LEVEL ONE – INTRODUCTORY EDUCATION
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.
SECTION ONE - Why the RCG?
The Revolutionary Communist Group is a Marxist and Leninist organisation which is committed to building a revolutionary socialist movement in Britain. In order to pursue this aim, the RCG fights to defend and develop an anti-imperialist trend within Britain, based on the long-term interest of the entire working class and oppressed internationally. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, the name of our newspaper is itself a political statement. It declares that fighting racism and imperialism must be at the heart of any socialist movement in imperialist Britain. It is a position that has always directed our political theory and practice. Our organisation has existed since 1974, and we began publishing the Revolutionary Communist journals in 1975. Since 1979 we have organised around FRFI. In this time we have continually engaged in crucial struggles for the working class and have developed our positions for the context of imperialist Britain – the oldest capitalist country in the world.
The RCG understands that the way for human society to progress – or even to survive – is for the crisis-ridden system of capitalism to be destroyed. The British ruling class will never allow the system which maintains its domination to be wished or voted away – it will take a revolution struggle led by the working class. 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.The only alternative to capitalism is socialism: a conscious and organised process of constructing society in which people cooperate in order to meet their needs rather than serve the dictates of private profits; a society enabling the full development of every individual rather than privilege for a few.
Today, capitalism has developed into imperialism – a system in which a small handful of nations dominate and exploit the rest of the world This has significant impacts on the class structure in the imperialist nations. A section of the working class – a labour aristocracy – benefits from the imperialist plunder of the rest of the world and works to prevent revolutionary change in the interests of the real masses. In Britain, this finds its political expression in the Labour Party, the official trade union movement, and their supporters across the ‘left’. We recognise the importance for communists in imperialist nations to fight against this opportunism, and call for a break with the Labour Party. Nations subjugated by imperialism are fighting the same enemy as we are when they launch struggles for independence. We support national liberation struggles, and seek to strengthen the revolutionary wing of these struggles. Imperialism creates racism – it is the form which national oppression takes in the imperialist countries. We fight all racism, and see that racism can only be fought alongside a struggle against imperialism. We support countries seeking to build socialism, and defend the gains of socialist struggles through history.
These are the crucial lessons the RCG has learned in five decades of struggle in Britain. If they are learned and acted upon then we can move forward to build a socialist movement that the working class so desperately needs in this country. What you can do in Britain is read FRFI, but also join us in building an anti-imperialist/anti-capitalist movement that will place us alongside all those forces fighting imperialism and building socialism internationally.
Primary Reading: 25 Years of FRFI by David Yaffe
SECTION TWO - What is Marxism?
‘Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it’ – Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach
This section introduces Marx and Engels’ theory of history. We examine how Marxism 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.
SECTION THREE - What is capitalism?
In the previous section, 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.
Primary Reading: 150 Years of Capital by Steve Palmer
SECTION FOUR - Capitalism and women’s oppression
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.
Primary Reading: ‘Speech to International Working Women’s Day panel discussion’ 5 March 2005 by Nicki Jameson
SECTION FIVE - What is imperialism?
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: capitalism had developed into 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.
Today, a process which is often labelled ‘globalisation’ signifies a return to those unstable features of capitalism which characterised imperialism before the First World War. ‘Globalisation’ is creating the very conditions which produced those dramatic shocks to the international capitalist economy and which led to the revolutionary developments in the first decades of the twentieth century. This increasing instability and increasing inequality between rich and poor nations, both key features of imperialism, are laying the ground for conditions where the socialist message can once again take root.
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.
Primary Reading: ‘Britain: parasitic and decaying capitalism’ by David Yaffe – FRFI 194 December 2006/January 2007
SECTION SIX: Imperialism and racism
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.
Primary Reading: ‘Racism and poverty in Britain’ – Tom Vickers – FRFI
SECTION SEVEN: The need for communist organisation today
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, which is 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.
As well as confronting the ruling class and its state, the fighting elements of the working class and oppressed must also confront the privileged stratum of the working class which relies on the continuing existence of British imperialism for its position. Both Marx and Engels pointed to the creation of this 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 material conditions of imperialism 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.’
Primary Reading: ‘Imperialism and the split in the working class movement’ – David Yaffe – FRFI 253 October/November 2016
SECTION EIGHT: Socialism or barbarism
‘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 social system. He showed two things: first, that socialism was possible - the preconditions for socialism were already present in his time; second, that socialism was necessary - for 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.