An International Outlook
MILITANT HAS never been at all parochial or limited to just national horizons. Even when Militant had very few co-thinkers outside Britain, it always proceeded from an international standpoint. Socialism is international or it is nothing.
The great historical merit of capitalism was to develop the world market which made possible world history for the first time. In linking all countries together in one interdependent whole, it also developed the working class, whose interests transcended national boundaries.
"...To robbery, butchery and rapine, they give the lying name 'Government.' They create a desolation and call it peace." (Tacitus in 98 AD, on the Roman Emperors) Alan Hardman anti-Vietnam cartoon.
"Imperialism" is used by Marxists to describe the economic domination (and in the past direct military control also) of the advanced industrial countries of Europe, America and Japan over the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. If anything their economic weight compared to the ex-colonial world has grown enormously in the last few decades.
The giant transnationals both exploit the workers in the advanced industrial countries and super-exploit those in the "Third World". In the age of 'globalisation', of the General Agreement on Tariffs arid Trade (GATT), of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), of the shifting of capital from one country to another, it is evident that the working class needs to organise: first on a continental and then on a world scale. This is obviously necessary at the level of trade unions. The transnationals close down factories in the advanced industrial countries, shifting them to areas of 'low labour costs'.
Some workers are beginning to see the need to put forward the common claims of workers on a continental basis - in Europe this ill be the trend in the next period. A worldwide trade union drive is also necessary.
No less is the need to organise politically on a world scale. Right from the outset Militant, perhaps more than any other journal in Britain, gave a big part of its pages over to international coverage.
In our second issue we covered the fall of Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union. "Stalinism" is a term used by Marxists since the time of Leon Trotsky in the 1930s to describe the political regimes of Russia, Eastern Europe, Cuba, China, etc, which rested on nationalised planned economies. They were one-party totalitarian regimes, where a privileged bureaucratic elite dominated the state and society. The development of these countries, particularly of the USSR, was a big issue for Marxists. Militant pointed to the achievements of the USSR:
Militant stood by Trotsky's analysis, supporting the gains of the planned economy but calling for an additional political revolution to bring about genuine socialist democracy.
The crisis within the bureaucratic elite, reflected in the removal of Khrushchev, indicated:
In the first formative years of Militant the key international issue was the Vietnam war. In the analysis of the causes of the war, as well as the formulation of demands to be taken up by the labour movement, Militantís coverage, while not as comprehensive as other journals, stands out as a shining example of the ability of Marxism to analyse and foresee events. As early as 1967, we pointed out:
Lyndon Johnson, the US president who had replaced Kennedy after his assassination in 1963, had found his promise of a 'great society' being wasted away in the paddy fields of Vietnam. Even mighty US imperialism could not pursue a policy of 'guns and butter'. Arthur Schlesinger, former special assistant to Kennedy, wrote in 1967:
Thus early on, Militant pointed to the colossal contradictions in the position of US imperialism. If the US continued the war, it would mean a huge increase in arms expenditure, which in turn would mean a slashing of social expenditure at home, which was bound to lead to a revolt, particularly of the poor in the US. There would inevitably be more and more US fatalities. This would open up huge social divisions which could paralyse the military intervention in Vietnam.
No other political grouping was prepared to make such a bold prediction at a very early stage in the war. The victory of the Vietnamese would be a shattering blow to imperialism, particularly to the US giant, giving enormous impetus to the struggles of the workers and peasants throughout Asia. However, while Militant supported the struggle of the workers and peasants in Vietnam for national and social liberation, it did not uncritically support, as others did, the Stalinist leaders in North Vietnam and their counterparts leading the movement in the South.
Because of the social forces involved, predominantly peasant masses struggling for land and freedom from imperialism, any successful regime which would emerge from this struggle would not be a 'socialist' one. It would be a regime on the model of China or the Soviet Union, with a planned economy but ruled by a one-party totalitarian regime.
Others, claiming to be Marxist or even 'Trotskyist', gave uncritical support to the Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF). Because of the prevailing mood of uncritical adulation of the NLF leader Ho Chi Minh, on demonstrations the students mindlessly chanted 'Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh". Some found themselves at the head of big movements of the youth in opposition to the Vietnam war, but they were not capable of substantially increasing their forces because their intervention was based on a false premise. As they were uncritically tail-ending the Stalinist leadership of the NLF, something they would repeat in all movements of a 'national liberationist' type, what point was there in workers or youth involved in that struggle joining them? Far better to identify with the real McCoy, that is Stalinism itself.
Militantís slogans were clear: 'For the withdrawal of US imperialism and all imperialist forces.' The result of this would have been the collapse of the South Vietnamese regime, as subsequent events demonstrated. It was a puppet regime propped up by US bayonets.
The Working Class
Marx did not refer to the organised working class by accident. Only this class, organised and disciplined by large-scale production and industry, could develop the necessary social cohesion and combativity to carry through the tasks of the socialist revolution. The peasantry, by its very nature, is divided into different strata, the upper levels tending to merge with the capitalists. The lower levels of the peasantry are closer to the working class and, through economic ruin, tend to fall into the ranks of the working class. The same holds for the modern middle classes, both of the town and country areas.
Echoing the arguments of the ruling class, many 'Marxists' considered that the working class in the advanced industrial countries had been bought off, become 'bourgeoisified', and was therefore no longer the main agent for socialist change. This led them to seek salvation elsewhere, either in Tito in Yugoslavia, hailed as an 'unconscious' Trotskyist, or Mao Zedong or Fidel Castro. Echoing the false theories of those like Frantz Fanon (who based himself on the experience of the Algerian Revolution), the poor peasantry, the 'Fedayin' and guerrilla armies were seen as the forces to liberate the world from the yoke of landlordism and capitalism. The 'epicentre' of the world struggle for socialism now lay in the colonial and semi-colonial world.
Militant explained the significance of the events in the colonial and former-colonial world. The movement for national liberation, involving two-thirds of humankind, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s represented one of the most splendid movements in history. Millions of imperialism's slaves in Asia, Africa and Latin America threw off the chains of direct imperialist military domination, stepped onto the scene of history and tried to take their fate into their own hands.
Nevertheless, from a world point of view, the decisive forces for socialist change were still concentrated in the advanced industrial countries. This did not mean that the masses in the colonial and semi-colonial world should 'wait' until the workers of Europe, Japan and North America were ready to move into action. On the contrary, Militant gave support to the movement of the colonial peoples, both politically and organisationally, even when it was under the leadership of bourgeois or pro-bourgeois forces. This was done in solidarity with this movement and also because all blows against imperialism in the 'underdeveloped world' would ultimately benefit the struggle for socialism in the advanced industrial countries and on a world scale.
Because these movements were largely based on the peasants they were by their very nature limited. Even at that stage, Militant pointed to the future awakening of the working class in the former colonial and semi-colonial world. Decades of industrialisation and urbanisation had developed to the point where the strengthening proletariat was potentially the most powerful movement for change.
Even in the 1960s, Militant also pointed to the increased social tension, bordering on civil war, between the classes which had developed in some of the advanced or semi-advanced countries of Europe.
Turning Point: France 1968
In April 1968, Ernest Mandel, leader of the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International, spoke at a meeting in Caxton Hall, London, to his followers. On behalf of Militant, I spoke from the floor, questioning Mandel's writing-off of the working class of the industrial countries. Mandel's reply was that the working class of the advanced industrial countries was quiescent, was likely to remain so as long as the US dollar remained stable, and that this situation would not change for at least 20 years. His conclusion was that the 'epicentre' of the world revolution had shifted to the former colonial and semi-colonial world.
One month later, events erupted in Paris which were to culminate in the greatest general strike in history. Ten million workers occupied the factories and even the representatives of the French ruling class believed they faced overthrow.
Militant hailed the movement in France with the front-page slogan: "All power to French workers!"
The student movement began around relatively minor demands in one area, but after being attacked by the police, rapidly became a national mass campaign which preceded the movement of the working class:
Our conclusion was:
Militant called for the organisation of councils of action to be spread in every factory and workplace, to be linked together on a district, regional and national level.
Unfortunately, the French 'communist' and 'socialist' leaders were more terrified of the movement than the government and the French ruling class. After the events, The Economist commented:
And yet de Gaulle, President of France, in the midst of these events, admitted to the US Ambassador to France at the time Sargent Shriver: 'As for the future, Mr Ambassador, it depends not on us, it depends on God!' 9 He believed that 'communism was about to triumph in France and accordingly fled to Baden Baden in West Germany. There he conferred with the commander of the French NATO troops, General Massu. In exchange for de Gaulle's promise to free some of the right-wing generals and army officers involved in the military revolts in Algeria in the early 1960s, Massu promised, if necessary, to march his troops on Paris. Massu had himself been implicated in these military revolts and linked to these generals
But his help was not needed. To the astonishment of the representatives of the ruling class, the Communist Party competed with the Gaullists as the party of law and order. Later their election posters declaimed: "Against disorders, and against anarchy Ė vote Communist".
The movement was derailed by a combination of the cowardice of the workers' leaders and the promise of elections by de Gaulle. The disappointment of the working class, and sections of the middle class, at the failure to capitalise on the revolutionary opportunity which existed in May-June 1968 led to the defeat of the workers' parties in the subsequent election. Nevertheless, as we pointed out:
The French revolution - and that is what the May-June events represented the beginning of - was a turning point for the labour movement in France and internationally. It put to the test all trends and groupings.
Not just the official leadership of the movement, but all the numerous groupings of various sizes were found wanting. One of the largest, the LCR (Revolutionary Communist league) in France, based its approach on the absolutely false theory that the students were the 'leaders' and detonators of the revolution. They advanced some hare-brained ideas in the course of the May-June events.
Ten million workers had spontaneously occupied the factories. And yet this tendency produced a leaflet distributed to the workers of Paris with a quote from Lenin from 1901 alleging that 'socialist consciousness could only be brought to the working class from the outside, that is by the intellectuals.'
This quote, subsequently repudiated by Lenin, has been used by some organisations to try and justify their attempts to impose their own brand of 'leadership' on the labour movement. The history of the working-class movement shows that this idea is absolutely false.
Chartism, the first independent working-class political movement, took shape before Marx had developed the ideas of scientific socialism. The ideas of socialism existed in both the German and French workers' movements before Marx and Engels. The Paris Commune was not an invention of Marx, but arose from the experiences of the French Parisian masses through the Franco-Prussian war and subsequent siege of Paris.
Marx generalised the experience of the working class, as did Lenin and Trotsky. But it was not they who, for instance, invented the idea of 'Soviets' but the workers of St Petersburg in the 1905 Russian revolution. Marxism can sum up the experiences of the working class in the form of a perspective and programme. But genuine Marxism has nothing in common with the those who believe that the working class and the labour movement is merely putty to be moulded at will by 'socialist intellectuals'. The workers of Paris, when they read the LCR leaflet, looked at the LCR members in puzzlement, shrugged their shoulders, and got on with the business of trying to carry the movement forward.
The events of the 1960s left an indelible impression on the consciousness of all who lived through them. In France it led directly to a movement on the political plane with the reformation and filling out of the Socialist Party in the early 1970s.
It also had a profound effect in Britain. Youthful supporters of Militant reported that their rather conservative parents and the older generation in general were enormously revived by the French events. Many dared to hope during May-June 1968 that a new, socialist society was finally within the grasp of the working class.
There is little doubt that if the French workers had taken power it would have spread like a prairie fire throughout the whole of Europe. This was shown by the upheavals which were taking place in Italy almost on the level of France. There was also turmoil in Germany where the student movement initially was, if anything, on a more advanced level than that in France in May-June 1968. There was also the rumbling opposition to the Franco dictatorship in Spain and the Caetano authoritarian regime in Portugal. Both regimes were on their last legs and a new generation of workers inspired by socialist and communist ideas had arisen.
1968 will be forever remembered as a political turning point in the post-1945 period. The outlook of millions of workers throughout the world profoundly changed.