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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

What it means to be a communist and revolutionary today

by Michael Chant

A keynote opening given by the leader of the RCPB-ML at a joint seminar with the NCP that was held recently in London.

TAKING THE topic at face value, and giving an answer in a nutshell, one could say to be a communist means seeing the face of the New in the crisis of the Old, and working for the necessary change, for the transformation of the Old into the New, with revolutionary sweep.

Further, one cannot conceive of being a communist without membership of a communist party, a modern type of party which mobilises and organises the people to defend their own interests, collective, individual and the general interests of society.

And, as both propositions imply, the communist party takes up the problems of the day, whether national or international, with the spirit of proletarian internationalism, in order to provide solutions and to advance the progress of society.

But, as always, the nub of the definition centres around how the question poses itself. To be a communist is not necessarily synonymous with being new and revolutionary. It is great that in our two parties, if one wants to separate them, we share the name communist; and one has New in its name and the other Revolutionary. I think this emphasises a common aspiration. It is difficult to think of a communist party worthy of the name that is not a party of revolutionary action, and which fights for the New. It seems to us essential that this quality is present.

Being new and revolutionary is an act of being. In contrast, when it is posed, what it means to be a communist, one is invited to think of ‘communist’ as a category, how many criteria one fulfils, what the communist positions are, and so on. It is interesting how much difference a little ‘a’ can make: from ‘to be a communist’ to ‘to be communist’. In other words, ‘to be communist’ is not a question of ideological beliefs. It is a question of action, of structures, of membership. At the same time, how can it not include being new and revolutionary, immersing oneself in the struggles of the working class and people for their rights and interests, struggles which are in defence of the rights of all, and recognising the urgency of change, having a burning flame that the New has to come into being, since the political, economic, cultural and every other kind of crisis of the Old world is causing havoc and suffering to the people wherever they are in the world. In this respect, being communist is to have an optimism, to see in the movements of the people, whether against war, whether against the anti-social offensive, that the outcome can be something positive, creative, the people mobilised and organised to speak and act in their own name and have fidelity to the ensemble of all human relationships and what they are revealing, most importantly the need for political power. This looks like it is closer to how the question poses itself, and what it means to be a communist, new and revolutionary, today.


So, ‘today’. This is crucial, because the argument is sometimes put that a communist party can only be revolutionary when there is a ‘revolutionary’ situation. So, then, what it means to be new and revolutionary today. It is the revolutionary nature and character of the party that matters, the revolutionary culture and driving force within it. But it is true that the revolutionary actions of the communist party are not to be understood as storming Parliament or Windsor Castle with an armed people’s militia. Nor is it the answer to return to a catechism of Lenin’s words that a revolutionary situation consists of when working people do not want to live in the old way and the ruling class cannot rule in the old way. Or, one could look at it from the point of view that that situation characterises the present, with the destruction of the public authority!

But one can characterise the issue as what does the communist party take up for solution in this period of our era. When in the 1980s the world was going through its turning point from flow to ebb of revolution, of which, for example, the coming to power of Gorbachev in the Soviet Union was an example, the conclusion could be drawn that no force could act in the old way. Tony Blair tried to convince the world that there is a Third Way, but his new type of way was not in fact new, but pro-war, anti-worker, pro-covenant thesis.


What might be said is that what is taken up for solution today is the battle of democracy, of which the defence of the rights of all is part, and which is characterised by the people being the decision-makers versus ‘representatives’ of the people claiming to act in their name but serving a fictitious person of state. In our view, not to engage in this battle of democracy condemns you to extinction today, particularly the communists. So these are crucial fronts of struggle that affect the lives of everyone: for economic well-being, for a ban on the use of force in settling conflicts, for the protection of the environment. It is our view that people are expressing their deepest desires for something new with these demands, which can be characterised as engaging in the battle of democracy, of the necessity to establish an anti-war government.

Just to quote from the article Era, which Hardial Bains wrote in April 1991: “The main content of the era remains the same, but the forms of struggle have to be changed so that the working people can grasp and fight for the realisation of those demands which could improve their situation, bring peace, and protect the environment. The new situation demands a new approach and solutions that working people want.” So the tasks of today present themselves with profound meaning as engaging in the battle of democracy, taking it through to the end. One could say that communists present one face to the world, not a revolutionary face and a reformist face. It is a matter of our being. The working class will emancipate the whole of humanity through revolution, through the act of emancipating itself.

In our view, confusion arises when ‘revolution’ becomes an act of belief rather than a historical outcome of the working class and people participating in making history. In this sense, ‘revolution’ as a belief simply says that the bourgeois ruling is overthrown by force with an act of revolution, to be replaced by the proletariat ruling by force. But the state form must be changed profoundly, and it is not a question of force – it is a question of bringing into being those arrangements that empower the people to be the decision-makers. We stand with the slogan: “There Is An Alternative! One Humanity, One Struggle!”

That is to say, people are the history makers. How can the communists mobilise and organise the working class and people to this end, with this consciousness? The communists are not in a competition to best describe the ills of capitalism and of US imperialism striving for domination in the world. Communists are striving to develop the proletarian front and to provide an alternative, so that the New can overcome the resistance of the Old and prevail.

Not only is the history-making of the 1917 October Revolution still unfolding – but the battle of democracy from the time of the English Civil Wars has still to be brought to completion! It is not a matter of indifference whether this battle is joined or not!

The working class must stand at the head of the struggles of the people to turn things around in their own favour, and modern definitions are needed, not catechisms. That means that organising work for the communists takes pride of place. This means advancing step by step, accomplishment by accomplishment, dealing with the state disinformation that puts a veil over the need for political power. The character of the veil is that the people are told there is no question of achieving that power for themselves, but only replacing one set of ‘representatives’ by another, left-wing versus right-wing. In this way, the conception that the people are being deprived of decision-making power gets thoroughly obscured or put off sine die [indefinitely]. We need a vantage point and a line of march to impart to the working class and people!

So, very briefly, that is what I wanted to say on what it means to be a communist – new and revolutionary – today!