On the Slogan of “Workers’ and Farmers’ Government”

(May 1946)

Originally published in Quatrième Internationale, June–July 1946.
From Fourth International, Vol. 8 No. 2, February 1947, pp. 55–60.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The formula, “workers’ and farmers’ government” first appeared in 1917 in the policy of the Bolsheviks.

In this instance it assumed two aspects. 1) As a general propaganda slogan it represented a popular designation for the dictatorship of the proletariat “underscoring the idea of an alliance between the proletariat and poor peasantry upon which the Soviet power rests,” as our Transitional Program states. 2) As a slogan of current policy, it was concretized, between April–September 1917, by the Bolsheviks, then still a minority in the Soviets, as the demand addressed to the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries to “break the coalition, and take the power into their own hands.” This had an enormous educational value for the masses.

The theme of this article is this second aspect of the question. The slogan of the “workers’ and farmers’ government,” sanctioned by the Bolshevik experience of 1917, was definitively endorsed by the Communist International after the October insurrection.

In particular the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in its Resolution on Tactics revived the slogan in both these aspects, but it especially insisted upon its importance as a slogan of current policy. We know that subsequently the Communist International of the epigones, whenever it attempted to revive the formula of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” in the colonial countries, and after 1934 through its Popular Front policy the world over, as our Transitional Program correctly states, “gave to the formula of ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ a completely different, purely ‘democratic,’ i.e. bourgeois content.” Our movement has always rejected this interpretation and whenever it has used this formula, as for example during the first period of the Spanish Revolution and in France between 1934–1936, it has done so in the manner of the Bolshevik experience of 1917 and of the Communist International up to 1923.

To arrive at a correct understanding of the formula, “workers’ and farmers’ government,” as a slogan of current policy, it is therefore necessary to study this experience concretely.

The Bolshevik Experience

The formula of the “workers’ and farmers’ government” as a slogan of current policy is meaningful only under certain given conditions characterized by a relationship of forces between the parties claiming to represent the working class and the bourgeoisie which “places on the order of the day as a political necessity the solution of the question of the workers’ government.” (Resolution on tactics of the Fourth Congress of the C.I.The Transitional Program justifies the use of this slogan by analogous arguments.) Under these conditions the revolutionary party which is still a minority in the working class addresses the demand to the majority working class parties to “break the coalition, take the power,” and carry out a genuine working class policy.

That is what the Bolsheviks did between April–September 1917. Let us briefly review the characteristic features and events of this period. On March 14, 1917 the first provisional government presided over by Prince Lvov was formed, as a result of an agreement with the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies dominated by the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. This government continued up to the crisis of May 3–5, 1917. On May 18, after the resignation of Milyukov, the first coalition government was formed, presided over again by Prince Lvov with the participation of the “Socialist” delegates from the Petrograd Soviets.

This government continued until the July Days of 1917 when it gave way to the second coalition government presided over by Kerensky. During this entire period from March until the July Days a regime of dual power existed in Russia: On the one side the political government of the bourgeoisie and on the other side the Councils of workers, peasants and soldiers. Lenin considered this period from March 12 to July 17 as the period of expansion of the effective power and democracy of the Soviets, conditions which guaranteed the peaceful development of the Revolution by means of ideological struggle of the workers’ parties within the Soviets.

The Bolsheviks, for their part, represented on the national plane during this period a small minority in the Soviets. (At the First All-Russian Congress of the Soviets on June 16, dominated by the Menshevik delegates, the Bolsheviks represented barely 13 per cent. Moreover, at the First All-Russian Congress of peasant delegates held at Petrograd from May 17 to June 11 the Bolshevik fraction was insignificant.)

Under these conditions the Bolsheviks went through this entire democratic period of the revolution with two essential slogans: “All power to the Soviets” and “Down with the capitalist Ministers.”

In the given relationship of forces within the Soviets this meant in practice that the power would pass into the hands of the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries who held the majority there.

Consequently the formula “All power to the Soviets, Down with the capitalist Ministers” meant in practice the demand “for a Menshevik-Socialist-Revolutionary Government.”

Lenin expressly admitted this when for example during the Kornilov coup d’etat he proposed that his party offer a conditional compromise to Kerensky by calling for “the return to our pre-July Days slogan of all power to the Soviets, of a government of Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries responsible to the Soviets.”

The Bolshevik demand addressed to the “Socialists” during this period had a revolutionary meaning precisely because it was not a question of the formation of a parliamentary government, but of a government based upon the Soviets and controlled by the Soviets.

Moreover, during this same period the Soviets, effectively assuming power were a) the sole armed force of the people against which the bourgeois government was absolutely impotent, and b) the democratic form par excellence of the free expression of the majority which could be won over by ideological struggle alone. Lenin found these conditions sufficed to reject any idea of a violent transfer of power to the proletarians and semi-proletarians, recommending on the contrary ideological struggle within the Soviets.

Replying to the criticisms of the Menshevik press, which accused the Bolsheviks of inciting the workers not only against the government but also against the Soviets, he wrote:

“In Russia we have now enough liberty to be in a position to make the will of the majority prevail through the composition of the Soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ representatives. Consequently, if the proletarian party desires seriously (and not in the Blanquist manner) to take power, we ought to struggle to gain influence in the Soviets. All this has been said, repeated, and explained again and again in Pravda and only stupid or malicious people cannot understand it.”

Further on, in the same article:

“We have a right for which we are going to fight: We will fight to acquire influence and the majority in the Soviets. We repeat again: We will declare ourselves in favor of transferring power into the hands of proletarians and semi-proletarians only when the Soviet of representatives of workers and soldiers adopts our policies and is disposed to take this power into its hands.”

We have another very clear example of the anti-capitalist, revolutionary interpretation of the slogan, “workers’ and farmers’ government,” concretized in the formula “Menshevik-Socialist-Revolutionary government,” on the occasion of Kornilov’a coup d’etat.

As we have already pointed out, Lenin regarded the slogan “All Power to the Soviets” as perfectly in order for an entire period “of a possible peaceful development of the Revolution in April, May, June, up to the days of July 12–22, that is to say, up to the moment when actual power passed into the hands of the military dictatorship (of Kerensky).” After Kerensky unleashed the terror against the working class and against the Bolsheviks in particular, that is to say, after the freeing of the government from effective control by the Soviets, their decline into impotence, and the stifling of democracy within them, Lenin considered: “that this slogan is no longer correct because it does not take into account the accomplishment of the passage of power (into the hands of a military dictatorship) and of the real and total betrayal of the Revolution by the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries.” Lenin thereupon called upon the workers’ vanguard to declare for “a decisive struggle,” to abandon every “constitutional or democratic illusion,” every illusion regarding a “peaceful” development.

However, in the first days of September came the revolt of Kornilov, his march from the front toward the capital to overthrow Kerensky and proclaim himself dictator.

Kerensky and his “socialist” Ministers, submitting to the pressure of the masses, determined to defend the endangered Revolution with arms in hand, saw themselves forced to struggle against the reactionary general.

Just at this crucial moment the opportunists in the ranks of the Bolshevik Party raise their voices to express, if only indirectly, a kind of confidence in the provisional government to “defend it (in common) against the Cossacks.” They propose a bloc with the “Socialists” to “support” the government.

An Important Lesson

The position Lenin took on this question contains a lesson of tremendous educational value for all the revolutionary parties concerning the Leninist application of the united front tactic and of the “workers’ and farmers’ government” slogan which, under certain political circumstances is an inevitable consequence of the latter.

Lenin was for the immediate expulsion from the Party of the defenders of the bloc with the “Socialists.” (Rumors of Conspiracy, August 31, 1917.)

In his letter to the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party dated September 12, 1917 Lenin thus defined his position toward the Kerensky government:

And even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. That would be unprincipled. It will be asked: What, not even fight Kornilov? Of course, fight him! But that is not the same thing; there is a dividing line, that line is being overstepped by certain Bolsheviks, who allow themselves to become “compromisers” and to be carried away by the flood of events.

We will fight and are fighting Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops are. But we do not support Kerensky; on the contrary, we expose his weakness. That is the difference. It is a rather subtle difference, but an extremely important one, and must not be forgotten.

What change, then, is necessitated in our tactics by the Kornilov revolt?

We must change the form of our struggle against Kerensky. While not relaxing our hostility towards him one iota, while not withdrawing a single word we uttered against him, while not renouncing the aim of overthrowing Kerensky, we say: We must reckon with the present state of affairs; we shall not overthrow Kerensky just now; we shall adopt a different method of fighting him, namely, we shall point out to the people (who are fighting Kornilov) the weakness and vacillation of Kerensky. That was done before too. But now it has become the main thing. That is the change.

The change, furthermore, consists in this, that the main thing now is to intensify our agitation in favor of what might be called “partial demands” to be addressed to Kerensky, namely: arrest Milyukov; arm the Petrograd workers; summon the Kronstadt, Viborg and Helsingfors troops to Petrograd; disperse the State Duma; arrest Rodzyanko; legalize the transfer of the landlords’ estates to the peasants; introduce workers’ control over bread and over the factories, etc. These demands must be addressed not only to Kerensky, and not so much to Kerensky as to the workers, soldiers and peasants who have been carried away by the struggle against Kornilov.

Draw them still further; encourage them to beat up the generals and officers who are in favor of supporting Kornilov; urge them to demand the immediate transfer of land to the peasants; suggest to them the necessity of arresting Rodzyanko and Milyukov, of dispersing the State Duma, of shutting down Rech and the other bourgeois papers, and instituting proceedings against them. The “Left” Socialist-Revolutionaries particularly must be pushed in this direction.

As to the talk of defence of the country, of a united front of revolutionary democracy, of supporting the Provisional Government, and so forth, we must oppose it ruthlessly as mere talk.

Returning to this question of “compromise” with Kerensky against Kornilov in his article On Compromises of September 14, Lenin thus set forth the conditions:

The compromise would amount to this: that the Bolsheviks, without making any claim to participate in the government (which is impossible for the internationalists until a dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasantry is actually realized), would refrain from demanding the immediate transfer of power to the proletariat and poor peasants and from employing revolutionary methods of fighting for this demand. A condition, one that is self-evident and not new to the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, would be complete freedom of propaganda and the convocation of the Constituent Assembly without further delay, or even at an earlier date than that appointed.

The Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries, as the governmental bloc, would agree (assuming that the compromise is reached) to form a government responsible solely and exclusively to the Soviets, and also to the transfer of the entire power to the Soviets in the localities. This would constitute the “new” condition. No other condition would, I think, be advanced by the Bolsheviks, confident that, with full freedom of propaganda and with the immediate realization of a new democracy in the composition of the Soviets (new elections) and in their functioning, the peaceful progress of the revolution and a peaceful solution of the party strife within the Soviets would be guaranteed.

Among other things, what is interesting in Lenin’s position are the two conditions for the compromise he lays down for the “united front” proposed to Kerensky: a) full freedom of propaganda in the Soviets; b) returning effective power to the local Soviets. This is very important. Once again Lenin refuses to support a “Menshevik-Socialist-Revolutionary government,” assumes no political responsibility for its actions, but promises only to resume the road of peaceful progress of the Revolution within the Soviets reconstituted with full powers and democratic organization, and consequently to tolerate the government of the ‘Socialists” as long as it is the emanation of the freely expressed will of the Soviet majority.

In conclusion, to understand the real meaning of the formula, “workers’ and farmers’ government” given by the Bolshevik experience of 1917 as a slogan of current policy, it is necessary to take into account the following conditions:

  1. The demand of the Bolsheviks addressed to the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries was to be placed in the framework of the existence of a united front organized by all the workers’ parties, the Soviets, having effective power and complete internal democracy. The Government was to be based on the Soviets and controlled by them. It would therefore be a Government of the type of the Commune, within the framework of a genuine democratic workers’ republic.
  2. Even under these conditions the Bolsheviks would not support such a government, would not assume any political responsibility for its actions, but they would tolerate it only in so far as it was the emanation of the freely expressed will of the majority of the Soviets.
  3. The Bolsheviks did not in the least restrict their propaganda in the Soviets to have their point of view adopted by the Soviets and consequently by the Government of the Soviets.

It is necessary to keep constantly in mind all of these conditions to understand the true transitional, anti-capitalist and revolutionary significance of the formula, “workers’ and farmers’ government” employed between April and September 1917 by the Bolsheviks.

The Communist International revived this formula in the same sense. The aforecited resolution on tactics adopted by the Fourth Congress of the C.I. is perfectly clear on this point. After having emphasized that this formula as a slogan of current policy acquires an importance when the relationship of forces between the workers’ parties and the bourgeoisie places on the order of the day the question of a workers’ government, the resolution specifies that this slogan “is an inevitable consequence of the whole tactic of the united front.” But what united front, of what extent, on what program? The resolution gives a clear answer to all these questions.

What is involved is not a united front of a temporary and restricted character to attain certain limited objectives, on a program of economic demands, such as a trade union united front. It is a question of a much broader plan of action.

“To the open or masked bourgeois and Social-Democratic coalition,” specifies the resolution, “the communists oppose the united front of all the workers, and the political and economic coalition of all the workers’ parties against the bourgeois power for the definitive overthrow of the latter.”

The communists themselves define in their propaganda what the program of such a government ought to be:

The most elementary program of a workers’ government must consist in arming the proletariat, in disarming the counter-revolutionary bourgeois organizations, in establishing control over production, in imposing upon the rich the main weight of taxation and breaking the resistance of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.

Our Transitional Program explains this matter in the same sense when it says:

Of all parties and organizations which base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name we demand that they break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers’ and farmers’ government. On this road we promise them full support against capitalist reaction. At the same time, we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands which should in our opinion form the program of the workers’ and farmers’ government.

The more recent examples of the Spanish and French experiences further illustrate the practical use of this slogan and its meaning.

The Spanish Experience

In April 1931 King Alfonso left Spain and the Republic was proclaimed.

The Spanish revolution began. Its first steps in 1931, with the governments of Zamora-Maura and Lerroux, in which the “socialist” ministers predominated, recall the provisional governments of March to July 1917 in Russia.

There was, however, an essential difference between the two situations: the action of the masses in Russia was channelized from the first in the extra-parliamentary organization of the Soviets, while in Spain there were no Soviets in 1931. Because of this fact the bourgeois parliament, the Cortes, acquired considerable importance and the formula of the “workers’ and peasants’ government” was concretely translated in the Spanish situation in a different manner than in Russia.

The radicalization of the Spanish masses was manifested in 1931 in the forward thrust of the Socialist Party which quickly became the leading parliamentary party.

Nevertheless the Socialists refused to take over the entire power by themselves on the pretext that they did not have an absolute majority in the Cortes.

In his letters addressed to the leaders of the Spanish Left Opposition, Trotsky outlined the following tactic for this period: During the formation of the first coalition government of Zamora-Maura and before the June elections he recommended the slogan “Down with Zamora-Maura” which was the equivalent of the Bolshevik slogan “Down with the capitalist ministers.”

Proceeding from the proposition that the Spanish workers’ yanguard was interested in pushing the socialists to take complete power and force them to break the coalition, he reasoned along these lines:

The slogan “Down with Zamora-Maura” is perfectly apropos. It is only necessary to clarify one question: the communists do not agitate in favor of minister Lerroux, nor assume the slightest responsibility for the socialist ministry; but, on every occasion, they deal their most decisive blows against the most determined and consistent class enemy, thereby weakening the conciliators themselves and opening the road for the proletariat. The communists say to the socialist workers: “Unlike us, you have confidence in your socialist leaders; therefore make them at least take power. In that we will honestly help you. After that, let us see what happens and who is right. (Letter on the Spanish Revolution, June 24, 1931.)

Returning to this question after the socialist victory in the June elections, he wrote:

Let us consider a bit how the Spanish workers en masse may view things: their leaders, the socialists, have the power. This increases the demands and the tenacity of the workers. Every striker figures that not only does he not have to fear the government but on the contrary must hope for its aid. The communists ought to take advantage of the preoccupations of the workers precisely in the following way: “Make demands upon the Government, it is your leaders who are part of it.” The socialists will claim in their replies to the workers’ delegations that they do not yet have the majority. The answer is clear: With a truly democratic electoral system and the breaking of the coalition with the bourgeoisie the majority is assured. But that is what the socialists do not want.

It is clear from these citations, what is involved is not supporting or propagandizing for a parliamentary socialist government applying its program, but above all addressing the socialist workers and promising them revolutionary aid against bourgeois reaction in case they force their leaders to break effectively with the coalition and take power.

But can power be won through the parliamentary road? This hypothesis is not theoretically excluded in certain exceptional conditions. What is important is not how a “workers” government is formed, but the kind of action (purely parliamentary or revolutionary) which it undertakes afterwards and the program it tries to carry out.

The aforementioned resolution of the Communist International envisages the possibility of a “workers” government arising from a parliamentary combination which can “provide the occasion for reanimating the revolutionary workers’ movement.”

Nevertheless, to leave no illusion about the significance of such a government if perchance it should be formed, the same resolution adds:

“It goes without saying that the birth of a genuine workers’ government and the maintenance of a government carrying out a revolutionary policy must lead to the bitterest struggle and eventually to civil war against the bourgeoisie.”

Trotsky who did not advise directly counterposing Soviets to the Cortes, democratically elected “on the basis of genuinely universal and equal suffrage for all men and women of 18 years of age,” nevertheless adds in the very same letter:

All the above arguments will remain suspended in midair if we limit ourselves exclusively to democratic slogans and their parliamentary refraction. There can be no question of such a limitation. The communists participate in all strikes, all protests and demonstrations, always raising up new sections of the population. The communists participate in the struggle with the masses and in the front ranks of the masses and the base of these struggles, the communists put forward the slogan of Soviets and, on the first occasion, form the Soviets as organizations of the proletarian united front.

Thus the experience with the formula of the “workers’ and farmers’ government” as a slogan of current policy in the given conditions of the Spanish situation, despite its peculiarities, leads to the same conclusions as the Bolshevik experience: The revolutionary party in the minority demands of the majority workers’ parties (either in the Soviets or in the Parliament) that they break the coalition, that they take power.

At the same time the revolutionary party conducts untiring propaganda around a program of transitional demands which in its opinion should constitute the program of the “workers’ government,” supported and controlled by the organized masses.

The French Experience

Let us now turn to the French experience. Between February 1934 and June 1936 France passed through a profound political and social crisis proceeding from the upsurge on February 6, 1934 of the reactionary and fascist forces which imposed upon the country the “preventive Bonapartist” government of Doumergue to the powerful wave of proletarian revolt of the days of May-June 1936. Trotsky devoted a series of articles and brochures to the most profound examination of this situation, a study which provides us, among other things, with rich information concerning the meaning and use of the formula of “workers’ and farmers’ government” as a slogan of current policy.

After the reactionary and fascist coup d’etat of February 6, the Socialists and Communists, under pressure of the masses, urged a “united front against fascism,” to include the Radical-Socialists. From 1936 on this was the notorious “Popular Front.” But in 1934 this united front had no program against fascism. Trotsky concluded that the most important consequence of this united front, embracing at this period the whole of the public political activity of the two parties, must be “the struggle for power.” (Whither France?) “The aim of the united front can be only a government of the united front, i.e. a Socialist-Communist government, a Blum-Cachin ministry.”

This must be said openly. If the united front takes itself seriously, it cannot divest itself of the slogan of conquest of power. By what means? Trotsky replies: “By every means which leads to that end.”

“The struggle for power,” he writes, making his thought more precise, “means the utilization of all the possibilities provided by the semi-parliamentary Bonapartist regime to overthrow this regime by a revolutionary push, to replace the bourgeois state by a workers’ state.”

This argumentation has particular pertinence for those people who envisage the creation of a “workers’ government” solely under conditions of a parliamentary victory of the workers’ parties, which assure them the majority.

Trotsky explains that it is the offensive campaign for the conquest of power and its revolutionary program, which will unleash the strength and enthusiasm of the masses and tear them away from their parliamentary and democratic conservatism. Trotsky writes:

The struggle for power must begin with the fundamental idea that if opposition to further aggravation of the situation of the masses under capitalism is still possible, no real improvement of their situation is conceivable without a revolutionary invasion of the right of capitalist property. The political campaign of the united front must base itself upon a well elaborated transitional program, i.e. on a system of measures which with a workers’ and farmers’ government can assure the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Moreover, he specifies the nature of the action the united front ought to employ to achieve its aim, the taking of power:

A concentrated campaign in the working class press pounding steadily on the same key; real socialist speeches from the tribune of parliament, not by tame deputies but by leaders of the people; the utilization of every electoral campaign for revolutionary purposes; repeated meetings to which the masses come not merely to hear the speakers but to get the slogans and directives of the hour; the creation and strengthening of the workers’ militia; well organized demonstrations driving the reactionary bands from the streets; protest strikes; an open campaign for the unification and enlargement of the trade union ranks under the banner of resolute class struggle; stubborn, carefully calculated activity to win the army over to the cause of the people; broader strikes; more powerful demonstrations; the general strike of toilers of town and country; a general offensive against the Bonapartist government for the workers’ and farmers’ power.

The French experience with the formula of “workers’ and farmers’ government” in 1934 is especially interesting because ft shows us among other things how little the revolutionary spirit is impeded by arguments which invoke the impossibility of conquering power through the parliamentary road, to justify passivity under the conditions of a twofold drive of the menacing reaction and the radicalized masses.

The Present Experience

With the end of the war, we witnessed a powerful impulsion of the masses, at least throughout Europe, toward the parties which spoke for the working class, the Communist and Socialists. This was the manifestation of the first stage of the radicalization of the masses. In many European countries these parties have even on the parliamentary plane the majority.

Their real power is actually much greater than the parliamentary refraction, necessarily falsified by the operation of a voting system which practically excludes youth, often women, as well as the omnipotence of the political machinery of the bourgeoisie, of its administration, press and all its means of manufacturing public opinion.

On the other hand, in this first stage of the radicalization of the masses, the revolutionary party, represented by the sections of the Fourth International, is still weak and cannot intervene as an independent factor.

All of these conditions make the formula “workers’ and farmers’ government” – as a slogan of current policy taken in its anti-capitalist and revolutionary sense – more timely than ever.

It is the central slogan of this period, the dorsal spine of all the transitional demands. As our Transitional Program correctly says “each of our transitional demands ought to lead to one and the same political conclusion: the workers ought to break with the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie to establish, together with the peasants, their own power.”

The concrete application by our young sections of our transitional program, elaborated in 1938 before the war, but which did not really become actual until now, has not occurred without deviations. The press of our European sections in particular has more than once given an incorrect interpretation to the central transitional slogan par excellence of the “workers’ and farmers’ government,” either in a sectarian fashion, or more often, in an opportunist sense.

The interpretation of this formula is sectarian when it is used solely as a slogan of general propaganda, i.e. as a popular designation for the dictatorship of the proletariat in such circumstances that, presented in this way, it arouses virtually no response amongst the masses. This error has been committed for example by our Greek comrades who summoned the masses to struggle for the “workers’ and farmers’ government,” in the sense of the dictatorship of the proletariat, at the very moment when these masses were grouped in their overwhelming majority throughout the country around the Greek Communist Party and its “front” organization, the EAM.

To promote the political experience of these masses who had undeniable revolutionary aspirations meant that in Greece the formula, “workers’ and farmers’ government,” should have been concretized in the slogan: “The EAM (purged of its bourgeois elements) to power.”

The tactical task in Greece consisted in teaching the proletarian and semi-proletarian masses (poor peasants, petty-bourgeois masses) who followed the EAM, and wanted the “Laocracy,” that is, a regime of the people, that they should break with the so-called bourgeois democrats (who were more insignificant than anywhere else thanks to the acuteness of the class struggle in Greece) and compel the Communist Party and the few other formations speaking for the working class and the poor peasantry grouped around it, to take the power.

At the same time, our comrades should have conducted untiring propaganda around a precise program of transitional demands (which all have an excellent field of application in Greece) and which, in our opinion, should constitute the program of this government. The Greek comrades neglected to pass from general propaganda for the “workers’ and farmers’ government” to its adaptation to the given situation, and it required the energetic intervention of the International to have them change their tactic.

Another sectarian deviation from this formula consists in presenting it as designed to “unmask” the treacherous nature of the parties and organizations of the Second and Third Internationals.

We are sure that the final result of this demand constantly addressed to the old “communist” and “socialist” leadership: “Break with the bourgeoisie, take power,” given their almost organic incapacity to separate themselves from the political semi-corpse of the bourgeoisie, will be to reveal their treacherous character to the masses. But, in this case as with the entire tactic of the united front, this demand is not a simple maneuver on our part, but a sincere appeal to the workers to force their parties to break with the bourgeoisie, and along this road, even if this rupture is partially realized, we will support them with all our might against every attack of bourgeois reaction. That is the kind of language we should speak to the workers.

Let us now come to the opportunist interpretation of the formula “workers’ and farmers’ government” which is more frequent and more dangerous, because it can divert the whole of our politics onto a centrist basis.

We have seen this deviation develop within our French section. The last Congress of the PCI has already provided the occasion for conducting a preliminary discussion on this question and to bring to light the two different interpretations given the slogan “CP-SP-CGT government” used by our French section.

There are comrades who conceive of this formula as purely parliamentary and democratic, a minimum demand which has no connection with the “workers’ and farmers’ government.” The reason given is that this formula can be employed, it seems, only in its general propaganda sense, that is to say “as a popular designation for the dictatorship of the proletariat.” That, it seems, sums up the Bolshevik experience with this slogan. On the other hand the campaign for the “workers’ and farmers’ government” cannot be launched without “posing by this very fact the candidacy of the revolutionary party for this government.” One reads in the same article of this comrade: “The Workers’ and Farmers’ Government is on the order of the day when the revolutionary party, carrying with it an important fraction of the proletariat, prepares for the dictatorship.” Proceeding from these considerations, they reject this formula for the present period as “equivocal,” “inopportune,” and “dangerous.”

But in that case, what is meant when the slogan, “CP-SP-CGT government” is launched?

That concerns, we learn to our great astonishment, a tactical question, namely to formulate “the necessity of a ‘CP-SP-CGT government’ in the event of an electoral victory of the workers’ parties, and only in the event where a parliamentary majority has been obtained!” This parliamentary government will apply its program and although it is in reality “a bourgeois government called to administer the interests of the bourgeoisie,” our party will say to the “communist” and “socialist” workers: “We are ready to march with you ... to support this government that you recognize as your own; we are ready to defend it with you, against its enemies and false bourgeois friends, to allow it to realize its program, which up to now is your program!” And this unimaginable confusion is called the application of the united front tactic with the workers’ parties on a minimum program and on the parliamentary plane! (Our author, in effect, conceives that this use of the slogan of a “CP-SP-CGT government” flows from a united front policy with the communists and socialists, on the basis of their program, and on the parliamentary field.)

Poor united front tactic, poor Bolshevik experience, poor resolution of the Fourth Congress of the CI, poor Transitional Program!

Everything here is entangled in inextricable confusion.


This article will have achieved its purpose if it succeeds in demonstrating:

  1. That the formula of “workers’ and farmers’ government” has two aspects: one as a slogan of general propaganda, serving as a popular designation for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The other as a slogan of current policy under the following given conditions: such a relationship of forces between the workers’ parties and the bourgeoisie that the solution of the workers’ government becomes a political necessity.
  2. That this second aspect is the one that especially interests the revolutionary party in a situation characterized by the attachment of the masses to the traditional workers’ parties, while it itself remains as yet weak.
  3. Under these conditions, the utilization of the formula “workers’ and farmers’ government” must be put forward concretely as a transitional, anti-capitalist and revolutionary demand addressed to the old leadership: “Break with the bour-geosie, take power into your own hands.”
  4. “Break with the bourgeoisie” necessarily means to apply not the program of these parties, which is precisely the program of the coalition, but an effective working class, anti-capitalist and revolutionary program.

    It can sometimes happen that the program of the “workers” government can be in large part the program defended by the Communist Party, or the Socialist Party, or by their united front. This can occur only in the exceptional circumstances that these parties advance a really revolutionary program, at least on paper. In this case we will try to compel their leadership to bring this program before the masses and to engage in struggle for its realization.

    Such was the case, for example, in January 1935, when the National Committee of the French Socialist Party launched a program of struggle for power, of destroying the bourgeois state apparatus, of instituting the democracy of the workers and peasants, of expropriating the banks and big industry. (Program cited and approved by Trotsky. See Whither France?)

    The revolutionary party formulates this program for the whole of the working class and for its government. We do not say: “Apply our program.” We say: “A genuine workers’ government which has effectively broken with the bourgeoisie will begin to apply this program” and will conduct an untiring propaganda around the transitional demands which constitute this program and which alone can concretize for the masses what to break effectively with the bourgeoisie means.
  5. The formula of “workers’ and farmers’ government” is an inevitable consequence of the united front tactic, but not of a united front between the unions on a minimum basis of economic demands, but on a much higher basis, both political and economic, which embraces the highest domain of working class action, that of power.
  6. A “CP-SP-CGT government” applying its program in a parliamentary fashion is a bourgeois government, even if the whole of its members belong to a workers’ party, as is the case with the present British Labor Party.

    The revolutionary party does not support, does not defend these governments, not even for an instant, but on the contrary ought “to pitilessly unmask before the masses the true nature of these fake “workers’ governments.” (Resolution on Tactics, Fourth Congress of the CI)
  7. The demand addressed to the traditional parties: “Break with the bourgeoisie, take power” should be accompanied not only by propaganda around the transitional demands which must constitute the program of the “workers’ government,” but also by propaganda along the following idea: A government of this kind is possible only by transcending the framework of bourgeois democracy, only by summoning the masses to revolutionary action, only by organizing them in formations suited to apply the working class program (committees of workers control over production, over food) and to combat the resistance of the bourgeoisie (militias).

It is not excluded that a “workers’ government” can in exceptional conditions arise from a parliamentary combination. But what invests it with its effectively working class and anti-capitalist character, is the program, the appeal to the masses, the organization of the masses.

At the same time the revolutionary party explains clearly to the masses that the formation of such a government will only be the first step along the road to the total overturn of the bourgeois state which can be accomplished only under the regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The revolutionary party intends to lead the struggle for the formula of “workers’ and farmers’ government” as a slogan of current policy, concretized in each country in one or another manner, in this sense, and exclusively in this sense.

May 1946

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Michel Pablo
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Marxist Writers’

Updated on: 10 April 2015