Opportunity lost

John Bridge reports on the Calcutta convention

THE CALCUTTA Anti-Imperialist Convention met over the four days of November 14-17. Many hundreds from all over India were there along with some 30 delegates from other countries - including John Bridge, representing the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB.

Initiated by the Socialist Unity Centre of India - the third biggest left party of India - the idea was to unite “all democratic, freedom loving people of all countries” against imperialism (Proletarian Era November 13 1995). A worthy aim. Unfortunately the approach of Suci meant the opportunity to rally the scattered and disorientated forces of anti-imperialism was lost.

We had been assured that the convention was to be a broad gathering. Clearly Suci and ourselves invest that term with very different meanings. Apart from myself and comrade Areman Arani of the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran, fraternal delegates consisted almost exclusively of those who complacently still entertain fond memories of JV Stalin.

In the Indian sub-continent - Bangladesh, Nepal, India - this school of thought represents a significant trend in the workers’ movement. However in Western Europe it equates with tiny sects and isolated individuals who believe anti-imperialism is about slandering Trotskyism and defending reactionary butchers like Ruhollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein.

Within the Indian political space the organisers took the perverse decision to invite neither the Communist Party of India nor the much larger Communist Party of India (Marxist). The excuse given by Suci comrades for this sectarian mistake is revealing.

Under chief minister Jyoti Basu the CPI(M) government in West Bengal is actively encouraging an influx of foreign capital. Treachery, says Suci - whose popular base is amongst rural labourers and those who work in the country’s teeming cottage industries.

These social strata are only formally subordinated to capital. Undoubtedly they face extinction with the development of what Marx called “real” capitalist production (K Marx Capital Harmondsworth 1976, p1,034).

During the convention Suci comrades and their middle class Gandhian allies bemoaned the effects of India’s integration into the global economy. In speech after speech imperialism was portrayed not in terms of laying the material prerequisites for world socialism. Instead transnational corporations were condemned as insidious conquerors who have to be driven out using essentially the same tactics deployed against the British before 1947.

Calls were made for boycotts and autarchy. Amazingly, but quite logically, some even suggested that the masses should accept lower living standards. That would enable the Indian economy to go it alone on the basis of traditional small scale production.

Replying to those who want to halt the forward march of history, I developed the theme argued in my speech to the open session on November 14. Capital is the product of human labour. Liberation will be found not in the futile attempt to return to the past. Capital has to be brought under social control, returned to society, socialised by way of the socialist revolution which begins on the national terrain but is in its content international.

This is the full text of the speech given by comrade Bridge on November 14 to the open session of the Anti-Imperialist Convention attended by some 30,000 people at Calcutta’s Saheed Minar Maidan

COMRADES, I am pleased to bring you the revolutionary greetings and solidarity of the Provisional Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Comrades, history has forged countless ties between the island of Britain and the sub-continent of India. For nearly two centuries the British subjected India to the most brutal and savage exploitation. The hypocrites said they came to civilise India! In reality, they came to rob, loot and pillage India of its wealth.

Of course, it was not the British people who raped India. It was the British aristocracy and the bourgeoisie who amassed huge fortunes - the same vampires who fed off the life-blood of the British masses, who forcibly expropriated the British peasant farmers and turned them into a people-of-no-property.

A class of modern slaves that was compelled to labour in the new factories and workplaces for 10, 12,  14, 16 hours a day - and all for a pittance that barely kept them and their families from the door of starvation and destitution.

Though our countries are separated by 5,000 miles in geographical distance, we were joined by having the same capitalist boss, the same capitalist exploiter, the same capitalist enemy.

Comrades, we all know that even compared with Asiatic despotism, ancient slavery and medieval feudalism, capitalism and imperialism are the most alienating and inhuman of social systems.

Though it ceaselessly revolutionises the mode of production the huge accumulation of wealth thereby created is turned against the working class in particular, and humanity in general.

The more capitalism seems to master the diverse forces of nature, the more capitalism becomes like a force of nature - it is blind, irrational, pregnant with crisis, war and the threat of untold destruction.

It is a system outside the control of its creators. Even outside the ruling class itself.

Yet it is precisely through its economic, moral and political destruction of everything old, everything venerated, everything holy that capitalism brings into being its own gravedigger - the international working class.

Our task, comrades, is to introduce, to infuse consciousness into that objective process. Only the working class, conscious of itself as a world class, can return the product of humanity to humanity. By liberating itself, the working class liberates humanity.

But - and this is what is crucial, comrades - we can only perform this act of self-liberation from the secure foundations provided by capitalism at its most advanced, at its most developed.

Comrades, to become masters of our own destiny, to become masters of the world we have made, we must grasp the future with both hands. Freedom lies not in defending the doomed past. We must move with the grain, move with the globalisation of world capitalism in order to conquer capitalism - and liberate, once and for all, humanity from the shackles of exploitation and want.

My Party, the CPGB, was born as an integral component of Lenin’s Third International - a section of the world communist party. The CPGB was not a British party. It was a party organising all communists in Britain to overthrow the British state - the state of our exploiters.

Therefore, it was only natural for Indian communists living in Britain to take their proper place in the CPGB.

The first person elected as a communist to the British parliament was our comrade Saklatvala. Indeed the intellectual leader of the CPGB from the 1920s to the 1950s was Rajani Palm Dutt - a comrade whom I believe is well known to you.

Comrades, it is in this spirit of Saklatvala and Palm Dutt that we in the CPGB seek to renew communism and raise it from the ashes of bureaucratic socialism. Communism did not die with the collapse of the USSR. It was bureaucratic socialism and opportunism which collapsed.

By daring to criticise our past, by daring to organise at the highest level internationally, we will win. The future belongs to us. The future is working class-led revolution. The future is international communism. I salute you.