First Issued: January 1967
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
A printed discussion journal, “THE MARXIST”, appeared for the first time in November and has been sent free to a considerable number of Party members. We feel it would be helpful for some of the facts about this journal to be known.
The journal claims that it will bring “Marxist thought and analysis back into the British political struggle”, suggesting that the political scene has been deprived in this respect for some time. Many people recognise that the documents and reports produced by the Communist Party, and the numerous Marxist books and pamphlets written by Communists, not to speak of innumerable articles in the “Morning Star” (and its predecessor, the “Daily Worker”), in “Labour Monthly,” “Marxism Today” and “Comment” represented a considerable body of Marxist thought and analysis. But all this is disregarded by the sponsors of the new journal.
“The Marxist” has an editorial board consisting of eight people – Reg Birch, Mike Faulkner, Jim Kean, Tom Hill, Ewan MacColl, Sam Nelson, Colin Penn and Ted Roycroft.
Colin Penn was expelled from the Communist Party this year for circulating material hostile and opposed to the Party. Mike Faulkner’s application for membership was recently rejected by the London District Committee. He has been expelled from the Young Communist League for his disruptive activities in the St. Pancras YCL. The others are members of the Party. Ewan MacColl is well known as a folk singer. Reg Birch is a full time trade union official and a former member of the Executive Committee of the Party. Tom Hill has recently been suspended from holding office in the branch since he refused to carry out Party policy. The other names will only be known in their localities.
These people have decided to go outside the Party, to attack it through this journal which they also hope will rally individuals who have sympathies with viewpoints rejected by our Party, but held by the present leadership of the Communist Party of China.
In an anonymous article on “The International Situation” it is argued that the Soviet Union should have started to exert pressure on the Americans in Europe, in order to prevent them shifting any forces from Europe to Vietnam.
“Why have the Americans felt safe in making this big shift of “their forces from Europe? The Soviet leaders have frequently expressed their support for Vietnam and have sent some assistance. But they have not put pressure on the Americans in the West to deter them from switching their forces to Asia. On the contrary, the Russians have encouraged the Americans to feel safe in doing this. When they suddenly made their request for an urgent reconvening of the Geneva Disarmament Conference and when they entered into a range of cultural and political agreements with the Americans, they must have known that these moves would be interpreted by the Americans as making safe a transfer of their forces from Europe.”
According to this “theory” the Soviet Union should have made a political and military move in Europe to frighten the Americans into keeping their troops there, perhaps on Berlin, or some such issue. There could be no more provocative tactics and strategy. For such “pressure” would be widely regarded as not only directed against the Americans, but against the peace and security of the people in Europe and would certainly be the means of enabling the US to restore the crumbling NATO set-up, lead to a rallying of the reactionary forces in Europe, and encourage the neo-fascist revival in West Germany. At the very moment when the great majority of the people in Western Europe are seeking to loosen the bonds that bind them to the USA, such a move would have actually strengthened the American position and halted this progressive development.
When, however, the question is posed whether China, the neighbour of Vietnam, cannot intensify pressure on the Americans, we are told: It is difficult to brand China as aggressive when the contrast is so sharp between her restraint and the brutal barbarities perpetrated by the Americans thousands of miles from their own soil.
So in the same article in which the Soviet Union is denounced for exercising restraint instead of creating a political and military crisis In Western Europe, the Chinese are being praised for their restraint in South East Asia.
This phoney strategy is being advocated to conceal the fact that the Chinese are refusing to unite with the Soviet Union and the rest of the Communist world to give the maximum support to Vietnam.
The anonymous author or authors of this article attack Fidel Castro whose “alleged grievance over the volume of Chinese rice supplies was absurd and arrogant.” The “alleged grievance” was that the Chinese, having agreed to deliver a stated quantity of rice to Cuba in 1966, at the eleventh hour broke the contract.
So when one socialist country fails to fulfill its obligations to another socialist country, the “Marxists” attack the injured country.
The article then criticises the Communist Party in Britain for having
“issued a September statement expressing ’concern’ over the situation, in which it alleged Mao Tse-tung was ’deified’, that the Cultural Revolution represented hooligan excesses, and that the Chinese Party leadership flouted democracy. Few bourgeois commentators have gone so far.”
The “Marxist” commentators can only spare four lines on what the British Communists said about the “Cultural Revolution”. But it is a fact that the lapse of time between meetings of the Central Committee is a clear violation of the Constitution of the Chinese Party. Since the Chinese Communist Party held no Party Congress to decide the “Red Guard” policy (and has held no Party Congress since 1956), it is undemocratic. As for hooliganism, the “Red Guards” have been reproved in the Chinese press for their excesses. Regarding the “deification” of Mao Tse-tung, one has only to refer to the bulletins of the Chinese News Agency, with daily articles with wildly extravagant praise and acclamation of his ideas as the basis of all advance in China. Clearly “The Marxist” is concerned to denounce everyone in the international Communist movement who does not support the Maoist policy in China.
Parliamentary democracy, “The Marxist” indicates, is a sham, and “The British Road to Socialism” with its aim of transforming Parliament into an effective instrument of the people’s will, is unreal. The conclusion which must be drawn from this is that the workers can only capture political power by armed revolution. Stated thus baldly this policy is not likely to attract mass support. The trade unionists on the Editorial Committee are not likely to underline it in their addresses during trade union elections. So this question is approached obliquely, in an article “The Labour Party and Socialism” by Mike Faulkner.
This centres round three main questions – the character of the British state, the character and development of the Labour Party, and the role of the Communists.
The British state is defined as a bourgeois state in which “all the important elements of the state machine –the police, armed forces, the judiciary, Parliament, the organs for controlling financial and economical policy, the organs for exercising ideological influence –are shaped and dominated by the representative of the capitalist class.”
This sounds an acceptable definition, but we will examine later how it is used.
The Communist Party is “nothing more than a left auxiliary of the Labour Party”... “It is politicians outside the Labour Party, such as Gollan, Dutt and other Communist leaders generally, who keep alive the illusion that the Labour Party is once again being betrayed by its own right wing leadership.”
In describing how the bourgeois state arrived at its present stage of development, the political and economic struggles of the British people are left out of consideration.
“So long as the working class movement was relatively weak, Parliament mainly reflected conflict between the landowning and manufacturing sections of the ruling class. Later it became necessary to give Parliament a “democratic” facade in order to enmesh the workers within the capitalist state. Successive reforms of the franchise gave the vote to skilled workers (1867) and to semi-skilled workers (1884) but these concessions were made with the knowledge that the working class had lost the fervour of the Chartist days.”
It is simply not true that the bourgeoisie tried to give Parliament a “democratic” facade. Throughout most of the history of bourgeois society, the dominant bourgeoisie repudiated parliamentary democracy and one man one vote, and fought as long as they could against extensions of the franchise. There were not votes for all men, let alone votes for women, until the electoral reform of 1918 was extracted by the masses in struggle from a ruling class which had been shaken by the October Revolution in Russia.
Not only have the mass of the British people fought for the franchise, but in every economic and political crisis in British history they have treated Parliament as an institution on which to exercise pressure in their own interests. They have exerted pressure to obtain the freedom of the press (limited admittedly), on the right to organise trade unions, on free elementary education, on the suffrage, and have particularly in recent years exerted all kinds of pressures on behalf of full employment and peace. Even the article we are reviewing, talks about the need for struggle over Vietnam. Is not this struggle directed to Parliament, the Government and the State?
Masses of those who have participated in these struggles know all about the state machinery being shaped and dominated by the representatives of the capitalists” in a broad way. They have never accepted that as a reason for refraining from using pressure upon it.
According to “The Marxist”, Parliament is simply a “game of ’ins’ and ’outs’,” and the implication is that workers who have participated continually in struggles to change the policy of the Government should stand on the sidelines during Parliamentary elections, denouncing all political parties either as bourgeois parties, or, in the case of the Communist Party, as auxiliaries of bourgeois parties. The people who have struggled against Government policies are now expected to proclaim that it does not matter at all who is elected; that as long as Parliament exists, the capitalists will always be able to manipulate things in their own way.
They pretend to see no difference between the class forces behind the Labour and Tory parties. Both are equally regarded by “The Marxist” as puppets of imperialism.
The Labour Party is characterised in the article with a quotation from a speech made by Lenin at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, as follows:
“Of course, for the most part the Labour Party consists of workers, but it does not logically follow from this that every workers’ party which consists of workers is at the same time a ’political workers party’. That depends on who leads it, upon the content of its activities and of its political tactics. Only the latter determines whether it is a political proletarian party. From this point of view, which is the only correct point of view, the Labour Party is not a political workers’ party but a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although it consists of workers, it is led by reactionaries and the worst reactionaries at that, who lead it in the spirit of the bourgeoisie ... they systematically deceive the workers.”
This quotation is used to bolster up the idea that the right wing elements in the Labour Party are reactionary, and to discount any possibility of the left wing forces adopting a revolutionary position. Lenin, on the occasion of this speech, was discussing the character of the Labour Party specifically in relation to the need to establish a fully revolutionary party, the Communist Party, in Britain.
It is significant that in the remarks quoted here Lenin made the point that the character of the Labour Party ”depends on who leads it, upon the content of its activities and its political tactics.”
None of these things have been settled for all time in advance. The leadership, the activities and the content of the Labour Party can undergo great change.
Of the formation of the Labour Party the article states: “The development of the Labour Party during the first two decades of this century occurred at a time of mounting class struggle, nationally and internationally and its appearance on the scene reflected the needs of British imperialism.”
This could mean one of two things: either the British imperialists thought it was a good thing that it was a reformist Labour Party which emerged in Britain, and not a mass revolutionary Marxist Party; or the British imperialists promoted a reformist Labour Party to divert the workers from the class struggle. Either of these interpretations fit in with the thinking of “The Marxist”.
But another interpretation is that trade unionists, under the influence of various socialist groups, formed a broad reformist Labour Party to secure Labour representation in Parliament by winning the support of the workers whose experience of the mounting class struggle led them to lose faith in the open capitalist parties.
This party had no theoretically grounded programme. Owing to the economic and political conditions under which the new party was formed, coupled with the sectarian attitude of the various contemporary socialist groups toward it, right wing social democratic theorists from the Independent Labour Party and the Fabian Society provided the main ideological influence in it. On the other hand, its working class cadres have always been influenced by the developments in the political and economic struggles, and by the activity and policy of the Communist Party which was formed later on.
This is the interpretation of the Communist Party, which has never regarded the Labour Party as one solid reactionary mass. There have always been left groups reflecting the influence of the working class economic and political struggles in which members of the Labour Party have been involved, and also reflecting the influence of Marxist activity and thought on the movement generally.
The Labour Party is a broad political party with a right wing policy and dominant leadership, but with growing left wing influence. It now has a large majority in Parliament, and in the leading towns and cities of this country.
The attitude of Marxists towards it should aim at mobilising the utmost mass pressure against the reactionary measures of the Government and at defeating a Tory comeback; at securing a growth of Marxist influence amongst the people in general and inside the Labour movement in particular; at developing the closest possible co-operation with all on the left inside the Labour Party, the trade unions and the co-operatives, with a view to developing the unity of the left inside this movement, in order to combat all reactionary policies and secure a change of policy in a socialist direction. The activities to secure such a change of policy involve at the same time the need to replace right wing by left wing leaderships.
The Communists say that to increase Marxist influence it is necessary for them to contest elections wherever practicable. The most energetic electoral struggles are necessary if people are to be won for a real class policy.
Where there are no Communist candidates the workers have to choose between Labour, Tory, or in some cases, Liberal candidate or to abstain. Abstention is, in fact, to contract out of the electoral fight and play into the hands of the right wing. Communists advocate voting Labour rather than abstaining, but accompanying this by strong pressure and activity for a change of policy.
To shun the electoral struggle is to shun the battle for Marxist ideas and therefore to retreat from the struggle for soc change. That is what “The Marxist” proposes to do when it adopts its attitude of no support for the Labour Party because it is a bourgeois party operating in a bourgeois state.
“The Marxist” narrowly identifies the left in the Labour Party and trade unions with left MPs, and spends much time in showing that such people have often renegued. The left is, however, much more than this. It is there, often unnecessarily disunited, in every workshop, trade union branch, district committee and executive and Labour Party organisation. It can over a period, greater clarity and coherence in its struggles with the right wing. The supporters of “The Marxist” call themselves revolutionaries, but say we should refuse to participate in this struggle which is essential if we are to build real unity of the left.
Of course there are sham lefts as well as genuine lefts amongst Labour MPs and trade unionists. There are people posing as left who will always retreat at the decisive moment, but there are genuine lefts, MPs reflecting the upsurge in the movement.
There is a glimmer of understanding of this when the article states:
“To recognise that the Labour Party is not revolutionary is not to make it synonymous in all respects with the right. The right have always been the ’worst reactionaries’, but many workers who support the Labour Party sincerely desire the establishment of socialism, as they understand it in Britain. It is not their lack of desire for socialism, but the political line they follow that makes them supporters of capitalism.”
Surely in these circumstances it is the duty of Marxists to pursue policies that enable them to get the ear of these sincere people and enable them to change their political line.
However, “The Marxist” then tells us that “the Labour Government pursues capitalist policies, not because it is in the hands of the right wing, but because the Labour Party is itself a capitalist party whose role is to keep the present system in existence.”
Such un-Marxist nonsense about the performance of “roles” independent of either the membership or the leadership, is motivated by the refusal to carry on a hard, many-sided struggle against right-wing domination, and so a “holier than thou” attitude of sectarian aloofness from the struggle is adopted.
Reg Birch writes an article on “The Wilson Screw on the Workers” which simply repeats the analysis common to the whole left in recent months. Gross sectarianism, however, results in distorting the class significance of struggle on particular issues, as for example:
“The arguments between Tories and Labour, or between those who want a presence East of Suez and those who think we cannot afford it, or between those who favour devaluation and those who do not, are all arguments about how to make British capitalism work.”
This implies that it is a matter of indifference to socialists as to whether there is a presence East of Suez or not, or whether the pound is devalued or not.
The people of South East Asia are not likely to share this view, nor are British workers whose standard of living would be further reduced by devaluation.
It is true that there are divisions in the ruling class on these, as on many other questions. But it is sterile and un-Marxist sectarianism of the worst kind to suggest that the working class should therefore be indifferent to such issues, not adopt its own views on them, and fail to take advantage of the divisions among the capitalists.
We are told that the workers will resist Wilson’s policy and “a new phase of political struggle will open up in Britain.” Of course it will, but its effectiveness will depend to a very great extent on the growth of unity between Communists and lefts in all phases of the movement, and on a positive immediate policy of struggle such as that discussed in the December 3rd Conference against the Wage Freeze, Unemployment and in Defence of the Trade Unions. The prerequisites for successful struggle include unity of the left, particularly in the trade union movement. The trade union personalities on the Editorial Committee of “The Marxist” are bitter opponents of such unity.
Indeed, the whole theoretical and practical absurdity of this sectarian group can be summed up in the concluding paragraph of their journal:
“What must be done In Britain? There must be continuous Marxist explanation and education. British politics and the nature of imperialism must be laid bare. All illusions about easy short cuts to socialism must be exposed. This is not a call for mere political talk. Theorising divorced from action is sterile. A revolutionary leadership cannot emerge without involvement in the struggles, for example, over Vietnam and wages, that are now taking place. But Marxist theory there has to be if the best and most militant forces are to avoid dissipating their strength in disconnected and ultimately ineffective activities.”
In other words, the mass movement has to rely on the leadership of this basically disruptive little sect who have emerged to claim a virtual monopoly of Marxist understanding.
Like all sectarian groups, they want the movement to go back to square one and start anew under their leadership.
There is no attempt to analyse the stage that the movement has reached in 1966, and to discuss the tactics of the struggle against Government policy. There is no attempt to get an understanding amongst the great mass of militants who are against Wilson’s policies. Left unity in the unions and elsewhere is completely out. Against the entrenched right wing, spontaneous action plus occasional advice for the sect, is the only way forward. The lefts in the Labour Party and in the unions, and of course the Communist Party, are no good.
This negative approach can lead only to inactivity and demobilisation of the left. All genuine militants must seek ways and means of fighting the disastrous policy of Wilson, in every section of the movement, on the basis of the broad left policy which has been campaigned for in recent months. The development of mass campaigns outlining an alternative policy to that of Wilson will be a stimulus to mass struggle against the freeze and squeeze and for full employment.
The people can only be convinced of the necessity of a socialist transformation of society through their experience of political and social struggles. The drive to win mass electoral support, to secure a parliamentary majority, is an inescapable feature of the struggle for socialism in Britain. It is part and parcel of the struggle for power.
That the working class cannot win decisive political power by parliamentary action alone is clearly indicated in “The British Road to Socialism”, and that powerful elements in the state bureaucracy will seek to resist the parliamentary majority is also clearly stated. “The British Road” underlines the fact that behind the Parliamentary majority there must stand the organised workers in the factories, the trade unions, the co-operatives, who must be prepared to back the parliamentary majority in breaking down bureaucratic resistance in any shape or form and in promoting genuine socialists to the key positions of the state machine. The peaceful transition to socialism is not achieved by winning a parliamentary majority alone.
There must be mass struggles to secure the necessary transformation of the state machine. There can be no mass struggle for socialism, however, unless we participate in the struggle for a parliamentary majority. In the particular conditions of Britain, to renounce that is to renounce the conquest of political power.
“The Marxist” has nothing to do with Marxism and the class struggle. Its policy is seen to be:
1. To claim for this sect the right of leadership of the British workers, while denouncing all other groups in the movement.
2. To propagate the Chinese line justifying the refusal to discuss joint efforts greatly to increase activity on behalf of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam and of the People’s Republic of North Vietnam; to join with the Chinese in slandering any socialist state which does not agree with their policy.
3. To reject all efforts to build left unity in the movement, particularly in the trade union movement, while refusing to indicate any alternative methods of mass activity.
4. To misrepresent the policy of peaceful co-existence of states with different social systems and speak of the almost virtual certainty of a third world war.
5. To reject the possibility in Britain of a peaceful transition to socialism without armed insurrection and civil war.
“The Marxist” calls for the setting up of discussion groups. This is in line with the plans of the present leadership of the Communist Party of China to organise disruption inside every Communist Party, in the vain hope of splitting the working class movement.
We are sure that this disruptive group will disappear, as so many others have done before, as their “theories” are rejected as nonsense by our Party and their splitting activities are exposed.
The central task for the Communist Party is to strengthen the united fight of all progressive forces against the reactionary policies of the Wilson Government, the monopolists and US imperialist aggression in Vietnam.
London District Secretary, Communist Party.