The following article was written as a presentation for the Anti-imperialist Congress hosted by the Kommunistische Organisation (KO) in Berlin, 6-8 October 2023. A shortened version was presented to the seminar.
Looking at the communist movement today, we can see many problems – far from being a united and coordinated whole, it is characterised by disunity, disorganisation, fragmentation and ideological confusion. The first thing to understand is that all of these problems have their roots in the realities of class struggle: the constantly shifting balance of class forces nationally and internationally, and the objective state of the revolutionary conditions in each country as well as in the world as a whole.
Comrades new to our movement are often surprised to discover that the class struggle is not only going on in wider society, it is not only being waged between obviously hostile forces, but is also being conducted inside every part of the working-class movement and within the ranks of every communist party.
Since the bourgeoisie is still the dominant class globally, and since it has occupied that position for some time, bourgeois influence and ideology is everywhere; it affects us all without exception. Our best protection against the harm that bourgeois ideas can do to our movement is to be found in the regular and dedicated study of Marxism, both individual and collective, which acts like a daily inoculation against infection and help us to keep a clear class perspective and broad overview.
Communists combine personal and collective study with the practice of collective decision-making, doing their best to make sure that all those involved in the process are also working individually to improve their understanding of Marxism and their experience of connecting Marxism with the masses. In the end, a collective’s strength is rooted in the strength of the participating individuals.
While a collective can certainly make mistakes, it is less vulnerable to error than a single individual – some members will usually notice when others are going wrong, and can help them to correct themselves, provided the mistakes are honest ones and those making them are prepared to put the needs of the class and the movement ahead of their personal egos. Both as individuals and as organisations, we must be open and alert to recognising and correcting mistakes, acknowledging where we have gone wrong and changing direction when necessary.
World War One
There have been several moments in the history of our movement when the evidence of a fierce class struggle – and of the capture of large sections of our leadership – have become glaringly evident.
The first world war was once such clarifying moment. While all kinds of promises had been made before the war broke out, once it had started, the overwhelming majority of supposedly ‘Marxist’ leaders sided with their own imperialist ruling classes and ditched their former revolutionary stances. The most important exception to this pattern of betrayal by European socialist parties in 1914 was, of course, Russia’s Bolshevik party, led by VI Lenin.
It was in the wake of this betrayal, and of the Bolsheviks’ success, that our modern communist movement was founded. Out of the confusion and treachery of 1914, there rose like a phoenix from the ashes the Third International, headed by the outstanding Marxist-Leninist leadership of the CPSU(B), in 1919. The basis for this regrouping had been laid by the Bolsheviks and other members of the Zimmerwald left – that part of the socialist movement that held true to its principles throughout the course of the first world war.
The Zimmerwald conference of 1915 and its subsequent development has great resonance and relevance for communists today. This conference brought together all those who were dismayed by the militarist, pro-imperialist turn taken by the leaders and significant sections of every one of the European socialist parties in 1914 – in total contradiction to the resolutions they had all signed up to at a congress in Basle, Switzerland just two years earlier.
The course of the war saw the firm incorporation of the right wing of the socialist movement into the bourgeois state apparatuses all over Europe. Social democracy emerged as the fully-fledged instrument of bourgeois influence in the working-class movement. Social-democratic leaders became government ministers, their parliamentarians voted for war credits and they in every way supported and recruited for the war effort.
Those who attended the Zimmerwald conference revealed themselves to have three tendencies. The first of these was a consistently revolutionary left wing, headed by Lenin, which stuck firmly to the line that had been previously agreed on. In 1912, in Basle, all socialist parties in Europe had made a commitment that they would work to mobilise the workers to actively oppose the war, and would endeavour to transform an interimperialist war, in which workers slaughtered their fellow workers in the interests of the financiers, into a civil war, in which the revolutionary workers would turn their guns against their own imperialist rulers.
On the other side was the Zimmerwald right, those who officially supported the old antiwar line, but who were afraid to be seen as ‘splitting the movement’ and wanted to conciliate with the open social-chauvinists, hoping to reunite the movement as soon as the nasty interruption caused by the war was over. Objectively, this line was a line of capitulation to the bourgeoisie and to the bourgeois-aligned opportunists, who had revealed their loyalties only too clearly. Lenin wrote extensively about the need to expose rather than cover over these important differences – about the need to break cleanly rather than try to mend what could no longer be considered as a whole.
Between these two was a centrist position that tried to reconcile the two. Objectively, this section also acted like the petty-bourgeois vacillators in the class struggle – unwilling or unable to take a firm position; afraid to speak out against former friends and comrades; hoping against hope that a way could be found to square the circle with the minimum of unpleasantness.
History has furnished us with ample proof as to which position was correct. The success of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution was based in their firm adherence to a correct line; their willingness to speak uncomfortable truths in order to educate the workers and guide the movement. No doubt many at the time considered Lenin to be ‘harsh’, ‘abrupt’, ‘bad-mannered’, ‘sectarian’ and so on. No doubt many of them asked themselves: ‘Who is this upstart Russian to lecture the German socialists – acknowledged vanguard of our movement – about Marxism? About the correct strategy and tactics for making proletarian revolution?’
History, of course, we know. Not only did the Bolsheviks, guided by Lenin’s brilliant scientific leadership, prove correct. Not only were they successful in establishing the world’s first socialist state and building the world’s first socialist economy, but they inspired the development of parties of the Bolshevik type all over the world. That is why almost every country has an ‘official’ communist party whose establishment dates to the years immediately following the October Revolution and the establishment of the Comintern.
This was the movement that inspired revolutionary developments all over the world, and which unleashed the pent-up desire for national-liberation across the colonies. For so long as the Soviet Union continued to be guided by Marxist-Leninist science, the world communist movement worked in harmony and garnered great prestige in every corner of the globe.
This prestige was enhanced tremendously by the victory of the communists over fascism. The victory in Europe was won by the Soviet Union at tremendous cost to itself. The victory in the East was won by China. In both the east and the west, from Korea to Greece, from Vietnam to France, the most important supplementary forces – partisan liberation movements against fascist occupiers – were led by communists.
The triumph of the Khrushchevite clique
With the installation of Nikita Khrushchev as leader of the CPSU(B) after the death of Josef Stalin (1953), and especially at its 20th party congress (1956), the Soviet Communist party set itself on a revisionist path from which it never deviated, taking actions that steadily undermined the economic mechanisms of socialist central planning, while at the same time weakening the theoretical and organisational strength of the party.
Leaders who did not agree with Khrushchev’s market reforms and theoretical revisions were systematically purged from all important Soviet organisations (all-union, national and regional party and government bodies, economic, cultural and educational institutions), and at the same time party membership was opened up to all kinds of non-proletarian strata under the guise of building a ‘party of the whole people’.
Meanwhile, the quantity and quality of Marxist education given to party members and the wider population was downgraded, Stalin’s works ceased to be produced and studied, and censorship laws that had controlled the spread of bourgeois ideology were relaxed. While capitulating to imperialism all along the line, Khrushchev lulled the Soviet people to sleep by promoting idealistic utopian fantasies such as ‘the party of the entire people’ and ‘the state of the entire people’. All of this fatally undermined the basis of socialism in the USSR.
In the international sphere, the Khrushchevite clique did tremendous damage to the unity and prestige of the world communist movement by promoting a similarly anti-Marxist set of concepts, including the possibility of a ‘peaceful transition’ to socialism, and the possibility of ‘peaceful competition’ and ‘peaceful coexistence’ between socialist and imperialist states. Instead of standing up to imperialist nuclear blackmail, Khrushchev echoed and reinforced it, using the threat of nuclear war as a justification for abandoning the positions of class struggle without which the final victory of socialism is impossible.
In large part, Khrushchev was able to do these things because he had appropriated the leading position in the party of the great Lenin; the party of victorious revolution – a position that had been so brilliantly occupied by Josef Stalin for three decades, during which a great socialist motherland had been constructed, and to whose leadership the workers and peasants of the world had learned to trust implicitly.
The so-called ‘secret speech’ made by Khrushchev at the 20th party congress was kept secret only from the Soviet people. The denunciations it contained against Josef Stalin and his leadership were leaked to the imperialist press, which jubilantly published its contents all over the world. Within a year, half the world’s communist party members had been demoralised into resigning their membership, assuming that Khrushchev spoke in good faith when he declared that the great hero who had led their movement for 30 years had actually been a delusional, self-aggrandising and paranoid monster.
Meanwhile, even if they did not accept every slander against Stalin and his leadership at face value, the trust of leading communists around the world in the Soviet leadership, combined with their lack of detailed knowledge about what was happening inside the USSR, left many parties unable to recognise or resist Khrushchevite revisionism.
Even the Communist Party of China issued articles endorsing Khrushchev’s analysis and condemning Stalin’s supposed ‘mistakes’ and ‘abuses’. Among other things, the Chinese party agreed with Khrushchev in condemning Stalin’s (absolutely correct) emphasising of the truth that class struggle not only continues but intensifies after the socialist revolution.
Some parties, especially in the imperialist countries, were quiet for other reasons. The Soviet turn away from class struggle chimed very well with the class-collaborationist line in which they were already engaging in the postwar conditions of welfare state construction and social-democratic dominance.
The Communist Party of Great Britain, for example, had already published its British Road to Socialism in 1951. This manifesto, which replaced the old Class Against Class, had declared five years before Khrushchev’s secret speech that revolution was no longer necessary and that the British working class would be able to achieve socialism gradually through bourgeois parliamentary means and via an alliance with the imperialist Labour party.
So it was that in the immediate aftermath of the CPSU’s 20th party congress, very few voices were raised against the new Soviet line. One notable exception to this was the Greek revolutionary leader Nikolaos Zachariadis. Although exiled to the USSR after the defeat of the Greek revolution and wholly dependent on Soviet hospitality, Zachariadis nevertheless bravely and repeatedly spoke out against the revisionist line being taken by the CPSU under Khrushchev’s leadership.
To silence this troublesome guest, the Soviet party used its influence to have Zachariadis removed as general secretary, and then expelled from the Greek Communist party (KKE) entirely, along with others in the leadership who were loyal to him and to the Marxist-Leninist line upheld so steadfastly by Stalin. They were replaced with a new leadership that was loyal to Khrushchev and his line – to the great detriment of the Greek working-class movement.
Despite their initial acceptance, however, it gradually became clear to growing numbers of revolutionaries around the world that they had been duped.
As this happened, the Khrushchevites used their power to force changes in the leadership of other parties that refused to follow blindly in their wake. In 1960, Khrushchev abruptly withdrew the thousands of Soviet technical experts who had been helping to construct Chinese industry and organise its central planning – and the revolutionary wing of the CPC became aware of the great danger that threatened not only the Soviet revolution but also their own.
The political split between the Soviet Union and China had begun to simmer in 1959 after Khrushchev opened talks with the USA in pursuit of his policy of ‘peaceful coexistence’. In 1960, Albania and China formed an anti-revisionist alliance and began a series of heated polemics denouncing the USSR’s revisionism. The world communist movement began to splinter.
During this period, Chairman Mao Zedong came to the fore as the chief theoretical leader of the revolutionary wing of world communism. Although it had taken him a few years to realise that Khrushchev had not spoken in good faith when he made his anti-Stalin ‘secret’ speech, the Soviet Union’s changed attitude towards the People’s Republic of China was unmistakeable.
By 1962, the dispute between the two sides had erupted into full-fledged open hostilities that led to splits in almost all the communist parties across the capitalist world. (The assumption that a party with the suffix ‘Marxist-Leninist’ must be a ‘Maoist’ party stems from this time, when many new parties founded in the 1960s and 1970s adopted this suffix so as to distinguish themselves from the revisionists they had broken with.)
The rupture led China to pursue a geopolitical line which centred around opposing the USSR as its primary goal. China took this policy to the lengths of backing all kinds of countries and movements around the world purely on the basis of opposing forces that were backed by the Soviet Union, which Mao had characterised as the ‘main enemy’, and had even labelled as ‘social imperialist’ after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia had suppressed the counter-revolutionary revolt there in 1968.
An honourable mention must be made here of the position of people’s Korea and its leader Comrade Kim Il Sung during this difficult period. Horrifically weakened by the barbaric war of aggression waged against it by US imperialism and its allied forces (1950-53), the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had great need of whatever trade and assistance it could get from its large socialist neighbours.
Despite the difficulties of damaging these vital relationships, President Kim Il Sung steered his people with great skill through turbulent waters. While never giving up his country’s adherence to Marxist science and to a planned economy, while agreeing with Chairman Mao and criticising the revisionist positions of the USSR (thus placing Korea on the Chinese side of the theoretical divide), Kim Il Sung was not afraid also to criticise what he described as the ‘dogmatism’ of China’s approach.
Refusing to allow Korea to be sucked into an ever-more-damaging spiral of enmity, he further developed the doctrine of juche – self-reliance – for the Korean revolution, while patiently overcoming difficulties in Korea’s relationships with both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. The DPRK continued to maintain respectful connections with both while refusing to let the policy of either determine the fate of the Korean revolution or set the parameters for the development of Korean socialism.
Splintering and fragmentation: Revisionism begets Maoism and Trotskyism
Mao’s overreaction to the Khrushchevite betrayals thus had deadly consequences in many parts of the world. Moreover, such open hostilities between the socialist countries and their proxy forces inflicted a blow on our movement that the imperialists could only have dreamed of striking themselves.
They were not slow to recognise their opportunity, and were assiduous in doing everything possible to widen the split between the revisionist and anti-revisionist wings of the communist movement, gleefully promoting every disagreement of principle and helping to elevate many non-essentials and even mistakes into shibboleths and articles of faith.
Whereas in the oppressed world, many Maoist parties, despite taking on some of Mao’s theoretical errors, were successful in applying Mao’s strategy and tactics in order to wage vibrant mass revolutionary struggles, many so-called ‘Maoists’ in the imperialist countries were increasingly looking like provocateurs or lunatics. Their guiding principles were hatred for the Soviet Union and elevating to a religious dogma precisely those mistakes made by anti-revisionists such as Hoxha and Mao that were most useful in keeping the working-class movement divided and fighting itself – or most likely to render the name of ‘communism’ ridiculous in the eyes of the people.
Such theoretical mistakes included the theory of ‘Soviet social-imperialism’ (followers of this theory today have applied it to China, insisting that this is an imperialist country and the enemy of the working masses) and the theory of the ‘three worlds’ (according to which the main exploiters in the world were the Soviet Union and the USA, with the Soviet Union as the ‘most dangerous’ of the two).
Even brilliant tactical applications of Marxism by Mao and the Chinese communists to their own particular conditions – such as the waging of a people’s war by establishing liberated territories, basing themselves in the downtrodden peasant masses, and surrounding the cities as part of their waging of a revolutionary people’s war in a semi-feudal and semi-colonised country – were made ridiculous by such groups. One group in Britain, for example, interpreted the Chinese liberation strategy as a biblical instruction and ‘responded’ by sending its members to live in out of the way seaside towns from which they would one day ‘surround the cities’.
Such activity of course did nothing to build a revolutionary movement or to connect Marxism with the masses, and could only succeeded in bringing our movement into further disrepute in the eyes of the working class.
Criticism of the three worlds theory from Enver Hoxha drove a wedge between Albania and China and resulted in the formation of a third, Albanian-centred section of the world communist movement. All three of these international groupings were guilty of errors in Marxist theory, leading to errors in their approach to geopolitics and the fight against capitalist imperialism. But it is with the Soviet Communist party that the culpability for this catastrophic situation primarily lies.
It was the Soviet party that began rapprochement with the imperialists. It was the Soviet party that distorted Marxist teachings to justify retreating from revolutionary positions. It was the Soviet party that instigated the campaign of vilification of Josef Stalin, the great builder of socialism and defeater of fascism. It was the Soviet party that interfered in the affairs of other parties in order to maintain hegemony over them. It was the Soviet party that distorted the principles of internationalism, stopped helping in the vital task of developing China’s socialist economy, and insisted on subservience to its line as a condition of fraternal assistance and relations. And it was the Soviet party that preached reformism, parliamentarism and peaceful coexistence.
Besides providing plenty of opportunity to pour fuel onto the flames in various ways, the secret services of the imperialist centres now had all the ammunition they needed to give a helping hand to the resuscitation of Trotskyism – an imperialist-aligned anti-Marxist ideology that had been entirely discredited by the USSR’s successful building of socialism and heroic victory over fascism.
With Trotsky’s lies about Stalin now being repeated by the leader of the Soviet Union, and with communist parties across the world (and in the west especially) retreating from their revolutionary positions, Trotsky could be presented not only as having foreseen the USSR’s ‘inevitable’ degeneration, but as having been all along the ‘real’ revolutionary.
As a result, newly-founded (and well-funded) Trotskyite organisations began to attract a significant following amongst radical students, teachers and better-off workers in the imperialist countries and bourgeois historiographers trumpeting Trotsky’s inheritance of Lenin’s legacy flourished. This was reinforced by the incorporation of a Trotskyite version of Russian revolutionary history into school and university history and literature syllabuses. It was also the basis for producing a whole machinery of ‘Marxist’ historians, academics, journals etc in the imperialist countries, whose role was to reinforce bourgeois lies and slanders against socialism in pseudo-Marxist terminology.
Defeat and retreat: counter-revolution in the revisionist USSR
For many revisionist parties that had sunk into social-democratic reformism and all but given up any but the most token lip-service to socialism, the counter-revolutions in the USSR and Europe were a death knell. Parties across the world that had remained affiliated to the revisionist USSR dissolved themselves or changed their names and programmes to embrace the new reality of triumphant capitalist supremacy.
In Britain, for example, the CPGB, already sunk into the pit of reformist ‘Eurocommunism’ (parliamentary cretinism, a desire to go further into revisionism even than the USSR had done, and a propagation of the idea that revolutionary transformation will come through tiny, incremental ‘practical’ changes and reforms), dissolved itself in 1991, declaring in its final resolution that the October Revolution had been “a mistake of historic proportions”.
Without the support of the USSR, and with communism’s reputation severely wounded, many mass movements and liberation struggles in the oppressed countries struggled to continue. Retreats and compromises were the order of the day, as revolutionaries and anti-imperialists everywhere had to come to terms with a world in which the US imperialists’ power seemed limitless. Indeed, in many cases where peace deals and compromises were struck during this period, the USA was present as overseer and ‘arbiter’ (Palestine, Ireland, South Africa) – and no one was in any position to argue.
Separation of Marxism from the masses
The result of 70 years of division and theoretical confusion in our movement, initiated by the Khrushchevites in the 1950s, has been the steady decay of revolutionary influence amongst the masses. Mass parties in many countries adopted increasingly reformist lines and were thus in no position to stand up to bourgeois triumphalism in the 1990s. Parties that retained the name ‘communist’, such as the parties in Italy and France, long ago lost any connection to revolutionary class struggle.
Thus we found ourselves in a situation where large parties had let go of their adherence to Marxism, and the forces that worked to keep Marxism alive were small and without meaningful connection to the masses.
Moreover, decades of mis-leadership and propagation of non-Marxist ideas in the name of Marxism, along with the bourgeois-endorsed habit of creating a split every time there is the slightest disagreement, had left a culture of sectarian cult-building in the place of serious party-building.
It is notable that where parties were able to hold onto a decent Marxist analysis, they did so by letting go of adherence to any particular local guru or international leader and by applying themselves to mastering Marxist science for themselves. This, after all, was the only route to making sense of all the competing claims and counter-claims of the plethora of groups claiming to uphold the true revolutionary spirit.
Pushing back against bourgeois triumphalism: the Pyongyang declaration
Several initiatives were launched in the 1990s by parties that remained faithful to the goal of socialist revolution. Some of these was able to made a contribution towards clarifying the problems and bringing revolutionaries together on the basis of fundamental common aims, although none was ultimately successful in healing the divides that had plagued our movement for so long in the prevailing atmosphere of pessimism and retreat.
A first important initiative in regrouping the international communist movement was taken in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Standing isolated and exposed after the fall of the European and Soviet socialist bloc, the remaining socialist countries had to face a hard new reality, in which imperialist pressure greatly intensified. In every remaining socialist country, the USA worked overtime to try to create conditions for a similar defeat, through stoking counter-revolutionary movements (as in Tiananmen Square in China) or through sanctions and economic blockade (as in the cases of the DPRK and Cuba).
The Korean party in particular was adamant that whatever compromises might be necessary for survival (the nuclear agreement entered into with the regime of Bill Clinton, for example), socialism was non-negotiable. Delegates visiting Pyongyang to celebrate the 80th birthday of Comrade Kim Il Sung worked with Korean comrades to produce a document outlining the fundamental principles around which they believed all those who remained true to communist principles should reorganise themselves.
The declaration was launched in Pyongyang in April 1992, entitled ‘Let us defend and advance the cause of socialism’. It was initially signed by 69 parties, and by 2017 had garnered 300 signatures. While its content was a positive and defiant endorsement of socialism at a time when so many were retreating and giving up, the declaration outlined the beliefs of its signatories in broad and general terms. No organisation was set up to try to coordinate the efforts of the signatories in their common struggle against imperialism.
As a result, parties whose adherence to socialism was merely lip-service were able to sign in the years that followed and to use the declaration as a badge of their Marxist faith and loyalty without having to show any practical adherence to the principles they had signed up to – or even to publicise the declaration and its contents amongst the masses in their own countries.
Attempts at regrouping: the ICS
Immediately following the launch of the Pyongyang Declaration came the launch of the annual International Communist Seminar on May Day 1992. The Workers Party of Belgium (PTB), led by Comrade Ludo Martens, had its roots in the Maoist anti-revisionist movement, but was persuaded to give up its Maoist dogmas in favour of a broader Marxist-Leninist anti-revisionist stance.
Ludo and the PTB took the initiative of bringing together as many parties as possible from around the world, including from the territory of the former Soviet Union, in the hope of finding a path to agreement about what had caused the collapse of Soviet socialism and what the revolutionary movement needed to learn in order to regroup and reunify. Ludo specifically proposed trying to find a basis for the unification of the four main tendencies of the Marxist-Leninist movement at that time: pro-Soviet, pro-Chinese, pro-Albanian and pro-Cuban.
Prominent theoreticians besides Ludo Martens who attended the yearly May Day seminars in Brussels during the 1990s included Harpal Brar (Great Britain), Tamila Yabrova (Ukraine) and Nina Andreyeva (Russia). It was greatly to the credit of Comrade Ludo and the PTB that they made contact with so many currents within the former Soviet Union that were struggling to come to terms with what had happened in their country and who continued to uphold the banner of Marxism. It was unfortunate that there was no party or individual with the prestige to bring together the various warring factions and establish a common line, however.
This has been a recurring theme in our movement since the loss of a unified leadership – divisions abound and the impetus to overcome them has never yet been strong enough to create meaningful unity of action across international borders or to unify separate groupings within each country in the way Lenin and the Comintern were able to after the October Revolution.
The truth is that this will probably continue to be the case until a new socialist revolution is successful, and is led by a party that is guided by scientific socialism, restoring the prestige of Marxist science in practice, inspiring the masses of the world, and earning the right to be seriously listened to by Marxists and revolutionaries around the world.
The Marxist-Leninist character of the Brussels seminar was steadily eroded after Comrade Ludo stepped down as party leader in 2008. Since that time, the PTB has steadily shifted – at first a little and then in a wholesale fashion – into the camp of social democracy, becoming the main opposition party in Belgian politics and giving up its revolutionary programme in a drive to become big at any cost. To this end, the PTB has followed the time-honoured opportunist strategy of putting aside its Marxist politics in order to become respectable (in the eyes of the bourgeoisie and its media) and win votes. This is a great loss to the movement in Belgium and internationally and a tragic end to decades of hard work by Ludo and his comrades, although their anti-revisionist legacy lives on in many ways outside of the present PTB.
Major works aimed at reasserting a Marxist line during this period include Ludo Martens’ book Another View of Stalin and Harpal Brar’s works Perestroika, the Complete Collapse of Revisionism, Trotskyism or Leninism?, Social Democracy, the Enemy Within and Imperialism Decadent, Parasitic, Moribund Capitalism. I may of course be biased, but to the best of my knowledge nothing better than Harpal’s Perestroika has been written that explains the economic and political roots of the fall of Soviet socialism.
International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties
In 1998, the Greek Communist party, which had gone along with Gorbachev’s catastrophic anti-socialist policies of Glasnost and Perestroika in the 1980s, began the process of piecing back together some semblance of a communist international. These gatherings, named after similar events that were hosted in the Soviet Union during the period of the Sino-Soviet split (1957, 1960, 1969), have grown and are now portrayed by many of their participants as representing the ‘official’ communist movement. Several problems were baked into the cake of this organisation from the beginning, however.
The first was that the main organising party, the KKE, had by no means settled accounts with its revisionist past. While some of its statements about the collapse of the USSR (made at its 2009 congress) appeared to indicate a willingness to come to terms with revisionism and reverse course, this has not in any way been reflected by a change in its organising practices.
Picking up where the old revisionist grouping had left off, the core of the IMCWP meetings was heavily skewed from the start towards Soviet revisionist-aligned parties – all of which had long ago abandoned Leninist revolutionary politics in order to remain aligned with Khrushchev and his successors, and none of which any longer represented the revolutionary vanguard of the masses. Most of these parties have still failed to make any meaningful evaluation of the collapse of the USSR or the opportunist course taken by themselves, referring vaguely to ‘mistakes’ and preferring to draw a discreet veil over the details.
An attitude further from the Leninist revolutionary practice of assessing and learning from mistakes, explaining them clearly to the masses and adjusting our activities accordingly would be hard to find.
Just as the CPSU had had a dominating influence in the postwar gatherings it hosted, so the KKE has dominated the agenda, discussion, participants and outcomes of the work undertaken by the IMCWP, known to many by the name of its website, Solidnet. The KKE has likewise come to dominate other international organisations that were previously run from Moscow, and which it has taken responsibility for rejuvenating: the World Federation of Trade Unions, the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the World Peace Council in particular.
While there was much gratitude to the Athens comrades for picking up the threads of this work, time has shown that all these organisations have continued to be run on the basis of having politics that are acceptable to the KKE, or of being willing to go along with being a militant side-show with no ability to have any meaningful influence on outcomes. Leaders of all the international organisations revived by the KKE are invariably its proteges, personally connected with its leaders and officials and owing them gratitude and loyalty.
Over the years, many friendly organisations have tried to persuade my party that we should apply to join Solidnet and add our weight to the revolutionary wing there. After our first attempt to join in the early period of our party’s formation, we re-applied several times, but were consistently kept out, our contacts going unanswered, presumably because our politics were not acceptable to Solidnet’s gatekeepers. Great efforts have been made even to keep our young comrades out of supposedly ‘broad’ events like the World Festivals of Democratic Youth.
At the time of our first application in 2008, the international department of the KKE actually asked the revisionist Communist Party of Britain (CPB) to report on our party’s ‘suitability’ for admittance to membership. The resulting ‘assessment’, so bizarrely commissioned from a group that could not but be our deadly political opponents (or else we surely would have been members of their organisation!), was immediately leaked to us. We published this tissue of lies and slanders along with a thorough refutation, but no direct contact was ever made by the KKE at this or any other time.
There was some hope felt about the prospects for Solidnet when parties with state power such as the CPC (China) and WPK (north Korea) began to attend its events. Surely now its political content would shift and its activity become more meaningful? Surely now old divisions would be ended and a meaningful politics would begin to emerge? This hope was further boosted by the admittance of a trickle of smaller parties with a more revolutionary programmes and no history of alignment to the revisionist USSR.
Sadly, however, these hopes came to nothing. Solidnet gatherings remained toothless and empty affairs as far as the working out of a common platform or coordinated actions were concerned. What they did achieve was to accustom most of the participants to the idea that meeting together once or twice a year, presenting conflicting papers in an atmosphere of respectful, gentlemanly disagreement, signing a ‘joint declaration’ that was so broad as to be essentially meaningless (and which was in any case destined only for a dusty shelf), and then retiring to the pub for a convivial drinking session was the height of internationalist revolutionary work.
The KKE has thus been very effective at creating a network of personal relationships that nobody involved wants to be seen to break. The accusation of ‘splitting the movement’ is one every delegate fears to draw on their heads – even those who know that really there is no unity in the true sense of the word, only a polite glossing over of uncomfortable differences. Meanwhile, whatever happens in the debate, the resulting statement is the one that has been approved by the KKE and its self-reinforcing clique.
Far from becoming a conduit for revolutionary ideas to spread to the opportunist wing of our movement, far from preparing an organisation that is ready to rise to the challenges of the new and more revolutionary situation that was bound to arrive (and is now arriving), Solidnet has been far more effective at calming the ardour of those forces which entered it in the hope of combating opportunism.
In becoming accustomed to the norms of a bourgeois academic conference, many sincere comrades have come under the influence of these personal connections and by the timescales of this period, in which nothing much ever seemed to change and the overall balance of class forces seemed firmly stacked against us.
But such activity and such a timescale have nothing at all in common with the rapidly changing needs of the situation in which we now find ourselves.
It is no surprise that the escalation of the war in Ukraine brought the deep fractures and inadequacies of our movement to the forefront and our differences into the cold light of day. The war, and our movement’s assessment of and response to it, is the primary political question of our time – the pivotal point around which all other differences have become secondary.
In front of our eyes, the world order is remaking itself. A new coming together of the socialist and anti-imperialist forces in the world has begun and is rapidly advancing – a cohesion in the anti-imperialist camp not seen since the days when Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China stood side by side at the head of the oppressed and working masses of the world. This realignment is a result of the shifting balance of class forces as the latest turn of the global crisis of overproduction makes itself felt in a rapidly deepening crisis and an accompanying desperate drive to war by the imperialist camp.
In this situation, two events occurred which revealed that the days of Solidnet are numbered; that it remains constitutionally incapable of rising to the challenge of the new era; that it will never be a vehicle for uniting communists across borders and helping them to take their place at the front and centre of this rising anti-imperialist bloc – of throwing their weight behind the struggle against imperialism and playing a decisive role in the titanic battles that lie before us in the coming period.
Impotence of Solidnet, formation of the Platform
At an international conference hosted by the People’s Democracy Party of south Korea in May 2022 – a party of serious and dedicated revolutionary Marxists – a clear split revealed itself in the evaluation of those present regarding the war. Our PDP comrades were dismayed to find that many organisations they had considered to be ‘fraternal’ and ‘on the same side’ were promoting a bourgeois propaganda line to the effect that ‘Russian aggression’ was to blame for the escalation in Ukraine and that ‘Russian imperialism’ was the cause of this ‘interimperialist’ conflict.
In its investigations into what could be driving these differences, the PDP discovered that so influential a party as the KKE had not only adopted this line, but had presented the international communist movement with a ‘worked out’ theoretical justification, couched in Leninist terminology, to back up what is essentially bourgeois propaganda. Such lies, in the mouths of communists, have the potential to do the most serious harm to our chances of unifying the masses and successfully mobilising to defeating the imperialists’ war aims.
A group of likeminded organisations, which shared the PDP’s dismay at this betrayal of Marxism and the cause of the workers, and which understood that this question is the pivotal one of our era, came together to draft the Paris Declaration and to found the World Anti-imperialist Platform.
Recognising that the essence of the coming battles is of a struggle between the allied imperialists on the one hand and the independent anti-imperialist world on the other, it is plainly the duty of communists to do everything in their power to strengthen the forces of anti-imperialism, to help in bringing the anti-imperialist bloc more firmly together, to explain the nature of the struggle to the workers in our own countries, and to lay the groundwork for a defeat of the imperialist camp in every possible way – practically, organisationally and theoretically.
Meanwhile, at its meeting in Havana, Cuba, in November 2022, the split in Solidnet came into the open in a most revealing way. Instead of one declaration, two were issued – two statements in diametrical opposition to one another.
The first, sponsored by the KKE via a small group of its Ukrainian proxies, put forward the imperialist line about Russian imperialism and aggression etc. The second was most significantly sponsored by two Russian communist parties that have in general had great difficulty in working together owing to the revisionist positions of the larger (KPRF) and the antipathy to revisionism of the smaller (RCWP). Nevertheless, on the question of facing the imperialist attack on Russia, the two parties were united, and put forward an unequivocal resolution to that effect.
The list of signatures on the two resolutions tell you much about the state of this disunited ‘movement’ and where the fracture lines are to be found. So, too, did the increasingly outspoken statements of participants who are not under the KKE’s control about the undemocratic way in which leading bodies are sewn up. Despite a general fear of incurring the KKE’s wrath, it is well known amongst all who operate in the international movement that the KKE has developed a system of control through influence over dependent organisations and individuals, and these dependents are routinely appointed to leading bodies to be sure that the right decisions will be made.
Since it was impossible to gloss over the differences regarding the war in Ukraine, however, the two resolutions were published on the Solidnet website and the delegates were sent home to prepare their papers for next time. The impotence of the organisation as a whole and the rottenness of the party that controls its operations were left clearly revealed, and it seems unlikely that its meetings will continue for very much longer in their present form.
Like the Second International, Solidnet is destined for an ignominious burial, and those who remain affiliated to whatever is left standing when it splits will have earned their place in the annals of shame alongside such 1914 heroes of socialism as Eduard Bernstein and Ramsay MacDonald.
Meanwhile, those who attempt to hide and paper over the cracks of this divide should beware of finding themselves in the camp of such as Karl Kautsky, whose vacillations and attempts to find a peaceful way out of the divisions of the movement a century ago ultimately led him into the camp of those who denounced the October Revolution and worked actively to destroy it.
Rising to the challenge of the new era
Understanding the nature of the looming third world war, the Platform does not confine itself to working only with communists, but aims to harness all the forces in the world capable of understanding the main issue and uniting behind its broad line. At the same time, the founders and principal organisers of the Platform are communists: we aim not only to strengthen the anti-imperialist struggle but to strengthen the role of the communists within that struggle.
We are working hard to bring our analysis to Marxists and anti-imperialists everywhere and to persuade them to join us in this, the single most important endeavour of our era.
As Marxists, we know that only Marxism provides the tools to ensure the most steadfast, most disciplined, most thorough struggle against imperialism. That real Marxist involvement and leadership of such a struggle provides its best chance of success. It is our undoubted duty to do what we can to fulfil that honourable role in the coming period, undaunted by either the size of the task or the shocking disarray into which our movement has been thrown.
We may not be starting from an ideal or easy situation, but we are where we are and must deal with reality as it is.
There is no doubt at all that the coming struggles will see many large and long-established organisations decay and fall apart, while small and relatively newer ones will grow – these changes will be determined by their ability to play the role demanded of them; by the impetus of history, and not by any inherited ‘right’ to be considered as a ‘vanguard’. Out theory sets our line of action, and we must be sure of our theory if we want to act correctly, but in the end it is our deeds that will define us and determine our relevance to the times.
While it is true that the defeat of the imperialists in the coming conflicts will not automatically and immediately result in worldwide victory of socialism, it should be clear that through the course of this struggle, the main impediment to socialism – capitalist imperialism – will be fatally weakened and revolutionary forces will be strengthened in the same proportion.
A new wave of revolutionary upsurge is being prepared by the present crisis, national-liberation struggles are already resulting from this upsurge, and socialist revolutions will undoubtedly break out too. Wherever in the world these movements begin, and it is clear that the west will not be at the front of this surge, we can be sure their inspiration and influence will spread rapidly, just as the influence and inspiration of October set fire to the world after 1917. The same desperate conditions of economic crisis, of rising costs of basic food and energy, of unendurable poverty and disease, of imperialist-backed terrorism and war are facing workers everywhere, including in the formerly protected imperialist heartlands.
If further proof were needed of the inability of the KKE-led organisations to deal politically with the questions that now face us, its recent actions in the European Communist Initiative must surely provide it. This grouping of left-wing communist parties in Europe, established under the leadership of the KKE at a time when the Greek party looked as if it was serious about addressing its revisionist past and moving over to the revolutionary Marxist camp, has, like many other Athens-based groups, never really lived up to its potential or the hopes that were placed in it at its founding.
This September, no doubt aware of the rising tensions amongst its members and the likelihood of serious political disagreements being aired and its own line being criticised, the KKE organised a zoom call of the Initiative. At that meeting, without having previously notified members of its intention, the KKE announced the unilateral disbandment of the group in such a way as to give no space for debate or discussion. The call was ended and the Telegram group for its participants was deleted. In such a way, the KKE deals with political differences and perceived threats to its hegemony.
Fighting imperialism in Britain
I have been asked to outline our approach to fighting imperialism in Britain. As with you here in Germany, our country is ruled by an established imperialist class whose subordinate position to US imperialism does not in any way mean that it has ceased to be a power in its own right.
We continue to stress in our analysis to British workers the power and interests of British imperialism and how those interests affect its activities. But it is indisputable that the war in Ukraine has highlighted the reduced position of British imperialism in the most stark way, and revealed the fact that interimperialist rivalries have been subordinated to the need of all the imperialists to group together for the survival of their system.
I am not able to give a detailed history of the world since 1914. I will simply sum up by saying that the first world war was the result of the global crisis of the capitalist economic system – a crisis that was inescapable except by means of war precisely because the capitalist market had come to embrace the whole world and there was nowhere left to expand into.
The war itself hugely weakened all the individual imperialist powers that fought it, including the victors, as well as the capitalist-imperialist system as a whole. This was partly because of the scale of destruction and devastation, but particularly because of the October Revolution, which had been propelled by the war and which signalled the rise of the era of socialism and national liberation. Not only the workers in the imperialist countries, but the oppressed masses in the colonies began to struggle in earnest for their emancipation from imperialist slavery.
The second world war further weakened the old imperialist powers of Europe and Asia. In fact, it was only the existence of the USA – the one imperialist power that had got stronger through each of the wars rather than weaker – that stopped the further spread of communist revolution across western Europe and deeper into Asia after 1945. In the interests of saving the capitalist system, the USA came to the rescue of the decimated European imperialist powers and helped them to somewhat of a recovery.
But while German, French and British finance capital were thus assisted in maintaining a seat at the imperialist table, were facilitated in continuing to loot the oppressed peoples and to buy social peace at home through welfare programmes, their position was not what it had been. The USA was careful to establish a system, via Breton Woods, the IMF and World Bank, Nato and the European Economic Community, that none of the subordinated imperialist powers has since been in a position to circumvent. As a result, they rely for their military strength on US imperialism, and must therefore ultimately subordinate their economic interests to those of the USA – for the time being at least.
This has never been clearer than in the recent months of Russia’s special military operation, when the European countries were called upon to sacrifice their independent economic interests in the interests of the ‘greater good’ of destroying Russia. No doubt if Russia had been quickly defeated and dismantled as planned, the imperialists would have been satisfied that the short-term pain had been worth the long-term gain of unbridled looting that would have ensued. But since the Russian economy refused to buckle under the sanctions blitzkrieg, and since the Russian government remained in place despite all attempts to stir up regime change, both the economic and military wars being waged via the proxy conflict in Ukraine have backfired on the aggressors.
It is not wrong to point out to workers in western Europe that they are being asked to sacrifice their access to cheap and reliable power sources, fertilisers etc, that inflation is being stoked and industries lost in the interests of an alien class. It is perfectly correct to take notice of and use to our advantage the publicity that is created when our rulers are divided amongst themselves. Smaller-scale capital in Europe (and in this case, ‘smaller’ may still mean huge multinationals) is being asked to pay the price of trying to keep the profits flowing for the biggest capitalists.
Equally, there is a reason why all the European officials in the EU and Nato, and so many government ministers in all our countries, are happy to go along with this programme. This is because in Germany as in Britain, the biggest financiers understand that their only hope of surviving this crisis is on the coat-tails of US imperialist power – and so ultimately that is where their loyalty will lie. If millions of German and British workers lose their jobs or are otherwise plunged into poverty in the process, that matters little to them. They are equally indifferent to the plight of their fellow capitalists who are going to the wall.
There is no honour among thieves. The capitalist system is characterised first and foremost by competition, and it is in the nature of the system that the biggest players will survive at the expense of the smaller, medium and even very big.
In showing these truths to workers in our countries, our aim is not to recruit them to the cause of the capitalists who are threatened by US hegemony and wish to return to the days when they had the power to go it alone (as represented in Britain by what is known as the ‘little Englander’ mentality and in Europe by the proponents of the EU army). Our job is to help workers see that not only are those days gone forever, but that workers have no interest in returning to them. We do not want to ‘make Britain great again’ by returning to the days when the British empire ruled the waves, but to help workers understand by their own experience that there is simply no way out of crisis and war except through socialist revolution.
It’s notable that the labour aristocracy in western Europe (made up of privileged workers and petty-bourgeois strata, professionals and NGO workers as well as the highly-paid and professionalised trade union leaderships), being totally tied to and dependent on imperialism for its privileged position in capitalist society, is the most loyal section of the population when it comes to defending imperialist interests. In Britain, we were recently treated to the disgusting spectacle of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) voting for an imperialist-backed motion to ‘stand with Ukraine’, condemning Russian aggression more strongly even than the most impeccable bourgeois politicians, and practically demanding an open-ended commitment to arms and other support for Nato’s proxy Ukronazi army.
This serves to highlight the importance of continuing to study and act on the lessons taught to us by Lenin during the Bolsheviks’ history and development, both within their own party and country and in the international arena.
Opportunism within the working-class movement remains our most deadly enemy. It represents the influence of the bourgeoisie in our midst, our enemy within, and has been the cause of so many of our catastrophic reverses.
Only those who have waged serious and relentless struggles against opportunism have been successful in carrying out socialist revolutions, and there is not a doubt that this will continue to hold as true in the future as it has in the past.