Speech delivered: 29th April 1972.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Speech by Sam Mauger at forum held in the University of London Union, on Saturday 29th April 1972.
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Comrades and Friends,
We in the Communist Federation of Britain welcome the chance to put our views forward on this subject. I find it difficult to conceive any organisation describing itself as Socialist, not being prepared to discuss this subject with other organisations making the same claim; though not of course in any spirit of forming any “socialist alliance” which, as the Chairman said, was not mentioned in any of the preparatory material. All of us will have time only to make a number of fairly short schematic points and any further discussion will obviously have to wait for this afternoon.
There are two ways of treating this kind of meeting. We could either spend 20 minutes having quite an enjoyable time attacking the policies of the other organisations represented, or perhaps even easier, those that aren’t represented. On the other hand we could try in a serious way to put forward some of our own concepts and only contrast these with others where it seemed relevant. The anti-revisionist movement from which the Communist Federation of Britain came has a tradition, which isn’t totally its enemies’ fault, of only appearing to attack other organisations: as being anti-revisionist and not much else. This is something I intend to avoid. When we talk about a socialist strategy, we are faced with the position where I think it would be generally recognised by everyone here that in the last month the main working class economic organisation, the trade unions, have been subject to greater attacks than at any time since the General Strike. We are in the middle of a period where none of us I presume has any very clear idea what will happen. In this position where the largest trade union in the country has been fined £55,000, it is likely that if it doesn’t pay that fine and continued the contempt, its existence will be threatened. Socialists, although certainly not committed to the existence of trade unions above all else, have to have a strategy, a line which connects the development and protection of working class organisations like trade unions with the possible and necessary development onto socialism. We have to in fact show the relationship between the two.
The Union, for which I work, the Engineering Union (AUEW) has been told that if we continued our own actions at C.A. Parsons we would be in contempt of court and that our own Union’s existence would be threatened as well. As someone involved in this, as are many other Communist Federation members, it is very clear to us that the trade unions have at the moment no strategy for fighting the Government. Indeed it is yet again being shown that the class consciousness of the ruling class is much more developed than the class consciousness of the working class and this is in no way to have any contempt for the history of the British working class which of course has tremendous positive features. But when you can see the planning that is going into this, the thought that is going into this on behalf of the ruling class, I think this is another lesson for the trade unions.
And I mention all this recognising what the title means because I think it is exactly here that socialists have to show that they have some concept of defending trade union advances as well in fact as a necessary base for building a real socialist movement in this country.
Not only is there no trade union strategy but there is no socialist strategy which has been put forward by any organisation in this country carrying any conviction, carrying any strength either in its political depth or its organisational strength.
I would like to give one or two examples of this, where I think a lack of strategy is apparent, because a real strategy must rest obviously enough upon a grasp of a genuine revolutionary theory. And this theory must encompass, explain and show the potential inter-actions of the main contradictions within society. One of the primary aspects here must be to analyse the class forces in this country, What socialist organisation in this country has made anything approaching a class analysis? Who has, for example, got any line on the existence or otherwise of Labour aristocracy? What developments have there been since the letters of Engels, since the references in Lenin’s works? Is there still a Labour aristocracy, is there just the ideology without the reality? Why is it that in terms of theory, socialist theory, Britain is one of the more backward countries? That to the best of my knowledge has not been done. And yet it is one of the basic reasons put forward by Lenin for the failure of the development of a deep and firmly rooted socialist movement in Britain. Those who do write on the Labour Aristocracy seem to stop in 1920, where they feel safe with Lenin. Probably most of us have (with one or two exceptions) feel a bit safer with Lenin than with the present. But we also realise that that attitude is not going to take us far.
And the question of the State. What organisations, who claim to have a socialist strategy, have made any analysis of the State, its particular formation today and the relevance of the general analysis put forward by Marx after the Commune and of course developed by Lenin? Who has really applied this to British conditions? For example, in the well known passage in “The British Road to Socialism”, the so called strategy of the Communist Party of Great Britain, there are references to what they regard as a trend towards the possibility of peaceful transition to socialism and there they say the strength of the socialist forces throughout the world has increased and is one of the main reasons why it becomes more possible. And yet the fact that it was pointed out clearly, and I think still with deep justification, that the only reason why peaceful transition was conceived of as a possibility by Marx was the weakness of the State, the lack of the growth of bureaucracy in Britain in the 1870’s and who can say now with State monopoly capitalism more advanced, by necessity, than it has ever been, that these conditions do not apply? Certainly our concept is that the State in Lenin’s phrase would have to be ’smashed’, could not be converted to become “an instrument of the people’s will”. That seems to us a nonsense and to debar any idea of that as being conceived of as a socialist strategy.
And as another example of the lack of theory I think that it is almost impossible to find a ’left’ organisation where you can actually read coherently what is their concept of the international balance of class forces. It does seem to me that the various groups associated with Trotskyism and the Communist Party of Great Britain does have a position where it still considers the primary contradiction in the world, although this is often only implicit in their statements to be within what we can call the metropolitan countries. We, however, believe and hope, we have learned from the analysis of the Chinese Communist Party that the primary contradiction is between the imperialist countries and the countries of what we can roughly call the third world. Not that the contradictions in Britain have ceased to exist, not that these aren’t of importance and indeed are one of the four main contradictions in the world today. If we didn’t believe that we wouldn’t be working in mass organisations and trade unions here. But again to have an understanding of the primary contradictions within the world and other contradictions of great importance, how these apply in different ways in different parts of the world, is necessary whether we are going to plan our own revolutionary advance or whether we are going to understand the foreign policy of a socialist country.
The Communist Federation of Britain developed from a movement which understood the danger of revisionism and gained a firm belief from our experience of working for many years in the Communist Party of Great Britain. That was a revisionist party. Our movement, developing in the early sixties, and learning again from the analysis of the Chinese Communist Party, being taken back to basics about certain essentials, we ourselves are still developing from that position to try and form a Marxist Leninist party which is worthy of the name. We don’t believe and we don’t claim to have a total strategy; and what we are saying in pointing out the problems to those who call themselves parties or those who claim to have a strategy, is that the questions I have raised along many others, have to be developed, analysed and the answers applied to our conditions before anyone can conceive of a strategy. I don’t believe that it is negative to say this because I think it is a true statement, and if it is true, that has to be taken into account in developing the strategy. Those who consider that they have one, have to say where on these issues their theory develops then into a strategy of political action and what tactics do they use to carry this into practice.
Now, as I say, our own organisation came out of a number of splits, expulsions and so on within the old Communist party. Our disparate criticisms which many of us just as individuals or in branches had developed over the ’fifties’ about the ’British Road’, about some developments in the Soviet Union and so on, were helped towards a much more coherent position by the analysis produced by the Chinese Communist Party in the Sino-Soviet dispute.
It still seems to me that some of the most profound material that has been written is in the statements of the Chinese on ’The Differences between Togliatti and Us’ and ’More on the Differences’. But these two main statements clearly point out that overall strategic differences between revisionist and revolutionary policy, but naturally they haven’t applied this and made a positive strategy for Britain and if the Chinese did this, we would be the first people to criticise then. That is not their duty; that is our responsibility.
It is on the basis of this experience both in our study of the lesson of the international Communist movement and our direct involvement in the practical struggle here, that we have developed what are as yet only components of a strategy. We do see that there is a need to criticise the concepts of peaceful co-existence as a general line of socialist countries and the idea of peaceful competition between Socialist and Capitalist countries somehow or other leading us towards a socialist future by example so to speak, a kind of incentive of seeing a happy socialist country across the waves. And we do see peaceful transition as a mirage and a mirage which in fact can cause the greatest danger suffering and murder directed against those who have fought hardest on behalf of the working class, including those who hold the theory of peaceful transition – they are never excluded from those kind of massacres that take place with monotonous and horrific regularity throughout the world.
We do see that only a Marxist Leninist Organisation, only a Marxist Leninist party, on democratic centralist lines, along the general lines as described and created by Lenin and others as a necessity. We realise the need to develop Marxist theory to learn from the experience of the working class, to make this coherent, to apply the results of scientific study, to the contradictions within the world today. We need to apply that theory back to the situation, if you like to apply ’the mass line’, in developing a socialist practice which will aid and in fact guide the revolution in Britain. These are some of the factors which we see as absolutely necessary and which will be components of a strategy to be created. We see the party therefore as a body which can introduce the theory from the outside to working class struggle: a necessary concept in opposition to the idea that theory will come spontaneously out of working class struggle. Anyone who works in trade unions, as well as anyone who has read books about then, knows perfectly well this never happens. We do see the party, in Gramsci’s phrase as “a collective intellectual” – it certainly doesn’t mean too much about the class background of those who go into it.
As we see it there are two concepts of party formation in Britain.The first is that a few people get together, who may or may not have studied Marxism-Leninism, who may or may not have got a position in a trade union, a few people get together, and declare themselves into a party and from that go on to discuss what the theory of that party should be and develop an organisation round the centre. And the other line, which is ours, is that, developing from the separate groups that existed within Britain and from the discussions of the main problems, solving through constant discussion and polemic and struggle some of these problems, a unity can be formed, enabling us as a national organisation, to put out policy statements and articles which we regard as helpful. This is what we try and do in “Struggle” [EROL note: newspaper of the CFB (ML)] and what we will attempt to do as our theoretical journal, which is just coming out.
We see that not only do we have to study theory in a deep and conscious way and resolve one by one the problems which have faced the Communist movement over decades but we also at the same time, in the sane period have to engage in the nearest we can get to revolutionary practice on immediate issues. I say “the nearest we can get” because clearly revolutionary practice as such, as a real revolutionary practice, is not possible until that theory is much more fully developed. But we see the inter-relationship both in the growth of the practice and in the growth of the theory, in engaging in both forms of work; and we regard that as traditional and necessary, something that has always been done in the Marxist Movement, something which Marx and Lenin, Mao, all of these people engaged in both, simultaneously. Not only is this practice necessary to develop our theory but it is necessary in the short term sense.
Our members are workers, our representatives work in different factories round the country, and if they said to people with whom they have worked for years – “Well, we are going to go away for two or three years and study a bit of theory: Do you mind getting on with it? And then when we are clearer in our minds, then we will come back and tell you what to do.” And there is an idea in Britain, held by some people that you can go away from the day to day struggles and study in a room and work out the overall theoretical formation of a movement. Now, of course at times it is necessary to solve a particular problem and for some members to go away into a room but you don’t do that by withdrawing the Marxist-Leninist organisation from the class struggle.
So as we see it, the main character for the British ’left’ is that one way or another it is gradualist and reformist and does not see the possibility of change developing in a quantitative way and then leaping forward in a quantitative way, which we ourselves cannot totally prophesy – indeed as you know Marxists are not supposed to be prophets. Obviously the clear examples of reformism are those who are grouped round Tribune and the Communist Party of Great Britain because their concept, it seems to us, is an overtly gradualist one; you mustn’t “interfere” in a particular struggle. If I can just leap a minute and take the example of U.C.S. [EROL Note: Upper Clyde Shipyard] Their concept of U.C.S. and of industrial struggle generally is that you mustn’t introduce political discussions, discussion on the nature of socialism and the possible ways of achieving socialism into an industrial struggle because it will confuse people. That would be our criticism of U.C.S. It would not be our criticism of U.C.S. for example, that fact put“ forward by some of the Trotskyist groups, the fact that they kept on compromising. In our view, and our comrades in Glasgow attended shop stewards’ meetings and were active in discussing it with stewards there, in our view U.C.S. was an industrial struggle to save jobs. All industrial struggles involve compromise, all of then have positions sometimes which you have to retreat from. So the fact that Reid and Airlie made some statements sometime and then didn’t put quite the same line sometime later in an industrial struggle seems to us a natter of tactics. We can disagree about whether the tactics were correct or not, but it doesn’t show to us that Reid and Airlie were ’selling out’ the working class in the way it has been put forward by some of the Trotskyist organisations. Our major criticism is that no political discussion was possible in the yards at the mass meetings. It was stopped and Reid’s line was “We are only fighting on this particular issue – the others are questions for other people or for political parties, anyway not for us.” And there were workers in U.C.S. who tried to raise points of what the significance of the struggle is, of which there is still lack of clarity, who were not allowed to speak. That would be our main criticism that it is the lack of the freedom to develop revolutionary politics, not that the struggle itself is fought, with particular tactics.
Now those are only a few examples; I can see I have come to the end of my time. These are some examples it seems to us of a misunderstanding of the situation. A last point, if I can, just to balance it. The line of the I.S. and the I.M.G. is that if industrial struggle rises to higher and higher levels and reaches a general strike, despite their lack of clarity, what happens then, it seems to me from their publications that a new form of parliament, a new form of representative assembly, based on the Trade Unions, will arise to aid the transition to socialism. I would like then to explain how they see the relationship between industrial struggle and a political advance to Socialism, because we firmly believe that there is no necessary connection between the two. We could rise to the heights of industrial struggle with everyone out on the streets and it could mean nothing in terns of an advance towards socialism. Nothing at all. And often this comes across in Trotskyist propaganda that the reason why some people are ’right wingers’ or ’reformists’ is because they don’t make high enough economic demands – they don’t ask for high enough wages and their strikes don’t go on for long enough. That seems to us to be nonsense in terms of developing socialism.
Finally, we believe that we can develop a socialist strategy through combining theory and practice in the way I have explained by applying the concept of the mass line to the experience of the workers and doing this through a greater knowledge of revolutionary theory, by holding fast to certain features of the revolutionary past which we think in fact are necessary and will not change primarily, the need for a revolution led by the working class .That in itself will only happen with a leading party armed with Marxist theory which has in fact a very tightly democratic centralist organisation, not one where you can say one thing one day, and one day another. A party where you are under discipline, because science, I think, needs a discipline and smashing the state needs discipline. We have to see that the transition to socialism will take the form after the transition of a dictatorship of the proletariat, which will not only build socialism stage by stage but also will prevent the most tragic events of the last few decades, the retreat of certain socialist countries to a new form of capitalism. These are some of the components, but again we say we do not believe there is a socialist strategy on some of the major questions that I have only been able to raise briefly.
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(The above contribution was followed by ones of similar length from representatives of ’Tribune’, I.S., I.M.G. and the C.P.G.B. It is being circulated for the information of members with the hope that any disagreements with the line expressed will be sent to the Secretary for presentation at the C.F.B. Committee.)