by Martin Levy
These are times of great opportunity, but also danger. In its draft resolution for the Communist Party’s 54th Congress, this November, the Party’s Executive Committee makes the point clearly:
“Britain is seeing dramatic political change as the ruling class offensive is increasingly and more confidently challenged …. This struggle has now reached the stage in which each side, out of necessity, must either inflict a major defeat on the other or itself be defeated. The outcome will determine the nature of society in Britain for decades to come ….”
The success of the ‘Brexit’ vote was a severe setback for the dominant finance capitalist sector of the ruling class. They suffered a further blow with Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour Party leader. But the labour movement, hampered by its former majority support for the EU, and by the divisions exemplified in the Labour leadership contest, was unable to capitalise on the Tories’ disarray following the referendum. Indeed the Tories were given breathing space to rebuild unity around a new reactionary, xenophobic strategy, presenting themselves, mind-bogglingly, as “the party of the NHS, the party of the workers, the party of public servants.”ii
On the EU, there has been a welcome recognition from both the TUC and Jeremy Corbyn that the vote should stand, and that the marginalisation experienced by many working people was a major cause of the ‘Leave’ victory. The demand that workers should not pay the price for ‘Brexit’, and the progressive policies announced at Labour’s conference, provide opportunities for broad-based campaigning – which indeed will be essential to counter the vehement attacks likely to be forthcoming from the right-wing media, aiming to ensure that Labour really is unelectable. Dirty tricks, and jibes of anti-semitism, will continue to be used. Much depends on mobilisation of Labour’s hundreds and thousands of new members, to win the arguments at community, street and workplace level.
Yet we need to be clear that Labour’s new policies are only a start. Welcome as they are, they are limited in scope, and weak on key issues such as class struggle, monopoly, the state and particularly imperialism. In short they are social-democratic policies, and not always of the left variety. Indeed, despite Corbyn’s long anti-imperialist record, Clive Lewis, then Shadow Defence Secretary, was able to pledge continued support for Trident renewal and to tell the Labour conference that:
“when I look at our key military alliance – NATO – I see an organisation that springs directly from our values: collectivism, internationalism and the strong defending the weak. Its founding charter – a progressive charter – includes standing up for democracy and defending human rights. These are values that I believe go to the core of our political identity.”iii
NATO was never about that. It has always been about advancing imperialist interests.
A clear understanding of imperialism is essential for the labour movement today. So it is timely that our lead article in this issue of CR is Andrew Murray’s recent Marx Memorial Library lecture, celebrating the centenary of Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Andrew sets Lenin’s work in the context of his objectives at the time, and looks at the contemporary relevance today of Lenin’s 5 basic features of imperialism. He argues that the division of the world between rival monopolies, and the territorial division among the biggest capitalist powers, are not the factors that they were in Lenin’s time, and that “Capital is [now] exported across the world by an incipient pan-national oligarchy centred on London, New York, Hong Kong etc … with fantastic rewards distributed across the ruling classes of many countries.” The key issues, however, remain “The control of the concentration of capital, and the political intervention to sustain the extraction of super-profit”, in the context of a world power structure that has features of an ultra-imperialism that “depends in the end on a US super-imperialism.” This ultra-imperialism is not the world of peace envisaged by Kautsky, against whom Lenin polemicised, but one of continual wars and continued inter-imperialist rivalry.
Arguments about Kautsky, ultra-imperialism and the European Union were already taken up in CR80, in chapter 3 of State Monopoly Capitalism, by Gretchen Binus, Beate Landefeld and Andreas Wehr. In this issue we publish the final chapter, which looks at strategies for revolutionary transformation, building on Lenin’s advice to Western European communists to concentrate efforts on “the next step” and to seek “forms of transition or approach to the socialist revolution”. Such a strategy was taken up by both Antonio Gramsci (in his Prison Notebooks) and the Communist International (at its 7th World Congress), in terms of seeking the broadest possible support for short-term objectives, as part of a process of transforming the fight for democracy into one for socialist revolution. Reviewing the experience of popular front governments in Chile, France and Portugal, discussions in Federal Germany, and developments in Latin America, the authors conclude that, as a result of the world economic crisis of 2007-8, there are now new possibilities in the centres of capitalism “for developing the consciousness for overcoming the system.”
From economics and politics we move to philosophy, with part 2 of this writer’s series on Space, Time – and Dialectics, and The New Life, an interesting lecture given in 2001 by the late Hans Heinz Holz, relating his early development as a philosopher and the influence of Jean-Paul Sartre in the period after the Second World War. We finish with a piece by Evan Pritchard recalling The Battle of Bexley Square in 1931, and the ever-excellent Soul Food, which this time includes additional moving poems (in Spanish and English) from the Spanish Civil War, and class-conscious extracts from some upcoming poetry publications by the Culture Matters web site.