Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Unity Association (Marxist-Leninist)

Economism or Revolution? A Critique of the Communist Party of Britain (M-L)


We have seen that the CPB(ML), after putting forward a few revolutionary phrases, proceeds to promote economism, to substitute opportunism on all important questions for proletarian internationalism and to attack the basic Marxist-Leninist conception of the leading role of revolutionary theory and of the party. Central to all its policies is economism and opportunism, and the Marxism-Leninism of this party is just so much window-dressing.

But how did this come about? How is it that this organisation formed, supposed, to be a Marxist-Leninist party, has degenerated into this blatant economism and opportunism?

There certainly has been degeneration, the line of the CPB(ML) as projected in ’The Worker’ and elsewhere, while never being very clearly and sharply Marxist-Leninist, was by no means as completely anti-Marxist in the beginning.

To prove this, it is only necessary to compare the ’Programme of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) adopted at its foundation, at Easter, 1968, with the recent “British Working Class and its Party’, now also called the ’Programme’, the original programme having presumably been repudiated. Article 42 of the original ’Programme’ reads:

Social democracy and revisionism have both propagated the false ideology of reformism and economism. Both these anti-revolutionary ideologies have distorted the growth of a revolutionary ideology in the British working class. Reformism and economism depend on imperialism. The meagre reforms, the ’crumbs’ given to British workers at the expense of the colonial workers have all been methods of enslaving the British workers by bribery taken out of the enormous profits looted from British colonies and semi-colonies. The British revolution must oppose any kind of reformist or economist ways of thinking. No privileged position of the British working class which is based on neo-colonialism can be accepted.

In ’The British Working Class and its Party’, roughly one third of the whole document, the section entitled ’Class Struggle in Britain’, is devoted to denying any effect of imperialism on the British working class movement, as we have seen. While the present CPB (ML) line denies the fact of imperialism, the original CPB (ML) programme deals with it at length, and generally correctly.

Further, the original programme refers to the petty bourgeoisie (Article 67), while the CPB(ML) now denies its existence, and it has a lengthy section devoted to study and the importance of Marxist-Leninist theory – we have already seen their present contemptuous attitude to theory.[36] In fact, without going into more detail, we would say that generally this original programme has serious weaknesses, foreshadowing the current incorrect line, but nowhere does it so obviously, so clearly, oppose Marxist principles as do recent CPB(ML) publications.

If we agree that the CPB (ML) has degenerated, we are still left with the question of why this has occurred. It would be nonsense, from a dialectical point of view, to regard anything as fixed and unchanging, but why, in the case of the CPB (ML), has it degenerated to economism rather than developing towards Marxism-Leninism? One aspect of the answer must lie in the development of the contradictions within the CPB (ML), as represented by different individuals within it. For us to comment on this would be sheer speculation, in which we shall not indulge.

We believe, however, that the very manner in which the CPB (ML) was set up and commenced its functioning, the attitudes apparent at the very earliest stages, made the triumph of opportunism in the organisation inevitable. To explain why we think this we must first go into some detail concerning our view of the party-building task facing all Marxist-Leninists. Lenin says:

Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This thought cannot be ....insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity. Yet, for Russian Social-Democrats the importance of theory is enhanced by three more circumstances, which are often forgotten: firstly by the fact that our Party is only in process of formation, its features are only just becoming outlined and it is yet far from having settled accounts with other trends of revolutionary thought, which threaten to divert the movement from the correct path. On the contrary, precisely the very recent past was marked by a revival of non-Social-Democratic revolutionary trends...Under these circumstances, what at first sight appears to be an ’unimportant’ mistake may lead to most deplorable consequences, and only short sighted people can consider factional disputes, and a strict differentiation between shades inopportune or superfluous. The fate of Russian Social-Democracy for many, many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other ’shade’.

Secondly, the Social-Democratic movement is in its very essence an international movement.

This means not only that we must combat national chauvinism, but also that a movement that is starting in a young country can be successful only if it implements the experience of other countries. And in order to implement this experience, it is not enough merely to be acquainted with it, or simply to transcribe the latest resolutions. What it requires is the ability to treat this experience critically and to test it independently. Anybody who realizes how enormously the modern working class movement has grown and branched out will understand what: a reserve of theoretical forces and political, (as well as revolutionary) experience is required to fulfil this task.

Thirdly, the national tasks of Russian Social-Democracy are such as have never confronted any other socialist party in the world. Further on we shall have occasion to deal with the political and organisational duties which the task of emancipating the whole people from the yoke of autocracy imposes upon us. At this point we only wish to state that the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.[37]

We have quoted this passage at length because we believe not only that the general principle of the importance of theory must be understood, but also that the three circumstances that Lenin said enhanced the importance of theory in Russia, in essence apply also to Britain today.

Firstly, our revolutionary party can hardly even be said to be in the process of formation, and there is definitely a general situation of extreme theoretical and ideological confusion in the British ’left’. Marxist-Leninists certainly cannot claim to have “settled accounts” with other trends of thought leading to diversions in the revolutionary movement in this country, and even within the Marxist-Leninist movement “a strict differentiation between shades of opinion” has to be undertaken.

Secondly, it is equally essential for us to combat national chauvinism, as well as to apply the experience of other countries to the situation in Britain. (All too many ’Marxist-Leninists do seem contented “simply to transcribe the latest resolutions”).

Thirdly, while we do not confront Tsarist autocracy, we face the problem of guiding the revolutionary movement in an advanced monopoly capitalist society, and nowhere in such a society has the revolutionary movement been carried to the victorious overthrow of capitalism. In almost all capitalist countries the old Communist Parties have become totally revisionist, just like the CPGB, following the triumph of revisionism in the Soviet Union. Why did this happen? We must understand the ideological roots of revisionism clearly, and learn from both the positive and negative in the experience of these parties, particularly, for us, the CPGB.[38]

So, with the confusion resulting from the revisionist betrayal, and with the additional confusion in the ranks of the ’left’ by the ’new left’ ideas of so many young people, an understanding of these diversionary trends, and demarcation from them, is essential.

And so we maintain that, at this stage, the primary party-building task is the theoretical task. But when we say this, are we advocating sterile academic work divorced from practice? This is the charge generally levelled at anyone advocating the Marxist-Leninist concept of the role of theory by the opportunistic denigrators of theory such as the CPB (ML) leadership. On the other hand there do exist those who uphold a ’primacy of theory’ concept which says, All practical work must wait until we get our theoretical orientation absolutely clear.

As on the question of the ’elite’ revolutionaries versus the denigrators of the leading role of the party, where we pointed out that both incorrect lines had a common root despite their seeming differences, which was the despising of the masses of workers and of their capacity for revolution, so on this question, the question of the upholders of the so-called ’primacy of theory’ concept versus the denigrators of revolutionary theory, both fallacies have a common root, which is a lack of understanding of the Marxist-Leninist concept of the unity of theory and practice. Stalin said,

Theory becomes purposeless if it is not connected with revolutionary practice, just as practice gropes in the dark if its path is not illuminated by revolutionary theory.[39]

In the dialectical relationship between theory and practice, essentially practice is primary. Firstly, all correct theory ultimately stems from practice, not of course from our own practice only, but from social practice, the experience of many people in many times and places, reaching us indirectly. Secondly, the sole purpose of theory is to put it into practice to change the world. Our revolutionary theory is drawn from the practice and the experience of humanity throughout history, and in particular of the revolutionary movement and of the proletariat in various countries. This experience, summed up and analysed by the great leaders of the working class, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung, is our Marxist-Leninist theory. We must, to the best of our ability, master this theory in order to put it into practice.

The theoretical task facing the Marxist-Leninist movement is to apply this science to analysing the historical experience of the British working class movement, analyzing the classes in Britain, analyzing the effects of imperialism on the British working class movement, analyzing the national question in the British Isles, and analyzing thoroughly all the concrete conditions peculiar to Britain.

Based on this analysis we can develop a political strategy that will provide a basic party programme for revolution in Britain. It is essential, in conducting such an analysis, to engage in the actual struggles of the working class, and to study closely, and comment on, those struggles in which we cannot directly engage.[40] Only in this way can we integrate our theory with concrete practice, and avoid sterile academic theorising, divorced from the real problems and needs of the working class. Only first-hand experience of working class struggles will provide the necessary, clear understanding of the practical movement, of conditions and of the complex play of class forces that cannot be learned from books, reports or tables of statistics.

Further, although the possibilities Łor successful mass work are limited as long as a party, and the general orientation and ”coordination it will provide, is lacking, it is still essential to commence mass agitation and propaganda, to work to build a mass base for the party and to win the most advanced workers to revolutionary Marxism-Leninism. To say that the theoretical task of creating a revolutionary strategy for Britain is primary at present, is not to say that other work should be forgotten, just as we shall never reach a stage, when theoretical work can be neglected; the three conditions for the party that we outlined earlier are closely inter-related and inter-dependent at every stage of development; a correct political line depends on a correct analysis and on proletarian ideology, proletarian ideology cannot exist in isolation from the working class struggle, and correct links with the working class depend on a correct political line.

The primary party-building task of analysing British conditions in the light of Marxism-Leninism and of producing a revolutionary strategy for Britain, involves an intense struggle, and is itself an essential part of the class struggle in Britain. This task the CPB (ML) failed ever to seriously undertake, and this failure made inevitable its degeneration to blatant opportunism.

We are not saying that for a party to come into being, for the CPB (ML) to have come into being on a correct basis, this task must be completely carried out, and a clear, unchangeable blueprint for revolution drawn up. The task of developing our strategy, our application of Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse-Tung Thought to the concrete tasks that face us, will never cease. Any new party must be expected to make errors that must be rectified in the course of struggle, and must of necessity also encounter problems that have not been anticipated; changes in the world and in the British situation will occur. But for a party to come into being on a correct basis, a clear and correct line must be developed on the issues that divide those who are, presumably, to unite to form the Marxist-Leninist party. For example, this question of the labour aristocracy and the “bond between imperialism and opportunism” is one on which various opinions are held by Marxist-Leninists. The CPB (ML) did not establish a clear line on this question, but in the original ’Programme’ vaguely implied the existence of a labour aristocracy, only later did they quietly shelve the original ’Programme’ and produce documents denying any effect of imperialism on the British working class. Similar thing could be said about the national question, the class analysis of Britain and other subjects.

All of these questions which we must answer, because they divide Marxist-Leninist, and because correct revolutionary strategy will depend on each answer. To suppose that a party can come into being without clearly answering, such questions, and struggling to win various Marxist-Leninist groups and individuals to a correct, scientifically determined party programme on the basis of such answers, is at best extremely naive and at worst pure opportunism.

The CPB(ML) was formed at a time when many small groups of Marxist-Leninist, had already come into being. The anti-revisionist movement begun in the early Sixties, was at first orientated toward the CPGB; beginning by working to attempt to convert the CPGB back to Marxism-Leninism, and then to win honest elements away from the CPGB. But by the time that the CPB(ML) was formed, the conviction had become general among Marxist-Leninist that it would be impossible to wrest the CPGB from the bureaucratic control of the revisionist leadership, and that it was necessary to build a new party. Honest elements still influenced by the CPGB could certainly much more readily be won if a new party existed.

We certainly do not agree with those who say or imply, that the, very idea of attempting “to build” a party at the time the CPB(ML)was set up, was incorrect or premature, that it was, for example, necessary to build a greater mass base for the party; the very creation of a party on correct lines would be a most essential step towards creating such a mass base.

What was incorrect, was the way in which the party was set up.

Firstly, a party programme should have been developed that clearly answered question dividing Marxist-Leninists, in the course of struggle between the different lines on these question, and by a most thorough scientific analysis, of the concrete historical conditions of Britain. This was not done; the programme adopted is vague, generalised and, compromising on these questions. Second1y, a protracted, honest effort to involve all Marxist-Leninist groups in the party-building discussions on an equal basis should have been carried out. Instead, the handful of individuals in control of the provisional committee pushed ahead with the formation of the ’party’ in an opportunist manner.

The CPB (ML), therefore, came into being without unity on basic issues achieved, or even sought. A programme was adopted that contains much that is, correct, but also fails to answer many basic questions. (It contains no clear class analysis of Britain, for example.) The ’Programme’ also quotes from Marx:

Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.

Referring to the Russian Economists, who used this quotation themselves, Lenin said:

To repeat these words, in a period of theoretical chaos is like wishing mourners at a funeral ’many happy returns of the day.’ Moreover, these words of Marx were taken from his letter on the Gotha Programme, in which he sharply condemns eclecticism in the formulation of principles: If you must unite, Marx wrote to the Party leaders, then enter into agreement, to satisfy the practical aim of the movement, but do not allow any bargaining over principles, do not make ’concession’ in questions of theory. This was Marx’s idea, and yet there are people among us who strive in his name – to belittle the significance of theory![41]

This quote was put into the CPB(ML) programme by those opportunists who were prepared to engage in “bargaining over principles” and who sought to “belittle the significance of theory”. It foreshadowed the fact that all that was correct in the programme was intended to become a ’dead letter’ and that the whole programme was soon to be shelved.

With such an attitude, from the beginning, to the primary task of creating a true revolutionary strategy, of applying the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism to Britain, it is not surprising that the CPB (ML) has degenerated to upholding a ’strategy’ of economism, to blatant opportunism. Given the lack of the most conscious struggle for theoretical clarity, any organisation would degenerate into the most complete opportunism and, no doubt, seek to justify its opportunism by various distortions of Marxism-Leninism.

The CPB (ML) came into being in a period when many workers and students, principally young people, were turning to, revolutionary ideas and away from revisionism, and were greatly inspired by the correct and revolutionary stand of Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the great revolutionary upsurge of peoples’ struggles throughout the world, in Vietnam and elsewhere. The subjective desire for unity, for a revolutionary party to unite all Marxist-Leninist, is very positive and correct, all revolutionaries should strive for unity, and should make the creation of a revolutionary party, unified on correct principles, their most immediate and important aim in a situation where no party exists.

So far as this desire for unity, for a revolutionary party, is reflected in the outlook of members of the CPB (ML), it is a very correct and positive thing. But a subjective desire for unity is not enough. Unity must come about on a correct basis, on a basis of unity around a correct party programme grown out of the struggle to apply the theory of Marxism-Leninism to British conditions. Since this was not the case with the CPB (ML), it was bound to degenerate and become less and less Marxist-Leninist in outlook, less revolutionary.

There are those in the CPB(ML) who are more than sufficiently familiar with basic Marxist-Leninist principles to be well aware of how opportunistic and essentially anti-Marxist the line of the CPB ML) is. What are these comrades doing? Are they dishonestly, opportunistically supporting incorrect ideas for careerist or other reasons? We hope not. Are they ’working from within’ the CPB (ML) in order to bring it around to a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist line? If so, they certainly are not succeeding very well.

Despite the positive features of a desire for a party and for the unity of revolutionaries, which presumably exists in many CPB (ML) members, it is particularly on this question that the role of the CPB (ML) is negative. The party line is economism, militant trade unionism. We support militant trade unionism, but at the same time we strive to convince the militants that it is not enough, that revolutionary political activity is also necessary. However, when trade unionism is dressed up with a few unconnected slogans and called revolutionary, political activity, and is organised by a ’party’ that denies the Marxist-Leninist theory of the role of the party, that objectively repudiates Marxism-Leninism, then we must attack, because it is a serious obstacle, a diversion and a stumbling-block in the way of creating a genuine revolutionary party of the working class.


[36]It is not surprising, given these glaring contradictions with the present line of the party that this programme is no longer sold by them. We have been told that many present members have not even seen it, and have been informed that it was no longer circulated as it was “too theoretical”.

[37] What is to be Done? p.28

[38] The CPB (ML) original Programme says “The CPGB is not, nor ever was, a revolutionary party.” We could not accept, without a thorough analysis, that the CPGB was never revolutionary. Its weaknesses, which led to a complete betrayal of Marxism, need detailed study, not this superficial dismissal.

[39] Foundations of Leninism, Peking 1965, p.22

[40] In saying that involvement in mass struggles is necessary, we are not mechanically saying that each and every revolutionary must become a factory worker, must physically, personally integrate himself with the industrial working class. We have heard this view expressed. The point of integration with the working class is integration with their struggles, involvement in, orientation to and participation in these struggles. This must be done collectively and organisationally, not individually.

[41] What is to be Done? p.28