Mаrxіsm іn wоrld hіstоry
History of the origin and development of Marxism, especially its development under the influence of the K. Marx, Fr. Engels, R. Luxemburg, V. Lenin, L. Trotsky, and many other lesser-known thinkers. Analysis of the relationship of Marxism and feminism.
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When the generals who commanded the British army in Ireland were told to move their troops northwards to deal with this force, they refused and threatened to resign their commissions. It was because of this action, usually called the `Curragh Mutiny', that Ireland north and south didn't get a single parliament in 1914, and remains a divided nation even today.
In 1974 there was a rerun of the events of 1912 in miniature. The right wing sectarian Loyalists of Northern Ireland organised a general stoppage of industry, using barricades to prevent people going to work, against being forced to accept a joint Protestant-Catholic government in Northern Ireland. British ministers called on the British army and the Northern Ireland police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to dismantle the barricades and end the strike. The senior army officers and the police commanders told the government that this would be inadvisable, and neither soldiers nor police moved against the Loyalists. The joint Protestant-Catholic government was forced to resign, the views of army officers proving more powerful than the views of the British government.
If that could happen in 1914 and 1974 with middle-of-the-road governments trying to push through mild measures, imagine what would happen if a militant socialist government was elected. Any serious reformist majority in parliament would soon be forced to make a choice: either abandon reforms in order to placate those who own industry and control the key positions in the state, or prepare for an all out conflict, which will inevitably mean the use of some kind of force, against those who control those positions.
The third reason why reformism is a dead end is that parliamentary `democracy' contains inbuilt mechanisms for preventing any revolutionary movement finding expression through it.
Some reformists argue that the best way to take on the power of those who control the key positions in the state machine is for the left to obtain a majority in parliament first. This argument falls because parliaments always understate the level of revolutionary consciousness of the mass of the population.
The mass of the people will only believe that they themselves can run society when they begin in practice to change society through struggle. It is when millions of people are occupying their factories or taking part in a general strike that ideas of revolutionary socialism suddenly seem realistic.
But such a level of struggle cannot be maintained indefinitely unless the old ruling class is removed from power. If it hangs on, it will wait until the occupations or strikes decline, then use its control over the army and police to break the struggle.
And once the strikes or occupations begin to falter, the feeling of unity and confidence among the workers begins to wane. Demoralisation and bitterness set in. Even the best begin to feel that changing society was just a wild dream.
That is why employers always prefer strike votes to be taken when workers are at home by themselves, getting their ideas from the television and the newspapers, not when they are united at mass meetings, able to hear other workers' arguments.
That is also why anti-union laws nearly always include a clause forcing workers to call off strikes while secret, postal ballots are taken. Such clauses are accurately called `cooling off' periods - they are designed to pour cold water on the confidence and unity of workers.
The parliamentary electoral system contains built in secret ballots and cooling off periods. For instance, if a government is brought to its knees by a massive strike, it is likely to say, `OK, wait three weeks until a general election can resolve the question democratically.' It hopes that in the interim the strike will be called off. The workers' confidence and unity will then fade. Employers may well be able to blacklist militants. The capitalist press and the television can begin functioning normally again, hammering home pro-government ideas. The police can arrest `troublemakers'.
Then when the election finally takes place, the vote will not reflect the high point of the workers' struggles, but the low point after the strike.
In France in 1968, the government of General de Gaulle used elections in precisely this way. The reformist workers' parties and unions told workers to end their strikes, and de Gaulle won the election.
The British Prime Minister Edward Heath tried the same trick when faced with a massively successful miners' strike in 1974. But this time the miners were not conned. They kept their strike up - and Heath lost the election.
If workers wait for elections to decide the key issues in the class struggle, they will never reach that high point.
The workers' state
Marx, in his pamphlet The Civil War in France, and Lenin in The State and Revolution outlined a completely different view of how socialism can be won. Neither simply pulled these ideas out of thin air: both developed their views by seeing the working class inaction - Marx saw the Paris Commune, Lenin the Russian `Soviets' (workers' councils) of 1905 and 1917.
But Marx and Lenin insisted that the working class could not begin to construct socialism until it had first destroyed the old state based on bureaucratic chains of command, and secondly created a new state based on entirely new principles. Lenin underlined how completely different this state had to be from the old by calling it `a commune state, a state which is not a state'.
A new state, Marx and Lenin said, was necessary if the working class was to impose its dictates on the remnants of the old ruling and middle classes. That was why they called it the `dictatorship of the proletariat' - the working class had to dictate how society was to be run. It also had to defend its revolution against attacks from ruling classes elsewhere in the world. To do these two jobs, it had to have armed forces of its own, some form of policing of society, courts, even prisons.
But if this new army, police and legal system was to be controlled by the workers, and never turn against their interests, it had to be based on completely different principles from the capitalist state. It had to be the means by which the working class as a majority dictated to the rest of society, not a dictatorship directed against the majority of the working class.
The main differences are these.
The capitalist state serves the interests of a small minority of society. The workers' state has to serve the interests of the overwhelming majority. Force in the capitalist state is exercised by a minority of hired killers, cut off from the rest of society and trained to obey upper class officers. But in a workers' state, force would be needed only so the majority could protect themselves against anti-social acts by the remnants of the old privileged classes.
Soldiering and policing in a workers' state can be done by ordinary workers, who mix freely with their fellow workers, share the same ideas and lead the same lives. Indeed, to make sure that groups of soldiers and police never develop separated from the mass of workers, the `soldiers' and `police' should be ordinary factory and office workers who take it in turns, on a rota system, to carry out these functions.
Instead of the armed forces and police being run by a small group of officers, they would be run by directly elected representatives of the mass of workers.
Parliamentary representatives in a capitalist state pass laws but leave it to full time bureaucrats, police chiefs and judges to implement them. This means that MPs and councillors can always hide behind a million excuses when their promises are not implemented. The workers' representatives in a workers' state would have to see their laws put into action. They, not an elite of top bureaucrats, would have to explain to the workers of the civil service, the army and so on how things should be done.
Again elected workers' representatives would have to interpret the laws in courts.
Parliamentary representatives in a capitalist state are cut off from those who elect them by high salaries. In a workers' state the representatives would get no more than the average workers' wage. The same goes for those who work full time in key posts implementing the decisions of the workers' representatives (the equivalent of present-day civil servants).
Workers' representatives, and all those concerned with implementing workers' decisions, would not be, as MPs, immune to removal from office for five years (or for life in the case of senior civil servants). They would be subject to at least annual elections, and to immediate recall by those who elected them if they did not implement their wishes.
Parliamentary representatives are elected by all the people living in a certain locality - upper class, middle class and working class, slum landlords as well as tenants, stockbrokers as well as labourers. In a workers' state election would be by those who work only, with voting only after open discussion on the issues concerned. So the core of the workers' state would be workers' councils based on the factories, mines, docks, big offices, with groups such as housewives, pensioners, school students and students having their own representatives.
In this way, each section of the working class would have its own representative and be able directly to judge whether he or she was following their interests. In these ways, the new state cannot become a force separate from and against the majority working class - as it was in Eastern Bloc countries which called themselves `Communist'.
At the same time, the workers' council system provides a means by which workers can coordinate their efforts in running industry according to a democratically decided national plan, and not end up running their factories in competition with each other. It is easy to see how modem computer technology would enable all workers to be given information on the various economic options open to society, and to direct their representatives to choose what the majority of workers thought the best set of options - for example, whether to spend resources on Concorde or on a cheap and reliable public transport system, whether to build nuclear bombs or kidney machines, and so on.
The withering away of the state
Because state power would not be something separate from the mass of the workers, it would be much less a matter of coercion than under capitalism. As the remnants of the old society against which it was directed became resigned to the success of the revolution, and as revolutions removed foreign ruling classes, there would be less and less need for coercion, until eventually workers need never take time off from work to staff the `police' and the `army'.
This is what Marx and Lenin meant when they said the state would wither away. Instead of coercion against people, the state would become merely a mechanism of workers' councils to decide how to produce and allocate goods.
Workers' councils have come into being in one form or another whenever the struggle between the classes within capitalism has reached a really high level. `Soviet' is the word the Russians used for workers' councils in 1905 and 1917.
In 1918 in Germany workers' councils were, briefly, the only power in the country. In Spain in 1936 the various workers' parties and unions were united by `militia committees' which ran the localities and were very much like workers' councils. In Hungary in 1956 the workers elected councils to run the factories and the localities as they fought Russian troops. In Chile in 1972-73 the workers began to build `cordones' - workers' committees that linked the big factories.
The workers' council begins life as a body workers use to coordinate their struggle against capitalism. It may start with modest functions, raising strike funds maybe, but because these bodies are based on direct election from the workers, with workers' representatives subject to recall, they can at the highest points in the struggle coordinate the efforts of the whole working class. They can lay the basis for workers' power.
9. How do workers become revolutionary?
In Britain most workers this century have looked to the Labour Party and parliament to change society. A large minority have backed the reactionary ideas of the Tory party. The supporters of revolutionary socialism have generally been few in number.
This indifference or even opposition of workers to revolutionary socialism is hardly surprising. We have all been brought up in a capitalist society where it is taken for granted that everyone is selfish, where people are continually told by the newspapers and television that only a privileged minority have the ability to take the key decisions in industry and the state, where the mass of workers are taught from the first day they enter school to obey orders given by `their elders and betters'.
As Marx put it, `The ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class,' and vast numbers of workers accept them.
Yet despite this, repeatedly in the history of capitalism, revolutionary movements of the working class have shaken one country after another: France in 1871, Russia in 1917, Germany and Hungary in 1919, Italy in 1920, Spain and France in 1936, Hungary in 1956, France in 1968, Chile in 1972-73, Portugal in 1975, Iran in 1979, Poland in 1980.
The explanation for these upheavals lies in the very nature of capitalism itself. Capitalism is a crisis-prone system. In the long run it cannot provide full employment, it cannot provide prosperity for all, it cannot secure our living standards today against the crisis it will produce tomorrow. But during the capitalist `booms' workers come to expect these things.
So, for instance, in the 1950s and early 1960s, workers in Britain came to expect permanent full employment, a `welfare state' and gradual but real improvements in living standards. By contrast, over the last 25 years successive governments have allowed unemployment to increase to a real figure of more than 4 million, have cut the welfare state to shreds, and have attempted again and again to cut living standards.
Because we are brainwashed into accepting many capitalist ideas, we accept some of these attacks. But inevitably a point is reached where workers find they can stand it no more. Suddenly, often when no one expects it, their anger suddenly flares and they take some action against employer or government. Perhaps they stage a strike, or organise a demonstration.
When this happens, whether they like it or not, workers begin doing things that contradict all the capitalist ideas they have previously accepted. They begin to act in solidarity with one another, as a class, in opposition to the representatives of the capitalist class.
The ideas of revolutionary socialism that they used to reject out of hand now begin to fit in with what they are doing. Some at least of the workers begin to take those ideas seriously - providing those ideas are accessible.
The scale on which this takes place depends on the scale of the struggle, not on the ideas in workers' heads to begin with. Capitalism forces them into struggle even if they begin with pro-capitalist ideas. The struggle then makes them question these ideas.
Capitalist power rests on two planks - control of the means of production and control of the state. A real revolutionary movement begins among the vast mass of workers when struggles over their immediate economic interests lead them to clash with both planks of capitalist rule.
Take for example a group of workers who have been employed in the same factory for years. The whole normal humdrum pattern of their lives is dependent on their jobs there. One day the employer announces that he is going to close the factory down. Even the Tory voters in the workforce are horrified and want to do something. In desperation they decide that the only way to continue to lead the sort of lives capitalism has taught them to expect is to occupy the factory - to challenge the employer's control over the means of production.
They may soon find themselves up against the state as well, as the employer calls in the police to return control of `his' property back to him. If they are to have any chance of keeping their jobs, the workers now must also confront the police, the state machine, as well as the employer.
Thus capitalism itself creates the conditions of class conflict which open workers' minds to ideas quite opposed to those which the system has taught them. This explains why the history of capitalism has been marked by periodic upsurges of revolutionary feeling among millions of workers, even if most of the time most workers accept the ideas the system feeds them.
One final point. One of the biggest things holding many workers back from support for revolutionary ideas is the feeling that it is not worth them personally doing anything because other workers will never support them. When they find that other workers are doing things, they suddenly lose their own apathy. In the same way people, who feel that they, as workers, are quite incapable of running society, suddenly learn otherwise when they find, in the course of massive struggles against existing society, that they're taking over much of its running.
It is because of this that once revolutionary movements start, they can snowball at amazing speed.
10. The revolutionary socialist party
The basic premise of Marxism is that the development of capitalism itself drives workers into revolt against the system.
When such revolts break out - whether a mass demonstration, an armed insurrection or even a big strike - the transformation of working class consciousness is astonishing. All the mental energy that workers previously frittered away on a hundred and one diversions - from doing the horses to watching the telly - is suddenly directed towards trying to deal with the problem of how to change society. Millions of people working on such problems produce solutions of amazing ingenuity, which often leave established revolutionaries as bewildered as the ruling class by this turn of events.
So, for instance, in the first Russian revolution of 1905 a new form of workers' organisation, the soviet - the workers' council - grew out of the strike committee set up during a printing strike. At first the Bolshevik Party - the most militant of the revolutionary socialists - treated the Soviets with distrust: they did not believe it was possible for the mass of previously non-political workers to create a genuinely revolutionary instrument.
Such experiences are found in many strikes: the established militants are taken completely by surprise when workers who have ignored their advice for so long, suddenly begin to organise militant action themselves.
This spontaneity is fundamental. But it is wrong to draw the conclusion - as anarchists and near-anarchists do - that because of spontaneity, there is no need for a revolutionary party.
In a revolutionary situation, millions of workers change their ideas very, very quickly. But they do not all change all their ideas at once. Inside every strike, every demonstration, every armed uprising there are always continual arguments. A few workers will see the action they are taking as a prelude to the working class taking control of society. Others will be half against taking any action at all, because it is disturbing the `natural order of things'. In the middle will be the mass of workers, attracted first by one set of arguments, then by the other,
Onto one side of the balance the present ruling class will throw all the weight of its newspaper propaganda machine, denouncing the workers' actions. It will throw too its strikebreaking forces, whether police, army or right wing organisations.
And on the workers' side of the argument there must be an organisation of socialists who can draw on the lessons of past class struggle, who can throw the arguments about socialism into the balance. There must be an organisation that can draw together the growing understanding of workers in struggle, so they can act together to change society.
And this revolutionary socialist party needs to be there before the struggle starts, for organisation is not born spontaneously. The party is built through the continual interplay of socialist ideas and experience of the class struggle - for merely to understand society is not enough: only by applying these ideas in the day-to-day class struggle, in strikes, demonstrations, campaigns, will workers become aware of their power to change things, and gain the confidence to do it.
At certain points, the intervention of a socialist party can be decisive, can tip the balance towards change, towards a revolutionary transfer of power to the workers, towards a socialist society.
What sort of party?
The revolutionary socialist party needs to be democratic. To fulfil its role, the party must be continually in touch with the class struggle, and that means with its own members and supporters in the workplaces where that struggle takes place. It needs to be democratic because its leadership must always reflect the collective experience of the struggle.
At the same time, this democracy is not merely a system of election but a continual debate within the party - a continual interaction of the socialist ideas on which the party is based with the experience of class struggle.
But the revolutionary socialist party must also be centralised - for it is an active party, not a debating society. It needs to be able to intervene collectively in the class struggle, and to respond quickly, so it must have a leadership capable of taking day-to-day decisions in the name of the party.
If the government orders the jailing of pickets, for instance, the party needs to react at once, without the need to convene conferences to take democratic decisions first. So the decision is made centrally and acted upon. Democracy comes into play afterwards, when the party hammers out whether the decision was correct or not - and maybe changes the party leadership if it was out of touch with the needs of the struggle.
The revolutionary socialist party needs to maintain a fine and delicate balance between democracy and centralism. The key is that the party does not exist for its own sake, but as a means for bringing a revolutionary change to socialism - and that can only be through class struggle.
So the party must continually adapt itself to the struggle. When the struggle is low, and few workers believe in the possibility of revolutionary change, then the party will be small - and must be content to be so for to dilute its political ideas in order to increase its membership would be pointless. But when the struggle increases, large numbers of workers can change their ideas very fast, realising through struggle their power to change things - and then the party must be able to open its doors, otherwise it will be left on the sidelines.
The party cannot substitute for the working class. It must be part of the class struggle, continually trying to unite the most class-conscious workers to provide a leadership for the struggle. Nor can the party dictate to the class. It cannot simply proclaim itself the leadership, but must win that position, proving the correctness of socialist ideas in practice - which means anything from a small strike to the revolution itself.
Some people see the revolutionary socialist party as the precursor of socialism. This is completely wrong. Socialism can only come about when the working class itself takes control of the means of producing wealth and uses this to transform society.
You cannot build an island of socialism in a sea of capitalism. Attempts by small groups of socialists to cut themselves off and lead their lives according to socialist ideas always fail miserably in the long term - for a start, the economic and ideological pressures are always there. And in cutting themselves off from capitalism, such small groups also cut themselves off from the only force that can bring socialism: the working class.
Of course, socialists fight against the degrading effects of capitalism every day - against racism, against sexism, against exploitation, against brutality. But we can only do so by taking the strength of the working class as our base.
11. Imperialism and national liberation
Throughout the history of capitalism the employing class has always looked to an additional source of wealth - the seizure of wealth produced in other countries.
The growth of the first forms of capitalism at the close of the Middle Ages was accompanied by the seizure by western states of vast colonial empires - the empires of Spain and Portugal, of Holland and France, and, of course, of Britain. Wealth was pumped into the hands of the ruling classes of western Europe, while whole societies in what has become known as the Third World (Africa, Asia and South America) were destroyed.
Thus, the `discovery' of America by Europeans in the 16th century produced a vast flow of gold into Europe. The other side of that coin was the destruction of whole societies and the enslavement of others. For example, in Haiti, where Columbus first established a settlement, the native Harawak Indians (perhaps half a million in all) were exterminated in just two generations. In Mexico the Indian population was reduced from 20 million in 1520 to 2 million in 1607.
The Indian population of the West Indies and of parts of the mainland was replaced by slaves captured in Africa and transported across the Atlantic under abominable conditions. An estimated 15 million slaves survived the Atlantic crossing while about 9 million died in transit. About half the slaves were transported in British ships - which is one reason why British capitalism was the first to expand industry.
The wealth from the slave trade provided the means to finance industry. As an old saying put it, `The walls of Bristol are cemented with the blood of the negroes' - and this applied just as much to other ports. As Karl Marx put it, `The veiled slavery of the wage worker in Europe required for its pedestal slavery pure and simple in the New World.'
The slave trade was complemented by pure looting - as when the British conquered India. Bengal was so advanced that the first British visitors were stunned by the magnificence of its civilisation. But this wealth did not stay long in Bengal. As Lord Macaulay wrote in his biography of the conqueror, Clive:
The immense population was given up as prey. Enormous fortunes were thus rapidly accumulated at Calcutta, while 30 million of human beings were reduced to the extremity of wretchedness. They had been used to living under tyranny, but never tyranny like this.
From that point onwards Bengal became renowned not for its wealth, but for a grinding poverty that every few years saw millions starve to death in famines, a poverty that continues to this day. Meanwhile, in the 1760s, at a time when total capital investment in England was no more than ?6 million to ?7 million, the annual tribute to England from India was ?2 million.
The same processes were at work in relation to England's oldest colony - Ireland. During the Great Famine of the late 1840s when Ireland's population was halved by starvation and emigration, more than enough wheat to feed the starving population was sent from the country as rent to English landlords.
Today, it is usual to divide the world into `developed' and `underdeveloped' countries. The impression is given that the `underdeveloped' countries have been moving in the same direction for hundreds of years as the `developed' countries, but at a slower speed.
But, in fact, one reason for the `development' of the Western countries was that the rest were robbed of wealth and pushed backwards. Many are poorer today than they were 300 years ago.
As Michael Barratt Brown has pointed out:
The wealth per head of the present underdeveloped lands, not only in India, but in China, Latin America and Africa, was higher than in Europe in the 17th century, and fell as wealth grew in Western Europe.
The possession of an empire enabled Britain to develop as the world's first industrial power. It was in a position to stop other capitalist states getting their hands on the raw materials, markets and profitable areas of investment within its third of the world.
As new industrial powers such as Germany, Japan and the United States grew up, they wanted these advantages for themselves. They built up rival empires or `spheres of influence'. Faced with economic crisis, each of the major capitalist powers tried to solve its problems by encroaching on the spheres of influence of its rivals. Imperialism led to world war.
This in turn produced huge changes within the internal organisation of capitalism. The tool for waging war, the state, became much more important. It worked ever more closely with the giant firms to reorganise industry for foreign competition and war. Capitalism became state monopoly capitalism.
The development of imperialism meant that capitalists did not just exploit the working class of their own country; they also took physical control of other countries and exploited their populations. For the most oppressed classes in the colonial countries, this meant that they were exploited by foreign imperialists as well as by their own ruling class. They were doubly exploited.
But sections of the ruling classes in the colonial countries also suffered. They saw many of their own opportunities to exploit the local population stolen from them by imperialism. In the same way, the middle classes in the colonies, who would have liked to see a rapid expansion of locally run industry so as to provide them with good career opportunities, suffered as well.
The last 60 years have seen all these various classes in colonial and ex-colonial countries rise up against the effects of imperialism. Movements have developed that have attempted to unite the whole population against foreign imperialist rule. Their demands have included:
* Expulsion of foreign imperialist troops.
* Unification of the whole national territory under a single national government, as against its division between different imperialisms.
* The re-establishment of the original language in everyday life, as opposed to some language imposed by the foreign rulers.
* The use of the wealth produced by the country to expand local industry to bring about `development' and `modernisation' of the country.
Such were the demands of successive revolutionary upsurges in China (in 1912, 1923-27 and in 1945-48), in Iran (in 1905-12, 1917-21 and in 1941-53), in Turkey (after the First World War), in the West Indies (from the 1920s onwards), in India (in 1920-48), in Africa (after 1945) and in Vietnam (until the United States was defeated in 1975).
These movements were often led by sections of the local upper classes or middle classes, but they meant that the ruling classes of the advanced countries faced an additional opponent as well as their own working class. The national movement in the so-called Third World challenged the imperialist capitalist states at the same time as did their own working classes.
For the working class movement in the advanced countries this had great importance. It meant that in its fight against capitalism, it had an ally in the liberation movements of the Third World. So, for example, a Shell worker in Britain had an ally in the liberation forces in South Africa who were fighting to take over the property which Shell owned there. If Shell can thwart the aims of the liberation movements in the Third World, then it will be more powerful when it comes to resisting the demands of workers in Britain.
This is true, even if the liberation movement in the Third World country does not have a socialist leadership - indeed, even if its leadership merely wants to replace foreign rule by the rule of a local capitalist or state capitalist class.
The imperialist state which is trying to smash that liberation movement is the same imperialist state that is the greatest enemy of the Western worker. That is why Marx insisted that `a nation that oppresses others cannot itself be free', and why Lenin argued for an alliance between the workers of the advanced countries and the oppressed people of the Third World, even when these had a non-socialist leadership.
This does not mean that socialists will agree with the way in vhich non-socialists in an oppressed country lead a national lib-ration struggle (any more than we necessarily agree with how [trade union leader leads a strike). But we have to make it clear ie/ore anything else that we support that struggle. Otherwise we an all too easily end up supporting our own ruling class against ieople it is oppressing.
We have to support a liberation struggle unconditionally, before we are entitled to criticise the way it is led.
However, revolutionary socialists in a country which is oppressed by imperialism cannot leave matters there. They have to argue, day in day out, with other people about how the struggle for national liberation should be waged.
Here, the most important points are contained in the theory of permanent revolution developed by Trotsky. Trotsky began by recognising that often movements against oppression are initiated y people from middle class or even upper class backgrounds.
Socialists support such movements because they aim to `move one of the burdens that weighs upon the most oppressed classes and groups in society. But we also have to recognise that those from the upper or middle classes cannot lead such struggles consistently. They will be afraid of unleashing a full-blooded class struggle, in case this challenges not merely oppression from outside, but also their own ability to live by exploiting the most oppressed classes.
At a certain point they will run away from the struggle they themselves initiated, and, if necessary, unite with the foreign oppressor to smash it. At this point, if socialist, working class does do not take the leadership of the national liberation struggle, it will be defeated.
Trotsky also made one final point. It is true that in most Third World countries the working class is only a minority, often a small minority, of the population. But it is nevertheless often quite big in absolute terms (for example in India and China it is tens of millions strong), it often creates a huge proportion of the national wealth in relation to its size, and it is concentrated in overwhelming numbers in the cities which are key when it comes ruling the country. So in a period of revolutionary turmoil, the working class can take the leadership of all other oppressed classes and seize control of whole countries. The revolution can be permanent, beginning with demands for national liberation and ending with socialist demands. But only if socialists in the oppressed country have from the beginning organised the workers on an independent, class basis - supporting the general movement for national liberation, but always warning that its middle class or upper class leaders cannot be trusted.
12. Marxism and feminism
There are two different approaches to women's liberation - feminism and revolutionary socialism. Feminism was the dominant influence on the women's movements which sprung up in the advanced capitalist countries during the 1960s and 1970s. It started from the view that men always oppress women, that there was something in men's biology or psychological make up which made them treat women as inferior. This led to the view that liberation was possible only by the separation of women from men - either the total separation of the feminists who sought `liberated lifestyles' or the partial separation of women's committees, women's caucuses or women-only events.
Many of those who supported this partial separation called themselves socialist feminists. But later radical feminist ideas of total separation made the running inside the women's movement. Separatist ideas ended time and again as a slightly radical wing of the social services, as with women's refuges.
This failing led many feminists in another direction - towards the Labour Party. They believed that getting the right women in the right places, as MPs, trade union officials, local councillors, would somehow help all women to find equality.
The tradition of revolutionary socialism starts from a very different set of ideas. Marx and Engels, writing as far back as 1848, argued, first, that women's oppression did not arise from the ideas in men's heads, but from the development of private property and with it the emergence of a society based on classes. For them, the fight for women's liberation was inseparable from the fight to end all class society - the struggle for socialism.
Marx and Engels also pointed out that the development of capitalism, based on the factory system, brought profound changes in people's lives, and especially in the lives of women. Women were brought back into social production, from which they had been progressively excluded with the development of class society.
This gave women a potential power which they had never had before. Organised collectively, women as workers had greater independence and ability to fight for their rights. This was in great contrast to their lives previously, when their main role in production, through the family, made them completely dependent on the family head - the husband or father.
From this Marx and Engels concluded that the material basis of the family, and so of women's oppression, no longer existed. What stopped women from benefiting from this was the fact that property remained in the hands of the few. What keeps women oppressed today is the way capitalism is organised - in particular the way capitalism uses a particular form of the family in order to make sure that its workers bring their children up to be the next generation of workers. It is a great advantage that while it pays men - and increasingly women - to work, women will devote their lives, unpaid, to making sure their men are fit to work in the factories and their children will grow up to do the same.
Socialism, by contrast, would see society taking on many of the family functions which weigh so heavily on women.
This didn't mean that Marx, Engels and their successors went about preaching the `abolition of the family'. The family's supporters have always been able to mobilise many of the most oppressed women in its support - they see the `abolition of the family' as giving their husbands licence to abandon them with the responsibility for the children. Revolutionary socialists have always tried instead to show how in a better, socialist society, women would not be forced into the miserable, cramped life provided by the present day family.
Feminists have always rejected this sort of analysis. Far from approaching women where they have the power to change the world and end their oppression - where they are collectively strong at work - they approach women as sufferers. Campaigns of the 1980s, for example, focused on such issues as prostitution, rape or the threat to women and families from nuclear weapons. These all start from positions where women are weak.
Feminism starts with the assumption that oppression overrides class division. This leads to conclusions which leave class society intact while improving the position of some women - a minority. The women's movement has tended to be dominated by women from the `new middle class' - journalists, writers, lecturers, higher grade white collar workers. The typists, filing clerks, machinists have got left out.
It is only during periods of radical change and revolutionary upsurge that the question of women's liberation becomes reality, not just for a minority, but for all working class women as well. The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 produced a much greater equality for women than ever known in the world before. Divorce, abortion and contraception were made freely available. Childcare and housework became the responsibility of society. There were the beginnings of communal restaurants, laundries and nurseries which gave women far more choice and control over their lives.
Of course, the fate of these advances couldn't be separated from the fate of the revolution itself. Famine, civil war, the decimation of the working class, and the failure of revolution internationally meant the eventual defeat of socialism in Russia itself. The moves towards equality were reversed.
But the early years of the soviet republic showed what socialist revolution could achieve, even in the most unfavourable conditions. Today, the prospects for women's liberation are far better. In Britain - and much the same is true of other advanced capitalist countries - two workers in every five are women.
Women's liberation can be achieved only through the collective power of the working class. This means rejecting the feminist idea of women's separate organisations. Only women and men workers acting together as part of a united revolutionary movement can destroy class society, and with it the oppression of women.
13 Socialism and war
The present century has been a century of wars. Some 10 million people were killed in the First World War, 55 million in the Second, 2 million in the wars in Indochina. And the two great nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, still possess the means to destroy the human race many times over.
Explaining this horror is difficult for those who take existing society for granted. They are driven to conclude that there is some innate, instinctive drive in human beings that leads them to enjoy mass slaughter. But human society has not always known war. Gordon Childe noted of Europe in the Stone Age:
The earliest Danubians seem to have been a peaceful folk; weapons of war as against hunters' tools are absent from their graves. Their villages lacked military defences. [But] in the later phases of the Neolithic period armaments became the most conspicuous items...
War is not caused by some innate human aggressiveness. It is a product of the division of society into classes. When, between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, a class of property owners first emerged, it had to find the means to defend its wealth. It began to construct armed forces, a state, cut off from the rest of society. This then became a valuable means of further increasing its wealth, by plundering other societies.
The division of society into classes meant that war became a permanent feature of human life.
The slave owning ruling classes of Ancient Greece and Rome could not survive without continual wars which procured more slaves. The feudal lords of the Middle Ages had to be heavily armed in order to subdue the local serfs and to protect their loot from other feudal lords. When the first capitalist ruling classes began 300 or 400 years ago, they too repeatedly had to have recourse to war. They had to fight bitter wars in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in order to establish their supremacy over the remnants of the old feudal rulers. The most successful capitalist countries, such as Britain, used warfare to expand their wealth--reaching overseas, looting India and Ireland, transporting millions of people as slaves from Africa to the Americas, turning the whole world into a source of plunder for themselves.
Capitalist society built itself through war. No wonder that those who lived within it came 'to believe that war was both 'inevitable' and 'just'.
Yet capitalism could never be based entirely on war. Most of its wealth came through exploiting workers in factories and mines. And that was something which could be disrupted by any fighting within the 'home country' itself.
Each national capitalist class wanted peace at home while waging war abroad. So while encouraging belief in 'military virtues' it also bitterly attacked 'violence'. The ideology of capitalism combines, in a completely contradictory way, exaltation of militarism and pacifist phrases.
In the present century war preparations have become more central to the system than ever before. In the 19th century capitalist production was based on many small firms competing with each other. The state was a relatively small body that regulated their relations with each other and with their workers. But in the present century big firms have eaten up most of the small firms, so eliminating much of the competition within each country. Competition is more and more international, between the giant firms of different nations.
There is no international capitalist state to regulate this competition. Instead, each national state exerts all the pressure it can to help its capitalists get an advantage over their foreign rivals. The life and death struggle of different capitalists with each other can become the life and death struggle of different states, each with its huge array of destructive weaponry.
Twice this struggle has led to world war. The First and Second World Wars were imperialist wars, conflicts between alliances of capitalist states over the domination of the globe. The Cold War was a continuation of that struggle, with the most powerful capitalist states lined up against each other in NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
In addition to this global conflict, many hot wars have raged in different parts of the world. Usually they have been struggles between different capitalist states over who should control a particular region, such as the Iran-Iraq war which broke out in 1980 and the Gulf War in 1991. All the major powers stoke the fires of war by selling the most sophisticated military technology to Third World states.
Many people who accept the rest of the capitalist system do not like this grim reality. They want capitalism but not war. They try to find alternatives within the system. For example, there are those who believe the United Nations can prevent war.
But the UN is merely the arena where different states that embody the drive to war meet together. There they compare their strengths with each other, like boxers measuring up before a bout. If one state or alliance is easily more powerful than another, then both will see the pointlessness of a war whose outcome is known in advance. But if there is any doubt about the outcome, they know of only one way of settling the issue, and that is to go to war.
This was true of the two great nuclear alliances, NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Even though the West had the military edge over the Eastern Bloc, the gap was not so great for the Russians to believe themselves at a hopeless disadvantage. So, despite the fact that a Third World War would wipe out most of the human race, both Washington and Moscow drew up plans for fighting and winning a nuclear war.
The Cold War came to an end with the political upheaval in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the collapse of the USSR into its constituent republics in 1991. There was then much talk of a 'new world order' and a 'peace dividend'.
Instead, however, we have seen a succession of barbaric wars--the war of the West against its former ally Iraq, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the former USSR, the horrific civil wars in Somalia and former Yugoslavia.
No sooner is one military rivalry between capitalist powers resolved than another takes its place. Everywhere, ruling classes know that war is a way of increasing their influence and of blinding workers and peasants with nationalism.
You can loathe and fear war without opposing capitalist society. But you cannot end it. War is the inevitable product of the division of society into classes. The threat of it will never be ended by begging existing rulers to make peace. The armaments have to be wrested from their hands by a movement fighting to overturn class society once and for all.
The peace movements which emerged in Europe and North America at the end of the 1970s did not understand this. They fought to stop the introduction of Cruise and Pershing missiles, for unilateral disarmament, for a nuclear freeze. But they believed that the fight for peace could succeed in isolation from the struggle between capital and labour.
So they failed to mobilise the only power capable of stopping the drive towards war, the working class. Only socialist revolution can end the horror of war.
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