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The Comintern workers’ government debate (3): Resolution

March 17, 2015

This text is also published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings and Resolutions of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, edited by John Riddell, Haymarket Books 2012, pp. 1159-62. It makes up section 11 of the congress’s “Theses on Tactics.” The relationship of this text to other published versions of the resolution is explained in footnote 6. Copyright © John Riddell 2011. For other excerpts see Workers’ government debate home page.

As a general propagandistic slogan, the workers’ government (or workers’ and peasants’ government) can be used almost everywhere. As an immediate political slogan, however, the workers’ government is most important in countries where bourgeois society is particularly unstable, where the relationship of forces between the workers’ parties and the bourgeoisie places the question of government on the agenda as a practical problem requiring immediate solution. In these countries, the slogan of the workers’ government flows unavoidably from the entire united front tactic.

The parties of the Second International attempt to ‘rescue’ the situation in these countries by advocating and achieving a coalition of the Social Democrats with bourgeois forces. Recently, some parties of the Second International (for example, in Germany) have attempted to reject open participation in such a coalition government while carrying it out in disguised form. This is simply an attempt to appease the indignant masses, a subtle betrayal of the working masses. Instead of a bourgeois-Social Democratic coalition, whether open or disguised, Communists propose the united front of all workers and a coalition of all workers’ parties, in both the economic and political arena, to struggle against the power of the bourgeoisie and ultimately to overthrow it. Through united struggle of all workers against the bourgeoisie, the entire state apparatus can pass over into the hands of the workers’ government, thus strengthening the power of the working class.

The most basic tasks of a workers’ government must consist of arming the proletariat, disarming the bourgeois counter-revolutionary organisations, introducing [workers’] control of production, shifting the main burden of taxation to the shoulders of the rich, and breaking the resistance of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.

Such a workers’ government is possible only if it is born from the struggles of the masses themselves and is supported by militant workers’ organisations created by the most oppressed layers of the working masses. Even a workers’ government that arises from a purely parliamentary combination, that is, one that is purely parliamentary in origin, can provide the occasion for a revival of the revolutionary workers’ movement. Obviously, the birth and continued existence of a genuine workers’ government, one that pursues revolutionary policies, must result in a bitter struggle with the bourgeoisie, and possibly a civil war. Even an attempt by the proletariat to form such a workers’ government will encounter from the outset most determined resistance from the bourgeoisie. The slogan of the workers’ government thus has the potential of uniting the proletariat and unleashing revolutionary struggle.

Under certain circumstances, Communists must state their readiness 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 carry out a genuine struggle against the bourgeoisie along the lines described above. There are obvious conditions for the participation by Communists in such a government, including:

  1. Participation in a workers’ government can take place only with the agreement of the Communist International.[1]
  2. Communist participants in such a government must be subject to the strictest supervision of their party.
  3. The Communists participating in this workers’ government must be in very close contact with the revolutionary organisations of the masses.
  4. The Communist Party must unconditionally maintain its own public identity and complete independence in agitation.

For all its great advantages, the slogan of a workers’ government also has its dangers, as does the whole united front tactic. To head off these dangers,[2] the Communist parties must keep in mind that although every bourgeois government is also a capitalist government, not every workers’ government is truly proletarian, that is, a revolutionary instrument of proletarian power.

The Communist International must consider the following possibilities.

  1. Illusory workers’ governments[3]
  2. A liberal workers’ government, such as existed in Australia and may exist in Britain in the foreseeable future.[4]
  3. A Social Democratic workers’ government (Germany).[5]
  4. Genuine workers’ governments
  5. Government of workers and the poorer peasants. Such a possibility exists in the Balkans, Czechoslovakia, and so on.
  6. A workers’ government with Communist participation.
  7. A genuinely proletarian workers’ government, which in its pure form can be embodied only in the Communist Party.

Communists stand ready to march with the workers who have not yet recognised the necessity of a dictatorship of the proletariat. Communists are also ready, under certain conditions and with certain guarantees, to support a workers’ government that is not purely Communist, indeed even a merely illusory workers’ government – of course, only to the degree that it defends the workers’ interests. However, the Communists state just as plainly to the working class that without a revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie, a true workers’ government can neither be achieved nor maintained. The only type of government that can be considered a genuine workers’ government is one that is determined to take up a resolute struggle at least to achieve the workers’ most important immediate demands against the bourgeoisie. That is the only type of workers’ government in which Communists can participate.

The first two types, the illusory workers’ governments (liberal and Social Democratic), are not revolutionary governments but can, under certain circumstances, speed up the decomposition of bourgeois power. The next two types of workers’ government (workers’ and peasants’ government; Social Democratic-Communist government) do not yet signify the dictatorship of the proletariat and are not even a historically inevitable transitional stage to this dictatorship. Rather, wherever they come into being, they are an important starting point for a struggle for this dictatorship. Only the genuine workers’ government consisting of Communists (#5), represents the fully achieved dictatorship of the proletariat.[6]

Notes

[1]. This paragraph is not found in the Russian version.

[2]. The Russian version includes, at this point, the words, ‘and to combat illusions that the stage of “democratic coalition” is inevitable’.

[3]. In the version published in the German collection of congress resolutions, the two subheads are absent. They are also missing from the Russian version, which offers a different text for the five points that follow.

[4]. Beginning in 1904, the Australian Labour Party formed several national governments, which introduced some reforms but made no attempt to initiate a transition to socialism, while also defending the country’s racist ‘white Australia’ policy.

[5]. In Germany, the November 1918 revolution brought to power a provisional government of the SPD and USPD, which introduced some reforms, while organising a transition to bourgeois parliamentary rule. Between February 1919 and November 1922, the SPD remained in government but was now in coalition not with workers’ but with bourgeois parties. In some states, however, the SPD formed governments together with the USPD.

[6]. The preceding two paragraphs exist in three published versions, which differ significantly. The 1933 Russian text is much shorter and represents an earlier draft. It is translated as follows in Alan Adler, ed., Theses Resolutions and Manifestos  1980, p. 399:

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.

The version published in the 1923 collection of congress resolutions is close to that in the congress proceedings and substantially the same as the text of the amendment found on p. 1097. The Comintern 1923g version reorders the material and also includes the following passage, not found in either of the two other published texts:

The first two types are not revolutionary workers’ governments but, in reality, disguised coalition regimes of the bourgeoisie and anti-revolutionary workers’ leaders. Such ‘workers’ governments’ are tolerated by the bourgeoisie at critical moments, in order to deceive the proletariat regarding the true class character of the state or even, utilising the help of corrupt worker leaders, to repulse the proletariat’s revolutionary assault and to win time. Communists cannot participate in such a government. On the contrary, they must stubbornly expose to the masses the real character of such a false workers’ government. However, objectively, in the present period of capitalist decline, in which the most important task is to win the majority of the proletariat for proletarian revolution, these governments can help speed the process of decomposition of bourgeois power.

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