First Published: Finsbury Communist, No.196, May 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Individual anti-revisionists (Marxist-Leninists) existed in Britain before 1962. The movement, however, dates from the emergence of the London Group at that time. It is hoped to write a detailed history of all the various individuals and groups. At this stage, a bare outline of the positive achievements of the movement must suffice.
In the early 1960’s the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of Great Britain sought to impose three principles on the International Communist Movement.
1) The general line of peaceful coexistence between states of different social systems. This meant that everything should be subordinated to maintaining peace between the Western imperialist states and the “socialist” states. This gave the West a freehand to invade Vietnam, Congo, Dominican Republic, etc, and to put down national liberation movements provided only that Russia was left with a free hand in the “socialist camp.”
2) Peaceful competition. The, idea that the “socialist camp” would so improve its living standards compared with the imperialist states, that the latter, capitalist and all, would voluntarily adopt socialism.
3) Peaceful transition to socialism. The idea that the imperialists would not resist, if socialism were voted in at a parliamentary: election. A revolution was therefore unnecessary.
The Marxist-Leninists in contrast, supported national liberation movements against imperialism. They doubted that the capitalist class would want to surrender peacefully its control over the state and its vast wealth and privilege, simply because of the result of a parliamentary election. Where possible, the capitalist class would ensure that such an election did not produce an undesirable result. But if it did do so, they would use violence.
In 1966, Marxist-Leninists proved that all the people of the imperialist countries, including the working class, benefitted materially from imperialism. Hence the high living standards of Britain compared, say with India. Hence the 1ow level of the revolutionary movement in Britain.
Also in 1966, the Cultural Revolution broke out in China. Following upon this, Marxist-Leninists subjected all accepted ideas and authorities to criticism. This was all to the good, as the accepted ideas all had their roots in imperialist society.
These were all useful achievements of the Marxist-Leninists. But they went largely unappreciated and, indeed, served to isolate the movement.
Britain benefits from imperialism and has, therefore, no interest in national liberation. It is ludicrous to maintain that Britain is ready for socialist revolution. People are not likely to want to end imperialism because you tell them that they are benefitting from it. Nor will imperialist ideas, which have roots in society, collapse simply because they are criticised.
Briefly, the Marxist-Leninists did not succeed in working out how they should function in imperialist society; a society which, for its inner contradictions, seems likely to continue for many years yet.
The result is that the movement is now obviously, reduced to a few small groups and individuals, generally without roots anywhere, and with not the slightest idea where they are going. Unity conferences, programmes and manifestos become redundant within a few months, when faced with reality.
At times like this it is useful to remember one’s achievements. But these achievements are only in the realm of ideas. Ideas cannot survive outside the human brain. And so the movement has a duty to consider how best it is to survive and grow.
The necessary stabilizing factor is to unite the Marxist-Leninists with the interests of the productive working class.
For a long time there has been a tendency not to approach politics in class terms. The leftist revolutionary is impatient with the reformist who is doing nothing for revolution; the reformist is impatient with a lot of talk about revolution which would go down like a lead balloon on a factory floor or a doorstep canvass. This results in the politically conscious members and sympathisers of the productive working class being split between revolutionaries and reformists, rather than being united on, class lines. The revolutionary tends to regard as comrades those who, irrespective of class status call themselves communists or socialists and who can recite a bit Marxism-Leninism. The reformist tends to prefer the society of practical reactionaries to that of revolutionaries.
In fact, both revolutionary and reformist see two sides of the truth. The revolutionary sees the inevitability of revolution tomorrow. The reformist sees that there is no chance of revolution today. Neither attitude should preclude cooperation.