The Labour & Progressive Movements

Which forces in society can be mobilised to resist the policies of state-monopoly capitalism? Which can be won for far-reaching change and socialism?

Any serious strategy for socialist revolution in Britain must identify such forces at each stage of the process, developing policies that meet people's interests and make inroads into capitalist power.  The aim must be to maximise the forces for progress and socialist revolution, and minimise those in opposition. 

Different classes and sections of society have their own reasons for challenging aspects of monopoly capitalism, even if they do not understand their situation in political or ideological terms.  The point is that they share a common enemy which exploits workers here and abroad, oppresses large sections of society, strives constantly to roll back democratic rights, blocks progress on every front, generates militarism and war, and now threatens the viability of our planet.

This enemy, monopoly capitalism, will have to be overthrown because it cannot be fundamentally reformed.

Which forces in society can be mobilised to resist the policies of state-monopoly capitalism? Which can be won for far-reaching change and socialism?

Any serious strategy for socialist revolution in Britain must identify such forces at each stage of the process, developing policies that meet people's interests and make inroads into capitalist power.  The aim must be to maximise the forces for progress and socialist revolution, and minimise those in opposition. 

Different classes and sections of society have their own reasons for challenging aspects of monopoly capitalism, even if they do not understand their situation in political or ideological terms.  The point is that they share a common enemy which exploits workers here and abroad, oppresses large sections of society, strives constantly to roll back democratic rights, blocks progress on every front, generates militarism and war, and now threatens the viability of our planet.

This enemy, monopoly capitalism, will have to be overthrown because it cannot be fundamentally reformed.

The leading role of the working class

The working class has the most direct interest in overthrowing capitalism.  After all, this is the system which exploits workers, excludes them from real decision-making in the workplace and in wider society, condemns them to poverty at one or more stages in life, and confines most of them to a lifetime of inequality and insecurity.

At the core of the working class are those engaged in manufacturing, engineering, construction, energy, transport and manual work, who produce commodities directly for capitalist profit.  Experience of such unconcealed exploitation, especially in large workplaces, has tended to make them the most class-conscious sections.  But administrative and other staff in the public and private sectors are equally part of the working class.

Of course, some workers do not recognise themselves as members of the working class.  They believe that they are 'middle class', or that class is defined by the type of job, by professional status, skill, type of residence, personal possessions, accent or social habits.  But the reality is that class is defined objectively.

The capitalists derive their main forms of income – profit, interest or rent – from their ownership of economic and financial property (usually in the form of stocks and shares, other financial assets and property deeds).  

Some workers may own stocks and shares directly, or indirectly through a pension or other fund.  But their chief, if not sole, source of income is their wage.  They depend on their wages to live.  Furthermore, what all waged workers also have in common as a class under capitalism is that they are exploited.  This includes those in the public sector whose unpaid surplus labour does not directly produce surplus value for capitalist employers, but keeps down the costs of running the capitalist state.  Their surplus value is appropriated by the state for the benefit of the capitalist class as a whole, whose interests are served in a variety of ways by the public services provided. 

Often, following redundancy, many workers are hired for their labour power by capitalist enterprises as ‘self-employed’ or through sub-contractors.  They, too, produce surplus value for capitalists as though directly employed by them.  Moreover, they are further exploited as their de facto 'employer' provides no pension contributions, sickness cover, paid holidays or redundancy pay.
  Yet the conditions of capitalist production, trade and administration also create the potential for the working class to liberate itself.  Workers are brought together in factories, offices and other workplaces, where they share a common interest in organising to improve their terms and conditions of employment.  They form trade unions which express and develop their collective strength as a disciplined force in society. 

Trade unions often play a defensive role under capitalism, seeking to protect workers against excessive exploitation, dangerous working conditions, redundancy, bullying and harassment.  But they also go on the offensive to improve the terms and conditions of their members.  Moreover, they also seek to represent the wider and more fundamental interests of workers in society.  Trade unions campaign for changes in government policy, establishing or supporting political parties.  They involve themselves in a wide range of economic, social, cultural and political issues, both domestic and international.

Through the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and together with socialist organisations, unions established the Labour Party at the beginning of the 20th century, not only to represent working class interests in parliament but to strive for a socialist society. 

The most politically advanced elements of the working class founded the Communist Party in 1920 to fight not only for reform, but for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, for socialism.

These organisations, together with the cooperative movement and a host of other bodies built by the working class, comprise the labour movement.  Only this movement has the organisational capacity to overcome the forces of state-monopoly capitalism.  This potential has been glimpsed when, for example, the TUC and the trade unions have organised enormous, broad-based demonstrations against racism and fascism (1994), in defence of the National Health Service (2007) and against the austerity policies of the Tory-Liberal Democrat government (March 2011).

But what enables the working class, uniquely, to be the leading force in the struggle for socialism is the fact that capitalism would cease to function without its labour power.

Furthermore, the working class has also gained extensive experience, born of necessity, in developing unity between people.  Whether in industry or services, in the private or public sector, large enterprises embrace the greatest diversity of workers.  They reflect in miniature the diversity of the whole working class.  Building and maintaining trade unions in large workplaces that can confront monopolist employers and the state inevitably gives these workers the longest and deepest experience of overcoming sectionalism.  They learn why it is essential to combine the legitimate, immediate interests of any one section of the working class with the long-term interests of the class as a whole.

Trades union organisation and ideas of class solidarity have spread among workers in the state apparatus, in the mass media and other key areas of society.  Nor should the importance of these ideas in smaller enterprises, including in the most technologically advanced sectors, be underestimated.  Such developments represent an important extension of the power of the working class to engage in mass struggle, utilising an ever-wider range of tactics and techniques.

Over recent decades many more women, black and migrant workers have entered the workforce, often in temporary or part-time jobs.  Employers have tried to use such workers to undermine general levels of pay, conditions and trade union collective bargaining.  It is therefore in the interests of all workers, not only those being super-exploited, to fight for equal pay for work of equal value, for better conditions and for the full implementation of negotiated agreements

The scandal of low pay must become a central issue for the unions.  They also have a responsibility to step up the fight against all forms of prejudice and discrimination.  The demands for genuine equality for women, black workers and other oppressed sections are essential aspects of the class struggle.  As such, they must be recognised as a priority for the whole working class.  Campaigning along these lines will help to build confidence in the role of the labour movement among women, black, young and migrant workers, enabling and encouraging them to participate in it fully on the basis of equality.

At the all-Britain level, the TUC and its equalities committees and conferences must play a leading role in taking bold, broad-based and campaigning initiatives.  The Scottish TUC, Welsh TUC, English regional TUCs and local Trades Councils are also crucial to building campaigning alliances for progressive and left-wing policies, although they must have the resources to do so effectively.

There is no substitute in modern capitalist society for the organised working class as the leading force in the struggle for progressive and revolutionary change.

The labour movement and the left

Since its formation, the Labour Party has been the mass party of the organised working class.  It continues to enjoy the electoral support of large sections of workers.

But its politics and ideology have been those of social democracy, seeking to manage and reform capitalism in response to the immediate temporary interests of the labour movement, rather than abolish it in the fundamental interests of the working class and humanity as a whole.

The Labour Party has never fundamentally challenged the ruling class.  At best, it has only reflected and represented the ‘trade union consciousness’ of the working class in political life.  The reformist outlook that dominates Labour confines the party to an exclusively parliamentary role within the capitalist system.  It sees its campaigning work almost entirely in terms of participation in elections and carries out little or no socialist education.

Yet the Labour Party in Britain is different from social-democratic parties in other countries in one crucial respect.  It was formed as a federal party with mass trade union affiliations.

The unique structure and composition of the Labour Party has ensured the continuation of a significant socialist trend within it.  These socialists have at times won major advances in the battle of ideas within and beyond the party.  They have supported policies for democratic public ownership, progressive taxation, capital controls, trade union rights and nuclear disarmament that challenge monopoly capital in the interests of working people. 

But the Labour Party left is not a cohesive and united force.  The predominance of the social-democratic trend over the socialist trend in the Labour Party leadership, especially in Parliament, has helped ensure that Labour governments have only ever reformed capitalism, not abolished it. 

The New Labour faction, which seized control of the party in the mid-1990s, represented the emergence of a new trend from within social democracy.  Adapting to and then championing neoliberal policies and imperialist 'globalisation', it broke from social democracy to openly represent monopoly capital in the emerging new phase of imperialism.  In its drive to turn the Labour Party into a wholehearted 'party for business', it brought the corrupting interests of monopoly capital into important aspects of party and government activity.

To ensure the Labour Party's acquiescence in its own political and ideological transformation, a series of measures were adopted by agreement with misguided trade union leaders to dismantle democratic processes within the party.  The resulting centralisation challenged the Labour's Party’s federal character, concentrating power in the hands of a small clique at the top.  The rights and participation of affiliated organisations were severely restricted at every level of the party.     

Whether the trade unions and the socialist and social-democratic trends will be sufficiently strong, resolute and united to take back control of the Labour Party from New Labour can only be assessed in the course of a determined struggle to do so. 

The working class and peoples of Britain need a mass political party, based on the labour movement, that can win general elections, form a government and implement substantial reforms in their interests.

For as long as many of the biggest trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party, the potential exists to wage a broad-based fight to reclaim the party for the labour movement and left-wing policies.  Certainly, this is the most direct route to ensuring the continued existence of a mass party of labour in Britain, and is an objective that every non-sectarian socialist and communist should support, whether from within the Labour Party or from without.

But decisive progress in this direction requires the unions themselves to fight both inside and outside the Labour Party for policies that will challenge state-monopoly capitalism in Britain.  Moreover, support will need to be won at every level of the trade unions and the whole labour movement for an alternative economic and political strategy (AEPS) to that being pursued by the British ruling class.  This would provide the most favourable conditions in which to resolve the crisis of working class electoral representation.  Here, too, the Communist Party and the daily socialist Morning Star newspaper have an important contribution to make to the struggle within the labour movement.

Only after a determined fight can the big trade unions make a realistic assessment of whether the Labour Party can be reclaimed.  They will have to decide whether to persevere or, together with their political allies, to re-establish a mass party of labour that will represent the interests of the working class and the people generally.

For as long as little or no progress is made in the direction of reclaiming or re-establishing such a party, other left-wing and class-struggle trends are likely to emerge that are not organisationally or politically related to the Labour Party.  It is likely that they will seek to participate in the political and electoral arena.

The Communist Party's role is to work with all left trends that have a real, sustained base in the labour movement, urging them to unite around policies and in actions which raise the combativeness, confidence and political consciousness of the working class.  This would lay the basis for their convergence in a reclaimed or re-established mass party of labour, one federally organised to permit the affiliation of socialist and communist parties and committed to the fight for socialism.   

Socialist and progressive forces, left parliamentary and assembly representatives in the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and other organisations also have an important part to play in the battles for reforms, for peace and for more fundamental social change.  But they do not resolve the crisis of labour movement political representation.  Neither do sectarian or ultra-left initiatives which have no significant base in the working class and which misrepresent themselves as the alternative or the solution to the fight for a mass party of labour. 

Progressive movements and alliances

Workers do not exist in a vacuum and the economic sphere, in spite of its importance, is not the only aspect of people's lives.  Monopoly capitalism has its impact on these other aspects and identities as well, and many workers may be brought to political ideas and activity by social, democratic or international issues not directly related to work or the economy.  Other people too, including those in the non-monopoly section of the capitalist class, can become aware of the destructive and divisive character of monopoly capitalism, coming to see it either as the cause of problems in society or as the system which obstructs their solution.

Oppression affects people in diverse ways and the movements which have been built to resist it are equally diverse.

The women's movement in Britain has a long and proud tradition of fighting for economic, social and political rights.  Yet, in spite of the fact that working class women make up the largest and most oppressed group of women, the aims and leadership of some of these initiatives have been heavily influenced by more affluent women.  The National Assembly of Women is an exception, rooted as it is in the working class.  Its campaigns for equal pay, workplace nurseries, price controls, peace etc.have won considerable support in the labour movement.  Within their trade unions, women have also campaigned over a long period on issues related to their conditions in work and society.

The adoption of the Charter for Women by major sections of the trade union movement represents a growing understanding of the relationship between class exploitation and social oppression, and a determination to take up key issues within both the labour and women's movements.

There is also a growing understanding among those who campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights of the ways in which powerful vested interests in capitalist society act to perpetuate prejudice and oppression.

The growth of self-organisation among the black and minority ethnic communities, exemplified by the Indian Workers Association, provides an important basis for challenging the prejudice and discrimination that emanate from empire, colonialism and imperialism.  The broad-based anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigning by Searchlight and other organisations also plays an important role. 

However, much more needs to be done to mobilise black, minority ethnic and other working class communities, together with the labour movement at every level.  This is essential if government policies are to be changed and fascist organisations halted in their tracks.

As well as movements against oppression, there are other social forces whose interests conflict with those of state-monopoly capitalism. 

Young people face their own specific problems, whether as students or young workers, as well as those they face in common with other sections of the population.  Insecure employment and mass unemployment have become fixtures for younger generations, aggravating the discrimination felt by young women and black youth.  Discontent among young people too often meets with demonisation by the mass media and harassment from the authorities.  There is also the danger that continuing youth unemployment will strengthen the appeal of the extreme right-wing.  This will be made all the easier by the growing frustration of young people and their lack of contact with the labour and progressive movements.

Therefore the labour movement needs to reach out to young people, offering them support in meeting the challenges they face.  Its organisations must welcome new members, help provide social and cultural facilities, enable them to organise together and support their campaigns for decent work, equality, housing and education.

The students’ movement has shown its capacity to mobilise on issues of access to education, students’ living standards and the range and quality of courses.  Coordination with teachers’ and lecturers’ unions has been of mutual benefit.  But the whole labour movement needs to recognise the significance of these and related issues for the quality of life of workers and their families. 

The fight against mass unemployment and precarious employment must unite the employed and the unemployed around key demands for decent, secure, well-paid jobs, free training and educational opportunities and adequate unemployment benefits.  To this end, the role of unemployed workers' centres as campaigning organisations should be strengthened, along with trade unions actively recruiting and representing the unemployed.

In recent decades, as millions of older people face a life of poverty and isolation, the pensioners’ movement has taken on a new militancy.  But the fight for a ‘living pension’ and support from decent public and social services is not the responsibility of pensioners alone.  All trades unions have to understand that this is a fight for their members’ future.  The provision of a decent basic state pension is essential to guarantee a financially secure retirement.

Every union should have a retired members' section.  Although the pensioners' movement has received increased backing from trades unions, the labour movement needs to help turn this into a truly mass, broad-based and militant campaign.

Public opposition to militarism and imperialist war has drawn hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people into the campaigning activities of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the Stop the War Coalition and other peace organisations.  While it is essential to maintain the broad appeal and unity of the peace and anti-war movements, the connections between monopoly capital, British and United States (US) imperialism, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the European Union (EU) and the drive to militarisation and war need to be exposed and understood.

Sections of the environmental movement already recognise the extent to which monopoly capitalism threatens to destroy our planet's eco-system.  The imperialist powers resist the measures necessary to protect it, because those measures would challenge monopoly profit and prerogatives.  As a matter of urgency, this understanding must be won throughout the environmental and labour movements and in society as a whole.     

The national movements in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall also contain substantial progressive and left-wing elements that oppose reactionary policies of monopoly capital and the British state.  While they tend to over-emphasise the national rather than the class dimension of important issues, many members and supporters of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) can be won to fight for measures which favour the working class and challenge the interests of British imperialism. 

In Britain and its constituent nations, there is a long tradition of international solidarity.  Today, there are active movements campaigning in solidarity with peoples facing imperialist-backed subversion, as in Cuba and Venezuela, or repression as in Palestine and Colombia.

In the case of all of these progressive movements, they cannot be considered as wholly separate from the working class.  Working class people make up a substantial proportion, in most cases the vast majority, of their members.  Moreover, through their activity in such movements, many people will come to a political, class understanding of society and the need for action to change it.

When assessing the forces that can be mobilised for progress, due account should be taken of divisions within the capitalist class.  Some sectors or enterprises orientated towards industry rather than financial services, or the domestic rather than export market, or which are home-owned rather than owned from outside, can be split away from a united front of monopoly capital by appropriate measures.  Small businesses may have their own reasons for opposing monopoly power, and their support for anti-monopoly policies can prove important in blocking reactionary mobilisations against the labour movement and the left.

The organised working class needs to show them that lining up with big business against the workers will never solve their problems.  It must seek to win small businesses to the side of the labour movement, and prevent them falling prey to right-wing and fascist propaganda.  This means campaigning for measures such as cheap credit, restrictions on monopoly price manipulation, controls on rent, relief from high business rates, the abolition of Value Added Tax (VAT) etc., as well as winning small businesses for the wider democratic demands of the working class, including the struggle for peace, disarmament and environmental protection.

Self-employed workers who own their own means of production, alongside small business owners, including small farmers, who employ little or no labour, are part of the intermediate strata.  They are in neither the capitalist class nor the working class.  While they are not exploited as workers, neither do they profit primarily from the labour of others.  The intermediate strata also include those senior managers who are still ultimately dependent on selling their own labour power for much of their livelihood.  But they also direct the exploitation of labour in the private or public sectors, and may derive a proportion of their own income from the surplus value produced by others. 

Some of the people in these intermediate strata can and should be won for anti-monopoly and progressive policies.

The Communist Party and revolutionary leadership

The aim of the Communist Party is to replace capitalism with socialism, as the prelude to achieving a fully communist society.

Founded in Britain in 1920 as a party of a new type, it represented a fundamental break with the class collaboration and pro-imperialist approach of social democracy which has always prevailed in the Labour Party.  The Communist Party bases itself on the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin about the class character of capitalist society, the exploitation of labour power, the role of the state, the development of imperialism and the need for a revolutionary party to ensure that the working class and its allies take political power and use it to overthrow capitalism.

The Communist Party is rooted in the working class, as the leading potential force for revolution, while also being open to all who share its aims and ideas.  The Party also seeks to organise itself in every major area of economic, social, cultural and political struggle.

It draws upon the commitment, creativity and initiative of its members in order to make the most effective contribution possible to the labour and progressive movements.  It is also a democratic and a disciplined force, striving to involve its members fully in the formation, renewal and implementation of the Party's policies. 

As part of the international communist movement, it benefits from extensive links with scores of communist and workers' parties and national liberation movements around the world.  Such links enhance the contribution that the communists in Britain make to the trade union, peace, solidarity and other movements.

The basis, outlook, organisation and internationalism of the Communist Party enable it to combine theory with practice.  It engages in the battle of ideas while at the same time assisting the labour and progressive movements to fight consciously and strategically across every front, and not just from day to day.  As the Marxist party with the longest and deepest roots in the labour movement, communists therefore have a fundamentally different approach to the often shallow, opportunistic, short-term and ultimately self-defeating politics of the Labour Party and other reformist organisations. 

The Communist Party's class basis, historical experience and Marxist-Leninist outlook also distinguish it from many Trotskyist, Maoist or anarchist groups.  These are usually notable for their ‘ultra-left’ slogans and adventurist tactics, combined with a sectarian approach that puts the interests of their own organisation above of those of the labour movement.

But this does not make the Communist Party immune from criticism and mistakes.  Indeed, the party had to be re-established in 1988 after revisionist and anti-democratic trends, especially in the leadership, threatened to destroy it.  Moreover, within the Labour Party and some far left parties there are many socialists who make a vital contribution to the working class and progressive movements, and with whom the Communist Party works closely on the basis of common policies or objectives.

But it is the Communist Party's strategic and political outlook, expressed above all in its programme, which enables communists to analyse the major struggles – including that for socialism itself – and to identify the potential allies at each stage.  In this way, on the basis of cooperation and mutual respect, it seeks to give guidance and win leadership in the mass movement that must be built for socialist revolution.

In order to play its vital role in every stage of the revolutionary process, the Communist Party must constantly seek to strengthen its organisation and improve its membership in both quantity and quality.  A loose association of communists, whether or not part of a wider political party or alliance, would not provide the type of organisation, the resources, the independence of thought, the freedom of action and the international relations that enable the Communist Party to provide influence and leadership. 

This does not preclude, for example, affiliation to the Labour Party or other bodies on a genuinely federal basis, where communists retain their separate organisation and the capacity to act independently.  But history and experience show that a powerful, influential Communist Party is essential if a mass movement for revolutionary change is to succeed.

Socialists and progressives who broadly agree with the Communist Party’s programme should consider joining the party and help put Britain on the road to socialism.