrast what their parties obviously should do with what their parties actually do in the concrete critical situations which arise. One such situation was the attempt of Leopold to return; the Socialist and Communist parties opposed his return but advocated retention of the monarchy. To those workers who follow the Socialist and Communist parties, we say: Your parties refuse even to break with the monarchy, at a moment when it is clear they could have gotten rid of it once for all; when such parties will not even proclaim a republic when it can be done, how can you expect them to lead you to socialism?
The Political Committee majority rejected my motion, and adopted one as follows:
That in exposing the role of the Social Democrats and their sham fight against Leopold, we base ourselves on the program of the Belgian comrades and especially emphasize the demand for the withdrawal of the Allied troops.
The “program of the Belgian comrades” to which this motion refers was one issued months before: it had in it no reference to the question of the monarchy.
The question at issue was the monarchy. That was what the Belgian crisis was about, and that was what my motion was about. My answer was the republic. The Political Committee rejected my motion and their own gave no answer to the question at issue.
“Let us hope,” I wrote at the time, “that our Belgian comrades didn’t also look up a program of action written at a different time and with other situations in view. Let us hope that our Belgian comrades answered the actual question with which life had confronted them. If they did so, however, they followed a very different method than our Political Committee.”
My hope in the Belgian comrades proved justified. Four days after the above motions, the Socialist and Communist parties called a mass demonstration in the industrial center of Charleroi, to demand Leopold’s abdication, i.e., continuation of the monarchy in the form of the regency of Leopold’s brother. Over 10,000 workers came out in spite of the tepid character of the demand.
Our comrades entered the demonstration with their own slogans and were able to report a signal success: “From the beginning, the slogans launched by our comrades of Charleroi: ‘Leopold to prison,’ ‘Down with the monarchy,’ ‘For the republic,’ were taken up by the overwhelming majority of the demonstrators,” reports the July 14, issue of La Lutte Ouvriere, organ of our comrades, the Revolutionary Communist Party of Belgium, This success was followed by similar responses to the leaflets and press of our comrades.
In his eagerness to demonstrate that the mere advancing of democratic demands will not serve to distinguish revolutionists from reformists, Simmons says the Belgian Labor Party gave “feeble voice” to the demand for a republic. Actually, however, it did nothing of the sort. Together with the Communist Party, it opposed the return of Leopold but accepted the continuation of the monarchy. What is true is that the Labor Party has inscribed traditionally in its program the slogan of the republic. This fact, however, far from blurring the difference between the reformists and the revolutionists, opened to our comrades a tremendous opportunity for successful agitation among the Labor Party members, calling upon them to force their leaders to carry out the republican plank of the Labor Party’s own platform.
In their agitation in the Leopold crisis, our comrades did not of course limit themselves to the slogan of the republic. Their agitation followed the same method as my motion: expulsion of the bourgeois ministers; arrest of reactionaries; arming of the workers; workers’ control of production, etc. This is the method of democratic and transitional demands—both woven together.
Instead of my proposal for factory and soldiers’ committees—an abstract proposal—the Belgian comrades made a concrete proposal, based on (what I had not known) the existence of Committees of Vigilance which date from the Nazi occupation and which are now merely top committees of the Labor, Communist and Liberal parties. Our comrades proposed to enlarge the committees, transforming them from committees of the “democratic alliance” into really popular organs by expelling the (bourgeois) liberals and by sending into the committees democratically-elected delegates of the workers in the factories and neighborhoods. These committees would take charge of the fight for the republic, arrest the officers who are preparing a royalist dictatorship, organize the workers’ militias, etc.
What are such committees? They are soviets. Note well, however, that they are to be launched under the slogan of the struggle for the republic. In other words, at this stage it is the democratic demand for the republic which enables our comrades to popularize the idea of soviets. It is too often forgotten that soviets begin as the organs of the united front of the proletariat specifically created to struggle for a commonly accepted demand. Far from hampering our propaganda for soviets, it is precisely the fact that the Belgian Labor Party is on record for a republic which facilitated the demand of our comrades for the mass committees required to fight for it.
Comrade Warde (who of course voted against the slogan of the republic for Belgium) now seeks to find a “profound” distinction between the slogan as used by our Belgian comrades and as used by Morrow: for the Belgian comrades, he says, it is “merely a point of departure.” And I, presumably, want the republic to remain... Yes, in Belgium and in Italy too, the slogan of the republic is merely a point of departure. But without it one cannot today depart in the direction of soviets. And there is the whole point.
Some comrades try to make a profound distinction between calling for a republic and calling for a democratic (i.e., bourgeois) republic, the implication being that our Belgian comrades are in reality calling for a socialist republic when they speak of republic. What is true, of course, is that the day the reformists proclaim the (bourgeois) republic we shall condemn the content they give it as being a betrayal of the workers’ aspirations for a better life. In this sense the demand for the republic is an algebraic formula, the revolutionist giving it a very different content than that given it by the reformist: for the revolutionist proclamation of the republic is a step forward in the struggle for socialism whereas for the reformist the republic is an end in itself. But this does not change the democratic character of the demand for the republic; it is not a socialist demand; it does not mean that we are proposing to replace the monarchy by soviet power, for in the latter case we would not be calling for the republic but for the soviet republic. The whole point of the present situation in Belgium and Italy is precisely the untimeliness of the slogan of the soviet republic.
In the case of Italy, too, the Political Committee of the SWP has refused to endorse the slogan of the republic, even though it is in the program of our Italian comrades.
Comrade Simmons argues:
“In northern Italy the militant partisan movement, evidently under the leadership of Stalinists, Social Democrats and left wing liberals, demands the republic.”
This is one of his arguments to prove that
“The mere advancing of democratic demands will not serve in itself to distinguish the Fourth Internationalists from the position of these parties.”
Even in terms of his own argument, Simmons fails to say that for two years after the fall of Mussolini the Communist Party, the leading party of the workers, opposed the abolition of the monarchy. Wasn’t this a perfect opportunity for the Trotskyists to hammer away in favor of the slogan of the republic, gaining prestige among the workers especially after the “left” turn of the Stalinists showed that the Trotskyists were right all the time?
That, however, is only one side of the question. Even more important is it to understand that official endorsement of a slogan by the Social Democrats and the Stalinists in no way detracts from the importance of the slogan for us. Under the pressure of the workers, Togliatti and Nenni are giving lip-service to the slogan of the republic. Good! Our task then becomes to demonstrate—and a wealth of material is available—that they have done nothing to get rid of the monarchy since the fall of Mussolini, and that meanwhile the monarchist generals are building an army for use against the proletariat.
If we could not distinguish ourselves from the reformists when they raise identical or similar slogans to ours, then we would be hard-put to find anything to agitate about. Not even Simmons’ proposal that our “most pressing demand” must be “the expropriation of the capitalists and the socialization of the means of production” is exempt from reformist imitation. For, as he himself admits (p.216) “demands have been made for a certain degree of nationalization” by the reformist parties. More precisely, the Communist Party in Italy and France, for one example, stands for nationalization of the banks and all key industries. “The mere advancing of democratic demands will not serve in itself to distinguish the Fourth Internationalists from the position of these (reformist) parties,” complains Simmons, but the same could be said for many of our socialist demands. It should be obvious that something is wrong with Simmons’ approach.
Trotsky answered a Spanish Simmons on just this point in 1931 when the reformist Caballero endorsed workers’ control of production:
... to renounce workers’ control merely because the reformists are for it—in words—would be an enormous stupidity. On the contrary it is precisely for this reason that we should seize upon this slogan all the more eagerly and compel the reformist workers to put it into practice by means of a united front with us; and on the basis of this experience to push them into opposition to Caballero and other fakers.
We succeeded in creating Soviets in Russia only because the demand for them was raised, together with us, by the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries, although, to be sure, they bad different aims in mind. We cannot create any Soviets in Spain precisely because neither the Socialists nor the syndicalists want Soviets. This means that the united front and the organizational unity of the majority of the working class cannot be created under this slogan.
But here is Caballero himself, forced by the pressure of the masses, seizing upon the slogan of workers’ control and thereby opening wide the doors for the united front policy and to forging an organization that embraces the working class. We must seize hold of this with both hands. Certainly, Caballero will try to transform workers’ control into the control of the capitalists over the workers. But that question already pertains to another domain, that of the relationship of forces within the working class. (Fourth International, October 1943, p.319.)
Certainly Togliatti and Nenni will try to transform the proclamation of the republic into the control of the capitalists over the workers. But that question will be settled by the relationship of forces within the working class at that point, Meanwhile, however, our Italian comrades have to grasp with both hands Togliatti and Nenni’s affirmations of the republic. The difference is that in calling for united front organs (soviets) for the republic we call for class struggle against the monarchy whereas the reformists promise to remove it eventually by means of class collaboration. Is it so difficult to make this distinction clear to the advanced workers?
Today’s newspapers (October 14) report great mass meetings in Rome, Milan and other cities demanding abolition of the monarchy and speedy elections to the Constituent Assembly. Of course the meetings are under control of the Communist and Socialist parties. According to the method of Simmons, their advancing of these demands negates the importance of these demands for our Italian comrades.
But note well that the bourgeois partners of the Communist and Socialist parties in the government write in opposition to the meetings. The Liberale condemns the sponsors of the meetings as lacking in good faith since they know perfectly well that the Constituent cannot be convened before next spring at the earliest. The Popolo of the Christian Democrats argues that the Constituent cannot solve the economic problems which must come first. And so on. Here is an excellent opportunity for us! We say to the Socialist and Communist party members: Your leaders sit in one cabinet with the Christian democrats and Liberals, where ostensibly all together are preparing the Constituent as soon as possible, so your leaders say. But when you workers demonstrate for the republic and the Constituent, the bourgeois ministers condemn your demonstrations, in reality condemn the purposes for which you are demonstrating. They are using their government posts to sabotage convocation of the Constituent which will abolish the monarchy! Down with the bourgeois ministers, drive them out of the government. For a government of the workers’ parties and the trade unions.
True, Comrade Simmons and his associates support the slogan of a government of the workers’ parties in Italy. But they do not support the slogan of the republic and therefore would be unable to agitate along the lines indicated above. For they don’t understand that at this stage the slogan of the republic is an indispensable lever for advancing the slogan ox a government of the workers’ parties.
Another example: At the great mass meeting in Rome against the monarchy, the Action party leader, Federico Comandini, himself frightened out of his wits at the extent which his criminal policy has permitted the royalist forces to arm themselves, tries in turn to frighten the royalists with th warning that if they try to prevent the elections to the Constituent, then “the parties that organized the Rosselli, Matteoti and Garibaldi Brigades will not refrain from appealing directly to the working classes.”
Our comrades must grab hold of Comandini’s words with both hands. If the Comandinis, whose policy made it possible for the royalists to arm, have to admit so much, the truth must be even more serious. Sound the alarm! Workers, there must be no elections unless the working class prepares immediately to defend the elections against the royalists! When the workers had the Partisan Brigades, the royalists cowered in hiding but when the workers gave up arms and disbanded the brigades the royalists came out into the open. Let us speedily correct the mistake—Committees of Vigilance in every factory, villa and neighborhood! The committees to prepare the elector lists, purging them of collaborators and fascists; to guarantee the holding of the elections against the royalists; to discuss the steps to be taken in order to assure a worker-peasant majority in the Constituent: a land program for the peasants social program for the workers, etc. Delegates from the Committees shall convene in Rome simultaneously with the Constituent, in order to keep the local committees informed of how well or ill the Constituent is carrying out the wishes of the masses, what steps must be taken everywhere to enforce the decisions of the Constituent against the king, the landlords and capitalists, etc. In a word, Comandini’s “left” gesture provides a perfect opportunity for revolutionary agitation for arming the Workers and for soviets. But on one small condition: the revolutionary party must also support the slogan of the republic which is today in Italy the lever for the other slogans.
The masses want bread, not the republic. The Constituent Assembly will not feed us. Such were the arguments of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, and today of the Bordighists in Italy. And at bottom it is the same ultra-left error which Comrade Simmons and his associates make. This becomes clear when, after perfunctorily conceding the need of democratic demands, he writes:
On the other hand, revival of democratic illusions among considerable sections of the masses, due to lack of participation in political life of the younger generation, is not the only present phenomenon. Far more pressing for them is the very lack of the most meagre means of subsistence. Therefore, with all its weight this catastrophic crisis pushes the proletariat relentlessly on the road toward the revolutionary mass struggle for power. (p.216.)
Comrade Simmons here makes the usual ultra-leftist error of counterposing the republic and the Constituent Assembly to the hunger of the masses. In the real world today, however, it is precisely their hunger which impels the masses to demonstrate for the republic and the Constituent Assembly. True enough, the republic and the Constituent will not satisfy the hunger of the masses. But the understanding of this by the masses still lies in the future. Today the great masses believe the republic and the Constituent will help them. It is necessary to disabuse the masses of these illusions, but a century of Marxism teaches us that doctrinal lectures is not the way. The way lies through the struggle for the republic and the Constituent, there is no other way. In his “revolutionary” assertion of another way, counterposing socialist demands to democratic demands, Comrade Simmons leaves the road of Marxism—and all this he does, if you please, in the name of orthodox Marxism!
I leave detailed consideration of the Constituent Assembly—today the most important problem of tactics which confronts our French comrades (and tomorrow our Italian comrades)—to another article. But the whole problem can be summarized in one question which I address to Comrade Simmons: Of what body, dear comrade, do you demand expropriation of the capitalists and socialization o£ the means of production? To limit oneself to saying the workers should do it is anarcho-syndicalism; it is necessary to demand socialization by a state power. Which? The non-existent soviets? But in that case you are merely making abstract propaganda for a future society. The essence of agitation, on the other hand, is to direct a demand to an existing address or to one which the masses are ready to create. They are not now ready to create soviet power, but they are already moving to establish or have already established the Constituent Assembly. Which means that today—and as long as the masses do not create soviets—the demand for socialization is addressed to the (bourgeois) Constituent Assembly. He who does not understand the necessity for this paradox of demanding socialism from a bourgeois body does not understand revolutionary tactics. This lack of understanding is expressed in the attitude of the SWP majority toward the slogans of the republic and the Constituent Assembly.
1. The position of the SWP majority was stated in the December 1944 issue of Fourth International and in articles by William Simmons in the April and July 1945 issues. The position of the SWP minority was stated by Felix Morrow in the May 1945 Fourth International.
2. “The Belgian party leadership writes in a letter of September 10:
“As you could see from our paper and also from our leaflets, we had a firm stand during the king’s crisis the last months, more in accordance with the Morrow resolution than with the Stein (Political Committee) resolution.”
Last updated on: 5.1.2006