James Gardner

The Battle of Ideas and the Importance of Theory

Source: Communist Policy to Meet the Crisis, Report of the 21st National Congress of the Communist Party, November 1949.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE QUESTION with which I propose to deal is how best we can prepare ourselves to fulfil our tasks by a better understanding of the important role that Marxist theory has to play in every phase of our struggle against capitalism and the Right-Wing Social Democrat leaders.

What Marxism Can Give

The Right-Wing Labour leaders like to boast that they, as practical men, have no use for Marxist theories, but take life as it comes. But this attitude not only means that they live from hand to mouth, overwhelmed by the problems that they cannot solve, but also that they blindly follow ruling class theories—and, as we shall see, this class well knows the value of theory.

Lenin puts it plainly:

“The only choice is—either bourgeois or Socialist theory. There is no middle course (for humanity has not created a ‘third ideology’, and moreover in a society torn by class antagonisms, there can never be a non-class or above-class ideology).” (Lenin: What Is To Be Done, Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 62.)

More recently, the great Chinese Communist leader, Mao Tse-tung stated:

“You lean to one side” says Mao, voicing a sentiment expressed by his critics. “Precisely so. The forty years’ experience of Sun Yat-sen and the twenty-eight years’ experience of the Communist Party have made us firmly believe that in order to win victory and to consolidate victory, we must ‘lean to one side’. . . . To sit on the fence is impossible; a third road does not exist. . . . Not only in China, but also in the world without exception, one either leans to the side of imperialism or to the side of Socialism. Neutrality is a camouflage, and a third road does not exist.”

This contempt for Marxist theory in the British Labour movement reflects a long tradition of Social Democratic opportunism which has had serious consequences for the working class. If we in our Party continue to imitate this casual attitude, it suggests that we ourselves are still influenced by a Social Democratic outlook. Unless we master revolutionary theory, we will surely fail in our task. It is this mastery of Marxism that can ensure that our whole work is permeated with the understanding that our fundamental task is to overthrow the old society and usher in the new, and help us to show the workers the need to fight for the revolutionary change.

Decadence of Capitalist Ideas

Let us take the offensive in the battle of ideas, which is part of the daily struggle against capitalism. For there must be no mistake—our class enemies, British monopoly capitalism and American finance capitalism, do not neglect the weapon of propaganda. Never has there been such a world-wide anti-Communist campaign. The imperialists spend millions of pounds on the job of corrupting the minds of the people and preparing them for war. They mobilise the whole propaganda machinery—Press, radio, public platforms, theatre, films. They enter into every field—art, music, philosophy, practical and theoretical science. They press every kind of charlatan into service to exploit the fears and worries of a puzzled public. The Catholic hierarchy and Protestant Bishops readily turn from their proper function to join the reactionary drive. University dons and teachers, pornographic novelists and cheap publicists hunt with the hounds.

Reactionary scientists prate about “pure science”—“science for its own sake”; but 60 per cent of British scientific research today is directed to military purposes and mobilised for war. Bourgeois scientific teaching, moreover, is increasingly permeated with mysticism and metaphysics—mysterious processes of nature, uncontrollable by man. So-called scientists dwell on chance and the unpredictability of events. And, of course, it goes without saying that these spokesmen of capitalism lift their voices against the Soviet Union and try to deny the truth of her glorious scientific achievements.

Bourgeois philosophers like Bertrand Russell spread outworn theories about the limited scope of human knowledge, the impossibility of changing human nature, man’s innate aggressiveness, and support atomic warfare against the Soviet Union.

In the field of literature and art the catch-phrase “Art for Art’s Sake” is dragged out again as a method of divorcing writers and painters from the real life struggles of our time, while the Huxleys, Orwells and Evelyn Waughs prostitute their talents in glorification of defeat and helplessness, and, in their self-contemplation, semi-mystic introspection and their escapism from the realities of class society, reflect the moribund state of capitalism.

Unfortunately the influence of bourgeois psychology continues to flourish. We even have the humiliating spectacle of T.U.C. leaders borrowing its teaching, lock, stock and barrel, and explaining to the workers that their hatred of capitalism only reflects “mental disorder” and that psychological “re-adjustment” is needed. They also attempt to convince the people that a bunch of smiling welfare officers and canteens painted green can overcome divisions of class society.

Even more nauseating are the attempts made by the alleged Social Democratic theoreticians to try and prove that British imperialism no longer exists. The real purpose of this attempt is to try and hide the fact that in “new” ways, fresh efforts are being made still further to tighten the bonds of oppression on the colonial peoples. At the same time it also constitutes the ideological preparation for Britain becoming the colony of the United States of America.

The more the class struggle develops and the more the workers begin to see through the Right-Wing reformist leaders, the more capitalism will throw out various breeds of leftists, mouthing revolutionary phrases to capture the workers and keep them in the capitalist net. It is not by chance that we see the “rising star” of Aneurin Bevan. It is not an accident that Harold Laski and G. D. H. Cole, old reserves of capitalism, are being thrown into the limelight. It is not by accident that tons of Tito-Trotskyist tracts are churned out by the Yugoslav Embassy and given wide prominence in the capitalist Press. Police spies and intelligence agents were once “educated” on Trotskyist literature—now “Titoism” plays that role. We must increase our vigilance against leftist demagogy, leftist efforts to catch the left-moving Labour workers, and various attempts of Titoists, Trotskyists and others of that ilk to penetrate our own ranks with ultra-revolutionary cloaks. For whatever deceptive phraseology they use, they only serve the interests of capitalism and not of the working class. This is the real meaning of the situation in Yugoslavia and of the Rajk Trial in Budapest.

Nationalism and Internationalism

Truman and Acheson, Bevin and Churchill, Franco, Blum, the Pope and the Trotskyists claim to be the new internationalists. The days of national sovereignty, they state, are now over; national independence is an outworn and outmoded conception. This phoney internationalism is as far from true proletarian internationalism as night from day.

What is the attitude of Communists? We know today that the Tories and Right-Wing Labour leaders are selling out to Wall Street. We know that the independence of Britain can be defended only under the leadership of the working class, and we Communists stand at the head of the struggle.

We stand firmly on the principle of international working-class solidarity, a principle that has grown up with the British Labour movement, but is now being betrayed by the Right-Wing leaders.

We stand for active solidarity with the colonial peoples in the struggle for national liberation.

There is no contradiction between our Socialist patriotism which leads us to fight for a Britain independent and prosperous, and our firm, unbreakable loyalty to the principles of proletarian internationalism. Indeed, the two must go together. Today, with the whole world divided into two camps, with the violent struggle of Wall Street for world domination, the defence of the independence of all countries, of national culture and the national heritage can be carried out only in co-operation with the world camp of peace and progress, led by the Soviet Union.

Democracy and Dictatorship

We must ceaselessly expose the real nature of the capitalist dictatorship which exists in the Western democracies—the lynch law, the purges, electoral swindles, the Army and police force led by the most loyal representatives of the capitalist class for use against the working class, the monopoly control of the Press and the wireless, the reactionary control of education and textbooks, the brutal attacks against the subject peoples.

Whilst we seek to defend and to extend all that the working class has gained in long years of struggle within the framework of capitalist democracy, we must never cease to expose its brutal class character, but must demonstrate the superiority of Socialist democracy, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

We have before our eyes the glorious achievements of the Soviet Union, where the dictatorship of the proletariat is leading the people to Communism. We see flourish the new democracies of Eastern Europe, where, with power in the hands of the workers, there is also a dictatorship of the proletariat, though not of the Soviet form.

There is no freedom, it is true, for the former millionaires, for the great mineowners, for the magnates of the old capitalist Press, for the one-time generals, ambassadors and spies of the old capitalist society. There is no freedom for warmongers, racial propagandists, anti-Semites. But is this a cause for tears?

In these countries the vast mass of the people know freedom for the first time. In these countries every key position in the armed forces, the police, the judiciary, the civil service, the nationalised industries, Foreign Office, Home Office, all other Government Ministries is in the hands of trusted representatives of the working class. It is the same in all district and local administrative organisation. The trade unions are chiefly responsible not only for production and activities in the factories, but for social welfare, for the health, well-being, recreation and education of their members.

In other words, the workers are the top dogs.

This is why the bosses and their servile Labour lackeys hate what, as they say, “goes on behind the Iron Curtain”. And well they might, for they know how they will also be dealt with when once the British workers take power into their hands.

Our Offensive

Our achievements in fighting reactionary ideas and in raising the theoretical level of our Party since our Extended Executive Committee meeting in February of this year have been of great significance. For example, the constant intervention in the Press by our comrades, due in no small measure to the work of our Education Department and the successful local, district and national schools it has organised; the publication of the important textbook on Political Economy, a landmark in our efforts to develop the understanding of our comrades and sympathisers on fundamental economic problems.

Further, the success and interest aroused by the many conferences we have organised all over Britain around the subject of the Battle of Ideas, represent very positive achievements, although none of the comrades most closely connected with this phase of our Party activity will deny that there is still a lot more to be done.

Important creative work has been done by our comrades in the field of philosophy, science and history, etc., but only a minority of our members are really active in the ideological struggle. It is not yet sufficiently realised how much the sharpening class battles on the political and economic fronts are reflected in the realm of ideas. There can be no neutrality, as we have seen, in science and culture, and clear Socialist class conceptions are as vital in these fields as in the pits and factories. Lack of a fighting Party spirit, of partnership in art and science, suggest a dangerous acceptance of capitalist ideologies.

Let me now appeal to our many writers to consider the great themes to be found in the developing class struggles—in the fight against the influences of bourgeois, society; in the contrasts between the devotion and self-sacrifice of working-class leaders, and the corruption of Right-Wing politicians; in the class battle between rival ideologies. Of course, we demand from our writers a high level of technical skill, but this would surely be stimulated if they sought inspiration from the stirring struggles of the working people.

A word about the role of scientists. Again we turn to the Soviet Union, where the new man, proud of his achievements and confident in his future, has no need to indulge in pessimism, fear and superstition, but rejoices in his own power to shape his destiny. Here we see science put to the service of man and not to the aim of destroying humanity in war. We see the scientists working together with the common people—the biologist links himself to the collective farmer, the physicist with the skilled factory worker. The problem of soil erosion is tackled, not by advocacy of birth control or the elimination of the surplus population by war, but by a forestry scheme of vast proportions. Our comrades here must make these achievements of Soviet science known, and show their inseparable connection with Marxism and working-class rule in the building of Socialism.

While our writers, scientists and other specialised workers have an important part to play in the battle of ideas, and particularly in polemics against the enemy propaganda in their special fields, the most important field of battle is the workshop, the pub, the street, wherever workers get together. It is essential that every one of our comrades should be equipped through study of the classics and of the current Party publications, especially the Daily Worker, to counter the enemy propaganda and state the Communist attitude on each question.

In the battle of ideas every comrade has a part to play. No one can stand aside, but the whole Party must study and re-study Marxism to find guidance for our vital task of winning better conditions, peace, British independence and Socialism.