Letter to a comrade overcome by pessimism

Living in an imperialist country, where the movement is weak and at a low ebb, it is easy to get discouraged or disillusioned with communist work.

Let us take inspiration from those who came before us. From those who worked tirelessly even when the movement was in full retreat. Our work is work that humanity needs to be done, no matter how hard or how slow the going.

Many people, overcome by pessimism and overwhelmed by the difficulties we face, allege that it is not possible to do communist work in the present climate.

Because the working-class movement is so thoroughly imbued with bourgeois thinking of every kind, and we therefore cannot set up a large powerful party, therefore, they say, we should not set up a party at all! Apparently, if we wait around a while longer while the bourgeoisie gets going pauperising the working class, then the general level of consciousness will rise and it will then be possible to set up a communist party.

This is a totally false argument: although the working class will no doubt spontaneously rise up when their conditions of life become totally unbearable, without the leadership of a genuine communist party that has been steeled in struggle, the spontaneous resistance of the masses will not be capable of overthrowing the bourgeois ruling class.

To develop a party that is capable of giving leadership to the spontaneous revolt of the masses requires the gathering together of all those who can, exceptionally, see ahead the need for revolutionary leadership and who are prepared to undergo the sacrifices that are necessary in the course of fighting to raise both their own class consciousness and that of the masses in general. Such people are few and far between today, but it is their duty to collaborate and cooperate in trying to bring in the next layer of thinking workers, and then the next.

We should understand that the shortcomings of our party, which are undoubtedly many and various, are neither proof that a party cannot be built ‘at this time’ nor an excuse for ratting out of the struggle. There never has been and never will be a party that is perfect in every respect, nor any individuals within the party who are perfect in every respect.

Our members are just as much subjected to the siren songs of bourgeois reaction as anyone else and will therefore tend to make woeful errors. The way to deal with this is not to walk away but to learn to fight backwardness within the party the better to be able to fight it outside the party.

The struggle is pitiless and never-ending. It requires stamina enhanced by revolutionary consciousness, with very little hope of being appreciated ever. The reward is simply knowing that you are preparing the weapons for a successful revolution, which will lead humanity onto the next stage of civilisation when there will be no hunger in the world, no war, and when a stop can be put to the ecological destruction of our planet.

The reward is only to know that you are trying your very best to do your duty to the working class – an absolutely essential duty that few in Britain are currently prepared to undertake, since it all seems far too hard.

Our party is in its infancy, and as a result is particularly vulnerable. People abound who are anxious to strangle it at birth before it gets too strong. These include not only the bourgeoisie and its secret services – at least they get paid for doing the dirty work – but also individuals who, because of a petty-bourgeois or labour aristocratic outlook, have absolutely no faith in the working class and therefore see no point in making sacrifices for its benefit.

They are brought up to ‘believe in themselves’, ie, to believe that their successes are down to their individual genius, and those who remain downtrodden remain so because they are not fit for anything else. The only way to help the downtrodden, they think, is by do-gooding acts of bountiful charity on the part of ‘better’ people such as themselves.

Such people cannot but pour scorn on a party such as ours, which, contrary to their most deeply held beliefs, was formed to prepare the working class masses to seize power and hold on to it. They delight in our party’s difficulties, in a manner of Trotsky’s gloating over everything the Soviet revolution had not managed to achieve; it confirms them in their class prejudice that the cause of proletarian revolution is quite hopeless.

When the struggle is at its most difficult, it is understandable that comrades can succumb to reaction. It is very dispiriting that the struggle is so hard and shows little immediate evidence of any success. What people don’t always realise, however, is that every major breakthrough is preceded by long periods when nothing much appears to be happening.

But the work we do does have an effect – it’s just that we don’t always see it. The cumulative effect of our work, however, could one day make the difference between a successful outcome to revolution and a failure – failure being certain if that work is not done.

One of the important functions of a party is to give courage to members when they are discouraged, to remind them of their historical mission and try to rescue them before they are lost forever and the working class is deprived of one of its precious soldiers. If a comrade who is undergoing doubts refuses to speak to those who could help, then it is almost certain that their wavering will consolidate into a permanent and cowardly retreat.

We cannot allow ourselves to give up the struggle just because it is difficult, leaving others to shoulder the burden alone. If we abandon party work so as to have more time for family teas with Auntie Gertrude, will we really be able to enjoy these feasts knowing that every five seconds a child is dying unnecessarily while we do nothing at all to get rid of the imperialist system that is causing those deaths?

When we sit with our children in front of the television and images come up of other people’s children who have been killed and maimed in imperialist wars, will we be able to live with the fact that we are not working the only way it is possible to work to get rid of imperialism – that we ratted out of building the party of the working class because other things seemed more important or more enjoyable?

We have only one life to live. Let the immortal words of Nikolai Ostrovsky be our guide:

Man’s dearest possession is life and, since it is given to him but once, he must so live as to feel no torturing regrets for years without purpose; so live as not to be seared with the shame of a cowardly and trivial past; so live, that dying he can say: ‘All my life and all my strength were given to the finest cause in the world – the liberation of mankind.’