Fine tuning essential demands
Peter Manson and Phil Kent report on three recent discussions of the CPGB Draft programme
Previous London Communist Forums devoted to redrafting the CPGB Draft programme debated our ‘Immediate demands’ relating to pensioners, homosexuals and freedom of information. None of these sections proved controversial, although comrades did suggest a number of changes to the current text.
Jim Moody, in introducing the discussion, reminded comrades of the current disgraceful provision for the elderly even in an advanced capitalist country like Britain. For example, it is officially recognised that there is a shortfall in provision for some 1.5 million old people - even when they are measured by the inadequate standards set by the state.
Comrade Moody’s only mild criticism of the current wording is that it seems to imply that ‘pensioners’ and ‘the elderly’ are more or less the same thing. Nowadays, most 60-year-olds in Britain certainly cannot be regarded as elderly - in fact we should stress the right to retire when we are still young and fit enough to make the most of it.
He also noted that the section makes no mention of care homes and therefore no demands in relation to them. Currently the Draft programme states, for example: “Social clubs for the elderly should be democratic and subsidised by the state, not charities” - this should clearly apply to care homes too.
Peter Manson suggested that a couple of our demands are currently too absolute. While we are right to insist that in general there must be “No compulsory retirement”, he thought the phrase “on grounds of age alone” should be added. Similarly he proposed adding “as far as possible” to the call for “no compulsory institutionalisation”. We should not rule out the enforcement of either retirement or “institutionalisation” in exceptional cases - where people are unable to recognise their inability to continue working or even look after themselves.
In his introduction to this section comrade Nick Jones expanded upon the statement in the current version: that gays “can be portrayed as deviants who threaten the family - the basic economic unit of capitalist society”. He noted the changed role of the family in the 19th century - no longer producing goods, he said, but labour-power, ‘love’ and security. Homosexuality became illegal in Britain in 1885, and it was only in 1967 that some concessions to gay rights were made.
Comrade Jones was at pains to point out, despite the continuing homophobia of the times, that 1970s radical sexualism was a “dead end”. Today, as John Bridge pointed out, much of that agenda has been appropriated by the establishment: “Capitalism has colonised Pride.”
The only area of controversy was over what is perhaps a semantic issue - should our demand for “decriminalisation” of all consensual homosexual acts be changed to “legalisation”? One school of thought contended that merely abolishing certain ‘crimes’ does not necessarily grant full protection to the individual, as would be the case with “legalisation”. On the other hand, some comrades expressed concern that this term implied the laying down of statutes and therefore continued interference by the state.
Comrade Moody pointed to an important omission: there is no mention of bisexual or transgender rights - well over a decade after the Draft programme was first published, it is widely recognised that we need to promote full LGBT equality.
Freedom of information
There was also broad agreement in this session, introduced by comrade Phil Kent. He stressed that the ruling class will always seek out ways of keeping their activities secret, so we must use the demand for freedom of information as a political weapon against them. We need to make it more difficult for the bourgeoisie to hide their nefarious schemes, but also expose their lack of real commitment to democracy.
Another reason why the working class needs to campaign on this issue is encapsulated in the phrase, “as a preparation for running its own state”. For us morality and politics are fused at the hip. For the working class to liberate humanity it needs to be democratic. This is not something that can be left till after the revolution, but an essential part of our minimum programme, organically linked to the aims of the maximum programme.
Capitalists can operate through secret deals made behind closed doors, but the working class has to operate openly if it is to liberate itself from below. Of course, we will as a revolutionary movement have secrets from our enemies: for example, the party leadership should be responsible for setting the day of the revolution, but the discussion on what revolution entails will be public and based on mass popular involvement. For most left sects the need for secrets has become an excuse for bureaucratic, top-down control that denies accountability even to their own membership, let alone to the wider working class.
The meeting went on to discuss patent rights and copyright law, which are at present not mentioned in the Draft programme, although it was generally agreed they should be. Capitalism in the US and Britain is increasingly turning to ‘intellectual property rights’ as a means of making profits. This strangles scientific development and allows profiteering from monopoly pricing. The drug industry was singled out for a pricing strategy that puts healthcare beyond the reach of millions.