Universal strategy

Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group poses the politics of revolutionary democracy in opposition to economism

Over the last two weeks there have been exchanges in the Weekly Worker over the fact that the component parts of the Revolutionary Democratic Communist Tendency (RDCT) - the CPGB and RDG - have no common programme, perspective or organisation. What we do have is a common approach to politics expressed in the RDCT platform and the joint theses on rapprochement and factions.

The platform of our proto-tendency is based on four slogans: 1. For revolutionary democracy; 2. For workers’ power; 3. For international socialism; 4. For world communism.

First, to clear up one misconception. Revolutionary democratic communism means ‘the revolutionary democratic road to world communism’. It does not mean democratic communism or democratised communism. Democracy implies a form of state organisation. A communist society is one in which the state, and hence democracy, has withered away.

Historically Marxism in Russia at the turn of the century divided between the politicos (ie, Bolsheviks), who emphasised the primacy of revolutionary political struggle for democracy and its connection with the economic struggle, and the ‘economists’, for whom the economic struggle came first and politics followed. The latter strategy was called ‘lending the economic struggle itself a political character’.

The revolutionary democratic road is a universal political strategy that can be applied by working class parties in each state according to the specific historical circumstances. It will be applied differently in for example a colonial country, a fascist state, a federal monarchy or a multinational state with a national question.

Naturally and inevitably this is opposed by modern economistic communists. They have in their theoretical armoury a stageist theory of democracy. They believe that a revolutionary approach to democracy is only applicable in ‘backward countries’. So-called advanced countries have already passed through the ‘democratic stage’ during which the bourgeoisie ‘solved’ the democratic question. Only in backward countries does the question of democracy remain a contested question of the class struggle.

Revolutionary democratic communists do not view the question of democracy and the state as an historical stage. It is the terrain on which the continuing political struggle between the classes is fought out. The struggle for democracy can never end until the bourgeoisie has been ousted from power. The bourgeoisie can no more ‘solve’ the problem of democracy than they can end unemployment and poverty wages. The very idea that the problems of democracy are ‘solved’ in countries like the USA, the UK or France can only disarm the working class and restrict it to trade unionist politics.

If the revolutionary democratic road is ruled out for ‘advanced’ countries, then politics is reduced to the variants of syndicalism, anarchism, nationalism and liberal democracy or democratic reformism. These economistic roads to communism represent so many false trails, dead ends and roads to nowhere.

We can compare the revolutionary democratic road to communism with the politics of the old CPGB and the SWP in the 1970s and 1980s. The CPGB advocated the British road to socialism. This was the most widely known and debated programme within the Marxist movement until the 1980s. The British road was opposed to workers’ power (ie, the dictatorship of the proletariat, RDCT point 2). It was in favour of a reformed bourgeois democracy (compare RDCT point 1) which could then introduce ‘socialism’ in Britain. This was a liberal democratic, not a revolutionary democratic, approach. The British road was a parliamentary road to national socialism (compare RDCT point 3) or state capitalism. Neither was there any concept of world communism - except for those dreaming of a Stalinist takeover of the world.

How does the RDCT platform compare to the SWP? The SWP certainly deployed the slogans of ‘workers’ power and international socialism’. This placed the SWP as a left critic of the British road. The SWP did not advocate world communism. Perhaps more significantly it did not have a revolutionary attitude to bourgeois democracy and thus adapted to it. Whilst posing as ‘leftists against bourgeois democracy’, the SWP could not prevent themselves voting Labour at every election and supporting Scottish and Welsh devolution.

In supporting the revolutionary democratic communist platform, we take a stand against the British road and against the SWP’s syndicalism and ultra-leftism. However, it is important to emphasise the function and purpose of the platform. We can criticise a bicycle because it is not an aeroplane and cannot fly. But a bicycle is not designed for this. It has no wings nor jet engine. A bicycle can nevertheless serve a very useful function as a limited means of transport. Our platform is not a programme. Neither does it provide a complete or final definition of for example socialism or communism. It is not set in stone or impossible to improve upon.

The platform is a set of parameters, which point the way to communism, and within which different shades of opinion amongst revolutionary democratic communists can come together to begin serious debate and programmatic work. It seeks to provide a bridge which will bring us together from different starting points. It is not a blank sheet of paper whose purpose is not to alienate anybody. We are not trying to reconstruct a communist tower of babble in which a 1,000 different types of communist shout about everything under the sun. Our platform is designed to distinguish the friends and allies of revolutionary democracy from our economistic opponents. It aims to separate us from them.

Marxist Bulletin comrades have said they do not disagree with the wording of the platform. This is just as valid a starting point as saying, ‘we agree’. It is possible to say that the statement on world communism is inadequate. It does not define communism with sufficient precision. But if there is no disagreement with the wording then we should work more closely together. The platform is merely the starting point and not the end.

I would like to see all three organisations, the CPGB, RDG and Marxist Bulletin, having serious discussions on programme, perspectives and organisation. We are still waiting to get the exact position of the RWT, now called the Communist Tendency, to find out if they will come on board. We have some clues in recent comments by the CT’s Allan Armstrong.

Allan writes: “Points 3 (international socialism) and 4 (world communism) need to be opposed. They do not form an adequate basis to form a genuine communist tendency. Points 1 (revolutionary democracy) and 2 (workers’ power) appear to be adequate.” He says: “Revolutionary democracy is perhaps a useful term to describe our attitude towards both politics and organisation when the bourgeoisie is in power.” It seems on the face of it that Allan is a revolutionary democratic communist, who disagrees over the platform’s definition of socialism and communism. Because the platform has either an inadequate or wrong definition of communism, he thinks “the platform doesn’t even reach first base”.

I understand in general terms where he is coming from: namely, Marx’s Critique of the Gotha programme. However I am unable to understand exactly his position because he has not been concrete enough on points 3 and 4. He does not tell us exactly which words or formulations he disagrees with. The worst case scenario is that Allan is simply a nationalist who does not mind the words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’, but does not like the fact that we have attached them to the words ‘international’ and ‘world’. Alternatively it may be that Allan does not object to any of the words, but considers they are inadequate because the issue of the abolition of the law of value is not dealt with. In this case the platform might be inadequate even though he does not disagree with the actual wording.

There would be nothing to exclude the CT from joining with us and organising discussions on the law of value. I would like to see them join with us as an autonomous group. However, from Allan’s comments so far, nobody can be sure that the basic problem between us is not so much communism as nationalism.

The debate with Ian Donovan has been taking place in recent issues of Weekly Worker involving both myself and Jack Conrad. My concern is limited to the question of revolutionary democracy and economism in relation to the RDCT platform. I am therefore defending the agreed positions of the RDG and the CPGB.

So far I have accused Ian of being a follower of the theories of economism. He gives primacy to the economic struggle. He has a theory of the ‘democratic stage’ in which the revolutionary struggle for democracy only applies in backward and not economically ‘advanced’ countries. Consequently Ian either ignores bourgeois democracy and simply counterposes workers’ democracy, or at other times, reacting to spontaneous movements, he advocates democratic reforms, not democratic revolution (see Weekly Worker August 27). This has been said before. So I want to take the debate on a little further to the question of the constituent assembly.

Lenin explained in ‘The nascent trend of imperialist economism’ that one of the characteristics of economism was its inconsistent and illogical attitude to democracy. In a follow-up article, Lenin attacks one of the chief imperialist economists, Kievsky. He draws attention to “the contemptuous attitude of the imperialist economist towards democracy” (the same attitude shared by Ian Donovan).

Lenin exposes the falsity of Kievsky’s arguments against democratic demands. He says:

“Kievsky is very angry when told that he has given way to fear, to the extent of rejecting democracy in general. He is angry and objects: I am not against democracy, only against one democratic demand, which I consider ‘bad’. But though Kievsky is offended, and though he ‘assures’ us that he is not ‘against’ democracy, his arguments - or more correctly, the endless errors in his arguments - prove the very opposite” (VI Lenin CW Vol 23, p23).

Kievsky was only against one democratic demand - the right of nations to self-determination. Ian is only against the democratic demand for a republic. He assures us that he is not against other democratic demands. He assures us he is not an economist. He is only an inconsistent democrat. Therefore he is not against proportional representation or the right of nations to self-determination. But he is absolutely and totally opposed to a democratic republic. Communism might be a spectre haunting Europe, but a democratic republic is the bogeyman that has frightened Ian to death.

Ian is well aware that we are teasing him about British ‘democracy’. We are saying he is an ultra-left - in other words a ‘softie’. In the face of this teasing he is determined to prove us wrong. Now he never hesitates to tell us he is in favour of abolishing the monarchy immediately. The is just as militant and revolutionary about this as the RDG and CPGB. His only difference is that he opposes the call for a republic. He is anti-monarchy and anti-republican.

What is Ian’s strange brew of anti-monarchist-anti-republicanism? Logically it can only mean abolishing the monarchy at the same moment as parliament is abolished. If the monarchy is abolished and parliament or a constituent assembly still exists then we have a republic. But that is what Ian is so hostile to. There can be no call for a constituent assembly to draft a republican constitution, since this would contradict anti-republicanism.

Ian therefore makes the condition for the abolition of the monarchy so restrictive that the queen and the royals can rest easy in their beds. They know that Ian will be fighting tooth and nail against a republic and a constituent assembly. Our position is that we are for the immediate and unconditional but critical abolition of the monarchy. That means a democratic republic which would be a step forward from the current constitutional monarchy. How much of a step forward will very much depend on which class or classes carries out this task and whether they use revolutionary tactics. This does not in any way prevent or delay the transfer of power to soviets when that is possible.

Recently I was given a copy of the platform that Ian put out for the Network of Socialist Alliances conference in Rugby. This contains democratic demands including the abolition of all discrimination and oppression, the abolition of the monarchy and House of Lords and the strict separation of churches from the state. We can all agree on this list. But he fails to call for the abolition of parliament. In other words by accident he has implicitly called for a democratic republic. He just did not have the guts to be honest and say so. So Ian is a closet republican. His republic is one that dare not speak its name. Equally he fails to mention what he will do with the parliaments in Wales and Scotland. This is inconsistent with his declared position.

Ian then says he wants to “consolidate” this democratic secular republic, (the same one he is opposed to) “through the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by a socialist society” on the basis of “democratic administration”. Presumably Ian means workers’ councils, not parliament. I certainly have no problem with the aim of ‘consolidating’ the democratic republic by transferring power to workers’ councils. But that is not so much ‘consolidating’ as abolishing parliament and smashing the bourgeois state.

Finally let us turn to the question of the constituent assembly. A constituent assembly is the highest form of parliament because it is elected for the specific purpose of drafting a new constitution. Such assemblies only appear on the scene at times of deep crisis within the system of government. They signal the possible replacement of one system of government by another. Such situations are rare and filled with revolutionary potential.

Lenin set out the tactics of revolutionary republicanism in 1905. It was to take power at the head of the mass movement and establish a provisional revolutionary and republican government. This government would deal with any attempted counterrevolution and convene a constituent assembly through which the people could decide on a new constitution. This predicted the course of events in 1917, except that the provisional government sought every trick to delay convening a constituent assembly. The Bolsheviks carried out a very successful agitation against the delay.

The Bolsheviks did not counter-pose the constituent assembly to soviets until the working class had taken power. Until that point they fought for the most radical bourgeois democratic demands such as the constituent assembly alongside the building of soviet power.

The logic of Ian’s position is that revolutionary republican tactics are ruled out - not only for the UK, but for any advanced capitalist country. For example in France in 1968 calling for a constituent assembly would be ruled out because France was already ‘democratic’ under De Gaulle’s constitution. According to stageism, the slogan of a constituent assembly is only relevant for backward countries.

In the UK therefore Ian is against the idea of a workers’ party using revolutionary republican tactics as the means of abolishing the monarchy. Today the possibility of abolishing either the monarchy or parliament seems a long way off. But it is clear that the workers’ movement will have to face up to the future of the British monarchy which is on the political horizon even now. This is what we should prepare for.

Unfortunately if the working class adopted Ian’s anti-republican theory it would prevent the class being in the vanguard of democratic advance. It would confine workers to the politics of trade unionism - and democratic reforms within the framework of the constitutional monarchy.