Participation in government by Communist Parties: a way out of capitalist crisis?

Herwig Lerouge, member of the CC of PTB and responsible for the edition of the review “Etudes Marxistes”

In recent months, the possibility of participation in government by some (former) communist parties has been on the agenda. In Germany, Die Linke has participated and is still participating in regional governments. The party has debated a possible participation on a federal level. In Greece and the Netherlands, the left coalition Syriza and the « Socialistische Partij » (SP) have clearly announced their will to go to government. The absolute majority of the French Socialist Party in the recent 2012 parliamentary elections has evacuated the question of a new government participation by the French Communist Party. The PCF, the Italian Rifondazione Communista and the Party of Italian Communists have been participating in governments over the last decades.

In 2008, the electoral successes of some of these parties led The New Statesman, the British left-wing magazine, to the conclusion: “Make no mistake, socialism - pure, unadulterated socialism, an ideology that was taken for dead by liberal capitalists – is making a strong comeback. Across the continent, there is a definite trend in which long-established parties of the centre left are challenged by unequivocally socialist parties. The parties in question advocate renationalisation of privatised state enterprises and a halt to further liberalisation of the public sector. They call for new wealth taxes to be imposed and for a radical redistribution of wealth. They defend the welfare state and the rights of all citizens to a decent pension and free health care. They strongly oppose war – and any further expansion of NATO. Most fundamentally of all, they challenge an economic system in which the interests of ordinary working people are subordinated to those of capital”. [1]

Unfortunately, these visions of a bright socialist future for Europe through the ballots have been overtaken by the latest electoral results and, more importantly by the political evolution of these parties.

The Italian tragedy

Most of these parties were created after Gorbatchov carried out his Velvet Counterrevolution. In Italy, the historical Italian Communist Party (PCI) transformed itself in a Party Congress in Rimini in 1991 into an ordinary social-democrat party. That same year, the Italian communists founded the Partito della Rifondazione Communista. Inside Rifondazione, the debate about the strategic course of the party remained open for a long time. With Bertinotti president it was accelerated. At the Fifth Congress of Rifondazione in February 2002, he presented his 63 theses as a collection of “innovations”. He discovered a “new working class” that was born in Genova in 2001, a “new party concept”. He threw away the “obsolete” vanguard party and replaced it with “the party as a part of the ‘movement of the movements’”. He discovered a “new definition of imperialism” where the world was no longer divided between capitalist blocks and war was no longer a means of re-dividing it; the old democratic centralism was replaced with the right of tendency; communism could only be revitalised through a complete break with “real existing socialism”. [2]

After 36 months of innovation, the leadership of Rifondazione Comunista was ready to participate in government with the Christian-Democrats of Romano Prodi and the social-democracy of D’Alema. At the Sixth Party Congress of the PRC in March 2005, Bertinotti declared that his party should be the driving force in a reform process. And government participation had become a necessary passage towards it. In his opening speech he called on the party to “engage in the reconstruction of a reform cycle in which radicalism and gradualness, process and reform, democracy and change are merged....”. [3] In the final speech of the Congress he declared: “The government, even the worst, is only a passage, a passage of compromise. The party must be put in a position where it can show its strategy, show it wants to go further….”. [4] To prevent criticism that the PRC was making a EU-friendly coalition with former EU commission president Romani Prodi, Bertinotti found no better excuse than the worn-out social democratic pirouette: “We must spread the idea that the movements and the party must keep their autonomy from the government. The party should not be identified with the government. It should keep its own line and strategy that goes beyond that of government”. [5]

The well-known member of the Bilderberg-group, Romani Prodi, who was present at the Congress, perceived the U-turn of the leader of Rifondazione very well: “These are proposals of a reformist party that is ready to take government responsibility”. [6]

In less than ten years, Bertinotti has succeeded in bring a great revolutionary potential under the control of the system. In 2007, the PRC joined the “Olive Tree” coalition. With no clear, anti-capitalist left opposition to the Prodi government’s policies of war and austerity, the right filled the political vacuum and Berlusconi was swept back into office. The PRC lost all of its parliamentary representation in the rout of the electoral left. It is the most recent experience of the harm that revisionism can do. Today, the Italian communist movement is in a deep crisis.

France: the communists in government (1981, 1987)

The twentieth century had already proven the failure of those who pretend to change the balance of power in favour of the working class through majorities in bourgeois parliaments.

 In the euphoria of the Mitterand electoral victory of 1981, PCF president Georges Marchais sent four Communists into the government to change the “balance of power”. PCF leader Roland Leroy explained: “Our presence is consistent with our mission and our strategy: use every opportunity to take even the smallest step forward to build an original socialism by democratic means”. [7]

Instead of getting an original socialism, the French working class got a deregulated “Code du Travail”, Social Security was further reduced and wages disconnected from the index of prices. Sixteen years later, in July 1997, the leadership of the PCF did it again. Three communist ministers joined the government of “la Gauche Plurielle” (PS - PCF - Greens - MDC) that came to power after the great struggles in 1995. The result was that more privatisations were carried out under the Jospin government than under both the right-wing Juppé and Balladur administrations. The privatisation of Air France was overseen by the Communist transport minister Jean-Claude Gayssot. Thomson, Air France, France Télécom, the insurance companies GAN and CIC, Société Marseillaise de Crédit, CNP, Aérospatiale were “opened up to capital”. The PCF leadership remained in the government of Jospin-la-guerre (War minister Jospin) when France supported the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

Of course some concessions were also made to trade union demands, but, as was the case in the 1935 Popular Front government, they were in the first place the result of the vast struggles that preceded or accompanied the electoral victory of the Left.

 To claim to change the balance of power in favour of the working population in parliament is absurd in the eyes of all who watch the electoral circus, who see the thousands of lobby groups and think tanks paid by business groups to influence political decisions directly. How “wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely” (the words of Engels) is nowhere more evident than in the United States. In 2000, the 429 candidates with the best provided campaign finances occupied the 429 first places in the U.S. Congress. Only seats 430-469 went to less “fortunate” candidates. [8] If there is an advantage in the whole saga of neo-liberalism, then it is that the grip of the strongest groups of capital on the national States, the European institutions and the international financial institutions has never been so obviously open and shameless. Real decisions have been the prerogative of the executive for many decades and Parliament is but a voting machine that only has to ratify the decisions already taken at government level. Increasingly, laws are prepared by ministerial cabinets and today even directly by lobby groups of large firms.

Is there a “third way” between revolution and reformism?

Of course we must be aware that a majority of people in Europe today recognise the current social order as the only one possible. And European communists should adapt their tactics accordingly. A revolutionary process requires tactical flexibility, adaptation to political reality, an accurate assessment of the aim of each battle, exact knowledge of the class contradictions and power relations involved, and broad alliances.

We fight for reforms, we fight to reinforce the political and organisational strength of the working population. We don't tell them: “We will solve it for you”, but we focus on “Take your destiny into your own hands”. In the battle, workers gain experience, and our duty is to introduce the long-term socialist perspective. Even where reforms are concerned, it is not parliament or elections which are decisive, but struggle. All that the labour movement has achieved was gained by organising, campaigning and creating a favourable balance of forces in the streets.

But lasting peace and social progress require a socialist society and a socialist revolution.

The parliamentary, peaceful road to socialism is based on the illusion that big business will willingly step aside and hand over its state machine to the working class without a fight, when it is sufficiently represented in parliament.

European Left

On 8 and 9 May 2004 the two parties mentioned above, the PRC and the PCF were amongst the founders of the Party of the European Left. 300 delegates from 15 parties from 12 European countries adopted the Statute and the Manifesto of the new party. Bertinotti became president.

The European Left Party is a qualitative leap from revolution to (left) reformism, said one of the founders, PDS chairman Lothar Bisky. In an interview with the newspaper Freitag he explained: “For the political forces in the European Union which have their origin in the revolutionary labour movement, the Party of the European Left means a qualitatively new step in the adjustment process towards the leftist socialism”. [9]

Neither in the “Manifesto of the European Left”, nor the “Statute” is there any reference to the private ownership of the means of production, the inherent economic crises of this system, the murderous competition of monopoly companies, the redistribution of the world by the major imperialist powers. The Party of the European Left promises “a progressive alternative”, “peace”, “social justice”, “sustainable development” and many other beautiful things that no one can object to. [10]

It remains vague and all within the confines of the system and its property relations. You will search in vain for any reference to a strategy of social revolution. On the contrary, the Party focuses entirely on the “in depth reform” of the system's institutions: “We want to ensure that the elected institutions – the European Parliament and the national parliaments – get more power and control”. [11]

Die Linke

A major party within The European Left is the German Left Party, Die Linke which was the result of the unification in 2007 of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS, the official follow-up party to the leading GDR party SED) and the WASG (disappointed left social democrats, union officials and trotskyite groups in the West of Germany).

WASG was born out of the protests against the Social Democratic Party (SPD)-Green Party government of Gerhard Schröder in 2005. Their Hartz IV reform put an end to unemployment benefits for the jobless after one year, pushing them into a social assistance system and creating a huge low-wage sector. The consequences of the Hartz IV reform are disastrous for a large section of the working class. A United Nations report [12] on the social situation in Germany records that today 13 percent of the population live below the poverty line and 1.3 million people, although in work, need extra support because their incomes are not enough to live on. Child poverty affects 2.5 million children. Studies have shown that 25 percent of students go to school without breakfast. In many schools, no hot lunch is provided. In Eastern Germany, 20 years after reunification, unemployment is still twice as high as in the West.

There is increasing poverty in old age due to declining and low pensions, a consequence of the lower wages, and the inhuman conditions in some nursing homes. In the period from 2001 to 2010, pensions grew only by 0.82 percent per year on average, while the average inflation rate stood at 1.36 percent, and is rising. Today, 8.2 million people are employed in temporary or “mini”-jobs – earning less than €400 a month. “75% of all new jobs” are non-permanent. This is all for the benefit of the super-rich. In Germany in 2010 there were 924,000 millionaires, an increase of 7.2 percent in three years.

This “reform” divided the social-democrat party and led to former social-democrat minister Lafontaine leaving the party. He was followed by entire sections of the German Trade Union movement. They created WASG. The unified party WASG-PDS became “Die Linke” and in 2009 won 11.9% of the vote in federal elections, winning 78 seats. Membership rose to 80,000.

However, three years later, according to the most recent polls, Die Linke will have difficulty in the next elections in surmounting the undemocratic 5% threshold, which applies to all national and regional elections. In May 2012, it lost its seats in the two West German federal parliaments of Schleswig-Holstein (votes went down from 6% to 2.2%) and North Rhine-Westphalia (from 5.6% to 2.5%). Membership has dropped to under 70,000.

The new social democracy

Die Linke adopted a new programme at the 2011 Erfurt congress. [13] It was presented as a synthesis between the so-called Marxist tendencies and the very reformist “realos”.

Die Linke is a “socialist party that stands for alternatives, for a better future” (p4). This future includes quite rightly “a life in social security, a penalty-free, poverty-proof guaranteed minimum income and comprehensive protection against dismissal; a poverty-proof, solidarity-based statutory pension for all, solidarity-based citizen insurance for health and care, good, free education available to all, cultural diversity and the participation of all in the cultural riches of society, a fair taxation system that reduces the burden on low and medium earners, increases the load on top earners and draws substantially more on large fortunes for the implementation of democracy and the rule of law, against the extortionate power of big corporations; the abolition of every form of discrimination based on gender, age, social status, philosophy, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation and identity or based on disabilities of any kind”.

But it is not clear whether all this will be realised in this capitalist system or if this system should be abolished. In one part of the programme “we need a different economic and social system: democratic socialism” (p.4). The “social market economy” is criticised as a “compromise between wage labour and capital that never either eliminated the predatory exploitation of nature or the patriarchal relationships in the public and private spheres”. In other parts the problem is not the system, but “unrestricted capitalism” (p58), “the neo-liberal political model” (p56) and “deregulated financial markets” (p15).

The text talks of “a long emancipatory process, in which the dominance of capital is overcome through democratic, social and ecological forces”, leading to a “society of democratic socialism” (p5). In one place “the decisive question of social change is the property question. As long as the decisions made by large corporations are oriented towards desired returns rather than the public good, politics will be subject to blackmail and democracy will be undermined”.

In another part, “public ownership is (limited to) services of general interest, of the social infrastructure, in the power industry and in the financial sector” (p.5).

And the programme copies the old social-democrat thesis of “democracy that extends to economic decision-making and subjects all forms of ownership to emancipatory, social and ecological standards. Without democracy in the economy, democracy remains imperfect...” So there this “different, democratic economic order” will be a regulated market economy. We will “subject the market regulation of production and distribution to democratic, social and ecological framing and control”. “Business must be subject to stringent competition control.”(p.5) Democratic control of economic development “presupposes that the financial markets be restrained and returned to their basic function of serving the real economy, banning hedge funds" (p29), combined with Keynesian measures aimed at “boosting internal demand”. (p28)

The working class has no role in conquering political power. There is talk of “winning majorities” (p20) and “democratic socialism” can be achieved within the “democratic” structures of the German constitution and a “social state of law”. Intelligence services should be abolished but “democratic control” of the army and the police will be enough to transform them into tools of socialism.

Government participation

According to the program, government participation makes sense if it is based on a “rejection of the neoliberal model of politics” and brings about a “social-ecological” change, and if it can achieve “an improvement in the living standards of the people”. In this way, the “political power of Die Linke and the social movements can be strengthened” and the feeling of political powerlessness that exists amongst many people can be “forced into retreat” (p56).

One wonders how this position was adopted only a couple of months after the debacle of what had always been presented as the vanguard example of the strategy of the party: the Berlin disaster

In August 2010, Die Linke collapsed in the elections for the Berlin senate. After ten years of participation in the Berlin regional government, it fell from 22.3% to 11.5%.

For ten long years, a government coalition of SPD and Die Linke ran the German capital. It closed down nurseries, cut benefits and privatised 120,000 council flats. Die Linke voted to partially privatise the Berlin tram system, campaigned against national wage parity for public sector workers (who still earn considerably less in the East) and spoke out against efforts to bring the company that supplies Berlin with water back into public ownership. It also helped to privatise a part of the main Berlin hospital – leading to worse working conditions and lower wages.

Mathias Behnis, political scientist and spokesperson for the Berlin Water resistance coalition and Benedict Ugarte Chacón, political scientist and spokesman for the Berlin Bank scandal Initiative made a devastating assessment in Junge Welt, 20 August 2011. Right from the beginning in 2002, the SPD-PDS coalition (PDS was not yet Die Linke ) made clear which path would be taken when it approved a risk shield for the Bankgesellschaft Berlin. The coalition took over the risks of a closed-end real estate fund created by the bank to the amount of 21,6 billion euros. Since then the Berlin Region manages the annual losses of this Bank. The PDS agreed to guarantee shareholders’ yields for this fund with public money.

At the same time, they conducted a strict budgetary policy at the cost of e.g. allowances for blind people in 2003, or the social ticket for the urban public transport in 2004 after the federal government cut subsidies. Huge social protests were needed to reintroduce this ticket but at a much higher price.

Kindergartens and universities were not spared. This led to strong students' protests and the PDS Party Congress on December 6th 2003, in the fine Hotel Maritim in Berlin-centre, had to be protected from the students by riot-police who kicked the students off the streets.

Measures were taken in May 2003 to force parents to participate in the purchase of schoolbooks to the tune of up to 100 euros.

Die Linke in Berlin is also responsible for the deterioration of the situation of thousands of people who have to rent their homes. In May 2004, they sold 65,700 houses belonging to the public housing society GSW at the bargain price of 405 million euros to a Consortium from the Whitehall-Fund of the Investment bank Goldman Sachs and the Investment company Cerberus. In 2010 they allowed these companies to go on the stock exchange making thousands of Berlin houses an object of speculation.

They also cut the allowances to house owners who rented their houses at a social rent, without caring what happened to the tenants. In the formerly cheaper old apartments, inhabited mainly by low wage workers and jobless people, rents rose by 17 percent.

Water becomes a commodity

In 1999, the former government had sold 49,9 percent of the Berlin Water supply company to RWE and Vivendi (Veolia). PDS got the Economy ministry in 2002 but he changed nothing. Water prices rose by 33 percent. Under the former government PDS had campaigned against the partial privatisation. But PDS minister Wolf did exactly what he had fought against: he guaranteed the benefits of the private shareholders and the city budget gained from the high prices of the water.

In the coalition agreement of 2006, Die Linke and SPD stood for the recommunalisation of the Water supply company. Nothing was done. Worse, they opposed with all their might a large extra-parliamentarian movement for the publication of the secret privatisation agreement of the water supply company. More than 666,000 people demanded this in a referendum, campaigned against by the coalition. After the victory of the referendum, they had to acknowledge it, but they went on opposing every legal initiative of the population.

All they had to say in their defence was the eternal phrase of all social-democrats: “without us, it would have been worse”. No, it would have been just the same or even better because their participation paralysed part of the resistance potential.

After being voted out, they complained they had not been able to impose their views on the SPD. There were “restrictions to liberty of movement”, as party leader Klaus Lederer said. Of course, but when you promise to enter a government to change things, you should not be surprised when people ask you: what did you change?

Just like in Berlin, the party has participated in cuts and closures in the regional governments of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg.

Nevertheless, the Erfurt Congress concluded that government participation makes sense. Participation in bourgeois governments, local and even federal, is now hardly disputed in the party. The right-wing in the leadership has even used the recent bad results to demand that the party give up its “desire to stay in opposition”. It should openly declare its intention to seek participation in all levels of government, especially with its “natural coalition partner”, the SPD. Dietmar Bartsch, one of their main spokespeople, is supported by the party in all five federal states in the East, where the organisation has far more members. In the East, government participation is now becoming the norm.

Oskar Lafontaine, who is seen as the left of the party, was never against taking the party into ruling coalitions ‒ quite the contrary. He is a Keynesian and dreams of some kind of nationally restricted social welfare state. Back to the 1970s. He and his supporters keep formulating “principles” or “conditions” which would have to be met before they would agree to government participation.

It is now undisputed within Die Linke that it should at least try to get into regional governments. The left does not dare to say that Die Linke should not. "We cannot let the SPD and the Greens govern alone. Social policy is only possible with us ”, was the title of the main text of the Party leadership at the Party Congress in Rostock in 2010. We must have alternatives to the CDU-FDP coalition. As if SPD and Greens were not in favour of making the workers pay for the crisis. There is no more sharp political criticism of those parties.

Die Linke can govern, even better than the others. And we in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, have very clear ideas on what is to be improved and how”, said Steffen Bockhahn, regional president of Die Linke in the Land of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, at this congress. [14]

Die Linke says it combines social and political protest with dressing up possible alternatives and political realisations within the frame of the government. As if today, there is a correlation of forces that makes possible putting such pressure on governments that they are forced to implement important reforms in favour of the people. There is not and the only consequence of this orientation is to paralyse the mass movements, to incorporate them into the system as we saw in Berlin.

The experiences of communist participation in European governments have proven that this participation does not even stop privatisations, social regression, nor even imperialist wars. These experiences have shaken confidence in the parties that were part of the government and showed them to be no different from any other party.

Participation in a bourgeois government dominated by capitalist monopolies weakens the anticapitalist forces.

In Greece

Nevertheless some Parties refuse to learn from these experiences, proving thus that they having become real social-democrat parties, ready to take the place of the old discredited ones.

In Greece, the more the possibility of an electoral victory seemed realistic, the more SYRIZA, the local section of the European Left Party, made its programme acceptable for the EU leadership and the Greek bourgeoisie. Their government programme [15] was presented as a “plan to end the crisis”. [...] “It is to unite the people around the government programme of SYRIZA freeing Greece from crisis, poverty and its bad reputation.”

Nowhere was the capitalist system mentioned as the cause of the crisis, only “neoliberal” management. The programme was presented as socially and fiscally equitable. It promised to cancel the harshest antisocial measures, to raise the minimum wage and to restore the previous level of protection against unemployment and illness. It promised to remove the special taxes for low and middle incomes. But the plan called for “stabilization of primary expenditure to a minimum 43 % of GDP, as opposed to 36 % of GDP under the memorandum, and at most 46 % of GDP”. This would only have brought Greece to “the current average in the euro area”. It is a programme that never went beyond the capitalist framework. “We will organize the revival of the country's production, with growth impulses targeted to support the development of competitive industries.” It only promised to freeze the privatisation of public entities of strategic importance that were public in 2010, when the crisis broke out.

On the debt issue, the programme was searching for a compromise with the ruling bourgeoisie of the EU. The SYRIZA government program of June is far behind SYRIZA’s 10-point plan for the elections of May 6th which called for a "Moratorium on debt servicing, negotiation for debt cancelling (certain debts not “the” debt” as KKE asked) and …regulation of the remaining debt with clause provisions for economic development and employment”. [16] On May 8th after the first elections, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of SYRIZA, presented a five point program [17] as a platform for the formation of a “left government”. In this text there is only talk of "the setting up of an international auditing committee to investigate the causes of Greece's public deficit, with a moratorium on all debt servicing until the findings of the audit are published”.

Before the new elections of June 17th, its “government program” “called for new negotiations on the loan agreement”."

There was no radical demand in the sense that those responsible for the crisis (the Greek and European industrial and financial capitalists ....) had to pay. SYRIZA will not cancel the debt. There are no radical measures to make the rich pay, nor any way of imposing measures. Everything was to be negotiated. “The cancellation of the zero tax regime for ship owners and the Church” would not be imposed, but “agreement would be sought” with the maritime industry in order to remove the 58 exemptions. There was no measure to create a government capable of imposing these same measures. It would only “bring Greek tax rates to the level of the rest of the EU”, where, as is well known, all the burden rests on working people. Nowhere was there any question of workersʾ control over the administration, nor the economic system. Who would control the bosses, the bankers? Nothing on the police, the military. SYRIZA remains in NATO, in the EU.

Hard lessons from the past

These experiences confirm the positions of Marx, Lenin and of the Third International in this matter. They all reject participation in government with the exception of a situation where fascism is a real threat, in the case of a situation where it can be a transition to a real revolutionary government, in pre-revolutionary situations with very important class struggles and a favourable balance of power (e.g. Chile in the 70s or 1975 in Portugal...). In these situations, we may have to make alliances with forces that represent non-proletarian strata but are also oppressed by monopolies or threatened by fascism or opponents of the war. But only on the condition that this power (will) move towards popular democracy and socialism, that a different state controlled by the workers is built, which was not the case in Chile where the reaction massacred socialists and communists alike.

The workers’ government as proposed by the Third International is understood as “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”. 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.

Those who justify a coalition with bourgeois political parties in parliamentary institutions often use Dimitrov’s writings on the united front against fascism. It is true that Dimitrov criticised those who refused the united front policy. But, according to Dimitrov, the antifascist popular front must be created on the basis of the united workers’ front. Such a government must take revolutionary, anticapitalist measures.

Dimitrov also warned that “maintaining a People’s Front in France does not at all mean that the working class will support the present government (the Popular Front government of socialists and Radicals led by Léon Blum, and supported from outside by the FCP, see later) at any price... If for some reason or other the existing government should turn out to be unable to put through the programme of the People’s Front, if it takes the line of retreat before the enemy at home and abroad, if its policy weakens the resistance to the fascist offensive, then the working class, while further strengthening the bonds of the People’s Front, will strive to bring about the substitution of another government for the present one...” [18]

And this was what in fact happened and the FCP took too long to understand it. In 1936, after an electoral victory of the left parties, the Blum government of socialists and radicals was formed, supported from the outside by the FCP. A huge wave of strikes put pressure on the government to force it to implement the demands written down in the Popular Front programme. But in the words of its leader, this government set itself as its aim to find a way to “procure the necessary relief to those who suffer” within the framework of existing society. For Blum, the Popular Front’s mission is to “manage bourgeois society” and to extract from it “a maximum of order, well-being, security and justice”. There is no question of destroying capitalism “which has still a long way to go”. Anyway, the programme of the Popular Front did not allow any such thing because, he said, “we are a government of the Popular Front, not a socialist government; our aim is not to transform the social regime but to implement the programme of the Popular Front”. [19]

The Blum government was brought down after two years and it would take only two more years for the French capitalists to take their revenge and take back much of the concessions they had made. On the initiative of the Socialist party, the government led by the radical party leader Daladier, declared the CP illegal on the 21st of November 1939 and its Members of Parliament to be judged in court. The same radical and socialist members of Parliament voted, on the 7th of July, to give their confidence to the traitor government of Pétain.

Even in periods when participation in government can lead to the phase of open struggle for socialism, the utmost vigilance is necessary.

The 3d Communist International had been dissolved in 1943. After the victory over fascism, it was restored under the name of Cominform. Cominform met only three times. The meetings, that took place from September 23d till September 26th 1947, dealt with the situation in France and Italy. Participants criticised the opportunist line of the PCF and the PCI for their united front policy during the occupation and their participation in government afterwards. [20] The policy of both parties constituted a particular expression of an opportunist tendency. It assumed it was possible for the working class to come to power by a peaceful, legal and parliamentary way. It was in fact, the adoption of the social-democrat line.

It was in the interest of the bourgeoisie, because it was weak, to cooperate with the communists during and after the war. The communists should have taken advantage of this situation to occupy key-positions but they did not. Instead of winning mass support in order to take power, they disarmed the masses and spread illusions about bourgeois democracy and parliamentarism.

Instead of creating antifascist unity from below, with the creation of instruments emanating from the masses, uniting all tendencies that were really ready to follow the path of struggle for people’s power, the leaders of the PCF and the PCI made the mistake of building an antifascist front at the top, on the basis of equal representation of the different parties, whereas the aim of the bourgeois parties was to prevent a real transformation of the country. To carry out this policy, the leaders of the PCF and the PCI took as a pretext that any demand other than that of national liberation, any demand for radical and revolutionary democratic changes would alienate certain social groups and political forces from the antifascist front.

The meeting criticised the PCF for allowing and even facilitating the disarmament and the dissolution of the Resistance forces under the pretext that the war was not finished and that an action against de Gaulle’s policy would have led to a confrontation with the Allies. They also criticised the general attitude of the PCF and the PCI who had renounced overtly criticising the policy of the Allies in front of the masses. This made it easier for the imperialists to reconquer their pre-war positions, while creating illusions about their “democracy” and their ability to help rebuild unselfishly the nations that were liberated from fascism.

Globally, the Conference delegates reproached them with persevering in the illusions of a parliamentary way to socialism and in spreading them among the masses instead of mobilising the latter against the pro-American policy of their governments and for a real revolutionary alternative.

Today less than ever

The first question is: what is the character of the society in which a communist party wants to participate in a government? It is a capitalist state. Its economic base is capitalism, and its task is therefore to manage capitalism, to protect and create favourable conditions for successful development of capitalism. This state has adopted constitutions and laws, rules and regulations that serve the purpose of ensuring the constitutional order, creating conditions for the growth of capital and preventing conflicts within society.

The anti-worker policy in these states is not the fault of bad politicians, bad parties with bad programmes. As long as the means of production remain in private hands, companies have to compete to survive, to accumulate, to increase their profits, to reduce wages, to refuse social demands. This law cannot be opposed by “good” politicians in government with the “right” ideas and programmes. Even Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of the former social-democratic President of France, told a reporter: “May 1981 (arrival to power of Mitterand) I asked Francois:'' Now that you have the power why don’t you do what you promised?'' He replied that he had no power in front of the World Bank, capitalism, neoliberalism. He had won a government but not in power. I learned that being the government, to be president, is of not much use in societies subject to capitalism”. [21]

Moreover, today's capitalism can no longer, as Lafontaine hopes, take us back to the days of the so called “social market economy” with social partnership. That was an episode that must be seen against the background of the ideological competition between socialism and capitalism, of the strength of communist parties after the Resistance period and when demands could be met from the profits of the reconstruction phase after the war.

It is no longer possible and also no longer necessary to capitalist logic. 25 million officially unemployed in the EU-27 press on wages and the now globally accessible labour markets reduce the price of the work-force still more. Mass unemployment burdens the social budget twice: falling wages bring less income to social insurance while more beneficiaries have to be supplied from these funds. The collapse of the social system is only a matter of time. Moreover tax revenues from business activity are declining despite rising profits and more tax cuts will be needed to strengthen national capitalists in international markets.

The capitalist state is there to create favourable conditions for the increased profitability of companies, to create new markets for them through privatisation and redistribution of the national income in favour of capital owners. It is there to keep calm or repress the working class at home and to ensure the interests of capital in other regions.

So participation in governments under such conditions means only participating in social regression, even if it may be a little slower. It means disarming the resistance by giving false hopes to the workers’ movement.

It is clear that some former communist parties have chosen to participate in power, often knowing this means making policy in the interest of capital and taking part in the destruction of social gains obtained by the struggle by the workers' movement.

Government participation has contributed to demobilising much-needed resistance and the development of a counter-power. Today, to change the balance of class forces, we need to unite for a series of defensive battles against social regression, to create a politically independent movement of workers and those who are prevented from working, and to spread an increasing anti-capitalist conscience in the workers’ movement.

The weakness of the communist and class oriented trade union opposition is the main cause of the aggressive rule of capital in most capitalist countries.

We need an alternative political programme and we need to fight for it. It includes everyday demands, but also the propagation of abolishing capitalist property relations. These demands should not be addressed to potential partners in a left-wing government (who do not exist), but to the organised workers’ movement and the other exploited strata of society. They should be addressed to combative unions, to all kinds of people's organisations active on one or other field of social, democratic, anti-imperialist or cultural struggle.

The real question is how communist parties prepare for the upcoming battles, how they organize so as to be able to effectively take charge of the new struggles together with the working class and the broad working population. The crisis encourages broad sections of the working people to turn their back on social democracy. We must not offer them a new renovated social democracy. What is needed is a revolutionary party that takes the current level of consciousness into account, that makes the problems of the common people its own, that speaks an understandable language, that seeks unity in struggle with the broadest group. On the other hand, it must be a party that does not give up its principles, that is for a society where there is no exploitation of man by man, no private ownership of the basic means of production, in which the working people are truly free and with a state that protects the freedom of the vast majority against the oppression of the minority.


[2] ( All the quotations on PRCI come from the article « La classe ouvrière à l’ère des entreprises transnationales » by Peter Mertens, in the Issue 72 (2005) of « Études marxistes », ; in Spanish : « La clase obrera en la era de las multinacionales »,

[3] Partito della Rifondazione Communista. VI Congresso Nazionale. Relazione introduttiva del segretario Fausto Bertinotti

[4] Partito della Rifondazione Comunista. VI Congresso Nazionale. Conclusioni del segretario Fausto Bertinotti

[5] ibidem

[6] La Stampa, March 4th 2005, p. 7,

[7] Nouvel Observateur, February 10, 1984

[8] Michael Scherer, Amy Paris e.a., « Campaign inflation », dans The Mother Jones 400, mars 2001,

[9] Junge Welt, 8 April 2004.


[11] idem

[12] United Nations Economic and Social Council, 20 May 2011. Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Germany.

[13] In English “Programme of the Die Linke Party”

[14] Disput, juin 2010.




[18] Georgi Dimitrov, Selected Works in Three Volumes, Sofia Press. In French Vol. 2, p. 160

[19] Quotations from DANOS & GIBELIN, Juin 1936 I and Juin 36 II, Petite collection Maspéro, 2 volumes 1972. Quoted in « Juliette Broder, Le Front Populaire en France ». Contribution for the International Communist Seminar : “Imperialism, fascisation and fascism” Brussels, May 2-4 2000)

[20] Intervention of Djilas of September 25th 1947. Giuliano Procacci (red.), The Cominform : Minutes of the Three Conferences 1947/1948/1949, Milan, Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli & Russian Centre of Conservation and Study of Records for Modern History (RTsKhIDNI), 1994, pp 255-257)

[21] Interview by Hernando Calvo Ospina, 28th of October 2008.