Communist Party of Britain

The British Road to Socialism (1989)

The Present World Situation

revised version

Cover of the book

The CPB at its 41st Reconvened Congress in November 1992 decided to amend sections on the world situation in the light of the enormous changes which had occurred in the former socialist countries of eastern Europe.
This is the revised and amended version based on the decisions of that Congress.

1. The development of capitalism
2. Capitalism
3. Monopoly capitalism and imperialism
4. A new contradiction - that between two systems (1917 - 45)
5. The new productive forces after 1945 and their effects upon production relations
6. Contradictions in the world in the mid-1980s
7. Inter-imperialist contradictions
8. The integration between state-monopoly capitals of different states
9. Imperialism versus the 'Third World'
10. How is this complex of contradictions changed by the collapse of Socialism in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the USSR?
11. Effects upon inter-imperialist conflict
12. Effects upon the relation between imperialism and dependent countries
13. How to tackle the contradictions in the interests of social progress
14. The conception of socialism
15. The struggle for environmental and ecological security

To understand Britain we need to see it in its world context. From 1917 the world comprised two economic and social systems, capitalism and socialism. The history of our times has been shaped by their interaction, as each developed also through its own internal causes.

The outcome seemed to be an irreversible transition from capitalism to the higher system of socialism. But with the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, that transition has for the time being been severely retarded and the socialist sector of the world greatly reduced.

As a result of that collapse, the world situation is now shaped primarily by trends within capitalism. Today's trends continue and develop those of the 1980s. To understand these we need to know how capitalism develops.

The development of capitalism

People must consume to live. So in every social system, capitalism included, they must produce the means of life and share them out.

In producing, people enter into two kinds of relations with each other, "technical" relations and "social" relations.

People work by hand and brain, using tools upon the objects of their labour. and turn them into products useful for society - whether they are steel or sausages, lathes or lessons in school. In the scientific language of Marxism. the productive force of human labour-power is (technically) combined with non-human productive forces (means of production) in specialised workplaces, and expended to produce use-values for society.

Production, seen as a technical process, is always "social", but in two senses. First, as a joiner cannot eat beds, nor a baker sleep on loaves, there must be transfers of products between them. The more specialised the producers are, the greater will be the variety of products, and the more complex the network of transfers. Growing specialisation makes production "increasingly social at the level of society as a whole".

But production also becomes "increasingly social at the level of the individual workplace." As technique develops, its use more and more needs the joint efforts of a number of workers of different skills, under a unified control in a single workplace.

Modern societies, both capitalist and socialist, inherited productive forces which were already "social" at both these levels. Within each specialised workplace, workers have a "technical" relation to each other and to the materials and tools they use. This depends upon what they are making and how they make it. Between specialised workplaces and those who use their products, there must be transfers, so that people get the many products they need. The higher the level of technique. The more complex the technical relations of production or, in scientific terms, the greater is the "social character of the production process".

But people are always related to each other in a second way, depending on who owns the means of production. There have been relations between slaves and their owners, between serfs and feudal lords, between wage-workers and capitalists, and between associated worker-owners in conditions of socialism

These social relations of production are necessarily bound up with the technical relations. This is because the things, labour power, means of production, and products, all have owners. So if these things are to be related technically, their owners must be related socially.


In capitalism, the capitalist owners of the means of production use in their workplaces the labour-power which the working class is forced to sell for wages. The relation between capitalists and workers is the primary social relation of production. But there are also secondary social relations, those between the capitalists themselves, and those between one worker and another. Together, these social relations form the relatively stable "economic structure" within which capitalist production takes place.

To put it more concretely - capitalist firms own the means of production and, consequently the product that comes from their use. The workers, the large majority, own no means of production, and can obtain the means to live only by working in capitalists' workplaces under conditions and at wages acceptable to the capitalists. The wages need only be enough to enable the workers to reproduce their labour power, and are much less than the workers' product. The difference, the surplus, is appropriated by the capitalists. In this way workers are exploited.

The exploited workers organise to improve their wages and conditions. This threatens capitalists' competitive positions and their profits. They replace workers by labour-saving investments, and use their profits for this purpose.

So there are two antagonisms:

[A] The primary one, the class struggle between capitalists and wage-workers;
[B] a normally secondary one, the rivalry within the capitalist class.

It is these two antagonisms together that drive capitalist society forward. For the survivors in inter-capitalist rivalry are those firms which maximise their profits, and use them to expand capacity through labour-saving techniques. As firms expand, they further increase "the social character of production" and the productivity of human labour. This first basic tendency is the source of capitalism's claim to be historically progressive. But to maximise profits capitalists appropriate the fruits of increased productivity, and a bigger share of what labour produces becomes concentrated in the hands of capitalists. But that share in its turn is further centralised among "a constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital," as "one capitalist kills many." This second basic tendency Marx called the "increasingly private character of appropriation".

These two basic tendencies are bound up together, yet pull against each other. Private capitalist appropriation stimulates the social character of production, yet can never use the potential it offers either fully or for the benefit of society as a whole.

One continuous proof of this is periodic slumps, with unsold products. surplus capacity and cessation of new investment, with mass unemployment and the drive for increased intensity of labour and wage cuts. For while it stimulates, production, capitalism limits the people's purchasing power, which forms the ultimate market for production.

As workers fight against exploitation and unemployment, the capitalist ruling class exploits all divisions that exist within the working class, and develops and deploys the forces of the capitalist state.

Monopoly capitalism and imperialism

During the 19th century, these periodic crises speeded up, through bankruptcy and merger, the process of reducing a large number of small firms to a small number of large ones. From this emerged a handful of powerful monopolies straddling industry and banking. supplanting or dominating the smaller competing small firms. Restricting productive capacity relative to markets so as to obtain monopoly prices and profits, they could not and outlets at home for their growing capital. They embarked on investment abroad, aiming to repeat on a world scale the monopoly control they had established nationally. In particular they sought to monopolise sources of raw materials and pre-empt them from imperialist rivals.

They also sought to protect their investments through political control of the countries where they were located, and used this to maintain privileged markets for their own manufactures. Hundreds of millions of people, the large majority of the world's population, whether as wage-workers or through trade, usury and taxation, were drawn into the sphere of imperialist exploitation and the political and cultural oppression that sustained it. Imperialism had generated for itself a new opponent of enormous potential strength.

In the early 20th century, once the world was completely divided up into colonies and other spheres of influence, expansion of any one imperialism could be achieved only by redivision at the expense of another. No stable carve-up was possible, for capitalist countries develop unevenly, and the faster-growing German industrial power challenged the status quo dominated by an industrially weaker Britain.

A new stage opened up in the history of capitalism. A struggle between imperialisms was inevitable. To prepare their economics for war and to condition or bludgeon their peoples to accept war's price, the monopolists began to fuse their economic and their political power into a unity, state-monopoly capitalism.

This struggle culminated in the bloodbath of the First World War. Working people, initially bemused by national chauvinism, began to struggle everywhere against war and the system that caused it. In the Russian empire, itself a target for imperialist investment, the military incompetence and corruption of a landlord police-state forged an alliance of the peasants' struggle against landlordism with the workers' struggle against capitalism, out of which came the October Revolution.

A new contradiction — that between two systems (1917 - 45)

From the Russian revolution of 1917, the new force of socialism impacted upon capitalism's internal contradictions in two ways:

[A] The first was upon the primary class contradiction between imperialism and oppressed peoples, especially the working class.
[B] The second was upon the contradiction between the imperialist powers.

For the working class and oppressed peoples, the Russian revolution was a practical proof of their beliefs. Imperialism was not all-powerful or eternal. Working people could achieve political power and use it to build a social system free from exploitation, unemployment and war. They gained enormously in confidence. More particularly they saw that a communist party based on the theory of scientific socialism had been the vehicle for this breakthrough. On its side, imperialism was faced for the first time in its history with a system which was ending exploitation. This system formed a new and special focus for capitalist hatred. But it was at the same time a new actor in the economic and political relations between states.

Within the imperialist system all the old contradictions continued to develop. The First World War had stimulated important shifts in the productive forces and production relations. Methods of mass production raised very sharply the productivity of labour, while war economy had accelerated the growth of monopoly. As capitalism became re-stabilised in the mid-1920s, partly by the increased interventions of the developing monopoly-capitalist state, these new shifts meant that workers' consuming power grew more slowly than productive capacity. This contradiction laid the base for capitalism's most profound periodic economic crisis, the Great Depression of the 1930s.

This crisis was uneven between imperialist countries, being deepest where I there was no cushion of colonies but where the productive forces had grown most rapidly. In Germany the deepest crisis coincided with a strong but disunited working-class movement. The German ruling class violently destroyed it as preparation for a new imperialist war to redivide the world in its own favour.

That world now included the socialist USSR. Nazi Germany used the anti-Sovietism of powerful sections of the imperialist ruling classes of other countries to strengthen its own economic and military position The working class led the struggle to build a popular front against war and against fascism, which was the principal force for war. In the struggle against fascist aggression the Soviet working-class state was able to use divisions within imperialism, and successfully prevented a united front of imperialism against itself.

The important lesson is that when powerful working class forces were fighting to prevent war and then fighting for military victory over fascism, the divisions within imperialism proved to be stronger than the uniting factor of their common hatred of socialism.

The new productive forces after 1945 and their effects upon production relations

After 1945 the productive forces available to society grew at an unprecedented rate. This was the result of the scientific and technological revolution (STR). Widely based, this was marked particularly by the so-called information revolution in which very complex mental processes can for the first time be carried out by machines.

If the fruits of the STR are to be used, an ever more complex division and unity of labour is required, and very big expenditures of resources in research and development. In some spheres (e.g. aircraft, automobiles, informatics. chemicals, automation and robotics) giant enterprises form the minimum scale of operation to achieve this, but even they need collaboration with other giants. The fundamental research which underpins the STR as a whole can be organised and financed only by the state, or in some spheres (e.g. nuclear fusion) only by collaboration between states. The STR calls also for a supportive base in education, such as can be achieved only by the state. Few countries are large enough to sustain such activities in every field. and a new division of labour between countries, with a new geographical distribution of productive forces, is objectively necessary. This affects the composition of the specialised productive forces in any country.

How far the potential of the STR becomes embodied in production, and what actual changes emerge in the make-up and geographical location of productive forces, depends upon the stimuli or barriers which economic relations offer to the owners and controllers of the means of production.

Under capitalism such changes are mainly the spontaneous outcome of the decisions of giant capitalist transnational companies (TNCs) linked with their respective capitalist states, tempered only by popular struggle. The motivation is individual monopoly profit, not the needs of nations or of humanity as a whole. The decisions of transnational companies - which sectors to expand, which to contract, which type of productive forces to develop, which to make obsolete or redundant - determine the fate of whole regions, nations, and groups of workers.

During these last decades the transnational companies have followed two paths:

[A] The predominant path was that pursued by the initially strongest, those of the USA, of victory through liberalisation in the global movement of commodities and capital. As a result, world trade has increased faster than production, and international capital movements faster than either. Penetration of capital from one country into another has weakened or destroyed the old monopolies which rested on protection within single nation-states, and rebuilt rivalry for the time being on a new basis: rivalry between globally operating giants.
[B] But there was always a second path, that pursued by the initially weaker monopolists of Japan and Germany. These sought to build up their internal strength through state-assisted co-ordination within a protected fortress. This was also a major motive in the building of the European Community.

So long as the capitalist world economy was expanding rapidly, and so long as rival transnationals could share in swallowing-up their smaller common competitors, the first path prevailed. But those following the second path grew faster, and as the rate of world expansion slowed down, mounted a challenge. The economic outcome was the increasing polarisation of the world's monopolists into three groups (USA, EC, Japan), the growing demand for protectionary measures, typified by the failure to agree on the Uruguay round of tariff reductions, by the Single European Act and the North American Free Trade Area. The political outcome was German pressure for a military face to the EC, and Japanese pressure for military "responsibilities."

Contradictions in the world in the mid-1980s
The working class versus imperialism

This relationship takes two forms:

[A] The first form - traditionally represented as its primary form - is that of the working class with state power, organised in the socialist world system, versus imperialism. This relationship had always been defined as peaceful coexistence. competition and co-operation between two systems as a particular form of the class struggle.

Since 1945 it has been increasingly influenced by developments in the productive forces, for two reasons.

It follows from both these, and especially the first, that the economic sphere was beginning to replace the military sphere as the decisive one. That system would win which could best develop the potential of the STR and use it for social advance.

The logic of capitalist development and its present profound economic crisis demonstrate beyond question the necessity of socialism. But from at least the mid-l970s the USSR and Eastern Europe began to fall behind capitalism - above all Japan and Germany - in the quality and rate of growth of the productive forces. The traditional statement that "the socialist world system was becoming (or had become) the decisive factor in world development" was not valid. In the decisive sphere of economic development the balance of forces was already before the 1980s shifting against "actually existing socialism", whose bureaucratic command structure in economic political and ideological life proved unable to use the productive forces better than capitalism.

Attempts to renovate socialist production relations and bring democratic control into political and social life, already begun in the 1960s but stifled, were renewed in the mid-1980s.

The earlier achievements of socialism had a powerful ideological attraction for the working class of the industrialised countries and the peoples of former colonial countries seeking a model of social development.

But when the socialist economies began to stagnate economically, their attraction as a model to under-developed countries weakened. American imperialism was also to some extent successfully able to undermine a number of these countries, such as Mozambique and Nicaragua, using a variety of means, including financial and physical boycotts, military assistance to armed opposition, cultural and ideological propaganda and constraints on social spending attached to IMF loans. It has also to be faced honestly that the political and ideological results of the bureaucratic command system were far from attractive to the working class of countries struggling under conditions of bourgeois democracy.

The glasnost of the mid-1980s had a double effect on the progressive forces. On the one hand, as in 1956, the exposure of long-standing 'distortions' of socialism weakened the confidence of many who had from ignorance or loyalty denied their existence. This is one reason for the divisions in the communist movement. Conversely, however, for the large majority of the working class, who had always accepted the existence of and been repelled by the distortions, attempts to rectify them increased the attractiveness of socialism.

[B] The second form of the relation between imperialism and the working class is the struggle of workers in the capitalist world against the state-monopoly capitalism of the transnationals.

The working class expends its labour power under the control of TNCs whose rivalry in the struggle for monopoly profits forces them to introduce new techniques of production. In doing this they alter drastically on a world basis the technical make-up and the geographical location of their productive forces. This is by no means always done on the basis of seeking labour with the lowest wages. But it always creates new possibilities for playing-off workers of one country against those of another, especially as the organisation and consciousness of workers is not evenly developed everywhere.

During the '70s and '80s capitalism's laws of operation no longer served to maintain the rates of expansion of output that had marked the '50s and '60s. So as new methods of production raised workers' productivity of labour faster than output was allowed to grow, a smaller labour force was required and there emerged a spontaneous increase in unemployment.

This was aggravated by deliberate actions of the monopoly capitalist state to damp down production further, as capitalism proved incapable of combining price stability with high levels of economic activity. At the same time right-wing governments willingly carried out, and reformist ones surrendered to, the wishes of monopoly capital for reduced taxes on profits. As a result they either cut social expenditures or transferred the tax burden to workers, or both.

Everywhere the growing unemployment created less favourable bargaining conditions and reduced the membership of trade unions. Employers returned to traditional methods of victimisation of shop stewards, to short-term contracts and to part-time and unorganised labour. Governments introduced legislation which further limited the power of trade unions, and in that context encouraged negotiating practices conducive to class collaboration.

But the fact that millions of people are seeking a way out presents new opportunities of struggle for the road to socialism.

Inter-imperialist contradictions

We have shown earlier that the basic cause of capitalism's development is the interaction of two contradictory aspects of production. We have seen how concentration and centralisation of capital ownership leads to monopoly capitalism, to imperialism and state-monopoly capitalism.

In our time, as a result of capitalism's further development, the basic contradiction has reached a particular historical form, with new features.

Its productive forces are those of the epoch of the scientific and technical revolution. The qualitative changes in the productive forces have profoundly increased the general impact of society upon the inherited environment and generated new dangers. This is particularly true of nuclear fission, which has transformed war into a method of solving inter-state disputes which for the first time in history threatens our very lives.

Its relations of production, exchange and distribution remain those of state-monopoly capitalism, but that has been transformed by the full maturing of a new feature. The decisive monopolies have become transnational companies, exporting capital from the country of the monopoly's main owners to large numbers of other countries, with each transnational company organising its profit-maximising activities on a global basis. The transnational company is the particular anti-social form of the international division of labour through which monopoly capitalism adapts to the new potential of the productive forces. But there are quite different forms of adaptation by nation-states which can benefit humanity as a whole.

The development of transnational companies combines two tendencies:

The first is that the old national framework, within which individual monopolies grew by reinvesting their profits and by merger with other monopolies, substantially replaced by a new one. Today, the concentration and centralisation of capital takes place on a global basis, across national frontiers.

This deepens the polarisation of society into two classes, as TNCs from several countries destroy or appropriate smaller rivals. Thus, in most developed capitalist countries the wage-working class now forms 80-90% of the economically active population. But in each country it is a class that is exploited by capitalists from more than one country. And each TNC in turn exploits workers in any countries. So the TNCs from many countries have a growing common interest in creating, in each country where they operate, the most favourable conditions for capitalist exploitation. Where a TNC is itself too weak to create those conditions vis a vis the working class of its own country through its own state power, it seeks the collaboration of TNCs from other states, who exploit the same workers. More generally, the TNCs of a number of countries pool their state strength. This is one element in the antagonistic unity between the TNCs of the European Community.

But there is a second, and opposite, tendency. When TNCs began their rapid growth in the 1960s, the monopolies of each country had long been integrated with the state to form state-monopoly capitalism. In their continuing struggle, now marked by a wider arena of rivalry, by more powerful weapons and therefore by greater hazards, no transnational company can dispense with the vital economic and political aid of the state. Failure to take full account of this tendency leads to the mistaken view that "TNCs have no country".

The integration between state-monopoly capitals of different states

The United States and Japan are unitary states. The TNCs of the USA or Japan, even where they have the majority of their capital dispersed in different countries of the globe, have owners who belong to a single nation-state, and expect and require their state to support their external struggle against rivals and to create internally a class and financial regime favourable to that struggle. In these two cases there is no ambiguity about their integration with the state for these ends.

In Europe, the strongest TNCs have always sought the aid of their national governments to build their own hegemony through wider centralisations of capital within Europe. For in processes of centralisation of capital in its many forms - from temporary consortia through cartels to the higher forms of merger and to inter-state alliances and integrations - monopoly capital knows only one law - domination of the stronger over the weaker. This is the history of every European monopoly capitalism and especially of the strongest industrially, namely Germany. And it is part of the history of the USA today, when powerful TNCs from the generally weaker state of Japan invest in the stronger US in order to achieve domination over weaker US rivals in particular sectors.

But the use of state power to establish monopolies which dominate on the single-country or European scale is no longer enough. The struggle for domination has a global arena, and European TNCs are disadvantaged without a unitary all-European state. True, some TNCs, or weaker capitalisms, seek to maintain vestiges of old positions within Europe as subordinate agents of stronger US or Japanese partners. They split the front of European monopoly capital. But the predominant tendency in Europe up to now has been for the industrially most powerful monopoly capitalism, Germany, to organise others under its own hegemony into an economic unity backed by a unitary state capable of taking on the US and Japan in a global struggle.

Imperialism versus the 'Third World'

The changes stemming from the STR and operating through the actions of the TNCs have had an impact an upon all countries and regions, but unevenly. Their most devastating effect has been upon the poorest and least developed countries in the world, who are faced with the need for massive adjustments in the composition of their output in a brief space of time, yet have neither the resources nor the social structure to do it.

In these countries the changes have a two-fold effect. The first is indirect. As productivity and incomes have risen in the developed countries, the increases in personal consumption have not gone to increase imports of food, whose average proportion in household budgets has in fact fallen to less than 20%. Among the forms of consumption which have expanded fastest have been health, education. and other services, which are intensive in their use of labour rather than of materials.

The second is direct. The industrialised countries' imports are increasingly of sophisticated manufactured goods, whose raw material content is either decreasing, or composed of artificial substitutes, or both. There has been a historical decline in the demand for goods exported by former colonies whose structure had been formed by their historical role as the raw-material hinterland of imperialism. By the mid-1980s the developed capitalist OECD drew less than 10% of its imports from them, compared with 75% from within itself. Of imports of food, beverages and tobacco, and of crude materials other than petroleum, OECD drew less than 20% from former dependencies, as compared with two thirds from within itself. Even in respect of the OPEC countries, who are far from being poor, the savings in energy-use the slower rate of growth of the world economy, and the development of nuclear power have all kept down the demand for oil, even though raw material substitutes are made from it.

All the old methods of exploitation of the underdeveloped countries through trade, such as transfer pricing, continue to prevent their development and to benefit the TNCs involved. But that trade is of much smaller significance to imperialist centres than it was in the '50s or '60s.

But the relative reduction in demand for raw materials from underdeveloped countries has in turn shifted foreign investment away from them and towards sophisticated industrial products and the developed countries which make them. The picture of imperialist investment as directed solely to raw materials, and mainly to economically underdeveloped countries, while it had some substance up to the 1960s, has been replaced by a massive historical shift away from raw materials, and away from the poorer countries.

For example, by 1987, 84% of the stock of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) owned by British TNCs was located in the developed capitalist countries of Western and Northern Europe, North America, Japan and the (so-called "white") Commonwealth. Of the remaining 16%, a considerable part was located in the Newly-Industrialising Countries (e.g. of the stock of FDI in Asia more than three-fifths was in Hong Kong and Singapore, and only 7% in India), and not more than 10% in the underdeveloped countries. Less than 1% was invested in the oil-exporting countries. Oil TNCs were earlier pushed out of production in the majority of oil-exporting countries, shifted production into politically more secure areas, including the North Sea, and moved down-stream in an effort to monopolise refining and distribution. For the longer-term future, the strategic importance of oil must diminish as general environmental needs and ecologically viable transport systems reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.

A similar tendency operated for the foreign investment by TNCs of other capitalist countries. This means also that the flow of rent, interest and profit on overseas investments is now predominantly between the developed countries themselves.

We must likewise assess correctly the significance of "Third World" debt to the banks and governments of the imperialist countries. The majority of debt is in fact owed by Newly Industrialising Countries such as Brazil and Mexico and Argentina. But even if the annual payments from the "Third World" in the narrower sense were as high as $50 billion, this must be compared with the size of the national income of all OECD countries together - in 1987 this was $12,500 billion. Of this total the receipts from debt payment accounted for less than one half of 1%.

These debt payments pushed poor countries into starvation; but they could not be an important source of the wealth of First World monopolists.

This analysis of world economic relations shows that exploitation of the working class of the highly developed capitalist countries (the so-called First World) had already in the 1980s become overwhelmingly the most important source of profits for imperialism as a whole. So long as that situation holds, it follows that the rapidly sharpening struggle between the three main imperialist blocs for redivision of the world must be primarily a redivision of markets and spheres of investment and influence within the First World itself.

However, the oppression and increasing indebtedness of much of the Third World will continue to give rise to revolutionary struggles and attempts to break from the yoke of imperialism, although the developments in the Soviet Union will make the struggle more difficult. In addition, the highly developed capitalist countries will be concerned to control or limit any new imperialist groupings developing. These new imperialist groupings will be involved in the struggle between the three major groupings of imperialism. and thus we can anticipate the risk of further military conflict outside the First World. Control of strategic oil supplies will continue to be of importance in the short and medium term.

How is this complex of contradictions changed by the collapse of Socialism in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the USSR?
The new relations of Eastern Europe and the former USSR to imperialism

The former USSR and the other former socialist states are not identical in their stage of transition from old to new. The former GDR is integrated into capitalist Germany; the remainder are neither politically in the Warsaw Pact nor economically in CMEA. Economic relations with capitalist countries, formerly confined to trade, are deepening through direct investment and financial links with the IMF and the European Community.

But it is too early to say exactly what new form of social system is coming into being.

Eastern Europe cannot easily or rapidly break long-standing economic links with the former USSR. For the capitalist markets at this stage of the crisis are hardly waiting with open arms for new competition. In Eastern Germany it is relatively easy for the Treuhand to sell off factories so cheaply that it becomes profitable for German or other capital to invest in them and use the cheaper labour to compete in Western markets. In other independent states privatisation is less easy. Nonetheless, unless powerful socialist forces re-emerge, these countries are probably becoming part of the world capitalist system, and the struggle of the internal progressive forces will take place within that context.

The relation of the former USSR to imperialism is more fluid, and the attitude of imperialist countries towards it ambivalent. They are united in welcoming all defections from socialism. But they calculate also in terms of balance of power. A new capitalist state of 300 million people, highly educated and with a developed industrial and scientific base, could hardly be kept in a subordinate position. Nor would it be some new source of "access" to oil and metals. These have long formed some 60% of Soviet exports. A powerful industrial country would in the not so long run become a serious force in world markets. That is why they imperialism welcomes a disintegration which leaves only the smaller Russia as a potential rival.

Effects upon inter-imperialist conflict

The collapse of the former Soviet Union coincides in time with a rapidly sharpening conflict between the three major imperialist blocs. Attempts will be made by each bloc to use the individual nation-states that composed the Soviet Union as factors in that conflict. Such attempts are especially likely from the US which needs to offset the growing threat of the EC and Japan.

The USSR and the USA were moving in the late 1980s, for reasons we have outlined earlier, towards a more secure phase of peaceful co-existence and competition. Today, the possession of super-power nuclear weapons by some nation states of the former Soviet Union turns the imperialist drive for realignment into a destabilising and dangerous process. The struggle for continued nuclear disarmament and for non-proliferation needs to be accelerated.

The collapse of socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe has replaced the East-West conflict by inter-imperialist rivalry as the principal (or central) contradiction between states. No longer needing to unite their resources in the common struggle against the USSR, the imperialist states can devote all their energies to the redivision of the world. But at the same time it has removed the USSR as an important force for peace in world where the final arbiter of inter-imperialist conflict has always been war. In this context the role of China as a state becomes more important.

Effects upon the relation between imperialism and dependent countries

Socialist military and political aid has frequently played a crucial role in warding off imperialist interference from countries struggling for independence, in particular Vietnam and Cuba.

But in assessing the effects of its disappearance from that role, we have to ask two questions.

First, was that role always based on a realistic appraisal of the effects of its use? From the mid-1960s there was over-optimism about the possibility of going directly from the national-liberation to the socialist revolution, based on a wrong appraisal of internal class forces. Where bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces prevailed, Soviet military aid was wasted and scarce economic resources were used not for development in the interests of the people, but in parasitic consumption by minorities.

Second, when aid has been accompanied by interventions which were not consistent with the declared policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, the world peace and anti-imperialist forces have been weakened.

The absence of the socialist countries from this arena will give greater scope for imperialist adventures, including even a reversion to the open military methods of colonialism. But it would be mechanical and misleading to draw parallels with imperialism's position in the period before the Russian revolution. The present-day intensity of the contradictions within imperialism is dependent not only on the role of socialist countries, but at least as much upon the higher levels of consciousness and organisation achieved by the working class and the national independence forces in 70 years of struggle.

How to tackle the contradictions in the interests of social progress

To preserve and develop socialist countries and those of socialist orientation, their right to self-determination without imperialist interference must be defended by the world's working class movements.

In the former socialist states, the best condition for slowing down and even reversing the trend to capitalism is that the people's democratic and socialist organisations shall have the greatest freedom to operate. Their right to keep their countries' development free from external capitalist intervention is a vital part of the working-class struggle for national self-determination everywhere.

In the capitalist world the principal historical trend is the growing imperialist struggle for redivision of the main sources of monopoly profits. As always. the preparation for this means a deepening trend towards reaction in every sphere of social life.

Economically, this trend coincides at present with a severe cyclical economic crisis. The two together mean aggravated pressure upon wages and the social wage, reinforced by political and ideological offensives. The response to this must be practical struggles for the first stages of alternative democratic strategies consistent with the historical position and traditions of each country. At this stage, there is particular need to defend jobs and trade union rights and to build solidarity against the TNCs.

Politically and ideologically, pressure for a reactionary unity within Europe will coincide with pressure for growing hostility towards the USA and Japan. Alongside chauvinism, the ruling class will everywhere seek to make into its scapegoat the national and ethnic minorities. In this context communists have the special responsibility to fight for the working-class conception of national self-determination combined with solidarity for workers and oppressed peoples everywhere. This includes above all a combination of two struggles - the fight for national independence and anti-TNC policies inside each country, and the fight for solidarity with the peoples of other countries engaged in similar struggles.

The future role of the United Nations depends, as it always has, upon the balance of forces and interests between nation-states, and between peoples and governments. The collapse of the USSR removes a powerful progressive force from the Security Council and UN agencies. The Soviet Union, from its inception, attempted to pursue a policy of peaceful coexistence between nations.

Today growing divisions within imperialism preclude a US monopoly, and provide openings for greater influence by smaller and "Third World" states where popular struggle can reinforce a neutral or anti-imperialist stance. This emphasises the importance of the Non-Aligned Movement. The objective global interdependence created by nuclear weapons and the growing threat to the environment also gives opportunities to exert popular pressure upon governments through UN forums and directly through Non Governmental Organisations.

A great responsibility rests upon the working class of developed countries which are the main source of the nuclear and environmental dangers.

In all these struggles communists advance their conception of the path to socialism. This raises the question: What is socialism?

The conception of socialism

What policies during the last stages triggered the final collapse of actually existing socialism is a question which will not be quickly or easily resolved.

For Marxism, a socialist order of society became necessary not only because capitalism was unjust, but above all because it became obsolete. Compared with what was possible, it became a barrier to the development of the productive forces and their use by human beings for their own full, free, and beneficial development.

Only if the main means of production are collectively owned by those whose labour sets them in motion, and only if the people fully exercise their rights of ownership, and have full control of their own future, can the creative initiative of tens of millions be mobilised.

This the bureaucratic command system could not do. That is why production and intellectual life stagnated, socialist legality was violated, and the national and ethnic questions remained unsolved.

The only model of socialism that is capable of winning the allegiance of the working class is that which starts from Lenin's conception:

"Comrades, working people. Remember that now you yourselves are at the helm of state! No-one will help you if you yourselves do not unite and take into your hands all affairs of state ... Socialism cannot be decreed from above. Its spirit rejects the mechanical bureaucratic approach; living, creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves."
The struggle for environmental and ecological security

Success in the campaign for peace and disarmament would release enormous resources for the conquest of poverty, hunger and disease, and for protecting the world's ecology. By opening up a new system of international relations it would make possible co-operation between all states, irrespective of their social system, to deal with the problem of global environmental protection. For this is essentially an international problem, one where the interdependence within the modern world is most apparent.

The main obstacle to establishing this new system of international co-operation, so vital for protecting the environment, is imperialism and its world-wide rush for profit and power. Imperialism has ravaged the resources and environment of the world for a century and more and laid the basis for many of today's problems.

This has produced a situation where the stability of the life-support system on our planet is under threat, though the urgent need to tackle the problem is not yet appreciated. The threat arises from a complex of factors, the most important of which are the greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, acid rain, de-forestation, desertification, chemical, agricultural and sewage pollution of the air, of rivers, lakes and the sea, and the extinction of species, which is occurring very rapidly with the destruction of the rainforests. Disposal of toxic wastes from the chemical industry is a serious problem, as is the disposal of radioactive waste, including that left in nuclear plants at the end of their useful life.

The transnationals, aided by imperialist governments, have exported ecologically dangerous processes to the developing countries where safety laws and their enforcement are inadequate. This adds to the total pollution of the environment and must be stopped.

Pressure on the environment is exacerbated by the continued growth in world population. World resources are finite and the planet clearly cannot sustain an infinite number of people. While moves to contain population growth must be welcomed, it is essential that population policies are seen as just one element in a programme of sustainable development. Family planning policies should be combined with a far-reaching programme of education and above all poverty alleviation. The world needs development to raise living standards most urgently in the developing world.

It is a well-known fact that in poor countries poverty leads to a desire for large families both as a form of insurance against old-age and a source of labour for subsistence agriculture. This desire persists even in the early stages of development and, combined with improvements in medical services, leads for a period to acceleration in population growth. But earlier experience shows that once development has become established and poverty decreases, family size tends to diminish.

However, development in living standards must be carried out in a way that does not jeopardise the world environment for future generations. Sustainable development, where the protection of the environment is central, is an achievable goal. It must be recognised that population growth is not sufficient to explain the degradation of the environment. A major factor is capitalism's drive for profits, its unplanned exploitation of the earth's resources and the consumerist psychology which it engenders. New bio-technologies which use as their raw material species of plants and animals found in the Third World, particularly the rainforests, should not fall into the hands of the transnationals which have such a record of ruthless exploitation and destruction of other natural resources.

An environmentally safe system of energy production does not yet exist. One is urgently needed, since the present system of energy production is a major factor in the changes emerging in the environment. These could become catastrophic as is indicated by the greenhouse effect. In dealing with this, greater emphasis will have to be placed on energy conservation, and on the development of renewable resources and nuclear fusion, less reliance on fossil fuels. Cheap public transport will cut down the use of cars and the production of carbon dioxide from the combustion of petrol. The burning of coal will remain a major source of energy for the foreseeable future. It should be British, not imported coal. Fluidised-bed combustion and adequate scrubbing of waste gases must be introduced to cut down the emissions which produce acid rain. But because of the environmental hazards from nuclear power based on fission, particularly from the disposal of nuclear wastes and the problems of decommissioning, existing nuclear plants should be phased out.

We must move towards an overall system of production in which waste products are either eliminated or reduced to an absolute minimum. The atmosphere, the oceans, and the land can no longer be treated as a dustbin. Waste must either be recycled or used as a starting point for other processes. If this is not possible in a particular process of production, it may be that that process will have to be abandoned or replaced by an alternative process which does not produce unusable waste. And at all times, the effects of human activity on the environment will have to be carefully monitored, and research carried out to deal with problems as they arise. This applies to agriculture as much as to industry.

The change to the sort of closed system of waste-free production to which we have referred is incompatible with the existence of an unplanned capitalist economy dominated by the transnationals and the drive for maximum profit. This means that the short-term objective of profit takes precedence over the long-term consequences for the environment. It makes the case for socialism as a system of society where there are no in-built obstacles to environmental protection.

Private capitalist profit is just such an in-built obstacle. It leads to the wasteful levels of consumption of raw materials seen today in the highly industrialised world. Radical changes in production techniques to reduce this waste are essential if the world as a whole is to attain a high standard of living.

It follows that measures to protect the environment must feature prominently in any programme for advance to socialism. But even under socialism, as experience in the socialist countries shows, environmental protection will require constant vigilance, public awareness and democratic involvement.

To protect the environment calls for the widest possible development of democracy, openness and accountability. This is a struggle for today. But it is also part of the total struggle for socialism in Britain and the world.