Harpal Brar

Presentation made by Harpal Brar, on behalf of the CPGB-ML, at the 25th Prague Theoretical-Political Conference, entitled ‘Current problems of the unity of the Communist Movement’, held on 15 November 2008.

Dear Comrades and Friends,

On behalf of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPGB-ML), I greet the 25th Prague Theoretical-Political Conference and thank the organisers for inviting our Party to be represented at this very important gathering.

I also bring greetings to the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), especially to the Young Communist League of Bohemia and Moravia (KSM), which has recently been illegalised by the Czech bourgeois government. The illegalisation of the Czech communist movement is a sign of the weakness of the Czech bourgeois ruling clique, which, while asserting that Marxism-Leninism is dead, is actually frightened of the fact that Marxism-Leninism is alive and well, for it knows only too well that Marxism-Leninism is the ideology of the modern proletariat and cannot be destroyed any more than can the proletariat.

The subject of today’s Conference concerns the ‘Current Problems of the Unity of the Communist Movement’. By its very nature it is a controversial topic. Even with the greatest exercise of restraint, patience and diplomatic skills, one cannot discuss this question without touching upon matters of vital importance to our movement but which are, nevertheless, controversial, and which continue to arouse great passion and heated debate. All the same it is our hope that my contribution on behalf of my Party would prove useful and serve as a basis for an informed and constructive debate, leading to greater understanding and unity in the ranks of the international communist movement.

Comrades, look around and you will find that capitalism is falling apart at the seams. Stock markets are plunging, real estate prices are plummeting, the giants of finance capital are collapsing, the most powerful imperialist governments, committed to the free market, are everywhere nationalising or part-nationalising the largest of financial institutions in various countries, unemployment and the resultant misery and poverty of the masses is causing havoc. This situation offers a great opportunity to the communist movement to enlighten the masses as to the incurability of conditions of recurring crisis as long as capitalism lasts and to mobilise them for the proletarian r revolution which is long overdue. Equally, it is important for the international communist movement to draw proper lessons from the collapse of the former USSR and other east European socialist countries, which sadly it has thus far failed to do.

Revisionism: the cause of disunity

Before we can take steps towards greater unity, we must make a serious study of the causes of the prevailing disunity and disarray in our ranks. What is it that has split the working-class movement right down the middle and, in the process, retarded its progress forward?

During the last one hundred years, the international communist movement has been split twice. It is our Party’s firm conviction that on both those occasions, the split was caused consequent upon the abandonment of the fundamental teachings of Marxism by a substantial mass of opportunists, who had wormed their way into the proletarian parties and gained prominent positions within them. Even before the mass desertion to the side of the bourgeoisie by the opportunists – these non-proletarian elements with their irreconcilable hostility to the proletarian revolution – at the start of the First World War in 1914, the question of the opportunist, the alien, elements within the working class parties of several countries had assumed extreme importance. Hardly any prominent Marxist failed to recognise either that the opportunists were “bourgeois enemies of the proletarian revolution” or the rapid growth of this social element during the years leading up to the First World War. The start of the war was to clearly prove that in a crisis “a substantial mass of opportunists, supported and often guided by the bourgeoisie (this is particularly important) goes over to its camp, betrays socialism, harms the workers’ cause, ruins it … The opportunists are bourgeois enemies of the proletarian revolution. In peaceful times they conduct their bourgeois work under cover, finding refuge inside the workers’ parties; in times of crisis they appear immediately as open allies of the entire united bourgeoisie … He who has not grasped this truth after the recent events is hopelessly deceiving himself and the workers …” (V I Lenin ‘And Now What?’ 9 January 1915).

What, it may be asked, caused the phenomenal growth of these opportunist elements? The growth of these elements is by no means accidental. There are solid political and economic reasons behind the extraordinary growth of opportunism in the labour movement of the imperialist countries.

Revisionism of the Second International

Two circumstances helped the extraordinary growth of this stratum.

First, “decades of a so-called peaceful epoch”, which “allowed a heap of petty-bourgeois opportunist refuse to accumulate inside of the socialist parties of all European countries” (ibid.).

Second, the existence of imperialist super profits, out of which the bourgeoisie of every imperialist country is in a position to use a portion for bribing the well-off sections of the working class – the labour aristocracy.

In his report to the Second Congress of the Communist International, on 19 July 1920, Lenin asked: “How is the firmness of such [opportunist] trends in Europe to be explained? And why is this opportunism stronger in Western Europe than it is in our country? Because the advanced countries have been creating their culture by the opportunity they have of living at the expense of billions of oppressed people. Because the capitalists of these countries obtain a great deal more than they would have been able to obtain in the shape of profits resulting from the robbery of the workers in their own countries”.

Lenin goes on to say that out of the enormous profits made by the ruling bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries through the exploitation of the oppressed people, it is possible to throw a small, but significant, sum “as a sop to the labour leaders, to the labour aristocracy, in order to bribe them in various ways. The whole thing reduces itself precisely to bribery. This is done in a thousand different ways: by raising culture in the largest centres, by creating educational institutions, creating thousands of soft jobs for the leaders of co-operative societies, for the trade union leaders and parliamentary leaders. This is done wherever modern, civilised, capitalist relations exist. … And these billions of superprofits serve as the economic basis upon which opportunism in the working-class movement rests” (‘The International Situation and the Fundamental Tasks of the Communist International’).

Thus, it can be seen that there is profound economic connection between imperialism and opportunism in the labour movement. Imperialism engenders a split in the working class, for it has singled out a handful of exceptionally rich and powerful states who plunder the whole world and who are able to use a portion of the superprofits thus derived to bribe the labour leaders and the upper stratum of the working class.

“This upper stratum”, says Lenin, “of bourgeoisified workers, or the ‘labour aristocracy’, who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and their entire outlook … is the principal social … prop of the bourgeoisie. For they are the real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement” (Preface to the French and German editions of ‘Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism’).

Ever since the wholesale desertion of European social democracy ( hitherto Marxist, at least nominally) to the side of the bourgeoisie at the start of the imperialist First World War in 1914, this tendency became irretrievably counter-revolutionary, never to return to the working class.

Emphasising the irrevocability of the split in the working class – between the labour aristocracy, on the one hand, and the mass of the proletariat, on the other – Lenin stated: “The social chauvinist or (what is the same thing) opportunist tendency can neither disappear nor ‘return’ to the revolutionary proletariat” (‘Imperialism and the split in the socialist movement’ October 1916).

The only thing that can be done in the circumstances is to wage vigorous and relentless struggle against opportunism as a part and parcel of the proletariat’s struggle for the overthrow of imperialism. Underlining the inextricability of the connection between the fight against imperialism and the fight against opportunism in the working-class movement, Lenin expresses himself thus: “The fact is that ‘bourgeois labour parties’, as a political phenomenon, have been formed in all the advanced capitalist countries and unless a determined ruthless struggle is conducted against these parties all along the line … it is useless talking about the struggle against imperialism, about Marxism, or about the socialist labour movement” (ibid.).

Lenin adds: “The only Marxist line in the world labour movement is to explain to the masses the inevitability and necessity of breaking with opportunism, to educate them for revolution by waging a relentless struggle against opportunism, to utilise the experience of the war for the purpose of exposing all the vileness of national liberal-labour politics, and not of concealing it” (ibid.).

And further, stressing that the opportunists “… are alien to the proletariat as a class, who are the servants, the agents of the bourgeoisie and the vehicles of its influence”, Lenin warns that “… unless the labour movement rids itself of them, it will remain a bourgeois labour movement” (ibid.).

Lenin, and the Bolshevik Party he led, waged a merciless struggle against opportunism in the Russian, as well as the wider European, working-class movement. This struggle was crowned by the victory of the Russian Revolution and, in its aftermath, the founding of the Third International (the Comintern), which took up the banner of Marxism and became a pole of attraction for the revolutionary proletariat all over the world, as well as for the anti-colonial national liberation movements of the oppressed peoples. The communist revolutionary movement made giant strides under the leadership of the Comintern, while social democracy was thoroughly discredited as the counter-revolutionary agent of imperialism in the working-class movement.

The USSR, having defeated the internal and external enemies of the proletariat during the war of intervention, waged by the combined forces of imperialism and its satellites, went on to build a powerful socialist industry, a collectivised agriculture, raise the cultural and scientific standard of its people, and strengthen it armed forces and defence preparedness. When Nazi Germany launched her brutal and predatory war against the Soviet Union, the latter, overcoming the initial reverses, consequent upon the surprise Nazi attack, turned the tables on the Nazi war machine, drove the fascist hordes out of the USSR, chased them all the way to Berlin, where Soviet soldiers hoisted the Soviet flag on the Reichstag building just as the Führer committed suicide.

Imperialism had launched the war against the Soviet Union in order to crush her. The result was just the opposite of that intended by imperialism. In the aftermath of the Second World War, several bourgeois regimes disappeared in eastern Europe, bringing onto the scene several regimes of People’s Democracy.

In Asia, the successes of the Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese revolutions shook imperialism to its very foundations, leading to the formation of a powerful socialist camp, stretching from Europe to Asia, comprising one-third of the globe and a quarter of its population.

Since the international communist movement sang from the same hymn sheet for a whole decade following the Second World War, there was no fortress that it could not storm. The socialist countries, after years of a devastating war, went on to reconstruct their economies at remarkable speed, overtaking in their rates of growth the capitalist world.

Khrushchevite revisionism

Just as the socialist camp stood at the pinnacle of its strength, misfortune struck it when, following the death of Joseph Stalin, the Khrushchevite revisionists came to power. At the 20th Party Congress of the CPSU, the Khrushchevites began the process of opportunist distortion, and a wholesale revision, of the fundamental teachings of Marxism-Leninism in the field of political economy, philosophy and class struggle, which caused a deep split in the international communist movement, and, in due course, led to the collapse of the USSR and other east European socialist countries and the restoration of capitalism.

At the 20th Party Congress of the CPSU, the Khrushchevite leadership took the first decisive steps towards revisionism and the departure from Marxism-Leninism, following which the revisionist line went through a process of formulation, growth and systematization.

In his ‘secret’ speech at the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev launched a vicious attack on Stalin under the pretext of “combating the cult of the personality”. The actual result of this entirely unwarranted attack was to defame the dictatorship of the proletariat, the CPSU, the USSR and the international communist movement, for Stalin, in addition to being the most representative spokesman of the Soviet proletariat, was the acknowledged and undisputed leader of the entire socialist camp and the international proletariat.

There was, however, method in Khrushchev’s revisionist madness. The negation of Stalin was merely a pretext for the revisionist departure from the science of Marxism-Leninism, a pretext for the revision of its fundamental tenets by putting forward erroneous theses intended to pave the way for the eventual restoration of capitalism in the land of the Soviets.

  • At the 20th Congress, Khrushchev put forward the thesis of the peaceful and parliamentary road to socialism, thus negating the road of October, the teachings of Marxism-Leninism on the necessity of revolutionary violence for overthrowing capitalism and for maintaining the rule of the proletariat – the dictatorship of the proletariat;
  • In violation of Lenin’s teachings on war and peace, and flying in the face of reality, Khrushchev put forward the thesis which portrayed imperialism in bright colours, as standing for peace, implying that war could be eliminated while imperialism continued to exist;
  • Distorting Lenin’s principle of peaceful coexistence among countries with different social systems, Khrushchev went on to declare that peaceful coexistence was the “general line of the foreign policy” of the USSR, thus excluding from the general line of the foreign policy of the socialist countries their mutual cooperation and assistance to each other, as well as the assistance by them to the revolutionary struggles of the oppressed peoples and nations – subordinating all this to the policy of this so-called peaceful coexistence.

Khrushchev’s ‘secret’ report gladdened the hearts of the imperialists, Titoites, Trotskyites and social democrats, all of whom saw in it the reaffirmation of their own anti-communist and anti-Stalin stance.

The 20th Party Congress caused total ideological confusion in the ranks of the international communist movement – flooding it with revisionist ideas. Khrushchevites attacked viciously those parties, such as the Communist Party of China and the Party of Labour of Albania, which opposed these Khrushchevite revisionist distortions of Marxism-Leninism.

The 22nd Congress of the CPSU in 1961 marked a new low and culminated in the systematization of the revisionism which the leadership of the CPSU had developed step by step from the 20th Congress onwards. At this Congress, Khrushchev renewed his attack on Stalin as a prelude to a further revision of the teachings of Marxism- Leninism. The programme adopted at the 22nd Congress advanced the erroneous theses of the Soviet state being a “state of the whole people”, instead of being the dictatorship of the proletariat, and of the CPSU being a “party of the entire people”, instead of being the party of the Soviet proletariat. This programme substituted bourgeois humanism for Marxism-Leninism and the theory of class struggle; it substituted the bourgeois slogan of liberty, equality, fraternity for the ideals of communism.

In short, Khrushchevite revisionism revised Marxist-Leninist theories on questions such as: imperialism, war and peace; proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat; revolution in the colonies and semi-colonies; and the role and nature of the party of the proletariat.

These erroneous theses were bound to, and actually did, cause disunity in the world communist movement.

In parallel with these ideological and political distortions and revisions of Marxism-Leninism, the Khrushchevites undertook a wholesale revision of Marxian economics, putting in place economic ‘reforms’ which gave free play to commodity production, production for profit and dismantled the mechanism of centralised planned production in the Soviet Union.

The combined effect of Khrushchevite revisionist theories in the realms of ideology, political economy and philosophy was to step by step create a market economy, culminating in the restoration of capitalism and the collapse of the once glorious USSR in 1991.

It can thus be seen that opportunism is our deadly enemy, which has caused disunity in the international communist movement and the downfall of socialism in a number of countries. In order to rebuild our movement and bring unity into its ranks, the international communist movements needs to reaffirm its commitment to the fundamental tenets of Marxism-Leninism, in particular the following.

Marxism-Leninism holds:

  1. that capitalism is a transitional stage in the long march of humanity from primitive communism to the higher stage of socialism – communism;
  2. that capitalism long ago became a historically outmoded system, owing to the conflict between the productive forces, which are social, and relations of production (private appropriation); this basic conflict lies at the heart of recurrent crises of overproduction and the resultant misery of the working class;
  3. that under the conditions of monopoly capitalism, capitalism has grown into a monstrous system of domination and exploitation by a handful of monopolist concerns within each of the imperialist countries and on a world scale by a tiny group of imperialist countries, which exploit, dominate and oppress the overwhelming majority of humanity inhabiting the vast continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America;
  4. that, for reasons of the conditions peculiar to this stage of capitalism, imperialism cannot but result in incessant warfare waged by imperialist countries against the oppressed peoples (for instance, the current predatory war of Anglo-American imperialism against the people of Iraq) and inter-imperialist wars, which have claimed the lives of 100 million people during the 20th century;
  5. that socialism alone offers the way out of the contradictions of capitalism; it alone is able to offer humanity a world without the crises of overproduction, without unemployment, poverty and wars; socialism alone is able to provide the conditions for a limitless increase in production, unending prosperity, fraternal co-operation and peace among peoples and nations;
  6. that capitalism itself creates the power, namely, the proletariat, which alone is capable of putting an end to the anarchy of production and all other horrors of the capitalist system of production, for “of all classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry, the proletariat is its special and essential product”.
  7. that the struggle of the proletariat for the overthrow of capitalism must be led by a vanguard revolutionary party of the proletariat;
  8. that the state is nothing but an instrument in the hands of one class for the suppression of another class; that the proletariat too needs a state of its own; that the struggle of the proletariat for socialism must lead to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which lasts for a whole historical period, and is the instrument of the proletariat for suppressing any attempts of the bourgeoisie at the restoration of capitalism, on the one hand, and for creating the material and social conditions for the transition to the next, the higher, stage of communism, in which the state withers away and society is able to move from the formula “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work” to “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”;
    In the words of Lenin, “If we translate the Latin, scientific historical-philosophical term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ into more simple language, it means the following: only a definite class, namely that of the urban workers and industrial workers in general, is able to lead the whole mass of the toilers and exploited in the struggle for the overthrow, in the struggle to maintain and consolidate the victory, in the work of creating the new socialist system, in the whole struggle for the complete abolition of classes.” (Lenin, ‘A Great Beginning’, June 1919);
  9. that after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of socialism, the class struggle, far from subsiding, actually intensifies. In the words of Lenin: “In the transition, the class struggle grows more intense. The transition from capitalism to communism represents an entire historical epoch. Until this epoch is terminated, the exploiters will inevitably cherish the hope of restoration, and this hope will be converted into attempts at restoration. And after their first serious defeat, the overthrown exploiters … will throw themselves with tenfold energy, with furious passion and hatred grown a hundred fold, into the battle for the recovery of their ‘lost’ paradise.” (Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the renegade Kautsky’, November 1918);
  10. that commodity production and socialism are incompatible and it is the function of socialism to eliminate commodity production and the market and make way for planned production, which instead of being regulated by profit is guided by the principle of the maximum satisfaction of the constantly rising material and spiritual needs of the people.
  11. that our movement must drop all bourgeois prejudices against the Soviet Union of the period of JV Stalin’s leadership, during which time the Soviet Union made earthshaking achievements in every field – from socialist construction, through collectivisation, to victory in the anti-fascist war – of which the proletarians and oppressed peoples of the world have every right and duty to be proud. Negating that important period in the history of the international working-class movement has only served to negate the most glorious achievements of the working class to date, to defame the dictatorship of the proletariat and the international communist movement and to sully the banner of Marxism-Leninism. Our movement must understand that anti-Stalinism always was, and is now, a cover for attacking Marxism-Leninism and especially the dictatorship of the proletariat.
  12. that our movement must fight against all forms of opportunism – social-democracy, Trotskyism and revisionism – for “… the fight against imperialism is a sham and humbug unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism” (Lenin, Imperialism – the Highest Stage of Capitalism).

Dear Comrades, historical experience of socialism over several decades proves beyond doubt that as long as the communist parties in the socialist countries adhered to the above tenets of Marxism-Leninism, they went from strength to strength and achieved world-historic feats in the economic, cultural, scientific, diplomatic and military fields. As long as they adhered to the above principles, there were no fortresses they could not storm. Equally the historical experience of the four decades since the triumph of Khrushchevite revisionism in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at its 20th Party Congress in 1956 proves decisively that all our misfortunes can be attributed to the departure from the basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism by the communist parties, especially in the socialist countries. It is these departures, the vulgarisation and distortion of the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism, which laid the ground for the ultimate restoration of capitalism in the former socialist countries.

In the light of the above experience, it is the duty of the communist movement to reassert the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and to reaffirm its commitment to these principles and not to follow in the wake of the bourgeoisie and its ideologues, whose chief endeavour it has been “… to kill in the working class the faith in its own strength, faith in the possibility and inevitability of its victory, and thus to perpetuate capitalist slavery” (Stalin, Report to the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 1938).

May I add, dear Comrades, there is great need for dialogue in our movement. Exclusion of parties on grounds of differences of opinion is not helpful just at this moment. It cannot be right that while parties that support social-democracy, the deadly enemy of the working class, are admitted into the ranks of communist and workers’ parties, those which have waged a relentless struggle against social-democracy are excluded. It cannot be right that those parties which support the imperialist occupation of Iraq are admitted into the ranks of the communist and workers’ parties, while those who have waged a vigorous struggle against imperialist occupation are excluded. It is time, comrades, that this strange situation was brought to an end.

Dear Comrades, with these words I shall bring to a close my contribution. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you again to the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia for its kind invitation and the opportunity it has given me to exchange my party’s views with all of you.

Harpal Brar