The Colonial Revolution

More than two-thirds of the world’s population live in countries which were formerly colonies or semi-colonies of the imperialist powers. Here, over the past three to four decades, there has been permanent instability and a process of enormous upheavals, wars, revolutions and coups in one country after another.

The turbulence of the so-called ‘Third World’ has been without parallel in history. Millions of anonymous heroes, of peasants and workers, have sacrificed their lives in the struggle against colonial rule, and against the exploitation and oppression by the landlord and capitalist classes.

A century ago, Marx explained that only the lack of national consciousness among the scattered and downtrodden peasant masses allowed the imperialists to conquer and dominate Asia and Africa. Once they rose up, it was practically impossible to hold a whole nation in chains.

The development of capitalism in the colonial world penetrated the pre-capitalist economies, broadened the horizons of the people, and united them in struggles of resistance against the colonial oppressor.

Already by the turn of the century, movements of national liberation were under way particularly in Asia. At the end of the First World War, waves of revolutionary struggle in the colonies intersected with the outbreak of the proletarian revolution in the West.

Underlying the idea of the ‘permanent revolution’ is the fact that, in the epoch of monopoly capitalism and imperialism, the progressive role of the bourgeoisie has been exhausted on a world scale. The combined and uneven development of capitalism meant that, above all in the colonies and semi-colonies, the bourgeoisie was feeble and emaciated from the start, and could maintain its position only with the buttress of imperialism and the support of reactionary pre-capitalist classes.

The fear and hostility of the colonial bourgeoisie towards the movement of the masses was already evident after the First World War. Recognition of this was a basic element in the approach of Bolshevism towards the colonial revolution.

As Lenin put it at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920: “A certain understanding has emerged between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often, even perhaps in most cases, the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries, although they also support national movements, nevertheless fight against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes with a certain degree of agreement with the imperialist bourgeoisie, that is to say together with it.”

The essentially reformist standpoint of the colonial bourgeoisie and its middle-class appendages thus came into increasing conflict with the revolutionary aspirations and revolutionary movement of the peasants and workers. It was for this reason that the Comintern used the term “national-revolutionary” movements to describe the struggles of the oppressed masses of the colonial world, in preference to the term “bourgeois-democratic”.

The Russian Revolution had been the first decisive victory in the process of the world revolution. With the proletarian revolution beginning to spread to the industrialised countries of the West, it was clear that the colonial revolution would be inseparably linked with it.

At the Second Congress of the Comintern, the Indian delegate Roy stated in his theses (which were adopted) that “the masses of people in the oppressed non-European countries have, as a result of the centralisation of world capitalism, been indissolubly bound up with the proletarian movement in Europe.”


The most important and necessary task in the colonial countries was “the creation of Communist organisations of peasants and workers in order to lead them to the revolution and the setting up of the Soviet Republic. In this way the masses of the people in the backward countries will be brought to communism not by capitalist development but by the development of class consciousness under the leadership of the proletariat of the advanced countries.”

It was with the same idea that Lenin raised the possibility of Africa advancing directly from tribalism to communism.

But this perspective was cut across by the defeats of the proletarian revolution in the industrialised capitalist countries, and by the degeneration of the Russian Revolution which followed. Thus the world revolution was interrupted and delayed.

With the degeneration of the Communist International—with the rise of Stalinism and the crushing of the forces of Marxism—tragic consequences followed for the colonial peoples also. The young and weak proletariat in the under-developed countries was denied an historic opportunity to rise as the organised and class-conscious force capable of leading the emerging nations in the struggle against colonial domination, landlordism, and capitalist exploitation.

We have already shown how, in China in the late 1920s, the Comintern under Stalinist control insisted that the Chinese Communist Party subordinate itself to the bourgeois-nationalist Kuomintang. Stalin’s policy of ‘socialism in one country’ meant a policy of so-called ‘socialism’ for the Soviet Union alone.

Stalinism preserved the label of ‘Marxism-Leninism’, while falsifying and corrupting all the essential ideas of these great teachers.

Whereas Lenin had employed terms such as ‘national-democratic’ and ‘national-revolutionary’ in order to distinguish the aims of the workers and peasants from those of the colonial bourgeoisie, Stalinism now employed such terms to describe what ‘all classes’ of the oppressed nations supposedly had in common! Packed into the baggage of the ‘two-stage’ theory (see Chapters 2 and 10), they have been used to argue that the liberation struggles in the colonial world should not attempt to pass beyond a so-called ‘national-democratic stage’.

According to this theory, the colonial peoples have to carry out the national and democratic tasks of the revolution without overthrowing capitalism. The working class must not assert its own class interests or lead a struggle against the bourgeoisie, for fear of jeopardising the supposed unity of all the colonial classes.

This is the opposite of the conclusion drawn by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution and applied by them to the colonial world—that, precisely for the national-democratic tasks to be completed, the working class must lead a struggle of the oppressed against the bourgeoisie and establish its own state power.

The Stalinist position of separate revolutionary ‘stages’—essentially no different from that of the Mensheviks in Russia—has had the effect of disarming and paralysing the working class in the colonial revolution.

Yet the theories of Stalinism could in no way alter the reality of the devastating effects of capitalism on the life of the colonial peoples. Nor could they compensate for the feebleness and bankruptcy of the colonial bourgeoisie.


The explosive heaping up of unsolved economic, social and political problems in the under-developed world has led to the carrying through of the permanent revolution in a series of countries—but in a distorted and caricatured form which Trotsky himself could not have foreseen.

In the course of the struggle against imperialism in a number of countries since the Second World War, capitalism has been overthrown, the landlords and capitalists expropriated, state ownership of the main means of production introduced, and the basis of a planned economy laid—without the proletariat leading the revolution, and even without this fundamental change forming any part of the programme of the leadership of the masses.

That was something considered entirely impossible by all the great teachers of Marxism in the past, and can only be explained on the basis of the changed relationship of forces in world history which emerged during and after the Second World War.

The Chinese Revolution

The Chinese Revolution of 1944-9 was the greatest and most progressive event in history after the Russian Revolution, freeing nearly a quarter of the population of the earth from the nightmare grip of landlordism and capitalism. The tremendous advantage this has brought for the Chinese people in the decades since has already been outlined in Chapter 1.

The defeat of the Chinese working class in the revolution of 1925-27 gave a breathing space to the Chinese bourgeoisie. But in the course of the following two decades the bourgeoisie revealed its complete incapacity to take society forward. This was proved by its failure to solve the problem of landlordism, give land to the peasants and free them from debt; by its incapacity to unify the country; by its inability to defend the nation against the attacks of imperialism, both military (in the case of Japan) and economic.

In the Russian Revolution, as we have shown, the inability of the bourgeoisie to carry out the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution had meant that these tasks fell to the proletariat. Under the leadership of the Bolsheviks the Russian workers established their own state, broke Russia free from the grip of imperialism, established the right of nations to self-determination, nationalised the land of the landlords and organised its redistribution to the poor peasants through the peasant soviets. At the same time the workers’ state proceeded to the tasks of eliminating capitalism and began to lay foundations for a transition to socialism.

In China, however, a different process took place. After the crushing defeat of the 1920s the proletariat was deserted by the leadership of the Communist Party which had been responsible for its defeat, and it remained passive.

Mao Tse Tung and other remnants of the Stalinised CP leadership, abandoning the proletariat, turned instead to the countryside and for two decades organised and led peasant war against the landlords and against imperialism.

Employing the ideas of Stalinism (as distinct from Marxism), Mao advanced a perspective for an historical stage in China which would supposedly stand between the ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’ and the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. Described as a ‘new democracy’, this was intended to combine elements of state ownership of the larger enterprises with the encouragement of private enterprise by the Chinese capitalist class.

Stripped of its obscuring phrases, this was essentially a programme for an extended period of national capitalism in China.

Mao specifically contrasted his conception for China with the economic and social changes which had been established in Russia. Nevertheless, on achieving power in 1949, Mao and the Chinese Red Army carried through the overthrow of capitalism and established a regime on the same economic and social foundations as Stalin’s regime in Russia.

It is not the ‘Thoughts’ in the heads of leaders, nor whether they call themselves ‘communists’, that determines the outcome of a revolution. The decisive question is the class forces active in the struggle and—in the case where the proletariat confronts the bourgeoisie—the conscious organisation of the workers on a programme for taking power and overthrowing capitalism.

It was inconceivable to any of the great Marxists in the past that a peasant movement, without the leadership of the working class, could result in the overthrow of capitalism. A year before his assassination in 1940, Trotsky wrote the following passage, which was entirely consistent with the thinking of Marx, Engels and Lenin before him:

The peasantry is dispersed over the surface of an enormous country whose key junctions are the cities. The peasantry itself is incapable of even formulating its own interests inasmuch as in each district these appear differently. The economic link between the provinces is created by the market and the railways, but both the market and the railways are in the hands of the cities. In seeking to tear itself away from the restrictions of the village and to generalise its own interests, the peasantry inescapably falls into political dependence upon the city. Finally, the peasantry is heterogeneous in its social relations as well: the kulak stratum (rich peasants) naturally seeks to swing it to an alliance with the urban bourgeoisie while the lower strata of the village pull to the side of the urban workers. Under these conditions the peasantry as such is completely incapable of conquering power.

True enough, in ancient China, revolutions placed the peasantry in power or, more precisely, placed the military leaders of peasant uprisings in power. This led each time to a redivision of the land and the establishment of a new ‘peasant’ dynasty, whereupon history would begin from the beginning; with a new concentration of land, a new aristocracy, a new system of usury, and a new uprising. So long as the revolution preserves its purely peasant character society is incapable of emerging from these hopeless and vicious circles.

Three Conceptions of the Russian Revolution

Peasant war

If the guerrilla commander Mao himself had no conception of the peasant war in China leading to the elimination of capitalism, even less would Stalin contemplate it. In fact, even while Mao was achieving military victory over the bourgeois forces of Chiang Kai-Shek, Stalin wanted him to form a coalition government with the latter!

What was decisive in determining the outcome of the Chinese Revolution was the changed balance of forces nationally and internationally at the end of the Second World War.

Japanese imperialism had been crushingly defeated, and the Western imperialist powers were also incapable of intervening in China because of the wave of revolutionary ferment which was sweeping through the working class of the industrialised world. At the same time, at the rear of the Chinese Revolution, there was the powerful deformed workers’ state of Stalinist Russia, immensely strengthened as a result of the War.

The Chinese Red Army defeated the forces of Chiang Kai-Shek by distributing land to the peasants and thereby winning over the peasant soldiers on whom Chiang relied. Massive US aid to Chiang could not halt this process. The Chinese bourgeoisie, economically weak and utterly discredited by its collaboration with imperialism, was left without any basis of support in society.

Practically speaking, there was no possibility of reviving the emaciated capitalist class or developing the economy on a capitalist basis. Instead, the leaders of the Chinese Red Army had before them the model of the mighty achievements of the planned economy in Stalinist Russia.

Leaning on the support of the peasants and workers, they moved to expropriate the bourgeoisie as effortlessly as squashing a flea.


In fact, capitalists even applied for their factories to be nationalised, pleading merely to be retained as managers of state enterprises!

On taking power, the Red Army commanders had moved to prevent any form of worker democracy emerging. Where workers took independent action, it was met with the execution of the leading participants.

From the outset, the regime was bonapartist in character—resting on the peasant masses while raising itself above society, balancing and manoeuvring between the classes, and crushing all opposition.

Its social character was identical to that of the Stalinist regime in Russia—proletarian bonapartist, because, in the last analysis, it based itself on the elimination of private ownership, and on an economy characterised by state ownership of the means of production and planning.

This is the productive basis of a workers’ state and therefore, solely from the historical point of view and the tendency of development, it is a workers’ state which arose in China.

But unlike in Russia, where the proletariat had initially taken power and then lost control of the state to the bureaucracy, the Chinese workers’ state has been deformed from the outset. At no time was there the creation of the elements of a healthy workers’ state on the lines of 1917-1923 in Russia, i.e., soviets, independent trade unions, workers’ democracy, freedom of discussion at all levels of society, etc.

This was the inevitable consequence of a revolution based on the peasantry and led by the middle class.

Not for nothing does Marxism explain that the socialist revolution and the building of socialism is the task of the working class. This is because the specific role in production of the working class gives it a specific capacity and consciousness possessed by no other class.

It is the working class alone, organised by the organisation of industry, which has the social position and can develop the collective consciousness to create a planned economy and democratic workers’ state, without bureaucracy or privileged strata. Only on the basis of workers’ democracy can the way to genuine socialism be opened.

Often even more than the working class, the peasantry suffers the most horrendous oppression under capitalism, and struggles fiercely against the landlords and the state. Why then cannot the peasantry carry through a revolution which leads to socialism in the same way as the working class? Why has the emergence of privileged bureaucratic rule been the inevitable consequence of social revolutions which have been based on the peasantry?

The peasantry, individualised in production, scattered in the countryside, isolated from the centres of industry, cannot act collectively as a democratic organising force in production. Experiencing problems on a local scale, peasants tend to be sceptical of national planning. Even the advantages of collectivisation do not generally occur naturally to them, but have to be demonstrated by others.

In practice, therefore, the peasantry tend to follow the class or stratum which commands power in the towns. In the Russian Revolution the working class led the peasants and established initially a democratic workers’ state. In China, however, power in the towns passed into the hands of the middle-class leaders of the guerilla army who, resting on the peasantry, could reconstruct the state machine on the basis of their armed organisation. These were the original roots of bureaucratisation.

But, underlying the social and political roots of bureaucratisation are the economic roots. As was shown in Russia after 1923, even a healthy workers’ state, particularly in a backward country, will degenerate unless the revolution spreads to other, more advanced countries. Under conditions of generalised poverty and shortages, privileged elites will always arise and graft themselves onto the backs of the masses.

Lacking the internationalism of the Bolsheviks, the horizons of the leadership of the Chinese Revolution were restricted to China alone; this was reinforced by the national state-machine erected above the classes by the guerilla army. Isolated and under-developed, China after the revolution provided fertile ground for the consolidation of privilege.

As in the case of Stalinist Russia, the power of the planned economy to develop the productive forces and lift the peasants and workers out of the swamp of famine and destitution, has given a basis of stability to the Chinese bureaucracy for more than three decades.

Major power

The rise of China as a major power that could no longer be treated like dirt by the imperialists, has raised the national pride of the masses in their country. This in turn reinforced their support for the regime, and especially for the supreme leader, the bonapartist arbiter—Mao.

To reinforce the grip of the regime, especially over the peasants, the figure of Mao was elevated (like Stalin) by the cult of personality into a virtual godhead, invested with all the supposed supernatural attributes and ‘infallibility’ of the Chinese emperors of old.

While progressive compared with capitalism, a proletarian bonapartist regime involves constantly accumulating contradictions between the new ruling caste and the masses, and between different layers of the bureaucracy itself.

Like Stalinist Russia, the Chinese bureaucracy has centralised all power, in this case in Peking. Consequently there is a domination of the Han over all the many national minorities in China, and thus national oppression. In this respect too, there is an exact parallel with Russia.

There have been striking repetitions of the processes in Russia under Stalin. Repeated and sweeping purges of Party and state (although not so bloody); trials of leaders for ‘preparing a return to capitalism and feudalism’; policies of ultra-slow development followed by ‘great leaps forward’, denunciations of particular sections of the bureaucracy, and lower tiers of officials made scapegoats for the mistakes and arbitrary rule of the bureaucracy as a whole.

In the first period after the Revolution, the generalised poverty, the backwardness of agriculture and of industry, and the smallness of the economic surplus generated in production, meant that there was little scope for state officials, army officers, etc. to enrich themselves grossly above the standards of the masses.

Especially in the lower layers of the bureaucracy as it crystallised, there remained a genuine idealism carried over from the revolution, and a commitment to self-sacrifice and hard work in developing the national economy and raising the conditions of the people. This contributed to the enormous popularity of the regime.


In other countries many young people, CP members and others, disappointed by the obvious corruption and decay of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR, came to look hopefully to Chinese Stalinism (or ‘Maoism’) as the force of ‘genuine’ socialism in the world.

Without a fundamental Marxist analysis of the process of the revolution in China and the social forces involved, they accepted the claims of the bureaucracy at face value. The influence of Maoism was at its height internationally in the period after the split between the Chinese and Russian bureaucracies, when Peking postured as the great champion of the colonial struggles against imperialism.

The Chinese Revolution demonstrated that, in the present epoch, given the extreme weakness of the bourgeoisie in an under-developed country and the inability of imperialism to intervene or prop it up, capitalism can be overthrown without the working class leading the mass movement, and without the workers establishing their own control of the state.

But the inevitable consequence of this is bureaucratic deformation and the hardening of a totalitarian, privileged ruling caste. That also inevitably means that a further revolution—a political revolution—is needed to establish workers’ democracy and allow the transition to socialism to be carried through.

The limited, national aims of Chinese Stalinism were indicated in Mao’s attempts at first to isolate China from the world economy and, like Stalin before him, pursue a policy of so-called ‘socialism in one country’. But, as in the case of the USSR, in order to sustain the development of industry, the bureaucracy has been compelled to turn to the world market.

Over the decades, intense struggles have been fought out within the bureaucracy, between its different wings and layers, over questions of economic and foreign policy—over the allocation of the surplus between heavy industry and the raising of living standards; over participation in the world market versus autarky; over rival claims to increased privileges and power.

The most tumultuous of these struggles provided the background to the ‘Cultural Revolution’ unleashed by Mao in the 1960s.

This was not intended, as many imagine, to destroy bureaucracy itself; it was to curb the premature enrichment and self-elevation of the bureaucrats which was creating potentially explosive conflicts with the worker and peasant masses, and stifling economic development. When the masses threatened to turn the Cultural Revolution into a generalised attack on control by the bureaucracy itself, Mao turned to crush this with the use of the army.

The defeat of the ‘Gang of Four’ since Mao’s death and the predominance of the more ‘pragmatic’ wing of the bureaucracy does not represent a turn away from ‘socialism’ towards capitalism. It is tied up with the inevitable need of the planned economy to engage in the world market.

Typical of China’s contracts with the West is the one signed in September 1981 to buy combine harvester building technology from John Deere & Co. of the USA. The deal included the training of Chinese technicians, administrative personnel and workers. In return, John Deere is required to buy a large number of the combines produced in China with this technology!

But as in the case of the Soviet Union, bureaucratic rule in China cannot avoid accumulating more and more contradictions, the more developed and sophisticated the planned economy becomes. Bureaucracy has begun to clog the pores of the productive system.

In 1980, while China claimed an industrial growth rate of 8%, some $32 billion worth of equipment and millions of urban workers were left in enforced idleness as a result of mismanagement. In the same year, it was reported, 20 million tons of the wrong sort of steel were made and so wasted.

In 1981, there was a sudden cut-back of investment plans by 40%.


Without workers’ democracy, the inevitable corruption of officials and bureaucratic abuses eventually reach staggering proportions. In a supposedly ‘socialist’ country, the regime finds it necessary to retain the death penalty for economic crimes—and in March 1982 the Peking People’s Daily called for it to be used more often because “the shocking incidence of economic crimes has reached such proportions”.

From time to time, in an attempt to curb bureaucratic excesses, the regime announces new purges or attacks on corruption, and even opens the safety valve briefly to allow some ‘criticism’ and ‘democratic expression’ by the masses—but then swiftly moves again to clamp down ruthlessly on all opposition.

Recently, it was disclosed that 7 million out of the 19 million CP members who joined in the last ten years of Mao’s rule were to be purged!

New upheavals, turns and zig-zags are inevitable in the period ahead.

Nevertheless the crisis of the bureaucracy in China is not as far advanced as that in Russia and Eastern Europe. This is because of the relatively lower level of the productive forces, of industry and technology.

If it were a question of China alone, the bureaucracy could still have a fairly extended period of rule ahead of it before being faced with the inevitable political revolution. But in the present revolutionary period on a world scale, either the socialist revolution in the West or the political revolution in the other Stalinist states would cut across it.

When the working class takes power in the main industrial centres of the world, the bureaucracy in China would be faced immediately with a movement for its overthrow and replacement by workers’ democracy.

Retreat of Imperialism

After the Second World War imperialism was faced with a general crisis of colonial rule, and a sequence of struggles and revolutions of which the Chinese Revolution was the most earth-shaking.

These struggles against colonial domination had been anticipated—under very different conditions—by the spread of national revolt throughout South and Central America, as well as Mexico, against the rotting power of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism in the early 19th century. National independence was won in area after area, though on the basis of terrible economic backwardness. The bourgeois republics that emerged were weak and unstable from the start, and in due course were pulled into the orbit of rising US imperialism.

Now, after World War II, similar processes occurred in Asia and Africa, but in a changed world context. Internationally, the once mighty European colonial powers had been completely eclipsed by US imperialism. At home, all the imperialist powers were faced with the mighty pressures of organised labour, radicalised by the war.

Moreover, the Chinese Revolution, despite its deformation, shifted the balance of forces internationally against imperialism, and provided a tremendous spur to liberation struggles throughout Asia and Africa.

Already in 1938, Trotsky had observed that the ‘pacification’ of the colonial revolts had become more expensive for imperialism than the fruits of the exploitation of the colonies.

By 1945, in the case of India, the British ruling class drew the conclusion from the revolt of the Indian people of the necessity to arrive at some sort of compromise with the Indian bourgeoisie and landlords. Even after that, however, British imperialism fought a series of wars in its colonies (Malaysia, Kenya, Cyprus, etc) before fully accepting the need for retreat.

French and Dutch imperialism had to learn the same lesson after the squandering of much blood and treasure in Indonesia, Indo-China, Algeria, etc. The Portuguese ruling class took much longer to learn it, for reasons we will explain in Chapter 7.

Thus in the decades after the Second World War national independence was achieved by virtually all the former colonies of Asia and Africa. Increasingly it became the policy of imperialism to hand over power without a struggle to the local capitalists and landlords, precisely to avoid the development of mass struggles that would ultimately force them to retreat under far less favourable conditions for themselves.

Intolerable Burdens of Capitalism

The standpoint of Marxism has always been one of unconditional support for the struggles of the peoples of the colonial world against imperialism. This is so even where bourgeois-nationalist parties and leaders are at the head of a movement. All the more vigorously do we support those revolutions which break the stranglehold of capitalism and open the way to ending the horrors of famine, illiteracy and disease.

At the same time, from the standpoint of the working class, Marxists are duty-bound to explain the distortions and contradictions which follow when the working class is unable to lead the movement and establish its own democratic regime.

The unbearable sufferings of the working people of the under-developed countries have meant that they could not and cannot wait for the working class of the industrialised world to carry through the revolution. Lenin already recognised that, if the workers of the advanced countries did not take the lead in solving the problems of the world on the basis of a clear class programme for an international socialist revolution, then the toilers of the colonial world would see no real alternative but to seek a solution to their problems along national lines.

But if the process of the permanent revolution has been distorted in the pre- and post-War period as a result of the weakness of the forces of Marxism internationally, it has also been driven on relentlessly by the accumulated burdens inflicted on the under-developed countries in the epoch of monopoly capitalism.

The unprecedented upswing of capitalism in the advanced countries after the Second World War was partially based on intensified exploitation of the under-developed countries by the imperialist powers. While living standards in the advanced capitalist countries rose steadily, there was an absolute decline, with few exceptions, in the standards of the masses in the colonial and former colonial countries.

Significant industrial development did take place, as a by-product of the boom in the advanced capitalist world, but it has been mainly concentrated in only a few countries.

In order to develop mining, manufacturing and agriculture, the under-developed countries have been forced to rely heavily on imports of machinery, vehicles, equipment for railways and communications, etc. As these countries have become more and more integrated into the world economy, and opened to the penetration of the world market, inevitably production for subsistence has more and more given way to production for the market.

But instead of an all-round development of agriculture and industry, these countries have been from the outset under the domination of the giant multinational corporations, with an overwhelming monopoly of large-scale production and modern techniques.

Most have continued to serve in their colonial role of exporting agricultural and mineral raw materials to the advanced industrial countries, and providing markets for the products of Western capitalism. Colonial rule created cheap labour; competitive export production requires cheap labour; cheap labour limits the internal market; a small internal market reinforces the emphasis on export production; the multinationals take advantage of cheap labour… and so on, in a vicious cycle.

Partial, uneven and lop-sided development of the ex-colonial countries has been the result. Total unemployment in these countries is estimated at between 300 and 600 million.

Welded into the chain of world capitalism, agriculture in the under-developed countries has shifted more and more away from the production of essential foods for the population, and more and more towards single-crop agriculture intended for export.

Thus in the mid-1970s, sugar accounted for nine-tenths of the exports of Mauritius, and coffee and yarn for three-fifths those of Egypt; coffee made up half the exports of Columbia, and 84% of Burundi’s; and so on.

As a result, today, the poorest countries have to spend nearly a third of their export earnings on importing food.

In most of the under-developed countries the land question has remained unresolved. Most agricultural land has remained in the hands of reactionary landowning classes. The peasant masses, at the mercy of the capitalist market, unable to compete with large-scale modern agriculture and increasingly dependent on capitalist industry and bankers for implements and fertilisers, have been trampled deeper into poverty and debt.


In industry, the emphasis has been on mining and the elementary processing of raw materials destined for the manufacturing industries of the industrialised world. Generally only the simplest of consumer goods can be manufactured locally.

Through their control of the world market, the imperialist monopolies have combined to impose a collective exploitation on the poorer countries. The terms of trade are systematically weighted in favour of industrial goods, and against agricultural products and raw materials. While the prices of manufactured products have risen astronomically, the world market prices of food and most minerals have either been held down or, in some cases, actually depressed.

Thus to the ‘normal’ exploitation of capitalism is added the super-exploitation of imperialism. The former colonial countries are forced to exchange products of more labour for products of less labour, as Marx put it.

Between 1870 and 1950 the quantity of imports that a ‘Third World’ country could purchase with a given quantity of exports rose by 50%. But by 1970 the quantity that could be bought was 11% below the 1950 level. The 1973 oil price rise altered the North-South balance, but for the developing countries without oil, they could purchase by 1975 21% less than in 1950. For the very poorest countries it was 32% less.

In 1974, for example, a given quantity of tea produced in Sri Lanka could only buy half the imports that it could buy in 1954.

(The oil price rise has produced, for a period, benefits for the oil producers; but even at its height it did not compensate fully for the rise in the price of industrial goods since 1950. Today, as a result of the recession of 1980-82, the slump in the demand for oil has forced the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to lower prices and cut production, and threatens already to eliminate the gains secured by the oil producers’ cartel.)

Per head of population, the purchasing power of the exports of the under-developed countries has declined from $25 in the late 1960s to only $16 by the end of the 1970s—a clear pointer to the general fall in the living standards of the masses which has taken place.

Prices of agricultural raw materials have been in decline since the end of the Second World War. UNCTAD (the UN Conference on Trade and Development) has reported that, by the end of 1980, real prices for non-oil commodities exported by the ‘developing’ countries were the lowest for thirty years.

Added to this is the fact that these countries have received a declining share of the retail price when their export commodities are sold in the advanced capitalist countries.

For example, in the case of tea exported to Britain, the exporting countries received 61% of the price in 1955-1960 and only 48% of the price in 1973.

In the case of coal exported to West Germany, the corresponding decline was from 14% to 8%. In the case of coffee exported to France, the decline was from 38% to 33%.

Monopoly control

This is the result of monopoly control of world production and distribution. Five companies account for 75% of the world, tea market. Six companies control 50% of manganese ore capacity. Three companies control 60% of banana imports. Six companies control 76% of the world’s alumina production. Fifteen companies control 85%-90% of world trade in cotton—and so on in every case.

Simultaneously monopolies push up the prices of the industrial goods and other manufactured commodities sold to the ‘Third World’. For instance, the developing countries are said to be paying out an extra $500 million a year because of a cartel governing the supply of heavy electrical equipment, which raises prices by about 30%.

The whole web of domination and exploitation at the hands of the imperialist monopolies is strengthened by the dependence of the poor countries on international ‘aid’.

Well over half of foreign aid has been tied to the condition that it must be used to purchase goods from the donor countries. So, for example, of every $1 ‘given’ by the United States, 70 cents is directly spent in the USA. In fact the US State Department reported three years ago that, for every dollar paid by the government to the World Bank for aid, the poor countries were spending two dollars in the American economy!

By 1979 the USA was spending 38% less in real terms on direct aid than it had in 1962. America spends more on potted plants and flowers than on aid. At the same time this aid has been concentrated on a few favoured recipients—some 40% to Israel and Egypt alone.

The real value of total Western aid to the ‘Third World’ has been static or declining in recent years.


The whole of the post war period has seen the gap between the developed and the under-developed capitalist countries widening massively. In 1960 the industrialised capitalist countries produced 26 times more per head of population than the under-developed countries; by 1979 the figure had increased to 44 times.

In 1950 the countries of the colonial and ex-colonial world had one-third of world trade; in 1964 they had one-quarter; in 1977 they had one-fifth. Their proportion of world trade in manufactured goods is a mere 10%—and almost half of this comes from Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The increasing dependence of the poor countries, and the widening disparity between the price of their imports and exports, has meant an unstoppable decline into debt. This is expected to reach a total of $450 billion by the end of 1982.

This year aid to the poor countries will finance only about 40% of their current account deficits (i.e. the amount by which their export earnings fall below the cost of their imports). The balance has to be covered by increased borrowing.

But already two out of every three dollars borrowed by the developing countries goes to servicing existing debt! Interest rates are now two to three times higher than in the 1970s, and every 1% increase in interest rates costs roughly $3 billion more a year in debt servicing by the ‘Third World’.

At the same time, because of the crisis of world capitalism, there is a downward squeeze on exports to the industrialised countries. Every 1% reduction in the economic growth rate of the latter countries reduces the export earnings of the ‘Third World’ countries by $2 billion.

Thus the poor countries have to borrow vastly more every year to pay for imports and to finance their increased debt. By 1990, they are expected to have only 15% or less of their total borrowing available for the purchase of imports. This vicious circle is like being forced to drink one’s own blood in order to stay alive.

While the partial and one-sided development of these countries produces in many cases statistics of rising ‘per capita’ income, in reality this is swamped by the increase in impoverishment, landlessness and hunger among the mass of the population. Income is precisely not distributed ‘per capita’, (i.e. divided equally over the population as a whole), but is grossly weighted in favour of a narrow stratum of exploiters, while the millions of dispossessed are cast into the slums without jobs, homes, or a future.

This is the general background of the unbearable situation which has driven country after country of the under-developed world on the road of revolution.

Bourgeois Bonapartism or Proletarian Bonapartism

Thus the retreat of the old imperialist powers from direct colonial rule has not ended the nightmare of the colonial peoples; it has been followed instead by intensified exploitation of the masses of the under-developed world through neo-colonial domination. Not only have newly-independent states remained the prisoners of imperialism and the world market; in many cases political power has been exercised by capitalist regimes that are little more than appendages of the imperialist ruling classes.

In nearly every country the state apparatus was constructed during the colonial period, and handed over intact to the new rulers. To this day, the military chiefs and top civil servants in many ‘Third World’ countries have received, or continue to receive, their training at the academies of British, US or French imperialism.

The inability of capitalism to undertake the all-round development of these countries, and the pathetic weakness of their national bourgeoisies, has resulted in endless instability and the lurching from one crisis to another in virtually all the former colonial countries which have remained on a capitalist basis.

With their limited industries absolutely dependent on cheap labour in order to survive, with the urban and rural masses sinking ever deeper into poverty, with the mushrooming of slums and unemployment at unbearable levels, it has been impossible for the ruling classes in these countries to consolidate or sustain their rule through regimes of bourgeois democracy.

Not only have the former colonial countries suffered crippling economic disabilities; the territories and states which they inherited from imperialism have seldom formed a coherent national entity.

National diversity, of course, is not peculiar to the ‘Third World’; it is present in many of the advanced capitalist countries also. Yet national integration and unity could be achieved at least partly in Europe on the basis of the development of capitalism. But with the onset of prolonged economic decline and worsening social conditions, even in Western Europe old divisions have been prised open and new national struggles set in motion.

In Latin America, Asia and Africa, on the other hand, generations of economic impasse have had their counterpart in the uninterrupted seething of national tensions and divisions, resulting in explosions, instability and even civil war.

The splitting of the Indian sub-continent, first through the separation of Pakistan from India, and then through the secession struggle of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) is a major example. In Africa, the arbitrary Balkanisation imposed by imperialism has left not a single country without acute or latent tensions, welling to the surface in wounding conflicts of which the best known has been the civil war in Nigeria during the 1960s.

In the under-developed countries generally, with the progressive role of capitalism exhausted, the bourgeoisie has been incapable of uniting the nation. The result has been that the sense of national unity aroused in the course of the struggles against colonial oppression has tended to give way to social disintegration and political chaos.

In this social and political dead-end, the only force of cohesion in country after country, even temporarily, has been the army. Repeatedly the generals and colonels have stepped in to take command of the state.

But neither can these regimes even begin to solve the problems of the nation on the basis of capitalism. As a result they have been extremely fragile. Coups have been followed by counter-coups, or else a temporary return to unstable governments of a ‘bourgeois-democratic’ or parliamentary type. Elsewhere the regime has taken the form of a one-party state under the supreme arbitration of a ‘popular’ leader (usually the middle-class leader of the independence struggle).

Thus regimes of bourgeois bonapartism—understood by Marxism as reflecting crisis—have become the norm in the capitalist countries of the ‘Third World’. The bonapartist state apparatus becomes partly elevated above the classes, balancing between the conflicting pressures of imperialism, the local capitalists, the middle class, the peasants, the workers and the lumpen-proletariat. Nevertheless, in the last analysis, the bourgeois bonapartist state ruthlessly maintains the domination of capitalism.

Of course there are differences between regimes in different countries and regions. In Latin America, for example, the bourgeoisie has undergone a relatively greater development, enabling them to consolidate a state apparatus more firmly and ensuring them a degree of influence even over bestial military dictatorships.

In Africa, in comparison, the top-heavy post-colonial states more readily rise beyond control of an almost non-existent indigenous bourgeoisie. In conditions of extreme poverty, national fragmentation and social decay, the masses may for a time lie prostrate under the most horrible caricatures of bourgeois bonapartism—as was the case in Uganda under Amin and the Central African ‘Empire’ under Bokassa.


In contrast to the countries under bourgeois bonapartist dictatorships in the under-developed world, there are an increasing number of countries where the crisis of society has led to the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of proletarian bonapartist regimes resting on state ownership. This has tended to occur where capitalism has been least developed and hence the bourgeoisie at its weakest; where the proletariat has been correspondingly weak and there has been little or no independent organisation of the working class.

Since the Chinese Revolution, the most outstanding of these revolutions internationally have been those in Cuba and Vietnam. The struggle of the Vietnamese people stood out for a whole period to the masses in the under-developed world—and to sections of the workers and youth in the advanced capitalist countries—as a beacon of resistance to the monster of US imperialism. Likewise, the defence of the Cuban revolution against the might of US imperialism which menaces it has correctly been regarded as a vital task.

In unconditionally supporting the struggles of the Cuban and Vietnamese people and defending the gains that have flowed from their revolutions, Marxism does not, however, hide from the task of explaining also their limits.

The Cuban revolution clearly illustrates these fundamental processes of the colonial revolution. Here, as in China and Vietnam, the new regime resulted from the victory of a peasant-based guerilla war.

The Cuban Revolution

It is important to understand that Castro had no intention of carrying through the overthrow of capitalism in Cuba. His inspiration was the tradition of radical bourgeois democracy and the principles outlined in the American Declaration of Independence.

A document of his 26th July Movement produced in 1956 during the war against the Batista dictatorship expressly proclaimed a programme of national capitalism and the utopian idea of bringing labour and capital into harmony with each other. Although more than half the Cuban population was urban, there was no attempt to mobilise the working class.

The Cuban Communist Party played no significant role in the struggle, which was won by Castro’s guerilla army, although there was a general strike by the proletariat at the culmination of the war.

At the time of the revolution, Cuba was effectively a colony of US imperialism. American monopolies owned a 90% share in the telephone and electrical system; about 50% in public services; and 40% in raw sugar. Most of Cuba’s sugar—the single main crop on which the entire economy relied—was exported to the US under a fixed yearly quota and set prices.

Yet, six months before taking power Castro assured journalists that he had no plans to nationalise foreign interests. His first government was dominated by professors, bankers and judges, indicating the lack of understanding by the leadership of the direction the revolution would have to take.

But immediately this government came under enormous pressure from the peasants and workers for land reforms, higher wages, etc. Castro initially went to Nixon (then US Vice-President) for aid, and condemned the CP for agitating for wage increases.

Nevertheless, under the pressure of the masses, he had to move to institute reforms. This struck at the interests of the American monopolies which, with the aid of the US government, tried to pressurise and blackmail Cuba into submission.

It was the bloody-minded policies of American imperialism in cutting off purchases of Cuban sugar that drove Castro towards the Soviet Union, and to a policy of nationalising the American-owned telephone and electric companies, oil refinery and sugar mills.

This process having been begun, the Cuban government was obliged to carry it through. There was no viable social basis in the country on which capitalism could rest.

It was from these circumstances that Castro emerged as a ‘Marxist-Leninist’, took the CP leaders into the government and, leaning on the support of the masses who were armed against the danger of US intervention, proceeded to construct a state essentially no different from that of Stalinist Russia.

The progressive nature of the planned economy was once again revealed in Cuba.

Agricultural production was rapidly increased by using previously unused land, once the grip of landlordism was broken. In the first five years of the revolution, industrial production increased by 50%.

Despite extreme under-development, Cuba is the only country in Latin America where children do not die of hunger. By 1975 Cuba had achieved the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America (lower even than parts of the US). Life expectancy is about ten years longer than, for example, Brazil or Chile.

In tackling unemployment, in the provision of health services and welfare, in overcoming illiteracy, the achievements of the Cuban revolution have been tremendous.

However, as Castro and the Cuban leadership have openly admitted, enormous problems for the Cuban people have begun to heap up. These are the result of the narrow base of the economy (80% of its exports being sugar), and the confinement of the revolution within a small island. Castro himself said in 1959 that if all Cuba’s sugar was sold to the West at market prices, it wouldn’t even have paid its fuel bill.


In fact Cuba receives large subsidies from the Soviet Union, mainly through the purchase of sugar at about double the world market price. But the weakness of the economy is shown by the fact that these subsidies constitute between 20% and 50% of the annual value of all Cuban production.

This sums up the impasse of the economies of the under-developed countries, even where capitalism is overthrown, unless a solution is found in the international revolution.

In Cuba, as in China, the peasant-based guerilla war inevitably resulted, not in a regime of workers’ democracy, but in a form of bonapartism increasingly bureaucratic and repressive in character.

Although resting on enormous popular support, from the outset Castro and a few close associates ruled from the top, and centralised absolute power through the apparatus of the Communist Party, which was taken over and restructured under Castroite control. The bonapartist nature of the state was shown all along in the mass rallies addressed by Castro, where the workers have been called on to shout “Si” or “No” to the slogans of the leaders, but not to discuss or decide on issues.

It was sixteen years after the revolution before the Castroite CP even held its first Congress. It was also only in the mid-1970s, when the regime was faced with problems of what it described as “passive resistance” from the workers, that it moved to draft a constitution providing for the election of ‘municipal assemblies’.

These form the lowest tier in a carefully constructed pyramid of government which continues to ensure Castro’s own control, through the apparatus of the CP, of all important offices.

A National Assembly, itself under the control of the bureaucracy, was formed for the first time in 1977. This was described as ending “the provisional period of revolutionary government”—a period of eighteen years!

Without workers’ democracy, the Cuban regime has consolidated itself as a permanent bureaucracy. Inevitably, despite its relatively progressive role, it enters more and more into contradiction with the needs and interests of the masses. This prepares the basis in the long run for the overthrow of the bureaucracy once there is a spread of the proletarian revolution through the Americas.

The transition to socialism in Cuba cannot be carried through except in the context of a Socialist Federation of all Latin America and the Caribbean, which itself would prepare the downfall of capitalism in its heartland of North America.

Transformation of Economy and State

In the stormy decades since the Second World War, profound changes have taken place in the consciousness of the working people of the under-developed world. Among the youth, the workers, and even large sections of the peasantry there is now an overwhelming desire for a revolutionary transformation of society on socialist lines.

On the one hand this is the product of the unrelieved burdens and impoverishment suffered under capitalism and imperialist domination. On the other hand it is the result of the heightened understanding and awareness brought about through the experience of struggle, through the effects of partial industrialisation and the growth of the proletariat, through the broader vision resulting from improvements in literacy, the education of the youth, and the advances of radio and telecommunications.

Even the most systematic bourgeois propaganda cannot conceal from the masses the material advances gained by their brothers and sisters in China, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the other states where capitalism has been overthrown.

As we have pointed out, workers in the advanced capitalist countries who have won for themselves bourgeois-democratic rights together with improvements in standards of living (at least in the past), are repelled by the totalitarian nature of the Stalinist regimes. In the ex-colonial and neo-colonial world, however, under the heel of capitalist dictatorships and suffering nightmare conditions, millions of workers and peasants look to the Soviet Union, China, etc., as examples of the triumph of ‘socialism’ over economic backwardness.

Such is the hatred of imperialism among the mass of the world’s population, and such the incapacity of capitalism to take the under-developed countries forward in this epoch, that even bourgeois dictators in the Third World countries are obliged to posture as ‘socialists’ in front of their people.

Anyone who looks to superficial labels, or to the claims of leaders about themselves, in the hope of finding there an indication of the real nature of the regime, will be faced with a hopeless morass of contradictions.


Even the right-wing Janata government in India described itself as ‘socialist’. The bourgeois-bonapartist President of Sri Lanka, Jayawardena, came to power on the promise of “going beyond Marxism”—and proceeded to attack all the social welfare reforms and political freedoms gained by the Sri Lankan workers and peasants in decades of struggle.

Bourguiba’s right-wing ruling party in Tunisia proclaims itself ‘socialist’. Numeiri’s party is called the ‘Sudanese Socialist Union’. Recently Senghor of Senegal formed the imperialist-inspired ‘Inter-African Socialist Organisation’.

In 1980 the Egyptian President Sadat, the darling of US imperialism, changed the description of the state in the constitution from “democratic socialist” to … “socialist democratic”!

‘Buddhist socialism’, ‘Arab socialism’, ‘African socialism’—the list and variety of labels is potentially unlimited. But none of them provides any scientific indication as to whether or not there has been a break with capitalism, and a qualitative transformation of society, the economy and the state.

While the state can raise itself above society and gain a degree of relative autonomy, in the last analysis it depends either on private property and a market-based economy, or on a system of state ownership and economic planning. The state is either bourgeois or proletarian in its essential character—and it is no use to try to dodge this question, as the Stalinists do, by describing the state in the under-developed world as ‘national-democratic’.

In practice it seems that states are described as ‘national-democratic’—regardless of their economic basis or the character of their regimes—according to the test of whether they are diplomatically friendly to Moscow or Peking!

From the standpoint of Marxism, the first test of the class nature of a state is whether production for private profit predominates in the society or has been decisively broken.

In itself, the amount of nationalisation which has taken place is not a sufficient criterion. On the one hand, even in a healthy workers’ state elements of capitalist enterprise would remain, but subordinated to the state-run economy. On the other hand, particularly in less developed countries with relatively few industries concentrated in the hands of a few companies, under the pressure of crisis a big percentage of the economy can be nationalised—but without the domination of the capitalist market being broken.

Even in Portugal, during the revolution of 1974, 70% of industry was nationalised—but because there was not a complete transformation of the state, the capitalist class was able to regain its hold, and Portugal has so far remained within the framework of capitalism.


The transformation from a bourgeois state to a proletarian state, even one deformed along the lines of proletarian bonapartism, occurs only where the power of the bourgeoisie is decisively smashed, where all elements of capitalist control over the state are systematically dismantled, and where the grip of imperialism is broken. Ordinarily this cannot be accomplished without the mobilisation and arming of the worker and peasant masses against the danger of bourgeois counter-revolution. This qualitative change, in turn, would ordinarily mean that a civil war would have to be fought to reverse the changes.

Such has been the weakness and bankruptcy of the capitalist class in the under-developed world that social revolutions have not been confined to countries such as China and Cuba, where the old state apparatus was defeated and demolished as the result of a peasant-based guerilla war. In Vietnam, in Mozambique, in Angola and other countries the revolution has clearly taken that course. But in Syria, Burma and Ethiopia, for example, the intense revolutionary pressures in society found an outlet through other channels.

In Burma, after the withdrawal of British imperialism, the state completely broke down in the midst of endemic civil war. Seeing no way forward on the basis of capitalism, a section of the officer caste of the army moved from the top to expropriate the bourgeoisie and organise a deformed workers’ state in the name of ‘Buddhist socialism’.

This was because of the complete incapacity of the bourgeoisie to solve the problems of the country, and it was easier because most of the capital in Burma was foreign, in the main British, Indian and Chinese. Thus, leaning on the support of the small working class and the peasantry, the transformation was carried through by a section of the existing state apparatus, with the example in front of them of their powerful neighbour, China.

In Syria a similar process took place. The Baath Socialist Party had the majority support of the officer caste. Indeed the coup was led by the Baath members of the latter. Leaning on the support of the workers and peasants, they snuffed out the weak and ineffective bankers, industrialists, merchants and landlords.

The attempt at counter-revolution to restore capitalism was brushed aside by the arming of the workers and 100 000 peasants who flooded into the cities. Imperialism was too weak to intervene because it would have unleashed an enormous wave of resistance throughout the Middle East and because, with the practically bloodless destruction of the power of the bourgeoisie, they had no social force on which to rely in Syria.

A similar process took place in Ethiopia, which we shall deal with in the next chapter. In all these cases, the old state machine was smashed as an instrument of the bourgeoisie, and reconstituted from above as a deformed workers’ state—bonapartist and totalitarian in character. In each case the development of the economy has gone forward on the basis of nationalisation of the main means of production, state ownership and planning.

This caricatured version of the permanent revolution again can be traced to the lag of the revolution in the advanced countries, the pathetic weakness of the bourgeoisie, the cul-de-sac of these societies, the impossibility of advancing on a capitalist basis, and not least the weakness of Marxist forces in the world and the inability of the proletariat to take the leading role nationally and internationally.

In the poor countries in the impasse of capitalism, the intellectual elite, the middle class and the junior officers in the army are themselves faced with a dismal future, surrounded by unemployment and starvation, and oppressed by a rotting bourgeois, landlord and merchant class only interested in salting their wealth abroad and incapable of advancing the country on modern lines. Looking for some way out, these middle layers see ‘socialism’ in China and Russia where their own equivalents form a privileged elite. In addition they have seen these countries being modernised at a rapid pace, with the ruling caste enjoying a stability and popularity unknown by the bourgeois-bonapartist rulers in the ex-colonial world.

Consequently, in their own interests, they can move to seize power and overthrow the bourgeoisie with the participation and support of the masses—provided they see no danger that the working class will threaten them with struggles beyond their control. Having used the workers and peasants as a battering ram, they invariably turn to suppress whatever elements of workers’ democracy may have been created in the process, and organise the state bureaucratically on the familiar Stalinist lines.

It is for all these reasons that the overthrow of capitalism in the under-developed world has taken place where capitalism has been weakest and where the independent movement of the working class has been either very weak or completely absent.


In those countries of the Third World where capitalism has undergone a certain development, where there has been a significant degree of industrialisation, where there is a tradition of working-class struggle, where the bourgeoisie has gained a certain basis of support in the middle class, and where the state apparatus has become consolidated as an instrument of bourgeois rule, it is a far more formidable task to carry through the overthrow of capitalism.

Here, as in the more advanced capitalist countries, the programme and leadership of the mass movement becomes decisive. It is also in these countries that the unscientific, bankrupt programme of Stalinism is revealed for what it is.

In Indonesia in the early 1960s, worsening economic conditions impelled large masses of workers and peasants into action. The radical bourgeois leader, Sukarno, balancing between the masses and the right-wing Moslem leaders, was forced into carrying out measures of reform that alarmed the capitalist class.

Not satisfied with piecemeal reforms, however, workers and peasants turned more and more to the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) to show them a revolutionary way forward. By 1965, with majority support for the PKI in the main centres of the country, conditions were ripe for mass insurrection to sweep aside the capitalist state.

Aware of this danger, the forces of reaction, were preparing for serious struggle. The PKI leadership, on the other hand, was timid and divided. At the urging of Peking, it preferred to try and shore up the increasingly ineffectual government of Sukarno, sooner than face the responsibilities of power.

After the opportunity had been lost, a half-hearted coup was attempted from the left, without any mobilisation of the masses for strikes or insurrection. Failing miserably, this turned the tide in favour of the counter-revolution.

Right-wing military leaders seized the opportunity to carry through a coup. At least 300 000—and possibly as many as a million—Communist and non-Communist workers and peasants were slaughtered in the capitalist vengeance that followed.

Likewise in the Chilean revolution of 1973, reformist policies of the Communist and Socialist leaders along the lines of the Popular Front of Spain in the 1930s, held the working class back from power. In the counter-revolution that followed, the military dictatorship of Pinochet, employing fascist methods, imprisoned and tortured or slaughtered every trade union activist and militant student or peasant they could lay their hands on.


Many bourgeois or petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders in the colonial and ex-colonial world, under the pressure of the masses, have also carried out far-reaching reforms on a capitalist basis. But failing to break decisively with capitalism, their programmes have been paralysed and reversed under the pressure of imperialism and the impasse of the productive system.

Thus, for example, the regime of Nkrumah in Ghana, stopping short of a revolutionary transformation of society, was overthrown and replaced by a right-wing military government. The radical programme of nationalisation and reforms under Nasser in Egypt was completely reversed by his successor, Sadat.

In Sri Lanka the reformist “Popular Front” government (including the CP) presided over falls in the living standards of the masses inevitable on the basis of capitalism. This led to its downfall, and a swing to the right. The present Bonapartist regime of Jayawardena is held back from bloody counter-revolution only by the organised strength and militant traditions of the Sri Lankan working class.

Effects of World Crisis

If the working people of the under-developed countries have endured nightmare conditions in the decade of the great post-war boom period of world capitalism, then with the new international crisis of capitalism they face a living hell.

The world market stagnates, and ‘Third World’ countries’ exports are growing at only one-fifth the rate which U.N. economists estimate would be required for their economies to progress.

The oil import bill of these countries is expected to rise nearly 600% in the course of the decade, while the prices of imported industrial goods continue to rocket.

At the same time, the prices of the primary products exported by these countries stagnates or falls. The overall prices of food, tropical beverages, vegetable oils and seeds, agricultural raw materials, minerals, ores and metals exported by the ‘developing countries’ are exported to be absolutely lower in 1982 than two years ago.

While their debt burden increases, and their need for further borrowing grows, it has become more and more difficult for the poor countries to raise the necessary loans. In 1979-1980, for example, the quantity of dollar credits raised by the non-oil developing countries on international markets fell by 25%.

Hence the turn to the International Monetary Fund for credits. But the price of IMF ‘assistance’ is invariably a set of ruthless conditions, requiring slashing attacks on the living standards especially of the already poverty-stricken urban population.

Thus an IMF deal with Morocco in May 1981 required immediate price rises of sugar (39%), cooking oil (28%), milk (14%), butter (76%), and flour (40%). The effect was devastating on the two million shanty dwellers of Casablanca, and led to a general strike, an uprising, a massacre by government forces and mass arrests.

Now the Reagan administration in the US insists that the IMF must tighten its lending policies still further! The crisis of capitalism in the under-developed world is starkly shown in the case of Latin America. There the average inflation rate is running at 60% (while in the Third World countries as a whole it is 40%). In 1981 overall economic growth in the region was only 1,2%. Average income declined absolutely, while the region’s foreign debt reached four times the level of 1977.

In Argentina, GNP dropped 6% and industrial output shrank 15%. At the same time the inflation rate was running at 120%! A tractor industry with a capacity of 30 000 tractors produced only 280 in the first four months of 1981.

Nothing could more graphically illustrate the crisis than the case of Brazil. This country, with a population of 120 million, has long been held up as a brilliant example of capitalist ‘success’ in the under-developed world.

Indeed, there has been a massive growth of industry, but as the bourgeois Economist (17/5/80) admitted, the vast majority of Brazilians “got next to nothing at all” out of it. In fact the poor became poorer.

Simultaneously, through the 1970s, there was a big increase in worker organisation, strike action and mass protest. Strike assemblies of up to 60 000 workers at a time took place. The unions began to build underground networks for organising strikes.

Under the pressure of the masses, the Brazilian capitalist regime attempted to maintain a high rate of economic growth during the world recession of the mid-1970s.

During the decade growth rates as high as 10% and 15% were achieved. This was financed by huge foreign borrowing, with the result that total foreign debt reached $65 billion by the end of 1981. This amounts to a considerably higher proportion of annual production than is the case even in Poland!

To finance this borrowing, Brazilian capitalism has been obliged to drive after a rate of growth of exports of 20-30% a year—which it will be impossible to sustain in the climate of world recession and the stagnating world market. As the Economist warned in 1980, “the international banking system should start girding its loins for the possibility that it may never again see some of the money which it splashed out to Brazil”.

In the domestic economy, on the basis of capitalism, the price of rapid growth and mounting debts has been an inflation rate running as high as 120%. At the same time, unemployment jumped from 10% to more than 25% of the existing labour force by the end of the 1970s. Just to keep unemployment steady, it is estimated that the economy would have to sustain a growth rate of 7% per year. But in the crisis year of 1981, the growth rate was no higher than 0-2% (some economists estimate that there was a 3% absolute fall in Gross National Product).


Against this background there have been repeated outbreaks of mass struggle, strikes by metal workers, the creation of a workers’ party, and rioting by students and young unemployed in the poor North-eastern region, leading to the worst clashes with troops in 50 years.

Also in the other ‘jewels’ of capitalist development in the ex-colonial world—Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan—flaws and cracks have begun to be exposed.

These have all been small enclaves of rapid industrialization, on the basis of big investment and cheap labour, in every case heavily dependent on the export of the goods they produce. All are now faced by a squeeze on their exports to the major industrialized powers, as the world market stagnates and pressures towards protectionism increase.

As the recent mass uprising in South Korea showed, even these countries will be unable in the period ahead to escape the turbulence, coups and revolutions which will more than ever become the picture of the ex-colonial world.

The International Implications

Reagan’s bellicose outbursts and paroxysms in foreign policy are an expression of the anxieties of American imperialism at the dangers of new outbreaks of revolution in the former colonial world.

The situation facing imperialism internationally is summed up by the editors of the Economist, who lamented in their new year edition of 1980 that two-thirds of the world’s 159 heads of government would go to bed that night understandably upset that they might be overthrown or murdered in a coup by breakfast the following morning!

There was an element of cunning in the former President Carter’s ‘human rights’ stance in foreign policy, which was designed to dress imperialism up in the sheep’s clothing of pretended democracy. This enabled the US administration both to exert cautionary pressures on the bourgeois bonapartist dictatorships of the Third World, while maintaining a posture of distance from their worst ‘excesses’. At the same time, underhand support could continue to sustain right-wing regimes in power.

But this policy—like every policy of imperialism today—proved completely unable to slow the advance of revolutionary movements. Carter himself soon passed over to a policy of preparing a “rapid deployment force” for the purpose of military intervention in the under-developed world.

Now with the right-wing Reagan administration, there is snarling and foaming at the mouth, while military forces for foreign intervention are being massively strengthened.

It is breath-taking hypocrisy for Reagan and Haig to piously condemn the military dictatorship in Poland, while whole-heartedly endorsing the capitalist dictatorships of Pakistan, Turkey, etc., with their ruthless suppression of all democratic expression and their horrific torture and murder of opponents.

While the decline of US imperialism is irreversible, this previously supreme world power cannot tamely accept the consequences of such weakening. It is impossible for the US ruling class to pursue a strictly ‘rational’ foreign policy, because every policy of imperialism is bankrupt.

Thus convulsions and the launching of military interventions is inherent in the situation.

But at the same time, US imperialism is held back from such steps by the realisation that they too are doomed to failure. The ruling class, and the Pentagon officials especially, still smart from the humiliating defeat suffered in Vietnam.

Now the domestic crisis of US capitalism interlinks with the crisis and upheaval of world capitalism. There is a growing appreciation in the working class and the middle class in the USA that attacks on jobs and living standards at home are linked to Reagan’s costly and aggressive foreign policy. Thus even the threat of military intervention in El Salvador has already provoked major demonstrations.

Moreover, the strategists of imperialism recognise the dangers of becoming bogged down in counter-revolutionary war. In Vietnam the US army virtually disintegrated, morally and physically, under the pressure of the protracted and unwinnable war and the obviously criminal character of the intervention.

The US forces in Vietnam collapsed to an even greater extent than the Tsar’s army in Russia in 1917. Alcoholism and drug-taking became widespread. This disintegration was one of the major factors in inducing the US ruling class to withdraw.

Today the US army is overwhelmingly comprised of working-class and unemployed youth, mainly drawn from the most deprived and oppressed sections of the population.

In 1979, over 60% of the recruits came from the 11% of American adults who do not have a high-school diploma. The relatively better-educated section of the army are the blacks, most of whom are there only because of the high levels of unemployment which they face in civilian society. 29% of the US army is now black—while only 12% of the US population as a whole is black.

It is enormously difficult for the commanders to maintain morale in this army. The army’s own official estimate is that 20% of its soldiers are now on one or other kind of drug.

There are therefore extreme dangers for US imperialism in becoming bogged down in extended war in the under-developed world, as would obviously be the case with an intervention in any of the countries with sizeable populations.


Even the situation in Central America, with the whole region in the spreading turmoil of guerilla warfare, military coups, etc., faces the US Administration with an unsolvable dilemma. While US military intervention could not be completely ruled out, at the same time it would only succeed in provoking further explosions there, in other countries, and ultimately in the US itself.

Of course, the fact that Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc., are located virtually in the jaws of the USA has provided stiffening for right-wing juntas, and has faced the peasants and workers with the necessity of immense sacrifices in the struggle against landlord and capitalist oppression.

In a number of countries of the under-developed world, a fear on the part of radical petty-bourgeois leaders of provoking US imperialist intervention may temporarily hold them back from moving towards the overthrow of capitalism. But the accumulated, unbearable stresses and tensions in these countries will lead to repeated explosions in the coming period, and compel new developments towards the setting up of proletarian bonapartist regimes.

Contrary to capitalist propaganda, it has not been the policy of either the Soviet or Chinese bureaucracies to encourage the overthrow of capitalism in the under-developed world.

The Stalinist states have given material and political support to wars of national liberation from colonial oppression—but have tried to encourage the leadership of these movements to remain within the framework of capitalism.

This flows from their entire policy of ‘detente’ with imperialism. While competing with the capitalist powers for influence internationally, they struggle with might and main to preserve a balance and prevent political conflicts from endangering their trade and other links with the major Western states.


The Stalinists have been forced to accept social revolution, where that has been the inevitable outcome of the victory of the national liberation war—as was the case in Vietnam. Also, naturally, once a proletarian bonapartist regime becomes established as an accomplished fact, it is in the interests of the Stalinists to try to form close relations with the new bureaucracy and provide aid in order to consolidate their own position in international diplomacy and politics.

But many are the examples where the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies have exerted pressure to prevent the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism in circumstances where this would disturb their own delicate balance with imperialism.

Thus Moscow exerted pressure on Nasser, when he was pursuing his radical policies of nationalisation in Egypt, in order to prevent him from going over the brink and so decisively changing the whole balance of forces in the Middle East. Similar pressure was exerted on Manley’s reformist PNP government in Jamaica in order to keep it within the framework of capitalism.

Although Moscow has tried to restrain the victorious Sandinista government in Nicaragua from moving towards proletarian bonapartism, the pressures towards this development are now becoming intense given the general ferment of revolution in Central America and aggressive provocation by US imperialism.

In Afghanistan, for decades the Soviet bureaucracy gave support to the monarchy!—but then accepted the consequences of the Afghan revolution as an accomplished fact.

It is a fable that the Soviet Union exported revolution to Afghanistan. In reality the bureaucracy moved only to shore up the proletarian bonapartist regime on its border, when this was threatened with overthrow by counter-revolutionary forces which would have led to a government in all probability hostile to the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, as is now notorious, the Chinese bureaucracy has given support to the dictatorship in Pakistan, maintained relations with Pinochet in Chile, and supported Unita in Angola, etc.

The foreign policies of Stalinism are dictated by the national self-interest of the respective bureaucracies, by considerations of great power politics, and not at all by the purpose of promoting international revolution.

Nothing could better illustrate this than Moscow’s policy towards Iran.

For years, during the bestial dictatorship of the Shah, the Kremlin’s policy was simply to try to draw the Iranian regime into friendly relations.

Not long before the Shah’s overthrow by the Iranian workers and peasants, the ‘Communist’ Brezhnev sent him the following telegram: “Your Majesty Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Light of the Aryans, King of Kings of Iran: On the occasion of a day of national rejoicing for the Iranian nation—the birthday of your majesty—please accept the sincere greetings of the Executive Committee of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and my own as well.”

The greeting on the same occasion from the ‘Communist’ leadership of China was scarcely less grovelling.

While, in the period before the Iranian revolution, the Iranian Communist Party (Tudeh Party) confined itself to passive opposition to the Shah and played no role of any significance in the revolution itself, it subsequently swung over on the instructions of Moscow to a position of uncritical support for the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic fanatics who have led the Iranian revolution into a blind alley.


Clearly, in those ex-colonial countries where capitalism has been overthrown, the proletarian bonapartist regimes which emerged have had no choice but to link their economies as far as possible with the other deformed workers’ states, and seek shelter against imperialism by linking up diplomatically with one or other of the great Stalinist powers.

Nevertheless they remain interlinked with the world market, and dependent in critical respects on the economies of the imperialist powers. Moreover, with the developing crisis in Russia, Eastern Europe (and China), it becomes less and less possible for the developed Stalinist countries to support industrialisation in their under-developed allies with massive injections of aid.

Only about 12% of aid to the less developed countries now comes from Eastern Europe, Russia and China. The Stalinist states’ share of long-term finance to the ‘developing countries’, which was 10% in 1971, fell below 2% in 1977. At the same time only about 5% of the ‘developing countries’ exports are sold to the centrally planned economies.

In this sense Cuba has been an exception, because of its strategic importance. To allow Cuba to fall once again under the domination of US imperialism would mean a major setback for the Soviet Union in all its international relations, and affect the balance of forces world-wide.

We have explained how, especially in the poorer and weaker countries of the under-developed world, the overthrow of capitalism has taken place without the proletariat playing the leading role. But in every case these revolutions have been nationally limited, and therefore, while able to take society forward for a period, inevitably become entangled in the contradictions resulting from bonapartism and the limitations of the nation-state. Ultimately, there is no way out for the peoples of the ex-colonial world in revolutions confined on national lines.

Thus the programme of Marxism in the colonial revolution has always been to organise the working class to unite the nation, fighting for the demands of the peasants and oppressed middle class, to overthrow capitalism, reconstruct society, and break down the national barriers.

In the key countries of the ‘Third World’, the countries where because of the size of their population, and the degree of development of industry, the repercussions of revolution would be continental in their sweep—in all these countries revolution is impossible without the working class playing the decisive role.

In India, in Brazil, in Argentina, in Nigeria (and of course in South Africa) the working class is the key to the future. These are among the decisive countries of capitalism in the ex-colonial world.

For a whole historical period, with the delay of the proletarian revolution in the West and the weakness of the forces of Marxism world-wide, the colonial revolution has been forced to take a ‘detour’, and appears to follow a course distinct from the movement of the international working class.

But now history has turned full circle once again, on to a higher plane. We are in the epoch not only of the colonial revolution, but now again of the social revolution in the West, and of the political revolution in the East.

All three sectors of the world intersect with each other. The policy of Marxism is to work to link the progress of the colonial revolution consciously to the struggles of workers of the industrialised West for the over-throw of capitalism in these areas. Just one revolution in an important industrialised country could change the situation throughout the world.

At the same time, the umbilical link of the under-developed world to the advanced centres of capitalism, means that the colonial revolution also has repercussions there.

Marx and Lenin saw the ultimate significance of the colonial revolution in the blows it struck against capitalism in the West. Marx had even believed that the Chinese revolution would bring the bourgeoisie in Britain and in Europe tumbling from power.

Certainly, today, the fate of imperialism and the West is linked with the movements that are taking place in the ex-colonial areas. The development of the colonial revolution in Latin America, Asia or Africa on a massive basis, extending through entire regions or continents, would strike enormous blows against and undermine capitalism in the West.

These revolutions will prepare the way for the organisation of regional Socialist United States in Europe, North America, Latin America, Africa and Asia, and the linking of the whole world into a democratic socialist federation of states.

Continue to Chapter Six