About the text:
From: V.I. Lenin: On Imperialism and Opportunism, Futura 1974, 103 p., pp. 7-15
A straight line leads from Marx and Engels via Lenin to those articles in “Communist ORIENTATION” from 1967 and 1968, which were later published in pamphlet form under the titles of “There Will Come a Day.” and “Class Struggle and Revolutionary Situation”… Marx and Engels described the connection between the English colonial and industrial monopoly around the middle of the last century and the spread of bourgeois ideology among the English working class. Lenin described the connection between the transition from 19th century capitalism to imperialism, its tremendous development in Western Europe and North America and the victory of opportunism in the working class movement of these countries. We demonstrated the connection between neo-colonial exploitation and the new industrial revolution and the growth of the labour aristocracy to comprise practically the entire working class. (“We”, in this context, denotes the Communist Working Circle, KAK.)
Lenin made frequent use of quotations from Marx and Engels concerning the economic background of the victory of opportunism, petit-bourgeois ideology and egoism in the Western European working class movement. He used the quotations with the object of explaining and supporting his observations of his own time. In the articles mentioned above we have likewise quoted Marx and Engels, as well as Lenin, by way of explaining and supporting our observations of our own time.
The proper way to learn how to use the quotations from Lenin contained in this book is to study Lenin’s use of quotations from Marx and Engels. In order to understand developments from Lenin’s days to the present time it is necessary to understand developments from the days of Marx and Engels to the days of Lenin.
Marx, Engels and Lenin – being revolutionary socialists, marxists – are doing exactly what they could and should do: They are describing the situation of that time in the countries known to them. They are describing it in such a way that they see its past history, and in such a way that in the light of the general laws governing social development they point out a possible future road of development, and finally in such a way that this possible road of development forms the background of instructions – slogans – for practical political activity aimed at changing the situation described. If you are a revolutionary, you study your world with the sole object of changing it – and your activity is always dictated by your appraisal of the actual direction in which this world is changing – independent of your own or other people’s will.
In a number of quotations from Marx and Engels that Lenin used we see how especially Engels continually stresses the fact that when the English monopoly of modern industry and of colonies will be broken, and when the bribing of the English workers by means of the super profits pouring into England as a result of this monopoly will thus be brought to an end, then – and only then – will socialism come back to England, from where it disappeared with the languishing of Chartism. Then – and only then – will the English working class cast off the bourgeois influence excercised by its opportunist leaders and take revolutionary action to overthrow capitalism.
Lenin makes use of these quotations from Engels in the correct Marxist way. He does not use them to gloat over the fact that Engels was “wrong”, although it is an incontestable fact that the English working class did not become revolutionary when at long last the English industrial and colonial monopoly was effectively broken up. Nor does he use them to maintain dogmatically that once the great Marxist Engels has said that the world is developing in such and such a way, then that is actually how it has been developing up to this very day.
Lenin uses Engels’ statements to show that the very connection between monopoly and opportunism which Engels had pointed out is still existing, and that the spread of monopoly from England to a number of Western European countries and to North America has had the effect that opportunism also has spread to these other countries, poisoning the political leaders of the working class and parts of the working class itself.
Lenin further develops Engels’s way of thinking, his analysis, his approach, his principles, and he applies them when studying his own time – the new reality, which had not developed in accordance with Engels’ hopes and expectations. Just as Marx and Engels, Lenin realized that no one – not even the greatest of the great Marxists – is able accurately to predict social development even six months ahead, and that you must incessantly follow the course of developments, and incessantly change your ideas and thus your line of action in accordance with the ever changing reality.
Marxists of to-day must treat Lenin’s descriptions of his own time in exactly the same manner in order to develop further the line from Marx, Engels and Lenin.
At the beginning of this century Lenin had to note that developments had gainsaid Engels’ hopes that the breaking up of the English monopoly of modern industry and of colonies by other advanced capitalist countries would give rise to revolutionizing economic conditions for the English workers. However, there were features of Lenin’s time which permitted him to stick to Engels’ description of the difference between the upper strata of the working class – the skilled workers in the exclusive trade unions among others – and the lower strata of what both Engels and Lenin called proletarians proper.
(Certainly Engels also mentioned the fact that at times all sections of the English working class got their share of the super profits, and certainly Lenin, too, spoke of the ambition of the Western European workers together with the bourgeoisie to build a paradise on the backs of the majority of mankind in the oppressed countries. To both Engels and Lenin, however, these were phenomena of a very short duration.)
Consequently, when Lenin looked at Western Europe after World War I, he could only confirm Engels’ idea of the correct revolutionary policy. (Lenin actually uses the term “Marxist tactics”, but unfortunately the word “tactics” is hardly usable to-day. To Lenin this word denoted a short-term political line, short-term slogans serving the long-term “strategic” main aim. For too many people to-day the word “tactics” rather seems to indicate intrigues, cunning manoeuvres, petty underhand dealings to further personal or party interests.) This correct revolutionary policy must consist in evading the upper strata, evading the bribed agents of the bourgeoisie inside the working class movement, turning instead to the majority of workers, impoverished by the war, who were still proletarians proper. He realized, of course, that the opportunists (in his time the Social Democrats of the II International, in present-day Denmark besides the Social Democrats the Socialist People’s Party and the Communist Party) had been victorious in the Western European working class movement. Then (as now) they were at the head of the working class movement, the trade union movement as well as the political movement, and Lenin knew that “unless the working class frees itself of them, it shall remain a bourgeois working class movement”. On the basis of his own experience, however, he thought, and he had to think, that it would be possible for the revolutionary party to wrest leadership of the impoverished majority of the proletariat from the opportunists.
Taking Lenin’s descriptions, his apporach and method as their point of departure Marxists of to-day must note that the very development of society has frustrated his hopes regarding these lower strata of the working class, this impoverished majority of proletarians proper.
Economic developments in the world – especially during the last two decades – have brought about a situation in which, in the advanced countries of Western Europe and North America, it is no longer only a minority of the working class that is getting a share of the super profits from the monopoly of the old capitalist world of modern industry, know-how and capital. This goes for the working class as a whole.
As mentioned above Engels saw that now and again, as a temporary phenomenon, the working class as a whole got a share in the colonial plunder. Lenin saw that the tendency towards bribery and the ensuing spread of petty-bourgeois ideology were intensified during the first decade of the century; but he also saw that this tendency diminished during and after World War I. To-day Marxists must note that this was a transitory phase, that things did not develop as Lenin had hoped, that the tendency was once again intensified. The bribing of the working class and the spread of bourgeois ideology among the workers were intensified to such a degree that not even the renewed temporary diminution during and after World War II led to the slightest indication of a possibility of socialist revolution.
Of course, Lenin was right when, like Marx and Engels, he maintained that the correct revolutionary policy regarding the workers must be to go beyond the bribed stratum with its petty bourgeois way of life and to talk directly to the impoverished majority of proletarians proper. He was right, since at the time there did actually exist such an impoverished majority, such proletarians proper.
However, this policy is of no avail in the advanced capitalist-imperialist countries of to-day.
The process of decolonisation, the new forms of unequal trade between rich and poor countries, the many times increased capital export (including the capital export which takes place among the imperialist countries themselves), the establishment of western owned industries in former colonial and dependant countries, the entire new technological revolution, the rise of the “consumers’ society” – in short the rapid capitalist development during the post-war years, especially from the middle of the 1950’s – all this has created an entirely new situation. Applying. Marx’, Engels’ and Lenin’s principles, approach and method on this new reality, you can arrive at only one result:
In the advanced industrialised, imperialist countries of to-day there is no longer an impoverished majority of workers outside the bribed minority, to whom revolutionaries can speak. They are all bribed. In these countries there are no proletarians in the proper sense of the word.
It is the very development of modern capitalism that has led to this result. It is precisely this very deep and indissoluble connection between imperialism – the stage of development of capitalism in the 20th century – and opportunism, the lack of revolutionary willingness to sacrifice, the lack of revolutionary spirit in the working class, which we can and should learn from Marx, Engels and Lenin as a first prerequisite of any meaningfull revolutionary, political activity in our part of the world to-day.
Lenin expressly warned against those in the working class movement who rejected his demonstration of the economic roots of the ever growing opportunism in the capitalist development itself, and who did so on the grounds that to them “the cause would be hopeless” if advanced capitalism did lead to a strengthening of opportunism, and if the best paid workers tended towards opportunism.
Marxists should never try to cast a veil over reality, and reality fully confirms Lenin’s demonstration. It is precisely the advanced capitalism-imperialism of the West that has imbued the working class with an increasing imperialist desire for conquest and plunder.
One of the special features of advanced capitalism is monopoly. As mentioned before, it was the English monopoly which made the English workers the then best paid workers of the world and thereby susceptible to the ideological consequences of bribery. It was the joint industrial and colonial monopoly of the imperialist countries which made the workers of these countries follow the Social-Democratic leaders and join the bourgeoisie of their respective countries in the imperialist robber war. It is present-day advanced capitalist countries’ joint monopoly of modern technique, of know-how and of capital which, during the last decades, has turned the workers of these countries into one big labour aristocracy.
This inescapable fact does not make “the cause hopeless”. But, as Lenin quite correctly stressed, it does make it much more difficult for the workers of the West than for those of Russia of 1917 to carry through the socialist revolution. This, too, is a fact to which one should not close one’s mind.
“Unless the economic roots of this phenomenon are understood and its political and social significance is appreciated, not a step can be taken towards the solution of the practical problems of the communist movement and of the impending social revolution.”
It is a necessary condition for revolutionary socialist activity to understand and appreciate the disease within the working class and its economic roots – and here we are above all concerned with Western Europe, of which we are a part. However, this does not provide a definition of the nature of this revolutionary socialist activity.
We do know something about this activity, but as yet we do not know everything.
First of all, we do of course know quite a lot about what revolutionaries should n o t do to-day, and that is quite simply everything the Social Democratic, Socialist and “Communist” parties of all shades are doing.
We know that revolutionaries do not participate in the administration of imperialist society, that they do not implore the capitalists yet again to improve the conditions of the workers. We know that, on the contrary, they must do their utmost to prepare the workers for revolution by telling them that this revolution will call for sacrifices, and that they must be willing to make those sacrifices.
We know that revolutionaries do not participate in the preparation of plans to safeguard the capitalist system against crises and difficulties. We know that, on the contrary, they must try to prepare the workers to welcome such crises and, if possible, to contribute towards their arrival.
It is also abundantly clear to us, however, that only a new economic development, which will either break up the monopoly of the advanced capitalist world or cause this very world to end in deadlock, can create a social situation in which the working class will listen to and understand these things.
Before the immediate tasks of revolutionaries in imperialist countries can be determined, a number of questions must first be answered. Thus the present task above all consists in asking and answering these other questions.
Lenin defined the task of the revolutionaries in the West as follows: “To be able to seek, find and correctly determine the specific path, or the particular turn of events that will lead the masses to the real, decisive and final revolutionary struggle.”
This task was never carried out, and since Lenin’s days it has been made infinitely more difficult precisely by the fact that to-day the “masses” in Lenin’s sense of the word do not exist. Therefore, the task facing revolutionaries in 1973 may rather be said to consist in seeking and finding the path, the turn of events which will recreate such “masses”, re-create this proletariat proper in the western world.
Generally speaking we know that one day capitalism will develop to the point of its own death. However, we must acquire a much more precise idea – perhaps knowledge – of how, or along what path, this will come about.
Engels expected that the very fact that England was about to loose her industrial and colonial monopoly would have the effect that revolution was already on its way there. However, as has been pointed out, what happened was that the other advanced countries gradually came to share the monopoly with England.
Will the social pre-conditions of revolution be created only when this joint imperialist monopoly has been broken? When, in other words, the former colonial and dependent countries, which are as yet industrially undeveloped and poor in capital, have acquired for themselves, in ways as yet unknown, their own industry and their own capital on such a scale that they can seriously compete with the old capitalist countries?
Will capitalism and the specific capitalist industrial development spread all over the world before it has exhausted all its possibilities and – through its own development – end in a crisis that simply necessitates socialist revolution as the sole possibility for human survival?
To-day already there are indications in the new countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America of an inherent tendency towards independence directed against our part of the world, on which they are still partly dependent and which they partly feed. Can this tendency towards independence and its economic consequences for us create a revolutionary situation here, before development has run as far as just described? Will the revolutionary situation be brought about merely through the economic consequences of an extended boycott of raw materials, or will it be created only during or after a (very possible) war, started by the old capitalist powers in an effort to stop such a boycott?
It m a y still take quite a long time before the arrival of the revolutionary situation – unavoidable in the long run and always desirable – but things m a y also run fast. Revolutionaries must follow events with the greatest attention and be prepared whatever happens.
The world has changed since Lenin’s days, and that part of his definition of imperialism, which deals with the possession of colonies, is hardly valid to-day. That means that also the main background of the two world wars of this century – the struggle for the territorial re-partition of the earth – has ceased to exist. This in no way implies that the possibility of new imperialist world wars – i.e. new major wars among imperialist countries themselves – can be excluded. It only means that the race of the imperialist powers for sources of raw materials, for markets for goods and for capital is assuming other forms than hitherto and giving rise to other constellations of imperialist countries than before. What role will the so-called multinational companies play in this context?
One thing is certain: In order to carry out revolutionary activity in the advanced capitalist countries today it is more than ever necessary for us to have a well-founded knowledge of all classes in all countries of major importance, of the most important economic trends not only here at home, not only in the imperialist world, in the Soviet Union or in China, but in all parts of the world.
To-day neither we, nor for all we know anybody else in Western Europe are fulfilling this pre-condition for revolutionary, activity; but one day we shall do so!
Om forfatteren / About the Writer
Gotfred Appel, Formand og ideologisk leder af Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds fra 1964 til splittelsen i 1978. Gotfred Appel fortsatte sammen med Ulla Houton under navnet Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds, KAK.
Gotfred Appel, Chairperson and ideological leader of the Danish Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds, KAK (Communist Working Circle, CWC) from 1964 till the splitt in 1978. Gotfred Appel continuned with Ulla Houton as Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds, KAK.