Eclectic and utopian, the CPB’s programme is full of pious wishes but its authors don’t seem to have the first clue about the realities of the state or of class war.
Alternative economic and political strategy
“This struggle against the policies of British state-monopoly capitalism can open the road to socialism, although any strategy for such fundamental change must be able to outline the distinct stages of revolutionary transformation. This in turn raises the question of how a popular, democratic anti-monopoly alliance would seek political power, including the role of elections and governments.” (Britain’s Road to Socialism, Programme of the Communist Party of Britain, 2020, p45, our emphasis throughout)
“The Communist party does not advocate separation, because it would fracture working-class and progressive unity in the face of a largely united ruling capitalist class” – but seeks to work with, please and praise the separatist parties! Once cannot run with the fox and hunt with the hounds.
The ‘fight on three fronts’ (economic, political and ideological/cultural)
All this leads, says the BRS, to its conclusion: the need to fight on three fronts (just three?)
1. The economic front for pay and conditions (trade union struggle).
3. “On the ideological front, the left and the labour and progressive movements [Labour party] have to engage consistently, creatively and rigorously in the battle of ideas against those of the ruling class.”
“A mass understanding must be developed that democracy is not an institution but a process of emancipation.” A more abstract slogan, confusing the question of democracy, and of class interest, class rule and class struggle, would be hard to formulate.
“On all three fronts, the Morning Star as the daily paper of the labour movement and the left, with its editorial policy based on Britain’s Road to Socialism, plays an indispensable role in informing, educating and helping to mobilise the forces for progress and revolution. As such, it needs and deserves the support of all socialists, communists and progressives, so that it can further strengthen the working-class movement and its allies in the battles ahead.”
The Morning Star, not formally the paper of the CPB, but now an independent publication closely associated with it, and dependent on the funding of the trade union movement, is least of all able to break with the Labour party, being absolutely dependent on the Labour-dominated trade unions for its funding stream and for sales of its unpopular product, without which the paper would cease to exist.
It is not only eclectic and faddish, but tends towards plain liberalism, is often fiercely anti-Soviet and in fact highly sectarian – its guiding principle being loyalty to Labour social democracy above all else.
In this regard, it is true that the Morning Star follows the “editorial policy of the BRS”, and overall the BRS has so formulated its ‘fight on three fronts’ to delegate the trade union struggle to the trade unions, the political struggle to the Labour party, and the ‘ideological struggle’ to the Morning Star, leaving its dwindling and inactive membership able to claim they have fulfilled the behests of the programme without even venturing out of their front doors.
The ‘left-wing’ programme
Thus based upon this rambling, eclectic, revisionist, and most un-dialectical political ‘preamble’, we arrive at the “left-wing programme” (LWP), which we are told we must ‘popularise everywhere’, but particularly in the Labour party, which will thus be ‘pressured’ to enact the LWP, once we have voted it into power.
The LWP, we are assured, “While showing how policies in different spheres can reinforce one another … lays the basis for even more advanced policies from a left-wing government at a later stage in the revolutionary process.”
Building a productive, sustainable economy
The LWP will “end the City of London’s financial domination of Britain’s economy and central government fiscal, financial and economic policies. Such a programme should aim to rebalance the economy, strengthen productive industry, develop hi-tech manufacturing, invest more in our public services, eliminate gross inequality, assist third-world development and help safeguard our planet’s ecosystem.”
The LWP will bring us “full employment and controls imposed on the export of capital”.
The LWP will induce “major private companies [to] pursue investment, employment, pensions and other policies that serve the interests of workers, the economy and society”.
The LWP will bring “an integrated transport system, taking measures to make more journeys either unnecessary or less noxious [which] would curb greenhouse gas emissions”.
The LWP will “invest massively in public services and end all forms of privatisation. [This] could include the raising of funds through public-sector bonds, financed through economic growth and higher tax revenues”.
The LWP, by “offering financial and tax incentives and directing private-sector investment would stimulate regional economic development”.
The LWP will bring “a shorter working week and standard working life, with no loss of pay. All young people should be guaranteed fully-paid employment, good-quality training or apprenticeship. Mass redundancies would be outlawed in viable enterprises, while strategic enterprises threatened by closure are taken into democratic public ownership.”
The LWP will stop “hostile buy-outs base on debt and asset-stripping”.
THE LWP will expand “sustainable agricultural production with adequate state support for investment and environmentally beneficial improvement, ending subsidies to big landowners and agribusiness, while supporting small and tenant farmers [where are these small and tenant farmers to be found in Britain?], including incentives for cooperative initiatives”.
Under the LWP, “landed estates, luxury tourist establishments and ‘second’ homes must be brought under the democratic control [not ownership, mind you, but control] of local communities. No longer will large landowners, property developers and big business be permitted to impose unwanted development against the wishes of local people.”
The LWP will rule that “fossil fuels must be left in the ground, while installing solar panels in all large and new public and private-sector buildings and harnessing river estuary tidal power through lagoon and submarine turbine technology”.
The LWP will ensure “equal pay for work of equal value, and create training and retraining programmes for workers of all ages, especially women and ethnic minorities, thereby allowing them entry into more skilled, secure and better-paid jobs”.
The LWP will “build more council houses, especially in inner-city and rural communities, and … take over long-term empty properties for socially useful purposes. All social housing [will] be brought back under local authority control.”
The LWP will “decriminalise drug use – but members of criminal gangs who continue their antisocial activities, regardless of the opportunities offered by progressive economic, social and cultural policies, would be subjected to the full force of the law”. [This point may explain the entire formulation of the LWP!]
Our “education system should be of the highest quality, adequately staffed and free to all. Improving nursery and childcare provision and making it available to all, funded by the public and private sectors, will not only benefit the children themselves.”
The LWP will ensure that “all schools are restored to democratic local authority control. Maintenance grants should be the right of all adults engaged in full-time study, with no place for tuition fees or graduate taxes. All immigrants to Britain must have opportunities to learn English and the language of their new home area if Welsh or Scots Gaelic, free of charge.”
The LWP, in fact, is Magic. It will abolish capitalism – and preserve capitalism, simultaneously. The only thing it hasn’t offered is to make workers more physically attractive!
And such a shopping list that would confuse and confound every worker of every political stripe, aimed at transforming the economy, while leaving its capitalist essence untouched; having something for everyone, without the uncomfortable necessity of winning state power, building a class alliance capable of winning “the battle for democracy”, mobilising the working class and educating it to the necessity of breaking the bourgeois state, the dictatorship of capital, or any such unpleasantry – in fact ends by offering nothing to anyone.
The only thing we can take away from this is that there is a lack of class analysis, economic analysis, political analysis, or cultural understanding of Britain and British workers in this wish list – as in the entire document.
An independent foreign and defence policy
Britain’s monopoly capitalist class is already ‘free’ to pursue its own goals in accordance with its strength (financial and military), which is waning. Its alliances are built upon those interests. The question is: which class should pursue what goals?
“British transnational corporations (TNCs) overseas would be regulated to ensure compliance with the highest labour and environmental standards. Cancelling third-world public debt to British financial TNCs would enable those countries to invest, develop and benefit from fair-trade relations with Britain and other developed economies.” [The magic of ‘regulation’! How are we to impose these regulations upon aggressive corporate capitalism, while leaving the latter intact?]
Why single out the Kurdish people alone? We should support the democratic rights of all people, including those of the majority of the Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian people. That said, understanding that the solution to the national question is always specific and never general, the issue of Kurdish self-determination (like any other) must be viewed in its context and from the perspective of the interests of the workers of all nations in their struggle against imperialism.
As such, it is impossible not to note that the question of the rights of Kurds in Iraq and Syria have been fraudulently taken up and used by Anglo-American and French imperialism in Iraq and Syria to justify aggressive and genocidal wars, destabilisation, and occupation, where the real goal was looting of the oil wealth of the middle east.
Left-wing ‘anti-monopoly alliance’
“Yet they all face a common enemy: British state-monopoly capitalism, which blocks advance on every front. Here lies the objective basis for uniting these forces in an anti-monopoly alliance, in favour of redeveloping Britain’s productive economy and combating the anti-democratic use of state power against the interests of the great majority of people.
“Experience of joint campaigning with the labour movement and the left, which can project wider political perspectives, will lead many more activists to a fuller understanding of the nature of capitalist society and why it must be replaced by socialism. If these movements remain apart from the labour movement, not only will they lack its valuable support. The organised working class itself will lose the opportunity to gain valuable experience in its role as the leading force in society for progressive and revolutionary change.
“It is imperative, therefore, that the organised working class builds the widest possible alliance with all other movements fighting for progress, democratic rights equality and justice. It will be vital to maintain the unity and respect the sovereignty of all the forces involved.
“The left and the labour movement will need to transform an array of defensive battles against the capitalist monopolies, right-wing governments and reactionary policies into a united offensive across a broad front, winning support for the LWP.” (p58)
The BRS and the CPB are enmeshed in an insoluble contradiction: the riddle of the enigma of justifying and prettifying a right-wing, pro-imperialist Labour party, which forms right-wing pro-imperialist administrations and pursues right-wing pro-imperialist policies, as being a vehicle for socialism in Britain.
The ‘solution’ is generally the word substitution of ‘party’ for ‘movement’, placed in conjunction with the word ‘labour’, along with the painting of a fanciful future in which there is a miraculous transformation of one into the other, without apparently any motive cause.
Stage one: ‘Winning a left [Labour] government’
“The first stage in the revolutionary process in Britain will be signified by a substantial and sustained shift to the left in the labour movement, growing support for key policies of the LWP among the working class and the population more widely, and the development of an anti-monopoly alliance of forces across a range of battles and campaigns …
“Belief in the right of the people to decide who governs them is deeply rooted in England, Scotland and Wales. The opening stage Britain’s socialist revolution will therefore have to culminate in the election of a left-wing government at Westminster, based on a socialist, Labour, communist and progressive majority at the polls.” (p59)
Parliamentary fetishism, parliamentary cretinism, and blind subservience to the Labour party
“Whether such governments are won with or without electoral alliances or pacts is less important than the need for socialists and communists to approach electoral strategy with a combination of political principle and tactical flexibility.”
Stage two: ‘Towards socialism and communism’
Stage two of the BRS conception of the triumph of communism, and of the interests of the working class, is pressuring the Labour government to enact the contradictory ‘left-wing programme’.
“Electing a left government committed to the alternative economic and political strategy (AEPS) and its left-wing programme (LWP) will mark the transition of the revolutionary process to a second stage.
“This stage will be characterised by a combined parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggle to implement major policies of the LWP. The left government will need to work closely with – and be held to account by – the labour movement and the other forces of the popular democratic anti-monopoly alliance, mobilising the maximum support inside and outside parliament.
Even on this last point, one cannot help noticing that the current Labour party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, is so opposed to offending wealth that he opposed even an emergency corona pandemic tax, aimed at providing emergency support measures to the increasing numbers of British workers facing unemployment and destitution.
“Above all, it is unlikely that substantial political advances in Britain [the election of a Labour government?] would have been made in isolation. Working-class and revolutionary movements in other advanced capitalist countries in Europe and in Latin America, Africa and Asia may also be putting their own ruling class under increasing pressure.”
So if all else fails, and the BRS proves insufficient, hopefully, other nations will come to our aid!
Stage three: ‘Transforming’ the British capitalist state
“Key parts of the state apparatus will try to continue operating in the interests of the system for which they were designed, as will many of their top personnel who have been selected, trained and promoted to operate it.”
“To what extent will the monopoly capitalists and their supporters be able to use the state machine to obstruct the LWP? Will the working class and its allies be able to take control of the administrative and political apparatus, restructure and then replace it with one designed to dismantle capitalism and construct a system that serves the interests of society as a whole?
“From the outset, the left government will have to introduce extensive changes in recruitment, staffing and management policies within the civil and diplomatic services, the judiciary, the police, the secret services and armed forces in order to replace key personnel with supporters of the revolutionary process.
“The police, secret services and armed forces will have to be made fully and openly answerable to elected representatives of the people at national and British levels. Their functions and priorities will need to be reviewed and, in some respects, altered fundamentally.
“Substantial improvements in the terms and conditions of employment of uniformed as well as civilian public servants will show them that the left government upholds the interests of all workers.”
And so, the civil war between the interests of Labour and Capital will be prosecuted by – improving terms and conditions of the agents of the bourgeois state, conducting reviews and changes of personnel, etc. And here is the apogee of Marxism – as applied creatively to the specific historical conditions of the ‘nations’ of Britain.
Marx and Engels:
“One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz, that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes’.” (Preface to the 1872 German edition of the Communist Manifesto, 24 June 1872)
“A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell (through the Palchinskys, Chernovs, Tseretelis and Co [the Browns, Blairs, Corbyns, Johnsons, Hancocks, Starmers], it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it”.
“We must also note that Engels was most explicit in calling universal suffrage as well an instrument of bourgeois rule. Universal suffrage, he says, obviously taking account of the long experience of German social democracy, is ‘the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more in the present-day state.’” (The State and Revolution, 1917, Chapter 1)
What terrible ultra-leftists and anti-democrats were the founders of communism, of which the CPB claims to be the follower.
So when all is said and done, Britain’s road to socialism imagines three phases:
1. Election of a left-wing Labour government – that elusive creature!
2. The struggle to implement a ‘left-wing programme’ – its eclectic shopping list of reforms and fantasies.
3. Resistance of the bourgeois state to be overcome by increasing the pay and conditions of civil servants and judges and by changes in HR recruitment policy!
That is all, except to note that “If progress in implementing key policies of the LWP [the fantastic notions of regulating the capitalists into submission, we presume] has been obstructed to a significant extent [obstructed?! But surely we can just contact ‘the Human Resources department’ to overcome such obstacles?], then the revolutionary movement and its left government, facing an unfavourable balance of forces, might have to pursue other policies in the LWP, rather than proceed immediately with those likely to spark decisive confrontations of state power.”
So, we have reached the absolute crunch – when even reformism smashes against the resistance of the bourgeois state – in which case, we shall give up the reformist shopping list to avoid sparking “decisive confrontations with state power”.
This, gentlemen, is mutiny on one’s knees!
“Holding state power [may very well] enable the working class and its allies to complete the process of removing all economic and political power from the monopoly capitalist class,” but one can confidently assert that were any serious group of workers ever to attach themselves to this LWP of the CPB’s BRS, they would never be faced with any such task, as there is absolutely no prospect of them ever progressing beyond phase one – that of winning a ‘left-Labour government’. (p66)
“Without exploitative capitalists and landowners, the division of society into antagonistic social classes will cease to have any material basis. In place of class conflict and social discrimination, social cooperation and equality will predominate.”
And so the BRS fades out, with the pious prayer, a parody of the US trade union song “We’ll have pie in the sky, by and by!”
Marxism’s great advance over former, primitive, conceptions of socialism, was its analytical method, which transformed the working class’s striving for a just society and meaningful life into a science. But to be pursued and applied correctly, it must be studied.
The BRS, though its authors loudly claim every few pages to be the followers and inheritors of the Marxist-Leninist tradition, have sadly and ignominiously turned their party and programme back to utopianism – literally ‘no-place’, the dreaming of imaginary societies, or imagining things (the Labour party) to be what they are not, and that they will miraculously respond to fervent wishes to be otherwise.
I may hold up a rock and wish it to be transformed into a mobile phone, but it would be a sad outlook were anyone to set up a telecommunications business on such a scheme. The power of science, is to apprehend the world as it is, and therefore how those really existing elements and forces can be combined to meet the needs of humanity.
The CPB must either give up its claim to be Marxist, to be a scientific socialist party of the working class, or give up its utopian, eclectic and revisionist programme.
It is sadly likely, however, that it will prove capable of neither, and so peddling its unattractive wares, life and the working class will pass by the fading organisation and find another force, another party, and another programme that will satisfy its real and pressing material and political needs.