[This is part of a larger document originally published by the Revolutionary Communist League of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) entitled “Criticism of the Revolutionary Interntaionalist Movement” published in 1988. In it, there are several citations to the RIM’s founding declaration, for the purposes of clarity we will include a link to that document here. This particular section of the criticism deals specifically with the RIM’s failures to properly analyze the realities of imperialism and colonialism as it pertained to the struggle for Socialism in the First World. While we do not agree with the entirety of the perspective they put forward in their criticism of the RIM, this nonetheless is a very concise and accurate criticism of the inadequacies of the RIM parties particularly in the imperialist countries. Moreover, it gives us a key insight into why the shallow anti-imperialism of First Worldist communist organizations ultimately lead to ruin, even in their most promising phases. As always, this document is being made available here for the purposes of education and discussion.]
The most important thing to be said about the class struggle in the imperialist countries is, as has already been remarked, that the working class is in a temporary alliance with the bourgeoisie. This alliance is against the long-term objective interest of the vast majority of the working class, but it exists nevertheless and it has deep foundations. It should be added that here and in the discussion which follows, it is the ten or so great powers which are fully imperialist which are being referred to. Such countries as Greece, Bulgaria have quite different characteristics and the prospects there for the revolutionary struggle are quite different. The RIM, though, are unable to make such distinctions, as we have seen on the question of national defence.
The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 marked, not the beginning of the socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries of the west, coming as it did in one of the most backward countries of Europe, moreover a country which straddled Europe and Asia, but the decisive shift in the centre of the world proletarian revolution to the East. As Mao said: “The salvoes of the Russian revolution brought Marxism to China.”
Marx and Engels thought that the proletarian revolution would occur first in the ’advanced’ countries of the West, which were-ripest for revolution in the sense of the level of development of the productive forces. But the development of imperialism and the consequent plunder of the oppressed countries meant firstly, that the bourgeoisie were able to buy off whole strata of better paid workers, and, secondly that the productive forces of the imperialist countries were constantly developed, not held back, with resultant rising living standards for the mass of the working class. The vast majority of the working class of the imperialist countries have not faced the necessity for revolution for around a hundred years. Indeed, they have supported, to a greater or lesser degree, ’imperialist domination of the oppressed countries and of oppressed nations and national minorities in their “own” countries. The attitude of the English workers to Ireland and of white to black Americans are cases in point. The other side of this coin has been the increasing immiseration of and brutal dictatorship over the peoples of the Third World by imperialism, which has led to a constant revolutionary ferment there.
In general, the form that the struggle in the imperialist countries has taken since around the turn of the century has been an argument over the division of the national cake, including plunder from the Third World. The working class has not risen to the level of even questioning, let alone challenging the capitalist order. It is striking that even the profound crisis around World War One did not seriously shake bourgeois rule in the imperialist countries, save for the special case of Russia: even the uprising in Germany was quelled relatively easily.
For many years in the Marxist-Leninist movement, there was an implicit belief that the working class was subjectively revolutionary but was being ’betrayed’ by its leaders. An early article in ’Marxist-Leninist Quarterly’ (the journal of the RCL’s predecessor the CFB M-L) claimed that the German revolution of 1919 failed because the German workers had not a leader of the stature of Lenin. But this begs the question. Why did Russia bring forth a Lenin at that time? And why did China later bring forth a Mao? Objective conditions CREATE leaders and give them the confidence of the masses. As Engels once remarked ’treachery’ is a stupid explanation for failure. By and large, the working class gets the leaders it deserves.
The English workers get such leaders as Bill Sirs because these leaders represent the aspirations and desires of the average worker. ’Treachery’ was NOT the reason why most of the organised working class failed to support the miners’ strike of 1984-85, as some of the ’left’ have claimed. Quite simply, the majority of the class did not WANT to give more than token support: if they had wished to do so, they would have found the means and swept aside leaders like Bill Sirs in the process.
The consequence of the forgoing analysis is not, as some have suggested, that nothing can be done in the imperialist countries except to wait for the Third World to overthrow imperialism: it simply means that our strategy and tactics must reflect the realities described. The ’Declaration’ of the RIM appears to recognise these realities, particularly the plunder from the oppressed countries and the degree to which the working class benefit from this plunder. And yet, the RIM claim that “mass revolutionary struggles developed in most of the Western imperialist countries especially in the 1960’s…” (p.10). It is clear from the text that the RIM consider that the working class was involved in “mass revolutionary struggles”. But in fact, only three imperialist countries were seriously affected by the revolutionary upsurge of the 60s, and in none of them did the proletariat as a “class for itself” came to the fore.
In France, in the events of 1968, only at the end and in relatively small numbers, did the working class take part. France ’68 was essentially a student uprising and doomed to failure. The other cases were different. In the USA mass NATIONAL rebellions of black people erupted. And in the UK, in the internal colony of northern Ireland, the NATIONAL revolution took to arms once again. This, of course, is not accidental. Minority nations and nationalities suffer considerable oppression at the hands of the majority population in the imperialist countries. It has already been remarked that most of the majority proletariat, to a greater or lesser degree, connive in it and they are deeply infected with the racism and chauvinism which the bourgeoisie propagate to justify and bolster such oppression. Contrary to the dreams of the RIM, who attach equal importance to the socialist revolution in the West and the national democratic revolution in the East, there is no prospect for revolutionary advance in the West until significant sections of the white working class, under the impact of the crisis, break away from the ideology and politics of what Samir Amin has called the “social-democratic alliance”, i.e. the alliance of the working class with the imperialists. There are signs of this happening. But it will be a long process, the necessity for which the RIM do not recognise. For the present, and foreseeable future, it is in the Third World that revolutionary opportunities will present themselves.
But for the RIM, the revolutionary prospect in the imperialist countries are “more favourable than in any time in recent memory” (p.1O). This is true from a long-term perspective. But it is clear that the RIM are thinking in the short-term. In particular, they are banking on a Third World war erupting fairly soon and precipitating a revolutionary situation. It is hard though to see how a proletariat which has shared in imperialist plunder for decades and has shown little sign of a firm class, let alone revolutionary consciousness, is suddenly going to become revolutionary, even under the impact of war. Certainly they did not in World Wars One and Two and since then the proletariat has become even less subjectively revolutionary.
Given the general ideological outlook of the RIM, their recognition of the effect of imperialism on the working class of the imperialist countries, coupled with their insistence that the prospects for revolution in these countries are good, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that what they have in mind is not a revolution, but a putsch. If the adventurist, elitist style of the RCP,USA is anything to go by, this is indeed the case.
The RIM treat the struggle of the oppressed nations and nationalities in the imperialist countries in a chauvinist way which fails to recognise that these struggles are autonomous struggles against imperialism, not simply an aspect of the proletariat1s struggle. Thus such events as the uprisings in Britain in 1981 are described as being carried out “by the lower strata of the proletariat” (p.1O) and the national minorities are said to be “an important part of a single multi-national proletariat” (p.43).
That the vast majority of national minority people in the imperialist countries – Turks in Germany; Moroccans and Algerians in France; Asians, Irish and West Indians in Britain – are proletarians, and in the lowest strata at that, is not in doubt. Indeed it was and is overwhelmingly proletarians who have taken part in the national uprisings in the USA, Northern Ireland and Britain. This fact is of tremendous importance for the development of a revolutionary strategy. But at present it is their NATIONALITY not their class, which mainly accounts for exploitation and oppression which they suffer. Their very presence in these countries is a direct result of imperialist domination of their homelands. Driven from their homes by imperialism, they arrive in the ’mother country’ only to find themselves in the lowest and worst-paid jobs, subject to innumerable forms of racial discrimination and harassment and the victims of vicious attacks by the police and fascist thugs. As a direct consequence, national minority people in general have a far more developed political consciousness than the majority population and are in the forefront of the struggle against imperialism. Simply to describe national minority proletarians as ”an important part” grossly underestimates the objective importance of national minority struggles. And it is another form of the RIM chauvinism which refuses to give full support to national struggles against imperialism of ALL classes.
The view which blithely ASSERTS that there is a “single multi-national working class” ignores these considerations and is objectively a ’left’ form of the bourgeois view that national minorities should be ’assimilated’, i.e. their culture destroyed, their national rights trampled on, their very existence threatened. It is this viewpoint which gives rise to such facile slogans as ’Black and White, Unite and Fight’ ignoring the temporary alliance of the working class with the bourgeoisie, and to the chauvinist assertion that racism is devised by the bourgeoisie to ’split the working class’.
Racism IS used for this purpose. But it arose as an ideological justification for colonialism and imperialism and is principally used by the bourgeoisie to gain working class support for national oppression, with no small measure of success. Nowhere in the RIM’s ’Declaration’, nor, in the practice of its adhering organisations that are known to the author is there any recognition on of these facts.