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All underlines the vital significance of the battle of ideas between capitalism and socialism

Robert Griffiths
General Secretary 
of the Communist Party of Britain
Age 68


On the Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution

1. Is it possible in the 21st century - taking into account all the economic and political changes in the world that have taken place over a hundred years since the Great October Revolution - that the victory of a socialist revolution in a single country or within a large region could take place?

Yes, because capitalist state power is still exercised at the national level, even though the world has become more globalised in many respects, especially in the economic, social and cultural spheres. Even the main international and global institutions still rest on member states, with the most powerful states continuing to dominate them. The real question is whether the major capitalist states can and will coordinate their actions to prevent socialist revolution in a particular country. That will be determined by a range of objective and subjective factors, while never forgetting the contradictions and antagonisms that exist between the different capitalist classes and their respective states. All this makes it imperative that communist parties have to develop their revolutionary programmes on the basis of a concrete analysis of the concrete situation - what Lenin called the 'very gist, the living soul' of Marxism. Central to that situation is where power actually lies and so must be captured, namely, at the level of the nation-state. Of course, it also includes the most relevant international conditions, so that strategies can be devised which can best protect the revolutionary process against various forms of outside interference and intervention.

2. Taking into account the experience of the countries of the 'left turn' in Latin America in the last two decades, is the victory of an unarmed revolution possible (or, as it is often called, 'by peaceful means')? Is it possible for the working people to come to power on a broad popular front using bourgeois electoral devices?

The Chilean Communist Party had to make a profound analysis of the defeat of the Chilean revolution by foreign interference, economic sabotage and a military coup in 1973. There as elsewhere today, there is always the possibility - even the likelihood - that the capitalist class will resort to force at some stage of the revolutionary process if that is judged necessary. In Britain, Communists have no illusions in our ruling capitalist class, which has always been prepared to use military force when unavoidable, especially in the suppression of national liberation movements in British colonies. But we also recognise that at home the British ruling class exercises powers to win mass acceptance, as well as powers of coercion. The same is true of many other countries, to a greater or lesser degree, especially in the most advanced and least unstable capitalist countries. While this does not mean that most people enthusiastically support the status quo, many do, and most tolerate the present system of society because they see no better, practical alternative. So Communists and their allies must win the battle of ideas, which in bourgeois parliamentary democracies will require - especially in the earlier stages of the revolutionary process - that this is demonstrated in elections as well as in extra-parliamentary struggle. Of course, winning on the electoral front will not necessarily deter the capitalist class from using coercive measures to defend its economic and political power. This places an additional responsibility on revolutionary parties: our programme must consider what kind of strategy and policies would limit the ability of the capitalist class and its state to block, undermine or crush the forces of progress and revolution. What preparations need to be made by the Communist party, a left or socialist government, the working-class movement and its allies to defend themselves against repression, subversion, sabotage and military intervention from any quarter? At each stage, which policies will reduce the capacity and opportunities for capitalist resistance and which will unite the maximum forces in the direction of progress and socialism? These are the questions the Communist Party of Britain addresses in the updated edition of our programme, Britain's Road to Socialism.

A lesson of the left turn in Latin America over recent decades is that the revolutionary process, once begun, should never lead socialists or Communists to underestimate the persistence and determination of the counter-revolutionary forces at home and abroad. Even when large parts of Latin America had elected left, socialist or anti-imperialist movements, the USA did not give up its efforts to block progress in those countries. In recent years, through a range of tactics in alliance with domestic reactionaries, US imperialism - usually supported by British imperialism and the European Union - has succeeded in rolling back the victories in Ecuador, Brazil, Chile and Honduras, at least temporarily.

Another lesson is that holding government office is not the same as wielding state power. In Venezuela, I met members of the United Socialist Party of the then president Chavez who believed that they had already won state power and were building socialism. Their courage and enthusiasm were admirable, but their belief took little or no account of the reality that the capitalist and landlord class still dominated large sections of the economy (including most of the press), still had its subversive political organisations together with their agents in senior positions in the state apparatus - including local and provincial government - and was acting in concert with neighbouring reactionary regimes and US imperialism.

3. Is the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat relevant today, and what could be the forms of implementing it? When answering this question, please take into account that the very concept of 'proletarian' inevitably needs to be clarified due to the scientific and technological revolution, the changes in the level of education of the population, etc.

The Communist Party in Britain ceased using the term 'dictatorship of the proletariat' in our programmes and policy documents after World War Two. The term had become synonymous in many people's minds with the Hitler dictatorship in Nazi Germany, to mean brutal and one-person rule without any democratic mandate or accountability. 

Nonetheless, we have retained the concept, which is working-class state power. This is consistent with Marx's original use of the term, which did not exclude the need for popular consent - in one form or another - for the governing power after the working class takes state power. Indeed, Marx once speculated that a peaceful transition to the lower stage of communism might even be possible in Britain (although Lenin later explained how this had been made all but impossible by subsequent developments, not least the emergence of state-monopoly capitalism and the extension of state power into every significant aspect of society). The spirit of mass participation and accountability in the exercise of state power runs as a democratic thread through Marx's writings on the Paris Commune, although he emphasised - especially after its defeat - that the proletarian state must be prepared to use all means necessary to defend itself and crush the forces of counter-revolution. Engels wrote extensively in later life about the new opportunities - as well as the limitations - opened up by the extension of the franchise in Germany and Britain (and for which he and Marx had actively campaigned).

Our party's programme Britain's Road to Socialism takes the position that any transition towards a revolutionary situation in our three nations would almost certainly have to demonstrate that it enjoys the support of the majority of the working class and of the population generally. In our conditions in the past, present and foreseeable future, that would have to include - in the early stages at least - a victory for the left and progressive parties in elections and the formation of a left government in London.

At the same time, our programme clearly states that the ruling class and its allies elsewhere would seek to use a range of measures to frustrate, block and undermine such a government and the mass movement upon which it relies. Different forms of reactionary resistance could include economic sabotage, subversion and even violent rebellion. Thus a left government and mass movement would need to prepare for all possible eventualities in the decisive confrontations that would determine whether state power is to pass from the monopoly capitalist class to the working class and its allies. During and after such a revolutionary transfer, the revolutionary movement must be prepared to use all necessary force to suppress unlawful subversion and rebellion. While there would need to be far-reaching reforms of the state apparatus and its top personnel, parts of which would need to be abolished or reconstructed, the left government and movement will also have to develop their own organs of authority and power to strengthen the revolutionary forces.

The CPB and its programme define the 'working class' broadly, which again we would argue is in keeping with Marx's teachings on class exploitation. All working people - past and present - whose own physical or mental labour creates or maintains surplus value, whether directly or indirectly, or who perform surplus labour, are working-class: from private and public sector workers (whether or not they directly produce commodities) to school teachers, health workers, civil servants, typists and road-sweepers. This even includes large sections of the self-employed and small sub-contractors whose labour creates surplus value for capitalist companies, although this process is often concealed by the terms and conditions of the contract.

The working class also includes unemployed, migrant, part-time, casual and agency workers, whose particular conditions and interests under capitalism must be fully part of the concerns of Communists and trade unions.

4. Is the victory of the revolution in the United States and other centres of global imperialism possible in the foreseeable future?

It is difficult to envisage revolutionary change in the USA, Germany or Britain in the near future. Lenin's three conditions for a revolutionary situation are that (1) the ruling class is no longer able to rule in the old way; (2) the working class is no longer willing to be ruled in the old way; and (3) the necessary leadership and strategy exist which make socialist revolution possible. Recent developments have weakened the viability of (1), notably the crisis of neoliberalism, international financial instability and shocks, the global warming crisis and the inability of capitalism to manage pandemics arising from its destruction of the natural world. But whereas there are embryonic signs of (2) in the USA, France and to a lesser extent in Britain (not least in Scotland), some of the 'new ways' attracting public support would not represent any significant advance towards socialism. For this to change in our favour, much needs to be done by Communists, socialists and progressives to rebuild political class consciousness through organisation, mobilisation and the battle of ideas. Only then can (3) develop to the point where left and revolutionary leadership and strategy can 'grip the minds of the masses', as Marx once put it, and become themselves a material force.

5. What are the reasons for the decline of the communist movement in the world? We ask this question with pain, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that in many countries, ultra-right, populist or downright demagogic movements or the ones that distance themselves from politics deliberately, have more supporters among the workers and exploited than the Communists do.

The long post-war expansion of capitalism and its ability to make concessions to an organised working class undoubtedly strengthened the forces of reformism, social democracy and - in the Communist movement - revisionism in some of the developed countries. When combined with the Cold War anti-communist offensive led by US imperialism, this also assisted a shift in working-class support from the communist to the social-democratic parties and even further rightwards. From Chile and Latin America to Spain, Greece, the Middle East and Indonesia, Communist parties faced illegality and brutal repression at the hands of imperialism and its local collaborators.

However, we should not overlook the advances and victories won by communist parties and national liberation movements during this period, notably in Cuba, Vietnam and parts of Africa, all with extensive support from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Moreover, against the odds, mass communist parties continued to exist in or re-emerged in countries such as France, Portugal and India.

But then came the collapse and counter-revolution in the socialist countries which inflicted further, substantial damage on the cause of socialism and communism, as well as having wider repercussions on peoples across the world.

Since then, Communists have struggled to rebuild their parties and the international movement. Assisted by objective factors, including financial crises from Latin America and East Asia to the 2008 melt-down and recession in the advanced capitalist economies, mass opposition to a new series of imperialist wars and the widespread damage done by neoliberal economic policies, communist parties have regrouped and in places such as Brazil, Chile, South Africa, Portugal, Russia and Japan retained, revived or extended their mass character. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Greek Communist Party took the lead in initiatives to bring the world's Communist and workers parties together in regular meetings. The growing re-engagement of the Communist Party of China with communist parties and the annual International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties is a very positive development.

 Alongside all this, the failure of the traditional social-democratic parties in Europe to meet people's aspirations by providing a clear alternative to capitalist neoliberalism has - especially in the absence of strong communist parties - enabled populist pseudo-left or far-right and even fascist parties and movements to gain significant ground among sections of the working class and middle strata.

How this can best be combated will vary according to specific national conditions. In Britain, the CP combines its socialist and anti-imperialist class politics with a broad strategy of building anti-racist, anti-fascist and other progressive alliances across the political spectrum (except for the far right), while working to ensure that working-class organisations are at the core of the fight-back. We also criticise those in the liberal intelligentsia and the far left who condemn all forms of patriotism as aggressive nationalism, and who deny the vital importance of the struggle for national state power in favour of some super-imperialist or ultra-left idealist conception of 'internationalism'. Thus they abandon whole areas of struggle to the conservative, nationalist and fascist right.

The CPB, on the other hand, holds to the Leninist concepts of 'progressive patriotism' and popular sovereignty, celebrating everything in the history and culture of one's home country that is progressive and opposed to exploitation and oppression, while condemning everything that is backward and reactionary. Together with people's aspirations of national freedom and democratic self-government, this is entirely compatible with working-class and people's internationalism.

Communists and our allies must concentrate on identifying the real enemies of people's interests, putting forward concrete solutions to people's problems while exposing the scapegoating and bogus remedies put forward by the far right and fascists. In the 1930s and 1940s, Communist MP Phil Piratin in the East End of London showed how community activism, organisation and mobilisation can cut the ground from under the feet of fascists, winning people away from racist ideas and towards practical action to improve their conditions by organising tenants, building the trade unions and joining the boxing clubs and other community organisations in order to win more influence in working-class circles.

Today, any similar strategy will have to include organised activity on and through the social media.

6. How justified is the existence of communist parties on a national scale in the modern world? What could be the logic and the prospects for the development of the Communist Party today and in the future?

For as long as the ruling class in each country relies upon its state power at a national level, so Communists must concentrate their revolutionary strategy on the transference of that power to the working class and its allies. Although the composition of the working class changes in various aspects, it labour remains vital to the continuing existence of capitalism - as the Covid-19 pandemic has confirmed, highlighting the essential nature of the labour performed by workers in such sectors as health and social care, food production, transport and distribution, waste collection and disposal, broadcasting, retail and medical science.

Just as Lenin challenged Kautsky's theory of 'super-imperialism', so should Communists dispute it in its new guises today. While the European Union represents the most advanced form of international coordination and partial integration of state-monopoly capitalisms in history, the rules, institutions and policies of the EU still rest upon the national state power of its constituent members. The monopoly capitalists of each country still utilise and primarily rely upon the state power of their own country in order to protect and promote their interests, including against the rival interests of monopolies in other countries. Moreover, the stronger state-monopoly capitalisms of Germany and France still dominate the weaker ones to ensure that the EU reflects German and French monopoly interests first, as well as the common interests of state-monopoly capitalism across the EU as a whole. In short, the EU neither eliminates capitalist and imperialist antagonisms within its own ranks nor in the wider world.

Thus the perspective of the CPB has always been to fight for Britain's withdrawal from the EU so that a future left government will be free from pro-capitalist, pro-market, pro-monopoly EU rules and institutions which would - in league with the British ruling capitalist class - be used to obstruct and undermine left policies and bring down the left government.

So long as capitalism proves itself unable to secure full employment, dignity at work and in retirement, housing security, social justice including equality for women and people of every race and nationality, universally high standards of health and education, renewable energy, a clean environment, peace and a harmonious society, then Communist parties must take the lead in arguing and agitating for the only realistic alternative - socialism.

 As far as the international Communist movement is concerned, the CPB would like to see closer coordination between the parties at world and regional levels, with parties requested to contribute resources according to their capacity to make that possible. 

7. Why do the old forms of economic struggle by labour against capital such as strikes do not bring the desired results to modern workers? What forms of economic and political struggle are possible and necessary in the current and projected conditions?

I don't accept that 'old forms of economic struggle' do not produce the desired results for workers. Throughout history and up to and including the present, some actions bring complete victory, sometimes they bring partial victory and other times they end in defeat. Often, there are longer-term benefits to workers that are not immediately clear. Of course, there are objective circumstances that make economic struggles difficult if not impossible to win and Communists must always take account of these when considering strategy and tactics. Certainly, such circumstances have not prevented workers from fighting and winning in many countries across the world right up to the present day. True, they are rarely reported in the capitalist mass media - unless inaccurately - especially when they are small, set a good example, or are likely to win public opinion and solidarity.

But whatever Communists may think or say, workers will - sooner or later - look for ways to organise to defend themselves at work and win improvements in terms and conditions. We cannot stand aside from that, while delivering a message of doom and defeatism.

Nonetheless, Communists, the left and the labour movement also need to apply new and old tactics with imagination: overtime bans, go-slows, walk-outs, strikes, occupations, pickets, protests, boycotts, banner and laser displays, petitioning, street ballots and the rest need to be carried out - where practical - not only in workplaces, but in local communities, shopping centres, company headquarters, shareholder meetings, luxury venues, state and media buildings, cyberspace and elsewhere.

In addition, workers and their trade unions are already using social media to organise, inform and mobilise. But, at this stage, this should supplement rather than replace more traditional means of communication that are still widely used. In Britain, for instance, we still have the Morning Star as the only daily newspaper which reports, analyses and helps the labour and progressive movements to organise in the interests of the working class and the people generally. It is also available online.

However, we should bear in mind that the capitalist class is always looking to find new ways to maintain and intensify exploitation and to combat attempts by workers to improve their terms and conditions. Politically, too, the ruling class seeks new techniques and methods to continuously validate and defend its own system and to discredit any socialist alternative, past as well as present.

This is why we learn a vital lesson from experience: organising for economic struggles creates the conditions in which workers can develop not only their class consciousness, but their political class consciousness, too. Furthermore, this process enables workers to mobilise collectively as a class (drawing in their families, friends and neighbours), which is the only form in which they can develop to the point of challenging the existing order of society and demand fundamental change.

The role of Communists in this whole process has long been explained by Marx, Engels and Lenin and should not need repeating here.

The question is whether this is enough to bring about socialist revolution. Certainly, in the countries of Britain, it is not. That is why our party's programme proposes the building of a popular, democratic, anti-monopoly alliance around the working class as its leading force.

Communists and the labour movement have to play a leading role in the struggle against all forms of exploitation and oppression, on every front. We have to act in solidarity, for example, with people who fight for women's equality, racial justice, national self-determination, gay rights, a sustainable environment and peace. Not only because these causes are just, in themselves, but in order to expose the real nature of state-monopoly capitalism, expose its limitations, demonstrate how the working-class movement represents the real interests of society as a whole, propose an alternative economic and political strategy and raise the vision of a fundamentally new and better system of society, namely, socialism.

Interestingly, new conditions actually demonstrate the truth embodied in our traditional slogans such as 'An injury to one is an injury to all', 'Unity is Strength!', 'Solidarity Forever!', 'Workers of all Lands, Unite!' and 'Socialism - the Hope of the World'.

 All of this underlines the vital significance of the battle of ideas - the ideological struggle - between capitalism and socialism. In particular, political education delivered through a range of channels is essential, not least within the trade union movement. With this in mind, Communists in Britain have helped to restore the Marx Memorial Library's function as a 'Workers' School' as well as a study library.

8. What practical forms of international workers' solidarity are possible and necessary today and tomorrow?

In a world where capitalism is increasingly globalised in terms of labour and capital mobility, transnational corporations, global supply chains and international agreements between capitalist and imperialist states, it is more important than ever that trade unions and Communist and workers parties exchange news and views, extend solidarity and coordinate their activities between one another. Possible types of activity feature in my responses above, applied at the international level.

Unfortunately, there are severe political and organisational weaknesses in some of the international trade union confederations, federations and associated bodies which go beyond the disunity between them. Communist and workers parties in different countries should consider in consultation with each other the location and character of these weaknesses in order to address them through their own channels of influence.

Linked to these considerations should be coordinated action by Communist trade unions to strengthen or establish international trade union combines based on particular transnational corporations.

The current position of the International Labour Organisation and how to develop its potential would also be a useful focus of study for the Communist parties and their trade union members.

Furthermore, workers and their trade unions and the Communist parties must also consider how capitalism uses new technology - robotics, automation, Artificial Intelligence, IT - to intensify exploitation and increase profits instead of its application to lessen the burden of work and enhance the opportunities for education and leisure.    Where appropriate, leading Communist trade unionists in different industries and services should liaise internationally to assess all these questions and discuss which initiatives would strengthen international working-class unity.

The post used a painting by the English communist artist David Newton

Дискуссия "Движение вперед"