For the whole debate to which this is a contribution, click here.
I appreciate Luke Hardy’s response (Solidarity 591) in both tone and content to my letter (Solidarity 589) re the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), the Party’s programme Britain’s Road to Socialism, and the concept of the broad, democratic, anti-monopoly alliance.
Unfortunately, Luke in his polemic makes a number of important errors in characterising the current positions of the CPB. The first point is that the CP has always had a wide range of views within it and its agreed position has evolved and developed over time. Quoting from various “tendencies” and individuals over the past 50 years or so can be interesting and illuminating but not always helpful in understanding agreed CP positions in the here and now.
The central misunderstanding or misrepresentation concerns whether the alliance we seek is primarily a cross-class alliance or about transforming the working class into a “class for itself”, a force for fundamental social change and socialism. My view and the position of the CPB is clearly the latter.
This is closely linked to the definition of the working class itself. Is it narrowly defined as being industrial, manual, blue-collar, close to the point of production, close to the actual production of surplus value? Or broadly, as anyone who is dependent on a wage, salary, benefit or pension to survive? And recognising that large sections of the working people whilst not directly involved in producing surplus value are nonetheless part of and ensure the running of the whole capitalist economic and social system and the maintenance and reproduction of labour.
Clearly and logically, the narrow definition of the working class tends towards requiring a cross-class alliance, although always with the working class playing a leading role (echoes of Lenin’s Two Tactics, 1905), whereas the broad definition, which in 21st century Britain means the majority of the population, tends towards the focus of the alliance being transformative of the working class itself, although recognising that the organised working class and labour movement needs to exercise a leading role within it.
It is no secret that the definition of the working class and the strategic consequences which flow from that was one of the central issues of debate and division within the old Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1970s and 80s. That debate has largely been resolved within the current CPB and the BRS in favour of the broad definition. The central role of the broad, democratic, anti-monopoly alliance is therefore primarily to transform the whole of the working class politically and organisationally into a force for socialism, “the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority” (Communist Manifesto, 1848). There is no “cross class” alliance with sections of the bourgeoisie, there is no diluting of the class demands of the working class.
Luke repeats the assertion which I countered in my letter in Solidarity 586 that “anti monopoly” means a cross class alliance and somehow in favour of a de-monopolised capitalism. No, that would be nonsensical. The CPB is hardly in favour of reverting back to early 19th century free market capitalism. The CPB describes capitalism in Britain as it evolved in the late part of the 19th century as monopoly capitalism and later in the 20th century as state monopoly capitalism, indicating the high degree to which the capitalist state has become enmeshed with large powerful finance and industrial monopoly capital. State monopoly capitalism is very different from the free market capitalism of the early 19th century but it remains capitalism nonetheless. When the CPB talks of being anti monopoly capitalism it is simply referring to capitalism as it is in the here and now, being specific about the nature of that capitalism.
What the CPB does say is that while, obviously, we continue to make the basic case against capitalism and for socialism (the title of the recent election manifesto was Capitalism is the Problem, Socialism is the Solution, pretty clear one would think), the broad mass of working people are not yet persuaded by basic socialist ideas. The Party puts forward a comprehensive range of economic, social, political and democratic demands which proceed from what working people actually need and deserve in the here and now, not what capitalism or its media says is “realistic”, “credible” or “affordable”. In many cases they proceed from demands made by workers in struggle and by progressive movements for democracy, equality and justice and point to the need to challenge the capitalist system itself in order to make real progress.
To deliver and fund such a programme a progressive or left government would have to make deep inroads into the wealth and power of monopoly capital, including making major democratic reforms and changes to the state apparatus. “Monopoly capital” not because we think it is the monopoly phase of capitalism which is the problem, but because that is the nature of capitalism itself today and where the true wealth and power resides.
Now such as the Socialist Party of Great Britain would claim such a programme is “reformist”, can only be about reforming capitalism and that the only useful thing socialists can do is stand on the sidelines and preach socialism and nothing but. That is not the approach of the CPB. I do not think of the AWL either. “The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement” (Communist Manifesto 1848).
Challenging the capitalist system on the basis of what working people actually need and attempting to implement a comprehensive reform programme by making deep inroads into the wealth and power of capital is part of the revolutionary process through which we seek to transform people’s understanding of the need to go much further, to end capitalism and establish socialism. Socialism will not instantly solve all our problems or resolve all current contradictions and oppressions, but will provide a reasonable and rational framework for doing so.
It is not the whole of the revolutionary process by any means. We may never achieve such a government under capitalism but while there are parliamentary elections and a mass electoral party of the working class, we should make maximum use of these opportunities and place clear demands and expectations on such a potential government. Socialists and communists will continue to make the basic case against capitalism for socialism day in day out and will continuously seek to build the mass, class and democratic structures and organisations of the working class to enable it to fulfil its independent and leading political and organisational role in society. Ultimately to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism.