Programmatic dead end

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Eddie Ford looks at the latest draft of 'Britain's road to socialism'

The Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain has published the new draft of its programme, Britain’s road to socialism. This is to be debated at the CPB congress in October, which will “decide the procedure for its amendment and adoption”.[1] One does not anticipate that congress will vote down the draft.

As many Weekly Worker readers will know, the BRS was first published (originally as The British road to socialism) in February 1951 as the programme of the Communist Party of Great Britain and has since gone through several revisions or ‘updates’. Inevitably, the tempo of political events and forces, both domestically and internationally, was relentlessly cruel to each of these versions - rapidly rendering sections of them irrelevant or redundant, sometimes even as they rolled off the presses. Of course, prior to publication, the first edition of the BRS notoriously received the personal attention and approval of Joseph Stalin - who was keen to bolster the programme’s peaceful, reformist and nationalist credentials so as to make it amenable to the opportunist diplomatic and political manoeuvres of the Soviet bureaucracy.

So, in a partial contrast to the CPGB’s earlier programme, For Soviet Britain - a confused and eclectic left sectarian mishmash that was adopted in February 1935 and then hastily dumped within a year - the BRS ‘sensibly’ proposes that what it calls socialism can be achieved by the official labour movement, working, at least initially, within and utilising the existing forms and structures of the bourgeois British state: not least the army, judiciary and the civil service bureaucracy, of course. Central to this wretched schema was the naive and stupidly utopian notion - debates still rage as to whether Stalin himself actually believed it - that ‘socialism’ will be achieved through a gradualistic and lengthy process of ever more leftwing Labour governments working in a parliamentary coalition with communist MPs. Naturally, this peaceful road was to be immeasurably assisted by the international balance of forces tilting towards the ‘socialist camp’ - ensuring that the ruling class gave up without a fight when confronted with the obviously undefeatable progressive alliance of communist and leftwing Labour MPs, third world liberation movements and an ever more powerful USSR and its ‘socialist’ allies.

Or, to call a spade a spade, there was a national road to socialism - the BRS being the programmatic embodiment of that national socialism - to be delivered from above, thanks to the Labour Party, the CPGB and the trade union bureaucracy, aided by Soviet might (albeit from a discreet distance, of course, in order not to violate precious British national sovereignty). Which is, our ‘official’ CPGB comrades had a near superstitious worship of power - or at least what seemed powerful at the time - and this essentially substitutionist method, privileging any power but that of the organised working class winning socialism from below, remained a programmatic constant of the BRS from 1951 onwards, whatever the latest opportunist twist and turn of the ‘official’ CPGB leadership or indeed the Soviet bureaucracy.

As the venal and anti-democratic Eurocommunist leadership of the CPGB moved towards liquidation of the party in the mid-1980s, opposition elements around the Morning Star formed the Communist Campaign Group. The CCG comrades, many of whom had opposed the BRS for its overt reformism, suddenly discovered its virtues and in 1988, when they abandoned the host organism to ‘refound’ the Communist Party of Britain, they now upheld the sacred nostrums and verities of the BRS themselves. Within three years the Soviet Union and most of the other ‘socialist countries’ - the existence of which was supposed to underwrite the viability of the BRS - were no more. The 1990 version had informed us that the international balance of forces had tilted decisively in favour of the ‘socialist camp’. But that did not cause the comrades to question its utopianism. Those whom the gods wish to destroy ...

Hence, what to make of the CPB’s ‘updated’ BRS? Well, in some senses it is to be welcomed - at least the CPB has a programme, no matter how awful. An open public statement or declaration of strategic intent. Unlike the Socialist Workers Party, of course, which as a point of perverse principle boasts about how it is not ‘weighed down’ by a programme. However, the latest BRS, whether adopted or not by the October congress, represents an object lesson in how not to write a programme. Instead of presenting us with a strategic road map to working class power, a compass with which to get from where we are now to where we want to be (socialism/communism) we are presented with extraneous and transient detail - in other words, the usual ‘official communist’ approach to programme writing. This has often resulted in the need for a speedy rewrite, perhaps almost immediately. Come October the new version of the BRS might be out of date already, even if we are optimistically told that it is “intended to be a guide to action” and “not a speculative prediction or a dogmatic blueprint”.[2]

‘Party of labour’

The new BRS is predicated on the same essential political and programmatic perspective that underpinned all the previous versions - that the existing state machine can be transformed into a vehicle of socialist emancipation through the election of a left government and that the ‘socialist’ countries provide us with some sort of model of how to organise and run society.

However, the New Labour/Blairite ‘counterrevolution’ appeared to destroy the BRS shibboleth of Labour as the historic harbinger of socialism. This produced a deep division within the CPB, with a running civil war between the ‘traditionalists’ who still want to ‘reclaim’ Labour - the fundamentalist or literalist upholders of the BRS, if you like - and the so-called ‘modernisers’, including general secretary Robert Griffiths, who now look to the emergence of an alternative, trade union-backed, “party of labour” to replace the very real Labour Party. Hence the fractious battles within the CPB over whether or not to support Respect, No2EU, Tusc, etc. Of course, both wings of the CPB are tied by a thousand umbilical cords to Labourism and hence to the British state and nationalism.

Needless to say, this tension or confusion over the Labour Party - with it or against it? - makes its way into the ‘updated’ BRS, predictably enough. So it leaves open the possibility of ‘reclaiming’ Labour - after all, never throw all your cards away. Thus the draft states that the “potential exists to wage a broad-based, resolute fight to reclaim the party for social democratic and more leftwing policies”. However, “should it prove too difficult to challenge New Labour with any real prospect of success”, then the “major sections of the trade union movement should meet together with their political allies to consider how to re-establish a mass party of labour” - which is to say, “one which will represent the interests of the working class and the people generally”.[3]

Similarly, we learn that during the “course of the struggle for the leftwing programme and the election of a left government” it is “likely that new forms of working class and progressive organisation will have arisen”. Therefore, we are led to conclude, “every effort should be made to involve these new forms of embryonic political power in the formulation of policy, tactics and strategy and in the enforcement of government measures based on the Leftwing programme”.[4] Elsewhere, the draft talks about the “need for a popular anti-monopoly alliance to secure the maximum support and the broadest possible alliances for policies which challenge any aspect of state-monopoly capitalism”. These alliances, it goes on, are “based on mass extra-parliamentary campaigning and militancy”, which will “need to win the election of a left government based on a socialist, Labour, communist and progressive majority in the Westminster parliament, supported by similar formations in the Scottish and Welsh legislatures”.[5]

Leaving aside for a moment the whole question of the CPB’s craven reformism - never for a second do the authors of the draft consider the possibility of a revolutionary transformation of society - what the ‘updated’ BRS assumes is that the working class in Britain needs to go back historically to Labourism, or in other words revive social democracy. One wing wants to go back to social democracy through the Labour Party while the other looks to something similar to the new workers’ party promoted by the Socialist Party in England and Wales. In that sense SPEW is more consistent or logical in its programmatic outlook than the CPB - albeit one that is consistently and logically wrong, and quite disastrously so. That is, the Labour Party is dead as a site for struggle and this requires the left to fight for disaffiliation of the trade unions in the name of inventing a Labour Party mark two (with the role of Marxists being to deny that that they are Marxists at all, but to act as loyal left social democrats within the new phantom ‘mass workers’ party’ until the day is right to jump out of the wings like Superman and assume revolutionary leadership over the bemused working class).

Clearly, if opposition to the coalition and cuts does drive Labour to the left - hardly a wild speculation - then the CPB traditionalists will doubtless claim that they were right all along and that all this talk of the unions forming a new “mass party of labour” was just so much irresponsible, leftist hot air; and that the ‘updated’ BRS is founded on a false premise, if not a bit politically embarrassing. In which case, why not ‘update’ it again and put back all the old-school stuff about the centrality of the Labour Party in the struggle for socialism?

‘Socialist’ China

As for the ‘socialist’ countries, the CPB comrades continue their Stalinist infatuation with them - Soviet Union or no Soviet Union, Uncle Joe or no Uncle Joe. Thus in the section ironically entitled ‘Lessons of socialism’, the draft declares that “during its near 70-year existence the Soviet Union showed how socialist planning and public ownership could transform society in the interests of the mass of the population” - even if unexplained “serious mistakes, pressures and unresolved contradictions eventually resulted in the collapse of the socialist system in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe”.

However, do not despair, comrades: “determined not to suffer the same fate” as the Soviet Union, “China’s communists have placed greatest emphasis on economic and social development” - leading to a situation where “state power is being used to combine economic planning and public ownership with private capital and market mechanisms, with the aim of building a socialist society in its primary stage”. In fact, the BRS gushes, in China “state-directed policies have lifted more than 600 million people - almost half the population - out of extreme poverty since 1981, a feat unequalled in human history”. Furthermore, we are also told, “advances have also been made in extending democratic rights, but without the Communist Party weakening its leading role in political life” - and that the “foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China has sought to uphold the principles of national sovereignty and peaceful coexistence”.[6] Who would have thought that China has embraced the capitalist market with a vengeance? That workers, far from collectively running society, have even fewer democratic rights than in most capitalist countries?

However, in case workers might be put off by the example of China, the BRS stresses the “need for each country to find its own path to socialism”. In Britain and its “constituent nations”, the draft concludes, “taking the road to socialism can only be done successfully if those differing national conditions are taken fully into account”. And for good measure we are told that “the reality of uneven economic and political development under capitalism” has exploded “the abstract and defeatist myth that socialist revolution can only be a single-stage and wholly or primarily global process”.[7]

The paean of praise to the bureaucratic tyrannies in China and elsewhere makes a mockery of the introduction to the draft programme where we told about - quite correctly, of course - the “Marxist insistence that the liberation of the working class and the emancipation of the people must be through the action of the working class and the people themselves”, since “freedom cannot be imposed from outside or above” but has to be “fought for and won by the active, conscious participation of the overwhelming majority of the population”.[8]

Self-evidently, the CPB is at a programmatic dead end - no matter how often it ‘updates’ the BRS (and you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be rewritten yet again in the very near future). But BRS reformism, predicated on the existence of a strong ‘socialist’ bloc and based on an alliance with the trade union bureaucracy and Labourism - whether in the form of the actual Labour Party or a replacement - has surely lost all plausibility.


  1. www.communist-party.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=8&Itemid=13
  2. www.communist-party.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=250:britains-road-to-socialism-introduction&catid=8:britains-road-to-socialism&Itemid=196, p1.
  3. www.communist-party.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=254:britains-road-to-socialism-chapter-4&catid=8:britains-road-to-socialism&Itemid=17&limitstart=2
  4. www.communist-party.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1051:towards-socialism-a-communism&catid=8:britains-road-to-socialism&Itemid=197
  5. www.communist-party.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=255:britains-road-to-socialism-chapter-5&catid=8:britains-road-to-socialism&Itemid=18&limitstart=4
  6. www.communist-party.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=252%3Abritains-road-to-socialism-chapter-2&catid=8%3Abritains-road-to-socialism&Itemid=15&limitstart=3
  7. Ibid.
  8. www.communist-party.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=250:britains-road-to-socialism-introduction&catid=8:britains-road-to-socialism&Itemid=196