1 December 2020

The old and the new

Originally published in The Leninist No.85 December 23 1989. Available on our archive here

This is an edited version of the speech given by comrade John Bridge, National Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain (The Leninist) on December 17 1989 at a specially convened meeting in London to report the Fourth Conference of the Leninists and its results

Dear comrades, I am delighted to announce that the Fourth Conference of the Leninists of the Communist Party of Great Britain has taken place. The conference took place at a particularly difficult time for both communists and the working class internationally. With the rise of Gorbachevism there is a 1914 type general crisis of bureaucratic socialism, and the ‘official’ world communist movement is heading towards the liquidationist abyss.

True to form, bureaucratic socialism and its ‘official communist’ leadership is not going down with honour, rather the pathetic ignominy of mediocrity. Modrow is reduced to quoting the fears British and French imperialism have of a united German nation state in order to justify the continued existence of the GDR. Equally sickening is Jaruzelski. He fawns before Thatcher like a true convert and faithfully promises to apply her teachings, which in Britain have destroyed whole industries and made millions unemployed. They will not do the same in Poland. They will do worse. Not to be outdone, Imre Pozsgay in Hungary and those at the top of the ruling Socialist Party, have put the country and its industry up for auction to the highest imperial bidders.

Nineteen eighty-nine has been a decisive turning point. What was once perceived as the monolithic socialist bloc has shattered within the space of twelve months. Some of the old rhetoric remains for the moment, in order though, no doubt, that with its last breath, before the eyes of all the world, ‘official communism’ may declare that the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin have failed. Even now, both in the west and in the east, ‘official communists’ are “rediscovering” the social democratic “heritage in their past”: a cynical formula for going over to the camp of capitalism in the west and reintroducing it through the back door in the east.

Faced with the prospect of capitalist restoration, the British left’s attitude towards the crisis of bureaucratic socialism is dangerously wrong. Instead of unconditionally defending the gains of the world revolution that still survive, the demise of bureaucratic socialism is being celebrated. True, it is going to Abraham’s bosom peacefully and democratically; at the top the bureaucracy no longer has the will to defend the existing order and from below with strikes, votes, migrations, million strong demonstrations and blazing car horns, the people have signalled their rebellion. Nevertheless, however peaceful and democratic, this is a Kronstadt-type counterrevolution backed by the forces of international imperialism.

The “mass mobilisation of the working class against Stalinist rule in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union” is equivalent to workers breaking a strike because they are fed up with the way their thoroughly bureaucratic and corrupt trade union has run it. And the return to work has been organised by the bosses’ agents: the political physiognomy of Walesa’s “property, family, religion, order” Solidarnosc, Civic and New Forum in Czechoslovakia and the GDR, proves it. 

Because of the lack of a vanguard party, the proletariat seems unable for the moment to assert itself through fighting for a political revolution (which, given the extent of capitalist restoration, takes on social tasks). It is dissolved in a popular sea which sees democracy as being western liberties along with Hitachi videos, Mercs, Levy jeans and all the consumer goodies of Paris, Frankfurt. London and Rome.

However, in an echo of the bourgeoisie, Militant, Socialist Outlook, News Line and Workers Power Trotskyites, SWP and RCP ex- Trotskyites, Morning Star ‘hard line’ ‘official communists’ and 7 Days ultra revisionist ‘official communists’ welcome the “revolution” (read counterrevolution).

It’s worth touching on the RCP here. It began by declaring that it did not see what all the “fuss was about”; now it has joined the others. And strangely, for an organisation which made a great hoo-ha about its support for Argentina’s Galtieri and Iran’s Khomeini in the name of ‘anti-imperialism’, it refuses to defend the GDR against being incorporated by Federal German imperialism. Instead of siding with those leftists on the streets of Leipzig who chant “DDR, DDR”, it joins the rightists who chant Deutschland einig Vaterland. Yes, the RCP actually calls for a united capitalist German fatherland, using the rotten pretext of ‘first them, then us’.

There is a rich variety of excuses to cover capitulation before bourgeoisdom (just as when, with a couple of exceptions, the whole spectrum of the left in Britain lined up behind the murdering Mujahedin in Afghanistan and the counterrevolutionary Solidarnosc in Poland). But typical is the claim that the “restoration of capitalism” would require “the wholesale demolition of collectivised property relations, the destruction of the workers’ movement and the creation of a new repressive state apparatus based upon the defence of private property.” (Socialist Outlook No.20 December 1989)

What head-in-the-sand nonsense! ‘Market socialism’ aside. Capitalism has operated and can operate on the basis of widespread state ownership of industry; there is nothing inherently socialist about nationalised property. As to the state, it should be understood that the proletarian state is carried over from the old order. The proletarian state may arise on the shattered remains of the bourgeois state, but in essence it is a bourgeois institution used by the proletariat (which has a historic interest and mission to do away with all states, including its own). This elementary Marxist position is confirmed today when we see the socialist state apparatus laid hold of and used for its own purposes by the neo-bourgeoisie – with the aid of “workers’ organisations” like Solidarnosc.

We will not join the anti-socialist cross class chorus. The collapse of bureaucratic socialism will be the midwife of despair, a period of reaction will result, which – however transient – is dismissed at our peril. The attempt to transform society will be seen as a historic failure. Right wing and pro-capitalist ideas from chaos theory to religious fundamentalism will undoubtedly gain a wider demoralising influence. Already its effect on anti-imperialist movements is noticeable: the ANC and PLO are, for example, now decidedly more ‘moderate’ than in the recent past. But all left and revolutionary organisations will be affected. Those which have weak ideology (e.g. the Euro CPGB) will most likely crumble, others will move to the right.

We too will be affected by the reactionary shock wave; yet, where others will drown, we are confident of our ability to swim against the tide, keep our political line firm and combat manifestations of liberalism or unconscious attempts to divert us.

The ability to do that lies in our determination to fearlessly face up to our tasks and, crucially, draw up a balance sheet of our October Revolution. For what we are witnessing today is more than the terminal crisis of bureaucratic socialism in Eastern Europe: in essence it is the end of the October Revolution, which although suffering from the most monstrous bureaucratic deformations, spread itself from above into Eastern Europe in the wake of the retreating Wehrmacht.

That this coincided with the pacifying post-World War II boom in the west allowed bureaucratic centrism to usurp the mantle of communism. Living socialism, as a result, was considered by the majority in the west as anti-democratic, totalitarian and something to be positively avoided. Against the albeit uneven dynamism and relative, if formal, freedom of the advanced capitalist countries, bureaucratic socialism seemed to be a return to autocratic state presided over by the secret policeman and the censor. However, everything considered, the USSR and the post-World War II spread of socialism was overwhelmingly progressive.

The failure of bureaucratic socialism was more than its unattractiveness and its alienation of the masses. Because of its inability to introduce the necessary far reaching democratisation in society, bureaucratic socialism could not produce a rational plan. Its bureaucratic dream of communism in one country, and the reactionary go-it-alone second rate steel, car and every other prestige industrial plant that went with it, became a complete anachronism as imperialism integrated the world market through world commodities and world production. As the growing queues of Gorbachev’s perestroika and the GDR’s admission of cooking the books goes to prove, from being a relative fetter on the development of the productive forces, bureaucratic socialism has become an absolute one.

Due to its narrow sectional interests, because it does not want to go from master to servant of the proletariat, the bureaucracy looks to capitalism for salvation. This is what its ‘renewal of socialism’ is all about. Because it can no longer rule in the old way the bureaucracy wants to hide its authoritarian past, its corruption, its association with all sorts of vile crimes by metamorphosising into social democracy – an ideological trend in the workers’ movement the bourgeoisie has long ago domesticated and trusted as a guard dog of capitalism.

In this way the Gorbachevite bureaucracy and its ilk has a striking parallel in the battered remnants of the feudal aristocracy in Britain during the 19th century. Knowing full well that it can no longer hold down society, it seeks to preserve its privileges by doing a deal with those that can. Like the landed aristocracy, the bureaucratic labour aristocracy wants to become part of the capitalist class, or its loyal figurehead.

Unless we confront the growing counterrevolutionary role of the bureaucracy and how it has disorientated, at least for the moment, whole swathes of the working class in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, then we fall into wishful thinking or under the sway of bourgeois ideology, which is growing louder and more confident by the day.

Not surprisingly, the propagandists of capital are falling over themselves with hyperbolae: Democracy has triumphed! Communism is dead! History has ended! I even heard on the 10:45 religious broadcast on BBC Radio 4 that it’s all Christ’s work! Let the bourgeoisie fool themselves. It is their days that are numbered. True, we are suffering a string of reversals, but ebb and flow is in the nature of proletarian revolution.

Marx was well aware that this would be the case. In his own words, they “criticise themselves constantly, interrupt themselves continually in their own course, come back to the apparently accomplished in order to begin it afresh, deride with unmerciful thoroughness the inadequacies, weaknesses and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their adversary only in order that he may draw new strength from the earth and rise again, more gigantic, before them, recoil ever and anon from the indefinite prodigiousness of their own aims, until a situation has been created which makes all turning back impossible.”

So for genuine communists defeat is no time for despair, no time to slink off into the ‘joys of domestic bliss’, nor time for lack of courage. It is a time for preparation. Momentous events are unfolding. Greater victories await us.

The aftermath of World War II saw the USA emerge as a ‘super’ imperialist power, to which both, victorious as well as defeated imperialist rivals, prostrated themselves. Only the Soviet Union was able to resist. The resultant stalemate, otherwise known as the Cold War, spanned four decades and more or less froze the class struggle.

Now all is fluid again! instead of the US emerging in undisputed resplendence, it looks as if Germany – dismembered at the hands of the US and the USSR following its defeat in World War II – is about to place the victors laurels on its head. that is why the imperialists’ renewed belief that god in heaven is a true capitalist who looks after his own is giving way to fears over exactly who his own are.

The end of the Cold War will not usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity. Mammon is a self destructive god. Already in this century capitalism has been responsible for causing two world and countless smaller wars, in which some 100 million have horribly perished, and an unprecedented general crisis which reached its depth in 1929 and lasted from 1914 till 1948.

The imperialists will not openly admit that their system is a system of war, economic crisis and pauperisation. Nevertheless, Thatcher and other Cold War warriors have tempered their triumphalism with caution now that socialism is actually disintegrating. Who can blame them! With the ‘evil empire’ out of the way, inter-imperialist contradictions will heighten and move to centre stage in world politics. Federal Germany is in no position to launch a direct challenge to US world leadership, to refashion the world in its image, as its capital will require. But a united Germany, a Gross Deutschland, is another matter entirely.

Some bourgeois pundits have made soothing noises. They assure themselves that even if the GDR were to be joined with Federal Germany, and its per capita production hauled up to western levels, it would still produce a Germany which would only be first among equals in Europe, not a superpower. What this forgets is the little matter of uneven development. Federal Germany is already growing at a faster rate than its rivals. Absorbing the GDR can only increase its speed of development. Hence, where it is ahead by a nose today, it will be showing its heels tomorrow. And German capitalism will do more than just add 17 million new people to its home market.

A united Germany will in all likelihood become the leader of a united (Deutschmark dominated) post-1992 Western Europe and a post-bureaucratic socialist (Deutschmark dominated) eastern Europe; a continental economic bloc that has the potential to match US power and leave Japan in the shade. The effect will be shattering. The US orchestrated inter-imperialist cooperation that has endured since 1945 will be ended and the danger of the open world market giving way in turn to trade war, and then a shooting war, becomes all too real.

But as well as the world becoming a more dangerous place in the1990s, the next decade will pose ever more sharply the task of making socialist revolution in advanced capitalist countries. It really is a choice between socialism or capitalist barbarism and world war. We are at one of history’s great turning points, where history itself is speeding up.

The conditions are being prepared for the proletariat to come back strengthened tenfold. With what remains of the October Revolution on its death bed, a dynamic world is about to fall back behind its political point of departure, “the situation, the relations, the conditions under which alone modern revolution becomes serious” (Marx). The breakup of inter-imperialist unity and its drift towards a new general crisis will create the basis for a dramatic escalation of the class struggle and necessitate the reorganisation of the world proletarian vanguard.

The collapse of ‘official communism’ has cleared the ground for the new to rise. Comrades, the genuine communists must prepare. That is why the Fourth Conference of the Leninists was convened.

Before dealing directly with our conference it is instructive to examine the congresses of the three ‘official communist’ organisations which have just taken place. As comrades will know, each of these congresses was subjected to a militant picket by supporters of The Leninist. Comrades have therefore seen in the flesh the best activists ‘official communism’ in Britain is able to muster. What a sorry sight they made. Their demoralisation, lack of politics, despondency tiredness and defeatism spoke volumes about the state of ‘official communism’.

As there is nothing that particularly distinguishes one from the other, we might just as well look at the congresses of ‘official communism’ chronologically. So let us begin with the Morning Star split, the Communist Party of Britain.

For all its claims since it was formed in April 1988, it must be said that the CPB has not had a proud record of work. Indeed, if they were honest they would admit that they’ve done little or nothing. Bugger all, to coin a phrase. And not surprisingly, either. It has a part time general secretary and a part time approach to politics. Where we bank on the future and proletarian revolution, the CPB ‘cadres’ have a typically petty bourgeois mentality. Ray Colvin – an editor of its only journal Communist Review – only agreed to work full time after a pension plan had been negotiated. The result was predictable: the CPB has only managed to produce some half a dozen issues in one and a half years.

All this follows the thoroughly opportunist politics of the CPB. Indeed, while the Euros are debating whether or not to drop the term communism, the CPB leadership nearly found themselves a step ahead of them.

Its drafting commission for its new version of the British Road to Socialism programme deleted all mention of communism – “deleted” because the 1978 BRS, which both they and the Euros claim as their own, has a whole concluding section on communist society. Revealingly, after being presented with a new draft, its national leadership did not notice the omission!

Only at its congress was this ‘oversight’ rectified. Three branches – yes, that’s all – submitted amendments on communism to the congress. And showing that the deletion of communism was the result of forgetfulness rather than some deft attempt to pre-empt the Euros, its leadership accepted them. Nonetheless, that it was such a near run thing shows that the CPB leadership accepts in practice that famous dictum of revisionism, that the movement is everything, the aim is nothing (Edward Bernstein).

The logic of revisionism could be seen most clearly at the congress of the Euros, which opened one week after that of the CPB. Many of the delegates made great show in not taking leaflets from our comrades because “ordinary people don’t take leaflets”. Of course, it is not true that ‘ordinary people’ don’t take leaflets. They do. But so right wing have the Euros become that they like to make a show of their apolitical attitudes. “They used to be interested in politics until they joined the Euro organisation,” our comrades quipped.

The Euro ‘party’ is collapsing organisationally and, because of its neo-Fabian politics, sees no reason to exist. As far as we are concerned, the quicker they drop any pretence of having anything to do with communism, the better. Not only should they be honest about their true politics, but they give communism a bad name.

The New Communist Party makes a sorry sight. The average age of the 70 Congress delegates, consultative delegates and visitors showed that this organisation has nothing to do with the new. It is like a Derby and Joan club… with only an exist sign.

Its general secretary, Eric Trevett, tells the bourgeois press – on the rare occasions it asks him – that membership of the NCP is “under 1,000”. Comrades, I’ll make no secret about it, our membership is “under 1,000” too. But if one wants to play the numbers game – and we don’t – one should be honest. And if Eric Trevett won’t be honest about the NCP’s membership, then we at least can be.

In 1979 its membership was counted for the first time: it stood at 513. In the ten years that have followed the NCP has steadily and relentlessly declined. Death from old age, disillusionment and bureaucratic expulsion have all taken their toll. NCP membership is now lucky to be 200, and that’s on paper. 

Of course, the collapse in numbers is not unique to the NCP; all ‘official communists’ have suffered precipitous losses. The NCP does, though, have a unique political problem – in a word, the Soviet Union. It’s as if god announced to a packed Christmas congregation at St Paul’s that, as an honest Jew, he had decided at last to admit the whole Jesus thing was a hoax, which he had never expected to be taken seriously.

The NCP has been turned upside down. It was formed on the basis of religiously following every twist and turn in the political and diplomatic line of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Those that didn’t were ‘anti-Soviet’. That Gorbachev is now doing and saying the same sort of thing as the Euros did in the 1970s, when the NCP split from them because of their ‘anti-Sovietism’, must mean, according to the quick-witted NCP leadership, that not all is well in the Soviet Union.

In a startling admission of past practices, Eric Trevett announced to his congress that: “Frankly, we no longer can be mealy mouthed”. Genuine communists speak the truth always, they are never “mealy mouthed”. But this is no conversion on the road to Damascus. Trevett, in spite of his claims to the contrary, continues to be mealy mouthed… or, more scientifically, centrist!

Trevett damns glasnost, universal human values, the claim that relations between socialist and capitalist states are non-antagonistic, as “revisionist” and “anti-Leninist”, which they are. Yet he gives “critical support” for perestroika, which is part and parcel of the same pro-capitalist programme.

How, then, did our Leninist conference and its decisions compare with the congresses of ‘official communism’? ‘Official communism’ is rent with profound divisions, which nonetheless, however deep, all lead to the same liquidationist conclusion. What a contrast to our conference’s firm commitment to Marxism-Leninism and iron unity; every resolution put to our conference was passed unanimously. This was not the result of manipulation from the platform, neither was it artificial. It was because Leninist forces are firmly united as a result of a process of extensive debate and discussion.

Our conference was not called in order to come to a definitive conclusion about the rapidly unfolding process of democratic peaceful counterrevolution in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. This task will be dealt with elsewhere. It was brought together to counter the treachery of ‘official communism’ and to organise Leninist forces on a higher, more disciplined and coherent level. This was achieved through the formation of a distinct revolutionary wing of the CPGB, the CPGB (The Leninist) and through the election of a National Committee. Comrades, it must be emphasised that the CPGB (The Leninist) is not the Communist Party nor is the National Committee the Central Committee. The single aim of our conference, of our revolutionary wing in the CPGB and its National Committee, is the struggle to reforge our CPGB.

This was reflected in the resolutions of our conference, not least in the resolution on the programme. We have already dissected the 1978 BRS in a series of supplements in The Leninist. In the process we have also done a great deal in the way of outlining what we think on a whole range of different issues. Along with our increasingly successful practice, what this amounts to is the raw material for a genuine communist programme.

Our conference voted to instruct the National Committee of the CPGB (The Leninist) to appoint a commission charged with the task of producing a draft programme open for debate among all communists and all workers. It will provide the focal point around which the Leninist wing of the CPGB will be built and then the Party reforged. The draft programme will be presented to the congress of the reforged CPGB.

Comrades I can promise you that neither our draft programme, nor the programme that will come from it, will instantly go out of date like every programme of the opportunists have ever come out with. It will not need rewriting straight away as the ink dries – unless, that is, the proletariat in Britain succeeds in the next couple of months or so in conquering state power. Only in the event of such a happy occurrence would our programme need rewriting.

Marxism Today is praised by the bourgeoisie because it is a fifth column agent of the bourgeoisie in the communist movement. As to 7 Days, it is a mishmash of yesterday’s petty bourgeois fads and the most pathetic liquidationist bleatings. It is anti-Marxist-Leninist, even though the Euro CPGB is formally committed by rule to Marxism-Leninism. That is why neither of these publications can legitimately operate as the central organ of the Communist Party. On the other hand The Leninist has set an unparalleled standard of openness, firm commitment to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism. Our conference therefore decided that it, not 7 Days, is the true organ of our CPGB.

Conference also decided on a set of basic principles around which our wing of the party will be organised. They will, of course, be published in full. However, it is worthwhile commenting on them briefly, not least in light of the Euro plans to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the CPGB.

Our “central aim is reforging the CPGB” through the victory of Leninist forces. We will not water down our Marxism-Leninism nor our commitment to proletarian internationalism. Given objective conditions, there should only be one Communist Party in Britain: there is no basis for separate parties organised around colour or nationality. Socialism is the dictatorship of the proletariat; it will not come peacefully via the Labour Party, but through revolution. We recognise the right of self determination of nations – in Britain today the acid test of this is Ireland – and we oppose all forms of sexism and racism and consider the overcoming of chauvinism, war and pollution and the environment rests on the communist-led working class. Humanity’s future, in other words, depends on the triumph of communism! In broad terms who can doubt that these principles are those of July 1920, proclaimed by our CPGB when it was founded?

The Euros say they are going to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the foundation of our Party. Frankly, this is sick. They are intent on ditching the title CPGB – and not a minute too soon – and debating at the same time whether or not to drop the formal commitment to Leninism. What they ‘celebrate’ is their treachery. We are the only organisation which has a right to celebrate the foundation of our Party.

Let the opportunists openly debate with us who is the political continuation of the 1920 CPGB and stands by its principles. We only need to pose the question to know the answer. We will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the formation of our CPGB, not 70 years culminating in today’s ‘official communist’ liquidationist dead end. We will celebrate legitimately in the full realisation that the CPGB that was formed in July 1920 lives on in the form of the CPGB (The Leninist).

The resolutions on organisational questions show that, in contrast to the miserable do-your-own-thing approach that reigns in the Euro organisation, and the manipulation and bureaucratic centralism that crushes all thought and debate in the CPB and NCP, in our wing of the CPGB there is real democracy combined with real centralism. This, combined with our commitment to Marxism-Leninism, is the key to our confidence, the key to our success, the key to our future.

Comrades, our conference allows us to look to the future with Marxist-Leninist optimism. History continues and the future is communism. Neither communism nor Leninism is dead, communism and Leninism live in the CPGB (The Leninist).

  • Long live communism!

  • Long live Leninism!

  • Long live the CPGB (The Leninist)!

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