Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Collective

Proletarian Revolution and the Split in the Working Class


Quite obviously the situation in England during 1848-68 is not exactly the same as that of the US between 1945-71. England’s decades of unchallenged Industrial and colonial monopoly occurred during the period when capitalism was growing and developing. The political and territorial partition of the world had not been completed. Nineteenth century capitalism, characterized by free competition, was in the process of transformation into monopoly capitalism, or imperialism. In contrast, the post-World War II period of uncontested US hegemony within the world imperialist system occurred during the second stage of the general crisis of capitalism. Imperialism is a moribund and decaying system; several, not one, imperialist powers share a monopoly and struggle aiming themselves for hegemony. The most important aspect of the second stage is the breaking away of the socialist countries from the world capitalist system and the disintegration of the all-embracing world market. The second stage signalled the struggle for the economic redivision of the world.

There are, however, two important similarities between England as an imperialist power during the transitional stage of capitalism into monopoly capitalism, and the US as an imperialist power during the second stage of the general crisis of capitalism. First, both England and the US sat on top of the imperialist dung-heap. The industrial and colonial monopoly of Great Britain allowed the bourgeoisie to share the fruits of the plunder in the colonies with its working class. Likewise, the US, after the second World War, while not having an industrial and colonial monopoly, had a substantial edge over the other capitalist powers in terms, of productivity and scale, and seized the largest share of the world’s market, economically penetrating most of the dependent countries and colonies, as well as the developed capitalist countries. After WWII, the export of capital from the US exceeded by far that of the other capitalist countries. As a result, the US, like Britain, could not only bribe a narrow upper stratum, but also extend certain privileges to the majority of workers.

Secondly, both the monopoly of England and the leading role of US Imperialism were challenged by other capitalist countries who had lagged behind due to uneven development.[1]

But while England has thus outgrown the juvenile state of capitalist exploitation described by me, other countries have only just attained it. France, Germany, and especially America, are the formidable competitors who, at this moment–as foreseen by me in 1844–are more and more breaking up England’s industrial monopoly.[2]

Stalin wrote in 1952;

Let us pass to the major vanquished countries, Germany (Western) and Japan. These countries are now languishing in misery under the jackboot of American imperialism. Their industry and agriculture, their trade, their foreign and home policies, and their whole life are fettered by the American occupation ’regime’. Yet only yesterday these countries were great imperialist powers and were shaking the foundations of the domination of Britain, the USA and France in Europe and Asia. To think that these countries will not try to get on their feet again, will not try to smash the US ’regime.’, and force their way to independent development, is to believe in miracles.[3]

When England’s monopoly was broken by the US and Germany, this was followed by crisis of overproduction, depression and the dramatic fall in the standard of living of the masses. Similarly, in the late 1960s-early 1970s, the US was toppled as the imperialist kingpin by the developing strength of principally Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union and the historic struggles of the Vietnamese and other national liberation movements in the developing countries and former colonies.

However, this occurred during the second stage of the general crisis, when the world market had disintegrated and was shrinking because of proletarian revolution and wars of national liberation in the colonies. This contraction of the world market has been aggravated by the restriction of the internal markets of the capitalist countries on the one hand, and the growing industrial strength throughout the capitalist world on the other. As the capitalists must maximize profits, this means: first, stepped up export of capital and commodities by the imperialist countries; and second, intensification of competition between the. imperialist powers for markets, raw materials, and colonies – in a world market which is shrinking.

This results in the deepening of the general crisis of capitalism. At the same time, the sixth post-war crisis of overproduction, which started in 1973, has merged with the general crisis, and in turn was made more acute by the deepening of the general crisis. A ’recovery’ such as occurred during previous crises of overproduction (post WWII) is not possible. The entire capitalist world is entering, a prolonged period of high unemployment, idle productive capacity, and rampant inflation. This will result in a constant deterioration in the standard of living for the majority of the working class, as noted above. The only temporary and forced resolution of the crisis by the bourgeoisie is imperialist war.

The US has lost its position as the leading imperialist power, which it gained as a result of the second World War. Another imperialist war will again decide the economic redivision of the world, unless revolution prevents imperialist war:

...not only have the capitalists something to fight about now, but they cannot help fighting if they want to preserve capitalism, for without a forcible redivision of colonies the new imperialist countries cannot obtain the privileges enjoyed by the older (and weaker) imperialist powers.[4]

Since, the restoration of capitalism in the late 1950’s and early ’60’s, the USSR has been aggressively building up military strength, seeking economic and political hegemony worldwide. It now ranks as a superpower, along with the US, a major source of imperial1st war. As for industrial productivity and plant capacity, the US now lags behind West Germany and Japan. A larger share of the internal US market as well as the external markets have been taken by competing imperialist powers. What does this mean concretely for the working class and the oppressed nations and peoples within the US? It means, first, that the US bourgeoisie can no longer extend benefits to the entire working class; relative privileges to the lower strata and the oppressed nations and peoples are more and more withdrawn, this is reflected in the fall of real wages, the crisis of the cities resulting in massive layoffs and cutbacks such as occurred in New York City, cutbacks in food stamp programs, childcare funding, unemployment insurance, and other welfare programs of the state. The oppressed nations, peoples, and national minorities within the US state, in addition to suffering particular hardship from such general effects of the crisis, are being subjected to increasing waves of repression and outright terror in the form of police brutality, mass deportations, vigilante terror, and federally-funded forced sterilizations, to name only a few example. Even the bribed upper stratum cannot escape the general effects of the crisis, and will have their wages, benefits, and political ’pull’ eroded to a certain extent, as shown by the San Francisco city workers strike in Spring, 1976, and the trial of Plumbers Union leader Joe Mazzeola in September, 1976 (see Appendix). However, on the whole, the upper stratum will only be marginally affected compared to the falling standard of living of the vast majority of workers.

To further understand the effects of the sharpening of the contradictions of capitalism during the second stage of the general crisis of capitalism, we should look at the current situation in Britain.

A. Great Britain: The Effects of the Crisis on a Declining Imperialist Power

Many lessons can be drawn from the preview that Great Britain provides as a once great imperialist power, now on the decline. Britain’s situation of permanent economic crises reflects the growing contradictions between the world’s imperialist powers as they compete for markets, the British working class has not only taken the rap for the country’s economic problems, but is forced to shoulder the burden of the monopoly capitalists’ moribund system. The effects of the crisis are particularly severe in Northern Ireland, a British colony, and for the many national minorities (primarily of Irish, Asian, and African descent) living in England.

Great Britain became known as the workshop of the world as a result of the Industrial Revolution, which took place there in the last half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th. The British bourgeoisie possessed a colonial monopoly which provided markets for their goods and a source of cheap (often slave) labor and raw materials. British shipping trade grew to first place and was protected by the Royal Navy, which helped to develop a world Industrial monopoly and led to the control of 25% of the territory and population of the world by the beginning of World War II.

The truth is this: during the period of England’s industrial monopoly the English working class has, to a certain extent, shared in the benefits of the monopoly. These benefits were very unequally parcelled out amongst them; the privileged minority pocketed most, but even the great mass had, at least, a temporary share now and then. And that is the reason why, since the dying out of Owenism, there has been no socialism in England. With the breakdown of that monopoly, the English working class will lose that privileged position; it will find itself generally – the privileged and leading minority not excepted – on a level with its fellow-workers abroad. And that is the reason why there will be socialism again in England.[5]

The depression of the 1870’s marked the beginning of the breakdown of Britain’s industrial supremacy. US and German steel production became Britain’s first real rivals, and in response, the economy gradually shifted from the investment of industrial capital to that of finance capital. This trend grew until World War I, and especially World War II, when Britain’s position as dominant overseas capital exporter began to weaken once again in the face of competition from countries such as the US, Japan, and West Germany.

Since World War II, Britain’s decline as an imperialist power has increasingly exposed the parasitic nature of its economy. National liberation movements, both within Britain and abroad, and the demand for domestic reforms pressure the British imperialists to change their economic priorities. However, by far the dominating economic priority of imperialism everywhere is the export of finance capital and technology to areas that yield maximum profits. The Imperialists have no choice. In Great Britain, this has led to a decrease of investment in domestic industry and agriculture, which in turn leads to rampant unemployment and the need to import consumer goods. In July, 1976, the balance of trade deficit stood at $916.2 million.[6]

Following World War II, and as a result of it, the US overtook Great Britain as the world’s leading creditor nation and also took control of Britain’s monopoly in the shipping and oil industries. More recently, under the Tory government, attempts at reviving the economy included a floating exchange rate (designed to help stake the purchasing power of the pound more flexible), entering the European Economic Community (EEC) (in hopes of making the economy more competitive and efficient), wage and price controls, settling of strikes by court, interference, encouraging of mergers, and tax incentives for investments. All of these reflect the general instability and crisis state of the economy and show the bourgeoisie’s attempt to shift the crisis onto the working class.

Effects of the crisis upon the British working class have been severe. Money cut from public spending programs is channeled into foreign investment. The result: is an official unemployment rate of 6.1% (1975), high inflation, a drop in industrial production, and a drastic lowering of the working class’s standard of living.[07] Projected cuts in public spending for 1977-79 have been estimated at 2,400 million pounds – amounting to 1,000 million pounds for 1977 alone.[8] (Recently the pound sterling has fallen to about 1 pound = $1.68.) The main areas affected will be health, social-services and education, the phasing out of food subsidies, mortgage leading, road maintenance and building, defense and environmental services. An estimated 60,000 jobs will be lost because of the cutbacks.[9] The remaining budget cuts will be parceled out for 1978-79 in essential areas like garbage collection, health and personal social services, housing, government civil servants and administration coats, and education. An increase in postal rates is scheduled. Even though wages of British workers are the lowest in the EEC, they still had to contend with an inflation rate of 24% in 1975[10], 13.8% in the first half of 1976[11], and an increase in personal income tax that places the average worker in the tax bracket once reserved for the rich. With all this, the British ruling class calls for still more sacrifices from the workers and continued support of the government’s newest austerity programs.

British workers have responded to these attacks by uniting, in spite of their reformist leadership and government threats, in militant strikes and demonstrations. Bourgeois figures show that of all Western capitalist countries since World War II, militancy as demonstrated by the number and length of strikes was highest in Great Britain. In 1972, a total of 2080 working days for every 1000 workers was lost, as compared with 1680 working days in Italy, and only 5 in West Germany.[12] The two-month-long miners’ strike of 270,000 miners in 1974 helped to bring the reactionary Heath government to its knees, and miners are threatening to strike again if retirement age is not lowered by 1980. The national teachers union (with 20,000 teachers unemployed), in response to education budget cuts, claims that it too will strike if classroom sizes are not reduced. The plight of the national minorities within England has become especially severe, recently erupting into armed confrontations with police. And in Northern Ireland, one of colonial Britain’s last strongholds, the battle for national liberation continues to rage.

And what position does the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) take towards the growing class turmoil? Certainly not a position of revolutionary class struggle, but rather one of “peaceful transition through nationalization of all major industries”. The favorite tactic used by the CPGB to ’threaten’ the monopolies and the government is a one day general strike which objectively only serves to demoralize the working class and weaken the organization of a sustained revolutionary movement. The CPGB sees as their main task the creation of “inroads into the power of monopoly capitalism” through the use of their nationalization program. They claim that “there is no question that such a policy would fundamentally change thee relations of production”. Ignoring the fascist tactics of the Tory and Labour governments such as wage controls, creation of the Scotland Yard strike force, the reactionary Industrial Relations Acts, the development of state monopoly capitalism, and the formation of fascist strikebreaking groups led by ex-military officers, the CPGB continues to surrender the British working class to the rising forces of fascism. The CPGB pushes the idea of “structural reform through nationalization”, while distorting the fact that socialized “state ownership” in capitalist countries does not do away with the capitalist nature of productive forces and relations of production. It has strong influence in most of the large trade unions, and holds positions on the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Executive Board, which recently approved a 6 pound/week pay limit, for British workers. The CPGB, like the CPUSA, with its revisionist line of “peaceful transition to socialism”, continues to theoretically and practically disarm the British working class, thereby paving the way for fascism.


[1] The following sources give an indication of the growing inter-imperialist rivalry: “Auto Industry Tests Anti-Import Weapons in Battle of California”, Wall Street Journal, January 28, 1976, p. 1; “Moves to Curb Imports Strain Relations”, Japan Economic Review, January 15, 1976; Kenneth Warren, World Steel, 1975, Chapter 8; Albert Syzmanski, “The Decline and Fall of the US Eagle”, Social Policy, March-April, 1974.

[2] F. Engels, “Preface to the English Edition of 1892”, op. cit.. p. 363.

[3] J.V. Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, op, cit.. p. 34.

[4] V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”, op. cit., p. 114.

[5] F. Engels, op. cit., p. 370.

[6] Manchester Guardian, February 1, 1976, p,

[7] Manchester Guardian, February 29, 1976, p

[8] Manchester Guardian, August 1, 1976, p. 4

[9] Wall Street Journal, September 15, 1976, p. 4.

[10] Quarterly Economic Review for the United Kingdom, #4 1975.

[11] Manchester Guardian, July 25, 1976

[12] Workers Viewpoint, Vol. I, #2, September, 1974