IS A REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT POSSIBLE IN AN IMPERIALIST COUNTRY TODAY?

 

Now, in mid-1992, there is not one imperialist country in the world where there is a substantial revolutionary movement. The original Third International communist parties have long since degenerated into revisionism and reformism and recently, with the collapse of the revisionist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, these organisations have either reconstituted themselves as social democratic parties or simply dissolved. At the same time the new wave of revolutionary movements which arose in the nineteen sixties have run their course with most of them having disappeared leaving behind a scattering of small groups and organisations. Thus a burning question for communists is whether or not it is possible to build enduring revolutionary movements in the imperialist countries at their present stage of development.

In addressing this question it is essential to grasp why the parties of the Communist International became revisionist and why the first wave of socialism in the world has been defeated. These are big questions which have still not been satisfactorily answered and there is not space to deal with them here. However what can be taken up is the question as to why the New Left movements which arose in the 1960s, and especially the Maoist current, have also failed given that they did recognise at least some of the limitations and failures of the international communist movement which arose after the October Revolution of 1917.

 

THE NEW LEFT MOVEMENT OF THE NINETEEN SIXTIES

The factors which contributed to the radical upsurge in the Western countries during the nineteen sixties have often been elaborated. It is not appropriate here to present another detailed analysis but rather an outline sketch will suffice for present purposes. This outline is meant to apply in general to the countries of North America and Western Europe although there are particularities to be taken into account. For example some countries, Spain, Portugal and Greece, were under regimes of outright, open bourgeois dictatorship but even so I do not think that this made a lot of difference to the eventual outcome of the radical upsurge of the sixties.

The student movement, beginning in America in the 1960s and quickly spreading to Europe, provided most of the subsequent membership of the New Left political movements. The initial impulse behind student activism was growing discontent with the conditions under which students were studying and living during a period of rapid expansion of higher education. Protests about inadequate tuition, study facilities and accommodation brought students into collision with college and university authorities and thus raised questions about structures of power in the society at large. What began as a narrow, "economistic" movement quickly broadened out to embrace a radical critique of bourgeois society as a whole. This linked up with a more general sense of dissatisfaction with contemporary society among some young people as expressed, for example, in the hippie movement and an interest in Eastern religions.

The phenomenon of student activism started to disappear almost as soon as it appeared. Many of the immediate demands students made for the abolition of petty restrictions, improved facilities and representation in the administrative apparatus of educational establishments were conceded and this took a lot of wind out of the sails of the student movement. Also it should be remembered that it was only ever a fairly small minority of students who were at all involved in the movement. The great majority of students had carried on going into the library, writing essays and taking exams just as they always had done. Among the minority who had revolted and dropped out or become deeply involved in political activity it was quite easy to drop back into study or petit bourgeois jobs. Although by the late 1960s the storm clouds of a new world depression were on the horizon, the growth of middle strata occupations, the manageriat and intelligentsia, continued unchecked and it was easy for one time dissidents to return to the fold.

The ease with which former student activists could be absorbed into petit bourgeois life was matched with the difficulty they found in forming any solid, enduring relations with the working class. Apart from some temporary link-ups, most notably in France after May 1968 for a few years, the students remained apart from the working class. While it is historically true that student activists have often been the catalyst for revolutionary upheavals it is also the case that their actions have had little long term significance unless there has been in existence an organised, revolutionary party with a clear strategy and the means to implement it. In Britain, the country with which the author is most familiar, the student movement began in late 1966 and was virtually extinct by about 1974. By the late 1970s the prevailing mood among students, as the depression began to bite, was one of 'getting your hair cut and finding a job'.

From a Maoist point of view the student movement was not without significance. Some of the activists who set up new Marxist-Leninist organisations in opposition to the old Moscow-orientated revisionist parties came out of the student movement. This was especially so in the USA where some of the leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) movement were Maoists. However the shift of these activists away from student, campus based activity into revolutionary politics meant that their links with the student body diminished while at the same time there was a failure to forge strong bonds with the working class.

Another very important factor contributing to the Sixties upsurge was the intensity of the national liberation struggles being fought in many countries oppressed by imperialism, especially Vietnam. Obviously this had its greatest impact in the USA but sizeable, militant Anti-Vietnam War movements were formed throughout the Western world. Many young people were drawn into this struggle on a liberal anti-war basis but as a result of their participation gravitated towards a more revolutionary, Marxist outlook. Young people who were not inspired by the Soviet Union and its East European satellites, indeed rejected these as desirable models for social change, were more willing to embrace movements drawing upon the thoughts of Mao Tse-tung and Ché Guevara. The persistence and strengthening of national liberation struggles in many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America seemed to offer concrete confirmation that the revolutionary potentialities of oppressed people were by no means exhausted. The imperialist ruling classes seemed to be faced with a formidable challenge from without and it was hoped that before too long these struggles would significantly undermine the internal social stability of the imperialist countries, thus helping to create the conditions there necessary for the working class to be drawn towards a revolutionary perspective.

Perhaps the apogee of the upsurge in national liberation struggles was in 1975 when the Vietnamese finally defeated US imperialism and its local puppets. However after that the revolutionary credentials of these movements began to come into question. Almost immediately relations between the Hanoi regime and the Kampuchean Khmer Rouge deteriorated resulting in armed conflict, the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea and a border war between China and Vietnam. In other parts of the world the real political composition and orientation of "Marxist-Leninist" national liberation movements became increasingly doubtful with many of them setting up as client states of the Soviet Union, for example Angola and Mozambique, and others being little more than military dictatorships such as the Dergue in Ethiopia. An example of a "Marxist-Leninist" national liberation movement that the writer of this paper had some experience of was ZANU in Zimbabwe led by Robert Mugabe. Not long before it entered the Lancaster House talks in London this organisation actually proclaimed itself to be a 'Marxist-Leninist party'. Now, after over a decade of ZANU rule, Zimbabwe is hailed in bourgeois circles as a veritable model of what an African state should be like, where 'sensible' leaders leave the economic interests of imperialism untouched.

As the Sixties radical upsurge in the Western countries waned during the nineteen seventies some New Left radical elements pinned their hopes for revolutionary breakthroughs and advances on various national liberation movements. In Britain and other Western countries the Sandinista Movement in Nicaragua, which gained state power in 1979, attracted a lot of interest as did the FMLN in El Salvador. Here were insurrectionary revolutionary movements engaged in armed struggle, with one actually seizing state power by force of popular, armed uprising, and making real headway in Uncle Sam's own backyard! However this was a false dawn because practically all of these movements were defeated and crushed, as with the Naxalites in India, or else their revisionist and reformist politics led to their capitulation to the enemy as in the case of the Sandinistas and FMLN.

The Maoists have not been without their failings on the national liberation front. In most countries back in the late sixties and early seventies Trotskyites managed to gain control of the Anti-Vietnam War movements even though these elements denounced the North Vietnamese regime as "Stalinist". The Maoists did not prove themselves very adept at handling the contradictions within these popular movements and thus had less ideological and politcal influence than otherwise might have been the case. This was particularly the case in Britain where it was Marxist-Leninist elements who started the anti-war movement only to have it unceremoniously taken over by Trotskyites. More serious was the capitulation to revisionism of a major national liberation struggle which had been inaugurated and led by Maoists. In 1968 the Communist Party of the Philippines had been reconstituted on a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist basis and immediately had formed the New People's Army to wage armed struggle against US imperialism and its local puppets. Throughout the nineteen seventies and early nineteen eighties this movement made considerable advances against the Marcos regime and helped to undermine it leading to its collapse in 1986. However just at the point where the revolutionary movement should have intensified its assault on the Filipino state it drew back and hesitated thus passing the initiative to comprador bourgeois elements led by Cory Aquino. It became clear that this was no tactical error, which could be rectified in the course of time, but the direct result of a revisionist line having come to prevail in the CPP and the NPA whereby armed struggle, the highest form of revolurionary struggle, had been demoted to the status of a mere tactic to pressurise the bourgeois state to enter into negotiations with the insurgents.

More recently the popular upsurges in South Africa have attracted a lot of interest, especially in Britain, but this would now seem to be in decline as the reformist and compromising character of Nelson Mandela's ANC becomes more blatantly clear. Now in the early nineteen nineties it is clear that national liberation movements in the imperialistically oppressed countries, in so far as they exist, have largely lost their capacity to inspire some people in the imperialist countries to take up a revolutionary outlook. Of course in Peru the Communist Party of Peru (Sendero Luminoso) is waging a People's War based upon thoroughgoing Maoist principles and this is a revolutionary struggle of enormous worldwide significance because it demonstrates in practice that it is possible to successfully oppose imperialism and its agents during the present period. Nonetheless attempts to build solidarity in the imperialist countries with this struggle have not been very successful. Even so the struggle to build solidarity movements with the People's War should continue so that at some point in the future when conditions become more favourable the basis for such movements exists.

National liberation struggles and solidarity movements with them were an important element in the Sixties upsurge. However by the early nineteen nineties the considerable radicalising influence upon people within the imperialist countries which they once had is largely spent.

Another important element in the late nineteen sixties conjuncture was growing working class industrial militancy in the West European countries, most spectacularly the general strike and workplace occupation in France in 1968. Hopes were raised that the industrial working class and, perhaps, newer middle strata elements were developing in a way that would enable them to fulfil the historic mission ascribed to them by Marx and Engels. In retrospect it is easy to see that these hopes held by revolutionaries were largely founded upon economist illusions. Most of the large scale industrial actions of the late sixties and early seventies were initially occasioned by employers and states becoming less ready to concede demands for improvements in wages and working conditions. Their growing reluctance to do so was necessitated by the petering out of the post-World War II economic boom and the consequential falling rate of profit. As the depression took off in the mid-nineteen seventies workers found it necessary to take militant action to defend their position and by the early nineteen eighties the very same sections of the working class - dockers, steel workers, car workers, miners, etc. - were fighting to try to prevent their jobs disappearing. One of the most striking instances of this reversal in working class fortunes was the coalminers in Britain. In the mid-nineteen seventies their national strike had actually brought down the Conservative government of the time but by the mid-nineteen eighties they had been led, by a subsequent Conservative government, into the trap of striking, (and splitting within their own ranks), in a desperate attempt to prevent mass redundancies. The defeat of the miners exposed the weakness of trade unionism in the midst of a world economic depression and cleared the ground for the enactment of a succession of ever more restrictive industrial relations laws.

In retrospect it may seem naive that revolutionaries interpreted the industrial militancy of sections of the working class as having revolutionary potential. Even so these hopes were not totally without some real foundation, most particularly in the events in France in May 1968 when millions of workers leaped beyond economistic demands to revolutionary ones. However almost as suddenly as this revolutionary movement coalesced it dissolved into thin air, a most concrete affirmation of the Leninist principle that without a revolutionary party there can be no successful revolutionary movement. Furthermore the revolutionary movements coming out of the Sixties, including the Maoists, never succeeded in establishing any enduring, organic links with the working class. When odd individuals from the working class were recruited the usual outcome was that they ended up leaving the working class rather than winning fellow workers over to the revolutionary cause.

The final ingredient in the Sixties conjuncture I want to mention here, one particularly important for Maoists, is the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1976. This great revolutionary upsurge seemed to offer the hope that socialist regimes were not doomed to degeneration and eventual capitalist restoration. In China the communists led by Mao Tse-tung seemed to have found a way of combatting and defeating the revisionism which had triumphed in the Soviet Union. What is more, young people, especially the Red Guard students, were playing a key role in this revolutionary process. The revolutionary element in the Communist Party of China had been leading the international struggle against revisionism since the late nineteen fifties and some small groups in the Western countries had already followed this lead. Nonetheless it was only when the Cultural Revolution began that the project of building new communist parties in opposition to the old revisionist ones began to be taken seriously.

While being able to point to the achievements of the Chinese Cultural Revolution was a great strength for the Maoists in the West it was at the same time a weakness as well. All too often members of small Maoist groups deceived themselves into thinking that they were of far greater political significance than they really were simply because they identified politically with a great politcal movement involving hundreds of millions of people. This was especially so in the case of those organisations who succeeded in getting some sort of recognition from the Chinese Communist Party. Quite often this resulted in the most ridiculous posturing and buffoonery on the part of the leaders of these organisations, especially if they managed to get a freebie trip to China and a meeting with a top leader such as Chou En-lai or Chiang Ching. Then full blown megalomania frequently resulted.

With the death of Mao and the subsequent revisionist military coup in China in 1976 many of the small Maoist organisations split and went into rapid decline. The triumph of the capitalist roaders in China was not so much the cause of the decline of the Maoist movement as its occasion. This traumatic event revealed the underlying weaknesses - ideological, political and organisational - of the Maoist movement in the West. It is worth noting that the other New Left movements thrown up or regenerated by the Sixties upsurge also started to go into decline at around this time in the mid-nineteen seventies; Trotskyists, libertarians, etc.. Thus it seems likely that the triumph of counterrevolution in China was not necessarily the key factor in the decline of the Maoist movement. Even so the abrupt removal of the "Chinese crutch" threw the Maoists off balance.

The main point to emerge from this brief survey of the Sixties upsurge is that just as suddenly as the conjuncture of conditions occurred which gave rise to the new wave of radicalisation so they also rapidly disappeared. The crucial year was 1968 and after the early nineteen seventies the impetus of the movement was rapidly running out. This is not to write off or downplay the political significance of this period. It did result in hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, of people becoming drawn into some sort of involvement, however brief and tangential, with revolutionary politics. A whole generation of young intellectuals became familiar with Marxism which would not have happened without the rise of the New Left Movement. There can be no doubt that in the main the Sixties upsurge was a very positive development. Issues which had previously received inadequate attention from Marxists reappeared on the political agenda with a new and heightened political significance - race, gender, homosexuality, etc.. What is more, concern about these issues has become a part of everyday life in the Western capitalist societies and they are not going to go away.

The significance of this for the New Left political movements in general, and the Maoist ones in particular, is that while the Sixties upsurge gave birth to them the rapid decline of the upsurge meant that the umbilical cord sustaining these movements was cut prematurely. As a result newly founded revolutionary organisations which were weak ideologically, politically and organisationally were left struggling in conditions which were no longer of a kind that would spontaneously propel people in a revolutionary direction. By the late nineteen seventies struggling to uphold and apply a revolutionary line was definitely going against the tide and those engaged in this struggle were for the most part poorly equipped. Given these circumstances it now seems in retrospect that the subsequent decline of the New Left in general, and the Maoists in particular, was highly likely although not necessarily inevitable.

 

THE MAOIST MOVEMENT IN THE IMPERIALIST COUNTRIES

By the early nineteen seventies there were many Maoist organisations, most of them small but some with substantial memberships, in all of the Western imperialist countries. Twenty years later practically all of these have disappeared and the only organisation of any substance and with a continuous history over this period is the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. In some of the countries where the largest Maoist organisations existed, France and Germany, now there are none at all. Whatever were the contribution of political inadequacies and failings to this collapse it seems likely that the prevailing objective conditions played an important part as well. After all, there have been plenty of cases where Marxist political movements with very incorrect political lines have continued and even attracted mass support because the objective conditions within which they existed were of a kind which propelled people in a revolutionary direction. However this cannot be said of prevailing social, economic and political conditions in the Western countries during the last two decades. So was the decline of the Maoist movement inevitable and unavoidable?

The answer to this question must be "No" because to reply in the affirmative would be to subscribe to mechanical materialism, not dialectical materialism. From a dialectical materialist point of view the outcome of a course of historical events is never totally predetermined; there are always possible alternative outcomes. True, one outcome may be more likely than others but it can never be said for sure that this outcome is "inevitable". One reason for this indeterminacy is precisely the factor of conscious human intervention in the course of historical development and in the modern world this includes the intervention of revolutionary movements guided by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. For example there was nothing inevitable about the triumph of revolution in China any more than there was about its failure in India. Almost certainly the crucial difference between these two countries was that in one the communist party succeeded in developing and applying a revolutionary line while in the other it took a revisionist course. Similarly while as a matter of historical fact the Maoist movement in the imperialist countries has failed it was not inevitable that it should have done so. No doubt it is the judgement of hindsight that may be able to identify the reasons for its failure and maybe specify what might have led to its success. Nonetheless if we can specify what factors, in conformity with the then existing social reality, could have led to the development of the movement then this is no idealist fantasy but precious knowledge, absolutely vital for building a new revolutionary movement in the imperialist countries.

By the late nineteen seventies in Britain the Nottingham Communist Group proclaimed that "as a conscious, organised revolutionary movement MarxismLeninism in Britain is in real danger of extinction." ('The MarxistLeninist Movement in Britain: Past, Present and Future', Red Star, No. 4, Oct. 1980, 6.) This analysis specified "the failure of the Marxist Leninists to effect a genuine unity of revolutionary theory and practice" (ibid. 11) as the fundamental reason why a flourishing revolutionary communist movement had never at any time really taken off in Britain. Five years later the same analysis was reiterated in Break the Chains! Manifesto of the Revolutionary Internationalist Contingent in Britain:

"... the fundamental error of the Marxist-Leninist movement during the 1960s and 1970s was the failure to achieve any sort of true unity of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory and practice. Instead there was a massive gap between the professed theory and the actual practice of the movement. There was dogmatist theorising and empiricist practical action. While the movement expressed adherence to the theoretical conclusions drawn from the experiences of the international class struggle, as expressed in the works of the great leaders, they were not actually used to guide day-to-day political work around various aspects of the class struggle. Instead, such practical political activities were usually conducted in a somewhat impulsive, unreflective way, no different from that of the reformist practice of various revisionists and Trotskyists. An obvious example is the economist attitude to trade union work that was taken by most of the Marxist-Leninists. Similarly no real attempt was made to apply materialist dialectics to analysing the experience of practical struggle so as to draw theoretical conclusions and in turn use these as a guide for improving and making practical struggles more effective. Theory was theory and practice was practice and never did they meet. 'Theorising' consisted of dredging up a few quotations from the Marxist-Leninist classics to justify all manner of revisionist practice. The dialectical unity of revolutionary theory and practice demanded by the world outlook of Marxism-Leninism was not achieved and instead the Marxist-Leninists in Britain were groping in the dark, easy prey for all manner of revisionist monstrosities such as the 'Three Worlds Theory'." (Break the Chains!, 53).

A concrete illustration of this total disunity of theory and practice is provided by the line on trade unionism of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), the most sizeable (in a world of dwarfs) Maoist organisation to come out of the Sixties upsurge in Britain. The main type of practical activity favoured by the CPB(M-L) was playing an active role in trade union work and, what is more, doing so in a thoroughly economist way, something which its leaders had inherited from the revisionist Communist Party of Great Britain. The leader of the CPB(M-L) provided theoretical justification for this practice in his pamphlet Guerrilla Warfare and the Working Class by representing routine trade union activity as equivalent to the stage of guerrilla warfare which had taken place in the Chinese Revolution! The most reformist political practice was dressed up in revolutionary clothing with a few quotations from Mao. To further compound this nonsense the Central Committee of the CPB(M-L) instructed its branches to study Lenin's What Is To Be Done? which, among other things, is the classic critique of economism. Despite intensive study of Lenin's masterpiece it completely escaped the attention of the comrades that they themselves were enthusiatic practitioners of the very same error that Lenin directed his polemic against.

True, this particular example of the disunity between theory and practice which prevailed is one of the more blatant and other Marxist-Leninists did criticise this economist line. Even so the other Marxist-Leninists in Britain and other Western countries also failed to achieve any real unity of theory and practice. When all is said and done nothing was really produced, in the period following on from the Sixties upsurge, in the way of theoretical developments or new types of political practice; there was no real advance on what had gone on before. These failings have been put down to factors such as the all pervasive strength of bourgeois ideology in the imperialist countries and the weakness of a Marxist intellectual tradition in some of these countries (e.g. Britain and America) and the pervasiveness of revisionism in others (e.g. France and Italy). No doubt these factors did make it difficult to build viable, enduring revolutionary movements but this is only a very general type of explanation and more specific, concrete analysis is necessary.

The class character of those involved in the Maoist movement was, as already mentioned, predominantly middle strata (petit bourgeois). In itself this is unremarkable because petit bourgeois elements always have played a prominent role in revolutionary movements, particularly in their foundation. However the precise situation of such elements in Western capitalist societies during the second half of the twentieth century has been rather different from that which prevailed in the past and which is the case today in the imperialistically dominated countries. In the Western capitalist countries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the situation of the newer, emergent middle strata, the manageriat and intelligentsia, was not all that different from the more prosperous sections of the working class. Their career prospects and job security were somewhat limited and this was an important factor which led some of these people to take up a critical stance towards the existing social order. (This was even more so in economically and social backward countries such as Russia and China.) The energy, enthusiasm and commitment which might have been channelled into successful careers within bureaucratic structures instead was diverted into radical and revolutionary political activities. To a considerable extent there were social barriers preventing most of these people moving too far away from the working class with which they identified and championed. Thus in ideological terms while petit bourgeois elements have always had a tendency, given their intermediate, contradictory position between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, towards political vacillation, the limitations on their real material circumstances provided some check on revisionist tendencies in the past.

In the advanced capitalist countries the situation of the newer middle strata changed radically after World War II. The growth of vast multinational corporations, the growing importance of science and technology and the expansion of the 'welfare' state meant that the demand for and career opportunities for managers, administrators, professionals. scientists, etc. enormously increased. A whole new world of opportunity presented itself to the manageriat and intelligentsia. The rapid expansion of bureaucratic structures, both in the private and public sectors, meant that rapid, relatively easy career advancement was available for many of these people. As mentioned earlier on, if you "dropped out" for a while it was easy enough to drop back in. Thus the young, predominantly ex-student elements who constituted the majority of the members of the New Left political movements, including Maoism, found themselves in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand they were committed to revolutionary struggle of the most thoroughgoing kind. Indeed what was to be avoided at all costs was to backslide into the "revisionism" of the old communist parties which they had reacted against. Among the Maoists accusations of "revisionist deviations" were thrown backwards and forwards both within and between organisations. In theory only the purest, most uncompromising revolutionism was acceptable. On the other hand in their everyday lives these people were rapidly becoming enmeshed in petit bourgeois careers and leisure activities. Conversation in the pub, at parties and at dinner parties (Yes!) consisted of an odd combination of talk about the intricacies of revolutionary politics and promotion prospects in newly acquired professional and managerial jobs. In practice absorption in conventional petit bourgeois life was the norm and it was not so much revolutionary strategy and tactics which were being planned as the next holiday abroad to some exotic and far flung location, even if it was China or Cuba. In such circumstances it was hardly surprising that there was a disunity of revolutionary theory and practice.

Of course subjectively the illusion that there was some sort of unity of theory and practice could be maintained for a while. CPB(M-L) members could go along to their branch meetings of the NUT, NALGO, AUT, etc. and delude themselves that they were engaged in "guerrilla warfare". The "two class" line of this organisation helped sustain the illusion. This held that there were no intermediate strata between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat left in Britain so everybody was a member of one or other class. Thus if you were not actually a monopoly capitalist you were a proletarian. Trotskyites tended to adhere to a similar outlook counting groups such as teachers as part of the working class. For example the International Marxist Group presented their teachers' organisation as a model for other sections of the working class to emulate. Indeed one of the major theoretical drawbacks of the New Left was its failure to develop any very coherent class analysis of contemporary capitalist societies. The very same people who were intimately acquainted with the fine detail of class analyses of pre-revolutionary Russia and China seemed unable to develop an analysis of the class structure of which they were a part. This is not surprising because such an analysis would have raised some awkward questions for those concerned.

Not all of the New Left revolutionaries slid effortlessly into petit bourgeois life. A small minority saw the absurdity of this and consciously sought to "go to and integrate with the working class". A Maoist organisation which applied this line was the Communist Workers League of Britain (M-L). This consisted of taking manual working class jobs, or simply living on the dole, and living in working class areas. The idea was to "swim among the people like a fish through water" and in so doing make contact with and win the respect of working class people. These comrades are to be respected for taking their politics seriously and being prepared to do what they saw as necessary. However this strategy did not work. Very often it was difficult to gain acceptance by workers because they were suspicious of people who deliberately chose to put themselves in a worse position than that they would otherwise occupy. Even when a certain acceptance was won these comrades very often ended up as trade union organisers or leaders of tenants' groups. Sometimes they were quite effective in these roles but even so failed to stimulate much interest in their revolutionary politics. Whatever their intentions these comrades usually found themselves practising reformist, economist politics even though that had not been their aim. Perhaps part of the reason for this shortcoming was the lack of a worked-out revolutionary strategy to provide overall guidance in political work. Most of this type of work among the working class did proceed on a rather piecemeal, empiricist basis. Again there was no real unity of theory and practice.

Comrades who went to the people tended to burn out after a few years. Trying to do some unskilled manual job and being intensely politically active is very demanding and takes its toll on people, both physically and mentally. Alternatively living on the dole is pretty bleak and a lot of time and effort goes into finding ways of getting by on very little money. Typically comrades would reach the point where they had failed to achieve their political aims, were materially deprived and often their personal life was in tatters. This would provoke a personal and political crisis resulting in them beating a retreat to the relative comforts of petit bourgeois life. I am not trying to denigrate these comrades. On the contrary I admire the commitment they displayed. Nonetheless it has to be admitted that this strategy failed in its aim of winning workers to revolution.

It was the case that some proletarian elements were recruited into New Left political organisations, including Maoist ones. Indeed back in the nineteen seventies I was a member of a small branch (about eight people) of the CPB(M-L) in which I was the only non-proletarian member. However it was not all that many years before none of them were proletarians any longer and this was a fairly typical experience for workers involved in the the New Left political movements. So how did this happen? Workers who became politically conscious and thus got involved in revolutionary groups came into contact within these organisations with the radical intelligentsia. This first hand acquaintance made the proletarians realise that one did not have to be exceptional to obtain the sort of qualifications and jobs that their petit bourgeois comrades had. Some, not unreasonably and sometimes with the encouragement of their comrades, decided to return to educational studies and as a result ended up as teachers, social workers, etc. thus effectively leaving the working class. Taking the educational road was not simply a strategy for individual material benefit but had been chosen precisely because those concerned wished to study further matters they had become interested in as a result of their political involvement. Paradoxically it was the emergence and deepening of the economic depression which accentuated this trend. The revolutionary groups had tended to focus on recruiting workers from traditional industries, e.g. motor vehicle manufacturing, and it was precisely these that were most badly hit by the depression and thus making workers unemployed. Thus moving into education was one way of handling becoming unemployed. Some other proletarian revolutionaries found career channels within the trade unions they were active in, becoming full-time officials, while others were picked off by employers by being "given the foreman's job" or more likely the junior manager's job. Yet others dealt with their economic problems by using their organisational skills, often developed in the course of political activity, to engage in small business enterprise! Far from establishing a base within the working class and widening it the Maoist and other New Left organisations succeeded in actually draining off politically conscious elements from the working class, the opposite of what was intended.

The most profound disunity of theory and practice occurred. Marxist revolutionary theory holds that the working class is the agent of socialist revolution but the practice of the organisations, including Maoist ones, emerging out of the Sixties upsurge had little impact on the working class and even resulted in politically conscious workers becoming alienated from the working class.

 

THE PROBLEM OF PARTY-BUILDING

It was in the context of this accelerating decline of the Maoist movement in Britain and elsewhere that two small local groups, in Nottingham and Stockport, tried to put into practice a proposal which had been originally put forward in 1976 by the Communist Workers League of Britain (M-L) (Hey! It's Up To Us: The Draft Theses, Conclusions and Proposals of the Communist Workers League of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) on the Central Question of Party Building). In essence this document had argued that it was necessary to draw some theoretical conclusions from past experiences of political struggle so as to begin to develop an integrated revolutionary strategy, to develop an all-round programme for making revolution in Britain in relation to the rest of the world. Only in this way could the movement develop some long-term perspectives and plans, begin to win a base in the working class and establish a party. In 1981 the Nottingham and Stockport Communist Groups issued an appeal, 'Build the Party!', calling upon the existing Marxist-Leninist organisations in Britain to set up a Programme Commission whose sole task would be 'to develop a revolutionary programme embodying a thorough scientific analysis of the chracter of contemporary British capitalism and on the basis of this scientific knowledge to elaborate a strategy for the conduct of revolutionary struggle in Britain'. The revolutionary programme was to form the political basis for a national organisation of a pre-party kind which would use the programme as a guide for participation in the class struggle with the aim of establishing a base within the working class and, through experience, deepening and developing the revolutionary programme. Only then would the conditions have been created for the formation of an authentic Marxist-Leninist party.

The attempt to establish a Marxist-Leninist Programme Commission was not very successful. Some individuals and groups who showed some initial interest quickly dropped away. This was essentially the same experience as the CWLB(M-L) had had when they had tried to form a commission in the late nineteen seventies. In retrospect it seems clear that an attempt was being made to bring together elements who were rapidly falling away from adherence to the world outlook of Marxism-Leninism. Almost by the week these people were discarding important principles of Marxism-Leninism. What we were trying to do was to take forward into revolutionary struggle people who were in fact on their way out of it! Of course, communists should not be afraid of swimming against the tide but, as Lenin pointed out, the time, the place and the circumstances determine everything. The objective conditions, both in terms of the wider economic, socal and political situation, and the parlous state of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain, made the establishment of a programme commission which could successfully achieve its objectives highly unlikely.

Nonetheless the Nottingham and Stockport Communist Groups decided to go ahead and start the Programme Commission work, even though only a handful of people were committed to it, on the premise that it was objectively necessary and in the hope that others would join in as the work proceeded. In retrospect it seems as if two very small local groups committed themselves to a task which really required much wider participation to be brought to a successful conclusion. However at the time, in 1982, it seemed that the task of party-building was extremely urgent. This was because from the mid-nineteen seventies onwards there had been a heightening of hostile tension between the two superpowers, the USA and USSR. This was widely recognised, as evidenced by the new anti-war movements in Europe and North America, and for Marxist-Leninists it seemed that we were entering a period when a scenario of war or revolution could arise in the imperilaist countries. Daunting and terrible as the prospect was it seemed highly likely that either devastating nuclear war would undermine the stability of capitalism and, thus open up the possibility of revolution, or even, if we could prepare in time, the run-up to such a war could create a crisis that could be turned into a revolutionary opportunity.

Thus the handful of comrades who constituted the Commission were gripped by a sense of urgency. Our perspective was that of time not being on our side, that unless we laid down the programmatic basis for the party very quickly then we would miss the opportunity for a revolutionary breakthrough which was occasioned by the prospect of the outbreak of major interimperialist war. Also we were encouraged in our efforts by the regrouping which was taking place internationally of Maoist organisations. In 1980 there had been a conference of Marxist-Leninist organisations and parties which achieved some degree of political unity as expressed in the Joint Communique and this led on to a second conference in 1984 which resulted in the setting up of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. The perspective of those in the Commission was that although the Maoist movement had been in rapid decline and disintegration we were entering a period where this state of affairs could be rapidly reversed. We were few but then in World War I the socialists who maintained a revolutionary stand were a tiny minority but events showed their politcal stance to be correct.

Mindful of the importance of a unity of revolutionary theory and practice, the two small local groups tried to carry on with day-to-day practical political work as well as carrying out their programmatic tasks. Within a year it became clear that it was very difficult for so few people to do both of these things effectively. This led some members of the Commission to doubt whether the whole programmatic project was correct. Thus a lot of time was spent debating whether or not our chosen course of action was correct rather than actually carrying on with the task we had set ourselves. There are some lessons to be learned from this experience.

For a start, it is now obvious that our analysis of the international situation, (one that was also embodied in the Declaration of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement in 1984), was not correct. It was certainly true that the US and Soviet blocs were engaged in mounting war preparations but what we did not foresee was the possibility of internal crisis and collapse in the Soviet Union resolving this particular contradiction. We were certainly aware of the growing internal crisis in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites but the conclusion we drew was that this was forcing the Soviet leaders into ever more desperate attempts at imperialist expansion so as to try to achieve internal stability, even being prepared to risk major war rather than face internal collapse. We completely overlooked the possibility of internal collapse in the Soviet bloc removing the immediate danger of major interimperialist war. One lesson here is that, as mentioned earlier in a different context, historical development is never a completely predetermined, closed process. There are always more than one, often several, outcomes to a course of events and revolutionaries must take this into account.

Another critical point is that if the members of the Commission considered that their task was so urgent, indeed a matter of life and death on a mass scale, then why did they not do everything in their power to carry out their programmatic task as speedily as possible? Why did we carry on in our middle strata jobs, some even pursuing careers, engaging in home improvements, going on holidays abroad, etc. instead of reorganising our personal lives so as to accomplish our self-proclaimed revolutionary task as soon as possible? The answer is not difficult to discern because it resides in the petit bourgeois class character of the members of the Commission, the split in our social and political consciousness determined by our objective class position. On the one hand we sincerely believed in our political analysis and the task we had set ourselves. After all there is little, if anything, in the way of personal advantage to be gained from participation in tiny local communist groups. On the other hand the major social fact in our everyday lives was our middle strata jobs and the life style that goes with them. There was indeed, and still is, a very definite contradiction between our political consciousness and our social being and it was the latter, our job and personal situations that was principal and thus determined that the time devoted to our political work was limited. (I will return later on as to how this contradiction might be resolved in future).

The work of the Marxist-Leninist Programme Commission was hampered by another problem endemic to small revolutionary groups and that is religiosity. Some people are drawn towards Marxism-Leninism not so much because they see it as providing a practical way in which the world can be changed for the better but rather because it gives them a certain sense of psychic security by providing them with a clear vision of the world and their place in it. In practice what is most important for these people is not actually achieving any concrete advances in building a revolutionary movement and promoting class struggle but rather achieving a state of inner, mental purity in the context of an impure, evil world. These people can be contained in larger organisations but in small groups they are very disruptive. Periodically they are afflicted with radical doubts as to whether the policy of the organisation is correct and they suddenly proclaim that the political line being followed is completely revisionist and wrong. This results in the organisation being diverted from its chosen course of action while an internal debate, "struggle", is held to try to resolve the differences raised by the dissidents. This happened to the M-L Programme Commission on at least two occasions and disrupted and delayed its programmatic work. Among other things, these true believers eventually decided that the RIM line of opposition to the Deng Tsiao-ping capitalist roader regime in China was incorrect and they defected to the pro-Peking Revolutionary Communist League of Britain. A clear lesson to be drawn from this experience, as will become even more clear subsequently, is that such religious maniacs should be rigorously excluded from revolutionary organisations. In general small revolutionary organisations have to be particularly careful about the character of the people they allow to join precisely because in these circumstances the disruptive capacity of individuals is potentially very great.

 

THE EXPERIENCE OF THE REVOLUTIONARY INTERNATIONALIST CONTINGENT

Despite the difficulties it experienced the M-L Programmatic Commission did eventually produce a programme as the basis of a new organisation although it was not at the theoretical level it was originally hoped to achieve. At the beginning of 1986 the Revolutionary Internationalist Contingent in Britain was formed on the basis of this programmatic document, Break the Chains! Manifesto of the Revolutionary Internationalist Contingent in Britain. This manifesto contained an analysis of British capitalism within the context of the current international situation, an assessment of the historical development of the international communist movement and a programme for political action and party-building. While inadequate in many respects, it nonetheless represented a theoretical advance over anything previously produced by Maoists in Britain. The general aim was to in the course of practical class struggle to build a revolutionary organisation and advance revolutionary theory so as to lay down the basis for the foundation of a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party.

One difficulty the new organisation had was sheer lack of personnel. At no time were there as many as a dozen members and supporters. Nonetheless while such limited forces make it difficult to move forward revolutionaries should not, as Mao Tse-tung said, be "bedazzled by numbers". All revolutionary movements are initiated by only a few people. The major factor in determinig whether or not one moves forward is the political line. However, as previously mentioned, the precise composition of the membership of a small organisation can be crucial. A major mistake those of us who set up RIC made was to readmit the dissidents from the M-L Programmatic Commission. These people had undergone yet another of their periodic conversions on the road to Damascus and had defected from the ranks of the pro-Chinese revisionists. They asked to be admiited to the new organisation and we made the crucial error of letting them in. Although they claimed to have seen the error of their ways, no soooner were they back in the fold than they fell into their usual critical criticism. Almost immediately they decided that the political line of RIC was "revisionist" and had to be opposed.

What they objected to in particular was the decision to try to develop a 'Campaign Against State Oppression'. In RIC we had become aware that increasingly the most oppressed and exploited sections of the working class were finding themselves directly confronted by the capitalist state rather than individual employers or landlords. As the world depression deepened the state has become more openly confrontational with the working class. The unemployed, low paid workers, trade unionists, black people, Irish people and young people have all been the subject of direct attacks by the capitalist state apparatus. Our idea was to help develop struggles among these people against their oppression at the hands of the state. We were emphatic that this must not be done in a reformist manner but carried out so as to develop and raise the political consciousness of those involved in such struggles. Exposing the true nature of the state and capitalism was to be the primary aim and not the winning of minor concessions.

The newly returned dissidents denounced this policy as "economist". Getting involved in and, indeed trying to initiate such struggles was for them a plunge into reformism and a diversion from revolutionary tasks. In taking up this position they were pushing the same line as does the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. There is a very serious error here deriving from an elementary difference between what struggles are taken up and how they are to be conducted. The major contradictions of capitalism, especially that between capital and labour, determine that the working class has to struggle against oppression and exploitation, both in the workplace and in the wider community. Some degree of resistance usually occurs, however spontaneous, disorganised and weak it may be. It is true that when people do get organised to fight back it is usually on a reformist basis with opportunist leadership. For example, campaigns against cuts in the National Health Service, to save "our health service", obscure the fact that it never was "our health service" but always belonged to "them". However this does not mean that it is incorrect to fight against such cuts provided it is done on a revolutionary rather than a reformist basis. The thrust of such a campaign would be to expose the fact that the NHS is run by the capitalist state to help maintain the status quo. Demands for popular control over the NHS would be made to expose the fact that the bourgeoisie will not countenance any such thing, that their "Citizens' Charter" is a fraud. The main objective of such a struggle would be to raise political consciousness and only secondarily to extract any concessions from the masters.

The "anti-economist" line is seriously flawed because the logic of it is that revolutionaries must not be involved in the everyday practical struggles brought about by the objective contradictions of capitalism. Instead of this all one can do is engage in general propaganda work while standing on the fringes of popular movements. One is reduced to turning up at other people's activities in order to try to sell newspapers and journals. Experience shows that this does not result in winning over proletarians, or anyone else for that matter, in significant numbers. The bankruptcy of this line was shown by the fact that when the "antieconomists" left RIC, in mid-1987, and set up their own group they disintegrated within a matter of months because they did not know what to do. They had argued themselves into a position of complete inaction!

It is ironic that just as RIC was finally falling apart the British state was unwittingly preparing the ground out of which would grow a mass working class campaign of defiance to it. I refer, of course, to the infamous Poll Tax. Instigating this tax was a major blunder on the part of the Thatcher government and the resistance generated was one of the major reasons why Thatcher eventually had to go. The Anti-Poll Tax Campaign was firmly based, in the mass of its supporters, in the working class, unlike some earlier attempts to create broad, popular campaigns on issues such as racism and fascism. No doubt the "anti-economist" Maoists rejected this mass movement as hopelessly economist and reformist. Anyway the field was left open for all manners of reformists and opportunists, especially the Trotskyite Militant organisation, to try to win leadership. These people were interested only in diverting the campaign into support for the Labour Party and as a source of recruits for their own organisation. When in London in 1990 the police viciously attacked a national demonstration and the demonstrators fought back heroically Militant was horrified and offered to help the police identify the "violent lawbreakers".

What an opportunity lost! If RIC had pursued its policy of developing a Campaign Against State Oppression then it might have been able to have had some positive impact and made some concrete advances through participation in the anti-Poll Tax struggle. I do not flatter myself that we could have won overall leadership on a national basis but at least in some localities we could have had a significant political impact and won support for a coorect line. Instead a few comrades had to participate as best they could on a fragemnted, individual basis. Just as quickly as this struggle arose it declined and an occasion for intervention in the practical class struggle was lost.

Another problem we faced in RIC was that in London there was a group of Iranian Maoists with whom we had worked for some years. They had never grasped or agreed with the project of the Marxist-Leninist Programme Commission. Their approach to party-building was empiricist, i.e. one simply formed a group and plunged into political activity hoping that somehow everything would be sorted out as one proceeded. These comrades were much influenced by the "anti-revisionist" line of the RCP, USA so in practice their activity consisted of going to demonstrations and meetings to sell literature and holding the occasional public meeting of their own. Being based in London, it was quite easy for them to fall into the illusion of imagining that they were making some real headway. Given the concentration of cosmopolitan and radical elements in the capital it is not too difficult to sell a few papers and stage a meeting or demonstration, (usually small), on just about anything. People can run around for a long time, maybe years in some cases, engaged in this sort of activity before they realise that they are going around in circles.

Here we have another illusion widely shared among revolutionary groups in Britain, namely that the only place where anything politically significant happens is London. There are always demonstrations and meetings about soemthing or other taking place in the capital and so there are plenty of occasions for the sort of frenetic political activity mentioned previously. Comrades in London are all the time urging those elsewhere to come to London for activities while at the same time being most reluctant to leave the capital themselves. In many cases their knowledge of the geography of the rest of the country, including its political and economic aspects, is vague. The truth of it is that the great bulk of the working class in Britain are not in the London area and that some of the areas where class struggle is sharpest are in the Midlands and the North. One lesson for the future is that this London centrism must be combatted. Perhaps any new revolutionary movement should make a point of locating its headquarters in some other centre.

Not altogether without reason, the Iranian comrades became somewhat exasperated at the slow rate at which the M-L Programmatic Commission carried out its work and then, after RIC was founded, the low level of activity resulting, not least because of the internal dissention. In the mid-1986 the Iranians announced that henceforth they would engage in their own party-building work because the RIC comrades did not seem to be adequate to the task. Fairly quickly they did manage to recruit a number of enthusiatic young people in London and formed a group called Supporters of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. This group engaged in the usual round of meetings, demos and paper selling already mentioned. Thus a situation arose whereby the very small Maoist forces in Britain were split into two different organisations between which there was not much cooperation or coordination. Then with the split in RIC in mid-1987 there were, for a short while, three different groupuscles. The situation was both ludicrous and sad. Having said this, however, some self-criticism on the part of those of us who were in RIC is in order. We did not provide sufficient leadership for our Iranian comrades who, after all, were only temporarily domiciled in Britain. Perhaps if leadership had been provided there would have been a better outcome.

After the split in RIC a few of us tried to carry on the work of the organisation but with such small forces this was not possible. There were not enough members to carry out the tasks of the functionaries specified in its rules! A further factor that disorientated us was the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Our analysis certainly did claim that these societies were in a state of growing crisis but we thought that this would result in a sharpening of the contradiction between the Soviet bloc and the US Bloc, as Soviet social imperialism engaged in desperate overseas adventures to try to achieve internal stability, leading to a war or revolution scenario. We did not envisage the implosion which has in fact occurred. By 1989, with only a couple of us left, it became farcical to carry on pretending that RIC existed as a revolutionary political organisation and we formally wound it up.

Meanwhile down in London the Supporters of RIM were going through the usual natural cycle of small revolutionary groups. After an initial period when some new recruits were won over they were making no further progress. This gave rise to internal disagreements culminating in a split in 1989. Ostensibly the split was between those influenced by the Iranians who claimed to be preparing to establish a "revolutionary vanguard" and some others who claim that already they were that vanguard. However the real, underlying reason was, I suspect, the frustrations arising out of not making any significant advances in terms of winning influence and members. One, at least, of these small groups still exists in London but its numbers seem, not surprisingly, to be dwindling.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

So, here we are, a quarter of a century after the Sixties upsurge and we Maoists have failed to build a revolutionary movement here or, indeed, in any of the imperialist countries including America, (not withstanding the existence of the RCP, USA). Also it is the case that our Trotskyist rivals have also failed to achieve this objective. In so far as any Trotskyist organisations continue to exist, most notably the Socialist Workers Party and Militant, they do so only by embracing the most blatant opportunism and by desperately hanging on to the coat tails of the Labour Party. This, it goes without saying, is not a model to be emulated.

The question then arises as to whether the whole New Left project in general, and the Maoist wing in particular, was a misconception from the start. Marxism of any sort is now decidedly unfashionable and there are those, such as the American Francis Fukuyama, who claim that events have falsified the Marxist perspective on historical development and that capitalism has achieved a decisive and enduring victory on a world scale. They argue that while it is true that at the present time capitalism is going through a bad patch, even so it has shown itself to be capable of meeting the needs of humanity and will do so universally in the foreseeable future.

This is an assessment I do not find convincing. The worldwide economic depression of capitalism shows no sign of lifting. Even if there is eventually some significant economic recovery, as one might expect on the basis of Marxian political economy, it will be a long time in coming and several thousands of millions of people will have suffered. In many of the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America the workers and peasants have been suffering absolute immiserisation since the nineteen seventies and this is directly related to the financial and military machinations of the imperialist countries. In the major imperialist countries themselves tens of millions of workers have been subject to unemployment and falling living standards, most conspicuously in the USA itself. The typical worker in America now works longer for less real income than twenty years ago. In the former Soviet bloc the attempt to move from forms of state capitalism to a more market orientated type of capitalism are proceeding slowly with little economic success and considerable political disintegration and strife. In the long run the continued existence of capitalism on a world scale threatens ecological disaster and quite apart from that, as the Green Movement has pointed out, the natural resources simply do not exist for the whole of the world's population to follow the same path of capitalist economic development as has occurred in the advanced, imperialist countries. The necessity of abolishing capitalism is as great, indeed greater, than it ever was.

The less developed countries in the world are a state of rapid social and economic transformation and upheaval. In many of them capitalism is increasingly penetrating the rural agricultural economy with the result of a rapid shift of the peasantry to urban areas where they become proletarians, very often members of the reserve army of labour. The economies of these countries are becoming increasingly capitalised and industrialised but, given the uneven development resulting from imperialist domination, in a way whereby the most basic needs of the great mass of the people are frequently not being met. As a consequence these societies are in a state of chronic instability and ripe for revolutionary change.

Experience has shown that liberal and social democratic paths of development do not bring about the desired results of meeting material needs and establishing social stability. The only less developed countries following these paths which have succeeded in significantly improving the life of the masses, e.g Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, are the exceptions rather than the rule and do not provide a model which can easily be emulated by other less developed societies. Their unusual development is to be explained by their particular and peculiar location in the nexus of imperialist relationships. Capitalism does not provide a way forward for the great majority of humanity.

Experience has also shown that only the most thoroughgoing revolutionary struggle can enable the workers and peasants of the less developed countries to defeat the imperialists and their local agents. The examples of Nicaragua and El Salvador are very instructive in this respect. In those countries from the mid-nineteen seventies onwards armed struggle was waged against the comprador bourgeois regimes in those countries. Tens of thousands of workers and peasants lost their lives but have gained very little, if anything at all, as a result of this heroic sacrifice. The Sandinista and FMLN movements were guided by petit bourgeois politics rather than proletrian internationalism. Thus instead of relying on mobilising the masses as the main source of strength of the revolutionary struggle the leaders looked for a powerful ally abroad - the Soviet Union. In fact the Soviet Union gave rather limited support of any kind to these movements but when the Soviet leaders withdrew even this these movements lost their nerve and sued for peace with US imperialism and its local agents. In effect the Sandinistas and the FMLN have negotiated a surrender with a few token concessions from the reactionary regimes. Yet again we have a lesson written in blood that spells out very clearly that revisionism and reformism can only lead to defeat for the masses.

Fortunately the People's War in Peru provides a very clear and positive contrast to these negative examples of how not to conduct revolutionary struggles. The Communist Party of Peru, known as 'Sendero Luminoso', has been waging a revolutionary civil war since 1980. Far from relying on a 'big brother' overseas it has practised self-reliance and has successfully mobilised the masses despite the fact that the local reactionaries have been actively supported by the USA, the former Soviet Union, Israel, North Korea and in word by Cuba, the Sandinistas and the FMLN. This struggle demonstrates that it is perfectly possible to wage armed revolutionary struggle in the world today provided that such struggle is consciously based upon and guided by the scientific summation of the experience of a century and a half of struggle by oppressed people throughout the world, i.e. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

It is precisely because the revolutionary insurrection in Peru is under Maoist leadership that the Trotskyites and social democrats wip themselves up into a frenzy in denouncing this shining example. They say it is inspired by "Inca nationalism" and is involved in the drugs trade. They criticise it for being "too violent". Indeed the struggle in Peru is very violent as indeed have been all revolutionary insurrections throughout history. The fact that the reformists take up the same stance towards Sendero Luminoso as do the imperialists says a lot about their politics and, indeed, suggests that the comrades in Peru are truly following the revolutionary road. While the particular conditions of each country must be taken into account, the model of revolutionary struggle developed in Peru provides a general basis for initiating revolutionary insurrection elsewhere in the less developed countries.

There are some revolutionaries, including Maoists, who argue that there is little likelihood of revolutionary developments in the imperialist countries until their economic and social stability has been considerably undermined from without by anti-imperialist upsurges in the rest of the world. While it is true that such revolutionary developments in the oppressed countries would help destabilise the imperialist countries it is also true that ultimately imperialism must be destroyed from within. The rule of the bourgeoisie in countries such as Britain is not going to automatically collapse as a result of external pressure but has to be consciously overthrown by proletarian revolution. What is true is that capitalism is becoming increasingly integrated on a world scale; it is indeed becoming a world system. This is not to deny the antagonistic contradictions which exist between rival imperialist powers, e.g. America and Japan, but to emphasise the fact that more than ever before developments in one part of the globe have repercussions in other parts. Among other things this means that revolutionary internationalism, not just as an ideal but as a concrete practice, is necessary more than ever before for the prosecution of successful revolutionary struggle. As the bourgeoisie regroups and reshapes itself in response to changing conditions, so must the revolutionaries. For example, a European state is emerging and with it a new, pan-European bourgeoisie so increasingly the Maoists in Western Europe should not be grouped in organisations based on the old national states but should strive to build one European party. Similarly the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, which seems to have become somewhat ossified, needs to be further developed in the direction of becoming a fully fledged new Communist International.

It is simply not true that there is no basis for revolutionary work in the imperialist countries. Indeed, it is a most undialectical view only to see revolutionary possibilities in the oppressed countries and no such possibilities in the imperialist countries. Developments in both types of countries are integrally related and with correct handling of these contradictions struggles in the imperialist and oppressed countries can sustain and promote each other. Solidarity work with anti-imperialist struggles is certainly possible and necessary but there are other struggles to be addressed. These include struggles against racism and fascism, against unemployment and its consequences and against the oppression of women and youth. When all is said and done, we are now in the midst of the fourth major cyclical depression in the history of modern capitalism and millions of people in the imperialist countries are suffering very real hardships. Anyone claiming to be a revolutionary cannot possibly hold himself aloof from the oppression and exploitation of millions of working class people. It simply will not do to dismiss such struggles as "economist". Whether or not a struggle is "economist" or not is a question of the political line under which the struggle is being conducted, of whether a reformist or a revolutionary line is in command. The task of revolutionaries is to enter such struggles and fight for a revolutionary line to be adopted and practiced.

 

REBUILDING THE REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT IN THE IMPERIALIST COUNTRIES

The key element in rebuilding the revolutionary movement in the imperialist countries in general, and Britain in particular, is to establish a sound theoretical foundation. By this I do not just mean having a firm grasp of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism but applying it to the analysis of the concrete conditions we face today. We must critically sum up our past experiences and build upon them. In the case of Britain a starting point could be Break the Chains! Manifesto fo the Revolutionary Internationalist Contingent in Britain which was written in 1985. It does provide an analysis of British capitalism and its place in the world and contains a programme of action. Certainly I know of no other more comprehensive or advanced programmatic analysis. However this document needs considerable revision and development, especially in its analysis of the international contradictions and its concrete programme of political action. Nonetheless it is a starting point and it would be foolish to ignore this manifesto. Those who ignore their past and try to act as if it does exist will almost surely repeat the same mistakes.

One lesson to be learnt from the past in formulating a revolutionary programme is that it should be remembered that there are always alternative outcomes to lines of historical development. Back in the early nineteen eighties we Maoists made the error of assuming that the war or revolution scenario was the only possible outcome of the sharpening contradictions between the US and Soviet imperialist blocs. Thus a new programmatic analysis must try to outline the various possible alternative outcomes of the present nexus of contradictions, both nationally and internationally. Also we must emphasise that the project of revolutionary transformation towards communism is a very long term process and certainly not one which will be fully realised within the lifetime of anyone living now. Being a revolutionary, especially in the imperialist countries, is a lifetime commitment and any realistic revolutionary programme will embody this very extended temporal perspective and not hold out the certain of prospect of revolution just around the corner.

A very important, probably essential, part of programmatic development is to describe, in much more concrete detail than has been done before, the character of a communist society and the process of socialist transformation to achieve it. Given that the first wave of socialism in the world has been defeated, it is very necessary to convince people that communism is a goal which is both realisable and worth struggling to achieve. In the past any very definite description of communist society has been dismissed by saying that "you can't draw up blueprints for utopia". This position is, if it ever was, no longer adequate. We will not win over people to revolutionary struggle unless we convince them that socialist transformation to communism is really possible. This can only be done by explaining, in considerable concrete detail, in the light of past experience in the Soviet Union and China, how socialism can succeed and what sort of a society will result. Such analysis should not only be in terms of political economy but be expressed and realised in artistic forms as well. As well as showing that communism is possible we need to arouse an enthusiasm for it as well.

Any revolutionary organisation worth the name must be directed towards the working class from the moment of its instigation. True, its initial membership will be predominantly middle strata elements and not proletarians but it must strive to implant itself in the heart of the proletariat. Certainly the phenomenon, remarked upon earlier, whereby proletarians are drawn out of their class must be avoided. So how can this be achieved? One aspect of the strategy to build a truly proletarian revolutionary organisation is to sustain full-time professional revolutionaries, cadres, who can work on a sustained basis so as to make meaningful contact with and begin to influence workers whose objective circumstances predispose them to the possibility of revolutionary influence. Lenin, in his What Is To Be Done?, recommended the creation of such a body of cadres and this prescription is just as valid now as when Lenin originally put it forward. An organisation consisting only of "weekend revolutionaries" is hardly likely to be any more successful in the future than such have been in the past.

These cadres must be financially sustained by the other members of the organisation, who have reasonable incomes, making a considerable monetary contribution. Past experience shows that full-time revolutionaries living on state benefit levels of income tend to drop out sooner or later. Fulltime cadres must be sustained at living standards that enable them to remain living as normal members of this society. This is necessary, not just to prevent their demoralisation, but also to enable them to form normal relations with those we wish to influence. Of course, one objection to full-timers in the past has been that there is a tendency for them to come to dominate the organisation and, because it becomes their life support system, to divert it from its original revolutionary aims so as to provide them with positions with long-term security. However what I am proposing is not so much the leading members being full-timers, although some could be, but rather having full-time political workers at the local, everyday level of the class struggle. The professional revolutionary would not be sitting in an office in London but would be enaged in activity in the midst of local working class communities.

An important problem faced by revolutionaries everywhere, but perhaps particularly in the imperialist countries, is that you have to live within capitalism while at the same time trying to overthrow it. It is very difficult to sustain this unstable contradiction on a long-term basis without collective support. Usually the contradiction resolves itself in one of two possible ways. The revolutionaries withdraw into their own circle but while this may sustain their commitment it tends to isolate them from other people whom they wish to influence. The other resolution is simply to become reabsorbed into bourgeois society thus abandoning one's revolutionary stance. One part of the solution to this problem might be to deliberately set out to create an alternative cultural milieu to the domiant bourgeois cultural ethos. By the early years of this century in Britain and the other imperialist countries the proletariat had succeeded in creating a nexus of institutions to serve its needs, both material and cultural. As well as trade unions and friendly societies these included consumer cooperatives, educational bodies such as the National Council of Labour Colleges, socialist Sunday schools, recreational organisations such as the Clarion Cycling Club, youth hostels and holiday camps, choirs and bands, etc.. Of course there was a tension between reformism and revolutionism running through these organisations and activities but nonetheless they were the autonomous creations of working people and provided them with an alternative cultural context to that of the mainstream of bourgeois society within which to live out their lives. No sooner had this proletarian cultural milieu arisen than it began to be undermined by the further expansion of mass education and the newer mass media. In Britain it was, perhaps, already beginning to decline in the inter-war years and went into rapid decline and disintegration after World War II.

Any new revolutionary movement which will be able to sustain itself on a long term basis and not simply serve as a transmission belt for proletarians to move into the middle strata must create a whole alternative lifestyle for its adherents. This would have to be not a resurrection of the proletarian culture of the past but the development of an entirely new range of activities and institutions based on contemporary forces of production and social and cultural patterns of life. It is not possible to sketch out in any detail just what such a phenomenon would be like but I am convinced it would be possible and that it would be absolutely necessary for maintaining people's revolutionary commitment and activity. Furthermore such broad-based activity would be an important way in which working class people would be drawn into the revolutionary movement.

Maoists are orthodox Marxists and we consider that proletarian revolution necessarily has a violent character. Historical experience shows that the bourgeoisie never give up power without fighting to the end and this means armed insurrection to overthrow the capitalist state. Although Maoists and many others claiming to be Marxists have formally acknowledged the necessity for armed struggle, they have never done much about it. The usual line is that military activities would be taken up "when the time comes". It is never explained just how this is likely to come about but the whole question of armed struggle, the highest form of the class struggle is left extremely vague. The truth is that if preparations for military struggle are left until some sort of revolutionary situation develops then that is too late. At the moment when the bourgeoisie turn to armed force to put down mass insurrections in workplaces and on the streets it is too late to initiate armed revolutionary struggle from a basis of no preparations at all. The masses are crushed, as in Chile in 1973.

Any really serious revolutionary organisation will begin to develop and instigate a military plan from the moment of its foundation. This does not mean that it is engaged in armed struggle right from its inauguration but it does mean that very quickly it would develop the capacity to do so such that it has this capability when the need arises. The right occasion has to be selected for commencing armed struggle. For example, in the Coal Strike of 1984-5 the police became increasingly brutal in their treatment of the miners but no one was ready and prepared to hit back with armed force. However this is precisely the sort of occasion when, as part of an overall revolutionary strategy, a revolutionary movement would inaugurate armed defence of the working class against the polic and army. We know, from the experience in Northern Ireland and the Basque country, that guerrilla warfare in urban settings against imperialist states is quite possible and can be sustained on a long term basis.

As I finish writing this review in early 1993 the real level of unemployment in Britain has reached an all time high and this is but part of the international pattern of the economic crisis of capitalism. The true character of the Tory Government as an instrument of capitalist dictatorship is clear for all to see as is the phoney opposition of the Labourites. Bourgeois ideological hegemomy in Britain is now in crisis and this has provided a new opening for fascists and racists. The objective conditions are increasingly favourable for new initiatives in revolutionary struggle and organisation.

Seize the day!

 

Harry Powell

March 1993

 

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