The British Road to Revisionism
In the January/February 2008 edition of Lalkar we carried an article which highlighted the revolutionary programmes of British Communism and finished it with a few brief words about the revisionist British Road to Socialism. The purpose of this article is to broaden that analysis and criticism of the series of programmes of first the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and then the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) that went under the title of the British Road to Socialism (BRS).
1951 version of BRS
The first BRS was adopted in January 1951 and made a staggering change to CPGB policy.
This 1951 programme champions the idea that socialism can be achieved in Britain by winning a majority of seats in Parliament and legislating socialism in, stating: “…to bring about a decisive change in Britain, the millions of workers in the trade unions, cooperatives and individual members’ sections of the Labour Party will have to use their political and industrial strength to make it impossible for either the right-wing Labour leaders or the Tories to carry on their present pernicious policy.”
Further, “It is through this struggle that the unity of all workers by hand and brain, of professional people and farmers, can develop into a movement strong enough to defeat the rich and their defenders in the Labour Party and to ensure peace and a future for all working people” and “Only by united action between all sections of the Labour movement can the working class rally all its forces and all its allies for decisive action to win a Parliamentary majority and form a People’s Government.”
Note that to bring about the “decisive change” the workers need only use their “political and industrial strength” which, although extremely desirable, cannot achieve much unless they are also prepared to use their vastly greater numbers in violence against the ruthless enemy who will stop at nothing to regain what they have lost.
This un-Marxist idea of taking power by wishing it to be so was not only championed by the CPGB in 1951 but they were quite upset that anyone should think that they would try to achieve power in any other way! The 1951 British Road to Socialism says: “The enemies of Communism accuse the Communist Party of aiming to introduce Soviet Power in Britain and abolish Parliament. This is a slanderous misrepresentation of our policy…the British Communists declare that the people of Britain can transform capitalist democracy into real People’s Democracy, transforming Parliament, the product of Britain’s historic struggle for democracy, into the democratic instrument of the vast majority of her people. The path forward for the British people will be to establish a People’s Government on the basis of a Parliament truly representative of the people.”
This quote uses the terms democracy and democratic without any qualification but is there anyone living in the real world that thinks that there is one democracy which stands above class interests, obviously a product of the classless state that can be utilised by any class to rule peacefully? This is nonsense that crumbles under the least investigation, if the interests of different classes are different how can there be one democracy that serves them both and if the interests of the different classes are not different but identical, we surely have no need to replace the bourgeoisie as rulers of society as they can look after our interests as well, or better, as we can ourselves?
Other notable quotes from this programme include: “Despite the acute danger of war, the Communist Party declares that a third world war is neither necessary nor inevitable. The Communist Party rejects the ‘theory’ of the inevitable war between the socialist and capitalist camps. On the contrary, it declares that the peaceful co-existence of socialism and capitalism is possible on the basis of mutual respect for national rights and independence.”
Lenin taught us that imperialism will always lead to war, it is the nature of the beast, it cannot but lead to war between opposing classes, between the imperialist nations and the weaker exploited nations and even between the different imperialists themselves as they try to spread their power into each others ‘spheres of influence’. If they cannot live in peace with each other by what logic will they tolerate a world turning towards socialism without lifting a finger?
Another quote from this 1951 BRS repeats the fable that the means of political power for the advance to socialism already exists and is to be found in Parliament: “The power of the working people, uniting all sections who recognise the need for social change and participate in carrying it through, as expressed and laid down through the elected Parliament, is alone capable of securing peace, high wages for working people, raw materials for British industry and markets for British goods, and creating the conditions for the establishment of Socialism in Britain.”
This quote does not even allow for this use of the bourgeois Parliament being just one of the ways of “creating the conditions for the establishment of socialism”. No! This “alone” is the way according to the early revisionists.
We leave the reader with two quick quotes to ponder:
“Revolution does not mean that the new class will command, govern with the aid of the old state machine, but that this class will smash this machine and command, govern with a new one” (Lenin, State and Revolution).
“In all these circumstances, to assume that in a revolution that is at all profound and serious the issue is decided simply by the relation between the majority and minority is the acme of stupidity, the stupid prejudice of a common or garden liberal, the deception of the masses, concealing from them a well-established truth. This historical truth is that in every profound revolution, the prolonged, stubborn, desperate resistance of the exploiters, who for a number of years enjoy important practical advantages over the exploited, is the rule. Never, except in the sentimental phantasies of the sentimental simpleton Kautsky, will the exploiters submit to the decision of the exploited majority without making use of their advantages in a last desperate battle, or series of battles” (Lenin, The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky).
Many other quotes from these two works could be used. We do suggest a thorough reading of both or, indeed, numerous other works of Lenin dealing with the state, democracy and the nature of imperialism to back up our claims.
The 1958 version
And so onto the 1958 edition of the BRS. The decision to rewrite the BRS followed the 20th Congress and Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’ (secret from the Soviet people that is) and the Hungarian uprising (counter-revolution), when, alarmed by resignations and the criticism that was being hurled at the Soviet Union and communism generally by imperialist leaders, their news-writers and their puppets in the working class movement, the Labour Party (both left and right) and the trade union hierarchies, the CPGB leadership panicked and lurched further down the path of revisionism.
The gems of revisionism included in the 1958 version are “a transition to socialism without armed conflict is possible today in many countries” after which we are told that this is definitely possible in Britain “where there is a strong tradition of democratic institutions.”
And that in using these “traditional institutions and rights, we can transform Parliament into the effective instrument of the people’s will, through which the major legislative measures of the change to socialism will be carried. Using the rights already won in the Labour movement’s historic struggle for democracy, we can change capitalist democracy, dominated by wealth and privilege, into socialist democracy.”
This could be achieved; we are informed because “a general election fought on the issue of a socialist solution to Britain’s problems could bring decisive results. It could return to Parliament a socialist Labour and Communist majority and establish a Socialist Government which, with the backing of the people, would begin to carry through a fundamental social change.”
This is nothing new but it is far more clearly spelt out then in the original BRS. Our 1958 revisionists haven’t forgotten everything that Lenin taught them, though, they do recognise that the ruling class might not like or go along with their peaceful socialist revolution, no matter, they have that covered, they explain “the working class and progressive movement needs to be vigilant, and if necessary to use its political and industrial strength to defeat any attempts by the big capitalists to restrict democratic rights or block the road to democratic advance.” So the working class can still use their “political and industrial strength” to defeat the entrenched enemy, in fact, anything can be used except force and proletarian justice it seems!
On the subject of war we are told “A third world war is not inevitable. Capitalist and Socialist countries can live in peace and settle any differences without war.”
While on the next page, still in the same section we find “It is only imperialism with its drive to maintain, restore or extend exploitation over other peoples which gives rise to war.”
Well, we must ask the questions, if the CPGB in 1958 recognised that imperialism leads, by its very nature, to exploitation and suppression of workers at home and to a greater extent in the countries it considers to come into its sphere of influence, if it desires to “restore” the exploitation of peoples in socialist countries, if it cannot but lead to war against its rival imperialists as it seeks to “extend” exploitation, by what logic would communists declare that the transformation to socialism in the imperialist nations themselves can be peaceful? What logic of the madhouse says that these imperialist hyenas would truthfully contemplate living in peace with socialism when they cannot even live in peace with themselves?
Given that these ideas put forward in the BRS can no more lead to socialism than immersing ones head in flames for ten minutes leads to a perfect complexion, it is no wonder that the dictatorship of the proletariat, that vital stage that Lenin deemed absolutely necessary for all socialist revolutions, is forgotten.
Indeed, the 1958 version of the ‘British Road’ says that “The essence of socialist democracy is to replace the control of the rich by participation of the people in running the country, in the work of local government and in the management of industry. The existing organisations of the people, built up to fight for their interests, are the chief instruments through which this principle can be applied. The Labour Party and the Communist Party, working together for their socialist aim, are the working class political organisations on which the success of the change to socialism primarily depends. At the same time the right of other political parties to maintain their organisations, party publications and propaganda, and to take part in elections, will be maintained provided that these parties conform to the law.”
So if by some absolute miracle we should overcome the bourgeoisie by following this revisionist road, we have to ensure the rights of the deposed enemy with his advanced political organisation honed over hundreds of years, his international connections, his army of news-moulders trained in the art of deception, not to mention all the threads of command he would still maintain through the armed forces, to take back that power? What would there be to stop them, “The existing organs of the people” one supposes, “political and industrial strength”?
This 1958 version ends not with a bang but with the usual whimper for the Labour Party to be nice to them. Calling for the bans and proscriptions against the CPGB by the Labour Party the programme asserts: “This could lead to further steps towards unity, including the possibilities of affiliation, and eventually of a single working class party based on Marxism.”
Is it any wonder after reading this that so many militant workers and students, in the coming decade that saw a massive resurgence of interest in socialist/communist ideas, shunned the CPGB and were instead led astray by that other supporter of social-democracy which, on the face of it at least manages to sound more revolutionary, Trotskyism!
The 1968 version
We now come to the 1968 version. The very first thing this one does is to deny the leading role of a Communist Party in revolutionary struggle when in the second page of the introduction it states, “socialism can only be won by the combined action of the working people led by their socialist and democratic organisations. The Communist Party has a vital role to play, but it does not seek an exclusive position of leadership.” That position falls, we presume, to the Labour Party as the 1968 BRS tells us that “in the course of this many sided struggle the labour movement will find the way to throw off its right wing leadership; that new political alignments will come about, and create the conditions for the election of a Parliamentary majority and government pledged to a socialist programme.”
At this juncture we must apologise for boring the reader to tears with rehashes of the same tired arguments in favour of revisionism that fill each successive programme from 1951 onwards but it is important to understand the history of the BRS, the history that the CPB today proudly claims as its own.
Once again, as it did a decade earlier, the 1968 BRS states that “a democratic advance to socialism, as outlined in our programme, entails a multi-party system in which parties contend for the people’s support. We believe socialism can be achieved in Britain, not without prolonged and serious effort, but by peaceful means and without armed struggle, and this is our aim.”
While we are on this question, yet again, we are forced to ask; what of the lessons of the Irish struggle for independence? Did it not occur to any of these heroes of revisionism that if the British bourgeoisie through its state could commit the prolonged carnage and genocide that it already had in 1968 against the Irish people for demanding independence this would be as nothing compared to what it would do if seriously challenged at home by the forces of socialism which was threatening to take everything from it?
Page 17 repeats the drivel about taking power in Britain “without armed struggle” due to the “new relation of forces in the world” opening up possibilities for further advances to socialism.
The obvious question has to be that if in 1968 “the new relation of forces in the world” made it then possible to advance to socialism “without armed struggle” what was the reason for having that line ten years earlier in the 1958 version prior to that “new relation of forces in the world”?
In the 1968 BRS there is a lot more of the same, with slightly different wording. We won’t go through them all as it is un-necessarily repetitive, however we would like to mention one at the top of page 52 under the title of ‘Socialist Democracy’ it states: “Democratically organised political parties, including those hostile to socialism, would have the right to maintain their organisation, publications and propaganda, and to contest elections.” Apart from guaranteeing counter-revolution this doesn’t even carry the rider that appeared in previous manifestations that they would have to obey and work within the law!
Going back to the God of the CPGB, the Labour Party, this edition has this cringing remark to make on its relationship with that organisation: “We do not and will not in any way seek to impose Marxist ideas on the members of the Labour Party. Acceptance of the Marxist standpoint can only come through personal conviction, as the fruit of experience, discussion, argument and study.” Oh the pious arrogance that is beaming from this statement is breath-taking!
First how could the authors of the BRS impose Marxist ideas, you have to possess something before you can impose it on others!
Secondly, what happened to the earlier wish to join with the Labour Party as a single party of Marxism? In the next sentence they claim that that is still a possibility but “only when the majority of Labour Party members come to accept Marxist ideas.” So, obviously even that is not something that they were going to seriously work for, how do you educate someone, how do you argue/debate/discuss or even study with someone on the issue of Marxism without seeking to impose Marxist ideas! What idiocy makes its movement forward depend on someone else learning something but then goes on to say that they must learn it for themselves? Political education was obviously seen as an enemy of revisionism and rightly so as even the most basic knowledge of Marxism-Leninism shows up the 1968 BRS as the babblings of fools and traitors.
The 1977 version
We now come to the 1977 BRS, this was to be part of the final battleground in the war between the two opposing revisionist wings of the CPGB, the ‘Euro-communists’ and the group around the Morning Star (MS) who eventually formed/reformed the CPB. We wouldn’t expect anyone to challenge us when we call the Euro-communists revisionists and opportunists but perhaps there may be some who would disagree over those who rallied around the MS and formed the CPB. If so, please ask yourself a question: could you consider someone who supports the BRS in all its manifestations, after reading all that has already been mentioned, as anti-revisionist?
Anyway, to briefly sum up that war between the two groups, the Euro-revisionists took their opportunism to its logical conclusion and liquidated the Party, the losing group then ‘re-established’ the CPB on the basis of the BRS and have themselves revised it further over the years. That last CPGB programme carried all the usual hallmarks of revisionism, war is not a natural outcome of imperialism, no need for revolution using force, (they had even had the lesson of what happens to ‘peaceful revolutions’ from Allende’s downfall in Chile) Parliament and existing structures are all that is necessary for implementing the change to socialism, freedom for all who oppose socialism to express their ideas and work against a future socialist government and of course, the need to support the beloved Labour Party in elections (albeit calling it a new type of Labour).
They even move from the denial of the Communist Party as the leadership of the class in the struggle for socialism to the more, if it is possible, ridiculous position of saying “however large our party, we could not envisage achieving this by ourselves. Other parties, social forces and organisations will play an essential role in this process.” Of course it is a joke to think of these renegades from socialism playing any kind of positive role in a socialist revolution, but for people who consider themselves communist to declare that however large they became, however much support the working class gave them, they would not assume the leadership of the class in struggle is to openly declare class treachery, Lenin would have had them shot and rightly so!
The CPB and the BRS
The CPB have added nothing of significance to this programme in its various revisions since its own reformation and they certainly have not taken away any of the treacherous opportunism that has been its hallmark since 1951 (the latest version has undergone a slight name change and is now called Britain’s Road to Socialism, it can be read on the CPB website). It still seeks to bolster and popularise social-democracy even though the majority of the working class are now totally disillusioned by the Labour Party. It still talks of the need to give a free hand to counter revolution in a future socialist society, it still raises the banner of non-violent revolution and that war is not inevitable under imperialism. It still believes that the state, as it exists, can be adapted to ‘legislate’ socialism into being.
The CPB may wave red flags and some of them can use revolutionary phrases to hide their revisionism but they are still the betrayers of socialism, the underminers of the achievements of the Soviet Union, the purveyors of defeatism within our ranks, the force that calls on advanced workers to follow ‘Britain’s Road to Revisionism’ and give total support for social-democracy in the image of the Labour Party even while it carries out imperialist murder and brigandage around the world. There are very few who are politically aware in Britain who can claim to be ignorant of the CPB’s servile position re the Labour Party but before we close this article compare that with the view of the CPGB in 1929 as expressed in the programme Class against Class when talking of the Labour Party:
“This Party is the third capitalist party. It lays claim to the title of Socialist Party, but has nothing to do with socialism. Whatever associations it has with the working class are due to its development as a parliamentary wing of the trade unions, now turned to account as the means of subordinating the trade unions to its dictatorship on behalf of capitalism. It rejects working class politics and exploits the workers’ organisations for ‘national politics’. The Labour Party ‘in principle’ stands for the nationalisation of the banks, land and industry by purchase, i.e., State capitalism, but relegates in practice even this ‘principle’ to the far distant future.”
This is the vision of the Labour Party that is as instantly recognisable today just as it was in 1929. Since 1951 the CPGB, BRS, and (from 1988) the CPB have tried to conjure up visions of the Labour Party as a vehicle for movement towards socialism, as the mass party of the working class, but can anyone seriously consider these visions as true in the middle of imperialist wars of plunder led by the Labour Party?
There are other revisionists in this country but the largest revisionist group is the CPB and those who are genuinely seeking to work for revolution need to be confronted with this truth, which is written on every page of their claimed programme from 1951 onwards.
The CPB are not a party of communists who differ with some other communists over tactical matters, they have abandoned the principles of Marx and Lenin and seek to cover their cowardly treachery in revolutionary sounding phraseology. We declare that they have failed in this miserable venture and we will not only carry on exposing their rottenness but we call on each individual CPB member to study the CPB programme and its forerunners and to see their party as it really is. We further call on communists in the CPB to throw away their membership cards and come to the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), Britain’s real communist Party.