|Written by Ronald Leon (Paraguay)|
|Monday, 11 June 2012 18:51|
The strike by fire-fighters in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro for better wages and working conditions was a real test of the positions of organizations that claim to be revolutionary.
We know that this fight combined impressive popular support from other organized sectors of the mass movement such as teachers, health workers, metro workers, civil servants and students and even some local sectors of the military and civilian police who joined demonstrations of up to 50,000 people. But the governor of Rio de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral (PMDB’s ruling group) strongly suppressed the fire-fighters and arrested more than 400 strikers.
In Brazil fire-fighters are incorporated into the police structure and while undeniably they do not have a role of direct repression of the mass movement they are subject to the hierarchy of the repressive apparatus. Here is where the controversy begins. As the fire-fighters are a part of the repressive forces of the bourgeois state in Brazil is it politically correct for revolutionaries to support demonstrations or strikes of sectors that make up repressive bourgeois forces over pay and working conditions?
The IWL-FI and PSTU position was to support and encourage the strike. We not only supported the struggle of the fire-fighters, but we defended them against the repression carried out by their superiors. A small Trotskyist organization in Brazil, the LER-QI (Revolutionary League Strategy, linked to the Argentine PTS) took the opposite position and therefore accused us of having capitulated to the repressive forces of the capitalist state. According to this organisation it is not correct to support any struggle or strike of a sector from the armed forces.
Let’s quote their words. “We are against supporting the revolts and movements of the police and against treating them as workers. In relation to the forces of repression (…) we are for the dissolution of all the repressive apparatus, therefore we are against supporting and joining the police movements and their reactionary demands. Higher wages and better conditions for the police means more repression against workers, youth and the masses (…)”. The LER-QI states that the position of the PSTU and IWL-FI is due to “pressure of ‘common sense’ or the necessity to make a tactical response.” They, however claim that they always act “on the side of workers in a strategic sense and not only in a tactical sense (to support or not to support a particular movement).”
This is agreed: the discussion is neither tactical nor circumstantial, but comes from a strategic understanding for the revolutionary struggle in general. Let’s go to the debate.
One can discuss the role of the fire department within the police structure and repressive capitalist state in Brazil and whether it is secondary or not. But it only reaffirms that they are part of that apparatus… But forget for a moment the fire-fighters and go further in the discussion. For the militants of the IWL-FI it would have been correct to support a fight like this, from the point of view of principles, program and revolutionary politics, even if it was the military police, civil or even the BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion). This position involves no surrender or lack of clarity about the nature of the repressive forces, police or military, within the capitalist state apparatus.
Revolutionary socialists are well aware that the military, police, intelligence and all the armed forces are the main institution of the bourgeois state; they are its pillar, its support. They are, in the words of Lenin, “detachments of armed men” for the purpose of maintaining by force capitalist order that suppresses the struggles of the exploited. By only using this characterization a conclusion is that as an institution the armed forces bourgeois are unrecoverable.
But the valuable teaching of Marxism-Leninism is that within the bourgeois armed forces, class antagonisms exist as in society. Anyone can see that the top military or police high command are privileged and well-paid and are not the same as the soldiers, conscripts on compulsory military service or soldiers and policemen who earn miserable wages and have living conditions similar to the working class. The lower layers of soldiers and police are not an organic part of the proletariat (they are part of a bourgeois superstructure) and have an enormous contradiction of being employed and come from the working class or the poor peasantry.
From the political point of view and considering insurrection as an art: how can this important contradiction be denied? How is it possible not to have a policy to emphasize the contradictions of class to break these institutions, supporting and intervening in all situations where the army base or police (children of workers or peasants) face their situation and shake the repressive military hierarchy?
Is this not case that just what happened when fire-fighters, organically part of the repressive forces, confronted their commanders demanding better wages and working conditions? Was the vertical challenge to police discipline by the strike progressive or regressive from the standpoint of preparation of the revolution? How can we deny that there was a strong crisis within the repressive apparatus when they had to call the BOPE to carry out suppression because part of the military police refused to do so?
The LER-QI does not consider any of this. They, with their well-known political myopia, say that all police strikes are reactionary because “the general direction is not to weaken the repressive apparatus, but to strengthen it.” We believe that the opposite is true. The struggle of fire-fighters put the police hierarchy into crisis, which weakened it and moved a sector (fire-fighters and part of the military police) closer to the social and trade union organizations of the mass movement, and opened a space to discuss a revolutionary program for the troops, such as the right to trade union organisation and the demilitarisation of the entire police structure. It weakened not only the police-military hierarchy but the state government of Cabral.
The struggle of the fire-fighters was highly progressive, not only from the point of view “tactics” but from a strategic perspective. The PSTU policy was, without doubt, part of the ongoing work that any revolutionary organization must do to give an answer to the crises of the repressive apparatus.
This position does not under any circumstances disregard the role of the counter-revolutionary armed forces. Nor does it mean falling into a schematic opportunism that considers the institution as a whole and which refuses to fight for its division, a fundamental condition for the triumph of the socialist revolution. The LER-QI should ‘remember’ Trotsky’s teachings when he stated that “(…) The army of the possessors contained the wormholes of isolation and decay.” But to reach that disintegration there must be a policy. Sitting back with folded arms only helps the propertied classes.
An opportunist position and spontaneity
On the issue that we are debating the entire theory and revolutionary Marxist-Leninist -Trotskyist tradition is opposite to the positions of LER-QI. You might think that this current, that does not support such large demonstrations, maintains a “sectarian” position. However although this current acts as a sect within the mass movement its position is clearly opportunistic.
It is opportunistic because despite all their pseudo-leftism rhetoric the LER-QI capitulated to the armed forces of the bourgeoisie by refusing to implement a policy to divide them or deepen their fissures and crisis. Not only this: to take a position of not supporting the struggle of the fire-fighters (saying “No support for the repressor Sergio Cabral and the actions of fire-fighters”), objectively strengthens the governor in relation to the struggle and repression, typically a “neither-nor” only strengthens the position of the ruling class and their repression.
The position of the LER-QI is based in spontaneity and pacifist. Spontaneity because, having no policy to divide the armed forces, the resolution of the problem of how to confront the repression would be postponed until “the hour” of the insurrection, history has demonstrated that such a position only leads the proletariat to defeat. It is pacifist because it refuses to face the political struggle within the military.
Lenin and Trotsky versus LER-QI
Lenin always had a position oppose to that held by the LER-QI. The founder of the Bolshevik Party speaking about the lessons of the first Russian revolution of 1905 referred to insurrection specifically, “(…) the methods by which it is conducted, and the conditions which lead to the troops coming over to the side of the people( …) Of course, unless the revolution assumes a mass character and affects the troops, there can be no question of serious struggle. That we must work among the troops goes without saying.(…) “. Lenin could not even think of a successful revolution without the work to “win” a part of the armed forces to the side of the proletariat.
Against spontaneism concerning the functioning bourgeois order, Lenin always advocated that political work, that “spiritual preparation” of the troops, is a task prior to the preparation for insurrection. Very clearly states: “(…) Itis not passivity that we should preach, not mere “waiting” until the troops “come over”. No! We must proclaim from the house tops the need for a bold offensive and armed attack, the necessity at such times of exterminating the persons in command of the enemy, and of a most energetic fight for the wavering troops.(…) “.
Lenin applied these lessons drawn from the 1905 Russian revolution with great firmness in 1917 and defended the political struggle to win the “vacillating elements” of the armed forces in order to “drag them into the active struggle” and organize them. History confirms the correctness of the policy of Leninist insurrection.
Trotsky held the same position he was confident that “an insurrection can draw in a part of the army, paralyse the forces of the enemy, and overthrow the old power.” and it is only possible to do that actively (i.e., having a policy and intervening active), where “(…) The advance layers bring after them the wavering and isolate the opposing.”
But Trotsky was even more categorical stating that “(…)The first task of every insurrection is to bring the troops over to its side.” It is clear that there are sectors of the professionals bourgeois armed forces who cannot be won politically and against which there can only be physical confrontation. We speak of the praetorian guards, sectors of highly privileged and well-paid officers, such as Somoza’s National Guard or those elite guards of Gaddafi, Saddam or Assad. So we talk about having a policy to divide the bourgeois armed forces, fighting for the consciousness of the lower layers of the army or police. This means maximizing the contradictions within its structure and leading the class struggle inside the repressive apparatus.
This means exacerbating the contradictions between the class base of the army or the police (usually from sectors of the proletariat and the peasantry) and senior and wealthy officers with a pro-bourgeois ideology. That minority sector, in Trotsky’s words when referring to the October Revolution is “(…) consistedof the best trained elements in the army: the officers, the Junkers, the shock battalions, and perhaps the Cossacks.”
These lessons identified and implemented by Lenin and Trotsky after the triumph of the socialist revolution of 1917 became the heritage of the whole international communist movement. One of the conditions for revolutionary parties to be admitted to the Third International included: 4 °. “The duty of propagating communist ideas includes the special obligation of forceful and systematic propaganda in the army.”
The position of the LER-QI in relation to the case of the fire-fighters ‘ strike is opposite to that advocated by Lenin and Trotsky. With their view, this trend would not been admitted to the ranks of the Third International in its revolutionary period.
It is clear that the position of the LER-QI in the fire-fighters strike, even without the honesty to say so openly, opposes the policy of dividing the bourgeois armed forces. They speak of a revolutionary program arising from the dissolution of the bourgeois armed forces, with which we fully agree. The problem is for that to happen the working class must first take power. The revolutionary party must give a political answer to the question of how to deal with the armed forces on the road to workers’ power.
Until the dissolution of the bourgeois armed forces is there a way to proceed, if so what is it? We can either wait with folded arms or have a policy to divide. If you choose the second option, as Lenin and Trotsky did, we must have a policy (of agitation and propaganda) for the base of the armed forces and low-ranking officers. That means having a program that seeks to further their trade union, their trade union and political participation and exacerbating class contradictions within the bourgeois superstructure. Otherwise, without this work, we will fall into an adventurous and irresponsible spontaneity which proved catastrophic for the proletariat countless times throughout history. To oppose the strategy of struggle for power, including political work amongst the army base is capitulate to the bourgeois armed forces. To think you can take power without dividing the repressive apparatus of the bourgeoisie is to head for certain and bloody defeat when a revolutionary crisis erupts.
A movement in defence of “public security”? Published in the website of LER-QI
Leon Trotsky, Chapter 43, The Art of Insurrection, Volume Three: The Triumph of the Soviets, The History of the Russian Revolution
V. I. Lenin, Lessons of the Moscow Uprising, Proletary, No. 2, August 29, 1906. Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 171-178.
Leon Trotsky, Chapter 43, The Art of Insurrection, Volume Three: The Triumph of the Soviets, The History of the Russian Revolution
Resolutions of the 2nd Congress of the III International