IN 1848, when Marx and Engels proclaimed: “Workers of all lands, unite!” in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, they were reaffirming the common interests of working people everywhere in the struggle to overthrow capitalism.
Later, as the guiding mind of the International Working Men’s Association, Marx enthusiastically participated in its many acts of international solidarity, supporting workers who were fighting to improve their pay, working conditions and democratic rights.
Yet as Marx and the manifesto also made clear, such vital internationalism did not negate the importance of striving for state power in each country — winning the battle of democracy nationally and making the working class the ruling class.
Moreover, the Communist Manifesto outlined a programme of measures that a workers’ government should enact in order to make deep inroads into the wealth and power of the capitalist class, as the first steps towards reconstituting society on a socialist basis.
In 1920, Lenin and the communists extended the Marxist exhortation to read: “Workers and oppressed peoples of all lands, unite!”
Thus they recognised the growing importance of supporting the fight of peoples for colonial freedom, against capitalism in its imperialist epoch of crisis, war and socialist revolution.
Since then, that epoch has survived revolutions in Europe, Asia and Latin America. International Workers’ Day should therefore remind us not only that capitalism still needs to be overthrown.
It should also reinvigorate us with the knowledge that in many countries the forces of trade unionism, anti-imperialism, socialism and communism are recovering from the massive counter-attack launched against them in the 1970s.
The case for socialism — the only real antidote to capitalist exploitation, war and environmental disaster — is stronger than ever. That’s why capitalism’s more perceptive business, political and intellectual leaders know full well that the ideas of socialism can regain lost ground.
That’s why, too, anti-communism remains a central part of ruling-class propaganda in the West, as the mass media here gloss over the resurgence of state and fascist anti-communism in many parts of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe today.
Because anti-communism is invariably the prelude to anti-socialism and anti-collectivism across the board, it is in the interests of everyone on the left to oppose it.
This does not mean abandoning criticism of the communist tradition and its parties. But it does mean defending the rights of communists and socialists to organise and campaign free from state persecution and fascist violence.
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain and the party’s candidate for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.
He is a contributor to 21centurymanifesto