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Nigel Harris

Prospects for the Seventies

The Third World

(February 1970)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.42, February/March 1970, pp.20-30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

1. Where We Stand

IS’s position on the backward countries in the past has been in essentials a reiteration of the points advanced by Trotsky in The Permanent Revolution. The heart of this position is the declaration that only through the agency of the industrial working class in the backward countries can imperialism be decisively defeated in the backward countries and can socialism become a possibility. But if, in the unstable conditions of a backward country, a minority proletariat can defeat imperialism by establishing workers’ power, the dictatorship of the proletariat, that dictatorship can only survive and provide the basis for socialism if it is able to spread the revolution to the imperialist countries themselves. If the revolution does not spread, then the dictatorship of the proletariat is likely to be defeated or wracked with the internal contradictions of a backward society in an imperialist-dominated world. On the other hand, if any other class leads the onslaught on imperialism, then the perspective of the revolutionary movement will be nationalist rather than internationalist. Thus, the contradictions of isolated backwardness will be enshrined from the very beginning in the movement; the movement will not be able to break fully with imperialism; and ultimately the post-revolutionary regime will turn upon the working class itself.

2. Introduction

(a) Events since 1917 have continued to demonstrate the long-term attrition of the world bourgeoisie. On the one hand, in the advanced capitalist countries, the position of the mass of private owners of the means of production has been successively limited by two interdependent processes:

  1. the concentration of production has continued to separate the mass of small powerless owners from the largest owners and managers of companies;
  2. the alliance between the largest companies and the State, embodied most clearly since the last world war in the permanent arms economy, has further concentrated power within a minority of the owning class.

Without a solid core of State capitalism, private capitalism in the advanced capitalist countries cannot survive. Finally, the accumulation of capital in a whole new area of the world economy, the Eastern Bloc, has not been undertaken by private capitalists but by the State. On the other hand, in the backward countries, the native bourgeoisie is too small – because its role is circumscribed by imperialism – and too integrated into imperialism itself, to constitute an independent national class. To survive, it also needs a more or less extensive public sector to protect it and make profitable enterprise possible. Thus, on a world scale, the bourgeoisie has proved progressively less capable of reproducing itself. The dominance of private ownership has been steadily weakened, without this weakening in any way the dominance of capitalism as a system or the dominance of the world ruling classes.

(b) The integration of the parts of the world economy has also continued at an increasing pace since the First World War. But this integration does not signify increasing interdependence. Contrary to Lenin’s account of imperialism, the evolution of the world capitalist system has not led to the advanced countries being the purely consuming segment and the backward countries the producing segment, of the world economy. On the contrary, the advanced countries have concentrated an increasing proportion of both production and consumption, thereby making themselves less, not more, dependent upon the backward countries. This asymmetrical integration means that any socialist strategy that relies solely upon a revolt in the backward countries producing a major economic crisis in the advanced countries is doomed to failure. This is not, however, to say that the political implications of a revolt in one or more backward countries could not be important in the advanced countries. Around the European block of advanced countries, there are numerous ‘weak links’ which, if broken, could perhaps precipitate a political challenge within the advanced countries. Ireland is one of the more obvious examples, but there is also Spain, Greece, Turkey, Algeria and the European countries under Soviet domination. These are among the same selection of countries seen by the Bolsheviks as important for the development of the European struggle. Lenin himself carefully distinguished between the different implications of struggles in near and distant backward countries:

’The struggle of the oppressed nations in Europe, a struggle capable of going to the lengths of insurrection and street fighting will “sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe” infinitely more than a much more developed rebellion in a remote colony. A blow delivered against the English imperialist bourgeoisie by a rebellion in Ireland is a hundred times more significant politically than a blow of equal weight delivered in Asia or Africa.’ [1]

On the other hand, it would be quite wrong to underestimate the indirect effects of a struggle in a more remote backward country. Thus, the strain of the Vietnam War on the US government has precipitated important conflicts within the United States. The tension between expenditure on defence and on urban renewal and welfare payments brings the Vietnamese struggle into the middle of the internal American political debate.

(c) The regimes in the backward countries face three interrelated problems:

  1. the national question – that is, securing or preserving the national independence of the country concerned;
  2. the agrarian question – that is, transforming agriculture so that simultaneously the rural population secures rights in the land and an adequate livelihood from agriculture, at the same time as there is an agricultural surplus capable of supporting the cities and the drive to industrialisation;
  3. the development question – that is, raising the rate of the accumulation of capital to the point where a long-term transformation of the economy takes place.

This transformation is embodied in a rapid expansion of national output at the same time as the share generated in agriculture is declining, and the proportion of the population employed in agriculture is declining.

The impossibility of solving permanently any of these three problems arises directly from the failure of the world proletariat to present a revolutionary challenge to the system as a whole. Of major importance in this respect is the failure of the proletariat in the advanced countries to challenge their respective ruling classes, and thereby make possible – at a minimum – the destruction of the straightjacket of Stalinism on the one hand, and Social Democratic reformism on the other. A revolutionary proletarian response to the rise of Nazism in Germany, to the Civil War in Spain, to the Second World War, to the carve-up of Europe after the war, to the Hungarian revolution, and so on, would have laid down a series of political alternatives with major implications throughout the world. Without the example of a proletarian alternative from the most advanced and experienced sections of the proletariat, the field was left open in the backward countries to other political alternatives.

3. The Class Struggle in the Backward Countries

(a) Stalinism and Social Democratic reformism were the two faces the proletariat of the capitalist countries presented to the rest of the world. They were also the active forces on the Left organising within the proletariats of the backward countries. In practice, Social Democracy was much less important than Stalinism, and less clearly distinguished from it, than in the advanced capitalist countries. Thus, at no stage in the struggle for independence, did the major political alternatives available encourage an authentic, independent proletarian response, an explicit demand for the dictatorship of the proletariat, workers’ power. Moreover, changes within the capitalist countries and between the imperialist powers and their colonial dependencies made it possible in a large number of cases for political independence to be granted without a major social struggle. The damping down of a domestic social struggle inhibited the formation of politically distinct classes and permitted a heterogenous class coalition to wage the battle for independence.

(b) But these two ‘external’ circumstances – the internationally available political alternatives on the Left, and the reaction of imperialism to the struggle for independence – were also matched by certain objective features in the new working classes of the backward countries. These objective features would not have inhibited a proletarian movement had it appeared, but, in the circumstances, they fitted closely the political priorities of Stalinism. Very briefly, these features were:

(i) telescoped economic development created new working classes in the backward countries which are much more sharply differentiated within the class. The working class simultaneously includes both the most advanced strata of technically highly skilled workers in – by world, not local, standards – the most sophisticated industries; plus an important block of unskilled or semi-skilled workers in industries important in earlier phases of development (for example, cotton textiles) both large-scale and small; plus an enormous mass of workers, many of them illiterate, in small-scale shops, household and traditional craft industries; plus an even larger number, partially employed in petty trading and miscellaneous services.

The old working class of Western Europe in the early phases of capital accumulation was, by contrast, concentrated in the second of the four groups listed above – a small group of highly differentiated skilled workers, along with a mass of unskilled labour, both employed in what are today backward industries, with a much smaller section in the last group (petty trading and miscellaneous services). Again, the speed of the development of working classes has tended to prevent the slow development of forms of working-class organisation. The pattern in Europe where skilled workers were able to organise craft unions, which then provided the stable leadership for mass unions, has not been possible in most backward countries. In many cases, the leap to mass industrial unions has been made, without the sinews of organisation within the factories being capable of sustaining such units.

Furthermore, the proportions between production workers and other workers within the working class in backward countries has changed significantly. New investment has the modern technical characteristic that enormous additions are made to output with relatively little new employment (in comparison to 19th century European industrial investment). This relative decline in productive workers within the working class in part changes the nature of the class. Thus the pivotal role played by a concentrated mass of productive workers in the history of West European capitalism cannot be repeated in exactly the same way. On the other hand, the modern economy – even in backward countries – is a much more interdependent process, so that the effects of a relative decline in productive workers is offset by the interdependence of all segments of the modern economy. On the other hand, social differentiation seems also to be more pronounced in the working classes of some of the backward countries. In British working-class history, the conflicts between workers from different parts of England, between English, Irish and Jewish workers, were factors which inhibited class solidarity, but these seem of less significance than the open communalism among, for example, Indian workers, or tribalism, among African workers. Imperialism itself deliberately played upon these divisions in order to maintain its control, and the newly independent ruling classes have not been averse to pursuing the same tactic. However, this factor cannot be assessed independently of the available political alternatives which stress class solidarity. In the absence of such a political alternative, the social fragmentation of the working class continues to reflect the fragmentation of the peasantry between different districts (since many of the new workers are rural migrants). This fragmentation, left to itself, can be very restrictive for a very long period of time, and is ultimately only superseded by the unified attack of the ruling class.

(ii) Imperialism and full or partial State capitalism has created a much larger urban petit-bourgeoisie. For Marx, the petit-bourgeoisie was pre-eminently the mass of peasant small-holders, the shopkeepers and independent artisans or small businessmen in small towns – that is, all small property-owners. By the nature of its mode of production, such a stratum was incapable of collective political leadership and, as a result, oscillated between the two major classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. By contrast, in the backward countries today (and, for that matter, in the advanced capitalist countries) the urban ‘petit-bourgeoisie’ is propertyless, pre-eminently engaged in large-scale bureaucratic employment, especially in the agencies of the State. Its material conditions of life are very poor, particularly in comparison with its aspirations to a fully middle-class way of life. On the other hand, its employment subjects it – as was not the case with the Victorian petit-bourgeoisie – to large-scale collective organisation, although not to direct organisation in the production process (that is, the sources of the generation of material wealth remain outside its activities). Yet, being propertyless, this stratum has no vested interest in the private ownership of the means of production, nor is the bourgeoisie proper large enough to be a major point of attraction for this stratum. Because it is heavily concentrated in the cities, it dominates urban politics, particularly on the Left. And for obvious reasons, this stratum is primarily interested in an extension of the power of the State.

(c) Thus, as a result of this changed class structure – of the weakness of the bourgeoisie proper, of the failure of the proletariat to raise an independent political alternative – the central debate in many backward countries is not that between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, but between the urban petit-bourgeoisie – pressing for an extension of the State and of public employment – and the rural petit-bourgeoisie – pressing for the devotion of more national resources to agriculture. This is the heart of a struggle which appears in its external form as a political debate between State ownership – identified by the urban petit-bourgeoisie as ‘socialism’ – and rural capitalism.

The bourgeoisie proper is too weak to survive on its own, and the index of its weakness is shown in its dependence upon the State, the public sector and national planning. Thus, the bourgeoisie may for limited purposes ally “with the urban petit-bourgeoisie against the rural challenge of landowners, landlords and kulaks, but it is more likely in the long term to ally with the rural petit-bourgeoisie in defence of private property. In any case, the role of the bourgeoisie is, at every stage, qualified by its intimate involvement with foreign capital, by its role as a fifth column of imperialism within the politically independent State.

(d) The perspectives of Stalinism appeal directly to the urban petit-bourgeoisie. The mass of Communist Party members is most often drawn from this section of the population. The upper stratum of the working class is often better off than the mass of the bureaucratically employed petit-bourgeoisie, and it has not in the past identified its interests separately. Indeed, the organisation of the working class itself has most often appeared, not as the action of the skilled workers, part of the self-activity of the class itself, but as a by-product of the struggle of the urban petit-bourgeoisie for dominance. Urban petit-bourgeois political parties created trade unions as ancillary supports for their politics, rather than workers creating unions to defend their interests. In the independence struggle, as in Bismarck’s Germany, the workers traded their political loyalty for the promise of welfare legislation and improved wages once independence had been won. After independence, where full State capitalism was not achieved, the urban petit-bourgeois political parties continued to use sections of the working class as supporting forces in their struggle for power, but at each stage ensuring that these forces did not assume any kind of independent role (thus, for example, the bribe for worker loyalty in the independence struggle was in part a body of labour laws; since independence, labour courts have become a major institution in mediating the class struggle; the law is introduced by the State, itself the bastion of the urban petit-bourgeoisie; its existence demands that trade unions be operated by lawyers, that is, members of the urban petit-bourgeoisie, and that only trade unions ‘recognised’ by the State be permitted to fight in the courts). Again, however, the lack of an independent proletarian challenge makes possible the role of the urban petit-bourgeoisie. If the challenge existed, then it would not be possible for the urban petit-bourgeoisie to play the role it has done.

(e) Thus, the objective characteristics of the industrial working class and its relationship to other classes, have provided an important basis for the success of Stalinism or perspectives close to Stalinism. This in its turn has inhibited the appearance of an independent proletarian politics. And this in turn has left the national stage vacant to purely nationalistic forces, and in particular, to the struggle for State capitalism by the urban petit-bourgeoisie.

4. The Role of the Petit-Bourgeoisie

(a) However, whether or not a genuine national bourgeois revolution is possible or the proletariat fails to begin the permanent revolution, the central questions facing any particular backward country remain. The vacuum has been filled by different types of petit-bourgeois leaderships, borrowing at different times on the grievances of different sections of the population in order to build and lead a coalition of classes. The existence of the vacuum has lent a degree of autonomy to sections of the urban petit-bourgeoisie that was not envisaged by Trotsky (indeed, this possibility was explicitly ruled out by Trotsky in The Permanent Revolution).

But if there are great similarities between the sections of the urban petit-bourgeoisie in different countries, there are also striking differences in the degree of autonomy with which such sections have been able to act. For example, both Mao Tse-tung in China and M.K. Gandhi in India built movements of class coalition. Mao warded off the demands of poor peasants in order to keep the rich peasants and small landlords in his coalition, stressing always that domestic issues of class conflict must be subordinated to the central task of evicting foreign imperialism. Likewise – although in very different language – Gandhi consistently opposed class demands within Congress, stressing the need for ‘harmony’ in the common struggle against the British. In China, social disorder and military organisation in a remote geographical area underpinned the supremacy of Mao within the Communist Party, and the relative independence of the Party from class interests; as a result, Mao was scarcely ever openly challenged by a class-oriented opposition. In India, the struggle was waged in the centres of power, and Congress was a coalition of interests wider than those used by the Chinese Communist Party. Gandhi’s attempt to secure the adherence of large landowners to his cause, and keep loyal the largest capitalists, brought him under continuous attack from the urban petit-bourgeois elements within Congress. Both Mao and Gandhi claimed that it was really the peasantry which was the basis for the movement, but in practice both relied heavily on sections of urban classes – the small town petit-bourgeoisie – and the rich peasantry. What most sharply differentiates the two movements is Mao’s use of military force. The army gave the CCP its independence of class interests; the lack of military force made Gandhi as much victim as master of the class coalition he led. But the possibility of using independent military force was a function, not so much of CCP politics or subjective wishes, as the concrete circumstances of the struggle in China.

Thus, the clearest difference between the two movements is in the degree of autonomy available to the leadership. Where the autonomy was greatest, as in China, the circumstances of the national independence struggle were particularly unique. In the spectrum of independence struggles, the Indian example is much closer to the norm than the Chinese. Again, in China the final victory of the revolution led to a much more decisive break with the old order. In India, Congress tends constantly to resubmerge in the remnants of the pre-Independence society, to fight out in its midst the unresolved social struggle.

(b) In the case of China, nearly 100 years of social disorder, including the disintegration of the country, a major foreign invasion and waves of a long drawn-out civil war, preceded the Communist Party’s victory. This background of long-term social collapse is essential in understanding how the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party was able

  1. to achieve a role independent of the entrenched classes of pre-revolutionary China; and
  2. to secure a much more decisive break with the old order, and to undertake a much more radical attempt to solve both the national and agrarian questions.

But the social basis of the Chinese regime and the failure of the international revolution to relieve beleaguered China of its national isolation, also demonstrates that the Chinese leadership cannot finally answer the development question, and as a result, cannot therefore achieve long-term stability. In the period since 1948, the great efforts to accelerate the accumulation of capital in China have done little more than keep pace with the rate of growth of the. population. The poverty of the population severely restricts the possibility of extracting a substantial surplus consistently over a long period of time. Without that surplus, only foreign assistance, itself only forthcoming in the event of a proletarian revolution in the capital abundant countries of the advanced world, could relieve the inner contradictions of the regime. But without development, the regime tends to stagnate or disintegrate into warring factions, which even further inhibits the national accumulation rate. And if the development question cannot be answered, then the other two questions will reassert themselves in new forms – concretely, for example, by peasant seizures of the land once more in order to secure a stable livelihood and throw off the yoke of the State’s demand for the agrarian surplus; or by foreign encroachments on China’s territory, encroachments which China can do little to prevent in conditions of backwardness.

(c) The Communist Parties have been, in the past, able to act as the most radical and disciplined wing of the urban petit-bourgeoisie. Ironically, they borrow from the historical experience of the proletariat under capitalism in order to organise the urban petit-bourgeoisie, and champion a coalition of interests. In the presence of an independent political proletariat, such organisation would be no more than a shadow, but in its absence, it has in a few countries – in conditions of long-term social crisis – been able to play a major role. But it is only in a few countries. In India, the non-Communist urban petit-bourgeoisie proved fully capable of leading the independence movement and resisting Communist takeover. The CP in India never came even remotely near to assuming a monopoly of the nationalist cause. In Indonesia, the nationalists were similarly easily able to control the movement, despite having to wage a bitter and sustained war against Holland, and they prevented PKI domination up to long after the achievement of independence. The same is. true in Burma where the urban petit-bourgeoisie was much weaker, and in the Philippines and Malaya. Indeed, Vietnam where the Communist Party was able to secure an almost unchallenged hegemony of the nationalist movement, seems the exception rather than the rule.

Nor was it the Communist willingness to use armed force which secured their leadership. Between 1948 and 1950, the Communist parties of Burma, Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines, all launched armed struggles and campaigns of guerilla warfare, sparked off by the victory of the Communist Party in China and the advent of the Cold War. In all cases, the struggles were disastrous, isolating the cadres from the centres of power and population, and destroying their political credibility. In Indonesia, it took 10 years for the PKI to live down this abortive episode. In Burma, the Communists became irrelevant rural fragments. In Malaya, the nationalist forces were pushed into the arms of the British in self-defence. In no case, did the armed struggle bring to the Communist Parties the hegemony of the nationalist movement. The failure of the advocates of universal guerilla warfare to analyse this disaster indicates the lack of seriousness in their perspective.

(d) However, in those exceptional conditions where the Communists have been able to lead a majority of the petit-bourgeoisie, victory has made possible a more radical attempt to overcome the three central questions facing backward countries. But this attempt is necessarily conditioned by world circumstances, by the demands which those circumstances make upon the new regime. The demands, with domestic material conditions, circumscribe at every stage how far the three central questions can be met. In failing to meet the three questions, the stability of the State capitalist regime is immediately placed in jeopardy. To form a stable ruling class – that is, a class the members of which recognise a common interest against the subordinate classes as more important than the interests which divide sections of the ruling class – requires both a long period of stability and a relatively high rate of growth of the national economy. Russia provide; a good model in this respect. Without a high rate of economic growth, the rulers of Russia would have tended to disintegrate into warring factions, each competing to displace the other. High growth, expansion sustained in the armaments industry, gave Stalin the power to mobilise the majority against minority opposition within the Party, to create out of a socially heterogenous group, an homogenous ruling class. In this sense, China today does not possess a stable State capitalist ruling class. It has the embryo of such a class. Whether the Chinese leadership can create a class, at the same time as sustaining the rate of economic growth and warding-off foreign threats, turns upon the behaviour of the rest of the world, upon the imperialist powers.

(e) In all the post-colonial backward countries, the stability of the new regime, of the urban petit-bourgeoisie, is circumscribed by the existence of other entrenched classes – a land-owning class and rich peasantry, an urban bourgeoisie and proletariat. In the new regimes led by Communist Parties such is the autonomy of the new order, they have been able to liquidate over a period of time the exploiting classes, simultaneously expanding their own material base, the public sector. Thus in China, first the landowners were eliminated, then the rich peasantry, and finally, the national bourgeoisie (although in this case, interest and dividend payments to the rentiers were not eliminated until the Cultural Revolution, nearly 20 years after the revolution). This leaves, of the former entrenched classes, only the urban proletariat. In China, the regime has tried to keep the proletariat in alliance with the regime, but the demands of capital accumulation constantly push the regime towards diluting the working class – the ‘worker-peasant system’ – to cut labour costs. External threats impel the regime to expand its defence efforts which in turn force it to raise the rate of accumulation, which in turn increases the pressure on the subordinate classes and the likelihood that the ‘alliance’ will break down. If it does, the urban working class could once more raise an independent challenge to the regime.

(f) On the other hand, in those countries where the urban petit-bourgeoisie was unable to secure as much autonomy as in China, the role of entrenched classes is much more powerful. For the sake of simplicity, two separate cases can be identified,

  1. Countries where the urban petit-bourgeoisie was able to terminate the independence struggle, and thereby inherited a major position of power in the post-independence regime. In India, Congress tried to expand its autonomy by liquidating the traditional rulers, undertaking a land reform programme, and pursuing an industrialisation strategy for massive expansion of the public sector. In this way, it was hoped to secure the same result as that in China. However, while the traditional rulers were deprived of political power (based upon the old Princely States) and universal suffrage in the short-term undercut traditional power, nevertheless the old rulers and the richer peasantry infiltrated Congress to ths point where it was possible for them to nullify the land reform and, indeed, expand their power by milking the State of development funds. On the other hand, within the organs of the State, the national bourgeoisie was able to protect and enhance its position, limiting the State to those industrial activities directly of need to private capital. In Egypt, the military origin of the new regime lent it greater autonomy than that secured in India, and it was able to make much greater encroachments upon national capital, but not to eliminate private land ownership. In both Egypt and India, a ‘mixed’ system prevails, that is, an unstable struggle between the urban petit-bourgeoisie and entrenched classes, between a public sector and a majority private one. Again, the movements of world economy in terms of changes in trade, capital, direct political manipulation, heavily determine how far this struggle can be won by one side or the other, and how far the accumulation process is raised or lowered.
  2. Countries which did not go through an independence struggle at all, and therefore, ones in which the urban petit-bourgeoisie was never able to the same degree to achieve some political autonomy. In some cases, the State in these countries plays the role of a classically Bonopartist regime – as, for example, in Brazil – balancing between entrenched classes which ultimately control the main basis of power. Again, however, external events – like the role of foreign capital – can push even this kind of State into creating a public sector, which, in its turn, can sustain a separate interest striving to dominate the society.

(g) However, the fragmentation endemic in the petit-bourgeoisie does not cease to exist in modern conditions. Particularly is this so given that the urban petit-bourgeoisie only really creates its material basis after the revolution, and can only do so in conditions of rapid industrialisation. The main target of the urban petit-bourgeoisie is the State, and therefore national power is necessarily its sole aim. Conception of international solidarity obviously threaten this national power (unless ‘international solidarity’ is seen as subordination of foreign countries). Thus, the domestic fragmentation of the leadership is matched by the impossibility of an international alliance of petit-bourgeois regimes. Not only, therefore, is domestic instability one result, external disunity in the face of imperialism is equally disastrous. Given that many backward countries are primarily commodity producers for imperialist powers, the class nature of the regimes involved makes collaboration between them in order to control their markets impossible. Thus, for example, faced with a monopoly buyer of oil, the disunity of the oil-producing countries is the trump card in imperialist control. Individual backward countries are in this way vulnerable to complete manipulation by the advanced capitalist powers. The only available response is an attempt at national economic autarchy, attempting to cut links with the world market. But this in its turn only makes even more difficult the process of capital accumulation, only ‘drags backwards’ the productive forces, as Trotsky says in The Permanent Revolution. The costs ‘of this regression are enormous. One calculation estimates that in 1965 the backward countries spent $US2,100 million in domestic resources to manufacture automobile products which had a world market value of only $800 million. The backward countries paid this price in order to avoid importing these products from abroad. But the ‘loss’ of $1,300 million is just about equal to the amount in aid advanced by the World Bank in the 23 years of its existence. On the other hand, where the State capitalist regimes also intervene internationally, they do so, not to create an international class alliance which will wage a common class struggle within a number of countries against those countries’ ruling classes, but merely to imitate the tactics of the imperialist powers, to establish ‘friendly’ countries by. offering aid and diplomatic assistance to the ruling classes. Thus, China’s assistance to Zambia, or to Ayub Khan’s Pakistan, at no stage hazards even mild criticism of the existing regime, and thus aids the existing ruling classes against their own masses. In the case of Pakistan, China merely ‘ignored’ the popular revolt of this year, remained loyal to Ayub right up to the end (much as the Soviet Union remained loyal to the Kuomintang right up to the Chinese Communist Party victory in China) and then merely transferred its support to the new military ruler, Yayha Khan.

(h) The instability endemic in the urban petit-bourgeoisie forces the leadership of each regime to employ extraordinary measures to enforce loyalty. Imitating the State capitalist regimes, one-party States are used to enforce a common discipline on the disparate elements of the ruling class. Any criticism at all threatens to open Pandora’s Box, to release the stifled class struggle. To eliminate all forms of opposition by using the mechanisms of Party control, backed by liberal use of police truncheon, political murder and gaoling, describing the whole as ‘real’ socialism, corresponding to the ‘classless’ nature of the people, is one way to enforce stability. Another is to make the army the regime, so that to Party discipline is added military control. The central contradictions of backwardness which impel army rule have been seen most recently in Indonesia, the Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina. On the other hand, the impossibility of the ruling class surviving without the bayonet, is starkly matched by the impossibility of the bayonet solving the central contradictions. In Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Burma, militarism is like a dangerous drug: the more it is taken, the more it is needed. Even the high rates of economic growth in Turkey and South Korea do not remove the instability. In Turkey, the army glowers in the wings, waiting only to return to power. In South Korea, the translation of the military leadership into civilian disguise only conceals the real balance of power. The prize for the year 1969 goes to Dahomey, clocking up its sixth coup since independence in 1960.

Again, the domestic instability provides an essential basis for imperialist manipulation – whether it be the French in Chad, or the Russians and Americans in the Middle East and south Asia, and so on. Thus, urban petit-bourgeois leadership simultaneously exacerbates the conditions of backwardness and strengthens the domination of imperialism on a world scale.

(i) Any ruling class or clique reduced to dependence upon its armed forces – as in China – or reduced to making the armed forces the core of the ruling class – as in Egypt – is in a state of grave weakness, of endemic instability. Since the question of political power cannot be settled decisively, and there is little possibility of relief from abroad, it is impossible for the regime to answer the development question. And this means that there can also be no permanent answer to the national and agrarian questions. Thus, the perspective becomes one of insoluble stagnation. It is the paucity of political alternatives which permits the long-term crisis to continue, the paucity arising from the failure of the proletariat to intervene.

5. The Development Question

(a) Hitherto the most important engine of growth, forcing the most rapid rate of capital accumulation, has been the world market. With the partial exceptions of American and Soviet development, virtually all other countries which have developed have done so by means of their relationship to the world economy, primarily by exporting goods but also by importing capital or, at least, capitalists. Today, there is no evidence at all that the exceptional conditions within which Russia and the United States developed (the land available, size of population, nature of external markets and technology) are shared by any of the currently backward countries. However, while integration into the world market appears to be a necessary condition of long-term growth, it is not a sufficient one. On the contrary, whereas in the 19th century, foreign capital went to backward countries to exploit raw material sources, thus expanding the export flow of the country concerned and making possible a major import flow of development equipment, now much of the direct foreign capital entering backward countries is interested in exploiting only the internal market and expanding its imports from its parent company in a metropolitan country. In the absence of large-scale exports from other sources within the backward country concerned, the balance of payments is a consistent restriction on the expansion of the economy, both in terms of importing new capital equipment, and also in importing raw materials and spare parts for existing plant (given a sluggish agriculture, the import of foodgrains may also exacerbate the working of the economy). On the other hand, to cut off all links with the world market (or at least, what links can be cut) is to force the economy back to an even more primitive stage, to base the accumulation process on what can be squeezed out of the local population. The problems involved in economic autarchy seem greater than the benefits which accrue from ending foreign exploitation, although quite clearly this foreign exploitation can be curtailed in certain respects. In the absence of an international revolutionary alternative which will break the stranglehold of world imperialism the contradictions of backwardness – for example, that increased exploitation by the world market is the precondition for an increased rate of domestic accumulation – are insoluble. It seems clear on the evidence since 1948 that none of the backward State capitalist countries has been able to sustain a rate of accumulation fast enough to constitute rapid development (there are few statistics on North Korea, but impressions suggest it has sustained the most significant growth). On the other hand, the most rapidly growing backward countries in the past decade are almost all in some way or other favoured client States (South Korea, Taiwan) satellites of a geographically close advanced market (Greece, Turkey, Spain; Jamaica and Mexico) or economies geared to export of one or more strategic commodities (Malaysia, Venezuela). Yet the growth that has taken place has not been rapid enough to subsume some of the central problems, to expand jobs as rapidly as the labour force and food as rapidly as the population and accumulation needs. In Venezuela, after a decade of a 10 per cent rate of growth each year, unemployment is still as high as before. In India, unemployment and underemployment may cover as many as 30 or 40 millions. Meanwhile, the advance of world technology, monopolised at source by the advanced capitalist powers and designed for their needs, continually lowers the possibility of employing the population as output expands. As a result manufacturing continues consistently to employ a smaller proportion of the non-agricultural labour force. On the other hand, the fastest rate of growth stimulates very rapidly the development of a proletarian opposition which itself seeks to divert resources into wages – South Korea’s ability to attract foreign capital is already under threat from the pressure of skilled labour for higher wages. Thus, even in the most ‘favourable’ conditions, the petit-bourgeois leadership is caught between the millstones of the world market and the proletariat, and its hopes of independent national power becomes increasingly illusory.

The symptoms of the crisis are: increasing financial dependence (an outflow of resources in repayment of aid, loans, dividends and interest); a relatively slow rate of growth, continually subject to restrictions from the balance of payments and fluctuations arising from oscillating or declining commodity prices; output expanding far more rapidly than employment, creating, as population and labour force increase, a growing army of underemployed and unemployed; the threat of the urban masses, subjected to conditions of the utmost misery. If the alternatives available are socialism or barbarism, the second has been the choice of the ruling groups in the backward countries today.

(b) There is little or no choice open to the leadership in the backward countries. Either they already command a part of the world market in a strategic commodity, or they are compelled just to hold on. For the oil producers, they command the commodity in highest demand, and therefore possess the most advantageous economic position. But their disunity, and the feverish search for oil resources or substitute energy sources within the developed countries (most recently North Sea gas, Alaska, etc) ensure that any individual oil producer cannot command his own price. This is even more true of. other strategic commodities – copper, nickel, iron ore. If the price is too high, the capitalists of the advanced countries will find other sources (the US has just discovered between 250 and 1,000 million tons of exploitable iron ore in Nevada, for example; the British are reopening Cornish tin mines) or create substitutes. Thus, even commanding a strategic commodity gives only short-term and strictly limited bargaining power to a backward country, let alone the weakness of commanding a commodity which is not strategic (coffee, tea, cocoa, jute, raw cotton). On the other hand, without a strategic commodity for export, a backward country has only its internal market to offer as inducement to foreign capital.

(c) Closing the national borders in order to stimulate industrialisation so that formerly imported goods can then be manufactured domestically is only a short-term palliative. For on the one hand, foreign companies already within the economy are likely to become monopoly suppliers to the domestic market, making dependence on foreign companies even greater; and on the other, the ability of domestic companies to compete abroad is reduced since they now have a protected home market, and export earnings are a first casualty. Latin America is a good example in this respect. Import-substitution industrialisation has left most of the Latin American countries even more dependent than they were before. The intensity of US investment and intervention in South America makes these countries in certain respects an extreme phenomena. They did not participate in the colonial revolution of the 20th century (although, aspects of the revolution occurred in Mexico and Cuba, and abortively in Bolivia), and thus remain in some respects colonies without colonialism. On the other hand, the much longer phase of growth witnessed in some Latin American countries makes them the most backward of the advanced rather than the reverse. In class terms, such countries (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay) already have the class structure of a fully capitalist country, with a developed proletariat and dominating bourgeoisie. The role of the petit-bourgeoisie is accordingly much more restricted. In such countries, the agrarian question is much less serious (although, extreme in some areas of each country) but the national question much more so. Given the size and significance of the proletariat, the prospect of the dictatorship of the proletariat is, in purely objective terms, much more promising. The degree to which that promise is realised, however, turns upon the available political alternatives and how far these raise the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

(d) Just as in the period 1880 to 1914, so in the period since 1948 world trade has expanded very rapidly and, as one of its by-products, permitted the growth of a number of backward countries. The growth that takes place is distorted to fit the priorities of a world market dominated by advanced capitalism, but nevertheless it is growth. The expansion of world trade is essentially a function of the expansion of the advanced capitalist countries. In the earlier period, world trade was much more centrally an exchange between capitalist and backward countries, but today the most dynamic sector is the exchange between capitalist countries themselves. Thus, the growth in the backward countries that has taken place is at a slower rate than the growth of world trade itself. The long-term viability of the growth of world trade turns upon the rate and pace of growth of the metropolitan countries. Even if this were to remain high, the share of the backward countries in world trade is likely to continue to decline as it has done since 1950. The advanced capitalist countries are less and less dependent upon the backward majority, even though the domination of the backward by the advanced grows heavier. The drain of resources out of the backward grows larger, but that drain of resources is less and less significant for the growth of the advanced. Through a complex series of mechanisms governing aid, trade, foreign investment, as well as direct and indirect political means, the advanced powers continue to drain resources from the backward. Indeed, debt repayments in the immediate future will increasingly consume a larger proportion of the export earnings of the backward – when Shylock forecloses, all growth is likely to be paralysed. Given a prospect of relative stagnation in the advanced countries, the effects on the backward are likely to be extreme.

(e) In the attempt to overcome the crisis, particular ruling cliques will inevitably be forced ‘Leftwards’ – that is, they will be forced to make more or less substantial encroachments upon entrenched social groups in order to buy popular support for their own survival. Nasser’s role in Egypt between 1956 and 1966 is an important example of this process. The fate of Nkrumah in Ghana and of Soekarno in Indonesia illustrates also, however, how fragile this Leftward movement is, how it is unable ultimately to honour its promises in conditions of intractable backwardness. Most recently, General Ovando Candia in Bolivia and General Velasco in Peru have similarly moved ‘Leftwards’ by nationalising major US oil interests in their respective countries. General Candia was one of the people involved in the murder of Guevara, which has not prevented some of the Fidelistas rallying to the support of Candia as a Leftwinger. Velasco has followed up his measure with what looks like a radical land reform proposal.

Of course, in the world-wide struggle against the domination of the capitalist powers, socialists must support every move against that domination, whatever its source. But they must do so without illusions, that is, while seeing that this blow against imperialism does not break the contradictions of backwardness. Indeed, it may make some of them worse: without the oil cartel, Bolivia is already finding it extremely difficult to sell its output. As the first blow in an international strategy to destroy imperialism, expropriation of foreign capital is vital. But without that strategy – a strategy which is open to the international proletariat alone – expropriation is merely a measure to fortify the national power of a national ruling class. Nationalisation as a legal change of ownership has no socialist implications; it is only socialist if it represents a change in class power, a victory for the working class (and in the Bolivian case, the Bolivian workers will remain as they were before nationalisation). Of course, the struggle of a national ruling class for independence does have political implications. On the one hand, it can stimulate elements in ruling classes in other countries to imitate the process – thus, the Bolivian and Peruvian changes prompted an Argentinian general, Eduardo Labanca, immediately to proclaim an attack on all US investment in Argentina. On the other, workers, at first no doubt diverted by the ‘Leftward’ shift, also see how easy it is to make a major change of this kind, despite countless earlier arguments about its impossibility, and about how empty such a shift is in the absence of real class power.

The same kinds of considerations arise in appraising more or less radical regimes in backward countries. Socialists must support Nasser both against imperialism and against the reactionary regime of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Sheikhdoms (themselves, much more clearly creatures of imperialism itself) but without identifying the regime in Egypt as ‘socialist’ or pretending that Nasser can win this struggle. The Nasser regime itself depends upon subventions from Saudi Arabia, the by-product of the activity of the international oil cartel. Without any kind of international class perspective, Egypt can do no more than operate as just another national unit trying to dominate other national units. Nasser cannot challenge Saudi Arabia on class and political grounds, and thus he cannot provide any ultimate perspective for Arab unity. Alone and isolated, Egypt’s ad hoc responses to the contradictions of backwardness are the symptoms of crisis rather than means to solve it. Thus, the Leftward shifts have to be supported, but with critical insight into the preconditions for a real solution. The Leftward shifts are no more than stopgaps in the long-term crisis, itself generated by the impossibility of solving the development question in contemporary conditions. Certainly, they are no substitute for a proletarian internationalist strategy. As Fidel Castro is reported recently to have told a group of Brazilian revolutionaries: ‘It is five times more difficult to develop a country than to win a war’. His pessimism clearly focuses on the fact that both radical reforms and a popular coup by guerilla forces do not in and of themselves overcome the contradictions of backwardness. The stalemate of development arises directly from the failure of the proletariat to present an independent internationalist alternative. The perspective for world trade makes it look as though the crisis will get worse, leading to greater differences within and between backward countries, greater obstacles to collaboration between backward countries, and greater domestic instability.

6. The Preconditions for a Socialist Movement

(a) The failure of the proletariat has isolated the Left, leaving socialists with no other weapons except intellectual or actual guerilla warfare. In the advanced capitalist countries, the memory of a strong political movement of the working class still in many cases remains. The ruins of that movement still mark the political landscape. But in many backward countries, there is not even the memory, only ‘foreign’ theories. Thus, it is not at all surprising that the first steps of opposition in backward countries learn little or nothing of the lessons of the working-class movement – except some of the rhetoric – and, usually unconsciously, revive pre-Marxist utopian socialist thought. For many revolutionaries in the backward countries, as with the utopian socialists, the working class is not the agency for the achievement of socialism, and the ‘proletariat’ can be any force which happens to be in opposition to the status quo. Given stagnation in the backward countries such forces multiply – the unemployed, the urban lumpen proletariat, sections of the richer or middle peasantry, tribal groups on the very fringes of society. As the society decomposes there are possibly many such groups, each capable of adding a little to the decomposition, but none capable of constituting an alternative ruling class. The political revolutionary, student or urban petit-bourgeois, sees his role as using such groups in order to seize power, and on this basis create an independent national economy and accelerate the rate of accumulation. The pre-revolutionary strategy depends for success on an available vehicle to transport the revolutionaries to power, and a status quo sufficiently rotten to collapse without serious struggle. The post-revolutionary strategy is entirely Utopian economically, although important short-term advances can be made in terms of popular welfare.

The only example of success with this pre-revolutionary strategy occurred in Cuba. In the case of China, as argued above, not only did a major foreign invasion intervene, a World War, but also the Communists waged a struggle for nearly 18 years before coming to power. Similarly, the struggle in Vietnam is directly related to the peculiar – indeed, unique – overlapping of the decolonisation struggle and the Cold War. In the case of Cuba the decisive element in the confrontation between Castro and Batista was the collapse of the Batista forces rather than the size and significance of the Castro threat. To generalise the Cuban case requires us to believe that many regimes are as vulnerable as Batista. Yet, regardless of the brutality and corruption of numerous regimes, there are few countries of substance where there is any evidence of such vulnerability. Even Haiti has so far proved impregnable. In the countless rural guerilla revolts which have marked modern history – and earlier mention was made of the 1948-1950 Communist insurrections of South-East Asia – the surprising feature is how few, not how many, have been successful. Numerous regimes appear to be perfectly capable of tolerating rural revolt, even sustained like the Huks in the Philippines or the Malayan Communist Party, over many years, without this having any political implications for the country at all.

More than this, the actual politics of the revolutionaries concerned are essentially Narodnik, elitist and anarchist. Owing allegiance to no major class, such revolutionaries are responsible to no one. Therefore their political analysis turns not upon the nature of society and the class struggle, but upon their individual élan, their morality and dedication. They are, in all but name, Liberal nationalists of the 19th century with the difference that the problems facing them are much more intractable, and that they require a social programme to attach their movement to the dynamo of the grievances of heterogenous social groups. Many nationalists in backward countries have certainly understood that the national revolution cannot today be achieved without a socialist programme. The success of the Chinese Communist Party in securing the hegemony of the Chinese nationalist movement has demonstrated that. In this sense, all revolutionaries are necessarily socialists today. But most of them have not understood that the national revolution is impracticable and utopian without an international revolution. All programmes – the Liberal for national independence, and the socialist for world revolution – have thus become one, all stages have become telescoped. The demands of 19th century Liberalism – of Garibaldi and Kossuth – for national independence, cannot be achieved this side of the world socialist revolution.

Without an international class strategy, each isolated revolutionary becomes no more than a nationalist. Political States replace classes. The ‘third world’ becomes a unified revolutionary class, despite the bitter class struggle running right through each member State of the third world. And the advanced capitalist world similarly becomes a unified ruling class, despite the class struggle which racks its very vitals. The political squabbles, leading to war, which divide the ruling classes of the backward countries are forgotten. And at its worst, the world’s solitary enemy becomes the United States, a unified class of oppressors. In this scheme, there is no need for class at all, no need for a political party to embody the politics of a class, no need for the scientific analysis of society as the basis for strategy. Only that revival of anarchist mythology, The Deed, undertaken by the saints, is required to set the world tumbling. And for the deed, individual morale, not class solidarity and clarity of political purpose, is the precondition. Nor are advocates of this position in any way susceptible to argument. The countless failures of The Deed are as nothing to a solitary success. The failures are explained as those of individual dedication, not of the objective situation. Society is thus always a bonfire, and the revolutionary’s sole function is that of spark.

In practice the truth is less heroic and simple. Of course, in certain circumstances the spark is vital, but alone it is certainly not enough. The dedication of revolutionaries is also vital, but alone it is not enough. Dedication untempered by a clear knowledge of reality is merely stupidity – the tiny socialist forces can be completely eliminated, and the movement set back for many years as a result. In practice, Mao was among the most cautious political leaders of any revolutionary movement, which is why he took so long to come to power and did so unhampered by loyalty to any specific class. Castro is much more clearly the model for revolutionary audacity, but even in his case the lack of a class movement which emancipated itself crucially weakened his challenge to Batista and his post-revolutionary attempts to build a strong State. The fate of Guevara in Bolivia is the more standard result. On the other hand it would be quite wrong to denigrate the heroism and sacrifice of these populist revolutionaries. Their defeat is a defeat for the Left. That they are misguided is a product of our failure to create a proletarian movement which is a viable alternative to the solitary national coup.

However, whatever the role of populist socialists in backward countries, their effects in the advanced capitalist countries can be dangerous, both by diverting the centre of revolutionary attention away from the proletariat, and by substituting élan for theory. More to the point, the muddled class orientation of such socialists makes them easy victims for shifts in the politics of particular ruling classes. Maoist foreign policy occasionally favours particular capitalist classes – for example, the French – because de Gaulle was seen as ‘anti-American’. ‘Anti-Americanism’ thus becomes the key criterion of a revolutionary. Within each capitalist country, one segment of backward national capital is struggling against advancing international capital, and an alliance between backward capital and the ‘revolutionaries’ around a programme of radical nationalism might have some success. Servan-Schrieber’s account of US domination of Europe, in defence of the existing European ruling classes, could thus come close to Maoism or Fidelistas. Given the stagnation of capitalism, the rising threat of proletarian challenge, the need by ruling classes for diversifying politics – racialist and nationalist – the way would be open for some political alliance in which the rhetoric of revolution is married to the politics of conservatism. When Hitler came to power in Germany a number of important Social Democrats thought it was a major advance to socialism. Some of the Maoists and Fidelistas could go the same way. The class nature of any possible future socialist movement is the only protection against individuals pursuing this path – working-class power is the aim, not radical action or institutional reform alone.

Populist socialism today embodies despair at the intractability of the contradictions of the world as well as the rebirth of hope that change can be achieved. If the class is dormant, then at least one individual will strive to bear witness to what he believes. If he is successful in attaining power, then he will begin to describe the unique way in which he came to power, his technique, his contribution to science. Thus, in China, an account of military technique replaces class politics. But this substitution saps any possibility of serious social analysis, of locating revolt within existing society rather than on its margins. It means also that analysis takes its frame of reference as the national borders, and ‘internationalism’ is not class solidarity across frontiers, but merely sentimental dogmatism that, for example, only armed struggle on the Vietnamese, Chinese or Cuban ‘models’ (and each is seen as exclusive of the others) can lead to socialism. Again, nationalism dominates even this semblance of internationalism, reformulating the Stalinist contention that defence of the Soviet Union is the defining characteristic of a true proletarian internationalist. Thus, an essential part of any attempt to overcome the populist position involves necessarily coming to terms with the Russian experience. The Maoist muddle about Stalin is a good example of their failure in this respect. The Maoists in Britain today are not Stalinists, but they do not know it, and if they did they would not know why.

(b) In terms of the perspective facing us, the strategy of rural guerilla warfare remains very strong among socialists in the backward countries, in the absence of any other. But, in Latin America, the failure of Che Guevara in Bolivia has been a major blow to the credibility of this strategy. One of the first results has been a return in many countries to the earlier, pre-Cuba, urban guerilla action, on the model of the Tupamaros of Uruguay. This is an important change, although it still leaves the socialists acting out mass resentment before a passive audience, rather than building an organised class movement. Nevertheless, the socialists are forced back into the areas where the proletariat is concentrated, are forced into political argument rather than self-imposed isolation. The change occurs at a moment when military rule in much of Latin America is curbing the possibility of economic and political advance by the working class. Of course, as earlier noted, there are pressures on some of the generals ‘Leftwards’ which could give them a breathing space in Peru and Bolivia. But this is likely to be a temporary respite. The combination of urban guerillas and widespread economic stagnation could do more than usual to jell out a coherent proletarian force – provided the politics or the example are available. In Argentina in recent months, workers of the Left Peronistas have undertaken urban guerilla actions – that is, proletarian activists, rather than students or intellectuals. On the other hand, other Peronistas have visited Spain to request the return of Peron to Argentina, to request the recreation of a reformism (and the wartime import-substitution boom which made it possible) which will make ‘unnecessary’ proletarian power. Thus, there are some small possibilities of a reunification of the socialists and the working class, a reunification which, to be successful, must transform both sides and place in the centre of any strategy the dictatorship of the proletariat.

(c) In Asia the signs of the possible creation of an independent proletarian politics are smaller. Certainly economic attrition is taking a terrible toll of the mass of the population, but this alone is as much demoralising as capable of precipitating revolt. In 1969’s upheaval in Pakistan, there seemed to be briefly the possibility of a proletarian intervention when the textile and railway workers of West Pakistan went on to the streets. The movement then seems to have disappeared in the common struggle of the urban petit-bourgeoisie. But possibly the attempt by the Pakistan army to stabilise ruling-class political power and the instability of the urban petit-bourgeoisie proper could be very clearly demonstrated in the coming period, particularly if there is a partial return to parliamentary politics. The exhaustion of both the military and parliamentary alternatives could force the creation of an independent political proletariat. If this were the pattern of events, then the political situation in India could be transformed for the first time since Independence. There would exist a new alternative to the squalid wrangling of factions within and without Congress. And a change in India would transform Asia, particularly if conjoined with an upsurge in the Middle East which simultaneously rejected Zionism, the Arab monarchies and Nasserite reformism. The transmission effects of the permanent revolution – the twisted reflection of which appears in the Washington image of ‘the dominoes’ – would once more become effective, arising out of the despair of backwardness and directed at the chains of oppression in capitalism itself.

But the shift away from rural guerilla warfare for socialists in Latin America has not been clearly matched as yet in Asia. In India the revolutionaries of the fragments of the Communist Party remain focussed upon such a perspective (the abortive ‘Naxalbari movement’) with the possible exception of some CPI cadres in the Calcutta area. Certainly, the experience of CPI State government in West Bengal and Kerala (although both are officially coalitions) will be salutary in robbing both the ‘parliamentary road’ and the urban petit-bourgeoisie of credibility. But this lesson has not been matched by the development of an independent proletarian politics. In Indonesia, the opposition still appears to be concentrated among the depressed peasant strata of central Java, although the student enthusiasts of Jakarta who originally assisted the army to throw out Soekarno have now long since swung into opposition to the military regime. Until the rural struggle and the urban petit-bourgeois opposition evokes an answering movement of urban workers, it will almost certainly pose no major threat to the regime. For the ruling classes have also learned lessons from China, Vietnam and Cuba. On the other hand, the exhaustion of all other strategies – Stalinist, both Moscow and Peking varieties, the Soekarno left reformism, and the military, limit the possibilities of evading the formulation of a proletarian strategy. In particular, Peking’s role in encouraging the Indonesian Communist Party in its reformist support of Soekarno, in direct contradiction of its claimed politics, will for the moment have robbed the Maoist alternative of much credibility as a revolutionary alternative.

(d) But the Asian perspective is predicated on a very narrow basis. The proletariat exists, but its politics do not. In Africa, the proletariat is the newest in the world, and the degree of development lowest. Nevertheless, Lagos and Accra workers have already made their mark. Africa is increasingly sucked into the whirl-pool of the world market, manipulated on each side by the imperialist predators. The results in the Congo, and now in Nigeria, in the increasing rash of military coups, are the same as those in other regions. Yet so far no trace of an independent proletarian politics has made its appearance. A primary target must obviously be the lynch pin of southern Africa, where racialism and class struggle combine. Again, a proletarian revolt which sparked off an answering movement in southern Africa would shake the entire status quo of Africa. The European revolution was stopped on the borders of Germany and bottled up in backward Russia. In Asia, India and China are the Germanies of today, and in Africa, South Africa and Rhodesia. These countries are not the sparks, but the boosters without which the rocket will not go beyond the stage reached by the Russian revolution.

(e) In the past Stalinism in its prime exercised power against all revolutionary action, whatever type of action it was. Now Stalinism is weakening throughout the world, fragmented between different nationalisms – Russian, Chinese, Cuban – and increasingly unable to unite a popular politics with the exigencies of orthodox diplomacy. A mark of the disintegration is the contradictions within the external politics of each national Stalinism. Mention has already been made of the Chinese position on Pakistan, Indonesia and France, and the same contradictions exist in Chinese policy towards Egypt and the Middle East. The Cubans are less able to manoeuvre than the Chinese, but nevertheless their oscillation between accepting Moscow direction (on, for example, Czechoslovakia), and the reverse, illustrates clearly that their foreign policy is less a function of their politics and more a bargaining counter against Moscow. Quite rightly, Havana is afraid of a deal between Moscow and Washington which will completely isolate Cuba and make any foreign policy worthless. Given Cuba’s economic dependence on Soviet sugar purchases and equipment supplies, a Moscow abandonment of Havana could be the spark for a counter-revolution. The instability of Cuba’s situation underlines the necessary limits on any Fidelista policy going beyond Cuban nationalism.

A greater danger than these contradictions is the complete dissolution of Marxism altogether into a vague populist socialism. At each stage in this account, the main weakness of a proletarian challenge has been seen as its lack of theoretical equipment to deal with its crisis. The dissolution of Marxism makes this situation worse, even if it also clears the board of diversionary ‘socialisms’. However, simultaneously, the non-proletarian alternatives are becoming increasingly limited in concrete terms. The alternatives – a revival of proletarian politics, or stagnation and crises – remain.

7. IS and the Struggle in the Backward Countries

(a) Thus, what is centrally lacking in the backward countries today is a clearly expressed strategy to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Without this aim the sporadic involvement of workers in broader movements has no specific political implications except as a possible prelude to proletarian independence. Isolated and alone in one country, the proletariat can only, through major crises, very slowly begin to move towards an independent strategy, and it is unlikely in modern conditions to have the opportunity. Thus, the role of the international situation (proletarian revolts in other countries) and of class-conscious socialists is vital. Yet the socialists themselves are, by and large, not committed to the dictatorship of the proletariat as much as the urban petit-bourgeois aim of purely nationalist State capitalism.

The task of revolutionaries in backward countries is thus clear: to raise the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat and organise around it. Given the aim, a broad coalition of forces is available to wage the struggle, a coalition that must include large numbers drawn from the urban petit-bourgeoisie and the peasantry, but more important, must be based essentially on the working class and, in particular, those sections of it employed in large-scale modern industry. An authentic proletarian organisation would immediately change the terms of the debate, and begin the long task of working towards the permanent revolution. That task would be immeasurably shortened by a sustained proletarian revolt in an advanced capitalist country.

(b) In certain limited respects the prospects today are more promising for the development of a proletarian movement than for the past 20 years. The limits of the State capitalist alternative are more clearly apparent, as also are the limits of the strategy which leads up to State capitalism, rural guerilla warfare. The scale of oppression by the advanced countries grows steadily heavier and more clearly apparent, so that both the alternatives of national independence in conditions of backwardness and integration into the existing world market – the alternatives of the urban petit-bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie respectively – are shown to provide only temporary solutions. In such a context, an internationalist and proletarian strategy could come to be seen as a more practical alternative.

(c) IS’s role in assisting this process is obviously, if regrettably, limited. Organisationally and financially, IS is scarcely equipped to do very much outside of Britain. However, our theoretical position could be of particular importance in what help we could give. In particular, our critique of Stalinism and our consistent stress upon the role of the proletariat could be important in clarifying perspectives for some socialists in some backward countries.

(d) So far as our work in this country is concerned, we must at the same time as describing clearly the class content and direction of movements in the backward countries, clearly and strongly affirm that we are always and everywhere on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor. Whatever the nature of the opposition to imperialism in the backward countries, as socialists we must be clear in supporting it. The international linkages of revolt do not follow the distinctions of economics. In 1968-9 the sparks which flew between Berkeley, Peking, Paris and Karachi came from different fires, but their ignition power in the student revolt was the same. The qualifications we have about petit-bourgeois revolts concern, not whether we support them or not – we must always and everywhere support them against imperialism – but how far such revolts can be a substitute for the struggle of the proletariat and the achievement of socialism. But our basic position is quite clear. As Lenin put it: ‘if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia, and so on, these would be “just” and “defensive” wars, irrespective of who would be the first to attack; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal States victory over the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory “great” Powers’ (Socialism and War, 1915).



1. Selected Works V, p.304. Lenin’s 1920 theses, although applicable to the whole colonial world, were primarily directed at the Middle East, Turkey and Iran in particular. The subsequent Comintern Congresses were similarly more concerned with nearer backward countries than distant. The Fifth Congress in 1924 was mainly concerned with prospects in the Balkans. Despite US attempts to demonstrate an irrepressible Soviet desire to control all the backward countries from the very earliest times, in fact Stalin undertook only the barest intervention in the Far East, primarily in China to offset possible Japanese intervention in Siberia, and usually through orthodox diplomatic means (fostering one warlord against another). Very briefly – from 1925 to 1927 – he undertook a more systematic intervention through the Kuomintang, but the debacle of 1927 cut short this interest. In any case, the interest had existed in part to defeat Trotsky in the internal faction fight within the Russian party, and that interest ceased after 1927. Up until the Second World War extensive Soviet intervention was inhibited by Russian military weakness. In the case of India, Moscow’s interest was so weak, it delegated responsibility to the British CP (Palme Dutt); similarly, the Philippines was given to the US CP, Vietnam to the French CP, and so on. This lack of direct control made possible the development of independent Communist Parties.

2. Cf. an attempt to reconstruct the behaviour of the Shanghai working class during the most radical phase of the Cultural Revolution, in VI. The Workers, p.19 of China: Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, IS 35, Winter 1968/9.

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Last updated: 27.12.2007