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Communism and the youth

A presentation to the International Communist Seminar delivered by Ranjeet Brar, on behalf of the CPGB-ML, Brussels, 17 May 2009.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly encountered and inherited from the past. The tradition of all the generations of the dead weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.[i]

Historical context

We are born, not onto the world of our choosing, but into that bequeathed us by humanity’s collective history. And at the turn of the 21st century, that means a world mired in all the contradictions of capitalist imperialism; that is, monopoly capitalism at its highest stage – highest, meaning final, and speaking economically.

It would be equally true to say that mankind, despite all advances in technology and the possibilities they offer, has never been brought so low. Lenin was absolutely correct when he characterised finance capitalism as decadent, parasitic and moribund.

In fact, Lenin’s profound analysis of monopoly capitalism, written in 1916, during the first ‘great’ inter-imperialist conflagration, remains entirely accurate in all its principal features. It is, sadly, as fresh and redolent of today’s society as on the day it was published, and must be read and assimilated by all class-conscious workers.

The working-class movement, then, is addressing precisely the same problems as were identified a century ago. In the tumultuous intervening period, our movement has seen stunning advances and painful defeats, but the root causes that brought the working classes of all nations face to face with the question of proletarian revolution, far from ending with the Soviet counter-revolution, have become broader and more profound.

We are living in the era of the proletarian revolution, and our task is to expedite the transition.

If we are to bring the youth to communism, we must first have an idea of communism to bring to the youth. And in this regard, the theses recently adopted by the KKE at its 18th party congress are to be welcomed.[ii]

2009 is fast becoming a year synonymous with capitalist economic crisis on a scale not seen since the Wall Street crash of 1929. Giants of finance capital have collapsed, and in Britain (as in the US and many European countries), our ‘Labour’ government has responded by giving banks hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money: robbing the poor to pay the rich.

Workers’ outrage is mounting, as shown by recent demonstrations against the G20, and by increasingly militant industrial and political actions (notably, in Europe, in Greece and France). And it is fully justified, but, in truth, not yet broad enough in its scope, for these are but exaggerations of the daily actions and normal workings of capitalism, whose entire system of wage slavery rests on the perpetual looting of the wealth created by the labouring masses.

It is abundantly clear that, as long as capitalism endures, the money borrowed by our governments today will be paid back tomorrow by means of cuts in public spending – workers’ schooling, housing, and health care will pay the bankers’ bill. Truly, their wealth is built upon our poverty, their joy upon our misery! We must insist that bankers pay for their own crisis.

Attitude of the youth

The average youth that one encounters on the street may not yet want communism, but the truth is that he is in desperate need of it. For the youth, as indeed all humanity, are beset on all sides by the problems and contradictions of capitalist economy and society in crisis. Its realities impinge upon them and limit their prospects, regardless of their consciousness of the fact.

As capitalist society becomes ever more historically outmoded, a germ of consciousness grows; the awareness that something is profoundly amiss, and needs change. It is felt keenly by the youth, who have not yet reconciled themselves to the absurd injustices they witness all around.

Poverty, homelessness, helplessness and despair. Environmental degradation and climate change. Colonial and inter-imperialist war (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, etc) – in which they may be called upon to fight. Famine, malnutrition and malnutrition-related disease. Unemployment, under-employment, and decreasing living standards. These are the benefits of monopoly capitalism in the 21st century. Imperialist cause and anti-social effects are inextricably linked, and the growing opposition to all these social phenomena are, at base, all elements (conscious or not) of the anti-imperialist struggle.

As no solution to these profound social problems can be offered by the capitalist political establishment, a thin gruel of diversionary sub-culture, mixed with a large measure of racism, communalism and misogyny are daily pumped to the masses, in order to divide workers, and to give us self-destructive avenues down which to vent our anger, in a manner that preserves rather than destroys the capitalist system.

And, ever present, behind the honeyed words, are the mailed fists of Anglo-American and EU imperialism: administering police beatings on the streets at home, to workers in general, but to organised and disenfranchised workers in particular; or conducting occupations, colonial wars and punitive expeditions abroad on behalf of an imperialist class desperate to enforce its domination as its economic grip weakens.

The capitalist class, whose future is in the past, clings tenaciously to power and pours scorn on all criticism; particularly on scientific Marxist criticism. Fukuyama’s thesis of capitalism as “the end of history” remains their default position.

But such triumphalism looks increasingly shaky when the crisis of overproduction becomes profound. For capitalism offers four fifths of humanity a wretched existence, and the oppressed nations and particularly the working classes feel keenly their lack of interest in maintaining a system so profoundly at odds with the needs and wishes of the vast masses of humanity.

Figure 1 – ‘The demographic divide’[iii]

ITALY

DEM REP OF CONGO

2008 population

59.9 million

66.5 million

2025 population

62.0 million

109.7 million

Population < age 15

8.4 million (14%)

31.3 million (47%)

Population age 65+

11.9 million

1.7 million

Annual births

568,000

2.9 million

Annual deaths

575,000

843,000

Annual natural increase (births minus deaths)

- 7,000

2.1 million

Annual infant deaths

2,300

270,000

Life expectancy at birth

81 years

53 years

Percent of population undernourished

< 2.5%

74%

The youth are not always the most radical element of society, for inexperience can lead to susceptibility to false promises and demagogy, but in as much as they are overwhelmingly working class, and that their lives lie ahead of them and their future is very much jeopardised by the current political order, they are unquestionably our natural ally. The most oppressed and downtrodden populations in the world are also the youngest.

For our part, to be effective, we must find the means to connect our understanding with the vast masses of humanity, not least the youth. Otherwise, we are doomed to play the role of helpless spectators on the recurring capitalist train-wreck, rather than the instigators and shapers of humanity’s bright future.

It is clear that the arm of criticism cannot replace the criticism of arms. Material force can only be overthrown by material force, but theory itself becomes a material force when it has seized the masses.”[iv]

Our tasks: what is to be done?

But the youth must first be drawn to the cause of their own emancipation. They require concrete explanations, understanding of the class interests that perpetuate injustices, and the means to overcome them.

The atomised youth, isolated and oppressed, need to be organised and to gain experience in fighting for meaningful change. To win the youth, just as to win other sections of the population, we need to subject the imperialist order to ruthless criticism, or, as Lenin put it, we need to aim at “the revolutionary elucidation of the whole of the present system or partial manifestations of it.[v]

Our respective organisations must not only have the correct and uncompromising political line, but need to take every opportunity to break the capitalist monopoly on the means of communication in order to win the people to our correct reasoning, galvanise them and draw them as an organised force into political life and action!

The social-democratic [communist][vi] ideal should not be a trade-union secretary, but a tribune of the people, able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it takes place, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; he must be able to generalise all these manifestations to produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; he must be able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to explain his socialistic convictions and his democratic demands to all, in order to explain to all and everyone the world-historic significance of the proletariat’s struggle for emancipation.[vii]

Radicalisation of the youth

The youth in Britain are once more – at long last! – becoming radicalised, by their deteriorating employment prospects during the crisis, by the growing burden of unemployment, by their oppression at the hands of the police (especially black, Asian and muslim working-class youth), by ongoing racist discrimination against ‘minority’ communities, or by their principled opposition to imperialist wars and occupations, which in an imperialist country are as much a part of domestic political life as cuts in health and education provision.

We recently saw a wave of protests and occupations in over 20 universities, triggered by our government’s support for Israel’s attacks on Gaza (Dec 2008-Jan 2009), and – a positive development – by the imperialist propaganda machine’s blatant bias, especially the bias of that allegedly ‘impartial’ mouthpiece of British capital, the BBC.

Even in docile Britain, long the home of class-collaborationist, social-democratic politics, workers are learning the methods of more radical and determined struggle, as shown by the sabotage of arms manufacturers Raytheon (during Israel’s assault on Lebanon) and EDO-ITT (during Israel’s assault on Gaza), and the occupation of the Visteon (Ford) works in Enfield.

The British anti-war movement recently adopted resolutions calling on unions to encourage members to do all in their power not to cooperate with British imperialist war crimes, as well as supporting the Smash EDO activists.[viii]

Social-democratic influence

There is strong anti-war, anti-capitalist and pro-Palestinian sentiment among sections of the working population, but the Labour party’s grip over all these movements, direct and indirect, as well as over many of the ‘independent’ (even ‘communist’) political parties involved in these struggles, is an all-pervasive and crippling factor.

Social democracy’s prime aim is always and everywhere to frustrate and curtail the “propaganda of brilliant and complete ideas” and prevent the emergence “of revolutionary opposition that expose[s] the state of affairs in our country, particularly the political state of affairs, in so far as it affects the interests of the most varied strata of the population.” (Ibid)

Our task is to break the hold of social-democratic politics over these groups, to make contact with workers in struggle and to explain the relationships between their concrete grievances and imperialism, and that the proletariat’s struggle for emancipation offers the only alternative path.

Racism – the Achilles’ heel of the European proletariat

Labour is a party with a history of dividing working people by fanning the flames of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. Today, it is attempting to divert workers’ attention and anger from the true cause of their misery – the capitalist system – towards immigration and ‘foreign’ workers, whom it points to as being ‘the problem’ while mouthing the fascist British National Party (BNP) slogan “British jobs for British workers”. Its hypocritical campaigns to “Vote Labour to keep the BNP out”, cannot disguise the fact that that its own racist and anti-immigrant policy has made all the running for the BNP. We must counter all this with campaigns for real working-class unity and the demand for equal rights and jobs for all workers!

In the field of education, Labour has introduced an increasingly (although ‘voluntarily’) segregated and communalised secondary schooling system. In addition to the huge number of private schools, we have catholic and Church of England, jewish and muslim, sikh and black schools. Far from ‘protecting the heritage’ of minority communities, as is the stated aim, this is a recipe for dividing the working class, of emphasising racial and religious differences, and for peddling all kinds of obscurantism.

Such a system of ‘cultural national autonomy’ was seen under the British in the north of Ireland and the declining Russian empire (among others). British imperialism’s history of fomenting communalist strife and inciting pogroms to divert revolutionary struggle is well known. We must fight for comprehensive secular and high quality education – as we would in the field of health or housing provision.

The greatest threat to peace and stability in Britain and the world is not yet the fringe BNP councillor, but the ‘mainstream’ free-market fundamentalist Gordon Brown and his entire Labour apparatus. As a first step towards real change, the British working class must give up its unrequited love for Labour.

Spontaneity

There is no shortcut to building a disciplined, professional, tried and tested party of the proletariat that is capable of taking the initiative and advancing the true interests of the working class, drawing to it all disaffected strands of anti-capitalist resistance. Such a party must have a solid Marxist-Leninist political foundation if it is not to be thrown easily off course in the rapids of revolutionary struggle. It must cultivate and establish deep roots among the masses.

In Britain, our comrades in the CPGB-ML have set about this task in earnest. The militant youth must lend a hand in this process, also.

Urgent as our tasks are, and much as we want to expand our influence by leaps and bounds, losing sight of our revolutionary goals and concentrating instead on petty and often illusory short-term ‘advances’ has led more than one young comrade into lamentable opportunism and careerism.

As we win layers of the most conscious workers, undoubtedly our work will be enhanced by the work of new comrades, who are active in their local communities, unions, schools, youth clubs, music or drama groups, and many other political, organisational and cultural undertakings.

We must have such circles, trade unions and organisations everywhere in as large a number as possible and with the widest variety of functions; but it would be absurd and dangerous to confuse them with the organisation of revolutionaries, to obliterate the border line between them, to dim still more the masses’ already incredibly hazy appreciation of the fact that in order to ‘serve’ the mass movement we must have people who will devote themselves exclusively to social-democratic [communist] activities, and that such people must train themselves patiently and steadfastly to be professional revolutionaries.[ix]

It is not, in our opinion, the job of revolutionary parties, operating still in a capitalist society, to concern themselves, first and foremost, with the tasks of creating youth clubs, after-school clubs, sporting leagues, immigration advice centres, rap groups, etc (as some of our comrades and acquaintances have advocated). This is putting the cart before the horse, and diverting our precious resources from their most urgent political and organisational tasks.

Namely, “We must make it our business to stimulate in the minds of those who are dissatisfied only with conditions at the university, or only with Zemstvo [local government – but equally, the anti-war movement, housing campaigns, Palestine, trade-union struggles, state violence], etc the idea that the whole political system is worthless. We must take upon ourselves the task of organising an all-round political struggle under the leadership of our party in such a manner as to obtain all the support possible of all opposition strata for the struggle and for our party. We must train our social-democratic [communist] practical workers to become political leaders, able to guide all the manifestations of this all-round struggle, able at the right time to ‘dictate a positive programme of action’ for the restless students, the discontented Zemstvo councillors, the incensed religious sects, the offended elementary schoolteachers, etc, etc.”[x]

And further, “[we must arouse] in every section of the population that is at all politically conscious a passion for political exposure. We must not be discouraged by the fact that the voice of political exposure is today so feeble, timid and infrequent. This is not because of a wholesale submission to police despotism, but because those who are able and ready to make exposures have no tribune from which to speak, no eager and encouraging audience, they do not see anywhere among the people that force to which it would be worth while directing their complaint against the ‘omnipotent’” imperialist order.[xi]

Give us an organisation of revolutionaries, and we shall overturn …” Britain and the world! Our prime task is to build such vanguard organisations, broad in their political vision, disciplined, professional and steadfast in carrying out their tasks.

With respect to the youth, our task is to make contact with their spontaneously arising struggles, to broaden their political vision so they can sustain their activity, and to connect them with the wider working-class movement.

Our task is not to champion the degrading of the revolutionary to level of an amateur, but to raise the amateurs to the level of the revolutionaries.[xii]

Lenin’s advice to the youth: Educate yourselves in Marxism

The second congress of the RSDLP issued a resolution welcoming the growing revolutionary initiative of the student youth. It is worth revisiting.

The Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party welcomes the growing revolutionary initiative among the student youth and calls upon all organisations of the party to give them every possible assistance in their efforts to organise. It recommends that all student groups and study circles should, firstly, make it the prime object of their activities to imbue their members with an integral and consistent socialist world outlook and give them a thorough acquaintance with Marxism, on the one hand, and with Russian Narodism and West-European opportunism, on the other, these being the principal currents among the conflicting advanced trends of today; secondly, that they should beware of those false friends of the youth who divert them from a thorough revolutionary training through recourse to empty revolutionary or idealistic phrase-mongering and philistine complaints about the harm and uselessness of sharp polemics between the revolutionary and the opposition movements [UNITY! At all costs, and at the lowest denominator – let us not discuss divisive politics!], for as a matter of fact these false friends are only spreading an unprincipled and unserious attitude towards revolutionary work; thirdly, that they should endeavour, when undertaking practical activities, to establish prior contact with the social-democratic organisations, so as to have the benefit of their advice and, as far as possible, to avoid serious mistakes at the very outset of their work.[xiii]

Today, alongside a firm grounding in the principles of Marxism Leninism, the trends we must advise our young comrades to familiarise themselves with must surely remain the ever present west-European social-democratic opportunism (the Labour party et al), its ‘ultra-revolutionary’, phrase-mongering Trotskyite wing, and its reformist, ‘communist’, Khrushchevite-revisionist wing (today’s otzovists and liquidationists); and, perhaps, with anarchism.

It is perhaps not the most romantic and exciting undertaking to assign to young comrades, but as Engels remarked profoundly “Socialism, having become a science, must be pursued as a science, that is, it must be studied.[xiv]

Of course, broad masses of workers and youth must be inspired and mobilised – but how, and by whom? They can only be mobilised under a consistently revolutionary and effective programme by a vanguard organisation of relatively advanced and united class-conscious workers. As Lenin so rightly pointed out, in a movement plagued by opportunism and ignorance, to advance any other aim would be the political equivalent of wishing mourners at a funeral “many happy returns of the day”.[xv]

If, a century ago, the capitalists sought to deprive working people of all education, today they seek to drown all real political education, all revolutionary knowledge and all working-class history in a sea of anti-communist and pro-capitalist lies and half truths.

In our ‘history’ classrooms, such tools as the Trotskyite ‘critique of communism from the left’ (Revolution Betrayed) and the fairytales of the semi-Trotskyite British state agent George Orwell (Animal Farm, etc), are systematically peddled to the youth, wrapped with crude bourgeois anti-communist lies. In the working-class movement, the Trotskyite parties join seamlessly with the capitalist state to push anti-communist and anti-national liberation propaganda, and we must point out that the Trotskyites sing from the imperialist hymn-sheet, while ruthlessly exposing the underlying essence of these counter-revolutionary positions.[xvi], [xvii], [xviii]

It is clear to us that such intellectually shabby slanders are merely aimed at undermining the confidence of the working class to take their destiny into their own hands and overturn the exploiting classes’ applecart.

The Gobbelsian art of propaganda has attained a high degree of perfection, and the mass media a high degree of monopolisation, under the current imperialist order, such that our most urgent task is once again – while maintaining the struggle against school cut-backs and closures – to augment the taught bourgeois syllabus with a programme of revolutionary education, both for our own party members and for the wider working class.

We must remember Lenin’s words, directed at the Tsarist autocracy, but applying with equal force to the contemporary capitalist order:

Our minister regards the workers as gunpowder, and knowledge and education as the spark; the minister is convinced that if the spark falls into the gunpowder, the explosion will be directed first and foremost against the government. We cannot deny ourselves the pleasure of noting that in this rare instance, we totally and unconditionally agree …”

Workers, you see how terrified our ministers are at the working people acquiring knowledge! Show everybody, then, that no power will succeed in depriving the workers of class-consciousness! Without knowledge, the workers are defenceless, with knowledge they are a force![xix]


[i] K Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1978, p9

[ii] ‘Greek party debates reasons for the collapse of socialism in the USSR’, Lalkar, March 2009 http://www.lalkar.org/issues/contents/mar2009/kke.html

[iii] Carl Haub and Mary Mederios Kent, 2008 World Population Data Sheet

[v] V I Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 1902, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1973, p100

[vi] ‘Social democracy’ was the term adopted by the communist movement in the days of the Second International (1889–1916).

When, at the outbreak of the first inter-imperialist war (1914–18), the majority of these national parties shamefully sided with their own imperialists, betraying proletarian internationalism, Lenin and the Bolsheviks declared social democracy to be “a stinking corpse”, whose hollow preaching of socialism in words was belied by their pro-imperialist deeds. Hence the terms ‘social-chauvinist’ and ‘social-imperialist’ were coined to describe them. In response, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) changed its name to the Communist Party.

In 1918, Lenin initiated the founding of a new, Third or Communist International, comprising the truly revolutionary trends and parties from the former social-democratic movement. It is this trend and movement which led to October 1917 and all similar proletarian advances. What Is To Be Done?, written in 1902, predated this split, hence the term ‘social democratic’ should be read ‘communist’, and not confused with the modern-day descendants of the social-imperialists of the second international type, such as the imperialist Labour party in Britain.

[vii] V I Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, p99

[ix] V I Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, p156

[x] V I Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, pp104-5

[xi] ‘Where To Begin?’ by V I Lenin, Iskra, 1901, Collected Works, Vol 4, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1961, pp21-22

[xii] V I Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, p157

[xiii] Draft Resolution on the Attitude Towards the Student Youth, 1903, Minutes of the Second Regular Congress of the RSDLP, Geneva, 1904 http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1903/2ndcong/3.htm

[xiv] ‘Preface addendum’, 1874, to F Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, 1850

[xv] V I Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, p28

[xviii] ‘Lies concerning the history of the Soviet Union’ by Mario Sousa, stalinsociety.org, March 1999

[xix] ‘What are our ministers thinking about?’ by V I Lenin, 1895, Collected Works, Vol 2, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972, p92