In the previous issue of Vanguard we reviewed Seeing Red, Being Green, by former Communist Party activist Dennis Hill. We have since received the following article in reply from Mr Hill, which, we think readers will agree, raises a number of interesting points.
YOUR VERY fair-minded reviewer, Tom Acton, says of my book that it is thought-provoking. It is reasonable to draw attention to my views on nationalities but I hope your readers will not ignore the social content of what I have written. In regard to this, may I say how pleased I was to see the Steve Brady report, 'At The Crossroads', in which acknowledgement is made of certain positive achievements of the Soviet Union? Of course, no-one would cite material standards as an illustration of Soviet advance but it was perfectly correct to point to progress in the spheres of education, health, science, and the inculcation of social values.
Steve Brady explains the Soviet record in promoting intellectual and spiritual aims, and he contrasts these with the shoddiness of Western materialism and consumerism. It was refreshing, and unexpected, to read such an honest evaluation. The moral appeal of the Communist systems is something I wrote quite a lot about (was it only a year ago?) and l had not thought to see this confirmed in the pages of Vanguard!
Tom Acton says that my book, Seeing Red, teaches respect for one's political opponents: I believe we are now reaching a stage where one may have differences of opinion without necessarily being at each other's throats. The more intelligent sections of the British population have always desired to see a serious reconstruction of Great Britain and the abolition of the pernicious English class system. It is the fact that for many years this was seen as being possible only through the radical Left. Only a drastic reform of society can slough off the inertia, complacency, and self-seeking, of bourgeois society. Clearly, what all of us desire is a radicalism which is national in form, yet social in content.
In an era in which the Left is obliged to discuss fundamentals, and to re-evaluate much which has previously been taken for granted, it would be shortsighted to neglect the possibility to create some common ground between radicals who had previously opposed each other from entrenched positions. These sterile hostilities arose from what Marxists themselves would label a 'false consciousness'. These differences basically arose from a divergent analysis of the roots of economic exploitation, and from a leftwing gut-reaction against the imperialism so prevalent before 1914.
This spirit of 'Marxist internationalism', to which Tom Acton refers, was probably inevitable as a response to outmoded colonialism which, in economic terms, was of doubtful benefit to the British working class. The administration and occupation of the British Empire cost our people (the taxpayers) huge sums, whereas the profits accrued to the ruling class only. All of this was soon followed by the mindless slaughter of the first World War, in which huge numbers of working men were fed into a mincing-machine at the behest of an effete and bumbling ruling class. It is hardly surprising that militant workers derided appeals to patriotism when confronted by the legendary callousness and incompetence of an officer corps drawn exclusively from bourgeois circles. This class could neither manage industry effectively, nor fight a modern war.
I believe we can now see, with historical hindsight, that opposition to the ruling class led to a leftwing over-reaction in which the greater interests of the nation were confused with denying loyalty to 'the boss-class'. In point of fact, this traditional internationalism was eventually superseded by 'Stalinism', which was a form of National Communism. This emerged in the 1930s when Stalin adopted a programme of 'Socialism in One Country'. This was precisely the grievance of the Trotskyist opposition. The orthodox, or mainstream, Communist Parties all became Stalinist. The record of Communists during most of World War Two was an extremely patriotic one, to the point of Trotskyist despair.
However, it is a complicated matter, with many wrinkles, which cannot be covered in a few lines. After 1945, the various East European communist states were all 'Stalinist' in that they all pursued the national interests of their respective countries. Whatever lip-service was paid to internationalism, each of these countries strove to be self-sufficient, to the point of concealed conflict with each other, but every political movement is trapped by the rhetoric of the past. Even Stalin could never formally abandon the Leninist dream.
The 'internationalism' of the traditional Left can be understood, but what of the attitude of many younger people? This new generation has not suffered the privation of the pre-war working class but it has inherited a certain tradition, the basis for which has been discarded by many older militants. In the meantime a whole generation has been reared and indoctrinated with 'multi-racial' notions imparted in schools and universities, and endless Hollywood productions. This arises not as a working-class reaction to the ruling class but as a result of attempted social engineering by the clique which controls our society. False notions and false attitudes abound within the Left. They cannot be countered by a "bash-the Reds" philosophy, but require serious study.
In regard to capitalism itself, various schools of thought need to climb down from previous fixed positions. Marxists must abandon the cant that nationalist radicals represent a terrorist wing of monopoly-capital. They must also reconsider the foundation of Marxist economic belief, which holds that 'surplus-value' is the source of ruling class wealth and power. That is to say, Marxists have really only been interested in capitalism at the point of production. Yet there is another source of wealth and power, and it is the form of usury now known as finance-capital. This, too, imposes intolerable burdens on the working class of any nation.
Marxists have been wrong to underestimate this; just as those who see finance-capital as the main enemy have been wrong to ignore the swindle that takes place in productive capitalism. Both forms of exploitation need to be opposed and regulated. Regulation is the word: arguments about precise forms of ownership are futile. Nationalisation has proved to be incompetent in the productive and service sectors. State ownership may well be necessary in the sphere of the infrastructure and in basic services, such as communications, transport, education, energy, health, and so on. At the same time, nationalists of the misnamed Radical Right must abandon the nonsense that Marxism is part of a giant Jewish-banker's swindle. This requires a major re-think, but there can be no meeting-of-the-minds between people who are hopelessly trapped by the self-created blinkers of dogma.
What has been taking place in Eastern Europe is, essentially, a middle-class counter-revolution. Let no-one imagine that the outcome will necessarily benefit the workers of that region. The middle-class has not seized power for any purpose other than to benefit itself. Those elements, long labelled as 'petit-bourgeois' by Marxists, will reap their harvest in the way of greater privileges and higher incomes. The working people will be pushed into social inferiority when confronted by greatly-widened pay-differentials, and the threat of large scale unemployment. The Zionists, who took such an active part in destabilising the Communist regimes, will reap their reward also. They will achieve a longstanding ambition - to shift millions of the Ostjuden to an already overcrowded Israel.
Some interesting points merge. What appears to have happened is that the various East European regimes lost the will to govern. A hundred thousand people in a city square, led by vocal middle-class organisers, could not have achieved very much if the ruling authorities had called the tanks out. Why did the ruling caste abdicate? True, much of the local armed forces would have consisted of conscripts and might have had divided loyalties.
The 'generatlonal conflict'. Spanish children of the 1940s rejected Franco when they grew up. Is this the case with all authoritarian regimes?
Nevertheless, sufficient professionals (career-soldiers, necessary in any sophisticated army) were on hand and it is unbelievable that the toppled governments could not have used riot police, tanks, aircraft, and all the rest of it. They chose not to. This fact is of extreme interest.
A certain analogy could be drawn with Spain. There, too, an authoritarian regime meekly surrendered power just a few years ago. It prompts the question: is there something implicit in totalitarian systems which self-destructs after four or five decades? None of these regimes has ever solved the problem of legitimate succession for a retiring or deceased Head of State. None of them has ever been able to provide a proper framework for dissent, discussion, and debate. Seemingly, none has ever recruited ideologically-sound, second-tier, leaders to replace the original revolutionary leadership when it is too old to carry on. The hard fact is that, once the Communist states were established, membership of the ruling party was frequently merely a passport for a better job, for promotion, or for key positions in the State. This was probably the case in Spain also. Had it survived, it might well have been the case in the Third Reich.
Anyone who favours an authoritarian mode of government will now need to give serious thought to the lessons from Eastern Europe. There was a whole mix of reasons why ruling Communist governments became unpopular, including nationalist sentiment, dissatisfaction with economic conditions, and inherent generation-conflict. None of this explains the apparent suicide of those who held the state-power in their hands. One might at least have expected them to have gone down fighting.
Mao Tse Tung launched a 'cultural revolution' in the 1960s in an apparent bid to undermine his colleagues in the Chinese government. Mao argued that it was necessary for society to experience periodic revolution in order to resolve the tensions which an inevitable generation-conflict had build up. He argued that, in any case, all leaders become corrupted and lose touch with the masses. If he had thought it through a little further he might also have discovered that, after a certain period in office, an existing leadership becomes exhausted and loses the will to govern.
In the past few years it has become increasingly evident that the leftwing was no longer a possible vehicle for radical reform. There is reason to believe that we have entered a historical era in which the mass of the people has rejected classic leftwing objectives. If this is so, then the old-style Left offers little opportunity for the reconstruction of society in the forseeable future. This does not mean that Socialism is forever dead, because the basic socialistic impulse of caring people will remain. In the meantime, the working class will continue to pursue limited and defensive objectives through the medium of the trade unions. Radicals will certainly wish to help them in doing so, while attempting to lead the more far-seeing elements into a greater level of political understanding.
We now enter a longish period in which we shall not necessarily look to socialism for the desired social and moral regenerating of our country and of our continent. This appears to accord with world opinion generally, in which we have seen various populations repudiating Socialist structures in a whole host of countries - in Eastern Europe, in Latin America, in France, West Germany and Italy, and possibly in the Soviet Union itself. This has been accompanied by the abolition of the sealed frontier between East and West.
"So much of the general world-view of the last one-hundred years has been coloured and influenced by Karl Marx's view of history that it is only now that we are beginning to realise that we have come to the end of a whole age."
This was the recent opinion of Alan Booth, one-time director of Christian-Aid. He goes on to say that the belief that human rationality could uncover the inner contradictions of our economic and social system was a heady dream which supplied the dynamics of the Communist revolutions. One does not need to be a Christian critic to appreciate the substance of this argument.