The revolution and the revolutionary

Matt Cox writes on the role Young Communists play in shaping a revolutionary environment within Britain

Matt Cox, is a member of the YCL’s West and North Yorkshire branch

The political life of a Young Communist is one that is full of details and minutiae; the organisation of meetings and the distribution of political work, the placement of a text and the size of a font, the choosing of times and places and the booking of trains and coaches, the writings of agendas and the takings of minutes, the disciplining of cadres, so on and so on. 

Our Young Communists work diligently at the construction of a revolutionary organisation whilst educating themselves and others on the theoretical works of the Marxist tradition.

From time to time, though, it is worth sitting back and thinking about our objective. Probably every Young Communist from the newest to the most experienced, the youngest to the oldest, can tell you that objective: the complete and permanent overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with socialism. We know that we will not carry out this goal tomorrow, and that perhaps we will all be (like myself) very old when we see a revolution. 

The very first thing about being a revolutionary is that you have to believe in the revolution. There can be no ifs, buts, and maybes – a revolutionary has to believe at the very bottom of their heart that the course of history is on our side and that what we do matters. A revolutionary has to shed away their bourgeois morality and sympathies. A revolutionary has to put the Party before their personal convictions and abide to the structures of democratic centralism. 

This is the very first ‘tactical approach’ to revolution – believing in the revolution and behaving like a person who believes in the revolution. 

It is always important for revolutionaries to tell the truth. Lies and illusions harm our movement and do more damage than they prevent: so here are two obvious truths. We are not close to revolution, and we do not have the strength for outright insurrection. 

No revolution has ever been the same and no revolution will ever be the same – but every revolution came from humble beginnings. Fidel Castro landed in the Granma with less than a hundred men. Fifty people were at the first meeting of the Communist Party of China. Therefore, we should not be deterred by these obvious truths. We should not reject them, pretend they aren’t true, or fail to think about them. Instead, we should be inspired by them, take them at their face value, and use them to our advantage.

To do that we need to have a clear vision about our strategic approach to building revolutionary power. A revolution is not simply about us taking seizing state power and suppressing the ruling class. That is the essence of the purpose of the revolutionary state, as outlined by Lenin. When British Communists and workers have seized the British state, whenever that might be, our ruling class will leave us no choice but to deploy overwhelming force to annihilate them. In the words of Fidel Castro – “either the counterrevolution annihilates the revolution, or the revolution annihilates the counterrevolution.”

But in the meantime, however long and arduous that meantime might be, we need to think about our approaches to the revolution, because we do not have a revolutionary state. In a 1957 address to the Communist Party’s National Conference on Propaganda Work, Mao Zedong declared that the Chinese Communists have “won the basic victory in transforming the ownership of the means of production, but have not yet won complete victory on the political and ideological fronts.” 

If we have not yet won a victory in transforming our economic system, we can still win victories on the political and ideological fronts. This is an important component of our revolution and an important part of our tactical and strategic direction. We must teach people not just to hate the enemy, which huge numbers of the British working class already do, but we must also teach people to love one another. Just as we reject bourgeois morality, we must teach others to do the same. We should challenge in the most effective way that we can find, our friends and family and colleagues on the influence of bourgeois media. We should challenge racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression – even if we find them in our closest friends and family members.

The revolutionary does not need to ‘convert’ all of his friends to Marxism-Leninism: we are not merchants or priests of ideology. We need only to lead people in the proper direction. This is aptly described in Chapter XIII of Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism. The Party is the “General Staff of the proletariat”, its “advanced detachment … it must absorb all the best elements of the working class, their experience, their revolutionary spirit, their selfless devotion.” More importantly, Stalin describes the need for the Party to “raise the masses to the level of understanding the class interest of the proletariat.” 

That is what we must do when we teach people not just to hate the enemy, but also to love one another. Now we can say we must teach them not just to love each other, but to think materially, to understand materially that we are a class and that the enemy, who we hate so dearly, is also a class, and each of these classes have interests. 

Now we can say we must teach people to understand that these interests are in contradiction with one another, and only one of them can succeed. In other words: either the counterrevolution annihilates the revolution, or the revolution annihilates the counterrevolution.

Mao Zedong’s 1937 On Practice provides an outstanding manner to connect these abstract ideas to the real political life of a Young Communist. Mao writes that the Chinese Communists often heard the remark “I am not sure I can handle it” when “a comrade hesitates to accept an assignment.” Mao wrote this text in 1937, but that could be applied to our movement, and to our revolutionaries, today. Mao has an answer for the reason that many comrades are unsure of themselves. He suggests it is “Because they have no systematic understanding of the content and circumstances of the assignment, or because they have had little or no contact with such work… after a detailed analysis of the nature and circumstances of the assignment, they will feel more sure of themselves and do it willingly.” 

On Practice is a very good text on a theoretical level, but also a very good one on a practical level. We discover things through practice, and through those discoveries, abstractions and perceptions become real. To advance our revolution, we need victories on the political and ideological front – every time that a Young Communist has a successful conversation with a friend about class and class interests, that is a small victory. Every time that our propaganda catches the attention of a potential member, that is a small victory. Every time that a doubtful comrade is persuaded to carry out a task or hold a position, that is a small victory.  Every time that a friend or a stranger joins a trade union at our advice, that is a small victory. 

We cannot wage revolutionary struggle without political and ideological victory. Britain’s Road to Socialism provides us with strategic direction for the former. It is tempting to leave the big questions to others, to hope that others will do work that we ourselves know should be done, and to advocate for a strategy that we ourselves take no part in executing. This is a form of liberalism and should be combatted inside our Party and League. 

Every member must take responsibility for waging political and ideological struggle in their communities, places of education, and places of work. This is how a Young Communist transforms her or himself from being a hobbyist, a reformist, a liberal, to being a revolutionary.

Matt Cox

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