There are both timeless and concrete arguments for the workers’ government slogan (discussed in ‘Greece: a workers’ government?’ Solidarity 239).
The Communist International resolved at its Fourth Congress in 1922: “As a general propagandistic slogan, the workers’ government (or workers’ and peasants’ government) can be used almost everywhere.” As Trotsky said the reason for this, and for the slogan’s educative potential, is that it “opposes the working class as a whole politically to all other classes, i.e., to the groupings of the bourgeois political world.”
A more pressing purpose, applicable to Greece today is, in outline, in the same 1922 resolution: “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 stagnating support for Pasok and New Democracy threatens to set in train a crisis in the bourgeois parliamentary system if the electorate refuse to endorse a government acceptable to the Troika. It is quite possible that the question “who governs?” will soon be posed quite sharply and revolutionaries need to have an answer.
However the workers’ government slogan is intended not as a free-standing panacea but as an advanced link in a chain of transitional demands, leading ultimately to the seizure of power by the working class.
Consistent with this logic, the International’s resolution on tactics at the Fourth Congress states that “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.” The workers’ government can be therefore seen as a transitional stage towards the democratic rule of the working-class.
This scenario envisages a workers’ government with a strong Communist component going on the offensive, using the already-existing state machinery to wage the class struggle: “The most basic tasks of a workers’ government,” continues the resolution, “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.”
There exist in Greece no major political parties which would be prepared for such a task. Certainly not Syriza, definitely not Democratic Left. What about the KKE? The Greek Stalinists are so removed from the ABCs of genuine Marxism that they reject even the tactics of the united front and instead operate as a sectarian propaganda organisation.
Does this mean that a call for a workers’ government in Greece is wrong? I do not think so. Also discussed in the 1922 resolutions are other scenarios of a workers’ government playing out.
In context of mass working-class struggle, of the sort we are certainly witnessing in Greece, “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.”
In the case of a coalition of reformist workers’ organisations being forced to assume power on a wave of working-class struggle, even an example of what the Communist International called an “illusory workers’ government.. .can, under certain circumstances, speed up the decomposition of bourgeois power.”
Such circumstances would be the vigorous opposition of all bourgeois political forces to even the idea of a workers’ government, sharpening the class struggle and creating the potential for a revolutionary situation. In this context, “the slogan of the workers’ government thus has the potential of uniting the proletariat and unleashing revolutionary struggle.”
It is doubtful that any potential workers’ government which would arise from the current balance of political forces in Greece would be “one that is determined to take up a resolute struggle at least to achieve the workers’ most important immediate demands against the bourgeoisie,” it is inconceivable that genuine revolutionaries could enter into it, even if they were in a position to do so.
This also assumes that the reformist organisations in question, Syriza, Democratic Left and the KKE, would even be capable of coming together to form a workers’ government in the first place. Given their respective programmes and the sectarian attitude of the KKE, this too is unlikely.
Nevertheless, even an “illusory workers’ government” of the reformist type or, more likely, the mere process of challenging the reformist organisations to form a workers’ government have immense educative potential.
As well as simply giving an immediate answer to the question of who should govern after the elections, and raising the idea that workers’ should, as a class, aspire towards political power, the workers’ government slogan can test the character of the dominant leftist parties and potentially win over wider sections of the working-class to a genuinely revolutionary programme.
It should not, however, be raised in isolation but as part of a wider call for a united front of workers’ organisations to fight for a series of transitional demands.
Given the possibility of disappointment, revolutionaries must also link the slogan to the demand for the creation of alternative structures of power and the replacement of the capitalist system with socialist democracy.