Communist Party of Britain

The British Road to Socialism (1989)

The Forces for Advance

The forces exist which if mobilised around the demands of the Alternative Economic and Political Strategy can put Britain on a new course, tackle the crisis in the interests of the people, extend democracy, and open the way to socialist revolution. Glimpses of their potential strength have already been seen in the struggles of past years, as wide and diverse sections of the people have been fighting against the adverse effect of capitalism and capitalist policies on their lives.

The urgent need now is to link these struggles closer together. What this means is that, just as the policies of the AEPS aim to promote the economic, social and political interests of all working people in a combined and mutually reinforcing manner, so also, at the level of organisation and in the course of mobilising for struggle, there needs to be every effort to unite the various forces for advance in the widest possible democratic alliance directed against state-monopoly capitalism. Building and strengthening the democratic anti-monopoly alliance must be the top priority today.

To achieve it however, involves an understanding of the class forces in capitalist society in Britain. These are as follows:-

The Capitalist Class

The capitalist class comprises the owners and controllers of the means of production, distribution and exchange - the f actories, banks, shops, land etc. - and their agents. People in higher managerial positions and in the higher echelons of the civil service and the state apparatus, although they sell their labour power, are part of the ruling class because they act directly or indirectly on behalf of the capitalists, identify with them, and often own substantial amounts of capital.

Even as a whole the capitalist class is only a small fraction of the population. But within it there is a still smaller minority exercising the dominant power - those who control the very big firms and banks, which not only exploit their workers, but also operate at the expense of many smaller businesses, small shopkeepers and farmers. These small enterprises are among the first victims in periods of acute crisis, many of them going bankrupt, being forced to close down, or being swallowed up by the big firms. When working class standards are cut, small producers, shopkeepers and traders are also adversely affected.

There is therefore an objective basis for an alliance between the working class and many in these sections of the capitalist class. For they all confront a common enemy - the big British and foreign transnational corporations and banks. There will be problems in building such an alliance, since the smaller employers are in a contradictory position in relation both to the monopolists and the working class.

They face the prospect of being squeezed out by the big firms, but are also often linked to them as suppliers, or as distributors of their products. They usually see it as in their interests to keep wages down for the sake of their profits, and working conditions are often worse in small workplaces.

However, the organised working class needs to show them that there is no solution to their problems in lining up with big business against the workers. It must seek to win them to the side of the working class, and prevent them becoming a prey to right-wing and fascist propaganda. This means campaigning for specific measures to assist them, such as cheap credits, restrictions on monopoly price manipulation, control of rents, relief from high rates, the abolition of VAT etc., as well as winning them for the wider democratic demands of the working class, including the struggle for peace, disarmament, and environmental protection.

Intermediate Strata

While in contemporary capitalist society the great majority of people are either members of the working class or of the capitalist class, there are also those whose relation to the means of production places them in an intermediate position. Middle~grade management and the middle ranks of the state apparatus act to a considerable extent as agents of the capitalist class, but the degree to which they exercise control over the means of production is often limited, and their income is derived mainly from selling their labour power for a salary. They may therefore be considered part of the intermediate strata between the capitalist class and the working class.

Members of family business, small shopkeepers and small firms who employ little or no labour are another such group, as are those among professional sections like architects, lawyers, doctors, writers and artists, who are self-employed. They are affected by the social and economic crisis of capitalism, and by the ways in which it holds back advances in spheres with which they are particularly concerned, such as housing, health, disarmament, the environment, and culture. Policies need to be advanced by the working class and progressive forces which will win as many as possible among these sections for the democratic anti-monopoly alliance.

The Arts are not something apart from life. The welcome growth in recent years of community arts of all sorts has been hamstrung by lack of money. Our priceless museum collections are in mortal danger. ' The Labour movement must take seriously the funding of all the Arts, and help to mobilise all those involved in the area of culture as key elements in the struggle for socialism.

The Working Class

Without question the leading force in the democratic anti-monopoly alliance will be the working class. Its interests are most directly and consistently opposed to those of the capitalist ruling class. Its strength and capacity for organisation enables it to give leadership to all forces for advance in society. As a class, it can only achieve emancipation through socialism.

The working class includes the great majority of the population, who sell their labour power, their capacity to work, in return for a wage or salary, and who work under the direction of the owners of the means of production or their agents. The working class is important not just because of its numbers, but because of the special place it occupies in capitalist society.

In capitalist Britain it has been for a long time the class which does almost all the work - in production of goods, in transport and communications, in distribution and services, in social services and in local and central government. Most of those who formerly produced as small capitalists or self-employed have been wiped out in competition with big firms concentrating huge amounts of capital in large-scale production with advanced techniques. And despite some short-term reversals of this process in a few fields, small producers continue to be wiped out and converted into wage or salary earners.

Wage and salary workers, employed by capitalists who sell their product, are directly exploited no matter what they produce, whether they are manual workers or whether they are clerks or technicians, and whether they work in mines or factories, or in shops or offices. Historically most of them have been manual workers directly engaged in material production and services, but today the boundaries between manual and non-manual work are being eroded by technical change. The sphere of material production and services still employs nearly two thirds of all wage-labour.

Other workers in central and local government, or in those social services still under their control, do not work for private capitalists, but for the capitalist state. Their product is not sold by their employers in a market subject to competitive pressures. But both their wages and their conditions are subject to downward pressure as the capitalist class strives to carry out the necessary state tasks with as little, and as cheap, labour as possible, in order to prevent taxation eating into their profits. For the inter-capitalist struggle forces capitalists to invest and to accumulate from profits in order to invest. For them the only good taxation is no taxation. These workers are therefore exploited as wage-workers like those in all other sectors of the economy. Indeed, because they are directly employed by the state, cuts in their wages and conditions are frequently used as a lever to attack wages generally.

At the heart of the working class is its most advanced section, those workers concentrated in large-scale enterprises. The very scale of the means of production used in these enterprises means that their workers can never own them and control their use, except as a collective owner, that is, under socialism. A large proportion of them work in heavy industry, where the anarchy of production and profit-seeking causes the most severe economic crises. They also work where technical innovation raises the rate of exploitation and economic insecurity the fastest. Of all sections of the working class, the workers here have the greatest need for, and can see the already planned character of the enterprises in which they work. They can thus more readily be won to see the potentialities of planned socialist production.

Further, such large enterprises embrace the greatest diversity of workers, reflecting in miniature the diversity of the whole working class. To build here a concentration of organised forces capable of confronting the organised power of their monopolist employers inevitably involves these workers in the deepest and longest experience in overcoming sectionalism, and in putting the long-term interests of the class as a whole before the immediate interests of its various sections. Today they work for transnational corporations, and have the greatest need for, and impulse towards, building international solidarity.

Finally, because the ruling class knows that its defeat in such huge enterprises has the most dangerous implications, it has always brought to bear upon the workers there the concentrated force of its coercive and ideological weapons. Therefore, those workers, on their side, have been forced to mobilise the solidarity of the whole working class. Thus they have unparalleled experience in the struggle for unity.

Though some workers may regard themselves as 'middle class ', and often work in institutions which help to perpetuate capitalism and its ideas, they are objectively part of the working class. Their interests broadly coincide with those of the workers in manual occupations, and indeed the distinction between manual and non-manual work is being more and more being eroded as a consequence of technological advances and modern processes of production. In the past many non-manual workers may have held aloof from the industrial working class and from trade union organisation. But changes in the nature of production and the impact of the capitalist crisis have produced a transformation in recent years, with a great increase in trade union organisation among these workers and a readiness to take action to defend their interests. The strike actions of the health-workers, nurses, and teachers in the recent period are important examples of this.

This shows that the carrying of trade union organisation and ideas of class solidarity into sections of workers employed in the state machine, in the mass media and in other spheres of society represents an important extension of the potential power of the working class in mass struggle outside Parliament, as well as through elections.

An important development has been the growing number of women joining the workforce, often in part-time jobs. Increasingly they are joining the trade unions, and as the TUC women's conference shows, they are making a major and positive contribution to the labour movement. The scandal of low pay among women must become a key issue for the trade unions who have a responsibility to step up the fight for equal pay for work of equal value, for child-care facilities, against sexual harassment and for other measures that can ensure the equality of women.

It must be recognised that women comprise over half the population and it is unthinkable that real progress in developing the unity of the working class is possible without a continuous challenge to all discrimination and a commitment to end it. This will include the fight to improve conditions at work, to win equal pay for work of equal value, and facilities for child-care, education, and the development of stable family lives. A struggle along these lines will help to build the confidence of women so that they participate on a basis of equality along with men in the joint struggle to end capitalist exploitation.

This leads us to a more general point, which is that although exploitation of the working class forms the objective material basis for unity within it, this does not mean that the task of establishing organisational and ideological unity is an easy task. On the contrary, the task of establishing such unity will be a complex one calling for clarity of perspective and conscious effort. For example, the capitalist class implements specific forms of oppression, especially of women and black people, to divide and weaken the working class so as to maximise the conditions of exploitation as a whole. The result has been that working women and black people face many diverse and specific problems because of their oppression on the basis of sex or colour, in addition to the problems that arise out of their exploitation as members of the working class.

The organised labour movement must therefore be won to the fullest understanding that in addition to demands on jobs, wages and on other issues of immediate concern to it, the demands for genuine equality for women, black people and for other oppressed or discriminated sections, represent central areas of struggle.

More than this, it must be won to an understanding that the struggles against the subordination and repression of women in society, and against racism and other forms of oppression, while each in their own way exhibiting distinctive features, nevertheless form essential aspects of the class struggle. The struggle for women's liberation and for black liberation, therefore, is not a priority only for women and black people respectively, it is a priority for the whole working class.

The Labour Movement

The main influence of the working class on society is expressed through the labour movement, though this does not yet comprise the whole of the working class. It includes the trade unions and the Labour Party, and the Co-operative movement. The trade unions are the biggest and most powerful organisations of the working class. They play a vital role in allowing workers to combine and exercise "their collective strength in defence of wages and working conditions in the face of capitalist greed for profit. As such they are important training schools for workers involved in class struggle. Trade unions today take up a wide range of issues which are highly political. But they cannot be a substitute for political parties of the working class, although, because of the federal nature of the British Labour Party, with its trade union affiliations, many unions play an important role within it. By their very nature, unions tend to concentrate on class struggle in the economic sphere, that is on the more direct relation between workers and employers. But if the struggle of the working class is to attain the fundamental aim of ending all exploitation then this struggle must go beyond the specific economic relation between workers and employers to embrace the political relation between workers and the state.

This has been demonstrated in the recent period, which has shown that industrial militancy is not enough, and that there is a need to combat the economistic outlook which sees the trade union struggle on economic issues as sufficient in itself. The fact that this struggle needs to be linked with a political perspective if it is to produce lasting gains for the working class, has been consistently stressed by the Communist Party, which considers it vitally important that its members should work to strengthen the trade unions, the shop-stewards movement and workplace organisations, the British TUC, Trades Councils, and the Scottish, Welsh and regional TUC's and the Co-operative movement for political and social, as well as economic struggles.


Such a vigorous fight for the interests of their members on all fronts could help the trade unions to draw back into their ranks those who have been lost through the decimation of industry, the millions who have never been organised, and at the same time give new life to the branches and workplace organisations. In particular, they need to do far more to attract, organise and draw into activity the young workers on whom the future of the movement depends. At the same time a more conscious and determined effort needs to be made not only to attract more women workers and black workers into the trade unions, but also to ensure that they have equal opportunity of promotion and representation at every level of trade union organisation.

In addition to this a stronger and more united left fight is needed to end the still dominant position of the right wing. This must be conducted at workplace level, among the mass of the workers, and not just at the level of union leadership. To win workers to a socialist, and not only a militant class outlook, increased political activity by the Communist Party and the Labour Left in the workplaces is essential. As part of this, the Co-operative movement needs support and strengthening.

The Labour Party is the mass party of the working class which continues to enjoy the electoral support of large sections of this class. Therefore changing the politics of the Labour Party is bound up with changing the politics of the working class. The reformist outlook currently dominant in the Labour Party sees it as confined exclusively to a parliamentary role within the capitalist system. Its political role is seen almost entirely as participating in elections, and it carries out little or no socialist education. Far from developing mass action, as well as electoral work, the right wing has tried to hold back such action whether by the Labour Party or the unions and the shop stewards.

The left within the Labour Party has opposed right-wing policies, and has often succeeded in winning the annual conference for a left position on important questions. But it has not been able to break the right-wing gn'p, especially on the Parliamentary Labour Party, nor decisively to change the right-wing policies of Labour governments. The left's growth is of great importance, and could be assisted by more activity in struggle by ward and constituency Labour parties, with the fullest participation of trade union delegates.

But without underestimating the importance of the Labour Party Left, it is not a cohesive and united force. While some of its members are influenced by Marxist ideas, and hold firm to basic working class principles, others are too ready to abandon these principles and embrace the reformist outlook on such questions as the need for mass struggle in the workplaces and localities, incomes policy, the nature of the state and the issue of political power in the struggle for socialism. Because the Labour left still lacks a clear political perspective, is not centrally organised and is not sufficiently related to the many extra-parliamentary struggles, it cannot by itself bring about the necessary transformation in the outlook and activity of the labour movement. Nor is the answer to be found in the various ultra-left groups, which have in common a narrow interpretation of Marxism and a mistaken strategy, and whose tactics are therefore often adventurist and irresponsible.

The vital need is for a distinct and separate Communist Party which, guided by the principles of scientific socialism and active amongst the organised working class and other progressive forces, is capable of providing leadership to them, not on the basis of elitism or sectarianism, but on the basis of co-operation with the left groups in the Labour Party and in the wider labour and progressive movement. It cannot be stressed too often that a leftward shift in the balance of forces within the labour movement and the country at large is dependent upon the growth in size, influence, and effectiveness of the Communist Party. This is the decisive factor.

Other Democratic Movements

Apart from the trade unions, the Labour Party and the co-operatives - the main organisations of the working class - many other organisations and movements have grown up as different groups of people have sought to promote their struggles on a range of important issues. These movements and organisations have their own distinctive methods of struggle, but if they are to be successful, they must be won to work with the labour movement.

The women's liberation movement in Britain is diverse, embracing the National Assembly of Women, women's structures in the labour and trade union movement, as well as single issue national and local campaigns. Through their work these various organisations and campaigns have focussed attention on a wide range of issues including the sexual division of labour, and particularly how women's role within the family, their economic dependence, and responsibility for child care limit educational opportunities, career prospects and participation in social and political life on equal terms with men. This has highlighted the debate on economic and social issues like equal pay and child care, and shown the importance and potentialities of organising on related questions like abortion and violence against women. It has also raised other questions on the nature of personal relationships, human sexuality and the future of the family, with which the labour movement needs to concern itself much more than in the past.

However, while noting the importance of the new and varied initiatives of the different sections that make up the women's movement, we must also note the tendency amongst some of them to divorce the issue of women's liberation from a class context, and to place theoretical and practical emphasis on the personal, subjective, individual experience of oppression by men. We must also note the tendency by some men to support women's liberation in theory without undertaking necessary changes in their organisational, political, and personal circumstances, in practice. These approaches can only weaken the mass basis of the fight for women's liberation, and reinforce any tendencies to marginalise the issue. Therefore, to counteract this, there is both an urgent need to project a clear Marxist perspective on the question of women's equality, and a need to step up efforts to win the organised working class to play a more decisive and effective role in the struggle for women's liberation. We must recall that the subordination and oppression of women represents a fundamental feature of the exploitation of working people in all class societies, and most notably under capitalism. Therefore the fight for women's equality, which cannot be relegated to a secondary position but must be central to the class struggle, is not a fight for women alone, but for the whole working class.

This point applies with equal force in the fight against racism in all its forms. In a country like Britain, with its long history of imperialism, racism is reflected in the dominant ideology, and in discrimination and open violence, aspects of which have become institutionalised. Black people and other ethnic minorities who are oppressed not only as members of the working class but also because of their colour, language and background, are increasingly developing their own organisations and other important initiatives in the effort to combat racism. If this struggle is to be effective, there must be the widest unity between black and white people, and between black and white workers especially. In this regard, the labour movement, again, must play a decisive part in winning the whole working class to reject racist ideas and practices, and in assisting black people to combat discrimination wherever it appears. Increasingly, lesbians and gay men are being won to an understanding that their struggle for equal rights can only be achieved in the context of a united struggle by the working class and for socialism.

In Scotland and Wales powerful national movements have developed. They reflect the severe economic, social and cultural problems that have arisen from the growing centralisation of control within the British state. The development of the Scottish and Welsh nations has been increasingly crippled by the grip exercised over their economic and social life by monopoly capital and its close links with the state apparatus at British level. The creation of Scottish and Welsh parliaments with effective executive and legislative powers is now crucial. These parliaments would provide the basis for combating economic and political centralisation and in mobilising a wider alliance of forces which can strike at the state power exercised by monopoly capital over all people in Britain. The convening of a Scottish Convention, which is a people's Convention, is an important contribution to the fight for a parliament in Scotland.

The fact that the labour movement played a key role in the initiation of the Scottish Convention illustrates how the labour movements in Scotland and Wales have a major role to play in the fight for self-determination. Their close links with workers elsewhere in Britain give them the potential strength to build an alliance of forces and the political clarity needed to direct it against those who hold state power in Britain. They can, however, do this only if they do fully become the champions of the national rights of their peoples and shake off reformist and right-wing ideas. A

The nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales are based mostly upon sections of the intermediate strata, including the professions, intelligentsia, small capitalists and farmers who have been politicised by the historical conditions in their respective countries. The Welsh Language Society has played a vigorous role in campaigns to secure the national and cultural rights of the Welsh people and to defend the continued existence of working class communities. Both parties therefore contain certain anti-monopoly capitalist, anti-militarist, and radical-democratic elements who have in turn, attracted some working class support. There exist wide areas for co-operation with the left. At the same time, these forces will not of themselves develop a class understanding of the roots of national oppression or of the united class power needed to combat state-monopoly capitalism at British level. Therefore if the struggle to secure the right of self-determination for the Scottish and Welsh nations is to take place in a way which unites, rather than divides all working people in Britain, then it is the responsibility of the labour movement to give the leadership in the fight for national rights, and prevent right-wing forces from using the issue to confuse and divide the people.

Within the communities and localities a mass of problems exist, on the environment, on housing, urban decay, transport, health, leisure, cultural and recreational facilities. Associated with them is the attack on local democracy and the increasing trend toward central government dictation over local councils. In response to these problems many movements and organisations have developed, including tenants' and residents associations, environmental groups, community newspapers, theatre and other cultural groups, transport campaign groups, broad committees against social service cuts and anti-poll tax committees. Not only are working people affected everyday by these problems, but it is also increasingly an area in which capitalism is intervening and profiteering. In this connection, the ecological movement is assuming an especial importance, mobilising people from a wide cross-section of society in the struggle to prevent the destruction of the environment and its ecosystems, which are so vital to the quality of living and even to human existence itself.

The battle for participation in local politics and the struggles around all aspects of community and environmental issues are of concern not only to the groups directly involved, but to the majority of the population in Britain. Therefore it is especially important that the organised working class takes up these issues, campaigns on them in a more concerted way and establishes close links with the various movements concerned.

Organisations such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament have been developed to bring together and organise many people who are committed to the cause for world peace, and to Britain's nuclear disarmament in particular. But the desire for peace and the removal of all nuclear weapons and foreign bases from British soil extends far beyond their ranks and needs to be expressed in a much more powerful and broad-based peace movement as part of the democratic anti-monopoly alliance. To this end suppOrt for CND and other peace organisations such as the British Peace Assembly as broad, tolerant, non-sectarian campaigns needs to be greatly increased and help must be given to strengthen them organisationally and politically at all levels. In view of the fact that the church is becoming increasingly outspoken on the injustices in our society, and also that many of its members are active in the peace movement, Christian CND has an important role to play as part of the general peace movement. In this connection stronger links between the peace organisations and the trade unions need to be built, to draw trade unions into a more active role in the peace movement. An important role must be played here by TU CND.

Young people, apart from the problems they face in common with other sections of the working population, also face their own specific problems whether as students or as young workers. Unemployment is leaving its mark on an entire generation of young people, and aggravates the discrimination felt by young women and black people. Discontent among them is increasingly met by harassment from the authorities, and there is the danger that continuing youth unemployment could lead to the strengthening of right-wing trends stemming from growing frustration and a lack of contact with the left and progressive movement. Therefore the organised working class needs to step up its campaign on their demands, providing organisational structures and social facilities for them, recruiting them into the unions, and fighting for their right to study and for their right to work.

The fight against unemployment must unite the employed and the unemployed around the key demands for a shorter working week, reduced retiring age, increased unemployment benefits and pensions, apprenticeship and proper training for workers of all ages at trade union rates. To this end, there is an urgent need to develop an unemployed workers' organisation, closely linked with the labour movement and working with it. This would enable the unemployed to fight for their demands, and in that way, they would be brought into the struggle for the AEPS, deepening their political understanding in the process.

In recent years the pensioners' movement has taken on new militancy and there is a great need to develop a truly mass movement on the issue. The fight for a 'living wage' pension is not the responsibility of the pensioners alone. The trade union movement needs to understand that it is a fight for their members' future, as the provision of a state pension is the only way to ensure a secure pension. Therefore, although the pensioners' movement has received more backing from the trade unions and local labour parties in its battle for adequate pensions, and for the extension of social services dealing with the elderly and disabled, the labour movement needs to undertake more vigorous and consistent activity in support of the pensioners' demands, including the setting up of retired members' sections in every union.

The Democratic Anti-Monopoly Alliance

In confirming that the basic force for advance in our society is the class struggle between workers and capitalists, we have at the same time seen that capitalism not only exploits people at work, but also oppresses them in many different ways and adversely affects different aspects of their lives. Thus they react and struggle against capitalism and its effects not only in their workplaces, but in their communities and in their social, cultural and leisure activities, as men and women, black and white, young or old, Scottish, Welsh, Irish or English. And movements and organisations develop which may embrace people not only from different sections within the working class but from other classes and strata in society.

It is clear, however, that if these movements and their struggles proceed in isolation from each other, they can do no more than challenge the position of the ruling class on isolated issues, and not its overall control and domination. If they remain apart from the labour movement, not only will they themselves suffer from the lack of its support, but the organised working class will be unable to fulfil its role as the leading force in society. It is imperative, therefore, that the organised working class builds the widest possible alliance with all other movements fighting for progress, democracy and equality in order to bring the combined weight of the overwhelming majority of the population to bear on the political, economic and other forms of power of the capitalist state and the monopoly corporations and banks.

The construction and development in struggle of the democratic anti-monopoly alliance will help not only to strengthen unity between the organised working class and other movements, but it will also strengthen unity inside the working class itself as it promotes a deeper understanding of how capitalism creates the full range of problems facing all workers. At the same time, in seeking to implement the policies of the Alternative Economic and Political Strategy, not in isolation, but in the context of the democratic anti-monopoly alliance, the organised working class can become both more conscious of, and more confident in, its task of leading the fight to challenge the domination of state-monopoly capitalism, take state power and abolish the system of exploitation. In other words, by being the leading force inside the democratic anti-monopoly alliance, the organised working class can become the leading force for socialism.

The democratic anti-monopoly alliance will not grow or develop spontaneously. There will be some who, understanding the need for fundamental change, will also understand the need for the widest unity between the working class and its allies. There will be others who, being involved only on specific issues, may not see or understand the nature or necessity of such unity. Therefore the work of the left, both in the practical development of activity and in the battle of ideas, is vital in building the democratic anti-monopoly alliance. And in this, the Communist Party, as the organised Marxist-Leninist political party, has a key and decisive responsibility.