Rajani Palme Dutt 1963

Problems of Contemporary History

Source: Book published by Lawrence and Wishart (London, 1963). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers. Bibliographical details of works cited have been added in instances of their absence in the original notes.



Chapter I: History and Truth

I: History as a Science
II: Contemporary History
III: Historical Truth and Oxford University
IV: The History of Our Epoch
V: Living Battle for Historical Truth

Chapter II: The Cold War

I: A Pioneer Study of the Cold War
II: The Origins of the Cold War
III: Political Theory of the Cold War
IV: Contradictions of the Theory of the Cold War
V: Military Theory of the Cold War
VI: Political and Military Bankruptcy of the Cold War

Chapter III: Delay of the Socialist Revolution in the West

I: Terminology and Reality
II: Allegations of the Disproof of Marxism
III: Marx and the Path of the World Socialist Revolution
IV: Lenin and the Path of the World Socialist Revolution
V: Future of Socialism in the West

Chapter IV: Marxism and Socialism in Britain

I: Contradiction of the Present Period
II: Marx and Britain
III: Revisionist Offensive
IV: Marx and the British Labour Movement
V: Marx and the Fight for Socialism in the British Labour Movement
VI: Lenin on Britain and the British Labour Movement
VII: Advance of Marxism in Britain
VIII: Towards the Victory of Marxism and Socialism in Britain
IX: Conclusion


Contemporary history is a dangerous subject to handle. It is full of explosive material. Much essential information will not be known until many years later, as documents are released and memoirs published. Passions and partisanship can obscure objective judgement. Anyone who attempts to write contemporary history in any more durable form than a current journalistic article is laying his head on the block for the executioner.

Nevertheless, contemporary history is the most important history of all to handle. It is the events of our day which need to be studied and assessed, not only in current polemical treatment, but with an attempt at serious understanding of how they have arisen and where they are leading. For each new generation as it grows up, without previous knowledge or memory of the immediate past, it is essential that such knowledge should be available to help them to understand the part which they can play.

These lectures on some of the problems of contemporary history were delivered at Moscow University during April and May 1962 on the occasion of the award of an honorary doctorate in history. The lectures express the viewpoint that on the basis of modern scientific theory (technically known as Marxism-Leninism) it is possible to reach an objective judgement on current events which can more adequately stand the test of time and subsequent knowledge than the results obtained by other methods. This is not a question of a dogmatic assertion by a partisan, but can be tested by experience. It is the purpose of these lectures to explain the principles of this viewpoint and to make this practical test by comparison of the results of alternative methods over the past half-century (including consideration of the special question, which may jump to the mind of some readers, of the particular historical reassessment of a given period following on the Twentieth and Twenty-Second Congresses of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – a reassessment which does not, in the opinion of the writer, invalidate the general principles set out, but does contain a salutary warning against any tendency to dogmatic historical judgements).

The first of these lectures, on ‘History and Truth’, is devoted to the general exposition of this thesis. The subsequent lectures on ‘The Cold War’, ‘The Delay of the Socialist Revolution in the West’ and ‘Marxism and Socialism in Britain’ are devoted to experiments in practical demonstration of the method in relation to current problems.

Theorists who follow Marxism-Leninism can lay no claim to infallibility. Even a correct theory can be incorrectly applied by a clumsy adherent. The test of the correctness of any theory and of any theoretical analysis can only be practice. Nor would the present writer, who has sought to use the Marxist-Leninist method in relation to current events over more than the past forty years, wish to be judged by any other basis of judgement.

June 1962

Chapter I: History and Truth

It is a privilege to acknowledge an honour conferred from the great and historic Moscow University, which has been the home of so many pioneers of science and benefactors of humanity.

This reception gives me the greater happiness, because forty-five years ago, in October 1917, a fortnight before the Bolshevik Revolution, I was expelled from Oxford University for the offence of conducting propaganda for Marxism against the imperialist war and pledging support to the impending Bolshevik Revolution. It is the greater pleasure now, forty-five years later, to be welcomed by the foremost university of triumphant socialism.

Having thus had my academic studies somewhat rudely interrupted I recognise how limited are my qualifications to appear before you in order to lecture on questions of history. Nor does the daily pressure of work as an ordinary political worker leave the time for the research which would have been desirable before presuming to offer you a lecture. However, we have a saying in English, from the poet Alexander Pope, of which you have no doubt the counterpart in Russian: ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.’ As I am certainly no angel, I shall accordingly rush in.

For the subject of these four lectures I propose to consider the general theme: Problems of Contemporary History. Within this general theme I propose to consider four questions:

1) History and Truth

2) The Cold War

3) Delay of the Socialist Revolution in the West

4) Marxism and Socialism in Britain

I: History as a Science

The problems of contemporary history raise in an especially sharp form all the problems of history in general.

Marx and Engels, building on the work of previous thinkers and especially Hegel, were the first to develop over a century ago a scientific theory of history, or historical materialism. They not only developed the general theory and method, but gave brilliant demonstrations of it in practice in such classic works as The Class Struggles in France, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, The Peasant War in Germany, The Civil War in France, and many others. Three of these four mentioned were incidentally examples of contemporary history, carried out on the immediate morrow of the events described, yet with a penetrating truth which is confirmed today by subsequent research. In addition, historical surveys and judgements abound in all their work demonstrating their approach on a wide variety of events and periods, as in the sketch of the development of civilisation in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State or the burning indictment of English capitalist development in Capital, as well as the very rich treatment of current and past historical questions in the Correspondence.

Lenin carried forward this work of historical assessment in the imperialist era. Many Marxists have added their contribution, as in the work of Franz Mehring, joint founder of the German Communist Party; Plekhanov, father of Russian social-democracy; and the more recent work of modern Marxist historians in the Soviet Union and many countries, including Britain.

Nevertheless, we are still undoubtedly only at the beginning of this task of historical review of the rich panorama of world history in the light of Marxist-Leninist understanding. Engels said, in a letter to Conrad Schmidt in 1890: ‘All history must be studied afresh.’ He warned in this same letter against schematism; against making the materialist conception of history ‘an excuse for not studying history'; and against those who ‘make use of the phrase historical materialism (and everything can be turned into a phrase) in order to get their own relatively scanty historical knowledge (for economic history is still in its cradle) fitted together into a neat system as quickly as possible.’ [1]

That was over seventy years ago. Much has been done since then. But undoubtedly much remains to be done – not least in the field of contemporary history. For this continues to move at an accelerating pace. Seventy-nine years have passed since the death of Marx. Thirty-eight years have passed since the death of Lenin. History moves on and requires continuously new assessment of new events in the light of the teachings of Marxism-Leninism.

Opponents of Marxism deny that there can be a science of history. Non-Marxist historians in general emphasise the subjective role of the historian. This is in accordance with the outlook of idealism. The historian, in their view, selects his historical material and imposes his viewpoint upon it in accordance with his particular temperament, political tendency or period. The nineteenth-century English historian Froude called history ‘a child’s box of letters with which we can spell out any word we please’. [2] Similarly in the twentieth century Professor Oakeshott, Professor of Political Science in the London School of Economics, has declared that ‘history is the historian’s experience. It is “made” by nobody save the historian.’ [3] The survey and critique of some of these idealist conceptions here quoted, which have won wide favour among non-Marxist historians in the current period, has been made in the recently-published series of lectures What is History? by EH Carr, who comes closer, though not all the way, to a materialist and Marxist viewpoint. [4] The essence of this idealist conception of history was expressed in its most elementary form by the idealist anti-Marxist Italian philosopher Croce before the First World War, when he declared that, if he was not personally interested in the Peloponnesian War or Arabic philosophy, ‘for me at the present moment these are without interest, and therefore for me at this present moment these are not histories’, and that ‘real history’ is ‘the history that one really thinks in the act of thinking’. [5]

Despite the absurdities of these extremes of the subjective approach to history, there is an element of truth in the relativity of the study of history to the historian. No man lives outside history, or outside the society and climate of thought in which he has developed and plays his part.

In this sense all the great historians of the pre-Marxist era, even when most determined to present objective truth, have in fact reflected the outlook of their class and period.

Of the ancient historians, Thucydides, who set out to record and analyse the Peloponnesian War from its outset, in one of the earliest examples of contemporary history, and who proclaimed the aim to give the bare truth as an eternal treasure and lesson, reflected in fact the disgust of the Athenian conservative oligarchy with the undermining of their position and the advance of what they regarded as the demagogic war party of Cleon and the lower citizens. Tacitus, who also dealt with contemporary history of events within his own lifetime, proclaimed the aim to write sine ira et studio, without anger or partisanship, but in fact reflected the bitterness of the Roman patricians compelled to bow before the absolutism of the Empire.

In modern times, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire reflected the outlook of the Enlightenment, when he defined the causes of the fall of Rome as barbarism and superstition, or described the mediaeval clerical system as ‘defending nonsense by violence’. In the nineteenth century Macaulay reflected the Whig view of history, that is, the view of the victorious bourgeois revolution from 1688 onwards. Mommsen, on the other hand, having participated in the defeated democratic revolution of 1848, and having in the outcome lost his professorship and been driven into exile, wrote his History of Rome to show the weakness of rhetorical Ciceronian politicians and the consequent historical necessity of Caesarism as the only solution, thus foreshadowing the role of Bismarck a few years after his history appeared. Ranke, one of the ablest and most objective of bourgeois historians, saw history in terms of the nation-state. Grote defined the fifth-century Athens of Pericles in terms of Gladstonian liberalism. Among the present-day most widely-known English historians Namier expresses the deeply pessimistic conservative outlook, harking back to the eighteenth century as a refuge from the present; while Toynbee, with his Spenglerian cyclical system and mystical religious conclusions, equally reflects the conceptions of a social order in breakdown.

Does this mean, however, that there is no objective history, but only the different viewpoints of different historians, all equally arbitrary or equally valid or invalid? Today the majority of non-Marxist historians argue in this way. In place of the serene confidence of earlier bourgeois historians during the period of ascendant bourgeois society, today, in the present period of the general crisis of capitalism, the majority of bourgeois historians have fallen into impotent scepticism or frivolous nihilism, denying any pattern in history and referring all to chance events or the character of individuals – ‘there is no pattern in history’ (HAL Fisher). They pour scorn on any attempt at a scientific approach, which they describe contemptuously as ‘the fallacy of historicism’ (Popper). Others take refuge in specialist accumulation of data within a narrow sphere, often with great industry and talent, but ostensibly avoiding interpretation.

We Marxists reject this sceptical and nihilist approach to history. The problem of the relativity of the historian to history is the same as the problem of subject and object in relation to materialism and the theory of knowledge. Our knowledge of nature, of the material world, changes and develops with the advance of science, is never final and complete, and is in this sense always relative to the development of successive stages of scientific work. But materialists do not accept that this means that the material world is a creation of scientists. The materialist theory of knowledge teaches that human theory and practice, observation, scientific study and practical activity bring ever-increasing knowledge and conquest of the material world, which exists independently of our thinking.

So with history. Our knowledge and understanding of the complex development of the different stages of human society, of the many human societies which have existed and continue to develop, is still only limited and relative, subject to error, often requiring reformulation, and continuously developing with further events. But it is still the enlarging knowledge and understanding of a real historical development which has taken place, not as some inescapable arbitrary phenomenon without a cause; not as some ‘tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing'; but in accordance with the laws of social development, which are undoubtedly more complex than the physical laws of nature, but which can be understood and mastered no less than natural laws. This scientific understanding of history, alongside the scientific understanding of the natural world, is essential to make man master of his destiny. And it is here that history has its indispensable part to play, not as an idle picture of vanished events (though the narrative of these events can also fulfil its artistic role in stimulating the imagination and widening our horizons); nor in the old primitive would-be practical conception of teaching by examples from the past (for history never repeats itself); but by deepening our understanding to chart the course of mankind’s development and therefore to help to teach the art of navigation.

Marxism, developing as the theory of the working-class revolution, of the transition from capitalism to socialism and to the future classless communist society, is able to transcend the limitations of even the greatest historical works of the previous bourgeois historians, precisely because it is in accord with the real trend of historical development of the present epoch, and not the representative of a dying social order. The revolutionary class outlook of the working class is already the representative and precursor of the outlook of the future classless society. The victory of the working-class revolution differs from all previous revolutions. In every previous revolution the victory of a new class has only changed the form of class society, but has not ended class society. The working-class revolution ends all exploitation and thereby closes the era of class society. For this same reason Marxism, the theory of the working-class revolution, is able in its historical outlook, not only to illuminate all the history of the class societies of the preceding period, but to prepare the groundwork of the historical science of the future classless society which will be able to study and comprehend the entire development of humanity with a far more ample knowledge and deeper perspective than we can yet attain. This is the era towards which the programme of the Twenty-Second Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the programme of the beginning of the transition from socialism to communism, is leading the way. This era throws new and increased responsibility on Marxist historians to deepen and strengthen their work, especially in relation to contemporary history.

II: Contemporary History

What is contemporary history?

Obviously the limits can be capable of very varied definition. In pure logic contemporary history might be declared to be only the history of what is already happening at the moment of writing, in which case it could become the province only of the daily newspaper press. On the other hand, it may be regarded as recent modern history with a more elastic definition of what is recent. In my schooldays historical study used to stop at 1815 (apart from a few excursions into the expansion of the British Empire), any events subsequent to that date being regarded as far too dangerous and controversial for safe treatment.

Nevertheless, our era has such a well-defined character that it is possible to speak of contemporary history in a specific sense. Our era is the era of the socialist revolution, of the deepening general crisis of capitalism, of the advancing victory of socialism and national liberation, of the crumbling of colonialism, of the transition from capitalism to socialism and communism. This era from the First World War, and specifically from 1917 onwards, may be regarded as the modern era, the sphere of contemporary history. Within this era, however, the events of the October Revolution, and of the opening of the world socialist revolution, of the wars of intervention and the interwar years, and of the Second World War, are already passing into memory as an historical record. Hence it is the crucial years from 1945 to the present day which can be regarded as especially the present sphere of contemporary history.

The Marxist historical method is able to demonstrate its superiority most powerfully in the sphere of contemporary history, where judgements are most rapidly and mercilessly brought to the test of subsequent events. Marx’s presentation of the Paris Commune, written within a few days of its downfall, remains today the truest guide to all aspects of the Commune, despite the abundance of subsequent research and information.

In contrast, the judgements of contemporary non-Marxist historians on the events in the midst of which they lived, or on the direction in which they considered events to be moving, alike in the nineteenth century and still more in the twentieth century, present today only a comic spectacle of confusion and misconception which no one now recalls save as a demonstration of human fallibility.

These differences can apply even to the most humble practitioners of the Marxist method. In 1936 I published a book, World Politics 1918 – 1936, [6] in which I endeavoured to trace the course of international political development from the end of the First World War to 1936, that is, after the emergence of the Nazi offensive, but before Munich, and to consider the perspective. Last year I was asked by an Indian firm of university publishers who wished to reprint the book for use in Indian universities, where it had been a text-book, if I would wish to revise it in the light of subsequent events for a new edition, as well as bring it up to date. I replied that the study of world politics up to the present time would require a new book, in view of the vast new developments, but gave them a supplementary preface covering the period 1936-60. With regard to the old analysis of the years 1918-36 I found no revision of a single line desirable; it would be better for it to be presented as it stood, as a judgement of the events of the time in the light of the available knowledge at that time. It may be questioned how far most non-Marxist historical treatments of the development of international politics presented at that time could equally stand up to the light of reproduction today. Nor is this a question of any special virtue of a particular book; it reflected simply the general outlook of the international Marxist-Leninist movement of that time.

Of course there are certain special difficulties in the sphere of contemporary history.

The first difficulty is that the most important official documents are still secret. Contrary to the scarcity of material for older periods, there is no lack of material for contemporary history; in one form or another there is a super-abundance. But the key state papers, unless deliberately published, and then often published for a particular purpose and with significant omissions, and the memoirs and diaries and notes of the main participants, are normally not yet available.

In Britain there is an official fifty years’ rule, prohibiting access to official state papers until fifty years have passed. This means that official records since before the beginning of the First World War onwards are not yet available to the historian, save those selected for publication by the government or departments of state concerned. Cabinet records, revealing the springs of government policy, are not available. Collections of documents occasionally published by the Foreign Office or other ministries are very conspicuously selected and incomplete. Police records are not available. Here the situation in Britain is worse even than in France and other Continental countries. In France, I understand, much information bearing on the labour movement and the attitude of the government to the labour movement up to the end of the nineteenth century can be obtained from the police records. In England the Home Office police records, from which the Hammonds gleaned so rich a harvest for their books The Agricultural Labourer and The Town Labourer in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and The Age of Chartism, [7] cease to be available after 1848. The abundant records of the British secret service and political police since 1848 on the trade-union movement and the development of the socialist and political labour movement will only become available to future historians, or after the British revolution.

A further complication which partially pierces the official secrecy, but in favour of one side only, is that the state papers which are retained by ministers and generals after retirement become private property, subject to the laws of private property. Hence favouritism may grant access to chosen advocates or representatives of a particular standpoint, but there is no public right of access by any historian. Thus the Milner papers, in the possession of an Oxford College, enabled an American scholar recently to publish a revealing record of British intervention in Russia in 1917-18, including important hitherto unpublished Foreign Office documents, the publication of which caused no small flurry in the Foreign Office. The Windsor archives have only been made accessible to favoured spokesmen. The Chamberlain papers remain the property of the Chamberlain family.

It is of course inevitable that, in conditions of acute international political relations, state documents covering delicate international negotiations or critical discussions of policy cannot always be made public until a later date. This necessarily applies also to socialist countries, so long as dangerous conditions of international tension exist. But the Soviet Union has set an example, from the very outset of the revolution of 1917, with the publication of the secret treaties onwards, both in the publication of all main state documents and decisions at the time, and in such subsequent historical amplification as the present very full publication of the diplomatic documents of the Second World War, correspondence of the heads of state, and proceedings of inter-Allied conferences, as well as such records as the recent memoirs of former Ambassador Maisky of the diplomacy of the years before the Second World War. Such a degree (still of course incomplete) of extensive publication of material to enable the people to form their judgement could be copied with advantage elsewhere.

A second difficulty in the path of contemporary history is that the political controversies of the period may still be smouldering while the historian is at work, and may inevitably affect judgement in the consequent treatment. In the case of almost all Western non-Marxist historical treatment of world events since 1917 the extreme anti-Soviet and anti-Communist bias has tended to produce a mythology as a substitute for serious history.

This is not to say that Marxist historical work, also after the establishment of a socialist regime, may not be affected by current political trends and controversies in such a way as to prove unfavourable rather than helpful to a just and balanced historical treatment. We have seen, as shown from the conclusions reached by the Twentieth and Twenty-Second Congresses of the CPSU, how during the period of intense international tension and ordeals of the emerging socialist society, under the conditions from which arose the deformation defined as ‘the cult of personality’, this deformation had also its serious adverse effects on Marxist-Leninist historical work, partially distorting the treatment of contemporary history, and in the wider historical field cramping initiative and independent judgement. But the Twentieth and Twenty-Second Congresses have shown the capacity of a socialist society to recognise and correct these shortcomings, and we can be confident that the great work of Marxist-Leninist historical research and study will be carried forward with all the fuller vigour, richness and unsparing devotion to the cause of true historical understanding.

These special problems and difficulties in the path of contemporary history are not reasons for abandoning its pursuit. On the contrary, they emphasise the need. We need knowledge and understanding of contemporary history in order to understand and solve the problems of today. The English imperialist historian Seeley, whose most famous work The Expansion of England [8] was a panegyric of the British Empire, was an unashamed apologist of imperialism. Nevertheless, he laid his finger on an important kernel of truth when he said that ‘history is past politics’ and ‘politics is present history'; and in saying this, he was far nearer to the truth of history than many of the present-day dilettante pedants who see in history nothing but a child’s jig-saw without meaning, because they fear the plain political lesson which contemporary history conveys.

We have no occasion today to be passionately concerned to take sides between Athens and Sparta, or to consider the solution of the problems raised by the disruption of the domains of Akbar. But we are very immediately concerned in all the problems of the Cold War or the arms race or the parallel existence of capitalism and socialism in the world, and we need to have accurate knowledge of the historical development of these problems in order to grapple with them effectively in their present phase.

This urgent practical purpose and significance of Marxist historical science is no contradiction to its scientific character. On the contrary, only its most ruthless scientific character can give it its practical value.

Western academic critics of Marxist-Leninist historical theory often declare that Marxism-Leninism seeks to confine history within the strait-jacket of a partisan dogma or a ready-made scheme. We have already seen how Marx and Engels themselves were concerned to denounce any distortion of their theory into dogma or schematism. But when Western academic critics of Marxism venture to assert that the present-day Western academic tradition, by contrast with Marxism, is devoted to the pursuit of pure truth in the historical field, without the shackles of dogma or prior assumptions, it is necessary to challenge this unjustified claim and expose its falsity. We need not spend time on the very obvious material shackles of dependence on the whims and orders of wealthy benefactors which in practice govern most of the work of Western universities in the capitalist world. But it may be useful to examine how this conception of the supposed non-Marxist pure pursuit of truth in the historical field works out in practice. For we come here to the heart of the question of truth and history; the reason why we consider that Marxist historical theory provides the key – not the ready-made answer – but the key to the discovery of historical truth; while non-Marxist theory leads to the distortion of historical truth. For this purpose we may examine a practical example from one of the most famous Western universities, Oxford University.

III: Historical Truth and Oxford University

At this point I must apologise for including here an insignificant personal experience in this survey of a larger theme. But as the empiricists love to say, an ounce of practice is sometimes worth a pound of theory. Even an insignificant personal experience may have a bearing on the larger theme which we pursue: the theme of the service of historical truth in relation to the role of university historical studies in our day.

At the age of eighteen years I came to Oxford University as a Scholar of Balliol. I was already active as a socialist, and had no illusions about capitalism in general. But I still in all innocence believed that in coming to Oxford I was coming to a high temple of learning and wisdom, where for over seven centuries, from long before the capitalist era, scholars and learned men devoted their lives to the pursuit of truth. I knew that Wyclif, the teacher and inspirer of Huss and the first beginnings of the Reformation or initial revolt of human reason against clerical dogma, had been the Master of the College to which I had come, and that his bones had been burned by papal decision for refusal to subordinate his opinions to authority. Outside the window of my room the Martyrs’ Memorial commemorated Latimer and Ridley who had been burned at the stake in Oxford for refusal to surrender the service of truth. Here were teaching some of the great names one had learned to revere. Knowing my own ignorance I came in all humility to learn from those wiser.

Then the first imperialist world war broke out. What happened to the search for historical truth at Oxford in this hour of testing? At once all the most distinguished professors of the Oxford Faculty of History published a collectively-signed manifesto declaring that, having examined the evidence as trained historians accustomed to weighing impartially historical evidence, they had reached the unanimous conclusion that Britain was in the right in the war and Germany in the wrong. Immediately came a counter-manifesto from all the most famous names of German historical learning, names one had equally learned to revere and respect as masters of knowledge – German learning at that time stood very high in the academic world – proclaiming that, in the light of their no less authoritative and scrupulous weighing of historical evidence, they had reached the unanimous conclusion that Germany was in the right and Britain in the wrong.

In recounting this plain version of what happened in 1914 I have no wish to cast a slur on a noble and venerable fellow university, Oxford University, which has served mankind for over seven centuries and whose glory will assuredly survive the stain of the imperialist era. Even during this imperialist era a few rebels have arisen from Oxford and Cambridge and other Western universities, and some of them have made contributions to Marxism. Nor would I wish to cast a slur on the zeal and devotion and ability of historical, philosophical and other scholars who have laboured and labour there. But truth is truth, and must be faced. This is what happened to Western supposedly impartial historical science when brought to the test of the imperialist war. Just as the test of the imperialist war laid bare the rottenness of the old social-democracy, so the same test laid bare the rottenness of the claim of Western capitalist scholarship to represent objective historical science.

In face of this conflict of the learned, what was the innocent searcher after truth to do? The conclusion was reluctantly forced upon me, that if the greatest and most honoured exponents of academic historical wisdom reached diametrically opposed conclusions according to whether they resided in this or that degree of longitude by a few degrees of difference, there must be something defective in this academic historical science, and that the humble searcher after truth could rely on no authority, however dazzling, but must endeavour, however ill-equipped, to reach his own judgement. To this conclusion I have adhered.

Whilst the most famous professors of history were thus enrolled in the uniform of their imperialist masters, I found that among the small groups of socialist workers with whom I was in contact, who had no such benefits of higher education, there was an entirely different type of discussion of the war as a war between rival masters and exploiters for the spoils of the world. Let us ask the question in the light of contemporary knowledge: who was closer to the truth of history? The great and famous bourgeois professors of history? Or the handful of socialist workers with limited advantages of education? At the present day the essential analysis of Great Power rivalry leading to the First World War is the commonplace theme of conventional history text-books even in schools. But the litter of Oxford War Pamphlets, as they were called, which poured out in a flood from the university professors of history at this time, today crumble in oblivion and contempt.

How was this possible? Why were these workers, deprived of educational facilities, closer to what is today universally recognised as historical truth (even by present-day Oxford historians who remain as wildly astray as their predecessors in relation to the modern contemporary world of the Cold War) than all these professors of history? Was it superior mental capacity? The professors had on the contrary been chosen by a rigorous selective process, even though from a narrow stratum of the population, for mental capacity. But their basically false theory rendered them incapable of reaching a correct historical judgement, although they were supposed to be trained historical experts. Socialist theory enabled these class-conscious workers to reach, however crudely, the essential kernel of historical truth.

There were many further experiences of this nature. Through our Student Socialist Society in 1914 we organised a debate between Bertrand Russell and AD Lindsay (later Lord Lindsay) on the origins of the war. Russell, who was soon after imprisoned and deprived of his fellowship at Trinity College Cambridge, and for this won the devotion of us students as the shining exception to the record of academic shame, presented the familiar indictment of the prewar Entente diplomacy, Agadir, Algeciras, the corrupt alliance with Tsarism, the partition of Persia, etc. We waited with attention the reply of Lindsay, who presented himself arrayed in khaki uniform, not as a soldier, but to indicate his official status. Lindsay (who became later my tutor in philosophy and Master of Balliol) said that he was not prepared for this: he had diligently worked over the British Blue Book on the origin of the war (the Foreign Office censored selection of documents covering only the fortnight preceding the outbreak of war) in order to prepare for this debate; but he had no knowledge of all the earlier diplomacy except to say that he could not believe that the Foreign Office could be so Machiavellian as Russell’s account would appear to show it to be. And that was all the answer. Academic service to imperialism had collapsed completely when faced with open argument.

It was indeed these and many similar experiences and deepening disillusionment with the hollowness of official bourgeois academic claims and theories during my apprenticeship at Oxford which led me, from the very generalised socialist outlook I had already drawn from earlier years, to the serious and systematic study of Marxism since 1915. Here I began to find the answers to the insistent questions which the world situation raised and which all the professors and tutors, when I in all innocence pressed them on these questions, avoided and refused to discuss. Before I was twenty years of age I had some experience of various prisons. At twenty-one years, in the last week of October 1917, that is, ten days before 7 November 1917, I had the honour to be expelled from Oxford University for the offence of propagating Marxism.

The circumstances of this expulsion also have their interest for this problem of truth and history. In the summer of 1917, at a joint meeting of the Socialist Students Society and the Majlis or Asiatic Students Society, I had carried a resolution declaring the necessity of a second socialist revolution in Russia if the counter-revolution were not to prevail, and pledging support in advance to that impending second socialist revolution, that is, the Bolshevik Revolution. In the last week of October I addressed a meeting of students on the subject of ‘Socialism and the War’. There was the usual attempt of some hooligan jingo students to create a disturbance; but our stewards were well organised, and the rowdies did not succeed in entering or preventing the peaceful completion of the meeting; but only broke some windows and shouted jingo slogans outside. Next morning the wrath of the university authorities was visited, not on the rowdies who had created the disturbance, but on me for organising the meeting; and I was ordered to leave Oxford permanently within twenty-four hours. When a year later I was allowed to take the final examination of Literae Humaniores, it was only under the explicit condition that I had to undertake to arrive only the night before the examination, to leave the day the examination ended, and to address no public meetings during the examination.

It may be worth adding that AD Lindsay, later Lord Lindsay, who as my tutor held official responsibility with the other governing authorities for the decision to expel me for socialist propaganda, was himself a member of the Fabian Society and in this sense claimed to be socialist. When he was subsequently appointed Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh University, in his inaugural address he dwelt on the tradition of academic freedom of opinion, including political opinions, as the treasured characteristic of the university tradition in Britain. As an example of this freedom he called attention to the fact that he himself was a socialist and yet was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh University – an example to which an enlightened footnote might possibly have been added from his own previous record, and illustrating once again the familiar truth that there are two kinds of socialists in this sense, those acceptable to the capitalist authorities and those not acceptable.

The next stage of education in the pursuit of pure truth at Oxford University followed. Having taken the first place among students of my year in whatever examinations and honours were open, I discovered that every avenue of employment appeared closed. No professor or tutor was prepared to give me the necessary testimonial, but all said that in place of a reference I could ask any prospective employer to write to them. The Oxford University Appointments Bureau, then newly established, with exquisite irony offered me as their sole suggestion to become a settler in Kenya. The professors and tutors, when written to by prospective employers to whom I had applied for work, invariably replied that I had such and such academic qualifications, but that whether the extreme political views I held were suitable for any responsible position under them was a matter entirely for their governing authority to decide. This invariably finished the approach.

From this experience I learned a useful political lesson.

To Oxford I remain indebted, both for many friendships and for the opportunity to study the great classics of literature and thought, and especially the basic course on Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, which is an invaluable foundation for the study of Marxism.

To Oxford I also remain indebted for a practical political education, which helped to teach me that social and political theory is no mere discussion of ideas in the air, but must be lived, and that in existing class society any person can serve freedom and truth on one condition only, that he is prepared to pay for this freedom at any time with whatever consequences may follow. In that sense I chose freedom and have never regretted the choice.

This was the most useful practical education which Oxford gave me.

IV: The History of Our Epoch

Let us now broaden the argument and consider the response of Western academic historical science and educated opinion to the titanic events of our epoch, of the general crisis of capitalism, world wars and the advance of the socialist revolution.

Sir Winston Churchill relates how, on entering politics as a young man in 1895, he took advice of the distinguished Liberal Elder Statesman Sir William Harcourt, to ask him what to expect in the coming years. ‘My dear Winston’, the old Victorian statesman replied, ‘the experiences of a long life have convinced me that nothing ever happens.’ ‘Since that moment’, Churchill continues grimly, ‘nothing has ever ceased happening.’ [9] Half a century later Churchill was to speak of ‘this terrible twentieth century’. The era of awakening humanity, of advancing socialism, of national liberation of the majority of mankind from colonial slavery, of the approach to communism, appears to the representative of the dying social order only in its reverse aspect: only from the standpoint of the horrors inflicted by dying imperialism against the people’s struggles; only from the standpoint of defeat; only as ‘this terrible twentieth century’.

The war of 1914 came upon Western historians and enlightened opinion, according to their own subsequent account and memoirs, as a wholly unforeseen and unforeseeable bolt from the blue suddenly and violently disturbing the rational order of the universe.

Engels a quarter of a century before its outbreak had with startling foresight predicted the character of the war of 1914: the engagement of armies of ten millions; the halting of the German offensive before Paris, and the consequent transition from a war of movement to ‘a war of positions’ (that is, the trench war); and then the outbreak of ‘revolution in Petersburg’, which he said, would open a new era. [10] The old Socialist International in resolution after resolution from the beginning of the century to the culminating resolution of the Basle Congress in 1912 had given warning in detail of the character of the war which imperialism was preparing, and in the famous Lenin – Luxemburg amendment had set out the task of the working class in such a situation.

But what of Western historians and Liberal educated opinion? Listen to Professor Toynbee, who has been widely presented, on the basis of his ten-volume monumental Study of History, as the oracle. Speaking in 1949 on ‘The World Crisis’ to an audience of 2700 young people he said:

When I myself was the age that is the average age of this audience – that is a year or so before 1914 [he was twenty-five years of age in 1914 and already a Fellow of Balliol since 1912] – there were no anxieties like these in my mind or my contemporaries’ minds. People of your age in the professional and middle class in England just before 1914 took it for granted that they were living in a world that was civilised – meaning reasonable, humane, orderly, predictable. [11]

A hundred similar statements could be quoted from similar voices of the learned at Oxford and Cambridge and elsewhere, describing the world before 1914 as a kind of lost golden age of happiness and reason and peace before some strange demon of violence brought it to an end. How is it possible that they could have lived in such ignorance of the horrors of imperialism, on whose profits they were subsisting in luxury? Their lamentations today for the supposed lost golden age before 1914, their nostalgia for a picture of a kind of eternal summer afternoon of smooth lawns and country mansions, only reveal the cloistered cotton-wool chloroformed existence of the social stratum to which they belonged in complete unawareness of the realities of the world in which they lived and whose history they professed to interpret. But this was only the beginning of the demonstration which our epoch has given and is further giving of the collapse of bourgeois historical science in face of the changes of the modern world.

What was the impact of the Russian Revolution on such a mental equipment? In December 1916, Lord Milner, the most distinguished scholar-statesman (also of Balliol College) in Lloyd George’s War Cabinet, was sent as an expert to judge of the rumours of an impending revolution in Russia. He returned and reported officially that all such rumours were without foundation; there would be no revolution in Russia. The Times wrote, on 28 December 1916:

There is beauty in the simplicity of the moujik... the moujik, with his unquestioning obedience and unreasoning reverence for his Tsar, is finer material than the more highly trained troops of other states...

The Russian Tommy has nothing to complain of.

As a matter of fact, he would not complain if he had, for the spirit of revolt is not in him.

Following the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution, informed opinion in the West (we are not here dealing with the deliberate propaganda lies of the general press) endeavoured to use its historical equipment to reach a correct assessment. The Intelligence Bureau of the Foreign Office prepared a confidential memorandum (reproduced in the recently published Intervention and the War by Richard Ullman, [12] based on the Milner Papers) which explained the true character of Bolshevism in the following terms:

Bolshevism is essentially a Russian disease; it is Tolstoyism distorted and carried to extreme limits.

The Times, writing for the educated public and higher civil servants, explained that the Petrograd Soviet was:

A self-constituted organisation of idealists, theorists, anarchists, syndicalists who are largely of the international Jew type, who have hardly any working men or soldiers among them.

Subsequently the Times Official History in its Volume 4, published in 1953, recorded of this period:

The social aspects of the second revolution do not seem to have been understood in the office at first. The subject was not one which interested Dawson [then Editor]... Wickham Steed [subsequent Editor]... was uninterested in Russian politics.

On 8 November 1917, sixteen lines referred to some movements of ‘naval troops under Maximalist orders’, but ‘street traffic and the general life of the city remain normal’. By 12 November, the main news had announced ‘Lenin Losing Control’.

What then of the ensuing period when it had become clear that the attempt to overthrow the Soviet regime by the wars of intervention had failed, and that the world had entered into an era of revolutionary change and unsettlement? Prime Minister Baldwin, the ripe product this time of Cambridge historical training, delivered his judgement in 1926. ‘Since the war’, he said, ‘the manifest forces of Satan have been more conspicuously at large.’ [13] In the early autumn of 1933, Baldwin, in a private letter, wrote from Aix-les-Bains:

Walking alone among these hills, I have come to the conclusion the world is stark mad. I have no idea what is the matter with it, but it’s all wrong and at times I am sick to death of being an asylum attendant. [14]

Nevertheless, the backward-looking illusion of the return to the old supposed pre-1914 stability as the aim and governing conception lingered long. The Times Official History records:

There is no sign in the office between 1923 and 1933 of a sense that the world of 1914 had gone forever...

It was then believed [in 1931] almost universally that the war to end war would have no sequel.

Similarly Keynes, the leading bourgeois economic theorist and innovator, writing in 1933 to describe his outlook in 1923, wrote:

I was brought up, like most Englishmen, to respect Free Trade not only as an economic doctrine which a rational and instructed person could not doubt but almost as a part of the moral law... I thought England’s unshakeable Free Trade convictions, maintained for nearly a hundred years, to be both the explanation before man and the justification before heaven of her economic supremacy. As lately as 1923 I was writing that Free Trade was based on fundamental truths ‘which, stated with their due qualifications, no one can dispute who is capable of understanding the meaning of words’. [15]

It was against this deep dogmatism and historical unawareness of the character of the modern world that the world economic crisis of 1929 broke as a new and once again unexpected blow – although it had once again been predicted with tolerable precision by Marxism. In this connection it may be worth recalling the unhappy fate of the Fourteenth Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which came out in 1929, and which once had high prestige as the foremost repository of Western learning.

As we know, it is a familiar gibe of Western critics to laugh loudly with lofty superiority over the changes of estimation or space allotted with regard to particular personalities or events in successive editions of the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia. Here, they consider, is exposed the unscientific partisan character of Marxism in contrast to the objective scientific Western academic approach. Certainly the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia is not perfect. If it were, the main work of Marxism would already have been completed in working over the whole field of human knowledge and history to reach final conclusions on every issue, in place of our still being at a relatively early stage in this vast work. It is also true that the political climate and experience of a given stage of development can affect and lead to changes of previous estimations, although in general the aim of historical science must be to endeavour to reach an analysis sufficiently soundly based to stand up to the test of subsequent developments and fuller knowledge.

But the claim to superiority of the Western critics is misplaced, as they would realise if they would only examine the record of their own most famous encyclopaedias. Of the best-known encyclopaedias of the West on the eve of 1914, that is, in the era of still dominant bourgeois academic theory before the manifest collapse since 1914, such as Larousse in France, Brockhaus in Germany, or the Britannica in England, it was possibly the Britannica which was internationally regarded as pre-eminent in its authoritative character and the distinction of its contributors. The old Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, published in 1911 under the auspices of Cambridge University, with the supplementary volumes under the same editorship published in 1922 to make the Twelfth Edition, constituted and still remains the most lasting summary of the highest general level of academic knowledge and theory before the collapse following 1914. But even here the contrasts between 1911 and 1922 are always interesting. Consider for example the treatment of Zionism. In the Eleventh Edition in 1911, when Zionism had not yet received governmental recognition by imperialism, we learn that ‘modern Zionism is vitiated by its erroneous premises... the whole movement is artificial’. In the Twelfth Edition in 1922 we learn that ‘Zionism is a naturally inevitable outcome of the instinct of self-preservation’, and a glowing account follows by a prominent Zionist on the Balfour Declaration and the British colonisation of Palestine in the name of providing a Home for the Jews. Similarly the Estonians in 1911 appear as ‘an undersized ill-thriven people'; but by 1922 Baron Meyendorf contributes the article on Estonia to acclaim the victory of the Estonian bourgeois state with German and British military aid in defeating what is described as ‘the red terror’ of the ‘local pro-communists’. Evidently the wind of change according to variations in the political situation is a familiar picture of the supposedly most austere and authoritative Western encyclopaedias and repositories of knowledge.

Subsequently to 1922 – like a kind of parable of the changes affecting bourgeois academic learning along with the capitalist world in general – the Encyclopaedia Britannica fell into other hands, with increasing American control, was duly vulgarised, Americanised and turned into a journalistic venture with lavish sales publicity. In the old Encyclopaedia Britannica, which had still followed the old-fashioned practice of inviting those with some knowledge of a subject to write in it, I had been a contributor of the articles on Communism and on the International, but now found myself duly removed from the panel of contributors when it came to the preparation of the next edition. The Fourteenth Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was issued as a joint Anglo-American production, and handed over to a prominent Conservative journalist, JL Garvin, Editor of The Observer, to prepare. Garvin had the brilliant idea of inserting for the first time an article on the subject of ‘Capitalism’, and wrote it himself. In this article he set out to show that the booms and slumps of capitalism were now disappearing:

Capitalism is still accused of responsibility for avoidable unemployment, arising from periodic alternations of climaxes and depressions in trade activity, of ‘booms’ and ‘slumps’. It is certain, however, that though there must always be some tidal movement of rise and fall, the former violence of these rhythms is now much abated in times of peace owing to longer experience and fuller knowledge; to swifter information in every part of the globe of what is happening in every other; to quicker transport, to better calculated control exercised by the great trusts and syndicates as indirectly by the great banking combinations and to the better adjustment altogether of supply and demand.

Unfortunately for the fate of this article, written in the high tide of the boom of 1928, its publication in the widely celebrated Fourteenth Edition took place in 1929.

The sense of collapse of bourgeois theory from the previous dogmatic certainty, which such a thinker as Keynes had described himself as still holding in the early 1920s, was vividly portrayed by the same writer, then Lord Keynes, in an article in the Economic Journal in June 1946:

No one can be certain of anything in this age of flux and change. Decaying standards of life at a time when our command over the production of material satisfaction is the greatest ever, and a diminishing scope for individual decision and choice at a time when more than before we should be able to afford these satisfactions are sufficient to indicate an underlying contradiction in every department of our economy. No plans will work for certain in such an epoch. But if they palpably fail, then, of course, we and everyone else will try something different.

Certainly Keynes, possibly the most influential and boldest of bourgeois economic theorists of this recent period, did try ‘something different’ to sustain the ailing capitalist economy, still within the framework of its basic property assumptions. But even he was incapable of realising that the ‘something different’ which was needed was the basic change of the social system, the change to communism.

Sir Winston Churchill, in his notorious Boston speech in March 1949, in which he spoke of ‘this terrible twentieth century’, described in characteristically rhetorical terms the collapse of bourgeois theory and expectations in face of the historical outcome of the twentieth century:

For us in Britain, the nineteenth century ended amid the glories of the Victorian era, and we entered upon the dawn of the twentieth in high hope for our country, our Empire, and the world.

Then follows the bitter sequel as he described it. It is ‘this terrible twentieth century’. It is ‘this darkling hour’. All the ‘high hopes’ were doomed to frustration. ‘We thought... We believed... 1914 seemed to point to an age of peace and plenty... Little did we guess... Man has proved impotent... more helpless than he has been for a long time.’ Man is at the mercy of ‘conditions largely beyond his comprehension and still more beyond his control’. Man is ‘a victim of tides and currents, of whirlpools and tornadoes’. The problem is raised of the possible extinction of the human race, ‘whether man may be doomed to die of starvation’, ‘if with all the resources of modern science we find ourselves unable to avert world famine’. ‘We are faced by perils both grave and near and by problems more dire than have ever confronted Christian civilisation.’ And the solution to these grim forebodings? The last word of wisdom of the oracle of modern imperialism? The atom bomb.

Sir Charles Snow, internationally known equally as a scientist and as a writer of progressive outlook, in his last book Science and Government [16] has described his concern over what he feels to be the loss of sense of direction of Western capitalist civilisation. He speaks of:

... our dangers and our losses of hope. One of these dangers is that we are beginning to shrug off our sense of the future. This is true all over the West. True even in the United States, though to a lesser extent than in the older societies of Western Europe. We are becoming existential societies – and we are living in the same world with future-directed societies. This existential flavour is obvious in our art... We seem to be flexible, but we haven’t any model of the future before us. In the significant sense, we can’t change. And to change is what we have to do.

A phrase from one of the old Icelandic sagas kept nagging at my mind: ‘Snorri was the wisest man in Iceland who had not the gift of foresight.’

The wisest man who had not the gift of foresight. The more I have seen of Western societies, the more it nags at me. It nags at me in the United States, just as in Western Europe. We are immensely competent, we know our own pattern of operations like the palm of our hands. It is not enough. That is why I want some scientists mixed up in our affairs. It would be bitter if, when this storm of history is over, the best epitaph that anyone could write of us was only that: ‘The wisest men who had not the gift of foresight.’

The ‘gift of foresight’. But the gift of foresight is only the counterpart of the understanding of history.

V: Living Battle for Historical Truth

What are the lessons from this experience?

Does it mean that Marxist historians are infallible, are the sole possessors of historic truth? Of course not.

The visible and demonstrable collapse of current non-Marxist historical judgements in face of the developments of the modern world is undoubtedly a heavy exposure, and often a highly ludicrous exposure, of the illusions of non-Marxist historical theory. But it is no proof of the infallibility of Marxist historians. Their greater correctness can only be proved by practice.

In the days of ascending capitalism it was still possible for bourgeois historians, although sharing the illusions of their class and age and looking on capitalism as the final apogee of human civilisation, nevertheless to write great works of history in relation to their own age, because they were still part of the advancing historical movement. This is no longer possible for bourgeois historians today. They have all descended into varying forms of frivolity or scepticism or the search for consolation outside history in the realms of theology.

This situation throws all the greater responsibility on those who are seeking to fulfil the task of serious historical study of the modern world to utilise the theory and technique of Marxism-Leninism in order to judge correctly the events and developments of our age. But the theory of Marxism-Leninism is the sword of Achilles. Whoever would wield it must be strong enough to wield it, or it will collapse in his hands and the outcome will only be failure, discrediting the theory in place of demonstrating its strength.

Gigantic tasks await us to fulfil in this field, all the more because there has been a period of partial interruption of the full range of fruitful Marxist-Leninist studies in the field of contemporary history.

Consider the themes which still await treatment in great classic works comparable to the works of Marx or Carlyle or Taine or Mommsen in their day. I leave out of account the vast field of Soviet history, with which I am inadequately acquainted. Nor would I venture to judge the extent of the work already accomplished by Soviet historians in the field of general contemporary history. But consider the themes which are crying aloud for full and definitive historical treatment. The Second World War in its full range and development, now in process of being covered in respect of its main phases by the monumental History of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, but still requiring a comprehensive survey from its origins and including the shifting role of the imperialist powers. The Cold War as the special form of the development of international relations during the recent period. The record of the revolutions of our era. The great Chinese Revolution. The revolutions in Eastern Europe. National liberation in Asia. African national liberation. The international Communist movement since the dissolution of the Communist International. Social-democracy since the Second World War. These general themes press for attention alongside all the special themes such as Anglo-American relations; modern German imperialism; France from Vichy to de Gaulle; United States imperialism and the world; the United Nations; or significant wars such as the Korean War and the Suez War; and a thousand other subjects with regard to which a new generation grows up without the necessary background knowledge from memory, and requiring, not only current articles and incidental memoirs or occasional documents, but the guidance of considered historical judgements representing the outcome of collective historical work.

No doubt it can be argued that these themes are too recent and current to admit yet of historical treatment, and are more appropriate for current political polemical discussion. Nevertheless, the example of Marx has shown how the most immediate events, like those of 1848, 1851 or 1871, permitted of treatment, not merely in current polemical controversy, but at the same time in permanent historical works which have continued to teach each succeeding generation. However difficult the task, we must recognise how great is the need.

Every incompleteness, every gap in our treatment is taken advantage of by the enemy to spread a vast array of falsification and mythology. It is only necessary to recall the fantastic Western official myths about the ‘Rape of Czechoslovakia’ or ‘the Berlin Blockade’ or ‘the North Korean Aggression’ or ‘the Hungarian Revolution of 1956’, which by dint of incessant repetition are presented and often accepted by many sincere people in the West as gospel truth, mainly because they have no ready access to the facts which would explode the myths, and the seeker after truth has often to delve in documents and archives. Of course the million-fold lies of Western official propaganda cannot be immediately overtaken by historical truth. The official propagandists are even still capable of spreading on all sides the story that Lenin was a German agent, though they have had to abandon the nationalisation of women and the devouring of babies by Bolsheviks. But the availability of informative and authoritative historical works on the important developments of the modern era since 1945 can help to equip those who wish to learn the truth.

At the present day it is only necessary to consider the way in which, no sooner was it shown by the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that perversions of justice had occurred in the preceding period, and that many had been wrongfully accused and sentenced who have since been rehabilitated, than at once all the Western enemies of communism seized on this to proclaim the justification of every calumny they have ever uttered against the Soviet regime. They seek to paint a picture of astronomical millions shot or deported in a universal reign of terror; to deny the existence of counter-revolutionary conspiracies necessitating the action of the security organs also during the period of Lenin’s leadership; and to pretend that all the trials conducted by the Soviet security organs, equally of the Social Revolutionaries, of Savinkov, of the Menshevik Bureau, of the Industrial Party, of the Metro-Vick engineers (in all of which cases the confessions were denounced at the time as spurious and subsequently admitted in many cases to be correct), and of persons placed on trial in the period of the Nazi era and after the war up to the death of Stalin (during which period misuse of the security organs took place), must all now be dismissed without exception as false and fabricated. This unreasonable distortion and exaggeration of a serious correction is only able to flourish for the moment in the Western world, since the long process of legal review and verification in respect of the period in question is not yet complete, and until then we are not yet able to confront finally these distortions with precise and complete factual information concerning the period in question; that is, the final assessment of how many in fact were arrested; how many sentenced, executed, imprisoned or deported; how many were guilty, and how many were innocent. Here inevitably historical research and presentation has to await the completion of the preceding legal work. This is a particular example of the special difficulties accompanying contemporary history. Nevertheless, even under these inevitable temporary limitations, the enemy campaign makes the need for the best possible consistent objective historical treatment on the basis of our available knowledge all the greater, not as a question of an idle search for information, but in order to defeat the enemy lies and equip and strengthen further our ranks.

When Lenin chose the title Pravda (Truth) for the organ of the great Russian Communist Party, the teacher of all Communist parties, his choice was a guide and a signpost. Our weapon is the truth. The weapon of Marxism is the truth.

The choice of the title Truth for the organ of Communism was equally the expression of confidence in the mass of the people – that they will always understand, once the facts are set clearly before them. The enemy seeks to win his temporary victories by mystification and lies. We alone in the modern world are never afraid of the truth. There is no fact so terrible, so cruel or so bitter that we cannot face it as it is without concealment or embellishment. For we know that when all the facts of any given situation or a phase of our era are presented without distortion, in their interrelations and movement, in their historical relations, with historical understanding, then the outcome will always lead to the conclusion of communism and the justification of communism, because communism is the truth of our historical epoch.

In conclusion I would like to be permitted to pay tribute to all of the Historical Faculty of Moscow University who are carrying forward this great work.

And to you who are students I would say this. You can be proud to be studying in the university which is now the centre of the modern world, of the world of socialism and Marxist-Leninist theory. You will be able to carry forward, with a far greater completeness and mastery than any of us can yet attain, the noble work of endeavouring to understand human progress and development, and thereby helping to guide the path forward, which is the task of Marxist history.


1. F Engels to C Schmidt, 5 August 1890.

2. Anthony Froude, Short Studies on Great Subjects, 1894 [original: James Anthony Froude, The Science of History: A Lecture Delivered at the Royal Institution, 5 February 1864 (London, nd) – MIA.

3. Michael Joseph Oakeshott, Experience and Its Modes (Cambridge, 1933).

4. EH Carr, What Is History? The George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, January-March 1961 (London, 1961).

5. Benedetto Croce, History: Its Theory and Practice (London, 1921), p 13.

6. Rajani Palme Dutt, World Politics 1918 – 1936 (London, 1936).

7. JL and Barbara Hammond, The Village Labourer, 1760-1832: A Study in the Government of England Before the Reform Bill (London, 1911); The Town Labourer, 1760-1832: The New Civilisation (London, 1917); The Age of the Chartists, 1832-1854: A Study of Discontent (London, 1930).

8. John Robert Seeley, The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures (London, 1883).

9. Winston Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918 (London, 1927).

10. ‘How things will actually turn out when it comes to war it is impossible to foresee... If things turn out as we would like it, and this is very probable, then it will be a war of positions on the French frontier, a war of attack leading to the capture of the Polish fortresses on the Russian frontier, and a revolution in Petersburg, which will at once make the gentlemen who are conducting the war see everything in an entirely different light. One thing is certain: there will be no more quick decisions and triumphal marches either to Berlin or Paris.’ (Friedrich Engels, Letter to Wilhelm Liebknecht, 23 February 1888)

11. News-Chronicle, 5 January 1949.

12. Richard Ullman, Intervention and the War: Anglo-Soviet Relations, 1917-1921 (Princeton, 1961).

13. The Times, 22 February 1926.

14. Thomas Jones, A Diary With Letters, 1931-1950 (London, 1954).

15. New Statesman and Nation, 8 July 1933.

16. CP Snow, Science and Government (London, 1960).

Chapter II: The Cold War

The Cold War has been the central question of international relations in the modern period. It is accordingly appropriate to consider this at the outset in any review of the problems of contemporary history.

The innocent might imagine that the history of the Cold War, which has overshadowed the life of mankind for close on two decades, would abound on the bookshelves on every side and in every country. On the contrary, a strange silence has reigned and so far continues to reign from the side of Western official historians. To the best of my knowledge no history of the Cold War has been attempted by any of the standard Western academic historians.

This silence is in fact not so surprising. To justify the Cold War an official Western mythology has been created, which can only be characterised as a tissue of demonstrable falsehoods from beginning to end, but is sedulously spread in every diplomatic statement, press article or ministerial speech. No wonder that Western official historians have found it wiser to avoid a serious survey. For even the most perfunctory account of the plain facts would blow the myths sky-high.

At last in 1961 an American liberal-minded and, it might be said, unorthodox historian of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, has published a study of the Cold War in two volumes (extending over forty-three years from 1917 to 1960), which represents the first serious attempt at a fuller historical study. [1]

I: A Pioneer Historical Study of the Cold War

Professor Fleming’s study, although by no means an official analysis, is of the highest value as an honest and serious attempt to survey this supremely important theme of contemporary history. The author is a Professor of International Relations at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee – the state whose legislators won notoriety in 1925 by passing a law to forbid the ‘teaching of the evolution theory’ in schools and universities, but evidently forgot to add a law to forbid the teaching of the facts of historical evolution. No doubt the witch-hunt crusaders assumed the ‘monkey trial’ state to be so safe from any current of enlightenment that they never anticipated the dynamite of dangerous truth which was being so laboriously accumulated all through the McCarthyite era in this more remote university, while the more fashionable and famous universities, the Harvards and Princetons and Yales, like their counterparts in Oxford and Cambridge and elsewhere in this country, were, as usual, neglecting their historical duty and turning out slick Cold War sophists and practitioners.

The author of this study of the Cold War is no communist or Marxist or socialist. His philosophy is that of liberal capitalism. ‘I have never doubted’, he says, ‘that we can compete successfully with communism, if we place our main reliance on non-military methods.’ His ideal is represented by President Franklin Roosevelt or the more idealist utterances of President Eisenhower at the first Summit Conference. His preoccupation is with the dread problem of war or peace in our time, ever more menacing since his days as a student in 1914. An aircraft machine-gun instructor in the American Expeditionary Force in France in the First World War, since 1918 he has specialised in the study of the origins, course and consequences of the two world wars successively and the Cold War, and has previously published five books on international politics between the two world wars. Marxists will disagree with some of his estimations, or find inadequate his record of the facts on some crucial episodes, for example, Berlin. He shows no familiarity with Marxism-Leninism, regards Crankshaw or Deutscher or Chamberlin as his expert guides on the Soviet Union, and indeed relies for his material only on the current press accounts, memoirs and publications available for the general American reading public. Under these conditions this can naturally be no final history. But these very limitations, this patient, painstaking conscientious analysis of home material, makes in the end the more overwhelming and damning this documented indictment of the record of the Cold War. There is here no ostentatious parade of remote sources in fifteen languages. Nothing is here presented which cannot be checked by the average reader in an ordinary public library or in newspaper files. It is as if the old honest America of Mark Twain from the Mississippi Basin had come to life, and surveying the modern America of Dulles and McCarthy and nuclear mania, had set out to proclaim the plain unvarnished facts without fear or favour.

Of course all the professional orthodox historians and apologists of the Foreign Office are up in arms to denounce this book. Sir William Hayter and Lord Strang have poured forth their fury. With scorn they turn up their noses at this dependence on press cuttings, especially the frequent citations from the local paper, the Nashville Tennessean, and journalistic books and ‘secondary sources’, in place of the ‘original documents’ and state papers and official archives as the fount of truth. They are mistaken. The cult of ‘the documents’ can also lead to misleading results. This has been amusingly illustrated in the highly erratic Origins of the Second World War of AJP Taylor, [2] where the terror of Hitler’s offensive over Europe disappears in the academic analysis of a detached observer, presenting ‘a story without heroes’ and perhaps even without villains. Taylor, referring to the ‘immediate causes’ of the First World War as ‘more or less agreed’, roundly states that ‘the German refusal to respect the neutrality of Belgium provoked Great Britain to declare war on Germany’. Of course this is what the British Blue Book says; it is the official record, enshrining the official lie; and that is enough for Taylor. If he had lived through the politics of the period other than as a schoolboy of eight years, he would have shown more awareness that the secret commitment had already been made by the Inner Cabinet, and was already executed in the naval dispositions, but that the desperate search for a pretext to put it over for public opinion, and to defeat the Lloyd George – MacDonald moves for a breakaway, led to the last-minute choice of the issue of Belgian neutrality as a heaven-sent screen. The documents can mislead; press cuttings can teach.

When Fleming repeatedly cites the local American press or popular news columnists to illustrate his thesis and demonstrate the Cold War, including the self-contradictions and sometimes admissions of its advocates, he is by no means descending below the dignity of an historian to have recourse to fifth-rate sources. On the contrary, this is the living stuff of history, compared with which the precious official documents are often nothing but a paperasserie of bureaucratic lies. What the Nashville Tennessean or the Kentucky Courier or Alsop or Drew Pearson or Lippmann may have said at a given moment is important precisely because this is the picture of the world with which, at various levels, one hundred and fifty million Americans were being fed during the most critical period of world history. When Fleming reprints a whole page of headlines from the Chicago Tribune from 1925 to 1927 proclaiming at regular intervals the collapse, bankruptcy, disintegration and impending downfall of the Soviet regime, this is stuff which the aristocratic historian would regard as beneath his notice, but which is the real living material to show how a great nation was indoctrinated with lies and poisoned with anti-Soviet mania to erupt into the Cold War.

At the same time the plain indisputable facts of what actually happened in episode after episode, from the wars of intervention and appeasement and Munich and the Second World War to the atom bomb and Hiroshima and the Marshall Plan and Czechoslovakia and the Korean War and Formosa and Vietnam and the U-2, are painstakingly disentangled from the lies, and set out with unanswerable evidence of facts, dates and the statements of the leading participants themselves. Each chapter explodes a hundred lies and conventional myths which have now become current coin of Cold War mythology by ceaseless repetition of catchwords without ever giving the facts (for example, the ‘rape’ of Czechoslovakia by the 51 per cent Socialist – Communist parliamentary majority, or the North Korean ‘aggression’ in 1950), so that young people who have never lived through the events unconsciously swallow as gospel the catchword lies of the Cold War propagandists as if they were facts. For this reason this massive study of the Cold War, whatever its limitations as a final historical evaluation, is an indispensable guide and reference book for the international politics of the modern era. No such exhaustive study within the pages of a single work has previously been attempted. It is undoubtedly the most useful book on this theme so far available to recommend to the general reader in any Western country who wishes to become acquainted and equipped with the background of present-day international politics.

Nevertheless, in many respects the analysis falls short. It may accordingly be useful to consider a few aspects of the Cold War which are less adequately treated, or omitted, in this record, although they are important for understanding.

II: The Origins of the Cold War

When did the Cold War begin?

The Western official mythology has a ready-made story pat. The Western powers, according to this story, emerged from the Second World War bursting with benevolence towards the Soviet Union and a sincere desire for cooperation. They were surprised and shocked by the hostile uncooperative attitude of the Soviet Union, and after successive experiences of socialist ‘aggression’, culminating in Czechoslovakia in 1947 and over Berlin in 1948, they were compelled to take measures for their defence by establishing NATO in 1949; and the Cold War had begun. This fairy tale need not delay us, since there is plenty of documentary proof that the Cold War had been elaborately planned by the leaders of the Western powers before the Second World War was over.

Professor Fleming fixes the starting point of the Cold War from the moment when Truman took over as President after the death of Roosevelt:

There are some who think the Cold War did not begin until around 1947. But it is clear from this episode that President Truman was ready to begin it before he had been in office two weeks.

The reference of ‘this episode’ is to the first interview of President Truman with the Soviet Foreign Minister, when the latter, according to Drew Pearson (writing ten years later) ‘heard Missouri mule-driver’s language’. Professor Blackett has dated it from Hiroshima:

The dropping of the atomic bombs was not so much the last military act of the Second World War as the first act of the cold diplomatic war with Russia now in progress. [3]

In reality the true origin can be fixed with documentary precision from 1942, when the Churchill secret memorandum was drawn up defining the aim of the postwar struggle against ‘Russian barbarism’, and in the United States General Groves was placed in charge of the ‘Manhattan Project’ or atom bomb project with the understanding that, as he himself subsequently stated, its purpose was intended, not against Nazi Germany or Japan but against the Soviet Union.

To understand the conditions of this origin it is necessary to understand the peculiar international situation leading to and expressed in the Second World War.

Professor Fleming correctly prefaces his study of the Cold War by narrating briefly its preconditions in the whole development of the relations of the Western powers and the Soviet Union since 1917. Although the theme of his study is the Cold War, that is, the specific form of anti-Soviet and counter-revolutionary conspiracy dominating Western politics since the Second World War, Fleming wisely gives a preliminary survey from 1917 onwards to show the consistent red thread of anti-socialist hostility, conspiracy and war-mongering which has characterised the policy of the Western powers and complicated their own inter-imperialist rivalries. He explains carefully – and it is a virtue of this book that he explains everything patiently, step by step, for the most elementary reader – the new character of the socialist revolution as differing from all previous revolutions in that for the first time the class ownership of property was replaced by the social ownership of property. This has earned the undying hostility of the Western capitalist social order:

Many of these social changes might have been accepted by the world’s conservatives in time, but the nationalisation of industry, business and the land – never. JB Priestley once said that the minds of England’s conservatives snapped shut at the height of the Russian Revolution and have never opened since.

The United States, the leader of world conservatism, took sixteen years before it would even recognise the Soviet Union. At this rate the United States would be due to recognise China in 1965; but perhaps events this time may compel a slightly speedier motion from the world’s slowcoach.

The new contradiction since 1917 between Western imperialist counter-revolution and the socialist revolution complicated and confused henceforth the old-fashioned straightforward battle between the rival imperialist powers in their jungle. This was already shown in the wars of intervention (briefly reviewed by Fleming), when British and German armed forces were collaborating in the Baltic region at the same time as they were at war in the West.

Previously British foreign policy had been regarded as the invincible Machiavellian super-grandmaster of strategy. But then the job had been relatively single-track. German imperialism was the up-and-coming rival; during the decade before 1914 the anti-German coalition with superior strength was laboriously constructed; German imperialism was duly smashed, and the crippling Versailles Treaty imposed to prevent it ever arising anew. But from then onwards everything went wrong, and the old picture of the magically omnipotent British foreign policy has vanished forever. It was judged essential to rebuild and rearm German imperialism against the Soviet Union, at the same time as to hold the rival in check. British foreign policy developed a permanent squint, embodied in the conflict of Chamberlain and Churchill.

These two Conservative leaders represented two contradictory halves of British imperialist foreign policy during this period. On the one hand, the aim to build up the diplomatic and military strength of Hitler Germany as a weapon against the socialist Soviet Union. On the other hand, to draw the Soviet Union into a military alliance as a weapon against the rival German imperialism. Both strategies assumed a future German – Soviet war which would weaken or destroy simultaneously the two main powers seen as a threat by British imperialism. Both strategies reflected the interests of British imperialism. But the two strategies were incompatible. In the end British foreign policy fell between two stools.

Chamberlain’s strategy of German rearmament, Munich and the phoney war ended in disaster. Churchill pursued the more subtle strategy of the phoney alliance with the Soviet Union, with the assurance of the entire British and American general staffs that the Soviet Union would be destroyed in a few weeks, and with obstruction of any Second Front. The basic Munichite aim of the mutual destruction of Hitler and the Soviet Union, with the West in the sidelines to emerge as the final victor and strangle revolution in Europe (explained by Hoare as Ambassador to Franco) was thus pursued through other means. Indeed, the then Senator Truman, later President Truman, indiscreetly spelled it out aloud at the time when he proclaimed: ‘If we see that Germany is winning the war we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and in that way let them kill as many as possible.’ [4] Fleming traces the ins and outs of the devious Western anti-Soviet strategy in the Second World War, and explodes the myth that the Soviet armies won their victories thanks to the supply of Western arms:

To the end of the war the Russians managed to supply the great bulk of the fighting tools: 92.5 per cent of the planes used; 91.5 per cent of the tanks; 98.5 per cent of the artillery; 95.5 per cent of the shells; 94.5 per cent of the cartridges and 100 per cent of the rifles.

But history again defeated the plans of Western counter-revolution also in the new form of the phoney alliance.

Despite the overwhelming superior numbers of all the manpower of Continental Europe controlled by Hitler, the Soviet armies won their single-front war. Only in October 1943, after it had become clear that the Soviet armies could alone destroy Nazism and free all Europe, and after Stalin had indicated in a note to the Western powers that with regard to the Second Front he would not of course dream of asking them to attempt anything beyond their powers to accomplish, only then a sudden panic haste seized Churchill and the West to give orders for the speediest preparation of the Second Front in the West (launched in June 1944, exactly three years after the Nazi onslaught on the Soviet Union), in order to save as much as possible of Western Europe for capitalism against the popular anti-fascist movement, as far as the writ of the Anglo-US armies could run.

The true origin of the Cold War can be said to date from the moment when it was realised by the West that the expected destruction of the Soviet Union by the Nazi military machine had failed to come off, that is, by the summer of 1942. It was in October 1942 that Churchill prepared his secret memorandum (disclosed by Macmillan at the Strasbourg ‘European’ Conference in September 1949) declaring that his thoughts were ‘primarily’ occupied with the problem of defeating ‘Russian barbarism’ in Europe:

I must admit that my thoughts rest primarily in Europe – the revival of the glory of Europe, the parent continent of the modern nations and of civilisation. It would be a measureless disaster if Russian barbarism overlaid the culture and independence of the ancient states of Europe.

Similarly the US General Groves, when he was placed in charge of the ‘Manhattan Project’ (the code name for the atom bomb project), has since stated that he was aware from the outset that the real purpose was directed against the Soviet Union: [5]

I think it important to state – I think it is well known – that there was never from about two weeks from the time I took charge of the project any illusion on my part but that Russia was the enemy and that the project was conducted on that basis. I didn’t go along with the attitude of the whole country that Russia was a gallant ally. I always had suspicions and the project was conducted on that basis. [6]

Similarly it was in accordance with this general line that Premier Churchill in the last stage of the war in the spring of 1945, according to the revelation subsequently given by himself in his speech at Woodford on 23 November 1954, gave orders to General Montgomery to stock the arms of the surrendering Nazi armies in readiness to be available for possible reissue to the Nazi armies against the advancing Soviet armies.

The myth that the Western political leaders, Truman, Churchill, Attlee and Bevin, emerged from the war bursting with benevolence towards the Soviet Union, only to be rebuffed and reluctantly driven into opposition by the attitude of the Soviet Union, is a Cold War distortion of history. The Fulton anti-Soviet programme of Truman and Churchill, with the concurrence of Attlee and Bevin, in March 1946, was only the first public proclamation of the Cold War. The Cold War was planned from 1942.

Professor Fleming omits these earlier indications of the preparation of the Cold War during the war, since he believes that President Roosevelt, had he lived to complete his fourth term, would have prevented the Cold War. This is a legitimate historical speculation. There is no doubt from all the available evidence that President Roosevelt firmly held the conception, with increasing emphasis up to the last, that the key to future peace lay through American-Soviet cooperation in the new international order, despite differences of social and political system or incidental issues of friction; that he was increasingly convinced from contacts with Soviet representatives that such cooperation was possible and practicable; and that he was determined not to allow British Tory imperialist foreign policy or reaction in the United States to sabotage such cooperation. But whether he would have been able to carry through his desired policy against the powerful entrenched military-political forces of the Cold War in the United States and ruling Britain is a more doubtful question. Already at his fourth nomination, when he had to accept as his running mate, not the progressive Henry Wallace, whom he desired, but the reactionary anti-Soviet Truman as the Vice-President to succeed him, his vulnerability was revealed.

Whatever the role of personal accident, there is no doubt that very powerful military-political forces in the United States were driving for the programme of the Cold War.

III: Political Theory of the Cold War

The political theory of the Cold War was first publicly proclaimed to the world in the famous Fulton speech of Sir Winston Churchill delivered in March 1946, under the chairmanship of President Truman. It received its first official embodiment in a major statement of American policy with the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine in March 1947.

This date of the Fulton speech and the subsequent Truman Doctrine is worthy of note. For it demonstrates that the Anglo-American proclamation of the Cold War preceded and did not follow the rejection of the Marshall Plan by the Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe in the summer of 1947. It preceded the formation of the Communist Information Bureau in September 1947 (which was a defensive answer to American interventionist strategy in Europe). It preceded the democratic victory over the attempted right-wing coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948. Thus it preceded all the events which have been subsequently quoted by apologists, with their customary falsification of history, as the causes and justification of the policy.

The initial Anglo-American character of the proclamation of the Cold War at Fulton in 1946 is also worthy of note. For it is characteristic that, while the speech was uttered from the mouth of a British elder statesmen out of office, the proclamation was in fact made on American soil, and under the presiding sponsorship of the President of the United States. Thus from the outset the formal Anglo-American partnership in sponsoring the Cold War has not concealed the reality of the predominant role of American imperialism in practice.

Walter Lippmann, the leading American publicist, issued in 1947 a booklet entitled The Cold War: A Study in United States Foreign Policy. [7] He criticised the policy in the following terms:

The policy can be implemented only by recruiting, subsidising and supporting a heterogeneous array of satellites, clients, dependents and puppets. The instrument of the policy of containment is therefore a coalition of disorganised, disunited, feeble or disorderly nations, tribes and factions around the perimeter of the Soviet Union...

It would require, however much the real name for it were disavowed, continual and complicated intervention by the United States in the affairs of all the members of the coalition which we were proposing to organise, to protect, to lead and to use.

Subsequent events have abundantly proved the correctness of this prediction.

The overt aims of the ‘Cold War’ and plans for an eventual third world war were directed against the Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies, since this one-third of the world had won complete liberation from imperialism and alone remained, as The Times editorial of 29 August 1951 noted, completely independent of American domination and control. The aims of American world domination required the overthrow of this independent power, just as the aims of the re-establishment of imperialist rule required the defeat of the advance of socialism and of popular democracy and colonial liberation.

But these ultimate major aims required as their presupposition and first step the building up of a coalition of governments and armed forces under American control over the remaining two-thirds of the world. The long-term strategic plans required the preliminary conquest of control of the periphery, and establishment of a chain of bases and hinterland territories from which to launch the offensive. These territories could not be in the American continent (apart from Alaska), but must be in eastern Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe. Hence the first stage of the American world offensive was directed towards winning control of these regions.

Thus, while the propaganda of the American world offensive was conducted in the name of the anti-Soviet and anti-communist crusade, in similar terms to the previous similar crusade of the Axis, the practical immediate drive of expansion in the first phase was directed to extending penetration and domination at the expense of the Western European imperialist powers and their colonial empires. This coincided with the aim of the stronger American imperialism to bring under its sway and weaken the older imperialist powers of Europe, and especially its main rival, British imperialism.

Thus history has brought about an ironic reversal. Nearly two centuries ago the French officer from monarchist France, Lafayette, sailed to Georgetown and arrived in Philadelphia to fight on the side of the American Revolution and assist the victory of the insurgent republic against the mercenary Hanoverian soldiers of King George. One and three-quarters centuries later the leaders of the United States, no longer the young insurgent republic, but grown old as the main conservative world power in the last stages of imperialist decay, sent its dollars, its arms and its military machines to maintain monarchy and reaction in Europe, and to preserve on his throne another King George who was smuggled into his country in a foreign plane and whose regime was established by foreign tanks and bombers against the people struggling to be free.

A no less ironic fate has overtaken the Monroe Doctrine. The old Monroe Doctrine proclaimed that no European power should be allowed to impose its political system or domination in any state of the American continent, and that conversely the United States would not intervene in any way in any question of the internal political regime in any European state. The Monroe Doctrine was originally the weapon of self-defence of the young American democracy to protect itself and the rising democratic forces which were striving to overthrow the old European colonial system in Latin America against the intrigues and aggression of the Holy Alliance in Europe. But in our era the United States imperialists have sought to lead a new Holy Alliance against the rising democratic forces of the advanced socialist democracies in Europe. The wheel has turned full circle. Today it might be said that there is need of a new Monroe Doctrine for the self-protection of the peoples of Europe and Asia and Latin America against American intervention and aggression.

The immediate ancestry of the political theory of the Cold War is not far to seek. For as soon as the phrases, the slogans and the techniques of the Cold War are examined, these will be found to be echoing, sometimes with almost servile exactness, the old anti-Comintern crusade of Nazism. Just as the old anti-Comintern crusade of Nazism covered the real expansionist aims of German imperialism, so the slogans of the anti-communist Cold War crusade have been used to cover the expansionist aims of the aggressive circles of American imperialism, in close association with the neo-Nazi West German imperialists built up anew through the aid and protection of American imperialism.

Consider for example that most familiar formula of the Cold War, ‘the Iron Curtain’, which is currently used a million times a day in every Western speech and press article to denote the frontiers of the socialist countries and peoples who won freedom from fascism at the end of the Second World War. This formula is universally stated to have been coined by the genius of Sir Winston Churchill in his Fulton speech in March 1946. But in fact it was first used in this sense, that is, to describe the situation of the countries of Eastern Europe liberated from Nazism through the advance of the Soviet armies, by Josef Goebbels in an editorial published in Das Reich on 25 February 1945:

If the German people lay down their arms, the whole of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, together with the Reich, would come under Russian occupation. Behind the iron curtain, mass butcheries of people would begin, and all that would remain would be a crude automation, a daily fermenting mass of thousands of proletarians and despairing slave animals knowing nothing of the outside world.

In a series of controversies in The Times, The Times Literary Supplement and other journals I have established this origin of the use of this phrase in this context (now recognised in the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations). The formula was borrowed by Sir Winston Churchill – no doubt unconsciously, but after having read it prominently displayed only a year before his Fulton speech in The Times in February 1945 – without acknowledgement of authorship, and since continues to be used on every side without recognition of its Nazi origin.

If a royalty had to be paid for its use each time by Western publicists and politicians to the original author, the shade of Goebbels would by now be the wealthiest shade in Hades.

Consider similarly the original presentation and justification of the North Atlantic Treaty Pact, the principal military organisation of the Cold War. Mr Bevin, British Foreign Minister, speaking in Parliament on 18 March 1949, described the conclusion of the Atlantic Pact in the following terms:

This is an historic occasion. It is certainly one of the greatest steps towards world peace and security... This agreement marks the opening of a new era of cooperation and understanding.

Ribbentrop, Nazi Foreign Minister, described the conclusion of the Anti-Comintern Pact in the following terms in November 1936:

The conclusion of today’s agreement is an epochal event. It is a turning point in the struggle of all nations which love order and civilisation against the powers of destruction... This agreement is a guarantee of peace for all the world.

Similarly, Bevin, British Foreign Minister, declared of the Atlantic Pact:

This pact is a powerful defensive arrangement, it is not directed against anyone. If we are accused of ganging up against any country or group of countries, I should say simply: ‘Examine the text. There is no secrecy about it; there are no secret clauses.’

Ciano, Fascist Foreign Minister, declared of the Tripartite Anti-Comintern Pact:

The pact has no hidden aims. It is directed against no one... It is an instrument placed in the hands of peace and civilisation.

The British and American official press described the Atlantic Pact as a ‘rampart of two hundred and fifty million people’ against the ‘menace of Soviet aggression’ and ‘communist disruption’. The Nazi organ, Völkischer Beobachter, described the Anti-Comintern Pact in November 1937 thus:

The Tripartite Agreement is a bulwark of peace. A dyke of two hundred million human beings is being formed to protect the peace of the world from Bolshevik destruction.

Mussolini declared:

The shadow of our planes will darken the sky.

The Unites States Air Chief’s press statement of 1 March 1949, on the occasion of the announcement of the despatch of the Atom Bomb Squadron due to arrive in Britain in April, declared:

The shadow of United States air power can be cast over any part of the world.

The parallel is unmistakable. The North Atlantic Treaty Pact was in truth a new Anti-Comintern Pact. History has shown what fate befell the promoters of the Anti-Comintern Pact. The writing is on the wall for the promoters of the North Atlantic Treaty.

IV: Contradictions of the Theory of the Cold War

The theory of the Cold War has poisoned international relations since the Second World War. The essence of the theory is that it assumes an inevitable division of the world into opposing armed camps moving towards a future possible world war or even – in some versions of the theory – towards the inevitability of world war. It bases every detailed political and strategic calculation on this analysis of the Cold War, and thereby renders international cooperation impossible.

The peculiar difficulty of dislodging the theory of the Cold War from the minds of Western ideologists lies in the fact that, while the threat is declared to be military, the theory is maintained independently of any evidence of any military action or aggression. Indeed, the very absence of military action or aggression is turned into a confirmation of the theory. The admittedly pacific attitude of the Soviet Union in international relations is at once proclaimed to be either a ‘sign of weakness’, a concession to ‘Western strength’, or, alternatively, a ‘trap’, a ‘deception’, a ‘diplomatic manoeuvre to make the West relax’ and so forth, necessitating ceaseless warnings against the menace of such relaxation. The simple possibility that the successive actions of the Soviet Union for peace and the relaxation of international tension might be governed by the interests of the socialist states, as of all humanity, in saving peace, is automatically dismissed by these super-wise experts as unworthy of consideration. Thus all the facts of life are relentlessly forced into the iron framework of the rigid, preconceived assumptions of a false theory.

It was precisely the complaint of Sir Winston Churchill that, as he declared in his election address in May 1955, ‘the Russian Soviet and their satellites... have communised nearly half Europe and all China without the loss of a single Russian soldier’. It is precisely because in Czechoslovakia the attempted coup of the right ministers to forestall the advance of the Communist Party from the 40 per cent of the electorate already won to an absolute majority in the impending elections was defeated by the united resistance of the working people and a parliamentary majority, without the presence or intervention of a single Russian soldier, that this is seen and quoted as the classic example of ‘Russian aggression’ and the ‘Russian conquest of Czechoslovakia’, justifying the Cold War and the Atlantic Treaty. It was precisely because the Korean people resisted Rhee’s ‘March to the North’ and defended their country against the combined imperialist invasion, without the participation of a single Soviet soldier, and with the intervention of the Chinese volunteers only after due warning had been given that an advance of the combined imperialist armies to the Yalu would constitute a threat to China, that these genuine struggles of national defence have been presented as successive ‘proofs’ of ‘aggression’. It was precisely because the Chinese people by their own strength defeated and drove out Chiang Kai-shek, despite the limitless American material and arms available for him, that the United States has so far refused to recognise the truly democratic government – proved in the support of the people by the sternest test of all – of the Chinese People’s Republic, and has preferred to recognise the police state of Chiang maintained only by their subsidies and arms behind the guns of the American navy.

The theory of the Cold War leads to the ‘policy of strength’ as its necessary counterpart. The world is seen as divided into two opposing and inevitably hostile blocs; the bloc of the countries in the imperialist orbit (the so-called ‘democratic’ or ‘free world’, but the actual content, including all the colonial and semi-colonial countries, autocratic colonial and colour-bar regimes, dependent military dictatorships, etc, does not correspond to the label), and the bloc of the countries of socialism and popular democracy (the so-called ‘Communist bloc’). The relation between these two is not seen as simply a difference of social, economic and political systems, or even of competition in the sense of endeavouring to demonstrate the relative success of either system in meeting the needs of the people, while recognising common interests in the maintenance of peace and in the development of international economic cooperation. The relationship is seen in military and strategic terms of hostility, as a relation of permanent war, open or latent, of ‘Cold War’ which may at any moment break into ‘Hot War’, with the consequent necessity of basing all calculations on strategic considerations overriding all other issues. Hence the ‘policy of strength’. ‘The West’ must be ‘overwhelmingly strong’ to impose its will. ‘The Western Powers have to be strong’, as Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin declared in the House of Commons on 17 October 1950, ‘and perfectly clear as to the kind of world they want, and stand for it until they get it.’ Negotiations become, not a search for agreement, but a test of relative strength.

The culminating insanity of the Cold War theory was illustrated by the fate which overtook the United States Secretary for Defence Forrestal in the spring of 1949 when he jumped out of his bed in a panic, believing that a fire siren was signalling the arrival of the Red Army, and it was then discovered that he had already been mad for weeks. The American radio commentator, Drew Pearson, broadcast on this incident on 10 April 1949:

Mr James Forrestal is out of his mind and has apparently been partly so for some weeks... Mr Forrestal became obsessed with the idea that the Russians were invading the United States, and when a fire siren blew he jumped out of bed and had to be restrained. Later the siren blew a second time and Mr Forrestal then ran out of the house in his pyjamas, screaming about the Red Army, and it was with some difficulty that he was caught and brought back into the house...

It is hoped that important decisions made while he was possibly not in his right mind will be reviewed.

The most significant feature of this episode was that the United States Secretary of Defence had thus already been mad for many weeks or more, and no one had noticed anything wrong.

It can be said that the unfortunate Mr Forrestal had not been alone among American and British statesmen in seeing Bolsheviks under the bed. It is a measure of the sinister machinations of Soviet diplomacy that they have reduced thousands of upper-class Americans and their colleagues in other countries to a similar condition. In the words of Spenser’s allegory, the cave of Mammon, where he has piled his ‘great heaps of gold that never could be spent... poured through a hole full wide into the hollow earth’ – Fort Knox? – gold ‘first got with guile and then preserved with dread’, is next-door to the gates of hell:

Betwixt them both was but a little stride
That did the house of Richesse from hell-mouth divide.

V: The Military Theory of the Cold War

The military theory of the Cold War is inextricably bound up with the strategic theory of the atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb, of nuclear warfare. In general, the military theory of the Cold War has followed the familiar lines of the ‘policy of strength’ and the arms race, in accordance with the assumption of the division of the world into two hostile camps with the preparation for a prospect of a third world war. But this general character, familiar in preceding periods of international tension and the arms race, has taken on peculiar features in the nuclear era with the development of nuclear weapons.

The conception of waging war by nuclear bombing of the territory and civilian population of the enemy, although first demonstrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which was in fact, as Professor Blackett has shown, the first act of the Cold War, did not originate then as a theory. The theory of strategic bombing has developed since the First World War as a distinctive Anglo-American theory of war – in the first place, as a distinctive British theory.

The first primitive development was by the Western imperialist powers in the First World War. The first systematic development of the doctrine of ‘strategic bombing’ (bombing of civilians as a main method of war) was by Britain and the Royal Air Force under Trenchard. In his book Bomber Offensive published in 1947, Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, known as ‘Bomber Harris’, wrote:

No other country in the world had at that time conceived the possibility of using an air force in this way, to fight a war by itself and within certain limits win a war outright. The French believed that bombers could only be used to serve as long-range artillery for the army... The Germans completely subordinated their whole air force to the land operations of a Continental army... The Russians never seriously attempted strategic bombing... The Japanese entirely subordinated their air force to the operations of their army and navy... The United States had not originally visualised the use of aircraft in any but a close strategic-tactical role. The Royal Air Force was using air power strategically in Iraq. [8]

The first conspicuous peacetime demonstration of strategic bombing was the bombing of the villages of Iraq by the first Labour government in 1924, when Lord Thomson, Minister for the Air, publicly boasted that 700 corpses were left on the ground. In face of the wide protest from the labour movement, the unhappy pacifist who had been appointed Under-Secretary of State for Air had to explain that this was found a more economical way of punishing villages for non-payment of taxes than the old-fashioned method of sending a punitive expedition. The same method was tried on the North-West Frontier and against the Somalis (’the Mad Mullah’).

Thus strategic bombing developed as a typical colonial method of British imperialism, and was later transferred to Europe, taken over by Nazism and fascism in Spain, and carried to extreme lengths by all the Western imperialist powers in the Second World War. It was the British War Cabinet which adopted in 1942 the formal decision to concentrate the bombing offensive on working-class houses on the grounds that military objectives were too difficult to find. Nazism carried the method forward with the V1 ‘doodle-bug’ and the V2 rocket. This was the strategy which found its culmination in the atom bomb and Hiroshima. All this was the strategy of Western imperialism.

The Hague Convention, Article 25, prohibits the bombardment of cities not under direct military assault. Both sides violated this in the First World War, and in the Second. Between the wars the attempt was made at Geneva to reach agreement to honour this convention and prohibit the aerial bombardment of cities. Opposition to this was led by Britain. It will be recalled how Lord Londonderry returned from Geneva to boast that he had the utmost difficulty to prevent the prohibition of strategic bombing, that it had been a near thing, but that he had succeeded in preventing such a prohibition. The harvest of Lord Londonderry’s efforts (combined with the Munich policy of Chamberlain) was reaped by the citizens of London, Plymouth, Coventry and all the bombed cities of Britain. It was this theory of ‘strategic bombing’ that underlay the subsequent Anglo-American theory of the atom bomb as the supreme weapon of victory in war.

Sir Charles Snow has noted that this theory of strategic bombing, or terror-bombing of civilians as the means of victory, has been the characteristic Anglo-American modern theory of war:

The English and Americans had for years past believed in strategic bombing as no other countries had. Countries which had thought deeply about war, like Germany and Russia, had no faith in strategic bombing and had not invested much productive capacity or many élite troops in it. The English had, years before the war began. The strategy had not been thought out. It was just an unrationalised article of faith that strategic bombing was likely to be our most decisive method of making war. [9]

This was the Anglo-American theory of war which thus found its logical continuation, with the advance to the nuclear age, in the Anglo-American atom bomb, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in the Anglo-American Fulton theory of nuclear supremacy, nuclear strategy and the ‘nuclear deterrent’. Soviet nuclear development in the strategic field has only followed subsequently to answer the open Anglo-American nuclear threat and to defeat and bring to an end this nuclear strategy.

It is worth noting in this connection that, in accordance with the characteristic development of the Cold War theory as a continuance from Nazism, Marshal Goering in the last interview he gave before his death was reported by the British press to have said: ‘American leadership in the atomic field is now vital for the world’s future.’ [10]

At the outset British political and military leaders had believed that the atom bomb opened the way to a joint Anglo-American nuclear world domination. Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, Churchill’s Chief-of-Staff during the Second World War, has noted in his war diaries, published in 1959 (Triumph in the West) how in 1945 Churchill had dreamed of such world power on the basis of the atom bomb:

He was already seeing himself as capable of eliminating all the Russian centres of industry and population, without taking into account any of the connected problems, such as delivery of the bomb, production of bombs, possibility of Russians also possessing such bombs, etc. He had at once painted a wonderful picture of himself as the sole possessor of these bombs and capable of dumping them where he wished, thus all-powerful and capable of dictating to Stalin. [11]

The initial basis of this illusion of a joint Anglo-American nuclear world domination was the Quebec Agreement of 1943. It was the eternal honour of British scientists, of Lord Rutherford and his colleagues, to have led the way in probing the secrets of the release of atomic energy. There was no question of the significance of this advance; there was no question that the Nazi scientists were working at full pressure to evolve the atomic bomb, and that therefore, under the conditions of the war against fascism, all the questions of the military use of atomic energy had to be tackled. It could be further argued with reason that the most favourable productive conditions and resources were then in the United States. But it is the eternal shame of the Churchill government that they surrendered the achievements of British atomic science to the United States, not as a sacrifice for the war against fascism, not as a part of the sharing of all military and technical secrets to which the three partners of the alliance against fascism were pledged, but with the specific and contractually admitted aim to establish an exclusive Anglo-American military atomic monopoly whose future point was to be directed against the Soviet Union. For this was the essence of the Quebec Agreement. The information was not to be divulged to ‘third parties’, that is, the Soviet Union (there could hardly be need of an agreement not to divulge it to the Nazis). The atomic bomb was not to be used against Britain or the United States, but only against ‘third parties’ by Anglo-American agreement.

The date is significant. In 1943 the Soviet Union was bleeding at every pore, carrying almost the entire burden of battle against the Nazi hordes. The promised Second Front in the West, pledged to be established in 1942, was not established either in 1942 or in 1943 – not, indeed, until 1944, after the advance of the Soviet armies had made certain the defeat of Nazism; and the Anglo-American armies were then poured into Western Europe, in order, as Hoare had told the Franco government, to prevent the spread of the popular revolution and save capitalism over as much of Europe as they could control. This was the time, already in 1942, when Churchill, while proclaiming his public eulogies of Soviet heroism, had been writing his secret memorandum, divulged by Macmillan at Strasbourg after the war, on the necessity to build the front against ‘Russian barbarism’ in Europe. The Quebec Agreement was the formal expression of the Anglo-American atomic military alliance, not as a part of the wider alliance against fascism, but as a sectional military alliance, with its point prepared to be directed against the Soviet Union, as soon as Nazism was defeated. And it is the irony of history that this Quebec Agreement, which in the Churchillian dream was to have been the instrument of Anglo-American world domination after the war, became in the outcome the instrument of United States domination over Britain.

The third stage was Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The decision to drop the atom bomb was an Anglo-American decision. It was not even divulged to Stalin at Potsdam. The guilt of the atom bomb is an Anglo-American guilt. The quarter million slain at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not killed to hasten the end of the war against Japan and thereby ‘save lives’, as the subsequent myth has been spread to seek to hide the guilt. For the Japanese government was already seeking to surrender before the bomb was dropped. The minutes of the Japanese Imperial Cabinet have revealed that the decision to surrender was reached before knowledge of the dropping of the atom bomb had reached them, and was based on the grounds that the entry of the Soviet Union into the war had brought such forces against them as rendered it impossible for them to continue the war. The dropping of the atom bomb was hastened and dated by the Anglo-American command precisely in order to anticipate the decisive role of the Soviet armies against the main massed Japanese armies in the Far East. It was hastened, not in order to make the Japanese government surrender, but precisely because the Japanese government was already making approaches to surrender. It was hastened to make a demonstration of Anglo-American atomic military power, before the ending of the war would have rendered such a demonstration impossible. The dropping of the atom bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not the last act in the war against fascism. It was the first act in the new Cold War for American world domination and against the Soviet Union.

It is worth looking back today at the speeches and press articles in Britain that followed the atomic crime of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They afford a grim picture of the megalomaniac delusions of grandeur and of supposed unassailable joint Anglo-American world domination which was to follow. All the old forms of warfare, the armies and navies, were declared to be henceforth obsolete. The lords of the atom bombs were the lords of the world. It would no longer be necessary to take account of the Soviet Union as an equal member of the ‘Big Three’. The Soviet Union would have to bow henceforth to Anglo-American terms. ‘So long as we and the United States have the monopoly of this discovery’, proclaimed the blissful Daily Mail, ‘the difference in war potential between us and the rest of the world is as if they had not discovered electric or steam power.’ ‘It means a great change in world power relations’, declared The Observer, ‘it binds Britain and America together as never before... it shifts the balance of power among the Big Three... the possession of the monopoly of the atomic bomb makes American – British power predominance, for the time being, a fact.’

The shattering of the illusions soon followed. In the spring of 1946 Mr Churchill, as he then was, made his Fulton speech, proudly proclaiming the theme of Anglo-American world domination, and baring the guns of his public offensive against the Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe. When he made that Fulton speech, he was still basking in the illusion that the paper Quebec Agreement had guaranteed Britain’s equal partnership, not only in the exchange of atomic information, but in the decision for the use of the bomb. But within a few months of Fulton, the United States struck its first blow – at Britain. Before the end of 1946 the United States, by the McMahon Act, had double-crossed Britain, violated its own pledged word, and repudiated the clause of the Quebec Agreement providing for the exchange of atomic information. President Truman had inherited and accepted the Quebec Agreement (indeed, he later declared it still binding for atomic weapons, but not for the hydrogen bomb). But President Truman, who had presided so benignly over Churchill’s Fulton speech, did not deem it necessary to inform Senator McMahon or the Senate about the Quebec Agreement. Indeed, Senator McMahon subsequently alleged that, had he known of it, he would never have ventured to propose the McMahon Act. Nor did Mr Attlee as British Prime Minister think it his place to remind the almighty United States of its pledged word to Britain. A debtor hardly likes to press claims on his moneylender. So the Churchillian dream went up in smoke. But the clause on the use of the bomb still remained. The biggest surrender was to follow.

By 1947 the Churchillian dream received its next blow, when the Soviet Union was able to announce that Soviet science had shattered the illusions of an Anglo-American monopoly of the secrets of atomic energy or of the production of atomic energy or atomic weapons. All that remained of the Quebec Agreement was the clause giving Britain a right of veto on the American use of the bomb. To their horror the American Senators and the Pentagon discovered in the summer of 1947 that this clause was still valid, and that, while the McMahon Act had placed the use of the bomb in the sole discretion of the President, the President could only use that power in accordance with the Quebec Agreement, that is, with British consent. The Forrestal Diaries reveal how Defence Secretary Forrestal first learned of the Quebec Agreement in July 1947. At once the American war leaders got busy to force Britain to abandon its right. This was the moment of the Marshall Plan, when the Attlee government had eagerly placed Britain’s head in the neck of the noose. The noose had only to be tightened on the victim in order to force surrender. The Vandenberg Papers (Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg) have revealed how Senator Vandenberg, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made clear that, unless Britain surrendered this right, it would have a ‘disastrous effect’ on Congressional consideration of the Marshall Plan. Conferences followed with the British representatives. Mr Attlee surrendered. In January 1948, the new modus vivendi was reached, cancelling the Quebec Agreement. Within two months Marshall Aid was approved by the Senate. Britain had been sold for a mess of pottage. A few months later the American bombers arrived in Britain. The Attlee government had made Britain a helpless American bomber base. Marshall Aid ‘without strings’.

A footnote may be added to this sordid story of the sale of Britain for a mess of pottage. The uranium of the Congo was the indispensable source of supply for the United States’ production of atom bombs. But the uranium mines of the Congo were operated by a Belgian company, the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, the controlling interest in whose shares was held by the British monopoly Tanganyika Concessions. In April 1950, the British Labour government sold 1,677,961 of the ordinary shares of Tanganyika Concessions (or nearly half the total of 3,831,412 issued ordinary shares), which it owned at the time, to an Anglo-Belgian group, which in turn sold 600,000 of these shares to an American group associated with the Rockefeller monopoly interests. According to the Vandenberg Papers, one of the conditions of aid to Britain in connection with the Marshall Plan was that the United States should obtain a share in the development of uranium in the Congo. Thus the Attlee government had not only surrendered Britain as an American bomber base, but also surrendered to the United States a key proprietary interest in the uranium of the Congo, on the basis of which the United States sought to develop its would-be atomic monopoly, excluding Britain. Once again the surrender was extorted as a part of the price of the Marshall Plan. The subsequent history of the Congo, and of the rivalry of Anglo-American interests in the Congo, has cast a lurid light on these proceedings.

In 1962 the mission of George Ball, President Kennedy’s special adviser, from the United States to Britain and France has shown the continued American aim to hold the nuclear weapon in sole United States hands and to exert pressure on Britain and France to fulfil the role of supplying the so-called ‘conventional’ forces.

But in fact all the military conceptions of the Anglo-American strategy of the Cold War have been exploded by modern developments.

VI: Political and Military Bankruptcy of the Cold War

On 21 August 1945, within a fortnight of the dropping of the first atom bomb, I ventured in the Editorial ‘Notes of the Month’ in Labour Monthly published in September 1945 to expose the illusion of Anglo-American nuclear world supremacy which was at that time being so widely proclaimed in the West. There were three main illusions which I then attempted to expose.

First illusion: The strategic illusion that the atom bomb could be in isolation decisive in war and had rendered all the old military and naval forces obsolete. On this I wrote in August 1945:

The oversimplification of strategy implicit in these assumptions will not bear examination even in the strategic field alone.

Second illusion: The underestimation of Soviet science and technique which would shortly shatter the illusion of an Anglo-American atomic monopoly. On this I wrote in August 1945:

It has happened more than once before now that reactionary hotheads who have based their evident calculations on the supposed backwardness of Soviet science and technique have had their fingers burned.

Third illusion: That there was a joint Anglo-American atomic monopoly, when in fact all the evidence indicated that the monopoly was in American hands, with Britain excluded. On this I wrote in August 1945:

The boasted ‘American-British power predominance’ on the basis of the atom bomb is a myth.

Britain, it was pointed out in these comments written at the time, was less favourably placed for the enormous outlay required for the large-scale development of atomic energy, which in the initial stages ‘can only be within the reach of the largest, most highly-developed industrial states such as the United States and the Soviet Union’. In fact, the argument continued, ‘it is precisely a small densely-crowded country such as Britain that is most vulnerable to the atom bomb, as against the vast spaces of the United States or the Soviet Union’. From this the conclusion was drawn:

Is it not obvious that the supposed partnership of ‘American-British predominance’ would turn into the uttermost helpless dependence of this country on the United States? [12]

Today the modern development and advance of socialist science and technology in the nuclear and rocket field has rendered all the initial strategic calculations of the Cold War theorists out of date. The conception of a Western nuclear monopoly was admitted by Western spokesmen to have been shattered by 1949. By 1953 Soviet priority was demonstrated in thermo-nuclear development. By 1957 the first Sputnik made visible to the whole population of the world this role of priority, with all that it involved. This advance has been carried forward at an accelerating pace to the present stage, with the development of the ballistic rocket capable of traversing the entire globe, defeating all attempts at interception or warning systems and reaching its target with pin-point accuracy. Parallel with this has been the announcement of the development of the Soviet anti-missile missile.

In contrast to the Western nuclear theory of world domination on the basis of nuclear weapons, Soviet nuclear advance in the strategic sphere has opened the way to banishing the menace of nuclear war. By breaking the Western nuclear monopoly the Soviet Union compelled the Western representatives to retreat from the previous dreams of nuclear omnipotence and invincible preventive nuclear wars and begin to consider the problems of nuclear disarmament. Thus, the Soviet bomb has been a powerful weapon for nuclear disarmament. When Soviet scientific and technological superiority in the nuclear and rocket field became conspicuously demonstrated to all, first with the prior development of the hydrogen bomb in 1953, and still more with the Sputnik in 1957, increasing sections of Western opinion, which had been prepared to support the atom bomb under Attlee and Truman, now began to press actively for nuclear disarmament. Here the sequence of dates is important. The first Sputnik orbited the earth in October 1957. In November 1957, the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War was formed in Britain. In February 1958, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was launched. This is not to say that there were not already those who, like the Communist Party, had opposed nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy from the outset. But the advance of the movement to a front-rank position in the political situation, with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, whereas before there had been relatively more limited opposition during 1945-57, followed the development of the demonstration of Soviet indisputable technical superiority with the Sputnik. During the four years since then inspiring mass support has been won, and increasing unity and cooperation established among the many sections supporting the general aims of peace and disarmament.

No less important has been the transformation of the world situation in the political field, as very clearly analysed in the Declaration of the Eighty-One Communist Parties in 1960. The balance of the world has changed. Imperialism is weakening while the advancing peoples of the countries of socialism and national liberation are now the majority of the world. The great Chinese People’s Revolution reached complete victory by 1949 despite the massive supplies of arms and finance by the United States to Chiang Kai-shek. The subsequent combined war of the imperialist powers, led by the United States, against the Korean people during 1950-53 ended in failure. The war of French imperialism, supported by the US, in Vietnam equally ended in failure. The Suez War of British and French imperialism, with Israel as an auxiliary instrument, ended in a complete fiasco, following the Note of the Soviet Union. The attempted invasion of Cuba by the United States in 1961 ended in an ignominious fiasco. In 1962 the Algerian people won their independence after seven years of intensive struggle.

Thus equally the political and military theory and strategy of the Cold War have become bankrupt. This bankruptcy has compelled increasing numbers of Western representatives and statesmen to review their position. The old slogans of ‘Peace Through Strength’, of the imminent ‘Victorious Showdown’, of ‘Rolling Back the Tide of Communism’ and bringing down the new regimes in the socialist countries, have now long had to be abandoned. In place there are offered today the slogans of ‘Peace Through Mutual Terror’ and ‘The Nuclear Stalemate’ which in practice covers the continuance of the arms race and the Cold War.

Hence it cannot yet be said that the Cold War belongs to the past. It has not yet been replaced by peaceful coexistence. There are still abroad lunatic conceptions of strategy which seek to carry forward the methods of the Cold War. There are even attempts at the present time to indoctrinate American opinion to accept the prospect of a nuclear war as a possibly necessary and manageable contingency like a fire disaster. This is a shocking situation, which shows that there is no room for complacency.

For this reason, while we have every ground for confidence in the capacity of the peoples of the world, with the increasingly rapid change in the balance of the world on the side of socialism and the advance of the peoples, to hold the Cold War in check and defeat the menace of nuclear war, we cannot but continue to emphasise the continued menace represented by the theories of the Cold War.

The gravity of the present situation is most sharply recognised by those who know most. That is why the present question of disarmament in modern world conditions bears no relation to the old interminable disarmament discussions. It is a new world situation. Questions involving the future of this planet of ours and of human life upon it are coming up on the anvil of decision. The dimensions of the problem are changing and expanding every day at an accelerating rate. More than one power has now been able to circle the earth in outer space. The approach to a landing on the Moon is close. From any point on this planet instruments of such destructive power that a handful could wipe out historic nation-states and countries in a fraction of time can now be projected with unfailing accuracy to any other point. If the race continues, some American technicians have calculated that satellites armed with such weapons could soon be circling the earth to threaten at a moment’s notice any spot and any people. The latest Soviet announcement of the production of an invulnerable rocket missile which can reach any point on earth without the possibility of interception, emphasises the urgency of the question of disarmament in present conditions. This is a new situation in human history. It bears no parallel to any previous arms race or menace of war.

Every thinking person, irrespective of nation or political outlook, is aware that this situation imperatively demands an urgent response of collective statesmanship from the political leaders of the world to meet it by the only solution which is any longer commensurate with the new technological conditions – general and complete disarmament, with whatever accompanying inspection and control is necessary to ensure its fulfilment. In principle this is today recognised and affirmed by the representatives of every state in the world. But in practice? In the actual present stage of international political relations we see a very different picture, which is far from corresponding to the professions of recognition of urgency and of the collective responsibilities of world statesmanship. Why? It is here that we come to the heart of the problem which is so acutely reflected in this crucial question of disarmament. The heart of the problem does not lie in the advance of science or in the supposed innate wickedness of man. The heart of the problem lies in the Cold War.

The Cold War does not yet belong to the historical record, although the history of the Cold War is important in order to help in understanding the present world situation. The problems arising from the Cold War and the arms race are now approaching their climax around the key issue of general and complete disarmament. The outcome of the battle of the peoples of the world for general and complete disarmament, for the ending of the Cold War and for peaceful coexistence, has still to be finally determined on the stage of history.


1. DF Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins, 1917-1960 (two volumes, London, 1960).

2. AJP Taylor, Origins of the Second World War (London, 1961).

3. PMS Blackett, Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy (London, 1948).

4. New York Times, 24 July 1941.

5. Sic: the words ‘when he was’ appear to be superfluous here – MIA.

6. In the Matter of J Robert Oppenheimer (Washington, 1954).

7. Walter Lippmann, The Cold War: A Study in United States Foreign Policy (New York, 1947).

8. Arthur Travers Harris, Bomber Offensive (London, 1947).

9. CP Snow, Science and Government (London, 1960), p 47.

10. Evening Standard, 3 October 1946.

11. Arthur Bryant, Triumph in the West: A History of the War Years Based on the Diaries of Field-Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (London, 1959).

12. Labour Monthly, September 1945.

Chapter III: Delay of the Socialist Revolution in the West

The subject of this lecture is one of considerable importance for contemporary history. It is not about something which has happened in the modern period we are surveying. It is about something which has not so far happened. It is about the socialist revolution which has not yet taken place in Western Europe and the United States.

I: Terminology and Reality

At the outset an apology must be expressed for the title to the representatives of current official Western bourgeois and social-democratic theorists. According to these theorists, the social revolution has already taken place in a non-Marxist fashion in these countries; the old capitalism no longer exists save in the distorted imagination of out-of-date Communist doctrinaires; a new kind of social order, or a ‘mixed’ economy transcending both capitalism and socialism, has taken its place in the Britain of Gaitskell and Macmillan, the Scandinavian countries, the France of de Gaulle or even the United States of Kennedy. Indeed, it would appear that the only countries in which, as these theorists tearfully inform us, capitalism still exists today, at any rate in the form of state capitalism, are the Soviet Union, China and the other countries which the unenlightened ordinary man regards as socialist.

We need not pursue this game of terminology further. A schoolboy for a prank may transpose the labels in a luggage office, but the luggage remains the same. For the innocent victims of this terminological game, who may be confused by the supposed identity of large-scale monopoly capitalism and socialism, the simplest rule-of-thumb test to judge the economy of a country is to enquire whether there is a Stock Exchange. There are Stock Exchanges in Stockholm, in London, in Paris and in New York. But there is no Stock Exchange in Moscow or Pekin or Warsaw or Prague or Budapest. In other words the economy of the Western countries, however elaborate the social-democratic dressing and façade, is based on stocks and shares; that is, on the private ownership of the means of production; on incomes derived from ownership; on rent, interest and profits, drawn on the basis of ownership by a minority class from the labours of the entire population. In socialist countries there is no need of a Stock Exchange; the economy is not based on stocks and shares, representing private ownership of the means of production; income is based on work done, or, in the case of social provision, on need, not on private ownership.

To a socialist audience such an explanation may seem elementary to the point of childishness. But to the general Western reading public, especially the bourgeois intelligentsia, mystified by reactionary apologists (often professing to hold ‘left’ opinions and regarding themselves as far to the left of reactionary out-of-date Communists) this game of terminology has been carried to such an extent that an initial elementary explanation of this type is necessary.

But once the attempted confusion of terms has been removed, the real situation is one well worthy of attention.

Here are these countries of Western Europe which were the cradle of capitalism. They were the advanced countries in the development of civilisation in their day. The countries of Western Europe and North America are still technically and economically in the forefront, even though in the course of being overtaken and outstripped by socialism.

Here in these countries was the cradle of the organised labour movement and of the ideas of socialism. On the experience of these countries Marx and Engels built their theory of scientific socialism. Today Marxism is triumphing on an ever-extending scale in the world. Socialism is established over one-third of the world. Yet the Western countries, from which it all began, remain lagging in the rear.

How is this possible? Why is this? Here indeed is an aspect of the history of our era well worthy of study.

II: Allegations of the Disproof of Marxism

This question is worthy of careful study for a further reason.

In general terms we are all aware that Marx and Lenin dealt with this problem in their teachings, and laid bare the essential answer in principle. They showed how the world industrial and colonial monopoly of Britain in the nineteenth century in respect of Britain, and imperialism in the imperialist era for all the Western imperialist countries, was able with a portion of the world tribute drawn to supply the means to corrupt an upper section of the working class and working-class leadership, and in this way to disorganise the labour movement and delay the advance of socialism. The role of reformism, of revisionism, of modern social-democracy has been the formal expression of this process.

But today the critics of Marxism, ignoring or ignorant of the clear teachings of Marx and Lenin on this question, endeavour to present the thesis that the delay of socialism in the West is the disproof of Marxism. The entire world development over the past half-century, the extension of socialism over one-third of the world and the extension of national liberation, represent, in their view, not the triumphant vindication of Marxism, but an outcome completely contrary to all the expectations and predictions of Marx and the most powerful disproof of his theories. A peculiar and distorted viewpoint, it might be imagined; but in fact it is repeated with monotonous iteration in every current Western non-Marxist publication, including by many anti-communist theorists claiming to be ‘experts’ in Marxism.

This modern school of would-be ‘experts’ in Marxism puts forward four main propositions.

First, that Marx taught that the socialist revolution must begin in the most advanced industrial countries of Western Europe, and that in consequence the victory of the socialist revolution in Russia was already a violation of the principles of Marxism. This ancient theory was long ago propounded by Kautsky in 1917 and demolished by Lenin in his polemics against Kautsky (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky); but it still flourishes in all Western anti-Marxist literature.

Second, that Marx taught that the socialist revolution must conquer simultaneously in a series of advanced countries, and that in consequence the building of socialism in the conditions of the backward economy of Russia was contrary to Marxism. This hoary fallacy was also long ago demolished in the course of the controversy over ‘socialism in one country’ which ended with the rout of the Trotskyist exponents of this supposedly ultra-revolutionary but actually defeatist viewpoint.

Third, that, given the fact of the socialist revolution having taken place most impermissibly in Russia in 1917, the next stage according to the supposed ‘pure’ principles of Marxism should have been its extension to Western Europe; that this was the universal expectation of the Bolshevik Party and pivot of Lenin’s policy; and that the actual extension to China and the advance of revolutionary struggles of national liberation in Asia and Africa is a complete contradiction of the teachings and predictions of Marx. Here the critics are once again offering a rehash of the theories of Trotskyism as the supposed theories of Marxism, and are completely ignoring the very clear treatment of these questions and explicit prediction of the future path of the world revolution by Lenin already before his death.

Fourth, that the advance of victorious revolutions of national liberation all over the world, presented by these theorists as the victory of ‘nationalism’ against ‘communism’, represents a new phenomenon entirely outside the conceptions of Marxism and once again proving the failure of the whole Marxist theory and expectation of world historical development. Here also these critics have concocted their own dogmatic picture of an entirely imaginary Marxism, and show complete ignorance of the real teachings of Marx and Lenin on the subject of national liberation and its significance in relation to the advance of the world socialist revolution.

These four grand distortions and fallacies about Marxism-Leninism and the modern world are paraded today as obvious universally-recognised commonplace truths by every Western editorial leader-writer, pretentious professor or composer of vast studies in pseudo-sociology.

Indeed, it may be said that a new type of ‘refutation’ of Marxism has now become fashionable. In the old days of Böhm-Bawerk and his associates it was considered sufficient to prove the hopeless contradictions and impossibility of fulfilment of Marxist theories. After Marxism has triumphed over one-third of the world, this simple attempt at refutation can no longer be sustained. Hence the changed tune today of the same basically anti-Marxist critics. The old type of ‘refutation’ of Marxism would consist of a pedantic professorial exercise in formal logic academically innocent of any knowledge of the real world whose laws of motion Marx was concerned to lay bare. With the extension of communism over one-third of the world this old style is no longer adequate. Study of ‘Marxism’ or ‘Marxism-Leninism’ has now become obligatory for every general staff, for all the adepts of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency and the Imperial Staff College, and all their proliferating lavishly-financed ‘research foundations’ and subsidised university professorships. Vast ‘manuals’ of confusion pour forth daily in an abundance beyond counting.

In view of this persistent confusion and falsification, it may be worthwhile to endeavour to disentangle the real teachings of Marx and Lenin on the path of the world socialist revolution, in order to realise how remarkably the present world historical development has confirmed their conclusions. It is this understanding which provides the key to the special problem of the delay of the victory of the working class and socialism in the Western imperialist countries, and at the same time shows the way forward for the peoples of these countries as the conditions are maturing which are undermining the old imperialist order.

III: Marx and the Path of the World Socialist Revolution

Did Marx expect the victory of the socialist revolution first in the advanced industrial countries of Western Europe? Was the victory of the socialist revolution in Russia before Western Europe an unexpected unpredictable historical diversion from the path of development indicated by the teaching of Marx?

To answer this question it is necessary to recognise the successive stages of Marx’s thought, including his own self-criticism and correction of earlier viewpoints in the light of historical development during his lifetime. This is all the more important because there is no more powerful demonstration of the creative strength of Marx’s theoretical insight than the speed of response with which he proceeded already by the mid-nineteenth century to recast his expectations in the light of developing new facts, and to elaborate step by step a new panorama of the development of the world socialist revolution, whose correctness has been outstandingly demonstrated by subsequent experience.

There is no doubt that on the eve of the 1848 revolutions in Europe, and in the battles of these revolutions, Marx and Engels hoped to see the democratic revolutions in Western Europe, and especially at that time in Germany, develop directly into the proletarian revolution and the victory of socialism:

The Communists turn their attention chiefly to Germany, because that country is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution that is bound to be carried out under more advanced conditions of European civilisation, and with a much more developed proletariat, than that of England was in the seventeenth, and of France in the eighteenth century, and because the bourgeois revolution in Germany will be but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution. [1]

It is this expectation of that particular historical moment which the present-day critics attempt to present as a supposed eternal dogma of Marxism.

But immediately after the decisive defeat of the European revolution in 1848, Marx drew apart in his outlook from the other German exiles who after 1850 were still dreaming of a speedy revival of the revolution in Germany. Subjecting the previous expectations to merciless criticism in the light of facts, already from 1850 onwards Marx was elaborating a different conception of the path of development of the world socialist revolution.

Subsequently, nearly half a century later, Engels in 1895, a few months before his death, placed on record the recognition of the error of the expectations which Marx and he had held in 1848 of the speedy victory of the socialist revolution in Western Europe:

History has proved us, and all who thought like us, wrong. It has made it clear that the state of economic development on the Continent at that time was not, by a long way, ripe for the removal of capitalist production: it has proved this by the economic revolution which since 1848 has seized the whole of the Continent, has really caused big industry for the first time to take root in France, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and recently in Russia, while it has made Germany positively an industrial country of the first rank – all on a capitalist basis, which in the year 1848, therefore, still had great capacity for expansion. [2]

From 1850 onwards Marx was increasingly turning his attention to the world development of capitalism and the significance of this for the prospects of the socialist revolution. It was in 1850 (Letter from London, 31 January 1850, in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung) that Marx offered his famous prediction that Western reaction, fleeing before the advance of the peoples and seeking to find refuge in China, might find on the Great Wall of China the inscription confronting them: ‘Republic of China: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ [3]

This brilliant vision of the future victory of the Chinese Revolution was penned by Marx during the very era when the gift of the highest ‘enlightened’ authorities of Western bourgeois civilisation, ‘spiritual liberal values’ and Victorian Christian morality, was to inflict on China the unspeakable bestialities of the two Opium Wars (1839-42 and 1856-58) in order to poison, degrade and enslave the millions of China for the greater profit of the City of London. What a contrast between Marxism and the bourgeois outlook on life, between culture and barbarism!

In 1850, in the same letter, Marx was writing that with new discoveries and the further development of the world market capitalism was entering a new phase: that the Pacific would reduce the Atlantic to an internal ocean, just as previously the Atlantic had displaced the Mediterranean; that New York and San Francisco would displace the supremacy of London and Liverpool, just as these had previously displaced Genoa and Venice; and that the only alternatives before the Western European capitalist countries would be to fall into ‘industrial, commercial and political dependence’ on American capitalism or enter on the path of the socialist revolution. [4] A remarkable prediction in view of the development today.

By 1858 Marx was drawing the conclusion that the expansion of capitalism on a world scale was nullifying the previous prospect of the revolution in Western Europe, and raised the question: ‘Is it not bound to be crushed in this little corner?’ (that is, Western Europe) since ‘in a far greater territory the movement of bourgeois society is still in the ascendant’:

We cannot deny that bourgeois society has experienced its sixteenth century a second time – a sixteenth century which will, I hope, sound the death-knell of bourgeois society just as the first one thrust it into existence. The particular task of bourgeois society is the establishment of the world market, at least in outline, and of production based upon this world market. As the world is round, this seems to have been completed by the colonisation of California and Australia and the opening up of China and Japan. The difficult question for us is this: on the Continent the revolution is imminent and will also immediately assume a socialist character. Is it not bound to be crushed in this little corner, considering that in a far greater territory the movement of bourgeois society is still in the ascendant? [5]

It will be seen that in this analysis the prospect of the delay of the socialist revolution in Western Europe through the further world expansion of capitalism was combined with the prediction that the further outcome of this development would bring ‘the death-knell of bourgeois society’ on a world scale. And by 1894 Engels, in the last year of his life, was writing:

The conquest of China by capitalism will at the same time furnish the impetus for the overthrow of capitalism in Europe and America. [6]

Parallel with this development of this thought beyond the limits of Europe, Marx in the 1850s was giving increasing attention to the development of the national liberation struggle in Asia. It was in 1853 that Marx began his famous series of articles on India, including The British Rule in India [7] and The Future Outcome of British Rule in India, [8] with the prediction of the future victorious Indian national liberation. Between 1853 and 1857 no less than twenty-three articles by Marx and eight by Engels were devoted to the subject of India, the exposure of British rule in India, including the system of administrative torture, and to the first Indian war of independence. In a memorable phrase Marx declared in a letter to Engels in January 1858, at the time of the great Indian revolt, that ‘India is now our best ally’. [9]

By the 1860s Marx was developing a further explicit revision of a previous viewpoint, precisely because of the development of the national liberation struggle. This revision was of vital importance for the understanding of the future of the socialist revolution. The revision turned on the key question of the relationship of the victory of national liberation to the victory of the working-class revolution in the Western advanced capitalist countries. At that time the struggle of the Irish people against British colonial rule was the foremost organised expression of the national and colonial struggle. Marx not only gave the most active support to the Irish national struggle, but won the support of the General Council of the First International, despite the opposition of the ‘Lib-Lab leaders’ represented by Odger, Applegarth and Mottershead. At the same time Marx pressed the viewpoint that the victory of the Irish national struggle was the key to the victory of the English working class. The resolution of the General Council of the First International, drafted by Marx, declared:

A people which enslaves another people forges its own chains. In this way the viewpoint of the International Working Men’s Association on the Irish question is very clear. Its first task is the speeding on of the social revolution in England. For this end the decisive blow must be struck in Ireland...

The essential preliminary condition of the emancipation of the English working class is the turning of the present compulsory union, that is slavery, of Ireland with England, into an equal and free union, if that is possible, or into full separation, if this is inevitable. [10]

In a letter to Engels, written at the same time as this resolution, Marx explained this viewpoint as a conscious revision of his former viewpoint, following ‘deeper study’. Previously Marx had taken the view that the freedom of Ireland would be achieved by the victory of the working class in England, that is, that the victory of the working class in England would precede the national liberation of the subject peoples of the empire. Fuller study led him to reverse this view, and brought him to the conviction that the liberation of Ireland was an indispensable preliminary condition for the victory of the working class in England:

It is in the direct and absolute interest of the English working class to get rid of their present connection with Ireland... For a long time I believed that it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime by English working-class ascendancy. I always expressed this point of view in the New York Tribune. Deeper study has now convinced me of the opposite. The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland. That is why the Irish question is so important for the social movement in general. [11]

Marx elaborated the change of viewpoint in a letter to Kugelmann on 29 November 1869. He emphasised that the demand for the freedom of Ireland needed to be pressed forward:

... not as a matter of sympathy with Ireland, but as a demand made in the interests of the English proletariat. If not, the English people will remain tied to the leading strings of the ruling classes, because it must join with them in a common front against Ireland. [12]

This profound insight of Marx into the peculiar problems of the British working-class movement and the transition to socialism in Britain takes on added importance in the conditions of today. Marx finally rejected the view that the British working class would first come to power with the empire intact, and would then proceed to liberate the subject peoples of the empire. On the basis of ‘deeper study’ Marx adopted the view that the advance of national liberation of the subject peoples of the empire was the decisive prior factor, ‘the lever’, which would compel social change in Britain and thus open the way to the victory of the British working class. In this sense the first stage of the battle for the victory of socialism in Britain would be fought in the countries of the empire.

Today we have seen the demonstration of the truth of this prediction. It is worth noting that Engels in 1882 still to some extent reflected the old conception, abandoned by Marx, of the victory of the English socialist revolution leading to colonial liberation. In a letter to Kautsky, discussing the future of the colonies in the event of the working class winning power in England and Western Europe, he wrote:

In my opinion the colonies proper, that is, the countries occupied by a European population, Canada, the Cape, Australia, will all become independent; on the other hand, the countries inhabited by a native population, which are simply subjugated, India, Algiers, the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish possessions, must be taken over for the time being by the proletariat and led as rapidly as possible towards independence. How this process will develop is difficult to say. India will perhaps, indeed very probably, produce a revolution, and as the proletariat emancipating itself cannot conduct any colonial wars, this would have to be given full scope; it would not pass off without all sorts of destruction, of course, but that sort of thing is inseparable from all revolutions. The same might also take place elsewhere, for example, in Algiers and Egypt, and would certainly be the best thing for us. We shall have enough to do at home. [13]

This analysis, while of the greatest importance for the conception of the positive interest of the proletariat in colonial liberation and opposition to colonial wars, fell short of the depth of Marxist insight, revealed in 1869, when he had said that ‘deeper study’ had convinced him that, so far from the victory of the English working class leading to the liberation of the colonial peoples, ‘the English working class will never accomplish anything’ until the colonial domination, which tied the labour movement to capitalism, was finally destroyed.

The world today, with the prior liberation of the majority of the colonial peoples of the British Empire, before the victory of the British working class, and the profound effects of this undermining of the colonial system on the internal situation in Britain, is proving the truth and wisdom of this teaching of Marx.

In the closing period of his life Marx was throwing still further forward his gaze into the future. It is not necessary to explain to a Soviet audience, but it is necessary to explain to the general Western public, who are left in complete ignorance of it, that Marx in his final years explicitly indicated the role of Russia as having become the vanguard of the world revolution. Where previously he had recognised the passing of the role of revolutionary vanguard from the English and French working class to the German working class in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, during the last years of his life, at the beginning of the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century, Marx indicated that the role of the revolutionary vanguard had passed to Russia:

This time the revolution will begin in the East, hitherto the unbroken bulwark and reserve army of counter-revolution. [14]

And now Russia! During the revolutions of 1848-49 not only the European princes, but the European bourgeois as well, found their only salvation from the proletariat, just beginning to awaken, in Russian intervention. The tsar was proclaimed the chief of European reaction. Today he is a prisoner-of-war of the revolution, in Gatchina, and Russia forms the vanguard of revolutionary action in Europe. [15]

If we follow this continuous sequence and development of the creative revolutionary thought of Marx, keenly responding to each new historical stage, we see here a remarkable foreshadowing already before 1883, of the great path of advance of the world revolution as it has been achieved during the subsequent eighty years.

IV: Lenin and the Path of the World Socialist Revolution

Lenin carried forward this basic teaching of Marxism on the path of the world socialist revolution. After the deaths of Marx and Engels the distorted vulgarisation of Marxism, which became widely current among most of the Western parties of the old Second International, fixed its narrow gaze on the industrially advanced countries of Western Europe and the United States as the hub and centre of the world and destined focus of the world socialist revolution. This vulgarisation found its reflection in the characteristic Trotskyist distortion of Marxism, which insisted that the Russian revolution would be doomed unless the superior enlightened West European socialist revolution came to its rescue. In this respect, as in so many others, the theories propounded by the school of Trotsky were in reality only echoes of the fashionable Western distortion of Marxism; and it is therefore the less surprising that these exploded theories have been hailed and are still hailed today with all the greater enthusiasm by the Western enemies of communism and would-be Marxist ‘experts’ as the supposed source of true Marxist wisdom.

Lenin rescued the teachings of Marx and Engels from this vulgarisation and carried them forward into the twentieth century. Lenin showed how imperialism would first crack at its weakest point, in Russia, and how this would throw on the Russian working class the responsibility to lead the vanguard of the world socialist revolution. As early as 1902 he gave his famous definition of this perspective:

History has now confronted us with an immediate task which is more revolutionary than all the immediate tasks which confront the proletariat of any other country. The fulfilment of this task, the destruction of the most powerful bulwark, not only of European, but also, it may be said, of Asiatic reaction, places the Russian proletariat in the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat. [16]

It will be seen how this coincided with Marx’s judgement, previously quoted, already in 1877 that ‘this time the revolution will begin in the East’ and the judgement of Marx and Engels in 1882 that ‘Russia has become the vanguard of the revolutionary movement in Europe’.

Already by the first decade of the twentieth century the masses of Asia were in movement, advancing to the conscious political struggle for liberation, at a stage far beyond any reached in the nineteenth century, when Marx had to use the demonstrative example of Ireland to establish his thesis. Lenin was the first to sense the significance of this development. Under the title Backward Europe and Advanced Asia in 1913 he showed how the rulers of ‘civilised and advanced Europe’ were bolstering up ‘all the forces of reaction and medievalism’ in Asia, while in the ‘mighty democratic movement’ advancing in Asia ‘hundreds of millions of people are awakening to life, light and liberty’. In Europe only the working class represented the ‘champions of a better future’, recognising the hundreds of millions of ‘young Asia’ as their allies, and maintaining ‘implacable enmity towards backwardness, savagery, privilege, slavery and the humiliation of man by man’. The final victory of the working class of ‘all the civilised countries’ would ‘liberate both the peoples of Europe and the peoples of Asia’. [17] This was written before the victory of the working class in Russia had opened the era of the world socialist revolution.

After the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 the revolutionary wave began to extend to the workers of the other warring countries, and in the first place to the German workers. In 1918 the German workers rose and overthrew the Kaiser, and set up their workers’ and soldiers’ councils. The sequence of the Russian Revolution and the German Revolution finally ended the First World War, which would otherwise have gone on with continuing bloodshed, as the general staffs on both sides were already planning their grandiose campaigns for 1919. The revolutionary wave spread in varying forms and degrees to all European countries. In Hungary a short-lived Soviet Republic was established. Nevertheless the revolutionary upsurge in Central and Western Europe was finally defeated, owing to the treacherous role of the social-democratic leadership, the absence of developed Communist parties and the confusion of the working class still in great part following the traditional social-democratic leaders.

There is no doubt that if the revolution had been successfully carried through with the victory of working-class power in Germany and other European countries, as was objectively within reach of the working class, a far more favourable path of world development could have been won. There would have been no fascism, no Hitler, no Second World War. Socialist reconstruction could have sped forward at a giant’s pace with the joint efforts of the workers of all the European countries, and with all the advantages of the high technical equipment of Germany and Western Europe, in place of the painful task of socialist construction from the backward economy inherited from Tsarism and further devastated by years of the imperialist war and civil wars and wars of intervention.

In this sense the failure of the socialist revolution in Central and Western Europe after the First World War, and the treacherous role of social-democracy, represented a period of history which has brought painful consequences for the world and made more difficult the path of advance.

But does this mean that the theory of Marxism-Leninism laid down as the inevitable historical law that the Bolshevik Revolution would be immediately followed by the victory of the working-class revolution in the other European countries, and that the survival of the Bolshevik Revolution depended on the fulfilment of such a prediction? This is a distortion of the theoretical outlook and political leadership very plainly given by Lenin at the time.

It was not Lenin, but Trotsky who clung to the supposedly ‘Marxist’ axiom that the survival of the Soviet Revolution would depend on the speedy extension of the socialist revolution to Western Europe. In this connection it is worth recalling the significant episode of the Sixth Congress of the Russian Bolshevik Party in August 1917, which adopted the resolution for the conquest of power by the workers and poor peasants. The resolution called for the victorious revolution to direct its power ‘in alliance with the revolutionary proletariat of the advanced countries towards peace and the socialist reconstruction of society’. This resolution was moved by Stalin as the spokesman of Lenin who was in enforced hiding at the time under threat of arrest. It was at this congress that Trotsky and his group first joined the Bolshevik Party. Trotsky was at the time in jail, but Preobrazhensky moved an amendment which corresponded to the Trotskyist theory. Preobrazhensky’s amendment was to delete ‘in alliance with the revolutionary proletariat of the advanced countries’, and to substitute that the revolutionary government should ‘direct its powers towards peace and – on condition of a proletarian revolution in the West – towards socialism’. This amendment was opposed by Stalin and rejected by the congress. Here in this amendment we see an early formulation of the false theory which Lenin and the Bolshevik Party then opposed, and which now the falsifiers of Marxism-Leninism have the insolence to try to foist on Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

Lenin watched eagerly for every spark lit by the great October Revolution. But Lenin, fighting Trotsky for the necessity of the Brest Peace, warned against the picture of a supposed alternative through an ‘All-European Revolution’ as an ‘abstract phrase’. Lenin in March 1918 described the picture of an imminent ‘international world revolution’ as ‘a beautiful fairy tale’:

Yes, we will see the international world revolution, but for the time being it is a very good fairy tale, a very beautiful fairy tale – I quite understand children liking beautiful fairy tales. But I ask, is it becoming for a serious revolutionary to believe fairy tales? [18]

Lenin knew the conditions of the problem.

But Lenin showed the true path of the next stage, through the simultaneous building of socialism in the Soviet Union and at the same time the further cracking of imperialism once again at its weakest point, not yet in Western Europe, but in the national and colonial sphere as the decisive next phase of the world revolution. When Trotsky spoke of the ‘mathematical precision’ with which the date of the supposed coming Anglo-American war could be fixed (if memory serves aright, he fixed it for 1924), Lenin wrote of the probable hotbeds of a Second World War as being Germany and Japan, representing the dissatisfied powers in the imperialist camp. And in his last article, in 1923, discussing the prospects of the world socialist revolution, and answering the question whether the Soviet Union could survive in the face of the delay of the West European socialist revolution, he replied that Western Europe was indeed consummating its path to the socialist revolution, but in a peculiar fashion, by exploiting Asia and Africa and the colonial majority of mankind and thereby sweeping them into the revolutionary current; that this would represent the next stage of the world revolution; that Russia, China, India and the other nations awakening to revolution constituted the majority of the world’s population, and that ‘in this sense the complete victory of socialism is fully and absolutely assured’.

Shall we be able to hold on... while the West European capitalist countries are consummating their development to socialism? But they are consummating it not as we formerly expected. They are not consummating it by the gradual ‘maturing’ of socialism, but by the exploitation of some countries by others, by the exploitation of the first of the countries to be vanquished in the imperialist war, combined with the exploitation of the whole of the East. On the other hand, precisely as a result of the first imperialist war, the East has been definitely drawn into the revolutionary movement, has been definitely drawn into the general maelstrom of the world revolutionary movement.

It was in the context of this analysis of the world situation, including the situation in Western Europe, that he made his famous prediction:

In the last analysis, the upshot of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc, account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe. And it is precisely this majority that during the past few years has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity, so that in this respect there cannot be the slightest shadow of doubt what the final outcome of the world struggle will be. In this sense, the complete victory of socialism is fully and absolutely assured. [19]

There, we may point out to the new-style ‘Marxist experts’ and the ‘new’ (very ancient and hoary) anti-Soviet ‘left’, is the Marxism of Marx. There is the Marxism of Lenin. There is the Marxism of the thirty-six million Communists and the hundreds of millions of people who follow them in the modern world. And that is what is being fulfilled in the world today.

V: Future of Socialism in the West

What are the practical conclusions to be drawn from this analysis for the future path of victory of the working class and socialism in the countries of Western Europe and North America?

Does this analysis mean that the workers of these countries can only passively await the final downfall of the colonial system and victory of national liberation of all the peoples oppressed by imperialism before they can hope to advance to their own social and economic liberation at the end of the queue of advancing socialist countries?

This would be a fantastic distortion of the profound teachings of Marxism-Leninism on the social roots of opportunism in Western imperialist countries and the consequent character of the battle of the revolutionary workers of these countries.

The analysis of Marxism-Leninism does show the great harm which imperialism has done and still does to the working class and the democratic movement in these countries. Once the workers of these countries were in the vanguard of international working-class advance. Great battles were fought against the capitalists. Extending democratic and trade-union rights have been won. Powerful trade-union organisation has been built up with tens of millions of members, and traditions of solidarity and experience of many struggles. Yet in spite of all this achievement the yoke of capital has not been broken in these countries. The landlords and the capitalists still take their ever-increasing toll from the labour of the people. Younger working-class movements in other countries, after having arrived on the scene much later, have sped to the forefront, got rid of their landlords and capitalists, built up their socialist economy and are now achieving daily new triumphs in the forefront also of economic and technical construction as well as in the social, educational and scientific spheres outstripping the once advanced Western countries. In other countries of Asia and Africa the peoples, once subject to the yoke of imperialism, have thrown off the colonial yoke of the imperialists and are now struggling to reconstruct their countries after the ravages of colonial economy and obstruction of development. Despite all the backwardness, these countries also are speeding forward. Because of their technical and economic backwardness, Western statesmen commonly refer to these countries as under-developed countries. But they do not realise that the advanced Western countries are rapidly becoming what may be called the politically under-developed countries of the world.

Why is this? All the objective conditions exist for the most rapid advance to socialism. The material, technical and economic development is on a far more favourable level than it was in those countries which have been engaged in building socialism. The working class is a decisive proportion of the population (in Britain the absolute majority), organised and disciplined, and able to establish an overwhelming majority position of political leadership in alliance with the other social strata exploited by monopoly capital, the small farmers, urban petty bourgeoisie, professionals and intelligentsia. Yet in fact the financial oligarchy rules in all these countries. Behind even the most democratic façades the ruling power is still the dictatorship of capital.

This situation reveals the disastrous effects of imperialism in splitting the working class and maintaining an upper leadership, represented by social-democracy, which pursues the policy of cooperation with the capitalists to paralyse the political will of the working class and prevent the advance to socialism.

Marxism-Leninism has exposed the social basis of this situation in imperialism, which uses a portion of the spoils of the colonial system to corrupt the upper stratum of the labour movement and thus maintains its rule.

But we have now entered the era of the downfall of the system of colonialism. The colonial system is not yet at an end. Although the majority of former colonial peoples have won political independence, the economic exploitation by imperialism still continues and even develops in new forms. The battle for economic liberation is rising ever higher today.

Hence, despite the disintegration of the colonial system there are still considerable colonial spoils which the imperialists are able to use to grant social concessions in the shape of social reforms in the metropolitan countries, above the standards of the colonial proletariat, and thus to provide a basis for the social-democratic leadership to split the working class and hold back the organised strength of the working class from ending the power of capitalism.

But this basis is weakening. The spurious temporary advantages of collaboration with imperialism advocated by the social-democratic leaders (advantages which always represented the sacrifice of the permanent interests of the working class as a whole to temporary benefits for sections) are now more and more manifestly outweighed by the rising costs and disastrous consequences. This has already been powerfully shown through the experience of the First World War, of the world economic crisis, of fascism and the Second World War. Now the consequences are making themselves further manifest in the deepening economic and political contradictions in the internal situation in the Western imperialist countries; the economic offensive against the standards of the workers; the intensified competition between the major capitalist countries; and above all the growing gulf between the rate of economic and technical advance of socialism and capitalism. In Britain the deteriorating situation has been manifested in the chronic deficits on the balance of payments; and government after government has conducted offensives against the workers and their living standards in the name of the desperate needs of the economic situation. Even in the wealthy United States similar wage-freeze offensives have been launched in the name of intensified international competition. In France the political forms of democracy have been thrust aside to make way for a regime of personal dictatorship. Through all these developments the position of social democracy is becoming undermined. This is signally shown at the present time in the recurring crisis of policy and leadership in the Labour Party.

A further ironic situation has been reached in which the national independence even of the peoples of the former ruling imperialist countries becomes sacrificed in the desperate jungle competition of the narrowing sector of the imperialist powers. In 1947 the British troops left India. In 1948 the United States troops entered Britain. Britain is now not only occupied by American military bases, but has begun to provide a training ground for German troops. The forms of NATO and the Common Market reveal the process of extending supra-national domination over the former national independence of the peoples of Western Europe. Against these conditions the struggle of the peoples in Western Europe is rising: against the economic offensive of the monopolies; against the surrender of national independence; against the arms race and menace of nuclear war, and for peace and disarmament.

In this way the prediction of Lenin on the peculiar path of the socialist revolution in the West, on the path of the Western peoples through imperialism, through the consequences of imperialism, through the advance of the revolution all over the rest of the world, to their own eventual political, social and economic liberation, is proving itself in the events of our day. The consequences of imperialism, the consequences of the dissolution of the colonial system and of the advance of socialism and national liberation, are undermining the social basis of the temporary retardation of development in the Western imperialist countries, and opening the way to new advances in unity with the advance of socialism and national liberation all over the world.

Nor should the speed of advance which may develop in the future be underestimated, because of the retarded development which has characterised the recent phase in these countries. In this connection we may recall the words of Marx when he wrote:

How soon the English workers will free themselves from their apparent bourgeois infection one must wait and see... In developments of such magnitude twenty years are no more than a day – though later on days may come again in which twenty years are embodied. [20]

With the accelerating speed of world development at the present time, we may hope that also in the countries of the West we may soon see the arrival of ‘days in which twenty years are embodied’.


1. Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, written December 1847 – January 1848, published February 1848 – MIA.

2. Engels, Preface to Marx’s Class Struggles in France, 6 March 1895 – MIA.

3. Marx, ‘Letter from London’, 31 January 1850, in Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung, reprinted in Franz Mehring, Aus dem Literarischen Nachlass von Marx, Engels und Lassalle, Volume 3 (Stuttgart, 1913), p 445 – MIA.

4. ‘We come now to America. The most important fact which has developed here, more important even than the February Revolution of 1848, is the discovery of the Californian goldmines... World trade is for the second time taking a new direction. What Tyre, Carthage and Alexandria were in ancient times, Genoa and Venice in the Middle Ages, and London and Liverpool until now, the centres of world trade, today New York and San Francisco are becoming. The centre of gravity of international communications, Italy in the Middle Ages, and England in more recent times, is now the southern half of the North American continent... In these circumstances the Pacific Ocean will play the same role as the Atlantic Ocean today and the Mediterranean in ancient and mediaeval times – the role of the key waterway of world communications; and the Atlantic Ocean will sink to the role of an internal sea, like the Mediterranean today. The only chance that the European civilised countries do not in these circumstances fall into the same industrial, commercial and political dependence as Italy, Spain and Portugal today, lies in a social revolution which, so long as there is still time, would transform the modes of production and transport in accordance with the productive requirements of the modern productive forces, and thereby make possible the development of new productive forces which can maintain the superiority of European industry and balance the advantages of geographical position.’ (Marx, ‘Letter from London’, 31 January 1850, in Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung, reprinted in Franz Mehring, Aus dem Literarischen Nachlass von Marx, Engels und Lassalle, Volume 3 (Stuttgart, 1913), pp 443-44 [available at Marx-Engels Archive – MIA])

5. Marx, Letter to Engels, London, 8 October 1858 – MIA.

6. Engels, Letter to Sorge, 10 November 1894 – MIA.

7. Available at Marx-Engels Archive – MIA.

8. Available at Catbull – MIA.

9. Marx, Letter to Engels, 16 January 1858 – MIA.

10. Available at IWMA Archive – MIA.

11. Marx, Letter to Engels, 10 December 1869 – MIA.

12. Marx, Letter to Kugelmann, 29 November 1869 – MIA.

13. Engels, Letter to Kautsky, 12 September 1882 – MIA.

14.Marx, Letter to Sorge, 27 September 1877 – MIA.

15. Marx and Engels, 1882 Preface to the Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto – MIA.

16. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? – MIA.

17. Lenin, Backward Europe and Advanced Asia – MIA.

18. Lenin, Report on War and Peace to the Seventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party, 7 March 1918 – MIA.

19. Lenin, Better Fewer, But Better, March 1923 – MIA.

20. Marx, Letter to Engels, 9 April 1863 [available at Catbull – MIA].

Chapter IV: Marxism and Socialism in Britain

The subject it is proposed to discuss in a very elementary fashion in this lecture is: what has Marxism to offer for the problems of Britain today and of the modern British labour and socialist movement?

1) Is Marxism, as some say, a philosophy of merely historical significance of the nineteenth century with no current application to the problems of today?

2) Is Marxism, as some say, applicable possibly to other countries or to backward countries but not to Britain with its advanced unique development?

3) Has the British labour movement discovered an alternative path to socialism other than the path of Marxism?

Or alternatively would it be more correct to present the following three questions?

1) Is Marxism, so far from being out of date, at the highest point of its fulfilment and positive leadership today, when the transition from capitalism to socialism, the world socialist revolution foreseen by Marx, is no longer a vision of the future but is universally recognised to be the dominant factor of our era?

2) Is Marxism, so far from being inapplicable to Britain, especially applicable to Britain, the oldest capitalist country now in a stage of acute problems arising from extreme capitalist decay?

3) Is the failure so far of the British labour movement, despite its numerical strength, organisation and long history, to end capitalism and establish socialism precisely due to the failure of the main body and leadership to advance as yet to the basis of Marxism? And in consequence, is not this advance to the basis of Marxism the essential condition for the victory of socialism in Britain?

I: Contradiction of the Present Period

At the present time we are witnessing a peculiar and characteristic contradiction between what is happening in the real world of capitalism and socialism and what is going on in the minds of certain of the thinkers of the dying capitalist world in their attitude to the teachings of Marxism.

Marx laid bare the laws of social development, and in particular of capitalist society. He showed that capitalism is no permanent social order but an historical stage. He showed how the development of capitalism with its ceaseless drive to expansion, concentration and centralisation would lead to increasing economic, social and political contradictions and consequent deepening crises. He showed how at the same time the development of capitalism would lead to the growth of the social forces destined to supersede it; to the growth of the working class advancing in organisation and consciousness. He showed how the working class, in unity with its allies among the peasantry and the middle strata and the national liberation movements of the countries subject to capitalist rule, would advance to end the power of capitalism and establish the political power of the working class, the dictatorship of the proletariat, led by the revolutionary party of the working class and using its political power to dispossess the capitalists and build socialist society as the first stage to communism.

Today we are at a very advanced stage of the fulfilment of this broad historical prediction. World capitalism in the modern era has been increasingly rent by conditions of crisis, by two world wars and is now engaged in active and suicidal preparations for a third. Forty-five years have passed since the first victory of the working-class socialist revolution and a quarter of a century since the establishment of the first socialist society in human history. Across one-third of the world the working class and its allies, led by the Communist Party, have established their political power and 800 million are engaged in building and consolidating socialism alongside the 200 million who have already completed the construction of socialism and begun the transition to communism. The superiority of the socialist economic system has been demonstrated during the past decade with an annual average of productive increase four times that of the most advanced capitalist country, the United States. The national liberation movements have swept forward and established a wide series of new independent states which pass out of the orbit of imperialism and have established friendly relations and cooperation with the socialist countries. The old world of dominant capitalism is visibly shrinking to a minority sector, and is resorting to increasingly desperate measures of Cold War, colonial wars and preparation of nuclear war in the endeavour to maintain its crumbling basis.

This is the moment when the enemies of Marxism and revisionists seek to proclaim the failure of Marxism and the triumph of what they are pleased to call the new capitalism. In Britain this offensive of the apologists of capitalism and of the right-wing distorters of socialism seeks to claim that Britain has evolved a new kind of progressive ‘people’s capitalism’, and on this basis announces the bankruptcy of Marxism and its failure to apply to Britain.

II: Marx and Britain

The attempt to dissociate Marx from Britain is the more extraordinary when we consider the whole character of Marx’s life, work and teachings, as equally the whole experience of the development of Britain.

In fact Marx spent the greater part of his working life in Britain. He based his study of capitalism mainly on Britain as the first, principal and classic capitalist country. He was profoundly familiar with British history and British political institutions and the British labour movement. He played an active role in close cooperation with the British labour movement.

In 1849, at the time of still rising capitalism in Britain and British capitalist world dominance, he emphasised the significance of Britain for the whole future of capitalism and socialism:

The country which transforms whole nations into proletarians; which with its gigantic arms encompasses the whole globe; which has already once defrayed the costs of European counter-revolution; and in which class antagonism has reached the most glaring shameless form; England appears to be the rock on which the revolutionary waves split and disperse and which starves the coming society even in the womb. England dominates the world market. A revolution of the economic conditions of any country of the European continent or even of the whole continent without England is but a storm in a glass of water... England controls the world markets and the bourgeoisie controls England.

This was the picture at the middle of the nineteenth century with Britain at the height of its world supremacy. But Marx threw his gaze forward to the prospect when this British industrial and commercial supremacy would be shaken and he made the prophecy that this would be most likely to occur through a world war which would bring the British Labour Party to the forefront and through the shattering of British capitalist world supremacy open the way to the beginning of socialist revolution in Europe:

Any social revolutionary upheaval of the French type must necessarily founder on the rock of the English bourgeoisie and the industrial and commercial supremacy of Britain... And the old England will only be overthrown in a world war, which alone can give the Chartist Party, the organised English Labour Party, the possibility of a successful rising against its stupendous oppressor. [1]

In 1870 Marx emphasised the character of Britain as the classic country of class divisions, of capitalism and the working class, and therefore as the country where all the material conditions were maturing for the advance to socialism:

It is the only country which has no peasantry to speak of, and where landed property is concentrated in a few hands. It is the only country where the capitalist form, that is combined living and mechanical labour on a large scale controlled by capitalist employers, has got hold of the whole production. It is the only country where the great majority of the population consists of wage workers. It is the only country in which class division and the organisation of the working class through the trade unions have attained a certain degree of maturity and comprehensiveness. Owing to her predominance on the world markets England is the only country where a transformation of her economic conditions must immediately react on the whole world. If landlordism and capitalism have their classical seats in that country so are also all the material conditions of their destruction most highly developed there. [2]

In 1879 Marx diagnosed the first signs of the transition to the era of monopoly and imperialism when he said that the development of joint-stock companies and of the role of the banks was bringing about:

... an impetus never before suspected to the concentration of capital, and also to the accelerated and immensely enlarged cosmopolitan activity of loanable capital, thus embracing the whole world in a network of financial swindling and mutual indebtedness, the capitalistic form of ‘international brotherhood’. [3]

At the same time Marx brought out the peculiar problem of the British labour movement. He showed that while all the material conditions had ripened for the advance to socialism, the subjective factor still lagged behind, because the very strength of the world capitalist monopoly led to the powerful hold of capitalist influence in the organised working class. In the same confidential circular of the General Council of the First International, he wrote:

The English possess all material requisites of the socialist revolution. But they lack the spirit of generalisation and revolutionary passion. Only the General Council is able to inspire them with these qualities and thus to speed the revolutionary forces in that country and consequently everywhere. The only means to attain that object is to secure an unbroken contact of the General Council with English labour... England cannot be looked upon as simply a country like any other country. She must be considered as the metropolis of capitalism. [4]

Thus the close contact of the international working-class movement (organised at that time through the General Council) and the British working class, was regarded by Marx as a key factor for the advance and victory of the working class in Britain.

By 1878 Marx was emphasising the fact that the British working class had lost its opportunity of leadership because it had fallen heavily under the influence of capitalist ideas, policy and domination:

The English working class had been gradually becoming more and more deeply demoralised by the period of corruption since 1848, and it had at last got to the point when it was nothing more than the tail of the great Liberal Party, that is, of its oppressors the capitalists. Its direction had passed completely into the hands of the venal trade-union leaders and professional agitators. [5]

In the last year of his life, by 1882, Marx declared that Russia had now become the vanguard of the world revolution.

If we draw together these preliminary indications of Marx’s analysis of the problem of Britain in summary form, we get the following picture.

1) Britain as the classic country of capitalism and the centre of world capitalism in the nineteenth century.

2) Class differentiation in Britain of capitalist class and working class more complete than in any other country.

3) On this basis all the material conditions for socialism in Britain.

4) Weakness of the subjective factor through the effects of the world capitalist monopoly leading to the domination of capitalist influence in the working class.

5) The indispensable role of the international working-class movement to help to raise the level of political consciousness in Britain.

6) The prospect of a future world war leading to the downfall of Britain’s world capitalist supremacy and creating the conditions for the first victory of the socialist revolution. [6]

7) The passing of the vanguard role of the world socialist revolution to Russia by the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

For an analysis made over three-quarters of a century ago we have here a remarkably penetrating foresight into the conditions of the modern world.

III: Revisionist Offensive

Today the enemies of Marxism and the revisionists of Marxism fasten on precisely those features of British capitalism and the British labour movement which Marx most clearly emphasised and made the pivot of his analysis. They declare that these features constitute a disproof of Marxism and the proof of the new character of British capitalism and the British labour movement.

Marxism, we are told, has no doubt proved its application to a backward country like the old Tsarist Russia, or today to backward Asiatic countries, but it is not applicable, it is said, to an advanced country like Britain or to any of the advanced industrial countries of Western Europe or the United States.

This is indeed an extraordinary reversal. It is remarkable how the critics of Marxism have always been ready to recognise its application to every country except their own. The old Russian Marxists had to fight against the dogma that Marxism was declared to be suitable for Western European industrial capitalist countries but entirely unsuitable for a backward country like Russia. The victory of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia shattered that myth. More recently the Indian Congress leaders used to declare that Marxism was essentially applicable to Europe but not applicable to Asian countries. The victory of the Chinese Revolution has shattered this myth also. Now when Russia, China, India and other countries are advancing along their path of progress outside the orbit of imperialism, we are told that Marxism may have its role in these countries but not in Britain and Western Europe – that is, in the very countries which have been the cradle of Marxism.

The basis of this revisionist offensive is always belief in capitalism. Capitalism – it is announced with a great flourish of trumpets – has entered on a new era of development, expansion and prosperity in which it has discovered the means to overcome the old contradictions and the conditions of crisis and has evolved into a new kind of progressive popular capitalism with the participation of the labour movement.

These illusions have always arisen and continue to arise in periods of temporary capitalist stabilisation and boom, and are always smashed by the outcome.

In the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, during the period of rapid imperialist expansion and seeming prosperity, the Fabians were the principal champions of the new theories proclaiming the disproof of Marxism. However, to their honour it can be said that the founders of Fabianism, the Webbs, in their later years, recognised and openly proclaimed the failure of their earlier theories and the vindication of Marxism:

In the years before the Great War and for some time afterwards, we did not foresee the collapse of Western civilisation, that is of the strange and mutually destructive trinity of the Christian religion, profit-making capitalism and political democracy.

Where we went hopelessly wrong was in ignoring Karl Marx’s forecast of the eventual breakdown of the capitalist system...

In case I should not live to finish this autobiography here is a short indication of the successive stages of our conversion to the Marxist theory of the historical development of profit-making capitalism. [7]

The younger Fabians today have failed even to learn the lessons of their own founders and teachers, and come out with the most antiquated fallacies as the supposed new thinking and new wisdom.

In the 1920s, during the period of temporary capitalist stabilisation and American boom, the same illusions flourished anew. The ILP and Labour Party theorists, together with the capitalist apologists, spread the picture of the triumph of Fordism and of the abolition of poverty and the supposed ironing out of trade crises. The world economic crisis of 1929 smashed these illusions.

Today with the recent period of relative full employment, Keynesian theories, and the so-called welfare state, Marxism is once again declared to have been finally disproved. The Marxist analysis of the development of capitalism to increasing contradictions, crises, worsening of conditions of life for humanity and consequent increasing urgency of the socialist revolution, is declared to have been disproved by the triumphant advance of modern capitalism. These critics have lived through two world wars; the world economic crisis; fascism; the atom bomb, the H-Bomb and the preparation of a nuclear war. They have lived, and are living through the chronic problems of Britain’s economic contradictions, the ceaseless inflation, the rising prices, the longer hours of work, the intensified exploitation, redundancy and the successive economic offensives of the employers and the government. And after all this, they have the sublime impudence to step forward and proclaim as new wisdom for the labour movement that everything gets better and better under capitalism.

The present illusions are likely to be even more short-lived than their predecessors. The denial of the application of Marxism to Britain reflects, not the failure of Marxism, but the failure of these critics to study and understand Marxist teachings with regard to the peculiar conditions of Britain and the special problems of the British labour movement.

IV: Marx and the British Labour Movement

Marx laid bare the peculiar conditions of the development of the British labour movement. He showed the reasons why, despite the maturing of the material conditions for the transition to socialism, political unreadiness still held back the necessary advance. He showed how already in the nineteenth century the world capitalist monopoly made it possible for the capitalists to provide relatively more privileged conditions on the world scale for sections and especially the upper sections of the working class and its leadership, and how this constituted the root of opportunism or reformism – that is acceptance of capitalism in the labour movement. These were the conditions leading to the strength of capitalist ideas in the working class and in the organised labour movement. At the same time he showed that these conditions were temporary and unstable since they depended on a capitalist world monopoly which would not be permanently maintained.

From this analysis the practical conclusion followed that the downfall of British capitalist world domination and its system of exploitation of other nations was an essential condition for the victory of the working class and socialism in Britain.

Hence the cause of socialism in Britain is bound up with the victory of national liberation in the countries dominated and exploited by Britain. In the nineteenth century Marx developed this conclusion in respect of the form in which the national liberation movement then expressed itself – that is, in relation to the question of Ireland. He showed how the division of the British and Irish workers, or in modern terms, of the British and colonial workers, constituted:

... the secret of the impotence of the English working class despite their organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. [8]

An important development of Marx’s thought took place in his approach to this basic problem of Britain and the British working-class movement. Initially he took the view that the victory of the British working class would bring the freedom of the peoples subject to British capitalism, that is, that the victory would first take place in Britain. By 1869 he deliberately reversed this view. He wrote (as we had occasion to note in the previous lecture) that for a long time he had believed ‘that it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime by English working-class ascendancy’, but that ‘deeper study’ had now convinced him of the opposite: ‘The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland.’ [9]

Thus Marx’s final developed view was that the victory of national liberation of the peoples subject to British capitalism would precede the victory of the working class in Britain, and create the conditions for the emancipation of the working class in Britain from their subjection to capitalism and for their advance to socialism.

At the same time Marx showed how the downfall of Britain’s world monopoly would create the conditions for the revolutionary awakening of the British working class and the re-emergence and future victory of socialism in Britain. Engels wrote in 1885:

During the period of Britain’s industrial monopoly the English working class have to a certain extent shared in the benefits of that monopoly. These benefits were very unequally parcelled out amongst them; the privileged minority pocketed most, but even the great mass had at least a temporary share now and then, and that is the reason why, since the dying out of Owenism, there has been no socialism in England. With the breakdown of that monopoly, the English working class will lose this privileged position; it will find itself generally – the privileged minority not excepted – on a level with its fellow workers abroad. And that is the reason why there will be socialism again in England. [10]

This prediction has been confirmed by all the subsequent experience ever since the last two decades of the nineteenth century, and still more at an accelerating pace, despite all the many cross-currents and zig-zags, through the past half-century, with the deepening change in Britain’s world position and the profound consequences in the political development of the working-class movement. It was in the 1880s that Britain lost world industrial priority to the United States. It was in the 1880s that the first socialist organisations arose in Britain. It was by the turn of the century that Britain had lost also European industrial priority to Germany and fallen to third place in the world level of industrial powers. It was by the turn of the century that the Labour Party (originally Labour Representation Committee) was formed in Britain.

V: Marx and the Fight for Socialism in the British Labour Movement

In the light of this analysis Marx indicated the conditions for the fight for socialism in the British labour movement and the tasks of the socialist vanguard.

Already in the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels had given the classic definition of the role of the Communist Party, that is, of the revolutionary socialist vanguard in the labour movement. The Communists, they explained, have no separate interests as a separate party opposed to other working-class parties but are distinguished from other working-class parties by two decisive features. First, their international character, that they see the international character of the struggle on a world scale, in other words do not give way to the manifold illusions or confusion of ‘National Communism’ or ‘National Socialism’. In this connection what is precisely most worthy of note in the current theories of the new Fabians and others of the Croslands, Stracheys, etc, is the way in which they treat Britain as if it existed in a vacuum without relation to the problems of Britain in the real world. Second, that the Communists in every particular struggle and stage of development look always to the interests of the movement as a whole.

It may here be desirable to correct a misunderstanding or distortion which has constantly been raised by opponents of the Communist Party in Britain. They argue that the reference in the Communist Manifesto to the Communists ‘not forming a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties’ should be taken as implying that the Communist vanguard does not constitute a political party. Therefore they argue that the formation of the Communist Party to unite the vanguard in Britain independently of the mass organisation of the Labour Party was contrary to the principles of Marxism. The shortest answer to this distortion is that the correct title of the document in which this pronouncement appears is The Manifesto of the Communist Party. Similarly the further text of this section goes on to refer to the immediate aims of the Communists as being the same as that of ‘all the other proletarian parties’.

In Britain the special problem and task before the labour movement is to overcome the ‘bourgeois infection’, or influence and dominance of capitalist ideas and policies, arising from the historical conditions which have been described. Marx recognised that this process would not be accomplished by any easy short-cut but would require a long and protracted struggle. It would take time for the English workers to ‘free themselves from their apparent bourgeois infection’. In developments of such magnitude, he said, twenty years might be no more than a day – ‘though later on days may come again in which twenty years are embodied’. [11]

Hence the twofold task follows for the Communists or advanced section of the British labour movement.

1) To be able to cooperate with all sections of the existing working-class movement at the existing stage of development and in the conditions of the limited immediate struggles as they develop, while at the same time through this representing always the interests of the future of the whole movement. Marx demonstrated this in practice in his role in the First International and close cooperation with the English trade unions and trade-union leaders, as well as in the current campaigns and battles associated with the Land and Labour League, the Electoral Reform League and the fight for the shorter working day.

2) To conduct at the same time an open fight against bourgeois leadership and influence in the labour movement. As Marx wrote in 1874:

In England at the moment only the rural labour movement shows any advance; the industrial workers have first of all to get rid of their present leaders. When I denounced these fellows at the Hague Conference I knew I was letting myself in for unpopularity, calumny, etc; but such consequences have always been a matter of indifference to me. Here and there it is beginning to be realised that in making that denunciation I was only doing my duty. [12]

Thus the development of communism or Marxist socialism in Britain has always required the fight on two fronts.

1) Against sectarianism, that is, separation from the labour movement because of its backward stage of development; endeavour to impose ready-made principles on the movement in advance of political experience and understanding; or a contemptuous attitude to the trade unions and partial struggles.

2) The fight against opportunism in the labour movement, or surrender to capitalist ideas and policies, as demonstrated by the role of the Fabians and right-wing trade-union leaders and in Marx’s time represented by the Lib-Lab leaders who constituted, as Marx said, ‘the tail of the Liberal Party’, or as Engels said, ‘the bourgeois Labour Party’.

This combined fight becomes the condition of the success and advance of the whole movement.

VI: Lenin on Britain and the British Labour Movement

Lenin carried forward the teachings of Marx in relation to Britain and the British labour movement in the era of imperialism and the beginning of the world socialist revolution.

Like Marx, Lenin built on the basis of a close study and knowledge of the development of British capitalism and the special characteristics of the British labour movement. Again and again, not only in relation to the formation of the Communist Party and its further development, but before the formation of the Communist Party, through the old Socialist International before the First World War, Lenin gave special thought and guidance to the problems of the working-class movement in Britain, and actively intervened, as in the question of the acceptance of the Labour Party by the old Socialist International in 1908.

Lenin showed how, in the imperialist era, the vast colonial empire of Britain, despite the loss of the former world industrial and trading monopoly in face of the advance of the United States and Germany, still enabled the British ruling class to draw gigantic world tribute, extend the parasitic character of Britain’s economic structure, and continue in even more developed forms the corruption of the upper strata of the working class and leadership of the labour movement as the basis of the dominance of opportunism. This was no longer in outward form the same opportunism as in the mid-nineteenth century, when it took the form of ‘Lib-Lab’ craft trade unionism acting as a tail of the Liberal Party. The first stage of revolutionisation of conditions through the downfall of the old industrial monopoly and beginnings of socialist agitation had led to the formation of the Labour Party. But in essence the same opportunism was carried even further forward in the imperialist era. With the First World War social opportunism became social chauvinism and social imperialism. This characterisation has remained the general character of the still dominant right-wing leadership of the Labour Party.

Lenin further showed how imperialism had transformed the old laissez-faire Gladstonian economic-political structure of Victorian England into a developed state bureaucratic and militarised system, and how this vast structure of state boards and state controls (carried still further with nationalisation since the Second World War) provided abundant ‘pickings’ for the extended corruption of the upper strata of the labour movement.

But Lenin at the same time showed how the character of imperialism as moribund decaying capitalism, the opening of the general crisis, the destructive consequences of the First World War, the first victories of the socialist revolution and the advance of the national liberation movement were undermining this basis of domination of opportunism in the British labour movement and opening the way for revolutionary advance.

Lenin showed how the path to the transformation of the British labour movement, the path to victory of revolutionary socialist policy and leadership, required that the small sectarian Marxist groups, which had developed in the first period of revolutionisation, would need to combine into a united political revolutionary party of the working class based on Marxism, a Communist Party. Such a Communist Party should simultaneously combat opportunism and end the old sterile sectarian traditions, that is, recognise and equip itself to fulfil its task to lead and carry forward the whole labour movement to the new era, to the victory of the working class and socialism.

Lenin played an active personal role in the formation of the Communist Party in Britain, and in the solution of the manifold political and tactical problems with which it was confronted.

VII: Advance of Marxism in Britain

In the period of the birth of the modern socialist movement in Britain in the 1880s Marxism led the way. The early socialist pioneers, on the foundations of whose work the Independent Labour Party, Labour Party and other latecomers built, proclaimed themselves Marxists and sought to spread the teachings of Marxism and to make Marxism their guide. We should never lose sight of or fail to pay tribute to the tireless work of the pioneers of the Social-Democratic Federation who laid the foundations of the modern political labour movement for socialism in Britain.

At the same time these pioneers of the Social-Democratic Federation were hampered by serious shortcomings which Marx and Engels very clearly pointed out and which showed that they still represented only very partially and incompletely the conceptions of Marxism. These weaknesses showed themselves especially in two respects. The first was the sectarian character (which is most familiar in the conventional historical treatment) shown in the turning of Marxism into a sterile dogma and in the hostile attitude to the trade unions. The second was the fact that the break with bourgeois ideas was still incomplete, especially as expressed in the leading role of Hyndman and others associating with him. Engels characterised Hyndman as a ‘rank chauvinist’ and ‘arch conservative'; and the truth of this was abundantly shown in the further development when Hyndman became the protagonist of the Tory Big Navy agitation in the early twentieth century. Similarly Blatchford, whose Britain for the British and Merrie England had the widest influence in popularising socialist ideas but ignored the imperialist basis of British economics and politics, ended up voting for the Tories against Labour. Thus one section of the emerging movement as represented by Hyndman and others had not broken yet the links with Toryism, while the other section represented by MacDonald, Hardie and Snowden had close links with Liberalism.

Marxism in Britain in consequence lost its initial favourable opportunity of guiding the development of the political movement of the working class. The leadership passed from its hands into the hands of the later developing ILP, Fabians and representatives of capitalist influence, while the Marxist groups remained in sectarian isolation in the various forms of the Social-Democratic Federation, British Socialist Party, Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Party of Great Britain and other groups.

These weaknesses in the initial phase of the emergence of Marxism in Britain were revealed in relation to the development of the Labour Party. In fact it was Engels who had first suggested that the small socialist groups should seek to solve the problem of their isolation by establishing a broad alliance with the traditional mass organisations of the British working class, the trade unions, to draw them into the beginnings of activity in the political field and thus facilitate the development towards the goal of a political class party of the working class. The foundation of the Labour Party by the Trades Union Congress at the beginning of the twentieth century, as a result of the victory of the socialist agitation within the unions for independent political working-class representation in parliament, conducted against the old Liberal-Labour leadership, was a very significant step forward for the labour movement. At the outset the Marxist Social-Democratic Federation was represented in the Labour Representation Committee with the other socialist organisations and the trade unions, but withdrew in the first year, when the new alliance refused to accept the programme of acceptance of the class struggle and socialism. Thus the leadership of the further development of the broad political labour movement, as represented by the Labour Party, was left in the unchallenged hands of the opportunists. When later, shortly before the First World War, the British Socialist Party (successor of the SDF) corrected this error and affiliated to the Labour Party, the correction came after the line and leadership and dominant policy of the Labour Party had already become firmly set; and there was less possibility for the Marxists to exercise the influence which they could have exercised had they been affiliated and part of the inner leadership from the outset. This was the difficult situation which the Communist Party, formed after the First World War, inherited with regard to the Labour Party.

It was not until the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, after the stormy events of the First World War, the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution and the world revolutionary upsurge which followed, that the Marxist socialist organisations and groups in Britain were able to unite their forces in a single revolutionary Marxist party, the Communist Party, inspired by the principles of Marx and Lenin, internationalist and anti-imperialist in outlook, and with a positive constructive attitude to the broad labour movement. In entering on this path they had to shoulder the difficult heritage arising from the conditions of the previous decades during which the forms and character of the developing political labour movement had been moulded and to a considerable degree fixed under fully developed right-wing leadership, while at the same time within the newly-formed party the remnants of the old sectarian traditions had to be overcome.

The experience of the four decades since the foundation of the Communist Party can be claimed to have proved the justification of this step as an indispensable first step towards the victory of Marxism in the British labour movement.

VIII: Towards the Victory of Marxism and Socialism in Britain

Until the end of the nineteenth century it was customary for conventional observers of the British political scene to declare that, while mass social-democratic parties had developed in the other countries of Europe, in Britain there would never be a political labour movement.

They were wrong. Today the Labour Party in Britain is the largest social-democratic party and the leader of the social-democratic International. Meanwhile the majority of the mass social-democratic parties of the beginning of the twentieth century in Europe have advanced to the stage of Communist parties. And today the contemporary conventional observers of the British political scene proclaim that, while social-democracy has a natural basis in Britain, there will never be a mass Communist Party in Britain.

Once again political reality will confound these prophets, who mistake the hitherto retarded development of Britain in the modern imperialist era (retarded for specific reasons which have been explained in the previous sections) as a supposed proof of the impossibility of historical change and further advance.

Undoubtedly the Communist Party has had to tread a difficult path during these four decades and grapple with the special problems arising from the conditions in Britain and the British labour movement. The solution of the problems of the British labour movement, the advance from the domination of the present opportunist leadership to a mass Communist Party leading the majority of the working class, is still only in process of achievement. But the experience of these four decades has abundantly demonstrated the correctness of the teachings of Marxism-Leninism and the path of advance. These years have seen successive historic mass struggles with the participation of the Communist Party: the industrial conflicts of the 1920s culminating in the general strike, the unemployed struggles and the hunger marches of the 1930s, the defeat of Mosley fascism, the battles of the British Battalion in Spain, the fight against Munichism, the war of liberation against fascism, and in the modern period the fight against the Cold War and American domination, the defeat of the wage freeze, and the fight for peace, against nuclear strategy and for disarmament. Through all these the role, and often the initiating role, of the Communist Party is a fact of history. Through all these the Communist Party has developed in strength and experience. It is still small in numbers, although the advance from 2000 members at the outset to over 30,000 today is not entirely without significance in British conditions. And through this experience of four decades it can be said that there has developed an indestructible vanguard party with an impregnable basis in the working class and in every struggle of the people: a firm core of experienced Marxist fighters, with a united leadership and trained to act in unity on the foundation of democratic centralism, and with strong roots in the key sections of the industrial working class and the mass organisations of the trade unions. In the test of experience the role and outcome of the theories and policies of reformism and of Communism have been demonstrated, and the conditions prepared for the new advance which is now more than ever manifestly necessary.

Just as the basis of British imperialism has been increasingly undermined during this period, with the disintegration of the colonial system, and the consequent deepening economic difficulties, reflected in the chronic deficits of the balance of payments, confronting successive governments, so the basis of the domination of opportunism in the British labour movement is becoming similarly undermined.

The history of the Labour Party during these six decades has revealed the deepening contradiction between the working-class base, expressed in the composition of five-sixths of its membership through trade-union affiliations, as well as in the role of the militant socialist fighters in the local organisations, and the dominant leadership of the representatives of capitalist policy or trade-union bureaucracy allied with capitalism. For the first eighteen years even the aim of socialism was denied. It was the resounding repercussion of the Russian Revolution of 1905 which, as AJ Balfour remarked at the time, swept forward the Labour Party to its first major parliamentary representation in 1906. It was the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 which led to the adoption of the new constitution of the Labour Party in 1918, formally embodying the aim of socialism or ‘common ownership of the means of production’ – the famous Clause Four which Mr Gaitskell has sought, so far vainly, to delete from the formal constitution, although he has been able to repudiate it in practice. The united victory of the peoples over fascism in 1945 brought the first Labour majority in parliament.

Three Labour governments have tested out in practical mass experience the outcome of the policies of reformism. Each has collapsed in turn in face of the problems of capitalism and the class struggle. The first two were minority governments by permission of the Liberal – Conservative majority in parliament. The third was based for the first time on an absolute Labour majority in parliament – the goal which had long been held out by reformism as the guaranteed road to the victory of socialism, but which ended with monopoly capitalism more strongly entrenched than ever.

The first Labour government of MacDonald in 1924 lasted only for nine months, put through the American Dawes Plan in Europe, and ended in a resounding Tory electoral victory on the basis of the forged ‘Zinoviev Letter’ which MacDonald, as Foreign Minister, allowed to be put into circulation for the benefit of the Tories at the height of the election. Five years of Tory rule followed, with heavy offensives against the working class.

The second Labour government of MacDonald in 1929-31 lasted a little over two years, and ended ignominiously in the world economic crisis, with mass unemployment and the collapse of the pound. Its principal leaders, MacDonald, Snowden and Thomas, who had been the leaders of the fight against communism in the labour movement, openly joined the Tories to form the National Government, and inflicted a crushing electoral defeat upon the Labour Party. For fourteen years Toryism remained politically dominant, and was able to carry through the shameful policies of Munich.

The third Labour government of Attlee was returned with an absolute majority through the vast popular upsurge following victory over fascism and the alliance with the Soviet Union, and expressing the hatred of Toryism and desire for basic social change. But the third Labour government, alongside limited social reforms and some nationalisation measures which in no wise weakened capitalism, entered on the programme of the Cold War, the surrender of Britain to American nuclear bases and an inflated arms programme. In face of the ensuing economic difficulties the Labour government embarked on an austerity programme of cuts and the wage freeze, which resulted in mass disillusionment and the return of a Tory government. For the past eleven years Toryism has again ruled.

It is impossible not to contrast this experience with the sweeping advance and constructive triumphs of socialism in the countries led by Communist parties during this period.

During these eleven years of Tory rule the crisis of Labour Party policy and leadership has deepened and become manifest to all. Whereas the old reformist leadership used the formal recognition of the ultimate aim of socialism as a sop to appease their discontented followers with hopes for the future, the present right-wing reformist leadership represented by Gaitskell finds even the nominal recognition of the aim of socialism too dangerous in modern conditions, and has sought, so far vainly, to expunge it from the programme. In 1960 the dominant right-wing leadership was for the first time defeated on a major issue at the annual conference, the issue of nuclear disarmament. Extraordinary measures were adopted by the machine to re-establish the dominance of the right-wing leadership. The precariousness and instability of the present position is recognised by all observers.

In these developing battles of policy and leadership within the trade-union and labour movement, the alliance of the Communist Party and the left sections in the trade unions and the Labour Party and the peace movement, with the Daily Worker as the fighting voice and press organ in the daily newspaper press, has constituted the strength of the thrust against the right-wing reformist leadership, and more and more manifestly represents the power of the future to replace the discredited policies of reformism. In 1951 the Communist Party set out its long-term programme, The British Road to Socialism, to show the path forward, through the establishment of a united labour movement on the basis of Marxism, and the leadership of the majority of the people by such a united labour movement, for the defeat of capitalist rule and the victory of socialism. The Twenty-Seventh Congress of the Communist Party in 1961 set out its conception of how this development goes forward through the present struggles:

The strengthening and consolidation of the broad militant alliance in all trade union and labour organisations based on the cooperation of all Communists, Socialists and militant trade unionists, can end the domination of right-wing policies and leadership, and unite the labour movement on a policy against the monopolies and for peace and social advance. [13]

IX: Conclusion

As almost the last word of the old pioneers Marx and Engels in relation to Britain and the problems of the British labour movement, we may note something that Engels wrote in the last year of his life in 1894. It is especially appropriate for those who complain of the slowness of development in Britain compared with other countries where the working-class movement came later into the field and advanced more rapidly to socialism:

One is indeed driven to despair by these English workers, with their sense of imaginary national superiority, with their essentially bourgeois ideas and viewpoints, with their ‘practical’ narrowmindedness, with the parliamentary corruption which has seriously infected the leaders. The only thing is that the ‘practical’ English will be the last to arrive, but when they do arrive their contribution will weigh quite heavy in the scale. [14]

Engels understood very well that the British labour movement was still weighed down by the inheritance of the past which had to be overcome:

In a country with such an old political and labour movement there is always a tremendous heap of traditional inherited rubbish which has to be got rid of by degrees. [15]

Today world history is sweeping forward. As surely as the working people through the guidance of Marxism have conquered over one-third of the world, and as surely as the traditional basis of the old structure of imperialism in Britain becomes visibly undermined, the signals have sounded for decisive social change in Britain.

The sense of break-up of the old order, of the crumbling of old familiar landmarks, and of the necessity to advance to new conditions is now universal among all sections. In vain the official propagandists seek to depict the present era of imperialist decline in Britain as a ‘new Elizabethan age’. They forget that the old Elizabethan age was the precursor of the first English Revolution.

Among the representatives of the old ruling class it is the sense of decline and decay that is dominant. Already as far back as 1928 it was characteristic that on the occasion of the eightieth birthday of the old Conservative statesman AJ Balfour, a tribute in the form of a sonnet from a noble hand signed ‘D’ should have been prominently printed in The Times, proclaiming in its final sextet:

Ruler, by hand of steel in silken glove;
Doubtful, at times, if mending be worth while
Where naught persists but ordered, smooth decay
Careless of hate, nor greatly liking love;
Content, if high affairs some hours beguile
With work become a finer form of play.

Music of a dying class.

Today it is not only a diehard Tory like Lord Salisbury who, speaking in the House of Lords on 28 March 1960 in opposition to the fulsome official propaganda of the ‘new Elizabethan age’, could proclaim the present era as comparable to ‘the Dark Ages’:

Sometimes the present age was compared with the age of the first Elizabeth, but in many ways he felt it was more like the later years of the Roman Empire... Gradually but relentlessly the Roman world was shrinking. First the outworks were driven in, then the threat became more direct, and finally Rome itself fell and the Dark Ages began.

But also the Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, according to the criticism made in a speech on 2 February 1962 by a Conservative MP, Sir Harry Legge-Bourke, an executive member of the 1922 Committee, holds in private little more hopeful views:

I would maintain that no man whose ability to reason has brought him to the conclusion that mankind is condemned to eventual self-destruction should remain in charge of his country’s affairs. There have been moments when I have sensed that the Prime Minister sees little hope for the future.

Perhaps it was an ironic comment on this situation that, when the traditional residence of the Prime Minister – Number Ten Downing Street – had to be shored up from collapsing in 1962, the architect in charge of the operation reported in February 1962:

The floors were a great deal more rotten than we had expected... the foundations were hopeless of course... they had rotted away, because the building was on marsh.

However, it was decided that a vast internal bolstering up should take place at a cost of £1,600,000 (originally estimated £1 million) but that the outer façade should be kept as it was. A kind of parable of the British constitution or of the face-lifting masquerade of vanished glory of the present social order in Britain.

But simultaneously with this decline of the old order, and acceptance of decline among the representatives of the ruling class, especially in their favourite fashionable artistic and literary forms, revolt extends among widening sections against this bankruptcy of the existing society, racketeering, cultural desolation and waste of human and material resources.

It is a sign of the times when the highly-placed President of the Royal Institute of British Architects in an opening address to a conference in July 1960 can declare:

Our precious land, so beautiful and so small, has become a casino for the speculators.

Revolt extends among serious scientists and technicians at the squandering of the vast possibilities opened up by modern technique, the starvation of creative research in the interests of military preparations, the backwardness of education, and the perversion of civilised standards under the domination of the financial take-over tycoons.

The crazy economic switch-back of inflation and deflation nowadays characteristic of the Western world has aroused increased awareness of the obsolete character of the existing economic mechanism, which is no longer either the old ‘free’ capitalism, with its ruthlessly effective laws, nor the advance of the rational order of socialism, but a bureaucratic anarchy of state monopoly capitalism, with the jungle-war of the giant monopolies, the mad dance of markets and prices, and haphazard interventions by governments which are the servants of the biggest monopolies.

Also among the professional sections and middle strata, which were formerly the bulwark of Conservative stability, revolt has extended, and has found a preliminary form in a swing away from the Conservative Party, at first to place hopes in a revival of the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party was once the ruling party of British industrial capital at the height of its power, and long ago since the First World War collapsed and dwindled away, but now seeks to win a new lease of life as the representative of the middle sections against the oppression of the big monopolists and, as they see it, of the trade unions. It is a measure of the bankruptcy of the dominant present reactionary leadership of the Labour Party that they should have failed to win these dissatisfied middle sections moving away from Toryism to come over to the labour movement, and should instead, by their own lack of an alternative programme and apparent identity with Toryism on basic issues, have driven these potential allies to seek a spurious alternative in a revival of the old Liberal Party. The early Labour Party set itself the aim to displace the Liberal Party forever from the political scene. By the mid-twentieth century this objective was deemed to have been in the main fulfilled. It remained for the leadership of the Gaitskells and the Browns to have achieved the remarkable feat, by their abandonment of the basic aims of the labour movement, to revive for a while the once moribund Liberal Party. All these developments, however, represent only a temporary phase of the present political situation, and reflect the search of increasing sections for an effective alternative policy.

Most significant in the present period is the revolt among young people, and the increasing participation of wide sections from among them in new forms of political activity. Here the 1960s are revealing a striking contrast with the Cold War climate of the earlier 1950s. The Aldermaston marches and other demonstrations have shown a participation, especially from among young people, on a scale not previously paralleled.

Alongside these have been the demonstrations against the Holy Loch Polaris base or Castlemartin training base for German troops; the wide support for the anti-Apartheid struggle and against the colour bar and colonialism; and the resistance to the revival of fascism in Britain. Alongside these manifestations have developed new stirrings and new currents in the cultural and artistic fields. There is still a great suspicion of what are regarded as ‘the old parties’, whose parliamentary mock battles and basic identity of programme win no enthusiasm. But the stirring of new political consciousness is manifest, and will further seek its way to find the answers to the questions raised.

There is no straight and easy path forward. Many ordeals and difficult battles have still to be faced. In the present unstable international and national situation it would be foolish to make short-term predictions. The menace of new wars, even of nuclear war, is real. What the sequel of such a catastrophe as nuclear war would mean is still disputed ground among scientists. But even on the most favourable hypothesis, even if it did not bring the extinction of life on this planet, as some fear, it would mean not only suffering beyond computation, but an infinitely difficult path to resume the ascent of human progress. Hence the primary necessity to defeat this menace. Nevertheless the spectre of possible nuclear war, which hangs like a nightmare over the imagination of so many of the present generation, should not paralyse effort. The forces of peace are growing throughout the world, and have brought in view the practical possibility of defeating the menace of nuclear war and winning the fight for peace. In such a situation of an advance of the fight for peace, alongside the extension of national liberation, the most favourable conditions would exist for corresponding social and political advance in Britain and in all countries.

All the conditions are gathering in Britain for a new political move forward. Within the labour movement, among the professional people and middle strata, and among the young people the stirrings are manifest. What is needed is the achievement of unity against the common enemy and for a common immediate programme. The hour calls for a broad common front of all the various sections of the people, with a united labour movement leading the way, together with the professional people and middle sections, and strong in the support of the young people, against the rule of the monopolies, reaction and war, and to open the way to real social change.

Engels in a letter in 1885 recognised that there would inevitably intervene in Britain a period of mass parliamentary labour reformist representation and consequent disillusionment before the workers would move to socialism:

There will be workers in parliament, in increasing numbers, and each one worse than the last. But that is necessary in England. All the scoundrels who built the party of respectable bourgeois radicals at the time of the International must show themselves in parliament for what they are. Then the masses will turn socialist here too. [16]

We are on the eve of a new political era in Britain. The Labour majority of 1945 was no more the end of the road than the Liberal majority of 1906. Despite all obstacles, we can be confident of the future victory of the working class and socialism in Britain. And in that victory we can be assured that Marxism and its expression in the organised Communist movement will play its due part.


1. Marx, ‘New Year 1849’, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, 1 January 1849, reprinted in Franz Mehring, Aus dem Literarischen Nachlass von Marx, Engels und Lassalle, Volume 3 (Stuttgart, 1913), pp 231-32 – MIA.

2. ‘Importance and Weakness of English Labour’, Confidential Circular of the General Council of the first International Working Men’s Association, 1870 – MIA.

3. Marx, Letter to Danielson, 10 April 1879 – MIA.

4. ‘Importance and Weakness of English Labour’, Confidential Circular of the General Council of the first International Working Men’s Association, 1870 – MIA.

5. Marx, Letter to W Liebknecht, 11 February 1878 – MIA.

6. Let it be noted that this prediction of Marx was not presented as any general theory of world war as the necessary condition and precursor of a victorious socialist revolution (one of the current familiar distortions of Marxism), but as a specific prediction of the effect of a future world war in ending the world-dominant position of British capitalism. This prediction was fulfilled by the war of 1914-18. We have now entered a new and different era, with the extension of socialism over the world, the aim of peaceful coexistence to prevent a third world war, and the possibility within these new conditions of a peaceful transition to socialism in Britain.

7. Beatrice Webb, Our Partnership (London, 1948).

8. Marx, Letter to Meyer and Vogt, 9 April 1870 – MIA.

9. Marx, Letter to Engels, 10 December 1869 – MIA.

10. Engels, ‘England in 1845 and 1885’, Commonweal, 1 March 1885, reprinted in 1892 Preface to The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 – MIA].

11. Marx, Letter to Engels, 9 April 1863 – MIA.

12. Marx to Kugelmann, 18 May 1874 – MIA.

13. Political Resolution of the Twenty-Seventh Congress of the Communist Party, April 1961.

14. Engels, Letter to GV Plekhanov, 21 May 1894 – MIA.

15. Engels, Letter to Sorge, 19 April 1890 – MIA.

16. Engels, Letter to JP Becker, 15 June 1885.