On Saturday, 9th November 1996, a large rally, organised by the Committee to Commemorate the October Revolution, took place in Woolwich Town Hall. Attended by over 250 people, it was addressed by speakers from several organisations, including Arthur Scargill, President of the SLP, Harpal Brar, T.S. Sanota, Ella Rule, Trevor Rayne, Jim Hillier, Martin Gray, Sukant Chandan and Malkiat Bilku, leader of the Hillingdon Hospital Strikers. It was chaired by Avtar Jouhl, General Secretary of the IWA(GB). The Rally was exceptionally spirited, notwithstanding the attempt at disruption by a member of the counter-revolutionary Trotskyist outfit calling itself the CPGB, which was however very easily and swiftly dealt with. We reproduce below a few excerpts from the various contributions. We apologise that space does not permit us to report these contributions in full:
The achievements of Bolshevism, the results of the Bolshevik revolution are nothing short of overwhelming and breathtaking. What they achieved in a matter of a few decades was achieved by other countries over centuries. But in paying compliment to the Bolsheviks, in commending them to ordinary working class people and celebrating the October Revolution, we have to ask ourselves 'How was it that they met with such success?' There were specific reasons why the Bolsheviks succeeded. One thing that the Bolsheviks insisted upon was that 'without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement". This cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism are combined with absorption on the narrowest forms of practical activity. The role of vanguard can be filled only by a party which is guided by advanced theory.
Secondly, the Bolsheviks insisted on the need for a revolutionary party. We need a party of the working class. To quote Lenin: "In its struggle for power, the proletariat has no other weapon than organization. Disunited by the rule of anarchic competition in the bourgeois world, ground down by the forced labour for capital, constantly cut back to the lower depths of utter destitution, degeneration and savagery, the proletariat can become and inevitably will become an invincible force only when its ideological unification by the principles of Marxism is consolidated by the material unity of an organisation which will weld millions of toilers into an army of the working class." Not only do we need Marxism, we need a party which is capable of leading the working class. It isn't to be a trade union party, it isn't to be a party that pretends to be on the side of the working class like the Labour Party. It's got to he a Marxist party which is capable of, which is desirous of, and which is sincere in its wish and actually shows itself by its daily actions to be on the side of, and be the leader of, the working class. That's the sort of party we need.
Comrades, Bolsheviks existed in an era when free market capitalism gave way to imperialism. Imperialism does two things. First, it means the rule of monopoly. Monopoly is the final word in imperialism - banks and industrialists joined together to form a financial oligarchy under the dominance of finance capital in each country. In the era of imperialism they then go on to divide the world into two sections - a tiny handful of exceptionally rich and privileged nations exploit and rule the rest of the world.
Second, imperialism does something else (and this is something the British Left isn't very happy to admit, because if they were to admit it they would not be able to support the Labour Party): imperialism is able from its superprofits (maximum profits that it secures from exploiting foreign workers over and above profits gained by exploiting its own workers) to bribe a significant minority of the working class in the advanced countries.
Unless we recognise that there's a split in the working class, we cannot explain the widespread opportunism in the working class movement. In his preface to the French edition of 'Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism', Lenin asks the question: "How are we to explain the support that opportunism has gained in the working class movement?" He goes on to answer: because the advanced countries have been creating their culture by the opportunity they have of living at the expense of workers in the oppressed countries; because the capitalists of imperialist countries have got a great deal more than they would have been able to obtain in the shape of profits extracted from the robbery of the workers of their own country. It goes without saying that out of this tidy sum it is possible to throw at least half a billion as a sop to Labour leaders, to the Labour aristocracy. The whole thing reduces itself to this bribing. This is done in a thousand different ways - by creating educational institutions, by creating thousands of soft jobs for the leaders of the co-operative society, trade union leaders and parliamentary leaders. This is done wherever modern capitalist relations exist and the billions of pounds of superprofits serve as the economic basis upon which opportunism in the working class rests. There is a section of the working class that the capitalists are able to put in a better position and create for them petty bourgeois conditions. We have to stress this factor. We must make it our business to go to the lower sections of the working class who still continue to be influenced by the ideologies of our enemies, whether they be fascist or some others. [Applause]
Comrades, socialist parties are not debating clubs. Some of our ranks have gone to the other side. There is a need to name them and there is a need to brand them, and it's time for us to brand New Labour and its hangers-on - the Trotskyites and revisionists.
The Paris Commune of 1871 lasted less than two months. Marx and Engels considered the experience so important that they subjected it to a thorough analysis, and they presented that analysis to the second congress of the International. The lessons of the Commune were so far-reaching that ever since, Marxists have tried to learn from the Paris Commune.
I put it to you, comrades, that the experience of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, the great socialist October Revolution, is of incomparably greater importance than the experience of the Paris Commune, and anyone who does not look to, and who does not value, the Soviet experience, is not a friend of the working class; he is an incurable die-hard enemy of the working class. It was the Russian Revolution that took the Russian population into the twentieth century by the time the first five-year plan was completed. It was the only country, in the mid-thirties, that had abolished unemployment. It built its industry. It built a culture - working peoples' culture. Not the culture of the Peter Lilleys and the Gillian Shepherds of this world, but a truly revolutionary working class culture whereby the Russian working class children were brought up to feel that they were the masters of history and that there was no task that they could not meet. And it was that confidence, that building of the material basis of socialism, that allowed the Soviet Union to make the most decisive contribution towards the defeat of Nazi Germany.
We have a duty to support the finest achievement of socialism, and we will not ever be deflected from that just because there have been temporary setbacks due to the treachery of Khrushchev revisionism in the Soviet Union. And yet every day they are trying to show that communism is a failed ideology. No comrades, communism is the ideology of the modern proletariat. It can be extinguished no more than the proletariat itself can be extinguished.
Communism is not a failed ideology. Communism is fighting. It has suffered tremendous defeats, but they are temporary, they will be overcome. In the words of the great Russian democrat and writer, Chernechevsky, I say 'Our time will come, and there will be festivities and joy in our street".
Comrade chairman, comrades, the last speaker [Harpal Brar] made clear the significance of the October Revolution of 1917. 79 years after the Russian Revolution, it would be a foolish man to suggest that it had been a failure [applause]. It's also significant, as other speakers have said, that Clause Four of the Labour Party constitution, which called for common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange was adopted in 1918 and had in fact been formulated in 1917. This is a direct consequence of not only the October Revolution but also its impact on the whole world. Europe itself shook and reverberated as a result of that epoch-making event.
Any person who would call himself a Marxist, Socialist, or Communist, can only understand the reality of the October Socialist Revolution if they can utilise the experience and put it into action in order to change the world in which we live [applause]. We live in a world of injustice and inequality. We live in a world which practises the excesses that stigmatised the very name 'justice'. On one hand we have millions who die in need of food and help. On the other hand we have an abundance - goods, food, clothes, wealth. We have more energy than is required for the entire world. We have more food than we require to feed every man, woman and child on this earth, and yet we still see the uncertainty of a rotten, corrupt, capitalist system of society that can only exist provided it can exploit one human being at the expense of another [applause].
There are those in Britain today who say that all we have to do is hang on for a few more months, maybe weeks, and hope for the British revolution. "We may see", they say, "John Major replaced by Tony Blair". God! What a prospect! [Applause]. I actually applaud Tony Blair. For years we've had Labour leaders who've tried to confuse the working class into believing that the Labour Party was socialist. At least we should thank New Labour for exposing the myth that has for so long held back the working class in Britain.
Yes, I am president of Socialist Labour. Our party is distinguished by a number of things. First of all, the colour of our flag is red, not pink. Second, contrary to belief our party is a Marxist Party [applause]. It is a party that not only aims to but will become a mass party of the working class. Our Party is attacked not only from the right but from the left as well. The right wing attack us because we want to abolish capitalism. And if I were a capitalist, I'd he worried! Then there am left-wingers who say "how can you abolish capitalism by simply standing candidates in an election?", and I have to go into a long explanation of why their analysis of our party is wrong, it is flawed, but above all it is a grave injustice.
For those who still believe that we are a party who simply believes that we can stand for election, and if we win some votes they'll hand over power, let them read our policy document. It says clearly "Socialist Labour must make clear that it is prepared to be at the heart of extra-parliamentary activity necessary to bring about change"
As I speak here tonight, is it a question of whether we vote for the Conservatives or for the Liberal Democrats or for the Labour Party? If any person in this hall tonight casts a vote for any of these parties, they do so in the knowledge that they am voting for a party that supports capitalism and the free market, and that has rejected socialism and common ownership. Of course there are those who say there are differences between the Tories and New Labour. Well, I've been studying them for two months and I can't find them.
Outlining the SLP's policies on privatisation, unemployment, health and education, Mr. Scargill went on to say: Socialist Labour makes it clear that we will campaign, not merely to take back every single industry or service that has been privatised, but will campaign to do it without paying a single penny to compensate. I'm not even content with taking back that which was taken from us. I want to take from them that which we ought to have taken years ago! [Applause].
I'll tell you where we'll make a start, shall I? National Westminster Bank, Midland Bank, Lloyds Bank, City Institutions, the insurance companies, the engineering companies, the motor-car firms, the steel companies. All these industries and services that are in the hand of private enterprise we should take into common ownership for the British people [applause].
If we could produce all the food we need, all the housing we need, why in the hell should we have to work overtime -12 hours a day, 7 days a week [applause]. £90 billion is spent every year on maintaining unemployment. I suggest to you comrades that there's something wrong with a system that's prepared to spend £90 billion in maintaining unemployment, homelessness and helplessness when it could be using that money to create jobs and wealth in society so that no-one is without a home and no-one is in need. The health service, social services, and education are all under attack. You have a right to know where Socialist Labour stand. We will make a system that will take care of all our people from the cradle to the grave free of charge, at the time of need and upon demand. Secondly, as far as education is concerned, we would no longer tolerate the blinding hypocrisy of people like the leader of New Labour, who speaks on paper of fairness, equality and justice, while at the same time both he and Harriet Harman send their children to privileged schools in another part of London. If it's right for them to send their children to a privileged school, then it's right for every parent in this nation to send their children to schools of the same standard. No comrades, I make no apologies for the fact that we would abolish Eton and Harrow and Winchester. I make no apologies for the fact that we would abolish, completely and totally, private education. It's got no place in a system that dares to call itself civilised.
Expressing his opposition to racial, sex and age discrimination, he went on: Socialist Labour are opposed to discrimination in all forms. We oppose discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, creed, colour, disablement.
At Hillingdon Hospital, 53 Asian workers have been sacked, and Socialist Labour have made clear time and time again that we support their fight totally, and I say to you that the simple way to resolve their problem is not by a speech from us, it's a call to UNISON to say to the employers: "Either you reinstate the workers or a million and a half workers go out on strike". In Hillingdon Hospital they are now turning patients away if they are 75 years or over. They don't consider it a good economic risk. I wonder what would have happened if Boris Yeltsin's doctor had turned up to have an operation - an 82-year-old cardiologist from New York. He wouldn't have been let into Hillingdon Hospital!
Arthur Scargill concluded by saying: We need people in our party, and I make no apology for appealing for your support. The name of our party is taken from the legendary Scots leader John McLean, who was honoured by the leaders of the Soviet Union, and given honorary citizenship. We have on the front of our party card an inscription from the legendary leader of the Irish workers, James Connolly: "..Our demands most moderate are; We only want the earth!"
The Revolutionary Communist Group and Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! bring greetings to the Committee to Celebrate the October Revolution and to the people of south-east London.
40,000 children, who could be saved, die every day in the Third World: one every two seconds. The food, safe water and medicines needed to save these lives would cost about one sixth of what the people of Britain, France, Germany and the USA spend each year on talcum power, aftershave and under-arm sprays; the body deodorants' industry. This is the triumph of capitalism!
Since 1991 over 60% of the former Soviet economy has been taken into private ownership. The result: the Russian economy has halved since 1991. This collapse outstrips that of the USA in the Great Depression of the 1930s when the US economy shrank 30%. At that time, the Soviet economy grew under the five-year plans; more or less immune from the storms wrecking international capitalism at the time.
Male life expectancy in Russia which during the time that Stalin led the Communist Party rose from 44 years to 62 years, and which by the end of the 1950s, at 69 years, exceeded that of the USA, has now plummeted to 58 years, comparable to India, Egypt and the Yemen. It is the first country in history to experience such a sharp fall in life expectancy.
Now capitalism shines its filthy smile on Russia, venereal disease is rife: the incidence of syphilis among Russia's population is now 60 times that of the rest of Europe and it is increasing by 60% a year! They cannot get the medicines for treatment. Welcome to the Glittering Rubbish Heap of late 20th century capitalism in Russia.
The Soviet Union should never have collapsed. It was a tremendous achievement, a great moral and material force in the world.
After the October Revolution, the imperialist armies attacked, attempting to strangle socialism at birth, to use Churchill's phrase. The invaders were repulsed by the Red Army. The country industrialised with three 5-year Plans. The fascist hordes were unleashed against the Soviet Union. They were defeated at tremendous sacrifice by the Soviet people. Much of humanity was saved from barbarism.
The most sustained attack on the working class in 60 years is underway here as it is in France, Italy, Germany and the USA. Last year the Wall Street Journal, a newspaper of US finance capital, said that the welfare state and paternalistic capitalism of the post-2nd World War period was a by-product of the Cold War, a concession made by capitalism in its struggle against socialism and the Soviet Union - a concession it no longer needs to make!
A vote for New Labour is a vote for the Trident nuclear missile; a vote for continued arms sales to murderous Third World regimes; a vote for Jack Straw's crackdown on "winos, junkies and squeegee merchants"; for his 'fast-track' into prison; a vote for keeping working class pensioners in poverty; a vote to keep the Tory anti-Trade Union legislation; a vote to retain selection in education; a vote to continue the gradual privatisation of the NHS; a vote to retain the Criminal Justice Act; a vote to keep the existing racist immigration and asylum laws, a vote to maintain the British military occupation of the north of Ireland.
We need to split Labourism, force the polarity, make the distinction between Socialism and social democracy sharper than ever - only then can we begin to build the movement afresh in this country.
The left now seems at its weakest precisely at the time when the objective need for it is greatest. We see an array of disassembled left organisations, aloof from each other, not serious about strategy, not seeking solutions that would draw them closer to the working class. This indulgence cannot continue!
Comrade Martin Gray of the CPB(ML) in bringing his greetings to the Rally said that from "the Bolshevik-Communist seizure of power under the leadership of Lenin to the building of a great industrial socialist power with Stalin at the helm of the Party, the Soviet Union withstood the worst that the capitalist world could throw at it…. The Soviet Union remained the great and salient fact of the 20th century".
Teja Singh Sahota
Comrade Sahota spoke of the tremendous influence the Soviet Union had been in spreading revolution and national liberation to many, many countries of the world.
Comrade Rule related the experience of her recent visit to the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. She had seen with her own eyes the achievements that socialism brought to the people of Korea, and how necessary and urgent it was for us all to work towards the building of a socialist society here.
Comrade Hillier emphasised that, while certain people try and separate Stalin and Lenin, we have to recognise that the attack on Marxism begins with the attack on Stalin. Under Lenin, the workers and peasants seized power, but it was under Stalin that this was consolidated and socialism was built. That is why the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie hate him. And that is why we must defend him against their lies and slanders.
Comrade Sukant spoke of the inspiration the Soviet Union, the first land of socialism, gave to young people. Whereas imperialism must have been delighted that Nikita Khrushchev took over the reins of power in the USSR, which led to the restoration of capitalism, Sukant went on to say that Red Youth believe that the proletariat will once more follow the road of October and clear away the filth of capitalism both in the USSR and in Britain.
The meeting ended with the singing of the International and was followed by a social evening, during which comrades from all parts of the country took the opportunity to exchange views with each other.
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