Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers’ Movement

Why Paul Foot Should Be A Socialist
The case against the Socialist Workers’ Party


V. REVOLUTION IN BRITAIN: PF’s failure to take into account the factors for revolution in Britain today

We have shown how PF and the SWP, in their calls for ’revolution’, are in fact indulging in idealistic fantasies. For without a sober and realistic understanding of the various classes and strata in British society, any would-be socialist programme will inevitably miscalculate, take all the wrong turnings, and ultimately prove at best an irrelevance and at worst misleading.

We, on the contrary, have continually pulled him back to the central issue of Marxist doctrine – the question of slate power. We have insisted that the path taken by the Paris Commune of 1871, the path of insurrectionary seizure of state power by the proletariat, remains the path that must be taken by the working class in Britain in our time. We have insisted that the road taken by the October revolution of 1917 in Russia, the path of smashing the machinery of the capitalist state and building a wholly new, workers’ state, remains the road we must point out to the working class today. We have insisted that the lessons of such historical experience (summed up in the Marxist doctrine of proletarian revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat) are universally applicable, that to ignore them will inevitably lead to catastrophic setbacks for working class struggle, that they are a law of history.

The question will therefore be asked: are we indulging in idealistic fantasies? Are we living in the past? Are we viewing the world through a haze of nineteenth-century texts and Eisenstein films? We have shown how the jibe of “absolute dogmatic Marxist” was misdirected when it was aimed at Lenin, but is it correctly to be applied to us? Has the revisionist vodka flowing so freely at the October revolution’s sixtieth anniversary celebrations blocked our ’sober and realistic understanding’ of Britain in 1977?

In this chapter, we will consider various factors, all of them ignored by PF and the SWP, which show that we have our feet planted firmly on the ground. For instance, the accelerating decline of British imperialism will mean that many hitherto stable features of the class line-up in Britain will undergo catastrophic change. In such a volatile situation, social upheavals and mass movements of insurrectionary proportions, far from being fantasies, can be guaranteed. And what about the situation in northern Ireland? Has not that already confronted the UK state in our time with insurrection within its ’own’ territory? And, perhaps above all, we take into consideration the world-wide intensification of the contention between the two superpowers, which is bound sooner or later to come to the ’crunch’, and which will most likely, for the third time this century, turn Europe into a vast battlefield with a large proportion of the working class under arms. Do not these factors show that it is realistic to envisage a situation arising in the coming decades when the capitalist state in Britain will be overthrown in conditions of insurrection and civil war?

We shall show that, far from living in the past and acting out historical fantasies, it is in fact we who are moving with the times. All the ’modern’ trimmings and ’up-to-date’ imagery used by PF are merely a cover-up for the fact that the basic line of activity put forward by the SWP (long ago refuted by Lenin as ’economism’) is itself historically discredited, and as out of step with the times as could be.


PF has some harsh words for the giant corporations that have dominated the economic life of capitalism throughout this century. As we have seen, he chronicles their new spurt of growth since the 1950s, and blames this for the birth of “a new monster”, stagflation (p.24). He describes some of the dirty deals which corporations (such as Tate and Lyle, Shell, etc.) get away with behind the facade of parliamentary democracy (pp.52-53). At one point he even refers to the state as “the centralised power of the capitalist corporations” (p.90). The feature of the corporations which most riles him is the fact that their boards are “unelected”: “almost the entire British sugar industry,” he says, is “controlled by one board of non-elected people” (p.53); this is only one example of “the unelected, irresponsible power of corporations, bankers, and the like . . . exerted over an elected government”; they “use their power to humble labour governments” (p.52), and so on. But his dogged insistence on writing of Britain without reference to the international context has blinded him to what is most significant about these corporations, namely the fact that they arose and developed along with modern imperialism – they are in fact the institutions through which capitalism in its imperialistic phase exercises dominance over the economies of the colonies and dependant countries. Apart from one passing reference to “speculative investments overseas”. PF is silent on the international role of these imperialist (or ’multi-national’ as they prefer to call themselves) corporations. First and foremost, of course, this shows that PF is a complete failure from the point of view of internationalism, as though the fact that their boards are not elected (whether by their employees or by a national referendum of some kind, he does not say) was more to be condemned than their imperialistic nature! What we will discuss at this point, however, is the fact that Iris failure to take this international perspective into account also renders him incapable of explaining various features of the economy inside Britain itself.

During the decades since the end of the Second World War, British capitalism has seen a period of relative stability, and it is quite common to refer to the ’post-war boom’. Funds have been available with which to buy off the ’labour aristocrats’ who have repaid the bourgeoisie by widely propagating opportunism on the factory floor This is the state of affairs which we have sought to associate with imperialism – and yet these have been the very years when the British Empire has been ’lost’. Does not this disprove our theory? No. For though it is true that the rising demands of the peoples of the British Empire forced Britain to beat a retreat politically and concede the formation of new states with all the trappings of independence’, economic domination by British imperialism was still exercised through the continued operations of the ’giant corporations’. This stage of imperialism is termed ’neocolonialism’. It allowed British and other capital to continue to exploit Asian, African and Latin American labour, and the old imperialist pattern of lop-sided development persisted, with raw material extraction predominating in the neo-colonies and modern industry in the imperialist countries. It was the emergence of the neo-colonial system that accounted for the ’post-war boom’ in Britain and other imperialist countries. Likewise, the end of that boom is the result of the intensification of anti-imperialist struggles in the third world. For more and more neo-colonial peoples are coming to see the realities of imperialist domination that lurk behind the national anthems, flags and independence day celebrations which imperialism conceded.

Who, nowadays, is still taken in by the neo-colonial fraud? Well, PF for one. He fails to mention the neo-colonialist system and takes no account of the great significance both of its rise and of its impending collapse upon the British economy. How, then, does he account for the ’post-war boom’? “For a long time after the war,” he relates, “it looked as though the profit system had found a way out of its difficulties. For twenty-five years there was never as many as a million unemployed; and there was a gradual growth in production and the standard of living” (p.23). As for any attempt to reveal the link between this state of affairs on the one hand, and the initial successes and subsequent crisis of the neo-colonial system on the other, PF’s pamphlet is of course silent – one might as well look in the Queen’s Speech.

Instead, what PF gives us is a rather garbled version (pp.23-24) of the shopworn theory of the “permanent arms economy”. In its original form, this theory, which was invented by a writer named Michael Kidron, drew well-deserved attention to the cancer of wasteful military spending. Unfortunately, Kidron got carried away and started ’explaining’ just about everything in world affairs by reference to the economics of arms production. The ’theory’ thus ended up serving as a jamming mechanism for deafening people to the more fundamental effects on the world economy of anti-imperialist struggles. Thus PF’s version states that “war spending after the war... helped to stabilise the economy”, not a word about how the establishment of the neo-colonial system helped ’stabilise the economy’, of course. But what about the end of the post-war boom? Surely that attracts PF’s attention to the connection of Britain’s fortunes with the ebb and flow of colonial liberation movements’’ Unfortunately, anyone who predicts that PF will relate anything outside Britain to anything inside Britain must be joking. PF’s explanation for the flagging fortunes of British capitalism is that “arms became more and more expensive . ...” and so on. Before we all die laughing, we had better leave these catastrophic excursions of the SWP into the field of economics, and pass on to next business.

British imperialism today is, though ailing, still very much alive. British investments abroad, which receive no more than the odd stray reference in PF’s pamphlet, are crucial to the stability of capitalism in Britain. As we have seen in the case of the rise and decline of the neo-colonial system, the fate of British capital’s overseas ventures largely dictates the pace of class struggles back home in Britain: when that system managed to stem the anti-imperialist tide for a time, workers in Britain could be pacified: now that the system is receiving setbacks all round the world, the British working class is beginning to rise again. Where are these overseas investments, how are they maintained, and what are their prospects for survival?

Through the Commonwealth (never mentioned by PF) British imperialism retains political and cultural links with many of its colonies. It uses these links to very good effect, both to oil the wheels of commerce and investment and to retain what influence u can over the political stance of the Commonwealth governments. Britain carefully supervised the development of ruling elites and their armed forces in its colonies, and helped launch them on their way as political caretakers of British economic exploitation under the neo-colonialist system. Unfortunately for British imperialism, however, the resulting regimes in the Commonwealth countries are to an ever greater extent being forced by the anti-imperialist demands of their people to stand up to imperialist domination in the economic sphere. More and more Commonwealth governments are tending to align with the rest of the third world against imperialism. Apart from those of Singapore and maybe one or two others. Commonwealth governments don’t play ball with British imperialism any more. Even the countries of the ’Old Commonwealth’ (i.e. Australia, New Zealand and Canada are fretting under British hegemony. The administrations in Australia in 1975 (the tail of the Withlam government. etc.) are described by PF as a “ludicrous farce” (p.58), and his Arabian Nights style of writing history does indeed make it all sound like a pantomime story of queens, ministers, and so on – an almost picturesque anachronism, in fact. What is significant in these events, however, is what he omits to mention, the realities behind the ’farcical’ appearance: namely, that British imperialism still manages to throw its weight around in the Commonwealth countries, treating with contempt their just demands, for instance the growing demand of the Australian people for national unity and independence, and for the establishment of an independent and constructive role for Australia in international affairs.

The same contemptuous dismissal of the anti-imperialist current in world affairs is shown in PF’s failure to expose the still-vicious nature of British imperialism’s adventures overseas, from Suez in 1956 to Dhofar in the 1970s (neither mentioned by PF). The case of Dhofar, in particular, where the armed forces of the British state are currently active and where the bourgeois press has maintained a virtual news blackout, is an instance where socialists are duty-bound to fill the gaps in information and do propaganda for proletarian internationalism. The racist settler regime in Zimbabwe, nurtured and tacitly supported by British imperialism, also gets off scot-free in PF’s pamphlet. PF gives many handy facts and figures on various subjects, but nowhere gives a run-down of Britain’s current military presence on foreign soil (its East-of-Suez bases, for instance). He also imposes his own blackout on the struggles currently being waged by third world governments for a ’new economic order’ in which they would retain control over their countries’ resources. The most obvious example of such a struggle, the case of Middle Eastern oil, constantly figures in the reactionary, racist propaganda with which the bourgeoisie tries to turn British workers against the third world countries. PF just gives the bourgeoisie an ideological walk-over here, and once again fails to counterpose a progressive, anti-imperialist line on world affairs to imperialism’s reactionary line on world affairs. By just spiriting British imperialism out of existence as one of the ’optional extra’ subjects he chooses not to include in his pamphlet, PF fails to exert any influence for internationalism, or to pit it against racism.

PF’s ’internationalism’ is thus about as thorough as that of someone who has retired to a cottage on the South coast so as to think just of England and forget the outside world. The basic fact for socialists, however, is that many important features of British society are dependant on imperialist superprofits, i.e. on the outside world. There may indeed be people who arc ’not interested’ in hearing this, but that does not absolve socialists from their responsibility to raise people’s awareness of it as an essential part of countering the bourgeoisie’s propaganda for chauvinism and racism. The British bourgeoisie, in the present, neo-colonial period, would dearly love the idea to gain currency that imperialism is a thing of the past – pith-helmet stuff. However, for many people around the world, imperialist domination is still a deadly reality. By failing to expose British imperialism in its current guise, PF fails to help in the great task of bringing the struggles of the British working class into line with the anti-imperialist struggles of the other peoples exploited by British capital. His ’internationalism’ is a sham.

By contrast, Marxist-Leninists constantly show the links of common interest that bind the British working class to the workers of the whole world. This overall historical view has much relevance for an assessment of the prospects for revolution in Britain. It shows that Britain is far from being the ’workshop of the world’ as it used to be when it exercised a near-monopoly of imperialist domination in mid-Victorian times. By the turn of the century it had sunk to the position of one among several competing imperialist powers, and, severely weakened by two world wars, now a definitely second-rate one at that. With the accelerating pace of colonial liberation and anti-imperialist struggle during the 1960s and 1970s, Britain is now very hard-pressed to maintain the level of its surviving investments overseas: it has been largely ousted from its Middle Eastern oil empire, and now faces expulsion from one of its last ’secure’ corners, south Africa. The whole basis of the British bourgeoisie’s ’democratic’ domination of the working class in Britain is this faced with collapse, and social crisis is inevitable. The drastic decline in imperialist superprofits will mean fewer perks for the ’labour aristocracy’ and a threat to the whole ’middle-class’ way of life; it is even likely that the very institution of four o’clock tea may be swept away by the forward surge of history. The gimmicky theory of the ’permanent arms economy’ serves, to block out this more fundamental trend – the crisis of British imperialism under the impact first of inter-imperialist competition and now of anti-imperialist struggles. A similar un-historical perspective is revealed in one of the SWP’s posters about unemployment, which reads “No return to the 1930s”. The Vietnamese and other peoples of the world have already seen to that! This ’general crisis of British imperialism’ and the far-reaching social crisis it will assuredly lead to is the first of the reasons we give for retaining the Marxist theory of revolution. We believe this factor makes it realistic to foresee the triumph of socialism in Britain as coming about in conditions of tremendous crisis and upheaval, and involving the actual overthrow of the capitalist state. We believe this factor to justify us in insisting on the lessons of the Paris Commune and the October revolution as more relevant than ever, and in repudiating the ’economism’ of the SWP as more antiquated and out-of-date than ever.


The two pillars of all oppression in the world today are the two superpowers. PF’s response to this glaringly obvious fact is to put it out of mind. To begin with the US: it emerged from the Second World War as the number one imperialist power, the three most aggressive imperialisms (German, Italian and Japanese) having been overthrown, and British and French imperialism both having been greatly weakened by the war. The much-vaunted ’anti-colonial’ stance adopted by the US turned out to be the ideological cover for imperialism’s neo-colonial policies during the 1950s and 1960s. (It was in the interests of the US imperialists to support neo-colonial ’independence’ and the break-up of the European empires, because this made it easier for it to gain new markets in the third world, and develop its strategic and political interests there with the minimum of opposition from Britain, France, etc.) At the same time, the US adopted an aggressive stance towards ’communism’; this began as a policy of confrontation with the Soviet Union (the ’cold war’) and reached its height during the Korean war (1950-1953). US imperialism’s anti-communist policy eventually resulted in the creation in its spheres of interest of a number of puppet regimes (what the Chinese government called ’running dogs’). PF condemns some of the effects of this policy, but does not even refer to US imperialism’s role as its instigator and prime mover. For instance, he talks of the “the regime of the Shah of Persia, which is founded on the torture of dissenters” (p.59) without giving any indication that the present Iranian state has its origins and very basis in the system of imperialism, and in particular of US imperialism. The governments of Thailand, South Africa and South Korea are also listed as “tyrannical” (p.59), without any reference to the fact that these governments, in particular those of Thailand and South Korea, are sustained by US imperialism. He refers to “barbarism” that is “shouted out from torture chambers all the way from Santiago to Robben Island South Africa” (p.46). It PF can get all the way from Santiago to Robben Island without making the connection with US imperialism, then he must lack the most elementary ability to put two and two together. Opposition to torture comes from many different political quarters; it is not of itself necessarily linked to anti-imperialism. Opposition to torture is even sometimes voiced in the US Senate. PF’s stance is that of liberal opposition, not of anti-imperialism.

PF’s blindness to the role of US imperialism is also demonstrated in his remarks on events in Chile during the 1970s. He makes a big fuss about the errors of the “Labour government”, as he calls it, and on this occasion even goes so far as to mention that the “employing class of Chile” had “supporters in America, Europe and Britain ’ (p.57). This still isn’t good enough, however. Chile is fair and square m the US sphere of influence. US imperialism sustains the Chilean state, and even under the Allende government maintained control of the Chilean armed forces (particularly the navy). US corporations such as ITT provided a reliable base from which ’dirty tricks’ could be played on the Popular Unity movement. The reactionary coup was a carbon copy of dozens of such events carried out under the aegis of US imperialism. PF’s silence on US imperialism is thus, in his account of Chilean events, a practically criminal omission. If Chile has failed to open PF’s eyes to the role of US imperialism then surely the Vietnam war succeeds? No. All we get is typical liberal remarks about “American atrocities in Vietnam” (p 49) “the orgy of destruction which the government of America launched . . . against the people of Vietnam” (p.59) and “American invasion and war in Vietnam” (p.92). There is nothing specifically anti-imperialist in these remarks, which could be taken from any British newspaper left of the Daily Telegraph. He has nothing to offer by way of explanation for why US imperialism (“America”, as he calls it) does such things it could just be ’for fun’ for all the enlightenment PF’s pamphlet has to offer. Such is his complete failure to grasp the reactionary role around the world of US imperialism, which has throughout so much of the post-war period occupied an unrivalled Pillion as number one enemy of the peoples of the world.

PF similarly ignores the fact that Britain is a member of the imperialist camp led by the US. This is a serious omission for two reasons. First, he thereby fails to condemn the British bourgeoisie for being accessories to US imperialism’s domination, he just limits himself to one passing swipe at the Labour Government for “supporting American atrocities in Vietnam” (p.49), which he describes as one example of Labour’s “tough Tory policies”. Secondly, by maintaining silence on US domination of Britain, he fails to alert the working class in Britain to the fact that it cannot come to a showdown with the British capitalist state without also coming up against US imperialism which is entrenched financially, militarily and politically in Britain. US military bases in Britain have grown during the post-war period. Two thirds of foreign investment in Britain came from the US by 1968. In 1971 US subsidiaries in Britain employed 8 and a half% of the total workforce in the manufacturing industries and sold goods amounting to around 13% of U.S. output, the US companies being concentrated in the more capital-intensive and profitable industries, in some of which they controlled up to 80% of production. As for the fields of ideology and culture, it is enough to turn on one’s television any day or night or the week to see the extent of US penetration of these fields with capitalist and anti-communist rubbish. Are none of these facts worth a mention? Apparently not. PF prefers to analyse subjects country by country, telling them off like beads on a rosary, and doggedly refusing to relate anything about one country to anything about another. This outlook, which could be described as ’capitalism in one country’, has blinded him to one of the most obvious facts about Britain’s position in the world – that it is a satellite or US imperialism. It’s true that British imperialism still retains more freedom for manoeuvre than such US satellites as, say. Brazil or Chile (or for that matter more than Poland or Czechoslovakia do from the Soviet Union), as was shown by its joining the EEC. Nevertheless British governments are still very servile to the US. For instance, the CIA is given more freedom of action in Britain than in any other West European country.

Let us now pass on to the other imperialist superpower, the Soviet Union. We shall have a lot to say later on about PF’s errors on how and when capitalism was restored in the Soviet Union. For the moment, let us allow that there is a certain overlap of views between the SWP and Marxist-Leninists on the fact that the Soviet Union today is a capitalist, not a socialist, country (PF calls it “state capitalist”. p.72). What is more important, however, is that there is virtually no overlap of views on a question that is more pressing for socialists in Britain to face up to, namely that the Soviet Union is an imperialist power. It is true that PF’s only real use of the concept of imperialism (and one of only two occasions on which he uses the word at all) is in connection with the Soviet Union, which, he says, “has launched imperialist conquests throughout Eastern Europe” (p.67), by which he presumably refers to the post-war settlement. We shall have more to say later about PF’s accusations that the Soviet Union was imperialist during that period: for the moment we shall discuss his obliviousness to the nature of the Soviet threat today, now that it is an imperialist power. Though he is, as we shall see later, very vocal on events in Hungary in 1956, he is strangely silent on the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 which marked the real turning-point in Soviet foreign policy when it launched itself unabashedly on its career as an aggressive imperialist superpower. PF makes no mention of the ’Brezhnev doctrine’ of ’limited sovereignty’ which was proclaimed in 1968 in connection with this invasion. As in the case of US imperialism’s puppet governments, PF once again voices liberal opposition to Soviet domination of Eastern Europe (“the Eastern European countries are tyrannies”, p.67) and ignores the anti-imperialist perspective. He makes no attempt to expose the changes in the relationship between the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries that justify us in calling the Soviet Union imperialist: the lop-sided development of the economies of the various countries, all in the interests of satisfying the needs of the Soviet economy; unequal exchange, and commodity speculation by the Soviet Union (e.g. buying Arab oil cheap and selling it dear to Eastern Europe); the coordination of the five-year plans of the various countries, in the interests of ’international division of labour’, and so on. Do not all these factors, even without considering the threat of military intervention, reproduce to a T the methods of economic domination that imperialism has always used, from Victorian times to the neo-colonial period? PF, by condemning the Soviet Union as ’imperialist’ in 1945 (when it wasn’t) and failing to show the nature of its imperialist domination today (when it is), shows that he has no idea at all of what imperialism is; his very use of the word may thus be taken as hollow verbiage. He is consequently totally unequipped to sound the alarm about the imperialist nature of the Soviet Union, which is a far more urgent task for British socialists than voicing liberal opposition to its internally unattractive features, which is what PF confines himself to doing. Still, to adapt a Chinese saying, someone who can’t even alert us to the tiger at the front door (i.e. the US), can hardly be expected to alert us to the danger of the Soviet Union, a wily wolf that slinks in through the back door. It is of course not only in Europe that Soviet imperialism operates. The inexorable logic of the capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union drives it to seek outlets for capital investment throughout the world, and from Cuba to India, and from Africa to Mongolia, relations of imperialist domination asset themselves to greater or lesser degrees between the Soviet Union and the countries it exploits.


PF has, then, failed to expose the role US imperialism has played as the central pillar of class exploitation throughout much of the world for decades. He has also failed to grasp the fact that the Soviet Union’s role in the world is now that of an imperialist superpower. In analysing PF’s view of the international situation, we are thus dealing with someone whose level of awareness of current affairs is rather low. It is possible, however, to pick out various misconceptions that run through his pamphlet: these misconceptions concern the nature of the rivalry between the super-powers; the current balance of forces between them; and the question of the danger of a new world war, and where that danger principally comes from.

First, the relations between the two superpowers, like all relations between capitalist forces, operate between two poles: on the one hand, they can stand together against common dangers (such as revolutionary movements) – this is what we call ’collusion’; on the other hand, they can fall out among themselves – this is what we call ’contention’. Due to the nature of capitalist competition, contention is the main characteristic of inter-capitalist relations, and this applies no less to imperialist superpowers than to ice-cream vans. Collusion between capitalist forces is, by contrast, temporary, conditional and unstable. PF does not grasp this. In the contradiction between collusion and contention he stresses collusion in a one-sided way; he gives inadequate emphasis to contention, and fails to see that it is in fact the primary aspect of the contradiction. He makes this error both as regards relations between capitalist forces in general, and also specifically as regards relations between the superpowers. “Capitalists quarrel from time to time”, he says, as though contention between capitalists were an occasional episode, and not a fundamental characteristic of the capitalist mode of production. “They argue,” he continues, “about tactics and squabble over their ill-gotten gains. But in face of workers’ resistance, they join ranks and coordinate their forces” (p.91). Now it is of course true that capitalists are capable of joining ranks in face of workers’ resistance; but it is also true that they sometimes fail to bring this off. Workers’ tactics must be based on a realistic analysis of both possibilities, so as to be prepared for the worst (capitalist collusion) when it happens, and to press their advantage to the full when more favourable conditions (capitalist contention) present themselves. PF’s outlook, based as it is on lumping all capitalist forces together as ’them’, and one-sidedly stressing the collusion aspect, is thus an inadequate basis for proletarian tactics, which must also use every opportunity of exploiting a split in the enemy ranks. One obvious example of such a split in the enemy ranks which was successfully exploited by the proletariat was of course the Russian revolution of October 1917, when the Bolsheviks took advantage of the inter-imperialist war to lead the workers to establish Soviet power. By the time the imperialist powers had made peace between themselves, the Soviet regime had had time to prepare for their attacks. A contemporary example of exploiting such inter-imperialist contention is provided by the tactics of the Ethiopian revolutionaries who are making skilful use of US-Soviet contention in the Horn of Africa to advance their cause.

Besides his misconception about inter-capitalist relations in general, then, PF also falls in the same error when referring specifically to the superpowers. “The superpowers,” he says (using the word for the only time throughout his pamphlet), “fear each other, and build up mountains of nuclear weapons against each other, but when one power is suppressing a workers’ revolution within its ’sphere of influence’, then the other power keeps dutifully quiet” (this is a bit of an exaggeration – perhaps he could have said “does not intervene”). “Responsible, rich, powerful experts all over the world,” he continues (once again lumping together with wild abandon such extreme variations of the capitalist species as the US and the Soviet), “can be relied upon to stand shoulder to shoulder in a time of crisis for their class” (p.79). PF can thus be clearly seen to lay a one-sided emphasis on collusion between the superpowers, and to fad to grasp what is more fundamental – the contention between them, and the danger of a new world war that this entails.

PF’s second misconception about the superpowers concerns the insidious nature of the Soviet threat. The prestige of the US has been at a low ebb since its defeat in Vietnam in 1975, and hatred and contempt for US imperialism are now felt by working and oppressed people throughout the world. US talk of the ’free world’ has an exceedingly small and shrinking audience these days. The Soviet Union, however, trading on its great, and deserved prestige in the previous period, does still manage to deceive many people with its talk of ’socialism’, ’anti-imperialism’, and so on, with the result that its political influence still manages to mislead some labour movements and national liberation movements. The events in Angola since 1975, blandly ignored by PF, have shown the fatal consequences that can result from relying on one superpower to expel the other. For the root cause of all discord among peoples in the world today is the contention between the two superpowers, and the more either superpower manages to get a foothold in any country, the more that country will become embroiled in that contention and subject to the disorder and division bred by it. Nearer to home we have now experienced, in the case of Portugal, the first attempted pro-Soviet military coup in Western Europe. We shall have more to say about PF’s rose-tinted account of events there in 1974– 1975, but for the moment let us just pick out his remarks on the role of the revisionist party led by Cunhal (“communists”, as PF calls them). PF mentions “communists who argued that things must ’not be allowed to go too fast’ – and “flung the whole vehicle back into reverse, and left a black vacuum for the terrorists of the Right” (p.81). These mixed metaphors contain no reference at all to the revisionist party’s behind-the-scenes bosses in the Kremlin, whose local agent it was. Once again, by dealing with revolutionary situations country by country without showing their international ramifications, PF has failed to expose the superpower involvement. He is as silent on the reactionary role of one superpower in Portugal as he was on the other superpower in the case of Chile. Such silence is particularly dangerous in the case of the Soviet Union, which is more insidious in infiltrating and subverting mass movements. PF is this effectively doing a cover-up job for imperialism, and is himself aiding the Cunhals of this world to “fling the whole vehicle back into reverse and leave a black vacuum”, to use his own expression.

PF’s third misconception about the superpowers is linked with the last: by putting the two of them on a par. he fails to show which of the two constitutes the greatest lineal lo world peace. Now the historical experience of the two world wars during this century has shown that it is the up-and-coming imperialist powers (those that have less in the way of markets, spheres of influence, etc., than longer-established powers, and that thus have the most to gain from a redivision of the world) that constitute the main threat to world peace. Germany and the other younger imperialist powers of the Axis had potential beyond their actual power in the inter-war years. Britain and the other older imperialist powers, on the contrary, had the greatest interest in the status quo and therefore constituted a lesser danger to peace. Now that the danger of a new inter-imperialist war is looming, it is important to show that it is the Soviet Union that is the up-and-coming superpower, the late-comer, that is seeking everywhere to displace the United States, which is past its prime. The United States is already over-stretched, and has everything to lose and nothing to gain from a redivision. The Soviet Union’s aggressive adventures in Africa have shown conclusively that this is the case, and that there is no chance of making sense of the current international situation without an appreciation of this common,, thread that links developments all round the world – the Soviet Union’s ambition to fill the positions vacated by the United States, even at the risk of provoking serious international tension. PF, as we have seen, just refers to the countries dominated by both of them indiscriminately as “tyrannies”, and makes no allusion to the overall situation in which there is a determined take-over bid for the position of tyrant-in-chief.

The fourth misconception shown by PF concerns the reality of the danger of a new world war. He shows that he cannot really conceive of a war actually occurring, and thus fails in his duly to alert the working class to it. Marxist-Leninists, by contrast, take seriously the danger of a new world war, the factors tending that way, and the factors opposing it. Only once does PF actually allude to the danger of a new world war. “What happened in Chile, in Cyprus, in Thailand,” he says, “are now no longer far-off nightmares. They are realities which could plunge the entire world into a more horrific holocaust than Marx himself ever imagined” (this is on p.93, i.e. the last page of his pamphlet). With a stretch of the imagination these remarks can be seen as an oblique warning of a nuclear war between the two superpowers. This kind of imprecise ’warning’, shrouded in sinister allusions, is hardly worth the paper it is printed on. There is a certain significance, however, in the way it is phrased. For the threatened “holocaust” is said to be “more horrific . . . than Marx himself ever imagined”. This suggests that it is so unthinkable that there is no possibility of scientific or rational analysis of it, that it has, in fact, stopped the wheels of history. This is the ’balance of terror’ theory on which the cold war generation of the 1950s was brought up, and which was the cornerstone of the international policy of Khruschevite revisionism. It was to explode this fallacy that Mao Tse-tung made his celebrated remark that “the atom bomb is a paper tiger”. The history of the subsequent twenty years has amply borne out the truth of this, and has shown that the laws of history still operate, it has above all been the victory of the Vietnamese war of resistance that has shown that people, not weapons, are ultimately the decisive factor and that standing up to nuclear blackmail is precisely what weakens imperialism. The weaker imperialism is, the more restricted is its room for manoeuvre, and the less able it is to launch a world war, and the more prepared the world’s people will be to limit the destructive effects of the ’crunch’ when it comes. Imperialism has long used the development of nuclear weapons and other new means of destruction to intimidate anti-imperialist movements: don’t provoke us, or else! The duty of Marxist-Leninists is to smash through this phobia which has been inculcated in our generation since our earliest years, take the threat of world war seriously and realistically, think about the ’unthinkable’, lay their plans accordingly and develop a strategy through which the working class can confront the threat. Surrounded on all sides by twenty Vietnams, with revolutionary mass movements in their own territory, the superpowers will be in poor shape to go to war against each other. The way to prevent a war, or at the least to postpone its outbreak so as to give the world’s people more time to get prepared and thus to mitigate its effects, is this to step up the struggle, not to ’appease’. If proof were needed of the catastrophic effects of ’appeasement’, which cynically plays on the peoples’ justified desire for peace, one need merely point to the experience of the 1930s, when ’appeasement’ of the Nazis just whetted their appetites and spurred them on. PF’s mysterious muttering about “holocaust”, etc., constitute a failure to present this powerful argument for revolution, that “either revolution will prevent the war, or war will give rise to revolution”.

As reformism begins to lose its hold in Britain today, racism and fascism are to an increasing extent becoming the most obvious forms in which bourgeois reaction is encountered. PF and the SWP are of course right to warn of this danger, which will be growing as the economic and social crisis in Britain bites deeper. Where we criticise them is that in virtually restricting their warnings to this danger, they try to absolve themselves of the responsibility of alerting the working class to the wider range of dangers inherent in the danger of a new world war posed by the Soviet Union. To expose the ugly features of overt fascism is straightforward, but to adopt a wider perspective takes quite a bit of thought. Once again, PF and the SWP content themselves with attacking obvious targets (ideological sitting ducks) and turn a blind eye to more strategically important factors.

Those with a healthy hatred for racism and fascism may be impatient with us for raising wider issues than just ’Crush the NF’ and so on. But a consideration of our international position should illustrate the vital necessity for a revolutionary party not to confine its vision to its immediate tasks, but also to look beyond them. For instance, the NF and their ilk are at this time tools of British imperialism and no other. However, if they came to power, they would almost certainly need to line up with US imperialism, because such an event would put the British bourgeoisie in a highly unstable political and economic situation, and they would need to rely on External support. For all their talk of putting their own country first, movements of the NF type, if they come to power, usually end up associated with US imperialism, as witness the regimes of South Korea, Thailand, Iran, South Africa, Chile, the Greek colonels and many others. The coming to power of a regime of this nature would therefore enormously intensify the contention between the two superpowers. The stronger of the two superpowers in Europe is the Soviet Union, so that it is unlikely that Tyndall and his friends will succeed in establishing a thousand-year Reich. An overtly fascist regime in Britain could either become a contributory cause to the outbreak of war between the two superpowers in Europe; or else it would be a pawn in a game of superpower brinkmanship in which the most likely outcome would be a reduction of US influence in Western Europe and an increase in Soviet influence. Either way, overtly anti-communist and racist fascism of the NF type would be the loser. For in the case of world war in Europe, there is little chance of capitalism surviving at all. And in the second case, i.e. of increased Soviet influence, the outcome would either be that Britain was ’Finlandised’ (i.e. left under the control of a nominally independent capitalist state paying a certain amount of lip-service to ’socialism’ but effectively a neo-colony of Soviet imperialism) or ’Polandised’ (i.e. directly dominated by Soviet imperialism). If this were to happen, then those most likely to play the role of Quisling would be those on the Labour ’left’, not the overt fascists. This might seem like a big relative gain, but in reality it would not be so. First, the Soviet superpower is more powerful militarily, so that the basis for such a regime’s survival would be better. Secondly, such regimes can be just as violent and repressive as their overtly fascist counterparts: one has only to mention the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia, which, under a signpost of (don’t laugh!) ’Marxism-Leninism’ loyally carries out every instruction of its Soviet bosses with great brutality. A Soviet puppet regime in Britain could well spell greater danger in the long term to the working class, more loss of life and setbacks, than an openly fascist regime, whose basis would be extremely insecure.

This is the international context which leads Marxist-Leninists to concentrate so much ideological fire on Soviet imperialism, in distinction to PF and the SWP who largely restrict their fire to domestic fascism. It is not that Marxist-Leninists hate fascism any the less, merely that they see the need always to be looking ahead to prepare the working class for all contingencies. Innumerable facts all around the world show that the main strategic danger will increasingly be Soviet social imperialism and not US imperialism. The Soviet Union is the most aggressive of the two superpowers, and in addition its ideological smoke-screen is more insidious and thus needs exposing most. The Soviet Union and its lackeys, who preach ’socialism’ in words, are more difficult to deal with among militant sections of the working class, and thus more likely to succeed in leading the labour movement down a blind alley. Many people of all different political viewpoints, and not only would-be socialists, arc warning of the danger of racism and fascism. The Marxist-Leninists are among those who issue this warning. But few grasp the line nature of the Soviet threat, which will play such a crucial part in the struggles which the working class will be facing in the coming years. In issuing this additional warning, the Marxist-Leninists are making their own, specific contribution.

A strategic perspective is now emerging amongst Marxist-Leninists on the international situation today, and although intense debate surrounds many of the points we make, we put forward the following view. Contention between the two superpowers, if allowed to continue unchecked, is bound to lead to a world war sooner or later. The working class should be prepared to face the prospect of a war of resistance against a Soviet occupation, in which its principal allies will be the working class in the other countries of Western Europe, and the working class of the Eastern European countries, who have long been preparing to rise up against Soviet domination. We must at the same time warn against the temptation of relying on one superpower to defend us against the other. This means exposing the Tories and others who advocate increased dependance on the United States for protection against the Soviet Union. The military arm of US imperialism in Europe is NATO (never once mentioned by PF, who must spend more time on the moon than on earth these days!). Marxist-Leninists stand for a people’s war against imperialism, led by the working class, not reliance on NATO nor support for US imperialism in an inter-imperialist war.

If the Western European capitalist governments show any readiness to stand up to bullying from either superpower, then so much the better. For instance, in 19734 Britain and France broke the US boycott of Arab oil and thus made concessions to third world countries in spite of US blustering. Such trends should be encouraged. Likewise, demands to wrest a greater degree of control over European armed forces, including those of NATO, out of the hands of the US and into the hands of the West European capitalist states are also to be supported. In the coming years, every such development that helps detach Europe from either superpower is to be regarded as favourable. The strategic objective here should be to make it increasingly difficult for either superpower to manoeuvre the secondary imperialist powers into its ’camp’, and to force these secondary imperialist powers to make concessions to the countries of the third world. At this time it appears likely that history will place on the agenda the task of resistance to superpower occupation’or aggression (whichever superpower occupies us, or attempts to) before the revolutionary movement is in a position to unleash a full-scale campaign against our ’own’ bourgeoisie. On the other hand, events can move fast (as shown for instance in the case of Portugal following the coup of 1974) and we must therefore also be prepared for the possibility that a revolutionary situation will arise in Britain before the outbreak of international war. Either way, the self-reliant revolutionary struggles of the working class and its allies come first for us. If the bourgeoisie does something to our advantage, then fair enough – we support it (while continuing, of course, to fight them on everything else). Even if superpower invasion or threats give us the task of forming a united front with ’our’ bourgeoisie, it would still be necessary to create conditions for their overthrow once the objectives of that united front were achieved.

Any tendency of the secondary imperialist powers to form blocs (i.e. principally the EEC) against superpower hegemony is, then, to be supported to the extent and on the basis of the factors we have explained. It is for this reason that the Chinese government welcomes this development, and differentiates between the ’first world’ (by which it means the two superpowers) and the ’second world’ (by which it means the secondary capitalist powers which could strategically be detached from the superpowers even before the occurrence of proletarian revolution). Of course, the British imperialist bourgeoisie will at all times be itching to do a deal with one or other superpower, and the working class must use every available opportunity to wrest leadership from it so as to prepare for independent anti-imperialist struggle against Soviet aggression. Only such a course will ensure that both superpowers are the loser, and that the inter-imperialist war is transformed into a proletarian revolutionary war. The most reliable allies of the working class in the world arena will be China, itself both a third world country and a country under proletarian dictatorship, and Albania, a country whose stalwart stand against Soviet revisionism will most certainly be vindicated, and which will certainly play a major role in the general Eastern European uprising when it comes.

We have already referred to the standpoint of PF as being that of ’capitalism in one country’. Are not the limitations of such a perspective vividly illustrated by his total obliviousness of the international context in which we live? He floats the British Isles off into some elysian space where no international complications prevail. Such are the dangers of restricting one’s perspective to the internal threat of fascism and failing to warn of the danger of inter-imperialist world war. If the leadership of the working class in Britain fell into the hands of people like the SWP, then imperialism could rest assured that no matter what international contingency arose, the working class would be caught off guard. The short-sighted SWP policies of plunging their members into immediate union chores to the exclusion of all else is totally irrelevant to the tasks confronting socialists today. The situation of complete disorder in the capitalist world today demands a revival of revolutionary activity, which can only be released when reformism of the SWP type is buried as an ideological trend.


There is more than one nation ruled directly by the British capitalist slate – it rules not only England, but also Scotland, Wales, and the northern part of Ireland. Each of these nations has its own specific contradictions with that state. Most Marxist-Leninists agree that the revolutionary movement in Wales and Scotland can be expected on the whole to keep pace with the movement in England, and effectively to be a component part of an overall British revolution. It is therefore likely that they will fully realise their potential as nations in the course of the struggle to build a socialist federation that would also include England, i.e. that they will not be faced with the task of establishing independent Welsh and Scottish state power as a distinct stage of their revolution preceding the overthrow of capitalism. Northern Ireland, however, is another matter. Here there is no doubt that history has placed before the Irish people the task of national liberation and reunification as a distinct stage of the Irish revolution, a stage which must precede (and is a precondition for) the task of launching a specifically socialist revolutionary movement against the Irish ruling class.

Developing a socialist line on Irish national liberation is an urgent task of socialists in Britain. For when socialist movements in Britain and in Ireland can achieve the united support of significant sections of the working class of both countries, and above all in both communities of northern Ireland, for common struggle against the British monopoly capitalist class, then it is clear that a new force will be alive in British politics – party-building will be at an advanced stage, the struggle in Britain will surge forward with all the added impetus of the advanced mass movement for national liberation that already exists in northern Ireland, and the death-knell of British capitalism will not be far off! Conversely, the present lack of clarity and unity on the question of Ireland is an indication of the low stage of party-building so far achieved. In these circumstances, an analysis and line on this question is just as vital an element in the struggle to build a party as an overall analysis of classes in Britain. Indeed, Marxism-Leninism holds that national struggle is itself in the final analysis a matter of class struggle. Without a line on the question of Ireland, no amount of pious generalisations about the need for working class unity will do any good, and communal divisions and disorders in the workers’ ranks will be inevitable, not only in northern Ireland but within Britain itself. Such is the indissoluble connection of the two questions, the national liberation of Ireland and the overthrow of the British capitalist state.

Now, what (it might well be asked) has all this got to do with PF’s pamphlet? Well, admittedly, one could say that the answer here is ’nothing’. In criticising PF’s line on the question of Ireland one is indeed cracking an empty nut, for PF’s (and the SWP’s) habit of simply by-passing precisely those questions that most urgently demand socialist answers (which may well also be those that are most difficult to answer!) reaches perhaps its most absurd extreme in this case. The question of revolution centres around insurrection against the capitalist state; the situation in northern Ireland centres around insurrection against the capitalist state. Consequently, PF devotes a whole chapter to the question of revolution in ... Russia! Talk about keeping revolution at a safe distance! Surely if socialism claims to have something to offer in solving the problems facing us, then PF’s pamphlet ought to devote more than a dozen or so measly lines (on pp. 54-55) to Ireland? If socialism has nothing to say about so pressing and immediate a question (and PF apparently has nothing to say about it) then ’why should we be socialists?’ Why not bourgeois nationalists, or pacifists, or ’peace people’, etc.?

British imperialism is an old hand at ’divide-and-rule’ tactics (the list is endless the Indian subcontinent. Canada, Malaya, Cyprus, Nigeria, etc.). Socialist movements in Britain and Ireland must correspondingly concentrate the lessons of history summed up in Marxism-Leninism and devote every effort to developing a correct line on the question of Ireland. Without such a line, no workers’ struggle, least of all against Britain imperialism, can avoid deteriorating into internecine struggles between divided communities. English workers, therefore, have no more reason to thank PF for his pamphlet than Irish workers. (Nor indeed do the workers of Wales and Scotland. Scotland is once mentioned, pp. 18-19, apropos of some property statistics, but is not discussed as a nation, in spite of the recent intensifications of its national contradiction with the British capitalist state, in particular regarding the exploitation of North Sea oil. Wales, in spite of the mass support that national issues have among the Welsh people, for instance on the language question, is apparently such a far-off nation that it fails to attract PF’s attention and he never mentions it at all.)

As we saw in the last section, all “working people” in Britain are treated by PF as one homogeneous mass as regards their class competition. We now see that he also similarly lumps them together as one homogeneous mass as regards their national composition. Now, it makes a big difference to someone’s political consciousness if they are, say, of Irish republican background, and socialists must take all such factors into account as tactically significant. PF, however, ignores such things, in spite of the enormous variations in political atmosphere that result – take, for example, the relative failure of the racist parties to take root in those areas of Britain that have a high percentage of people of Irish origin. And as for the separate histories of the non-English nations ruled directly by the British state, one looks in PF’s pamphlet in vain for any reference to their proud record of resistance to the rule of the British capitalist class. There is no mention of the Easter rising of 1916 in Dublin, the only actual armed insurrection in the British Isles in this century; no mention of the Irish Citizen Army, which, as Lenin pointed out, was the first workers’ army in history; no mention of the mass movements on the ’Red Clyde’ which reached near-insurrectionary proportions; no mention of James Connolly or John Maclean, who probably had greater stature internationally than any other proletarian revolutionaries who have been active in the British Isles during this century. Such are PF’s efforts in “straddling the barrier of past and present” in the case of the oppressed nations! If socialism really had nothing more to offer to the Irish, Scots and Welsh than what PF serves up, then we should indeed have to admit to them that there was really no reason ’why they should be socialists’, and recommended them to try something else instead.

As we have pointed out, Irish national liberation is indissolubly bound up with the overthrow of the British capitalist state. With the development of the mass movement in northern Ireland to a much higher level during the past decade than in Britain, this connection takes on an ever more urgent and concrete aspect; for the training of troops and the technology of repression now being developed in northern Ireland is admitted by the bourgeoisie to be in preparation for their use in Britain as well. This summer we have had plastic shields used by the police on the streets of London and Birmingham; next it will be CS gas, rubber bullets, etc. And reactionaries in Britain cast greedy eyes upon the Unionist movement in northern Ireland as a potential recruiting ground for shock-troops to use against the British working class. This is shown, for instance, in the new phase of the political career of Powell, who has a good nose for sniffing out which bucket the shit is in; the NF have also been snooping around there. This is only the latest phase in the long history of the close link that has united the enemies of the Irish people with the enemies of the British working class. For example, the government which sent millions of British workers to their deaths to protect British imperialism in the First World War (a government in which PF’s beloved Labour Party participated) was also the government which suppressed the Easter rising of 1916 and murdered Connolly and others of its leaders in cold blood. Conversely, British and Irish workers have a fine tradition of solidarity that goes back a long way in labour history. For example, the Chartists took an internationalist standpoint on current affairs, and perhaps the supreme achievement of this policy was to unite workers of British and Irish origin, despite desperate attempts by the bourgeoisie to foster antagonisms between them. Later in the nineteenth century came widespread agitation by British workers against maltreatment of Fenian political prisoners. Such examples of solidarity continue all the way up to today, with the ’Troops Out’ movement. These are just a few of the many links of blood between the struggles for emancipation of these two sister working classes.

When an Irish national liberation movement under socialist leadership exists in close solidarity with a socialist movement of the British working class the Protestant community of northern Ireland will be presented with a clear and viable alternative to their present tragic faith in the British capitalist state. Though the road here is tortuous and full of pitfalls, socialism has had its successes in dealing with national questions as complex and deeply-rooted as that existing in northern Ireland. Such examples as the national minorities in today’s China, whose national life is flourishing as never before, provide a vision of what can be achieved by Marxist-Leninist policies on the national question. PF. however, confronted by a situation where there aren’t going to be any ready answers, and where his brand of vague generalisations will look more-than-ordinarily useless, prefers not to broach any of these issues at all. He contents himself with a few feeble remarks about the 1974 Protestant strike, in which he characteristically presents an oversimplified picture of a classless group of “Protestants” lording it over an equally amorphous group of “Catholics” (pp. 54 55). It is clear that PF has as little to offer by way of a line on this crucial question facing socialists as he docs on any of the questions as to who are our enemies and who are out friends in the revolution.

By contrast, socialists must direct every effort to developing a line on the question of Ireland. Long ago Marx stressed the indissoluble connection between Irish national liberation and proletarian revolution in Britain. He went so far as to predict that “the decisive blow against the English ruling classes” would be delivered not in England itself but in Ireland. Taking into account the factors currently threatening the overthrow of the British state through revolution, it is clear that this thesis still has relevance today. Those like PF whose outlook is deeply-rooted in reformism resolutely refuse to contemplate factors that actually threaten capitalist state power. It is thus no surprise that the IS in 1969 supported the sending of British troops to Ireland to ’defend’ the Catholic community! That is how blind they are to imperialism’s role in fostering divisions among the people. That is how blind they are to the class nature of the state. That is how profoundly un-revolutionary they are.


So far in this chapter we have presented various arguments to show that the Marxist conception of a revolutionary road to socialism is by no means outdated. We have mentioned several factors which make the prospect of revolution in Britain more imminent than it has been for over a century. We have shown how the all-round crisis of British imperialism is leading inexorably to a social crisis in Britain, in which many features of British society which have come to be regarded as stable will be undermined. We have shown how international contradictions will inevitably also be confronting us with an increasingly unstable situation and probable world war. We have shown how the question of Ireland is yet another factor bringing insurrection within the territory ruled by the British state. In general, these factors that we have discussed operate in the long term. There are, however, times when factors for revolution come and go in the shorter term, and even change from day to day in times of revolutionary upheaval or world war. It is therefore essential that a socialist party should get straight on the question ’What stage of the revolution are we at?’ For each stage of a revolution has its own characteristics and needs tactics corresponding to those characteristics. Misjudgements on this question lead to right and ’left’ errors that harm the revolution; short-term changes, for instance, may be confused with longer term changes, and so on. PF shows that he is completely in the dark as regards the stage of the revolution in Britain. Sometimes he lags far behind the actual stage as though there were no revolutionary factors in the situation at all. At other times he zooms ahead and shows himself to have a fantasised view that the revolution is at five o’clock this evening. In short, as he lacks a sober and realistic assessment of the situation, he is swinging from left to right like a ship without a compass.

As an example of how PF sometimes lags behind events, take the pessimistic attitude towards the working class to which we have already alluded. “In factories and offices and council estates all over the country, there is insecurity and gloom” (p.10). “The masses remain passive” (p.46). In addition, PF exhibits a childlike faith in bourgeois futurology: “None of this will get better. The government’s own plans until 1980 prove it” (p.10). Well, at a time of gathering storms of class struggle, who says that the government will continue to get away with its plans until 1980? Surely, only someone with an unrealistic and unquestioning faith in the bourgeoisie! “By 1990, three quarters of all non-nationalised British industry will be controlled by 21 firms” (p.24). It is evident that PF has greater faith in the bourgeoisie’s vision of the future than in socialism’s vision of the future. It is consequently not surprising that the policies put forward by PF and the SWP often lag far behind the actual capabilities of the masses at a given stage. The classic example of this is the Rank and File Movement, the principal mass organisation of the SWP. The rearguard features of this movement are familiar to all those who have had dealings with it. PF neatly sums up its reformist aims, describing it as “a network of shop stewards and rank and file representatives dedicated to common action on behalf of the workers . .. indispensible if workers are to be protected against the ravages of the system” (pp.85-86). The sheer bureaucratic boredom generated by such organisations which launch their political ’attack’ with economic defence has to be experienced to be believed. The Rank and File Movement is a clear example of the SWP’s failure to place its trust in the revolutionary potential of the masses. It tries to drag the masses back to its own petty-bourgeois, bureaucratic and ’economist’ level. No amount of bluster about the “flame” which “burns up into a great conflagration at times of revolution or general strike” (p.82) can cover up the deadening influence the SWP has had on so many mass struggles.

Of course there is another side to the coin. Periodically, to bolster up its flagging spirits when it has bored itself past endurance, the SWP indulges in ludicrous fantasies about how ’revolutionary’ the situation is. Socialist Worker and other SWP journals sometimes carry enormous headlines saying “All out... !” (Add in your chosen date along the dotted line, e.g. “All out May 1st!”) Well, are we in Petrograd in the late summer of 1917, or what? When the SWP gets in this mood and starts to imagine that it is leading the masses in their millions, then it is bound to formulate policies that come up against reality with a heavy thud. This is a false antidote to the boredom and hopelessness of much SWP activity. PF sometimes spins off into orbit this way. “When the Right to Work Campaign organises unemployed people, pulls them out of their angry houses, off the street corners and onto demonstrations demanding from employed workers that they ban overtime and insist on a 35-hour week – then hope and strength is built out of despair” (p.85). With people being pulled out of their “angry houses” and “off the street comers”, a picture is painted of a near-insurrectionary situation led by the SWP’s unemployed workers’ organisation – a situation which so far exists only in the minds of such fervent SWP devotees as PF. An over-optimistic assessment of the current situation is also revealed in one of the cartoons (p.63), which depicts a hand, inscribed “capitalism”, being waved out of the water by a submerged drowning man. Now, certainly capitalism is dying, but it’s not yet dead. Certainly, there is going to be a revolution in Britain, but it’s not here just yet. Certainly, revolutionaries in Britain will rise to the occasion and a leading core will be built. The SWP, however, are not the Bosheviks-to-be. That idea is not based on reality – it is merely a product of their own fantasies.

PF and the SWP, then, have a vague idea that a revolution must be coming some day, and they use this fact as a kind of amplifier whenever they want to make a big noise and create an impression. On the other hand, their conception of this revolution is vague enough for them to be able to put it out of their minds whenever it suits them for some reason to be oblivious to it. They thus swing to and fro between right and ’left’ deviations, and keep both kinds of goods in store.

What enables PF and the SWP to vacillate in this way? Part of the answer lies in their failure to distinguish between different kinds of capitalist crises, those that operate in the longer term and those that operate in the shorter term. PF tends to lump all crises together, in spite of his ambitious chapter heading, “Capitalism – class and crisis” (p.15), and all the facts and figures he quotes. We have already devoted a section of this chapter to the overall crisis of British imperialism, which is one of the longer-term factors pushing British society inexorably towards revolutionary change. This is sometimes referred to as British imperialism’s ’general crisis’. Besides this general crisis, British capitalism is of course also plagued by the cyclical and periodical crises which have always been a feature of all capitalism. Examples are crises of overproduction, financial crises, and so on. It is these periodic crises that are meant by PF when he refers to “the beastly ’crisis’ which always seems to blow up on the horizon as soon as a labour government starts to get into its stride” (p.52). (This is how he ’explains’ why the Labour Party never manages to usher in the socialist era!) It is tactically and strategically important to distinguish between such periodic crises and the general crisis. For under the impact of periodic crises, the bourgeoisie can normally find some way out (e.g. by running off to the IMF for a loan) and thus continue to rule in the old way. In the case of the general crisis, however, the bourgeoisie has no way out. It will inevitably run out of all the cards hidden up its sleeve, and will eventually find itself unable to rule in the old way. Marxist theory maintains that the contradictions of capitalism, and the crises to which they lead, inevitably lead to revolutionary situations. By differentiating the different kinds of capitalist crises, we can see how this Marxist thesis remains correct, in spite of the fact that we have not seen a revolutionary situation in Britain during the crises listed by PF (those of “1948,1964, 1966, 1967 and in 1974,1975 and 1976”, p.52). Not being equipped with this insight, PF is completely in the dark as regards the prospects of a revolutionary situation in Britain. He has nothing to say about what stage the revolution is at. (Incidentally, this list of crises is given by PF as one of the explanations for why a Labour government has never introduced socialism – they have all been “dogged by crises”.

The implication is that capitalism has it in for Labour governments. This is a misrepresentation. The cyclical crises of capitalism pay no heed to the question of which party is in power. Remember the fuss the Tories always made about the ’stop-go’ effect in the 1950s and early 1960s when they were in power? And the present serious depression began under the Heath government around 1972–1973!)

The only real ’stage’ of the revolution that can be deduced from PF’s pamphlet is that now is as good (or as bad!) a time to join the SWP as any. He gives little idea of what development or deepening, if any, has occurred in SWP activities. Instead, we are given a few paragraphs (pp.91–92) in which events in the outside world (the Vietnam solidarity movement, “the great struggles against the Tory government”, etc.) are mentioned merely as episodes incidental to the tale of the growth of IS. And this growth is described largely in numerical terms, divided crudely into two categories, “students and white collar workers” and “workers”. The mechanical way in which ’party history’, and history in general for that matter, is here strung around the barometer of IS membership statistics reminds one of the origin of the term ’revisionism’. The term was used to describe those among the German Social Democrats at the beginning of this century who adopted the slogan “The movement is everything, the final aim nothing”. The subsequent degeneration of the German Social Democratic Party, which had for a time constituted a powerful revolutionary force, was a tragedy. In the case of the SWP, history repeats itself as farce.

We have already mentioned that Marxist-Leninists are in general agreed that the current stage of the revolution in Britain is one of increasing mass activity at a low political level, while the potential revolutionary core that could enable this activity to be sustained and raised to a higher level is small, scattered and disunited. This stage roughly corresponds to that described in Russia by Lenin in 1902 in What is to be done? Lenin called it a stage of “theoretical confusion”. On the basis of this analysis, Marxist-Leninists give theoretical work a very high priority in their activity at this stage. Failing a determination to integrate revolutionary theory into all their practice, would-be socialist activity at this stage is wasted. Without considerable advances in theoretical analysis and perspective, any attempt to launch a new socialist party in Britain will fall as flat as the SWP has done. Even the production of an easy-to-read ’case for socialism’ can in such circumstances only turn out to be a damp squib, as PF’s has been shown to be. Even if a more plausible attempt were made to simulate Marxism, and 99% of the Marxist theoretical equipment was brought into action, that would still be no good if, when storms blew, the crucial 1% was found to be missing. Such is the critical importance of ensuring that one’s theory really is Marxism and not something else. Only with genuine Marxism will a party be built that, like the Bolsheviks, can formulate policies that enable the working class to attack at the right moment, and to attack where the enemy is weakest and the working class strongest. To build such a party is not a question of wishing Lenin were with us, or of indulging in fantasies that some “flame” will burst out and compensate for his absence. On the contrary, it is a question of humbly learning the lessons of workers’ struggles that are summed up in Marxist-Leninist theory – lessons that have been learned in blood – and of placing these ideas in the hands of the masses. Such is our analysis of the current, early stage of the revolution in Britain, the stage of “theoretical confusion”, and some remarks on the policies that follow from this analysis. This is the analysis with which we counter PF’s vacillation – on the one hand despondency and refusal to consider revolutionary ideas as immediately relevant at all, and on the other hand, heady talk of an ultra-’left’ character.

By falling to keep uppermost in his mind the question of seizure of state power by the working class through revolution, PF has managed to ignore all those factors in today’s situation that actually threaten the capitalist state in Britain. Instead, he continually restricts his outlook to immediate, day-to-day matters, and gives his readers no more in the way of overall enlightenment than they would get from, say, a reasonably militant trade union. Such is the catastrophic effect of the SWP’s failure to integrate Marxist theory with its multifarious activities. Marxist theory is regarded as a rainy-day pastime, an irksome duty, a fashionable hobby, ’interesting’ or whatever. It is split off from practice. When confronted with pressing and urgent questions that confront the working class (who are one’s enemies and friends; the threat of world war; the question of Ireland, etc.) all the theory melts away and PF is either silent or else gives us ballyhoo and vague generalisations. When confronted by the demand to integrate theory and practice and state their line on something, the SWP tactic is to fall into silence and wait for the subject to change, or else try to wriggle out of the situation by an outpouring of apparently forthright language that, in the manner of PF’s pamphlet, conceals an actual inability to adopt a particular line on any question of importance confronting the working class in Britain. (In the table of contents, pp. 6–7, PF lists quite a few questions, several under each chapter-heading – but when it comes to the actual text he doesn’t even answer these! Some of these questions are in fact quite searching. One might guess that one of his friends, such as Chris Harman, who is supposed to be more of an ideologue than PF, sent him the questions. If that is the case, we don’t recommend that PF should be given a very good mark for his answers!)

The lifeblood of a socialist party is its policy. A party is an organisation for formulating policies. If there were no need for the working class to have policies, then there would be no need for a socialist party. Now, we have castigated PF all along the line for not putting forward policies on crucial issues. We have shown that he has not even faced the basic questions which must be confronted in order to formulate such policies. It is obviously fair, in that case, to ask of us what answers we have to these questions. And it is indeed true that in many cases we may have, as yet, precious little more to offer by way of specific and concrete answers than PF does. However, what we do claim to offer (which he doesn’t) is an acknowledgement of the importance of the questions. If we struggle hard to make sense of something this year, then the socialist movement may be a bit nearer a clear policy next year. PF’s pamphlet skirts round awkward questions, giving one no confidence that he or the SWP will be anywhere nearer clearly formulated policies next year or indeed at any time (though they will certainly be better-practised at avoiding them!). The fact that we have in many cases been unable to do more than hint at possible answers is a reflection, we hope, not of our slipping into PF’s bad habits, but of the relatively backward stage of party-building (and thus of analysis and policy-formulation) in Britain today. PF’s weaknesses however, are more deeply rooted: they reflect the fact that the SWP, though it may well be at times and in places relatively strong organisationally for a would-be Marxist party, is in its very approach and ideology useless. All the SWP’s would-be analyses and policies are shot through with ideological weakness. PF’s style of writing, which obviously works best in the absence of a party programme, illustrates this unsatisfactory ideological atmosphere. Lenin said that the “heart” of working class philosophy is “concrete analysis of concrete situations”. PF, who talks far more of the international situation in the 1930s than in the 1970s, and far more of Russia than of, say, Ireland, effectively sweeps concrete situations under the carpet. A party like the SWP which thrives in such an atmosphere, however strong organisationally it might at times become, bears within itself the seeds of its own failure – it is ideologically weak.