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Workers Government:

Dictatorship of the Proletariat or NDP in Power?


[Reprinted from Spartacist Canada Aug./Sept. 1979]


Picture for a moment New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Ed Broadbent kneeling before the Governor General, former NDP Manitoba premier Ed Schreyer, be sworn in as prime minister. To connect this image with the seizure of state power by the working class is ludicrous. Yet during the past federal elections the fake-Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers League (RWL) proclaimed that "the road forward to a workers government" began with:


"stepping up the CL-C campaign to support NDP candidates, with the goal of electing a majority of NDP members. In Quebec, the unions could begin the task of building a mass labor party. --Socialist Voice, 21 May


The truth is that the election of a pack of career­ist social democrats to Parliament Hill has nothing to do with the fight for a workers government. But the miserable opportunists of the RWL deliberately try to equate the two in order to rationalize their "strategy" of promoting the NDP within the work­ing class. In this they follow the lead of the trade-union tops who have long advocated a "fight at the ballot box," as a diversion from a fight on the pick­et lines.




For. Leninists the call for a workers government is a call for a government based directly on organs of proletarian power (soviets, factory committees, trade unions), led by the revolutionary vanguard party and committed to the expropriation of the capitalist class. In short, it is a popularization for the dictatorship of the proletariat.


In a presentation to the Spartacist League/Britain last winter Joseph Seymour, Central Committee member of the Spartacist League/U. S. , explained  the motivation for introducing the workers govern­ment slogan into the propaganda of the Communist International at its Fourth Congress in 1922:


"It was an attempt to address the following real and important contradiction. Many social-demo­cratic workers wanted their own party to carry out a socialist programme, were open to a co­alition government with the Communists and were even willing to establish such a government on the basis of proletarian organs of power, not parliamentarism. In other words, many social-democratic workers accepted the essential pro­grammatic cqre of the dictatorship of the prole­tariat, while retaining illusions in their ~paders and distrusting` the ,C*tnmunistX -At th-64,joarni I time, the socW—democratic, leaders Wet , 6 - -de­monstrated counterrevolutionaries who in a revo­lutionary situation would sabotage proletarian state power and pave the way for bourgeois reaction.

--Spartacist Britain May 1979


The discussion of the workers government at the Fourth Congress was conditioned by the disastrous experience of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of March-August 1919. Throughout the brief history of the Hungarian Soviet government, which was composed of a social-democratic majority and a communist minority, the social democrats system­atically worked to undermine proletarian power and prepared the way for the victory of the counter­revolution.


Especially in light of the Hungarian experience, Zinoviev, who wrote the resolution on the "work­ers government, " correctly wanted to express the position that the social democrats could not and would not defend the dictatorship of the proletariat. However he did so by constructing a confusing terminological schema of "workers governments":


"1. Liberal workers' governments, such as there was in Australia; this is also possible in England in the near future.

2.Social-democratic workers' governments (Germany).

3. A. government of workers and the poorer peasants. This is possible in the Balkans, Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc.

4. Workers' governments in which communists participate.

5. Genuine proletarian workers' governments, which in their pure form can be created only by the communist party. "

--Jane Degras, ed. , The Communist Interna­tional 1919-1943 Documents, vol. 1: 1919-19ZZ, (1956)


The first two were seen as phony workers governments. The third and fourth were considered weak or transitory workers governments because the social democrats would not defend them. In his summary remarks at the congress, Zinoviev cat­egorically stated: "Yes, dear friends, in order to erect a workers government one must first over­throw and vanquish the bourgeoisie. " By Zinoviev's criteria, the RWL is struggling for a phony "work­ers government.


Zinoviev's famous list of "workers governments" has been seized on by virtually every ex-Trotsky­ist revisionist who wants to abandon the fundamen­tal principles of the Leninist party and the dicta­torship of the proletariat. Joseph Hansen used the label to justify political support to the Cuban Castroite regime. Ernest Mandel and Michel Pablo characterized Ben Bella's Algeria as a "workers and farmers government. " There was plenty of ambiguity in the discussion on the work­ers government slogan at the Fourth Comintern Congress. But it was just that--and-not the anti-Leninist program for a "workers government" that is neither bourgeois nor proletarian in its class character. All the participants in the dis­cussion categorically denied that the workers gov­ernment slogan was a call for the capitalists' social-democratic lackeys to assume the task of administering the bourgeois state on behalf of the bosses.


During a revolutionary upsurge when the question of proletarian power is posed, but the proletariat still remains under the leadership of reformist and centrist parties, the "workers government" slogan can be concretized as a demand upon these parties. But this is precisely a demand that these parties break with class collaborationism and parliamen­tarianism and govern on the basis of organs of proletarian power. In Russia between February and October 1917, the Bolsheviks several times called on the Mensheviks and other-fake-socialists to dump their capitalist coalition partners in the Provisional Government and to take power in their own names on the basis of the soviets which they controlled. In 1934 in Spain it was imperative to call on the Caballero wing of the Spanish Socialist Party to form a workers (Soviet) government when it was leading an armed insurrection against the bourgeois government. But to call on the wretched, right-wing social democrats of the NDP to form a "workers government" in Canada in 1979 is a par­liamentarian cretinist caricature of that revolu­tionary slogan.


Perhaps the RWL revisionists think that workers in Saskatchewan already have "their own" govern­ment -- led by NDP Commissar Allan Blakeney. Like every other social- democratic government this "workers government" serves the bosses by smash­ing strikes, slashing wages and cutting social services. Against the RWL's social-democratic perversion of the Leninist Comintern's slogan of the workers government, the Trotskyist League up­holds the model of the Bolshevik-led Soviet Republic.




The slogan of the workers government has recent­.ly come into vogue within the United Secretariat (USec), the international coalition of fake-Trotsky­ists to which the RWL is affiliated. In line with its "turn to the class"--one hundred and thirty years after Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto -- the reformist American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has adopted the call for a "workers government" as another of its pseudo-orthodox trimmings. The SWP has rediscovered that the Russian Revolution is the "classical model"--a model which it claims has its most contemporary expression in the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini and his reactionary muslim clergy. For the members of Ernest Mandel's centrist ex-International Majority Tendency (IMT), who in the heady days of guerrilla warfare were the foremost champions of "armed struggle" as the "only road, " the popular front has supplanted the vicarious Guevarism of yesteryear as the road to a "workers government.


Keeping up with the latest political fashion in the USec, the RWL has also adopted the workers gov­ernment slogan. Naturally there are differences within the RWL over the application of the slogan (as there are over everything else). Louis Paquette, representing a tendency in sympathy with the SWP wing of the USec, submitted a document to the RWL's last convention which baldly stated that "the workers government is not the dictatorship of the proletariat" (Report on Governmental Perspectives and Our Strategy). Paquette stands on the ex-League for Socialist Action (LSA) tradition of abject subser­vience to the NDP codified in such slogans as "Build the NDP" and "Win the NDP to Socialism. "


In the pre-convention discussion a small minority of Mandelites led by ex-Groupe Marxiste Re"volu­tionnaire (GMR) honcho, M. Lafitte, scored Paquette for a position which "could potentially constitute a revision of the Marxist theory of the state. " Lafitte oh-so-politely ("excuse me in advance if, at times, I polemicize against formulations which Paquette has since modified") chides Paquette for substitut­ing electoralism for socialist revolution and elimi­nating the need for proletarian organs of power as the basis upon which the proletariat can become the ruling class. Lafitte goes on to say that for the RWL and its predecessor, the LSA:


"... the question of a workers government within the Canadian state has always since 1951 been raised in relation to our electoral policy and to our governmental slogans within the framework of bourgeois democracy, and without taking Quebec into account... "

--"On the Concept of a 'Workers Government"'


What Lafitte is referring to here is the 1951 liquida­tion of the Canadian Trotskyists into the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the predecessor of the NDP. To the LSA's capitulation to the NDP, Lafitte counterposes the European Pabloist tradition of capitulating to Stalinism as well as social democ­racy and upholds Mao's China, Castro's Cuba and Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam as models of "workers governments".


However Lafitte's real difference with Paquette is the latter's challenge to Lafitte's long-held Quebec Bundism: the necessity for the "indepen­dence" of the struggle of the Quebec working class. For Lafitte, the class struggle  is limited by the boundaries of "La Belle Province":


"Paquette takes the fatal step. He proposes a strategic framework for the revolution in the Canadian state in which the formation of a single workers' government is necessary to the creation of two workers' states, one in Quebec, the other in Canada. "


It is all very well to oppose a common struggle to put the NDP and a few Quebec labor bureaucrats onto the government benches in the House of Com­mons. But the nationalist Lafitte opposes it for the wrong reason--because it violates the sacred "independence" of the Quebec working class from the rest of the North American proletariat.


Neither of the RWL's two founding English-Canadian components, the reformist LSA or the right-centrist Revolutionary Marxist Group (RMG), ever had much use for the workers government demand. The LSA favored the call "For an NDP Government. " The RMG, which originated as a left split from the LSA in 1973, initially recoiled from the LSA's grovelling before the NDP. Yet in its 1974 federal election campaign the RMG explic­itly rejected the workers government slogan on the grounds that it would either be confused with an NDP government or it would be interpreted as the dictatorship of the proletariat (and thereby alienate the ex-New Leftists the RMG sought to attract).


The much-heralded fusion of the LSA and RMG (and the RMG's sister group in Quebec, the GMR) to form the RWL did little to resolve their conflict­ing opportunist appetites. The "unity" between the LSA .and. RMG/GMR was achieved largely by paper­ing over factional differences. While the ex-RMGers accepted the LSA's NDP loyalism in English Canada, they remained committed to petty-bourgeois nation­alism in Quebec. Thus when the RWL had to con­cretize its governmental slogan in time for the federal elections last May all the old factional hos­tilities reappeared. In the end the conflict between Quebecois nationalist and social-democratic appe­tites in the RWL was "resolved" by calling for two"workers governments "--one for each faction! The RWL's election propaganda featured two contradic­tory governmental slogans: "For a Workers Repub­lic of Quebec--For a unitary Workers Government" (of NDP hacks and Quebec labor bureaucrats).


Thus each faction gets its own slogan and each its own national turf. The ex-RMG/GMRers can push "Independence and Socialism" for Quebec while the ex-LSAers campaign for votes to the English chau­vinist NDP in English Canada. With the transfer ­of the RWL's national headquarters (and several leaders of the ex-RMG) to Montreal this fall, English Canada is abandoned to NDP loyalists of the ex-LSA.. Whereas the RWL has yet to win self-determination for Quebec, perhaps the warring factions and cliques within the RWL may accomplish their own "independence."