Source: Communist Party 25th Congress Report, 1957
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
II. WHY WE FIGHT FOR SOCIALISM
III. THE PATH TO SOCIALISM
1. Transforming Parliament
2. The State—Capitalist or Socialist?
3. The Revolutionary Party
IV. STAGES ON THE ROAD TO SOCIALISM
V. SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT AND SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY
1. Socialist Democracy and Liberty
2. Other Political Parties
3. The Popular Alliance
VI. ALLIANCE OF THE BRITISH PEOPLE WITH THE PEOPLES OF THE EMPIRE
Over six years have elapsed since the first edition of our programme, The British Road to Socialism, was published. Great changes have taken place in the world since then, making it necessary to revise the programme.
In the past year the events following on the Twentieth Congress of the C.P.S.U. and the big discussion which has taken place in our Party have caused us all to give further thought to our programme.
But also the whole political situation in Britain, and especially the position of the Labour movement, calls for a fresh presentation of our aim of Socialism and our view of the road to Socialism.
We are at a stage when the movement in Britain is taking part in big battles for immediate political and economic objectives. It is just at such a time that there is the greatest need to raise the Socialist consciousness of the working people, show the need not only to struggle for reforms within capitalism, but for the ending of the capitalist system, and explain how the immediate struggles can be carried forward to the stage when the working class and its allies take political power from the hands of the capitalist class.
In the discussion on the draft preceding this Congress, many criticisms have been made of it. A great number of these criticisms are undoubtedly justified. The structure and language of the programme can be greatly improved. The principal ideas which it contains can be expressed more clearly and forcefully. Repetition and excessive detail can be cut out.
The purpose of this report, however, is to try to concentrate attention on some of the main political ideas expressed in our programme. The essential task before this Congress is to try to reach clarity and agreement on them, since however important questions of presentation are, the primary issues involved in drawing up a Party Programme are the issues of policy.
Since the end of the war, during the period of capitalist boom and comparative full employment, the ruling class and the right-wing Labour leaders have been making great efforts to discredit the idea of Socialism and hold back the working people from the struggle against capitalism.
With slogans of “A Property-Owning Democracy” and “The Opportunity State”, the Tories have tried to get across the idea that capitalism will develop in a progressive direction, “doubling the standard of living in twenty-five years” and giving, as Macmillan put it in his speech of 19 March 1957, the opportunity “to the bold, the strong, the adventurous, to make their way in the world and not be ashamed of it”.
For a time the Tories had considerable success with this propaganda. But now that it turns out that they are more likely to double the cost of living than the standard of living, and that what they mean by the “bold, the strong, the adventurous” are the landlords, bankers and profiteers, they are finding it a great, deal more difficult to deceive the people.
Yet it would be wrong to think that disillusionment with the Tories necessarily leads to an increased understanding of the need to fight for a change in the social system. As the Tories become increasingly discredited, the advocates of capitalist ideas within the Labour movement increase their efforts to blunt the class struggle, turn the working people away from the revolutionary path, and accommodate the Labour movement to capitalism.
This is why we have had in recent years a spate of books, articles and pamphlets advocating what is called “The New Socialism”. Since Morrison’s “new definition” of Socialism in 1950, that “Socialism is the assertion of a social responsibility for matters which are properly of social concern” there have been scores of other attempts to take the movement away from the conceptions which inspired many of the Socialist pioneers, and were embodied, in however inadequate a form, in the 1918 Constitution of the Labour Party.
There has been Hugh Gaitskell’s Fabian tract Socialism and Nationalisation, Socialist Union’s Penguin book Twentieth Century Socialism, John Strachey’s Contemporary Capitalism and C. A. R. Crosland’s The Future of Socialism.
What is the message of these “New Socialists”? One of their defenders, Rita Hinden, sums it up in the November 1956 Socialist Commentary, where she writes:
“They are all heretics against the traditional Socialism in which we were reared. . . . ”
They stand, she says, for the “rupture with whatever was left of the Marxist analysis, with its emphasis on ownership, productive relations and the class struggle; its terminology of ‘surplus value’ and ‘exploitation’ . . .”
With such an outlook, no wonder the “New Socialists” are so little concerned to give support to engineering and shipyard workers when, because in their exploitation by the bosses, they come out on strike and take part in the class struggle despite all the efforts of the “New Socialists” to deny its importance.
Again and again Rita Hinden is concerned to hammer home to us just what is “new” in this “New Socialism”:
“The identification of Socialism with nationalisation, or with planning, is rejected—firmly and without compunction. . . ”
“The idea of the public sector as a continuing series of state-owned monopolies to be increased in number by each successive Labour Government until the whole economy has been nationalised, is, for the new thinkers, as dead as a dodo. . . . ”
“The fourth line of thought derives from the jettisoning of the ‘class struggle’ concept. It has been replaced by the vision of workers’ cooperation in industry.”
Thus the “New Socialism” in fact turns out to be the repudiation of Socialism.
The “new thinking” is as old as the hills—it is capitalist thinking of the kind which has been characteristic of right-wing Social Democracy for decades.
Gaitskell, Crosland and Co. have not got an original thought in their heads; they are simply carrying on in the best traditions of MacDonald, Snowden and Mond-Turnerism.
This is the reason why at the outset of our Party Programme we should set out in the clearest and most inspiring way our aim of Socialism. It is why in the draft before Congress the Introduction is followed immediately by a section which tries to do this.
We mean by Socialism what the pioneers meant—the ending of the exploitation of man by man, the abolition of the system of rent, interest and profit, planned production for use instead of private profit, and the ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange by the working people.
It is only through this change in social relations and in the material basis of society that the transformation of man himself can come about, with a great educational, cultural and spiritual advance as Socialism prepares the way for the final stage of Communism.
We reject the standpoint that capitalism has found a way to solve its problems. We are against all theories which seek to argue that some sort of “reformed” or “people’s capitalism” can abolish the possibility of slumps, guarantee full employment and rising standards, and remove the drive to war.
The rising struggle of the workers, the old age pensioners, the women and young people, and many sections of the middle class, together with the constant menace of an H-bomb war, shows how wrong are those who would have us believe that we are living in a paradise on earth today.
And behind and at the root of all the immediate difficulties facing the British people are the great fundamental problems which only Socialism can solve.
Increasingly, thoughtful people are asking questions about Britain’s future to which only Socialism can provide a constructive answer. Britain is ripe and over-ripe for Socialism. Despite the post-war boom, none of the deep-rooted problems facing British imperialism have been solved. Only Socialism can solve once and for all the problem of the relationship between the British and colonial peoples to their mutual benefit. Only Socialism can finally end all danger of war and fully guarantee the freedom and independence of Britain. Only Socialism can end the contradiction between social production and individual appropriation, abolish the exploitation of man by man, make possible long-term planning, and utilise all Britain’s resources and every new development in technique and scientific knowledge for the benefit of the people.
Today in Britain there is doubt and uncertainty about the future, reflected most strikingly in the growth of the queues of those who want to emigrate. But the message of our programme is one of hope and confidence. It shows that once the working people take political power into their own hands, they can build a Socialist Britain which will be truly great—a country using all its resources for the benefit of its people and making an outstanding contribution to human progress throughout the world.
But the statement of our Socialist aims is only one aspect of a Party programme. If we confined ourselves to this, we would not advance beyond the stage of general propaganda for Socialism. A serious Marxist-Leninist Party cannot rest content with this. It must try to show how the aim can be realised in the conditions of Britain.
This in fact is the heart of our programme. When in the first publication of The British Road to Socialism in 1951, we declared that the transition to Socialism in Britain could take place through the transformation of Parliament and the building of a broad popular alliance, this was the most important development of our policy.
Now we can say that the thinking and experience of the international Communist movement confirms our general approach. Other parties have since produced similar programmes. And at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union these experiences were generalised in the Report of the Central Committee made by Comrade Khrushchov, in which it was stated:
“. . . The working class, by rallying around itself the working peasantry, the intelligentsia, all patriotic forces, and resolutely repulsing the opportunist elements who are incapable of giving up the policy of compromise with the capitalists and landlords, is in a position to defeat the reactionary forces opposed to the interests of the people, to capture a stable majority in Parliament, and transform the latter from an organ of bourgeois democracy into a genuine instrument of the people’s will. . . .
“The winning of a stable parliamentary majority backed by a mass revolutionary movement of the proletariat and of all the working class could create for the working class of a number of capitalist and former colonial countries the conditions needed to secure fundamental social changes.”
The possibility of a peaceful transition to Socialism was not, of course, something new to Marxism. Marx envisaged this possibility, particularly drawing attention to the position in Britain in the nineteenth century as an example of a country where such a transition might be possible.
Later Lenin drew lessons from the further political developments arising from the fact that capitalism had passed into its final stage of imperialism, and showed that these meant that the conditions spoken of by Marx had ceased to exist so far as Britain was concerned.
But Lenin himself never ruled out the possibility of the transition to Socialism taking place without civil war in certain circumstances, and as is well known, thought at one stage in 1917 that there might be a peaceful development of the revolution in Russia.
Since Lenin’s time further great changes have taken place in the world, opening up new possibilities for the advance to Socialism.
If we read Lenin’s writings on the transition to Socialism we are struck by the fact that he constantly emphasised two aspects: first, the great variety of forms of transition to Socialism which were possible; second, that all of them would have one thing in common—they depended on state power being in the hands of the workers and used by the workers for the building of Socialism, in other words, on the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In his article “A Caricature of Marxism”, Lenin wrote:
“All nations will reach Socialism: this is inevitable. But not all nations will reach Socialism in the same way. Each will introduce a special feature in the form of democracy it adopts, in the form of the proletarian dictatorship, and in the rate at which it carries out the reconstruction of the various phases of social life. In this respect there can be nothing more ignorant theoretically and more absurd in practice than ‘in the name of dialectical materialism’ to paint the future in a uniform, drab colour.” (Collected Works, Vol. XIX, p. 256.)
But Lenin also wrote:
“The transition from capitalism to Communism will certainly create a great variety and abundance of political forms, but in essence there will inevitably be only one—the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (State and Revolution, Selected Works, Vol. 7, p. 34.)
These two remarks of Lenin help us to make the correct approach to this question.
On the one hand, it is necessary to combat the view which holds that our concept of the transition to Socialism is revisionist and reformist.
On the other hand, those who interpret our proposals as meaning that there is no need to struggle, that the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is now out of date, and that it is even possible to advance to Socialism without a Communist Party, are also completely mistaken.
Both these tendencies have been present in the Party discussion, but the latter has been more in evidence than the former.
If we speak of a British road to Socialism this is not because we have become reformists, who have ceased to believe in the need for a revolution. While taking account of the specific conditions of Britain, our programme also firmly adheres to what is universal in Marxism-Leninism and what has been demonstrated as correct by the experience of the world revolutionary movement:
First, that Socialism demands that power shall be in the hands of the working class.
Second, that the working class uses its power to take the state machine away from the capitalists, transform it into a state machine serving the needs of the working class, and proceeds to construct Socialism. (These are the conceptions embodied in the term “dictatorship of the proletariat”.)
Third, that the advance to Socialism requires the leadership of the working class by a revolutionary Party based on Marxist-Leninist principles.
We remain convinced that Socialism can only come as a result of the taking of power from the hands of the capitalist class by the working class. We adhere to this fundamental principle of Marxism in the British Road to Socialism, when we say:
“In order, therefore, to advance to Socialism, the dominant position of the rich must be ended. Political power must be taken from the hands of the capitalist minority, and firmly grasped by the majority of the people, led by the working class.”
The fact that it is possible for this revolution to take place peacefully does not make it less of a revolution.
In putting our aim for the transition to Socialism in Britain we take into account both the world position and the situation in our country.
We hold that war is not inevitable, and that if the people use their power, the perspective is one of peace: We take this view not because we think imperialism has changed its spots but because of the political, economic and military strength of the Socialist countries, the tremendous growth of the colonial liberation movement, the contradictions amongst the capitalist powers, and the existence of a powerful world peace movement.
Further, we take into account the weakening of imperialism and the shrinking of the sphere in which it exerts its influence. British imperialism in particular has suffered great set-backs in the past period.
Moreover, the strength of the Socialist sector lies not only in its economic and political strength but in the great attractive power of Socialist ideas. The international factors are therefore far more favourable for the transition to Socialism than hitherto.
As far as Britain is concerned, it is a country whose working class in industry and agriculture makes up the great majority of the population. It is also a highly organised working class, with a long tradition of struggle.
It has the possibility of winning to its side other sections of the population, whose interests are objectively opposed to those of the handful of monopolists who at present dominate the political and economic life of the country.
The potential power of the working class of Britain and its allies is therefore overwhelming. The need is to develop the political understanding and Socialist consciousness of the working people, so that, under the leadership of the Marxist vanguard, they use that power to put an end to capitalism.
We do not believe that all the capitalists will be converted to Socialism because of the example of the Socialist countries. We are not Utopian Socialists, and that is not what we mean when we speak of the possibility of a peaceful transition.
We mean that in the new conditions in the world and because of its overwhelming potential strength, the British working class can confront the capitalists with a situation in which they will have to accept the democratic verdict of the people.
In the last analysis, whether they do so or not depends on the extent to which the working people are prepared to use their power. We should not spread illusions on this matter.
When we speak of the transition to Socialism being different in Britain from the Soviet form this does not mean that it will be easy, painless and smooth, with no resistance from the capitalist class. Such an idea would only have the effect of disarming the working class.
The degree to which the capitalist class resists the advance to Socialism depends in the first place on how well organised, how politically conscious, how determined, and how strong are the forces of the working class. For as Engels said: “There is no power in the world which could for a day resist the British working class organised as a body.”
In the second place, it depends on whether, faced with this overwhelming force, the capitalists decide to yield to the democratic will of the people, or stake everything on a desperate resistance.
It is not possible to give any final guarantee as to what the capitalists will do. Hence our programme warns of the danger of resistance on their part and the necessity of being prepared to deal with it. But the aim of the working people should be to ensure that the transition to Socialism is a peaceful one. The first condition for this is the organisation of overwhelming working class strength for the ending of the capitalist system. The more this strength is mobilised, the less likely it becomes that the capitalists will resort to violence. If they do, the responsibility will be on them, not on the working class.
When in 1951 our programme set the aim of transforming Parliament into an instrument of the will of the working people, this was one of the most important developments of our policy.
We are setting this aim at a time when the capitalist class is more and more treating Parliament with contempt. Parliament developed its leading role in Britain in the struggle against the absolute monarchy and the Divine Right of Kings. With the rise of industrial capitalism the struggle, was for a Parliament which would represent the rising industrial capitalist class.
But with the growth of the working class movement and its demand for political representation in Parliament, the capitalist class has in the course of time changed its attitude towards Parliament. In the first place it has evolved the system of Cabinet government, which means in fact that the Cabinet and not Parliament runs the country. In the second place, with the assistance of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, the position has been established in which the leaders of the two main parties which dominate Parliament agree on virtually all major issues of policy, and co-operate with each other in the conduct of the nation’s affairs. Thus Parliament, deprived of real authority and in the main composed of people who want to maintain or compromise with capitalism rather than put an end to it, is an instrument of bourgeois democracy which tries to hold back the people’s struggle in the interests of the capitalist class.
The Tory and right-wing Labour leaders want Parliament to remain at its present stage. The capitalist class has no use for a Parliament truly representative of the working people, since such a Parliament would be a menace to their rule.
But we say that the working class can not only utilise Parliament in the immediate struggle but transform it to serve the needs of the workers instead of the capitalists, and ensure that this product of the centuries-old struggle for democracy in Britain becomes a means of replacing bourgeois democracy by Socialist democracy.
Our advocacy of the use of Parliament and its transformation into an instrument of the will of the people does not mean that we have adopted the outlook of Social Democracy.
The right-wing Labour leaders when they speak of a “Parliamentary road to Socialism” do so with the object of obscuring and evading the necessity for class struggle and the key issue of which class holds power.
They identify the winning of a Labour parliamentary majority with working class power. Thus in 1945 and the following years, they claimed to have “begun building Socialism”.
We also are for the winning of a Labour parliamentary majority, but we do not consider it the equivalent of the working class taking power. The British workers know from experience that it is quite possible to have a Labour parliamentary majority, and an overwhelming one at that, and for capitalism to continue to exist, to continue to exploit the working class, to enable the monopolies to strengthen their position and make bigger profits than ever, and to continue and even intensify colonial oppression.
Therefore when we speak of Parliament’s role in the transition to Socialism we do not mean the same thing as the right-wing Labour leaders when they talk of the “Parliamentary road”. We mean a mass revolutionary movement resulting in a parliamentary majority which takes decisive action to break the power of the capitalists and transfer power to the working class.
The State—Capitalist or Socialist?
Just as our views on the transition to Socialism differ from those of the reformists, so also do our views on the state.
The British State is a powerful monopoly capitalist state. The whole state machine has been built up with the object of maintaining the capitalist system and preventing the advance of Socialism; and in recent years the state has been strengthened as an instrument of monopoly capitalism.
Of course it has been built up in the course of a process of historical development, in which progressive elements have also played a part. At an early stage there was the struggle of the rising bourgeoisie against feudalism and the absolute power of the monarchy. As the working class forces developed, they conducted a powerful struggle for trade union and democratic rights, which achieved important successes.
But this has not changed the fundamental character of the capitalist state, which has indeed been strengthened as the instrument through which the capitalist class exercises its dictatorship over the working class.
Right-wing Social Democracy denies this, claiming that the state is “above classes”, with the function of holding the balance between employers and workers, and “arbitrating” between them. With this type of propaganda, the right-wing leaders try to confuse the workers who, even when engaged in big class battles, often see only the individual employer or group of employers as the enemy, and do not see the employers’ state as their enemy also.
For Socialism to be on the order of the day, the majority of the working people must see the need not only to struggle against the individual employer but to change the state into an instrument of the will of the working class instead of the capitalist class.
One of the key organs of the state is Parliament. Therefore our programme first and foremost proposes the transformation of Parliament into an instrument of the will of the working people. This transformation of Parliament would then facilitate the transformation of the other organs of state.
The purpose of the proposals we make regarding the armed forces and police, the Civil Service and diplomatic services, the judiciary, the press, broadcasting and the House of Lords and the monarchy, is to transform the state into a working class state.
It is impossible to proceed to the building of Socialism if the existing capitalist state machine is left as it is.
Alongside the political measures to take the state machine away from the capitalists, our programme calls for economic measures to break their power, through the Socialist nationalisation of all large-scale industry and transport, the banks and insurance companies, all wholesale and retail trading concerns owned by big business, and the public ownership of the land of the large landowners, companies and institutions.
In this section of the programme we have endeavoured to make clearer than before the difference between capitalist nationalisation and Socialist nationalisation, and we have also made various changes to show that our aim is to isolate and break the power of the big monopolists and not destroy the small man.
The Revolutionary Party
The third respect in which our approach differs from that of the reformists is that we hold that the advance to Socialism requires the Communist Party—the revolutionary Party of the working class, based on the scientific outlook of Marxism-Leninism, organised on the principles of democratic centralism, closely linked with the people, and linking together the immediate and ultimate aims of the working class.
Socialism has nowhere been established without such a Party. The principal reason why “backward” China is Socialist while “advanced” Britain remains capitalist is that the Communist Party of China became the leading force amongst the people, while here in Britain the grip of right-wing Social Democracy has not yet been broken.
The aim of a peaceful transition to Socialism does not mean that we can afford to throw overboard the principles of democratic centralism in favour of Social-Democratic forms of organisation, as some comrades have argued. The peaceful transition requires not less principled and skilled leadership, but more; not less organisation, but greater organisation; not an abandonment of discipline, but an understanding that in the course of the sharp class battles which will develop in Britain on the road to Socialism, the need for discipline will be vital.
A number of questions have been raised in the discussion relating to the question of stages on the way to power.
For example, it has been asked, “Do we see the ‘laying hold of the state machine’ as something to be fought for as a stage on the way to power, or as a task of the Socialist government?”
“Are we for abolishing or restricting the House of Lords and the monarchy under capitalism?”
“What is our attitude to the battle for democracy under capitalism?” “Can we not describe in more detail the steps to be taken between now and the time when we have a Socialist government carrying out the policy described in our programme?”
Other comrades find that the programme is not clear on what stage will have to be reached in the building of Socialism before some of its proposals can be put into effect. “Are they suggestions for the policy of a Socialist government in a capitalist Britain?” they ask, “or for a Britain in which Socialism is established?”
On these questions the following points may be made:
(1) Our attitude to reforms under capitalism is clear—we struggle for reforms and urge the utilisation of every reform by the working class, but we do not regard the struggle for reforms as an end in itself, and we do not think capitalism can be “reformed” into Socialism. There is, therefore, no Chinese wall between a long-term and an immediate programme.
Every long-term programme contains demands which should also be fought for now. If they are successfully won, even in the conditions of capitalism, this helps to develop the political understanding and the organisation of the working class for the struggle for Socialism. The point about a long-term programme is not that it should rigidly exclude all demands which are matters of practical politics today but that it should show the relation between them and the aim of Socialism.
It is possible to envisage some demands being won while capitalism remains. Others depend for their achievement on the working class taking power out of the hands of the capitalist class. It would be quite possible for the monarchy and the House of Lords to be restricted or abolished and for capitalism to remain. Other capitalist countries do without a monarchy and a hereditary second chamber. But the “Socialist nationalisation of all large-scale industry and transport, the banks and insurance companies, and all wholesale and retail trading concerns owned by big business” together with “the land of the large landowners, companies and institutions”, will not be carried through without a change in class power.
(2) Just because the struggle for the transfer of power from the hands of the capitalist class to that of the working class is a living and developing process, we cannot and should not attempt to lay down in a rigid and schematic way every stage in the struggle. We can and should state the main conditions for success in the fight: unity of the working class; the alliance of the working class and the middle strata; a strong Communist Party.
(3) The policy we put forward in our programme is that which we consider should be adopted by a Socialist government in the process of the transition to Socialism in Britain.
To put the issue “Is it for a Socialist government in a capitalist Britain, or in a Britain in which Socialism has been established?” is to pose the question wrongly.
When we speak of a Socialist government, we mean one which has come into being as a result of a great movement involving the taking of power out of the hands of the capitalists, and which is determined to carry out the transformation of society and build Socialism. To speak of “A Socialist government in a capitalist Britain” implies a long period of co-existence of a Socialist government and capitalist economic relations. But in the conditions of Britain, a genuine Socialist government will take immediate steps to break the power of the capitalist class and transfer ownership of the main industries etc. to the nation. If it does not do so, it will soon cease to exist. Of course every vestige of capitalism will not disappear overnight, and Socialism will not be built in a day.
But more than most other countries, Britain is likely to witness a very rapid transition from capitalism to Socialism once political power is in the hands of the working class. Therefore here we again cannot erect artificial barriers and say, “This is what a Socialist government should do before Socialism is completely established, and this is what it should do after Socialism is established.” Only if we see the living process of struggle will our approach be correct.
The programme which we published in 1951 said that the path to Socialism in Britain would be through the establishment of a people’s government and people’s democracy.
However, there are both theoretical and practical reasons for changing our approach on this matter.
People’s democracy is a term which was originally applied to the form of state power which was established in the countries of Eastern Europe after the Second World War. In the first stage it was concerned with the carrying through of the anti-feudal, anti-imperialist revolution, since in most of these countries, to a greater or lesser extent, there were considerable feudal survivals, and foreign monopolists, particularly the Hitler fascists, had found allies amongst the monopolists and landlords within these countries.
People’s democracy was based on an alliance between the industrial working class and the peasantry. In all these countries the peasantry formed a large proportion of the population, and in a number of them the industrial working class was very small in comparison. It is obvious, therefore, that a great difference existed compared with the position of Britain.
In its second stage, the people’s democratic state fulfilled the function of the dictatorship of the proletariat and carried out the task of building Socialism. But here also the difference in the stage of development and the relations between classes as compared with Britain means that the process in Britain will not take the same form. For example, the people’s governments are based on a coalition of parties, with the Communist Party playing the leading role, but with non-working-class parties representing the peasants also playing a role.
This will not be the development in Britain, since it will be as a result of united action between the working class parties that the Socialist government will come into existence. It will be a government based on the Communist and Labour Parties, or on a united working class party, if that has been achieved.
For these reasons, to continue to speak of people’s democracy and a people’s government in Britain would only breed confusion. Such terms also make it more difficult to explain what we mean to many people in the Labour movement. Therefore, for all these reasons, we speak of a Socialist government and Socialist democracy.
We cannot agree with those comrades who argue that we should go further and speak of a Labour government rather than a Socialist government. The British working class has seen three Labour governments in the last thirty-three years. None of them have taken decisive measures to break the power of the capitalists or advance to Socialism.
They have been Labour governments, but not Socialist governments. They have not been Socialist either in the sense of being based on a real majority of Socialists in Parliament, or in the sense that the governments themselves have been composed of the genuine Socialists, or in the sense that they have carried out or attempted to carry out, a Socialist policy.
The government we speak of in our programme is one based on the organised Labour movement and on a majority of Communists and Socialists in Parliament; it is composed of Communists and Socialists; it is one which will carry out a Socialist policy. In other words, a Socialist government.
Thus while we fight for the defeat of the Tories at an early general election and the return of a Labour government, we recognise that the transition to Socialism requires a further development of the movement to establish the Socialist government of which our programme speaks.
Socialist Democracy and Liberty
It is natural that a great deal of attention should have been given to this section of the programme in the Party discussion. The events of the past year have focused the attention of Communists everywhere on the problem of how to safeguard the Socialist state against the class enemy, while ensuring the fullest development of democracy for the mass of the people.
In approaching this question we ought to bear in mind the basic Marxist approach. We cannot talk of democracy in the abstract. The question always is, “Democracy for whom?”
Under bourgeois democracy the capitalists have freedom to exploit the workers. They do not have such freedom under Socialism. The press lords have freedom to exercise a virtual monopoly over the press; that freedom will be taken from them. The imperialists have freedom to oppress, kill and torture the colonial peoples. The joint struggle of the British and colonial people will deprive them of that freedom.
But they will not give up these “freedoms” without a struggle. A Socialist state will therefore need to introduce the necessary legislation to protect itself against the attempts of its enemies to obstruct the democratic will of the people and to restore capitalism.
Once this legislation is passed and becomes the law of the land, it will then also be the duty of the Socialist government to ensure that the law is observed.
This is the first aspect of Socialist legality. But it is the aspect that has received least attention in the discussion and in the amendments. There has been a wrong tendency to see as the main need the limiting of the rights and power of the Socialist government, in the mistaken belief that this would guarantee democratic rights to the mass of the people. The opposite is the case. Unless the Socialist government has the necessary powers and the means to enforce the law, the capitalists will be more able to sabotage its work and more likely to attempt to restore capitalism, and this would be the greatest possible disaster for the working people.
There has also been in the discussion a marked tendency to magnify and exaggerate the degree of democracy which exists under capitalism. By ignoring completely the position in the colonies, by taking as the standard the attitude of the capitalists when they do not feel their position seriously threatened, by brushing aside all the lessons of history, and by speaking of democratic rights as if they had nothing to do with the economic system, it is possible to get into a frame of mind hardly distinguishable from the right-wing Social Democrats, who hold that in Britain we have a more or less perfect “political democracy”, while in the backward Socialist states they only have an elementary form of “economic democracy”.
So great has been this tendency to under-estimate the potential capitalist danger to civil liberties, through an excessive preoccupation with the position in the Socialist countries, that our Party has played virtually no role in the recent period in the fight against the witch-hunt. It has been left almost entirely to a group of Labour M.P.s to initiate and develop this struggle against the threat to democratic rights involved in recent government actions and proposals.
Therefore in considering this question of democratic rights, do not let us lose all sense of class reality because in the Soviet Union and other Socialist countries mistakes and injustices have occurred in the course of carrying out a generally correct policy.
Bourgeois democracy means that for the working people democracy is restricted and in constant danger of attempts by the capitalists to destroy it, when they feel they can take advantage of disunity amongst the working class. It is the method by which the minority exercises its rule over the majority.
Socialist democracy extends democracy for the working people, but restricts the freedom of the capitalists as compared with the freedom they enjoy at present. It is the method by which the majority exercises its rule over the minority.
As Engels put it over seventy-five years ago: “In England, where the industrial and agricultural working class forms the immense majority of the people, democracy means the dominion of the working class, neither more nor less.”
But the second aspect of Socialist democracy—the extension of democratic rights for the majority of the people—also requires that a conscious effort must be made by the Socialist government and all the organs of state. There is the danger of abuses and of measures which initially were designed to be used against the class enemy infringing on the rights of ordinary people.
The most perfect legal code cannot of itself provide a 100 per cent guarantee against this. At the root of the problem is the degree to which the working class organisations, including the Communist Party, are vigilant, work democratically and collectively, and draw the people into the work of running the country.
The essence of Socialist democracy is the full participation of the people in running the country, in the work of local government and in the conduct of industry. This is the biggest difference from capitalist democracy, which while giving some formal democratic rights to the people, in practice discourages the exercise of these rights and tries in every way possible to dampen down the initiative of the working people.
Nevertheless it is very important that legal safeguards should be provided to guarantee as far as possible the rights of the working people. This has rightly been a subject of considerable concern in the Party discussion. In the programme we go into a great deal more detail than in the previous version on this question. But there have been many useful and constructive criticisms made of this section, and Congress will undoubtedly wish many of the proposals made for improving it to, be taken into account when the new draft is made.
I think, however, that we ought to reject proposals which would have the effect of completely hamstringing a Socialist government, and on the
pretext of concern with the rights of the individual, would help to destroy the power of the working class to deal with its enemies.
Other Political Parties
The question is often asked, “What should be the attitude of a Socialist government to non-Socialist political parties?” We state in the programme what we think the attitude should be, where we say, “The right of political parties to maintain their organisation, press and propaganda and to take part in elections will be guaranteed.”
At the same time it would be wrong to give the impression that our main concern is to preserve the Tory Party in existence after a Socialist government has been elected. The Tory Party at present deceives considerable sections of the working people into voting for it. The winning of Socialism involves a tremendous weakening of this Tory influence amongst working people.
Once Socialism begins to be built, still more people will turn away from the Tories, the monopolists who control the Tory Party will be deprived of their wealth and control over the instruments of propaganda, and thus a further great weakening of the Tory Party, leading to its eventual disappearance, will take place.
But this will be brought about as a result of the political and economic measures of the Socialist government and through the political battle of ideas, and not by the banning of the Tory Party.
Naturally if the monopolists tried to utilise the Tory Party as a means of bringing about the overthrow of Socialism by illegal and undemocratic means, it would cease to be a genuine political party and the Socialist government would have to take measures to prevent these plans from succeeding.
It should also be obvious that when we refer to the rights of political parties we do not mean Fascist parties, which reject the democratic basis and make racial discrimination the main plank in their policy.
The Popular Alliance
The idea of the “broad, popular alliance” contained in the original British Road to Socialism, has been retained as one of the key factors in the advance to Socialism. We have tried to make the references to the allies of the working class more specific and show more clearly the community of interest which exists between them.
A correct criticism of our work over the past period has been that we have done too little to develop this alliance between the working class and other sections of the population. It is important that we overcome this weakness at a time when more and more middle-class sections are opposing the policy of the Tory Government.
Yet here again there have been tendencies to go too far in the other direction. Some contributions in the discussion have asked us to devote so much attention to the problems of the non-working-class sections that the main problem of winning the working class would have been pushed into the background.
If anything, our draft pays too little attention to the important and decisive role of the working class. We do not explain this enough—we tend to take it for granted. Nor do we sufficiently bring out the fact that a great deal still has to be done to win the whole working class even for struggle against Toryism, let alone for the aim of Socialism.
While objectively the class issues in Britain are comparatively straightforward—there is a huge working class confronting a tiny group of monopoly capitalists, with various groupings in between most of whom have interests threatened by the monopolists—the situation when it comes to existing political line-ups is far more complicated. The Tories would certainly not be the Government today if they had not been able to confuse considerable sections of the working class, as well as the non-working-class sections, into voting for them.
In our correct desire to win allies for the working class, therefore, do not let us ignore the job that has to be done to win the working class itself for struggle and for Socialism, to end the divisions in the Labour movement, and bring about working class unity. Of course these two aims are not contradictory: a policy which is based first and foremost on developing the working class fight against the monopolists can also attract to the side of the working class the other sections of the population whose interests are opposed to those of the monopolists.
It is correct, as a number of comrades have pointed out, and as the Executive Committee comments on the draft emphasised, that the treatment of the middle strata in the programme is inadequate. They cannot be treated as all having the same problems, and we can certainly see a difference between the problems and outlook of the small business people—shopkeepers, small farmers and traders etc.—and the professional workers. In redrafting the programme, therefore, we should try to make it more specific and convincing in its appeal to the middle strata.
The draft before Congress endeavours to present more clearly and with a greater sense of urgency the idea embodied in the 1951 British Road to Socialism of the fighting alliance between the British working people and the colonial peoples.
There are still a number of weaknesses in its presentation, some of which are dealt with in the amendments being proposed by the Executive Committee—as, for example, in the programme’s use of the phrase “capitalism and imperialism” instead of “imperialism”, and in its failure to define imperialism.
This section of the programme is one of the most important for our Party and for the whole British Labour movement, since the problems it deals with are at the heart of the British political situation, and account in large measure for the burdens on the British working people and their failure to advance to Socialism despite the initial leadership given by the British working class in the establishment of working class organisations.
Every current development, including the experience of the Suez war and the present situation in Cyprus, is showing the truth of the essential message of this section for the British people; that they must put an end to colonial oppression for their own sakes, and not only for the sake of the colonial peoples themselves.
It is against the background of this urgent need to strengthen the common struggle now that we put forward our view of what a Socialist Government should do.
It should immediately and unhesitatingly recognise the complete independence and right of self-determination of all countries in the colonial empire at the time of its coming to power. All armed forces should be withdrawn from the colonial and dependent countries, and sovereignty handed over to Governments freely chosen by the people.
A Socialist Britain would then be able to develop economic, political and cultural relationships with the former colonial countries and the countries of the Commonwealth on an entirely new basis.
It is the job of Congress to decide on the main issues of policy in The British Road to Socialism.
We propose that when Congress has made its decision on the policy questions, the present draft, together with the Congress decisions, the branch amendments and the recommendations of the Congress Commission on the programme, should be remitted to the new Executive Committee. We suggest that Congress should instruct the Executive Committee to prepare a new draft, paying particular attention to language and presentation, and to treat this as a very important task for which sufficient time should be allowed to do the job properly. This draft should then be sent to Party branches for their comments before final publication.
We are discussing the new draft of our programme at a moment when the advance of Socialism in the world is putting ever more insistently before the British Labour movement the question: How long will Britain lag behind?
The decisions of the Twentieth Congress of the C.P.S.U. and the correction of past mistakes will lead to a further strengthening of the Socialist system in this year which marks the fortieth anniversary of the October Socialist Revolution. The great Chinese people have settled the issue of Socialism or capitalism in China, and in the coming period will astound the world with what a Socialist China will accomplish.
The victory of the Communist Party of India in the State of Kerala is a portent of far-reaching political developments which will take place amongst the teeming millions of India.
Will Britain, which set the example to the working people of the world in development of trade union and co-operative organisation, bring up the rear when it comes to the social revolution?
The Labour movement can answer: No! And our programme shows the way forward for the British Labour movement at this time of questioning and discussion about the future.
It is the only programme which shows the path to Socialism in Britain, taking into account the special conditions, traditions and institutions of Britain and the utilisation of the democratic gains won by the people in years of struggle.
It is the only programme which confidently declares that war can be ended once and for all, that Britain need not decline to the position of a third- or a fourth-rate power, that new relations of friendship with the colonial peoples can be established, and that atomic energy and automation can be used for mankind’s benefit instead of its destruction.
In a word, our programme shows that the greatest days of Britain and its people are ahead, if the working people use their power to take control of their own destinies.
For this reason our job is not merely to discuss and improve our programme. Our job is to popularise it, explain it and fight for it, and so begin now the struggle which will culminate in the ending of capitalist rule and the establishment of Socialism in Britain.
The mass struggles against the effects of Tory policy in which the British working people are taking part make it more important, not less important, for us to do this.
The history of the British Labour movement is full of examples which show its capacity for stubborn and self-sacrificing mass struggle against capitalist attacks on working class rights and conditions. Before the first world war, in 1926, in the 1930s, the workers gave proof of their determination to fight for what they considered to be right.
But because the immediate struggles were not linked with the Socialist aim, because the Socialist consciousness of the working people did not reach the level of their class consciousness, these struggles were not carried forward to the end of the capitalist system itself. They reached a certain stage and then died away.
But today we have a working class which has learnt many lessons from history, facing a capitalist class which, while still strong and cunning, is caught up in contradictions which it cannot solve.
If alongside our efforts to develop the mass fight against the Tories we win increasing sections of the working people for the ideas and the policy of The British Road to Socialism, we can bring about that union between the mass movement and Socialist ideas and principles which Marxists in Britain have striven for ever since Marx himself showed its necessity.
And once that is done, then indeed the British working class will be invincible and the advance to Socialism certain.