Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Communist League of Britain

Speech Introducing the Political Platform of the RCL

First Published: July 1992
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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The League recently held a conference to adopt a new political platform. This was an essential step for the future development of the organisation.

Our previous programme, known as the Manifesto, was adopted at the time of the League’s foundation, fifteen years ago.

This document correctly affirmed our working-class stance, and the need to concentrate forces on building bases among the working class. This we still stand by. However it also contained serious weaknesses.

At that time we interpreted the commitment to industrial base-building to mean we had to abandon all other areas of work. The document grossly neglected the impact of imperialism on this country’s society, failed to perceive the specificity of national minority struggles and promoted a pro-imperialist line on Ireland. We also dismissed the women’s movement as ’bourgeois feminist’. Environmental issues were totally neglected.

In substance, the organisation took a reductionist approach of subordinating everything to a narrow, and in fact incorrect, definition of ’class struggle’.

Most of these weaknesses have been put right over the past decade and a half through debate within the League, summed up in a number of specific conferences.

But this was the first time we had drawn the threads together in a single document.

To be able to do so is a qualitative step forward. Too often in the past, when we have corrected one error it has opened the way to new ones. At one time, opportunist people in the organisation used the correct struggle for an anti-imperialist orientation to inflate their own individual egos, which is absolutely contrary to communist principles. Necessary rectification of line has sometimes led to excessive swings in the opposite direction, a problem which has bedevilled communist organisations far more experienced than ours! For example, the correct struggle to affirm the nationalist movements gave rise to a tendency to call into question the basic class stand of the organisation, its faith in the working masses as the sole force for change.

These and similar problems had seriously hampered our work, causing it to sink to a rather low ebb. Thus it was a real achievement, and very necessary, to adopt an all-round line for the first time. The goal was not to cobble together separate bits of line, but to create a coherent whole wherein the inter-relationship of different forms of exploitation, different struggles, different components of the overall movement for the new social system can be understood.

We have made an important step in this direction, but it is an ongoing task. The League will now seek to advance the work through discussions with others in order to learn from their ideas and strengthen our own.

The League constitutes a definite political trend with a fairly coherent identity which we now need to project more strongly – this is an important role of the new platform. At the same time, there are important debates within our ranks, and these we regard as healthy because the existence of contradictions is an internal force making for further progress – so long as we retain our overall class orientation.

To illustrate this, we will first take the example of the national question within this country. First it is essential to point out that we are united around certain definite points, which give us a clear and united position.

The oppression of national minorities is a reflection of imperialist exploitation on a global scale. Racism is not to be confused with fascism, it is a wider problem which influences the whole fabric of society. It doesn’t just serve to divide the working class, but is a question of the national and human rights of those who face it – who are themselves not to be seen as ’victims’ but as a major force for struggle against imperialism and for a new society.

Communists in this country must lead the majority working class to form a strategic alliance with the national movement by struggling against the influence of imperialist ideas within the working class.

While there is broad unity on the above framework, there were lively debates on a number of specific issues under this heading. The new programme explicitly affirms Black Power as a correct critique of an oppressive white power structure. This is an extremely important part of our position. But it remains an important question whether we should criticise black separatist ideas specifically in the context that we are striving to build a revolutionary organisation of all national grouping in this country. The majority felt that we should simply affirm our support for black separatism, but there was controversy on this.

Another point is that it isn’t automatically easy to balance a critique of religion from the Marxist standpoint with support for the religious aspect of national rights.

The basic masses in oppressed nations often express, in religious form, ideas which are far more progressive than those of many so-called Marxists, but ’leaders’ in the national communities may have a reactionary agenda.

The question of women’s rights also raises difficult issues. It is hard to find a non-chauvinist way of condemning women’s oppression within national minority communities, but some comrades felt that this difficulty should not be taken as an excuse to abrogate our responsibility to do so.

Another important controversy on the national question is how should we define the entity in which we ourselves are working?

Before the Russian Revolution, Lenin had argued that the Russian Empire was one state, therefore revolutionaries should build a single party, rather than separate ones for each nationality – although after a revolution, oppressed nations within that empire should have a chance to secede.

When the League was founded this line was mechanically applied to our conditions. It was argued that we should build the party in the occupied six counties of northern Ireland (although nobody actually tried – the experience might have been interesting!). This reactionary position was later strongly criticised, and the recent Conference took this rectification to its logical conclusion by stating that, since Wales and Scotland are also nations incorporated in the British entity by force, we should seek to put forward a line only with respect to England. This is now our position, but it was an object of debate – some comrades strongly feeling that the situation is qualitatively different to that with respect to Ireland.

Another important issue is that of women’s liberation.

Our discussion on the national question in the early ’80s opened members’ eyes to the fact that there is a richer tapestry of social contradictions than that reflected in the class issue as narrowly defined by economistic ’Marxism’. Hence some comrades began to see that the work which had been done in the women’s liberation movement in the ’70s had been progressive and the League was wrong to abandon this.

Much attention has been focussed on strengthening our line on the women’s question over the past few years, although it is probably fair to say that new ideas on the women’s question have sunk less deeply into members’ consciousness than other aspects of the League’s line.

The oppressive ideas and structures of society at large tend to permeate left organisations unless a conscious attempt is made to recognise and resist them. You can see this with the racism which exists in most left groups in this country. We have had considerable success in combatting this, but in the case of sexism, the struggle is only just beginning. But at least we have signalled a commitment to taking it seriously.

If you sideline half of humanity and even implicitly connive at their oppression, how can you seriously say you are aiming to build a new society, let alone actually set about trying to do so in practice? Perhaps we should paraphrase Karl Marx’s famous statement that a nation which oppresses another cannot itself be free, and extend this to encompass gender as well! Nor do we see women’s contribution purely in terms of adding extra quantity to the revolutionary forces. It is above all qualitative. Just because they have been sidelined and oppressed since very early times, women’s struggles imply a very deepening critique of established social relations.

The old economistic style of ’Marxism’ had confined women’s struggles to the level of equal rights in the workplace. In rectifying this it was necessary to point out that there are many other mechanisms which oppressed women, and that they are not only oppressed and exploited by bosses, but also by men. This is entirely correct. But there would be a risk if we fail to see women’s oppression within the context of a given socio-economic system. Then Marxism might be thrown out of the window, and the conference took note of this danger. In fact what was wrong was the economistic parody of Marxism, and what we need is an enlarged perspective whereby we can see gender roles, male violence etc. as part of a superstructure protecting exploitative relations in the sphere of production, a category which itself needs to be expanded to encompass child-bearing, work in the context of the household etc. Thus we can understand women’s struggles within the same basic framework as class and national struggles, while asserting their specificity.

This we believe is in line with a creative interpretation of Marxism, but it is certainly revolutionary in comparison with a lot of the views which have prevailed in the movement hitherto. Because it is such a big change it will take a lot more work to encapsulate our understanding in ’programmatic’ form. Many controversies still exist – on the family, on how far working-class men benefit from women’s exploitation – and not all the lines of demarcation are necessarily clear.

A separate League conference had already been devoted to our understanding of the experience of the socialist countries, and an earlier edition of Class Struggle gave an account of this. [MIA note: see RCL Conference: “The Future of Socialism”]

On this question too, there is a clear League identity. We are united, for example, in the view that the form of society recently overthrown in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe was not socialist. It oppressed the people, and they were waging a just democratic struggle to overthrow it – although as soon as they did so, an antagonistic contradiction immediately surfaced between the people and the new capitalist rulers together with their imperialist backers.

However, interesting new issues emerged in the current round of discussion in the League, which are relevant to our own vision of a future socialist society. For example, do you recognise that a centralised state apparatus needs to exist and call for popular organs separate from the state machine to keep an eye on it; or do you call into question the whole nature of the centralised state-machine as being inherently anti-people?

Another major issue arises in connection with the foreign policy of socialist states. In practice, this is closely linked to wider questions of how we view the world system. The reason for this linkage is to be found in the League’s background. The Marxist-Leninist trend which we represent was in fact a result of the polemic between the Chinese and Soviet Communist Parties beginning in the 1960.

The Chinese argued that a fundamental progressive force in the world system was constituted by the anti-imperialist liberation movements, and that these could never be subordinated to peaceful competition between capitalist and socialist states. Everyone in the League still stands by these ideas, in fact history has proved their correctness. The majority of the so-called socialist states have crumbled and those forces which staked everything on their success in outstripping capitalism in economic competition have lost confidence and deserted the revolutionary ranks. But the struggle goes on, the liberation movements are still there, and our analysis shows that they will grow in strength in the coming period.

But there are still major areas of controversy about certain aspects of the Chinese position, and the implications of a critique of that position for our understanding of the world situation today. Were the Chinese right to depict the Soviet Union as an enemy of the world’s people equivalent to, or even worse than, Western imperialism? Do bourgeois-led national movements in the oppressed nations still have potential as a progressive force in today’s situation? The Conference raised a few such issues, but we will need to hammer them out in earnest in the coming period.

For communists, a key question is to have a class analysis of this country. In the early stages of the Marxist-Leninist movement, this basically correct perception led to an almost mystical attitude to class analysis. It was assumed that there was this magic weapon which could resolve all problems if you could grasp it, but you couldn’t take a step without it.

This conflicted with the Marxist view that you have to proceed on the basis of partial understanding and test your ideas through practice in order to arrive at a fuller understanding. In any case, we were taking a narrow and economistic view on society which made it hard to progress in the direction of class analysis. But at the recent conference discussion focussed on the question of whether we should speak of middle class or middle strata. This showed that it is now time for us to return to the issues of class analysis, hopefully from a changed and improved standpoint.

We now realise that what we need is a picture of the political economy of this country which encompasses elements of class, gender and nationality. Only thus can we understand the different exploitative divisions and dualisms which have been built into a single oppressive structure by capitalism as it exists today – and within these different dualisms there are struggles which are our hope for the future. It is among these that we must build in our practice in the coming period.

The League remains a small organisation, and it will still have to be seen how effectively we can translate our theoretical understanding into practical results. However, the adoption of the new political platform marks an important step.

Over the past few years, capitalism has tried to give the impression of being a triumphant system. This pretence is absolutely hollow. Its only motive is the short-term profits of a few capitalists in the industrial countries, and it has no sense of direction whatsoever. The recent Earth Summit revealed this starkly. The left needs to reassert its revolutionary traditions and constantly give their line new content.

The opportunity will undoubtedly arise in the coming period for working and oppressed people to advance their historic role in overthrowing exploitation and building a new social order. The important thing is to seize this opportunity. It is this task which the League is seeking to promote through its political platform.