Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers’ Movement

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


II. SOCIALISM IN PRACTICE: PF’s case against socialism, and the case for the defence

Where, then, is there socialism today? The answer for PF is that it does not exist anywhere and hasn’t done for a few decades. By heavy injections of romanticisation, he manages to make his form of socialism flash into history in Russia (apparently for about four years, namely 1917 to 1921), after which, apart from one further splutter in Spain in the 1930s, socialism has left this world and temporarily rejoined its departed Master to await the second coming. “Just look back at all the revolutions mentioned in the last chapter,” says PF. (by which he is referring to Russia 1917, Germany 1919, Spain during the 1930s, Hungary 1956, Portugal 1974, and the British general strike of 1926). “In all except one of them” (i.e. the Russian revolution) “workers’ power was handed back by the Labour Parties or the Communist Parties. Only in Spain was there a bit of a fight to keep the workers’ councils – and then only a small one” (p.88).

Socialism, then, simply does not exist. When, therefore, PF writes of the contradictions of capitalism, he sees them as affecting the whole world to an apparently undifferentiated extent. For instance: “We can produce what people need – but we don’t. The same lunacy goes on all over the world” (p. 13). In other words, he does not differentiate the US from Poland, or Albania from Japan. We’re all lunatics, and that’s that. He refers elsewhere to “a world slump in production” (p.30). He does not refer to the ’capitalist world’ but once again asks us to consider the whole globe as one economic entity, amorphous and non-socialist. The claims of various countries during this century to have been taking the socialist road are passed over in contemptuous silence by PF as they do not accord with Trotskyist dogma that socialism does not actually exist on this earth and hasn’t done for some time.

PF’s definition of socialism thus leaves him with a self-imposed poverty of real-life experience upon which to draw. Not so for Marxist-Leninists, whose definition of socialist includes not only the Soviet experience from 1917 to the early 1950s, but also the People’s Republic of China, Albania, the other peoples’ democracies in Eastern Europe during the decade or so following the Second World War, Vietnam, North Korea, Kampuchea, etc. The experience of these countries, discounted as irrelevant by PF and the SWP, on the contrary represents for Marxist-Leninists a vast accumulation of experience in building socialism, from which they are able to draw many lessons (both positive lessons from their successes and negative lessons from their errors) to help guide working class struggles forward, and to portray in more concrete terms what socialism means in practice.


As we have already seen, PF deals with the history of the Soviet Union in a certain amount of detail, not only in his Chapter 6 (entitled “What about Russia?”) but also in various other parts of his pamphlet. We have already discussed his treatment of the immediate post-revolutionary period. Let us now take up the story at the point where, according to him, the workers of Russia had “died” (p.70) in the revolutionary civil war of 1918 to 1921. (It is only one of the many contradictions in the Trotskyist version of Soviet history that the victory over the White armies and foreign interventionists left the revolution weaker than before the victory!) Thus left without a working class, the “Russian Communist Party,” says PF, “became a rudderless bureaucracy” (p.70). This statement is in accordance with SWP doctrine which (though there are variations) is prepared to attack the Bolshevik, not only during the Stalin era, but during the final years of Lenin’s activity as well (Lenin died in 1924 – the Bolsheviks were a “rudderless bureaucracy” by 1921).

What were the achievements of this “rudderless bureaucracy”, with Lenin, and then Stalin, at the helm (presumably both just going through futile motions!)? Postwar reconstruction was carried out in the war-devastated Soviet Union, in conditions of capitalist blockade and the anti-Bolshevik hysteria and intrigue of the 1920s. During the revolutionary high tide that followed the First World War, the prospects for revolution in several or most of the advanced capitalist countries of Europe had been good. By the mid-1920s, however, the Soviet Union was clearly in a position where it was going to have to ’go it alone’, perhaps for decades. And by the late 1920s the Bolsheviks had taken the momentous decision to launch socialist industrialisation and to take the socialist revolution to the Soviet Union’s vast countryside. From 1929, then, there began the mass movement of agricultural collectivization, a revolutionary upheaval which transformed the face of the Soviet Union in a more profound way even than the October revolution had done. Class polarisation among the peasantry had led to a tense situation by this time, so that when the Bolsheviks stepped in to give a lead, they soon released a hurricane of revolutionary enthusiasm among the poor and landless peasants. The class rule of the kulaks (the rural bourgeoisie) was overthrown, and the enormous task of agricultural modernisation launched under conditions of collective ownership. Simultaneously (and while the capitalist world reeled under the impact of the financial crisis of 1929-1931) the Soviet regime’s first Five Year Plan was galvanising the young Soviet working class into a programme of industrial expansion such as the world had never seen. The capitalist encirclement had thus been foiled and the material base laid for a society not based on exploitation. The regime’s prestige among the Soviet masses was tremendous. It was clearly a purposeful, determined and confident regime, as even its bitterest enemies were forced to concede. PF’s “rudderless bureaucracy” idea does not stand up to any investigation at all. Even the slightest nodding acquaintance with the history of the period gives the lie to that notion. It is impossible to make any sense of the history of the period with such a view of the young Soviet regime.

Such wide-ranging decisions as were taken by the Bolsheviks during the period of agricultural collectivisation and the first Five Year Plan could not but bequeath to socialism not only positive but also some negative experience. These phases of the revolution were new to history, and could draw on no previous examples. Marxism-Leninism could as yet provide no guidance on strategy and tactics. To suggest that it was or could have been, all plain sailing would be to lack common sense. The pace of collectivisation can with hindsight be seen as having been too fast. And the relation of the various departments of industry to each other would nowadays be handled differently, without the excessive emphasis on heavy industry that characterised that period. Likewise, the Five Year Plans tended to overemphasise industrial development and underemphasise the construction of a sound agricultural base. It must be remembered, however, that the whole concept of economic planning was new – the capitalist world had not yet turned to Keynesianism and as the Soviet regime gained experience, it managed to rectify many of its errors. And both its successes and its shortcomings provided for future socialist states what it itself had lacked – a wealth of experience. This factor has been fully utilised by, for instance the Communist Party of China, which has again and again found itself in the advantageous position of having, in Soviet history, extremely relevant lessons, both positive and negative, upon which to draw. Above all, this early Soviet period brought socialism out of the realm of theory and into the world of practice. There now for the first time existed a socialist country!

The world in the 1930s was thus a different place from what it had been. A new force had emerged in world affairs – the force of socialism. And how does PF characterise this dawn of a new epoch in history? He calls it a “dark age” (p.14). This is indeed a strange view for someone who claims to be opposed to capitalism! The reviving labour movements of the capitalist countries now had a sound basis for optimism that capitalism could be overthrown and socialism built under conditions of workers’ power. And the growing colonial liberation movements (totally ignored by PF) had in the Soviet Union a rallying point in the struggle against imperialism The Central Asian Soviet republics were in particular an encouragement to the oppressed peoples of the fast, bringing as they did the influence of socialist politics to the borders of China and India. It is not surprising that the Soviet Union enjoyed tremendous prestige among the colonial peoples of all continents. The Soviet regime’s support for colonial liberation in turn helped the labour movements in the imperialist countries to take an internationalist, anti-imperialist stand. The Soviet Union was the reliable rear area for the revolutionary and anti-imperialist movements of the world. Just as, for example, the victories of the Indochinese people have in our time been a source of pride and inspiration to oppressed people of the whole world, so also were the Soviet Union’s achievements in socialist construction a source of hope, particularly in Eastern countries such as China whose people could now begin to see that what the bourgeoisie of the West had achieved could not only be achieved but surpassed by the workers of the East. The 1930s were indeed a new age, and it is not surprising that the bourgeoisie’s propaganda swung into action to blacken the achievements of socialism during that period. PF reveals himself to be an appendage of the bourgeois media in calling the 1930s a “dark age”. He does indeed live in a topsy-turvy world (or a “world called Arsy Versy” as the bard of the SWP (p.9) would say).

The achievements of socialist construction in the Soviet Union culminated in the defeat of the Nazi invasion launched in 1941. The strength accumulated during the period of socialist construction, and the political durability of Soviet society, broke the back of Axis military might. This altered the whole course of the Second World War, which now developed into a rout for the Axis powers, and resulted in the emergence of a whole socialist bloc stretching from Berlin to Shanghai. Many graphic descriptions have been given of the Soviet war effort at the battle front, behind enemy lines and on the industrial front. This invasion saw the biggest military engagements in all history. It demonstrated that the working class could defeat the bourgeoisie even when the latter did their worst, and was the most earth-shattering achievement of socialism up till that time.

Let us now recapitulate PF’s version of the events we have been describing. By 1921 or so, “the Russian revolution was lost” (p.72), so that during the 1920s and 1930s “Russia was no longer a socialist country” (p.73). The reason is that “The Russian revolution was isolated”, since it was not followed by “international revolutions” (whatever they are) (p.71). (No word about how the Soviet Union in actual fact managed to hold out in this situation of isolation, and eventually to break out of it!) Further, “the revolutionary working class of Russia had been annihilated” (p.71) in the wars of 1918-1921. Thus, “the Russian Communist Party remained –without a communist working class” (p.70). (A sentence which ignores the fact that the Soviet working class reemerged stronger than ever during the period of socialist construction, and was at the conclusion of the Second World War the strongest working class in the world!) “In the vacuum . . . reactionary forces inside Russia took the power ... In every corner of Russian life the blackest reaction was installed. The right to free abortions, for instance, was abolished in 1935 ... In the factories and workplaces, all power was assumed by a handful of bureaucrats” who “assumed the role of the ruling class. Russia became a state capitalist country, with its workers as impotent and exploited as anywhere else in the world” (pp 71-72) (Quite an achievement for a rudderless bureaucracy! Has PF ever in fact contemplated the condition of workers in, say, India, south Africa, the old China, etc.? Could he for one moment compare this with the material, political and cultural conditions of post-war Russia?) The achievements of industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation are dismissed by PF in the one odd phrase “the priorities of production assumed capitalist proportions” (p.72). And finally, to cap it all, PF passes over the Soviet war effort in stony silence! He is apparently too fastidious even to mention the wars and struggles that have characterised the real life of mankind in the twentieth century. For a book which devotes a whole chapter to the Soviet experience, that omission is quite an achievement!


It is clear, then, that in his overall assessment of the place of the Soviet Union in history, PF takes one-sidedness to ridiculous extremes. Just because of some evident shortcomings, he blithely discounts the tremendous role the Soviet Union played during the socialist period. Most of his historical narrative about the Soviet Union (and indeed about any place in the world) is devoted to blaming everything that ever went wrong onto the supposed counter-revolutionary nature of the Stalin regime Normally the term used in such diatribes is ’Stalinism’, but PF apparently finds Stalin’s name so unmentionable (he only brings himself to refer to him twice, p.71 and p.73) that he prefers to use the word ’Communism’ as a synonym instead. The breakdown of proletarian democracy which characterised much of Soviet society from the mid-1930s, and the fact that some sections of Soviet society came under heavy fire from the regime during the ’purges’ of 1934-1937, are gleefully seized upon by PF in his attempts to establish that Stalinism meant “the blackest reaction” (p.71).

What attitude should socialists today adopt towards this period of Soviet history and in particular towards its repressive aspects of which we are so constantly reminded by the Trotskyists and by bourgeois propaganda generally? Our starting-point must be to take the overall situation, and to recognise that any attempt to represent the Soviet Union in the Stalin era as being against the interests of the international proletariat makes nonsense of the history of the period. In approaching its shortcomings we are therefore dealing with a secondary aspect of the picture. At the same time, the Stalin era lasted three decades, and the Soviet Union is a vast and varied country. In approaching shortcomings, secondary though they may be, we are therefore still dealing with major events in history. Mao Tse-tung expressed this view when he said that 70% of what the Stalin regime did should be regarded as positive, and 30% as negative. He also remarked that it would probably be a hundred years or so before the working class could be confident of making any final assessment of the achievements and shortcomings of that period. In assessing ’Stalinism’ we are indeed assessing an extremely complex balance-sheet, and facile snap-judgements are particularly unhelpful. We have found that the Communist Party of China has so far made the most positive contributions in undertaking a constructive critique of the Stalin period. For though the Chinese revolution at times suffered from errors made in Moscow, and though it has, largely as a consequence, in many instances learnt as much by negative as by positive example from the Soviet experience, the overall perspective has always been retained, namely that socialist construction and victory in the anti-fascist war were such tremendous achievements that shortcomings are to be regarded as secondary. This is a constructive attitude. From such a starting-point one can face the facts of the period squarely, with the sole motive of learning from experience. This is the opposite of the Trotskyist attitude exhibited by PF, which is to rub one’s hands with glee at every difficulty faced by Soviet socialism in that period and to go into ecstasies when it failed to deal with these difficulties correctly – meanwhile, of course, maintaining a blackout on the Soviet defeat of Nazism, the emergence of a socialist bloc, including China, that ensued, and the greatly weakened state of world imperialism that resulted. (This is also the perspective in which one should consider what the consequences for the world would have been had the Trotskyist line won out in the Soviet leadership in the 1920s.)

To begin with the international context, let us take up the story at the point where, by 1921, “the Red Army of the revolution won the war and drove the invading armies out” (p.70). From that point onwards PF ignores all further attempts by the enraged capitalist governments of the world to overthrow Soviet socialism, as though, their armies defeated, they just shrugged their shoulders, reconciled themselves to defeat and forgot about the whole affair. Yet everyone knows that in fact the 1920s and 1930s were a time of anti-Bolshevik hysteria in the capitalist world, culminating in the seizure of power by the Nazis in Germany in 1933 on an anti-Bolshevik platform. PF himself is forced to admit that the Communist Parties “found themselves defending the Russian revolution against the full hysteria of the rest of society: from mealy-mouthed Labourites to Tory newspapers” (pp.72-73). And why doesn’t PF mention the actual attempts to overthrow Soviet socialism that were made against that background? There is a very good reason: namely that the Trotskyists became embroiled in those attempts. The capitalist governments, from the very first days after the October revolution, eagerly watched all developments in the Soviet leadership hoping for a major split that would reduce it to warring factions and result in the collapse of the workers’ state. They therefore regarded the Trotskyist opposition as a god-send, and reactionary media, including Nazi propaganda, enthusiastically peddled the Trotskyist tine that the Soviet Union was now a land of the blackest reaction, that Trotsky was in fact the true guardian of the ideals of the October revolution, etc.

This is the context in which the Moscow Trials took place. The Trotskyists and other oppositionists were, in that international situation, treated as criminals seeking the overthrow of the Soviet state, in league with the Nazis and other capitalist governments. The Trotskyists, who had played up to the role in which they were cast by capitalist propaganda (the true revolutionaries grappling with Stalinist ’reaction’, etc.), thus fell into a trap of their own making. The Trials dragged into the light of day the role some Trotskyists were playing in the attempts to overthrow the Soviet state. The trial documents, which trace the degeneration of Trotskyism from a ’left’ trend among the working class to a desperate faction bent on overthrowing the Soviet state, are an important historical document of the period. PF quotes John Strachey, “one of the finest socialist intellectuals ever to have written in English”, as remarking of the trials: “I believe that no one who had not unalterably fixed his mind on the contrary opinion could read the verbatim account of the trials without being wholly convinced of the authenticity of the confessions” (p.73). By quoting this remark, PF reveals his cynical belief that bourgeois propaganda against the trials has done its work so thoroughly that none of his readers could actually find in the words of Strachey (and similar statements by many others) any food for thought, that none will do more than say ’tut, tut’. For us, however, the lesson is clear. The sham left, with its self-righteous lefter-than-thou ’socialism’ had become, in this as in so many other cases, a focal point of opposition to genuine socialism.

If proof were needed that such things can in fact happen, all one has to do is to obtain any copy of the SWP paper Socialist Worker. Now, it is clear that the political achievements of Chinese socialism surpass those of Soviet socialism, on whose experience they have been able to draw. The achievements of the Chinese working class are today drawing more and more people around the world to the ideas of socialism. In such a situation Trotskyist anti-China propaganda is particularly badly needed by the bourgeoisie. Sure enough, every week Socialist Worker carries an item called “Where we stand”, and one of the things listed is the overthrow of the Chinese government! No wonder the Trotskyists of the 1930s, with the same set of ’theories’, became embroiled in the anti-Soviet plots of capitalist powers!

Such was the international background against which we should assess the repressive aspects of the Soviet regime during the 1930s – a situation of encirclement by a hostile capitalist world eager to exploit the slightest signs of a split, and where only the most solid unity in the proletarian ranks could ensure the survival of the first workers’ state.

As for the internal situation, PF has even less to say about the continuing class struggle within the Soviet Union than he had to say about the international context. Once again, there is a very good reason for this. It is because the opposition to the Soviet regime that was voiced by the Trotskyists and others in fact drew its support, willy-nilly, not from the proletariat (which according to Trotskyist dogma didn’t exist at this time anyway!) but from parts of the middle strata (the remnants of the Tsarist bureaucracy, etc.). PF talks of the need for “centralised and disciplined organisation” (p.91) to overcome the “state machine” of the capitalist class. But he ignores the fact that class struggle still continues after the overthrow of the capitalist state, and that similar discipline is needed to overcome the continuing fight that is put up by the remnants of the old society. According to PF, such a problem does not exist. After their defeat, the bourgeoisie just accepts it all lying down: “if the means of production are owned by society as a whole then it becomes impossible for one group of people to grow rich from other people’s work” (p.35). This is a pretty obtuse remark, for someone who claims to be making a critique of the Soviet experience! In fact, of course, class struggle continues throughout the socialist era, and there always remains the danger of a capitalist comeback. The Marxist analysis of society according to class struggle applies no less to socialist than to capitalist society. PF, by discarding Marxism in his discussion of Soviet society (and applying only the idealist, non-class criterion of comparing it to the promised land that would have ensued had Trotsky taken over) is effectively doing a cover-up job for those bourgeois elements who were actively seeking a comeback (many of whom were of course enthusiastic supporters of Trotskyism!).

Stalin was very clear on this point. He had a sound, Marxist analysis of who the class enemy in Soviet society was right up to the time when the remnants of capitalist class power had been thoroughly rooted out by the agricultural collectivisation and socialist industrialisation programmes. From 1934, however, the Stalin regime’s grasp of internal affairs began to falter, and the period of the purges saw a situation where repression by the organs of dictatorship of the workers’ state gained the upper hand over proletarian democracy. Why was this? Once again, we can now turn to the comparative experience of the class struggles in China, which have been more successfully handled by the workers’ leadership.

By about 1934, basic industrialrsation and collectivisation had been achieved. It thus seemed reasonable to suppose that the material basis for the existence of an exploiting class no longer existed. Hence Stalin’s well-known conclusion that antagonistic social classes no longer existed in the Soviet Union. Of course it is now realised that that was not the case. For within the administrative organs of socialist society and even within the party itself there are potential nuclei of a new-type bourgeoisie. (Bourgeois ideology cannot die overnight, and neither can a lot of the things it gives rise to, such as differences in incomes, the tendency of officials, even those of working-class origin, to become cut off from the workers, etc.; this provides a social basis for a new bourgeoisie.) This lesson has since been driven home by the tragic fate of the Soviet Union, where just such a new-type bourgeoisie led by the Khruschev revisionists seized power in the 1950s. Whereas Stalin had clearly seen the danger from the overthrown remnants of the old bourgeoisie, he failed to deal adequately with this new bourgeoisie. This lesson has not been lost on the Communist Party of China winch has provided a whole new range of answers to this great problem of socialism, namely how to prevent capitalist restoration alter seizure of power by the working class.

During the mid-1930s, then, the Soviet regime was in fact conducting a continuation of the class struggle. The outcome was successful: the Soviet Union held together, so that it survived the fascist onslaught when it came. However, in conducting this struggle to defend proletarian power during 1934 to 1937, the regime, which had no previous experience of this problem on which to draw, unfortunately failed to analyse the nature of the enemy correctly. Instead of identifying the enemy as a class enemy within Soviet society, the main attack was directed towards the links between internal opposition elements and foreign enemies, and they were consequently dealt with as criminals, Nazi agents, etc. Well, objectively they were. But Marxist-Leninists are now in a position to see that there was in fact more to it than that. The opposition was a new-type bourgeoisie that was growing up within the party and administration, and did not necessarily have that much continuity with the old-type bourgeoisie (the kulaks, etc.).

As a result of the ’purges’ (and despite serious errors that were made in carrying them out) the Soviet Union was held together, and the basis laid for victory in the anti-fascist war. The steps taken by the regime were thus of great positive value not only for the Soviet people but for the international struggle against imperialism. The methods chosen, however, show that the continuing role of the class struggle during the socialist era was not adequately realised. Reactionary sections of the bureaucracy came under heavy fire, but only through other sections of the bureaucracy (the political police, etc.) being used against them. The fact that the result was a victory over the opposition says much for the single-minded determination of Stalin and his comrades to preserve the Soviet Union at all costs, and it produced tremendous benefits for the working and oppressed people of the whole world. Al the same time, the costs were high. The upper levels of the party and state apparatus were most acutely affected by the ’purges’, but many other members of the intelligentsia, often themselves innocent of any crimes, suffered as well. As a result, while the Stalin regime retained the loyalty of the Soviet working class, a legacy of bitterness remained among the middle stratum of Soviet society. Further, the period of the ’purges’ tended to institutionalise the idea that socialism is something to be administered ’from the top’, and this period probably did much to further the class interests of the new bourgeoisie who, while prepared to go along with the campaign against the bourgeois remnants of Trotsky’s ilk, were ultimately to seize power when Stalin was no longer there to keep them under control. What other, more satisfactory, means of class struggle could have been employed? In the threatening international situation at that time, would any mass mobilisation of the working class, along the lines of China’s Cultural Revolution, have been feasible. These questions still remain to be answered, and it is clear that socialism still needs lime to assess the record more fully.

Our overall assessment of the Stalin era is thus that its achievements were anion,; the greatest ever made by the proletariat or indeed by any other revolutionary class in history. The balance of forces in the world has as a result of these achievements now swung over decisively towards the proletariat and socialism, and the power of imperialism is inexorably declining. The Soviet leadership faced many problems to which there were as yet no answers in Marxist-Leninist theory. Like all pioneers, they made mistakes as the price of achieving successes. (As Lenin pointed out, only people who do nothing make no mistakes.) Since that time, socialism has, in China’s Cultural Revolution, developed new methods of launching a proletarian offensive against the danger of capitalist restoration. Stalin’s polemics with the Trotskyists and other oppositionists are no less part of the heritage of working class political theory than are Marx’s Capital and other such classics of revolutionary thought. In many cases where Stalin failed to deal adequately with problems of Marxism-Leninism in the era of socialism, the Chinese comrades have subsequently advanced further. Socialism learns warfare through warfare. PF’s facile claim that Trotskyism had the right answers all along stands revealed as a myopic, intellectualist argument that ignores the onward march of working class struggle in this century, that denies the advances made by socialist theory and practice, and that cynically plays on the doubts of inexperienced activists by ’waving the red flag to oppose the red flag’.


PF’s pamphlet includes quite a bit of discussion of Soviet foreign policy, most of it concerning the period of the 1920s and 1930s, and designed to blame all kinds of setbacks suffered by the working class throughout the world on the sinister machinations of Comintern and Stalinist “reaction”. His readiness to blame anything and everything on Soviet foreign policy during that period, however, which amounts to a crude ’conspiracy’ view of history, is matched by his failure to draw any attention to the imperialistic nature of Soviet foreign policy during the contemporary period, which amounts to a cover-up job for the New Tsars. He strikes a tremendously ’left’ pose whenever it is a question of hindsight and the debates of a bygone era, and uses this as a ploy to conceal his confusion of two completely different phases of Soviet foreign policy.

Anyone with any grasp at all of the Leninist theory of imperialism will realise that the Soviet Union during the Stalin period was a force that weakened imperialism (Tsarist reaction was deposited on the rubbish-dump of history; German, Italian and Japanese fascism bit the dust: British and French imperialism were weakened; imperialism was kicked out of Eastern Europe. China, North Vietnam and North Korea, and only hung on in many other countries by the skin of its teeth). Likewise, anyone with any grasp of the Leninist theory of imperialism will realise that the Soviet Union today is a force that reinforces imperialism (export of capital to dependant countries such as Cuba and Angola, leading lo the creation of dependant economies, single-export economies, etc.; commodity Speculation on an international scale: feverish expansion in offensive weaponry; creation of zones of influence, etc.). PF totally ignores this fundamental distinction between the Soviet Union’s international role in these two periods. Instead he cynically lumps them both together and hopes his readership will not notice this sleight-of-hand.

To begin with the role of Comintern, PF relates how “in the first years of the Russian revolution” the Communist Parties “were seen by the Russian government as the seeds of revolution in their countries. The Russian government encouraged the maximum participation between Russian revolutionaries and communists in other countries. As the revolution in Russia was lost, so the Communist parties were used by the Russian government not as agents of revolution in their own countries but as agents of Russian foreign policy” (p.73). These words show that PF lacks common sense. How on earth could the “Russian government” have “used the communist parties... as agents of revolution in their own countries”? Only the most hallucinated bourgeois propagandist would suggest that all revolutions everywhere were made by Russian “agents”. The very phrase brings to mind the anti-Bolshevik hysteria whipped up through such ’incidents’ as the ’Zinoviev letter’. The truth is, of course, that socialist revolutions are made by the working class. They are a response to class contradictions existing within a society. There may be ’Russian agents’ around, or they may not be. And these agents may get things right, and they may get things wrong. Either way, it is un-Marxist, not to say paranoiac, to see the outcome of class struggles in a society as wholly dependant on such extraneous factors. The revolutionary movements that arose in many countries round the world had to shoulder the responsibility themselves to give a correct lead to the working class in their respective countries. Some were more, and some less, successful. Successes and errors by Comintern may or may not come into the picture, but cannot absolve any party or movement from this responsibility to act in the light of its own experience to apply Marxism-Leninism to the particular conditions of its own country. PF’s line is precisely to absolve them of such responsibility, and to recommend instead that they just adopt his own facile excuse of blaming all setbacks on Comintern and Soviet foreign policy.

Most Marxist-Leninists now agree that Comintern (which existed during the period 1919 to 1943) tended to err on the side of over-centralisation. This feature was a legacy of the immediate post-1917 period, when it was hoped that socialist revolutions were about to occur in many countries, it was envisaged that in this situation Comintern would play the role of an urgently-needed organising centre. However, capitalism survived this tense period. Comintern accordingly changed in character from an organising centre to a centre of propaganda and tactical coordination. The Soviet communists played an important role, through Comintern, in helping the revolutionaries of Europe, who were often disorganised after their break with the ’social democratic’ parties, to organise new communist parties. This organising role also had its negative side, however, in that the necessarily strong centralised leadership which Comintern exercised during its first years was not sufficiently modified during the following period, when its constituent parties needed to be able to exercise more initiative and reach independent decisions on policy, strategy and tactics in their own countries. This does not, however, exonerate any member parties who may have acquiesced in Comintern decisions that harmed the revolution in their respective countries. The blame ultimately falls on them for expecting someone else to analyse their reality for them. The Communist Party of China is an example of a party whose leadership at times led the Chinese workers to defeat by pursuing a line of dogged and mechanical application of Comintern’s every suggestion. In 1935, however, the line of ’self-reliance’ won out in the Chinese party (signalised by the election of the leading proponent of this principle, namely Mao Tse-tung, to the position of Chairman). From that time onwards, the Chinese party, while never for one moment questioning the leading role of the Soviet Union among the world’s revolutionary forces, never relied on Comintern to sort out its problems for it. At the other end of the scale, the Communist Party of Great Britain by and large failed to develop an independent and self-reliant analysis of British conditions. In this case the leadership did tend to hang around waiting to be told what to do by Comintern. “The CPs,” says PF (characteristically lumping everyone together, from Harry Pollitt to Mao Tse-tung, from Ho Chi Minh to Denis Healy, and from Stakhanov to Malcolm Muggeridge), “lost faith in their rank and file. They relied increasingly on ’the line’ from on high” (p.74). In the case of some parties there is some truth in this, but to suggest as PF does that this was always and everywhere the case is ludicrously one-sided and simplistic.

Although Comintern in general had a Bolshevising influence upon the Communist parties of the world, Marxist-Leninists today do not call for the creation of another such body. They are capable of co-operating and assisting one another without a central organisation. The leading Marxist-Leninist party of today, the Communist Party of China, has also since 1935 been the leading proponent of the principle of ’self reliance’ of individual communist parties. It is thus unlikely that a situation will again arise in which there is a danger of communists waiting for “the line from on high”, as PF puts it. PF himself, however, does appear to argue the need for resurrecting the idea of an International. “Socialists straddle the barriers of country,” he says, and goes on to state that this necessitates an international organisation. Socialists must be able to “keep themselves and their fellow workers informed” (as PF himself obviously needs to be) “of what is happening in Chile, in Thailand, in South Africa. Their inspiration is always international” (how can it be when their party is, according to PF, built out of the “day-to-day struggles of working people”?) “because ... they know that socialism has nothing to do with geographic barriers, but to do with human beings wherever they live” (such matters as the distinction between oppressing and oppressed countries being, presumably, “nothing to do” with such “international” socialists as PF). “The confidence to argue the international case” (a case which is unfortunately not stated in PF’s pamphlet) “depends fundamentally on socialist organisation across national boundaries” (p.90). As this “organisation” doesn’t seem to point to the Trotskyist Fourth International, it must point to a Fifth. Now the SWP within Britain is notorious for trying to take over struggles and run them. This practice would not augur well for an SWP-inspired International. Were such an organisation to come into existence, we would probably find that PF’s criticism of Comintern would be shown up as hypocritical. For the SWP are normally perfectly happy about the idea of a line descending from on high as long as it’s them giving the line and other people having to toe it!

“Again and again,” says PF, “the workers of different countries came to the brink of revolution – only to be ’dissuaded’ by powerful Communist parties representing the whims of Russian policy” (p.73). He cites various ’instances’, beginning with “the great strike waves” (which were all that he could see happening) in China in 1927. He also mentions the cases of France and Spain during the Popular Front period in the mid-1930s, and includes a brief discussion (p.78) on the Spanish case. Franco’s sin seems to be that he did not share PF’s unquestioning faith in bourgeois elections, for his army “declared war on the elected government and tried to seize power.” The real essence of the matter, however, was that the Popular Front government was being forced, however hesitantly, by mass pressure to serve the interests of the working class. So, as in the case of Chile, right-wing elements led a coup, regrouping under their command the armed forces of the capitalist state, which had remained intact. PF, however, who always has a blind spot for the question of the armed forces (the central issue in socialist revolution!), tries to make out that there had already been a revolution in Spain! And how does he ’diagnose’ a revolution? Workers’ councils, of course. And in Spain the workers (in particular the anarchists) resisted “by taking power themselves and electing their own workers and soldiers councils”. PF’s outlook is here revealed in all its left-wing childishness. How can one talk of having ’taken power’ when one has Franco’s army bearing down on one? “The official Russian-style Communists”, to the dismay of PF, concentrated on the immediate task of defending the Popular Front government against Franco’s army. It is not surprising that PF avoids the awkward question of whether the anarchists and Trotskyists would have contributed more to the anti-fascist struggle if left to their own devices.

PF’s list of “betrayals” goes on to mention the Soviet-German non-aggression pact of 1939 (p.73). He does not specify how and why this pact is supposed to be classified as a “betrayal”. PF’s expression “the whims of Russian foreign policy” does not at all apply to Soviet diplomacy in the 1930s. The record shows that the policy represented by Stalin and Litvinov was purposeful and consistent. From 1933, the Soviet Union tried through every means to promote the policy of ’collective security’ against the Axis powers. However, the policy of appeasement (or in other words of trying to turn Hitler eastwards) was stubbornly maintained by the Chamberlain and Daladier governments during 1938-39, when the danger of war was becoming more and more clear. The Soviet Union was therefore forced to abandon its goal of collective security, and the non-aggression pact with Germany was signed so as to ensure that the war began among the imperialist countries, and to give the Soviet Union more time to prepare. The non-aggression pact was in these circumstances an important success for socialism, and it is no wonder that bourgeois propaganda has always denigrated it. Sham socialists like PF and his predecessors give a stamp of ’leftism’ to such denigration.

To move on to the post-war period, we find in PF’s pamphlet the cryptic statement “Russia’s government has launched imperialist conquests throughout Eastern Europe” (p.67). Though he does not indicate what period or what instances he is talking about, he is presumably referring to the post-war settlement. Now, it will be recalled that in the concluding months of the Second World War, the Red Army swept across Eastern Europe towards Berlin, and eventually raised the Red Flag over the Reichstag. It was in this context that the question of the post-war settlement in Eastern Europe arose. The US, British and other imperialist governments were hellbent on retaining the Eastern European countries for capitalism, and had all kinds of tricks up their sleeve (for instance, the Polish government-in-exile in London). In such a context, it is not clear what the Soviet Union could be expected to do apart from what it did do. This was to provide conditions in which Popular Front and similar movements could set up governments to take over from the defeated Nazis. Is this what PF calls “imperialist conquests”? What else would PF have liked the Soviet Union to have done? Hand everything over to the US on a plate (with some workers’ councils for sauce, perhaps)?

It is well-known that the regimes which resulted were not all very successful. This is hardly surprising considering the devastation wreaked upon the societies involved during the Nazi occupation. Just flinging the word ’imperialism’ around the way PF does is not helpful in assessing the historical experience of the peoples’ democracies. ’Imperialism’ has a very precise meaning for socialists. It is true that it is used in a less precise way in bourgeois usage, to mean that ’someone is somewhere you don’t want him to be’. PF has sunk to using the term in this sense, and what is more avoids the awkward question of who would have been there if the ’Russians’ hadn’t been.

PF maintains a blackout on the decade of reconstruction that followed the alleged Russian “imperialist conquests” in Eastern Europe. The next we hear is that “the workers of Budapest rose against the Russian tyranny” (p.78). In the case of Hungary, the post-Stalin leadership of the Soviet Union kept meddling in Hungarian politics. They effected lightning changes in leadership with the result that by 1956 the Hungarian government had indeed been reduced to a “rudderless bureaucracy”. At the beginning of 1956, Khruschev launched his attack on the Soviet policies of the previous period with his personalised fulminations against Stalin (the ’secret speech’ delivered at the Twentieth Party Congress, February 1956). The period of Khruschev demagogy, under the signboard of ’de-Stalinisation’, had begun. The regimes of Eastern Europe began to founder as local revisionist forces, now given powerful impetus by developments in the USSR, jockeyed for position. In Poland, mass opposition to the regime broke out. This opposition remained loyal to the aim of building a socialist bloc, and Soviet intervention did not take place. (One of the factors which is said to have been responsible for Soviet non-intervention was the diplomatic activity of Chou En-lai.) In Hungary, however, the regime faced a more serious threat. Years of bungling had led to a situation where the regime not only faced mass opposition, but where that opposition was rapidly coming under the leadership of anti-socialist forces. Domestic and foreign reaction thought their chance had come to break up the socialist bloc. It was therefore with the support of the international socialist movement that the Soviet army intervened against the uprising of 1956.

The blame for the tragic events in Hungary in 1956, which have left a legacy of bitterness that still survives, rests with the Khruschev revisionists. As Mao Tse-tung put it, the events were an example of contradictions among the people which, if they had been handled correctly, would have remained non-antagonistic. Khruschevite bungling and demagogy, however, led to the exacerbation of these contradictions, and the result was the first of the civil wars that have characterised revisionist interference ever since.

Needless to say, PF is sublimely oblivious to all this background. The event might as well have taken place on Mars for all he indicates. For someone has mentioned the magic words ’workers’ councils’ which transforms PF into a whirling dervish. It goes without saying that he closes his eyes to the ecstacies of the Western capitalists as they saw an opportunity of regaining the power to exploit the Hungarian workers, and of the Tito revisionists who hoped Hungary would follow in Yugoslavia’s footsteps. The only wicked outsiders he mentions are the Russians. “The Russian reply to this was sudden and instant. They denounced the revolutionaries as ’agents of Fascism’ and put down the revolution with a brutality modelled on that of the Fascists. . .” and so on (p.79). What nonsense! The response of the Khruschevites was quite the opposite to “sudden and instant”. They vacillated and temporised and refused to act promptly against the reactionary forces which they themselves had unleashed through their ’de-Stalinisation’ demagogy. This gave the reactionaries all the time they needed to gain the initiative and mislead whole sections of Hungarian society into a futile and tragic uprising, from the success of which only Western imperialism would have gained. Once again PF’s apparently ’left’ pose goes together with a cover-up for the real crimes of the Khruschevites – that they were prepared to risk the gains of the Anti-fascist War in their attempt to consolidate revisionism in the international communist movement.

As for the present phase, when the Soviet Union has become an aggressive imperialist superpower, PF utters no word of condemnation. The Czechoslovak rebellion in 1968 and its suppression are not mentioned. Weren’t there enough workers’ councils to attract his attention? Soviet meddling in the affairs of Portugal in the 1970s is not mentioned, as we have seen. The Angolan events which were a focus of Soviet ambitions while PF was writing his pamphlet are likewise passed over in silence. PF is clearly quite out of touch with the real aspirations of the oppressed peoples of the world. During the 1920s and 1930s, when according to his analysis the Soviet Union should have been cordially hated by all progressive forces, it in fact enjoyed unparalleled prestige, and was rightly regarded by workers and colonial peoples everywhere as a bastion of freedom. And today, when the Soviet Union stands more and more clearly revealed as an imperialist power, PF effectively acts as its ideological agent in trying to divert peoples’ attention elsewhere and to different periods of history. The peoples of the Indian subcontinent, southern Africa, the Horn of Africa and other areas subjected to Soviet aggression and subversion today will, when they finally free themselves from imperialism, have little thanks to give to PF who, behind a smokescreen of ultra-’left’ denunciations of alleged ’betrayals’ by the Soviet Union when it was an anti-imperialist force, fails to face the present contradictions in the world and to alert his readers to the nature of the actual Soviet menace of today.


We have seen how PF manages the feat of writing a chapter on the fate of the Soviet revolution without any mention of the prelude, course and outcome of the Second World War. Can anyone surpass such an impressive achievement in skirting round central issues? Yes. PF himself manages to beat his own record here. For in a work on socialism in 1977, he manages to omit any mention at all of socialist China. (His one mention of China, p.73, refers to the “strike waves” of 1927.) For someone who makes quite a few reflections on current international affairs from a supposedly socialist standpoint, this omission of a country of 800 million people who claim to be building socialism is indeed a tour de force. One would hardly have thought such an omission to be technically possible, but, in his inverted virtuosity, PF has brought it off.

There is, of course, a very good reason why PF has to go to great lengths to maintain a blackout on socialist China. For the Soviet Union in its pioneering days of the 1920s and 1930s encountered many a twist, turn and obstacle of which socialism had as yet no experience. Some of the solutions adopted were correct and proved successful and some were erroneous. By flitting about like a butterfly and settling only at points where there were alleged shortcomings in Soviet policy, Trotskyist writers such as PF can create an adverse impression of the Soviet Union in that period in the minds of those who have not as yet been able to place events in their overall perspective. However, the claims of Marxism-Leninism to represent genuine socialism do not rest on the pioneering, often experimental, efforts of the early Soviet Union alone. On the contrary, its claims rest on the fact that it learns from experience and extends the range and scope of socialist ideas as it proceeds. And at the present time, these claims centre on the achievements of socialist China, where the Communist Party has summed up much of the positive and negative aspects of Soviet experience, and has found better solutions to many problems never adequately solved in the Soviet Union. Now, for those who have lingering doubts about the Stalin era, we pose this question: Do you prefer to take the story forward and examine the claims of the Chinese and other contemporary Marxist-Leninists to have steadily developed socialist ideas in the course of wide-ranging struggles during the sixty years since 1917? Or do you prefer, with PF, to adopt the smug attitude that Trotsky knew all the answers long ago? As the claims of Marxism-Leninism to be developing in the light of hard-won experience centre today on China, it is no wonder that PF is hellbent on deflecting attention from this, and focussing on bygone times where he is more confident of maintaining a self-righteous attitude. (Or are we being too hard on PF? Knowledge of certain subjects in the higher reaches of the SWP tends to be parcelled out among various particular individuals, and PF is evidently not meant to know much about international affairs anyway. He gets by on the USSR as his advisers on this pamphlet included two of the SWP’s USSR ’experts’, Cliff and Harman. However, he apparently did not get a chance to consult its China oracle, Nigel Harris, so that he may not have felt confident enough to write about China without the backing of that anti-China hack.)

PF makes some telling observations on the pessimism that holds sway among opportunists. “One thing unites LP supporters, CP supporters” (by which of course, he refers to the CPGB) “and trade union leaders: their pessimism. They all take the view that most workers are backward, and will always remain backward. Workers, they argue, will never be able to control their own lives – so it is up to an educated elite to improve things for them. Many workers share this pessimism. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard workers objecting at meetings: ’It’s fine, this idea of a socialist society, but you’ll never get the workers to do anything about it. Just come down and look at the people on the shop floor. All they’re interested in is racing, football and overtime’. These people are easy meat for the capitalist system – because they go along with its central idea: that only a minority are ever capable of making decisions or running an economy. Once you’ve accepted that, then there’s no way you’ll beat the people who’ve been practising minority power for hundreds of years” (pp.76-77).

We believe that the Communist Party of China displays an attitude that is opposite to the pessimism that is so graphically described by PF. It has had the confidence repeatedly to call upon the masses in their millions to take their lives in their own hands and break the habits of subservience inherited from the many centuries of class society. The Chinese working class has as a result managed to confront the problem that was never solved in the Soviet Union namely how to prevent a capitalist restoration of the Khruschevite type. “There’s plenty of evidence from our history.” says PF (p.77), “to show that rank and file working people are not always passive, and when they do move together there is no power on earth that can stop them.” PF lists as evidence of this a number of revolutions and class conflicts where the “rank and file working people” met with defeat (Germany 1919, the Spanish Civil War, Portugal 1974, the British general strike, etc.), and thus seems to be set on disproving his own point. Why didn’t he put the success story of the Chinese Cultural Revolution on his list of evidence that “no power on earth” can stop “working people . . . when they do move together”? Because this success was under communist leadership, using the science of Marxism-Leninism. And according to PF, the word ’communist’ is normally to be used only pejoratively in connection with modern revisionism or alleged faults of the Stalin era. We, on the contrary, see in the achievements of the Chinese working class good reason to uphold the communist record as something that is sti’1 red, and of which the workers of the whole world may be proud.

Why is it that revolutionary storms continue to blow after seizure of state power by the working class, and even after socialisation of the means of production has largely taken place? What are the forces that can corrupt a revolution? A quotation from Beatrice and Sydney Webb, given by PF himself, indicates some of the bourgeois influences which can corrupt initially honest individuals. The Webbs are in turn quoting the words of an old engineer describing the change that can come over workers who take up union positions. The union officer is “courted and flattered by the middle class.” He drops “his workmen friends.” “His manner to his members. . .undergoes a change, lie begins to look down upon them all as ’common workmen’,” etc. (p.62). PF seems to assume that such pressures will be conjured away with one wave of a magic wand, come the revolution. The initial euphoria and togetherness of the workers’ councils and so on will, according to him, presumably last for ever and see us through into the promised land. This is not so. The bourgeois pressures described above do continue to exist under socialism. The tragic fate of the Soviet revolution is proof of this. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a vigorous effort to counter such pressures, and thus to prevent the crystallisation within the party and government machinery of a new-type bourgeoisie of the Khruschevite type. PF is blind not only to the solution, but to the problem itself. “Socialism,” he says, “is about human beings, and human beings make mistakes. There will be plenty of mistakes made by a workers’ democracy, plenty of wrong decisions taken, plenty of cases where the wrong things are made at the wrong time and distributed to the wrong place” (p.46). In dealing with the problems that will be faced in the socialist era, then, the worst PF can foresee is a bit of administrative bungling here and there. Not a word does he breathe of the central question – the continuation of class struggle. This is the biggest lesson that has emerged from the experience of the Soviet, Chinese and other revolutions of this century. Once again, we do not recommend that PF be taken as a guide in the struggles that lie ahead!

With the same disdain for the heroic efforts made by the workers of various countries, PF haughtily remarks that “we cannot be exact” about “the precise details of a socialist society” “at a time when those efforts have not been made” (p.46). Now every so often one comes across SWP members who are impressed by the achievements of socialist countries, for instance by China. We hope they realise that their guard is slipping. They must remember SWP doctrine that there has not been a socialist revolution in China. What they see may look like heroic efforts by the working class, but that is obviously an illusion. As PF puts it, “efforts have not been made.” The Chinese workers have just not tried hard enough!

Marxist-Leninists have a different line on this. They reckon that the nature of class struggle under socialism is no longer an unknown quantity. They believe that the theory is beginning to take on flesh and blood. And they do reckon that the Chinese workers have “made efforts”. As a result of the continuing mass movements of recent years, the Chinese working class now has wide-ranging experience of the class struggles that occur in socialist society. Political mobilisation has been more extensive than in any previous mass movement in history. The range and thoroughness of the struggle against bourgeois ideas and influences has far surpassed the achievements of the ’purges’ in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, which are the main historical precedent. Beside the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Soviet ’purges’ indeed look rough-and-ready – a stop-gap measure which succeeded in terms of the immediate problems, but was to prove a failure in the long term.

One of the fundamental contradictions running through all class societies is the contradiction between mental and manual labour. The experience of the Chinese Cultural Revolution has shown how important it is for socialism to aim to overcome this contradiction. For in socialist society, there still exist ’experts’ of various kinds whose position in society is different from that of the manual labourer. This situation is fraught with the danger that a new intellectual stratum will coalesce and serve as a possible nucleus for a revisionist bourgeoisie. To counter this danger, the Communist Party of China always aims to adopt a ’mass line’ on any issue, in opposition to the line that only experts know what’s best. The ’mass line’ can be summed up in Lenin’s words (quoted by PF on p.68): to “calculate solely and exclusively on the workers, soldiers and peasants being able to tackle better than the officials, better than the police, the practical and difficult problems of increasing the production of foodstuffs and their better distribution, the better provision of soldiers etc., etc.”

In spite of the fact that he quotes this remark by Lenin, PF shows himself to have quite the contrary outlook to this mass line, to display, in fact, a childish acceptance of the expertise of the bourgeois intelligentsia, and to fall for the mystique of “the expert”. PF, in his extremely muddled section entitled “But will it work?” (pp.40-43) broaches the question in a promising manner: he describes how many people “see all around them hosts of ’experts’, trained in science, sociology, economics. Surely, they ask, these people must be left to take the decisions? Very few of us can understand a word they’re saying, and if we can’t understand how can we take part in decisions?” This is fine so far, but unfortunately PF fails to supply a class analysis of this problem and consequently comes a cropper: he tails to draw attention to the class essence of such a use of ’expertise’ mystique – it is bourgeois expertise expertise whose essence and motivation is to take decisions away from the masses in the way PF describes. PF fails to understand this, and insists on representing such expertise as something that stands above classes – as something that, by implication, could be transferred whole to socialism. This is how he continues on from the passage quoted above: “Such people” (i.e. those baffled by the “experts” and consequently believing themselves unable to “take part in decisions”) “suffer from an illusion. They imagine that the main decisions in our society are taken by experts. The main decisions... are not taken by experts. They are taken, in the main, by nincompoops, by people without any natural or technical talent whatever . . . Roy Thomson, for instance, was a man of almost monumental mediocrity . .. Howard Hughes was another mediocrity ...” etc. In other words, PF has elevated to central importance some supra-class contrast between talent, etc., and the “autocratic dunces” instead of stressing what is basic – expertise for whom, for which class. He fails to see that what is fundamental is not just the number of experts or the question of how influential their position in society is, but the question of whom they serve. The US doubtless has more ’expertise’ than the Indochinese ever did; does that mean US society is any more socialist, or in any way more able to control history? No, on the contrary, it was booted out of Indochina on its arse. It is the masses, not experts, who make history.

This represents a very serious revisionist tendency in PF’s thinking. Without a clear idea of the relation of intellectual and manual labour, which is the contradiction underlying the problem of ’experts’, it is impossible to understand the experience of socialism in respect of the intellectual stratum of society. “But wouldn’t there be,” he asks rather nervously, “a mass strike of all experts against an egalitarian society?” (p.42). He dodges the answer to this important problem by giving some isolated examples of experts in capitalist society whose achievements were not motivated by material incentives (the inventor of penicillin, the Lucas Aerospace technicians). This sidetracks the complex historical experience of socialism on this question. For instance, there was indeed a whole period of socialism in the Soviet Union when there was widespread disaffection among the intelligentsia, all the way across the spectrum from lack of enthusiasm to actual sabotage of socialist construction. Whole sections of the intellectual stratum of society served socialist construction not through having been revolutionised but only because they were forced to by the proletarian dictatorship. The experience of the Cultural Revolution in China, where the revolutionisation of intellectuals has been more satisfactorily tackled, has shown once again the danger of a passive attitude towards “experts”. The proletariat must constantly assert its political leadership and actively intervene to take intellectuals in hand and lead them onto the socialist road.

Socialists have a duty to call attention to such problems. PF, however, once again ignores an important facet of hard-won socialist experience, and far from alerting his readers to the dangers that lurk here, actually condones revisionist tendencies. “Scientists, experts of every kind,” he blurts out (p.42), “prefer using their inventive skills to working as a labourer.” Well, what is there so laudable in thus preferring mental to manual work? In career prospects, working conditions, ’job satisfaction’ and so on, it goes without saying that being an expert is for many people preferable to being a labourer. Instead of pointing out that this contradiction between mental and manual labour is one of the main contradictions socialism must face and overcome. PF condones the bourgeois individualistic attitude which exacerbates the contradiction. Once again, he is effectively doing a cover-up job for the Soviet revisionists and their kind, who naturally “prefer” to sit behind their desks to sharing the life of the working class!

PF sets great store by family matters. “The case for a socialist system,” he says, “starts from the freedom to enjoy and develop relationships – especially among children” (p.43). “Under capitalism, hundreds of thousands of men. women and children cling to family relationships long after they have grown sour or even savage. They do so, chiefly, because the family offers them economic security, while outside the family there is no security at all. Socialism sets out to provide security for all human beings whether they live in families or not. It enriches the relationships inside families and liberates countless thousands from forced and tortuous relationships” (p.44). This all sounds lovely, but he doesn’t actually give any concrete examples of this transformation of the family. It’s a pity he maintains a blackout on socialist China, because otherwise he could have mentioned some facts that working class women in this country would be interested to know. China has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world – coexisting with one of the most straightforward divorce procedures in the world (three months’ separation and a minimum of red tape). (Conversely, in today’s Soviet Union, where divorce is exceedingly complicated, there is a spectacularly high divorce rate!) PF’s high regard for family affairs, however, prefers to relegate all visions of a socialist future to a so-far non-existent promised land. Otherwise, the almost universally favourable reports one hears about contemporary Chinese family relationships might influence people to suggest that China might be a socialist country.

PF’s silence on the achievements of the working class in socialist China comes at a lime when more and more people are being drawn to socialist ideas by hearing about Chinese affairs. It is indeed difficult for bourgeois propaganda to prevent people becoming aware that one quarter of the people of the world now live in a society where the contradictions of class society no longer run riot. In the economic sphere, China has through its own efforts developed an economy which is catching up with the capitalist countries in some spheres and which is free from the cyclical crises, inflation, unemployment, etc., which dog capitalist economic development. In the fields of social services and disaster relief, China can be held up as a model among the developing countries. Health and nutrition is good. Chinese and minority cultures are flourishing as never before, and the cultural and technical level of the working class is rising steadily. The tremendous mass movements that have occurred have meant that in China there has not been a ’quiet life’, and there has undoubtedly been upheaval and instability at times. China has been an arena of struggle, and not an idyllic scene. What one can confidently state, however, is that the most unquiet life has been for those who have aimed to establish a new-type bourgeois class of the Khruschev type. This is the central positive achievement of the Chinese political struggles of our time, and it is appreciated by the Chinese masses. It is also a tremendous boost to socialist propaganda around the world that capitalist restoration is not inevitable – even if it should ever take place in China, socialism will still have gained much profound experience from its successes in keeping capitalist restoration at bay for so many years. The efforts of PF and the SWP to jam out this element of socialist propaganda in our time will earn them well-deserved oblivion as the working class becomes increasingly aware of the significance of the Chinese achievements.


“The thirty years dream is over”, runs the opening paragraph of PF’s pamphlet (p. 10). “Since the end of the Second World War people have imagined that things will get better. Now they are not getting better. They are getting worse.” The line of Marxist-Leninists on the contrary is that the situation in the world today is excellent. What is the explanation for such diametrically opposite assessments? What is the reason for the gloom of PF’s outlook, which contrasts ironically with his claims to oppose “pessimism”?

The answer is that Marxist-Leninists take into account the tremendous upsurge in third world liberation movements that has occurred during the post-war period. According to Leninism, imperialism is the current stage of capitalism. The third world anti-imperialist wars are thus dealing severe blows to international capitalism. The situation in the struggle to overthrow capitalist rule is therefore just fine. According to PF’s blinkered view, however, all that matters is the local situation within each capitalist country. Lacking an international perspective, all he can see is the doom and gloom in front of his nose – the economic crisis in the imperialist countries (a perspective that is shared, of course, by the imperialist bourgeoisie).

Marxism-Leninism, by contrast, takes the standpoint of the working and oppressed people of the whole world, be they proletarian or peasant, urban creators of workers’ councils or rural creators of guerilla bases in the countryside. This is not an abandonment of the Marxism of Marx, which centred on the factory situation (industrial working class versus bourgeoisie in England, Germany and a few other countries). On the contrary, it is a development of Marxism that was accomplished by Lenin at a time when vast monopolies were becoming characteristic of capitalism, and were internationalising their operations. Lenin called this new stage of capitalism (which occurred after Marx’s death) ’monopoly capitalism’, or ’modern imperialism’. During this stage, the fiercest and most bare-faced oppression has taken the form of the national oppression of the third world countries by imperialism. Mao Tse-tung has pointed out that where there is oppression there is resistance, and the greater the oppression the greater the resistance. True to this law of history the greatest resistance now occurring in the world to capitalism in its imperialist phase is the national liberation struggle of the third world countries.

Without a grasp of this elementary Leninist thesis it is impossible to make any sense of the crises that have been afflicting the imperialist economies in recent years. These crises are the result of the successes of the colonial liberation movements, which have been hitting the imperialist economies hard. PF reveals that he has no conception at all of what imperialism is. He uses the term twice, but makes no attempt to explain it. As we have seen, his first use of the term (Russia’s “imperialist conquests throughout Eastern Europe”, p.67) is merely as a term of abuse that comes in handy for his blanket condemnation of the role played by the Soviet Union after the Red Army’s advance at the end of the Second World War. His only other use of the term ’imperialism’ is in the dismissive remark that communists in the 1930s held “that to desert Russia was to bolster capitalism and imperialism” (p.73). In neither case does he show that he has any inkling of the idea that imperialism is the form taken by capitalism in its present monopoly stage.

The imperialist nature of Britain’s economy is thus not understood by PF. He therefore fails to place the present economic crisis in its international context and as a result is blind to the main factor that has brought it on – the growing successes of the colonial liberation movements. The imperialist nature of Britain’s economic crisis remains a mystery to him. Instead, as we have seen, he explains the crisis with some ideas about arms expenditure, etc., which ignore the international dimension altogether (pp.22-25). The fact that victory in the Second World War by the Soviet Union and other anti-fascist forces, the emergence of new socialist states (above all China) and the subsequent upsurge of colonial liberation movements have led to a decisive change in the balance of forces in the world – a situation where imperialism has now been thrown onto the defensive – is for PF apparently a matter of no concern at all. With his narrow perspective of ’capitalism in one country’, he seems to find such international developments completely uninteresting.

When discussing the collapse of British imperialism, we saw how PF was blind to the role of neo-colonialism in post-war imperialist strategy, and had nothing to say about the third world’s increasingly successful assertion of control of its own natural resources which has changed the international economic situation so profoundly. He refers in passing to “speculative investments overseas” (p.22) and mentions that south Africa’s “entire economy is subsidised and maintained” by British and American businessmen (p.31). But he makes these facts sound coincidental, and fails to point out that the British economy, by its very nature, is “maintained” by the exploitation of third world peoples as well as by the exploitation of workers in Britain itself. He is therefore incapable of seeing that a threat to these overseas investments constitutes a mortal danger to the position of the monopoly capitalist class in Britain. He never makes the link between the aggravation of the economic crisis in Britain and the upsurge of anti-imperialist movements in the third world.

Perhaps what caps it all is his account of the overthrow of the Salazarist regime in Portugal. “In Portugal in 1974,” runs his narrative, “a Fascist regime was tumbled” (p.79). It slipped on a banana skin, presumably. PF proceeds to give a euphoric personal account of the excitement of it all, and his cartoonist backs him up with an illustration about the cheap price of cabbages. Now we appreciate that PF must have had a really smashing holiday in Portugal, but what was the salient fact about the Portuguese events? Isn’t it worth a mention that Portugal ruled an empire? Isn’t it worth a mention that the primary cause of the downfall of Caetano was the crisis brought about by the colonial liberation wars which had been fought with increasing intensity for over a decade? The anti-imperialist freedom fighters in Africa had been hammering the same enemy as the metropolitan proletariat and together they defeated him, though the main blow was struck by the peoples of the African colonies. It was a case of ’one enemy, one fight’. Linking these two causes is what proletarian internationalism means in capitalism’s present, imperialist, stage. In this case, as in so many today, it was the third world struggles that set the pace of class struggle in the metropolitan country. PF, however, does not even notice the existence of Portugal’s colonies, let alone point out the great significance for socialists of their liberation struggle! This is one obvious indication that when the SWP refers to itself as ’international’ socialist, it must be joking.

(Incidentally, the SWP’s line on Portugal showed that sticking to Trotskyist dogma gets an organisation into just as much of a mess on the question of the balance of class forces within the imperialist countries. Because the SWP does not acknowledge any class other than the working class to be revolutionary, the overthrow of the Caetano regime – which could not be ascribed to the (largely peasant) national liberation movements – was ascribed to the working class of Portugal… This assessment led to an over-estimation of the strength and political level of the Portuguese working class, for example, a whole string of articles in Socialist Worker spoke about “the Portuguese revolution”. When the working class did not take power, the SWP fell back on the old complaint of “betrayal” to explain what had happened (plus the new complaint that Portuguese revolutionaries had not followed the SWP’s advice on strategy and tactics, as put forward by that most renowned and experienced of all experts on Portuguese internal affairs, Tony Cliff!). In fact, there was of course no revolution in Portugal What happened was that a military coup look place which rid Portugal of a regime which could not win the colonial wais, and which would not end them by conceding the nationalists’ demands for independence, it was replaced by another bourgeois regime under which there were Indeed new opportunities for workers and peasants to organize, and for revolutionary work to be undertaken, but power never passed out of the hands of the Portuguese ruling class.)

PF’s theory of revolution is in fact ’Eurocentric’ to an extent that, as we shall see. verges on racism. ”The only people who can create it arc the rank and file of the industrial working class”, he tells us (using the term “industrial working class” for the second and last time in his pamphlet). “No revolution has yet taken place in a country where the industrial working class is the majority. That has yet to come – and no previous revolution is a guide to its development” (p.72). Apart from the Russian revolution, which appears to have been a lucky fluke, no other successful revolution is referred to, for unless one takes place in a highly industrialised country (through “general strikes”, etc.) it obviously cannot be regarded as genuine and must therefore be discounted as a “guide” by aspiring British revolutionaries (who. living in a much more industrialised country, will straight away show the Indochinese and others how it’s really done). “We’re describing a society to be brought about by the efforts of the common people, so we cannot be exact at a time when those efforts have not been made” (p.46). Thus even the Soviet experience is ruled out, apart from the few years during which Trotsky participated in it, not to speak of the experiences of socialist China, Albania, Indochina, Korea, etc., which are treated as unworthy of the slightest notice.

The reason for PF’s deliberate silence is first, that all of these states are presumably lumped together indiscriminately as ’Stalinist’, and secondly, that they were established not by industrial working classes through general strikes, etc., but largely by revolutionary peasant armies. And peasants, as he informs us, are just “not a socialist or revolutionary force”; they are “not susceptible to socialist ideas”, “not a revolutionary working class at all” (p.70); they are capable only of a “non-socialist revolution in the countryside”, “a very different revolution to the socialist one in the towns and cities”. Now it is very true that third world revolutionary movements have their own specific characteristics, and a different class basis from revolutionary movements in industrialised countries. PF takes this fact as a basis for totally discounting the idea that third world revolutionary movements have any role at all to play in the straggle against capitalism on a world scale! And this at a time when, as the case of Portugal showed, it is in fact the third world which is putting up the greatest resistance to imperialism and whose struggles are now setting the pace of class struggles in the industrialised countries!

There is only one case of a non-European revolutionary situation which PF deigns to examine, and that is the case of Chile. And here, as we have seen, he discounts all characteristics of the Chilean situation which were specifically of a third world nature. He thus manages to ignore the salient feature of US neocolonial domination, and to play up to an absurd degree parallels between the Allende government and ruling imperialist parties like the Callaghan one (he uses the same term, “Labour government”, for both). He makes the suggestion that the Allende government should have armed “new regiments of rank and file workers”, thus fostering illusions about the nature of social democracy, and implying that it was capable, if it so wished, of fulfilling the tasks of a proletarian revolutionary regime (which by its very nature it isn’t). So, having seen what a galaxy of blunders is contained in his discussion of Chile, one ought perhaps to be thankful for the lad that for the rest he leaves the subject of revolution in the third world well alone.

What about Indochina? Surely PF is tempted to discuss the revolutionary anti-imperialist movement there? No. All we get is three stray references: twice in order to attack Britain’s Labour government and others for “supporting American atrocities in Vietnam” (pp.49, 59), and once in order to blow the trumpet for himself and his friends: “In 1968, at the peak of the movement against American invasion and war in Vietnam we won a few hundred students and white collar workers” (p.92). In the first two instances what he is putting forward is merely liberalism. There is nothing specifically anti-imperialist in condemning “atrocities” – many people do that without being anti-imperialist. Still less is there anything specifically proletarian in what he says. No wonder IS’s recruits were restricted to “students and white collar workers”; PF shows no awareness himself that the proletariat has anything to gain from internationalist support of third world revolution, so it’s no surprise that he and the IS failed to win a significant proportion of workers for their Vietnam solidarity activities. And what an opportunist standpoint to take on the significance of the Vietnamese struggle! Its main significance is for PF that IS “won a few hundred” members! Its outstanding importance in the downfall of French imperialism, in inspiring the Algerian and other wars of national liberation, in exposing the true nature of US imperialism and finally throwing it into retreat – such considerations are ignored by PF. He just sees it as a marginal issue in the politics of the British left. (Even in the case of this aspect, he naturally remains quiet about the details of IS’s involvement in Vietnam solidarity activities which was a sorry tale of disruption and sectarianism.)

The views expressed by PF on the peoples of the third world are very condescending, and verge perilously on the views of reactionary ideologues like Eysenck. He shows apparent concern for the fact that “half the world’s population ... are not getting enough to eat”, and writes that “an eighth of all the people in the world can hardly move their bodies because of hunger” (p.13). Who would guess from such negative assessments that the third world is the main force hammering world capitalism today? Great hunger has bred great determination in the anti-imperialist fight. Far from holding up the third world struggle as something to look up to, as more advanced at this time than the Labour movements in the imperialist countries, PF never clearly dissociates himself from the patronising bourgeois view of the third world as stagnant, helpless, over-populated, dependant on capitalist charity. etc. This is symbolised in his choice of source material to quote, which is from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (p.13) not, say, from Ho Chi Minh.

Later on, PF uses the current struggle in south Africa as evidence of “the capacity and courage of the most so-called ’backward’ sectors of society” (p.83) – (“So-called” by whom? Presumably in PF’s topsy-turvy circles where Lenin “is usually painted as a tyrant”. p.48.) PF proceeds to confirm his reactionary altitude: “Backward? No doubt. Raw? Absolutely” (p. 4l). In between he gives a grotesquely misleading account of the background to the Soweto events: “For years the battle against racial tyranny and apartheid had been left to liberals and religious leaders. They had made no impression on it, partly because they did not really want to. The elder, more educated blacks made grumbling noises from time to time, but, in general, they lay low.” (Stalin once remarked that Trotsky wrote history in the manner of the Arabian Nights. Those familiar with traditional children’s literature will recognise the phrase “lay low” – from “Brer Fox he lay low” – and will realise that we are now reading history in the manner of Brer Rabbit’.) Then suddenly “Soweto exploded”, because “schoolchildren” were “angry at the enforced teaching of .. . Afrikaans” and “started to demonstrate.. .. Before long, those same schoolchildren were organising great strikes . . . Their fathers and mothers were put to shame .. . But these children showed more courage and revolutionary spirit than two previous generations of better educated and more comfortable liberals. And in the process, they changed” (pp. 83-84).

This is a parody of the truth. To start with, the African political leadership since 1948 is described as “liberals and religious leaders” who “did not really want to” make any impression on apartheid. This is a slanderous attack on people like Luthuli, Mandela, Sisulu, Sobukwe and many others, some communists, none “liberals” in the British sense, most of whom have spent years in prison for their cause. The “grumbling noises” included mass demonstrations culminating in the confrontation at Sharpeville in 1960 and the subsequent efforts to launch a guerilla war. No indication is given by PF of the anti-imperialist background of the Soweto demonstrations, in particular the liberation of neighbouring Mozambique and Angola in 1974 and the indochinese victories in 1975. These events were not lost on the young students, who were thus fortunate to grow up “better educated” in anti-imperialist outlook even than their parents. (PF’s standards of a ’better education’ perhaps refer to their ability to speak Afrikaans? The Soweto student who spoke at the Soweto solidarity rally in London this summer was certainly “better educated” than PF. For, to the embarrassment of the Trotskyists flanking him on the rostrum, he delivered a speech whose core was an extended quotation not from Brer Rabbit but from Mao Tse-tung!) PF likewise fails to mention the growing industrial militancy of African workers in Durban and elsewhere in recent years, which once again has given the young students the lead, rather than the other way round. So much for PF’s vaunted chums to highlight the role of the industrial working class! Instead he highlights a non-class category of “schoolchildren”, using Trotsky’s old divisive tactic of setting young against old in the opportunist hope of gaining some support among the less experienced youth.

The “three principles” of socialism listed by PF (pp.35-36) are restricted to matters concerning each country individually, and only each capitalist country at that. They leave out the international aspect altogether. The term ’proletarian internationalism’ never occurs throughout his pamphlet, which in fact restricts itself to dealing with only one of the contradictions of imperialism, namely the basic contradiction between capital and labour. The other main contradictions (the contradiction between the imperialist countries and the third world countries, the contradictions between the various imperialist countries and the contradiction between the socialist countries and imperialism) are ignored. For instance, as we have seen, PF treats the concept of “the country” (pp.29-30) only from the negative aspect of its role in the ideology of the capitalist class in the imperialist countries. He ignores the positive role played by nationalism in countries oppressed by imperialism. As his example of how “socialists straddle the barriers of country”, he has nothing better to say than that they should argue against import controls, so as to protect “unemployed workers somewhere across the sea” (p.90). As if capitalism had not itself had a bee in its bonnet about ’free trade’ for a century and a half!

The sham nature of PF’s internationalism is also revealed in his failure, throughout a whole chapter supposedly dedicated to a critique of the Labour Party, to expose the role that party has played in propping up British imperialism. Labour governments have of course shouldered Britain’s imperialist ’burden’ as willingly as Tory ones, as is shown by their record since 1945 in Malaya, Greece, Guiana, Rhodesia, Nigeria, Aden, Ireland, Dhofar, etc. PF refers to the post-war Tory governments as “the cosy, liberal right wing” (p.93), when both they and the Labour governments have often enough demonstrated their true nature as imperialist monsters. He strikes an anti-capitalist pose, and at the same time fails to link it with a sound anti-imperialist stand on international affairs. Haven’t other people done that before and come to a sorry end?

PF, then, though in general he refuses to admit that socialism has come down from the clouds and visited this earth for more than the odd fleeting visit, does discuss some struggles and achievements which we would call socialist. He does not deign to pass the slightest favourable comment on the objects of his disapproval (chief among which is the Soviet Union), instead maintaining a total condemnation of them and all their works, without making even the slightest gesture towards weighing up the pros and cons of any particular case. We have tried to maintain a more open-minded and inquiring attitude towards socialism’s history. We have not, for instance, unquestioningly leapt to the defence of every action of the Soviet regime during the socialist period. All we have tried to do is to point out that there is a lot more to assessing the complex and varied experience of socialist history than PF’s prejudiced and conspiracy-ridden account would suggest. We hope we will at the least have established that Marxism-Leninism learns from real experience of class struggle, and that its range and scope is therefore constantly enriched. In this, it is the opposite of SWP doctrine, whose source is unchanging and immutable prejudice inherited from books.

PF’s most serious faults are his failure to see the point that class struggle continues after the working class has seized power (a point to which he can only remain blind by maintaining an obsessive silence on China) and his failure to adopt an internationalist perspective. Without the compass of proletarian internationalism, PF is blind to the significance of the real events of this century. For instance, the Soviet Union in the Stalin era, judged from the international perspective of the struggle to overthrow world capitalism in its imperialist stage, achieved magnificent successes. PF blithely judges it from the perspective of whether or not it was a holiday-camp, by which standard it was not, of course, much of a success!

PF’s prejudice against the peasantry blinds him likewise to the main force now battering world capitalism – the third world liberation struggles. He is too deeply buried in his books of forty years ago to notice that Marxism has now advanced, and the sickle is now raised high along with the hammer. Where he does emerge into the present era, it is only to raise old debates from the 1920s and 1930s, and he has nothing of substance to say about the international situation of today. His view of history is that of all Trotskyists: they say that revolution could have occurred in various countries at various times had it not been for ’Stalinist betrayals’, and yet where revolution has occurred they make a big fuss about that too, and call it a ’Stalinist takeover’. You just can’t win! They want the promised land all at one go, and won’t accept delivery in stages.

Let us once again leave the last word to the Chinese revolutionary writer Lu Hsun, who wrote, in his “Reply to a letter from the Trotskyites”: “Your ’theory’ is indeed much loftier than that of Mr. Mao Tsetung and others, and what’s more, yours is high up in the sky. while theirs is down-to-earth.”