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International Socialism, December 1975


Avanguardia Operaia and
the International Socialists

A Debate: Revolutionary Politics Today


From International Socialism, No. 84, December 1975, pp. 9–28.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Sally Kincaid.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Here is an abbreviated record of a discussion, held in July, between representatives of the Italian revolutionary organisation Avanguardia Operaia and representatives of the International Socialists. There were three topics: the world situation, Italy and Britain. The AO presentation on Italy was printed in International Socialism 83 under the title The Crisis in Italy and so is omitted here, as is the discussion which followed it. There are clearly some big differences in the analyses and approach of the two organisations, especially with respect to the role of the working class (and indeed its definition) in the struggle for socialism and in the assessment of the nature and potential of national liberation movements. We believe that a discussion of these matters is useful in connection with the development of international collaboration between revolutionary organisations. Readers should bear in mind that the contributions are printed as they were spoken, and that the Italian contributions have been translated from a sometimes imperfect record on tape. Thanks are due to Mike Balfour, Glynis Cousin, Amanda Leon and Robert Lumley for translation and to Sue Baytell for transcribing much of the material from tape.

The crisis in the US imperialist camp

Avanguardia Operaia

The first point that it seems to me we should consider is that of the crisis of hegemony of American imperialism within the imperialist camp on a world scale. It’s very clear that in the last few years there has been a series of events in which the US has passed from one crisis to the next, from one defeat to the next, and this has had widespread consequences on its ability to dominate the imperialist system and on the relation of forces at a world level.

The first thing that it is necessary to do is to evaluate the significance of this crisis because there are some plain facts – there is the US defeat in Indochina, and in other parts of the world, as in the Mediterranean where both the Greek dictatorship and the fascist government in Portugal have fallen, and where the acute crisis in Spain will bring about a revolutionary process. These facts are evident enough, but we believe that behind these facts there is the profound crisis of the entire US strategy, as it was conceived at the end of the World War.

The defeat in Indochina is a defeat at a fundamental point in the politico-military strategy of the US, not only with reference to the Far East but with respect to the whole equilibrium of international forces ... I’m also referring to USSR and China.

The same importance is attached by the US to their military system in the Mediterranean basin, to NATO; because NATO is essential for the maintenance of political equilibrium in the Middle East, Africa, etc.

This is to put it very schematically, and I’ll just add that the US does not visualise, nor does it have a strategy for, change.

Another aspect of the crisis is that of the difficulties faced by the US within the Western camp. From this angle the US has begun to lose its direct control over Europe. I don’t believe that it is necessary to make a lengthy analysis of the creation of capitalist power in Europe that collaborates with the US, because it is a well-known fact. What interests us here to underline is a relationship between a generalised politico-military crisis in the US, at an international level, and the worsening of its relationship with Europe. The loss of supremacy has had its consequences also on its classic imperialist relations at an economic level.

I think, to understand this better, we need an example, like that of the Middle East, where it is evident that a certain level of autonomy and contradiction has emerged between the US and the European powers at an economic, as well as a political level. I believe that there are many other examples. What interests me is to focus on the aspects of the crisis that brings on the inter-imperialist crisis. Another side of the crisis is the worsening of US-USSR relations that today puts in doubt the traditional equilibrium of the superpowers, in which the US used to have a more advantageous position, especially vis-à-vis Europe.

In this sense one can say that a cardinal factor of the so-called peaceful co-existence is breaking up. This is not due to the subjective intentions of either the US or USSR, but because of the evolution of the world crisis which brings on an accentuation of the contradictions between the two powers.

We’ve seen that the aspects of the crisis are diverse. There’s the inter-imperialist crisis, the crisis of US-USSR relations and there is an aspect of the crisis involving the balance of forces with the revolutionary camp at a world level. But these three aspects of the crisis cannot be put on the same level. The first two – the inter-imperialist crisis and the crisis of US-USSR relations-are determined by the advances of the revolutionary process, by the struggle of oppressed peoples against imperialism and the class struggle within the imperialist countries.

Another observation that I think is important to make the profundity of this crisis of US hegemony, and its impact on the internal stability of other Western powers. That is, the crisis has consequences on the country which is apparently the most independent of the US in Europe – namely France. The ways out of political-economic and social difficulties for the French regime are now much reduced by the worsening of the crisis. France now has less possibility of following an autonomous policy because there is a tendency towards the polarization of the superpower blocs which cuts out manoeuvring space for the second class powers. According to us, the consequence in an historical perspective, is that we are entering a phase of sharpening international differences and a heightened tendency towards war. All this has consequences on the internal situations of the single countries. We are watching in all the European countries a progressive accentuation of authoritarianism on the part of the bourgeoisie. We’ll come to this when we discuss the British and Italian situations. The big problem is to know if the revolutionary tendency can defeat the tendency towards war. That is, we are in a situation of sharpening of class struggle, and in a situation in which the workers’ movements in all the principal capitalist countries is still dominated by reformist forces. Problems like that of the advance towards the establishment by the revolutionary forces of a leading position within the workers’ movement are subjective, but they will have a decisive role in the next historical phase. I’ll stop here for a moment because I have simply indicated some of the points that we can develop in the discussion.

Avanguardia Operaia

I want to add something on our position with respect to the EEC and NATO.

We think that precisely because of the nature of the crisis, which is the result of factors, in reality, there is no mechanical relationship whereby, on the one hand there is a crisis of hegemony that does not have as a consequence a separation of US and European imperialism, and hence the problem of an advance towards a European alternative.

On the other hand the tasks of struggle-the struggle against the anti-working class consequences of the EEC (e.g. the agricultural policy’s effects on France and Italy) and more importantly the struggle against NATO, the fight for the dissolution of this imperialist alliance. Among the factors of the crisis that we have singled out, as we have said, is the revolutionary process at a world level, that is the fight of the oppressed peoples against imperialism and the class struggle within the imperialist countries.

All in all, the international role of China goes towards accentuating the crisis of the system based on the USA and USSR, and towards preventing the re-establishment of this system under the two superpowers’ hegemony.

How the International Socialists see the crisis

International Socialists
Chris Harman

There is much in your contribution that we agree with, but we think that in terms of the analysis of the origins of the crisis, it is excessively super-structural. It doesn’t locate the crisis, the super-structural crisis, in terms of the actual changes in the world economy which are taking place. The first thing we have to ask is; why today can we talk about the crisis in a way we couldn’t do 20 or even 10 years ago internationally? We believe you have to have an analysis of the economic dynamic of the system as a whole, which for us is essentially the dynamic of the most important parts of the system, that is the advanced industrial countries. Because when you talk about the particular manifestations of the crisis you can’t understand them except within the crisis of the world economy as a whole. For instance the oil crisis is not the result of the increased strength of the oil countries in relation to the advanced countries. In effect, it is the result of the economic lack of planning in the advanced countries which could lead in 1972–73 to a 10 per cent increase in the volume of oil demanded whilst the volume of oil produced in the USA remained static.

Indeed, even the victory in Vietnam (of course as a result of a fantastic struggle of the Vietnamese people) is also the result of the fact that the US can no longer bear the economic burden of sustaining the war in Vietnam; because at the same time as the struggle in Vietnam taking place, there are contradictions opening up in the US itself – contradictions in relation to the Blacks and increasingly in relation to the working class itself.

You have to look at the world today, as revolutionaries, by starting with the tasks of revolutionaries. You have first to look at the question of the economic crisis and, on the other side, the response of the working class to the economic crisis in full now, but there are a number of important points which need to be made in relation to it. Firstly we are witnessing the re-birth, for the first time in 30 years, of the classic slump-boom-slump cycle. Not only this, we expect it to take a specific form, we expect the slumps to get deeper and deeper, booms to get shorter and shorter and more inflationary. After 30 years in which the curve of capitalism was upwards now we are beginning to witness the first downturn in capitalist development and this is accompanied, at the same time, during both boom and slump, by rising inflation. This can be understood because of the structural changes which have been taking place both in capitalism and in the structure of the working class during the 30 years of capitalist expansion. In terms of the structure of capitalism, the increasing size of individual units of capital and the merger of capital with the State means that the traditional ways of ending an inflationary upsurge by recession no longer work.

At the same time in all of the capitalist states, and indeed in many of the Third World countries, various forms of working class organisations have developed during the boom period which can no longer just be automatically broken because the system moves from an upturn to a downturn. It is this which pushes to the forefront in the advanced capitalist countries, in Eastern Europe and in the Third World the economic struggles of workers in the current period. And so if we look at the last two years, among the most significant thing are the wave of strikes in Thailand, in Burma, in Malaya, the railway strike and the dock strike in India, the general strikes in Egypt, the strikes in Spain and Portugal and so forth.

This signifies that the capitalist crisis which is developing can’t be solved without very, very acute class struggles, struggles between workers and capitalists in all three worlds. It is this which explains many of the superstructural developments which are taking place as well.

What we are also witnessing is a break up particularly in the Third World, semi Third World countries of the political forms which could exist during a period of international capitalist upturn. Faced with the crisis of the world system on the one hand and the growing economic militancy of their own workers on the other, regimes in countries like India for instance, have undergone fantastic changes, fantastic political changes. This has fantastic ideological effects because many of the ideologies which used to compete with revolutionary marxism, in the advanced countries but especially the Third World and semi-Third World countries prove their bankruptcy. For instance in India traditionally there has been a game played within the left between various forms of reformism within the structures and various forms of extreme ultra-leftism outside the structures. People have moved from guerrillaism to reformism and back to guerillaism without ever thinking in terms of organising the working class. The same has been true, of course, in South America with the phenomena on the one hand of the reformism and on the other hand various forms of guerillaism, rural guerillaism or urban guerillaism, none of which speak of the working class as the active force in changing history.

In Africa there were long periods in which people had illusions in regimes like Nyerere or Kaunda. These are illusions which come under strain in this period with the détente in Southern Africa.

This is taking place at the same time as an international wave of economic militancy of the working class puts concretely on the cards throughout the world, for the first time within the post war period, the creation of revolutionary workers’ parties Indeed in certain of the regimes because of the weakness particularly of the semi Third World regimes, Portugal etc., there is a possibility not only of the creation of revolutionary workers’ parties but the possibility of a breakthrough to workers’ power. And this for us is the key factor in the present world situation. Of course the creation of one workers’ state in one country would transform utterly the situation of the working class movement in every other country. And this puts the onus on the revolutionary left.

In this situation our main preoccupation in every country has to be to work within the working class movement, fighting to build up the independence and confidence of the working class movement. And it is for this reason, and not for any reason of sectarianism, that we have to disagree absolutely with what you say over China. What matters for us about the role of China is that it prevented the creation of a revolutionary left in Pakistan, in Bangladesh and that there’s a very, very deep crisis in those countries which the revolutionary left could have developed and played a fantastic role. This is just an example, we could generalise. Within the working class the activities of China have produced disillusionment, have misdirected militants and prevented them breaking from the existing structures, the existing illusions.

To put it another way, contradictions exist at an international level, which you spoke about. But the importance to marxists of these contradictions is that they create a greater leeway, a greater room for manoeuvre, a greater space in which working class parties, working class organs, can operate. They don’t have an existence independently of independent workers’ organisations. And that is why we have a certain attitude to China. Yes, if the Russians were to attack China we would defend China against Russian Imperialism, but at the same time when the Chinese spread illusions or misdirect the revolutionary left internationally we are completely critical of China.

International Socialists
Duncan Hallas

Taking up the point that the comrade made in his presentation that the US had lost the control, to a considerable degree, that it once had in Europe.

It’s true, Why? Not, I would argue, because of their defeat in Vietnam, although that defeat and the whole struggle over Vietnam in the past decade has indeed had an important effect on Europe, because it has affected the development of the revolutionary Left, but, in terms of grand politics, the defeat in Vietnam is not that weakened US imperialism in Europe.

Nor is it a question of the oil crisis, although that had its effect as well. No, the weakening of American power in Europe is due precisely to the success of American policy, and this is the central contradiction. What did they seek to do 25 or so years ago? To revive the German economy; also the French, the British, the Italian, but the German economy primarily. They sought to re-create a viable capitalism within Europe, and precisely because of their success they produced the inter-imperialist contradictions as you put it. But the basis of this is fundamentally economic. That is to say, the revival of the German economy, and even more spectacularly, in the Far East, of the Japanese economy, created the conditions for the weakening of US hegemony.

This is important because what matters first of all to them, to the rulers of the United States, is what happens in the developed industrial countries including the USSR. And this is what matters also to us because power, their power, capitalist power, and the alternative working class power, the possibility of a socialist alternative is in fact centred in these countries.

And it is for this reason and not for any sentimental or traditional reason that we say that the working class is the force that can change the world in a progressive sense, there is no other force, no other force which can do so.

I will illustrate by an example. There has been a very important development, an historically important development – the destruction of the Portuguese empire.

And it goes without saying that we, as communists, support unconditionally National Liberation Movements in the Portuguese colonies, in anyone’s colonies.

But if we ask ourselves where now, from the point of view of the rulers of the United States, of Germany, of Italy, Japan and so on, where now is the problem in the former Portuguese empire, it is in Portugal and not in Mozambique.

For example the Frelimo leaders say they will create a ‘peoples’ democracy’ in Mozambique and it is quite possible that they will produce a regime of that type.

And vet this is not what concerns the bourgeois press, the bourgeois politicians in America, in Britain. What concerns them is the possibility of a revolution in Portugal.

Now I’ve put it over simply of course. Certainly, Third World struggles are important and must be supported, but I have put it in this way to reinforce our argument that the central problem for revolutionaries is to develop the revolutionary workers’ parties in the developed capitalist countries, and for this there is no substitute whatsoever.

International Socialists
Chris Harman

Duncan said that the central thing for us was to create revolutionary parties in the advanced countries, but the example of Southern Africa shows that you cannot divorce the question of the successful struggle against imperialism in Southern Africa and the question of creating a revolutionary party in the state of South Africa; because we are witnessing a carve-up of Southern Africa by imperialism through the use of the products of former liberation movements along with the traditional white ruling classes to create a new détente. And for us the importance of Mozambique is that its liberation prepares the way for the creation of revolutionary workers’ parties in Rhodesia and the state of South Africa. And, although we support the liberation movements, we recognised that now, not in the future, there needs to be the creation of workers’ parties in the Third World.

The working class and national liberation movements

Avanguardia Operaia

I will leave aside the question of China, partly because there is a very deep, radical difference between us on the question which has theoretical implications for us, but I wish to look more at the political aspects and to leave aside the question of the nature of China for the time being.

At this stage China cannot, and doesn’t want to; have the role of revolutionary guide, the revolutionary leadership in the world. Between Marxists, what none of us say is that the main contradiction isn’t bourgeoisie versus industrial working class; we all agree that this is the main contradictions in the world. The question is the effect this has on the other contradictions in the world.

From the end of the Second world war to today, the main thing determining the increasing contradictions on a world level has been the contradiction between oppressed peoples and imperialism.

That is not to deny the working class struggles, the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and working class, but to say the dominant aspect has been the struggle between the oppressed peoples and imperialism. What we want to understand is that without what happened in Mozambique there would not have been the crisis of imperialist domination in Portugal.

But the effects of Indo-China in America are equally very important to stress. First of all the economic effect within America. Second, the effects that this has had on the economic relationships between the United States and other capitalisms. For example, the need for the United States to export its inflation. Third, the political effect, the fact that it has weakened the internal political force of American power and fourth that it has stimulated the anti-war movement, stimulated the black movement, politicisation of soldiers and has even given rise to increasing nationalistic and racialist movements in the States.

The effects on Europe show the importance of not separating super-structural and structural questions because there is a dialectical relationship between the two. An example is that the effect of the Indo-China war has been the politicisation of the student movement which has helped the development of a revolutionary movement among workers and in fact this is the importance of not separating the two. We agree with much of the description which you have given on the nature of the crisis but, as to the causes, we mustn’t make an automatic assumption that they lie within the relations of production. The basic cause has been the combined effect of the anti-imperialists struggles in the Third World and of the working class struggles in Europe which have prevented the ruling class from making the working class pay for the crisis. One mustn’t situate the crisis in abstract mechanical descriptions but in this conscious – the actual struggle of the working class against capitalism.

We must look also at the practical tasks of the revolutionary left and the contradiction pointed out, the main contradiction since the second world war between the anti-imperialist struggle and imperialism, has become closer and closer to the contradiction between working class and capitalism. The fact of the socialist character of the movement of liberation in Mozambique, in Angola, of Palestine and so on indicates the fact that there has been a coming together of these two main contradictions.

In this historical period we must verify our theory in the concrete situation, and although the point is stressed that in this historic epoch the dominant contradiction is that between imperialism and the international proletariat, the contradiction in this period we are talking about, post second world war, has been between oppressed peoples and imperialism.

This is also true within the advanced capitalist countries. It may be true that the main contradiction is between the working class and capitalism but it is also possible that marginal working class sectors can also have a dynamic role in the contradictions of a developed country.

First of all, a verification of this, proof of this contradiction between imperialism and oppressed peoples, has been the number of struggles oppressed peoples since the second world war and the fact that it has led to armed struggle. The fact is that there is a tendency within the national liberation movements which has socialist perspectives, a proletarian tendency. The task is to develop, to encourage the hegemony of the proletarian elements within the national liberation movements.

What is meant by proletarian elements is workers and all peasants. This is why there are differences within the national liberation movements. For example why there’s a difference between Vietnam where the leadership has been proletarian, in contrast to Mozambique where the proletarian element-workers and peasants-has been less strong.

Are the third world revolutions socialist?

International Socialists
Chris Harman

When you describe the period since the war you are right in a certain sense because the centre of argument is that if, for a long period, the curve of capitalist development is upwards then in that period struggles of workers for reforms could be contained within the system.

By and large there was not a political generalisation of economic struggles and certainly there was not armed struggle in the advanced Western capitalist countries. At the same time, there was within this period a whole series of very important rebellions in the colonies and the ex-colonies. Beginning with the revolts in Indonesia and India, continuing through with revolts in Africa and in Algeria and culminating in the revolts against the Portuguese empire. And of course through this long period there was continuing struggle in Vietnam.

However when we look at the character of these struggles we have to ask ourselves did they fundamentally alter the balance of power between capitalism and socialism on a world scale. And what is most impressive for us is that the weaker capitalist countries by and large could manage, could survive and flourish despite losing their colonial empires. For instance the Dutch lost Indonesia, not merely politically, but economically they lost Indonesia, but the Dutch economy flourished. Despite, of course, the support revolutionaries gave to the struggle of Indonesia for political independence, when it came to the end of the day it merely meant the addition of one more capitalist state to the world order. The same was true of the struggle in India, the struggles in West Africa, the struggles of East Africa and so forth.

The same too was true of the struggle in Algeria, even though some people at the time said the struggle would take on a socialist form. The fact that the struggle in Algeria did produce very deep super-structural crisis in French society for a period, did not, at the end of the day, alter the fact that French capitalism benefited from the independence of Algeria. It didn’t suffer from it. And for this reason we would argue that the general character of the struggle between imperialism and the oppressed nations during the last 30 years has been a struggle which has produced political contradictions in the world but has not given rise to any massive weakening of capitalism on a world scale.

Instead what it has produced has been very deep passing political crisis, transitory political crisis in particular advanced industrial countries. Of course if the working class had been organised, confident and militant it would have taken advantage of these to break through, for instance in France in 1958 to 1961, but the working class movement was not, and therefore the crisis could be survived by French capitalism. And in reality, despite the heroic nature of the struggle, in reality at the end of the day, the impact of the Vietnamese struggle on America was very similar. The Vietnamese struggle had its effects on the political superstructure of the United States, to some extent breaking the self-confidence of American Imperialism on a world scale but it did not open up revolutionary contradictions inside the United States. And this means, that when we talk what happens to the ex-colonial states which are formed as a result of the liberation struggles they have to live inside a world which is still dominated economically and militarily by imperialism they have to come to terms economically and militarily with one or the other of the imperialist blocs. That is why we refer back, for instance, to the experience of the states in Africa like Tanzania which for a long time was referred to by some people, not perhaps by you, but by some people, as a socialist state but which is now attempting to collaborate with Vorster to impose a détente on Rhodesia. We can talk about the role of other states with similar backgrounds, the role Egypt plays in the world today, the role Syria plays, the role which Iraq plays, indeed we believe in the long term Vietnam will play a similar role in the world.

You talk about the socialist trend inside the liberation movements. There is no doubt that when the liberation movements are fighting there is fantastic stress upon the need for egalitarianism, the enthusiasm of participation and so forth, but, at the end of the day, the structures continue by and large to be led by lefty-bourgeois politicians and when the liberation movements take power the petty-bourgeois character of these regimes begins to reveal itself. In terms of the liberation movements we have seen, at best, what we have seen is an organisation, a formation, which tried to imitate, in the internal structure of the liberated regime, the structures that Stalin set up in Russia.

In most cases it really means that the new regime will very rapidly start coming to terms with one or other of the Western Imperialist powers. The objective reason exists because if you attempt to take power in one country, and your programme is to overcome the heritage of imperialism in one country whereas imperialism operates on a world scale, inevitably you’re forced to try to exploit your own working class, lower the working conditions of the peasants etc., in order to try and survive in relationship to the massive economic powers at the disposal of metropolitan powers.

We argue, that this is not something which must effect every revolution as a result of natural necessities but rather it depends on the political leadership of the revolution. For a proletarian leadership it is not a question merely of saying you’re proletarian and you’re going to develop an individual country on a proletarian basis, it is a question of seeing the international character of the revolution, the international proletarian character.

To put it crudely the monoculture for sugar which operates inside Cuba is not separate, for us, from the political support that Castro could give to reformism in Chile. Or the exploitation of workers which takes place in Tanzania or Zambia is not distinct from their rulers attempts to come to détente with South Africa.

For all these regimes the crisis of development which faces the liberation movements when they come to power is a result of international operations and imperialism. And you can’t fight imperialism in one country, you have to talk in terms of spreading the revolution.

Avanguardia Operaia

Nevertheless what has happened in Vietnam has been the beginning of a process of the construction of socialism, which is an important element in a change in the relationship between the revolutionary forces of the world and world imperialism. We cannot see the revolutionary process of the world as a lineal, simultaneous, process; because imperialism is organised on a world wide scale it would be wrong to have to see revolutionaries having to start on that sort of scale too.

We cannot start from a simple sociological or economistic basis, of capitalist class domination and organise a working class party in Mozambique ... We have got to have a much more dialectical attitude. The fact is that, in Mozambique, there is a movement which is setting itself the task of building socialism in a world still dominated by imperialism. We must take this as a fact even though it has contradictory elements in it. The contradictory characteristic of the revolutionary process is worldwide. This contradictory process is shown in the fact that we are now in a transitional phase; from a world system dominated by imperialism to a world system dominated by revolution. The first thing we must say that when we consider that we are in the phase of transition from a domination of imperialism to a domination of revolution is that we don’t mean just a sudden overthrow – now it is imperialism, then tomorrow it will be socialism. What we mean is a transition from the domination of imperialism to a domination of revolutionary forces. So this process is not a general process that goes straight on; today we have a national liberation, then we have a leadership that puts forward the problem of socialism and so on straight on, but the process will be extremely contradictory, that is, every conquest, every position which is won, can be lost again, it is not won for ever, for all time. This is true in general, of the process in its completeness and it is true in our opinion about China. The Chinese themselves stress that there is a continuous struggle, a class struggle, also when we already have the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is going on all the time. This is the result of what the reality actually is, that is these contradictory factors actually exist and they will go on affecting the single process.

International Socialists
Duncan Hallas

We accept this. This is not what is in dispute. The question is the precise nature, the class character of the regimes we are discussing and the problem of the reality, or otherwise, of the allegedly proletarian leadership.

Avanguardia Operaia

We’ve got to look at these things in concrete terms. For example, we’ve got to look at, and say, whether we actually agree with this characterisation of Vietnam. Look at each situation concretely.

We argue against the notion that socialist power can only be achieved in a country where there is an economic basis and the majority of the population is working class.

There is a certain economic basis that the liberation forces, the socialist forces, have the capacity of changing and this can be done in two ways. First by developing a correct political line which is socialist, secondly, by realising the complete social transformation in the country. The situation in which one can develop this socialist process is where cadres are a big social reality and can find a way of involving the masses in the socialist process.

The third aspect of socialist regime is its international perspectives which in certain concrete conditions doesn’t mean, for example, taking the case of Palestine, doesn’t mean merely relating to the working class in Syria, the working class in Egypt. It means making a tactical choice of relating to different states, to different state regimes in order to open up contradictions between them. It is a tactical question.

Having an internationalist approach is not just a general problem but, once again in a very concrete instance, if you take Palestine, it is very simple to say, well, yes, you ally yourself to the working class in the Arab countries and then you have revolution but you might not get anywhere. So the problem of having alliances on a political level and a tactical attitude can open up contradictions that go on the way to developing socialism and the way to internationalism, by opening up the contradictions between the Arab countries, the more progressive ones and the more reactionary ones, can create open spaces and situations for the advance of socialism in that area.

We must consider the different levels at which a revolutionary government has to concretely approach the question of internationalism, of different tactics and so on. The Palestine comrades would be very glad to relate directly with the Iraq working class, the Egyptian working class and so on, but it’s very difficult to do so because of the lack of autonomy, the lack of organisation of the working class in these countries.

Therefore, what is defined as socialist power, is maintaining open the possibility of concrete developments and not starting on the social economic basis of a particular country.

Socialism in one country or permanent revolution

International Socialists
Duncan Hallas

I am not going to go over the points which have already been presented from our side with which you disagree, because I think we understand one another, I wish therefore to take up certain of the points specifically that were made in the last presentation.

The comrades speak of making space by a policy of manoeuvres, but to us the central question is the creation of an independent working class force, a revolutionary leadership, which is capable of taking advantage of such openings as develop. Otherwise the danger is of the subordination of the revolutionary working class organisation to various petty bourgeois formations, the subordination-or worse that an independent revolutionary working class organisation is not even created in the first instance but is absorbed in a swamp which is effectively under a petty-bourgeois leadership. And this is true whether the working class is a very large proportion of the working population or whether it is a very small proportion of the working population.

You see, to refer to the second Chinese revolution of 1925 to 1927, we would agree, by and large, with the analysis of the Left Opposition in the Russian Communist Party at that time, that the revolution was destroyed, basically, precisely because of the policy of manoeuvre leading to the subordination of the Chinese Communist Party to the Kuomintang leadership and then to the ‘left’ Kuomintang after Chiang Kai Shek had broken with them and so on. And this example is a very relevant one because the Chinese working class was at that time a small part of the working population, it was very, very much a minority class. But it had the possibility, and this is where the question of the poor peasantry becomes an important one, it had the possibility of destroying the old regime in China. It had the possibility of leading the revolution, not simply by its own forces but precisely by becoming the centrepiece and leadership of a much broader popular movement, the great majority of whose participants would be poor peasants. It had this possibility, but only on one condition, and that one condition was independence, political and organisational independence of bourgeois and petty bourgeois formations.

In fact, as we all know, under the influence of the Communist International, under the influence of the leadership of the Russian Communist Party at that time, which was pursuing precisely the policy of manoeuvres, of attempting to exploit contradictions between its opponents. A policy legitimate in itself, but that policy was taken to the point where it led to the subordination of the actual existing independent working class force, namely the Chinese Communist Party, to allegedly revolutionary forces of a petty bourgeois character. And remember Chiang Kai Shek, who we all think of as fascist, but Chiang Kai Shek was made an honorary member of the presidium of the Communist International. Chiang Kai Shek was quite happy to speak about the world struggle against imperialism, he was quite happy even to talk about the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. Nonetheless the fact that radical words are used in a situation of revolutionary crisis by a petty bourgeois formation is not a sign of progress, but on the contrary is the policy of manoeuvre from their point of view, precisely in order to destroy the independence of the revolutionary movement, which they succeeded in doing in China at this time. OK, so it was a long time ago, perhaps the world has changed, but I don’t think so. I think that if you look at the situation in the Middle East now, with all the differences, you have essentially the same problem with respect to the Palestine Liberation Movement and the leaderships of the various Arab States, especially the so-called progressive ones.

You see it’s always so much easier to rely on ‘established’ forces; the rulers of Syria are a power, the rulers of Egypt are a bigger power, and the idea that you can break decisively with them and rely on the development of working class forces in opposition to them may seem Utopian. But these rulers will not, indeed cannot without unleashing social forces they cannot control, conduct a decisive struggle against imperialism and therefore the apparently easier road leads to the prevention of the development of revolutionary forces which can in fact overthrow imperialism in the Middle East. I do not say that it is impossible for this policy of manoeuvre to lead to the creation, under certain circumstances, depending on the international situation, of some kind of Palestinian mini-state. But it is impossible, by relying on such forces, actually to liberate the Palestinian people and to establish a secular socialist society (or even a secular non-socialist society) of Jews and Arabs in Palestine.

Or again, to take the example of Chile, the Allende regime unquestionably created great openings, made great space if you like, for the working class movement. But the central question for us, and surely for you, was that the disaster of Chile was due to the non-emergence of an independent revolutionary working class force that could exploit the openings created by Allende and the reformists.

Our position on these questions was not invented by us. We are simply taking seriously the discussions and the line of the Communist International in Lenin’s time, and in particular the discussions on the national question at the second world congress. And this line can be summed up in two points. First, the absolute obligation of communists in the developed countries to support all anti-imperialist struggles irrespective of their leadership. Secondly, the absolute necessity to create in those semi-colonial countries, as they were then, independent communist forces and above all, as Lenin said in his theses, not to label as communist forces which by their social nature are not and cannot be communist.

I had intended also to speak about the struggle in regimes such as Algeria, which you say are state capitalist, but I haven’t time, so I will omit that, and come to what is to me and to us the most important example of all of what we are saying. It is, of course, the Russian revolution itself. In Russia the working class were quite a small minority of the population. The vast majority were peasants and in Russia it was proved, in practice, that even where the working class is a small minority it can, by pursuing an independent policy, draw behind it the vast mass of the poor peasantry, overthrow the regime and establish a workers’ state. We know, of course, that that regime led eventually to Stalinism, to (we would say) a state capitalist regime. But that development was not inevitable. It depended on the possibility of spreading the revolution to, as Lenin said, one or two developed capitalist countries.

And this was a real possibility. Italy in fact was one of the possibilities, Germany was a possibility. But the failure to do so, not the failure in policy, the failure in practice to achieve this, leads to the other side of the coin which is also essential to our analysis.

Which is this, irrespective of what is in the heads of the leaders, no matter how idealistic, determined and so on they may be; in the long run social conditions decide and a revolution, even a proletarian revolution as this was, that remains isolated and in a backward country necessarily means that the working class loses power.

It was for this reason that Comrade Harman argued earlier that it was absolutely essential to have a perspective of spreading the revolution, not for Utopian reasons but for eminently practical reasons. Because the failure to do so leads, not to some half-way stage which is half socialist, or socialist power or socialist trend or something like that, it leads to state capitalism. This is an inevitable consequence of the pressure, economic, military, diplomatic of world imperialism of an isolated working class regime in a backward country. I said I would not talk about China, but I cannot resist throwing in conclusion that essentially this is what has happened to China. Not because Mao Tse Tung necessarily wished it, but because the logic of events, the logic of circumstances, the practical consequences of pursuing a policy of socialism in one country, and a backward one at that, leads to these consequences.

Can other social groups achieve a socialist revolution?

Avanguardia Operaia

There are two kinds of needs, both of which are different. Two needs, one, the need to develop a strategy for world revolution. And the second is to exploit the contradictions in the camp of the enemy in order to further the possibility for the development of socialism. This kind of policy inevitably involves compromises. Historical analogy – the Brest Litovsk negotiations were a compromise of this nature. It’s not a question of making mechanical transpositions, but a question of looking at the logic of the situation. This is important in order to understand the contradictions of the foreign policy of China.

Two problems are facing China, development of world revolution and finding spokesmen that will enable it to carry on the policy of the state. The Chinese comrades have solved this contradiction by standing on their own two feet.

We don’t believe in the possibility of international movement that can, in this phase, satisfy both the needs of the development of the world revolution and the diplomatic needs. For that reason the Chinese are not prepared to take the role of guiding party.

So this means taking into account the real contradictions that exist and also to take into account the relative weakness of the revolutionary camp, of the revolutionary forces at a world level. So that for a specific historical period the Chinese comrades maintain that there cannot be any stable revolutionary conquests on a world level nor in China. For this reason they maintain that there is a class struggle taking place, even under the dictatorship of the proletariat, in China. This doesn’t mean that one must wait until the development of a large working class, a strong working class before beginning the process of socialist revolution. This is the attitude that must be carried forward to the problem of world revolution in a world that is still dominated by imperialism. If we fail to do this then we will merely be outside observers.

Therefore we would be in a position where we just see and judge, and because we say that the objective conditions are not there for socialist revolution, we really make a caricature. The political autonomy, in a proletarian sense of the leadership, is not the result of the weight of the working class within that country but the weight of revolutionaries on a world scale. So the capacity of the leadership to actually adhere to the needs of world revolution is not determined purely by local circumstances.

We have seen the capitalist system penetrating into the Third World countries, and thus of the creation of a proletariat with characteristics that didn’t exist in that form in the first Marxist analysis. And furthermore, as an established fact, the creation of a social class with particular characteristics, derived from the progressive impoverishment of the peasants. There is also the phenomenon of the proletarianization of the urban petit bourgeoisie.

We could go on giving examples but I don’t think there’s any point because what I’ve said was only to underline the need to draw attention to the reproduction of ideological norms to the need for concrete theoretical analysis, that is the reality analysed systematically and with theoretical backing. A certain historical moment should not be approached from a static position. From the moment when certain assumptions were made (including by Lenin), from the start of the Russian revolution to today, many things have changed a lot, especially a series of phenomena of social disintegration and reintegration (i.e. re-grouping) in social classes in all so-called underdeveloped areas, imperialist-colonies. Therefore there are parts of the world where the historical role of the proletariat given to the industrial working class by Marx are functions today developed in other social groupings. I am greatly simplifying because my conclusion is not that the weight of the industrial proletariat has disappeared or decreased in significance, it’s still important and a determining factor, but the field of the proletariat as a social class which expresses an independent political position in the direction of socialism has levelled out; the role performed in a certain historical period by the working class has broadened out, i.e., there are other social groups apart from the industrial proletariat that have performed that role in some instances in history. They carry on an independent political position that will advance the socialist revolution. It is not that the working class is substituted for by other classes.

The grouping of social forces that can carry out this autonomous organisation and task of a general national movement towards socialism, is wider and qualitatively different from the straightforward working class of industrial workers.

Naturally all this contains contradictions because these new proletarian sectors bring with them a part of the ideology that developed amongst them when they were in different social conditions e.g., the position of poor peasants – there is an objective tendency towards proletarianization that is determined precisely by the ‘revolution’ caused by the introduction of capitalist modes of production; there are subjective resistances on the part of these newly proletarianized groups against being totally assimilated into the industrial proletariat.

The result, a key against simplified sociological analysis, is that the old traditional nucleus of the working class today works in a much enlarged working class front which is, at the same time, less homogenous than before. If this is not clear, there is a danger that, in order to maintain the autonomy of the working class as we previously conceived it, there will develop an attitude of corporation (i.e. a tendency of workers to cooperate with management to the detriment of other groups) and economism in the industrial working class in the face of these enlarged proletarian groups.

This is very important because today the problem of the creation of a revolutionary party, of the affirmation of a proletarian ideology and of a revolutionary line within the very heart of the popular movement, is a question of political definition of the proletariat that is much more complicated than 100 years ago.

From this point of view I don’t see, for example, the reasons which divide, from the point of view of an independent class political view, the poor Vietnamese peasants from the Vietnamese industrial proletariat in the specific conditions of the industrial social grouping, though it is clear that there are points of resistance in certain cultural and ideological issues etc.

However, the general tendency from the point of view of social behaviour and the possibility of unifying in a line independent from this bourgeoisie, for the oppressed social classes presents a problem like this: there are situations in which the independent organisation of an industrial proletariat, which is constituted of only a minority of an oppressed population, instead of stimulating the process, will stop it i.e., in a situation where there is a social structure quantitatively and qualitatively not dominated by the industrial working class, the independent organisation of the industrial working class which doesn’t take into account this wider notion of a proletariat is a braking element which shuts off struggle instead of stimulating it.

Obviously, I am not referring primarily to the most highly developed capitalist states, but to the countries which have been subjected to colonial imperialist domination, even if this problem does exist in part in countries developed in a capitalist sense. This is important because there are problems of historical assessment and experience which can’t be treated by reference to, for example, the Russian Revolution or the Third International.

Apart from observations of this type, of class analysis, there are considerations of the historical context and of evaluation of previous experience that can’t be solved by the resolutions of the second congress of the Communist International or the intervention of Lenin on that occasion.

For example, I don’t believe that the conditions of political isolation of the Russian revolution in 1917–19 were the same as those of the existing socialist regimes. They were much more serious in Russia. Apart from this, by way of provocation, the experience of the Third International, including the Leninist period, had very negative elements.

For example the notion of the construction of the Communist International had many subjectivist aspects and was one of the important elements in deforming the internal relations of the international in the whole period of its existence because alongside the Bolshevik party there was a series of revolutionary communist parties that existed only on paper. On the other hand there was a way of conceiving Russian dependence on the world revolutionary process that was rather idealistic, that is, of making the Russian revolutionary process depend mechanically on the revolutionary development in the main European countries, that led to serious negative consequences. It led to errors in forecasting to errors in modes of executing the politics of the communist international and to defeats which favoured the distortion of this experience in Stalinism and the idea of socialism in one country.

These are some observations to show how we must be careful when making an ideological transposition of a certain historical experience, of certain theoretical positions to the present. Our problem is not to see if the perspectives of a revolutionary movement are correct but to see if in the reality of this revolutionary process we are defining something which has not been codified or absorbed into theory, in the experience we are undergoing now. Because, if not, the reasoning leads us to this conclusion: let’s take any country, for example, where the socialist process has begun, where the proletariat is a minority. It’s not organised independently and the inevitable outcome is state capitalism.

We must try to see if in a certain situation, the block that holds power and that has initiated the revolutionary process, is in a position to develop an independent political position with regard to the world imperialist system. It’s clearly a question which has many contradictions because, in a particularly backward situation from the point of view of the realisation of the material basis of socialism, the gap between foreign politics at the level of diplomacy and the politics of international proletarian socialism is particularly big, because there are requirements coming from another different logic, but both have to be considered, because those two needs exist simultaneously. One is to develop strategically the socialist revolution at world level; the second is to exploit the contradictions of the enemies so as to defend the further development of the revolution. This political position necessarily leads to compromises. The treaty of Brest Litovsk was a compromise between the two needs, i.e., in a specific situation the relationship of specific international forces. Here, as well, we are dealing with not making mechanical transpositions but looking at the logic of the problem. This is very important if we are to understand the contradictions of Chinese Foreign Policy which I don’t wish to discuss now, but which must be seen in this logic. Because, for example, China has a problem – namely to expand the field of world revolutions and therefore the development of an industrial proletariat in the world. But it also has the diplomatic problem of finding spokesmen who reconcile a state political position with the internal position. Chinese comrades have resolved this contradiction with the principle of relying on their own forces in this period because they maintain that the conditions for the development of international socialism, which can make internationalist needs harmonize with diplomatic ones, do not exist at the moment.

As a result they are not prepared to assume the role of the leading state or party in this development. Following from this is the notion that there exists a state in contradiction with existing things and a state of relative weakness considering the level of world revolution. There is also the other theoretical aspect of the Chinese viewpoint i.e. that the class struggle continues even under the dictatorship of the proletariat. But this is not a reason for waiting in a backward country for the conditions of capitalist development to be so advanced as to permit the existence of an independent proletariat strong and socially organised before initiating the revolutionary process.

We must therefore confront what is happening in the world, the problems of reinforcing the revolutionary camp, in a situation still dominated at world level by imperialism. Here we are talking about the political independence, in the proletarian sense of the leading group, for example in Mozambique, which is not guaranteed solely by the numbers of the Mozambique working class but also by the adherence to the political line in relation to the weight of the world revolutionary class.

Thus certain things are explained which are otherwise incomprehensible e.g., the leadership, Frelimo, is promoting a campaign of information, of ideological education of the communist type, which does not derive from the weight of the working class in Mozambique, because this latter hardly exists. Combined with this it is developing a power structure of direct democracy which in our Western political, historical consciousness is associated with workers democracy. The same thing occurs in a more clear cut way in North Vietnam. You can’t simply, with these instruments of subjective control, in the process guarantee the continuity of the linear development of socialism, precisely because the material basis of socialism is very backward. This is a real contradiction which we must fight on politically and ideologically.

Why the working class must lead

International Socialists
Chris Harman

That was a very long contribution. I won’t pretend to take up every point. I’ll try and take up what I consider are the most significant points in it.

I’ll start by a sociological analysis of the world today. In particular an analysis of the changing situation of the poor peasants. I don’t want to deal with this analysis in detail because to deal with it in detail we’d have to refer to the various writings of theoreticians who accept our viewpoint.

I hope that one day a piece written by Nigel Harris on India and China will be printed in Italian, and hopefully your analysis of different parts of the world will be in English and we can read them. But what I will say is that, although the sociology is new, the conclusions from this sociology are very, very old. The first question, the key question, is the relationship between workers, by which I mean industrial workers, people who work together in large factories as wage labourers and their relationship to poor peasants. The conclusions which Massimo draws are the same as the conclusions drawn by the Narodniks eighty or ninety years ago even though the sociology is different. And we say also that the conclusions are the same as those presented during the Comintern in the first period of Stalinisation in 1925 and 1928. By which I mean the Stalin-Bukharinist conception that somehow the workers and the peasants could be merged and therefore the conception that there could be workers’ and peasants parties, not a workers’ party leading the peasants, but workers and peasants parties.

The notion then put forward by Stalin and Bukharin was that you could have Communist parties led by revolutionaries, but which were parties of peasants and workers somehow constituted a substitute for the revolutionary workers’ party.

What we would argue is that, in fact, both the example of the Narodniks, the example of the 1925 to 1928 Comintern, the example of Massimo, (though the sociology is different) all make the same fundamental error. They don’t understand the fundamental difference in terms of the organisation of the class through production, the difference between the workers and the peasants. The reason why capitalism creates for the first time in history the possibility of socialism, is not only that capitalism creates wealth on a unprecedented scale but also because it creates an oppressed class unlike any other oppressed class which has ever existed. A class which is cultured, literate, concentrated and therefore is capable not merely of rebelling but organising its rebellion and controlling and organising its self-activity in a democratic fashion. Therefore a class which is capable of giving rise to the highest form of democracy and self-activity conceivable through workers’ councils and so forth, and which therefore is potentially capable of taking control of the wealth created by capitalism for the benefit of mankind.

The situation of peasants, even the poorest peasants is quite different. The very conditions under which they live, even in China today, the China of Mao Tse Tung’s time, even in India today, in South America today, in Africa today, are such that most of them are not literate, they have no general consciousness of society beyond their own village and above all their mode of production does not drive them to behave in a collective manner.

The reality is for the vast majority of peasants, even of many who are not peasants, who in a technical sense are rural proletariat, the tendency is for them to see becoming richer peasants as their main goal in life, and therefore the tendency for them is not to look towards collective forms of action but individualistic forms of action. This of course does not mean that the mass of peasants throughout the world have to suffer passively from history.

The whole of history shows that peasants are capable of massive insurrections, massive rebellions, of fantastic impact in shaking the whole of society. The question is, however, are they capable themselves of channelling this activity, of turning rebellion into self-activity for the conscious re-organising of society. There are the experiences of the last 30 years, there are the experiences that Marx wrote about in 1848, because the peasants have not thrown up forms of organisation and self-activity, they have always been dependent upon an urban class to organise them. In Cuba, for instance, the peasants did overthrow Batista, did form the mass of Castro’s army but the cadres in Castro’s army were urban intellectuals, the people who rule Cuba today are urban intellectuals. And the same is true if you talk about the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. You can talk about the organisation of the Red Army in China, a hierarchical army. Even if you talk about the early period, when in the Red Army there was fantastic egalitarianism, you still talk about officers and men. You don’t talk about peasants’ councils giving orders to the army.

This is fundamentally different, in our point of view, from the situation in Russia in 1917 and 1918 when of course you had a hierarchical army, but also soviet formations, Soviets of workers’ councils to determine the policy which this army followed. Indeed when people talk about peasants self-activity what they usually mean is an organisation of hierarchical armies led by middle class intellectuals from the towns, often middle class intellectuals whose intellectual formation is Stalinist.

And again, when I said before that the sociology was new but the conclusions weren’t, these conclusions we’ve heard, not merely in the examples I gave before Nkrumah in Ghana spoke about the need to radicalise the consciousness, conscientionism he called it in Ghana, which was an excuse for a hierarchical semi-state capitalist form of organisation in society. And it’s very much a similar conception to the notion that somehow the tribal forms of communalism could be merged with Marxist theory into some form of democracy in the Third World. Again I don’t think I need to talk about the various eulogies written about Algeria after it was liberated by what was, after all an army of peasants, the FLN, from the French.

This is why we turn again to the question of the working class because for us the working class has the ability, potential ability to organise and provide a formal democratic leadership to vast masses of peasants. Of course it is true that through long historic periods the working class does not provide this leadership. It is also true that in certain historic situations it is possible for the working class to be co-opted in some sense within the system, to be bought off, to get an element of super profit and so forth.

But then, of course, we’d have to return to talk about a period of upturn in capitalism in which reforms are possible for workers, in which what you refer to as corporatism is possible for workers. In a situation like that today, a concrete situation where, throughout the world, the first, second and third worlds, you have workers being denied the possibility of corporatism and forced out into the streets in the most primitive form of rebellion against the system.

In Egypt for instance, in the early Nasser period, the workers were relatively well paid by Egyptian standards, today they’re badly paid by Egyptian standards. Funnily enough, your analysis has a very very strong a-historical element about it because it doesn’t look at the concrete forms the working class struggle is taking today throughout the world.

Socialist power does not have to be based on the working class

Avanguardia Operaia

The question is rather complicated and so I will have to make a general observation. The vision of the total revolutionary process as presented by Chris in his last contribution is not, in our view, materialistic – it is rather an idealistic vision which is at the same time mechanistic; let me explain. I believe that in one respect we are agreed – i.e., on a work level we are still dominated by the capitalist system, and capitalist relations of development. However, in our view, it is a matter of looking somewhat beyond this, in a concrete manner, and seeing how this situation can be overthrown.

This is precisely why there is the risk in our debate, to discuss in abstract categories i.e., referring to, on the one hand, the industrial proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and on the other hand to the influence of the petty-bourgeoisie which impedes the proletarian revolutionary process.

It is for this reason that I insist on the phase, which you did not emphasise, that we must see, concretely, how this situation develops and not interpret it according to some ideological scheme. Let’s give a few examples to illustrate. For example, it has been said that the splendid victory of the Vietnamese people has not produced a revolutionary party in the US nor has it put in motion a process of class struggles against the capitalist relations inside the US.

On the other hand, you say that unified Vietnam is finally obliged to come to terms with the world capitalist system. In my view this reasoning doesn’t take us very far. In fact you give a series of examples of this kind. But it is not, here, a question of the relations between a single imperialist power and the subject of its domination; it is not only the relations between France and Algeria, or the relations between USA and Vietnam, but how these modified relations have determined changes, shifts, of the relation of the dynamics of the forces on a world scale.

So you say that the consequences of a liberation struggle do not result in the production of a revolutionary socialist process in a country dominated by imperialism because of the absence of proletarian leadership, because of the absence of international proletarian protection to the regime of that country-therefore the victory in Indochina remains an isolated fact and does not transform the revolutionary process in Europe, for example (apart from the US).

Therefore the victory in the Portuguese colonies doesn’t effect ... etc., etc. I think that here you have to consider, for example, an evaluation of the social relations developed by the victory of the Vietnam war against the US, that is against a system of imperialist domination. We say that this has produced social relations of a socialist character on a basis of a concrete analysis of the social and political relations inside Vietnam; on the basis of social relations of production dominant in Vietnam which are not just the legal form of property but the substantial form of social relations – i.e. it is not a question of whether there are large individual property owners in the industrial field or agriculture, but a question of the type of social relations which exist in production.

It’s difficult to go into the details, if you want a concrete analysis of the social organisation and relations of production in Vietnam, but our conclusion is based on facts, nor merely derived from books, but verified there. The power structure in Vietnam is widely based on rank and file control of the central power – as is the political leadership which has proletarian components inside the party’s power structure.

This is true if you look at the international orientation of the Vietnam ruling group concretely. The experiences of relations between North Vietnam and South Vietnam, the current politics of the North favours a social process comparable to the South, as is the politics of the North Vietnamese with regard to Laos and Cambodia. These are very clear examples of the North Vietnamese regime’s international attitude.

Despite all this, the fact remains that Vietnam is composed not primarily of industrial proletarians but of poor peasants. The fact also remains that Vietnam cannot independently construct socialism in its present objective conditions. Therefore it has to carry on its relations with the outside world, which is economically and politically dominated by imperialism. Despite this, we say that in Vietnam a process of socialist construction has been opened up, and that this process constitutes an important element of change of the relations of capitalism and the revolutionary process on a world scale.

It is worth saying that the world revolution cannot be conceived as a linear or simultaneous process. Because imperialism is world based, we cannot automatically conclude that the revolution has to be organised simultaneously on a world level.

In looking at the question of the political direction of the revolutionary process in Mozambique, we cannot just make socio-economical analysis-that is whether the ruling class is industrial proletarian or not, or whether there is a proletarian revolutionary party. You need a much more Marxist dialectical attitude. You have to accept that the liberation movement in Mozambique sets its goals towards the transformation of society into socialism even in a world context which does not favour this. You have to accept the contradiction.

This contradictory character characterises all the revolutionary processes on a world scale. Massimo, in his last intervention, indicated some elements which explain our conception of socialist power, even in situations where the economic base is fragmentary and limited. Clearly the fact is that many national liberation movements declare socialist objectives, reflect or express the socialist movement in the country, even though these objectives may be declared in order to deceive and control the masses.

The fact that they are adopted is itself significant.

We don’t think all regimes are socialist simply because they declare themselves as such, it is necessary to analyse them properly. We agree that certain African regimes are not socialist. Although the Algerian regime is state capitalist, it does not mean that it cannot take any part in anti-imperialist struggles; even this form of state capitalism, that doesn’t see the necessity to transform state capitalism in the country towards the construction of socialism. State capitalism is a form which characterises the social structure of Algeria. But the leadership of the regime does not consider this state capitalism as a stage to be overcome towards socialism, not as the product of objective relations on an international level with its internal reflections which must be overcome for socialism, but considers it a form to maintain for what it is. I am stressing the subjective element.

As we have said, the phase of national liberation has its specific dynamic which involves a complex series of social forces, wide in class terms, which is characterised more or less, some more strong than others, by proletarian hegemony or petty bourgeois or bourgeois hegemony. It is significant, in terms of hegemony, that the national liberation struggles which have achieved independence in a more or less formal way in African states ten or fifteen years ago differ from those, more recent, which have a much stronger proletarian character inside these movements.

There are two points: first, the class struggle continues even during the national liberation struggle, but as a secondary aspect with regard to the principal objective of national liberation. In this sense, e.g., the internal struggle within the Palestinian Liberation Movements is a reflection of a class struggle inside the liberation movement.

After the achievement of national liberation, naturally, the class struggle inside these liberated countries continues, even when a proletarian component at the head of this liberation truly wants the construction of socialism. To achieve this, in one degree or another, depends upon the ultimate development of the class struggle inside these countries-this is the first aspect, but not the only one.

Having said that the class struggle continues after the phase of national liberation, the consequences are many. First the result of this struggle is not unequivocally determined. For example – Algeria. Secondly, the factors which can, in one way or another, affect the result negatively or positively, are centrally the relations of forces on an international level.

In this sense, I would reverse the formulation the comrades have given with respect to the question of the international situation. If it is true that a series of struggles of national liberation in the recent years has not brought about outlets capable of keeping open socialist construction (the example one could make, even if it needs going into more, is that of Cuba), if these outlets have not kept open a socialist direction, then this is a consequence of the kind of relations of forces on an international level, which are determined and affected by these struggles, but in terms insufficient to liberate and cut out obstacles for the ultimate development of this situation.

We recognise, as you do, that the forces of these struggles are closely tied to, not just the proletarian leadership components in the internal political relations, but also to the social base of the proletariat in these countries. For example, we agree that in a country like South Africa, a revolution would have a very solid structural base, precisely because of the existence of a developed working class.

But this does not lead us to the conclusion that it is only where there is an economic base sufficiently developed, and therefore a numerically and politically strong working class, that the possibility of socialist power exists. This is because we do not characterise a socialist power essentially by the proletarian social base in a country.

Starting from a certain economic base, the liberation and socialist forces have the capacity of changing this economic situation and this can be done in two ways; by developing a correct political line which is socialist and proletarian, and by analysing the concrete social base in that country, the force which can carry and develop this socialist process. For instance in a country where the poor peasants comprise the biggest social class, to find a way of involving this class in the socialist process, and giving it the weight it needs. The first aspect of a socialist regime is its internationalist perspectives which in certain concrete conditions does not mean, for example, in the case of the Palestinians merely relating to the working class in Syria or Egypt, it means making a tactical choice to relate to different state regimes in order to open up contradictions between them. This is compatible with an internationalist perspective, not the negation thereof.

If we look at Palestine, it is very simple to say, well yes, ally yourself with different working classes in different countries, then you make revolution, but it might not bring us anywhere. So the problem is having alliances on a general and political level, a tactical attitude that can open up contradictions that can go towards developing socialism internationally, i.e. in this case open up contradictions between Arab countries, the more advanced and the more reactionary, to open spaces. Merely to say all Arab countries are bourgeois doesn’t take us anywhere.

The comrades in Palestine would be very glad to ally with the Syrian or Egyptian working class directly. The question is to look at what they concretely are capable of doing, and not in abstract terms; (e.g., what is the level of the Iranian working class) and the relations of the contradictions between the states.

The conclusion at this point can only be an attempt to understand better the nature of our respective differences. Marx points to the need for hegemony of the working class among the popular masses not because of the nature of the proletariat in itself, but because of its relationship with other classes. The reason that Marx pointed to the elements of solidarity and egalitarianism of the working class was not only a result of its relationship with the capitalist class. The reason why Marx pointed to them, as the motor of the revolution, rather than the peasants, lies in a relationship not only between industrial proletariat and bourgeoisie, but also between the industrial proletariat and peasants, between industrial proletariat and petty bourgeoisie etc.

Marx’s characterisation of the working class was based on experience of a situation in the middle of the 1800’s, in particular in Britain, but the issues have changed and we cannot make the same kind of analysis of the working class now.

There is no time to develop this argument but I want to make a few points. The process of proletarianisation as a result of the change from laissez faire capitalism to monopoly capitalism has changed the relationship of the working class to the other classes. The homogeneous working class, to which Marx gave the role he did, has been transformed quantitatively and qualitatively.

Deflected permanent revolution

International Socialists
Chris Harman

Perhaps there’s some sort of excuse for your position in a period in which the working class quite clearly is not leading the peasant masses on a world scale in the fight against imperialism.

There was a long period in which petty bourgeois groups, sections of the urban petty bourgeoisie who were able to lead various sorts of struggles against imperialism with some success. We’ve never underestimated the impact, the importance of, say, the struggle in Algeria against the French, the Kenyans against the British etc. We regarded these struggles as immensely important for the working class in advanced countries to support.

We have developed a theory, a theory which we call a theory of the deflected permanent revolution to explain how it was possible for petty-bourgeois intellectuals to lead such struggles. But what we also insisted was that the result of these products was regimes which could not break imperialism on a world scale, indeed which usually broke from the world market for a period to try and re-enter it on better terms.

And certainly there was a period in which, by doing so, they produced reforms for the mass of the local population, benefit to the local population. For instance in the case of Nasser in Egypt these were immense benefits to the Egyptian working class and peasantry, through Nasserism, for a period in the late 1950’s it could also raise the level of fighting spirit among the people, not only in its own country but in a whole series of countries because of its successes, its gains.

There was a certain progressive role in terms of consciousness which Nasserism played in terms of the Arab revolution. But these regimes were nevertheless incapable of breaking with the world market and so we find precisely today as the international world economy grows into crisis these regimes are forced to take back from workers precisely the reforms they gained at different periods. And this doesn’t just apply to Nasser or to Algeria. Look concretely at the economic development of say, North Korea. It is just as much subject to the pressures of the world market as any other country. Because of the development of international crisis North Korea can no longer carry through the five-year plan it wanted to carry through because it can’t afford to buy the imports it needs.

And what this means concretely is that in each one of these countries, the people who led the struggle against imperialism – the middle class elements – have introduced into the country forms of exploitation designed to produce the surpluses they need in order to survive on the world market. Indeed sections of the petty bourgeoisie that led the national liberation struggle have established internal relations in these countries which means that they have a relationship, very similar to the relationship between a capitalist and a worker in any factory.

This leads me to the last point I want to make – the question of the International. This for us is essential for assessing any one of these regimes. Because for us faced with this situation there is only one way a revolutionary leadership can break out of this situation, to avoid the dilemma of being forced to exploit its own workers, and that is to spread the revolution because the wealth of imperialism has accumulated on a world scale in certain countries. To solve the problem of development which the Third World countries face you have to get the loot which has been piled up in the advanced and semi-advanced countries. And for that reason the internal structure of that country and its internationalist policy are not two separate things, they are two different aspects of the same dialectical unity.

Of course if there were genuine workers’ states there is still a problem, you don’t expect the revolution to spread instantaneously. And that means, of course, that at state level there have to be certain arrangements, certain agreements between the workers’ state and the existing capitalist and imperialist states. But this is not an excuse for not following an internationalist policy in political terms and in propaganda terms and in agitational terms. You see we don’t object, for instance, to China buying oil from Iran, what we object to is Mao Tse Tung praising the policies of the Shah of Iran which means the murdering of Iranian workers. You ask how are you ever going to solve the problems of development in China, and you can only solve it in socialist terms. If the Chinese revolution spreads precisely to oil-rich countries like Iran. Perhaps in the short term you can protect a revolution by commercial and diplomatic agreements with the Shah of Iran but in the long term or even in the medium term the only protection is the development of the revolutionary party of the revolutionary working class inside of Iran. And this is the question of building the International. When Massimo says that the Chinese have solved the problem by saying that in every country revolutionaries must stand on their own two feet, I feel we’re back to the days before the First International or even before the days of the Communist League. Because the revolution does not develop simultaneously, autonomously, in countries of the world separately. It is the revolutionary duty of the areas where it develops first to give everything they’ve got to spread the revolution before it’s retarded. For us for instance, we have to give everything we can to help the revolution in Portugal because the revolution in Portugal is central to the revolution in Britain. In the same way if China were a workers’ state it would give everything conceivable to help the revolution in Britain, in Italy and so forth instead of sitting back and saying ‘it’s up to Portuguese revolutionaries’.

And finally I would say I this. When Massimo says that the Third International made mistakes and that is an argument against an international, then he may as well say that every revolutionary party that has ever existed has made mistakes. From that we should draw the conclusion that we don’t build the revolutionary party. Because, of course, the more effective you are at building an International, the more important your mistakes are. That is also true about building a party.

Avanguardia Operaia

We have been attempting to clarify the different positions, rather than to debate them. I do not think this can be carried further at this point. We should now move on to the assessment of the situations in Britain and in Italy.

The British crisis

International Socialists
Duncan Hallas

The rulers of Britain have three basic problems, two of which are of long standing, one of which is of relatively recent significance. They are compelled, they have no choice, but to make attacks on the existing living standards and conditions of the working class. First, they require to shift the distribution of what is produced away from consumption towards investment because, historically, for a long period, for ten to fifteen years at least, and perhaps more, the rate of investment in Britain has been low by world capitalist standards. Second, they have the problem of structural change, of restructuring, by which I mean the contraction of relatively unprofitable sections of the economy and the expansion of relatively profitable ones. Both these problems are of long standing. In addition they now have the immediate problem of a rate of inflation much higher than that of Britain’s major industrial competitors.

Therefore they require to weaken, and weaken quite substantially, the strength of the British working class in order to achieve cuts in real wages and a very substantial degree of unemployment, at any rate in the short term, in order to facilitate restructuring as well as to combat inflation.

Massimo said yesterday that one of the causes of the crisis was the relative strength of the working class in Europe. That is true particularly in Britain. The major factor making it difficult for them to solve their problems is precisely the organisational strength of the working class. But this organisational strength is combined with a profound reformist

consciousness, not simply in the narrow political sense of illusions in, let us say, the Labour Party, but a belief, founded on experience, that the methods of the past, which are essentially reformist methods, the methods primarily of economic struggle, limited economic struggle, on the one hand plus reformist politics on the other, can solve the problem. This combination of factors has meant that for the last ten years, and certainly for the last five years, the central political problem in Britain has been the relationship between the government and the employers on the one hand and the trade union bureaucracy on the other. The ruling class has oscillated between two major trends; the use the trade union bureaucracy as a means of curbing the organised strength of workers, of acting as policemen inside the working class movement, on the one hand, and, because of the relative failure of that policy at different times, of confronting the trade unions, attempting to kick the trade union bureaucracy, to defeat them, to reduce their influence in order then to use them again at another level. They have oscillated the policy of conciliation and absorption of the trade union bureaucracy into the decision making process, the policy of social contract, and the alternative policy of confrontation, which in fact destroyed the previous Conservative Government-the Heath government. They have no choice but to continue, because they lack the strength to actually break the working class movement at bearable cost, they have no choice but to continue to oscillate between these choices. This means that from the point of view of revolutionaries the central struggle, though not the only one, but the central struggle is in fact the struggle inside the working class movement against the reformists on the question of incomes policy, social contract, productivity, etc.

In other words the conflict between the right wing, representing ruling class interests in the last resort, to use the working class organisations in order to press down the working class and the attempts of I revolutionaries to take up these issues, which are of course profoundly political issues in the British context today, in order to develop a much broader movement, broader than those who are committed to revolutionary politics as such.

All these economic issues have become political questions, and indeed the political questions from the point of view of the ruling class, and so, our problem as revolutionaries is how we can, in a sense, utilise the existing consciousness, which is a reformist consciousness, which is politicised however, in order on the basis of that consciousness, on the basis of the defence of what exists, to develop movements that in fact go beyond the limits of reformism. This is why we believe that the development of what we call a rank and file movement is of absolute essential importance to revolutionaries in Britain today. I shall not speak about the details, comrade Deason will develop that point later, I wish to explain the political essence of the matter as we see it. The object of the rank and file movement, as we see it, is to draw together existing sections of the shop floor and lower union structure, shop floor first, lower union structure second, as the existing leadership of the movement, which is reformist politically, which has reformist conceptions, together with us on the basis of limited programmes; not the dictatorship of the proletariat, but limited programmes for the defence of working class wages, conditions, social services and so on which corresponds to their consciousness, because they believe in these things, but do not yet understand that they cannot now be achieved by reformist means under the conditions of British capitalism today. We are not talking about our political sympathisers in the working class simply, our own periphery, we are talking about something much broader than that. Although of course it is true that the development of a real rank and file movement in Britain today is objectively revolutionary and this fact has its effect on the consciousness of those reformists who participate in it alongside us.

Which brings me to the question of the building of the party as such. The main problem for revolutionaries in Britain, and in some other countries, is that they have existed outside or on the edges of the actual working class movement and this can only be changed, in our opinion, on the basis of recruiting workers in struggle, through the rank and file movement and otherwise, so as to transform both the social composition and the outlook and attitudes of the revolutionaries. This is a process which inevitably leads to a political struggle inside our organisation and to its transformation, so that it is no longer an organisation whose cadres primarily came to us on the basis of general politics but primarily working class leaders who have established themselves in the course of struggle on the shop floor and in the trade union machine.

To summarise; the objective conditions for a large scale rank and file movement exist and, to the extent that this can be created, the objective conditions for the creation of a sizeable, although not mass, revolutionary workers party exists in Britain today. Our central task is to ensure that our organisation is able to exploit these possibilities and to become, within a comparatively short time, the major competitor of the Communist Party in the British working class movement. We have made some considerable progress in this direction but of course even when we have achieved this, when we have in fact become the major force on the left in place of the Communist Party we still have the bigger problem of contending with the reformist leaders for the allegiance of masses of workers, of millions of workers. We are not yet at that stage.

Finally, a qualification. I may have given the impression, because I am simplifying putting it schematically, that we see the development in terms of steady, regular growth and so on. This is not so. We understand that there can be and probably will be explosive situations, crisis situations, in which very big gains can be made relatively quickly. We also understand that there are sectors of work, for example the abortion issue, which is very important

in Britain, and a whole number of others which are also important to the development of a real revolutionary party. We are well aware of this and we do work in these fields but we believe that without solving the central problem of transforming the revolutionaries from politics on the edge of the movement to militant workers in the heart of the movement there is no lasting progress.

Finally, a well-known bourgeois political commentator wrote in the Guardian newspaper, a serious bourgeois newspaper, last week ‘for the first time’, – his words, not mine, – ‘since the period immediately after the First World War, the fear of revolution is a real factor in British politics’. That is their view, it is also our view.

The Communist Party’s role

Avanguardia Operaia

I wish to find out a number of things about the political forces within the working class movement. In particular I have understood that for a while IS has been fighting for space with the Communist Party. If, for example, there is a particular struggle against the Communist Party, is it because you believe the reformist line of the Communist Party is more dangerous than that of the Labour Party, is it because the Communist Party is a large important group in the working class movement?

International Socialists
Duncan Hallas

The British Communist Party has no significance in mass electoral politics but is a very important factor inside the trade union movement. We are nothing, nothing in mass electoral politics, but a factor, though a small factor, in the struggle inside the trade union movement and it is for this reason that the Communist Party to us is a major opponent, because of the fields in which we are working and in which they are working. The Labour Party, though very important in terms of mass politics, is not an organised force in the trade union movement.

Of course most active trade unionists, the majority, are in one way or another Labour Party people but that tells you nothing about their politics. They can be far right or far left, and still Labour Party. You see the right wing in the movement is Labour Party, much of the left wing in the movement is also Labour Party, they have no organised fractions, no organised presence.

The Communist Party plays a special role in the trade union movement in the apparatus, in the machine. It is the ‘left face’ of the reformist bureaucracy. Unlike the Italian party, it is not a direct contender for power. It seeks power through alliances, through making itself useful to sections of the trade union bureaucracy and pursuing their policies but using ‘left phrases’, left language to justify them.

This means that the Communist Party is the force which in many cases we come directly into conflict with on the question of the defence of jobs, on the question of wages, on the question of the State, army intervention into industrial disputes and so on, because they have made themselves, in effect, the lackeys of the trade union bureaucracy. They are able, as an organised force with a left reputation, to achieve more easily than the more well-known right wing leaders the kind of influence that they seek.

This leads to contradictions inside the Communist Party. For example in the Metalworkers union, the main metalworkers union, the big one, they are part of the leadership and they talk very left but they act no differently- in essence than the right and consequently they have the problem not only of losing some of their militants to us but also to some extent of losing their electoral base to the right. And it is this situation finally that enables us to drive in the wedge between the Party leaders and many of their former supporters. But not, let me explain, in an organisational sense necessarily.

International Socialists
Chris Harman

There are some unions in which the Communist Party does not exist. In those unions, given the crisis, we immediately directly confront the bureaucracy. For instance in the journalists’ union, in the bakers’ union, and such is the situation in Britain we can be very, very small but immediately we confront the right wing bureaucracy. In the unions where the Communist Party exists, the Communist Party provides a front for a section of the bureaucracy which represents an obstacle between us and confrontation with the right and therefore we have to talk in terms of splitting, breaking through what they call the Broad Left under the control of the Communist Party, and fight directly against the right wing leaders of the union.

United fronts

Avanguardia Operaia

We understand the importance of broadening the area of political intervention of IS outside the trade union movement itself on general political questions, on social questions, like repression and so on. In what way are you creating united fronts with other political forces in these struggles and on abortion and what is the position of the Communist Party over these questions?

International Socialists
Duncan Hallas

I would take two questions as examples, first of all, the question of women’s rights and abortion, secondly the question of Ireland. For us the important thing is to bring people into action on the issues even if those actions are only demonstrations. Such is the organisational decay, not political decay, but organisational decay of the reformist organisations that they cannot, even when they want to, mobilise large numbers of people directly. So that the united front, the united action of which the comrade speaks is often with people who, in and of themselves, represent very little in an organisational sense but who, because of the circumstances are able to mobilise people.

For example, two weeks ago, there was in London the biggest demonstration there has been for years on the question of abortion.

Yet the people who called it, we were represented on the committee, the committee really represented very little outside the revolutionary left apart from individuals. But because the issue is alive, and they did have the perspective of mobilising people, it was possible to produce a much bigger demonstration than the Labour Party has ever been able to produce.

The Communist Party tends to tail-end, to go along with such things if they are big but not to take any initiatives. And the negative side of the same phenomenon is seen where the issue is not an easy one on which to mobilise people, on Ireland for example.

There is an organisation, the Troops Out Movement, for British withdrawal from Ireland which represents nothing really, we participate and small groups apart from us, though no force apart from us. That was true also of the women question, the abortion question, the difference is in the state of popular consciousness and events that make it possible to mobilise. So that the formal United Front work, which of course we accept and believe in, is not necessarily mainly a question of addressing ourselves to sections of the Communist Party or the Labour Party but mainly a question of trying to find those issues on which it is possible to mobilise beyond the narrow layers of the revolutionary left.

And finally, a very big issue on which we believe it will be possible to do this, and also to force sections of the Communist Party, and indeed the Labour Party, to work with us is the question of the coming cuts in government social expenditure.

International Socialists
Chris Harman

The last Irish demonstration in London, organised around Troops Out, two thirds of the demonstration was IS members and the whole turnout was not magnificent, there were about 1,000 people on the demonstration, 700 IS members after much work, because there is not the politicised layer, it does not exist, which will respond to such issues as in say Italy, or France, or Germany. There is not that politicised layer and therefore we are forced to take such issues, not so much on the streets but to try and raise them inside the trade unions, on shop stewards’ committees where possible, in order to begin to create a politicised layer on questions like Ireland, anti-imperialism and so on rather than have massive anti-imperialist demonstrations.

Avanguardia Operaia

In your first intervention you talked about the bourgeois commentator who talked about the danger of revolutionary forces in Britain and also you talked about the growing politicisation of masses of people. What forms does this politicisation actually take?

International Socialists
Duncan Hallas

I should have explained, when I said that the working class was being politicised, that it is essentially in the first instance on the question of wages. It is a political question because the government seeks to regulate wages, wage negotiations, seeks to influence them and so on.

Redundancy, unemployment is a political question. It is on these sort of issues that there is a much broader politicisation than was the case ten years ago.

For example, until quite recently white-collar unions in Britain, or most of them, were right-wing, and the particular form that their right-wing leadership took was ‘non-political’, ‘we are non-political’, ‘no politics in the union’, etc. But there is not a single union now, white collar or blue collar, where it is possible for the right wing leadership to take this position because they have to talk about government policies because government policy about wages, social service cuts, social expenditure, about redundancy and so on are thrust down their throats you see, so that in that sense the movement is much more political. It is still on a reformist basis, no question about it, but it is a politicisation within the framework of reformist consciousness which we believe in the course of struggle will build the non-reformist consciousness, this time because of the nature of the crisis. Because, in fact, the ruling class seeks not to hold the workers back but to drive them further down-to take back what has already been gained in part.

Can I illustrate this with just one example? The question of bourgeois property rights and factory occupations. Until five years ago, when there was concern amongst workers about unemployment, they passed resolutions to the Labour Party. But in the last five years, and on an increasing scale, and still having reformist consciousness, increasing sections of workers in a number of important cases occupied the factory and said ‘No we will not accept closure, we do not accept the right of the management to close down, but still reformist because they say at the same time they say ‘therefore the government must do something’, the government must help – nationalise or give money etc.

It is a contradictory process, but nevertheless it is a process that is beginning to press against the limits of traditional reformism.

The rank and file movement

Avanguardia Operaia

How do you see the structure of the Rank and File Movement? What is the strategy of the Rank and File movement?

For example how to shift the trade union movement to an anti-capitalist basis? What relationship does the Rank and File Movement have to the building of a revolutionary workers’ party?

International Socialists
John Deason

In building a Rank and File Movement we are not attempting in any way to build separate trade unions. It is a question of building within the existing unions and opposing our positions to the reformist leadership. And thus the organisational basis for it is a complete emphasis on delegate nature, that always brings together delegates from sections of the trade unions, like shop stewards committees, trade union branches, district committees, trade councils.

Avanguardia Operaia

The Rank and File Movement is just moving inside and carrying on opposition to the leading line but in respect of so-called trade union democracy, that is, if you discuss but if you are in minority then you respect the line that comes out. Surely the movement has to have its own independence, also outside the union.

International Socialists
John Deason

When we talk about building a rank and file movement that is the opposition in the trade union movement, broadly speaking the way that would be approached is that we would work within the official movement as far as that would allow us to but when the trade union bureaucracy prevents any further development of the rank and file, then we carry the independent action of the rank and file. Within the British trade unions, for some sections, this is not very new, it is a very old tradition, a very well established tradition, especially where there are existing levels of shop stewards’ organisation.

And so for example amongst the metalworkers, the vast majority of wage militancy is initially independent of the trade union bureaucracy. The main problem we have in building a rank and file movement is to both strengthen, develop and extend existing rank and file organisation, such as the shop stewards’ organisation, and also, in other sections of workers, such as bakers or white collar workers, who do not have that tradition to try and build that kind of organisation. So that’s the two specific ways and then, thirdly, to try and break down the barriers between different sections of workers, make those same organisational links across industry. So miners, nurses or engineers with white collar workers or whatever.

I think it is very important to explain that the national rank and file movement, the attempt to draw together rank and file organisation from all different sections is in a very early stage of development.

Avanguardia Operaia

Is your conception of a bigger movement one that refers to the delegates, that is a sort of character in the union machine? Or do you think of a movement where the delegates have a particular importance but it is a workers’ movement of workers in a more general sense that to organise workers at shop floor level independently from the delegates, shop stewards or rest of the workers. Secondly, because of the great fragmentation of the unions do you have any strategy for the re-foundation of the unions on a more unified basis?

International Socialists
John Deason

For the rank and file movement, it is based on the delegate nature of organisation because it is an attempt to draw together sections of workers, organisations of workers, committed to certain minimal policies. But I think it important again to emphasise how young the national rank and file movement as an organisation is. For example we have to be very careful what initiatives we push for the national rank and file movement. So for example, we take the issue of Chile. We would like to be able to mobilise all the delegate bodies of the national rank and file movement to black, to boycott all work to Chile. We are not strong enough, the actual delegate bodies are not strong enough to do that so instead we push for adoption of Chilean refugees, fighting the employer to employ Chilean refugees so that it raises the question of Chile and therefore the possibility of being able to move to more fundamental solidarity work.

To return to the question of how individual workers, say in a factory which is not delegated to the rank and file movement would operate. When we talk about building a caucus, the sort of thing we mean is getting a few IS members plus other militant workers in that same factory who would together fight to try and get that factory delegated to the rank and file movement. To assist that process we often support rank and file papers for specific industries or specific unions. Sometimes just bulletins for a particular factory to try and aid that process, but always the emphasis is the winning of the whole factory or the winning of the whole union branch to the rank and file movement; the caucus can be part of trying to win that, but the aim is to win the whole trade union body.

So at the same time as we propose building a rank and file movement, we attempt to build a national opposition to the reformist leadership, often that same battle can be taking place in the individual factory against reformist leadership within the rank and file to try and win that section to the national rank and file movement.

To take up your second question about fragmentation. On the one hand this is very much the result of independent rank and file action, independent from the trade union bureaucracy, particularly where there are groups of workers who are economically strong and powerful.

But at the same time that it encourages independent rank and file action, at the same time it also exposes the fantastic weaknesses of existing rank and file organisation, unless we are successful in trying to break down that fragmentation and try to draw together those elements prepared to struggle. So with a few exceptions if we draw a balance sheet of the recent disputes, then by and large what we see that those disputes where there have been successful attempts to form links with other groups of workers in struggle have been successful and won, for example the electricians as I pointed out. Whereas other struggles like the dock strike, which although militants and particularly IS militants tried very hard to spread, because they failed in that attempt, that strike was defeated.

But when we pose the same possibility to get stronger sections, economically stronger sections to make connections with weaker sections in order to defend them, then of course the whole political question raised makes it much more difficult.

So for a group of IS members working in say, the docks which is an economically strong section the argument for the rank and file movement at its most elementary level is the argument for the strong to defend the weak. In other words to try and break down the fragmentation of the economic struggle and pose it as a class struggle.

That’s why it’s important not to see the building of the rank and file movement as purely as economistic, syndicalist expression of trade unionism. It fundamentally is the whole political argument, particularly in the British situation, for a class approach to the problems and not just a sectional approach.

Trade union unity

International Socialists
Chris Harman

I’ll deal very briefly with the question you raised about how we fight for the change in the base of the unions towards industrial units.

Now this is a question which arises very sharply in some industries, particularly in industries where craft differences are used in order to split and divide workers. In particular, in the coming period, in the print industry, a very, very sharp issue. Our position is that we are for the amalgamation of craft unions to form industrial unions in principle and therefore we support any moves towards unity within the print unions and moves towards unity between different sections of the metalworkers’ union.

But we also recognise that most of this talk of unity takes place at the level of manoeuvres by the trade union bureaucrats each one trying to increase his power at the expense of some other bureaucrat. And in particular, in relationship to the biggest unions in Britain, you could not conceive of the move from their present basis to the base of industrial unions short of the socialist revolution. And therefore instead of raising what we would regard as a fairly futile activity in demanding the change in the basis of the union we put the stress on the need for the class to unify itself from below.

The way we pose the ideal of a rank and file movement, the ideal is to unify the class as a different leadership to the leadership provided by the TUC.

International Socialists
Duncan Hallas

You see the whole question of amalgamation, of bringing unions together, has two sides.

From the point of view of the bureaucracy it is concerned at least as much with increasing the control of the bureaucracy over their members as with strengthening the union. Indeed I would say it is much more concerned in most cases with strengthening the hold of the bureaucracy over the membership. And so the important thing for us in the whole question of amalgamation, the central thing is the preservation of the existing rights, where they exist or the extension of rights. For example the metalworkers’ union, which is partly an amalgamation and partly not, there is a struggle for the election of officials, which in the white-collar section does not exist. Communist Party controlled, non-election of officials. In the engineering section, the big sections, election of officials does exist. Now we want an amalgamation where everyone elects officials. We are absolutely opposed to amalgamation, however progressive in abstract, where no officials are elected.

Avanguardia Operaia

The use of this fragmentation by the trade union bureaucracy puts an objective limit to the possibility of overcoming the fragmentation. The balance of forces means that the fragmentation is actually utilised mainly by the reformistic forces rather than by the revolutionaries. There is great political value, in educational terms, in a call of unity in the trade unions and for an exposure of the failure of the reformists to pursue it.

International Socialists
John Deason

I can give you one simple example which can show the thing. When we say that the reformist bureaucracy uses the fragmentation to divide, it’s not exactly right because in many ways the fragmentation is despite the reformist bureaucracy. Within the rank and file reformist ideology predominates, of course, but the reformist bureaucracy is against the form that fragmented militancy takes. The question for us of course is always how we can pose the extension of that fragmented militancy into class militancy. Can that best be achieved by calling for an overall notion of unity, which of course can work in some situations, or can it be done by specific demands. For example, do we call on the whole of the mineworkers union officially to come out on strike for the nurses or do we, realistically, say can we get the nurses in South Wales to go to two pits in South Wales and see if we can get those miners to come out for the nurses? We must concretely pose the unity, in other words, it’s a question of assessing where we can best pose unity.

To continue with the same example because I think it illustrates the dilemma for us. Militant workers within the miners’ union successfully did call on their union to support the nurses and the union said yes, officially, they would support the nurses. They then put it in terms of we must argue for the whole of the TUC to support the nurses, which of course in the terms of the principle is quite correct, but in terms of any action it means nothing. So we are forced to try and pose, how can the rank and file itself, besides doing that in terms of the official movement, we do that, get the rank and file themselves to make those kind of connections. At the rank and file movement was stronger, we would talking more than just a few hospitals and a few mines in South Wales. Because of the weakness of the rank and file movement at this stage, we are forced to pose it separately from the official movement as well.

International Socialists
Chris Harman

I think it would clarify things if I explained that in Britain we have had to argue against two other tendencies on the left, not just tendencies but ideas. First is what we call ‘resolutionary socialism’ which makes general propaganda and general resolutions through the official channels but which ignores the real strength of the class that lies in fragmented forms of organisation. The other is a small political tendency, a small maoist group led by a man called Birch who argue that the characteristic form of struggle in Britain is guerilla struggle and must remain fragmented guerilla struggle. Now it seems that you may have mistaken our position with the second position, and that position certainly is one of just accepting the existing fragments and not posing the question of class unity in any sense. For us, the central question is to also identify the fragmented struggle, but in order to see how, in concrete terms, you can get unity and transcend the fragments.

Intervention by the International Socialists

International Socialists
Jim Nichol

We have analysed the British crisis over a period of years and have arrived at the same conclusion, that there is a bankruptcy on the left, that the Communist Party will fail to give a lead to the class struggle, the Labour Party is incapable and other revolutionary groups are in themselves bankrupt. However while we ourselves have ideas and policies, while we have some influence inside the movement, the size of our own organisation, that is some 3,000 party members often makes it very, very difficult and sometimes makes it impossible for us to give the direction that a particular struggle needs. For example in the position that we described in Glasgow, we were not just a propaganda organisation that stuck up posters, that handed out the leaflets, that campaigned on the streets. We were for the first time the effective revolutionary left inside of the factories. Our main competitors were the Communist Party, the local trade union bureaucracy, and the problem that we faced was one the policies where we had some sort of organisation.

I should explain that in Glasgow we have about 150 members, we sell about 1,500 SW each week, we have 40 shop stewards, which for our organisation good, good in terms of our own organisation. But that in itself was insufficient to actually win that struggle in Glasgow. We lost on the major policy, and that was to try and convene throughout rest of Scotland shop stewards committees in order to try and carry that struggle forward.

In other words, when it came to the crunch, when we really had to put energy into our policies then we were incapable, partly because of our size, of actually achieving the necessary results at the end of the day. We don’t as an organisation, see any immediate prospect of a mass influx into the party as it stands at present, so we are compelled to look to other ways in which the party can be strengthened inside the factories. We know that there are many, many thousands of workers, who support the political policies of the organisation without formally belonging to the organisation. We know that many thousands of workers do not join our own organisation for many, many reasons. And for us, as an organisation, we have to look to the ways in which we can pull these workers closer to our own organisation and to build our own particular factory base. So as a first step to organising these workers, our conference decided that members that exist inside of the factories would now fight to organise those workers into Socialist Worker discussion groups, to persuade those workers to pay regular contributions to Socialist Worker, persuade those workers to act on our policies on particular issues, to persuade those workers to act on our policies outside the factory in so far as they can, basically looking to the many, many different ways it is possible to involve workers in the policies of our organisation. It is important for us because the number of members that we may have in a particular factory is few, even in motor car factory – Chryslers, say, either in Linwood near Glasgow or even in Coventry. The number of actual party members that we have is perhaps only about a dozen in each factory. The total workforce of that factory is, in Linwood, around 8,000 and 4,000 in Coventry so our members face fantastic isolation unless they can draw around them a significant number of other workers who share the same political ideas.

We hope that within the next year or eighteen months that we can bring several thousand working class supporters inside of the factories to support our organisation.

In respect of our organisation’s position on international work, we discussed that question, and in the past it’s been the case that our organisation has been lax or backward in relation to international work. In other words we have not pursued international work to the extent to which we ought to have pursued it as a revolutionary organisation. This has partially been a reaction against the Internationals, like the Fourth International and tendencies that have existed in our own organisation who would have preferred to go off at an international tangent instead of building specifically in the factories. We now feel that we are much stronger as an organisation and much more capable as an organisation to begin to try and argue our ideas in a much more consistent and coherent way in Europe and in the world in general. Many other issues which we regard as important which in the past have been peripheral, are now in the process of being moved into the central politics of our organisation, for example work with women, work with blacks. And it’s that district leadership that we place great stress upon.

The revolutionary party

International Socialists
Duncan Hallas

The central problem for the revolutionary left in Britain and indeed in Europe has been that for many, many years they have been effectively excluded from the working class and that for us the problem of building the party was in fact to draw into our ranks actual working class leaders at the plant level, at the base level.

But of course that was to take for granted other matters which, avoid misunderstanding, I must make quite clear. We have a revolutionary tradition, we have a theory, we have an experience. By and large our tradition, our theory, our experience, in the general historical sense, is that of the Communist International and the Communist movement before the Stalinist period.

Of course the clock did not stop in 1924 and when I say that is our tradition, I mean the spirit of that tradition, as you probably know, we have attempted to develop a number of analyses of the current world situation which we regard as essentially the updating of that tradition and which form an essential part of the outlook of our cadre. Second, of course, we have a cadre which is imbued in varying degrees, a political cadre of the organisation, imbued in varying degrees with these things.

All this, is an indispensable requirement. But ideas are important only in so far as they move people, only in so far as they are a guide to action, and therefore only in so far as they are held by people who have the possibility of action. Which brings me back to my starting point, the exclusion of the revolutionary left from the working class movement and its petty-bourgeois social composition and therefore, in spite of abstractly correct political ideas, its incorrigibly petty-bourgeois practice. All our efforts over the last few years, since we have had the possibility, have been directed therefore to transforming IS. Not just the power position of the organisation, its ability in some general sense to mobilise a certain number of people, but transforming it qualitatively, to transform its composition, to transform the nature of the units which compose it. We see a revolutionary party being composed essentially of units based in work places linked together by a district or area leadership, which itself is composed to a considerable degree of workers who occupy positions of influence in their workplaces. Because unless this is the reality, not only is the organisation lacking in power, but also it is impossible to develop correct policies in detail.

In the same way the central leadership of the whole organisation, which in our view is necessarily professional consists of professional revolutionaries, not people working at another trade; this central leadership must be very closely linked with district leaderships which are themselves saturated with the day to day struggle. So, to summarise, we have these three elements: we have the theory, the tradition, the experience, we have a cadre which not only carries this tradition but which also consists in large part of people who are directly engaged in struggles of one sort or another and we have a broader membership based essentially on workplace units which includes the cadre together with other workers, any other workers who agree with our general political line, without necessarily having the same degree of commitment in terms of activity and so on but active in workplace units.

I say we have this. I am not telling the truth. I mean that we have bits of this. We have made some way towards this, but we are very very far from having achieved it. To move further towards that model brings us to the question of recruitment. It has been necessary for us, is still necessary for us, to fight all the time to shift the social composition of the organisation to reflect the social composition of the working class both blue collar and white collar. Therefore we seek to recruit workers on a very open basis, no probationary membership, no period that you have to wait for discussion before becoming a member. We try to draw those workers who are close to us actually into the organisation directly. Some we digest and some we lose. And the essential instrument for achieving this is our paper, which is not a paper addressed to the highly politicised elements on the revolutionary left but is addressed to what we believe represents a layer of working class consciousness. What I am trying to say is that the paper is a paper which is concerned with those issues which are of concern to ordinary workers, but which takes those issues and utilises them, attempts to develop revolutionary ideas through those issues, rather than a propagandistic paper which argues for socialism, for revolution etc. primarily. Good. Now the question is what do the units, workplace units actually do, how do we hold members, how do we integrate them. We say that the first job of the comrades in a particular workplace is to fight for influence inside that workplace, not simply in terms of our general ideas, but to fight for the leadership of the actual political, economic struggle in the workplace.

Secondly to participate through the structures that we have for operations in particular industries and unions, either nationally or over a broader area. We call them fractions. For example we have a fraction of metalworkers. This cuts across the base units. You may or may not be a member of that fraction if you are a member of a particular branch. You bring together people who are also in different parts of the country. Not all people who work in the metal industry are members of the main metalworkers’ union. We have some members in that, we have some members in other unions, boilermakers, sheet metal workers and so on. Now we have a union fraction in the AUEW, that’s the main metalworkers union, a fraction which links people in different branches, different units, different enterprises in the attempt to form a presence nationally to achieve certain tasks.

For example at the moment we are running a campaign where one of our candidates is running for union office. Both the workplace units, branches or cells and the fractions are the instruments through which we seek to develop the rank and file movement which of course, in principle, is much, much broader and in practice is somewhat broader. Of course we also necessarily have geographical branches, geographical units of varying types. We regard most of them as essentially transitional in purpose. That is to say we have them because we cannot yet place their members in a suitable workplace unit, because there’s one comrade to two comrades in the workplace, but the aim is all the time to transform the weight of the organisation and geographical units into workplace units. For us the necessary, long-term lasting geographical unit, is the district which consists of a committee elected by the members and periodic aggregate meetings of the members wherever they work, whatever cell they’re in for political purposes. So there is a three layer structure, the working unit and cells, the districts and the centre, the central leadership which produces the paper, other publications and so on.

Finally, we did not come to this simply because of some theoretical model, but because of the practical experience of struggle to reduce the petit bourgeois influence in the organisation and increase the proletarian influence in the organisation. We proceeded over a period of time to move in this direction and, as I said before, it would be far from true to say that we have completed the transition. We regard this as the essential structure of a revolutionary organisation in Britain at this time and our organisational changes, our organisational ideas, are indissolubly linked with the whole conception that the party to be a real party, must consist of workers who lead in the workplace.

Avanguardia Operaia

We think it would be useful now to develop some of the points already touched on:

The first is related to the discussion on unity and the struggle between the revolutionary forces to build the party. On this point, it is important to make clear that our concern for unity is closely linked to our judgement on the present political phase. Our political analysis makes us worried about whether the revolutionary forces are able to create, and are up to the conditions of their political tasks, which are not determined so much by the dynamic of the internal growth of the organisations as by the political situation itself. So, from this point of view, the discussion on the growing political instability on the growth of workers’ autonomy and workers’ struggle raises the problem of how this instability will be expressed politically, since it cannot last forever. So in the Italian situation we mustn’t lose this opportunity which offers great possibilities it is a situation in which many of the objective conditions for the building of the party exist, if we know how to transform the revolutionary forces themselves, both in quality and in numbers.

However, the struggle for unity is not separate from a precise discussion on what kind of party we want to build and therefore what sort of unity we want to have.

We consider ourselves Leninists. We have a concept of the party which we are seeking to enrich, but at the same time we believe that in this process of unity and transformation, a transformation of all the revolutionary components, safeguarding the fundamental conceptions of the Leninist party, is also possible.

The second question concerns our effort to place the working class movement at the centre of our political activity. For us this is a central question and we seek to make A.O. a working class organisation. This proletarianisation, in terms of the social composition of the organisation, and the prevailing political influence of the working class component on all levels is the constant preoccupation of our organisation. What we mean by proletarianisation is the relationship between the social composition and the consequent change in line, but also the confirmation of the working class character of our politics.

Lastly, the problem of proletarianisation should be seen as a creative process; it also means forming effective working class leadership at all levels. It is not only a question of putting worker comrades in positions of responsibility but of how the organisation is able to make these worker recruits independent, transforming them into real cadres. In other words, the fact of being a worker is not in itself a sufficient guarantee, even if, in the best of cases, you have a leading cadre of working class background with a lot of experience of the working class movement.

Finally, we’d like to emphasise that as well as making workers’ struggles central to our activity, our organisation has been involved in all areas of social oppression to gaining experience and therefore working out a broad political strategy in the whole area of social struggles. We have had a number of significant results in carrying out our political line.

We have a probationary period prior to admission into the organisation but at the same time we don’t think this should be an obstacle, like making worker militants who want to join pass an exam, like at school. We maintain that the most important channel of working class recruitment is the correctness of our rank and file work in the factory struggles and thus in the judgement of our politics which worker comrades make on the basis of their own experience in concrete situations. At the same time, it is important to understand that political organisation itself is an important factor in the proletarianisation of all its members, even those who do not have a working class origin. From this point of view, AO, like the other revolutionary organisations in Italy, was composed mainly of students, but later transformed its social composition through the wide recruitment of workers through the call for the ‘revolutionary struggle for reforms’ above all the struggle for housing through squatters movements. In all the main cities in Italy there are squatters’ movements and scores and scores of houses occupied by thousands of working class people; the movement, which began as a lumpen proletarian movement, has gone through a very important transformation in that it has become more and more a part of the working class struggle in defence of living conditions both inside and outside the factories.

Finally, a brief word about the other two areas in which our organisation has increasingly been active in the attempt to intervene over a much broader front: They are the women’s movements, understood not only as a struggle over specific questions like abortion, but as the overall problem of the organisation of a women’s liberation movement and how revolutionaries work in the existing one. This kind of movement and struggle has a great political and ideological importance, as has on another level the anti-militarist fight based on the organised struggle of soldiers in the barracks. To give only one example of the scale reached by the soldiers’ movement on the 25th April, the anniversary of the Liberation, hundreds of soldiers went on open antifascist demonstrations. In the light of recent international events also, from Chile to Portugal, this area of struggle is of vital strategic importance and we mean to develop our ideas as well as our practical initiative in this field, as a fundamental part of the working out (even on the basis of our experience and work already done) of a strategy for revolution in Italy. The army has played an important role for example in denouncing from within the barracks the coup manoeuvres of the top military hierarchy, and therefore in spreading these denunciations on a rank and file level. More generally, the development of rank and file work in these new sectors helps us to enrich our strategy and define it more clearly and to advance towards the building of a revolutionary working class party.

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Last updated on 15.10.2013