Algerian Coup- A Crushing Blow to Revisionists Theory
A Crushing Blow to Revisionists Theory
[First printed in Newsletter, 3 July 1965. Reprinted in Spartacist #5, Nov.-Dec. 1965]
[CLIFF SLAUGHTER examines reactions to the coup in “The Militant,” organ of the Socialist Workers Party, and “World Outlook,” of the ‘United Secretariat’ of revisionists in Paris.]
The. recent military coup d’etat in Algiers contains most important lessons for Marxists. Colonel Boumedienne’s army, which deposed President Ben Bella, is the instrument of “order” on behalf of the native capitalist class in Algeria.
A national-revolutionary struggle, involving years of large-scale conflict, was necessary before these native capitalists could take hold of state power. As in all national revolutions, the bourgeoisie had a double problem: to establish their own power by shaking off the foreign imperialist domination; and to push back the forces of the workers and peasants whom they had to mobilize for the first aim.
So great is their fear of the popular forces of the workers and peasants, and so impossible their development as an “independent” capitalism in the modern world of monopoly capitalism, that these bourgeois-nationalist governments do not even carry out the elementary tasks of the national struggle for the bourgeois-democratic revolution. Land reform, a complete break with imperialist power, and democracy —all of these become the subject of compromise with the imperialists, and repression of the people.
Marxists in our epoch, organized behind the program of Lenin and Trotsky in the Fourth International, have approached this problem always with the theory of Permanent Revolution. Only the working class, leading the poor peasantry, with its own Marxist party in a struggle for workers’ state power, can complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and for this, a political struggle against the national bourgeoisie is necessary.
In Algeria, these problems were presented in almost classical form.
However, a whole group of so-called Trotskyist, the revisionists, Pablo, Germain, Frank and later the leaders of the American Socialist Workers Party, who came to their support in 1963 in the “United Secretariat,” instead of opposing the national bourgeoisie and fighting for an independent proletarian revolutionary party, offered themselves as apologists for the bourgeois-nationalist leaders.
These revisionists encouraged the fatal illusion that colonial liberation movements would transform themselves into socialist revolution without the independent Marxist party, and without a struggle against the bourgeois nationalists.
They went further, and concluded that nationalist leaders, such as Ben Bella, would lead the nation to the establishment of a workers’ state.
Pablo, who recently split from Germain, Frank and Hansen in Paris, went to the extreme of taking a post in the Ben Bella administration.
For something like a year, these Pabloites, particularly the Paris clique, have expressed shamefaced doubts about their “premature” conclusion that Algeria was a “workers’ state.”
They have written “worried” articles about the masses’ resistance to bureaucracy and the concentration of power in the centralized state and Presidency.
The Boumedienne coup has delivered the final crushing blow to this revisionist school (see last week’s Newsletter). A. revolutionary situation with a divided ruling class today finds the Algerian working class and peasantry leaderless.
Those revisionists who lent the name of “Trotskyism” and “Marxism” to the stifling of independent working-class politics bear a historic responsibility for this situation.
They condemned the International Committee, and its sections, such as the Socialist Labour League, for “sectarianism” when we denounced the arrests of oppositionists like Boudiaf, and when we drew attention to the capitalist character of the Algerian state and of the Evian agreement, to the suppression of independent trade unions and, to the centralized state’s restrictions on workers and peasants.
Above all, we were condemned for an insistence that the workers must have their own party, independent of the National Liberation Front (FLN), independent of the bourgeoisie, and opposed to the myth of national unity perpetrated by Ben Bella and the bourgeois leaders.
The supporters and sympathizers of this revisionist tendency are now of course in disarray.
The Militant, organ of the Socialist Workers Party, appeared last weekend with just over 100 words on the coup—”the facts are still unclear.”
It would have been better to remain silent, we suggest, than to say in one sentence:
“The military coup that overthrew the Ben Bella regime is obviously a political move of the deepest significance for the Algerian people and the world socialist movement.”
And then to say in the next:
“… it is not realistically possible to determine if General Boumedienne’s seizure of power will mean *a general continuation of the ‘policies of the Ben Bella government or a significant shift away from them.”
Fortunately, perhaps, The Militant now goes on to its summer schedule and will not appear again until 12 July.
If we turn to World Outlook, published by the United Secretariat in Paris, we find a more comprehensive treatment.
“Boumedienne’s seizure of Power” is the main news article, which informs us that the Algiers’ coup “has been judged by experts [?] in this field to be one of the most skillful in history. It caught virtually everyone by complete surprise, the most stunned of all being Ben Bella who was hauled out of his bedroom at 2:25 a.m. by the conspirators.” No doubt!
Once the inspired journalism is done with, we get down to the political verdict.. Says World Outlook:
“In the absence of a well-organized vanguard party, of unions with an independent leadership, the army stood as the only cohesive power in the country.”
In the guise of a “Marxist” commentary, we here have a. blanket drawn over the decisive questions.
What is a “well-organized vanguard party”? There is deliberate confusion here.
World Outlook wants one set of readers (Ben Bella’s entourage, the July 26 movement in Cuba and all sorts of “progressives”) to understand by this phrase the official party of the Algerian state, the National Liberation Front. One wing of the Algerian national bourgeoisie and most, perhaps, of the Algerian petty-bourgeois politicians, would prefer control through this party to army control.
At the same time, World Outlook hopes that those who regard themselves as Trotskyists will understand by a “vanguard party,” the revolutionary proletarian party of Marxism.
Above all, the relation between the two things. must not be clarified.
But this clarification is precisely what has been necessary in the past period. In this way, the revisionists complete their betrayal, just as they did in Ceylon.
In the same issue of World Outlook is published a declaration by the “United Secretariat of the Fourth International” (i.e., Paris revisionists) on 23 June, “Defend the Algerian Revolution.” Here, the position of the revisionists is stated more precisely.
In this declaration, all manner of radical phrases are thrown out, but the question of independent working-class politics and a Trotskyist party of the Fourth International in Algeria, is avoided.
This same World Outlook commented only a few weeks ago that Ben Bella’s announcement withdrawing the death sentence on Ait Ahmed was a “sign of the strength of the Ben Bella regime.”
Now they say:
“The ease with which Ben Bella was removed from power . .. shows the correctness of the criticisms which the revolutionary Marxists offered while supporting Ben Bella against the right-wing forces that sought to block, slow down and de-rail the Algerian revolution.”
How “correct” can you get? World Outlook says all this has happened’ because:
“… the Algerian revolution had not been carried through to the end, to the institution of a workers’ state based on committees of workers and, poor peasants exercising the real power.”
The main question is ignored: such a state could only have been created by building a Marxist revolutionary party, opposing the bourgeois nationalists in every one of the actions which they took to halt the revolution and consolidate their own power.
The revisionists, instead, speculated about whether Ben Bella was “another Castro,” i.e., someone capable, in their opinion, of taking the revolution through to workers’ power.
All the criticisms in the world of Ben Bella’s compromises with the Right, his attacks on the unions, his concentration of personal power, are worse than useless without the struggle to build an alternative, the basis of which must be a revolutionary workers’ party.
In so far as the revisionists only campaigned for greater “pressure,” organized by the “left wing” to change the policy of the FLN, they helped the reactionary forces to prepare the present situation.
Their deception now will convince no one in Algeria, France or anywhere else. The sum total of their politics was to persuade militants that the FLN itself could become the “mass vanguard party” which they now talk about at every turn.
And so to the miserable conclusions of this declaration (of bankruptcy). The theory of the permanent revolution, it appears, has “been strikingly confirmed; this time, unfortunately [sic] not in a positive sense as in the case of Cuba, but in a negative way.”
After advocating liquidation of the revolutionary party, placed by Trotsky at the center of the theory of the permanent revolution, you then pronounce the verdict that “unfortunately,” the theory has been confirmed in a “negative” way.
The whole process is viewed as something separate from Marxist theory, not as a process in which this theory, given concrete form in the revolutionary party, plays a decisive objective role.
Only after the negative confirmation, is it necessary to say, as does the declaration’s next sentence, that‑
“No conquests in a colonial revolution can be considered to have been consolidated until a workers’ state has been created, until a revolutionary socialist party has been built, until the workers and poor peasants hold power through their own institutions of proletarian democracy.”
Not a word about the criminal confusion beween the working-class revolutionary party and the bourgeois-national movement. Not a word about the criminal responsibility of the authors of the same declaration, who have been in the forefront of the revisionist subordination to bourgeois-national leaders like Ben Bella.
Their vagueness about the “Algerian left wing” is matched by the statements earlier this year by Pablo, recently expelled from the leadership of the United Secretariat. He referred constantly to “the organized left, the marching wing” of the revolution, but he discussed always within the framework of Algeria as a country on the road to socialism.
When he criticised government tutelage of the unions he did this always in terms of the state becoming isolated from the masses.
What was actually required was a struggle of the workers, leading the poor peasantry, to fight behind a Trotskyist party for their own power in opposition to the existing state.
Ben Bella has for years been consolidating the centralized state power against the workers and peasants. Boumedienne and the right have thrown him out because he did not go far enough and was too prone to give concessions to the masses.
As soon as Ben Bella had worked with Boumedienne for the 1962 overthrow of the old provisional government, he used Boumedienne’s army to consolidate bourgeois state power.
This army was quite separate from the popular liberation force which fought the French. It was preserved in relatively privileged and comfortable conditions after the liberation, having previously been kept out of the fighting.
It was used to suppress and disarm all remaining forces of the Maquis in the different regions of Algeria. The resolution of the National Liberation Front Congress to create a people’s militia remained just a scrap of paper.
This army consolidated its power while independence of the unions was eaten away and the land reform was halted. It was a classical example of the bourgeoisie halting the democratic revolution, to collaborate with imperialism, and attack the workers and peasants.
Ben Bella, with his demagogic speeches and popular appeal, was necessary to the Algerian bourgeoisie and the imperialists only during the initial difficult period.
The reactionaries behind Boumedienne have now decided that his “left” talk about socialism can be dispensed with, and they will provide their own substitute.
This does not mean that the struggle is over or that the new regime is firmly established, but there can no longer be any doubt about the forces which have been established.
Certainly the Algerian events are of great consequence for Marxist theory and for the working-class movement. But the revisionists of the “United Secretariat” cannot calculate this significance because it involves above all an accounting of their own role.
As in Ceylon, revisionism has led to betrayal, and has prepared the way for defeats. But the struggle against that revisionism can be strengthened now that the lessons are being driven home.
Just as the workers and peasants of Ceylon and Algeria have not yet spoken their last word, so the Fourth International is no longer held back in its development by the revisionists.
On the contrary, they are being rapidly dissolved and defeated. This is a necessary part of the revived international struggle of the working class.