The capitalist system has done it again. The sudden collapse on 24 February of Barings, the most blue-blooded of Britain's merchant banks, raised yet again the threat of a world financial crash. Despite the repeated claims about a world recovery made over the past two years the capitalist system remains as unstable as ever.
The fear of a major catastrophe seems to have receded since then, or in any case this is what we are told. Yet calls for tighter regulations of the financial markets are still issued by "experts" whose previous commitment to wholesale deregulation is well-known. The pundits are obviously still much too worried to call off the alert.
Indeed the stakes are enormous. The whole world's finances are threatened with a recurrence of the very same disease which sent share prices to the floor in October 1987 and, more recently, resulted in the virtual bankruptcy of the Mexican state and economy.
The irony is that this comes precisely after two years of record profits for the large international finance institutions, particularly those based in Britain. That booming prosperity for the banks should coincide with another example of the glaring instability of the world's finances is not fortuitous - they are the two sides of the same coin which market makers, stock brokers and shareholders keep tossing across the planet in their frantic efforts to maximise profits.
Most significant are the circumstances surrounding Barings' collapse. The bank's now famous Singapore-based "golden boy" was able to trigger the turmoil almost single-handedly. Whether his acts were legal or not is immaterial. Had he won the jackpot, since this was the aim of the game he was paid (and overpaid) to run, he would have been hailed as a hero and no-one would have questioned his methods.
Still a week later, no-one even knows just how much was lost, let alone what the possible consequences and dangers may be, in the short or in the longer term. Fantastic figures have already been circulated as to size of the stakes which the "golden boy" was playing with. They are significantly larger than the whole Gross Domestic Product of many Third World countries.
For the capitalists, the beauty of the "global markets", as the trendies call them, is their sophistication which is entirely aimed at allowing fast, gigantic gains with comparably little cash to put down - or little, that is, for the enormously wealthy families and companies whose playground they are. The drawback is that the losses can be just as huge as the gains. This is why only an elite among the world's very rich can play.
In order to cover their backs they use methods which, if they were playing at the National Lottery instead, would amount to buying five million tickets on borrowed money. The gambling tickets for this "global market" lottery are known as "derivatives", "futures", "options", "hedge funds", "junk bonds", etc.. They differ from those of the National Lottery not because the odds are less favourable or harder to gauge, but because the size of the possible gains, or losses, are impossible to forecast. In terms of odds, the "global" casino is probably comparable to good old roulette. Except that given the risks involved, it is more like a Russian roulette with a multi-barrelled revolver whose bullets could easily destroy whole national economies.
Such is the true face of capitalism in the 1990s. This system ran out of steam long ago. It is proving incapable of catering for the needs of a growing section of humanity, including in those rich countries which are its historical strongholds. As highlighted by the Barings collapse, it only survives its own death agony by turning mad financial gambles into a daily routine, despite the threat they represent to its own stability and to the world's economy.
The line between human senility and madness is often very narrow. The senility of capitalism has long been accompanied by momentous bouts of lunacy which have had fatal effects on humanity as a whole. It is high time this senile and debilitated capital was ditched in the dustbin of history to make way for a new era of development for man's society - the communist era.
Towards a new stage in man's history
The idea that man's society cannot be stuck with capitalism for ever, that it can and will develop further through organising itself economically and socially along entirely different lines, is not the product of some kind of obsolete utopianism. This idea flows as much from the past history of society as from the urgent need to resolve the threatening chaos generated by capitalism today.
It was in the midst of the political upheavals of the mid-19th century, that Karl Marx and his comrades looked for an answer to a simple but tremendously important question: how could they act most efficiently to rid society of the various forms of absolutism and injustice that plagued it? Many of their contemporaries sought an answer in dreaming out a fully-fledged model of what would be, in their view, a perfect world. Others chose to grab guns in the hope that once the dust of insurrection settled down again every problem would resolve itself. Marx, on the other hand, looked for an answer which could become a lever in the hands of the dispossessed, allowing them to use their huge numerical strength to overthrow a social order which had nothing to offer them and to build a new one. He found this answer by submitting history to the scrutiny of methods borrowed from the sphere of science. Social changes, he said, usually in the shape of revolutions, were the "locomotives" of history. They gave society the boost needed to take it further along the road of progress.
If any period in history provided a graphic illustration of these new ideas, it is certainly the mid-19th century. In Britain, on the one hand, the industrial revolution was beginning to unleash its tremendous productive power. In France, the political power of the privileged classes was constantly threatened by the insurrections of a new class of urban proletarians which was accumulating confidence and organisational skills. Meanwhile, in most of Germany, Central Europe and Russia, the remnants of the old feudal order were still strong enough to contain and repress ferociously any aspiration for political democracy.
Three main forces, the driving forces of three stages of man's history, were facing one another. The aristocracy, whose feudal system had once allowed the development of agriculture on an unprecedented scale across Europe, was now a dying force, incapable of resisting the development of trade and clearly condemned to disappear. The capitalist class had already gained actual control over the world. It was still developing its economic system, building new industries from scratch and weaving what was to become later a single world market. But already, strain was beginning to emerge in the shape of recurring economic crises. As Marx showed, these crises were the normal consequences of the on-going competition between private industrialists producing blindly for a market whose need they had no means of knowing. And with time, as the economy grew in size and became less fragmented, these crises would gain momentum and result in unpredictably high damage. The limitations of the capitalist system were already visible even before it had fully developed its own progressive potential. At the same time, the new urban proletariat, although still fresh from its rural origins, was already bidding for political rights and developing its own organisations to resist capitalist exploitation.
For Marx, this left no space for doubt. Like feudalism, capitalism would eventually become entangled in its own contradictions, and from being a force of progress it would become a force of reaction. If the world was to go forward, capitalism would eventually have to give way for a new social stage, which would end the constraints put on society by capitalism just as the bourgeoisie had ended the constraints put on society by the feudal system. This was the time that needed to be prepared. And just as the best elements of the bourgeoisie, from the darkest days of the Middle Ages onwards, had continuously fought against the iniquities of the feudal system, a political fight had to be organised against capitalism to prepare for its overthrow. In this fight, the third class in society, the new urban proletariat, would play the decisive role. This proletariat had no interest in maintaining the private property of the means of production on which capitalism rested. It was the first exploited class in history to have this degree of concentration, variety of skills and vital role in the running of the economy. It had the potential of ridding society of the major contradiction of capitalism and of running it along entirely new lines. It was this new stage, which was to succeed capitalism and to bring society into a new era of expansion, that Marx called "communism".
Communism, a vital necessity
Today, a growing section of the capitalist class lives off the proceeds of a gigantic casino which is increasingly divorced from any kind of economic reality. Moving money, however, creates no wealth whatsoever. It is still the wealth created by productive labour which finances profits. None of this wealth is being used to improve social life. If anything, over the past two or three decades, the continuous growth of capitalist profit has been parallelled by the continuous shrinkage of the working class' share of the social wealth. This is reflected in the generalisation of permanent unemployment across the world, including in the richest countries. And the present worldwide drive against social provisions for the working class shows that the capitalists intend to reduce even further the crumbs they leave to the rest of the population.
What events like the Barings collapse reveal about the inner workings of the capitalist system, show that far from receding, the chaos generated by private competition is getting worse. The idea of stability, let alone harmonious expansion, is a lunatic utopia as long as capitalism remains.
The world's 500 largest companies financed their increased performance over the decade up to 1992 by shedding an average 400,000 jobs a year over the whole period. Among these, the 200 largest controlled just under 24% of the world's trade in 1982. By 1992, they had increased their share to over 27%. And among these 200 companies, the ten largest share between them over 10% of all profits worldwide.
This inidicates what degree of economic concentration and centralisation has been reached. It should, at least in theory, lead to a more rational use of resources, a reduction of waste, economies of scale, etc.. If it does, working people get no benefit out of it whatsoever. The odds are, however, that this gigantic concentration does not even lead to any real rationalisation, because the capitalist class is no longer capable of, willing to, or maybe, interested in capitalising on such possibilities.
The pharmaceutical multinationals, for instance, provide a good example of such a high degree of concentration. Do they use this to reduce prices on the markets so that larger layers can have access to medicines - or, from their own point of view, in order to increase their sales? No way. On the contrary, a current practice for some expensive drugs consists in exporting them first to a country where the law allows a larger profit margin on drugs. Then the medicine is re-exported to a second country for the same purpose, etc.. The chain of intermediaries, all subsidiaries of the same multinational, can be quite long, and by the time it reaches the end of the chain the drug's price has increased several fold, including transport costs, naturally. Thus, in France for instance, drugs manufactured in Switzerland are often imported via North America, reaching a price as high as 3 or 4 times the production costs.
Nor does this economic concentration weaken in any way the real impact of capitalist competition. Due to the extreme degree of economic integration of the world market, boundaries between distinct economic spheres have melted down. Even when there is no actual competition in one particular market, the capitalists involved find themselves competing at other levels. Thus Britain's privatised water companies have no competitors in their own areas of activity. Yet they are in permanent competition on two levels at least - on the money markets where they are all big players, and in the takeover business abroad as these companies try to expand their operations elsewhere as a protection against a possible future deregulation in Britain.
Rather than reducing capitalist competition, the present economic concentration exacerbates it. War is a daily fact on the financial markets where gigantic amounts of money are manipulated against one another on behalf of the handful of big players. It is a free-for-all. Even some of the smallest and poorest countries now have their own stock markets. The capitalists fight tooth and nail for a good position in these so-called "emerging markets". But despite the tremendous growth of the financial markets, there is only so much profit available, and the competition is increasingly bitter. Just as bitter as the trade war for the very sparse demand of goods from the few really new markets like China or Russia.
The very same conditions of deadly competition for limited markets which already led to the world crash of the 30s and two world wars are more real and serious today than ever in the past. For the time being the decay of capitalism may be limited, so to speak, to a slow but accelerating degradation of social life across the world, the occasion spectacular bankruptcy, an endless series of Western interventions to uphold the capitalist world order in the Third World and the collapse of many parts of Africa into bloody protracted civil wars. The capitalist crisis is now pushing the world back into the past by reversing progress which had been taken for granted for decades. And, hanging over our heads is the constant threat of another worldwide catastrophe on a totally unpredictable scale, possibly so large as to make the word civilisation meaningless.
Allowing capitalism to survive much longer would amount to something like collective suicide for humanity. It is becoming now too much of a deadly threat to make it conceivable to even take the chance. Putting a final end to the fundamental contradictions which are driving the capitalist system towards barbarism has become an absolute and vital necessity.
What will communism be like?
Describing the form of the future communist society, even in general terms, is beyond the reach of our imaginations. In trying to do so we would at best be doing what some science-fiction writers have already attempted, only without their talents.
In this respect, we are in the same position as the philosophers of the 18th century on the eve of the French Revolution who were trying to imagine the shape of a society freed from the straitjacket of the absolute monarchy and feudal social organisation. In France, for instance, Voltaire looked to England as a model of good government while Rousseau sought a social contract between rulers and ruled and enlightened educational policies. Rousseau, however, guessed that the development of education in a less unequal social framework would herald the emergence of a new mankind, with incomparably wider capacities. But they were totally incapable of imagining the scope and scale of the Industrial Revolution.
Technological changes, for instance, which have so deeply transformed the fabric of man's existence, develop according to the ability of society to use them rather than as a result of the chance emergence of geniuses. The steam engine, for instance, had already been around in England since the end of the 17th century but up until the 1760s had only found modest use in pumping out water from coal mines. Then came the collapse of feudalism and the opening up of markets abroad. This raised the question of how to bring about a considerable increase in textile production and provided English entrepreneurs with the incentive to make the necessary investment for harnessing steam power to the factory system. Likewise the development of the railways and steam ships was made possible by the need to move increasingly large amounts of raw material and manufactured goods over land and sea. The resulting dramatic shortening of geographical distances created a truly worldwide society. But this was only a by-product of the progress made in order to solve the more practical problem of moving goods.
Technological progress has a snowball effect. While it emerges to resolve existing needs, it creates new needs, new space for progress and generates further technological advances, at least as long as society encourages it. No wonder Voltaire and Rousseau could not even conceive of the long chain of progress which led from the steam engine to nuclear energy and electronic devices. And yet, each new link in this chain has opened up new possibilities in terms of social organisation and some have radically changed social life.
What technological revolution will the removal of the capitalist straitjacket on society bring about? No-one can tell. Nor do we know what possibilities this will open up to improve social relations and strengthen society as a whole.
Nor can we really imagine what social relationships will be like once society is freed from capitalist exploitation and the class system. Rousseau and Voltaire, again, only envisaged the benefits of education for individuals living the largely parasitic and idle lives typical of the middle classes of their time. They never considered the possibility of education and knowledge being applied to the production of goods or the organisation of services for the benefit of society as a whole. Their conception of social harmony was based on the rationality of the educated man and his wish to engage in intellectual exchanges with others like him. They did not and could not conceive of the tight and rich social links generated among people who work together for the same aim, that of being useful to each other and to society as a whole - a type of social relations which emerged, although still in a limited way, under capitalism as a result of the collective and co-operative nature of many aspects of social life. From this point of view we are still not much better equipped than Voltaire and Rousseau, due to the social prejudices and short-sightedness we owe to being the products of a class society.
So we can only know very little of the communist future. And yet, at the same time, just opening our eyes to what exists today, we can see many possibilities for tomorrow's society once the barriers of private profit and class divisions are removed - possibilities which already exist in embryonic form in our present day society but are prevented from coming to maturity by the very nature of capitalism.
The experience of the Russian Revolution
From this point of view, the achievements and attempts made in the first few revolutionary years which followed the October Revolution in Russia provide some indication for the future as well as a testing ground for Marx's fundamental ideas.
Needless to say, Russia, even in its first few years before Stalin and the bureaucracy succeeded in depriving the working class of any political power, does not provide, even remotely, a blueprint for communism. The historical stage which is to succeed capitalism will use as its starting point the enormous economic, technological, social and human assets developed under capitalism. Whereas Russia's starting point was that of an incredibly backward economy, largely feudal social relationships and a mostly illiterate population. It was impossible to even consider starting to lay the foundations of a communist society on such a basis. For the Russian revolutionaries of those days, this was the ABC and a totally uncontroversial issue. As far as they were concerned, only the ability of the Russian working class in power to expand its revolution into the capitalist strongholds of Western Europe at least, by winning over to its side the working classes of these industrial countries, could turn the October Revolution into a real step towards a communist future.
So Russia provided no pointers whatsoever as to what communism will be like. But it did demonstrate the immediate benefits of ending capitalist ownership over the economy and the class divisions that were based on it. And this demonstration is all the more convincing given the dire state and backwardness of Russian society. The fact that such achievements were made possible by the proletarian revolution despite such an unfavourable basis, points to the extraordinary possibilities that will be opened up by the proletariat taking power over the world, or at least in several of its capitalist strongholds.
The emancipation of the peasantry
The first few measures taken by the revolutionary power after October 1917 were primarily aimed at rallying all the exploited classes behind the revolution and the working class. They also had a social and economic content which outlined what the working class in power could aim to achieve in Russia.
The decree abolishing the private ownership of the land amounted to a wholesale expropriation of the nobility and the Church - who owned between them most of the Russian soil. Only the small farm-owners were protected from this measure and explicitly given the right to carrying on working and living on their land. Otherwise all land ownership was automatically transferred to the new state which entrusted the local soviets of peasants' and soldiers' deputies with the responsibility of organising and arbitrating who would be toiling what land.
This decree prompted the election of soviets in many places where there had been none so far. In most cases the soviets immediately proceeded to share the land of the large estates between the landless peasants. At the same time as they were freed from the grip of the landowners, the peasantry was also freed from the clutches of the money-lenders by a decree cancelling all private debts.
This was creating an irreversible social change - irreversible in the sense that any attempt at restoring the rights of the aristocracy over the land would immediately have to face the determined resistance of tens of millions of peasants. It was the first time the fate of the landless peasants was seriously addressed in Russia. All previous attempts had been doomed to failure simply because those who initiated them - under the pressure of peasant uprisings in most cases - wanted at the same time to safeguard the interests of the propertied classes. Serfdom had been abolished on paper long before 1917, but at the same time the former serfs had had to pay for the right of farming small plots of land on which they could not even make a living. Because the new workers' power had no-one to spare among the propertied classes, it was able to free the peasantry once and for all.
Redistributing the land among the poor peasants was a political and social necessity. It could not, however, pull the peasantry out of its chronic poverty. The only solution to this was to modernise agriculture, to introduce scientific methods and machines and to encourage co-operation between farmers so that this modernisation could become an effective tool to increase their productivity. But, as opposed to the wholesale and brutal collectivisation imposed by Stalin in the late 20s, the new revolutionary power believed that farmers had to be persuaded and convinced of the advantages for them to join co-operatives or collective farms by example.
A few collective farms were in fact established in the first months after the October revolution. The financial incentives which the state could afford to give were limited by the civil war. However 10m roubles were allotted to agricultural communes in July 1918. A further subsidy followed in November for the communes and similar ventures by workers' associations or village groups involving "transition from individual to common ownership and harvesting of the soil".
Another initiative came directly from the working class itself, as workers' organisations and factories began to acquire and store food for their members, and then from February 1919 to organise their own Soviet farms. This was a response to an acute food shortage in the cities, which threatened to drive many workers back to the villages they came from. It was under legislation authorising factories, trade unions and city Soviets to supply their needs in this way, that the largest growth in Soviet farms took place, accounting for nearly half of the 4,400 in existence by 1920.
Meanwhile, new large-scale projects such as draining marshlands and clearing forest for agriculture were started. But the main problem remained the ability of the Soviet industry to cater for the needs of the new agriculture and therefore provide a convincing case in favour of collective farming to the majority of sceptical farmers. On this account, however, there was little the Bolsheviks could do in the short term. Not even counting the damages caused to the Russian industry by the world war and the civil war, they had no industry capable of producing tractors in any numbers or fertilizers in any quantities.
Another one of the very first measures taken by the revolution was to ban all share and bond trading and to abolish all interest and dividend payments. As in the case of the small farm-owners, the small shareholders, those owning less than 10,000 roubles, were protected and guaranteed reimbursement. This simple measure relegated factory owners to the rank of managers in their own factories while shareholders were left on the sidelines.
Initially nationalisation was not even really considered. Primarily because the Bolsheviks thought that those who were running the factories were probably better qualified to carry on running them. It was only later, by the end of the civil war, that little by little the whole industrial sector - mostly composed of half-ruins by then - was brought under direct state control.
What was considered essential was the role that was to be played by workers - who were to exercise direct control over the day-to-day running of the factories - and by the bodies set up to co-ordinate all aspects of industry - financing, supply of raw materials and parts and distribution.
In fact it was in the railways that the first success in planning was achieved. They were already in bad shape when the civil war began. But by the end of 1918 less than a quarter of Russia's 20,000 pre-war locomotives were still being used and only about the same proportion of track remained undamaged. In many instances goods rotted at the point of production owing to lack of transport. As most of the machinery, including the locomotives, had been imported and was therefore, owing to the blockade, irreplaceable, the whole country threatened to seize up. The measures taken to resolve the stranglehold included building thousands of miles of new railway, lifting rails from one line and laying them elsewhere (if new track was not available), converting coal-fired steam engines to wood burners (due to the shortage of coal) and setting up whole new factories to supply the materials and machinery that had previously been imported. In 1920 Trotsky became directly involved in the planning and reconstruction of transport. He found that the huge variety of locomotives and cars used by the different rail companies greatly complicated the tasks of railways and workshops alike. He set about trying to standardise the transport system. Locomotives were divided up according to class and repair shops received precise instructions based on their technical equipment. And by 1922, the railways were brought back to normal operation.
The subsequent economic development of the Soviet union speaks for itself in a century dominated by capitalist crises. What was decisive in the revival of the Soviet economy and its subsequent growth was that it was able to avoid the waste, the strangleholds, the speculation and artificial market movements, generated by the private ownership of industry and finance. And this was still felt long after Stalin had taken power, even during the post World War II period when the soviet bureaucracy had already developed its parasitism and plundering of the economy to considerable levels. The economy of the USSR recovered spectacularly through the 1920s and 30s. Even Trotsky's damning indictment of Stalinism, "The Revolution Betrayed" (1936) opens with some impressive statistics. In the 7 years since the crash of 1929, industrial production in Germany had recovered to its 1929 level, in Britain it had risen 3 or 4 %, while in the USA it was still 25% below 1928 output and in France 30% lower. Meanwhile the USSR had shown an increase of 250%. Oil, coal and iron were being produced at rates 3 to 3.5 times their pre-Word War I levels, while for electricity generation the USSR stood behind only the USA and Germany.
A new way of life
Trotsky wrote in 1936 that «the October revolution honestly fulfilled its obligations in relation to woman», making «a heroic attempt to destroy the so-called 'family hearth'» which had condemned working class women to «galley labour from childhood to death». Instead of allowing the family to continue as a shut-in petty enterprise, plans were laid for a complete system involving creches, maternity houses, schools, collective dining rooms, kitchen and laundries and health and cultural facilities of all kinds.
By giving domestic tasks the same status as any other social tasks, not only would women be freed from their traditional double day's work but the relationships normally constrained within the family, partly due to its economic role, would cease to be isolated from all other social relations.
Implementation of these plans was very patchy. Not least owing to the fact that developing all these social infrastructures was too costly for the poor state of Soviet Russia in its early days - although many of the workers' clubs which mushroomed in the towns after the end of the civil war did have their own version of a collective dining-room. The remarkable fact, however, is that these ideas took root at all in backward, god-fearing Russia at a time when they were considered by most radical circles in the West as totally beyond the pale.
By introducing the right to divorce by mutual consent in two weeks and allowing abortion (which was not allowed in Britain until 1967), society was coming to terms with the changed conditions brought about by war and revolution. Many people were absorbed in social and political work and had no desire to continue marriages in their old form. For men - even many who thought of themselves as good communists - this newly-found independence of women was sometimes a bitter pill to swallow. The period was undoubtedly one of enormous upheaval in family life and marital relations.
But for the first time in history a society was setting itself the aim of creating the material basis for both men and women to play a role and exercise responsibilities in all aspects of social life.
A thirst for knowledge
General backwardness and lack of education was an enormous hindrance for the young soviet society. To build a modern, industrialised economy required many more people with technical skills. Yet in 1920 less than one-third of the population was literate. Crash programmes were implemented which succeeded in transforming the literacy rates within a few years. Every means of conveying information was used to assist in educating people, including newspapers, radio, cinema and posters.
The enthusiasm of the masses and their thirst for education was boundless. The problem was in meeting demand with the limited resources available. Books were published according to their usefulness; people with technical skills were encouraged to disseminate their knowledge. For instance, in 1919 Arthur Ransome, a British writer, observed classes designed to give workers a scientific knowledge of their trade. One thousand men crowded into unheated lecture rooms and listened attentively to lecturers who got frostbitten hands from touching ice-cold instruments during demonstrations!
Youth education was aimed at preparing people for their future lives in society rather than concentrating on academic knowledge. Anton Makarenko was one of the pioneers of these ideas. For many years he ran a commune which took in homeless children - young toughs who had survived on the streets by theft, prostitution or whatever other means they could find.
From the start Makarenko assumed they had as much potential as any other child for becoming useful members of society. They did not need any special treatment provided they understood the rules of the commune. By creating a self-governing collective, based on common responsibilities and joint participation, each child understood where he stood. A fundamental rule was to place the collective interest before the interest of any individual child. Teachers did not administer any punishments. Where there was a conflict, the governing body, comprising all the children, met, debated and decided. If someone broke the rules, various sanctions applied, the most strict of which was expulsion from the collective itself. Being disgraced in front of the collective was usually punishment enough.
The commune was divided into detachments of children of all ages. Younger children who were new to the idea of collective behaviour were guided by older children. The whole detachment was held responsible for a breach of the rules by one of its members. Equally, the whole detachment was rewarded when things went well. This exerted strong pressure on the whole group to adhere to the rules of collective behaviour.
In the commune the link between education and production was emphasized. A factory was attached which had been painstakingly built up through the collective's efforts. The children worked there every day, alongside workers from the town. The relationship between production and school work developed naturally. They learnt sophisticated skills - eventually manufacturing camera lenses.
The louse versus the soviets
Before 1914 average life expectancy was only 32 years - about half the expectancy in Britain at the time. The population lacked basic knowledge and facilities for hygiene and sanitation. During the civil war a typhus epidemic raged giving rise to Lenin's remark that «either the lice will defeat socialism, or socialism will defeat the lice!» A Red Cross was attached to the Red Army and health workers were attached to the soviets to increase awareness on matters of hygiene.
In July 1918 the process of creating a unified health service throughout the vast territory of the USSR was initiated. Of course they faced opposition from conservatively-minded doctors. Those who did not fight against the Bolsheviks often objected to the aims of the Union of Medical Workers which brought all medical workers into one organisation. Genteel doctors were forced to rub shoulders with working class and peasant health workers.
From its earliest days, then, the soviet health system sought to prevent disease. Later, in 1924, the differences between soviet and capitalist medicine were spelt out. Under capitalism, prevention of disease was at odds with the desire of individual doctors and the drugs companies to make money out of illness. By contrast, soviet medical institutions firstly studied the living and working conditions of the patients and then organised action for their improvement.
In a situation where the number of trained personnel was hopelessly inadequate, improving sanitary conditions and health education was the most effective way of improving the population's health. The recognition that most illness was aggravated by social conditions, if not caused by them, provided the foundation for health in the USSR.
A distinctive feature of the soviet health system was the provision for convalescence. In the midst of the civil war Lenin issued special instructions to protect the health resorts in the Crimea from being plundered or destroyed. Instead the facilities should be put at the disposal of those recuperating from illness. Lenin's brother, a physician, became the first representative of the Crimean spas in the Health commissariat. It was only in 1946 that a section of the NHS Act provided for such holidays in Britain and its implementation has always been token where it has taken place at all.
Art, or rather integrating art into the sphere of experience of the working class, was a preoccupation for the Bolsheviks right from the beginning. All artistic and historical assets were nationalised by decree in November 1917. 520 stately homes were taken over for the specific purpose of becoming museums, while two art schools were set up to train the required museum staff. Then museums started to be opened to the public, even in the midst of the civil war. The artistic heritage of the past was not to be dismissed as some argued. On the contrary it was to be reclaimed and assimilated by the new society.
Meanwhile all new artistic ideas and experiments were welcomed and encouraged, instead of being frowned on, if not banned, as under the Tsar. Constructivism blossomed, inspired by the introduction of time as a fourth dimension by Einstein. Artists like Vassily Kandinsky who had been driven into exile were welcomed back. Workshops were set up with the help of the state to encourage the pursuit of new ideas. Some artists and writers like Mayakovsky, Moor, Deni and Lissitsky put their talents unreservedly at the disposal of the fight to win the civil war. They created a new art form of revolutionary and educational posters using bright, eye-catching and often abstract forms which were put on trains, fences and special windows. This was important because so many people could not read and often a series of pictures was needed to get a message across, for instance to get people to go for innoculations against typhoid and smallpox.
With the end of the civil war, reconstruction and production assumed prime importance. Not surprisingly, the art movement became embroiled in arguments as to the role of art, even degenerating into an idea amongst some artists that art should be "proletarianised" and that the proletariat had to create its own culture from scratch. But as Trotsky pointed out, the revolution aimed to create a classless society. The more a new culture came into being, the less it possessed a class character.
While the role of art in social criticism was encouraged there was no space for the self-indulgence and introspection favoured in some circles. Many artists coming from middle-class backgrounds resented being integrated into society just like anyone else. They missed the privileges they had previously enjoyed and left for lusher pastures in the West.
The communist future
The inventiveness, enthusiasm and generosity displayed by Soviet Russia in its early years is a characteristic feature of all revolutionary periods. When the revolutionary masses draw their confidence from their success in overthrowing the dictatorship of their former class enemy, no task seems too difficult to them. All audacities are allowed. Everything becomes possible. This was true of the Parisian labourers after the French revolution in 1789, it was true of the tiny Russian working class after its victory in the October Revolution and it will be true again of our class, where and when it manages to stage a revolution. Once again anything and everything will become possible. Only this time with incomparable more resources and means than the Russian revolutionaries had in 1917.
Ending competitive wastes
Will twin and duplicate rivals like Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola survive a proletarian revolution with their almost entirely identical range of products? Of course whether such drinks should survive at all, except maybe as a kind of weak rust remover, is a debatable question. But if they did, considerable savings will immediately be possible by ending the duplication of production facilities and research labs between the two rivals.
Measuring the extent of the waste resulting under capitalism from the competition between companies producing identical goods for the same markets is a difficult task. Some examples speak for themselves.
There is no way that consumers can prefer, say, Ariel to Persil on the grounds that one does the job better than the other. Both are more or less effective in carrying out their humble function of removing grime and stains from dirty clothing. Whether customers purchase Ariel or Persil is however all-important for the rival manufacturers, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever. And their market logic leads sometimes to strange situations. For example, in 1982 Proctor & Gamble decided to launch a new product - called H-80 - in the USA. They already had 42% of the market with their other products. But they hoped to win a further 11%. H-80 was green and gritty but was said to be "safe for all fine china". Their three other brand leaders, Ivory Liquid, Dawn and Joy all had separate marketing divisions in order to stimulate internal competition but the hope was that the unusual texture and appearance of H-80 - it was to be sold in an arrow-shaped plastic container - would reduce the risk of "cannibalization" i.e. eating into the market share of their own brands.
In the car industry there are about 12 major firms competing. The duplication is fantastically expensive given the massive costs of developing new models (Ford's Mondeo, for example, cost $4bn). Their marketing strategies are increasingly designed to be able to sell cars world-wide too. Much emphasis in the advertising is put on performance and design. But as each new model appears, it resembles its rivals more closely. Hardly surprising since they often use the same suppliers, have swap arrangements and tie-ups amongst themselves.
In the realm of high technology, all the major companies want to be among the front runners. When the project is ambitious, the state finances research from public funds under whatever pretext, so that "their" national companies can reap some of the very large profits involved. In the case of the high-speed train, Japan, France, Italy, Britain and several others each embarked on separate research, thereby covering much the same ground. True, Britain abandoned its project to cut its losses in what had turned out to be an unworkable prototype. But the others have spent fortunes solving the same problems to produce in some cases a virtually identical finished product. Even in those areas, for instance jet fighters and long-haul jets, where governments accept the need for international consortiums because of the costs involved, duplication is not ended. In most cases a European consortium, for example, will duplicate the research of, say, a US-Japanese one.
The end of Saatchi and Co
Another likely candidate for massive waste reduction is the advertising business.
To return to the detergent manufacturers. Both are multi-nationals with world-wide production and sales and only one other serious rival (Colgate-Palmolive). Between them they control a market worth billions. But as both devote millions to advertising each year, they are locked into a continuous battle. Hence the washing test which always ends up with the (unnamed) "other product" still looking dirty while theirs is sparkling white.
Of course the success of new product launches brings rich pickings for the advertising companies. When Proctor & Gamble launched H-80 in 1982, they forked out $60m - more than 85% of the sales revenue expected during the first 12 months. In fact the overall marketing budget of Proctor & Gamble seemed to represent 20-25% of their sales, a figure which is likely to have increased during the crisis. Of course the advertising costs are reflected in the price paid by the customer.
The bill for advertising worldwide continues to grow rapidly. Already $7.4bn in 1950, with 77% of it being spent in the USA, it had grown to $110bn by 1980 with the USA's share down to 55%. Three years later and partly owing to the recession the bill rose by another $27.5bn. By the end of the century, it was predicted that world advertising would reach nearly $900bn with the USA still accounting for 45%. Although this is not counting promotions and "free offers" which would add around a third. Even without that, the total is not much less than the UK's GNP in 1993. As to the numbers employed in this totally unproductive industry - they are huge. With over 1100 listed advertising companies in Britain alone, the top 200 employ 12,000 executives. But that does not include designers, artists, secretaries, models, photographers and printers.
The highly paid executives of companies like Saatchi and Saatchi are, however, not the only parasites feeding off the spin-offs from competition. Commercial law is today the most lucrative branch of the legal system. Over 3,200 solicitors and several hundred barristers backed up by probably several times as many clerks, secretaries and researchers are involved in Britain. If a takeover or a breach of contract ends in litigation, a veritable army of solicitors and barristers descends on the High Court to battle it out. With two solicitors servicing one barrister, it is not unusual for 18 or more lawyers to be involved - all charging premium rates of between £100 and £300ph. In such cases which may take years to resolve, the final legal bill can run to £20m or more. No wonder in 1993, despite the recession, or because of it, the top 100 British legal firms grossed £2.7bn in fees that year and made profits of £690m.
A useful role for the banking network?
The moment capital is overthrown will signal the end of such breathtaking soaps as the Money Programme, Money Box Live and City Reports - also glossy magazines like "Business Age", "Investors' Chronicle", not to speak of the financial pages of the daily papers. All this crap is meant to tell you how to get rich, if only you were rich enough already.
Of course, one of the first measures of a proletarian revolution will probably be to freeze the whole financial system, to ban dividend payments, to cancel all debts and interest repayments except those contracted by companies with their employees and with the state.
The most parasitic section of the capitalist class - the finance and banking sector - will lose the exorbitant privilege of getting a cut on almost all large goods transactions on the world market. Just because they are the inevitable intermediaries for obtaining the required currencies or the short-term cash lending needed to complete the deals.
And this will put an end to the mad daily whirlwind of hundreds of billions of "floating money" looking for somewhere to make a fast buck and more often than not stirring up trouble in the process.
There is only one useful function that the banking system is equipped to carry out - in addition to providing means of payment for ordinary people, at least as long as money remains in use in society. The banking network could be used to keep track of money moving around, particularly the large amounts. By monitoring the money transfers of the rich, bank workers could immediately allow the revolution to exercise a close control on their schemes. Subsequently, by monitoring all other payments - where the money goes and to buy what - bank workers could give a precise and fast measure of almost everything that is bought and sold, thus providing the first real-time method of assessing needs as they are expressed by consumers, rather than using stock variations as a thermometer, as capitalism does, which takes a long time.
Still whether this would require the nearly 2m workers currently employed in the banking and finance sectors is doubtful. Here again there will be plenty of scope for saving human labour for more useful tasks.
Another target of a proletarian revolution will be the food mountains and restrictions on farming imposed in the rich countries - and paid for by European governments.
The fact that 20m people may die of starvation in 1993 across the Third World while the British government paid £85m to keep its 21.8m tonnes of surplus food in cold storage, grain silos and even aircraft hangers, is in itself a damning indictment of capitalism. Just as the fact that many of Britain's biggest landowners are getting millions of pounds a year for setting aside land on which they never intended to grow anything in the first place, except maybe grass for their favourite horse.
The very minimum that the proletariat will do here in Britain is to organise the transport and distribution of all agricultural surpluses where they are most needed.
This by itself will not end starvation in the Third World nor reduce immediately the number of those - 800m today - who survive despite chronic hunger. Food production capacity of the rich countries would however probably be sufficient to provide for the needs of the starving populations, at least on paper. Switching the vast stretches of land producing for the sole benefit of Western multinationals from non-edible cash crops to food, would help too.
But there would still remain a major obstacle to ending starvation in the Third World - the parasitism of the local privileged. To end the plight of the Third World for ever, nothing short of a worldwide proletarian revolution will do. This will be the only way of eradicating the privileged politicians and warlords of the Third World whose privileges depend precisely on maintaining whole populations in extreme poverty while acting as stooges for imperialism. And this will also be the only way to mobilise the world's resources - in terms of technology, skill, machinery etc. - necessary to allow the Third World to increase significantly its agricultural productivity and produce enough food to cover a large part at least of its needs.
No more industrial wastelands
A proletarian revolution expanding worldwide will also aim at creating an integrated worldwide organisation to end waste in terms of resources and the environment.
Capitalism developed on a completely unplanned, ad hoc basis. Where there was wealth to be extracted from the ground or the soil and a market existed, so the capitalist directed his energies. How this blighted whole regions, can be seen in the valleys of South Wales which in 1800 were a rural backwater. By 1900 the South Wales valleys had become the greatest producer and exporter of coal in the world. In the 20-mile long Rhondda valley alone, there were 50 pits. An enormous immigration attracted miners from as far away as Spain and Italy, not to mention England and Ireland. Today, nearly a century later, the coal seams are exhausted and the valleys silent again. The landscape is scarred by coal dirt and the villages are semi-derelict. It is one of the many wastelands created and abandoned by capitalism across the world.
Today planning regulations in the rich countries may prevent a whole region from being plundered with such disregard for the population and the environment - although when it comes to the less visible pollution of nuclear power in an area such as Sellafield it is another matter. But in the Third World no such laws operate effectively. The multi-nationals feel no constraints, nor for that matter have the bureaucrats of the USSR. Thus more South Wales-type regions are being created wherever mineral resources are being mined.
Likewise over-exploitation has become endemic in agriculture. One of the poorest regions of the world is sub-Saharan Africa, known as the Sahel. The dry northern part of the region lying close to the Sahara desert was traditionally unsettled and attracted only nomads. But in the 50s and 60s above average rainfall throughout the whole region enabled farmers in the south of the region to grow cash crops. In Niger alone peanut cultivation, mainly for export, tripled between 1954 and 1968. In the process poor peasants were driven off the land in the south and headed northwards. For a while they were able to survive, thanks to plentiful rainfall. But in the 70s drought struck. While bumper harvests were still being recorded in the south, 100,000 people and 3.5m head of cattle perished in the north. In the 80s drought struck again with similar disastrous consequences. Today the desert has occupied most of the Sahel and Northern Mali owing to soil exhaustion and it is only a matter of time before new disasters occur.
Of course the revolution will not be able to solve all the world's environmental problems overnight. But careful and conscious planning of the use of resources, will at least prevent more Sahels or Rhondda Valleys being turned into wasteland. Capitalism never put the resources necessary into restoring the fertility of Africa's desert land, or washing away the coal dust which still impregnates everything in the mining valleys - it was not profitable. But by the time world planning will have been established, profitability - in capitalist terms - will no longer be an issue. Only the interests of society will matter.
The unleashing of progress
By ending the domination of profit over society the revolution will remove the major obstacle that has prevented it from using fully its existing capabilities in so many vital fields.
Medicine is a blatant case. For instance, a vaccine against smallpox has been available since 1778 when the English doctor Edward Jenner carried out successful innoculations using a harmless and easily produced cowpox vaccine. Yet it took one century for this vaccine to become compulsory in Britain and another century for the disease to be finally eradicated on a world scale. What prevented the fight against smallpox from being effective for so long was not medical ignorance in front of the disease, nor any kind of difficulty in producing the vaccine on a large scale. The only obstacle was the world's social organisation which prevented the mobilisation of the resources necessary to make the vaccine available and compulsory on a world scale.
What has been true for smallpox in the past remains true today for a number of other diseases. For instance an effective vaccine against polio has been available since 1955 and has virtual eradicated the disease in the West. But every year 180,000 children are still left lame by polio in the Third World. Closer to home, a hepatitis B vaccine has been developed but it is not even compulsory for all medical staff at risk in Britain. And in Africa where this disease is a major cause of cancer, the cost of the vaccine has prevented it from being widely used.
At the present time, 90 million children are born every year in the world. Among them, 15 million die in the first year of their lives. Six million of these deaths can be prevented by generalising the innoculation of existing vaccines on a world scale. Just ensuring that every child has adequate sustenance would prevent many of the remaining 9 million deaths. The capitalist system will not take the necessary steps because it would cost too much while producing too little profit for the capitalists. The proletarian revolution, however, will see the fight against child mortality as a priority task that no consideration of profitability will be able to hinder. Moreover, it will be able to mobilise the existing research capabilities of pharmaceutical companies with the aim of eradicating the diseases for which no effective prevention is known so far - unlike the present system which, according to a recent report by the World Health Organisation, deliberately neglects research on diseases which are mostly present among the world's poorest populations.
Another field in which the revolution will allow progress through using existing resources, is that of technology. The electric engine is a classical example. Electric cars have been around for a very long time. Back in 1896, for instance, a Belgium engineer called Serpollet built a rocket-shaped electric car called "La Jamais Contente" (the never happy) which reached over 60mph. Since, research for the development of a cheap electric car has been hindered by the resistance of the oil companies and the reluctance of the car manufacturers themselves. Recently, at last, both Ford and General Motors announced their intention to start production of an electric car, thereby showing that they have solved most of the technological problems involved. But their plans are to target a relatively small and wealthy audience, not at all to replace the old polluting petrol-powered cars.
And talking about pollution, already existing technology will also allow the future profit-free society to develop fast, cheap and comfortable public transport that will immediately remove the need for many cars - something which, at the present time, goes against profit and the vested interests of the powerful oil and car companies.
Making the best of human labour
Because its aim will be first and foremost to protect the collective interests of society, the proletarian revolution will seek to make the best of all human resources available.
Why is it that in an era of extreme sophistication in high technology, many repetitive, dangerous, tiring or simply dead boring tasks which could be automated are still carried out by human labour? The answer is obvious - profitability.
The main objective of the proletariat in power will be to save labour not to waste it, as is the case for capitalism - the supreme wastage being to force workers into unemployment as capitalism does whenever it introduces automation.
This will be true in the rich countries where, despite the relatively high level of mechanisation many simple tasks can still be automated. But this is even more true in the Third World where capitalism has kept machines out due to the very low cost of labour. Using the available technology to modernise production in the Third World, could lead to a considerable reduction in the excessively long working hours, end the use of child labour and reduce the toll of industrial accidents caused by unsafe machinery. The survival of hand-weaving, for example the carpet industry in India and Central Asia, amounts, too, to a tremendous waste of human resources. The introduction of the kind of machinery used for Axminster and Wilton carpets could reduce workload without necessarily leading to any loss of the quality in design and execution.
In addition to developing mechanisation, there are many other ways in which human labour could be saved and better utilised. In this respect, the inefficiency and waste generated by capitalism is appalling.
Currently nearly 25 million people are classified as being in employment in Britain. But what about the remaining 33 million or so? Not only is capitalism forcing out of employment around five million people who would rather work if they were given a chance, it is also removing millions of workers from active life by forcing them into retirement - and condemning them in most cases to barely survive on appallingly low pensions - because they are no longer considered productive enough by the system. Yet, from the point of view of society, this is a dramatic waste of skills and experience which could be used for the benefit of all. And, from the point of view of the pensioners, retirement may mean rest - at last - but it also means a much greater isolation from social life which is often unbearable after a full active life. Were pensioners offered the possibility of working a limited number of hours in jobs where they can be useful, would many of them refuse this chance to remain full members of society rather than being forced to live on its margins?
At the other end of the age spectrum, why should youth in education be prevented from playing any social role by being kept out of any kind of regular employment? Wouldn't many youth welcome the possibility of being really useful by working a few hours in the week in a real job - rather than the kind of menial tasks to which they are usually confined when taking a summer job? Wouldn't the fact of being entrusted with a social responsibility, how ever small, be a cause of pride for many youth who feel otherwise rejected by a society which does not seem to have any place for them?
Those in employment are not better used by the capitalist system. For instance it maintains hundreds of thousands of repetitive, tiring or dangerous unskilled jobs which could be done better and more efficiently, from a social point of view, by machines. Besides, the revolution will make it possible to get rid of whole sectors of activity whose existence is totally parasitical. Of the 2.7 million jobs which exist at the present time in banking, finance and insurance businesses, only a small part will still be needed once private profit is disposed of. Likewise with the huge service and administrative sector. There will be no need for the large numbers of existing jobs in the legal business, in accounting, in adverstising, in real estate, etc.. not to mention the Inland Revenue, Custom and Excise, Immigration Office and all the bureaucratic layers created by the capitalists around their state. Besides, a few more hundred thousand people currently in the army and the clergy, for instance, could be used on real jobs for a change, rather than carry on their parasitic existence. Altogether, we are probably talking here of several million people who could be redeployed. And of course, this does not mean that their skills will no longer be used. Only they will be used in tasks which are more useful socially.
Adding together the unemployed, the pensioners and the youth who are currently kept out of employment, the workers whose jobs will no longer be needed, but also that smaller parasitic section of society made of those whose only effort in life consists in checking the size of the dividends they receive from their bankers, it will be possible to share all social tasks not between 25 million but between 40 or 45 million.
This, together with a better and more systematic use of mechanisation and the trimming of all the uneeded tasks, will make it possible not only for everyone to work many fewer hours but for more useful work to be carried out overall. A sharp increase in production, to cater for instance for the needs of less industrialised areas of the world, could very well be achieved on the basis of a standard 20-hour working week, if not much less.
The right to choose
In a society where everyone has a chance to play a useful role while also having plenty of time to do other things, the very concept of "working for a living" will become redundant.
Under capitalism, only the professional layers of the middle class can, and even then to a limited extent, choose to do the work they like. But with a 20-hour working week, there will be plenty of time and energy left for everyone to get involved in all sorts of activities - arts, sports, etc.. But it will also mean the end of the present division of labour between those in education and those in work. Education will become a social activity accessible to everyone from the beginning to the end of their lives. All fields of knowledge will become open to learning. And the odds are that, for instance, within one or two generations most people will speak several languages fluently.
Life-long specialisation will become largely a thing of the past. People will be able to learn different skills in their lifetimes, and therefore to work in different spheres of their own chosing. Today's social division of labour whereby a doctor or a lawyer would consider it humiliating to perform the tasks of a machine operator will disappear. The extensive mecanisation of production will reduce unskilled jobs to something like pressing controls and watching dials - a task that everyone will consider as necessary and will perform in rota according to needs.
Within a few generations, the much higher cultural level in society together with the wide range of collective facilities offered and the disappearance of unsatisfied material needs, will transform completely the relationships between people. How is hard to imagine. But for instance, today's petty criminality which is mostly the product of social dereliction, will undoubtedly disappear. So will the need for repression which will be replaced by the collective pressure exercised by the community on its members. While crime will probably still exist in some form, it will be on the scale of individual exceptions rather than on a social scale as it is today, and criminality will be treated as something that can be cured rather than a cause for punishment.
In a society where individuals do not have to compete with one another in order to make a living or to improve their lives, the urge for relationships which act as a shield against the hostility or competitiveness of the others will disappear. And this will very likely transform considerably the meaning of love and friendship. Such sentiments will be much more intimately integrated into social life, probably much more open too, and as a result much richer. Likewise, the family as we know it, having lost its material necessity, will probably be transformed beyond recognition, with children no longer being the exclusive property of their parents as they are today.
And yes, the revolution will create the basis for a society in which the freedom of choice will be a reality, rather than being only the privilege of a rich minority and an empty demagogic slogan used by politicians.
Democracy and communism
Democracy, in the communist sense, means the collective participation of everyone in the running of social life. This is impossible in a class society. Though formally there may be democracy in the sense that every adult has the right to vote in elections, not all - or even the most important - decisions are made in Parliament. Parliament may give the illusion that "the people" are in control. In reality though the most important decisons are usually made offstage in the form of deals which ordinary people only find out about years later, when they find out at all. Bourgeois democracy has never been anything more than the dictatorship of one class of privileged over the exploited classes. In fact parliamentary democracy has proven to be the most durable and adaptable form of bourgeois dictatorship in the rich countries.
The working class will introduce a new form of democracy involving the collective participation of all. In fact, the much broader and ever evolving education through life will make a real democracy possible for the first time. At the local level this will mean intensive discussions about important issues. These can take place at the workplace, in the neighbourhood residences and finally be voted upon in the local meeting place.
But what of larger issues? It is often suggested that the world is too large and complex for decision-making to be carried out democratically. How can people be consulted about and agree on issues which may concern the whole world and have very different implications for different countries and continents? Such a line of argument assumes that human beings have a fundamental lack of interest in understanding other peoples and cultures. In fact usually the reverse is true provided people have the means to identify with them. But that is precisely what most of us lack today. Under communism education and culture will be able to transcend national or even continental limitations. Knowledge of languages, opportunities to travel widely and live abroad with the local population rather than apart, as in the colonial era, will remove forever old prejudices fostered by imperialism.
Of course, increasing world communications mean even today that the world is shrinking. Television is able to bring the crisis areas of the world into our homes. In the future more advanced technology will be able to bring us much closer. But even today possibilities exist. What about the portable phones which show-offs use in the street to shout at each other - couldn't they be adapted to allow constant communication between groups and the coordinating centre? In one jump optical fibres have already created the possibility of multiplying the number of simultaneous communications in one cable by 200 or so. Satellites enable the most isolated places to be linked to anywhere without the need for any cable. Systems like the French Minitel allow interactivity using the telephone network. This could enable the compiling of far more information as it arises, a pre-condition for planning. And this would be far more effective than today's ridiculous "opinion polls".
As for local community life, this could be rescued from the hands of the local politicians and sundry social workers, teachers or clerics. Creating open organisations would allow everyone to share their ideas and do things together - including taking decisions on vital issues. Instead of the parochialism which lack of resources and influence breeds, they would be able to implement their decisions and not have them stamped on by the interests of the local wealthy. At last those people who play such a prominent role in the community could have a real role - instead of continuously banging their heads against walls as they lobby uselessly the powers that be.
So what shape will the world democracy of the future take? On the one hand consultation on a central plan which will enable everyone to enjoy the benefits of civilisation, making due allowances for local circumstances. Such a plan will have to be modified constantly as new needs arise and circumstances dictate. On the other hand a decentralised system of decision-making enabling people to control their own lives and communities. And between the centre and the regions constant two-way communication.
A world to win
It is all very well to contemplate a bright future for humanity but the question remains - is a revolution possible and how do we go from the here and now to there. Despite the flaws of capitalism, it has withstood two world wars this century, the challenge of the Russian revolution, countless other wars and almost endemic economic crises. On the side of the proletariat, the internationalist movement nurtured by Marx and Engels and continued by Lenin and Trotsky seems at a low ebb. Today the world working class has no revolutionary organisation which it can look to for leadership the day it starts moving again towards a confrontation with the bourgeoisie.
That being said, the prospects for revolution are objectively better now than at any time in the past. Despite the weakening of its organisations, the world proletariat has never been more numerous, more concentrated, better educated, more potentially powerful than it is now. It has never been better equipped to overthrow capitalism once and for all.
Workers here in Britain may feel weakened and despondent due to the vast trimming down of the industrial working class over the past decades and to the high level of unemployement. But, at a time when capitalism plays havoc on a world scale, the British working class must come to realise that they are part of an international class. The battalions of the proletariat are considerably larger today in the shanty towns of Bombay or Buenos Aires than they are in the South East of England. And this is a cause for optimism, a guarantee that any revival of the working class political movement anywhere in the world will be echoed, relayed and amplified on a world scale. We are no longer in the situation of 1917, when the proletariat only had sizeable forces in a small number of countries worldwide.
At the same time, the smaller forces of the British working class have a decisive role to play because they can operate from behind the lines, so to speak, of the class enemy, and turn its heartland into a minefield. We are in the position here of an advanced battalion of the world's proletarian army whose intervention and success can make the difference between victory and defeat by depriving the world bourgeoisie of one of its strongholds and bringing to the side of the proletariat the considerable resources, material and human, that it contains.
Capitalism has outlived its time. But it won't disappear by itself. It will only decay further and further towards barbarism. The future of humanity rests in the hands of the working class worldwide. What the small Russian working class eventually failed to achieve after October 1917, in the most unfavourable conditions, the world proletariat will achieve tomorrow if it chooses to. And as Marx said nearly a century and a half ago, while we have nothing to lose but our chains, we do have a world to win.