The New Reformism, Spain and the US Election

by Bob Lyons

It was just a little over a year ago that Socialist Action published an article titled “The ‘New’ European Reformism and the Failure of the Broad Left Party Strategy. Since then, that article, which made predictions concerning the trajectory of the Spanish left-reformist project PODEMOS, amongst others, events have verified our analysis in spades.
The thrust of our analysis is that the age-old question of reform versus revolution, the recycled variant of Karl Kautskyist reformism versus revolutionary Marxism, the construction of a broad-left political organization occupying the place of classical social democracy versus the historical necessity of constructing a revolutionary party composed of the most politically advanced activists of the working class and its allies, is at the heart of this crisis of the emerging youthful Left.
Disillusioned by the capitulation of SYRIZA to the diktats and logic of European imperialism, this emerging activist layer of students and young workers pinned their hopes on the rise of PODEMOS, the political project first animated by the ANTICAPITALISTS, the section of the Fourth International in the Spanish state. The F.I. aims to build a bloc of left non-revolutionary parties, and a smaller component of revolutionary forces.
The sharp rightward turn of the leadership of the explicitly non-revolutionary component of PODEMOS, headed by Pablo Iglesias, has proven to be a slow-motion train wreck for the forces of the ANTICAPITALISTS.  Forced to disband as an organized political tendency, ANTICAPITALISTS has suffered a major split to its left, and has had to swallow indignity after indignity thrust upon it by the reformists, including an attack by Iglesias who called those who believe social revolution will be brought about by the actions of the masses of society acting in concert “crazy and deluded”.
Leaving aside the fact that the emergence of PODEMOS itself was the political expression of the millions of people who marched, demonstrated and occupied the town and city squares throughout the years of resistance to the austerity program of European capital, the attacks by Iglesias are designed to marginalize and isolate the revolutionary elements within PODEMOS and to force the militants of the United Left (IU in Spanish), remnants of the Spanish Communist Party, to fall in behind his right-ward turn. This turn is based on electoralist illusions that involve forging a political bloc between PODEMOS and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE in Spanish), the social democrats who were the initiators of the austerity programs and attacks on the Spanish working class.
Consequently, in pursuing this strategy, the Iglesias leadership has dramatically modified the program of PODEMOS: dropping any reference to leaving NATO and the military alliances of European imperialism; dropping explicit recognition of the right to self-determination for the oppressed nationalities within the Spanish state; and changing its economic program to accept the fiscal targets as laid down by the European Union (a la SYRIZA).
The results of these electoral manoeuvers have been, if not an outright disaster, an enormous set-back for those seeking fundamental social change. Despite entering into an electoral coalition with the IU, to run as UNITED PODEMOS, this combination received over one million FEWER votes in the June elections than they did in the previous election where they ran separately. The aim of the Iglesias leadership was not to put in place a workers’ government which would oust the main party of the Spanish bourgeoisie, the Popular Party headed by Rajoy who received 30% support of the electorate, but to replace the PSOE as “the main party of the Left”. This goal too was a failure as the PSOE remained firmly in second place.
As our co-thinkers inside the F.I. have continued to emphasis, the social contradictions inherent within these multi-class, non-revolutionary political projects are at the heart of a losing strategy for the left and workers’ movements. Spain proves our point once again. Portugal, to be examined in a future article, will be the next big bust.

Reformism Comes to America
The problem of the new reformism is not one confined to European soil. With the rise and demise of the Bernie Sanders’ candidacy within the confines of the main party of US imperialism, “the Democrats”, the US left is engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about how to relate to and keep alive the radical currents which flocked to back Sanders, and who have formed the millions of supporters of social movements like Black Lives Matter and the Fight for Fifteen dollars minimum-wage struggle.
The question of whether to build a broad-left reformist political organization or a revolutionary workers party has been posed around the question of who to support in the US elections.
On the one hand, organizations like Solidarity, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), and Socialist Alternative, whose best known spokesperson is Kashama Sawant, the openly socialist city councillor from Seattle, urge people to vote for and to actively support Jill Stein and the US Green Party. Their reasoning is that a strong “third-party” candidacy will be a stepping-stone towards the creation of a left party to challenge the hegemony of the Republican-Democrat political duopoly.
This is of course the US variant of the argument put forward by the European supporters of the broad-left party strategy, that a party of the Left and a government of the Left (a la SYRIZA) is a transitional form which can open pathways to more radical and socialist solutions. (See for example, the statement of ANTICAPITALISTS after the Spanish election in International Viewpoint, organ of the Fourth International).
On the other hand, organizations like Socialist Action, and the forces behind Left Voice, the English language international press of the South American-based current represented by the PTS of Argentina, and the MTS of Mexico, among others; and those former members of Socialist Alternative-USA who left the organization because of its uncritical support of the Sanders campaign, see it differently. We believe that the electoral process can best be used as a platform on which to champion the struggles of the social protest movements, as a place to raise a series of democratic, defensive and transitional demands, and above all, as an opportunity to argue for a party of the workers and the left to represent the political independence of the working class from the parties of the American imperialists.
This is the political basis for the campaign of Jeff Mackler and Karen Schraufnagel, candidates for President and Vice-President respectively, and the leaders of Socialist Action, the American co-thinkers of Socialist Action Canada.
The contrast between the campaigns of the Greens and Socialist Action poses a dilemma for the ISO, Solidarity and SocAlt. The question to pose to the members of these organizations is a pretty fundamental one: Why would you support a multi-class, petit bourgeois political organization when there is a revolutionary socialist one on offer? Why do you think muddying the class line leads to greater clarity and political independence for the working class of the USA.
Wouldn’t it be better for revolutionaries to develop a unitary Left and Workers’ Front, to call for a Left and Workers’ Vote as a step forward in the march to working class political independence?
The American left saw the Sanders movement evaporate, a tragedy for sure — one that we predicted. The revolutionary left acting as sheepdogs for the Greens – now that is a farce.