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160 Years of the Communist Manifesto: Its Importance for the contemporary revolutionary strategy

“The Communist Manifesto” was published for the first time 160 years ago, in London, in February-March 1848. It was commissioned to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels by the 2nd Congress of the Communist League in order to be used as its program.

In “The Communist Manifesto” Marx and Engels established for the first time in history the place of the capitalist formation in human history, as well as its inevitable overthrow. In “The Communist Manifesto” Marx and Engels revealed the irreconcilable inner contradictions of bourgeois society, the fact that the two main antagonistic classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, constantly conduct an uncompromising struggle. The contradiction of capital and labour is the main contradiction of capitalism. Social development is directed towards its resolution.

The epochal role of the proletariat as gravedigger of the capitalist society and builder of communism, as the only class that is consistent to the end and struggles for the interests of all the oppressed, is revealed and theoretically substantiated. By the abolition of capitalist property on the means of production and its replacement with social, communist property, the proletariat will relieve society from capitalist oppression.

This fundamental thesis of The Manifesto has caused strife in the labour movement through all these 160 years. The bourgeoisie has relentlessly fought this thesis, since the proletariat appears in it as its main historical opponent, something which endangers bourgeois power. This thesis has also been fought by opportunist currents, that is by forces within the labour movement, which are bearers of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology. Those who have adopted such views, have succumbed to the bourgeoisie and have given up revolutionary struggle in individual countries, but also internationally.

Following the publication of The Manifesto and based on the lessons of the Paris Commune, Marx and Engels focused on the laws of class struggle, the leading role of proletariat in revolution and the guiding role of its vanguard, of the revolutionary party.

Bourgeois revolutions gave great impetus to the development of capitalist relations. During 1850-1870 the working class developed greatly. In all leading capitalist countries (England, Germany, the USA etc.) working class militant trade union organisations appeared serving as a basis for the further rise of the labour movement. The necessity for elevating the ideological and political level of class struggle and for achieving unity of action led in 1864 to the creation of the International Working Men’s Association (First International).

The progress of the development of capitalism and of the labour movement brought the working class to the forefront of history during the Paris Commune of 1871. The working class, at that time, conquered power and organised its own state, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Even though the working class did not succeed in preserving its victory, it proved its historic role as the leading class for all the oppressed strata.

As Lenin wrote: “The thunder of the cannon in Paris awakened the most backward sections of the proletariat from their deep slumber, and everywhere gave impetus to the growth of revolutionary socialist propaganda. That is why the cause of the Commune is not dead.»

The authors of The Communist Manifesto declared that the working class can accomplish this task only by means of revolutionary violence against the bourgeoisie, by means of the proletarian socialist revolution.

Of course, the conditions change constantly. At the end of the 19th century monopolies appeared and later on became dominant. In the developed capitalist countries free competition has been replaced by monopoly competition. The era of bourgeois revolutions was over for Europe. Class struggle became more acute, as shown by the great strikes in France, Belgium, England and the USA.

The first working class parties were created. This was yet another step towards the transformation of the working class into a “class for itself” and its emancipation from the bourgeois-democratic movement.

In the era of monopoly capitalism, that is imperialism, the working class led the world revolutionary process, conducting victorious socialist revolutions, starting with the socialist revolution of October 1917 in Russia, and continuing approximately for the next five decades.

The working class organised its own states of the dictatorship of the proletariat in approximately 1/3 of the world, accomplishing considerable achievements and gains for the peoples of these, as well as of other countries. It led massive resistance movements and revolutions. However, it did not always succeed to conclude them victoriously, due to the negative correlation of forces or because of weaknesses and strategic mistakes.

Marx and Engels showed the necessity for the creation of a proletarian political party. They defined its tasks and its relation to the working class.

They formulated and theoretically supported the idea of proletarian dictatorship, as the true content of working class power. «…the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.» .

Marx and Engels stressed that one of the main principles of communists is the recognition of the international character of the struggle against capital. The basis of this principle is proletarian internationalism, which runs though the entire content of the Manifesto.

They made important observations on issues of strategy and tactics of the proletarian party. It is noted in the Manifesto that communists are members of the revolutionary party, which stands out due to its consistency. «The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.» .

This subject-matter was and is an important issue of ideological and political controversy among the consistent revolutionary forces and various opportunist currents and views in the international political labour movement.

By the end of the 19th century E. Bernstein had already developed his well known reformist views on the economic and political reforms within the framework of capitalism, where the main means of struggle of the proletariat is the parliament. Today, mutatis mutandis, these theses attempt to present the periods of capitalism, which are not followed by revolutionary ascent and by generalized imperialist wars, as periods whereby class interests are in harmony. They try to show that revolutionary struggles have been historically outdated, that there is a peaceful evolutionary path to socialism and therefore Marxism became old-fashioned and should be revised.

The objective fact of the development of capitalism, of the transition in the beginning of the 20th century to the monopoly-imperialist stage, required the development of Marxism by the revolutionary forces according to the new data, not its revision. This task had been accomplished by Lenin in a series of his works, analysing the social roots of opportunism.

These “theories” have been constantly returning in the communist movement throughout the entire 20th century, after the great victory of the October Socialist Revolution, during World War II and later on.

According to these views, the economic struggle of the working class, should be separated from its political struggle, from the struggle aiming at workers’ power, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Intense ideological struggle and controversy has developed around this decisive strategic issue between Marxists and the opportunist currents which often use extracts from The Communist Manifesto in order to distort Marxism.

Lenin, for example, stressed that the point of view that Marxism was the theoretical expression of the then prevailing practice, namely of the supremacy of the political struggle over the economic struggle, was totally wrong. In fact, the opposite was true. Marxism appeared when “non political socialism” prevailed and “The Communist Manifesto” immediately adopted a stance against it. Even when Marxism was theoretically fully armed (with Marx’s “Capital”) and organised the “International Working Men’s Association”, political struggle was not the one that prevailed (there was trade unionism in England, anarchism and proudonism in Latin countries). Lenin wrote: “In Germany the great historic service performed by Lassalle was the transformation of the working class from an appendage of the liberal bourgeoisie into an independent political party. Marxism linked up the economic and the political struggle of the working class into a single inseparable whole.”

Lenin made a significant remark:

“Only when the individual worker realises that he is a member of the entire working class, only when he recognises the fact that his petty day-to-day struggle against individual employers and individual government officials is a struggle against the entire bourgeoisie and the entire government, does his struggle become a class struggle” . According to Marx “every class struggle is a political struggle”. Lenin underlined that it is wrong to consider that every struggle of the workers against their bosses is always a political struggle. We must realize that workers’ struggle against the capitalists acquires political dimension as long as it becomes a class struggle. This is precisely the task of a revolutionary party: to convert the spontaneous struggle against its oppressors into a struggle of the entire working class, by organizing the workers, with its propaganda and spreading of socialist ideas.

The communist movement is the “merging of the theory of socialism with the labor movement” (Kautsky’s definition adopted by Lenin). The main task of the Communist Party is to spread socialist consciousness in the spontaneous labor movement, to connect the movement with the socialist beliefs corresponding to contemporary science, to link it with the methodical political struggle. It to create indissoluble bonds between this spontaneous movement and the action of the revolutionary party.

A “theory” that has been spread since the time of Lenin, is the one that verbally recognizes as a task of the labor movement the political struggle, the struggle to attain state power. However, in practice, it disassociates this struggle from the immediate and intermediate goals, arguing that the masses of the workers are not yet mature to struggle for political goals.

On these arguments Lenin commented: “I wonder if the people who say such things are social-democrats (meaning: communists)”.

He added the following remark:

“The Russian workers have not, in the mass, attained the maturity for political struggle”! If this is true, it is tantamount to a death sentence for Social-Democracy as a whole; for it means that the Russian workers have not, in the mass, reached the maturity necessary for Social-Democracy. In actual fact, there is not and never has been a Social-Democracy anywhere in the world that is not inseparably and indivisibly bound up with the political struggle. Social-Democracy without the political struggle is a river without water, it is a howling contradiction, it is either something in the nature of a return to the utopian socialism of our forefathers who despised “politics,” or to anarchism, or to trade-unionism.

The first profession de foi of world socialism, the Communist Manifesto, established a truth that has since become an elementary verity—that every class struggle is a political struggle, that the working-class movement only then grows out of its embryonic state, its infancy, and becomes a class movement when it makes the transition to the political struggle” .

Lenin wrote in 1900:

“Our views are in complete accord with the fundamental ideas of Marxism (as expressed in the Communist Manifesto, and in the programmes of Social-Democrats in Western Europe); we stand for the consistent development of these ideas in the spirit of Marx and Engels and emphatically reject the equivocating and opportunist corrections à la Bernstein which have now become so fashionable. As we see it, the task of Social-Democracy is to organise the class struggle of the proletariat, to promote that struggle, to point out its essential ultimate aim, and to analyse the conditions that determine the methods by which this struggle should be conducted. “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” But while we do not separate Social-Democracy from the working-class movement, we must not forget that the task of the former is to represent the interests of this movement in all countries as a whole that it must not blindly worship any particular phase of the movement at any particular time or place. We think that it is the duty of Social-Democracy to support every revolutionary movement against the existing political and social system, and we regard its aim to be the conquest of political power by the working class, the expropriation of the expropriators, and the establishment of a socialist society. We strongly repudiate every attempt to weaken or tone down the revolutionary character of Social Democracy, which is the party of social revolution, ruthlessly hostile to all classes standing for the present social system” .

The international communist movement has also accumulated negative experience. Mainly during the period following World War II and later on, the communist parties in a number of countries did not manage to establish a timely revolutionary strategy for transforming the imperialist war, the struggle against their country’s occupation and dependence into a struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeois capitalist power, for workers’ and people’s power.

That became even more difficult when the right-wing opportunist current, the so-called Eurocommunist” current, exercised its influence in Western Europe. In the name of “national peculiarities” it gave the opportunity to the governmental majorities in parliament, in collaboration with the communists, to supposedly lead towards a “democratic socialist” society through a number of reforms.

This strategy resulted in the consolidation of capitalism. In fact, it has been the easiest way to proceed with the bourgeois reforms counting on the consent of the labour movement –both in the sense of political or trade union organisation. It is not by chance that the communist movement in some countries in Europe (France, Italy, Spain, England etc) was transformed in a social democratic direction, leading eventually to its self-dissolution and rejection of its revolutionary character. Nowadays, we observe similar results, although certainly under worse conditions, in the communist movement in Italy, Spain etc.

Nowadays, in a big part of the communist movement prevail theories that support the possibility of transition to socialism through the parliamentary struggle. They deny the necessity of an all-round confrontation with the monopolies, the imperialist unions, the power of capital, the necessity of prepardness so as to change the forms of struggle, including the armed struggle. These theories limit the action of the labour movement within the confines of the capitalist system. They conceal the fact that there has been no relevant precedent in history of a peaceful, parliamentary transition to socialism through general elections.

Opinions that predominate, as a contemporary malaise of the revolutionary movement, are those exalting the bourgeois institutions, bourgeois democracy, the bourgeois parliament, neglecting the Leninist theory that: “The bourgeois democracy remains “peaceful” as long as the working class does not threaten its power. The more highly developed a democracy is, the more imminent are pogroms or civil war” . They are neglecting that the communists, taking into account the actual conditions in each country, should benefit from their participation in the bourgeois parliament so as to uncover its class character to the masses, as a contemporary dictatorship of the monopolies, to make the labour movement challenge them, freeing the people from institutional illusions that lead to the assimilation and the final inactivation of the labour movement.

Today - even more intensively after the victory of the counterrevolution in 1989-1991 - the opportunist thesis disputing the existence of the working class, and consequently its role in capitalism as well as in the future socialist-communist society, prevails.

This pseudo-theory appears in many forms. Usually, a systematic attempt to vulgarize the criteria defining the concept and the amplitude of the working class, takes place. They try to prove that the working class shrinks referring to the decrease in the number of workers in the manufacturing sector, in some traditional industrial branches, by identifying the working class only with them. They similarly interpret the decrease in the manual labour and the expansion of salaried scientific employment working under capitalist relations.

Reality proves these theses wrong. They conceal that the main scientific Marxist-Leninist criterion for defining working class is that the workers sell their labour power independently of the level of their skills, their knowledge and education. It is that capitalists hire extraneous labour, independently from any industrial branch or the economy in general.

These views also appear in the international communist movement and form major issues of dispute with the forces of opportunism. The most common theories refer to “the end of labour and of the working class”, "the abolition of private capitalist ownership due to the development of technology", "the post-industrial and immaterial society" etc .

According to these theories there is a need for new “revolutionary subjects” such as “the uprising of the masses and youth”.

In Greece these theories are put forward by the forces of SYNASPISMOS. Similar theories have been developed at times by social democracy and traditional bourgeois ideologists.

During the last few years the forces of SYNASPISMOS have expressed their “concern” about “seeking a new subject of the social progress”. Their practice in reality turns against the class movement, as it supports the creation of structures vulnerable to organized manipulation by bourgeois mechanisms. A typical example is the case of the World Social Forum in which forces of different social backgrounds gather: parts of the middle strata, petty-bourgeois intellectuals, parts of the labour aristocracy (in Greece the compromised leadership of the trade union confederations participate in the World Social Forum), organized bourgeois forces such as parts of the state mechanism, bourgeois associations such as Le Monde Diplomatique and various non-governmental organizations. Social democrats, opportunists, reformists and representatives of business associations cooperate in the leadership of the world and regional social forums. All together clearly stand against the class struggle. They support in several ways -not only financially- various organizations and “movements” in order to control every movement that is created worldwide and prevent their radicalism from evolving in an anti-imperialist antimonopoly direction.

These efforts are particularly dangerous especially in periods when the movements of radical forces and the resistance of the oppressed people are developing and tend to threaten imperialist policy.

Modern opportunism regards the developments in the capitalist system as a consequence of the neo-liberal management and puts forward anti-neo-liberal goals of struggle instead of an anti-capitalist direction. These views lead to the compromise of progressive forces. They are also used as an excuse by the forces of the bourgeois labour parties, the forces of social-democracy, who propose the so-called regulation of the global market as an “alternative policy” in order to deal with the capitalist crisis. They protest against specific monopolies e.g. the American ones, without mentioning the European ones. They try to disguise their practice by referring to “another Europe”, a wholly unrealistic aim, as they do not fight against the imperialist EU. In practice they quit fighting at the national level, under the pretext of globalization.

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) opposes these positions and line of struggle. For that reason it has been accused by such forces of following a sectarian policy, of adopting maximalistic goals, of subverting the political unity of left-wing forces and of postponing the solution of people’s problems until the advent of socialism.

However, there cannot be any perspective of an alternative solution for the working class and the poor popular strata without the constant struggle against capitalist power and economy.

As a consequence of the consistent line of struggle of KKE during the last 15 years the struggle in Greece has had certain results, as it has delayed reactionary measures and increased the opposition to the policies of the right-wing and social democratic forces.

This line of struggle is totally opposed to the strategy of some forces that insist on calling themselves communists while at the same time they participate in coalition governments aiming at the anti- neo-liberal management of the capitalist system.

Our Party works for the political revival of the biggest part of the working forces, especially those of a young age, so that they won’t quit fighting and stay forever in the defensive. Of course the people will always be forced to adopt defensive positions until the overthrow of capitalism. The communist Party and the class forces will be in the forefront of these struggles as they have always done. Recent incidents in Greece, in the supermarkets of the multinational corporation Carrefour, in Renault, and in big tourist facilities, where the capitalists where forced by the struggle of the class trade union movement to reverse job dismissals, is an example of gains that the workers can achieve. The class trade unions of workers in the shipyards and in the construction sector which are leaded by communists have also achieved important gains regarding working conditions.

The gains of the workers cannot be achieved without changing the balance of forces, by strengthening the class forces, and without the political strengthening of the Communist Party. Recent developments, the continuous attack against the rights and gains of the people, the capital’s restructuring policies reveal the only possible way to solve people’s problems: social ownership over the means of production, central planning of the economy and workers’ control. Nowadays this is the only way to develop the production not in favour of capitalist profits, but in favour of the workers, realizing the needs of the working class and the poor popular strata.

For KKE the promotion and growth of the fronts of struggle cannot be detached from the strategic goal of conquering state power, from the will of the people to settle the issue of people’s power. That is a necessity that has truly matured in Greek society, since the development of capitalism in the whole world has reached a stage when socialism-communism reveals itself through all the “windows” of today’s society.

The 17th Congress of our Party has outlined the necessity that the entire Party should deeply absorb its strategy and its Program, and achieve a uniform perspective, based on the collective experience, on how to promote them. Our goal is to form a social-political alliance of the anti-imperialist anti-monopoly forces, to fight against the monopolies and the imperialist unions, the bourgeois parties and their alliances, to fight for people’s power and a people’s economy. The fact that all the forces within this Front would not initially have a uniform view regarding the character of the new society does not mean that communists should not impregnate all of their actions with the understanding that socialism is necessary and realistic.

Our Party focuses on its action among the working class. This has to do with the character of the Party as the conscious vanguard of the Class. It also focuses on the youth, as it is a force and a reserve of the movement and because our Party had also suffered a blow in its age composition at the end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s.

In November 2007 the International revolutionary movement celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Great October Revolution of 1917.

Our Party called, through a Declaration of the CC, upon all the communists of Greece to celebrate the 90th anniversary of our Party throughout 2008, bringing forth among the working class and the youth of our country the worldview of Marxism-Leninism and of scientific communism. Of course this should be done in combination with the organization of peoples’ struggles in an anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly direction, in order for the historic role of the working class and the irreplaceable role of the Communist Party to be highlighted.

«A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre […] Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries? Two things result from this fact: I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power. II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their currents, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself.»

The lines above, which form part of the beginning of The Manifesto truly opened a new era for the struggle of the working class, for its emancipation and its organization. It seems that they were written just yesterday. They are alive and current, extremely contemporary and young, exactly because they are truly revolutionary communist.

Article by D. Koutsoumpas, Member of the PB


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