Since the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and the Eastern block, communist Parties in Western Europe have faced an interesting challenge. How do they exist after the fall of official communism? This is a complex question. There are many different communist parties in Western Europe. I have chosen Great Britain as an example, and have randomly picked four different groups out of the kaleidoscope of Communist parties in Great Britain. Examining these four groups will hopefully serve as a microcosm to understanding what is left of the communist movement in Western Europe. In particular, examining their response to Kosovo is of interest. The four parties are the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), the Socialist Workers Party, and the Alliance for Workers Liberty, and The Communist Party of Great Britain.
"In some ways" writes David Lawday "the collapse of communism is even harder on the party faithful in the West than it is on their comrades in Eastern Europe" (Lawday 21). Those in the West were communist by choice, while many in the East were forced to be communists. The Western communists have had to re-orientate themselves to survive. They have been forced to look for other models of inspiration after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is worth noting that Communism in Western Europe was never the negligible force it has been in the United States. In fact, close to twenty million Western Europeans still vote Communist.
The first of these groups, the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (RCPB(ML)) appears as a relic of the Cold War. It is firmly grounded in Marxist-Leninist philosophy, and shows very little willingness to adjust. The RCPB(ML) describes everything as "Imperialist". Cuba is defending itself against imperialist aggression. North Korea is defending itself against the imperialist South Korea, and the imperialist United States. Iraq is defending itself against actions of imperialism. The United States Missile Strike on Sudan and Afghanistan on August 20, 1998 was an imperialist act. The list goes on and on.
The RCPB(ML) at many instances shows what seems to be a break with reality. A good example of this is their attitude towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Their history of the DPRK indicates more than a little bit of bias is put into their work.
The DPRK arouse out of the revolutionary traditions of the Korean
people’s armed struggle against the brutal Japanese colonial occupation and the
progressive social reforms carried out in the north of Korea in the period after
1945. However, just two years after its founding, the infant republic was
plunged into a cruel war provoked by the United States, which had occupied the
south of Korea and rigged up a puppet regime, mainly based on collaborators with
the Japanese. In the three years of war, the Korean people, assisted by the
Chinese People’s Volunteers, fought the aggressive forces of imperialism – which
included a substantial British contingent – to a standstill (Workers’ Weekly
V.28, No. 25).
The RCPB(ML) repeatedly praises the DPRK and Kim Il Sung in it’s publication Workers’ Weekly, ignoring the repressive elements of the DPRK. As the RCPB(ML) admits, DPRK is important to their ideology because it declared itself a stronghold of Socialism after the collapse of the Soviet Union and "acted as a rallying point for many communists and other progressive political parties in the midst of a confusing situation" (Workers’ Weekly V. 28, No. 25). The Workers’ Weekly also claims that the starvation in the DPRK has been largely exaggerated as a result of a South Korean smear campaign. Similarly, Cuba is often described in Workers’ Weekly as a place where everything is fine, never mind what the unreliable Western media is telling you.
Least one get too negative a view of the RCPB(ML), however, it should be noted that they are very concerned with the rights of the working class, with woman’s rights, and with combating racism.
In response to the crisis in Yugoslavia, the RCPB(ML) strongly condemns the air strikes.
The British government must be condemned for its subservience to US
imperialism, and for the leading role it is playing in NATO’s military
aggression, which is being carried out without any mandate and for which there
can be no justification. Britain must get out of NATO and NATO should be
dismantled. All Britain’s forces must be immediately withdrawn from the Balkans
(Workers’ Weekly V.29 No.9).
A second group, similar in ideology, is the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). They too are firmly grounded in Marxism-Leninism, and like the RCPB(ML) appear quite dogmatic in their beliefs.
The Communist Party serves the interests of the working class. We
fight all forms of opportunism and revisionism in the workers’ movement because
they endanger those interests. We insist on open ideological struggle in order
to fight out the correct way forward for our class (CPGB homepage).
They hold to the Marxist doctrine of violent revolution. "Socialism can never come through parliament. … Socialism will only succeed through working class revolution and the replacement of the dictatorship of the capitalists with the dictatorship of the working class." The CPGB also declares that "War and peace, pollution and the environment are class questions", and asserts that "the liberation of women, the ending of racism, bigotry, and all other forms of chauvinism" will all be achieved by Marxism. "Oppression is a direct result of class society, and will only finally be eradicated by the ending of class society" (CPGB Homepage). In doing this, the CPGB shows how strictly they apply a Marxist interpretation to all of society’s problems. However, the CPGB does not praise Cuba and the DPRK like the RCPB(ML) does. Instead the CPGB calls both Castro and Kim Il Sung bureaucratic dictators.
In response to the situation in Yugoslavia, the CPGB supports the Kosavo Liberation Army (KLA), while remaining critical of NATO.
The cause of the Kosovars and the KLA is just. Communist – not only
in Britain, but crucially Serbia – should support the democratic content of
their program, while criticizing their petty bourgeois and nationalist
prejudices and shortcomings, not least the illusion that NATO is a trustworthy
ally (Weekly Worker 286).
This fits in line perfectly with their commitment to the right of nations to self-determination.
The CPGB frequently attacks the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in its publication Weekly Worker. The CPGB accuses the SWP of splitting the London Socialist Alliance electoral block (which includes the CPGB, SWP, and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL)). The CPGB also accuses the SWP of being controlled by demagogues, such as Arthur Scargill.
The SWP is another group that makes up Britain's Socialist Alliance. One should not be fooled by the name, the SWP is no less radical than its Communist counterparts. The SWP praises Cuba as a revolutionary model that all Socialists in bourgeois countries should aspire to. They do not support working with in, the system, but adhere to the Marxist doctrine of revolution.
The Socialist Workers Party believes that the power to win change
comes from below. The Labour party insists it comes through parliament. But
power does not lie with parliament – it remains with the unelected bosses,
bankers, police chiefs, judges and top civil servants. That is why we support
every struggle, every strike by working people, every campaign against racism
and injustice. We argue that you cannot reform this rotten system – it must be
overthrown (SWP homepage).
The SWP is very concerned with international causes, particularly the International Socialists of South Korea (ISSK), who have been harshly repressed by the South Korean government. The SWP has been raising money for the legal defense of the ISSK.
In Yugoslavia SWP calls for an end to the War. Its publication, Socialist Worker, chronicles regularly the devastation NATO’s bombings have caused. The Socialist Worker relates stories about how innocent people were killed or made homeless by NATO. The SWP also criticizes the British government for going to war to save the Kosovan Albanians, but then refusing to help the refugees. "The number of refugees Britain is grudgingly prepared to take is pathetic (Socialist Worker 1644)". The SWP also accuse the media of distorting the truth to support NATO. The SWP calls for an unconditional halt to the war and NATO aggression.
The SWP has also been very active in the ant-war movement. Although leaders of the SWP complain that the media has purposely refused coverage of the anti-war coalition, the SWP has organized marches, rallies, and a number of pamphlets all urging an immediate end to the war.
The SWP has been harshly criticized by both the CPGB and the AWL for its anti-war stance. The CPGB accuses the large number of pacifists with-in the SWP of being guilty of liberalism, since pacifism is a bourgeois ideology. However the attacks go deeper than this. The CPGB accuses the SWP of allying itself along Cold War lines.
"For the arch-proponents of ‘Yugoslav defencism’ … NATO's offensive
against Serbia seems to have induced an acute bout of Cold War nostalgia. It is
as if the collapse of the Soviet Union and with it the demise of ‘official
communism’ had never really happened. Unconditional defense of the USSR has been
replaced by unconditional defense of Yugoslavia" (Weekly Worker 286).
The CPGB also accuses the SWP of downplaying the atrocities of Miloslovic, while placing an undue amount of blame on the KLA for the war.
Also condemning the SWP is the AWL. The AWL is a Trotskyist group, and shows many signs of still being stuck in 1938. The AWL has two buzzwords it uses quite frequently: Imperialism, to describe anything they dislike on the right, and Stalinism, to describe anything they dislike on the left. Since the AWL never aligned itself with ‘official communism’, it was not left ideologically floundering after the cold war, as many other communist groups were. The AWL is not disheartened by the fall of communism, but optimistic. "In Russia, 1917, the workers took power, but were overwhelmed in the 1920s by a bureaucratic counter-revolution. Elsewhere the possibilities of working-class freedom were crushed. But those possibilities existed. And they will exist again!" (AWL hompage).
Like the other groups, the AWL is cynical about working through the system, and advocates a revolution from below. The AWL is committed to "a society reconstructed according to the working-class principle of solidarity".
In response to the situation in Yugoslavia, the AWL printed in their publication Workers’ Liberty a quote from Trotsky on the Balkan Atrocities in February, 1913.
An individual, a group, a party or a class that is capable of
‘objectively’ picking its nose while it watches men drunk with blood, and
incited from above, massacring defenseless people is condemned by history to rot
and become worm-eaten while it is still alive. On the other hand, a party or a
class that rises up against every abominable action wherever it has occurred, as
vigorously and unhesitatingly as a living organism reacts to protect its eyes
when they are threatened with external injury – such a party or class is sound
at heart (Trotsky in Worker’s Liberty 55).
The AWL condemns both the Stalinist left and the imperialist NATO in its stance on the Yugoslavian atrocities.
The West had no real objection to Milosevic’s repression of the
Kosovars – they simply objected to Milosevic acting in so brutal a way as to
provoke a conflict that drew in – ‘destabilized’ – Albania, Macedonia and other
neighboring states. They want stable rule in the area to facilitate capitalist
profit making. The West opposed an independent Kosova as they believed it would
be a source of instability and tension in the region. The West has been clumsy,
reckless and stupid. They may now have to put ground troops in Kosova. No
socialist or democrat should trust NATO or the West to adequately protect the
Kosovars (AWL homepage).
About the left, however, AWL claims:
The ‘left’ is a disgrace! Serbia is not an oppressed country
‘fighting imperialism’, as some on the left seem to believe. Far from it, it is
itself a minor, local imperialist power, of a primitive ethnic tribalist type.
The left should not have allowed itself to associate with Serb
nationalist-Stalinist campaigns which simply demand ‘Stop the bombings’ –
because the organizers are for Serbia, and against the Kosovars. The ‘left’ is
lining itself up with the racist Serb state whose demand is also, simply, ‘Stop
the bombings’ (AWL homepage).
Opposing both NATO and the anti-war movement, the solution of the AWL is to arm the Kosavars. However Workers’ Liberty also points out that although the AWL has good reason not to trust NATO, they should not call for an end to the bombing.
One did not have to positively support the North Vietnamese regime
to be pleased that in 1978 they invaded Cambodia and stamped out the murderous
Khmer Rouge regime. Or need to be a supporter of the Indira Ghandi’s regime in
India to be glad that India invaded the former East Pakistan in 1971 and put an
end to the genocidal drive of the West Pakistanis against the Begalis (Worker’s
Like the CPGB the AWL swipes at both the SWP and the RCPB(ML), both of whom it accuses of catering the anti-war movement to Serbian nationalists.
It cannot have escaped their [the SWP] attention that the anti-war
protests, such as they are, consist overwhelmingly of Serb chauvinists and old
Stalinists and fellow travellers who think the break-up of Yugoslavia is (a) a
terrible thing and (b) all the fault of Germany and western imperialism
(Worker’s liberty 55).
After contemplating the anti-war movement, one member of the AWL contemplates,
Is a left which sees this genocide and yet fails to place the
rights of the Kosovars at the center of their concerns a left worth having? … If
this was all there was on the left I would want no part of it. It is not only a
matter of the left we have, but of the left we can and will rebuild! (Worker’s
These groups are but a fragment of Britain’s Communist contingent. Absent from this discussion is the New Communist Party of Great Britain, the Communist Party of Britain, the Communist Alliance of Great Britain, and several others. However, these four groups can serve as an example to see how Communist groups have realigned themselves after the cold war, and how they are dealing with the crisis in Yugoslavia.
Alliance for Worker’s Liberty homepage. http://wwww.workersliberty.org/awl.html
Communist Party of Great Britain Homepage. http://www.duntone.demon.co.uk/CPGB/main.html
"A Just Cause." Weekly Worker 29 Apr. 1999: 1-4"Korea Friendship Bulletin Celebrates 50th Anniversary of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea." Worker’s Weekly 29 Aug. 1998: 21-22.
"Kosovo at NUT conference." Worker’s Liberty Apr. 1999: 5-8.
Lawday, David. "Better Green than Red?" Atlantic Monthly Aug. 1990: 21-26.
"No to NATO’s criminal Aggression!" Worker’s Weekly 1 May 1999: 21-22.
Socialist Workers Party Homepage. http://www.swp.org.uk/join/JOIN.HTM
"Welcome all the refugees." Socialist Worker 1 May 1999. 1.
"Who will save the Kosovars?" Workers’ Liberty Apr. 1999: 1-4.
Professor's Comments: An interesting topic and you have dug up some fascinating information. the essay needs a clearer and stronger thesis. What point are you trying to make about Western European Communism? Perhaps draw a stronger conclusions drawing a thread between the themes.