Immediate demands

CPGB comrades in London have been engaged in an ongoing debate over the contents of our Draft programme in line with the decision taken last year to update and redraft it, reports Peter Manson

CPGB comrades in London have been engaged in an ongoing debate over the contents of our Draft programme in line with the decision taken last year to update and redraft it. Over the past few weeks we have been continuing discussion of section 3, 'Immediate demands', and have recently debated subsections 3.6 'Councils of action', 3.7 'Workers' militia' and 3.8 'The national question'.

Councils of action

Our call for councils of action is not only an immediate demand, but overlaps much more directly than others with our vision of the transition to a new society. However, as comrade Mike Macnair has pointed out, workers' councils may not necessarily be the precise form that democracy will take under a workers' state.

It is true that "In any decisive clash of class against class, new forms of organisation which are higher, more general, more flexible than trade unions emerge" (Draft programme). But should we fetishise such forms and insist that organisations thrown up spontaneously in the heat of battle are ideal for transposition into institutions of permanent rule? For example, the establishment of workplace-based councils or assemblies of workers' delegates as the sole units of democracy would disenfranchise pensioners, the unemployed and students.

That is why Peter Manson suggested the addition of the words 'part of' into the current draft, so it reads: ""¦ such organs of struggle have the potential to become part of the workers' alternative to the capitalist state."

However, there is no need to radically rewrite this subsection. The call for workers' councils is a call to step up our organisation in the here and now: hence its appearance under 'Immediate demands' - the more intense the class struggle, the more likely it will be that such new forms of organisation will develop. We support their emergence not as a replacement for working class political parties and trade unions, but in order to complement them.

Workers' militia

Communists aim for the arming of the working class and the disarming of the bourgeoisie. We must take steps to achieve that under capitalism, even if at first those steps can only take the form of propaganda.

The Draft programme states: "Communists are against the standing army and for the armed people. This principle will never be realised voluntarily by the capitalist state." However, there was some suggestion that this is not entirely true - the example of Switzerland (which has a system of civilian militia and only 3,000 army staff, employed mainly as trainers) was cited. But comrade John Bridge pointed out that, even allowing for possible special cases like Switzerland, a militia would have to be won from below and would be constantly under threat from ruling class attempts to undermine or abolish it.

A point that arises from the above quotation concerns the phrase "armed people" (not 'armed workers'). Is there a contradiction here? Personally I do not think so. As the current draft states, the need for militia "grows out of the class struggle itself: defending the picket line, mass demonstrations, workplace occupations, fending off fascists, etc". A mass movement for a 'people's militia' would surely emerge from such struggles of the working class, not those of any other class. It would arise as part of a broader struggle for democracy, which the working class alone can lead. There would be no need for some kind of 'purity test' to vet potential members of the militia on the basis of their class. The key is the implementation of measures of accountability.

Subsection 3.7 also poses demands in relation to the standing army - against bullying, for full democratic and trade union rights, for the election of officers and the right to form soldiers' councils. These are not in contradiction to the central demand for the replacement of the standing army by a militia, but are formulated as part of the struggle to achieve it.

The national question

Debate around subsection 3.8, 'The national question', produced a fair amount of consensus. The Provisional Central Committee is proposing that the redrafted Draft programme should contain a major addition under 'Immediate demands', centring on democracy and the fight for a democratic republic, and it is clear that the national question in the British Isles should be discussed as part of this. The issue is also closely connected with the question of Europe, which the PCC proposes should have its own discrete subsection.

The current Draft programme states: "As a general rule communists do not want to see countries broken up into small nation-states." Furthermore our preference is for large, centralised states (which nevertheless allow for genuine local autonomy). In that sense our demand for a federal republic of Scotland, Wales and England must be regarded as a concession which we are obliged to make in order to combat nationalism. Mike Macnair pointed out that federalism can often produce a legalistic quagmire of contending rights.

Comrade Macnair was critical of the following paragraph in the current draft: "The British nation evolved from the gradual bonding of three nationalities - the English, Welsh and Scottish. Drawn together over many centuries by common political and economic experience, they now in the main possess a common language, culture and psychology."

He stated that the British nation did not go back "many centuries", but only came into existence in the early 19th century. It was pointed out, however, that the phrase "many centuries" refers to the "common political and economic experience", not the existence of a nation. But there was general agreement that there is no need for a programmatic document to delve into the specificities of historical detail.

Ben Lewis noted that the subsection does not mention Scottish and Welsh devolution, which occurred after the Draft programme was published in 1995. What is required here, he suggested, is a passing mention of the inadequacy of the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly for the purposes of self-determination.

As well as Britain, the current subsection deals with Ireland and our unconditional support for the right of the Irish to reunite: "Working class opposition to British imperialism in Ireland is a necessary condition for our own liberation - a nation that oppresses another can never be free."

However, since the publication of the Draft programme the CPGB has adopted a set of theses on the British-Irish, who are mainly situated in the north-east of the island. These theses advocate that the 'concession of federalism' should be extended to Ireland, with a British-Irish province enjoying the right to self-determination within a united Ireland. As with Scotland and Wales, we do not advocate that the British-Irish exercise that self-determination in favour of secession.

Obviously, the redrafted Draft programme will have to incorporate a paragraph explaining the CPGB view on this question.