1980s >> 1989 >> no-1020-august-1989

The British Road to Perestroika

As a response to the triumphant rise of Thatcherism in the last decade and to what it sees as the failure of the Labour Movement to mount any effective challenge to it, the Communist Party has just released a discussion document Manifesto for New Times. Billed as a “new strategy for the 1990s”, it attempts to develop a framework within which “progressive forces” can mount a campaign against Thatcherism which it describes as “the most immediate obstacle blocking the way to progressive change in society”.

At the heart of the document lies the assumption that “Thatcherism” has been able to respond to the idea that the operation of capitalism in modern Britain is vastly different to what it once was. For the Communist Party, Thatcherism is a response to the “new times” where there is a drift in industry towards production based on information technology and micro-electronics and where the traditional bases for trade union organisation are declining; this structural change in the economy, labelled “post-Fordism”, has led to a growth in the service sector with a subsequent increase in the number of part-time compared to full-time jobs. The Communist Party also argues that this trend has led to the creation of what it describes as “a two-thirds/one-third society” where the poorest third are reliant on state benefits and part-time employment. Manifesto for New Times says that while Thatcher and the Conservatives have accommodated themselves to these changing conditions the Left has not; so the aim of the Left now has to be to develop a coherent political theory to challenge the dominance of the reactionary Thatcher government.

All Progressives Now
The Communist Party argues that the victory of “progressive forces” is a necessary precondition for socialism:

  Socialism will be created by myriad movements through a long, uneven struggle to change society . . . already they are beginning to find common purpose. Socialist and communist ideas and struggles share much with the green movement, feminists, community groups, internationalists. radical liberals and religious groups.

However, what role religious groups can play in the establishment of socialism is not stated, and it is probably just as well. Just how many trendy vicars and radical archbishops the Communist Party knows of who favour the abolition of capitalism and production for profit and the establishment of common ownership and production for use is again not stated. But we suspect that you could fit them all into a telephone box and still have enough room to swing an incense burner about.

Religion is one of the many forces which divides, mystifies and subjugates the working class. It is for this reason that socialists are opposed to it. Whereas religion means working class subservience to a mythical deity and a pie in the sky ideal, socialism is the real emancipation of the working class here on Earth. Yet such is the Communist Party’s desperation that they are prepared to work with virtually anybody who is opposed to the Thatcher government no matter how unscientific and anti-Marxist their views.

Market-based Society
Not only does the Communist Party believe that the likes of liberals and religionists can play a role in the movement for socialism, but they are hopelessly confused as to the nature of both socialism and capitalism. Indeed so confused are they that apparently, like their friends the Labour Party, they cannot see the difference between the two. They think, for instance, that both capitalism and socialism are systems which are based on the market mechanism. Most left-wing organisations tend to put the equally erroneous view that socialism has something to do with state regulation of markets. The Communist Party itself used to put this argument in defence of state capitalist Russia, but now its infatuation with free market forces is clear for everyone to see:

  The market is useful as a tool to co-ordinate lots of decentralised economic decisions. Markets can provide incentives and discipline, and promote innovation, flexibility and diversity.

The Communist Party concedes that markets are not without their deficiencies and puts the view that some strategic state intervention in the economy and industry can be desirable: “many of the most successful capitalist economies in recent years—Japan. Sweden, South Korea— use planning. But they use it in conjunction with the market”. So the Communist Party’s strategy for socialist renewal aims at the same sort of capitalism that exists in socialist havens like South Korea. Yes, it’s all becoming clear now…

Confusion about Class
No less unclear is their conception of class. Manifesto for New Times variously talks of ruling classes, private sector middle classes, working classes, the two-thirds/one-third division and many others besides. It makes statements such as “class remains central to British politics” without showing the faintest understanding of what class is in the first place. Its idea that the working class consists largely of manual workers who are employed in factories based on mass production is completely arbitrary and owes more to confused academic sociology than Marxist analysis.

For Marxists, class is defined in terms of the relationship members of society have to the means of production and distribution. It has nothing to do with whether you work in an office or not, what type of car you drive or whether you own a video recorder. Office workers who work for salaries are just as much a part of the working class as wage workers in factories as they too have to sell their mental and physical energies to their employers in order to live. Even the “better off” sections of office workers are reminded of their true class position from time to time as the following report from the Daily Telegraph (1 July) shows:

   A leading City stockbroker announced job losses yesterday. James Capel made 110 support staff redundant in 30 departments. Mr Peter Quinner, chief executive, said ‘we are trading profitably, but we want to trade as profitably as we can, which means keeping a tighter control of our costs’.

So much for Britain’s cosy middle classes.

Basic Programme of Reforms
Periodically though, the Communist Party’s muddle is tinged with opportunism. Apparently, one of the major avenues now open to “progressive forces” is Europe and the Single Market. Manifesto for New Times argues that “we need to give the meaning of Europeanism a wider and more democratic content”. This all fits in with the Communist Party’s market-oriented approach, though they actually hit the nail on the head for once when they state that “the EC is the means through which Western European capital is restructuring, creating a single market and setting up an area of exchange rate stability”. But, of course, instead of criticising this as something which is only in the interests of certain sections of the capitalist class and which will be used to further the exploitation of workers, the Communist Party is fully in favour of it!

The single European market is seen as a great challenge for Britain and a chance to expose Thatcherism for its narrow nationalism. Furthermore we are told that “a range of alliances can be formed with continental forces of both left and right” in order to pursue a basic programme of reforms. In this new spirit of political co-operation with all shades of opinion, the Communist Party is even prepared to discard that favourite sacred cow and voter-loser of the Left, unilateral nuclear disarmament. Almost thankfully they state;

The foundations for traditional left-right positions on defence and disarmament are being uproooted . . . unilateralism has been made real by Gorbachev’s own moves. But he has also lent a new respectability to multilateralism and bilateralism by proving that meaningful disarmament can proceed through negotiation.

 

By confusing the necessary restructuring of Russia’s armed capabilities with “meaningful disarmament” the Communist Party again shows its lack of understanding of the capitalist system. This restructuring has largely been brought about by the economic weakness of the state capitalist USSR and it will not lead to a nuclear-free world. Capitalist competition over markets, trade routes, sources of raw materials and the strategic positions needed to defend them means that all states need to keep a strong military capability—and where affordable that means nuclear weapons. Only the abolition of the modern cause of war—capitalism—and the introduction of socialism can ensure peace and disarmament.

 

A Republic—But Not Yet
The Communist Party is not of course interested in socialism. The two most “progressive” measures it advocates are the abolition of the House of Lords and the abolition of the monarchy. In other words, the Communist Party aims to remove the last vestiges of past feudal structures and institutions from the British state in order to make Britain a modern capitalist republic like France or the United States. Even the abolition of the monarchy, though, is not free from the double standards and political expediency that are the party’s hallmark:

 

  In the long run we assert our commitment to republicanism. In the short term there should be a limitation of its [the monarchy’s] powers.

So no-one’s going to get the Alexander II treatment for the moment. Indeed, it is possible that they see the Queen as part of the “progressive forces” that are out to defeat Thatcherism (after all, they include virtually everyone else in this). Perhaps they should offer her a free trial subscription to Marxism Today.

 

There can be little doubt that the Communist Party of Great Britain is in a very sorry state. It is committed to a market-based society, further integration between British and European capital, and the dead-duck of Keynesian demand management to “bolster” the economy. This, coupled with support for constitutional reform of the British state and electoral system. amounts to a British glasnost and perestroika, a restructuring of British capital in order to arrest its relative economic decline in the post-war period.

 

Nine years ago a political party was founded in this country with precisely this aim. Like the Communist Party it is now on its way to the dustbin of history. Its name? The Social Democratic Party.

 

Dave Perrin