"I DON’T SEE HOW you can ever get any real justice or prosperity, so long as there’s private property, and everything is judged in terms of money — unless you consider it just for the worst sort of people to have the best living conditions, or unless you’re prepared to call a country prosperous, in which all wealth is owned by a tiny minority — who aren’t entirely happy even so, while everyone else is simply miserable."
These words were written in 1515 — originally in Latin — by Thomas Moore in his famous work Utopia. Since his day philosophers have tried to work out how human society came to be in such a mess — and more important, what we can do to put it right.
In the 1840s two great communists, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, made an analysis of human society, the class system and capitalism — and how the injustices arising out of private property could be put right through socialism.
In 1848 they published the Communist Manifesto — a call to the working class of the world to unite to get rid of capitalism and replace it with a fair and just system — socialism.
Before civilisation, there were no class divisions in human society. People lived in tribal village communities with no private property. A single human being alone in the wild world might, if lucky, just about be able to survive. But they could not raise children and so have descendants unless they worked together with other humans and co-operated in finding food, shelter and other basic necessities of life — and in raising the children.
Human children are weak and vulnerable. Human society, if it was to last for more than a generation, had to care for the weak and vulnerable. Tribal societies were based on large family groups working together to support each other through good times and bad. There was no private property, no money. People worked together to produce the necessities of life and shared them.
This means humans are naturally social beings. The tendency to co-operate and work collectively is innate within us. Humanity could not have survived any other way.
Human society became more complicated when some were skilled or lucky enough to produce a surplus to their needs. They began to barter with other tribes. This led — over many centuries, even millennia — to the invention of money as a way of simplifying exchanges. The first coins, produced in the Middle East, carried images of cows — one coin was the equivalent value of a cow.
The concept of private property followed, with the possibility of amassing personal wealth. This undermined the ancient tribal relations, leading to strife, competition, greed, envy, debt and even war. Prisoners of war became private property as slaves. For the first time human society needed a state machine — government, army, laws, courts and so on capable of imposing the laws of private property.
Society divided into those who had wealth and could control the means of production — access to land, food, water, housing and other necessities — and those who did not. This gave them power over those who were poor. The poor could only get the necessities of life on terms dictated by the rich — they had to work for a living while the rich could take life easy.
As history evolved the slave society, where the workers were themselves private property, gave way to feudalism where the ruling class controlled access to the land — the chief source of food and all other necessities, while the poor became peasants who were tied to the land.
Feudalism replaced slavery. Under this system the lord would own the land and the peasants would give some kind of tribute to the lord — either a few days’ work a week or produce from their land, there were many variants in the system. The lord gave tribute to another lord above him and so on up to the king, who in theory owned all the land and delegated control of it to the lords under him in exchange for tribute and loyalty.
This became the basic form of exploitation with the ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange in the hands of the aristocracy. Even today remnants of feudalism still exist within modern capitalism, for example the monarchy and unelected members of the House of Lords.
With improved navigational aids the New World was discovered and mercantile adventurers flourished and made fortunes without owning land.
In time feudalism gave way to capitalism in which the ruling class owns the land, the factories, the banks, the means of transport, shops and so on. The workers have no property and are forced to sell their labour power to get money wages to exchange for everything they need.
Capitalism began with rich adventurers setting up companies as a way of borrowing money from their rich friends, who were invited to buy stocks and shares in the companies. In the beginning these companies financed adventure ships to explore the New World, bring back treasure and trade in valuable goods. The slave trade played an enormous part in allowing these companies and their shareholder backers to accumulate huge resources of wealth, by selling human beings forcibly transported from Africa to the Americas.
Later this huge wealth was invested in new inventions, in steam power, railways, coal mines and factories. It made the industrial revolution possible.
The free market
Capitalists believe in the virtues of the private enterprise as a means to bring progress. They argue that wherever there is a need, someone can make a profit by supplying it. They say that this stimulates manufacturers to invent new products to meet every imaginable need and to improve manufacturing processes to reduce the cost of goods within the market. Those who cannot compete will not be able to sell their higher priced goods in the market and so will go bankrupt.
In this way, they say, inefficient processes will be continually weeded out and human society will progress.
This is true to a point. Capitalism has introduced manufacturing processes that have changed the world, produced more goods and make life more comfortable for jost people.
But the private enterprise serves only those who have money to buy. The free market cannot ever serve the needs of the poor. Nor can it provide many things needed by society as a whole but which are not readily profitable.
Extreme fundamentalist capitalists — "libertarians" — insist that no one should ever get anything without paying for it and that to supply any goods or services, benefits or pensions, without charge will encourage idleness in the working class and weaken the human race. They say that those who cannot work and earn money should be allowed to die of starvation so that only the strong survive to breed — it is every individual for themselves and let the "inefficient" perish. They claim that "greed is good" and deny the role of society, co-operation and mutual caring in the survival of the human race.
In the hey day of early industrial capitalism the capitalists would not supply education, healthcare, sewerage, clean water, street lighting, rubbish collection and so on because these schemes required huge financial investment and no guarantee of any profit. No one would take responsibility to meet the costs. The new industrial towns grew fast, crowding people together. Without clean water supplies and sanitation there were increased levels of disease and epidemics that could affect the rich as well as the poor.
Even so, private enterprise was not willing to invest in these civic necessities. The state had to provide them — at local or national government level — and fund them from taxation. The workers had to pay for them. Some Victorian economists called this "gas and water socialism" because it involved public money being used to provide services that benefited even people who could pay nothing.
Today these basic utilities are being privatised so that capitalists can make profits from them but the basic funding, the investment, is still coming from taxes — from workers’ pockets.
Boom and bust
The profit motive also encourages capitalists to produce more and more goods more and more cheaply until the markets are flooded. Then there is a glut, prices collapse, manufacturers go bankrupt, factories close and workers are thrown out of work. When this happens on a massive scale it leads to a depression where capitalists cannot sell their goods and unemployment rises. Industrial nations fight each other over markets all around the world and this can lead to wars.
War destroys a lot of goods, homes, factories and so on. It creates a new demand, first for weapons then for reconstruction, new markets for new goods and the conditions for an economic boom. It also eliminates unemployment among working classes by conscripting them as canon fodder and killing many of them. So capitalism tends to go in a cycle of boom, bust and war. This is an unstable and destructive cycle that now endangers the future of the human race.
During industrial crises big companies buy up the smaller, more vulnerable ones that are going bankrupt and get bigger than ever. Many big capitalist companies have become huge from benefiting during wars. This process is called monopolisation and it concentrates more and more power and wealth into fewer and fewer hands. Some companies end up with more money than whole nations. Their power grows to the point where they can dictate policies to nations.
Capitalists believe that all restrictions on profit making should be removed; that their money should be free to move around and rule the globe. They believe in the utjost freedom for money but at the same time the utjost restrictions on trade unions and the rights of workers — that (their) money should be free while people (workers) are in chains.
The Three Thieves
All wealth is created by work. But those who do the jost work end up with the least wealth. How is it stolen from us? The ruling class is composed of three main types of thief: the bosses, the landlords and the financiers. In modern times they overlap and are not clearly separated but the three main mechanisms of theft remain the same. They usually act together in unity against their prey — the workers. Just occasionally they fall out with each other.
The first thief: the boss
Capitalists use money and its power to force workers to make them wealthier using the money trick, known as surplus value.
Economists had struggled long and hard to work out what it was that determined the price of goods in the market place, their exchange rate relative to money — and that included the price of a worker’s labour. The early simplistic economists talked of supply and demand: when something is needed but is in short supply, the price is high.
Marx calculated that the price of a commodity was determined by the cost of the labour embodied in it. For example a cotton dress would include the cost of the labour of the dressmaker, the spinners and weavers who made the material and the people who grew and picked and shipped the cotton. It would also include a tiny bit of the cost of work embodied in all the machines and tools involved in the production and transportation. Marx specified that the price of a commodity would be fixed at the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in it. That meant that even if it were produced by old fashioned less efficient ways with more labour embodied in it, in the market it would still fetch only the same price as its more modern, cheaper rivals. This process steadily forced all manufacturers to modernise continually or face bankruptcy.
The same principal applied to the cost of labour. A worker’s labour power was worth the minimum cost of sustaining the worker in health and reproducing that worker — in other words supporting a growing family. This determined the level of wages.
The manufacturer pays each worker a wage equivalent to the market price of labour power. But the workers, in exchange, have to give the boss enough labour power to reproduce that amount of wealth — and then carry on working, producing wealth that is pure profit for the industrialist. This is known as surplus value. The longer hours the workers work, the richer they make the boss. The industrialist accumulates more and more riches and becomes more and more powerful and can employ more and more workers.
Surplus value is the basic con trick, the theft from the workers, that is the heart of capitalism. It is the economic motor of the whole system. It is how wealth is created by the many, stolen and accumulated in the hands of the few.
The deal between capitalists and workers is an unequal deal between those with power of money and those who have nothing and no way to get at their daily necessities except through getting a job to get money wages. Money is now a barrier between the majority, the workers, and the things they need to get to stay alive. And the capitalists, the bosses, control it.
Only when workers get together in a trade union and bargain together can they exert any power on the employer. By uniting and withholding their labour from the market until the bosses are prepared to pay an acceptable price for it, trade unions can drive up wages and also bargain for shorter hours.
Both these will reduce the profits of the capitalists. There is, as Lenin said, an irreconcilable difference between the economic interests of the bosses — low wages, long hours and high prices — and the interests of the workers — high wages, short hours and low prices. No talk of "partnerships" and working together and so on can hide this fundamental contradiction between industrialists and workers.
The employers exploit the labour of their workers and the more efficient the production process, the greater the exploitation. When capitalists introduce new machinery that speeds up production, they increase the rate at which their workers create more wealth for them. So even if they are paying higher wages, their workers are still being exploited at a higher rate because they are creating more wealth for the employers relative to their rate of pay.
In Karl Marx’s time the cost of labour power involved keeping a worker alive and usually a wife and a large growing family. Today jost women work full time and it takes the wages of both adults to sustain them and a small family. We have more machines in our homes to do the housework but we do not get more leisure because of this. It simply makes us available to work longer hours — and the overall rate of exploitation is higher.
The power of the unions, the organised working class, is greatest when it is exerted at the point of production, when it puts the brakes directly on the creation of surplus value. Industrial trade unions can hit the manufacturer where it hurts jost. This is why industrial manufacturing unions have traditionally been stronger than those in service industries have, where unions have only an indirect impact on wealth creation.
The second thief: the landowner
The landlord exploits anyone and everyone who does anything — living, breathing, working, playing, buying, selling, manufacturing, lending, borrowing — on dry land, by charging a tax on that activity called rent. The landowners never created the land — it existed long before the human race. But through the course of history the ruling class has grabbed it all — largely through a process called the enclosure movement — put walls and fences round it and called it their own private property.
They charge everyone else for the use of their patch of land over and over again and at the end the land is still theirs. They cream off a percentage of all wealth produced without having to do a single stroke of work themselves. They are absolute parasites on the rest of society. The more wealth-producing work that happens on a piece of land, the more rent they can charge. Town centre land is more lucrative than rural land but those who own it keep a very low profile. Very often they are the descendants of old feudal families but they set up complex property companies to hide their identity.
When house prices and rents rise they make a fortune by doing nothing at all. When the manufacturing capitalists suffer an economic crisis the value of stocks and shares goes up and down and the value of money goes up and down. These capitalists can lose fortunes and go bankrupt.
But whatever happens to money, the land remains and keeps its value because people will always need land, so the landowners remain rich and powerful. This is why many capitalists try to buy land as a safe investment that will keep its value no matter what. This pushes up the price of land during a capitalist economic crisis so that the landowners get richer while everyone else gets poorer.
Manufacturers find that rents are a burden on production costs: the rents for the factories, warehouses, shops and of course the homes of the workers. This cost has to be included in wages as part of the cost of sustaining the worker.
The only thing that the landowners fear is land reform and the workers uniting to take over the land. That is when we see them raising their profile and they can get very vicious. Traditionally they have strong links with the armed forces.
The third thief: the financier
The other thief is the financier. This means the banks, building societies and so on who lend money and charge interest rates.
They lend money to workers, to bosses and to nations. They get the money from people, at all economic levels, who save their money in the banks, through pension schemes and so on. Banks pay one interest rate to those who deposit their savings in them and charge a higher rate to those who borrow. They get their vast profits from the difference between to two rates. They do no work and create no wealth. They just rearrange wealth so that those who are already rich get richer. They too are absolute parasites.
To workers they lend money in the form of mortgages, personal loans, credit cards and so on. The more they lend us, the more profit they can make out of us, so they are very keen to persuade us all to borrow as much as possible. They love people to be deep in debt and they love high interest rates. For us this means working all the hours we can to pay them back. Personal debt is a major factor in the long-hours culture as people strive to keep up with their debts and of course the employers just love workers who want to work long hours because it pushes up their surplus value. And the bosses also love workers who are in deep debt because it is harder for trade unions to persuade them to take part in strikes.
The finance companies tempt us by advertising the things we could buy with a loan and then mention only the minimum monthly repayment necessary. They don’t point out that to pay off a debt like this will take years, even decades, during which time the banks will make a fortune from the interest. We will ultimately pay the original amount of the loan many times over.
As we get deeper into debt, it controls our lives and dictates our whole lifestyle. The banks are not afraid of a few defaulters who fail to keep up the payments — they make enough profits out of the rest of us.
Global finance imperialism
The giant international banks lend money to manufacturing companies to enable them to expand and compete in fiercely competitive markets. Those who do not borrow to expand will be outstripped and put out of business by those who do. When big companies go bankrupt it is bad news for the banks. But on the whole they make vast profits, creaming off a percentage of the companies’ wealth from the interest on the loans.
The manufacturers depend on the banks and the banks can have a big say in their policies. They have indirect control over deciding what is to be made, how it is to be made, where it is to be sold and what wages are to be paid.
For example, when motor manufacturers in the West Midlands are in desperate trouble, they go, cap in hand, to the big banks to bale them out with a loan. The banks will insist on various productivity agreements to be imposed on the workers to increase exploitation rates. The trade unions, fearful of high job losses, will be under extreme pressure to concede.
The big banks also lend to governments. This is a very safe investment because a country cannot disappear, cannot take the money and run. Countries in the developing world desperately need finance to build up their wealth-producing capacity and to finance the basic social infrastructure. They need health, welfare and education if they are to sustain a population of workers — who are the basic wealth producers.
But the international banks are only interested in their own profits. They pressure small countries into borrowing up to their limits. Again they speak only of the minimum regular repayments — not mentioning the years and years of debt slavery that will be needed and that the original loan will have to be paid many times over.
In this way the international banks cream off jost of the surplus wealth created by the workers in those countries so there is little left for the social infrastructure or for the local manufacturing capitalists. The loan repayments keep these countries in a constant state of grinding poverty. The banks do not care if millions of workers in Africa, Asia and Latin America die of hunger and disease — as long as enough survive to keep working and making profits.
The bank loans made to these countries come with lots of strings. Part of the deal will be that the money must be spent on the development of cash crops and raw materials for the export market and the import of manufactured goods from the imperialist countries, or on the products of a particular giant manufacturing company — one that is making a lot of profit for the bank. The deal may insist that the small country’s government must privatise its health, welfare and education so that capitalists can get a profit rake-off from providing these services. This of course means that less of the money spent will actually go toward providing the services.
Lenin described this imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. Today many call it globalisation. When communists use the word imperialism we mean that it conquers vulnerable countries with money rather than with military might and keeps them in grinding poverty while making a fortune for the big banks.
Needless to say, if such a country defaults on its debts or tries to change the loan agreements, the armies of the imperialist countries are soon on the doorstep.
The thing that these big banks fear the jost is working class revolution, the workers taking over their own countries, tearing up the debt agreements and telling the banks to get lost.
jost newspapers and the rest of the media are owned by companies that are controlled by the banks. It is hardly surprising they have nothing good to say about communists and socialists.
The global ruling class knows that communism is its jost dangerous enemy. So it has been prepared in some cases to invest to undermine working class unity. Some of the super profits gleaned from the extreme exploitation of developing countries have been used to buy off certain sections of the working class in the imperialists’ home countries. This creates a higher paid "aristocracy of labour" who will attack communism and revolutionism within the working class movement and who will support imperialism abroad.
Socialism, the alternative
Karl Marx pointed out that capitalism creates the seeds of its own destruction — politically conscious workers. The industrial manufacturing process brings together thousands of workers in factories, mines, mills and so on and once there the workers get a good education. This is not the education that the capitalists deliberately set out to give workers. They would like us to learn all about Christianity, the work ethic, the nobleness of being obedient, submissive, respecting our "betters", earning our way and paying our bills — and that it is impossible to change society — we must accept injustice, exploitation and learn to live with it.
But the education they cannot help giving to workers is how they are cheated; how the bosses wring out of them as much work as they can and pay back as little as they can get away with. Being exploited, yet feeling helpless and frustrated about it, is the jost powerful lesson a worker can have about capitalist economics. This is why so often ordinary working class people can understand the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin so much better than middle class people can — however many university degrees they may have.
Another lesson the employers teach the workers, without intending to, is the value of unity and working together. The very complex industrial processes in themselves are a lesson to all involved that the role of each individual is insignificant, but by working co-operatively together they can accomplish amazing feats.
The ruling class, the middle class and intelligentsia are educated to believe that each individual among them is important and to value individualism. Workers learn that alone they can accomplish little, but enough of them working together can do just about anything. Sooner or later workers realise that they do not have to stand by passively as they are robbed of the results of their work. After all, they are many and the capitalists are few.
Marx referred to these workers as the proletariat — meaning workers who have no property except their own ability to work. He predicted that when they came together in large numbers it would only be a matter of time before they became class conscious. In other words before they realised that the bosses needed them much more than they needed the bosses and they meant that potentially they had power over the bosses.
But their strength lies in their numbers. To exert their power they have to come together, collaborate and organise, to become aware of themselves as a class and of the enormous strength they could have as a class if they could get organised.
The trade unions are the first stage in this process. But when workers realise that minor improvements won through hard struggle by the trade unions are soon lost again, especially in time of economic crisis, then they realise something stronger is needed — a working class political force or party. Then workers have to raise their vision and begin to fight for a new kind of society without capitalists, landlords or financiers, a society where workers would own and control all the wealth they produced and use it for the benefit of the masses — socialism. They stop demanding a bigger slice of the cake and start demanding control of the bakery.
Socialism was not a new idea in Marx’s time; other thinkers had proposed versions of it as a solution to exploitation. But before Marx and Engels jost socialists had idealistic, Utopian ideas of how socialism would be achieved by kind-hearted middle class people realising that exploitation was wrong and generously bringing socialism to the workers in a gradual process.
Marx and Engels were the first to make a scientific analysis of the nature of capitalist exploitation, how the capitalists would never, could never give it up voluntarily and that socialism could only be achieved by the working class themselves, seizing their own destiny and overthrowing capitalism.
Socialism and communism
Marx and Engels realised that in the immediate aftermath of a socialist revolution it would not be possible to achieve a workers’ paradise. The circumstances of a socialist revolution are likely to be against a background of capitalist economic collapse, even world war. Much of the economic infrastructure will be in ruins. And the old ruling class will be trying like mad to reverse the revolution, with the backing of all their powerful international capitalist friends.
This is why they describe socialism as just the first stage of communism. Socialism will be the gradual process of the building of workers’ power, of using economic methods developed by capitalists to increase production, to meet the needs of everyone.
Only when production has reached a level to supply an abundance of everything that people need, and only when the memory of capitalist or bourgeois power and culture have faded and the old ruling class no longer exists to try to reverse the revolution, can true communism be achieved. In the highest stage of communism money and wages would be obsolete. There would be enough of everything to go round. Machines would do jost boring work. The remaining work would be interesting, and would be enjoyable and voluntary. There would be plenty of leisure. There would be no motive for theft or exploitation and no need for state machinery to defend the interests of one class against another. The state would wither away, the government of people would give way to the co-operative administration of things — making sure that everything needed was produced and distributed appropriately.
No one knows exactly how long this process will take. It will probably be centuries. Nevertheless, throughout the process of socialism, living standards will be gradually rising, economic production will be geared to meeting people’s needs rather than making profits. And by planning economic expansion with a long-term perspective, damage to the environment can be avoided.
There are some major improvements in the lives of workers that would begin immediately after the revolution. All the personal debts of the old regime would be wiped out — credit cards, mortgages and so on. Debt would never again be a cause of anxiety for ordinary people. The big banks and major capitalist enterprises would be taken over.
The wealth they produce would belong to the workers and would be used in reconstruction and improving public facilities like schools, hospitals, leisure facilities and so on. The workers would vote on how it would get spent. With this revenue, the new workers’ government would not need taxes.
Workers would be much more actively involved in debating and drawing up new laws. So it is impossible to predict exactly what those laws would be. But we can guess that, in general, land would be nationalised. But there would be no need to take the homes of owner-occupiers. These people would benefit from the cancelling of mortgages. It is the use of land to exploit other people through rent that would be outlawed.
Small businesses that provide a useful service for workers would be left untouched. They too would benefit from the cancellation of debts. There would be new laws to protect their employees from over exploitation.
The former upper classes would experience an immediate fall in living standards and be expected to get ordinary jobs like other people. The middle classes, including the intelligentsia may also experience some temporary fall in living standards — and they would probably protest loudly.
But jost workers would probably experience an immediate rise in living standards. Wages might not rise much but many day-to-day costs would diminish or disappear: like taxes, debts, rents, travel fares and so on. Some prices for basic essential could be subsidised. It all depends what the workers at the time will want. Housing and employment would be guaranteed.
The state machine
The working classes outnumber the bosses, the landlords and the financiers all put together — many times over. So what stops us seizing control of the whole system tomorrow and sacking the parasites? The police, the army, the courts, the prisons and the whole paraphernalia of government stop us. This is known as the state machine and it includes Parliament, local government, various assemblies, the monarchy and so on.
This complex machine was created by the ruling class specifically to defend its position and its wealth — any other function these organisations perform is subsidiary.
The state machine is the reason that socialism cannot be achieved gradually or through electing a majority of socialist MPs and passing a law to abolish capitalism. Parliament is only part of the state — a small part — and the rest of the state machine would not allow it to happen.
The elected Parliament does not rule this country. Government policies are dictated by the needs of the capitalist system and formulated by bodies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Bank of England and other bodies, national and international, representing the main vested interests of the ruling class. They tell the Prime Minister what the government’s policies will be — regardless of what party s/he represents or what was in that party’s election manifesto. This is why the main economic policies of the major parties in Britain are much the same — and this is the same in all western capitalist countries. The party in government is only allowed free rein on trivial issues that have little economic impact.
The House of Commons could be packed from floor to ceiling with clones of Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill, George Galloway and so on but whoever was Prime Minister would have to do what the ruling class want. If not they would face the deliberate economic sabotage of the Government’s policy, forcing its resignation. In a last resort, the ruling class would stage a military coup — the army would be sent to arrest the Prime Minister and government leaders, who would be charged with treason. This is what did happen in Chile and what was attempted recently in Venezuela.
The attempted coup in Venezuela failed because the working class there was mobilised and ready to fight. And the army, the jost crucial part of the state machine, had been won over to back the workers.
The only time that the Westminster Parliament ever enacted significant socialist reforms, introducing the state welfare of the Beveridge Report, was just after the Second World War. At that time the adult working class of Britain had just taken part in the military defeat of Hitler fascism. It was trained and experienced in military combat and was in a mood to make serious demands. The ruling class could not count on the large conscript, largely working class armed forces to support the state against the workers. Furthermore, following the alliance with the Soviet Union, workers were aware of the free education, health and social benefits enjoyed by Soviet workers. The ruling class in Britain realised it had to make big concessions to avoid a threat of revolution here.
Today, Britain’s ruling class sees a working class that is no longer organised, mobilised or dangerous and it has a small, well armed, brainwashed, obedient standing army. The Soviet Union is no more — so the bosses are taking back those state welfare concessions.
The working class can never achieve socialism through Parliament alone. It must change the whole state machine. The state machine that was created to defend private property and the current ruling class can never be altered or adapted to defend working class interests. It must be smashed and replaced with a new kind of working class state machine to enforce the interests of the workers — the new ruling class.
Such a state is called the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is necessary because after a revolution the rich and powerful who have been displaced will try everything to get their power back. They will have the backing of international capitalism and will be a truly formidable force. The workers’ state must match this — and it will have the backing of international socialism.
To achieve this, the workers must be ready to fight, must be educated, organised and mobilised.
Communists and Social Democrats
The working class political movement has, since 1848, been divided into two main strands. The social democrat parties, including the Labour Party in Britain, believe that socialism can be achieved gradually through elections. They maintain that the evils of capitalism are so obvious that intelligent capitalists will eventually recognise their system is wrong and play a leading role in changing it bit by bit into a socialist system.
Communist Parties, including the New Communist Party of Britain, recognise that the nature of the bourgeois state will prevent this happening and that only a revolution can bring socialism. We cannot predict exactly what course this revolution will take. It may or may not involve violence but it must involve the complete dismantling and abolition of the bourgeois state machinery and its replacement by a dictatorship of the proletariat.
We also recognise that capitalism can never become sympathetic to workers. There remains the fundamental economic contradiction between the interests of workers and those of the capitalists. Some individual bosses may be nice people and give a lot to charity and so on. But the capitalist system compels them to seek the highest profits possible — or be put out of business by rivals. They cannot afford scruples. This is why capitalism is so dangerous to the environment. Modern industrial processes are doing untold environmental damage. But if an intelligent capitalist tries to modify these processes, with the long-term interests of the planet in mind, rivals who prioritise short-term profits will soon put them out of business.
The Communist Party
It is the role of a communist party to give the lead in convincing the working class of the need to organise for a socialist revolution as the only way to end exploitation and save the planet.
A communist party does not necessarily have to be big but to be effective it has to be clear about what it is trying to do and united. It cannot be a party encompassing a wide range of views on the best way forward. If everyone in the boat is rowing in a different direction it can only go round in circles.
This is why we adopt a process called democratic centralism. Party members discuss policy at all levels. They take trouble to learn and understand the basics of Marxism-Leninism so that they are better equipped to make analyses and judgements. Then they meet together in a party congress to discuss and vote on the best way forward on all the issues confronting the workers’ struggle at that time. Once they have voted, the line is agreed and they all stick to it, even if they personally may have a few disagreements on some points. The unity of the party in action is more important than these differences.
Nothing paralyses a party more than having to discuss the same thing over and over again, so once issues have been decided they are not discussed again unless new events indicate that mistakes may have been made. There is no such thing as a party that never makes mistakes but communist parties analyse and correct their mistakes and learn from them — while maintaining party unity.
All members of the party are required to support it financially and to take an active part in fighting for its policies. This is in contrast to other political parties where often the active five per cent of members spend all their time collecting dues from and servicing the inactive 95 per cent — leaving no time for any other activity.
Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Kim Il Sung — and all other important communist leaders — stressed that at all times the communist party is the servant of the working class. Members are motivated by a desire to help the working class liberate itself from exploitation, to achieve socialism and a better standard of life for future generations of workers.
No socialist revolution can take place unless the working class is politically aware, organised and mobilised ready to fight. Communist parties are trying to achieve this situation. We recognise that this will take time.
The Labour Party
We cannot achieve socialism through Parliament but that does not mean that all activity around Parliament is useless. An angry and aroused working class can wring some useful reforms from Parliament to make workers’ lives a bit better in the short term while the long-term struggle for socialist revolution continues. But to be successful, even in these small aims, we need more than just election campaigns.
Campaigning around Parliament and elections is only a small part of broad campaigns that will include demonstrations, strikes, petitions and various kinds of non-violent direct action. The tactics must be tailored to the aim of the campaign and the circumstances.
The Labour Party was created by the trade unions to give the working class a voice in Parliament. Even though Parliament does not rule the state, that voice could be useful and could be a vital part of a broad campaign for social reforms.
From its earliest days the Labour Party has been dominated by non-revolutionary social democrat ideas rather than by scientific socialists. jost of its members have believed that they could achieve socialism gradually, through parliamentary elections. The limited reforms they have achieved throughout the last century gave credence to this belief, especially in the 1950s and 60s when conditions improved for the working class.
In addition, Labour Prime Ministers, on coming to power, have all been taken aside by the real rulers of the state, the top bankers, military and so on — and put fully in the picture. They have been told what financial policies they must implement and what minor reforms they will be allowed — in order to keep up appearances. When they step out of line, as Harold Wilson tried, economic sabotage follows and they are brought to heel.
Nevertheless it is still worth electing a Labour government because the structure of the Labour Party gives the trade unions a direct link with Labour MPs. We do not vote Labour with any illusions that this will bring socialism. But it will increase the strength of the working class to bring pressure to bear on the Government.
When canvassing for Labour we never lie to people, we say plainly that voting is not enough to achieve any real change, there must be much more, including broad active campaigning at al levels — leading to revolutionism. We tell people they must be ready to fight for themselves and their class. It is no use sitting indoors waiting for capitalism to become kind-hearted.
And it is through this broad campaigning and trade union activity that the working class is educated in the strength of its own power, that it becomes aware and confident and ready to challenge the ruling class. For that reason alone, it is worth electing a Labour government.
When Labour loses an election and the Tories are in power, workers are disheartened and demoralised. It is harder to raise a struggle. People feel that if they cannot even keep the Tories out, how on earth could they win a revolution? This is when workers become jost apathetic and right wing opportunists find it easy to rise to the leadership of trade unions and local Labour constituency parties.
The social democrats have always been to the right of the communists. To the left we have the ultra-revolutionaries, mainly Trotskyites. Trotsky was once a Bolshevik revolutionary along with Lenin and Stalin. He and Lenin had many differences but perhaps the jost important was Trotsky’s assertion that a communist revolution could not succeed unless it became a global revolution aljost immediately. He believed that capitalism and communism could not coexist peacefully on the same planet.
Lenin, Stalin and the other Bolsheviks pointed out that, since different countries develop at different rates there was no possibility that all countries could reach a revolutionary situation at the same time, this would make the attainment of a socialist revolution impossible — anywhere except the moon. Once a country has reached a revolutionary situation it cannot simply mark time until the rest of the world catches up. If it cannot go forward it must go back into the arms of reaction and repression.
Communists cannot lead their working class to a revolutionary situation and then capitulate because circumstances are not perfect. That would be the utjost betrayal. Lenin, Stalin and the Bolsheviks led their working class forward to socialism.
The Great October Revolution of 1917 was the first in history. It gave birth to the first workers’ state, the Soviet Union, born in the jost difficult circumstances. Under the circumstances, including the economic backwardness of the country, its size and diversity and the immediate attacks made upon it by powerful imperialist nations that were hell-bent on strangling workers’ power at birth, some mistakes were inevitable.
Nevertheless socialism brought a country covering a quarter of the planet’s land surface from a backward largely agrarian economy to a super-power, a modern industrial country with universal free education, healthcare and social services. Its science and technology led the world and its people enjoyed an unprecedented improvement in living standards while it lasted. And it played the major role in defeating Hitler fascism.
Imperialist powers had to respond to this by allowing their own working classes improved living standards or they too were in danger of socialist revolution.
Trotsky soon became disaffected with the Soviet Union because it did not meet his perfectionist standards. He left it to live in the West and continued all his life to pour scorn on the achievements of the Soviet working class.
His followers have kept up the tradition. While claiming to be super revolutionaries, they attack every socialist revolution that has ever happened for not being perfect and not achieving advanced communism quickly. No Trotskyite party has ever led a successful socialist revolution.
They use all their energy attacking parties that do succeed. They fixate on Marx’s prediction that the state will wither away under advanced communism, and expect this to happen within a few years of the revolution. They strive to outdo the capitalists in pouring venom on the real, positive but imperfect achievements of the working class throughout the world.
Within Britain they attack working class organisations, including the trade unions. They attack right-wing opportunist union leaderships. But instead of fighting within the labour movement, within trade unions and the Labour Party for genuine working class policies, they leave and try to set up rival unions and rival social democrat parties. This divides the working class — whose only strength is in unity. And it leaves the right wingers and opportunists to consolidate their grip on the genuine items.
If broad campaigns are founded around a particular issue — housing, anti-racism, the poll tax or whatever — instead of supporting the campaign they set up their own rival campaigns and divide the workers. They will not join a campaign unless they can dominate and control it.
In an industrial dispute, when workers seem set for a modest victory, the ultra-lefts will call for another demand to be added to the list. It will be a legitimate demand but not one that is easily achievable at that time. Workers will be divided and confused about what they are fighting for. The unity and clarity of vision necessary for a successful strike will be lost and so will the whole issue be.
Some older Trotskyites, now in social democrat parties like Respect, admit they have altogether given up hope of achieving a socialist revolution. They say they still believe that is the only way to socialism but have lost hope that the working class will ever achieve the necessary level of political awareness and mobilisation. This is hardly surprising; given the negative message they are continually delivering. When they ceaselessly attack every achievement and every structure of the working class at home and abroad, how can they expect to inspire workers with confidence? They blame the workers for being too stupid.
But there is nothing stupid about rejecting divisive and unrealistic tactics that will only benefit the bosses. The build up to a real revolutionary situation is a long, hard slog and results are rarely instant. It involves building working class confidence by working in unity for achievable goals — and winning them. Workers do not want to be heroic martyrs chasing impossible dreams. They want to win a better life for themselves and their children.
From the very beginning communist parties have had problems with right-wing revisionism — the rewriting of Marxism and Leninism to take out the revolutionary bit — and to tame it so that becomes like social democracy, aiming to achieve socialism through the existing capitalist state machinery.
The idea of an easy peaceful road to socialism is always very tempting. And at times when the ruling class is making concessions and trade unions are winning higher standards of living for the members simply through industrial action, it is all too easy to believe that we just need to continue along his track.
At times like this the working class, naturally, does not want to know about revolutions and activities that might be unpleasant or dangerous. Some communists, seeing their duty as supporting the working class, make the mistake of adopting this wishful thinking as party policy.
They forget that capitalism goes in economic cycles and that even if things are peaceful and pleasant now, sooner or later there will be an economic crisis with unemployment and attacks on workers’ living conditions. Concessions made by the ruling class will be withdrawn. The state machine that has been peaceful and benign for years will start to tighten the screws.
The danger of revisionism is often greatest in parties where there has been a sudden mass influx of new members, as happened in the Communist Party of Great Britain after the defeat of Hitler fascism, when pro-Sovietism was high. The vast majority of the new members were well intentioned but they were not given a proper educational grounding in Marxism-Leninism. When the leadership of that party became revisionist, the mass of new members simply followed the leadership. The real Marxist-Leninists in the party who held out against the revisionism were marginalised and rendered ineffective. Eventually they had to leave the old party and launched the New Communist Party in 1977.
Revisionism came to dominate many western communist parties in the 60s and 70s. It even gained ground in the Soviet Union where, two generations after the Great October Revolution, party members forgot the real nature of capitalism and allowed those who wanted to collaborate with the imperialist powers to control their party. They did this in the name of world peace but the danger of world war is now much greater since the fall of the Soviet Union. And global imperialism is now uninhibited in its bullying and aggression towards countries like Iraq.
Peace and socialism
The threat of nuclear war hangs over the whole planet and the whole human race. The dangers of wars between rival giant capitalist powers grow with economic crises and recessions. Usually such wars are now carried out in the exploited Third World countries as rival powers fight over who will be allowed to exploit the people, over markets and over raw materials, especially oil.
We must struggle for peace and for nuclear disarmament — and the abolition of other kinds of weapons of mass destruction. Only in peaceful conditions can the working class develop towards being capable of a successful socialist revolution.
Existing socialist countries are well aware that they have to find a way of coexisting peacefully with the aggressive imperialist countries, though this is not easy.
So throughout the world, communists are active in promoting peace and peaceful ways of reconciling political differences. This does not mean that we are pacifists. We believe that workers have every right to defend their interests. This includes building a strong dictatorship of the proletariat to defend a successful revolution. We also believe that workers have the right to use force of arms to liberate themselves from exploitation, through a socialist revolution or to liberate their country from foreign imperialist aggressors. We support national liberation struggles in many countries, including Ireland and Palestine. We believe that the organised working classes in these places are the best judges of what tactics they should use, what form their struggle should take.
Uniting the working class
The ruling classes throughout the world know that their chief enemy is a united, organised and mobilised working class — so they do their utjost to prevent this happening. They set out to divide us; using sexism, racism, and many other devices.
We believe that an injury to one is an injury to all — when a worker is treated less well because of their sex, their race, their disability or their gender orientation, this damages the strength and unity of the whole class. It is the responsibility of the whole working class to fight against all forms of discrimination, of racism, sexism, ageism and so on. Communists should be actively involved in fighting these divisions.
Existing and future socialism
The Republic of China, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and Laos are countries where successful socialist revolutions have taken place and where the workers’ parties are still in charge. Building socialism in the teeth of global opposition from the big imperialists is not easy but each of these countries is doing its best to bring a better standard of life to its workers, free from capitalist exploitation.
They are each going about it in different ways. The Korean workers’ leader Kim il Sung formulated the policy of Juché, meaning self-reliance and adapting socialist ideas to the concrete conditions of the country at the time.
The Communist Party of China, has admitted mistakes in the past. It now views the path through socialism to communism as very long. Right now they are engaging in a lot of trade with capitalist ventures in the West, hoping this will bring economic benefits and peace.
So far they seem to be succeeding. China has made enormous economic advances in recent years, resulting in vastly improved living standards for jost. And they still seem to be in control of the western investments in their country, enforcing trade union rights and respect for the workers. They are currently increasing the protection for their workers.
They recognise this means that some Chinese workers are now making super profits for capitalists. But so long as the workers’ state remains firmly in control, they see this as a necessary price for advancement.
China’s new economic wealth has brought it increased power in the international arena. It is now able to do trade deals to help Cuba against the effects of the illegal US blockade against the socialist island.
Vietnam and Laos are still suffering the after effects of the US war on the workers of that region and the poisonous weapons of mass destruction the used, especially Agent Orange. But the workers there are gradually building themselves a better life.
The fall of the Soviet Union has demonstrated that no socialist country can become complacent. There is no automatic proofing against future mistakes. It also demonstrated that it was a mistake for all communist parties in the world to look blindly to the Soviet party for leadership.
All communist parties and their members have an absolute and continuing duty to use their own brains, to think for themselves and to use the mechanism of democratic centralism to strengthen the political understanding and the policies of their parties.
Meanwhile the strength of the international working class is growing around the world, especially in those countries where exploitation is harshest. The workers’ parties in Venezuela, Brazil are now strong enough to defy the global imperialists.
The extreme global imperialists, the neo-cons of the United States, are stretching out their well-armed fists to try to control the whole globe. But as they do so they provoke resistance everywhere. New technology means the international workers’ parties are in regular contact as never before. The imperialists can no longer keep secrets.
They cannot hide their failure to subdue Iraq and other places. This encourages resistance everywhere. Workers are standing up to their exploiters.
So long as the neo-cons are not allowed to do permanent damage to the whole planet, sooner or later the workers of the world will take control, will smash the structures of capitalism and imperialism and we will all liberate ourselves from exploitation and oppression.
This booklet is an attempt to give a very brief summary of their message — with a plea to all readers to understand that this is just an introduction. It is too short to give full or proper explanations of complex, interconnected political aims and ideas. Anyone wishing to become an active communist or socialist will need to read further.
The Communist Manifesto — K Marx & F Engels
Socialism, utopian and scientific — F Engels
State and Revolution — VI Lenin
Left-wing communism: an infantile disorder — VI Lenin
Foundations of Leninism — J Stalin
Dialectical and historical materialism — J Stalin