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Marxism and Military Strategy

How does Lenin’s application of Carl von Clausewitz’s military strategy run counter to postmodern thinkers like Michel Foucault, as well as neo-reformist political organizations like Syriza?

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In the early 1960s, the reactionary German jurist Carl Schmitt stated in his Theory of the Partisan: “Lenin was a great expert on and admirer of Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. He had studied On War intensively during World War I (1915). (…) In this way, he created one of the most remarkable documents of world history and intellectual history.”(1)

A similar assertion with the opposite result was made by “post-Marxist” theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. In Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, they highlight the relationship between Marxism and Clausewitz in order to oppose revolutionary Marxism. “In the end, political struggle,” they say, “is still a zero-sum game among classes (…). It would be no exaggeration to say that, from Kautsky to Lenin, the Marxist conception of politics rested upon an imagery owing a great deal to Clausewitz.”(2)

Invoking Clausewitz, the declarations of Schmitt and of Laclau and Mouffe point to a central idea of revolutionary Marxism. Marx and Engels acquired a broad knowledge of military topics. Their studies and readings extended far beyond the author of On War, including a whole range of authors from Machiavelli to Montecuccoli, Jomini to Chahrmützel, Surorov to von Hofstetter and Barclay de Tolly, from Willisen to Küntzel and Napier.(3) Engels, for his part, would be especially prolific in this field, in addition to having had the experience of the military confrontations of 1849 in Baden and the Palatinate.(4)

In the early 20th century, in the Second International, Jean Jaurès and Franz Mehring were the first to develop comprehensive works on military topics. But it would be Lenin and Trotsky who would use Clausewitz’s work to enrich the development of revolutionary strategy in action, in the class struggle. Both Lenin and Trotsky (5) sought answers to the questions raised by the Russian Revolution of 1905 in the works of military theorists. The course of World War I would only increase this interest in the face of the renewed immediacy of a confrontation between revolution and counter-revolution.

Karl Kautsky, as indicated by Laclau and Mouffe, also took lessons from these theorists. But unlike Lenin and Trotsky, Kautsky viewed military strategy primarily as a source of metaphors for politics.

Lenin’s innovation, beginning with his 1915 notebooks, consists of a critical appropriation of Clausewitz that encompasses the relationship between war and politics for revolutionary strategy. The consequences of this innovation first led to the victory of the Russian Revolution, and then to the development of a tactical and strategic arsenal of revolutionary Marxism to confront the challenges of revolution in the much more complex sociopolitical structures of the West.

Leon Trotsky said retrospectively: “The conception of revolutionary strategy took root only in the post- war years, and in the beginning undoubtedly under the influence of military terminology. But it did not by any means take root accidentally. Prior to the war we spoke only of the tactics of the proletarian party; this conception conformed adequately enough to the then prevailing trade union, parliamentary methods (…)”(6)

A century after the Russian Revolution, the challenge of reclaiming this tactical and strategic legacy for 21st century revolutionary Marxism must confront a theoretical negation that explicitly provides the foundations for “anti-strategic” thought and a political negation that can be seen in the most recent experiences of class struggle.

War is Still a Means to a Political End

As Trotsky asserted in his polemic with Stalinism in the mid-1930s, “He who thinks of renouncing ‘physical’ struggle must renounce all struggle, for the spirit does not live without flesh. Following the splendid phrase of the great military theoretician, Clausewitz, war is the continuation of politics by other means. This definition also fully applies to civil war. Physical struggle is only ‘another means’ of the political struggle.”(7) He added, “It is impermissible to oppose one to the other since it is impossible to check at will the political struggle when it transforms itself, by force of inner necessity, into a physical struggle. The duty of a revolutionary party is to foresee in time the inescapability of the transformation of politics into open armed conflict, and with all its forces to prepare for that moment just as the ruling classes are preparing.”(8)

Michel Foucault, an assiduous reader of Clausewitz, said it was necessary to reverse the Prussian general’s formula. According to Foucault: “One would then confront the original hypothesis, according to which power is essentially repression, with a second hypothesis to the effect that power is war, a war continued by other means.” At this point Foucault would reverse Clausewitz’s assertion and say that politics is war continued by other means.(9)

This Foucauldian reversal results in a lack of differentiation between physical and moral violence that erases the concepts of “war” and “peace.” “Civil peace” becomes a sequel of war and the exercise of power is equated to continuous war.

Furthermore, Foucault’s thesis of “biopower” is based on the colossal development of mechanisms of social control, which have only grown larger since the original formulation of the idea. However, behind the omnipresence of uniform control, Foucault’s proposition conceals social asymmetries and inequalities, and overlooks class conflict.

The most significant consequence of these formulations is that, as Perry Anderson has indicated: “Once hypostatised as a new First Principle (…) power loses any historical determination: there are no longer specific holders of power, nor any specific goals which its exercise serves.”(10)

The continuation of this course has its most prolific contemporary expression in Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Agamben reclaims the concept of “global civil war,” initially developed by Carl Schmitt and Hannah Arendt, to affirm that “global terrorism is the form that civil war acquires when life as such becomes the stakes of politics.”(11)

The Foucauldian reversal of Clausewitz’s formula, the absolute domination of “biopower” and the “global civil war”, merely conceal the objectives of domination as well as those who genuinely hold power, as well as the role of the capitalist state and class antagonisms in the framework of the current global capitalist crisis. Hence, they avoid distinguishing what is specific about a civil war or an armed conflict. By theorizing about an indeterminate war or “state of exception” and identifying it with politics, the relationship between politics and war loses any strategic meaning.

This is an essential problem for revolutionary strategy, since it is necessary, following Trotsky, to foresee the transformation of politics into armed conflict and prepare for that moment, just as the ruling classes do.

The Negation of Strategy

In his book Eloge de la politique profane [the book was never published in English], Daniel Bensaïd suggested that the defeats of the revolutionary processes that shook Europe in the late ‘60s (May 1968, the Prague Spring, etc.) and the early ‘70s (the Portuguese Revolution) caused “a movement of retreat from and desertion of the strategic field,”(12) led by Foucault and Deleuze.

Foucault declares that “where there is power, there is resistance.”(13) But this interpretation of resistance confirms the retreat from the question of the state, which is no longer seen as the special armed apparatus and guarantor of capitalist relations of domination, but becomes just one relationship of power among many others. Strategy, as Bensaïd indicated, is thus reduced to nothing, diluted in a sum of resistances, with no possible victory.

As Clausewitz asserted, absolute defense, or pure resistance, “completely contradicts the idea of war, because there would then be war carried on by one side only.”(14) In Foucault’s view, in the era of biopower, power becomes “that which represses.” War continued as politics, according to his reversal of Clausewitz, is a unilateral “war.”

Revolutionary Situations Don’t Fall from the Skies

Three decades have gone by without revolutions. Yet, the development of the global capitalist crisis has changed the political framework. There have been situations of intense class struggle, which are essential for reflections on strategy today. Greece is one example but certainly not the only one. Egypt is another great laboratory, a more “Eastern” than “Western” one, according to the political categories of the Third International.

In Egypt’s “Eastern” scenario, a pre-revolutionary situation has turned into a counter-revolutionary situation. In Greece’s “Western” scenario, the mechanisms of bourgeois democracy have resisted the impact of the crisis and the class struggle so far, although at the cost of the collapse of the traditional parties, catapulting Syriza to power.

Nevertheless, situations of profound crisis that lead to class struggle are not synonymous with revolution, let alone with a revolutionary outcome. “A revolutionary situation,” according to Trotsky, “is formed by the reciprocal action of objective and subjective factors. (…) [I]t does not fall from the skies, it takes form with class struggle.”(15) In this context, the position of the leaderships of mass movements is the primary subjective factor.

The Greek example shows us the current state of the relationship between objective and subjective factors to which Trotsky referred. When Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, was asked about the transformation of Syriza into a government party that applies the European Union’s austerity policies, he stated that the Greek party had no other choice but to follow that course. Of course, in defending Syriza, he was thinking about Podemos’ future in the Spanish State.

“The problem,” Iglesias said, “is that it is yet to be seen if someone can pose such a challenge from within a state (…). If we, in government, take a hard stance, all of a sudden you have a large part of the armed forces, the police apparatus, all the media (…), you have everything against you, absolutely everything. And in a parliamentary system, in which you have to ensure an absolute majority, it’s very difficult (…). For starters we would’ve had to reach an agreement with the Socialist Party.”(16)

In effect, here we have the outlines of the two existing strategic courses. The first is the one championed by Iglesias: acting within the limits imposed by the Troika with a generally left-wing rhetoric and “culture.” A similar stance can be found in the pamphlet called Construir Pueblo (17) recently published by Íñigo Errejón and Chantal Mouffe, or in Disputar la Democracia (18) published by Pablo Iglesias himself. In short, it is the course taken by Syriza, with lesser or greater margins for action.(19)

The second strategy is confronting the institutions of the EU and attacking the interests of capital, which implies preparing for a confrontation with “a large part of the armed forces, the police apparatus, the media,” etc., as well as achieving new democratic forms for the majority to express itself, forms which are superior to parliamentarism.

In the first case, there is no strategy in the Clausewitzian sense, understood as the use of partial tactical struggle for the purpose of imposing one’s will on the enemy, or, as Trotsky said, the art of the seizure of power. On the contrary, it simply implies managing, as benevolently as possible, the implementation of the other’s interests, that is to say, those of capitalism. As shown by the case of Greece, the permitted margins for such benevolence are particularly slim in the context of the world crisis.

The question of strategy does not begin on the day of the “storming of the Winter Palace.” Nor does it consist of waiting for “capitalism’s terminal crisis.” There is no room for magical thinking when it comes to the balance of forces. Strategic work, coordinating the volumes of forces available for combat, is therefore indispensable.

In the Greek case, there are two key elements in which the official leaderships of the mass movement played an essential, negative role: the united front, that is to say, the possibility of presenting a common front of workers in action against capitalist attacks, and the self-defense necessary for the development of struggle.

The defensive united front, without which an offensive united front and soviets are inconceivable, was notably absent throughout the entire first phase of class struggle in Greece from 2010 to 2012, with dozens of general strikes, protests, and clashes with the police.

The union leaderships were the main opponents to the development of a defensive united front against the attacks by successive governments who were agents of the Troika. A majority sector of the bureaucracy did this through their policy of subordination to PASOK and other bourgeois parties. Syriza, which had no significant influence in the workers’ movement, let alone an oppositional position within the unions, represented no alternative to these leaderships. At the other extreme, there was a combination of sectarianism and opportunism in the workers’ federation led by the Greek Communist Party (PAME), which explicitly refused to promote unity in action. Each one in their own way was opposed to the establishment of the united front required to defeat the austerity plans, despite more than 30 general strikes.

Something similar can be said of the problems of self-defense. As Iglesias noted, the alternative to accepting the limits imposed by the European Union implies, among other things, preparing to confront the repressive forces of the bourgeois state. Like most strategic questions, this cannot be resolved on the day that power is seized.

As Trotsky explained, workers must understand that the stronger their struggle is, the stronger the counter- attack by capital will be. According to the scale of the struggle and the level of confrontation, the creation of workers’ organs of self-defense becomes necessary, from the establishment of picket lines in a particular strike to the formation of workers’ militias when the confrontations become greater.

In the Greek case, the defense against the attacks by neo-Nazi groups like Golden Dawn raised the question of self-defense in its initial form. The same can be said of the picket lines during the general strikes, especially if these had prepared a clear plan for combat and not only isolated actions, which would have led to even fiercer repression.

Syriza’s “solution” to this problem upon assuming government, taking Iglesias’s stance to its logical conclusion, was giving control of the army and the police to a nationalist and xenophobic right-wing party, ANEL, through a parliamentary coalition, and handing over the Ministry of Defense to them.

Overall, both the united front and self-defense were essential for influencing the balance of forces and, therefore, developing a revolutionary situation. Thus Trotsky’s assertion that a revolutionary situation does not arise ex nihilo but is constructed through class struggle.

The working class and the mass movement in Greece showed a great fighting spirit and willingness to struggle, especially from 2010 to 2012. In spite of that, it clearly did not establish a united front or develop organizations of self-defense against the will of its leadership, showing that the radicalization that took place was certainly embryonic.

But posing the question exclusively in these terms, ignoring the actions of the actually existing leaderships, the political and union bureaucracies of the mass movement, is the pure negation of strategy. It is as ridiculous as intending to analyze the outcome of a war without evaluating the strategy and tactics of the general staffs.

As seen in the debates of the Third International, the tactic of the Workers’ United Front is based on the central role – observed again and again throughout history – of the political and union bureaucracies, including reformist organizations, as guarantors of the division of the workers’ movement in its confrontation with capital. (20)

Therefore, the establishment of a united front, and particularly its development, is the work of strategy. In other words, the establishment of a united front depends on the existence of a revolutionary organization that is willing to fight for it. It is important to clarify, once again, that it is not about making an abstract proclamation but about the coordination of certain volumes of material force that are sufficient to impose it, and also to use it strategically by developing a struggle between the tendencies within the united front, to attract mass sectors towards a revolutionary strategy and program based on shared experiences.

In the Greek case, however, only the traditional leaderships of the bureaucracy linked to PASOK or the Communist Party, and politically subordinate to Syriza, had sufficient power to determine the situation, which they used to boycott the development of the united front. There was no organized revolutionary force with enough influence on the workers’ movement to carry out a serious fight.

The Poverty of Politics without Strategy

Much has been written about Syriza and the possibility of establishing a “left-wing government” after decades of rule by what Tariq Ali called the “extreme centre,”(21) which includes both social democrats and conservatives.

Shortly after coming to power in January 2015, a former member of the Central Committee of Syriza from the former Left Platform, Stathis Kouvelakis, maintained that we were witnessing the application of the “strategy of Gramsci’s ‘war of position,’” which, according to him, could be described as “Nicos Poulantzas and the Eurocommunist tradition reformulated as the ‘democratic road to socialism.’”(22) However, as early as July of the same year, he was observing a “completely disastrous outcome [of] a political experiment that gave hope to millions of people struggling in Europe and in other parts of the world.” (23)

On July 6, 2015, the great majority of Greek people voted, in effect, against the Troika in a referendum organized by Syriza. In the context of an international campaign to spread fear by bourgeois forces, their governments and their media, 61% of the people who participated in the referendum still voted “No”. 70% of voters in the main working class districts of Athens voted against the deal, and 80% of youth also voted no, reflecting the sentiment resulting from the masses’ experiences with the Troika and its local agents.

Syriza’s actions after this pronouncement displayed the bankruptcy of neo-reformism. Against the vote of the broad majority of the population, Syriza signed the agreement with the Troika. Refusing to attack capitalist property, Syriza became, in just a few months, the “left-wing” administrator of the austerity plans and of unprecedented privatizations; this occurred in the context of a social catastrophe that included an unemployment rate of approximately 24% (46% among youth) (24) and a quarter of the population living in poverty.

Kouvelakis, as a representative of the left wing of Syriza, is the expression of a protracted illusion that an intermediate path is possible between the strategy of a resolute break with capitalism and the “left-wing” administration of the existing order, just as we saw with Iglesias. This is the same illusion reflected by the “Anticapitalistas” group within Podemos.

Kouvelakis explained the development of the situation in Greece and the rise of Syriza in the following terms: “Thirty-two days of general strikes, hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets, haven’t succeeded in the withdrawal or defeat of a single measure of those memoranda.” He added, “A political perspective was absolutely necessary, and it is the awareness of that necessity that prepared the ground for (…) the moment of the political initiative, when Syriza (…) captured the imagination of the people by providing a political translation that so far had been missing.” (25)

It is telling that he presents the ascent of Syriza to government as the political expression of the impotence of the class struggle, which had not defeated a single austerity measure, and that he does so without any reflection. In Kouvelakis’ opinion, the fundamental error that led to Syriza’s failure was “thinking that we could obtain something by negotiating with the European institutions without a Plan B. The consequences of the lack of such a plan are now being felt in a very harsh and devastating way.” (26)

This “Plan B” consisted of nothing more than a withdrawal from the eurozone and a few neo-Keynesian measures based on a currency devaluation, which sought to create an economic “rebound” like the one that took place in Argentina under Kirchnerism. But the example of Greece shows that the tailwinds that sustained the “post- neoliberal” governments in Latin America for a decade – after significant mass uprisings – are a thing of the past in the context of the global crisis.

According to the leader of the former Left Platform, it is not necessary to question why nothing was accomplished after more than 30 general strikes. Although he speaks of a “war of position,” a term coined by Antonio Gramsci, he fails to ask whether the workers could have presented a defensive united front in the struggle against the Troika, let alone organizations of self-defense, a failure that is in line with his explicit defence of the agreement with ANEL. None of this is important to him. The problem, for him, was only the lack of a plan for a withdrawal from the eurozone in order for Greece to negotiate with the Troika from a stronger position.

Of course, Kouvelakis does not express an original perspective but that of a long-standing school of thought. “The task of this school of strategy,” as Trotsky used to say about other leaders, “consists of an attempt to obtain through maneuvers what can be won only through revolutionary workers’ struggle.” (27)

The fact is that the electoral rise of Syriza from 2012 to 2015 was the reflection of the increasing impotence of the mass movement, which was divided and worn down by the union and political bureaucracies in dozens and dozens of actions. These actions had less and less of an effect on the relationship of forces; in the end, they did not have any effect at all. This is the exact relationship we must examine if we want to address the problem from the point of view of strategy.

With regard to the dynamics at play, it is similar to the one analyzed by Trotsky in relation to France in 1922. “Reformist-Dissidents, (28)“ he said, “are the agents of the ‘Left Bloc’ within the working class. Their successes will be the greater, the less the working class as a whole is seized by the idea and practice of the united front against the bourgeoisie. Layers of workers, disoriented by the war and by the tardiness of the revolution, may venture to support the ‘Left Bloc’ as a lesser evil, in the belief that they do not thereby risk anything at all, or because they see no other road at present.”(29) That is to say, in situations that are not yet determined by the confrontation between revolution and counter- revolution, the weaker the development of the united front against the bourgeoisie in the class struggle, the stronger the reformist political alternatives of class collaboration become.

From this perspective, the dynamic described by Kouvelakis is the reverse of that which could lead to the formation of an anti-capitalist and anti-bourgeois workers’ government, since the latter depends on the broader development of a defensive united front as a basis for the transition to an offensive united front, including soviets or councils as the organized expression of the United Front.

This strategic link between position and maneuver was the basis of the Third International’s formulation of the “workers’ government” tactic, the main goal of which was to disarm the bourgeoisie and arm the proletariat.

The conclusive outcome of the referendum against austerity and the Troika was a great opportunity to reverse that dynamic. The “workers’ government” tactic could have played an essential role in doing this.

A workers’ government in Greece in 2015 could have taken advantage of the popular will expressed in the referendum to impose essential measures of self- defense in the face of what can be called the transition to direct action by the large banks and the Troika: the massive capital flight. As Kouvelakis himself pointed out, this quickly altered the relationship of forces.(30) And on this basis, it could have implemented the non-payment of the foreign debt. Something similar could be said of the 30% of companies that closed down: These could have been expropriated under workers’ control, among other measures.

Of course, these kinds of measures towards a break with capitalism imply the necessity of preparation for combat. This would have included an international call for a broad mobilization in favor of the cancellation of the Greek debt. Not only did Syriza refuse to make this call, but Podemos preemptively declared itself against such a mobilization. The repudiation of the Troika would have generated enormous support in Europe. The anti-Troika sentiment ultimately took on a right-wing form with support for Brexit as an example. In addition, the 61% of people who voted against the austerity memorandum could have provided the basis for the creation of bodies of self-organization, as well as self-defense, to defeat the resistance of the capitalists and their repressive forces.

Now there is no doubt that the primary condition for a dynamic of this kind is the establishment of a material force that is capable of influencing events and building a revolutionary alternative to neo-reformism, which is embodied by Syriza. However, due to the lack of this objective, the Left Platform – which once constituted 30% of the organization – had been reduced to its minimum expression by mid-2015. Those who expressed the need for a revolutionary alternative, like Antarsya, the Anticapitalist Left Coalition (the main coalition to the left of Syriza), and the KKE (Communist Party), lacked significant material strength and influence to build it.

The Greek experience is an example of the need for strategic planning so that, in decisive moments, the outcome is not defined beforehand by the impotence and/or nonexistence of a revolutionary alternative.

Strategy and the Art of “Creating Power”

The more intense the processes of class struggle becomes, the more “the relationship of forces,” according to Trotsky, “keeps incessantly and rapidly changing under the impact of the changes in the consciousness of the proletariat, the attraction of backward layers to the advanced, the growing assurance of the class in its own strength.” He also added that, “The vital mainspring in this process is the party, just as the vital mainspring in the mechanism of the party is its leadership.”(31)

From this point of view, the Greek experience also showed the resounding failure of the “left wings” of neo-reformism, which in the case of Syriza represented up to 30% of the organization. According to Kouvelakis, the Coalition of the Radical Left (i.e. Syriza) showed a new party model to be implemented: “a pluralistic organization that includes various traditions of the radical left, communists, Trotskyists, Maoists, movementists and some left-wing social democrats. It must be seen as a project for the reconstitution of the radical left.”(32) But in fact, not only did it fail to reconstitute the “radical left,” it also expressed its categorical retreat.

After the victory of “No” in the referendum, 15 representatives of the Left Platform voted in favor of the agreement with the Troika, based on the argument that the alternative was that Tsipras’s government would lose its majority. Members of the Left Platform who held government positions and voted against it were removed from the administration. In spite of this and the government repression of protests against the agreement, the Left Platform remained in Syriza, only to split from the party before the September 2015 elections. The new political organization led by 25 legislators, Popular Unity, obtained less than 3% of the votes in those elections, which was insufficient to secure a seat in the Greek parliament. This was a clear demonstration of its impotence.

What happened to the sectors that organized independently of Syriza, such as Antarsya? In a polemic with Stathis Kouvelakis, the leader of the British Socialist Workers Party, Alex Callinicos, stated: “Stathis, when we last debated, we talked about Antarsya, the front of the anti-capitalist left, in which our comrades in the Greek Socialist Workers’ Party participate. He talked about Antarsya having been strategically defeated [in reference to its lack of influence among mass sectors]. But to be honest, what can we say about Syriza today? Hasn’t Syriza been strategically defeated? What about the Left Platform? I don’t think the performance of the Left Platform (…) is anything to be proud of.” (33)

Clearly, Callinicos is correct regarding the Left Platform. However, he disregards Kouvelakis’ observations of the weakness shown by Antarsya in the Greek process.(34) “The people who think that ‘the reformists will fail’ and that somehow in the wings stands the revolutionary vanguard who is waiting to take over somehow and lead the masses to a victory are, I think, completely outside of reality.” And in this respect, it must be said that the representative of Syriza’s left wing is correct.

This essay and the work we have been developing on Marxism and military strategy are connected to the fight for the construction of revolutionary parties at a national and international level as part of the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (Socialist Workers’ Party, PTS) in Argentina and the Fracción Trotskista – Cuarta Internacional (Trotskyist Fraction, Fourth International, FT-CI). We have attempted to draw lessons from history and our own experience – our victories, defeats and frustrations. This is part of an effort to learn how to coordinate those “volumes of forces for combat” so that, paraphrasing Clausewitz, when the bourgeoisie picks up its sword, we do not end up welcoming it with a ceremony.

This is what we are trying to do with the experience of the PTS as part of the Left and Workers’ Front (FIT) in Argentina – a front based on class independence that promotes the struggle for a workers’ government and a break with capitalism. With this purpose, we aim to a establish a hegemonic material force based on the main struggles and organizational processes of the working class – as well as on the students’ and women’s movements – and to develop revolutionary fractions within it through a combination of different methods and forms of struggle (parliamentary and extra-parliamentary action, clandestine and open work, the struggle against the bureaucracy, the United Front, etc.).

This leads us to a final, more general conclusion. The subjective conditions for a revolutionary victory are not created by a bolt from out the blue in decisive moments, but out of daily struggles. In this sense, it is useful to remember Lawrence Freedman’s formulation, “Strategy is the central political art. It is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power.” (35)

Marxism, unlike theories such as those of Foucault, does not invert Clausewitz’s formula according to which war is the continuation of politics by other means. However, unlike Clausewitz, Marxism maintains that politics is inextricably linked to the concept of class struggle within state borders and at the same time is international in nature.

Every serious struggle, whether it be a strike or a partial conflict of the class struggle, and each significant confrontation with political or union bureaucracies, is a moment to measure the relationship of material forces. From the outcomes of these struggles, including physical confrontations, from the difference between the initial and subsequent relationship of forces, a revolutionary party capable of facing the combat of the future develops.

In these confrontations, contrary to the logic of the “deconstruction of hegemony” posited by Laclau and Mouffe, the importance of engaging in strategic thought is directly related to the possibility of accurately measuring the material forces in which bourgeois hegemony is embodied within the working class and its potential allies, and drawing conclusions from it.

This has become increasingly apparent in the second half of the 20th century, which saw the unprecedented development of political and union and other bureaucracies within the working class as well as in social, women’s, and student movements. As a result, although the working class today is larger on a global scale than at any other time in history, it has never been so divided.

The constant struggle against these bureaucracies as guarantors of capitalist rule is a precondition for the establishment of the working class as an independent class, and certainly as a precondition for the fight for its hegemony. In the face of these material forces, we must also create the material power required to wage decisive battles.

Victory is a Strategic Task

The global crisis will continue to create profound processes of class struggle. The question is whether these opportunities will clear the way for revolution and socialism in the 21st century, or for the triumph of the right and, ultimately, of fascism.

As Trotsky stated in what is perhaps one of his most important works, “Victory is not at all the ripe fruit of the proletariat’s ‘maturity.’ Victory is a strategic task.”(36) He added: “Had the Bolshevik party failed to carry out this work, there couldn’t even be talk of the victory of the proletarian revolution. The Soviets would have been crushed by the counter-revolution and the little sages of all countries would have written articles and books on the keynote that only uprooted visionaries could dream in Russia of the dictatorship of the proletariat, so small numerically and so immature.”(37) This is perhaps one of the main lessons that the experience of the 20th century, one hundred years after the Russian Revolution, has left for us to apply in the new century that has begun.

Translated by Marisela Trevin


1. Schmitt, Carl, Theory of the Partisan. Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political, New York, Telos Press Publishing, 2007, p. 51.
2. Laclau, Ernesto and Mouffe, Chantal, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, London, Verso, 2001, p. 69-70.
3. See: Ancona, Clemente, “La influencia de De la Guerra de Clausewitz en el pensamiento marxista de Marx a Lenin”, in: AA.VV, Clausewitz en el pensamiento marxista, Mexico, Pasado y Presente, 1979.
4. See: Claudín, Fernando, Marx, Engels, y la Revolución de 1848, Spain, Siglo XXI, 1985.
5. See: Nelson, H. W., Leon Trotsky and the Art of Insurrection (1905-1917), London, Routledge, 1988.
6. Trotsky, Leon, The Third International After Lenin, New York, Pathfinder, 1996.
7. Trotsky, Leon, Whither France?, London, New Park, 1974.
8. Ibid.
9. Foucault, Michel, Power/Knowledge. Selected Interviews
& Other Writings 1972-77, New York, Pantheon Books, 1980, pp. 90, 123.
10. Anderson, Perry, In the Tracks of Historical Materialism, London, Verso, 1983, p. 51.
11. Agamben, Giorgio, Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2015, p. 24.
12. Bensaïd, Daniel, Elogio de la Política Profana, Barcelona, Peninsula, 2009, p. 163.
13. Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2, London, Penguin Books, 1984, p. 116.
14. Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1993, p. 357.
15. Trotsky, León, Whither France?, op. cit., pp. 80 and 84.
16. “Fort Apache – ¿Qué pasa con Grecia?”, October 8, 2016.
17. Errejón, Íñigo, and Mouffe, Chantal, Construir Pueblo.
Hegemonía y radicalización de la democracia, Barcelona Icaria, 2015.
18. Iglesias, Pablo, Disputar la democracia. Política para tiempos de crisis, Buenos Aires, Akal, 2015.
19. Martínez L., Josefina and Lotito, Diego, Syriza, Podemos: a Necessary Balance, in Left Voice, #1, March 2015.
20. Albamonte, E. and Maiello M., Gramsci and Trotsky, Strategy for the revolution in the “West”, New York, Left Voice, 2016.
21. Ali, Tariq, The Extreme Centre: A Warning, London, Verso, 2015.
22. Syriza und Socialist Strategy – Debate video and transcript, with Stathis Kouvelakis and Alex Callinicos. London, February 25, 2015.
23. Debate: Syriza in power: whither Greece? with Stathis Kouvelakis and Alex Callinicos July 11, 2015.
24. Data for November 2016 according to the Greek National Statistics Service.
25. Syriza und Socialist Strategy, op. cit.
26. Debate: Syriza in power, op. cit.
27. Trotsky, Leon, The Third International After Lenin, op. cit., p.173.
28. This refers to the minority of the French Socialist Party. At the Tours Congress in 1920, this sector opposed the majority, which was in favor of the Communist International and founded the Communist Party of France. The “Dissidents” broke up and later re-founded the Socialist Party.
29. Trotsky, Leon, The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol. 2, London, New Park, 1974.
30. Debate: Syriza in power, op. cit.
31. Trotsky, Leon, The Class, the Party and the Leadership, Fourth International, Vol. I, #7, New York, 1940, pp.191-195.
32. Debate: Syriza in power, op. cit.
33. Ibid.
34. Ibid.
35. Freedman, Lawrence, Strategy. A History, New York,
Oxford University Press, 2013, p. xii.
36. Trotsky, Leon, The Class, the Party and the Leadership, op. cit.
37. Ibid.

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Matías Maiello

Matías is a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires and a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party (PTS) in Argentina. He is co-author, together with Emilio Albamonte, of the book Estrategia socialista y arte militar (Buenos Aires: Ediciones IPS, 2018).

Emilio Albamonte

Emilio is a leading member of the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS) in Buenos Aires.

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