Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Chris Coleman

The Working Class Movement and the New World Situation

Summary of a talk given on behalf of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) at a meeting in London, May 3, 1991

First Published: 1991.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

This is a crucial time for the working-class movement and a time at which it is necessary to make a sober assessment of the present situation and perspectives.

May Day is the time when workers express their solidarity with the struggles of their fellow-workers all over the world, when they re-pledge themselves to the fight for their rights and freedoms and to step up the struggle for the end of the exploitation of man by man. These are the traditional things which are taken up on May Day.

The political commentators scoff at such sentiments and aspirations. And many of the trade union leaders as well. They say that such concepts are outdated, that the working-class movement has been defeated, that socialism has failed. But the question which they do not raise is: does the capitalist system which they are promoting, and which they say the people are accepting, does this solve any of the problems of the working people, either in Britain, Eastern Europe or any part of the world?

The working class is still the decisive force in every country. In the countries of Eastern Europe, it was with the activity of the working class that the regimes were overthrown. This was a positive thing. The unfortunate thing is that the reactionary forces managed to manipulate the situation and replace the regimes with unbridled capitalism which is against the interests of the people. At the same time this was only possible with the acquiescence of the working class, which will of course not last.

The decisive question is whether or not a system solves the problems which face the people. This is the main question. The Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia in 1917, for instance, did solve the main problems of the working class and peasants. They were faced with terrible poverty and famine, in the middle of a terrible world war, with friction between nations and oppression of the different nations in the Tsarist empire. The revolution of 1917 solved these problems. It eliminated famine, brought the first world war to a close. It solved the national question. Throughout the next decades it solved many other problems as well. The Soviet Union played a leading role in the defeat of fascism in the second world war, and, in the liberated countries of Eastern Europe, created the possibility of socialism.

After the second world war there were various other problems which had to be solved. Overcoming the devastation of the war was accomplished in the Soviet Union in remarkable time, but there were other problems. There was a need to involve the working class directly in the running of the state. There was a need to involve the people more, to move on from the centralism which had been necessary previously because of the backwardness of the country, because of the pressures from outside, because of the growth of fascism and the onset of the war only 20 or so years after the revolution. There was a need to make changes. There was discontent amongst the intelligentsia. All these questions had to be dealt with. Industry had to be modernised. But with the coming to power of Khrushchev, what did Khrushchev make the main problem? Khrushchev in the 20th Congress launched an attack on Stalin and what he called the cult of personality. Aside from the injustice of this, the main question was: What did that do to solve the objective problems? Whether one could criticise Stalin or not, what did it do to solve the objective problems such as modernising the economy, democratising the social and political life? Of course, it did nothing. Khrushchev introduced changes which gave the Soviet Union essentially an economy of the capitalist type. He gave favours to the intelligentsia, created a new bourgeoisie, built up huge debts to the foreign powers, brought the Soviet Union into the position of a military superpower, contending and at the same time colluding with the US and other imperialist powers. But all these things in no way solved the actual problems in the Soviet Union itself. They did not bring the working class more directly into the running of the state, in fact the opposite, the state became more oppressive, more bureaucratic. They did not solve the technical-scientific problems. In fact all the problems increased. The changes which Khrushchev instituted were carried on further until the time when Gorbachev introduced the policies of glasnost and perestroika, the going over to open capitalism, dropping even the forms of socialism and bringing the Soviet Union completely into the world capitalist economic system. Again no problems were solved. And even the ills eliminated by 1917, the extremes of deprivation and national strife and oppression, have now re-emerged.

The working class in the other Eastern European countries too did not feel in any way that the system was run for them. They had no support for the system and came out to oppose and eventually topple the regimes. And when such things happened as are happening now, when the state properties are sold to the highest bidder, the working class did not say: what are you doing with our property? They did not feel it was their property. They were detached from the problem. Khrushchev had of course made all sorts of grandiose boasts that socialism in the Soviet bloc would overhaul the United States and the imperialist system. But the main thing was that none of the problems which needed to be solved were solved.

Now the changes have taken place in Eastern Europe. The bipolar division of the world has come to an end, with much clamour about the end of the Cold War and so on. We have a situation developing where the US, backed by Britain and other powers, is attempting to further impose their dictate on the world’s peoples. The United States, backed by other powers and with the collusion of the Soviet Union and China, as one can see from the Gulf War, has declared to the people of the world that it will decide everything which goes on in every corner of the globe by the threat or use of military force, and all under the guise of upholding democracy and rights of nations. They take what actions they want, then manipulate the UN to support them and falsely claim what they are doing is the will of the international community.

This policy of the United States and other big powers is an extremely dangerous policy, one which creates very great dangers of the growth of new contending blocs and further more terrible conflicts in the future. At the same time as they are attempting to impose this policy, there is a growing consciousness among the people of the need for genuine democracy and respect for the rights of nations and a growing demand for such. Thus, there are contradictory processes in the world. The big powers are trying to maintain the old order in the new situations, under the guise of democracy, whilst among the peoples of all countries there is a growing demand for a genuinely new world order, where the rights of nations are respected, where differences between countries are settled by dialogue and peaceful means, where in each country questions of democracy and rights are actually dealt with. This in our view will lead to a new situation.

The fall of the regimes in Eastern Europe has been positive. One thing is that a lot of the confusion has disappeared from the people’s movement. There was a great pressure that in each country the same model should be followed. In such a climate, all sorts of people could mouth various phrases as supporters of this country or that country, while at the same time doing nothing in the interests of their own working class and people. Now the models have been shown to be false and leading to disaster and, like all the revolutionary-sounding but hollow phrases of modern revisionism, their influence has gone as well. In our view this too is a positive thing.

At the same time there has been one country which has been socialist, the only truly socialist country in the world. Albania set out on the socialist path and achieved very remarkable things under the most difficult circumstances. Starting from extreme backwardness and illiteracy, in spite of all difficulties the Albanian people led by the PLA and Enver Hoxha achieved very remarkable progress. Then in the recent times when the need came to carry things a stage further and as the situation became more difficult and complicated with the fall of the regimes in Eastern Europe, with the end of the socialist-type of trade relations, as well as problems of drought, the Albanian people and their PLA led by Ramiz Alia set out on the road of further democratisation. Meanwhile, various dark forces both inside and outside the country have been using the impatience which exists, particularly among the very large young population in Albania, for change, for modernisation, for the desire to travel, and so on, to cause social unrest. Now the elections have taken place, the PLA have won quite a resounding victory and the new government is attempting to deal with the very serious problems which exist there. As our Party has said on other occasions, this process of further democratisation we support and think is correct. We do not agree with those various elements in this country who say the PLA has gone revisionist. We think this is totally wrong, unhelpful and unfriendly. We do not agree with jumping to hasty conclusions. At the same time we recognise that our comrades there are working under extreme difficulties and in a quite unprecedented situation and it may well be that for a tiny country like Albania, having to trade, having to modernise its economy, to introduce the various technical-scientific developments of modern times, it may not be possible to keep rigidly to the socialist path. There may well have to be some accommodation and linkup with the capitalist countries and groups of countries all around them. History, at this particular time, may not be on their side. Of course, we support the efforts of our fraternal comrades and we hope and have every confidence that they will solve the problems in the interests of the people. At the same time, the future of the international communist movement, the future for the working class throughout the world, and particularly our work in organising the working class in this country, is not dependent on whether Albania stays socialist or not.

Of course we support the efforts of our comrades in Albania as we support the efforts of our comrades in the fraternal parties in all the different countries of the world. We are very inspired for instance by the victories which the people’s forces are winning in Ethiopia led by the communists. We are very inspired by the developments which have taken place in Brazil. We support the struggles of the Cuban and Nicaraguan people against US interference. We support the struggles of the Palestinian and Azanian people and the struggles of all the peoples for their rights and freedom. All these struggles are a support to the movement here. At the same time, the main thing has to be for us as communists in Britain the problems which face the people here. The main thing we want to say on this May Day, the major question which faces us and which faces the whole working-class movement is: what will solve the problems of the working class and people here in Britain?

There are some questions concerning the people here and their future which are of very great importance. First and foremost is the whole question of genuine democracy. We have sometime soon elections taking place, which are claimed to be the proof of democracy. As you know there is a game being played -when will the elections take place? The local councils elections took place yesterday, the Conservatives did not do very well, so they are saying there will not be an election in June. In fact there most likely will not be an election in the Autumn either and they may have to go to the last possible time, next year. But what is the basis of their choosing the time of the elections? It has absolutely nothing to do with the needs of the people, the problems which are facing the country, the choice is purely on the basis of electoral advantage, which is the best time for them to call the elections and to stay in power. They are prepared to spring a surprise on the people. If they had thought they could succeed from yesterday’s results, they would have called an election in six weeks time. The needs of the people have absolutely nothing to do with it.

If one thinks of this question of democracy, how is it possible in Britain you could say there is democracy when a part of the territory of this state is in fact part of the territory of another people? I am talking about Northern Ireland. How can there be democracy here when Britain occupies part of Ireland and has part of Ireland inside its state borders? How can there be democracy when such a situation exists with all the problems that it causes, of divisions among the people here in addition to the problems it causes for the Irish, the poisoning of the political life, giving the pretext for all sorts of reactionary and militarist policies, corrupting the legal system as we have seen very graphically in recent times? How can it be a democracy when such a situation exists? This week the talks on Northern Ireland have started again, another round. Every decade or so, these talks and initiatives take place, but one thing you can definitely say right now is that they will not solve the problem and are not intended to solve the problem. They are intended to create diversions, to further institutionalise Britain’s annexation of part of Ireland, to institutionalise sectarianism, and so on. How is it possible to have democracy here while such a situation exists?

At the same time Britain is made up of three nations – English, Scottish and Welsh living in their national territories. The Scottish people rightly complain: how can the Westminster government have a mandate to rule Scotland when Scotland voted overwhelmingly against the government? The question of national rights, the right of the Scottish and Welsh people to self-determination up to the point of secession if desired, this is nowhere guaranteed as it must be.

At the same time there are other nationalities living here, who are discriminated against, suffering racist policies and so on. Nowhere are the rights of the national minorities and immigrants laid down. There are various laws against racial discrimination, against racial harassment, and so on, but even as they exist they are not properly implemented. But rights of national minorities to preserve their language and culture and so on do not exist. Other rights of the people too must be laid down and guaranteed, not least those of women. Again, how can this be a democracy without these questions being solved?

Also Britain is part of the European Community. Next year there will be further integration with the establishment of the single market. Nowadays there is much discussion that the European Community should have its own military forces, independent of the United States. The British government of course favours the other view, which is the maintenance of NATO with American domination and all European military affairs being controlled by that. Both sides want to give the military in Europe powers to intervene in other continents which they are forbidden at the moment to do under the auspices of NATO or the EC. Both contending arguments are, in our view, extremely dangerous. Britain being in this community, what form of democracy is it where Britain integrates into what is already an economic superpower and is moving in the direction of a military superpower, threatening the people of the world, forming a bloc which will contend with the other blocs which are arising? What sort of democracy is that? And this is not to mention the growing monopolization in the economy, the growing centralised authority, the widening gap between the richer and the poorer countries, questions of equality and sovereignty and so on. This is not of course to say that it is not in the interests of the peoples of Europe to have political, economic, technical-scientific, cultural and other exchange and cooperation between countries. On the contrary. But surely not in the way that integration is developing, both internally and in relation to the rest of the world?

If one thinks of the coming elections, the Conservative Party will make all sorts of promises, the Labour Party will make all sorts of promises. Will they keep their promises? Of course, they will not. And when they do not keep their promises, who is brought to account? What mechanism is there by which the working class and people can bring to account those that they voted into power and then implemented a completely different programme? The whole process of elections, the reduction of the participation of the working people to that of mere poll booth fodder rather than those whose will is carried out, the domination of political life by a caste of careerist politicians with scarcely a working man or woman in sight, the financing of the parties and so on, none of this could be termed democracy in any genuine sense.

Then there is the question of the trade unions. Aside from the question of democracy ’inside the unions, how can one say that it is a democratic situation where the state decides what should happen inside unions or not? How is it democratic, for instance, that you can have rules which forbid the trade unions to take actions on a political basis, that can so greatly limit the aims of the unions? What sort of democracy is that? Does this apply to the other side? There is no law saying the CBI cannot take political stands that the various big monopolies cannot give money and take actions for political purposes, cannot organise to safeguard their futures. This question as well has to be resolved if there is to be democracy worth calling.

Another question of vital importance is that of the economy and the prosperity of the people, their jobs and livelihoods, and the general economic situation. At the present time, the recession has a devastating effect on the lives of the people. John Major and his Chancellor of the Exchequer say this recession is a good thing. This is the medicine we have to take in order to put the economy to rights! How can recession put the economy to rights? They make all sorts of claims there will be an upturn later this year and people have to persevere, to accept more unemployment and so on. But we know from their previous predictions, these promises mean absolutely nothing.

The question which really faces the people, the working class in particular, is do we have to put up with this situation where the recovery from one recession only leads to the next? Is there no way that the economy of the country can be organised, that the system can be organised to eliminate recurrent recession? The government says, the opposition says, its political commentators say recession has to happen. It is almost like a phenomenon of nature. The question to ask is do we actually have to have recessions? This is a question which has to be asked. Is there not some way in which the workers can be guaranteed jobs, guaranteed their well-being, guaranteed their constantly improving standard of living for themselves, their families and the future generations. And questions linked to that – the health service, the provision of education – do these have to deteriorate as they are deteriorating?

This is the second issue which we think is very important. Then there is the question of the environment, the damage to the environment, looking into what it is which causes the damage to the environment. Is there not some way that life can be organised so that it does not cause these problems? Then very important, of course, the whole question of peace in the world. The policy of the US and the big powers: is it not possible that differences between countries can be resolved not by force, but by dialogue and negotiations and with respect for the sovereignty of nations, the rights of nations and of peoples. There is the most important question of the reactionary role which Britain plays in the world, both as supporter of the United States and in its own right.

There are also questions of culture, particularly as it affects the youth. Is it not possible for there to be developed a society, a culture, which is healthy and positive for future generations?

In our view, these are the vital questions which have to be addressed, questions of genuine democracy, of prosperity and well-being of the people, the question of the environment, the questions of peace in the world and the conduct of international affairs. We do not make any claims to have all the answers to such questions, we have various positions and stands. On these questions we would say we are just at the beginning. It is not that we have no view, we have definite views on all these things, but we need to look deeper into these questions, to find ways of posing these questions among the people and finding solutions which will have some concrete effect. Principally, it is the working class which has to take up these questions. Without the working class itself taking up these questions they will never be solved. At the same time they are questions which have to be taken up by all democratic and peace-loving people. At this time it is most important that the youth, particularly, on whom every positive political and social movement depends, are active on these questions. Also women, who suffer particularly in these times and are concerned very much by all these questions, must also play their full role. Professional and intellectual circles too have a responsibility to take up such issues. The intelligentsia, people like teachers, those working in the media, and so on, have very great influence among the people, much greater than their numbers, and must fight for enlightenment, for positive education and culture. Above all, the Party has to be in the front ranks on all these questions.

It seems to us that these are the decisive questions which have to be taken up in Britain at the present time. We never abandon the socialist ideals, we are Marxist Leninists and we propagate our full views. We have to use the dialectical and historical materialist outlook in order to look at and analyse these problems. But these are the decisive questions and the main thing is that to these problems facing the people, the lack of democracy, the anxiety about their well-being, worries about peace and the environment, solutions have to be found and the Party has to play its full role in finding solutions and mobilising people around these solutions. We will encourage as wide as possible discussions in our own ranks and among the people on these questions. These are the main points which we want to make during these May Day celebrations. Thank you.