Revolutionary Communist League of Britain

Eurocentrism, the ’key link’ in theoretical work

First Published: October, No. 3, Summer 1985
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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The thesis which follows originated in an attempt to analyse certain immediate facing the RCL in 1984. Since it was written a number of comrades, both inside and outside the League have taken its very sketchy analysis a great deal further. It can thus be seen very much as a first shot in a battle to understand and root out what we believe to be a key deviation in’ the western Communist movement.

It is our view that the key to understanding the failure of successive ’revolutionary’ initiatives in the West lies in the influence of EUROCENTRISM. Although this trend can be characterized in a number of ways, its fundamental characteristic is that it views the world from the standpoint of the western ’Labour Movement’, exaggerating the significance and potential of the economic struggles of the western working class and relegating to a subordinate role the oppressed nations and their struggles. This is not at all a question of sentiment or morality. On the contrary, Underpinning the very brief outline which follows is a far-reaching theory on the nature of imperialism and class contradictions in the world today. This theory – the understanding and elaboration of which is the subject of our current endeavours – has been developed over a number of years by mainly Third World Marxists, in particular Samir Amin, and it seeks to develop a model for analysing contradictions on a world scale.

As Amin himself put it:

The social reproduction of capitalist society cannot be understood by looking only at the internal economic workings of the nation-states of the capitalist world system. To be understood social reproduction involves the interference at the level of the state in the economic regulation and application of the class struggle-economic laws dialectic not to each nation state but to the system as a whole. (Class and Nation, historically and in the current crisis p.3)

If we accept this thesis then clearly the contradiction between the developed imperialist world and the Third World (in Amin’s terms the ’centre’ and the ’periphery’) becomes not subordinate or marginal, but the central theoretical and practical question of our age.

The project to understand it is an ambitious one and may well take months if not years, raising as it does fundamental questions about accepted Marxist theory. Rather than wait for the fruits of our deliberations, we prefer now to put forward these initial points in the hope that they may spur on others to take up this central theoretical struggle.

EUROCENTISM and the Modern Marxist-Leninist Movement

The history of the modern Marxist-Leninist movement in the West still awaits a scientific appraisal. However on some points we can agree.

The new communist forces which began to take shape in Europe and North America in particular after 1963 shared a number of common characteristics:

*In the Sino-Soviet polemic they lined up with the Chinese Communist Party and it was the General line of the CPC in the period which gave them their identity;

*They marked a break with revisionist tendencies which were more or less strongly established in the West by the 1950’s;

*There were three questions of line which demarcated them most clearly from the revisionist parties;

1) opposition to the capitulation to Western Imperialism by the revisionist parties in the Imperialist countries and the CPSU;
2) reaffirmation of Leninist theories on the State, the class struggle the need for violent revolution;
3) Identification with and support for the revolutionary national liberation movements in the Third World.

In all of these aspects the ML movement was fundamentally correct.

There were also inherent weaknesses in the new parties and organisations, which were to affect them all to a greater or lesser extent. In the first place they were none of them proletarian parties or organisations. As the Belgian comrades of the Parti du Travail de Beligique have pointed out, the modern ML movement in the imperialist countries arose fundamentally out of the radicalised of the petty bourgeoisie, in particular the intelligentsia. As such they were unstable, and few if any of them had any roots among the masses. A major task of the young parties and organizations was the proletarianization of its members linked to the sinking of deep roots among the masses.

Secondly, the movement had a common characteristic of dogmatism and sectarianism. Subordinately this was a reflection of some dogmatism in the position of the CPC at this period. Fundamentally, however, it was because the positions adopted by the MLs during the 1960s were indeed adopted from the general line of the CPC. As such they were certainly correct, but they were also very general and abstract positions. This factor, combined with the petty bourgeois class character of the movement led it into a number of extremely dogmatic and sectarian positions in the late 60s and early 70s. Some – whom we would now characterize as the lunatic fringe of Maoism – have never changed from the idealized dream world of boldness, purity and irrelevance. Most parties and organisations, however, particularly after the overthrow of the Gang of Four in China, became conscious of the need to make concrete and relevant the general theses they had adopted in the ’60s. From the period beginning 1977/78 the majority of ML organisations began a process of criticising dogmatism and sectarianism.

In undertaking this necessary task the movement was faced with a dilemma – a contradiction which had existed at the heart of the of the modern ML movement from its inception. The most powerful strategic deviation for the communist movement in the imperialist countries has always been a rightist, if not revisionist, tendency. More particularly there has existed within those countries a long term tendency to adopt social chauvinist/social imperialist positions. In Britain this tendency is manifested most clearly in relation to the communist movement’s stand on Ireland, and similar particular manifestations of social chauvinism can be seen in respect of most imperialist countries – e.g. in France the position on Algeria and Indo-China, in the US on the Afro-American question. The roots of this are extremely deep-seated and are to be found in the white-chauvinist Eurocentric standpoint which relegates to a peripheral or subordinate role the oppressed nations and their struggles, a standpoint which gained the upper hand in the Communist movement after Lenin’s death, including in the Soviet Union.

The problem is thus an extremely important and deep rooted one, which we are only now beginning to understand. The early ML movement of the 60s made a break with this Eurocentric tradition – in particular through its espousal of the Chinese Communists’ analysis of the revolutionary role of the Third World. However this break was only partial. Forced as it was to define itself in relation to the revisionist and social imperialist parties, the ML movement often viewed itself as returning to correct principles, in particular as enunciated by Lenin and Stalin. This – the politics of ’return’ – combined with the movement’s inherent tendency towards dogmatism meant it was often recreating in more militant and ’revolutionary’ form the basically Eurocentric these of the revisionists, thus espousing a form of neo-Trotskyism, rather than adopting the revolutionary essence of the new storm from the East. Viewed historically we might say that the ’return to principles’ was a necessary stage to demarcate the new movement from the capitulatist politics of revisionism but that strategically it would lend it down a blind alley.

Indeed, when the time came to criticise dogmatic and sectarian errors, this was often done not from a revolutionary standpoint but from a rightist and liquidationist one.

The movement had not profoundly grasped the revolutionary essence of Third World struggles and the national question; it was still hidebound by certain dogmatically applied principles of Marxism-Leninism; it had made few if any theoretical contributions and was theoretically weak.

As a result in attempting to overcome its dogmatism by breaking new ground and creatively applying some of the correct general theses of the anti-revisionist period, it often fell into precisely those rightists deviations which it had opposed in the 1960s. One might well conclude that the struggle against revisionism had not gone deeply enough, and that during the ’70s and ’80s the rightist social tendency has reasserted itself within the ML movement. The fact that it has done so in the name of relevance and concreteness should not blind us to the facts either of the inherent tendency within our movement towards social chauvinism or of the very real need to make our politics relevant and concrete.

The Movement in Britain

These general points have their echo and particular manifestation in Britain. In many ways the negative features of the ML movement were accentuated here. The revolutionary tradition was weaker – social chauvinism – particularly over Ireland – was if anything more thoroughly engrained in British Communism certainly than in the rest of Europe; there was a long tradition of empiricism and resistance to theoretical work. All of these tendencies can be seen in the degeneration of the CPGB which long predated Khruschev’s secret speech and the Sino-Soviet polemic.

These characteristics of British ’communism’ hamstrung the young anti-revisionist movement, and made even more inappropriate the call to ’return to principles’ – principles which were themselves tinged with rightism and social chauvinism. Looking back now at the publications and resolutions of the various trends which made up the anti-revisionist movement in Britain, one can see an extremely powerful Eurocentric trend which saw the revolutionary tasks of the ’60s far more in terms of recreating the Russia of 1902 than in uniting and identifying with the revolutionary movements of the oppressed nations and people. We can further see that all those main trends were tainted with social chauvinism, and that most of them embraced it in its totality.

The most extreme example of this is of course the CPBML. As early as 1971 (The British Working Class and its Party – adopted at 2nd Congress) the CPBML was not simply ignoring the revolutionary struggles of the Third World, (in a 9 page document neither the Third World nor the anti-racist struggles nor the struggle in Ireland are so much as mentioned), they were revising Leninist theories of Imperialism in order to do so:

Imperialism the highest form of capitalism is stronger than national capitalism. It follows that an imperialist power fights on all fronts as a predator... but we can never say that “it is open to that power to bribe, corrupt or appease any section”.

The prose – an usual – is tortuous, but the message is fairly clear:

1. Imperialism is a “stronger” form of capitalism (not the highest stage, moribund, monopoly ...)
2. The struggle against it is the same everywhere (2 class Lines).
3. The metropolitan working class is not, and can not be bought off or appeased nor can any section of it.

Perhaps significantly few of the CPBML’s rivals criticised it for its social chauvinism in this period (the main exception) being the MLWA (Marxist Leninist Workers Association) They mainly like the RCLB’s precursors the JCC (Joint Committee of Communists) and CFB (Communist Federation of Britain) criticised it for the incorrect manner, in which it had been set up. It was only in l976 that the CFB made any criticism of the CPB’s social chauvinism (Revolution no. 3), at a time when its revisionism had become so glaring as to be unmistakeable. For the fact is that a largo part of the ML movement shared the Eurocentric and then social chauvinism orientation of the CPBML. This was certainly true of the JCC and CFB.[1]

A detailed analysis of this period has still to be made, and it is a task which certainly needs to be carried out. At this stage we confine ourselves to some initial remarks on the CFB and the RCL.

From its origins in the JCC the CFB never adopted a clear position on imperialism, or the revolutionary national struggle, (in fact it rarely adopted a clear position on anything). Worse than this it adopted some clearly reactionary positions – most notably on the Irish national liberation struggle. Between 1972 and 1974 a ’great debate’ raged in the CFB over the question of Ireland which centered around two major positions – the ’anti-imperialist’ line of the Glasgow Group and the ’socialist struggle’ line of the London Group. Of the two the London line was most clearly eurocentric and social chauvinist – being a (slightly) more intelligent variant of the ICO (Irish Communist Organisation) ’2 Nations theory’ which totally discounted the Irish national struggle as a progressive force. However the ’Glasgow’ line which eventually became the line of the CFB was for all its ’anti-imperialism’ quite fundamentally part of the same Eurocentric trend. The CFB RESOLUTION ON IRELAND (1974) is extremely vague about the national character of the struggle in Ireland, says nothing about republicanism or the republican movement, and subordinates the Irish struggle to the struggle in Britain:

CFB recognizes that the divisions that have been created amongst the Irish working class constitute the main obstacle to progressive political advance within Ireland. To help overcome these divisions the CFB as part of the international working class movement will work to develop links with the working class forces throughout Ireland in the fight to throw off the domination of all foreign imperialism and to help achieve a socialist republic as advocated by the Irish revolutionary forces.

This line – which did also say some correct things – was further modified before the foundation of the RCL, in order to accommodate some of the main objections of the ’London’ line.

It is hard to think of any debates or statements in the CFB concerning the national minority people in Britain. Like the CPB, it probably regarded them as ’immigrant workers’ whose ’most obvious positive feature is of course their class position as workers.” (CPBML Party School Document 1972) (Their less positive features were of course the ’facts’ that they were ’unstable’ and ’moved around a lot’).

As far as the national struggles of the worlds peoples are concerned, the CFB had rather more to say. Again in 1974 it adopted a “Statement on the World Situation” (Section D) which devotes 7 paragraphs out of 37 to what it calls the Fight against Imperialism in the Tricontinent. This document well illustrates the contradiction within the ML movement from its inception – of on the one hand supporting the national straggles of the Third World, and on the other failing to grasp their revolutionary significance – and so it is worth referring to at somewhat greater length. The document states that “since the war the main revolutionary straggles in the world have developed in Asia, Africa and Latin America.” It upholds the socialist revolutions in China, Korea and Vietnam, and the national liberation wars in Indochina, Africa and S. Asia. It supports the movement for non-alignment. All this represents an embryonic line of rupture with the social chauvinist traditions of Western Communism.

Against this must be set a number of negative features. The support for the socialist and national revolutions in the Third World is lukewarm, and really misunderstands their dynamic and revolutionary nature. So:

The heroic fight of the Indochinese peoples had a great influence on revolutionary developments all over the world.

Great attention is given to the divisions in the Third World, the failures of certain popular struggles and the vacillating nature of the ’national bourgeoisie’. The significance of the movement for non-alignment is not at all grasped:

The UN today provides a useful forum for anti-imperialist propaganda though it cannot be used as an instrument for the objective expression of the will of the peoples of the world.

In sum, the statement is made from a Eurocentric standpoint – summed up best by the condescending way in which ’we’ offered to support national struggles in the Third World:

Insofar all these struggles demonstrate a growing awareness of the nature of imperialism and the desire of the masses to improve their conditions, we support them. This support will encourage the working class to fight for hegemony in the anti-imperialist movement.

The foundation of the RCLB and the publication of its Manifesto in 1977 was seen by many of us as a new departure in the British movement, marking a definite break with the revisionism and the confusions of the previous period. In fact, it was nothing of the kind. It is true to say that the early League marked a serious attempt to come to term with the class character of the movement – one of necessary tasks of the modern Marxist-Leninists and to this end it placed enormous stress on ’ideological’ work (carrying out a number of ’rectifications’ based on the Chinese Communists’ experience in Yenan!) However, at the same time a number of extremely negative features were enshrined in the new organization. In particular, the ’RCLB mark 1’ or Manifesto period was a time when idealism and dogmatism became dominant features of the League. Indeed, the very basis on which it was possible to build the RCL was profoundly idealist: an ideological campaign devoid of political or theoretical content. The Manifesto which followed was an extremely dogmatic hotchpotch of ideas, a few of them correct but not dialectically understood, others frankly rightist or ultra-rightist. In terms of our overall analysis, this period marked a (belated) ’return to principles’ for the League, an elevation therefore of certain dogmas to the level of theory and a denial of the need for concrete analysis or study. We also took on board and made ’revolutionary’ the social chauvinism of the Western communist Tradition which had been a marked feature of the CFB.

Despite its claims that ’theory was primary’ the early League was clearly opposed to theory. This is demonstrated not only by the dogmatism of the Manifesto, but by the anti-intellectualism campaign which preceded it, the sole reliance on the ’Little Red Book’ as the fount of all wisdom and the Byzantine obscurantism of many of its documents in 1977. Notable among these of course was the now laughable “Build the League to Build the Party” which as well as pronouncing that:

Practice and mass work is now primary in party building!”

was also responsible for such germs of arrogant dogmatism as:

The principal contradiction in Party-building is between proletarian and bourgeois ideology. Our success in Party-Building has been mainly determined by the extent to which we have correctly handled this contradiction.”


The RCLB itself has been basically bolshevised as far as theory, line and leadership is concerned.

Although BTLTBTP – as it soon became called – was subsequently withdrawn, it nevertheless represents a definite feature of the early League and its ’party-building line’, a feature ”which is mirrored in other documents of the period. The two points quoted are significant in that they put forward a line that a) questions of line, theory and leadership had basically boon resolved in the League and b) that the way forward was through ideological struggle This is only the most striking example of the League’s quite stunning idealism.

The social chauvinism of the Manifesto and the early League has already been widely criticised. The touchstone for this was of course, our line on Ireland which perpetuated indeed accentuated, the chauvinism of the CFB position, and there has been a long struggle to overthrow this. In term of understanding the way forward, however, we must go further than rejecting particular aspects of our line, whether they concern Ireland, the national minorities or the Three World Theory crucially important as these specific questions are. For the fact is that the whole basis and orientation of the Manifesto/League was inside the Eurocentric tradition which we have already criticised. Quite apart from its specific and now glaring social chauvinist aspects the whole weight of the Manifesto was towards the re-establishment of the Eurocentric ’principles’ of the Comintern period. Certainly in response to the Sino-Soviet polemic, some correct principles on the Third World struggles and the national, question were included. But they were never fundamental to our general orientation; their true significance was downplayed; they were regarded as ’marginal’.

This view of ’marginalization’ is reinforced by even a cursory review of the main documents and articles of the period. During 1977/78, the pages of ’Revolution.’ the League’s theoretical journal, are concerned with a) (ideological) party building b) China worship and c) industrial base building. Internal documents are concerned with a) ideological tempering etc. (BTLTHTP, ’Bolshevise the League...’ b) organizational questions and c) industrial base building. On the burning issues of the age, Imperialism, the national question – there is not a word.

At its foundation then the RCL perpetuated the social chauvinism of its predecessors while at the same time compounding it with chronic dogmatism and idealism. When it too responded to developments in the international movement and began to criticise its own dogmatism and sectarianism in 1979, it did so as an organisation which was fundamentally rightist!

A Conclusion

It is not intended hero to expound on the errors of the League’s failed attempt to achieve relevance – the so called ’Rectification Stage’ of 1979/80, nor of the subsequent weakness of its 2nd CC. For our purpose is not so much to attempt to understand the League but to establish an initial grasp of the effects of Eurocentrism on our movement. If the RCL has received the major share of our attention is only by way of an example and because we know more about it than we do of other trends in the movement.

We are confident that the concept of ’Eurocentrism’ based as it is on a comprehensive theory of political economy, is a key tool for understanding not only the failures of our organisation but of the more general weaknesses of the Western ’revolutionary movement.’ That is why we must take this question so seriously and develop and deepen our analysis, not just to understand, but also to change reality.


[1]Note on initials:

CPBML – Communist Party of Britain Marxist-Leninist – founded in 1968 by Reg Birch; based largely on section of Engineering workers and student membership. Characterised by highly centralised internal operation, Workerist (2 classes only) line which has degenerated into out and out support for S.U. (revisionism).
J.C.C. – Joint Committee of Communists – As its name suggests a federal grouping of autonomous local groups. Characterised by lack of organization, liberalism, unclear lines. Produced Origins and Perspectives, founding document of the CFB.
C.F.B. – Communist Federation of Britain – The successor to the J.C.C., comprising some 5/6 local groups which retained good measure of autonomy (for example it promoted two opposing lines in the 1974 election). In 1976 – faced with collapse – it made some progress towards centralism and the development of a general line. It formed the core of the Revolutionary Communist League.
M.L.W.A. – Marxist Leninist Workers’ Association – London based group, involved mainly in theoretical work. Produced pamphlets – ’Economiom or Revolution’ criticising the economist, pro-imperialist line of CPBML (and CFB). Later united with C.U.O. (Communist Unity Organization) – a split from the CFB, to form the C.U.A., Communist Unity Association, one of the other founding groups of the Revolutionary Communist League.
I.C.O., (B+ICO) – Irish (British and) Communist Organization – Another small group which gained a certain notoriety in the early 1970’s mainly for its line that Ireland was two nations and hence that partition was progressive. Heavy involvement in Reading Room at British Museum. Little practical work except during ’Ulster Loyalist Strike’ of 1974 when lined up on the side of reaction.