Originally published in The Leninist No.1 December 1981. Available on our archive here
The Communist Party, the crisis and its crisis
1981 a year to remember:
• Riots in the cities as Black youth, after years of grinding oppression, hit back. White youth fight alongside them in their battle with the forces of the state. In practice, the government can only respond in one way: CS gas, rubber bullets, water cannon; in other words, better equipment for the good old British ‘bobby’ to crush any further attempts like the Summer Uprising. Enquiries abound, used as a smoke-screen to cover increased repression.
• Unemployment reaches an all time record level, as British capitalism reels from the devastating effects of the world capitalist crisis. In order to extricate itself from its weak position relative to its imperialist rivals, the capitalists in Britain attack the living standards of employed workers; civil servants, car workers, steel workers and many other sections have their real wages slashed. Resistance to closures and sackings becomes increasingly stiff from the rank and file.
• Hundreds of thousands take to the streets in massive demonstrations against the Tory government, their anti-Soviet war drive, their racist laws, and above all mass unemployment.
• A twelve-year war of National Liberation continues to rage inside the United Kingdom. The Nationalist population of the Six Counties show their unequivocal position on the ‘terrorists’ of the Provisional IRA by electing Bobby Sands, who, after dying a martyr’s death, had a funeral which brought one hundred thousand on to the streets to honour him and his cause.
For liberals, these developments can only provoke fear and a dread of the future. Visibly shaking at the knees, they approach the state, pleading for reforms to dampen down and divert the struggles of the masses: more public spending; inner city development; youth opportunities; a united Ireland… well, in the long (very long) term; and we even hear of proposals to raise Dixon of Dock Green from his grave; anything but face sharpening class struggle.
So far, much of the discontent of the masses has been channelled into the Labour Party, contained within the safe banks of reformism. This has been done not without cost, for the surge of mass activity caused by the crisis has resulted in an almost reflex left shift in the Labour Party. This, plus the general dilemma in ruling class circles on how to deal with the popular upsurge. The fact that the consciousness of the masses always and inevitably trails material developments, has meant that the two-party system of the Conservative/Labour swings and roundabouts, which has dominated the political scene in Britain since the end of the second imperialist world war, is visibly tottering; the effects of the crisis in British capitalism increasingly comes to determine politics, in an indirect but ever more visible fashion.
All this is good news, very good news, for revolutionaries. Such is the life blood of revolution; objectively, it all goes to confirm the scientific position of Marxism Leninism about the nature of capitalism and its inevitable tendency towards crisis. Subjectively, as well as making our hearts beat faster and stiffening our resolve, it presents us with immense opportunities, above all, the task of building a mass revolutionary party capable of leading the working class and its allies in the coming life and death struggle with decaying, moribund capitalism. We are confronted with an upsurge of mass activity. Our task is to extend and consolidate it, to help develop it to a higher plane, to give it a revolutionary direction.
Liberals of all varieties and hues fulminate against the government. Pointing an accusing finger at the Tories, they solemnly proclaim that it is they who are responsible for forcing workers to strike, forcing the Irish to support the Provisionals and the INLA, forcing the black youth to riot. “If only we were in power none of this would happen, everything would be sweetness and light” they plead to the bourgeoisie. Such is the nature of all reformists.
In times of social peace, differences between revolution and reform can become blurred, but in the event of crisis and social upheaval opportunists dispose of all their old revolutionary rhetoric, their principles; like someone trading in an old car, in place of the old model they get the latest version of class collaboration. Such is the reward of opportunism.
The Party— our crisis
Our party was formed during the burning heat of revolution that swept the world following the 1914-18 imperialist war. Its birth was necessitated like other communist parties, the Bolsheviks included, by the betrayal of revolution and the cause of the proletariat by the leaders of the Second International and the ‘official’ Marxist parties, in the years preceding the outbreak of the war and the emergence of a general revolutionary situation. The formation of the Communist Party in Britain was an integral component part of a world split between reform and revolution. At the time of its formation, the party was tiny in terms of membership, but, being a Leninist party and basing itself on the conditions for affiliation to the Third International (see VI Lenin, CW, Vol 31, pp207-12, 563), it was able to raise the blood-red banner of revolution in the British Labour Movement. Despite the fact that the movement was dominated by reformism, which rested on Britain’s past as the world’s leading imperialist power, the Communist Party was able to take a lead in many of the nascent struggles of the workers.
For, through the thick crust of deadening reformism by which social peace had been secured for so long, vibrant workers’ movements burst, shaking the domination of the labour aristocracy and bureaucracy over the working class. Lenin described the creation of Councils of Action in Britain as embryonic Soviets, thus laying the basis for dual power. Although these challenges to the conservative labour leaders, and therefore the capitalist state itself, were finally crushed by the betrayal of the 1926 General Strike, the Communist Party refused to furl the banner of class struggle. Its existence remained a constant threat to the capitalist system; for the very nature of capitalism’s inner workings tends it to crisis. With a revolutionary party the working class, the grave diggers of capitalism, could finally put capitalism where it belongs, into the history books – remembered but not mourned.
How does the Communist Party stand in relation to its revolutionary tasks today, when after the long boom, capitalism again plunges into deep economic and social crisis?
Well, in terms of organisation, even through the thickest rose-tinted glasses, there are, to say the least, desperate problems facing us. Membership continues to dwindle: figures announced by Dave Cook were 18,458 (Morning Star, July 16 1981) which compares with 20,590 at the same date two years previously and with 25,293 in 1977 and 28,519 in 1975. In other words, a decline of about one third in six years, although this in itself is not a disaster, the broad influence of the party has declined in proportion: the Morning Star, its very existence now uncertain continues its downward spiral, along with Comment. The number of functioning branches has steadily diminished and the activity of those that still function has become increasingly narrow.
These problems in themselves are not crucial and certainly not central to the crisis in the party, for the crisis in organisation and influence of the party is but a reflection of the ideological crisis that has become chronic in our ranks. A party a fraction of the size of the party today could, if united around a consistent Leninist position, look to its tasks with confidence, with the certainty that they would inevitably triumph. For the party, theoretical clarity is vital — without this, it is as Samson shorn of his hair, the source of his strength.
There exists today within our ranks a mass of opportunist ideological positions; what unites them all is that they are non-working class ideological tendencies, alien to the workers’ movement. Horrors abound: Viki Seddon, a member of the Yorkshire District Committee, writes that “all men” benefit from violence against women, “just as benefits accrue to all white people from discrimination against blacks” (Marxism Today, August 1981, p6). It is not the working class which benefits from racism, but the bourgeoisie, as a result of the divisions created inside the working class, just as they benefit from the divisive effects inside the working class, of the feminism which comrade Seddon adheres to.
Anti-Sovietism is rampant. The role of the Soviet Union is blamed for the imperialist war drive, their intervention in Afghanistan condemned on the basis of it aggravating world tension. But the piece de resistance must be Sam Russell’s call for the Soviet Union to disarm, in the face of a massive anti-Soviet war drive by the imperialist powers, especially the United States. According to comrade Russell, the Soviet Union “now maintains and renews a gigantic surplus (our emphasis) of nuclear striking power” (Marxism Today, June 1981, p24).
If opportunist positions were held by a small minority of the party, things would not be so bad, but a fish rots from the head down. The main diseases that affect comrades in the leadership of the party are the tendency to capitulate to bourgeois nationalism and their advocacy of utopian disarmament.
Tony Chater, Editor of the Morning Star, writes that disarmament under capitalism would mean that vast resources “could … be diverted to peaceful construction”. To prove his point, he quotes the notorious warmonger Mountbatten, who the comrade says was “murdered” (Tony Chater, The Case for Peace and Disarmament, p17).
We read in another party pamphlet that if Britain diverted resources from arms it “would be in a much better position to compete internationally in high technology industries… the drive for peace and disarmament… can create the conditions for a safer, more productive and competitive Britain” (George Bolton, Act Now to End Mass Unemployment, p12).
This view is echoed by the General Secretary of the party, Gordon McLennan, who says that if arms spending could be diverted to “manufacturing investment” it would be of “far greater benefit to the country” (Gordon McLennan, Oppose Tory Policies — Take Britain on a Different Course, p28). In contrast, the Leninist position is that:
“Our ‘peace programme’ must explain that the imperialist powers and the imperialist bourgeoisie cannot grant a democratic peace. Such a peace must be sought and fought for, not in the past, not in a reactionary utopia of non-imperialist capitalism, nor in a league of equal nations under capitalism, but in the future, in the socialist revolution of the proletariat. Not a single fundamental democratic demand can be achieved to any considerable extent, or with any degree of permanency, in the advanced imperialist states, except by way of revolutionary battles under the banner of Socialism.
“Whoever promises the nations a ‘democratic’ peace without at the same time preaching the socialist revolution, or while repudiating the struggle for it — the struggle which must be carried on now …is deceiving the proletariat.” (VI Lenin, The Peace Programme, March 1916, CW, Vol 22, pp167-168).
The rot may begin at the head, but it is from the body that the greatest smells now emanate. Most pungent (so far) is the work of the dynamic duo of revisionism, Mike Prior and David Purdy; their book, Out of the Ghetto, is a piece of work that the ‘Father of revisionism’ Bernstein himself would be proud of. It rejects the Marxist theory of the capitalist crisis, Leninism, and revolution; in their place our authors advocate a social contract and wage restraint. The only saving grace of the work is that it is honest, that is, honest revisionism open for all to see.
The party today is a seething mass of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois tendencies — feminism, pacifism, economism, liberalism, anti-Sovietism, nationalism — all the offspring of opportunism. What this leads to if not checked is the dissolving of the party organisationally, for as opportunism has dissolved the party ideologically, it is only one more step, and a ‘logical’ one, to liquidate the party organisationally. At the moment this will not mean winding-up the party — no, it means obliterating its independent work, its independent position in front of the masses, submerging it into the ‘broad’ movement.
The liquidators in Russia after the Revolution fought to abolish the underground party and to substitute in its place an amorphous party within the bounds of the law. Lenin fought bitterly against this trend, demanding the expulsion from the ranks of the party all who advocated such an erroneous view. In this fight the Bolsheviks aligned themselves with the Pro-Party Mensheviks, Plekhanov and his followers who also stood for the purging of the liquidationists. On the other side of the barricades were not only the liquidationists but also the conciliators, most notably Trotsky (see VI Lenin, CW, Vol 19, pp147-169, Controversial Issues An Open Party and the Marxists). Trotsky and the liquidators may not have had the same view, but as Trotsky sought to reconcile the party with opportunism, he justly earned the stinging polemic delivered from Lenin’s pen.
The tendency towards liquidationism has been greatly accelerated by the growing influence of left wing reformism in the working class in the form of Bennism. For, having taken the party down the road to ideological opportunism, leaders in the party now find themselves confronted by elements who look at the Labour Party’s mass following with the eyes of a hungry man and plead to be allowed to eat, for in order to reach the table, all that has to be sacrificed are a few old, ‘useless’ principles. Benn’s political position has many similarities to those advocated by the opportunists, a fact of which they are constantly reminding us. The fact that he can attract mass support around his position only adds salt to the wounds of the party as it desperately attempts to reverse its organisational degeneration.
The result is that voices are raised, and are becoming increasingly vocal in the call for the ending of independent party activity, for the submerging of the party in the flood tide of Bennism. The danger of this happening is great; it can only be prevented by a united offensive by all those in the party who favour its continued independent existence and who stand for the purging of the party of the liquidators. Those who call for peace, who seek to conciliate between various trends in the party and liquidationism are in reality anti-party, in the sense that they refuse to fight against those who wish to see the party’s independence a thing of the past. Our fight needs to be irreconcilable, against both the liquidators and the conciliators.
The present situation in Britain cries out for a mass revolutionary party. The coming period will see huge clashes, for it is only a matter of time before the working class as a whole begins to move into battle, as the effects of the crisis become ever wider and deeper. But recognising the need for a mass revolutionary party is one thing, achieving it — to state the obvious — is a very different matter. No number of tired calls to ‘Build the Party and the Morning Star’ will take us one inch forward. To create the party which is so urgently needed requires firstly and above all ideological and organisational unity in the ranks of the communists.
But how is it to be achieved?
To answer this, it is important to fully understand what a revolutionary workers party is: the politically advanced section of the working class, its vanguard, led by the most advanced theory, that is, Marxism-Leninism. This is the key to the question; for unity, without unity around Marxism-Leninism, is false, bureaucratic unity, lifeless. And, more than that, a unity that is bound to shatter at the first serious test.
It is on the basis of unity around Marxism-Leninism that the party can be built — it is the foundation for its organisational forms, above all democratic centralism. To attempt to build the party around the principles of democratic centralism without ideological unity can only lead to total instability, a house built on sand. This position was succinctly defined by Lenin in his famous dictum: “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement” (VI Lenin, What is to be Done, CW, Vol 5, p369).
What is therefore required is an ideological struggle in the party in order to purge it of all rotten opportunist elements. Without this, genuine unity is impossible, for ideology and organisation are intimately linked — without ideological struggle, party organisation will be directionless, blind, useless for the purpose it is intended to serve, that is the class struggle of the working class for state power.
Looking at the Communist Party today, an honest party worker might say that ‘the last thing we need is more ideological struggle’, and turning to us, the Leninists, he would proclaim that ‘there are tens, even hundreds of ideological differences in the party — what we need is unity!’ What our friend says has some truth in it, but what he describes as ‘ideological struggle’is nothing more than the wrangling of petty bourgeois intellectuals and the manoeuvring of centrists. Yes, there are hundreds of differences, but these are alien influences in the party, they are the differences between opportunists. This is the main content of debate in Marxism Today.
Take, for example, the August 1981 edition. There we have Monty Johnstone chiding various contributors to Marxism and Democracy, a recently published work by party members who insist that Lenin is only for fools and Marx is little better than irrelevant. This stuff proves a bit strong for our dear Monty to stomach; he accuses the authors of “throwing out vital organs of the Marxist baby with the dogmatic bathwater.” (Marxism Today, August 1981, p26). What our comrade does not say is that to remove “vital organs” from an infant, let alone a scientific theory, is murder. The irony is, of course, that it was comrade Monty Johnstone who lifted the first knife himself. He should feel deep embarrassment about accusing anyone else of ‘gutting’ Marxism. For what such debates are about has nothing to do with defending Marxism: it is the vultures fighting over the remaining flesh of Marxism on the party body.
We agree that the party does not need such ‘ideological struggle’, what it needs is an ideological revolt against such vultures, a revolt now, before the maggots devour everything that remains. Such a struggle is no luxury, no self-indulgence, it is a necessity, the duty of every communist worthy of the name.
“A revolt is a splendid thing when it is the advanced elements who revolt against the reactionary elements. When the revolutionary wing revolts against the opportunist wing, it is a good thing. When the opportunist wing revolts against the revolutionary wing, it is a bad business.” (VI Lenin, One Step Forward Two Steps Back, CW, Vol 7 p405).
Our party, the Communist international itself, was born as a result of a bitter ideological struggle. Leninism was forged in the heat of the fierce ideological battles that raged inside workers’ movements, inside Russia and internationally. Now when the existence of the party is in question, when its organisational structures are crumbling and opportunism haughtily rules the roost, now is the time to raise the call for Leninist revolt, for in order to effectively challenge the capitalist class in general we must deal with its agents inside the movement itself, above all in our own party. Not to do so would merely be to court disaster, it would be a criminal act.
What sort of struggle?
Imagine four or five ‘hard’ comrades reading what is written above. Sitting in the local real ale pub, concurring with each other, they proudly proclaim ‘ideological struggle — that’s what we’ve been doing for ages!’ They reassure each other that history is on their side, that all they have to do is win that vote in the branch and ‘we’ll have it tied up’. They thus for the moment dismiss the argument of The Leninist and return to the serious business of plotting how they will win that all important vote. Such comrades have been convinced the party is theirs, it’s only a matter of time, of being patient, of aligning themselves with the less obnoxious opportunists, who are meant to rush into their arms because our comrades are the best (if not the only) sellers of the Falling Morning Star. They feel peeved by the publication of The Leninist. What rankles is not the politics but the very fact of publication. ‘What it says is O.K… But why?…Why publish?’ Many comrades have been immersed in an atmosphere of conspiracy inside the party — while plotting in pubs comes naturally to them, to engage in open ideological struggle is something that strikes them, at least initially, as undisciplined. But first impressions in politics should never be trusted. Marxism-Leninism is a science, not an art. The question of inner-party struggle must be examined with the coolness of a scientist, not the passion of an artist.
Open ideological struggle is the Leninist method of fighting opportunism in the workers’ movement. The Collected Works of Lenin himself are rich with polemic — all open in front of the masses. If Lenin had confined himself to ‘ideological’ conspiracy, he could never have developed a revolutionary party in Russia, let alone the International. The works of Lenin have the appearance of a tall cliff, in which each strata is different, all rich in ideological struggle, like rich seams of precious metals. The struggles against Economism, Liquidationism, Trotskyism, Centrism and Leftism are the heritage of Lenin. Advocating open ideological struggle, Lenin, writing against the ‘Economists’, says that:
“Without struggle there cannot be sorting out, and without a sorting out there cannot be any successful advance, nor can there be any lasting unity.
“… an open, frank struggle is one of the essential conditions for restoring unity.
“Yes restoring unity! The kind of ‘unity’ that makes us conceal ‘Economic’ documents from our comrades like a secret disease, that makes us resent the publication of statements revealing what views are being propagated under a social democratic cover — such ‘unity’ is not worth a brass farthing, such ‘unity’ is sheer cant, it only aggravates the disease and makes it assume a chronic, malignant form. That an open frank and honest struggle will cure this disease and create a really united, vigorous and strong Social-Democratic movement — I do not for a moment doubt.” (VI Lenin, CW, Vol 34 p53).
It is not open ideological struggle that is alien to Leninism but ‘pub room conspiracy’. Open struggle develops the understanding of theory in cadres, it steels them and in truth it is the only way to achieve a genuinely united party. Plotting and conspiracy in matters of ideology only leads to the stultification of comrades, it isolates them from the masses, and in the end can only result in bitterness and disillusionment. Such a position has nothing to do with Leninism and Bolshevism — it is a poison.
To accuse Leninists of breaking party discipline and unity is not only hypocritical, when the party faces the danger of liquidationism, but is itself a form of opportunism.
The view that dominates many who oppose the growth of opportunism in the party is that what is crucial in defeating it, is the gaining of a majority at Congress: 1977, 1979, 1981 now 1983, 1985… 2001? In order to achieve this, allies have to be won, opportunists yes, but to make them more palatable they are given the false label ‘Pro-Party Mensheviks’ (even though they have no thought of purging the party of the liquidationists). To gain a majority, branches and districts must be won; to do this, conspiracy is organised – manoeuvre, subterfuge.
The problem of this outlook is not the sincerity of those who are forced to operate in such a fashion, but the inevitability of defeat. The results of this organisational fetishism is the subordination to the organisational tasks of everything else, including principle. In itself there is as much chance of reversing the growth of opportunism in this way as King Canute had of reversing the tide of the oncoming sea. For the tide of opportunism that is drowning the party is based on far more powerful forces than organisational wheeling and dealing. Opportunism is the result of the existence of capitalism itself — it is thus a social force. The domination of this force over workers in Britain should surprise no-one, especially those guided by Marxism-Leninism. For Britain’s imperialist position creates a labour aristocracy which sacrifices the long-term interests of the workers for the crumbs from the table of the capitalists, who have grown fat on the plunder of imperialism. Attempts to fight opportunism through organisational methods alone are doomed to failure:opportunism can only be defeated as a result of relentless ideological struggle.
New Communist Party
The New Communist Party was formed in July 1977, the largest split from the Communist Party in its history. It sprung into existence ready formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, but instead of being fully armed ready for war, the NCP was nothing more than an epigone, quickly degenerating into a small ‘pro-Soviet’ sect with similar features and psychology to the zany Socialist Party of Great Britain. Despite thus, it is an excellent example for us to use to illustrate the futility of organisational methods of struggle alone, when fighting for the regeneration of communism in Britain, or for that matter anywhere else.
The NCP is a living example of Centrism; as such we can use it in order to try to persuade those who are attracted to such tendencies inside the party that such a course is futile. The NCP has its own press; despite itself, it therefore exposes its ideological and organisational bankruptcy for all who care to see.
The leaders of the NCP and the vast majority of the rank and file fought over many years in the Communist Party to defeat what they call the ‘revisionism’ of the party. In this fight, ideological struggle was reduced to the almost ritualistic incantation of the ‘holy trinity’. Proletarian Internationalism, Democratic Centralism, Dictatorship of the Proletariat they chanted, as if that was enough to exorcise the devil of ‘revisionism’. Having done this, they then got down to the business they really understood, plotting, for theory was the icing on the cake, not a living guide to practice. Try as you might, you will find no documents relating to ideological struggle from the leaders of the NCP when they were in the Communist Party. And, in case you think things are different, now they have been liberated from the fetters of the ‘revisionist’ Communist Party, you would be seriously mistaken. No, the leaders of the NCP have proved incapable of developing living theory.
When in 1977 the leaders of Surrey District Committee decided, in the face of the prospect of the District being ‘re-organised’, to desert the ship and set sail in their own craft, it was nothing other than an organisational decision. There were no pamphlets, books, or even honest articles in the party press heralding the break. The split was therefore an opting out of struggle in the Communist Party and nothing to do with the needs of the working class in its struggle against capitalism. So, let’s look at the NCP.
In terms of its operation of democratic centralism, let us not say anything here, save that there is precious little sign of anything except bureaucratic centralism. Its press is turgid and shows not the slightest trace of life, let alone intellectual dynamism. As for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, this seems to have been used as a code word for defending the Soviet Union from its detractors in the Communist Party and to have had nothing to do with tasks in Britain in the minds of the NCP leaders.
The final element in the theoretical trinity of the NCP is Proletarian Internationalism. Many in our party, passing a casual eye over the NCP press, would praise it at least on that account, and yet if we take more than a casual look at the matter, the supposed ‘principled Internationalist’ position of the NCP vanishes like a mirage. What is Internationalism? Lenin said:
“There is one, and only one kind of internationalism and that is working whole-heartedly for the development of the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary struggle in one’s own country, and supporting (by propaganda, sympathy and material aid) this struggle this and only this line in every country without exception.” (VI Lenin, CW, Vol 24 p74).
The NCP shows no signs of theoretically understanding the path to, or the necessity of, revolution. Instead it wallows in the mire of Economism, calling on the Labour Party to do this, and the TUC to do that, discarding its supposed ‘vanguard’ role casually into the dustbin.
It is impossible to have an internationalist party which at the same time is not a genuinely revolutionary party. In case anyone disagrees, let us take a slight detour before leaving the NCP and look at their position on the events in Poland in 1980, when the country was rocked by political and economic crisis.
Proletarian Internationalism, which means fighting for revolution in your own country and supporting that fight in every other country, has been turned into a hollow shell in the hands of the NCP. Instead of voicing an honest opinion to comrades in difficulty, instead of explaining honestly, to workers in Britain the source of our comrades’ mistakes, the NCP followed faithfully every zig and every zag of the leadership of the PUWP. The result, monstrous in less fraught times, became in the case of Poland a farce. The readership of the New Worker was told at the time of the strikes at the Gdansk shipyards, and just before the government reached initial agreements with the workers that there would be “No Concessions, No Compromises” and that “Communists Slam Gdansk wreckers” (New Worker No.147). Then, the readers were told that the economic problems in Poland were those of “boom” and that foreign debts should not be “exaggerated” (New Worker, No.148). But, worse was still to come. Hitting the nail on the head, the Editor of the New Worker wrote “There will not, repeat not be more than one trade union structure in Poland… no ‘new’ unions are being formed.” (New Worker No.149)
This diplomatic internationalism has nothing in common with Proletarian Internationalism – it is its diametric opposite. Contrast the approach to the question of the crisis in Poland of the NCP with that of Gus Hall, who writing on the same subject states that, the demand for “independent trade unions must be seen in the context of the workers’ frustration and loss of confidence in the established trade union leaders”, who were “often selected through undemocratic methods” and that “Poland’s weaknesses … are weaknesses that have appeared in a number of socialist countries in the past … basically the causes are internal… socialist democracy was weak in Poland… a change in leading personalities in and of itself will not result in the reestablishment (of) confidence.” (Political Affairs – What’s Happening in Poland? October 1980, see page 36 in this edition of The Leninist). In contrast with comrade Hall’s attempts to grip the bull by its horns, the NCP, after gripping its tail for all its worth, came out of the affair not merely with mud on its face but covered from head to toe in stinking diplomatic ‘internationalism’.
The Leninist Struggle
Leninists stand for a mass revolutionary party, solidly based on democratic centralism, guided by scientific theory. Such a party is vital if socialism is to be transformed from a dream into concrete reality, if the revolution is to be consolidated and counter-revolution crushed. To build a revolutionary party that can lead the working class and its allies into a victorious battle against capitalism requires protracted ideological struggle against all alien ideologies inside the working class movement. No mercy can be shown — the struggle must be unremitting and ruthless.
It is for this reason that The Leninist has been published. The Leninist has unfurled the banner of revolt against opportunism, to save the Communist Party. The Leninist will wage an uncompromising ideological struggle, will demand the purging of the greatest threat to the party, liquidationism. This struggle has to be and will be open, in front of the masses, not a secret conspiracy hidden from view. Yes, an Open Ideological Struggle!
This will have three immediate effects
- The various trends and shades that exist in the party today, under the surface, will be forced into the open. This will mean that they will all have to state their views clearly for all to study and judge. The liquidators, at present undermining the party’s foundations in the dark, will be forced out into the blinding light of the sun. There, they will be exposed, to the scrutiny of the entire membership. In the open, they can be fought effectively and exterminated. As well as the liquidationists, every other trend will end its troglodyte existence; slander, gossip and rumour will become useless weapons and lose their power. All will have to fight in the open, only with their ideological view, something that no communist fears — on the contrary, something that every communist welcomes.
- The removal of the veil which conceals the present struggles would mean that the mass of the party, becoming fully conversant with the various trends that exist, would be able to judge between them. Instead of hearing about the differences that exist in the party in fleeting snatches and through the dubious channel of rumour, thought and balance can be introduced. An open struggle would mean an end to the present mass disillusionment in the party through the deadening domination of the party by various cliques of opportunists. Open struggle would also have the most important effect of drawing new forces into the party from the working class, for the ideological struggle in the party is not the preserve of intellectuals but the vital concern of the working class itself. The aim of the Leninists is to purge the party of all forms of opportunism, thus equipping the party to lead the workers in their struggle for revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
- In this bitter ideological struggle, comrades will be as a man who for the first time rises to his feet after spending his life on his knees. The ideological struggle will draw many comrades into battle for the first time. In doing so, the rate of development of activists will proceed apace. The development of cadres is vital for the party. While there is conspiracy in terms of ideology, their development is distorted, they appear stunted. Open ideological struggle will enable them to assume their full stature. Lenin writing about the situation in Switzerland, a country of which he had first-hand knowledge, as a result of years of exile, said to the communists:
“Nor can we avoid hard struggle within the party. It would be sheer make-believe, hypocrisy, philistine ‘head-in-the-sand’ policy to imagine that ‘internal peace’ can rule within the Swiss Social-Democratic Party. The choice is not between ‘internal peace’ and ‘inner party struggle’…
“… The real choice is this: either the present concealed forms of inner-party struggle, with the demoralising effect on the masses, or open principled struggle between the internationalist revolutionary trend and the Grütli trend inside and outside the party.
“… the Grütli trend… will be forced openly to combat the left, while both trends will everywhere come out with their own independent views and policies, will fight each other on matters of principle allowing the mass of party comrades, and not merely the ‘leaders’, to settle fundamental issues-such a struggle is both necessary and useful, for it trains in the masses independence and ability to carry out their epoch making revolutionary mission.”
(VI Lenin, CW, Vol 23, pp159-160)
What about the Tories?
Some militants, honest party members, find the prospect of an ideological battle in the party an appalling one. Faced with the savage onslaught on the working class by the Tory government, sensing the possibilities of a massive upsurge against that government by the masses, the ideological struggle in the party is regarded as betrayal. These comrades have no time for the petty bourgeois opportunists who hawk themselves around the party, the Feminists, the Pacifists, the ‘open-minded’ intellectuals whose role in life seems to be entirely devoted to proving why Marx and Lenin were wrong, and that all would have been well if only they had been around at the time, to correct Marx or Lenin in the more ‘sophisticated’ areas of Economics, Philosophy, History… or 4whatever they happen to lecture in.
Ignoring these ‘nuisances’ that increasingly dominate the pages of the party press, our comrades battle gallantly on, organising the day-to-day struggle in their town, factory or office. This attitude and practice is increasingly common in the ranks of the party activists. It represents the increasing separation of theory and practice – inevitable with the growing power of opportunism.
For the theory of the opportunists is by its very nature an acceptance of bourgeois ideas, and thus the role of theory is not to act as a revolutionary guide, but something that is used to dismantle the more embarrassing elements of Marxism-Leninism, in order to replace them with liberalism.
The result, in party activists, is that they develop what they regard as a ‘healthy’ contempt for theory in general, regarding it as woolly and academic. The prejudice against theory is nothing new for the working class in Britain — Lenin was particularly shocked by it when he stayed in Britain. He located the cause for this ‘English disease’ in the domination of the movement by opportunism which was fed by the existence of British imperialism.
It is opportunism that produces contempt for theory amongst the militants: it is thus something that must be overcome in the course of the struggle against opportunism itself. Using the same arguments as Michael Foot and Denis Healey and their friends in the bourgeois press, the opportunists call for party peace and unity, because of the necessity to use all energy in the fight against the Tories. Whilst they would totally reject such an argument about the Labour Party, they almost unconsciously repeat the very same arguments as the reactionaries.
Let’s be quite clear: even if the Communist Party did not exist, there would be resistance by the working class to the onslaught of the Tories – just look at Brixton if you doubt this. There the community supported the rising by the Black youth against the forces of the state. In Ireland the Nationalist section of the population in the Six Counties have taken up arms against the British occupation. All this, without in either case the communists playing a leading role. In the coming period we should not doubt for a moment that the working class, desperate but determined, can stage a concerted wide-ranging offensive.
Such was the case in 1912 and 1913 when the workers in Britain launched a strike wave that was almost unprecedented in the world, only Russia had experienced a more dynamic upsurge. The workers can by themselves swing to the extreme left, to syndicalism; – although the workers could overthrow the state, the dictatorship of the proletariat could never be consolidated, unless there was a revolutionary party. Syndicalism may be ‘extreme’, anti-parliamentary, even anti-political party; but presented with power, its leaders would only end up handing it back to the capitalist class.
Without the leadership of a consistent revolutionary party, based on the most advanced scientific theory, representatives of workers can be placed in power, only to betray the workers who placed them there in the first place. Without the revolutionary party leading the masses, the revolution itself is doomed, bound to retreat. Such was the case in Russia in 1905 and February 1917, as well as Germany in 1919. The Bolshevik Revolution contained within it a struggle to prevent capitulation which the leaders of the February revolution were enacting.
The lessons for us today should be clear to see – we have the luxury of hindsight. While there will be a whole series of skirmishes and battles on the road to revolution, communists must never for a moment lose sight of the ultimate aim — socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Theory must be used in this, like a mariner of old, who, while tacking in the wind, constantly referred to the Pole Star in order to give his momentary day-to-day actions overall direction, to ensure that the ship arrived at its destination and did not merely sail endlessly in pointless circles.
“As we see it, the task of Social-Democracy is to organise and help carry on the class struggle, to point out its essential ultimate aims, and to analyse the conditions which determined the methods by which the struggle should be conducted.
“The emancipation of the working class must be conquered by the working classes themselves. But while we do not separate Social-Democracy from the Labour movement, we must not forget that the task of the former is to represent the interests of the movement in all countries as a whole, that it must not blindly worship the particular phase in which it may find itself at any particular time or place. We think that it is the duty of Social-Democracy to support every revolutionary movement against the existing state and social system and we regard this aim to be capture of political power by the working class, the expropriation of the exploiters, and the establishment of a socialist society.” (VI Lenin, Draft of a Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra and Zarya, 1900, CW, Vol4,p327).
The Leninist is being published to fight for the survival of the party and to win it back to a consistent Leninist position. The publication marks a qualitative development in the struggle against opportunism — it is an historic event. It is no light decision; we are aware of the ‘consequences’ that may result, but our step is determined by the situation in the party and the overall development of the class struggle in Britain.
The success of The Leninist depends on supporters selling it, providing finance, letters and articles. But above all it depends on The Leninist being used in the ideological battles that lie ahead of us. The Leninist can and must become a dangerous and deadly weapon in the hands of our supporters.
The Bolsheviks triumphed, not despite the ideological battles that they fought, being most intense inside the Party itself, but because of those struggles.
“One of the essential conditions for preparing the proletariat for victory is a prolonged, persistent and ruthless struggle against opportunism, reformism, and social-chauvinism and similar bourgeois influences and tendencies, which are inevitable as long as the proletariat acts under capitalist conditions. Unless such a struggle is fought, and unless a complete victory over opportunism in the working class movement is preliminarily gained, there can be no hope for the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (VI Lenin, The Constituent Assembly Elections and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, 1919, CW, Vol 30, p275)
On the success of The Leninist hangs not only the party’s survival but the victory of our class.