Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Movement

The “Absolute Decline” of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)

“Absolute Decline” as Applied to the Situation in Britain

The line on the crisis developed from Congress and in The Worker is that capitalism in Britain is in absolute decline. This decline is a deliberate political attack by the ruling class on the working class. Thus the Congress document argues that the working class has been increasing its share of the national product since 1940 and:

By way of response the ruling class policy has been to generate redundancy; the prime object being to strengthen their bargaining position... but though the rationale may have been couched in economic terms... the motive was social and political.

The decision has been taken to destroy the working class and with it Britain. It is a political decision that has nothing to do with any economic considerations. (from The Worker Editorial of August 2, 1976)

Behind this argument seems to lie the belief that the economic system of capitalism is in fact rational, that it could provide its workers with full employment, that unemployment and capital export are just the direct result of a political decision by the rulers.

This is social democratic thinking, leading us to think in terms of merely overthrowing the Labour government instead of overthrowing the whole economic and political system. This line gives an idealist and one-sided view of the crisis. Such measures as repressive laws, unemployment, closures, cuts in public expenditure, are not just a policy that can be altered if the working class exerts enough pressure. These are inextricably bound up with the economic development of the capitalist system. It is the contradictions inherent in the economic system of capitalism that produce economic and politics crises. As Marx notes of the period of social change:

Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social forces of production and the relations of production.

The idealist way of thinking leads to the line itself being confused and contradictory. Let us take the line’s basic propositions, that:

a) The ruling class is in a crisis of political power, and out of ’fear’ and revenge it is destroying the militant British working class and is introducing fascism.
b) The ruling class is quitting Britain, leaving it a wasteland,
c) In conclusion the choice for the class must be socialism or fascism.

...Surely the ruling class’s repressive measures to curb the working class reveals on the part of the bourgeoisie a certain intention of securing profits in Britain? Why should fascism be necessary in Britain if the bourgeoisie is intent on destroying Britain and quitting?

....The party claims that the working class is “cowardly” and in “disarray” therefore surely the ruling class attack can’t be the result of the extraordinary militancy of the working class. Indeed, with the British working class in such a condition why should there be any need for the bourgeoisie to leave!!?

...And yet, the line assents that it is the militant working class alone which has caused the ruling class crisis.

Capitalism’s crisis is the culmination of struggle by our class since its birth: it is of our making. (The Worker Editorial, Feb. 9th, 1976)

Does this mean then that a passive working class would not have to suffer unemployment etc. since capitalism with such a working class could not be in crisis???

Let us now look more closely at the symptoms of the crisis, as cited in the document, rising unemployment and the falling capacity of certain industries as a result of capital export.

...Unemployment is a recurring feature of capitalism. Profit is sought by increasing mechanisation, reducing the labour force, while intensifying exploitation and increasing productivity. Thus unemployment on its own is no proof of a crisis.

The destruction of British industry is cited as the second symptom. The ruling class is accused of the political decision of deliberately exporting capital rather than reinvesting it in British industry. Yet capital export is an essential feature of imperialism. Further the Fourth Congress document analysis of the destruction of British industry only refers to the decline of the old staple industries, and omits any mention of the developing newer industries. This leads to a biased one...sided, and in fact, inaccurate of Britain’s industrial strength.

To analyse the phenomenon of the present crisis in Britain correctly it is necessary to evaluate it, not from some “preconceived ideal”, but from the standpoint of the historical and material conditions which gave rise to it and with which it is connected.

Such conditions in Britain must on the one hand surely include Britain losing its leading position in world capitalist production at the end of the 19th century. Since then the annual average growth rate has been a mere 21 1/2% lower than other industrialised capitalist countries. British capitalism has a particular history of a vast Empire, of vast export of capital and a well organised working class. Here Lenin’s observation in “Imperialism” may highlight an important historical condition for Britain’s demise:

The export of capital affects and greatly accelerates the development of capitalism in those countries to which it is exported, while therefore, the export of capital may tend to a certain extent to arrest development in the capital exporting countries it can only do so by expanding and deepening further the development of capitalism throughout the world.

On the other hand, now there is a world crisis of imperialism of which Britain is a part, a crisis of overproduction aggravated by the onslaught of national liberation wars. Such crises bring about rationalisation, unemployment, the destruction of goods, the weeding out of uncompetitive industries, the destruction of productive forces.

Such an imperialist crisis has grave consequences for the world. The world capitalist market is glutted and is in constant danger of being reduced by socialist revolutions and resistance from the neo-colonies. Competition between the imperialist powers for markets for the export of goods and capital intensifies, leading to a redivision of the world through war.

It is in these conditions we should seek the reason for the crisis of British capitalism being more severe than that of other industrialised capitalist countries. The struggles of the British working class in defence of their living standards must of course aggravate the situation, although at the moment this struggle is lacking, but to seek the cause of the present crisis solely in working class militancy and the ruling class reaction to it is wrong. It is not historical and dialectical materialism. We must remember what Stalin wrote:

...the clue to the study of the laws of history of society must not be sought in men’s minds, in the views and ideas of society, but in the mode of production practised by society in any given historical period; it must be sought in the economic life of society.

...Hence, if it is not to err in policy the party of the proletariat must both in drafting its program and in its practical activities proceed primarily from the laws of development of production, from the laws of economic development of society.