Towards a Communist Programme


First Published: Proletarian, No. 3, n.d. [1975?]
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“The communists fight for the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class: but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.”

“The immediate aim of the communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat as a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.” (Communist Manifesto)

It is a fact widely recognised on the left, that no genuine communist party exists in Britain. There is no party capable of forming the proletariat into a class politically independent of the bourgeoisie. There is no party capable of leading and organising the working class in the overthrow of bourgeois political power. But the history of modern society shows that such a party is an absolute necessity for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. The stated objective of most left wing groups is to work for the formation of such a party.

There exist at present two basic lines on the question of party formation: one holds that the main obstacles to party formation are organisational, the other holds that they are political. The organisational obstacles are obvious: there are few who consider themselves to be revolutionaries, and these few are organised in groups which, separately and collectively, have little influence upon the proletariat. The organisational problem presents itself as the need to extend the membership of the revolutionary groups, until one or another of them has grown to the point at which it is a viable and influential party.

In opposition to this rather naive view, the second line assigns primacy to political problems. Among the revolutionary groups there as yet exists no clear conception, let alone agreement, as to what would be the strategy and tactics of a communist party in the British Isles. But without clear strategical and tactical conceptions, no communist party could have a viable political practice. Thus according to this second line the prime task in the present stage of party formation must be the clarification of communist doctrines on the strategy and tactics of the party, and following that, a struggle against the distortion of communist politics by bourgeois ideology.

COBI is in full agreement with this line. As we say: “The major reason for this failure (to build a communist party) has been the inability of revolutionaries in the British Isles to make a complete break with capitalist ideology; their failure to break with the pragmatist outlook of the British capitalist class, has led them to underestimate the importance of the Marxist-Leninist theory of scientific socialism. Without the guidance of this theory there can be no communist politics.

“For this reason COBI takes as its immediate tasks: the application of communist theory to the conditions of the British Isles, and ideological struggles against opportunist distortions of communism such as modern revisionism and Trotskyism.”

We hold organisational obstacles to party formation to be secondary for the following reason: if the communist party ie to be able to represent the future interests of the working class within the day-to-day struggle, then the party must have absolute unity and clarity of purpose. Such clarity and unity does not arise automatically, it has to be fought for. It is an elementary precept of Marxism that communist politics do not spontaneously develop out of the day-to-day struggles of the proletariat. The spontaneous movement is held back by the dominance of capitalist ideas. Under normal, that is to say, non-revolutionary conditions, the ruling class maintains its power by its control over men’s thinking. The ideological hegemony of the ruling class is based not only upon the incomparably superior resources available to the bourgeoisie for the dissemination of their ideas and world-outlook, but also upon the very structure of class society. Men’s social being determines their consciousness, and, whilst it is true that the position of the working class in capitalist society forces it to struggle for its immediate interests against the employing class, the consciousness that this gives rise to is limited by the framework within which these struggles are conducted. In an advanced capitalist society the most important of these frameworks are commodity exchange (structuring trades unionism), and democracy (producing labourist reformism as the bourgeois politics of the working class).

A communist party’s tactics are not based upon the limited, partial consciousness that develops out of the daily struggles of sectors of the working class, but upon a scientific comprehension of the laws of historical development, and of the historic tasks that face the proletariat in its struggle for communism. Any attempt to set up a communist party that lacked such a scientific understanding would be a formal exercise lacking in political substance. For such a party might be communist in name, but no more, for it would not be able to guide the workers’ movement in the tortuous struggles to come.

“Without a programme, it is impossible for the party to be a more or less integral political organism, able always to hold a line through each and every turn of events. Without a tactical line, based on an evaluation of the current political moment and giving exact answers to the ’accursed problems’ of the present, it is possible to have a small group of theoreticians, but not an operative political unit. Without an evaluation of the ’active’, topical or ’fashionable’ ideological-political trends, a programme and tactics can degenerate into dead ’points’, which it is unthinkable to realise in life, and to apply to thousands of detailed, concrete and most concrete questions of practice, with an understanding of the essence of things, an understanding of ’what it is all about’.” (Lenin: “On the Electoral Campaign and the Election Platform” 1911)

For communists to give the winning of organisational strength priority over the attainment of political clarity and organic ideological unity, is to open the door to opportunism, as the history of the communist movement has repeatedly shown. Active participation in mass work, whilst obviously essential, does not of itself give rise to ideological clarity. The attitude that it is possible first to establish a party organisation, which then as a second step goes out to develop its policies as a result of “learning from praxis”, leads inevitably to nothing more than the establishment of yet another opportunist sect or proto-party. The existing groups of this order are already legion and their faults are not accidental, but the results of the pressures of capitalist ideology upon the spontaneous politics of such groups. These same ideological pressures, generating various forms of opportunism, will act upon any new political group, which will inevitably succumb if it lacks an understanding of, and a militant commitment to, scientific socialism.

A communist party’s programme is the concise statement of its political doctrine, the doctrinal basis of the party’s political unity in action. The struggle against the theoretical and ideological obstacles to party formation can only gain direction and purpose as a struggle for the communist programme. For this reason we are devoting this and future issues of Proletarian to the programmatic debate.

A communist party is the conscious political organisation of the proletariat as a class. It represents within a given area the historic interests of the proletariat as an international class.

“That is why it is quite natural that (Bolshevism) as the party of the revolutionary proletariat is so solicitous of its programme, so meticulously defines its final aim long beforehand – the aim of complete liberation of working people – and looks so jealously at any attempt to trim down this final aim; for this same reason (Bolshevism) is so dogmatically strict and doctrinally unbending in separating small, immediate, economic and political aims from the final aim. Whoever is fighting for all, for complete victory, cannot but be on the lookout lest small gains should bind one’s hands, divert one from the path, forget that which is relatively far off and without which all small gains are but the vanity of vanities. On the contrary this care for gradual improvements cannot be understood by and is foreign to the bourgeois parties, even those that are the mo6t freedom-loving and people-loving.” (Lenin: “Political Sophisms”, 1905)

The dominant ideology in a class society is the ideology of the ruling class; as a result, working class militants who might join the party, will to a greater or lesser extent retain elements of capitalist ideology in their world outlook. This provision applies with even greater force to those of non-proletarian origin or position who seek to join the communist party.

The retention of elements of the bourgeois world outlook by members of the communist party, will tend to prevent the party from truly representing the historic interests of the proletariat. To be a genuine representative of these interests, the party must gain ideological autonomy from the capitalist class as a condition for the political autonomy of the proletariat.

The building of a mass party, whose membership contains a significant proportion of the entire working class, does not by itself ensure such autonomy. A large proletarian membership need not provide, and historically has not provided, a guarantee against the degeneration of a communist party into reformist bourgeois politics. The idea that a large proletarian membership will of itself endorse the revolutionary credentials of a party, is a reversion to democratic (that is to say, bourgeois) conception of politics. It amounts to the assertion that from the aggregate of the opinions of a mass of individual proletarians a politics that necessarily represents the historic-strategic interests of the working class will emerge. But this is no more than the ideology of national democracy (the classic ideology of the capitalist political system in a new guise), whereby the sum of the individual wills of the citizenry is the national will or national interest.

During periods of revolutionary upsurge, large sections of the working class will learn from their own experiences the need for revolutionary measures to solve their problems. Under such circumstances, the greater part of the class may rally behind the communist party. But the struggle for communism takes place over an entire revolutionary epoch, a period of history that has seen and will see both signal victories and grave defeats, periods of revolution, and periods of counter-revolution, like the period from which we are only just emerging. The lessons of past counter-revolutionary periods show that they can result in the demoralisation and disorientation of the whole revolutionary class If the only guarantee of the party’s revolutionary character lay in the fact that its ranks included large numbers of proletarians, then it is doubtful that the party could survive a period of counter-revolution with this character intact.

In opposition to this social democratic conception of the party, communists maintain that a party is able to be the political organisation of the proletariat only if it has a theory, a set of fundamental principles embodied in a programme, which transcends the present day situation in order to express: the historical destiny of the working class, the ultimate objectives and means of struggle of generations of communists and other proletarians, past, present and future, and which transcends the limits of nationality to represent the interests of proletarians of all nationalities. The programme provides the base upon which the political unity of the communist party is founded. It expresses the principles to which all members subscribe, and on the basis of which they are willing to cooperate in political struggle. Only when there is agreement on the programme can the party realise communist self-discipline and unity in action. Only with such unity can the party operate as a conscious co-ordinated political organism.

What, then, should be the nature and extent of the programme?

Here there exist wide differences between the programmes of previous Marxist parties. These range from short documents such as the famous Erfurt programme of the old German Social Democratic Party, the short-lived 1919 Platform of the Socialist Labour Party of Great Britain, or the 1917 programme of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, to much more extensive and lengthy documents such as the 1928 programme of the Komintern. The different types of programme corresponded to the different types of party. The Erfurt Programme, the model programme of the Second International, corresponded to the type of mass party characteristic of the International. These parties degenerated into electoral ones despite containing within their ranks a considerable section of their respective working classes. For a party whose main political activities are electoral, there is a strong incentive to maximise the party’s electoral support by increasing its paper membership. The ideological level and commitment of the members becomes a matter of secondary importance. This tendency is accelerated if the party programme is brief and contains opportunist concessions to bourgeois ideas in the hope that thereby a larger membership may be gained. For a revolutionary party such an approach is impermissible. If all the current deviations that beset the contemporary workers’ movement are to be avoided, then the party programme must be explicit in its presentation of both the strategy and tactics of communism. In Britain, where the heritage that communists must renounce: labourism, economising and modern revisionism, is so insidious and pervasive, the programme must constitute a complete break both in outlook and in practice. It must be explicit and free from any gaps through which the labourite tradition might reassert itself.

A programme must deal with at least the following:

1) The general nature of the capitalist mode of production, and the current stage of development of the world capitalist system.
2) British society: its modes of production, clas6 structure, the national question, the political superstructure, the “roads” that it may follow in its future development.
3) The dictatorship of the proletariat: its nature and tasks.
4) The strategy and tactics of communists in the period prior to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
5) The relationship between the communists and other political parties and tendencies.

It is not our intention at present to produce a draft programme having these sections. This is not yet possible; too many political and theoretical questions remain to be resolved. What can be done is to set terms for the programmatic debate by indicating the problems that must be faced.


Firstly, there is the matter of precedents; to what extent do the programmes of the past provide an adequate guide to the formulation of a new programme for a communist party operating under the economic and political conditions of modern British society?

The obvious starting points are the Communist Manifesto, the Statutes of the International Working Men’s Association, and the critiques of the Gotha and Erfurt programmes – in other words, the programmatic writings of the founders of communism. In these works they laid down its fundamental principles, defined the autonomous politics of the proletariat as a class. The basic principles laid down in the Manifesto remain valid throughout the period during which the proletariat struggles within capitalist society, and to which any communist programme must conform. It has obvious omissions: it could not deal with modern economic developments, its treatment of democracy is confusing in the present context, and it does not point out the need to smash the state and replace it with a proletarian dictatorship; lessons that history has since taught those willing to learn. Besides which, its form is not that required by a modern manifesto, being more in the form of a polemical, popular introduction.

The Statutes of the First International lay down the principles of internationalism that must go into any programme, but again the form is inadequate, due to the diverse coalition which at that time formed the International, being the first stage of the international workers’ movement. In a document acceptable both to Marx and English Trades Union leaders compromises were inevitable.

Marx’s trenchant criticisms of the Gotha Programme, and the similar criticisms expressed by Engels in his letter to Bebel, l8-28th March, 1875, on the same subject, remain of especial value. Particularly so are Marx’s remarks on the dictatorship of the proletariat, and Engels on the withering away of the state. The substance of these, duly developed in the light of historical experience, must be incorporated into the programme.

Our next main reference point must be the Erfurt Programme, often presented by the 2nd International as a Marxist one, and which indeed served as the model for International Social-Democracy. This claim to Marxism is only partially valid. A comparison of the final draft as adopted by the Erfurt Congress with Engels’ criticisms of the first version, reveals that only the preface was fully corrected in the light of his criticisms. Nevertheless it is valuable if only for this preface, which is a very clear and concise explanation of the principal features of the then existing capitalist society. But the Programme also contains errors of omission and commission, which were by that stage in the development of scientific socialism inexcusable, and which, by their acceptance as party doctrine, eased the way for the party’s opportunist degeneration.

The Erfurt Programme has two main deficiencies: i) it does not deal with the question of the state power, the need to smash it, to replace the existing state power1 with a state of the Paris Commune type. In fact so crass was the opportunism of the Social Democratic leadership, that the programme did not even deal explicitly with the establishment of a democratic republic – and that in the political conditions of the Junker state of Imperial Germany, ii) Following on from this, whilst the programme deals with the objectives of the party, it says nothing about strategy or tactics. The two omissions are obviously related. The main problem in any communist strategy is that of the transition to the proletarian dictatorship; communist tactics seek to guide the struggles of the proletariat in such a way as to prepare the preconditions (ideological, political, organisational and military) of the workers’ power. In the absence of this ultimate objective of the proletariat’s struggle under capitalism being realised, it was inevitable that no tactics were dealt with.

Kindred, but worse, errors were made by the Social Democratic Federation in Britain, truly the forerunner of our “modern” CPGB.

Formed as the radical “Democratic Federation” in 1881, two years later it declared itself a component of international Social-Democracy, largely through the impact made on its leader, H.M. Hyndman, by reading Capital in its French edition. One can well see how this would have been traumatic for Hyndman, since he had been born into a wealthy mercantile family and pursued a ’career’ of financial speculation before and during his ’revolutionary’ leadership.

In The Condition of the Working Class in Britain, Engels observed that “English Socialism arose with Owen, a manufacturer, and proceeds therefore with great consideration towards the bourgeoisie and great injustice towards the proletariat”... Likewise, “English Marxism” arose with Hyndman, the financier, and proceeded in just such “considerate” and “democratic” a fashion.

Thus we find in the opening lines of our truly “reasonable” Federation (not even party!) of British Marxists:

“The socialisation of the Means of Production, Distribution and Exchange, to be controlled by a Democratic State (sic) in the interests of the entire community...”

Lest anyone think this a mere democratic slip in a Programme otherwise adequate for proletarian revolution, Article I reiterates “That the emancipation of the working-class can only be achieved through the socialisation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and their subsequent control by the organised community in the interests of the whole people.”

There can be no excuse for such democratic trash after the experience of the Paris Commune – whose bloody lessons were bought a full decade before even the Democratic Federation was formed. It is fundamental that on becoming committed to proletarian revolution, a principled and strategic anti-democratic standpoint be adopted by any scientific socialist organisation. Communists do not strive for more of the same “better, fairer, finer” bourgeois democracy, since the Marxist theory reveals this hallowed democracy to be the most perfect form of capitalist dictatorship.

“A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained control of this very best shell ... it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change, either of persons, of institutions, or of parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic, can shake it.” (Lenin, State and Revolution, pp.15-16)

The extension of democracy is neither a long nor a short term strategic objective for the proletariat. In the long term the objective is communism, a classless, and thus stateless, society. With the withering away of the state, democracy as a potential form of state also withers away. In the short term, the objective is not a change or “improvement” in the form of government, but the replacement of the rule of one class by the rule of another. It is the replacement of the bourgeois dictatorship (whatever its constitutional form), by the proletarian dictatorship. An immediate objective of proletarian power is the liquidation of the bourgeoisie as a class, whereas the bourgeois dictatorships never seek anything more than the subordination of the proletariat (they obviously cannot liquidate the class they require to exploit). The proletarian dictatorship may thus be every bit as ruthless towards its own class enemies as any bourgeois dictatorship.

Unlike bourgeois politicians, communists need not conceal their aims: we openly declare all states, whatever their constitution, to be forms of class dictatorship: the state power established by the proletariat will be no exception. Why such a (socialist) state is an ’improvement’ in civilisation then, is NOT because it provides ’more’ or ’better’ of what bourgeois democracies already dish up, but because for the very first time in history the interests of the (working) majority are being effected through class dictatorship, and that form of class rule itself is the historically final form of class rule as such.

Criticising the Gotha Programme of 1875, that unified (on an unprincipled and unscientific basis) the radical-democratic General Association of German Workers (“Lassalleans”) with the ostensibly Marxist Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany (“Eisenachers”) to form the Socialist Workers Party of Germany, Marx blasted its democratic prejudices thus:

“Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” (original emphasis)

Neither did Marx/Engels leave the SPD leaders (Bracke, Geib, Auer, Bebel and Liebknecht) in any doubt about the scientific attitude towards a “Democratic State”, undertaking “the socialisation of the Means of Production, Distribution and Exchange”:

“As, therefore, the state is only a transitional institution which is used in the struggle, in the revolution, to hold down one’s adversaries by force, it is pure nonsense to talk of a free people’s state: so long as the proletariat still uses the state, it does not use it in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist.” (original emphasis, Engels to Bebel, March 18-28, 1875).

It is truly apposite then that Khruschevite revisionism should have replaced the theory of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the USSR, with the boast that it had become ”a state of the whole people”; despite Marx’s explicit demonstration that for so long as the state exists it serves as the instrument of ruling class dominance (bourgeois or proletarian) but never an all-class bloc. It is after all a forcible means for administering ”society as a whole”, i.e., all the non-ruling classes.

The following, therefore, will go down in the annals of historical materialism, marked NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE:

“... the Stalin personality cult had an unfavourable effect on the improvement (!) of the socialist state and interfered with the complete implementation of the genuinely democratic principles of the USSR Constitution.

“The 20th CPSU Congress (1956) had changed the situation radically. Our Party, having restored the Leninist norms of state life, thereby provided vast prospects for the people’s initiative and for the improvement of socialist democracy. The life of society proper (! propriete?) and political practice gave birth to new state forms, to a new style of management of state affairs, and helped to determine ever more the nature of state power as that of the entire people...

“The state which earlier embodied the dictatorship of one class, becomes an organ of the unity and cooperation of all working classes and segments (?!) directly expressing popular will and popular interests.

“... The nature of the party changed accordingly: from a party of the working class it turned into a party of the whole people.” (Thus spake Pravda on December 6, 1964).

And thus we have the full organic link between Revisionism old and new, when we read Klugmann (“one of the foremost theoreticians of the British Communist Party ... editor of the Party’s theoretical journal Marxism Today”) claiming (in the CP’s official history) the SDF/BSP, replete in its “democratic state of the whole people” as the true progenitor of the CPGB:

“It was the BSP that was the principal initiator, the most steady and patient negotiator for the foundation of the CP, and its members formed the majority of the new Party once established.” (Volume I, p.17; the SDF became the S-D Party in 1908, and the British Socialist Party in 1911, with the adherence of some ILP branches. For more on the history of the CPGB’s formation see Proletarian Pamphlet No: 2 and Ray Challinor’s forthcoming book on the Socialist Labour Party).

In the light of the above quote, it cannot be said that Klugmann’s “Histories” contain no true statements.

We have not thought it necessary to undertake a wholesale critique of the CPGB’s ’British Road To Socialism’ here, since even to a newcomer to Marxism, it is obvious that the British Road does not even begin to approximate to a Marxist programme. We have, in addition, criticised the CPGB’s programmatic practice in Proletarian No: l. Anyone wishing a more comprehensive critique should see Bill Warren’s article: ”The British Road to Socialism” in New Left Review No. 63.

In the British context, two further documents must be taken into account in the future programmatic debate: the 1903 ’Manifesto to the Working Class’, and the 1919 Platform of the Socialist Labour Party. The 1903 Statement was a short, sharp crystallization of the split of revolutionaries from the SDF, on the basis succinctly described by GDH Cole:

“In 1903, a part if its [SDF] Scottish membership seceded and formed the Socialist Labour Party, on a basis adapted from the American Socialist Labour Party founded by Daniel De Leon. The SLP, reacting against the compromise involved in parliamentary action, took the view that the workers’ revolutionary struggle must be carried on primarily in the industrial field, and that the first task was to create an inclusive revolutionary Industrial Union. It attempted to found such a body on the model of the American Industrial Workers of the World, not however repudiating political action, but holding that it should be secondary to revolutionary industrial activity, and that Parliament should be used only as a platform for the spreading of Socialist ideas, and not as an instrument for effective reform. The SLP did not secure a large membership; but it became a body of some influence in the Clyde area, where it was later to furnish many of the leaders of the shop stewards’ movement during the Great War, and thereafter to merge itself in the Communist Party of Great Britain.” (GDH Cole: British Working Class Politics 1832-1914, pp.176-7)

The 1919 Platform was initiated by members of the SLP who had been actively involved in the Shop Stewards’ and Workers’ Committee Movement, and who drew directly from their experience in that movement to delineate the strategic orientation of their party’s future activity. The Platform was shortlived, however, its demise being speeded up by the involvement of its authors in the negotiations towards the CPGB, and in 1920 the SLP reverted to its previous Platform, a call for Industrial Unionism alongside electoral activity by party members. The 1919 Platform is very short and could not serve as a direct model for a future communist programme; for one thing it lacks the theoretical analysis which would be required in a present programme. Its importance for communists in Britain lies in the fact that it arose specifically from the British situation, delineating a strategic orientation for communists within British bourgeois democracy; and in the fact that it is the only programmatic document in Britain which has explicitly posed the question of state power and the need to build the future proletarian state structure within the shell of capitalist society, i.e., the need to create a situation of ’dual power’ before the proletarian dictatorship can be realised.

The first modern communist programme was the 1917 draft RSDLP programme of the Bolsheviks. Here we have a programme, drawn up by Lenin, whose preamble describes capitalism in its imperialist phase, that explicitly calls for a workers’ dictatorship, and whose programme of ’democratic’ objectives amounts to a state of the Paris Commune type. Moreover, in the political situation that existed after the overthrow of the autocracy, but prior to the stabilisation of capitalist power, these ’democratic’ demands constituted the programmatic expression of the principal strategic task of the party, i.e., the prevention of the consolidation of a state apparatus of the old type in the hands of the capitalist class.

We are also reproducing [not reproduced here – MIA] the early programmatic documents of communism in Italy; in this issue the Theses of the Communist fraction in the Italian Socialist Party, 1920, and in a separate pamphlet we will shortly reproduce the Rome and Lyons Theses of the PCI. All of these are made available for the first time in English. Their value lies in the way that they try to distinguish clearly between communist and reformist and anarchist tendencies; they also try to spell out what tactics are, and what are not, compatible with communism. They are directed against deviations that arose in the Italian movement in the early 1920s, but since capitalist production and democracy exist both there and then, and here and now, the same deviations are generated in both cases. Written in the ’20s in Italy, they could be applied almost completely to Britain in the ’70s.


We have mentioned a number of texts which may be considered as models, positive or negative, in the task of developing a programme for a new communist party. We now mention some of the programmatic problems which will have to be resolved before communists in Britain can achieve a principled unity.

1. Capitalist production; what it is. Whilst it is easy to define this in general as a system of universalised commodity production, in which the individual producers do not possess any of the means of production, political issues arise when the definition is concretised. The political problem here is how to define capitalism in such a way as to give an adequate account of forms of commodity production, other than the traditional private firm. In particular, the state socialist and syndicalist deviations must be countered by showing the capitalist character of workers’ cooperatives and nationalised industries.
2. What forms of capitalist production exist in Britain (e.g. private capital, joint stock, state, cooperative), and which of these represent rising tendencies?
3. To what extent can capital still develop the forces of production, and what effect are new technologies having upon the production relations and property relations?
4. What non-capitalist elements exist in the British economy, e.g. small scale commodity production, small trading, remnants of family economy (housework), and are there any incipient forms of socialist economy?
5. Britain and the world economy; what is meant by British imperialism, and what are the effects of the internationalisation of technological development; pressures tending towards and against integration of the British economy into the EEC?
6. What are the main contradictions of contemporary capitalist production, market anarchy, falling profits, exchange rate crises, inflation, etc?
7. What classes and strata exist in British society; what are their places in the economy; which are productive and which are parasitic? What contradictions exist between these classes and what should be the attitude of the proletariat towards them?
8. The origin, function, and present development of the state and its various organs must be explained, with particular reference to its historical tendency under capitalism.
9. The national question in the British Isles; what nations exist; what state structure allows for the democratic resolution of the national question? Tendency towards a European state; advantages/disadvantages in this for the working class; ability/inability of the bourgeois regimes to achieve this.
10. Historical explanation of patriotism and racism; unity of interests of all workers of all races and nations and the need to combat all forms of patriotism, nationalism, national prejudice and racism.


Need to refute erroneous notions. These range from obvious distortions, such as the notion that it may be exercised through the medium of the existing state machinery, if only the present bourgeois functionaries could be replaced by communists – to left deviations according to which a system of workers’ councils can, of themselves, constitute a workers’ state. In opposition to the right opportunist line, it must be stressed that it is the structure of state power itself, whether democratic or dictatorial, that renders it a support to capitalist power. In opposition to the left deviation, it must be stressed that Soviets only provide the basis for a workers’ state if they are dominated by communist revolutionaries. The workers’ dictatorship must be a dictatorship of the proletarian party, a dictatorship that is exercised via the institutions of workers’ democracy, but a party dictatorship none the less. So long as workers’ councils remain dominated by reformist tendencies they do not provide a foundation of workers’ power. Against all democratic or libertarian notions, it must be asserted that the workers’ dictatorship is a dictatorship in the most literal sense of the word. It is the rule of one class over another, a rule unrestricted by any forms of legality, under which the bourgeoisie would be deprived of their civil liberties, and, if necessary, subjected to arbitrary and terroristic measures that aimed to liquidate them as a class. The workers’ state, like any other, would maintain the means of suppression (bodies of armed men, etc.) needed to defend the proletariat against its enemies.

“Without a people’s army the people have nothing.” (Mao: On Coalition Government, April 24, 1945).

Problems to be resolved in this context: what are the differences between the organs of proletarian state power, and those of the bourgeoisie?

In particular: how do the forms of political representation differ? Does the proletarian state require a standing army, as opposed to a workers’ militia; if modern technology does necessitate such a force, how is proletarian political control over it to be maintained?

How is the proletarian dictatorship in the cultural field to be established; how is bourgeois ideology to be extirpated from society?

What is the economic programme of the proletarian revolution; the interrelation between workers’ control, commodity exchange and centralised planning needs to be explained.

Finally, a point of cardinal importance, what is the nature of the class struggle under the workers’ state, i.e., under what conditions can the old, exploiting class survive as a social group and thus pose the threat of a return to capitalism? Secondly, what circumstances (economic, political, cultural) allow the formation of a new bourgeois class capable of usurping the workers’ power?

“After the enemies with guns have been wiped out, there will still be enemies without guns; they are bound to struggle desperately against us, and we must never regard these enemies lightly. If we do not now raise and understand the problem in this way, we shall commit the gravest mistakes.” (Mao: Report to the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, March 5, 1949).

Until the communists in Britain have reached agreement on the nature of the objective dialectics of contemporary British society, i.e., the developmental tendencies in the base and superstructure, and on the nature of the workers’ state that will replace it, no possibility exists for them ^o reach a principled agreement on tactical questions. Tactics simply serve strategy, and the latter requires an objective understanding of the present, plus an informed anticipation of future struggles that must presently be prepared for.


The ultimate aim of communists is the general liberation of mankind through the establishment of communism, a classless, stateless society, embracing the whole globe. But the struggle for communism must pass through various phases or stages, during which Communists must fight for more immediate aims. These immediate objectives are, at any one time, the minimum programme of the Communist Party. The overall programme must include this minimum programme and must also lay down certain guidelines as to the tactics necessary to realise this minimum programme.

The communists seek to unite the mass of the proletariat, and any of its potential allies, around the objectives laid down in the minimum programme in the struggle for the overthrow of the existing state power. The overall, or maximum, programme is the ideological and political cement binding the vanguard, the party, in the struggle for communism. The minimum programme provides the ba6is for the political unity of the masses in the immediate struggle for power.

The nature and function of a communist minimum programme was illustrated by Marx and Engels in 1848 in the works: ’The Manifesto of the Communist Party’ and ’The Demands of the Communist Party in Germany’. Subsequently, the whole issue of the minimum programme was obscured and confused due to the reformist interpretations given to it by most of international Social Democracy. This confusion has been perpetuated by Trotskyism, which accepts the reformist interpretation, and seeks instead to substitute a ’Transitional Programme’, an amalgam of immediate tactics and demands, for both maximum and minimum programmes.

Social Democratic reformism (we specifically exclude revolutionary Social Democracy of the Bolshevik variety), misrepresented the minimum programme as a series of demands for economic and political reforms directed at the existing state. They generally consisted of two sections: a set of demands for economic reforms in the interest of the proletariat, and a series of demands for political liberties. The Social Democratic misuse of the minimum programme was the more insidious, in that it did not stem from an overt repudiation of the revolutionary conception advanced by the founders of communism. Instead the damage was done through the retention of a form of minimum programme that had once been correct, but that had since lost its revolutionary vitality.

A minimum programme of democratic ’demands’ was quite correct and revolutionary at a certain stage in the struggle. The ’Demands of the Communist Party in Germany’ included just such a democratic programme. Whilst political power remained in the hands of absolutism, as in Germany in 1848, or in pre-1914 Russia, the immediate objectives of the proletarian party had to be the overthrow of that constrictive form of state, and the introduction of democracy under the terms most favourable to the workers. Only this could allow the free development of proletarian class organisation and allow the class struggle to come to the forefront of political life. The democratic revolution could thus be a step on the road to socialist revolution.

In a bourgeois democracy, on the other hand, democratic reforms can have no place in the communist programme. To include them distracts from the immediate task, the overthrow of democracy and the establishment of the workers’ dictatorship.

Nor can demands for state protection of the working class be included in a minimum programme. These had a justification under conditions in which the proletariat was too weak to directly impose restrictions upon capitalist exploitation. But in the mature capitalist democracy, where the working class has long experience of effective economic struggle and organisation, such demands become redundant; and the bourgeoisie is itself hard at work re-forming, in order that their social production relations remain intact through all changes in production techniques. In this regard it is instructive to note that virtually all the Erfurt Programme’s demands are now operational in Federal Germany (and Britain). It is clear that where landlordism has long since disappeared as a significant feature of agriculture, the need for a specific agrarian programme appealing to an oppressed peasantry also disappears.

These three, the democratic, economic, and agrarian sections of the minimum programme formed its substance during the period of the first two internationals: but now they can be done away with. What then remains of the minimum programme?

NOTHING REMAINS OF THE OLD TYPE. Instead, in the capitalist democracies at least, a wholly new type of minimum programme is required: THE MOBILISATION PROGRAMME, designed to lay the basis of class action in, and through, economic struggle, but supplanting the traditional defensist trades union struggle by developmental industrial unionist struggle, that instrinsically requires the awakening of class political consciousness for its very operation.

Dialectically linked into the struggle for, and of, industrial unions (in a Confederate structure) is the promotion of the Workers’ Council/Committee movement on the shop-floor, to displace economism and politicise the point of production by its encroaching control over the production process, toward the point of outright expropriation. (For full elucidation see Proletarian No: l and Proletarian Pamphlet No: 2). In parallel must develop Residential Committees to secure control of the whole social situation. Thus the proletariat emerges combative, standing on the two legs of residential and industrial organisation, developing through an integrated conciliar structure that encroaches upon and expropriates bourgeois production relations in a pincer movement – at the point of production and at the point of citizenship.

The Programme for industrial unions and the industrial/residential conciliar structure, all led by the Communist Party, completely displace any old minimum programme “demands” that are put to higher authority to ameliorate the condition of their subordinates. The addressing of demands merely confirms their formulators’ status as subordinates, in the way Marx has shown:

“Whomever one seeks to persuade, one acknowledges master of the situation.” (Eighteenth Brumaire)

As socialism is not an “improved”, “more just” version of the system of wage labour, but a wholly new mode of production , what have to be broken through are the social relations intrinsic to capital, for it is the immanent laws of capital as a social relation that makes capitalism a self-sustaining mode of production.

“On the other hand, if the capitalist mode of production presupposes this definite social form of the conditions of production, so does it reproduce it continually. It produces not merely the material products, but reproduces continually the production relations in which the former are produced, and thereby also the corresponding distribution relations.” (Capital III, p.879)

Instead the working class develops its ruling muscles, by asserting itself here and now. Instead of asking, petitioning, voting, it takes: control over working conditions in the factory, control over living conditions in the streets and estates, and control over ideological production through the Communist Party. All this towards the actual seizure of state power, with tasks that then fall under the head: Socialist (i.e., Minimum) Programme.

The Socialist Programme must be an explicit programme for the proletarian dictatorship. This does not, however, make it identical with the maximum programme, for the goal of that is world communism: the abolition of classes, nations and states on a world scale. But this maximal goal will only be achieved as the end result of an epochal historical process. The proletariat in each state must first settle accounts with their own bourgeoisie. It must first seize political power within the territory of one state and then devote itself to the twin tasks of the socialist reconstruction of society, and promoting the international revolution.

It is in this sense that a programme for workers’ power can still be said to be minimum, because it is the absolute minimum that communists in any one bourgeois state can aim for. Such a minimum programme, like the old one, would have both political and economic sections each covering immediate destructive and constructive tasks of the workers’ state. The political section would be a programme for the dismantling of the bourgeois state and the erection of the institutions of soviet power. The economic section would include measures for the expropriation of property owning classes and their state, plus the first steps towards the establishment of a planned socialist economy.

The minimum programme is the key to communist tactics, since it defines the immediate strategic aim, but it is not enough to leave the matter at that. In order to guard against opportunism the party programme must lay down guidelines on the tactics and types of struggle needed to achieve these aims. Without prior agreement on such issues, the dangers of opportunist degeneration, characterised precisely by its lack of guiding principles, is greatly enhanced.

The substance of the party’s programme of immediate measures, and of its tactical principles, must be amongst the key issues in the programmatic debate, which, it is to be hoped, will soon develop among the communists in the British Isles; but this will be (as it is now) but empty ’tacticising’ if the theoretical groundwork has not been done.

A glaring example of the old mistakes re-appearing and masquerading as a Scientific Programme, has recently manifested itself in the shape of the Programme of the Communist League of West Germany. Not only has no account been taken of contemporary reality in advanced capitalist countries in framing this document, but it is merely a paraphrase of the Erfurt Programme with bits of the Communist Manifesto chucked in for good measure, where it is not a wholesale crib of these Programmes (and even the very demands have been lifted!)

Engels was not in two minds about the adequacy of the Erfurt Programme for 1891; how much more obsolete, not to say obstructionist, is such a programme in modern conditions?! That the publication (5,000 copies in English alone!) of such a retrogressive document should be met with general rejoicing in the international ranks of “anti-revisionism”, only goes to show the bankruptcy to which revisionism reduces everything, including its mirror image. And the final irony is that “anti-revisionists” should copy line for line one of the seminally revisionist programmes, holding it up as the truly communist way forward, just like Kautsky and Bebel, professing it to be a model for all genuine Marxist Programmes!

The first time tragedy, the second farce, as Marx himself said.