First published: October 1998
Over 700 people participated in the conference ‘150 years after the Communist Manifesto’ held in Paris in May. The congress, initiated by the French Communist Party and organised by a coalition of French Marxists, social democrats and academics, gave an indication of the current stage of recomposition of the international Marxist movement.
The conference was open and non-sectarian. It had a hybrid character, however – combining a large body of (largely male) academics with a significant number of political parties and currents.
The meeting confirmed that the international working class movement is still only beginning to pull itself together after the political disorientation which accompanied the reintroduction of capitalism into eastern Europe in 1989–91. That this disorientation is greatest in the imperialist countries was clear from the contributions at the congress. Even among those who shared the view that the events in Eastern Europe and Russia of 1989/91 constituted qualitative defeats for the working class, there were many differences on other matters.
In this context the organisers took the approach of seeking the widest possible debate. The Internet site for the event was open to anyone who wished to contribute a paper and authors were invited to verbally contribute at the meeting itself.
Views ranged from Eric Hobsbawm and others in transition to liberalism – for example, considering the Russian Revolution to have been a mistake. These are obviously of no interest. Secondly, a middle ground of confused people. Thirdly, and of most interest, roughly 20 to 30 per cent of the conference was made up of people actively engaged in fighting the imperialist offensive since 1989. All of these are of great interest. Among those in this latter current were Sri Lankan trade unionist Bala Tampoe, Tamas Kraus of the Hungarian Left Alternative, a number of members of the French Communist Party, Japanese economist Makoto Ito, various north American socialists, members of the Cuban CP, a large delegation from the Brazilian PT (Workers Party) and number of delegates from China. One of the Chinese contributions sought to reinstate Marx’s view that socialism is not utopian, it must take the productive forces forward and do everything possible to raise the living standards of the working class. That, he said, was the purpose of the Chinese economic reform.
This conference showed that the process of recomposition of the international working class movement following 1989 is at an early stage. Such initiatives to develop an international discussion are indispensable. As they become complemented by common experiences of great events in the international class struggle they will help lay the basis for growing political coherence of the international Marxist left.