- Created: Friday, 16 April 2010 16:20
- Written by FRFI
This is the education programme for supporters of FRFI. Its structure serves its purpose, by establishing the need for organisation in order to meet the crisis of capitalism and fight for socialism. We also examine a number of important issues for revolutionaries: Marx’s critique of political economy, imperialism, the labour aristocracy, the national question, anti-racism, the oppression of women under capitalism, and the environmental crisis. Finally we look at the fight for socialism today, as led by the Cuban revolution, with the need for progressives in Britain to take up an explicitly anti-imperialist standpoint on all of these issues.
This programme is in no way fixed, and is open to suggestions; it remains therefore a work in progress. It is being discussed in open forums across the country where FRFI supporters are active. New comrades wishing to take part are more than welcome and should contact our national office or contact the local regions to participate. Contact details can be found on this website.
Today, capitalism means war, crisis, deepening poverty for billions of oppressed people and environmental destruction on an ever-increasing scale. There is no future for humanity in a capitalist world. The choice is once more between socialism and barbarism. Whilst the resistance of the working class is spontaneously revolutionary, only through the fusion of such a struggle with Marxist thought can there be created a new communist movement capable of challenging capitalism. Hence the struggle to defend the ideas and principles of Marxism is critical to creating the movement of the future. An organisation must be built which is capable of uniting the fighting elements of the working class into a force strong enough to lead the mass of the oppressed into confrontation with the ruling class and its state.
At the same time, material conditions give rise to opportunist layers in the working class movement in imperialist countries which seek to reconcile the interests of the oppressed and the oppressors. Without ruthlessly exposing these currents, no revolutionary movement can emerge. Without political organisation, no crisis of the capitalist system will ever, of itself, give way to socialism. “Organisation is our only weapon.”
Revolutionary Communist No 6: Editorial and article ‘Lenin and the Bolshevik Party’
Comrades may also find useful two great socialist novels, Maxim Gorky’s Mother and Robert Tressel’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which brilliantly illustrate many of the problems of socialist organisation in revolutionary and non-revolutionary situations.
This session introduces the main outlines of the Marxist worldview. It establishes the philosophical basis of Marx’s thought and its continuing relevance for revolutionaries in the world today before introducing the materialist conception of history. We examine how this theory allows us not only to analyse the class struggles at the heart of our society, but most importantly, shows how capitalism, like feudalism before it, is just one phase in the history of the development of social production, destined to be overthrown by the revolutionary working class.
Marxism is a science, not a dogma, enriched continually by the practical experience of radical struggle. It is the means by which the current crisis of capitalism can be both understood and overcome in the interests of the socialist transformation of society.
In the previous session, we laid out the materialist conception of history. Engels stated that alongside this new understanding of history, the other great discovery modern, scientific socialism was based on was Marx’s ‘demonstration how, within present society and under the existing capitalist mode of production, the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist takes place.’ Beginning with an analysis of the simple commodity, Marx was able to lay bare the contradictions at the heart of an economic system which restricted production to the narrow limits of profit making rather than the needs of society. The theory of surplus value for the first time showed how ‘accumulation of wealth at one pole is…at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality [and] mental degradation at the opposite pole.’
Marxism arms us with a method of seeing beyond the surface phenomena of bourgeois society, those focused on today by the media, economic ‘experts’ and politicians, to the fundamental, yet hidden, social processes and relationships of exploitation. And in doing so, Marxism shows how capitalism sows the seeds of it own destruction, discussed in more detail in section four.
FRFI 56-64 (1986) Marx’s critique of political economy: Value (1); Money (2); Mystical veil of commodities (3); Capital (4); Production of surplus value (5); The accumulation of capital (6); The tendency for the rate of profit to fall (7).
In this session we show the historical inevitability of capitalist crisis. We show that capitalism is crisis-ridden by its very nature and we examine how capitalist accumulation directly leads to insufficient profitability and a crisis of over production. We examine how historically profitability has been restored and previous crises resolved in the past - fascism and war. This session will then focus on the current crisis of capitalism and show that only a Marxist understanding can offer any explanation to the global crisis. Comrades should also find the series of articles on globalisation important to understanding the background to the current crisis; here we argued, alone among the left in Britain that globalisation, far from being something new within capitalism was in fact a return to the unstable features which characterised capitalism prior to the First Imperialist War.
150 years ago, capitalism was in its infancy. By the end of the 19th century, it had become a world- wide system, and had divided the world into oppressed and oppressor nations: imperialism. The political form of this division was colonialism, as a handful of oppressor, imperialist powers divided the world between themselves in countless wars of conquest. Colonies provided a source of super-profits for imperialism, whereby it could postpone the periodic crisis of capitalism.
However, it could not abolish such crises, and when they took place, they would necessarily have a world dimension. The first such crisis matured at the turn of the 19th century as the various imperialist powers, having divided the world between themselves once, sought to re-divide it. The inevitable consequence of this was world war - the First Imperialist War of 1914-18. Tens of millions of working class people were slaughtered to protect the interests of ‘their’ bankers and monopolies, ‘their’ ruling class. Not even this carnage and mass destruction resolved the crisis: it took the Great Depression of the 1930s, the rise of fascism and the Second World War before imperialism was able to obtain a significant measure of political and economic stability during the post-war boom.
Imperialism not only divides the world into oppressed and oppressor nations: it creates a split within the working class within the imperialist nation. Both Marx and Engels pointed to the creation of a labour aristocracy within the British working class after the defeat of Chartism in 1848; Engels argued that British capitalism’s monopoly position in the world market allowed it to bribe an upper section of the working class, secure its political support, and through it, to control the whole working class. By the First Imperialist War, such a division existed in all Imperialist powers, as the ruling class used a small proportion of their colonial super-profits to buy off a tiny labour aristocracy which in practice controlled the parties, trade unions and the press of the entire working class.
The outbreak of the war in 1914 showed that the split had become irrevocable, as the organisations controlled by the labour aristocracy sided with ‘their’ ruling class and enthusiastically supported the slaughter in the name of ‘national defence’ and ‘democracy’. One significant party held out against the tide of chauvinism, social imperialism and opportunism that swept through the socialist movement of the day - the Russian Bolsheviks. Their consistent opposition to the war and to those ‘socialists’ who supported the brutal slaughter was the basis for the triumph of the Russian Revolution in October 1917.
The RCG has developed the concept of the labour aristocracy to explain the stability of ruling class power within the major imperialist states. Our analysis of the Labour Party and trade union movement as the political representatives of the labour aristocracy delineates us from the rest of the British left. The split in the working class is a fact: any theory that seeks to obscure this represents a political concession to opportunism, the political standpoint of the labour aristocracy. Our analysis shows how the mechanism for distributing privilege to the aristocracy has changed over time: through the market in the first half of the century; through state expenditure during the post-war period to the mid-1970s, then once again increasingly through the market. The labour aristocracy serves as a control mechanism over the whole working class; its stultifying effect on working class politics is demonstrated by the complete absence of organised resistance to the Labour government.
Imperialism divides the world into oppressed and oppressor nations. The national liberation struggles against colonialism and neo-colonialism are an essential part of the struggle for socialism. Marx and Engels’ changing analysis of Ireland and its relation to Britain demonstrated how a nation that oppresses another could not itself be free. A pre-condition for the advance of the proletariat in Britain was support for the emancipation of Ireland. This analysis provided a model for Lenin to develop a communist position on the right of nations to self-determination.
The revolutionary waves that have swept throughout the twentieth century demonstrate the significance of the struggle for self-determination and the national democratic revolution in the struggle for socialism: China, Yugoslavia, Korea, VietNam, Cuba and Southern Africa. Communists must, if they are to remain communists, give the national liberation struggle support for we face the same enemy and ultimately have the same goal.
Opportunists impose conditions on support for national liberation movements and seek to deny the revolutionary and democratic content of the struggles and the role of the working class and oppressed within them. More often than not the left will ignore these movements or dismiss them as irrelevant or invalid. This has particularly been the case with the Irish republican movement.
National liberation movements combine different social and class forces. Communists support the movements and try to strengthen their working class and socialist content. This is an essential step if such movements are to achieve their objective: where bourgeois forces remain ascendant, they will seek a compromise with imperialism, as in Palestine or South Africa.
As Marx put it, Ireland was and remains the ‘litmus test’ for socialists in Britain. The RCG distinguished its politics from the rest of the left at the height of the revolutionary nationalist struggle against British rule on this issue. We fought for solidarity with the Irish peoples struggle and in doing so were opposed by the bulk of the left. Today the left joins with imperialism in trumpeting the so called peace process. From its outset we have pointed out the reality on the ground; British imperialism has not left Ireland and continues to uphold the Unionist veto. The north of Ireland is an endemically racist and sectarian society created and sustained by British imperialism. No amount of reform can alter this political reality
We have constantly pointed out that the struggle to free Ireland from British rule is not over. The economic, political and social problems which keep forcing the national struggle on to the political agenda remain. Discrimination and social deprivation remain for a large proportion of the nationalist working class. Today, more than ten years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein is now part of the political class which helps sustain British rule in Ireland. As economic and social changes force the national question once again to the fore, new forces will have to emerge from within the nationalist working class, prepared to build a new campaign which learns from and does not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Racism is the form that national oppression takes within the oppressor country. It is a necessary consequence of imperialism. It is used both to justify the exploitation of oppressed nations and to divide the working class of the oppressor nation.
Imperialist countries such as Britain used their colonies and ex-colonies as a source of cheap labour during the boom. With the onset of crisis, such workers were forced into the reserve army of labour. They were subject to racist laws, faced with racist police, tried in racist courts and sent to racist prisons. From the 1960s, a succession of racist immigration and asylum laws have been implemented to exclude people from oppressed nations. Today the terms on which British capital can access Labour from the Eastern European accession states means that it has little need for migrants from other oppressed nations. With the exception of people working in particular and often highly-skilled jobs, virtually all chances of gaining the right to stay in Britain have been closed down. It makes no difference whether there is a Labour or Tory government; Labour has always been as much a racist party as the Tories.
Black people therefore suffer a double oppression: as workers and as members of an oppressed minority. Historically, this has meant that they have potentially played a crucial role in leading resistance to the British state – for example in 1981 and 1985. Although such movements were defeated, and their leaders bought off, black people still remain amongst the poorest sections of the working class, and played a leading role in further uprisings in 2001. Many asylum seekers, who have fled countries torn apart by imperialist war and plunder only to face racist persecution in Britain, have an acute understanding of the nature of imperialism. Muslims in Britain, many of whom identify with the anti-imperialist movements in the Middle East and have played a significant and often militant role in the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements, are facing increasing repression under the guise of ‘anti-terror’ laws and other measures intended to terrorise communities into passivity. Today, no new movement can be built without addressing the issue of racism. It is a vital component of the struggle against imperialism.
The oppression of women in capitalist society is not simply a result of ideas, prejudice or male chauvinism; it has a material basis. Frederick Engels described the historical establishment of private property in the way that societies are organised as the ‘world historic defeat of women’. Women have been oppressed in all class societies throughout history, and women’s oppression under capitalism takes a particular form in relation to how social production is organised
We examine the social basis of women’s oppression under capitalism. We analyse the exploitative economic relationships of modern capitalism that account for the dual oppression of women in the family and as workers. This material basis for the oppression of women is fundamental and can only be changed by the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by socialist relations of production. The chauvinist and backward ideas that condemn women to inferior status in society are a result of this material basis.
The engagement and leadership of women in the struggle for socialism is indispensable for the victory of any revolutionary movement and women have had to battle against chauvinist ideas in all societies and even from within the socialist movement itself. Communists have always been at the forefront of the fight for liberation, and the progress made in the social position of women following socialist revolution is testament to this. The fight for the liberation of women has to be constant and at the heart of all struggles that socialists engage in.
Poverty is created by the capitalist system of production as a precondition for its survival. Without poverty , it would not be possible to force people into wage slavery .Side-by-side with such poverty comes oppression, as capitalism creates a state apparatus to enforce its will against those who protest that poverty is not a natural condition of life.
The state is therefore an organ of class rule, securing the conditions for the exploitation of the working class. Marx’s understanding of the state underwent a great development as a result of the 1871 Paris Commune when he argued that the working class could not lay its hands on the ready- made state apparatus and wield it in its own interests: rather it needs to be smashed, broken up. Lenin built on this in his pamphlet State and Revolution, written just prior to the October Revolution, arguing that the working class’s first act in establishing socialism will be the destruction of bourgeois state power and the forcible suppression of the capitalist class. He explained this further in his wonderful polemic against Karl Kautsky, leader of the left social democrats in 1918.
One manifestation of the deepening crisis of imperialism is the accelerated destruction of the environment. In its frenzied search for new sources of profit, imperialism cares nothing for the future of the planet. The scientific facts of global warming and environmental destruction are now established beyond dispute and are accepted even by the ruling class. However, what capitalism must above all maintain is that this destruction is a technological problem, one that can be solved by all manner of diversions such as carbon trading, bio-fuels and changes in individual consumption habits. In reality, its basis lies in the logic of ceaseless capital accumulation, with massive monopolies such as Shell and Rio Tinto marauding across the globe in search of profit, leaving environmental and human disasters in their wake. The food crisis is not one of production but of distribution as agribusiness seeks to profit from speculating on misery and energy companies, backed up by imperialist armies, devastate entire countries such as Nigeria and Iraq. Capitalist economies depend on propagating a culture of waste, individual consumption and greed inimical to ecological sustainability.
There are many campaigns in defence of the environment which are disconnected from the struggle against imperialism or the struggle for socialism. It is impossible to build an effective movement in defence of the environment unless it confronts the multinationals and their agent -the imperialist state. The political degeneration of Green Parties across Western Europe proves this. Equally, there can be no real movement for socialism unless it takes up the imperialist onslaught on the environment. In practice, socialist Cuba is showing the way forward for environmental sustainability through its planned economy, and progressive governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are following suit as they seek to reverse hundreds of years of colonial and imperial pillaging of their natural resources.
Marx's Ecology - John Bellamy Foster (only available to buy)
(See Marx and the rift in the universal metabolism of nature for an article by John Bellamy Foster addressing Marx's analysis of 'the metabolic rift')
Essays on Food, Hunger and Profit (only available to buy)
Monthly Review, July-August 2009: 'An Overview of the food and agriculture crisis' - Review of 'Agriculture and food in crisis: Conflict, Resistance and Renewal'
‘If the capitalist mode of production can ensure the boundless expansion of the productive forces, of economic progress, it is invincible indeed. The most objective argument in support of socialist theory breaks down; socialist political action and the ideological import of the proletarian class struggle cease to reflect economic events and socialism no longer appears an historical necessity.’ (Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital, p325)
Marx’s great contribution in applying his historical method to the study of the capitalist mode of production was to demonstrate that it would be superseded by socialism, a more advanced socialism. He showed two things: first, that socialism was possible - the preconditions for socialism were already present in his time; second, that socialism was necessary - the working class and other oppressed masses. The Russian Revolution of October 1917 made socialism a reality. At once imperialism reacted: imperialist powers rushed to the aid of the counter-revolution, with the British in the lead. Although defeated for the moment, for the next 70 years, imperialism continued to deploy every means it could to destroy the gains of the October revolution. Its victory in 1991 has exacted a terrible price from the peoples of the former Soviet Union.
Today the Cuban revolution is in the vanguard of the anti imperialist struggle and in the construction of socialism. Across Latin America new forces for change are in the ascendency, in the Middle East the battle against imperialism intensifies. This section will discuss the historical and present need for socialism to be built if we are to avoid barbarism.
CounterAttack Books No 1: The Legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution:
Pp 37-42: The market versus the Plan - Che Guevara’s heritage
Pp 118-125: In defence of socialism
Pp 131-136: Communism and social democracy - the great divide
Pp 136-142: Uphold the banner of communism
Rock around the Blockade pamphlet: Revolutionary Cuba – the streets are ours.
FRFI 198 Samuel Farber: false friend of the Cuban workers
FRFI 195 to 201 Five minutes to midnight series:
On the process of revolutionary consolidation from 1959-1965, focusing on Che Guevara’s work and analysis, see Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution by Helen Yaffe. Chapter one is available online and includes a discussion about the role of cubanology. For material on socialist political economy debates see chapter three on the Great Debate and chapter nine on the Critique of the Soviet Manual of Political Economy (socialist political economy debates).. For an overview of different stages of the Revolution over 50 years and how these debates continue to the contemporary period see chapter 10.
On the history of the Cuban Revolution with some detail about its democratic structure is in the chapter on Cuba in Diana Raby’s book Democracy and Revolution: Socialism in Latin American today.