AK47s and calculators
At the Birmingham policy conference of the Socialist Alliance on March 10, the Communist Party delegation supported the amendment put forward by Workers Power that outlined the revolutionary action programme for a workers' government.
The slogan of a workers' government has a long pedigree in the revolutionary movement. The 'Theses on Comintern tactics' adopted by the 4th Congress of the Communist International in 1922 states that it "can be used everywhere as a general agitational slogan" (Theses, resolutions and manifestos of the first four congresses of the Third International London 1983, p397). However, the Theses underline that such a government - whether it is born out struggle from below or by a particular parliamentary combination - is faced with the task of rallying the working class for revolution:
"The most elementary tasks of the workers' government must be to arm the proletariat, disarm the bourgeois counterrevolutionary organisations, bring in control over production, shift the main burden of taxation onto the propertied classes and break the resistance of the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie" (pp397-8).
The WP amendment embodied this communist understanding of the slogan, stating that "[the workers' government] would have to break up the bosses' state, abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords, dismiss the generals and the police chiefs, break up its machinery of power and repression, its undemocratic institutions and its armed forces and police. To do this we would have to base our government on the mass democratic organisations of the working class, on elected councils of workers in every workplace and community, on the armed power of the defence organisations of the working class. These organisations would become the new way of running government - democratic, accountable, and based on drawing ordinary people into making and carrying out its decisions."
Yet this correct formulation of the tasks of a workers' government sits rather uncomfortably alongside the latest issue of the Workers Power newspaper, a publication that is lamely attempting to give itself more of an activist/agitational edge - impossible for a monthly. In this, Colin Lloyd writes on Gordon Brown's budget and wonders "what would a socialist chancellor do?" (all quotes from Workers Power March, unless otherwise stated). His piece strays worryingly close to costing our demands within capitalism, precisely the opportunist flaw of the Socialist Alliance's 'alternative budget' (Weekly Worker March 8).
Comrade Lloyd tells us:
- "If businesses were simply charged at the same (low) rate as rich individuals - 40% - then the corporation tax on all businesses would rise to £66 billion overnight."
- "The NHS could be given a 25% increase overnight, just by spending the full £18 billion surplus ..."
- "Education could get a 25% increase if only half the money raised from mobile phone auctions were allocated to schools and universities."
- "Lifting the National Insurance cap on well paid people would raise £5 billion extra. And if the employer rate were raised to 28% [the extra money could be poured] straight into meeting our demand for a living pension and a living income for those on the dole."
Comrade Lloyd's wish list illustrates the Communist International's warning that, "For all its advantages, the slogan of a workers' government also has its dangers ..." (p398). WP has an AK47 in one hand and a pocket calculator in the other. In Birmingham, its workers' government amendment correctly highlighted the revolutionary thrust of the slogan. In its paper, it goes into convoluted calculations of how a "socialist chancellor" might raise revenue towards public spending increases that even it admits would not "really meet the needs of working people".
The contradiction is most neatly encapsulated when comrade Lloyd picks out his budget "highlights". Prominent there is the demand that "all state benefits [would be] raised to the level of the European decency threshold: £7 an hour or £280 a week".
So, comrade Lloyd stands for a workers' government. Such a government would "face a full-scale revolt from the bosses in the boardrooms of the big corporations and banks and by all the unelected, permanent, parts of the state: the queen, the House of Lords, the police, the army, the judges, the top civil servants and the secret services. These servants of the bosses would try to sabotage our every action and drive us from power" (WP Birmingham amendment). Faced with incipient civil war, our government would have to "break up the bosses' state", basing its power on "mass democratic organisations of the working class, on elected councils of workers in every workplace and community, on the armed power of the defence organisations of the working class" - soviets, in other words.
With society gripped by this crisis, driven to frenzy by the agonising suspense of dual power and the looming life-or-death struggle of the two basic classes in society for the destiny of our world, comrade Lloyd stands proudly displaying his red attaché case outside No11 Downing Street. Prominent in his "socialist budget" is the demand that state benefits are set below subsistence, calculated by the economists of international capitalism at a level they estimate their system can afford. Such an approach does not embody comrade what Lloyd claims is the method of his "socialist budget": that it would "start from the interests of the workers ..."
Under the rubric of the 'workers' government' slogan, he thus drifts in the direction of reformism within the confines of capitalism - a path already well travelled by the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, of course.