Originally published in The Leninist No.117 March 28 1992. Available on our archive here
The communist approach to parliament and the 1992 general election
Most pundits and politicians predict that the April 9 general election will be a close run thing. Latest opinion polls show Labour nudging ahead of the Tories, perhaps enough to give it a clear majority. What is interesting about these polls is that while the ruling class would prefer a Tory victory it is perfectly composed about the prospect of a Kinnock government.
Take the Financial Times. Here we have a paper of the bourgeoisie which talks to the bourgeoisie. It has no time for the anti-Labour hysterics and crudities of that part of the bourgeois press which talks to the masses. While the Financial Times says Labour does not deserve to win it insists that the Tories deserve to lose. As shown by the miserable John Major – the Tories biggest asset! – they have completely run out of ideas, they have become corrupt and shop spoiled. Perhaps it is time to bring in a new team, reasons the pink’un.
Of course, this general election is about more than which party runs capitalism. For the first time since the 1920s, the working class in Britain has the opportunity to vote for Communist Party candidates standing on a revolutionary Leninist platform. Our manifesto and election campaign presents workers in Britain with a real choice, not between varieties of pro-capitalism, but between capitalism and socialism, between ruin, economic stagnation and the inevitability of war under capitalism, or a vision of the future, where humanity is for the first time master of its own destiny, a socialist society where the working class has state power and is building communism.
So the April 1992 general election represents a highly significant and necessary stage in the struggle to reforge the Communist Party of Great Britain.
Naturally many on the opportunist left will object to our decision to stand candidates. They say the most important thing in front of us, after 13 years of Toryism, is to get rid of Major and his crew. We profoundly disagree.
To understand why we do not give a hoot about the outrage of fake revolutionaries, why we dare stand against Labour candidates, why we put the question of reforging the Communist Party, and the consciousness of advanced workers before who administers Britain, we must examine the whole question of parliament and elections in the light of both Marxist theory and communist practice.
We can best begin with parliament itself. As any ‘A’ level student will tell us, parliament has its roots in feudal times. It acted as the collective voice of the barons as they sought to balance off the king and gain a greater share of the surplus wealth produced by the downtrodden peasantry.
Today, however, parliament is a typically bourgeois institution, which like the bourgeoisie itself long ago exhausted any progressive potential it once possessed. Presenting itself as a body which expresses the will of the people, the opposite is true. Parliament is a talking shop, a device to hide the reality of power in Britain, a scam designed to deceive the masses, not empower them. Marx rightly said that parliamentary democracy gave the mass of people the opportunity of choosing who will misrepresent them every five years.
This, not the arrival of genuine democracy, is the significance of the steady extension of the parliamentary franchise since parliament became a genuine bourgeois institution with the Reform Act of 1832. Yes it is true that from 1928, when women were at last given the vote at the age of 21, something like 96% of adults had the vote. But while this gave the appearance of majority rule the essence of parliament is no different from any other form of the bourgeois state, be it a presidential republic, a fascist dictatorship or a military regime.
Thus communists have no illusions in the bourgeois parliament and Britain’s constitutional monarchy. As with the lie that the relationship between the capitalist and the worker is equal, that there is no exploitation involved if the capitalist gives a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, our task is to rip away the veil of false democratic ideology.
The form through which the bourgeoisie chooses, or is forced to rule, is a secondary question. What concerns us first and foremost is the fact that because of capitalism the mass of the population lives in fear of unemployment and war, while a tiny minority rules and grows rich through the exploitation of labour power.
Different tune, same fiddle
Though in our society the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas, this does not mean that there is no discontent. There most certainly is. Even in ‘normal’ times, times not characterised by economic and political crisis, huge numbers, if not the majority, are unhappy about their lives. Racial or sexual discrimination, low pay, sackings, price rises, new taxes, the drive to war all provoke movements which have the potential of breaking through the integument of the bourgeois legality.
This is where the two party system, with its alternative party of government, comes in. Discontent can be safely siphoned off through the possibility and maybe the reality of putting this alternative party into office. When that party forms a government, it does not, of course, mean an overthrow of the system and an end to all its evils. All that happens is that the ideological tune changes, the capitalist fiddle remains as before, as does the danger of war and slump.
The present debate between the Labour Party and the Tory Party is a classic example of the mystification brought about by the two party capitalist system. According to Kinnock the present downward oscillation in the economy has nothing to do with the capitalist system itself and the fact that Britain is interlinked with the world economy, primarily represented by the United States, the EC and Japan.
All blame is heaped upon one individual. It would be thought that this person must be superhuman. But no, the man who they say caused it all turns out to be the epitome of establishment greyness, John Major. That there are 3 million unemployed, that Britain has an unprecedented trade gap, that it is in long term decline, is all his fault. Get rid of him, says Kinnock, and everything will change.
In ‘normal’ times people do fall for this line. Their minds are befuddled with the warping effects of bourgeois ideology and consequently for most of their lives they do not think deeply, if at all, about politics. It works both ways. We know that if Kinnock gets himself into No10, and predictably the economy does not experience an historic transformation, the Tories will do exactly the same.
That is why in the book Which Road? we said the control of the means of production is worth any number of general elections. And again, as we explained in Which Road?, that is why dreams of a parliamentary British road to socialism, promoted by ‘official communists’ and Militant alike, are doomed to disappointment and disaster. As life tells us, the working class cannot “lay hold of the ready-made state machine and use it for its own purposes”. Communism can never be ushered in by the bourgeois parliament. Parliament, as an institution of the bourgeois state, will have to be smashed.
Here, in defence of their rotten parliament, opportunists insist we tell them what will replace it. Again life itself has given the answer.
Marx greeted the Paris Commune of 1871 as the harbinger of the new society. This semi-state arose from the flames of revolution. Organs of mass struggle quickly became a united body of popular democracy and rule. Needless to say, given its origins, it was a complete anathema and in complete contradiction to the sham and hypocrisy of the bourgeois parliament. It rested on the active support of the armed people, not on atomised passive consent. The commune did not have professional politicians who sponged off the people, but delegates on the average workers’ pay who were subject to instant recall. All this was a pointer to the communist future, where the state will be replaced by the self administration of the community of producers.
Paris was not unique. In Russia, both in 1905 and in February 1917, similar bodies, the soviets, came to life, and in October 1917 they came to be the state power in the land. Italy, Austria and Finland were also swept by the post-World War I revolutionary storm and produced their own versions of the soviets. Hungary and Germany actually had short lived soviet republics. Even in ‘conservative’ Britain the councils of action of 1920 and 1926 had distinct soviet-like features, as did the miners support groups of 1984-5.
It is in these bodies, in these moments of heightened class struggle and working class self-activity, that we find the answer to what is to replace the bourgeois parliament and the capitalist system.
So we make no apology whatsoever about arguing and fighting for the death of parliament and the birth of soviets. If we really want to see a classless society there really is no other way. Not just because soviets are infinitely more democratic. But because only through such bodies can the working class carry through its historic mission of bringing in communism, which knows no state, no alienated body which stands above society.
Working in the enemy camp
Although communists have always wanted to smash parliament, from the time of the First International our comrades have successfully used the bourgeois parliament and parliamentary elections for “agitational purposes” (Theses, resolutions and manifestos of the first four congresses of the Third International p97). It hardly needs saying that this involved no illusions in parliament itself. Engels, for one, made it clear that universal suffrage was simply a different means of oppressing the working class. Nevertheless he said that elections give us an opportunity to gauge our strength, give us a barometer of the revolutionary mood. If the masses are not prepared to vote for us they will hardly be prepared to make the revolution with us.
In Germany working class MPs like Bebel and Liebknecht were brilliantly effective. As parliamentary thugs they put Dennis Skinner to shame. They skilfully and energetically used parliament against the bourgeoisie, used it as a platform from which to agitate against the bourgeoisie and to rally the forces of the working class. Of course, as we know, there were two sides to the story. No effort was spared by the rich and powerful to seduce working class representatives. And at the end of the day money, flattery, genteel soirees, parliamentary routine and flimflam succeeded where anti-socialist laws failed.
Eduard Bernstein became the spokesman for the labour bureaucracy and the revisionist cancer that steadily ate away at the revolutionary programme of German social democracy. Starting with an ‘open minded’ criticism of the Marxist theory of crisis, doubts about the inevitability of war under capitalism and the relative pauperisation of the masses, Bernstein went on, in the name of “winning the battle for democracy”, to reject the necessity of revolution. There was a logic in this revisionism which claimed that the ‘movement’ was ‘everything’ and that the maximum programme was nothing. The logic was of betrayal.
In August 1914 the parliamentary faction of the Social Democratic Party voted for the Kaiser’s war budget, and in the name of the ‘fatherland’ it urged the working class of Germany to the slaughter. The opportunists repeated the same treachery throughout the ‘civilised’ world; in Britain, France and Russia, everywhere they sold themselves to the main enemy – which was at home, not abroad.
The debacle of 1914 does not mean that in order to avoid the same fate we should throw the possibility of using parliament for agitation out with the opportunist bathwater. The correctness of using parliament did not come to an end with the collapse of the Second International. Indeed, if we look at the Bolsheviks in Russia, who were an orthodox wing of the Second International, we can see that the revolutionary use of parliament greatly contributed to the October Revolution and the consolidation of working class state power in Russia.
Bolshevism and Menshevism
Russia had features that were unique to it. That was natural and nothing to be surprised at. However it also had features that were general. More than that we can say that within Russia the contradictions of imperialism found their highest expression. We can also say that it is precisely in their ability to lift their theory, strategy and tactics up to this testing and challenging objective situation that we find the universal significance of Bolshevik experience, not least their experience of using parliamentary elections and parliament. What then were the electoral politics of the Bolsheviks? For an answer we must briefly examine the dialectics of the Russian revolution.
What separated the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks was far more than the dispute over soft or hard membership criteria that opened the split between these once united partisans of Iskra in 1903. The split at the second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, which produced the Bolsheviks (majorityists) and the Mensheviks (minorityists), stemmed from two very different strategic approaches to the revolution in Russia.
Both wings of the Party agreed that the tasks of the revolution in Russia were in essence the same as England in 1648, America in 1776 and France in 1789. In other words, what was required and was in the offing was a bourgeois revolution. This was a perfectly orthodox position. Do not forget, Russia was ruled by a Tsar and a feudalistic autocracy. Capitalist development was still feeble and the working class consequently small.
Taking this as their starting point and with a seemingly faultless appeal to the ‘classics’, the Mensheviks argued that the job of Marxists was to win the working class to support the bourgeoisie, to push it, encourage it to make the bourgeois revolution against Tsarism. Once this was done, and only when it had been done, would the prospect of socialism be viable. It was then, only after the victory of the bourgeoisie, after bourgeois rule had been consolidated in a parliamentary democracy and after capitalist development had proletarianised the mass of the population that the working class could begin to set its sights on the distant prospect of taking power in its own right. Until the bourgeoisie had done its predetermined bit socialism was decidedly off the agenda.
The Bolsheviks considered such a stagist strategy hopelessly lifeless, artificial, conservative, mechanical and ahistorical. In other words it had nothing to do with genuine Marxism. The Russian bourgeoisie was a spineless creature compared with that of revolutionary England, America and France. This cowardly bunch were incapable of making a real revolution. The masses would move into action because of their own grievances. When they did, the bourgeoisie would not rush to put themselves at their head but fearfully fall into the arms of the Tsar and reaction.
The Bolshevik analysis was far from negative. What was immediately possible in Russia was something far more valuable to the proletariat of Russia and the world than a weak, pale and unstable bourgeois democracy. The working class could do much better than support the unsupportable and passively bide its time in the wings as a Menshevik “party of extreme opposition”.
The objective interests of the popular class in Russia made it possible for the working class to seize the banner of democracy and the initiative. With single-minded leadership, daring and imagination the working class could win to its side the peasant masses and take the lead in overthrowing Tsarism (that is why the Bolsheviks wanted a highly disciplined and centralised party). If the workers became the hegemon of the revolution, instead of meekly handing power to the bourgeoisie as urged by the Mensheviks, the popular classes should keep it in the form of a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.
Naturally, such a state was a hybrid, inherently fluid and, if Russia was left in isolation, impossible to sustain. The Bolsheviks, it should be said, were confident that it would not be.
They considered the advanced capitalist countries objectively ripe for socialism. This was no longer the epoch of the bourgeoisie. The 20th century was the dawn of the worldwide transition from capitalism to socialism. In this context the Bolsheviks placed their strategy for making revolution in Russia. Revolution in Russia not only could, but had to, act as a spark for the coming European revolution. Without the European revolution they would go under, but with it they could proceed uninterruptedly – ie without the need for a second, specifically proletarian revolution – to the tasks of socialism.
How did things turn out? Well, according to the Mensheviks themselves, things turned out to be much closer to the perspectives of the Bolsheviks than their own. And not only in the great year of 1917, but already in 1905, the great dress rehearsal.
Long tottering on the precipice of destruction, Tsarism was very nearly permanently consigned to oblivion because of the popular outrage against the turmoil, senseless loss of life and material hardships that resulted from the 1905 Russo-Japanese war. Discontent in the countryside burst out in the form of peasant revolts, in the army and navy mutiny and in the cities political strikes and mass demonstrations.
This was a profound revolutionary situation which mercilessly tested the theories, programmes and expectations of all working class parties, groups and factions. To their credit, in 1905 the Mensheviks, in their own words, “acted like Bolsheviks”. Faced with the reality of a cowering and servile bourgeoisie and the heroism and determination of the working class the Mensheviks momentarily put their programme aside and let themselves be swept along in the forward moving revolutionary swell.
Under such hopeful circumstances, Lenin had no thought of scoring cheap ‘told you so’ polemical points. The revolution came first. He welcomed the Mensheviks as comrades-in-arms and did his upmost to re-cement Party unity. Quite right too. Practice speaks louder than words.
Revolutions must be resolved positively. If not they are resolved negatively. Either revolution or counterrevolution must win the day. That is why the Bolsheviks were determined to push what possibilities there were for success in 1905 to their limits. Nothing, but nothing should be allowed to divert or blunt the determination of the masses to see things through to the finish.
Of course revolutions are not one way affairs. Initiative and tactical manoeuvre are not the sole prerogative of the popular forces. Those above, even though split, confused and panicked by revolutionary developments they can never really understand, still have resources, finance and the experience necessary to offer well-chosen sops. Thus when the Tsar’s Cossacks and police failed to terrorise the masses and cower them into submission, he turned to democracy as his last line of defence. To save the regime, the throne and his head, Tsar Nicholas II suddenly discovered the virtues of the duma or parliament.
How did the Bolsheviks respond to this sop? With the mass of advanced workers fully behind them, with utter conviction, with a refusal to be diverted from the real prize, the Bolsheviks called for a boycott of the duma elections. That did not mean the Bolsheviks were saying advanced workers should adopt anarchist style moralism. The call to boycott the duma elections was a call to action, a call to make revolution. It had nothing to do with impotence. The boycott was a bold frontal challenge to Tsarism and the Tsar’s parliament. The Bolshevik-led boycott exposed the irrelevance of the Tsar’s sham democracy, the cowardice of the cadets and the whole of the liberal bourgeoisie.
The revolution reached its height in December 1905, in Moscow, where the Bolsheviks had their greatest influence. Mass demonstrations became general strike, and general strike became Cossacks. With the active support of its million strong population, less than a thousand guerrillas were able to build street barricades, keep 10,000 troops at bay and break the grip of Tsarism for nine days.
The events of 1905 and the nine splendid days of insurrectionary Moscow were of worldwide significance and impact. It showed that revolution was not dead, not a thing of the past, but an inspiring reality and a real promise for the future. This is highly relevant for our own times. There are many similarities and resonances between the pre-1905 period and the present day. Remember the world just before 1905.
For the social democrats – that is what the communists then called themselves – revolution was at best a distant memory. The mole of revolution had not surfaced since Paris in 1871. From that point onwards capitalism had been stable, the working class quiet. Fertile ground indeed for revisionists and bourgeois propagandists alike to claim that 1871 was an aberration, that the revolution was outdated, the proletariat integrated and no longer alienated. In nine days Moscow shattered all that carefully constructed, generously publicised and widely believed theorising.
Boycotting and not boycotting
Sops are given. Sops are taken away. As insurrectionary Moscow was murdered and hundreds of revolutionaries were secretly buried, the Tsar began to dilute Tsarist democracy. New restrictions were placed on who organised election meetings, who was allowed to vote and what was allowed to be said. This was part and parcel of the revolutionary spiral towards full blown counterrevolution. Under these conditions, difficult though they were, there was every reason to believe that not all was lost. Certainly the Bolsheviks were determined to keep the flickering flame of the living revolution alight. Thus when the Tsar called new duma elections in 1906 they called for another boycott.
In spite of the slanders and stupidities of present day academic ‘Marxists’, reformists and ‘official communists’, Lenin was no dogmatist. Turning to his famous pamphlet, ‘Left-wing’ communism, we find the following words:
“The boycott of the Duma in 1906 was a mistake, although a small and easily remediable one. What applies to individuals applies – with necessary modifications – to politics and parties. It is not he who makes no mistakes that is intelligent. There are no such men nor can there be. It is he whose errors are not very grave and who is able to rectify them easily and quickly that is intelligent.”
Yes, the second boycott was a mistake. However it was, as Lenin said, a small one, not least because it was quickly and imaginatively rectified. Within the year boycott gave way to full, effective and revolutionary participation in the Tsar’s election. Not prepared to tolerate a mild nuisance of a slightly critical Cadet duma majority, the Tsar shifted the goal posts yet again. New elections and new restrictions on the franchise were announced in the hope of producing a solid counterrevolutionary bloc.
Bolshevik participation in what was a travesty even of bourgeois democracy did not mean an end to debate between themselves and the Mensheviks. In fact debate continued and reached new heights. Of course, with the Unity Congress in 1906 this took place in the context of a reunited RSDLP (the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks constituted respectively the left and right wings till 1912 when the Mensheviks were expelled from the Party).
Given the underlying strategic differences, though this time on the level of electoral tactics, not the principles of internal organisation, two distinct views again emerged. From the very beginning they crystallised the universal difference between opportunism and genuine Marxism. That is why it is more than worthwhile concentrating on the 1906 election campaign and the debates around it.
Let us begin by outlining the parties and party groups. On the extreme right there was the bloc of parties known as the Black Hundreds. These were counterrevolutionary, Tsarist parties. Parties that wanted to maintain the status quo, parties of the landlords, which organised and paid for anti-Jewish pogroms.
The main party of the bourgeoisie was the Constitutional Democrats or cadets. The cadets wanted reform, wanted a constitutional monarchy, and to get it they were prepared to threaten the Tsar with revolution. But what they were not prepared to do was to make revolution themselves. Revolution was seen as a danger which the Tsar’s intransigence brought nearer. The cadets were themselves afraid of revolution, it was definitely something to be avoided. “To apply the term ‘democratic’” to the cadets, wrote Lenin, “to a monarchist party, to a party which accepts an upper chamber, proposed repressive laws against public meetings and the press and deleted from the reply to the address from the throne the demand for direct and equal suffrage by secret ballot, to a party which opposed the formation of land committees elected by the whole people – means deceiving the people. This is a very strong expression, but it is just.” (VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p311).
It should be said that those who did “apply the term” democratic to the cadets were none other than the Mensheviks. The cadets were the very people the Mensheviks looked to as the leadership of the revolution. That is why the Mensheviks made endless proposals for joint action with the cadets and the same number of excuses for their refusals and cowardice.
Anyway, to the left of the cadets was the Trudovik grouping which was supported by the peasant masses. The Trudoviks included non-party people, but their heart was the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the Popular Socialist Party; the latter being closer in spirit to the cadets, closer in spirit to the bourgeoisie than the Socialist Revolutionaries who were the more genuine revolutionary organisation.
It was in relationship to these parties and the classes they varyingly represented that the revolutionary and opportunist wings of the RSDLP argued. There were two main prongs to the Menshevik approach. First, the necessity of keeping out the Black Hundreds; they were the biggest evil. Second, as we mentioned above, making the bourgeoisie, i.e. the cadets, fight.
The Bolshevik perspectives were very different. Their view of politics was not determined by who was more evil and who was less evil. It was shaped by the needs of the working class, and by who was not revolutionary and who was. The landlords and the bourgeoisie were not revolutionary, the peasants were. Hence while the Bolsheviks wanted to beat both the Black Hundreds and cadets, they wanted to get to the peasants through the Trudoviks.
Defending parliament or using it?
While the Mensheviks had gone along with proletarian insurrection, barricade fighting and soviets in 1905, as the revolutionary wave dipped in 1906 and went into retreat, they returned to type. The Tsar’s announcement of a more restricted duma and dissolution of the existing one made this plain to see.
In a desperate effort to defend the Tsar’s 1905 parliament against the Tsar’s 1906 parliament, the Mensheviks issued the slogan “a duma with real powers” and called for a general strike and demonstrations. For the Bolsheviks, defence of any sort of duma was a diversion. They mocked the Mensheviks’ duma cretinism, and went to the factories and working class districts agitating against a general strike and demonstrations.
Workers were urged against precipitative action. With the revolution in retreat but still not defeated, with the December uprising still fresh in everyone’s minds, the Bolsheviks argued that what was needed was a constituent assembly born of revolution, not a Tsarist “duma with full powers”. Instead of placing their hopes on an instant general strike and the fighting capabilities of the cadets, the Bolsheviks looked to the soviets, as “organs of the uprising” (VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p124).
To prepare the ground for this, to “enlighten and educate” the masses on the need for revolution, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were prepared to participate in the Tsar’s new election. So let us now turn our attention to the politics of this 1906 campaign. Here, the first thing that strikes one is the fundamentally different attitudes of the Party’s two wings towards electoral blocs and agreements.
The Mensheviks proposed that the Party enter into an electoral bloc with the cadets. If the Party did not do that the masses would never forgive them. It was either the cadets or the Black Hundreds, and the Mensheviks had no hesitation about stating their preference between those two evils.
The reader will not be surprised to hear that the Bolsheviks were quick to disagree. They insisted that working class independence was the main question. Our “main task is to develop class consciousness and independent class organisation of the proletariat” wrote Lenin. Only that class can lead “a victorious bourgeois democratic revolution”. Therefore class independence throughout the election and the duma campaign “is our most important general task” (VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p279).
The Bolsheviks did not only apply this approach to the cadets. It was applied to the Trudoviks, the Popular Socialists and the Socialist Revolutionary Party, as well. Here is Lenin’s argument:
“The argument about the proletarian and peasant character of our revolution does not entitle us to conclude that we must enter into agreements with this or that democratic peasant party at this or that stage of the elections to the second duma. It is not even a sufficient argument for limiting the class independence of the proletariat during the elections, let alone for renouncing this independence” (VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p280).
So in the cities where the working class population was concentrated, the Bolsheviks said that the Party “must never, except in the case of extreme necessity, refrain from putting up absolutely independent social democratic candidates. And there is no such urgent necessity. A few Cadets or Trudoviks more or less (especially of the Popular Socialist Party type!) are of no serious political importance, for the duma itself can, at best, play only a subsidiary, secondary role” (VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p286).
For the Bolsheviks, the stress on working class political independence and the necessity of presenting independent candidates to the working class was a matter of principle. That is why in 1912 they refused to countenance even a bloc of working class parties. When their final split with the Mensheviks had been sealed by kicking them out, the Bolsheviks insisted on standing independently.
This is how one of the successful Bolshevik candidates put it:
“The Bolsheviks thought it necessary to put up candidates in the workers’ curia and would not tolerate any agreements with other parties or groups including the Menshevik-liquidators. They also considered it necessary to put up candidates in the so-called ‘second curia of city electors’ … and in the elections in the villages, because of the great agitational attitude of the campaign” (A. Badayev The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma p9).
Putting forward independent Party candidates, refusing to enter blocs, did not mean the Bolsheviks were oblivious to the advantages of “partial agreements”. To understand what was meant by this it is necessary to say something about the tsar’s convoluted electoral law. The Tsar’s duma was not elected directly. The Tsar thought it would be safer to divide the population into ‘curias’ or ‘estates’. Each had its own weighting (the popular classes far less than their actual numbers), and with their differentiated voting power each curia would then elect ‘electors’, who would finally elect the actual deputies.
In the distribution of seats by these intermediate elected ‘electors’, the Bolsheviks considered “partial agreements” perfectly permissible (VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p289). Lenin used the following hypothetical example to illustrate how it would work. If in the countryside there were 100 electors and “49 are Black Hundreds, 40 are cadets and 11 are social democrats” then a “partial agreement between the social democrats and the cadets is necessary in order to secure the election in full of a joint list of duma candidates, on the basis, of course, of a proportional distribution of duma seats according to the number of electors” (VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p291). Thus, in this case, if there were five seats up for grabs, the Bolsheviks saw every reason for completely excluding the Black Hundreds, that is, as long as the cadets were prepared to give them, the social democrats, one of the seats.
This would be facilitated by making it clear to the masses what arrangements were on offer and being negotiated. Who were the cadet electors going to make a deal with? With the revolutionary communists or the counterrevolutionary Black Hundreds? In this way the RSDLP could force the 40 cadets to do a deal with the 11 social democrats and leave the Black Hundreds out in the cold. Naturally, the same treatment would be meted out to the cadets if there was a possibility of doing a deal with electors inclined to support the Socialist Revolutionary Party, and in turn, if the arithmetic was favourable, every effort would be made to split away genuine revolutionary elements from this party.
Of course, not least in the cities, seats in the Tsar’s duma were a secondary question. Here the “importance of the election is not at all determined by the number of deputies sent into the duma, but by the opportunities for the social democrats to address the widest and most concentrated sections of the population, which are the ‘most social democratic’ in virtue of their whole position” (original emphasis, VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p296). Thus in the cities there should be “no agreements whatsoever at the lower stage, when agitation is carried on amongst the masses; at the higher stages all efforts must be directed towards defeating the cadets during the distribution of seats by means of a partial agreement between the social democrats and Trudoviks, and towards defeating the Popular Socialists by means of a partial agreement between the social democrats and the Socialist Revolutionaries” (VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p283).
Inevitably the Bolsheviks and Lenin were confronted with what we know as the ‘lesser of two evils theory’, a theory that is used against us, which is effectively meant to outlaw any independent communist activity in the electoral field. This rotten theory was in fact the main argument the cadets used to recommend themselves. As Lenin noted:
“the whole of the cadets’ election campaign is directed to frightening the masses with the Black Hundreds danger and the danger from the extreme left parties, to adapting themselves to the philistinism, cowardice and flabbiness of the petty bourgeois and to persuading him that the cadets are the safest, the most modest, the most moderate and the most well behaved of people” (VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p415).
In other words the cadets went to the electorate as the lesser evil and said ‘vote for tinkering reforms, vote for what is possible, vote for safety’. They threatened the middle classes with the greater evils, the danger of, on the one hand, letting in the Black Hundred pogromists, and on the other, of Lenin and those terrible people who ‘caused’ all the bloodshed and disruption in Moscow in the dark days of December 1905.
Those who believed that the cadets were a progressive force were in their turn forced to adapt to, and even adopt, their logic. The Mensheviks did not want the working class to do anything that might frighten the cadets. Nothing must be done that might push them into the arms of the biggest evil, the Black Hundreds. To encourage the cadets along the road that led to the bourgeois revolution they wanted to support them with offers of joint lists, blocks and alliances. It was either that, said the Mensheviks, or the Black Hundreds.
Here is how Lenin summarised the Menshevik platform:
“Let the social democrats criticise the cadets before the masses as much as they like, but let them add: yet they are better than the Black Hundreds, and therefore we have agreed upon a joint list.”
And here is how Lenin countered it:
“The arguments against are as follows: a joint list would be in crying contradiction to the whole independent class policy of the Social Democratic Party. By recommending a joint list of cadets and social democrats to the masses we would be bound to cause hopeless confusion of class and political divisions. We would undermine the principles and general revolutionary significance of our campaign for the sake of gaining a seat in the duma for a liberal! We would be subordinating class policy to parliamentarianism instead of subordinating parliamentarianism to class policy. We would deprive ourselves of the opportunity to gain an estimate of our forces. We would lose what is lasting and durable in all elections – the development of the class consciousness and solidarity of the socialist proletariat. We would gain what is transient, relative and untrue – superiority of the cadet over the Octobrist” (original emphasis, VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p285)
Nor was Lenin frightened by Menshevik warnings that independent communist electoral work would let in the Black Hundreds. As we can see he treated such arguments with the contempt they deserve:
“The … flaw in this stock argument is that it means that the social democrats tacitly surrender hegemony in the democratic struggle to the cadets. In the event of a split vote that secures the victory of a Black Hundred, why should we be blamed for not having voted for the cadet, and not the cadets for not having voted for us?
“’We are in a minority’, answer the Mensheviks, in a spirit of Christian humility. ‘The cadets are more numerous. You cannot expect the cadets to declare themselves revolutionaries’.
“Yes! But that is no reason why social democrats should declare themselves cadets. The social democrats have not had, and could not have had, a majority over the bourgeois democrats anywhere in the world where the outcome of the bourgeois revolution was indecisive. But everywhere, in all countries, the first independent entry of the social democrats in an election campaign has been met by the howling and barking of the liberals, accusing the socialists of wanting to let the Black Hundreds in.
“We are therefore quite undisturbed by the usual Menshevik cries that the Bolsheviks are letting the Black Hundreds in. All liberals have shouted this to all socialists. By refusing to fight the cadets you are leaving under the ideological influence of the cadets masses of proletarians and semi-proletarians who are capable of following the lead of the social democrats. Now or later, unless you cease to be socialists, you will have to fight independently, in spite of the Black Hundred danger. And it is easier and more necessary to take the right step now than it will be later on. In the elections to the third duma … it will be even more difficult for you to dissolve the bloc with the cadets, you will be still more entangled in unnatural relations with the betrayers of the revolution. But the real Black Hundred danger, we repeat, lies not in the Black Hundreds obtaining seats in the duma, but in pogroms and military courts; and you are making it more difficult for the people to fight this real danger by putting cadet blinkers on their eyes” (original emphasis, VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p314-5).
In a nutshell the differences between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks amounted to the fact that where the Bolsheviks wanted a “completely independent election campaign”, the Mensheviks wanted a solid cadet duma “with a large number of social democrats elected as semi-cadets!” (Lenin). Needless to say then, where the Mensheviks hoped and prayed for the defeat of the greater evil, the Black Hundreds, the Bolsheviks fought for and worked for revolution. In pursuit of this it was preferable to have a duma consisting of “200 Black Hundreds, 280 cadets and 20 social democrats” than a duma consisting of “400 cadets and 100 social democrats”. Lenin defiantly declared that: “We prefer the first type, and we think it is childish to imagine that the elimination of the Black Hundreds from the duma means the elimination of the Black Hundred danger.” (VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p315-6).
To back up their position the Bolshevik’s publishing house produced Russian editions of works by Karl Kautsky and Wilhelm Liebknecht. The highly influential Kautsky was full of praise for the 1905 revolution, the barricade tactics of the Bolsheviks, and dismissive of the revolutionary potential of the Russian bourgeoisie. Wonderful anti-Menshevik ammunition, and used to good effect. Liebknecht’s pamphlet No compromises, no electoral agreements was if anything more useful. We can get a taste of what it had to say from the preface Lenin wrote, which we might say turned the ‘lesser of two evils theory’ onto its head. Here is a short excerpt:
“The class consciousness of the masses is not corrupted by violence and draconian laws; it is corrupted by the false friends of the workers, the liberal bourgeois, who divert the masses from the real struggle with empty phrases about a struggle. Our Mensheviks and Plekhanov fail to understand that the fight against the cadets is a fight to free the minds of the working masses from false cadet ideas and prejudices about combining popular freedom with the old regime.
“Liebknecht laid so much emphasis on the point that false friends are more dangerous than open enemies that he said: ‘The introduction of a new anti-socialist law would be a lesser evil than the obscuring of class antagonisms and party boundary lines by electoral agreements.’
“Translate this sentence of Liebknecht’s into terms of Russian politics at the end of 1906: ‘A Black Hundred duma would be a lesser evil than the obscuring of class antagonisms and party boundary lines by electoral agreements with the cadets’ … Only bad social democrats can make light of the harm done to the working masses by the liberal betrayers of the cause of the people’s liberty who ingratiate themselves with them by means of electoral agreements” (original emphasis, VI Lenin CW Vol 11 p403).
It has to be said that not only did the Bolshevik approach win the day at the RSDLP’s 1907 congress in London, it went on to inform and characterise the tactics and strategy adopted and powerfully put into effect by the Third (Communist) International.
The Third International was formed as a world party of revolution in 1919. Through its deliberations and resolutions it generalised the principles, strategy and tactics of the Bolsheviks, not least on the terrain of parliament and parliamentary elections. However, Comintern’s main internal problem in its early years was not right opportunism, then represented by the so-called Two-and-a-half International and the rump of the Second International. No, the main internal problem of the early world communist movement was leftism.
Disgusted by official social democracy’s corruption and venality, which culminated in the great betrayal of 1914, there was a widespread and deeply held feeling that in order to avoid the same fate, it was vital to stay clear of that modern day Sodom, the bourgeois parliament and bourgeois elections.
This was the position of many good militants in the International Workers of the World in the US, the left majority under Bordiga in Italy and the powerful Communist Workers Party in Germany. They said there should be no communist participation in bourgeois elections and no communist MPs. A similar ‘left’ communist outlook characterised the politics of the workers’ committee movement in Britain as well as Sylvia Pankhurst’s Workers Socialist Federation (or Communist Party – British Section of the Third International, as she later illegitimately called it).
Nevertheless, while the resolutions of Comintern were often aimed at overcoming the internal problem of leftism, there can be no doubt that this was done in order to unite the communists against their main opponents in the workers’ movement, the reformists and fake socialists on the right. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than on the question of parliament and parliamentary activity. At its second Congress resolutions were agreed which insisted that the state form of socialism had to be the proletarian dictatorship and the soviet republic. That could never come about peacefully through the bourgeois parliament. The task of the working class was to shatter the bourgeois state, parliament included. For those who might still entertain illusions in ‘local democracy’ and GLC-style municipal socialism, it is worth adding that Comintern wanted to smash the local capitalist state as well and replace it with local soviets of workers’ deputies.
None of this raised any objections from the ‘left’ communists. That was not the case though when Comintern presented the Bolshevik parliamentary experience – from the 1906 duma elections to the Constituent Assembly – as a model for the world communist movement as a whole. It was obligatory, said Comintern, for the leading party of the proletariat to use every legal position open to it. That included parliament. It should definitely be used as an auxiliary centre in the Party’s revolutionary work. Parliament provided an excellent platform to disseminate revolutionary ideas, and to overcome parliamentary illusions among the masses.
Therefore Comintern was absolutely opposed to those who wanted to boycott parliamentary elections. Such an action would only be correct under the most extreme conditions. In the words of Comintern’s resolution on ‘The Communist Party and parliament’, a “boycott of elections or of parliament, or a withdrawal from parliament, are permissible primarily when conditions are ripe for an immediate move to armed struggle for power” (Theses, resolutions and manifestos of the first four congresses of the Third International p103).
A detour is worthwhile here. After all, there are those on the left who call for a boycott of the April 9 election. Overwhelmingly the arguments of these types do not, thank goodness, rest on Gerry Healy type claims that Britain is in the midst of a revolutionary situation and on the verge of an armed uprising. No, what we get is anarchistic moralising. The election is unfair, the Labour Party is pro-imperialist, neither a Labourite nor a Tory government will make any difference to ordinary people. All true. All irrelevant.
Not untypical is the Revolutionary Communist Group; an organisation which had its origins in the Labour-loyal SWP and Labour-loving Trotskyoid milieu, yet ended up supporting Gorbachev, only abandoning him just before the August 1991 counterrevolution. Despite this long political journey the RCG had maintained a consistent political immaturity, which leads it, quite ironically, to link its justified hatred of the Labour Party with a “boycott of the election” (Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism February-March 1992). Thus in the name of breaking workers – most of whom it dismisses as pro-imperialist labour aristocrats – from the Labour Party, it actually leaves them with only Kinnock as a parliamentary alternative to the Tories.
Of course, to really break workers from Labour it is necessary to reforge the CPGB and build a class-wide militant mass movement which can challenge capitalism. As Comintern made clear, that can never be done by standing aside from the political struggle represented by the bourgeois parliament.
Leftism is often the result of revolutionary impatience. In general therefore we should have a tolerant attitude towards its adherents. That was certainly Lenin’s attitude as evidence by his pamphlet ‘left-wing’ communism: an infantile disorder. Strange though it may seem, we are constantly meeting right opportunist hacks who tell us to read this work of Lenin’s. Of course, we have read it, and learnt much from it. The funny thing is that I expect most of our opportunist critics have not read it, and if they did they would definitely not like it. Why then their uncharacteristic enthusiasm for Lenin? This particular work, or at least its title, is used to put an end to discussion and debate. Every time one of these parliamentary roadists meets one of our paper sellers they desperately chant its name as if they were quoting holy script to Count Dracula. Mere mention of it is meant to reduce us to speechlessness, perhaps even dust. Claiming the authority of Lenin for their miserable and hopelessly confused politics, they ignorantly imagine everything to the left of their rightism was the butt of Lenin’s polemic. As we have seen, the ‘left’ communists Lenin was arguing with were characterised by their refusal, as a matter of principle, to put forward candidates for the bourgeois parliament. Not something of which we are guilty.
Nevertheless there are better informed critics, those to our right who have actually read Lenin’s ‘Left-wing’ communism. What they quote against us is not the title of Lenin’s pamphlet, nor the general thrust of his polemic. What they lay hold of is Lenin’s specific tactics, which applied to Britain and Britain alone, namely the attitude towards the Labour Party. In other countries the task Comintern set itself was to split militants from social democracy. However there are more ways than one to skin a cat.
Basically what Lenin proposed for Britain was that the Communist Party should seek affiliation to the Labour Party and should help bring about the election of a Labour government. What brought about this British ‘exceptionalism’? It does not take long to tell the story.
In the late 19th century, compared to the rest of Europe, Britain represented something of a paradox. Its industry remained the most advanced, and its trade unions the biggest and best organised. Yet in spite of this, politically the working class operated as little more than the tail of the bourgeois Liberal Party. The Germans, French and Italians were building mass parties, but the powerful workers’ movement in Britain was paralysed by the fear that any moves they made towards political independence would let in the Tories, the greater evil.
Anything that ended the paralysis of one of the world proletariat’s most important detachments was therefore something to be welcomed by Marxists. That is why Engels supported initial moves by the TUC towards the formation of the Labour Party, and why, when it had been formed, Lenin spoke for, and actually seconded, its affiliation to the Second International in 1908.
Lenin had to deal with the fierce opposition of Henry Hyndman, leader of the Social Democratic Federation. Hyndman rightly pointed out that the Labour Party was semi-liberal, that it was committed neither to socialism nor the class war. Lenin had to agree. But he and other leaders of the Second International fervently believed that the momentum of political events would drive workers in Britain towards recognising the necessity for a revolutionary party.
Today the closest parallel would be the US. There the organised working class has no mass party and tails the Democratic Party in order to keep the Republicans out. If the US equivalent of the TUC decided to break from this rotten tradition, that would be an excellent thing. Whatever its inevitable faults, programmatic shortcomings and lack of scientific theory, such a move should be encouraged. It would no doubt be the result of rank and file pressure from below, and could well present a stepping stone towards a real proletarian party. For Lenin in 1908 the Labour Party represented such a stepping stone.
None of this blinded Lenin to the actual political evolution of the Labour Party. Its role as a recruiting sergeant in World War I, maintenance of social peace, serving in the war cabinet and applauding the execution of James Connolly definitely exposed it is the “bourgeois party of the working class”. As with other opportunist parties of the Second International, it had joined the camp of the bourgeoisie. Lenin insisted that the Labour Party could not simply be judged in terms of its class base. To judge it one must begin with the politics of its leaders, who he said were reactionaries of the “worst sort”.
So why did Lenin want the CPGB to affiliate to this party and help it into office? Labour had the support of the majority of organised workers, workers who were rapidly moving to the left because of the horrors of World War I and the example of the Russian revolution. To contain these workers, to keep their loyalty, Labour brought back the social pacifist, Ramsay MacDonald, as its leader, and adopted Clause 4. Hence Labour claimed to have undergone a socialist conversion. Just how far Labour posed to the left can be gleaned from MacDonald’s call for Britain to emulate Russia through the formation of workers’ and soldiers’ soviets. MacDonald claimed that Britain could emulate Russia’s socialism, but without violence, terror and civil war.
Lenin thought that the communists could gain a wider platform for their ideas by helping this left posing Labour Party into office and by being inside it, as had the British Socialist Party which provided the main body of members to the newly formed CPGB. Unfortunately this is just about all our critics remember about Lenin’s writings on the Labour Party.
The fact of the matter is that while Lenin thought the fight to affiliate was a useful tactic, it was not a strategic question. Indeed Lenin thought it would be excellent, even better, if Labour rejected CPGB affiliation. That would expose its true nature. The same spirit informed the idea of putting Labour into office. After all, it had never been tested, it had never formed a government. By helping it into office the communists would, said Lenin, be supporting Labour “like a rope supports a hanged man”. The communists would not be supporting Labour because it was a lesser evil compared to the Tories and Liberals. Labour in office would be exposed, attacked and undermined by the Communist Party.
Quite clearly Lenin’s tactics were very much of their time. They were not dogma then and they should not be treated as such now. Not only did Labour reject, time after time, CPGB affiliation attempts, but in 1946 changed its rules so as to permanently close the door on new affiliations. Moreover Labour has now been tested in office on countless occasions. Workers have no socialist illusions in it. They might consider it a lesser evil than the Tories, but that is another question. That does not mean the specific tactics advocated by Lenin will never be relevant again. Just that they are not applicable now.
The logic of opportunism
No one could have failed to notice the collapse of the ‘official’ world communist movement. It has to be emphasised that this was not the collapse of genuine communism, it was the collapse of opportunism. Unlike the Second International, however, this did not happen at one historical moment, i.e. August 1914. The collapse of the ‘official’ world communist movement was a long drawn out process, a death by a thousand cuts. That does not mean that we cannot locate qualitatively important turning points. We can; a particularly crucial one being the seventh Congress of Comintern.
What remains of ‘official communism’ regards this, last congress of Comintern in 1935, as a veritable peak of achievement. In reality it marked the Menshevisation of ‘official communism’. Faced with the growing menace of German fascism, the Stalin leadership in effect ordered communist parties in the capitalist countries to subordinate their entire strategy to the task of defending the Soviet Union. Previously defence of the Soviet Union had always been firmly linked to the theory of proletarian internationalism, to single-mindedly furthering world revolution. From 1935 it became a thing in itself and necessitated a preservation of the international status quo. Thus instead of fighting to overthrow one’s own ruling class the communist parties came to see their prime duty being to shift the existing capitalist political system towards an alliance with the Soviet Union.
The Mensheviks wanted to bloc with the liberals in order to keep the Black Hundreds out. After 1935 ‘official’ communist parties pursued the same logic (it has to be said for those who blame Stalin for everything that they did so with an enthusiasm all of their own). The goal of revolution was consigned to an ever distant future, the virtues of parliament were discovered and with the fascist danger justifying every step to the right the communist parties sought to align themselves first to Labourites, then Liberals and finally ‘progressive’ Tories.
As Lenin warned the Mensheviks, such politics not only blunted the revolutionary consciousness of the working class, it obscured the true source of fascism, i.e. the politics of counterrevolution. Fascism in the 1920s and 30s was growing, not because of the redivisionist designs of a particularly reactionary, narrow, stratum of the capitalist class, but because of the crisis and decomposition of the capitalist system as a whole. To really root out the fascist danger the working class had to carry on the work begun by the Bolsheviks in October 1917, not re-invent Menshevism.
Of course, having re-invented Menshevism ‘official communism’ found itself on a slippery slope which led straight to the reformist programme, the British Road to Socialism, and the organisational liquidationism of the Democratic Left. With fascism out of the way for the moment, getting rid of the Tories and then the Thatcherites became the main task which had to be completed before anything more ambitious could even be considered. In the 1980s this led the Eurocommunists to propose a ‘bishops to brickies’ alliance with the SDP and anti-Thatcher Tories. In 1992 the same people have set themselves up as an advice centre on tactical voting. Such sorry results are inevitable if a party ceases to subordinate itself to the task of making revolution and becomes, instead, infatuated with the bourgeois art of the possible and the opportunist fear of the greater evil.
As the Democratic Left no longer operates within the spectrum of working class politics it is easy to dismiss it and not bother studying the history of its degeneration. This is a big mistake. The fact of the matter is that most of the left in Britain suffers from the same opportunism. Of course, it is nowhere near as developed. Nevertheless, if it is allowed to go unchallenged, allowed to spread, to gain influence over the minds of advanced workers, it will have the direst consequences.
We can get an idea of the problem if we ask a couple of basic questions. What is the main enemy, and what is the main task in Britain? For far too many the answer is the Tories and keeping the Tories out of government. Our answer is different. The main enemy in Britain is monopoly capitalism, and the main task is proletarian revolution. From these two starting points very different politics flow.
Those who consider the Tories to be the problem obviously regard the Labour Party, at least to a degree, as part of the answer. Able to give us chapter and verse about its rotten record in the past, how today it is tied body and soul to running the capitalist system, they nevertheless insist it is not quite as bad as the Tories because a Labour victory “will make change seem just a bit more possible” (Socialist Worker March 14 1992). Therefore these types line up behind Labour, act as its cheerleader and objectively help foster illusions in it, just as their political ancestors did in the Liberal Party a century ago.
We on the other hand, we who really believe monopoly capital is the main enemy do not have a descending list of which parties of monopoly capital are less bad than the others, let alone a never changing practice of supporting the bourgeois party which “the capitalists least want to see in office” against the bourgeois party which is the capitalists’ first choice (The New Worker March 13 1992).
Britain might not be in a revolutionary situation, there might be no immediate prospect of socialism. That does not mean though that we have to choose between varieties of bourgeois parities. To suggest we must is to consciously or unconsciously follow in the footsteps of Menshevism. The original Mensheviks thought that the cadets would fight for revolution, the modern day variety seem to have assigned that role to the Labour Party. No, our task is to fight for independent working class politics. That means reforging the CPGB and winning for it the position of the natural party of the working class. It is with that aim we enter the April 1992 general election.
The April 1992 general election is the first ‘normal’ election we have seen in Britain for about a decade. What I mean by this is that British politics have returned to the two party mould of the 1950s and 60s which was disrupted by the upsurge in the class struggle of the late 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1960s Labour’s ‘In place of strife’ proposals were blocked by communist-led working class action, Heath’s Industrial Relations Act was sent the same way in the early 1970s, which also saw the freeing of the Pentonville 5 and two successful miners’ strikes, culminating in a general election where Edward Heath went to the country asking ‘who rules Britain?’ and did not get the answer he wanted. No wonder there were rumours of coups and editorials in The Times declaring that Britain had become ungovernable.
In spite of the heroism of the miners, printers, steelworkers, and other sections of the working class the Thatcher years saw victory in the class war go to the bourgeoisie. Our leaders proved weak, lacked vision and were completely unable to break from the parameter of capitalist politics, above all our Communist party had been wrecked by revisionists. Of course with the failure of the poll tax, and with her attitude to the EC, Thatcher became a problem for the Tory elite. Nevertheless the fact that under Thatcher the ruling class shifted the balance of class forces in its direction created the conditions for Kinnock’s ‘new realist’ campaign, which shifted the Labour Party back to its post-1945 position as a safe alternative party of government.
Whatever Marxism Today and its alter ego Living Marxism claimed, the Labour Party never died. The SDP split was responsible for Thatcher’s huge parliamentary majorities, not the decline in manual workers or a shift in popular attitudes. To repeat, after its wobble to the reformist left in the early 1980s Labour has returned to the mainstream of bourgeois politics. Now the differences between it and the Tories are ones of nuance, not substance. Labour does not even pretend any longer that it will bring in full employment, junk nuclear weapons and introduce socialism. That is why the masses’ only illusion in the Labour Party is that it cannot be worse than the Tories.
Therefore we say the call to vote Labour from the likes of the SWP, Socialist Organiser, Militant and the ‘official communist’ rumps is pure Menshevism. Unless checked, these organisations risk constituting themselves the left wing of the bourgeoisie, as the Mensheviks did in 1917. To quote Lenin: “This is a very strong expression, but it is just.”
Vote communist, do not choose who will misrepresent you
Our communist manifesto is a clear statement of communist principle. It is based on the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and what the working class needs at our stage in world history, certainly not what the rotting capitalist system considers it can afford. Obviously candidates who stand on it should be supported.
We have also put forward a minimum platform of working class defence. If the candidates of other parties and organisations, including those of the Labour Party, support it, they deserve support too. Where there is no candidate prepared to put their name to it, we say write ‘communist’ across your ballot paper, no vote for those who refuse to fight capitalism, who can only misrepresent you.
Of course, as we know Labour Leftists like Ken Livingstone do not even mention socialism in their election addresses, let alone promise to stand on a platform whose logic is revolutionary. Such types deserve no support from communists and militant workers. What about the candidates of Militant?
Our organisation supported Lesley Mahmood in the Walton by-election last year. Why? Because we wanted Militant to break organisationally and politically from labourism. We supported her “like a rope supports a hanged man”. Outside the labour Party, Militant would be easier to subject to communist propaganda and communist polemic. That has to all intents been achieved. Now we must tackle its politics. We do so not by giving it automatic support. On the contrary we do so by challenging it with our platform of working class defence. Militant might have cut itself lose somewhat from the Labour Party organisationally. It has not cut itself lose politically. The politics of its candidates are indistinguishable from left Labourism, therefore they should not be supported.
We make no apology for the fact that the main thing we want to do is to strengthen the fight to reforge the CPGB. That is why we are standing candidates on April 9. If it means ken Livingstone or some other pale pink reformist losing their parliamentary seat, then so be it. It is a price worth paying.
The election of even a handful of communist MPs and ten thousand voters writing ‘communist’ across their ballot papers would do far more for the working class than a Neil Kinnock government with a 200 majority. Indeed if it came to a choice we would prefer four communist MPs, plus 10,000 ‘unofficial’ communist votes, even though this might mean in the first past the post parliamentary arithmetic 400 Tories and only 200 Labourites (we consciously echo Lenin). This would not mean “demoralisation” as Socialist Worker tells its readers. It would mean that that the working class is ready to fight, ready to go on to greater and better things.
What workers in Britain need is their Communist Party. The fight for this Party comes before the fight around wages, against fascism, the poll tax or getting Britain out of Ireland. Far from this being sectarian, damaging the prospects of such campaigns, we must recognise that without the Communist Party the working class is headless. Without the Communist Party the working class is simply reduced to a slave class, with no prospects except momentarily lessening the degree of exploitation, not the fact that it is exploited.
This might be a period of reaction, and we are sure our organisation is not immune to its effects. But that does not mean communists should shut up shop and wait for better times. If our comrades are determined, disciplined and do not waver there is the opportunity to take important steps forward. One such step will be our general election campaign. It will be a step forward in the fight to equip the working class in Britain with the weapon it needs to once and for all end capitalism, liberate itself and the whole of humanity. Support it and strike a blow for freedom!