To make a Marxist-Leninist, approach to the question of building a revolution communist party in Britain, we cannot begin without considering in as much depth as possible the question of imperialism.
The effect of imperialist super profits derived from the exploitation of the third world upon the working class and the class struggle in Britain is the central question in party-building.
It was the emergence of imperialism and the reaction of the majority of the Second International to this emergence which provoked the split between social democracy and revolutionary communism at the time of the First World War. This change had taken place in capitalism without being properly analysed by the leadership of the Second International, Kautsky and Co. Moreover, the emergence of imperialism and the growth of a general labour aristocracy in the Western capitalist countries had wrought a change in the character of the social-democratic parties themselves.
The presence of a particular labour aristocracy in Britain in the nineteenth century is generally acknowledged to be the cause of the backwardness of the working class movement in Britain at that time. It arose because of Britain’s monopoly of world trade up to about 1870. After that time, this labour aristocracy went into decline with considerable numbers of skilled workers, previously holding privileged and relatively well-paid jobs, being forced to share the lot of the common labourer and, the destitute unemployed. At the same time, the skilled labour aristocrat unions went into decline and the more broadly based General Unions of the unskilled and semi-skilled emerged. Moves were made to establish a workers’ political party the Labour Party, which reflected a new mood in the working class, in the wake of Britain’s increasing difficulties in maintaining its monopoly of world trade.
The emergence of monopoly capitalism created new relationships in the world. Germany, France and the United States of America had caught up with Britain’s ’industrial development and competition had become fiercer and fiercer still. This competition aided the growth of monopoly by throwing to the wall small industrial units which could not take advantage of economies of scale or did not have access to foreign sources of raw materials. Small and medium firms were under-cut, sabotaged and blockaded out of business. The frantic clamour for sources of raw materials and for markets for goods and machinery, together with the pressure for capital investment abroad to dispose of and realise surplus value, brought the banks, finance houses and government into the struggle. A financial industrial state oligarchy emerged in the most capitalistically advanced countries. In the course of this development, capital concentration and centralisation went hand in hand with the division of the rest of the world into colonies and spheres of influence.
This development was not understood by the leaders of the Second International. Even when imperialism was threatening world war, the leaders of the Second International were content to pass resolutions without making the necessary preparations for workers’ resistance. Only the Bolsheviks the party of a working- class less corrupted by these developments of imperialism and steeled by years of hardship and Tsarist reaction, were ’equal to the task of analysing and confronting imperialism effectively. Only a few leaders, foremost among whom was Lenin, realised that the changed situation required changed tactics and methods of organisation. Most of all it was Lenin who saw clearly the link between imperialism and the social-chauvinist decay of the Western workers’ parties. Only Lenin perceived that a stratum of workers benefitted from the hegemony that the Western powers had over the rest of the world. In Britain and the other capitalist powers, the new stage of monopoly capitalism and imperialism created a new labour aristocracy somewhat different from the old one. This new labour aristocracy was not based on any single country’s monopoly of world trade, but was based on a shared monopoly of world resources and areas of cheap labour in the colonies. This monopoly, held by several Western powers, was shared unequally and competitively, but nevertheless it was shared, and contributed to the imperialist development of each Western capitalist nation and to the corruption of a stratum of the Working class, in those countries.
When Britain openly possessed a colonial empire it was impossible for leaders of the British working class to deny it was an imperialist state. Parties which appeared to have socialism as their aim included attacks on imperialism in their programmes and propaganda. Yet, difficult as it was, almost all these parties objectively denied the existence of imperialism when it came to real issues.
The outbreak of the First World War exposed the rotten divergence which had arisen between Marxist theory and revisionist practice in the parties of the Second International. The vast majority of the leaders of the Second International could only see ’imperialism’ in the behaviour of ’their’ country’s enemies. Thus the socialist parties rallied behind the chauvinism of their own imperialist bourgeoisie and the principles of socialism and internationalism were betrayed at a time when they were most needed, that is, at a time of political upheaval and growing revolutionary opportunity.
It was the development of capitalism into its highest stage, monopoly capitalism, which effected a change not only in bourgeois society but in the socialist movement as well. The concentration and centralisation of capital, inevitable trend of capitalist development, had created a situation where a handful of monopolists and financiers in Europe, the USA and Japan had control of the state machinery in their own countries and had divided the world into colonies and spheres of influence. The world had become divided into a world imperialist system of exploiting and exploited nations. The rich imperialist nations got their food and raw materials from the colonies and within the imperialist society monopolists and their lackeys exploited ’their own’ working class.
This, system has not disappeared in the years since the First World War. On the contrary, it has become more clearly defined and institutionalised. Old colonial status has been abolished in most countries of the third world, but the relationship of imperialist hegemony over the majority of the world’s peoples persists. Consequently all the effects that imperialism has had on the struggle for a party remain unchanged. The fact that third world peoples are achieving great success in their fight for freedom from imperialist domination and exploitation does not effectively abolish the important problem that Marxist-Leninists are confronting – how to overcome the effects of imperialism when struggling to found a revolutionary communist party in Britain.
Opportunism can never be successfully combated without recognising the influence that imperialism has on the workers’ movement. However, some ’Marxist-Leninists’ see in the struggle of the third world peoples a convenient ‘proof’ that imperialism has already died or is at last feeble death throes. They believe the labour aristocracy to be rapidly declining and that this demise is being quickly reflected in the class attitudes of higher strata in the working class. They find it convenient to describe the apparent increase in the militancy of white” collar worker’s as a further proof of this decline of imperialism. Practically, this logic provides a plausible excuse for disregarding imperialism in their analysis, slogans and tactics when dealing with the workers’ movement in Britain. The fact that these attitudes coincide almost exactly with the old social-imperialist views of the social democrats looses them no sleep at all. The fact that revisionists and opportunist Trotskyist groups, lending their support quite typically to the Labour party, always ignore the existence of imperialism is a mere coincidence as far as these ‘Marxist-Leninists’ are concerned. These leaders are well represented in what for want of a better word we are forced to call the Marxist-Leninist movement.
But the facts of the continued existence of imperialism and its effects are ones that we cannot ignore.