Communist Party of Great Britain

The British Road to Socialism (1977)

Building a socialist Britain

Communists want not only a society in which people’s needs are provided for by an abundance of goods and better social services, but in which their great and varied capacities can be fully developed. Changing the economic system is not an end in itself. It is a means of creating conditions in which human beings will be able to realise their full potentialities and work together for the common good, instead of being divided by class, sex, race or creed.

Capitalism distorts human individuality, subordinates men and women to the needs of the profit system, sets them against each other. Socialism aims to develop their individuality by creating a society in which exploitation and poverty are ended, and the resources of science and technology used to reduce the time spent in monotonous and mechanical jobs to a minimum, and vastly increase the amount devoted to leisure and creative work. Socialism is not a society in which the state and the government, as institutions separate from the people, either regiment them or do everything for them. It is the people themselves who have to build socialism, become involved in government, and be responsible for the development of society. In the process new attitudes to society, to work and to culture will develop. New relations, based on co-operation instead of domination and exploitation, will come into being between the sexes, between generations, between races and between nations.

Bringing about this change in society and in the outlook of men and women will not be easy, not only because of capitalist opposition, but because for a long period there will be the heritage of capitalist ideas in people’s minds. This reinforces the need for the fullest development of socialist democracy, since it is only on that basis that such ideas can be effectively contested and defeated, and the outlook of people changed so that they take an active and conscious part in the building of the new society. Socialist democracy is not an additional, but dispensable, luxury, or something which can be postponed until a socialist economy has been created — it is essential to the building of socialism. Thus the broad democratic alliance, led by the working class and created in the struggle to defend and extend democracy under capitalism and bring about social change, would continue to play a vital role in the development and enrichment of socialist democracy.

The economics of socialism

Because under socialism the main industries and means of production would be publicly owned, all the wealth they produced would be available for the use of the people as a whole, including that part of it which the capitalists now take as their private profit. Moreover, the removal of the fetters on production imposed by capitalist crisis would be removed, and the production of wealth greatly increased. Part of this social product would be used to raise the standard of living directly, in the form of increased wages, pensions, allowances and grants, or lower prices, or both. Part would be used to provide social services, such as health, education, housing and public transport, and for culture and leisure amenities. Part would be used for reinvestment in industry and agriculture, so as further to expand production. finally, part would be used to provide funds and staff for the administration of the socialist state and for its defence forces. The socialist government would have two main aims:

  1. To complete the socialist nationalisation of all monopolies and other large concerns in productive industry, finance and distribution; of urban land, except that of owner-occupiers; and of large agricultural estates. Only limited compensation would be paid in the form of reasonable life annuities to individuals, provided by the state. It would be a phased nationalisation and would not include the small concerns.
  2. To initiate socialist planning over the economy as a whole, to raise living standards and develop socially desirable production. This would be done in consultation with and in response to popular organisations in all the relevant fields.

Socialism in Britain would be built on an economic and industrial base that is more developed than in most countries. It is, however, an economy that has been distorted by capitalism. Socialist nationalisation and planning present the only possibility of correcting and eventually putting an end to that distortion. They would eliminate the wastage of chaotic capitalist society, guarantee full employment, and redirect national wealth to regenerating industry and to providing the vital social and welfare services the country needs. Socialism possesses an economic advantage over capitalism, whose contradictions mean that, despite its historical achievements, increasingly severe restrictions are placed on potential economic development. Because of its planned nature and production for use, socialism would eliminate the cycle of booms and slumps. Technology itself would be publicly owned, rationally planned and applied across the board. As a result higher growth rates would be possible than under capitalism.

The financial policy of a socialist government would be a means of ensuring proper use of the country’s resources, labour, plant, materials and land. Its budgets would be of a radically different pattern from those of capitalist governments. The main source of its revenue would be the publicly-owned enterprises. Personal taxation would take a simple form, with higher taxes on top incomes and reduced taxes on lower incomes, and the aim would be to keep indirect taxation down. Budget expenditure would include funds for expanding socially desirable production and for all social services. Drastic cuts in military expenditure would release resources for constructive use. Foreign trade and monetary movements would be planned. With overseas investment abolished, foreign borrowing curtailed, the role of the City eliminated, the speculative commodity markets closed down, and trade expanded, a rational handling of the balance of payments would become possible.

The success of socialist planning will depend on a detailed and intimate knowledge of the enterprises concerned, and on the commitment of the workers involved. A socialist government and its planning authority, in conjunction with the relevant trade union and public bodies and forces involved in the broad democratic alliance, would produce draft plans for discussion by the House of Commons, the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, and the people as a whole. Before adoption by parliament, the plans would be submitted to the unions, Co-operatives, consumer bodies and councils at regional, local and factory level. Both existing and new nationalised industries would be run on democratic lines of planning and consultation. Their boards would have a majority of workers elected from the industry and appointed by the trade unions.

With the advent of socialist planning and the ending of the direct conflict between worker and capitalist employer, the function of the trade unions would change. They would be independent of the state apparatus and active in defending workers’ interests, and would also, through the development of industrial democracy, play a vital role in creating the economic basis for socialism, co-operating with the socialist government and strengthening support for it. Management would be democratic, with workers’ participation at all levels, in planning industry as a whole and in every enterprise and department. The workers would have a dominant say in determining the conditions of work. Unions would be responsible for protecting the conditions of the workers and negotiating wages and other benefits. They, with the government, would need to guard against over-centralisation, bureaucracy, and the subordination of the interests of one section of the workers to those of another section. Excessive pressure of production targets, abuses of the work force and unreasonable demands by managements or the central planning authorities would need to be avoided or corrected by the full development of industrial democracy.

This is one respect in which socialist nationalisation would be radically different from capitalist nationalisation, in which the boards have been mainly staffed by representatives of the capitalist class and have created a bureaucratic and undemocratic structure. Under capitalism it is mainly the profitable industries and services which have been nationalised, to provide cheap raw materials and transport for private industry. They were nationalised on terms which crippled their development and have had to meet huge interest burdens both to pay compensation and secure finance for development. All this would change under socialism.

The Co-operative movement would be encouraged. Already on the distribution side it is a weapon against the monopolists. This role would be enhanced and the co-operatives encouraged to expand into new production spheres for which they are suited. A co-operative development agency could assist in such an expansion.

Though the main industries and much of the land would be in public ownership, small businesses, shops and farms would have a place in socialist society. They would be helped to fulfil a useful role, with proper standards for those they employed, and would be free from the grinding pressure of the monopolies.

Planning, central and local, must benefit the consumers. Close attention would therefore be paid to consumer demands, the encouragement of public criticism and advice from consumers’ organisations, which would be extended and would represent all sections of the people. Socialist economic planning would also have the vital task of safeguarding the earth’s precious resources, minimising industrial pollution and protecting and improving the environment. There should be democratic accountability of all public bodies involved. Much of the wasteful duplication of individually-owned consumer goods produced under capitalism would be dispensed with, and there would be an increase in communally-owned and operated facilities which people would use according to need. A big increase in publicly financed and controlled scientific research and development could be a major factor in improving life. Properly applied, existing scientific and technical knowledge could release people from senseless and repetitive toil, reduce working hours, and provide a variety of leisure and employment possibilities not yet seen. To help bring this about, a big effort should be made to increase the scientific understanding of the people, so that they could participate in deciding on the proper use of scientific and technical knowledge and capacities.

Agriculture, already one of Britain’s biggest industries, will become even more important, both to supply our own growing needs and to make Britain’s contribution to the elimination of world hunger. It will require a support programme by the state to achieve a high technical development and the supply of food at reasonable prices. The grip of the monopolies over farming through their control of the manufacture and distribution of fertilisers, insecticides, machinery, etc., would be ended. Farm workers’ wages would be brought up to the level of skilled workers in other industries and housing and amenities in the countryside would be improved. Small farming would not be prohibited, but encouraged, and voluntary farmers’ co-operatives would be promoted. The largest privately-owned farms would become state property.

As far as incomes generally are concerned, the huge gap which exists at present between those of the very rich and the majority of the people would be eliminated. Wages and salaries would be negotiated with the trade unions, taking into account the needs of society, and aiming to reduce excessive differentials.

A flourishing socialist economy would be able to meet the social needs of the people and improve the quality of life. It would give priority to providing housing to meet the requirements of all people at a price they could afford. The health service would be expanded and would be free and available to all. Educational opportunities would be greatly extended. Nursery school places would be provided for all children up to school entry age. There would be no private and selective schools, but the provision of genuine comprehensive education for all children, with the necessary buildings and facilities. Higher education would be expanded to serve the needs of society. The arts, sport, leisure and cultural facilities would all receive encouragement and financial assistance.

Pensions would be available at a lower age, but there would be opportunities for those who wanted to continue working to do so. Those who had given a lifetime’s service to society would have pensions big enough to enable them to live in dignity and security, as well as good housing and social services. Children’s and young people’s rights and opportunities would be safeguarded both by a general expansion of the social services, especially education, and by specific measures to help them develop their abilities.

Foreign policy

A socialist government would give full support to détente and disarmament and the principle of peaceful co-existence between capitalist and socialist states. It would promote world co-operation and friendship, make war propaganda illegal and encourage organisations working for peace.

It would conduct its foreign policy on these broad principles:

It would work for a world without war and would renounce war as an instrument of foreign policy. It would support the ending of antagonistic military blocs, world disarmament and the banning of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. It would be vigilant in detecting and opposing new weapons and methods of warfare, including in outer space.

A world without war and conquest requires the victory of national liberation everywhere; an end to all fascist and racist regimes; full and equal rights and independence for all nations, respect for their national integrity and non-interference in their internal affairs. Hence all movements for national liberation would be supported; imperialist and neo-colonialist policies of continued exploitation ended; and full support accorded to measures to overcome poverty and the legacy of imperialism in the under-developed countries.

As a European nation Britain would be concerned to develop fully all-European co-operation in all important spheres, security, trade and economics, and social and cultural questions. On a world scale the aim would be to extend trade and co-operation on the widest possible basis, and in particular with the socialist countries and the countries of the third world. Socialist Britain would work to develop fraternal relations with other socialist countries and their greater unity.

Britain would seek to enhance the status and authority of the United Nations, in which all nations large and small should have their rightful place.

A socialist government would radically cut military expenditure. Its defence policy would consist in retaining adequate armed forces for Britain’s defence from outside aggression and in fulfilling obligations arising from all inclusive alliances for this purpose, such as an all- European security organisation and the country’s obligations arising from the United Nations. A socialist government would not, under any circumstances, allow the use of the armed forces or the police for strike- breaking and other anti-democratic actions or against the democratic verdict of the people.

Socialist democracy

With governmental and economic power in the hands of the working people they must use it to secure full control over the state institutions and complete their democratisation. This would not mean abolishing existing democratic institutions, but changing and improving them so that they would more effectively serve the needs of society, as well as creating new organisations where necessary.

Parliament would be the sovereign body in the land, and Members of Parliament would exercise their powers as the elected representatives of the people without restrictions imposed by the Common Market or by the actions of the big monopolies and financial institutions. There would be full democratic control of the government by the parliamentary majority. A clear differentiation between the functions of the political parties and the state would be essential. The House of Commons and the Scottish and Welsh parliaments would be real national forums as well as decision-making bodies, debating statements of policy as well as voting on Bills drawn up in consultation with all relevant organisations. There would be Standing Committees to enable MP8 to learn about and influence administrative policies, so that these were constantly brought under popular scrutiny. The House of Commons and the Scottish and Welsh parliaments would be the only legislative bodies. There would be no place for the House of Lords or the monarchy in a socialist Britain.

If necessary, the powers of Scottish and Welsh parliaments would be extended and the people of England would have similar rights in relation to their affairs, in the form found most suitable. These would be among the major steps to decentralise government and extend the involvement of the people. The right of self-determination, including separation, would be guaranteed, while the need for political, economic and social co-operation between the people of England, Scotland and Wales for their mutual advantage would be stressed. The unity of Britain can only be based on this principle of voluntary co-operation between the three nations.

The freedom of all democratic political parties, including those hostile to socialism, to contend for political support would be guaranteed. Different political interests and different views would continue to exist after the ending of capitalist power, and would require political expression. Classes would not immediately disappear with the establishment of socialism, and the elimination of class conceptions and of reformist ideas from people’s minds is an even longer process. Such conceptions and ideas should be fought politically and not by attempting to ban their organised expression. Nationalist parties could well continue even after national rights have been fully attained. Moreover, even after class divisions are eliminated the need would continue for the expression of differing political alternatives and priorities, including in a parliamentary form, from among which the people were able to choose. Such conflicts in a fully-developed socialist society would not, of course, reflect irreconcilable antagonisms as in capitalist society. For all these reasons we stand for the plurality of parties, and for them having the right to maintain their organisations, produce their publications, and stand in elections.

All parties should be pledged to respect the verdict of the electors when elections take place, and to abide by the laws of the socialist state. If parties hostile to socialism failed to do so, and turned to the use of force to sabotage the democratic process, the socialist government and the working people would use whatever force was necessary to defend socialism.

The process of transforming the state apparatus from one serving the needs of the capitalists to one serving the needs of the people would be completed under socialism. A socialist government would ensure effective democratic supervision over state institutions and encourage citizens in the police, the armed forces and the civil service to exercise their full civil and trade union rights. It would rightly demand from those in the state apparatus that they should be loyal to the elected government. Those who proved unwilling to implement government policy, or incapable of doing so, would be retired or fOund other jobs. while those who tried actively to sabotage the implementation of socialist legislation would be dealt with under the law.

The judiciary would be independent of the executive, and no longer drawn, as at present, from a small privileged sector of the community. Magistrates would be appointed on the basis of nominations by the trade unions and other democratic bodies. Arbitrary acts of officials would be subject to appeal. A free legal aid and advice system would provide the necessary service for those who required it. Corporal punishment would be abolished, the aim in dealing with offenders would be their rehabilitation, and the death sentence would not be imposed for any crime.

A socialist democracy would strive to establish and guarantee full equality for all citizens irrespective of racial origin. Legislation and social policy would aim to overcome rapidly and completely the effects of discrimination and oppression suffered by black people under capitalism. Racist practices and advocacy of racist theories would be illegal. However, ideas and prejudices linger on in society long after the material basis for them has been abolished. A socialist society would therefore need to conduct a vigorous ideological campaign exposing the backwardness and superstition of racist ideas and seek to generate deep knowledge of and respect for the achievements and cultures of other nations and races.

Civil liberties won through the centuries would be consolidated and extended. These would include: habeas corpus to protect citizens from arbitrary detention; the right to be tried by jury; the right to strike and to demonstrate, associate and organise; freedom to think, work, travel, publish, speak, dissent, act and believe, subject only to those limitations required in any ordered and just society to protect citizens from interference and exploitation by others and to safeguard democracy. There would be freedom of religious worship and propaganda in public or in private, equality for all religious beliefs and creeds, and separation of church from state. All discrimination against homosexuals would be ended and their full civil rights guaranteed.

Popular democratic power

A socialist Britain would guarantee rights to the people which many of them are denied under capitalism — the right to work, to a home, a good education and adequate leisure. But socialist democracy involves more than the guarantee of such rights, vital though they are. Its full development depends, whatever the formal structure, on the extent to which the people themselves exercise control in every area of economic, political and social life. Socialism alone makes such popular control possible. In a socialist Britain the broad democratic alliance would see the extension of this control as one of its major responsibilities.

As a result of the nationalisation of the monopolies and other large businesses, their management would be genuinely democratic, with workers’ participation at all levels, in planning industry as a whole, and in every enterprise and department. The workers would have a dominant say in determining the environment and the conditions of their work. Local government would be brought much nearer the people, by changes in structure, by continuous discussion of policy and its operation, by the establishment of community councils with adequate resources and staff and by more participation of local government workers. Close collaboration between local councils and the trade unions, the Co-operative movement, tenants and residents’ organisations and other such bodies would be essential.

A fruitful interplay between local and national organisations and bodies is essential for genuine participatory democracy. This has to be a two-way process, so that those with responsibility for overall planning are fully aware of, and responsive to, the pressure and desires both of those who implement and enact decisions and those who are affected by their results. Close liaison between MPs and local councils would be essential.

Tenants’ associations, trades councils, women’s organisations, local community groups and action committees would be encouraged, and new democratic organisations based on their struggles and experiences would develop. In the schools, universities and colleges, effective forms of democratic participation and supervision would be worked out, involving staff, students and parents. Similar principles would apply in the health service and other social services. To defend their interests under capitalism the British people have created a great variety of grassroots organisations. In a socialist Britain there must be the fullest encouragement of such democratic initiatives, as an essential check to bureaucracy and to the abuse of power by the state.

The press and other mass media would be crucial to the development of socialist democracy. In the period of the transition to socialism the dissolution of the press monOpolies would have already weakened the grip of big capital. Further steps would be needed to ensure that a democratic and lively press, radio and television service was developed to meet the needs of the people, with the state providing the necessary technical means for it. Political parties and social groups, trade unions, co-operatives and professional associations and organisations for women and young people would be enabled to publish newspapers and journals. Individuals would have the right to publish their own material. The national broadcasting and television services would be run by boards representative of the democratic organisations of the people, and directly accountable to Parliament. They would be 'under an obligation to provide adequate facilities to all democratic political parties to put their views. Local radio and television would be accountable to local elected organisations, and also be required to give coverage to varying political views. The production of specialist, community and factory papers would be encouraged, with the active involvement of the people.

Creative activity, experiment and innovation in all branches of the arts — the theatre, cinema, music, etc. — would be fostered and encouraged, without any administrative interference. Increased funds would be provided through democratically-run agencies. Conditions would be provided for the fullest development of scientific enquiry into natural and social phenomena, with the free confrontation of different ideas and theories.

Women and socialism

Major improvements in the position of women under capitalism can be won by campaigning for the practical conditions for their liberation and by combating sexism. But the conditions for their full liberation can only be achieved as socialism is built and society moves towards communism. A socialist government would complete the practical basis for this by fully implementing any of the measures outlined in the previous section which had not yet been carried through. Women’s control over their own bodies, with freely available abortion and contraception; socially- organised child-care, taking account of parents’ responsibilities and wishes, housework and dependants; and equal rights to jobs and at work, would be basic rights in a socialist society.

But more than this is needed, as has been shown by the experiences of the existing socialist countries, which have ended legal and economic discrimination against women but still have to conduct a constant battle against outworn ideas carried over from the past. There would have to be a sustained effort, in which an autonomous women’s movement would have an important part to play, to end the sexual division of labour between men and women in the family and at work. This division of labour, which stems from women’s child-bearing function in our society, is not inevitable nor eternal. The continued subjugation of women in their personal relationships which it involves would not only limit their potential role in building a socialist society, but deform that society itself. There would need to be a persistent and determined struggle against the deeply-ingrained prejudices resulting from generations of discrimination against women. The aim would be to create a deep respect among people for each other, on the basis of complete equality, within which both sexes would be able to use their skills and abilities for the benefit of all, and express themselves fully within personal relationships.

Political parties of the working class

The continuous development of the broad democratic alliance, built up in the process of the struggle for social change, would be vital for the construction of socialism. Within this alliance the working class would be the decisive element and would have the leading role in the construction of socialism. This is an objective social fact. That leading role, however, cannot be imposed. It would have to be won by work and example. Its parties, the Communist Party and the Labour Party would have the main responsibility in this respect, with the Communist Party increasingly playing a leading, though not exclusive, role. The trade unions have their own particular and vital contribution to make, not only economic but political. But the trade unions are, and would remain under socialism, mass non-Party bodies. They are not political parties.

Socialism can only be won and built on the basis of Labour-Communist unity. In this political process, both before and after a socialist government the Labour Party and the whole labour movement would increasingly turn to the left and socialism. The Communist Party would grow in numbers, influence and in the parliaments and local councils. Still closer bonds of unity would develop between the two parties.

The political organisations of the working class, therefore, would have the major role in winning the working people to elect a socialist government, in providing the personnel of the government, and in organising and leading the mass movement to sustain the government, particularly in moments of crisis. They would have the responsibility of developing the programme on which the government is elected and which it is pledged to carry out.

As far as the Communist Party is concerned, and we would envisage also that it would be the case with the Labour Party, this policy-making function will be democratically conducted in public congresses and conferences, in open and full debate in which all trends will participate. Decision would be by democratic majority.

As working class political consciousness deepens, the basis will be laid for a greater strengthening of working class unity. Different trends within this overall unity of purpose, however, will continue to be expressed in democratic discussion and controversy, and the working people will be able to choose between the political organisations of the working class, both in elections and in activity between elections.

The members of the working class political parties would have a special responsibility to ensure full internal democracy within their parties. This would be all the more important as these parties develop in strength and influence.

Towards a communist society

In the socialist Britain for which we are working, based on the principle ‘from each according to ability; to each according to work’, the conditions will be created for advance to a still higher form of society, Communism, based on the principle ‘from each according to ability; to each according to needs’.

Such a society requires the production of an abundance of goods to satisfy the needs of all, and a new outlook of co-operation and concern for the common good, with the ending of attitudes and habits associated with the class-divided society of the past.

It will be a society without classes and in which the need for the state as an instrument of class rule will have disappeared. It will be free of exploitation, using science and technology to liberate people from monotonous toil, extending leisure and education and culture, so that human capacities are developed to the full — a society in which, in the words of the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.