- Category: Britain's Road to Socialism
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The election of a left government committed to the alternative economic and political strategy (AEPS) and its left-wing programme (LWP) will mark the transition of the revolutionary process to a second stage.
This stage will be characterised, above all, by a combined parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggle to implement major policies of the LWP. The left government will need to work closely with – and be held to account by – the labour movement and the other forces of the popular democratic anti-monopoly alliance, mobilising the maximum support inside and outside parliament.
Every effort will have to be made to involve the labour and progressive movements, and new organisations formed in the course of mass action, in the formulation of policy, tactics and strategy and in the enforcement of government measures based on the LWP.
Because European Union (EU) fundamental treaties and institutions cannot be radically reformed without near-unanimous agreement among all member states, Britain will almost certainly have to withdraw from the EU in order to implement policies.
Such an assertion of popular sovereignty will also be necessary if British governments are to develop free and equal trade, commercial and political relations with other countries across the globe, acting in solidarity with oppressed peoples and promoting such values in the United Nations (UN) and other international bodies.
The drive to implement the LWP will undoubtedly meet with resistance from powerful sections of the capitalist class and from within the state itself. The British ruling class will seek support from anti-socialist allies within Britain and abroad, in the world's financial and currency markets, the boardrooms of transnational corporations, the institutions of the EU, the United States (US) government, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The example of Chile demonstrates the willingness of the US and British ruling classes to destroy long-established parliamentary democracy in defence of imperialist interests. In 1973, the elected Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a military coup orchestrated by the US administration, carried out by Chilean generals and backed by US transnational corporations (TNCs) and Chilean landowners. Policies of progressive nationalisation were reversed by ‘made in the USA’ neoliberalism. British governments subsequently lent military, financial and trading assistance to that murderous dictatorship.
The defeat in Chile confirmed the importance of limiting the opportunities for outside interference, understanding the difference between government office and state power, replacing reactionary personnel in top state positions, consolidating broad alliances (and curbing ultra-leftist adventurism), building a Communist Party able to exercise decisive influence and developing a military policy that relies upon the mass of the people.
In Britain, the popular movement – with the organised working class at its core – and the left government would need to be organised and ready to overcome all covert and overt counter-revolutionary activities.
The damage that could be inflicted on a left government and its programme from outside should not be underestimated. Attacks on Britain's currency and the government's ability to borrow in financial markets, a huge political propaganda offensive, denunciations or diktats from the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice, restrictions on imports from Britain, are all possible as international capitalism seeks to block Britain's road to socialism
Yet these dangers should not be overestimated, either.
The policies in the LWP are intended to reduce vulnerability to outside pressure and sabotage. This can be done, for instance, by taking strategic sectors and enterprises in the British economy into public ownership. Taxing the wealthy and monopoly profits would reduce the need for government borrowing. Britain should keep out of the euro-zone as public opinion is prepared for possible confrontation with EU neoliberal policies. Britain's industrial base must be rebuilt and economic and political relations strengthened with non-imperialist and developing countries.
Recent shifts in the world balance of forces have strengthened the potential for a left government in Britain to develop mutually beneficial international relations beyond US and EU control, not least in Asia and Latin America.
Movements of the left have gained ground in Latin America, inspired by Cuba and driven in part by the Bolivarian socialist revolution unfolding in Venezuela. Those governments have collaborated in continental initiatives to eliminate economic, financial and political dependence on the US. Latin American-wide initiatives in trade and development, currency, broadcasting and diplomacy provide a progressive, alternative model of regional cooperation between sovereign states to that of the EU.
The re-emergence of capitalism's general crisis has generated mass opposition to its most important aspects in many countries. Anti-globalisation, anti-war and environmentalist movements have sprung up to challenge capitalism's severe deficiencies as an economic and social system. Workers and their trade unions are fighting back against deregulation, privatisation, cuts in public and welfare services, mass redundancies and the use of non-union labour to undermine trade union rights and terms and conditions of employment.
As ever, communists and socialists come to the fore in such battles, providing strategic leadership. So there is every prospect that a left government in Britain and its supporters will have allies in the international arena.
Communist, left-wing, progressive, anti-imperialist and non-aligned governments abroad may be in a position to extend diplomatic, political and economic assistance. The trade union, left-wing, peace and environmental movements in other countries would be called upon to exert pressure or take action in solidarity with their allies in Britain.
Certainly, there is every prospect that the international links of Britain's working-class, progressive and communist movements will continue to develop. Broadening and deepening such relations would already have been a very high priority for all sections of the popular democratic anti-monopoly alliance.
Above all, it is unlikely that substantial political advances in Britain would have been made in isolation. Working class and revolutionary movements in other advanced capitalist countries and in Latin America, Africa and Asia may also be putting their own ruling class under increasing pressure.
In any event, communists do not accept that there is a law of history that makes it impossible to achieve socialist revolution in one country before others, or that one of the wealthiest, most developed societies in the world is incapable of proceeding to construct its own model of socialism. The uneven economic and political development of capitalism makes it possible to break weak links in the imperialist chain. The fundamental contradictions of capitalism ensure that the necessity for socialist revolution suggests itself everywhere, sooner or later.
Previous experience of social-democratic governments in Britain, notably in the 1960s and 1970s, indicates that a real left government must expect attempts at economic and financial sabotage. An investment strike, the flight of capital, an attack on Britain's currency, trade sanctions and a boycott of government bills and bonds should all be anticipated.
This is why the left government must take steps to control the movement of capital, close all tax havens under British jurisdiction and use the requisite powers to control and liquidate British-owned economic and financial assets abroad. There may also be tactical value in prioritising the public ownership of sectors or enterprises according to the economic or political threat that they pose to the left government and socialist revolution at any given point.
In order to counteract anti-revolutionary propaganda, the grip of a small number of monopoly conglomerates on the capitalist mass media would have to be decisively broken. A more diverse pattern of ownership and control in the print, broadcasting, film, telecommunications and web-based media would reflect the wide range of legitimate interests and aspirations in a modern, democratic and tolerant society.
Efforts to publicise and implement even the mildest LWP policies will meet with resistance inside the civil service and associated public bodies, including regulatory agencies, the Bank of England and the state broadcasting system.
A left government does not mean that the apparatus and forces of the state are now on the side of a fundamental transformation of society. They are not, nor have they ever have been, neutral on the question of which socio-economic system should exist.
Key parts of the state apparatus will endeavour to continue operating in the interests of the system for which they were designed, as will many of their top personnel who have been selected, trained and promoted to operate it.
Therefore, the state itself will quickly become a focal point for heightened class struggle. To what extent will the monopoly capitalists and their supporters be able to use the state machine to obstruct the LWP? Will the working class and its allies be able to take control of the administrative and political apparatus, restructure and then replace it with one designed to dismantle capitalism and construct a system that serves the interests of society as a whole?
From the outset, the left government will have to introduce extensive changes in recruitment, staffing and management policies within the civil and diplomatic services, the judiciary, the police, the secret services and armed forces in order to replace key personnel with supporters of the revolutionary process.
The police, secret services and armed forces will have to be made fully and openly answerable to elected representatives of the people at national and British levels. Their functions and priorities will need to be reviewed and in some respects altered fundamentally. The introduction of wide-ranging trade union rights and civic education programmes will also help to break down oppressive and reactionary ideas and practices. Substantial improvements in the terms and conditions of employment of uniformed as well as civilian public servants will show them that the left government upholds the interests of all workers.
The state's corps of military reservists would have to be expanded and linked with large workplaces and local working class communities. The trade union movement could be involved in its recruitment, education and administration. Over time, reflecting the adoption of an independent foreign policy based on peaceful coexistence, the balance of resources will tilt away from a full-time selective professional army towards popular military reservists with specialised professional units.
Throughout this process, the positive involvement of public sector trade unions will be essential. It will also be vital to secure the widest possible public support. This is more likely to be forthcoming if the left government's policies regularly receive democratic endorsement by the people in elections and referendums, and all parliamentary means are tried in order to implement the government's programme.
New bodies of working class and popular power are likely to be necessary to monitor or take over state functions and ensure implementation of the LWP.
The drive to implement key LWP policies relating to the state, capital controls, mass media ownership and membership of the EU and NATO will almost certainly meet the most determined resistance from monopoly capital and its forces within and outside the state apparatus.
Enormous confrontations will signify that the revolutionary process has entered its third, most crucial stage, following those in which the left government has taken office and then, with the mass movement, fought to enact the LWP. These new confrontations will decide whether the monopoly finance capitalists retain state power or have it taken from them by the working class and its allies.
It is also at this point that different and even contradictory interests within the popular democratic anti-monopoly alliance might come most sharply to the fore, encouraged and exploited from within the ruling class. In such circumstances, the left government and the labour movement will have to make enormous efforts to maintain the unity of the alliance through the best prioritisation of policies and choice of tactics, short of undermining or abandoning the revolutionary process itself. In particular, new forms and ways of cooperating together will have to develop to ensure that unity is maintained and cemented between the forces in the alliance and the new left government.
If progress in implementing key policies of the LWP has been obstructed to a significant extent, then the revolutionary movement and its left government, facing an unfavourable balance of forces, might have to pursue other policies in the LWP, rather than proceed immediately with those likely to spark decisive confrontations of state power.
If, on the other hand, substantial inroads have already been made into the wealth and power of the finance capitalists, the conditions will be all the more favourable for taking the advanced measures necessary to remove political power from their hands, decisively and completely.
The ruling class will battle for its very survival and can be expected to use every weapon at its disposal against the revolutionary movement and the left government.
For example, as in the 1970s, private armies might form under the direction of ex-military chiefs, supported by big business leaders and sections of the mass media. This possibility will be reduced by the measures already proposed to democratise and unionise the armed forces and to break monopoly power, not least in the mass media.
Direct foreign military intervention against a left government in Britain with mass support is unlikely. Nevertheless, there is the possibility that US and NATO military bases in Britain might become centres of intrigue and subversion. Once again, this underlines the need for an elected left government to move swiftly to close all foreign military bases in Britain and withdraw from NATO and EU armed forces.
The key factor in this decisive, third stage of the revolutionary process will be the balance of forces outside parliament and in society as a whole. In particular, it will be vital to mobilise the popular anti-monopoly alliance – led by the organised working class – to uphold popular sovereignty and help the elected government to enforce its policies.
The extent to which this process involves physical or military violence will depend upon the revolutionary movement having the best strategy to minimise the capacity for resistance of the capitalist class. As the working class invariably bears the brunt of counter-revolutionary violence, it is the duty of all serious revolutionaries to devise such a strategy, rather than propose simplistic notions of violent insurrection and armed struggle.
In any event, there can be no question: the democratically elected left government will use all the official and popular forces at its disposal to crush each and every attempt at military subversion, rebellion or invasion.
Popular sovereignty means the sovereignty of the people and their elected representatives in parliaments, governments and mass movements. This requires the abolition of all powers and institutions relating to the monarchy, including such posts as head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, together with the royal prerogative, the Privy Council and similarly unaccountable offices of state. Such measures, for which mass support would have to be won, will themselves reduce the scope for counter-revolutionary violence against the people and their elected authorities.
Sweeping measures of reform, restructuring and democratisation will aim to replace the capitalist state apparatus with one that represents the interests of the working class and the whole population. This would establish what Marx and Lenin called ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, by which they meant simply the rule of the working class – in Britain the vast majority of the population. This would displace the present unelected rule – or dictatorship – of a tiny capitalist class.
Holding state power will enable the working class and its allies to complete the process of removing all economic and political power from the monopoly capitalist class. As capitalism is dismantled, so the construction of a new type of society – socialism – can proceed.
In Britain and its constituent nations, this will have to take place along the lines determined by the working class and the mass of the population. No alternative model can be imported from other countries, from different conditions and different times.
But this does not mean we cannot learn from successes and mistakes elsewhere.
For instance, the former Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China have demonstrated how centralised economic planning can play a vital role in promoting scientific education and rapid economic growth. Cooperative ownership helped secure a thriving agricultural sector in Hungary. Self-management in Yugoslavia showed how workers can be drawn into democratic decision-making at workplace level. The German Democratic Republic provided collective, social and workplace facilities on an extensive scale. In the Soviet Union, people's courts in large workplaces brought the criminal justice system closer to the people. In Cuba, Committees for the Defence of the Revolution involve local communities in a wide range of social, environmental and political campaigns. The former socialist countries demonstrated how different ethnic and national populations could live in harmony on the basis of cultural development, equal status and mutual respect.
All the former socialist countries placed a high priority on achieving full employment, universal healthcare and education, equal status in law for women and men, affordable housing and public transport for all, and on reducing inequalities between people living in urban and rural areas.
However, the conditions in which many countries embarked upon their roads to socialism also gave rise to features that would be unacceptable to people in Britain.
Here, socialism will have to be built with the maximum participation of people in government at every level. These must be full accountability of state power to the people, with free and wide-ranging debate facilitated by accessible and diverse mass media. Workers must have real powers in workplace decision-making. Indeed, in order to defeat attempts at counter-revolution and to involve the mass of the people in socialist development, democratic rights and freedoms would need to become deeply entrenched in every aspect of economic and political life, now free from the restrictions and distortions imposed by monopoly capital.
Moreover, it will be essential that new forms of popular participation and direct democracy arise in the workplace, localities, regions and nations of Britain to counteract any tendencies to over-centralisation, elitism, careerism and bureaucratic control.
All sections of the state apparatus at every level of society should be directed by the elected representatives of the people and monitored by non-state bodies appointed by working class and popular organisations. Freed from the requirements of maintaining capitalist rule and commercial confidentiality, most activities of the state must be open to public scrutiny and all should be open to scrutiny by the public's elected representatives.
The constitutional relationship between England, Scotland and Wales should develop according to the sovereign will of their peoples, whether that relationship takes the form of co-existence in a federal state, a confederation or wholly separate from one another. The first of these arrangements might best maintain working class and progressive unity and solidarity. But, in any event, it is likely that socialist societies in those three nations will develop specific features of their own, reflecting their different economic, cultural and political conditions.
Socialism in Britain will also be characterised by diversity, tolerance and a healthy resistance to state interference in people's personal lives and choices.
Freedom of opinion and criticism must not only be guaranteed in law. It has to be given means of expression previously denied by monopoly ownership and control of the mass media. Religious freedoms must also be protected, although organised religions and their adherents should have no privileged position from which to undermine or negate the democratic rights and freedoms of others.
On the economic front, social ownership will have to be extended into the major enterprises in every significant sector of the economy including construction, engineering, armaments, land and property, shipping and chemicals, while consolidating the sectors already in public ownership. These measures would enable economic planning to develop in accordance with society's needs and objectives, combining local and sectoral consultation with centralised policy-making in strategic sectors, all under democratic control.
At the same time, socialism does not require that all economic enterprise must be confined to the public sector or to a single model of public ownership. Even as socialism is being constructed, there should be scope for small businesses, self-employment and for cooperative, voluntary and municipal sectors in the economy. However, these too must be subject to progressive laws relating to taxation, terms and conditions of employment, equal treatment and industrial democracy.
A substantial extension of democracy throughout the economy will have to take place, in cooperation with the trade unions, so that the knowledge, experience, interests and creativity of working people can be drawn fully into the processes of administration, decision-making and planning. Economic planning will also have to involve a wide range of other groups and forces in society besides government ministries and major enterprises, including local government, non-governmental organisations, consumer groups and community organisations.
In terms of advanced social policies, the overall aim must be to complete the abolition of private, privileged education and healthcare for the wealthy and the development of public services of the highest possible quality for all citizens.
Big landed estates in urban as well as rural areas must be taken into local, central and cooperative public ownership. Aristocratic titles should cease to receive any official recognition and the hereditary monarchy should be replaced by a democratically elected and accountable head of state.
The guiding principle of wealth production and distribution during the earlier, socialist stage of communist society would be: 'From each according to their ability, to each according to their contribution'. People's material reward and status would broadly reflect their contribution to society in terms of the nature of their work, their skills and effort. This will greatly reduce the extreme inequalities promoted under capitalism.
As cooperation, planning and the full application of science and technology begin to produce an abundance of the most important goods and services in society, so the principle in the higher stage of communism – full communism – becomes: 'From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs'.
Wages and money would begin to lose their usefulness, as more of life's essentials become free or of little cost. Of course, the production, distribution and deployment of society's economic output will have to be planned to ensure that needs are met and the environment and eco-system are safeguarded.
Without exploitative capitalists and landowners, the division of society into antagonistic social classes will cease to have any material basis. In place of class conflict and social discrimination, social cooperation and equality will predominate.
As the amount of human labour required to produce society's needs decreases, every citizen will have the time and facilities to develop her or his skills and talents to the full. The basis for many social problems and tensions will be removed, while resources of every kind are devoted to solving or alleviating individual problems and incapacities.
The victory of socialism in other countries will eventually remove the threat of capitalist restoration by outside forces.
As the danger of internal counter-revolution recedes, the role of the state as the coercive force used by one class to suppress another also diminishes.
The collective organisation of working people required to prevent capitalist restoration will be replaced by autonomous, self-governing communities of people. Workers' self-management of industry and enterprises will be free to develop its full potential. The great majority of people will increasingly understand the need to organise and fulfil essential work as the pre-condition for their freedom and the ability of all to benefit from the expansion of educational, cultural and leisure provision.
Communists do not accept that such a society is impossible to achieve or that there is a 'human nature' too negative to allow the development of socialism and communism over time.
So far in history, people's thoughts and behaviour have been shaped, distorted and exploited by their existence in class-divided societies. Even so, human beings have always displayed an enormous capacity for reason, compassion, cooperation, courage, self-sacrifice, invention and commitment to the creation of fairer and more just human societies. Are these not also characteristics of any such 'human nature'?
There is no reason why people should not comprehend that we share this Earth in common, that we are interdependent, that the individual good of the vast majority requires the collective good and that cooperation and unity is better than conflict and division.
It is capitalism that seeks to make a virtue of greed, egoism, exploitation and inequality, while claiming that these are the ruling characteristics of 'human nature'. It is capitalism that creates so much misery, destroys so many lives and now threatens the very future of human existence on this planet.
In a fully communist society, a new morality would characterise the social relations between people: the egotistical individualism of capitalism will be replaced by collective care and concern for every individual and for the full, all-round development of the human personality.
For the sake of humanity, the future is communism.