Comrades and friends, since we are all here tonight to celebrate the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917, it seems like a good moment to look back at the roots of Bolshevism, and the organisational principles which Comrade Lenin and the Bolsheviks espoused.
1898 Founding of the party – Economism – What Is To Be Done
The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) was founded officially in 1898, but its first stumbling steps were dogged by police suppression, ideological muddle and poor organisation. Things were made worse by the influence of the Russian opportunist trend known as ‘Economism’.
In the name of standing up for the interests of the working class, the Economists insisted on limiting the class struggle to purely ‘bread-and-butter’ industrial issues. They saw Lenin’s plans for a united and centralised political party of the working class as an unnecessary and artificial intrusion upon workers’ spontaneous industrial skirmishes. Their influence helped to perpetuate ideological muddle and lax organisation.
Under these circumstances, Lenin and his comrades – we cannot yet call them Bolsheviks – used the columns of the party paper, Iskra (Spark) to wage a relentless struggle against the disorganising ideas of Economism. By this means, the ground was prepared for the ideological and organisational consolidation of the party.
A key moment in this struggle came in March 1902, with the publication of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? This work not only delivered a great blow against Economism, it also laid the foundations for the whole future Bolshevik approach to ideology and organisation.
Against the blind worship of spontaneity which characterised the Economists, Lenin asserted the vanguard role of the proletarian party. The party’s role was not to follow but to lead. And key to the development of this leadership role was the central, all-Russian party newspaper.
The purpose of the paper was not simply to comment and analyse but to organise. It was the paper’s job not only to weld the party ideologically, but also to unite local bodies within the party organisationally, as Lenin wrote that such a paper “is not only a collective propagandist and collective agitator, but also a collective organiser”.
These were not just very clever ideas on how to run a political newspaper, but an assertion of the indissoluble bond between the ideological and organisational make-up of the party – the unity of its theory and its practice. And the battle was not just against the Russian Economists, with their exclusive fixation on narrow trade-union struggles. Lenin makes it clear that these gentry were no more than a pale local variant of a virulent strain of opportunism which was international in scope.
There can be no better proof of the continued relevance of the organisational principles advocated by Lenin than the fact that they continue to provoke today’s opportunists just as badly as they did 100 years ago!
Lenin was clear that for the revolutionary movement to hold out, it needed a stable organisation of leaders to maintain continuity; and the bigger the movement grew, the more crucial would such an organisation be. The vanguard organisation would need to consist first and foremost of professional revolutionaries, trained in the art of outfoxing the political police. Far from limiting the scope of the movement, argued Lenin, such an approach to leadership would offer the best prospect of drawing the masses in ever greater numbers into working for the revolution.
It is legitimate for us to ask how much relevance these organisational tactics have for communists today. After all, we are not living in an autocratic state, we do not live under Tsarism, and perhaps we do not require a party leadership that has professional training in the art of combating the political police – yet.
However, as degenerate British imperialist society moves deeper into crisis, the retreat from bourgeois democratic forms is becoming daily more pronounced. Wars of national oppression abroad, erosion of civil liberties at home, cuts in public services, attacks on the pay and pensions of workers, the dismantling of the ‘welfare state’ and the spread of anti-immigrant propaganda – all these combine to create a harsher political climate for dissent of any kind.
The plunge into financial crisis and slump can be expected to intensify this process, precisely in the degree to which the bourgeoisie feel it more urgent to safeguard the exploited workers from the growth of communist influence.
This period of renewed crisis presents the proletariat with an immense historical responsibility, which it cannot hope to shoulder without the guidance and leadership of a party that has learnt to match ideological with organisational strength.
The working class may not yet require a party ‘professionally trained in the art of combating the political police’ – but we certainly do need a party that is no less professional in its approach to organisation than it is in its approach to ideology.
Second Congress of the RSDLP
In 1902, Lenin explained these organisational principles in his work, What Is To Be Done? In July 1903, the ideas advanced were tested out in political struggle at the Second Congress of the RSDLP.
Lenin and his comrades at Iskra submitted a maximum and a minimum programme for the party. The maximum programme dealt with the ultimate goal: socialist revolution and proletarian dictatorship. The minimum programme dealt with the bourgeois democratic phase of the revolution: getting rid of the Tsar, securing a democratic republic, limiting the working day and giving land to the tiller.
Mention of proletarian dictatorship ruffled some opportunist feathers, as did the prospect of an alliance with the peasantry and recognition of the right of nations to self-determination. But on all these issues, the Iskra view prevailed.
However, having failed in a direct assault on the Leninist programme, opportunism now turned its attention to the rules. Having failed to undermine the party’s ideology, opportunism now set its sights on the party’s organisation.
The opportunity for this mischief-making arose around the very basic question: what determines who is a member of the party? Martov could hardly disagree with the common-sense stipulations that party members had to stick to the party line and pay their subs. Where he got cold feet was over Lenin’s insistence that every member should submit to party discipline by working within one of the party’s organisations. The Short History of the CPSU(B) puts it in a nutshell.
“Martov regarded the party as something organisationally amorphous, whose members enrol themselves in the party and are therefore not obliged to submit to party discipline, inasmuch as they do not belong to a party organisation.” (Short History, p36)
To the untutored ear, the Martov approach to party building could sound very bold and revolutionary. Why not have done with it and say that every worker who downs tools and goes on strike demonstrates by his actions that he has the right to be in the party? But such phoney rank-and-file fervour conveniently forgets that it takes all sorts to make a strike, including non-socialists and anarchists.
And in any case, the real intended beneficiaries of Martov’s ‘come all ye’ approach to party membership were not workers at all, but unreliable bourgeois intellectuals eager to parade as progressive leaders but not prepared to “join an organisation, submit to party discipline, carry out party tasks and run the accompanying risks”. (Short History, pp36-37)
Even on the Iskra side of the argument, not all were wholeheartedly behind Lenin. Thanks to some of these wavering elements, Martov’s views on party rules were for the moment tolerated, and this was a temporary setback for the party. What was established at the Second Congress, however, was a clear distinction between the Menshevik and the Bolshevik positions on both ideological and organisational questions, a distinction which proved to be of great political value to the Bolshevik cause in the struggles to come.
It was in the elections at the conclusion of this Second Congress, in which Lenin and his followers secured a majority of the votes, that the two trends within the RSDLP started to be identified as Bolshevik (majority) and Menshevik (minority).
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
In May 1904, the essence of this key struggle over organisational principles was crystallised in Lenin’s work, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.
1. Lenin insisted that what was required was a vanguard party, arguing that “To forget the distinction between the vanguard and the whole of the masses which gravitate towards it, to forget the constant duty of the vanguard to raise ever wider strata to this most advanced level, means merely to deceive oneself, to shut one’s eyes to the immensity of our tasks, and to narrow down these tasks.” (Short History, p41)
The very word ‘vanguard’ has become anathema within the reformist left, drawing knee-jerk accusations of elitism and arrogance. Yet such accusations are no more than a smokescreen to cover the left’s abdication of responsibility towards the class they purport to champion.
2. Every member had to be working for a specific organisation of the party. “If the party were not an organised detachment of the class, not a system of organisation, but a mere agglomeration of persons who declare themselves to be party members but do not belong to any party organisation and therefore are not organised, hence not obliged to obey party decisions, the party would never have a united will, it could never achieve the united action of its members, and, consequently, it would be unable to direct the struggle of the working class.” (Short History, p41)
3. The party must struggle to guide all other organisations of the working class, not hiding behind a cloak of false modesty like the Mensheviks. To belittle the leading role of the party is, in fact, to weaken and disarm the proletariat.
Comrades here present know from experience that it is not always easy to combat Labour party influence in the unions. It is tempting to declare the struggle unnecessary (because ‘eventually the crisis will in any case loosen the ties that bind organised labour to social democracy’). It is tempting to declare the struggle impossible (because ‘social democracy is so ingrained in the trade unions – why waste the effort?’). It is not so unusual even to hear both optimistic and pessimistic versions expressed in one and the same breath!
But however the issue may be fudged, the fact remains: no matter how weak we may judge communist influence to be at present within the unions, the task remains to build a party that can guide all the other organisations of the working class.
4. The party must multiply and strengthen connections with the non-party masses.
For example, this is the light in which communists should see work with the anti-war and international solidarity movements, as well as with organised labour, however grandiose the term ‘masses’ may sound at this early stage of development.
5. The party will be a party of democratic centralism, with election from below and leadership from the centre. As Lenin puts it, “Now we have become an organised party, and this implies the establishment of authority, the transformation of the power of ideas into the power of authority, the subordination of lower party bodies to higher party bodies.” (Short History, p43)
The working class is not best served by a loose association of study and agitation groups, but by a party of democratic centralism, with a central committee, regions and branches.
6. All the comrades in the party must share a common proletarian discipline, binding upon all. And it is the duty of everyone to make sure this happens. The “class-conscious worker”, says Lenin, “must learn to demand that the duties of a party member be fulfilled not only by the rank-and-filers, but by the ‘people at the top’ as well.” (Short History, p44)
In short, the Mensheviks of yesterday and today want a party as a kind of club for ‘great thinkers’, unburdened with a lot of tiresome rules binding upon all without exception.
The Bolsheviks of yesterday and today demand a party that not only seeks ideological unity but also learns to consolidate that ideological unity by the material unity of organisation of the proletariat.
Lenin rubs this home in the final paragraph of One Step Forward.
“In its struggle for power, the proletariat has no other weapon but organisation. Disunited by the rule of anarchic competition in the bourgeois world, ground down by forced labour for capital … the proletariat can become, and inevitably will become, an invincible force only when its ideological unification by the principles of Marxism is consolidated by the material unity of an organisation which will weld millions of toilers into an army of the working class.”
1905 and the Third Congress
The eruption of revolution in 1905 created a new situation for the party. The divisions over organisational questions were now supplemented by open splits over questions of political tactics.
Where the Bolsheviks insisted that the bourgeois democratic struggle against Tsarist autocracy must not be left to the gutless bourgeoisie to lead, but must be conducted in a revolutionary manner under the leadership of the advanced proletariat and its party, the Mensheviks took the position that workers should leave leadership in the hands of the liberal bourgeoisie. The revolution was not socialist, so why should the workers get involved in leading it? This left-sounding posture merely served as a cover for the Mensheviks’ own inaction.
If the party was not to betray the trust of the masses, it had to resolve these differences without delay. This required the convening of a Third Congress, but when the Bolsheviks proposed this, the Mensheviks declined, preferring to sit on their hands.
The Bolsheviks then convened the Third Congress unilaterally, in April 1905. Sooner than attend, the Mensheviks responded by calling a congress of their own. The splitters’ congress duly committed the Mensheviks to the tactics of tucking in behind the liberal bourgeoisie, whilst the Third Congress of the RSDLP took on the burden of leadership which the Mensheviks insisted upon shirking.
When the Moscow proletariat began the armed uprising of December 1905, it was no accident that, out of a fighting organisation of about 1,000 combatants, over half were Bolsheviks.
It was not until 1912 that Menshevism was finally so discredited within the party that the Bolsheviks could finally release the party from the sapping influence of their opportunism and indiscipline. However, the lessons learned in those struggles proved invaluable to Bolshevism in the trials that lay ahead, both in making revolution and in defending proletarian dictatorship.
In that crucial year of 1905, when what some had belittled as ‘just’ organisational disagreements erupted into fundamental disagreement as to the whole character of the revolutionary development and the role to be played in it by the proletariat, another influential figure on the revolutionary left was to be found energetically taking the wrong side.
Insofar as he consented to being organised by anybody between 1903 and 1917 (the year which saw him jump ship into the Bolshevik ranks), Leon Trotsky was identified with the Mensheviks. So it was that, whilst the Bolsheviks were leading the Moscow proletariat in revolt in 1905, Trotsky and his fellow-Mensheviks, Khrustalev and Parvus, were using their ascendancy within the St Petersburg Soviet to obstruct plans for the uprising, refusing to arm the workers or bring them into contact with the soldiers of the St Petersburg garrison.
Trotsky and 1917
In fact, one way to gauge the organisational maturity of Bolshevism in finally leading the masses to seize the power in October 1917 is by negative reference to the shallowness of Trotsky’s ‘Lessons of October’. Such is the very revealing approach adopted by Comrade Stalin in his 1924 work, ‘The October Revolution and the tactics of the Russian Bolsheviks’.
Though Trotsky finally joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, it is clear from his analysis of the events of that world-shaking year (in his ‘Lessons of October’) just how poorly he grasped the complex character of Bolshevik leadership.
Having himself, for all those years, resisted being organised within the discipline of a communist party – feeling more at home in the world of cabals, factions and conspiracies – he now proved incapable of understanding how such a party could take on the task of organising the vast revolutionary masses of mother Russia.
Leadership, for Trotsky, was either a question of dazzling an audience with brilliant words, or of issuing military-style orders to the obedient ranks.
Comrade Stalin poured scorn on Trotsky’s ‘explanation’ of Bolshevik tactics as they evolved between April and October 1917. Trotsky talked as if, right from the word go, the Bolsheviks had a ready-made political army – as if it were only a question of conducting a few reconnaissance missions before sending in the masses to bring home the revolutionary victory.
“If one were to listen to Trotsky, one would think that there were only two periods in the history of the preparation for October: the period of reconnaissance and the period of uprising, and that all else comes from the evil one. What was the April demonstration of 1917? ‘The April demonstration, which went more to the ‘Left’ than it should have, was a reconnoitring sortie for the purpose of probing the disposition of the masses and the relations between them and the majority in the Soviets.’ And what was the July demonstration of 1917? In Trotsky’s opinion, ‘this, too, was in fact another, more extensive, reconnaissance at a new and higher phase of the movement.’ Needless to say, the June demonstration of 1917, which was organised at the demand of our party, should, according to Trotsky’s idea, all the more be termed a ‘reconnaissance’.
“This would seem to imply that as early as March 1917 the Bolsheviks had ready a political army of workers and peasants, and that if they did not bring this army into action for an uprising in April, or in June, or in July, but engaged merely in ‘reconnaissance’, it was because, and only because, ‘the information obtained from the reconnaissance’ at the time was unfavourable.
“Needless to say, this oversimplified notion of the political tactics of our party is nothing but a confusion of ordinary military tactics with the revolutionary tactics of the Bolsheviks.
“Actually, all these demonstrations were primarily the result of the spontaneous pressure of the masses, the result of the fact that the indignation of the masses against the war had boiled over and sought an outlet in the streets.
“Actually, the task of the party at that time was to shape and to guide the spontaneously arising demonstrations of the masses along the line of the revolutionary slogans of the Bolsheviks.
“Actually, the Bolsheviks had no political army ready in March 1917, nor could they have had one. The Bolsheviks built up such an army (and had finally built it up by October 1917) only in the course of the struggle and conflicts of the classes between April and October 1917, through the April demonstration, the June and July demonstrations, the elections to the district and city Dumas, the struggle against the Kornilov revolt, and the winning over of the Soviets. A political army is not like a military army. A military command begins a war with an army ready to hand, whereas the party has to create its army in the course of the struggle itself, in the course of class conflicts, as the masses themselves become convinced through their own experience of the correctness of the party’s slogans and policy.”
Comrades and friends, how much less is that ‘political army’ of the revolution ‘ready to hand’ in Britain today – to the dismay of all the would-be drill-sergeants of the revisionist and Trotskyite ‘left’? Where is it to be found?
Let us leave it up to these gentry to search for their ready-made army in the dwindling ranks of the imperialist Labour party. We will do better to recall those prophetic words of Lenin, way back in 1904, in One Step Forward.
“In its struggle for power, the proletariat has no other weapon but organisation. Disunited by the rule of anarchic competition in the bourgeois world, ground down by forced labour for capital … the proletariat can become, and inevitably will become, an invincible force only when its ideological unification by the principles of Marxism is consolidated by the material unity of an organisation which will weld millions of toilers into an army of the working class.”
There can be no better way to celebrate the proletarian revolution of October 1917 than to study for ourselves the real lessons of October, the heroism of the revolutionary masses and the revolutionary maturity of the Bolshevik party that led them.
The firmer these lessons are grasped, the surer can we be that our celebration of Bolshevik history tonight is but a foretaste of the communist future for which we struggle.
Long live October 1917!
Thank you very much. This is the third time I was invited here and the second time to celebrate and be with you on this special day of the October Revolution. I am honoured and am very happy.
The first time, I was a bit depressed. But for the third time, the second time of the October Revolution, I’m very happy. Happy for the simple reason that capitalism, imperialism, is in a serious general crisis. [Laughter and applause]
I live in a very small country, a small imperialist country. It’s called Belgium. I do remember, and I was watching, the day the Soviet Union was overthrown and the counter-revolution over the Soviet Union [took place]. The news: chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl comes with two books. One, in the left hand, the book of Lenin – Imperialism – and in the right hand, Das Kapital, and then he was laughing and he said ‘The day of Karl Marx and Lenin is finished!’
I knew he was attacking me, he was trying to make me depressed, to take some medicine or whatever [Laughter], but I knew that capitalism cannot survive.
But a lot of people believed it. It is very difficult to teach and to explain to young workers – every worker – women and men in the imperialist countries, about the Soviet Union.
I would like to share with you one aspect which was not mentioned: the achievements of the Soviet Union that were realised after the October Revolution, particularly under the leadership of Lenin and specifically comrade Stalin.
Stalin came from a very small, minute, nationality – Georgia. Is it possible for me to be a prime minister of this country? [Chair interjects: I don’t know, after Obama! Laughter]
The Soviet Union had a huge number of different nationalities. The Tsar, Russian imperialism and colonialism had abused and colonised, killed, eliminated, destroyed a lot of colonised nationalities within the Russian empire. But the Soviet Union could build and solve, for the first time in the history of humanity, the equality, the fraternity of all nationalities to live under one home with a new civilisation which is called the Soviet Union. [Applause] It never had been achieved [before].
We know that nationalism is a creation of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie looks for the market and it fights for the money. That great home, that great civilisation [the Soviet Union] was not right [to the bourgeoisie]. The enemy is not only the one who is outside standing with a gun. The enemy also plays a lot of ideological enemies, infiltrators.
The Soviet Union, after the Bolshevik revolution, the October Revolution, everybody ganged up on the Soviet Union. Fifteen countries, including the United States, invaded the Soviet Union, destroyed everything that had existed there, and killed 10 million Soviet people, which later on, even, they used that killing and famine as if it was Comrade Stalin that had destroyed Ukraine in 1932.
Lenin says in his marvellous work, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, ‘This happens to an individual: you make in life one step forward, you get drunk and you gamble, lose all your money, you divorce, you think too much, then you take two steps backward in order to come back. It happens to a nation, it does happen also to the class.’
The Soviets were invaded. All modern things were destroyed by the counter-revolution. Lenin says: ‘If there is no industry, there is no proletariat, let us concede.’ And that is Leninism, is Marxism, in the era of imperialism.
The tactic of Lenin, by introducing the New Economic Policy, NEP, was a temporary strategic withdrawal. But some crazy ones who are not really correct communists and Bolshevised in the party, believed that the NEP, the New Economic Policy, was in fact the policy forever.
Once Italian fascism took over in 1923/24, German Nazism was menacing, imperialism was in a crisis already by 1929, Comrade Stalin, he said: ‘If we don’t catch up, the gap between us and them is one hundred years, this beast will destroy us. Collectivisation and industrialisation [are what we need].’
When you just take one work of Lenin and you compare in his work, ‘Shame on America for the plight of the negroes’, in that wonderful work of comrade Lenin, the Afro-Americans today, the ex-slaves in the south, their literacy grade was higher than the Russian peasantry in 1918. When you compare Russia, the Soviet Union, in 1918, there was a 400-year gap between Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Have you ever seen a civilisation who closed the gap in eight years’ time? [Applause]
The Soviet people, they don’t exist anymore. Now they have become Chechens, Georgians, fighting one another one – tribes.
The richest man in Belgium is not a Belgian today; he’s a thief from Kazakhstan. [Laughter] Somalis, who speak one language, have one psychological make-up, one geographical territory, one religion, Islam, and even from Islam, sunni, and from sunni, one line, Maliki – they are now, today, clans and warlords, according to the imperialist media.
My country, Ethiopia, a poor country, or a country with a poor people but rich resources, sent troops when I was a young boy going to school. There was an Ethiopian musician who was singing about Ethiopian soldiers who were being brought in a train to go and fight on the American side in Korea. They died for nothing.
The nationality issues, the equality of people, it can only be solved under the Soviet type of system.
We know that most of our countries are multinational. Today, when you look in Africa, the imperialist media will tell you tribe X against Z, Z against W, W against this, while inciting and creating a proxy war. But one thing: they [the Africans] like a resistance that can shatter the American imperialist dream.
Afghani people resisting the unity of Nato provided the Pakistani people with the correct anti-imperialist leadership against these puppets who are trying to drag 140 million people of Pakistan into a serious problem.
Imperialism is seriously wounded. Comrade Harpal Brar is one of my teachers in one of his eloquent, wonderful works on ‘Capitalism and immigration’ in imperialist countries.
They don’t have children. In the city where I live, 100,000 people live, 30 percent of the population are pensioners. There are no children. In Spain, Italy [the same], by 2040, Russia’s [population] will be 30 percent reduced, Ukraine 40 percent. Not because people don’t won’t to have children, but because it has become impossible for young people to have a job, to have a decent shelter, they have to work flexible hours, they have temporary contracts.
I think that it’s not difficult; I wish I knew Russian to study. They have already now 18 years, the imperialist bourgeoisie, they have all the finest Soviet history, [but] they couldn’t even publish where are the 30 million gulags; they couldn’t produce even a film about it.
They used to inculcate us day and night that there was a famine in Ukraine, a deliberate famine and 10 million Ukrainians dead. There is no [evidence] today [of] that.
Young people in the imperialist countries have to be educated. I am happy for the young one, when she spoke, honest and decent. We, the older ones, we have to have the patience and we have to do all the maximum to win our young generation to realise our defeat and bring, as the Arabs say, for every oppressor class there is a day, and that day is the October Revolution. [Applause]
Thank you Comrade Harpal, and I’d like to thank the CPGB-ML for organising this great event.
People have stopped celebrating October it seems to me, and I think it very important to do so. And the best way to do so is to try and understand what socialism is about.
You hear this over and over again: Marxism is ‘economic reductionism’, Marxism is ‘economic determinism’, but actually, Marxism points to the one thing that is extremely important, which is that the economy really does determine and condition a lot of what goes on in society. Which is why today, to celebrate October, I’ve decided to talk a little bit about socialist economics in comparison with capitalist economics.
Now, the minute you mention socialism, you hear this tape running in your mind like Joti said, especially for our generation: socialism is equal to government, which is equal to lack of incentive, which is equal to inefficient; capitalism is equal to greed, profit motive, selfish motive and therefore it creates incentives for growth and it is equal to innovation.
This is the standard formula you get when you begin to study economics in O-levels and A-levels and it continues through university on to your PhD and so on and so forth. But in fact this is a load of, pardon the expression, BS. [Laughter]
The fact of the matter is that innovation, which is the bedrock of what drives the economy, does not occur because somebody or other sitting in their backyard decides to split an atom; clearly, you’d recognise that an atom cannot be split in your backyard!
Scientific innovation is really the product of research and development organisations, and the dominant research and development organisations in the world today, whether you look at the most advanced capitalist society or you look in the Soviet Union or anywhere else, you will discover that they are all funded by the government. None of them are under private control, whether you look at Nasa or anything else.
And the enormous spin-off of what we call the second scientific and technical revolution, the second industrial revolution, the creation of satellite technology, fibre-optics, [micro]chips, etc, etc that are used in computers and so many other things that we use in consumer electronics and so on today – those are all spin-offs of science technology that was created through Nasa and through other government-sponsored research and development organisations.
So this great worship at the altar of innovation is actually all occurring through government spending anyway. And this is something that is just obscured from everyone’s view.
The thing about socialist and capitalist economics is that there’s an interesting paradox. Everyone knows that the Soviet Union managed to defeat the largest army assembled in its day, which had the combined economic power of all of continental Europe behind it; that is, the fascist armies Germany, Italy and so many other countries. They defeated them all – one single country, one socialist economy with several republics within it – and then after that, and the devastation caused, in which 20-25 million people lost their lives in the Soviet Union and something like 70 percent of industry was wiped out, they rebuilt it all and became another superpower.
If I go back into history, they went through World War I, they went through a civil war, and each time, that society was entirely destroyed and then once again they were a superpower. How did they accomplish these fabulous miracles?
And then, suddenly we discover, in the 1970s and 80s, Gorbachev comes along and says ‘The Soviet Union is in crisis’. Why was the Soviet Union in crisis? Because, according to Gorbachev, it was no longer catching up with the West at the same rate as it was doing. It’s still catching up with the West, but it’s just not catching up with the West as fast as it was catching up with the West before. That was the big crisis.
Let’s accept Gorbachev for now. Why did the Soviet Union gradually slow down in terms of its economic development and growth?
For this, we have to go back to the reason why it grew so rapidly.
There was a time when the bourgeoisie required the mobilisation of workers and peasants; they made everything quite simple and said: ‘This is what we need; we need to get rid of that king, so come join us, we’ll get freedom, we’ll get democracy, come join us.’
Now is not that time. Now is the time that the bourgeoisie wants to make everything complicated. They don’t want to explain things to workers and peasants because they don’t want workers and peasants to be mobilised, and I can find no better example of this than in the field of economics, in which every little thing is completely obscured, abstracted into various mathematical formulas from which you can’t get your head out of [Laughter], so you don’t understand anything that’s going on.
Actual economics is really simple, and people just like making it very complicated. Even Marx’s Capital is actually very easy to understand. The language is difficult; he writes in German, his sentences go on for three pages [Laughter] – that’s what makes it hard! – but the concepts themselves are actually not hard at all to understand.
What drives growth? That’s the central thing that I want to get at today. What drives growth, ie, productivity, the capacity of society to produce more and more, is the fact that humanity creates, through social labour (all labour is social) implements, tools and machines that help humanity mobilise nature in a manner that is beneficial to humanity. That’s economic growth in a nutshell.
It’s not very complicated, is it? It’s just tools. It’s just machines. The development of tools and machines is economic development.
Now the thing about capitalism is that the very process that develops tools and machines and introduces them into the economy simultaneously displaces scores and scores, sometimes millions of workers from the economy, because machines take the place of workers, and unless new investment comes in, more and more workers will be displaced by machines.
So this means that the very process which increases the capacity of society to grow simultaneously decreases the capacity of society to purchase on the market what has been produced. And this causes a recurrent economic crisis.
Every time you go through the introduction of new machines into society, new technology into society, and you displace hundreds and thousands of people from the market, what is the result? There is a slump in demand and capitalists can’t sell their commodities, and as a result, you see economic crisis such as the one you’re witnessing today.
So how does socialism work? In socialism, in fact in every society, whether it’s capitalism or socialism, a certain percentage of your revenue or your ability to work (which is one and the same thing), is reserved for reinvestment into the creation of machines.
So, for instance, if we were one society [indicates audience in hall], we could say that these 10 people will be responsible for producing new machines that the other 90 people will be using.
In capitalism, the way that we determine whether it’s going to be 10 people or 20 or 50 that are going to be producing these machines is through the market mechanism of profit. And that is, that all the capitalists want to earn as much profit as they want to, so they will only build machines, and they will only build the type of machines, which earn them profit. That’s the bottom line. They will not build machines that will help people; they will build machines that will earn them profit.
So it is what Marx called the normalisation of the rate of profit (the equalisation of the rate of profit Adam Smith also talked about), which determines where that savings and reinvestment is going to go.
But in socialism, you don’t have to do it through the market; you can do it through a central plan. We can all get together and we can decide: ‘Ok, what we want to do, friends, in order to develop our society, is to increase the number of enterprises that are producing machines that are going to boost the productivity of our society.’
This is what Stalin called, very briefly and simply, the production of the means of production.
So the purpose of a planned economy is to increase the production of the means of production. Just think about it, it’s actually quite intuitive. Let’s say that these 10 people here were producing tractors and the rest of us were all peasants and were working the fields. Now, in a capitalist economy those 10 people would only produce enough tractors that they can sell them at a profit and that is what is going to determine how many tractors are going to be produced, when they are produced and how they are sold.
If we now suddenly overthrow the capitalist government and we have a socialist society, we can decide it’s not going to be 10 people that are going to be producing tractors, why not get all these 50 people on this side of the room to produce tractors. In fact, let’s forget about producing these tractors for a profit, for a profit we could maybe produce 50 tractors a year, now we are going to produce 150 tractors a year. Moreover, we are just going to give them out for free. Anyone that organises a collective farm can get a tractor.
Now, for all the capitalist economists, that doesn’t make any sense, they’re asking: ‘Why are you running all your tractor factories at a loss? You’re not making a profit! There’s no incentive, it’s all coming apart! Ah, the world is falling!’ [Laughter]
But think about it from the view of the entire economy. When there were only 50 tractors produced, or whatever the number it was that I spoke about earlier, the growth out of 50 tractors was going to be, say, 100 percent. Now that there are going to be 150 or 200 tractors, the growth is going to be three or four times that amount. Because the tractors are going into the fields and they are going to produce that much more. It’s really that simple.
So, what may be an economic loss to the individual enterprise producing the means of production is in fact of enormous economic benefit to the economy as a whole. That is why, during times of war, even capitalist governments decide to take industries, nationalise them, run them at a loss and ensure that thing is produced, that the thing that is required is produced in sufficient quantity. Mostly I am referring to the war industry, which is never run at a profit but run under a planned economy.
So, this is how the Soviet Union managed to perform its economic miracles. If you read Stalin’s great book Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, he says that the way to build socialism is to take those industries that are producing consumer items, take the extra revenue from those and cross-subsidise those industries that are producing machines, producing the means of production. And when those means of production go back to the consumer industries, everything is just going to grow.
And that is exactly how it performed their economic miracles.
In other words, sector A industries, the ones that are producing consumer goods, cross-subsidise the sector B industries, the ones that are producing the means of production. It’s just that simple, comrades.
With respect to China, Vietnam, Pakistan, India, the third world, there is a consistent problem of underdevelopment. It could be just that simple as well, if we could understand that we need to cross-subsidise those industries that have positive growth. In order to do that, you need a planned economy.
What happened in the Soviet Union with the rise of opportunism, what Mao Zedong calls modern revisionism, was that, somehow or other, these really important aspects of a socialist planned economy were thrown overboard. Instead, in their place was introduced the notion that every individual enterprise, not the economy as a whole but every individual enterprise, must run at a profit.
These were called the Lieberman reforms in 1965. Ninety thousand industrial units of the Soviet Union from the main industrial units, with the exception of the military, were under this plan reorganised. They were separated from the central plan, and the principles upon which they were reorganised were that the enterprise, instead of the plan, which was the case previously, would be the basic unit of the socialist economy.
In this, they said, in the new economy, the increased the role of profits increased the ‘real incentives’, which basically amounted to nothing other than increasing the incentives of mangers, middle men and technical managerial intelligentsia.
They said that development funds would no longer be supplied by the Gosplan, by the central bank, by this method of cross-subsidisation, but should be supplied either through loans, credit, or should be generated by the enterprises themselves. They thought that by increasing the rights of factory managers, they could somehow incentivise these factories to produce more.
In fact, they did the very opposite. They slowed down their own economic growth, gradually, even though the Soviet Union still grew at a phenomenal rate, but they slowed it down. They fractured up their social revenue into 90,000 little parts instead of centralising it all and utilising economies of scale, centralising all that scientific knowledge, centralising that revenue, utilising economies of scale to build bigger and better things.
They fractured their social revenue into 90,000 units, which is the number of enterprises that they had at that time, and, as a result, the economy slowed down. And when the economy slowed down, that slowing down of the economy ironically was used by what I would call liquidationists within the party, trying to destroy the party, to further justify the break-up of the Soviet Union, the break-up of socialism, the destruction of the planned economy and the eventual destruction of the soviet state.
The lesson to be learnt is, well, first of all, let’s call things by their right names. The Lieberman reforms were a step back toward capitalism, although they were at the time called a step toward socialism.
Every single step back from socialism since the 1950s has been covered up as a step forward towards socialism. Whether that is the new left, the Frankfurt school of thought, whether that is within the communist party, whether it is post-modernism, post-structuralism, all these things, all this ‘great advance’ is actually a step backwards. It’s always undertaken, because of the dominance of Marxism over the entire intellectual world, it’s always been justified as an ‘advance’.
This retreat, which caused the slow-down in the economy, was used as further justification for the complete break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
We must learn from this history and we must conduct a ruthless ideological war against those people, those trends, those political ideas that pretend to be part of the working-class movement, but are actually representatives of ruling-class ideas within the working class.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
Reply to Taimur’s speech by Harpal Brar (CPGB-ML)
Precisely because these reforms were a step backwards to capitalism, rather than a step forward in the direction of what Khrushchev used to call the ‘higher stage of communism’, which they were going to achieve within 15 years, that’s why they malign the central planning during Stalin’s period of time by some lured stories.
If you read those stories, it sounded as though Stalin had steel for breakfast, more steel for lunch and even more steel for evening meals. And this because he was the evil-minded dictator who wanted to starve Soviet people of articles of consumption.
What people don’t realise is, as Taimur has told us, you can’t even actually expand on a large scale the production of the articles of consumption unless you’ve got the means of production to produce it. What’s more, the machines that produce those means of production, particularly machine-building industry, metallurgical industries, chemical industries, etc. You need all those.
Everything was on track in the Soviet Union, which is precisely why, between 1928 and 1941, June 1941, when the Soviet Union was attacked, her economy has actually gone up by ten times. After the devastating war, the Soviet Union rehabilitated its economy by 1948. From the middle of 1945 to the end of 1948 they had rehabilitated production to the pre-war level.
Then from 1948-51, the Soviet Economy had doubled in size again. Now, the stupid idea is that innovation took place in the Soviet Union because Stalin took a gun and said to their scientist: ‘You will produce this.’ Try and take a gun elsewhere! Everyone knows that Tsarist Russia was not bad at using guns. Why did innovation not come to Tsarist Russia and why to Soviet Russia? Precisely because of the collective efforts where people helped each other in solving the problems.
The video of this speech can be found at the CPGB-ML YouTube page.
Dear comrades, our ambassador to the UK was very happy to receive the invitation to this meeting to celebrate the October Revolution organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), and he asked me to be here on his behalf.
We are very happy to have a meeting with our beloved comrades today. This is the first time that I have joined a meeting like this in London. I’ve stayed in London for three years, but we didn’t have much chance to get in touch with each other, so I’m very happy to be here with all of you. [Applause]
The Vietnamese people, under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam, at this moment are carrying out the policies of Doi Moi, which means ‘change’, in order to build up the country after a very long war.
Now we have achieved quite a lot of development, economically as well as socially. We have worked with many countries in order to attract foreign investment into the country in order to build up a strong economy and satisfy the needs of our people.
Some of you may know that in March this year Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung paid a visit to the UK, as well as Germany and Ireland. The connection between the UK and Vietnam is going well and is very active.
The October Revolution was, as Harpal just said, a unique revolution in the world. It opened a new era for the working class. Every year in our country, we always organise celebrations of the October Revolution and working people join in, in order to remember that very special revolution that opened a new era for our time; that opened the way for the working class to grow up and take the power and to build up an ideal society all over the world.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
Reply to Vietnamese comrade by Harpal Brar (CPGB-ML)
Thank you very much for coming and delivering this message on behalf of his Excellency the Ambassador for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. We are very pleased to see you.
I am, perhaps, too young to remember anything about the Chinese Revolution, but I am old enough to remember about the Vietnamese Revolution.
When I came to this country, the Vietnam war was at its height, and I gained my political education to your country’s heroic efforts in defending your sovereignty and fighting for an advance forward. I was very much impressed, as indeed were all the comrades in our party, by what you have contributed by way of the defeat of Japanese imperialism, French imperialism and American imperialism, and we grew up shouting the name of Uncle Ho all over the place, and I want you to remember that. [Applause. Comrade Phong stands up to shake Comrade Brar’s hand]
Whether we have met before or not, I want you to take this message: we have always been friends of the Vietnamese people, and of their revolutionary struggle. We wish you well in improving the lives of your people, who fought for 40-odd years against various imperialisms, and perhaps much longer, ever since the colonisation of Indochina.
What you are doing for your people has our support; we hope that you are able to build a very prosperous society for the Vietnamese people, where every man and woman can stand with his or her head held high and be the members of a free society, rather than being subjected to oppression and exploitation by imperialism.
We are very, very pleased [to see you here]; Vietnam for us – at least for me – has a very special place, so let us not lose this contact; I hope we will be meeting each other again soon.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
Transcribed from the rally held in Southall, London on 8 November 2008 to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution. The video of this speech can be found at the CPGB-ML YouTube page.
Thank you, Harpal, for your wonderful and inspiring speech about the October Revolution and our Korean achievements.
As always, on behalf of my ambassador and all the other staff, I would like to express my sincere thanks to all the members and activists of the CPGB-ML on your support for our Korean revolution and the solidarity you’ve shown in our difficult times. Thank you very much.
On this occasion, also, I would like to congratulate all the members of the CPGB-ML on this very auspicious occasion of the [anniversary of the] October Revolution.
The great October Revolution in Russia, nearly a century ago, opened a new age for revolutionaries, for the working-class and progressive people all over the world, and gave them a bright hope. I think we can still hear the guns and cheers and see the red flags flying in the sky and feel the enchanted moment of that day, November 7th, 1917. [Applause]
The great October Revolution proved that the working class, when guided by correct and just ideology, and the wise leadership of their outstanding leader, could defeat the reactionaries of history – anti-revolutionaries – and thus build a new society and a new world.
The justness and vitality of the October Revolution has been proven throughout history. Comrade Harpal explained that very well in his speech: the socialist revolution and construction of socialist society in the Soviet Union, the defeat of fascism in World War II and the consequent victories of the socialist and people’s democratic revolutions and anti-imperialist national-liberation struggles throughout the world – Asia, Latin America, Europe and Africa.
And the Workers’ Party of Korea and the DPR of Korea have always regarded the October Revolution as an immortal achievement of not only the Russian communists and revolutionaries, but also of the Korean and world progressives and revolutionaries. [Applause]
Our party and government does continually safeguard the spirit and the principles of the October Revolution, through ups and downs, and, I think, will do the same in the future too.
Let me finish my short speech by reading an excerpt from a great work by Comrade Kim Jong Il, with a very touching anecdote from 2001 by him. You may all remember the work, but I will just repeat. It is a work written by him in 1996: ‘Respecting the forerunners of the revolution is a noble moral obligation of revolutionaries’.
“The cause of independence for the popular masses, the cause of socialism, is a national, and at the same time an international, cause. The Korean revolutionaries are genuine internationalists; they respect the revolutionaries, anti-imperialist fighters, anti-fascist fighters, progressive figures and revolutionary people of all countries, irrespective of their nationality, and duly appreciate their achievements.
“Our party and people respect Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin as the leaders of the working class and speak highly of their distinguished services. Reflecting the demands and aspirations of the working class, Marx and Engels, the first leaders of the working class, developed socialism from a utopian concept to a science and started the socialist and communist movement.
“Lenin inherited and developed Marxism to meet the change in the times and won the victory of the October Socialist Revolution by organising and mobilising the working class.
“Stalin, succeeding to the cause of Lenin, built the first young socialist state into a world power and defended the socialist fatherland from the fascist invasion, leading the army and the people. In their days, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin represented the aspirations and demands of the exploited working masses, and the cause of socialism was inseparably linked with their names.
“The fact that imperialists and the traitors to the revolution viciously defame the leaders of the working class and abuse their leadership as ‘dictatorship’ or ‘infringement on human rights’ only proves that the leaders of the working class were zealous champions of the people’s interests and enjoyed their trust and support.” [Applause]
“Although the opportunists and the socialist renegades defaced the honour of the leaders of the working class and the revolutionary pioneers, they can never wipe out their names and their worthy achievements from history.
“Just as socialism is alive in people’s minds and is opening up the path to a new victory in spite of temporary twists and turns, so the honour and accomplishments of the leaders of the working class and the revolutionary forefathers be respected forever by the people as the socialist movement advances.
“Our party and people treasure friendship and solidarity with the peoples of various countries around the world and have given active support and encouragement to people who are fighting for socialism and for the cause of anti-imperialist independence.
“We have invariably been true to the internationalist principle and revolutionary obligation, both in the party and state relations with the socialist countries and in our relations with all the friendly countries and friendly people” like Britain.
“We remember our revolutionary comrades-in-arms and fraternal people who gave our people unconditional help and support in the hard times of our revolution and construction of socialism, and also people of all countries who support and encourage the just cause of our national reunification.” Thank you. [Applause]
And one last anecdote to prove this theory and principle. When our respected general visited Russia in 2001, he visited Red Square to pay a tribute to Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Great Socialist October Revolution. I think this anecdote will tell everything about his work and his ideology – everything. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Transcribed from the rally held in Southall, London on 8 November 2008 to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution. The video of this speech can be found at the CPGB-ML YouTube page.
I’m going to talk a little bit more from the perspective of someone of my generation: what does October mean to me, and why do I think it should matter to other people like me?
You know, I’m a pretty normal(ish) middle-class, mother of one – perfectly good job, got a house, got a family – so why is it, living in the imperialist heartlands, that I should give a monkeys about the socialist revolution, and about standing here today to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution, something that happened thousands of miles away, 90 years ago to people very far removed from the kind of life that I’m living? [From the floor: I quite agree with you!] (Someone agrees: why do I?!)
Now, I grew up at a time of rampant anticommunism; I grew up in Thatcher’s heartlands, one of ‘Thatcher’s children’, as our generation were called. We were taught to be selfish, we were taught to believe that it’s the law of the jungle, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and that capitalism really is the ultimate expression of ‘human nature’, and that by being selfish, by thinking only of yourselves, by just fighting for you – and maybe your offspring – you are just reflecting reality, and that if society teaches you to be that way, it’s because that’s how people are.
Bourgeois ideology was truly in the ascendant when I was growing up, and there was no-one really countering this barrage of propaganda.
We had English literature lessons where we read Animal Farm and learned to repeat that Stalin was a crazy, murdering, stupid butcher and Trotsky was the true leader of the revolution. We had history lessons where we learned that Trotsky led the Red Army to victory and Stalin somehow hoodwinked and then later personally bullied the Soviet people into following him.
What was the aim of all of this? The aim was to teach us that revolution is pointless; that, no matter what your intentions, if you try to change society, it will go wrong; and to negate the real building of socialism in the Soviet Union by slandering the leader of that building. By slandering Stalin, by telling you that Stalin was an evil murderer, they basically say that everything that was achieved in the Soviet Union wasn’t achieved; it didn’t happen; it wasn’t true.
We were taught all sorts of stupid truisms that we just learned to repeat. These things become axioms because people say them often enough: ‘power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’. They’re the kind of things people say to you and they think they’ve clinched the argument; they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about, but they’ve learned to say them over and over again, and whenever you talk about socialism to people, they come out with the same things: ‘It’s a nice idea in theory, it could never work in practice’; ‘It’s never been done, has it?’
And people can say ‘It’s never been done, socialism’s never been built’ because we’ve been taught all these lies about the Soviet Union and about Stalin’s leadership of the Soviet Union.
Anti-Soviet slanders are in every field of life. I did a music degree and it’s amazing how it creeps in. You wouldn’t think you could go and study music at university and several times a week get some kind of anticommunist slander, but we did.
The great music of Stravinsky and Shostakovich was produced at the barrel of Stalin’s gun! [Laughter] Somehow or other, they made great music – it would have been much better if Stalin hadn’t been there, obviously; if they’d managed to escape to the West, which was obviously what really wanted to do, everything would have been much better for them!
The fabulous child care and maternity provision provided by the Soviet Union? The children were treated like automatons! Their mothers were forced to work! The profession care was impersonal and uncaring!
All the artists, musicians, dancers, gymnasts, athletes that were produced in such amazing quality by the Soviet Union? They were coerced! They were overtrained! It’s not really human to be so good at things … [Laughter]
The victory of the Red Army over fascism? The soldiers were starving! They were forced to fight! Their best commanders had all been shot by Stalin, probably personally! [Laughter]
And to cap all of this hostility from the official sources – from the press, from the school curriculum, from the media – we grew up with a left-wing movement that was pretty much saying the same thing – denouncing and disowning Stalin and all the achievements of socialism.
People in the trade unions, people in the Labour party, the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Communist Party – these were the people who you came up against, who told you they were socialists; that they believed in the working class – they all agreed. When I was growing up, whichever one of these shades of ‘left’ you cared to talk to, they would all tell you: Stalin was a mass murderer, probably Mao was too, and Kim Il Sung the same; socialism has never been put into practice anywhere; Marx wouldn’t have approved of Lenin’s revolution; Lenin wouldn’t have approved of Stalin’s building of socialism.
So essentially, every step of the way, our generation – and probably several before and several after – have been demoralised; they’ve been cut off from their own heritage; cut off from the knowledge that another world is possible and that they’re capable of building it. [Applause]
They’ve been cut off from the science of revolution and from the ideology that offers them hope for a future free from war, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, degradation and disease.
Such has been the success of this sustained propaganda campaign, that even the few socialists that did defend the Soviet Union when I was young didn’t do a very good job of it. We’ve been taught to feel so culturally alienated [from the Soviet Union] that it’s hard to bring it to life; it’s hard to believe it’s really as good as we wanted to say it was.
The repeated assertions that I talked about earlier create an atmosphere of overwhelming associations about what life in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe was like: inhospitable, joyless, we think of gulags in Siberia, everything was grey, everybody was a bit of an automaton, there was no choice, there was no inspiration, there was no magic to life.
Stalin’s name is a swear word; you can’t use it, it’s synonymous with fear and loss of liberty, with the evil KGB, and with a Big Brother culture, so that even those who’d understood in theory that yes, socialism is a good thing, and think that probably what happened in the Soviet Union might have been alright, they couldn’t find the enthusiasm, they couldn’t overcome this barrage of propaganda that had been instilled into them – all this prejudice – to find out for themselves, and to actually stand up proudly and say ‘You know what? This is nonsense! This is not the truth about socialism; this is not the truth about the Soviet Union.’
But we do need to understand the significance of the Soviet Union. We need to read works of literature produced in the Soviet Union. They bring to life life under socialism like nothing else can. And we should read books about the years when socialism was being constructed in the Soviet Union. Novels like How the Steel Was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky, The Zhurbins, Ivan Ivanovich, or books like Soviet Democracy or The Stalin Era; books that describe the life of ordinary people at a time when the Soviet Union was going from strength to strength.
From the time of the revolution up until the time of Stalin’s death, if you read these works of literature, if you read the works of eye witnesses, [you find out that] the Soviet Union was the most incredible place to live, and the Soviet novels illustrate really beautifully how socialism can unlock the tremendous creative powers of working people, imbue them with a spirit of enthusiasm for their work and with a feeling that they really can achieve anything that they put their minds to.
We need to disseminate these works and ideas; there’s a much bigger audience for them than you might think, especially now.
At this moment now, the crisis of capitalism is really providing the best opportunity that I’ve seen in my lifetime to talk to people. Suddenly all sorts of people who wouldn’t have been able to get past the word ‘socialism’ and hear anything else that came out of your mouth – today you can talk to them about child care in the DPRK; you can talk to them about the building of socialism in the Soviet Union and they’ll listen to you; they want to hear; they’re interested in answers now.
For a long time, people here haven’t had such bad lives, and when things were getting worse for them, they believed what they were told. Comrade Brar referred to it earlier – when Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher turned around and said, ‘Well, you know, of course, we’d like to provide you with a perfect education system, perfect health care, but these systems are under strain, we just don’t have enough resources to go around; we can’t just be giving things out willy nilly; we can’t just provide houses to everybody – where will the money come from?’
Where will the money come from? That’s what we’re always told. And it’s an unanswerable question. Where will the money come from? Oh, well, ok, fair enough, there’s not enough money, so that’s just the way things are, right? And people have swallowed that.
But it’s very hard to swallow that when suddenly £500bn is found for the banks – out of nowhere, apparently! [Applause] And I think that’s been the most incredible wake-up call for everybody. While they see that their pensions, their health care, their education are all under threat, that they cannot rely on their pay packet being there next month, that they cannot rely on their house being there next year, but that actually money can be found for the things that matter to the ruling class – and suddenly you see what are the things that matter to the ruling class and what aren’t.
My generation was taught to be nihilistic and cynical, and yet, however much we’re told that that’s the normal way to be, we fight it! If human nature is to be selfish and greedy, why doesn’t being selfish and greedy make us happy? Why doesn’t it make us feel good about ourselves? Why is it that we search for some other meaning in our lives? [Chair interjects: That’s also part of human nature! Laughter]
Why is it that our grandparents look back so fondly on the second world war, a time of such hardship? They talk about the ‘war spirit’. What was the war spirit? It was the collective spirit.
The reality is that people are collective animals; we feel best when we are contributing to something that isn’t just yourselves, our own little lives in our own little boxes. We feel happiest when we are working for something that feels like it means something bigger; we feel happiest contributing to society.
But we don’t get that opportunity. We look for it; we try to find it; we try to tell ourselves that our jobs are meaningful and we feel bad if we can’t find a way to believe that.
Even those who are comparatively wealthy in our society don’t feel it. They don’t feel it because there’s constant insecurity. Even quite well off middle-class people are only a couple of pay packets away from destitution, from defaulting on the mortgage, from losing out on their pensions, from not being able to provide their children with what they need for a decent life.
And that’s in the good times! And as we see now, you can’t rely on the good times. You play the game according every way you’ve been taught and you win, you’re one of the lucky few who does everything you’re told and it works out for you – you’ve got your savings pot, you think you’ve got what you need for your pension, you’ve invested in a few properties.
But tomorrow, maybe the properties aren’t worth anything, maybe the money in the bank isn’t there any more, or it isn’t worth anything any more; maybe suddenly tomorrow you have to pay for health care you didn’t have to pay for before, or your pension’s taken away from you.
You can’t rely on anything under capitalism; there’s no such thing as security no matter how hard you work, no matter how much you accumulate. And that’s why, no matter how much people do accumulate in this society, as they’ve been taught to – accumulate to find happiness – they don’t feel happy; they don’t feel comfortable.
It’s the secret of middle-class whinging – all these well-off people who always have something to moan about! Everybody thinks if they had ten grand a year more, they’d be happy. But the people the next ten grand up, they’re not so happy either – they think they need another ten grand!
And then we compare that with the picture of life in a socialist country. Can you imagine living in a world where every job makes a contribution to building a better life for people? That in itself would be such a great motivator and inspirer! That in itself would unleash the creativity of so many people, bring out people’s natural collective spirit.
It’s very interesting to me; I recently spotted a bit of a pattern. We met a comrade from China and he was talking about life in China and achievements of the Chinese people in the last 50-60 years, and he said to me, ‘You know, we Chinese, we like to do things for ourselves; we don’t like to rely on others, we don’t like to exploit others, we like to build things ourselves – it’s just what we’re like. It’s because we’re Chinese.’
And we were watching a film about the Cuban revolution, and there was a Cuban bus driver, and the interviewer was asking him about the problems with the transport in Cuba because of the blockade, lack of petrol, lack of spare parts, and he said, ‘You know, we’re Cubans, problems are to be solved! It’s because we’re Cuban – we find solutions to our problems, we don’t moan about them, we get on with it, we fix things.’
And I bet if you’d gone to the Soviet Union, you’d have heard something very similar. North Koreans will talk about their self-reliance, their pride in being Korean and achieving things by themselves for themselves.
Now I hope our comrades from these countries won’t take it amiss when I say to them that my belief is that it’s not because they’re Korean or Chinese or Cuban that they feel this way about their people, about their country, about their lives; I think it’s because they live under socialism. [Applause]
I think a socialist society inspires them to build and to achieve; it makes them feel valued, it makes them feel part of something, it makes them feel that their work is useful. They can see the fruits of their labour in front of them and it comes back to them and to their neighbours a hundred fold.
Imagine never having to worry about paying the rent; never having to worry about health care, education provision for your children, university fees.
Imagine never having to worry about whether or not you’ll still have a job tomorrow; never having to worry about whether there’s going to be food on your table or your children’s table today or tomorrow.
Cuba’s achievements in the fields of health and education are relatively widely known now, but it’s not so well understood that it was the Soviet Union that pioneered all of that.
It was the Soviet Union that was the first to provide these kind of things – and that at a time, not only when they had just fought a very debilitating war – first the revolution, then the civil war, then the war of intervention – but when the rest of the world was going through the great depression – the mirror of the crisis we’re having now.
The rest of the world was plunged into total poverty, but the Soviet Union was going from strength to strength; they were providing facilities – first class, world class facilities – for ordinary working-class people of the kind that before then had only ever been dreamed about.
Like the Soviet Union before it, if you go to the DPRK today, something that hits people when they go there (and I’m sorry to say I never have yet, but it’s something that’s always related to me when I talk to people who have been) is that there are no advertisements on the streets. Can you imagine a life free from that bombardment of rubbish?
You don’t appreciate how much it oppresses you and weighs down on your mentality – all the time, in your face – you have to learn not to look around you; learn to walk around in your own little bubble to keep it out, blaring out at you. You’re not even free from it in a petrol station forecourt, in Sainsbury’s – they’re advertising at you non-stop, all the time.
To live in a place where not only do you not have that, but instead you have people’s art in the streets; celebrations – statues and posters – artwork celebrating the achievements of you and your fellow people.
Ordinary people’s buildings made beautiful – turned into palaces. They have children’s palaces in Korea, and the Soviet Union did just that sort of thing, constructing the most incredible, artistic buildings where ordinary people were every day, like the underground system in Moscow; places where ordinary people go made beautiful, to uplift them, to make them feel respected, valued; to make them care about their society and feel that they in turn were cared about.
Comrade Brar’s already talked about how the Soviet Union provided for mothers and children. It’s something you can’t underestimate the impact of – and so far in advance of the rest of the world. It’s the first place where they really showed that the liberation of women is about practical things – it’s not just about allowing women to take part in jobs, but freeing them to do so: providing the best possible child care, where you feel happy to leave your children; providing huge amounts of paid maternity leave, both before and after the baby’s birth, for the optimum health of the mother and the baby. I was reading recently how as soon as they knew a woman was pregnant, they’d move her into easier physical work if she was in something that was quite taxing. The day the baby and the mother came home from the hospital, who came to see them? Not just the nurse – an obstetrician! In the house!
They really, really cared about the health of women and of children. They set up crèches, laundries, kindergartens, public dining rooms – all the services that Comrade Harpal talked about before – to free women and allow them to really take their place in society, and to give children an equal start in life.
There was recently a report published by the World Health Organisation. It talked about health inequality in the world, and the conclusion that they [the authors] came to – well, the conclusion between the lines was, we need socialism! [Laughter] – they said: people need jobs, they need decent housing, people need access to culture.
They talked about illness prevention, which of course was the core principal tenet of the Soviet medical system, and they talked about children needing an equal start from the beginning.
They talked about the importance of pre-school education; they talked about the importance of involving the whole community in that type of pre-school education – it’s not just a question of sending them off to a kindergarten for a couple of hours and bringing them back again, but a whole community really needs to take part in that.
But you need to have a community to do something like that; people need to be organised as a community in order to implement those kind of programmes. There are only socialist countries in the world today that do that – it’s only in Cuba, it’s only in the DPRK where you see those kind of programmes in action – and it was in the Soviet Union that you saw them first.
Imagine living in a world where education throughout life was the norm; where opportunities to develop your potential are provided as a matter of course to everyone, at no cost, with no penalty to your family if you decide to take them up or to have a change of career – where you don’t have to worry whether your children are going to eat if you need to retrain.
We live in a society that criminally squanders and suppresses the creative and productive potential of the vast masses of humanity. Even the best off workers often feel isolated and insecure, and the vast majority are only ever one or two pay packets away from destitution.
None of the main contradictions of imperialism can be solved without proletarian revolution. We will never have job or housing security or secure pensions as long as imperialism exists.
Our job as socialists under capitalism is to use the daily and hourly crises of imperialism to expose the system and explain to workers that as long as this system continues the rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer, the crises will get deeper, the wars will become bigger and bloodier.
October showed us we have nothing to lose and everything to gain from the socialist revolution, which will free us all from poverty and insecurity. [Applause]
October proved that work under socialism is transformed from meaningless drudgery into a vehicle for unlocking the potential and creativity of the working class.
And it was October that proved that while imperialism continues to oppress and plunder and drench the world in blood, there is only one thing that can usefully be done with your life, with my life, with anybody’s life, and that is to join the fight against imperialism, to join the fight for more Octobers. [Applause]
Reply to Joti’s speech, Harpal Brar
Thank you very much Joti, but you were quite wrong in saying that I’d spoke your speech earlier; it’s quite different. And to the extent that there is some repetition, then I think it’s perfectly alright. As the old Latin saying goes: Repetition is the key to learning!
You have talked of the power of advertisements. We must advertise our ideology – the more often we speak about it, the better. I hope each speaker will be able to repeat some of the things, because they are essential.
We are in a minority and we’ll never become a majority unless and until we actually continue to insist on speaking the truth, whatever the cost.
We’ve somehow been thrown back in the imperialist centres to being in a similar position to that of the early christians – you know, you’re hounded from place to place, but you’re nevertheless able to convey what they used to call ‘the lord’s message’. [Laughter] In our case, it is the message of the working class.
We are the majority. Why are we such fools that we accept the propaganda of the tiny minority that actually keeps us in subjugation? We shall not accept that as being the fate of humanity.
Transcribed from the rally held in Southall, London on 8 November 2008 to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution. .
Thank you very much. It’s a great honour to be with you today delivering the message of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Turkey and Northern Kurdistan.
October is the future of humanity. It has been said that we have called the 21st century with the defeat of socialism, but yet we are here again, discussing socialism and wanting socialism. Because the world today needs socialism, humanity today needs socialism more than ever and more than everything. [Applause]
Look at the world roughly: imperialism’s financial crisis; wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; hunger, poverty and death in Africa; racism in Europe. Alongside this, we see mass unemployment all over the world. Capitalism is unable to solve these problems.
Through looking at the successes of the October Revolution, we can understand why humanity needs socialism, but looking at the countries of the destroyed Soviet bloc – Russia, Romania, East Germany, Poland – will give us the same result. We have all seen how the mafia, unlawful living and working, sex slavery, begging, homelessness and national conflicts have rapidly grown and are continuing to grow in these countries.
This is the general look of the capitalist world, but it is obviously not limited to only this.
However, there are enough resources in the world, enough machines, labour power and factories. All the labourers, all the oppressed people in the world, could live in healthy homes that see the sun; their children could be educated in high quality schools; they could live without the hospital queues which they have to live with today.
We can see that the oppressed people of the world cannot find these conditions in the current society under capitalism.
October brought the world which the oppressed people wanted, because it was directly formed through the will, power and struggle of the oppressed people. October brought peace to humanity, national freedom and equality; it became the name that suits humanity in production to have an education.
October is the future of humanity. [Applause]
The October Revolution clearly shows that the bourgeoisie is extra in this world; it is a weight on the shoulders of humanity; it is unneeded. October showed us that we can get rid of it.
October has shown us that the only way to get rid of the bourgeoisie as a social class is through removing the private ownership of production vehicles.
Palestine, Iraq and Kurdistan are places where the national problems are still continuing, which capitalism is unable to solve. October had the best solution to these types of problems.
The bourgeoisie has a wide propaganda about the violence of the October Revolution and Soviet socialism. What we have to say about this is very short and very clear: if we are to talk of violence and barbarism, the violence October used against its class enemies looks very tiny when opposed to the violence used by the USA against black people in history. [Applause]
If we are to talk about brutality, we should see the 150 wars that have been caused by the bourgeoisie in the 20th century, which have killed more than 250 million people. Unless we take into account the budget put into arms and relate this to the budget put into health and education, we will not be able to understand the real barbarism of the bourgeoisie.
Violence and barbarism are both caused by the bourgeoisie. The violence of October against its class enemies was very innocent compared with the violence and barbarism of the bourgeoisie against the oppressed people. [Applause]
Another world is possible. A world free from wars, occupation, imperialist plunder, racism, and all else that humanity wants to get rid of. This world will be socialism.
October is the future of humanity. We salute this event of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and look forward to working together for another world.
Transcribed from the rally held in Southall, London on 8 November 2008 to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution.
Dear Comrade Harpal and other comrades in the CPGB-ML
It is with great pleasure that I send you this message to salute the event organised by the CPGB-ML in order to commemorate the 91st anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution.
On November 7th, 1917, the Russian working class shook the conscience of workers all over the world, who, for the first time, understood that it was possible to overcome the bourgeois regime and build a more dignified future for the oppressed masses. This turning point opened up a new alternative for all the Russian people and the world and signified the beginning of a new era of changes and transformations in the political, economic, social and spiritual life of humankind. Without the Great October Socialist Revolution the end of colonialism and the liberation of many peoples in all continents would not have been possible.
It was certainly a great inspiration for Cuba and for our revolution and we will never forget and shall always be grateful for the immense support and solidarity that we always received from our Soviet comrades.
As we join you in the celebration allow me to use this opportunity also to convey our deep gratitude and appreciation for the solidarity and support that Cuba, our people and our revolution, which next year marks its 50th anniversary, have always received from your party and from many of its individual members.
Luis Marron Oroza, Embassy of Cuba
Transcribed from the rally held in Southall, London on 8 November 2008 to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution. The video of this speech can be found at the CPGB-ML YouTube page.
Comrades, we’re celebrating the historic October Revolution. There have been many revolutions around the world, but the October Revolution is a revolution that changed the world in a way that previous revolutions have never changed it.
The great revolution before that, probably the greatest one, was the French bourgeois revolution of 1789, but, historic though it was, it was not in the same mould as the October Revolution, because the French revolution got rid of one system of exploitation and replaced it by another; got rid of feudal exploitation and instituted bourgeois exploitation.
What the October Revolution did was, it finished all exploitation; it created a country where there was no person exploiting another person, where there was no nation oppressing or exploiting another one.
That is the historic significance of the October revolution.
It changed the world in a way that cannot be undone, notwithstanding the reverses that we have undoubtedly suffered ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The world cannot be put back to what it was prior to the October Revolution in 1917.
Thanks to the October Revolution we have had tremendous advances. The October Revolution, for the first time, taught the working class that it could not only destroy the old society, but it could also build a new one.
Within a very short space of time, a socialist industry was built, agriculture was collectivised, the culture of the people, their level of scientific attainment, was raised to unprecedented levels.
Russia’s per capita income in 1917 was one tenth of that of the United States of America. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, its per capita income was half that of the United States of America.
But that doesn’t really tell you the whole story, because what the Russian people had was not just per capita income, but the facilities that they got socially – free childcare, free nurseries, free education, a free health system and very cheap housing.
One of the joys of the old Soviet Union was that as soon as the schools shut, millions of children all around the Soviet Union queued at railway stations, airports, bus stops in order to be taken away to pioneer camps for their holiday.
Parents didn’t have to worry whether their children would be bored during the holidays; they were looked after by trained staff and taken to the best places, which in our part of the world are reserved for the very rich. Soviet children could have the facilities that are only available to the very rich in West European and imperialist countries.
The Soviet Union didn’t stop at that. The Soviet Union built her defence industry and defence capability to a point whereby the Soviet Union was able to make the single most important contribution to the defeat of the allegedly invincible fascist war machine, and saved humanity from the scourge of fascism. [Applause]
The fascists had expected to rule the world for a thousand years in the name of the master race, but the so-called ‘slave nations’ – the Russians and the people of the Soviet Union – defeated that by almost single-handedly fighting against them.
France, of course, was finished within three weeks. France’s army was supposed to be the most important and powerful in western Europe; they had the Maginot Line, but the Nazis finished them off in three weeks’ time.
When the Soviet Union was attacked, they [bourgeois commentators] gave the Soviet Union three weeks. Three weeks became three months; three months became three years; and at the end of for years of gruelling war, the Soviet Union had chased the Nazis over the Polish border and pursued them all the way to Berlin.
And as the Soviet flag was proudly being flaunted on the Reichstag building, the Fuehrer was committing suicide. Isn’t that a wonderful achievement for the working class? [Applause]
The Soviet Union was the only country in 1935 – and from ‘35 onwards, right up to its collapse – which had no unemployment.
Now, if you live in western Europe, if you live in capitalist countries, it’s considered a law of nature, like the law of gravity – you must have unemployment. A society cannot function without unemployment; a society cannot function without homelessness; a society cannot function without destitution, without prostitution, without gangsterism, without drug trafficking.
But all these ills were eliminated in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, and that was the achievement of the Soviet Union, which we miss dearly now.
For the first time, the Soviet Union provided the facilities necessary for the elimination of discrimination against women. Women cannot become equal with men unless and until two things take place – that they are introduced on a mass scale into social production, and that there are facilities for the looking after of children, the cooking of food and laundry.
The Soviet Union created crèches, kindergartens, nurseries and dining facilities for working people on a mass scale. You didn’t have to eat in a dining room if you didn’t want to, you could cook at home, but the thing was that the choice was there should you not wish to cook. Women would only be able to get that equality if those facilities were there, and the Soviet Union actually set the standards.
If women in western Europe have the rights that today they have, they owe it to the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union was the first and showed it as an example.
It was only a few years before the first world war that property qualifications had been eliminated before people could have the right to vote. Women were not allowed to vote until after the first world war. The Soviet Union, the moment it was established, straight away gave the right to vote to every person over the age of 18, whether they were men or women.
For the first time, you could see women doing the jobs that you thought they were never capable of doing – driving trains, flying aeroplanes, becoming doctors, becoming everything. And that, of course, again set the example, whereby women in western Europe were able to catch up.
Such was the effect of the Soviet republic, that in order to avoid a repetition of what had happened in Russia, namely a socialist revolution, the bourgeoisie had to institute reforms to ease the conditions of living of the working class – even more so after the victory of the Red Army in the second world war.
Sometimes, the working class here, led by imperialist propaganda, talks as though the Soviet Union was nothing and everything here is wonderful, but they owe the better conditions they have, partly at least, to the victories of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in providing those facilities. [Applause]
The Soviet Union, by liberating all the ex-Tsarist colonies, and then, on the basis of voluntary union, bringing them into the USSR, and providing them with equal rights, set the standard for the people of the world.
Paul Roberson, whose songs you’ve been listening to earlier, said: ‘I went to the Soviet Union. They used to say to us that black people in Africa or elsewhere will not be capable of self-government for a thousand years. I realised in the Soviet Union that within ten years, the most backward people had been brought to a position where they were the equal of the Russians.’
Colonialism plunders colonies, takes the wealth from poor countries and takes it to rich areas, just as within each rich imperialist country, it takes the wealth from the poor people and gives it to the rich. You know, [we are told that] the rich will only work if there are ‘incentives’ and you give them more money; but the poor will only work if you take away even their last crust of bread, because that’s their only incentive – otherwise they’ll never come to work.
The Soviet Union did the opposite. The Soviet Union put huge amounts of resources into developing backward areas and the former colonies of Tsarist Russia in order to bring them to the same level of development that was available in the central regions of Russia and in important centres like Moscow and Leningrad.
For the first time, people could use their languages – their theatre, their arts, their sciences, their administration could be conducted in their own languages.
For the first time, even, they could repair their mosques – mosques were repaired. You say: is that because they were trying to propagate religion?
No. Propaganda in favour of materialism, in favour of atheism, was accompanied by giving people the right, should they wish to do so, to believe in claptrap – as long as religion did not interfere with state matters, as long as it did not put its foot into educational institutions, as long as it kept to just praying.
If you wanted to pray, you could go to a church or a mosque or a synagogue or wherever you wanted to. In spite of all the stories that are told that they [the communists] destroyed every church, this is total rubbish; you only had to go into the former Soviet Union to see that.
Loss of the USSR; era of reaction
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the bourgeoisie was cock-a-hoop; they were triumphalist, and the reactionary American professor of Japanese origin Fukuyama even said that it was the end of world history.
It just shows you what the best brains of the bourgeoisie are like. A long while ago, in Capital Volume 1, Marx, and he was really commenting on Mill, but compared with these intellectuals, Mill was almost a giant! Marx put a footnote, having discussed Mill, in which he said: ‘On a level plain, small mounds look like hills, and the flatness of the present bourgeoisie may be measured by the altitude of its intellects.’
Now, in my view, in Marx’s days, even though they were flat, the bourgeois intellectuals were still, compared with our intellectuals, giants. Today, they have just become mercenary salesmen for a system which is 150 years at least out of date, and which only lives by devouring living human beings, not only through the extraction of surplus value, but wars – inter-imperialist wars and wars against oppressed people.
We were told that, once the Soviet Union collapsed, there would be a peace dividend; everything would be fine because the Soviet Union was the cause of all war and danger and now there would be peace.
As the Soviet Union was collapsing, the first Gulf war was being waged against Iraq.
Since then, we have had the second Gulf war, which in the last five years has consumed 1 million Iraqis and displaced 4 million others – half of them abroad and half of them internally.
Tens of thousands of Afghan people are being murdered in the name of ‘humanitarianism’, but the only humanitarianism imperialism has is how to exploit and how to oppress. Imperialism seeks domination; it does not stand for freedom anywhere, either in its internal policy or in its external policy.
We celebrate this victory because we think it’s significant, and we will also, having learned from the reverses that socialism has suffered, go forward and be able to achieve victories. Not ignoring the Soviet republic, not ignoring the Soviet Union, but building on the basis of that, we would be that much better because we have learned so much – positive as well as negative – from what happened in the Soviet Union.
A lot of people have been disheartened. The bourgeois propaganda is incessant. They keep on saying communism is dead. Well if it’s dead, what’s the point in going on about it? [Laughter]
I mean, if somebody stood up outside and said “Napoleon is dead”, you’d think he was a lunatic. Well everybody knows Napoleon is dead; he died in 1821 or something like that. So what’s the point in going around saying so?
If Marxism is dead, why do you have to say every morning like a prayer: “Marxism is dead”? [Laughter] Well it’s clear to me that Marxism is not dead.
Far from being dead, Marxism is very much alive, and the bourgeoisie cannot sleep because Marxism can only be dead if there’s no working class. Marxism is the ideology of the modern proletariat, and it can no more be destroyed than can the proletariat. [Applause]
The proletariat cannot be destroyed under the conditions of capitalism because there would be nobody to exploit and the bourgeoisie could not live. The only way it can be destroyed is that the proletariat becomes the ruling class, in which case it would cease to be a proletariat; it would cease to be a proletariat because its role as being the exploitable material would cease to exist.
The reason they keep on saying it [Marxism] is dead, is that they want to demoralise every one of us.
Stalin a long while ago pointed out that the chief endeavour of the bourgeoisie of all countries, and of its reformist hangers-on, and this is very important to remember, is to kill in the working class faith in its own strength, faith in the possibility and the inevitability of victory, and thus to perpetuate capitalist slavery.
And that’s really what they’re trying to do.
And Stalin was absolutely also right when he was having an argument in the executive committee of the Communist International against the Soviet opposition, the Bukharinites and Trotskyites, who were saying that the Soviet Union was using other peoples, that it was nationalistic and was not promoting world revolution.
And Stalin’s answer was that the very existence of the Soviet Union was a tremendous help to peoples abroad; that the Soviet Union was the base of the world proletariat; it was really a base from which the revolution could spread.
Stalin asked the question: “What would happen if capital succeeded in smashing the Republic of the Soviets?” And he went on to answer: “There would set in an era of the blackest reaction in all the capitalist and colonial countries, the working class and the oppressed people would be seized by the throat, the positions of international communism would be lost.”
Looking back at the last 18/19 years, don’t you think that that remark was truly prophetic? Not prophetic in the sense that the victory of capitalism over the Soviet republic was inevitable, but prophetic in the sense that those consequences are being realised.
Imperialism is not very much frightened of the Soviet Union now, so it attacks oppressed peoples abroad; it wages innumerable wars – wars against Yugoslavia, wars against the Sierra Leones people, wars against the Colombian people, wars against the Palestinian people, wars against the Iraqi people, wars against the Afghan people, and now they are actually trying to wage a war against the people of Pakistan as well.
Since August this year, the United States has, on 17 occasions, bombed villages and places in the border areas of Pakistan, and killed several dozen people. It’s only a question of time before the Pakistani army begins to shoot back, because there’s mass pressure in Pakistan that Pakistani sovereignty is not to be violated, and if the Americans continue, they are really going to stir a hornets’ nest in that part of the world.
Our day will come
And at the same time, imperialism is attacking working people at home. There are attacks on the National Health Service, which is becoming a two-tier system is already penetrated by market reforms, education is becoming increasingly more of a two-tier system (it was never one-tier, but it’s become even more so), and various public facilities are being taken away.
They tell you there is no money. Public-sector workers are getting pay increases which are below the rise in prices, ie, below the inflation level, and when they ask for money, Gordon Brown says, ‘We must be prudent, there’s no money.’
Lo and behold, there’s a credit crunch, and the giants of finance are falling like ninepins. And suddenly, Britain is able to find several hundred billion pounds in order to shore up the banks. The Unites States of America, the land of the free and the land of the free market, suddenly is able to find $700bn in order to shore up their banking industry.
Now people in the left-wing movement have said: ‘This is socialism.’ [Laughter] No. It’s socialism, yes, but for the bourgeoisie. You and I are going to pay taxes in order to shore up the very people who brought us to this crisis – they run with their money, and if, tomorrow, the banks become profitable again, as, if capitalism is not overthrown, they must after two, three, four years, then all the shares that the state has bought will be sold back to them so they can start again their merry-go-round of speculation and chasing after more and more profit.
But what it does show is this: every crisis is an indication, as Engels said; every crisis shows that the bourgeoisie is incapable of managing the economic affairs of society. [Applause] It is incapable of doing so because long ago, the productive forces of society became far too powerful to be contained within the shell of capitalist relations of production.
And at every crisis, the productive forces break through those barriers and bring the ruin of a lot of capitalists, but even more misery to millions and millions of people around the world.
There is only one way that we can get rid of that, and that is: the working class takes over these means of production in the name of society and organises production on a planned basis, to satisfy the ever-rising cultural, educational and material needs of all the people, rather than to cater to the greed of a few people. This is the only way that society can go forward.
It is out function to inform the working class of this. Marxism is nothing but the theoretical expression of that understanding, and to bring to the working class the idea that there is a liberation for you, but not within this system; there is a liberation for you, but by breaking that particular system. Only then can society be rid of discrimination; be rid of sex discrimination, race discrimination, oppression of some nations by a few powerful nations, and wars and unemployment and hunger and poverty.
I’m sorry if I’m bragging about it: I took part in a debate at the Oxford Union, and the motion there was: ‘Capitalism can save the world.’ We lost the motion. Of course, in Oxford Union, you don’t easily win. [Interjection from the floor: ‘Only just!’] Yes, only just.
Madeleine tells me – she phoned them – that the people who won the motion for the proposition got 140 votes. We lost it but we gained 130 votes. [Applause] To actually go to the enemy’s camp and lose by 10 votes – and two of them foolishly because we went to the wrong side! [Laughter] (The working class must learn from its own mistakes!) So had we been on the right side, we would have lost by only six votes, if you like. But it doesn’t matter, because, as I said in my contribution there: ‘Comrades and friends and students, this issue is not going to be decided through a debate at the Oxford Union, nor anywhere else. It’s going to be decided in the arena of class struggle throughout the world, and I haven’t got the slightest doubt which side will win.’ [Applause]
So comrades, to conclude my rather lengthy introduction, for which many apologies (and you can attack me after the meeting), I would simply say that our day will come, and in the words of the great Russian writer N G Chernyshevsky, there will be joys and festivities in our streets.
We have no reason, despite the reverses, to feel sad; we have no reason to feel downhearted, because the future is ours. No matter how much the removal of this horrible system is delayed – 10 years, 20 years, 50 years – in terms of individuals’ lives, it’s terrible; I shall not live to see it; some of you might be able to live and see it; but humanity at large will see this present system fall and a new society being born on the basis of the road of the October Revolution.
Where the October Revolution left off, humanity is taking up. There are other socialist societies in existence. We have here two perfectly good examples – we’ve got representatives of two socialist countries here; from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And there is also China, there is Cuba, and there are other places which are trying to move in that direction, and we are very, very sure of the future.
All I want from our members and our supporters is to redouble their efforts, or rather, increase their efforts a hundred fold, to build a powerful voice of the working class. In this country – and I don’t mean to be arrogant – there’s only one party that represents it [the working class], small though it may be, and that’s the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). Please support us in our endeavours. Thank you very much. [Applause]