Challenges that Communism Faces Today
The last few years have undoubtedly been a very decisive period in the history of the twentieth century. Perhaps, like many people at the time of the 1917 revolution, of the rise of fascism, or of the two World Wars, who carried on with their inevitable everyday lives throughout those immense events and looked at them as mere 'news', many in our generation may not fully grasp the historical significance of the present era. The future will show how human society changed course at this juncture; how the economic, political and intellectual profile of the world was changed; how humanity's conception of itself and its destiny was transformed.
We live at the time of a fundamental historical break. Wherever we come from and whatever we do, the events of recent years reshape the conditions of our lives and redefine the framework of our and the future generations' social struggle. The wars that will be fought in the next fifty years, the hardships that face humanity, the social, political, and intellectual challenges to which millions of people will devote their lives, the image that humankind will cast of itself in art, culture and literature, the individual and social psychology of people, their economic and political hopes and fears, their moral conceptions and philosophical outlooks, will all bear the mark of the events that we are witnessing today. Just as the politico-economic and intellectual results of World War II moulded the lives of the last two generations, from industrial Europe and the U.S. to the most remote and backward regions, the outcome of present developments will affect the life of future generations in all aspects.
'The West has won the Third World War without a shot being fired', say some Western analysts. However, the real history of decades of conflict between the two sides of this 'third world war', including its last stage in recent years, has been nothing but death, poverty and rightlessness for billions of people. This alone makes a nonsense of the claim that 'no bullets were fired'. Nevertheless, the truth in this statement must be recognized, namely that what is going on is something comparable with the end of a third world war, and its impact on contemporary history must be understood.
These historical developments are unfolding at various levels. The tangible and immediate aspect of this process is the collapse and disintegration of the Eastern bloc and the destruction of the political, economic, and ideological system that defined it. In a simple and obvious sense the West has won the battle between the two bourgeois blocs of East and West. Like all previous victories of one bourgeois power over another, we are witness to the political, geographical disintegration and economic subjugation and ideological subordination of the losing side. From annexation of its land to invasion of its markets, from changing of its political and administrative system, to opening of its gates to the cultural and ethical values of the victor, this has all the hallmarks of a classic victory of one bourgeois power over another. What is not at all 'classic', however, is the fact that the losing side has been one pole of a bipolar system that for half a century constituted the most basic characteristic of the world's political situation. Politically, the whole world was shaped on the basis of this system. Thus the end of this polarity utterly changes the political and economic equations, not only in the Eastern bloc, but in the world as a whole.
In the Eastern bloc itself the most striking developments are taking place. Victory of the market has brought widespread poverty and economic insecurity for workers. The struggle over new economic models and political structures is very intense. On the other hand, the collapse of a closed political and administrative system has activated all sorts of social movements, from progressive and revolutionary to archaic and reactionary. Along with extensive workers' movements with new demands and unprecedented forms of protest, nationalism, fascism and religion have also come to the fore.
In the dominated and backward part known as the 'Third World', whose problems have been directly tied to this international confrontation, a fundamental redefinition of issues is taking place. Suddenly, solutions are found for old problems, while new and more complex ones crop up. Social forces and trends in these countries are suddenly faced with a fundamentally changed situation. This is clearly seen in the case of Palestine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Cambodia, various central and South American countries, and the main areas of conflict in Africa. Nationalism, religion, liberalism, reformism, and radicalism are in a completely different position than before. The outlook for economic development in this part of the world changes once again. The collapse of the East and the opening of its doors to Western capital have dashed the new hope of West-oriented development and integration into the world market for Asian, African, and Latin American countries.
But the more important and, in the long run, decisive aspects of the collapse of the Eastern bloc are the inevitable future developments in the victorious West. The political, economic and ideological entity known as the West or the 'Free World', which was defined as a counterpart to the Eastern bloc, must inevitably change as a result of the collapse of its opposite pole. The West must disintegrate as a global bloc. The political and ideological structure that provided it with a unified identity now has to be revised. Not only new military, political and economic formations but a new ideological system compatible with capitalism after the end of 'East-West' confrontation must take shape. The capitalist world is marching towards a total revision in its economic, political and cultural formation. The new historical era is not one of stability, order, and clarity. It is rather an era of instability, disorder, and confusion.
Even if the issue is perceived as a fundamental and historical 'settling of accounts' between bourgeois blocs, half of the picture will be lost. The end of the 'Third War' between bourgeois blocs is accompanied by an equally fundamental and historically significant aggression by the entire bourgeoisie against the working class. The victor and the defeated are united in declaring the 'end of communism.' The victory of the West is celebrated not just as a victory over a rival military, political and economic bloc, or as one of the market over statist economics, but primarily as a victory over communism. This formulation is partly a legacy of the ideological format that the final offensive of the West over the East took under Reagan and Thatcher. This was the specific contribution of the New Right in Western Europe and the U.S. in the '80s to the traditional East-West confrontation. On the other hand, its characterization, by the official Western ideology, as a battle of democracy and the market against socialism and communism is the banner of the new round of attacks against the workers movement. This points to the fact that from the bourgeoisie's viewpoint the process of settling of their internal fight should result in significant gains in the class war which has been going on alongside.
This is the dark side of the recent international developments that bodes a horrifying nightmare for all of humanity. For many naive analysts of the recent events, among the leftists, ex-leftists and, generally, humane but half-witted intellectuals, the world is apparently moving towards peace, harmony, liberty and humanity. All politely line up to lay their nationalistic, liberal and environmental demands at the feet of capitalism. Such naive illusions are indications of an a-historical view of the recent developments. Today's attack on communism is not one against a specific group, regime, party, or political and administrative system. It is an attack on humanity, equality, and liberty in general, and the working class's social movement for the achievement of these aspirations in particular.
The purpose is to declare the immortality of capitalism and the futility of any protests by deprived masses. This is an offensive against human expectations; against the people's hope to gain control over their own destiny; against any notion of responsibility of society toward the individual, and ideals of legal, political, and economic equality of all. It is an offensive to remove all those limitations and brakes that socialist ideas and two centuries of day-to-day struggle of the working class have forced upon capital's naked plunder and exploitation. If the bourgeoisie succeeds in its offensive against communism and forces socialist criticism and socialist movement into the margin, the real alternative that the world will face is nothing but barbarism gift-wrapped in technology. The result would be the atomization of the worker and citizen vis-à-vis capital and its political, economic, administrative, and propaganda institutions. It will ridicule all human ideals as obsolete and unattainable. The applause for the downing of Lenin's statues is not out of hostility to a paralyzed and defeated state-capitalist bloc in the East. They are pulling down Lenin as the symbol of working class's insolent attempts against the sanctity of capital; the symbol of the struggle of downtrodden working masses for changing the world.
Even without this new offensive against the working humanity, today's world is bleak enough to anyone who cares about the dignity and rights of the people. In industrial centres, the ranks of the unemployed are growing. Class divisions are widening. The social security and welfare of people have drastically decreased. A working-class family cannot survive without two jobs. Working-class organizations, even the mainstream union movement that has long ceased to be a threat to the bourgeois order, are being repressed and have lost their ability to act. Individualism and competition have become accepted as undeniable and fundamental norms of society. The general outlook of society, reflected particularly by the intellectuals, the intelligentsia, thinkers, and image-makers of the bourgeoisie, has shifted drastically to the right. The liberal and reformist ideas of the sixties and seventies are declared invalid and forced to the margin. Existence of a large number of people below the poverty line in the U.S. and Europe is now turned into something acceptable. Neo-fascism and racism in a variety of forms have entered the stage. The technological revolution has not only enhanced capital's economic dominance over workers, but also provided it with new means for preserving its political dominance. Alongside the army, courts and prisons, the mass media with its extensive reach has occupied a unique position in securing the bourgeoisie's political control. Systematic duping and intimidation of individuals in the isolation of their homes, constant propaganda bombardment of the society with the bourgeoisie's account of the world, society and Man, has become an integral and indivisible precondition for the survival of Western democracy (the parliamentary dictatorship of the bourgeoisie).
Outside this industrial world, economic insecurity and social and political rightlessness reign supreme. The prospect for economic growth for these countries is dark, and in many of them a daily struggle against poverty and famine is the meaning of life for the mass of population.
The size of the external debt of the 'Third World' countries to the Western countries and their financial institutions has reached unbelievable dimensions. In many such countries, up to 80% of the income generated by economic growth is spent on payment of interests on these loans, a fact that according to official estimates, results in the death of fifty million children every year (two every second) and leaves, for those who survive, poverty, homelessness, prostitution, and drug addiction. Billions of people in these countries are denied the minimum of rights to run their society and influence their economic and political destiny. Repressive bourgeois regimes, and state as well as ultra-state political crimes committed primarily against the working class and worker movements are the hallmarks of the political system in these countries. In many, any attempt to socialist or union organization is a crime that carries severe punishments. The status of workers, as expendable second-class citizens, as sellers of cheap labour, is more and more confirmed in the political economy of the world today.
This class apartheid and the official classification of people's worth in the industrial world and at a global level are reinforced with the rise of new reactionary ideological systems. The burden of blame for joblessness, homelessness, poverty, and lack of elementary medical, educational, and welfare facilities is shifted from society to the individual. The concept of right, political or economic is once again bluntly linked to property. Nationalist and religious movements find an open field for action. Alongside the proclamation of the sanctity of the market, of capital and of bourgeois property, military interventionism on a global scale and its corresponding racist and Eurocentrist frame of thought are revived and baptized as the banner of a New World Order.
For a communism which has not revised its ideals of equality and freedom for all people; for a communism that is the critical-practical movement of workers to transform the entire backward inhuman bourgeois order, for a communism that is witness to the current attack on Marxism and working-class ideas and movements, the current era poses a long list of intellectual and political challenges. We must face these challenges. And there is every indication that workers' and communism's victory in this same era is a possibility. The whole world is in the process of a major reconsideration of its economic, political and intellectual foundations. Worker-communism, free from the burden of bourgeois socialist blocs, has a great opportunity to directly and clearly put forward its critical outlook and social alternative. The globalization of capital and industrial production has turned the modern working class into a real global class. Workers' protest against government and employers' policies and for improvement of their living conditions goes on continuously in various countries. The traditional trends within the workers' movement, particularly the trade unionists and social democrats, have shown their inability to expand worker organization and lead workers' protests to victory. Despite all the anti-communist propaganda and agitations, today the radical socialist trend within the workers' class movement has a better opportunity to draw workers to radical policies and organization.
For communists there is a lot to do. And there is a lot that can be done. Both a complete victory and a complete defeat are possible and probable. Major challenges are global and do not have country-specific characters, although it is possible to clearly draw specific conclusions for communist tasks in each country. Our trenches are known, and communism today will be distinguished by its presence in these trenches. Not only should we defend Marxism against the bourgeois offensive, we must push forward the radical Marxist criticism, workers' criticism of the capitalist world, with more force and determination than before. We must sweep away democratic, nationalist, liberal, and religious illusions and the half-hearted criticisms of bourgeois dissidents to marginal social issues. Workers' socialist rank should be rallied to the battleground of today's decisive economic and political struggles.
The workers' alternative must be put to the world. The form and structure of workers' radical mass struggle must be defined and they must be expanded. Insightful, radical and communist worker parties must be built. The international class unity of workers must be put on the agenda as an urgent practical issue.
A real communist today is one who understands the urgency of the current situation and the significance of his/her own role... Communism in the margins of society is not communism. To be in the front line of resistance against the bourgeoisie's worldwide offensive on just human ideals and social achievements, to organize an international socialist front of workers in this turbulent world, and to work for the victory of socialism is what it takes to be a communist today.
The above article is the translation from Persian of a part of a much longer article first published in Komonist no. 63, September '91, organ of the Communist Party of Iran, in which the author elaborated his reasons for leaving the CPI and its leadership in order to work for the formation of a worker-communist party. The following extract was published in Persian, in International, paper of the newly-formed Worker-communist Party of Iran no.1, February 92. The present translation is reprinted from International in English, no.1, August 92.