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Dudley Edwards

Communist Party Must
Analyse Past to See Future

(May 1977)

From Militant, No. 356, 20 May 1977, p. 7.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Jim Brookshaw’s article in Militant, No. 345, on the proposed new programme for the British Communist Party should provide all serious members as well as ex-members of that party with food for thought.

Having spent most of his adult and politically active life in the party, the present writer left it not long before Jim Brookshaw joined. The reason for this was that I was slowly forced to the conclusion that there was a basic contradiction between the policies we were asked to support and our allegiance to the cause of the working class struggle to change society.

During its forty years of existence in Britain there have been thousands of ex-members of the CP who reached the same conclusion. Indeed it is probable that the ex-members would constitute almost the largest party in the country!

Many who left during and after my long membership eventually became hostile or politically passive. However there is a minority who remained dedicated to the cause of socialism and I hope my contribution will be useful in particular to these members of my own generation as well as to many who are CP members today.

There is one event over the last fifty years the significance of which all those who work for the socialist transformation of society will be agreed upon. That was the great October revolution of the working class in 1917. It was then that a socialist party – the Bolsheviks – won over the majority of the Russian workers and for the first time in history overthrew not only Czarist absolutism but capitalism as well.

At that time the Bolsheviks as well as many socialists in other lands saw the Revolution as the beginning of the world socialist revolution. Not only Lenin and Trotsky but also Stalin then believed it was not possible to create a genuinely democratic socialist society in backward Russia alone, unless the socialist revolution spread to one of the more advanced industrial countries in the West.

It was on the basis of this perspective that the Bolshevik party (then still known by the way as a section of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) based its tactics. They assumed that workers’ power could hold out until the working class of the West came to the assistance of the young workers’ republic.

As a matter of fact revolutions did take place in the West as expected but these great spontaneous movements of the workers in Germany, Austria, Italy and elsewhere were sidetracked by the reformist leaders. This enabled bankrupt capitalism to re-stabilize itself after the frightful slaughter of the capitalist war of 1914–1918. Unlike in Russia, there was no Bolshevik Party in which the workers had confidence.

Previous to 1914 imperialism made enormous profits from the exploitation of tribes throughout the empires. So they were able to throw large crumbs to what Lenin called the “labour lieutenants of capitalism” at the top of the labour movement. In return these people who had control of the working class organisations produced their “theories” of social reformism to show that the socialist revolution had become unnecessary in order to bring power and wealth to ordinary working people.

After the final defeat of the German revolution in 1923 the history of the European labour movement was a series of almost unbroken defeats until after the Second World War. But these defeats could have been avoided, as well as the Second World War itself, if the Communist Parties controlled by the Third International had continued to apply the broad strategy advised by Lenin and his comrades.

This defeat of the German revolution forced the Russian workers exhausted by years of war and civil war to yield to the superficially attractive “theory” of the possibility of creating socialism in one country alone, without the assistance of socialist revolutions in other more advanced capitalism countries. This theory was suddenly invented by Bukharin and Stalin in 1924 as a means of protecting the privileged bureaucracy which they came to represent in the USSR.

From then on the Communist International became dominated by this bureaucracy in Russia and its constituent parties dependent on various subsidies from their masters. It was during this period that Comrade Pollitt the stalwart British CP leader was in the habit of saying “the sincerity of a socialist depended on the degree of his support for the USSR.” This really meant support for the bureaucratic caste which had usurped power over the nationalised economy, destroyed the original workers’ democracy and eliminated most of the Old Bolsheviks.

Today at long last the General Secretary of the CP is reported as saying that in the past the CP has allowed itself to be “too much identified with everything that happens in the USSR.” In recent times the CP Executive Committee, perhaps with less enthusiasm than some of the so-called “Euro-Communist” parties, has been distancing itself from some of the more obviously totalitarian methods of the Soviet regime by making protests about repressions in Czechoslovakia and the USSR itself. The Morning Star has given brief but objective reports about the various uprisings of the Polish workers against the economic policies of their own bureaucracy.

This is of course an advance! However on no occasion since the famous exposures of the crimes of Stalinism at the 20th and 22nd Congresses of the USSR has there been any serious effort to produce a Marxist analysis of why the CP slavishly followed the false “theories” and orders of Stalin for many years of its existence.

Such an analysis is needed not just to put the record straight, but because this long acceptance of all the tacks and turns of Stalinist foreign and domestic policy hindered any real political growth by the CP in Britain.

No really viable programme for a socialist revolution in Britain is possible unless the CP’s backlog of political somersaults are analysed and understood. Except for a brief period prior to 1926 the CP has won no really mass support from the workers and this is due to the failure to recognise its past mistakes. Only on this basis can a correct policy for today be evolved.

When we used to raise these questions about past mistakes and political zig-zags which seemed to us to have been forced on the CP by the requirements of Stalinist foreign policy, we generally received two typical answers more or less as follows: “We can’t afford long theoretical debates about the past. No doubt mistakes were made but right now we must get on with the job in hand.” Or alternatively: “Naturally comrades, tactics must be flexible. The situation is very different to what it was in Lenin’s day and therefore calls for a different policy.” The point where flexibility ends and opportunism begins was of course not explained.

This kind of plausible argument may be likened to a teacher of mathematics who has crossed his blackboard with erroneous calculations; when this is pointed out he simply proposes to wipe the board clean and start a new sum. The truth is that without an understanding why the original calculation was wrong it will be impossible to do correctly any sums at all. As Jim Brookshaw suggests in his article the draft programme shows that the CP has changed its mind about many things – implicitly if not explicitly. Let us consider how many of these “changes of mind” correspond to criticism made years before by the Marxist opposition (originally labelled as “Trotskyist” by the Stalinists).

All the left-right zig-zags cannot be listed here, but to mention a few:

  1. The infamous Stalinist theory of ‘social fascism’ which described all left socialists as ‘social fascists’. This did as much damage to German working class unity as the palsied political cowardice of the social democratic leaders in the face of the Nazi attack. With Hitler’s victory it was suddenly and silently dropped. No explanation was ever given.
  2. That ultra left line was followed by the ultra right line of the “popular front” which in all cases led the working class into disaster.
  3. Today the new draft programme proposes a perspective of a series of left governments with the CP in support. This seems to be taking the place of Popular Front. But it has the same consequence for it is a process by which the capitalist class will be given the time to strike back. Nowhere are the workers told they will have to break the economic and political power of the capitalist class immediately a left government with a socialist programme comes to power to avoid the fate of the German workers in the ’30s or of Chile in 1973.
  4. The two greatest powers on earth outside America, Russia and China, are at daggers drawn yet each calls itself “Communist”.

Their antagonism is based upon purely national interests and on no conceivable principle of internationalism.

This bears out the remarkable prediction of Trotsky forty years ago, that the false “theory” of the possibility of socialism in one country alone would lead eventually to the breakdown of any real political solidarity between the CPs of the world and to their transformation into parties of purely “national socialism” i.e. nationalistic and reformist.

It is clear that only if the present generation of politically conscious workers resolutely turns its back on the last remnants of the worn out ideas of Stalinism (still found in the CP) and strives to build out of the existing organisations of the working class new Marxist leadership can we be victorious in the battles for socialism that are to come.

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