Concerning opportunism and crisis in the Socialist People’s Front
While commemorating the honourable 100th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution together with representatives of the international communist and workers movement around the world, we feel the need, concerning the situation in our own country, to confess that we’re going through a period of deep inner crisis struggle and reorganization within the socialist movement of Lithuania. The name of the Socialist People’s Front (SPF), which have for a number of years been the organizational form of this movement, is now claimed by two ideologically opposed groups – a Marxist and an opportunist one.
The separation was not an accident, but rather a consequence of the long-term development of the movement, the causes and sources of which must be understood in order for us to arrive at a correct and objective, Marxist-based evaluation of the situation.
Let’s start from the beginning. The SPF was preceded by the Socialist Party of Lithuania (SPL), which was founded in 1994 by a group of like-minded persons, who in the wake of the banning of the Communist Party of Lithuania (CPL) and the intensive anti-communist psychosis did not renounce Marxism and seeked a legal platform for the continuation of their social-political activities. The SPL stood against the membership of Lithuania in the imperialist EU and NATO blocs, maintained a position in favour of neutrality and the restoration of the socialist system. In this party, whatever its mistakes or failings may have been, lay the origins of the SPF, as a Marxist party.
A different case was the “Front” party, founded in 2008 by some former members, who’ve split from the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania (SDPL) with the then mayor of Vilnius, former diplomat A. Paleckis at the fore. Its programmatic documents were dominated by an abstractly “leftist” rhetoric, covered with a sort of “patriotic” veneer, oriented not towards changing the social system, but rather the “humanization” of capitalism by means of petty bourgeois reforms; membership in the EU and NATO, meanwhile, was accepted by them as an axiom.
As strange as it may seem, the paths of these two groups got intertwined: by decision of Parliament in 2008 the Lithuanian Law of political parties was changed, raising the number of members required for a legally registered political party to 1000 (previously it was 400). The leadership of the SPF, faced with this circumstance, started looking for solutions, trying to maintain its status as a legally recognized political party; at the same time, the 2008 parliamentary elections were lost by the “Front” party, which got into severe debts for electoral campaign expenses, causing the dissatisfaction of many of its members.
In this context, with Paleckis’ rhetoric turning more and more towards the left, the SPL, lacking a famous leader known to the wider popular masses and desperately seeking to preserve its status as a legally recognized party, began the gradual convergence of the two parties.
The majority of the SPL’s leader’s, who considered the evolution of the “Front’s” leader’s beliefs to have brought him towards positions close, if not identical to those of the SPL, believed in his ability to become the new face of the party, particularly in regard of his grandfather, J. Paleckis (1899-1990), supported the initiative for the merging of the SPL and the “Front” party. This resulted in the common congress of the SPL and “Front” in 2009, in which the absolute majority of delegates (only 3 voted against and 1 abstained) voted in favour of the merging of both parties into a new political unit, known to this very day as the “Socialist People’s Front”. Some of the veteran SPL members, who opposed this step, resigned from the party.
The merger itself was an unequal one. The majority of the SPF’s activists came from the SPL, whereas the “Front” party, which officially merged with the SPL, quickly fell apart, leaving in its ranks only a handful of people, among whom the same petty bourgeois attitudes and political mentality, which was evident at the very founding of the “Front” party, dominated. It’s also worth mentioning, that the SPL had to cover from its own coffers, the above-mention debts of the “Front” party.
Work began – agitation and propaganda, organization of pickets and demonstrations, with most members having started to sincerely believe in the bright future of the newly created SPF, at the same time preparing for the 2012 parliamentary elections. The SPF further engaged in the activities of the international communist movement, especially after Paleckis gained fame through the court case concerning his claims regarding the events of January 13th, 1991. There was a certain uplifting of the socialist movement, its entrance into the public arena by means of discussions and May 1st demonstrations.
By decision of the SPF’s presidium, all forces of the SPF were concentrated in Vilnius, having abandoned local organizations, in order to win a place there in the parliament. However, even that was insufficient to achieve the desired goal. Meanwhile, the loss of the 2012 elections were followed by a sharpening of the previously existing contradictions within the SPF, with the hesitation and gradual resignation of some of the parties “rightist” wing. Afterwards, also the disillusion of a number of leftist, ideologically Marxist activists.
The remaining activists of the SPF went on to prepare for participation in the 2014 European parliamentary elections. Having failed to gather sufficient signatures, the SPF couldn’t participate in the election and Paleckis resigned as chairman, suggesting E. Jagelavičius from Elektrėnai, who also came to the SPF from the “Front” party, as his successor. His main collaborator became G. Grabauskas.
The nominally Marxist party started being led by individuals, who know nothing about Marxism or socialism and, themselves lacking any clearer beliefs, take an orientation more towards such “leftist” European parties, as SYRIZA in Greece of western social democracy in general, as examples to be followed. Meanwhile, several long-term members of the SPF’s and SPL’s presidium resigned from leadership positions.
Then on the only real activity of the SPF became pickets and sporadically organized demonstrations, which as a rule failed to attract any more people. The local chapters of the SPF, in which mostly remained members of an older age, finally fell apart and dispersed. At the same time there was a severe ideological and organizational erosion of the SPF, which was even more hastened by the newly updated Law of political parties, which, put into force in 2015, requires political parties to have no longer 1000, but 2000 members as of 2016. The new leadership, as the previous leaders of the SPL, took steps towards attaining the required number of members, searching for potential partners for merging the party – but this time even at the expense of Marxism being defined as the ideological basis of the SPF in party documents. Meanwhile Paleckis, who undertook an unsuccessful attempt at winning the 2016 parliamentary election, publicly declared his resignation from the SPF altogether, taking together with him some of the activists of the SPF’s Vilnius local organization.
Seeing such an intolerable situation in the SPF, some of the former party leaders, together with persons new to the SPF, but with solidly Marxist orientation, took active steps towards stopping the above-mentioned decline. This, on one hand, halted traitorous merger scenarios, but at the same time led towards the confrontation of opposing forces, ideological and political positions, that manifested itself in the June 4th congress of the SPF in 2016, in which a new and heterogeneous presidium, comprising representatives of both opposing factions, was a elected.
The following time period was the final stage of separation of the two groupings that existed within the SPF, which was catalysed by the illegal and non-statutory actions of the anti-party group of Grabauskas and Jagelavičius. These were answered by the healthy part of the SPF’s presidium (K. Bilans, M. Bugakovas, K. Voiška), which after a gathering that happened on July 1st of 2017, falsely referred to as a “party congress”, distanced itself from the actions of the above-mentioned individuals and declared its determination to hold on to Marxist positions. The result of this are two opposed groups, both claiing the name of “Socialist People’s Front” – one oriented towards abstract “leftism” and politicizing, the other – decided to develop through new means a strictly Marxist ideological and political line. The later-mentioned now adds the letter (m), meaning “Marxist”, to its name (SPF(m)).
The present situation and the facts related to it are clear, but merely stating them is not enough – what is necessary are principled conclusions, which can be arrived at only by means of open, honest and merciless criticism and self-criticism, by evaluating both the present and the past, as well as the perspectives of future activities. By using this old and tested method of self-knowledge of Marxist collectives, we cannot, seeing the open desertion and opportunism of a number of the former “Front” activists, to close our eyes to the mistakes of the Marxists who were active in the SPF, and previously, in the SPL.
First of all it is necessary to pay attention to one main mistake, a systematic error, which went throughout the whole political history of the socialist movement of Lithuania since the very first steps of the SPL in the middle of the last decade of the 20th century, up to the very merger with the “Front” party and the following crisis of 2015-2016. It is the fetish of political legalism.
At the very start of the Comintern’s activities, Lenin raised the problem of the leftist deviation, or the so-called “childish leftism”, referring to those revolutionaries, who for the sake of alleged “purity” rejected any participation in parliamentary elections, work in bourgeois trade unions and other organizations, thus reaching a sectarian isolation from the masses. Lenin was right, and this truth is often emphasized by Marxists of older generations. However, there’s also another, equally harmful and dangerous deviation, which was understood by Lenin, namely, the rightist one, which means an opportunist inclination to assimilate into the swamp of bourgeois politics for the sake of short-term gain, even at the expense of utter ideological and political degeneration.
Together with the difficult objective conditions of Lithuania, the socio-economic situation, low level of popular consciousness and its immaturity for any actions of a revolutionary nature, it is here that we can find the inner causes for the failures of the SPL, as a party that declared its adherence to Marxism, and finally, the causes for the collapse of the SPF. As the above-mentioned “fetish of political legality” is nothing but the outlook, that the most important is not so much an actually active organization, with a clear revolutionary goal – the replacement of the capitalist system with a socialist and finally, a communist one, but rather merely the legal recognition of the political collective concerned, its judicial status in the eyes of the bourgeois state.
A Marxist party, as a political organization, if only it has any real connection with the popular strata, can operate independently of its legal status within the bourgeois state – there are plenty of examples of parties, both legally recognized and participating in elections, as well as unregistered or even illegal communist parties, working underground. A lot can be learned from the example of the interwar CPL. What counts the most is that there would be true, ideologically strong and motivated cadres, as well as real connections to the people in the labour collectives, so that real work would be conducted. Everything else are secondary details.
The only way out of the present situation is an honest recognition of our mistakes and further work based on this recognition, gathering together the remaining lively elements of the SPF into a common organization, which will see as its primary tactical tasks agitation and propaganda work, the ideological education of the popular strata and the economic struggle for the interests of the working people on the basis of labour collectives; meanwhile the question of participating or not participating in elections and gaining seats in government institutions ought to be seen not as an end in itself, but rather merely as a tactical tool within a wider context of party work. To do this – that is the task of the part of the SPF, which has remained true to Marxism.
Whether the events of the past several years will become the final funeral procession for the socialist movement in Lithuania or, on the contrary, will they act as a healthy lesson and sort of a “cold shower”, which will encourage the rebirth of Marxist ideas in our country, will depend entirely upon our own consciousness and determination to open a new page in our history, to break ties with opportunism and take steps towards the creation of an actually working Marxist organization. This is the goal that the Marxist wing of the SPF under its collective leadership will do everything in its power to achieve.