Our revolutionary tasks at the present time

Swedish communists plot the way forward at their inspiring 40th anniversary conference.

The 16th Congress of the Communist Party of Sweden (formerly the KPMLr) was held in Gothenburg from 6-8 January 2011. It was a businesslike and energetic affair, laying down the major tasks for the party over the next four years.

Following the party’s disappointing showing in Sweden’s parliamentary and local elections last year, a proposition was discussed regarding whether the party should participate in the elections in four years’ time. After intense debated, it was decided that it was too early to assess whether this would be the best tactic at that time, and the responsibility was put on the incoming central committee to take this decision.

Incidentally, as a result of the party’s participation in the election campaign, it received several hundred applications for membership. The reason for the relatively low votes cast in its favour appears not to have been lack of support for the party, but votes given by people who would normally have supported the communists to bourgeois-liberal and social-democratic parties in order to keep out the extreme right wing.

The congress was attended by the Cuban and north Korean ambassadors, delegations from Vietnam and Laos, and representatives from French, Spanish, Nepali, Belgian and Latvian communist and socialist organisations, among others.

We reproduce below the speeches given by Anders Carlsson, the leader of the CPS, and the brief message given on behalf of our party by our International Secretary.

Anders Carlsson

Comrades! Distinguished guests!

We are in a period of long and deep reaction, which began 25 years ago and has intensified.

When will the time come to turn a page, time for a new period of revolutionary and progressive development? In Sweden, regrettably, reaction is still gaining ground. Resistance against capitalism is weaker than ever, despite the reasons to resist capitalism having become ever greater.

Nevertheless, in various parts of the world there are glimmers of light. We can and should be inspired by the workers’ struggles in countries like Greece, France, Spain, Britain and Ireland. We can and should be delighted that Latin America continues to move to the left, notwithstanding the challenges they face. We can and should applaud the fact that imperialism is bogged down in Afghanistan.

We should also note that poor countries are shaking off the clutches of imperialism. There is a new assertiveness in the South, manifested in the meetings on climate change that took place in Copenhagen and Cancun, where the poor countries formed a front against imperialism’s attempt to dump their responsibility on others. It is also shows in the fact that, shortly before this congress, five latin-american countries started decided to recognise Palestine as an independent state within its 1967 borders. This recognition may at a certain level be merely symbolic, since Israel maintains full control on the ground. But as a political challenge to the world order dictated by the United States, it nevertheless still sends out a strong signal. It shows that the US can no longer monopolise the peace process, which remains a fraud as long as Palestine is not allowed to exist.

Despite these and many other exceptions, the overall picture remains that it is reaction that is the main trend in today’s world.

Shortly after our last congress, capitalism descended into its deepest crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Periodic crises of capitalism have broken out ever since the early 1800s, when the first crisis of overproduction engulfed England. Crisis is an expression of capitalism’s internal contradictions, but eventually engenders the resolution of these contradictions through destruction that eventually restores the rate of profit for capital to acceptable levels, when the wheels can start spinning again.

The current crisis does not, however, follow the classic pattern. What the extreme liberals call capitalism’s ‘self-healing’ powers have not been allowed to operate. Instead, politicians around the world threw unimaginable amounts of taxpayers’ money to rescue banks and financial institutions from the process of ‘self-healing’, ie, from bankruptcy.

The political bailout has secured capital owners’ money and it has saved the pyramid of leveraged consumption, but it has by no means solved the crisis. These unimaginable sums merely restored capitalism to the situation prevailing immediately before the acute crisis set in.

This has, for the moment, helped capitalism stay on its legs. But when the unimaginable sums have now to be recovered through wage cuts, layoffs, lower pensions and the slaughter of public welfare, the underlying problems of the capitalist economy are aggravated seven-fold. For without consumption, production cannot be sustained.

The crisis is by no means behind us. The political bailout has parried the first outbreak, but has laid the basis for new outbreaks.

The crisis is, of course, an argument for revolution. The crisis reveals the brutality of capitalism, through mass unemployment and the slaughter of the welfare state. Crisis punctures the myth of wealth-creating capitalism.

However, there is no automatic leap from crisis to the development of a revolutionary consciousness, as is painfully clear here in Sweden. Crisis has affected the working class in this country so far only by making it even more dejected and even more docile.

The explanation for this lies in the historical influence of social democracy. I do not think that Swedish workers are much different from workers in France and Greece, who are fighting to defend their wages and pensions.

In fact, the downsizing programme now being launched in Europe took place in Sweden in the 1990s, when over 100,000 jobs were lost in the public sector, and when a new pension scheme was surreptitiously foisted on us, which is now reducing pensions automatically.

The crucial difference, however, is that Sweden lacks a revolutionary catalyst – a force capable of breaking the passivity and instilling courage in a working class demoralised by the influence of social democracy.

This is our challenge. The revolutionary potential of the crisis will be unleashed when a revolutionary catalyst transforms the subjective force. I’m not saying it’s easy or that it is done in a snap, but our task is to build the party so strongly that we can provide the revolutionary catalyst.

We must not give up or tone down the fight against the crisis, but work with a bulldog’s tenacity. Currently, it is above all about propaganda; to demonstrate through the crisis of the capitalist system anomalies for the most aware. But the situation may change sooner than you think. Remember 1969, when wildcat strikes broke out like a bolt from the blue!

What avenues a future workers’ struggle may choose remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: the dialectics of history will, as in 1969, break through the current arbetarpassiviteten (passivity of the working class).

It has been said many times before, but I’ll say it again: socialism is, at its most fundamental, a negation of capitalism. It is the realisation that it is no longer possible to live in the capitalist way. It is the closely related issues – the right to work, to security, to welfare needs, to a good school for our children, to a fulfilling life – which are the breeding ground of socialism. It is socialism rooted in these homely issues that provides revolutionary potential in times of crisis.

2010 elections

The election in 2010 delivered a stinging defeat to the social democrats. Since then, the crisis has deepened. Currently, the social democrats have fallen below 30 percent in the polls.

It is necessary to say a few words about the relationship of social democracy to the working class, since it is obvious that there are differing perceptions of the social-democratic party. It is argued by the central committee that influence of social democracy on the working class is slowly being eroded, while the comrades from Trelleborg in motion 33 argue that social democracy no longer has a grip on the working class at all.

As suggested by the central committee response to motion 33, this issue is of crucial importance, since it deals with our main strategic task, as formulated by communist parties since the days of the Comintern.

Many colleagues over the years have reported on social democracy’s increasing absence from politics in the workplace. It is obvious that social democracy’s organisational presence in the workplace has weakened and almost disappeared. However, it must never be forgotten that the Social Democratic Party is organisationally present at all times through its control over the union movement.

True, union membership levels have declined. It is also true that confidence in the union is very low. But nevertheless, unions are still important as an expression of class organisation, and they provide social democracy with an indirect organisational influence in the workplace.

Social-democratic influence is not only expressed in organisational terms. Ideological influence plays just as large a role and is not easily escaped from. Exit polls at the time of the 2010 elections showed that the social democrats got 51 per cent of trade-union members’ votes and the Left Party 9 percent. The figures show that it may be reasonably assumed that organised workers are voting in a more bourgeois way those who are unorganised.

Social democracy is a bourgeois ideology. It is a Trojan horse in the working class movement. This bourgeois influence cannot be erased, or even significantly reduced, until it is challenged by a class-conscious workers’ movement; by an ideological stance that separates the working class as a class by itself.

The political situation in Sweden is tough for a party like ours. I would even say that there has never been a tougher time in all our 40 years, even during the 1980s. Without workers in struggle, a communist party is on starvation rations.

The fact that we are cursed with four years of the Reinfeldt government is obviously bad; very bad. But a right-wing election victory is only an expression of the tough situation, which is basically determined by the balance of power between the classes.

It is alleged that it is the workers’ complete capitulation to capitalism that gives the right wing the chance to gain influence among sections of the working class.

A labour movement must articulate an alternative to capitalism. Even a mawkish reformist must present a vision of a better society for the many. Without such a vision, the working class cannot fight for its own interests and remains at the mercy of other class forces.

Against this reasoning, it can be argued that Carl Bildt, during his time as prime minister, spoke very proudly about his vision for regime change. But Bildt’s regime change was not about a different society, but only about freeing capitalism from all sorts of reformist ‘shackles’.

The same is true of Reinfeldt’s line calling for people to be put back to work, which only aims to provide capitalism with cheap labour. With the deterioration of the unemployment insurance fund and health insurance, and with competition introduced into everything whose quality was previously protected from profiteering, Reinfeldt is satisfied. Now let the market do the rest.

Oscar Wilde once wrote that “a map that lacks a utopia is not even worth looking at”. We communists are not utopians constructing grand social projects in ivory towers, but I still feel that there is a healthy core to this statement. The bourgeoisie wants people to lack vision. It does not want them to see any alternative to the current situation and wants them only to try to cope as best they can within the status quo. Lack of vision is deeply conservative.

But the vast majority of people want to see a utopia, want to believe in the possibility of creating a better society. It is when utopia disappears from the map that hopelessness spreads.

Here, I think we have another challenge. For what we lack is certainly not an alternative to capitalism. Our socialist alternative is rooted in reality, actually exists, and provides a rational response to the problems that capitalism causes for people.

As I said: in its most basic essence, socialism is a negation of capitalism.

Before turning to our own party, I must say a few words on the Sweden Democrats, [the Swedish equivalent of the BNP], whose seat in parliament is sad news. The Sweden Democrats’ success came as no surprise to any of us, although we were hoping it would be possible to keep them out. I thought that their embrace of islamophobia would isolate them from a good part of their potential electorate, but I thought wrong. The SDs represent the most vulgar expression of imperialist policy and ideology.

The ‘war on terror’, which presents Islam as its main enemy, created fertile ground for the islamophobia that the SDs represent, fertilised every time some fanatic blows himself up, as in Stockholm just before Christmas, to say nothing of a string of news items concerning supposed plots ‘foiled by police’. In this respect, the SDs’ success is a side effect of the bourgeoisie’s need to justify its imperialist policy, involving Sweden’s participation in the war in Afghanistan. As long as the ‘war on terror’ continues, therefore, the SDs will be helped by it.

Moreover, the bourgeoisie needs scapegoats when all the burdens of the crisis are to be loaded on to workers and ordinary people.

The state of our party

We realised early that the 2010 election would be tough for us, yet we have honestly to say that, with a few exceptions, our results have been awful.

Of course, we communists only use the elections as a platform to propagate our policies more widely and to build the party. While this is correct in principle, we must not be indifferent to the election results. In a country like Sweden, with a deep-rooted parliamentary tradition, the actual election results are also important, not because we espouse a parliamentary road to socialism, but because a good election result and parliamentary representation gives us more legitimacy in the extra-parliamentary arena, which we see as the most important.

Everybody agrees that the extra-parliamentary struggle is the key to our electoral success. The non-appearance of extra-parliamentary struggle was an extremely negative factor in the 2010 election.

But the opposite is also the case. In order to fully play the role we want to play in the extra-parliamentary struggle, we need the platform of electoral success and parliamentary representation.

This puts in its full perspective the loss of the 2010 election. We shall at this congress discuss what could and should have been done differently. But we cannot quibble about the declining importance of voting. It is adverse to the party.

Nevertheless, the decreased number of our votes is not the whole truth about the 2010 election. All participating organisations reported making many new contacts in the election campaign and many new members have joined the party and participated in workshops. We have also been able to hold many public meetings, mostly with a much larger number of participants than has been usual in recent years.

This autumn, we set up two new party branches, in Karlstad and in Värnamo, which is not the outcome of the election but of more prolonged work, but which nevertheless must be mentioned on the plus side.

We should seize the opportunities offered by the fact that capitalism is busy revealing itself as unfit for both humans and the environment, while we ourselves are the carriers of a clear and realistic alternative.

Comrades, this congress is held as we celebrate the party’s 40th birthday – a little late. In this week’s Proletarian, I write that the party is perhaps not quite what we hoped when we started KFML(r) in1970, and I am sure most people will probably agree. But the result is definitely good enough. The party is perhaps a bit emaciated by the absence of class struggle, by its starvation diet, but yet it is reassuringly vibrant and successful.

As a bonus, we have a new generation of communists prepared to take responsibility for the party. We have not only survived when others perished, but we have also successfully implemented the rejuvenation that is the basis for any party’s survival.

Let us proceed with the congress, analysing our activities and exposing errors and shortcomings, all in the ruthless but comradely way of communists. I hope for a good and constructive discussion that gives us strength to face the challenging opportunities that we face.

I conclude by congratulating our dear 40-year-old. This party has a bright future.

CPGB-ML speech

In Great Britain, we greatly admire the splendid work your party is doing in restoring the prestige of communism following the dreadful blow dealt to the cause of human progress by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the people’s democracies of eastern Europe. You may think that your progress in Sweden is slow, even if sure, but I can tell you that compared to Britain you are really racing ahead.

Nevertheless, we do share certain similarities with Sweden. For many decades, our trade unions and other organisations formed to promote progressive causes – such as Stop the War – have been largely controlled by the representative of bourgeois politics in the working-class movement and apologist for imperialism, namely, social democracy.

The chief social-democratic party is, of course, the Labour party, but it is surrounded by Trotskyist and revisionist satellites who work hard to maintain within social democracy’s orbit all those who become disillusioned with its blatant pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist activities.

We were able to observe, for instance, in the Stop the War leadership, organisations that worked to secure victory for the Labour party in elections even as the then Labour government was waging criminal wars and illegally occupying Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, during the last decade of Labour government, it has become virtually Impossible to ignore the party’s reactionary nature, especially as it showed its determination to make the working class pay for the capitalist crisis. The poorer sections of the working class have long tended to abstain in elections, convinced of the fact that no party standing had anything to offer them at all. In last year’s election, even better-off workers and intellectuals abandoned Labour as they realised that they, too, were expected to make sacrifices in the government’s desperate attempts to save capitalism.

The question is: what is to happen to these disillusioned workers? In the absence of a strong communist movement, they for the most part remain passive, or vote for the alternative bourgeois-democratic party. A few are lured into supporting the far right.

In view of the non-stop propaganda by all bourgeois political parties, and almost the whole of the bourgeois media, suggesting that British workers would be better off if it were not for immigrants coming to take their jobs and social support, what is surprising is that there are not more people turning to right-wing parties with an overtly anti-immigrant agenda.

However, by and large, British people remember the second world war well enough to hate fascism, so, for the moment at least, these parties have relatively little support. Unfortunately, they do quite well compared to communists, whose forces are in total disarray, split as the movement is by the brutal opportunism of revisionism and Trotskyism, and even to some extent sharing the disgrace of social democracy.

So you see we are facing a veritable Augean stable. But we like to think that a trouble shared is a trouble halved, and that our troubles will be halved because we share them with you.

There have been some very positive developments lately. I know you will have seen British students battling the police as the latter try to keep control over demonstrations protesting against the increase of annual university fees to some £9,000 pounds (100,000 kroner) as well as taking away the £30 a week support given to poor children to stay at school from the ages of 16-18.

The students are being very militant. The social democrats have condemned them as anarchists, but this is to overlook the fact that, in Britain, several demonstrations take place every week and the ruling class simply ignores them.

It ignored a demonstration of 2 million people who went on the streets to try to prevent the British government from going to war against Iraq. The poor workers who, in demonstrating against Margaret Thatcher’s iniquitous poll tax, damaged a lot of expensive motor cars were able to persuade the government that the tax had to be withdrawn.

Now the new British government has announced cuts of £80bn to public expenditure that will fall heavily on the working class. Already announced are thousands of job losses, severe reduction of public services, cuts in welfare benefits that were never generous, steeply increased rents for public housing combined with restrictions on housing benefit (which will force poor families to move to low-rent areas where there are no jobs), and an increase in VAT from 17.5 to 20 percent.

It has been pointed out that the fortune of Britain’s 1,000 richest people is £320bn. But they are not, in the national interest, being asked to sacrifice the £80bn that add up to a mere quarter of this – or indeed anything at all – even though they would still be stinking rich if they did hand over the money. Instead, it is the poor and the middle class who are being squeezed.

Very shortly, the cuts will make themselves felt throughout the working class, which will be subjected to an abrupt fall in its standard of living unparalleled in our lives before. I think that when this happens, our Viking blood will out and we will react like British bulldogs whose bone is being snatched away. Together, the working class and students will, in all likelihood, give the British bloodsucking bourgeoisie some serious trouble.

It is therefore crucial that we build up our party so that it is able to saturate all sections of the British working class. We need to build awareness of our party’s programme and to instil the working class with faith in its ability not only to overthrow capitalism but also to build socialism.

We must do it. The economic crisis of overproduction is only being exacerbated by countries everywhere cutting their public expenditure and the earning power of the masses. As this happens, we know that the imperialist powers will become more and more desperate and sooner or later resort to war to try to save themselves. In fact, the process of war is already underway with the imperialist attacks on Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan, gradually spreading to Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

However, imperialism’s principal contradiction is with China, and a propaganda war against that country has already started in earnest. Sooner or later, it is probable that imperialism, in its desperation, will launch itself into a suicidal war against China.

But this will be a war in which the other side will have the means to strike back against imperialism in its home territories. With modern weaponry developed to hideous degrees of awfulness, such a war would be even more terrible than anything humanity has known before.

To avoid such a catastrophe, the overthrow of the imperialist powers in their home countries is an urgent necessity. Their rule must be replaced by a peaceful socialist order. It is literally a question of Victoria o Muerte (Victory or death).

It only remains for us to wish you every success, both with your inspiring congress and on the road to proletarian revolution in the coming years.