I can’t help but feel that comrade Chris Ford takes a somewhat crude position on nationalism and the ‘national question’ (Weekly Worker 86), even if it is motivated by a healthy disgust of British chauvinism in all its forms.
Communist are, as a general principle, in favour of the largest, most centralised states possible. That this is in the long-term interests of the working class, given the global and international nature of imperialism, was clearly Lenin’s position.
Yet comrade Ford oddly claims that Lenin had a “programme” which advocated the establishment of a “federal republic” for Britain. I think the comrade is confusing an almost ‘throw away’ comment, in a completely different historical and political context, with a programme. This is quite a serious error for a communist, as a programme represents the crystallisation of the Communist Party’s principles and overall strategic approach to the conquest of state power by the proletariat. In other words, it is the standard, the reference point which we revolve around.
Can advocacy of a “federal republic” fit into the communist programme of our Party? I would argue not. To call for it now in this epoch of global, interdependent capitalism would show an enormous lack of ambition, if not a distinct absence of communist vision.
Yes, I think our manifesto is right to ‘moan’ that “narrow nationalism still exists as a divisive force” - because it is true. We are internationalists, therefore must be opposed to the poison of nationalism, separatism and localism. How that principled position means that we are “identifying the unity of the working class with that of the state” - ie, the bourgeois state - is a bit mystifying to me, but there you go.
Also, I think it is mechanistic to view the “British nation” entirely as a conscious counterrevolutionary ‘invention’, only designed to ‘integrate’ the labour aristocracy into the British state. I believe that a detailed and scientific examination of the topic would reveal that reality was a lot more complex and contradictory.
However, this is very important and thorny issue, so therefore we welcome all serious and honest contributions. Our Party is about to conduct a series of very lengthy and detailed seminars on nationalism and the ‘national question’, starting in April. I think comrade Ford should attend these seminars, as he can clearly add some very valuable and stimulating input into these discussions.
Chris Ford’s letter obviously contained many truths and represents a position that could be legitimately held by any member of the CPGB. I disagree with him however.
I think he mistakes the position of the CPGB, in that it maintains that the four nations incorporated inside the UK still retain their national identity and, as a consequence of this, have the right to cede from either the UK or any successor state - in line with Lenin’s position on the rights of self-determination of nations. This does not mean that the CPGB advocates such secession: the larger the territory of the state, the easier it is for the workers to organise the overthrow of capitalism. After its overthrow, the better their position for the building of communism. In the case of Britain, I would certainly look for the unity of the whole of the working class. The nations in Britain are extremely close to one another and no antagonism exists between them, irrespective of what problems the ruling class may cause in its running of the economy of the British Isles. Additionally, they have formed common instruments of class struggle in terms of political parties and trade unions that tends to make them a national working class.
He goes on to say that Lenin was in favour of a federal republic for the British Isles and I agree. Seventy-five years ago that was the case, but times have moved on. I feel now that a federal Europe would be a step forward. That does not mean to say that we should support a bourgeois policy of forming one. Certainly we should not oppose it on any chauvinist grounds. Communist parties must determine their policies on the basis of the working class, having both interests and programmes independent of the bourgeoisie. Welsh or Scottish nationalism, or any other nationalism, is certainly an anathema to us insofar as they preach the doctrine that all peoples of a common nation have a common interest. In any case, communists surely believe that it is both desirable and inevitable that nations will dissolve.
As far as devolution is concerned, Lenin made the point that local democracy was the highest form of democracy that the bourgeoisie could achieve, and devolution would certainly be a step towards greater local democracy. This is something that has been systematically undermined by government over the last few decades. Insofar as democracy represents the best conditions for the development of a communist party, then quite clearly we should be in favour of it.
Having said this, it is certainly true that we must make considerably more study of the question of the relationships between nations and how to overcome the disruptive influences of bourgeois nationalism on our movement.
Comrade Phil Kent’s comment that Paul Conlon is “just like Harry Gwala” (Letters, No85) is absurd.
Conlon cannot even bring himself to join the CPGB. He contents himself with sniping criticisms of the Weekly Worker’s contents.
I do not, however, agree with comrade Mark Fischer’s implication that Conlon’s letters should no longer be published. When he has some serious criticisms or comments to make, such as stating his views on the bourgeois democratic revolution, there should be no objection.
It is difficult to see how anyone can compare Paul Conlon with comrade Harry Gwala of the South African Communist Party. Here is a comrade who has dedicated his whole life to active revolutionary struggle, making untold sacrifices in the fight against vicious apartheid repression and for socialism. We therefore treat his opinions with respect, even when we do not share them.
For example, it is a grave error to offer support of any kind to Mandela’s capitalist government. No matter how unpopular it may be to criticise the president, workers must be told the truth: he is trying to make the system work - inevitably at the expense of the working class. Leaders like comrade Gwala are followed by millions. Yet it is left to the likes of the self-seeking Winnie Mandela to say what those millions are themselves experiencing: nothing has really changed.
The greatest support and encouragement we can give to South Africa’s genuine communists is to reforge our own Party, to show that we too can lead millions.
Instead of pretending, Paul, that you can’t tell the difference between opinions expressed in an interview and those in a signed article, why don’t you join us in that task?