Coaxing small capitalists?

Submitted by AWL on 6 April, 2021 - 5:52 Author: Jim Denham
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Andrew Northall (Letters, 24 March) takes exception to my Antidoto column (10 February) on the Communist Party of Britain’s concept of the “anti-monopoly alliance”.

One thing Andrew says is undoubtedly correct: “The ‘anti-monopoly alliance’ is very much written into the DNA of the CPB and its programme, Britain’s Road to Socialism”.

Where we disagree is on whether or not this represents (in Andrew’s words) “a cross-class alliance that cannot by definition be anti-capitalist since it includes small capitalists.”

Andrew claims that the term monopoly capitalism “simply describes the nature of capitalism in Britain since the early 20th century”, not any plan to “de-monopolise” capitalism or to suggest that “other forms of capitalism are in any way preferable.”

In fact, says Andrew, “opposition to monopoly capitalism... means opposition... to capitalism itself.” This raises an obvious question: why, then, doesn’t the CPB just talk about capitalism — why use the word “monopoly” at all?

It isn’t clear to me whether Andrew is arguing that the anti-monopoly alliance is not “a cross-class alliance” (despite its appeal to small capitalists) or whether he’s proposing that despite the involvement of small capitalists, it can somehow still be anti-capitalist. I’ll work on the assumption that Andrew’s case rests upon the second.

Andrew, paraphrasing the 2018 version of Britain's Road to Socialism identifies “intermediate strata” of “small business owners, small farmers and shopkeepers who are also subject to the economic and financial domination of the big monopoly capitalists.” But small business owners, small farmers, etc are not “intermediate strata” devoid of any class identity: they are small capitalists! And small capitalists are often the worst employers and the most anti-union bosses.

And to win this so-called “intermediate layer” over to an anti-capitalist programme, here’s the relevant section of the 2018 edition of the BRS: “This means campaigning for measures such as cheap credit, restrictions on monopoly price manipulation, controls on rent, relief from high business rates, the abolition of Value Added Tax (VAT), etc. as well as winning small businesses for the wider democratic demands of the working class, including the struggle for peace, disarmament and environmental protection.” Does that sound like an anti-capitalist programme?

At the root of this disagreement lies a fundamental disagreement about the task of socialists in the class struggle today: supporters of Solidarity and Workers Liberty prioritise organising within the working class to encourage struggle and transform it (eventually) into revolutionary change.

Our work focuses on working-class activism organised within the Labour Party and the trade unions. Within this movement there are tens of thousands of activists who form the most politicised and class conscious workers. The Labour Party and unions are the arena for the debates and struggles that take place within the British working-class movement.

Why should we expend time and energy orientating towards small business people, when our overriding priority must be to the working class? In the course of the struggle for socialism — probably in an immediately pre-revolutionary situation — sections of the small-business class and even of the capitalist class may come over to us and we would welcome them. But for now, adapting our programme to appease small capitalists would undermine the very class independence we seek to build. At a more mundane level, the left (including the CPB) , does not have the social or political weight to force any segment of capital, the liberal middle classes into any kind of alliance. Pursuing such a strategy would divert us from our central task of organising and educating within the working class.

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