20 October 2020

Programme for the class

Originally published in Weekly Worker No.850 January 27 2011. Available on the WW archive here

After two long days of intense debate and argument, CPGB comrades unanimously agreed our organisation’s redrafted Draft programme on Sunday January 23. Peter Manson reports

The redrafting process had taken four years – it was back in 2007 that CPGB cells and committees began discussing the 1995 version of the Draft programme. And it is just under a year since the Provisional Central Committee published its proposed new draft, having itself debated the details for the best part of a year before that. Why does a small organisation like the CPGB consider it so important to engage in such a long and painstaking process? After all, the Socialist Workers Party, for example, does not even have a programme, let alone consume so much time and energy in working out its contents. The reason is evident: we do not view our Draft programme as our own private property, but as a set of proposals to be put before the founding congress of a genuine Communist Party. That is not just our business, but the business of all working class partisans – and it is a matter that we take very seriously indeed.

Because there is no Communist Party, our new document is still referred to as a draft, despite the fact it was so enthusiastically endorsed by our whole organisation at the weekend. Similarly our leadership can only be provisional – although we have the name we hope a Communist Party will adopt, we do not claim to be that party.

It is true that the preamble to the new draft details the history of our small group. That is because, as Jack Conrad explained in introducing the first session of the conference on the Saturday morning, it is important that others know who exactly is putting the Draft programme forward. No doubt the founding congress would want a very different preamble.

But, it may be argued, there are at present no moves towards the creation of a united party based on Marxism. Indeed, there are no attempts even to lash together the kind of lowest-common-denominator alliance that was the feature of ‘left unity’ initiatives over the last decade. So why all this talk about the adoption of a programme at the founding congress of a party that does not exist?

For us the answer is clear. Just as the Weekly Worker in issue after issue tirelessly campaigns for principled Marxist unity within a single party, so our organisation does whatever it can, in however modest a way, to bring the day nearer when such unity will be achieved. The formulating of such a weighty document as the Draft programme ought to serve as an example to other left groups – many are committed in theory to the creation of a mass revolutionary party, but in reality focus their main energy on building their own sect.

The draft stands as a permanent challenge to them: we believe this document provides the basis for common action to take forward the struggle of our class up to the point where it can challenge for power and beyond. If you disagree with our proposals, put forward your own alternative. But doing nothing to end the criminal division of Marxist revolutionaries into numerous grouplets is not an option.

It was with this understanding that the conference completed the final stages of the redrafting process, discussing dozens of amendments (and amendments to amendments) from individual comrades and CPGB bodies. Plenty of time was allocated to hammer out sections of the draft where serious differences had been raised, and the debate was conducted in a comradely way throughout. As national organiser Mark Fischer said in introducing the draft rules for a future party, “Today we see in miniature the sort of organisation we envisage the Communist Party will be.” It will be one where the expression of such differences will not only be encouraged, but where it will be regarded as a duty to express them, both internally and, if necessary, in public through articles in the party press and so on.

Before the conference the PCC had stated its views on the various amendments and issued its voting recommendations. But the debate saw minds being changed, with PCC comrades sometimes voting for amendments that they had previously collectively opposed and, equally, comrades who had put them forward sometimes withdrawing them or even occasionally voting against their own proposals.

Although no CPGB comrade or body had put forward an alternative document, some major redrafting had been attempted – for example, in sections dealing with the development of capitalism, capitalism and nature, the character of the revolution, economic measures to be taken by a workers’ state, the extent of concessions to the petty bourgeoisie that would be necessary in the first stages of socialism, and the transition to and definition of communism.

However, exchanges leading up to the conference had allowed for some clarification of the differences and the process permitted parts of the proposed amendments to be informed by or incorporated in the PCC draft. As a result, what we had at the end of the process were, for the most part, differences of nuance, not of principle.

For example, comrades like Nick Rogers – who has consistently opposed the use of the term ‘socialism’, preferring expressions such as ‘working class rule’ – most certainly accept the overwhelming thrust of the Draft programme despite seeing amendments on this defeated by a large majority.

As well as the big theoretical questions, conference spent a good deal of time discussing the precise detail of the demands we ought to raise in the here and now – indeed around half of the allocated time was used to fine-tune the section headed ‘Immediate demands’. Orthodox Trotskyists totally disapprove of this ‘minimum’ section of the Draft programme (although many seem to agree with large parts of its actual content), believing that the mere existence of such a section damns the organisation upholding it as incorrigibly reformist. Of course, this ignores the fact that the Bolsheviks themselves favoured the minimum-maximum format. In practice, however, the so-called ‘transitional demands’ of such comrades frequently end up bowing to spontaneity, echoing whatever calls are currently being heard within the working class.

No such objections are raised within the CPGB – for us our ‘minimum’ demands for extreme democracy and for capital to fully meet workers’ needs in every sphere are part and parcel of the revolutionary mobilisation of the Communist Party.

In addition to those contained in the 1995 version, the Draft programme now has new ‘Immediate demands’ subsections on the environment, sexual freedom, health and education. The conference featured intense debate on what ought to be raised in relation to, among other things, working conditions, women’s rights, religious and private schools, and state elections.

On the latter, there was an interesting discussion on our demand for proportional representation and the extent to which this conflicts with the recallability of elected representatives. The majority view is that recallability ought to be exercised by parties and this, in conjunction with annual elections, would ensure that rogue representatives could be rapidly replaced. However, when it came to the debate on elections under socialism, it was agreed to leave the precise method open, removing the previous commitment to PR.

This was one of the many areas where views that had previously appeared to sharply diverge were seen to come together. As comrade Fischer said, it was the kind of democracy in action that a Communist Party will practise.

Return to the ‘Reforging the CPGB (1981-present)’ series