October 31, 2019

“Revolutionary Democracy” and the “British Road to Socialism”

Garbis Altinoglu, 
July 2019 

Here I try to evaluate two recent documents from ‘Revolutionary Democracy’, [The Archival Papers, consisting of files from RAGSPI/ (The Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History) and Vijay Singh's “The British Road to Socialism of 1951: A Programme of People’s Democracy”], especially the latter. When evaluating these documents we cannot be content with taking into account the basic principles of Marxism. We should also take into account the specific conditions and political traditions of the relevant country (Britain), the specific conditions of the Soviet Union and the overall situation in the world, that is the worldwide correlation of forces. Let's dwell on these points. 

Differences between The People’s Democracies and Britain 

In both texts we see an effort to find similarities between the situation in Britain and the one in People's Democracies of Central and South-East Europe. We cannot and should not overdo the similarities between the two. There were important differences. What were they? 

First of all, although Britain was on the wane, it still was a great imperialist power and had a colonial empire. This was not the case for the countries of Central and South-East Europe, most of whom were semi colonies of imperialist powers.

Secondly, almost all sections of the ruling classes of the countries of Central and SouthEast Europe were entirely discredited due to their collaboration with the Nazis and had to a great extent lost their legitimacy in the eyes of the masses. But this was not the case in Britain. Despite the appeasement policy of Neville Chamberlain government (1937-1940), the Winston Churchill government (1940-1945) was allied to the Soviet Union and had fought against Axis powers. 

Thirdly, if we lay aside Yugoslavia and Albania, the countries of Central and South-East Europe were liberated mainly through the military effort of the Red Army, the presence of which played a very important factor in the formation of political power in the region. 

Fourthly, Communist Parties in the countries of Central and South-East Europe had had a relatively strong mass support throughout the 1930s and 1940s, whereas the CPGB (= Communist Party of Great Britain) had always remained a marginal force in Britain. In the general elections of 1945 it gained only 102,780 votes and 2 seats in the Parliament. These figures were 91,765 and zero seats in 1950 and 21,640 and zero seats in 1951. Its electoral base, which more or less correctly reflected the level of mass support of the CPGB was 0.4 percent of the votes cast in 1945, 0.3 percent in 1950 and 0.1 percent in 1951. 

Attitude of Stalin 

Stalin and his comrades must have known about all these facts very well, and they must have realized the weakness of the CPGB. Therefore they cannot have assumed the existence of the prospect of a socialist revolution in post-War Britain, although here was a fully developed capitalist society, where the basic contradiction was the one between the big bourgeoisie and the working class. Democratic and parliamentary illusions and imperial prejudices still continued to dominate the minds of the British masses in postWar Britain. Therefore the subjective conditions, that is the level of political consciousness and organisation of the workers, for a socialist Britain did not exist. 

Besides, Stalin and his comrades must have been very much aware of the fact that the US, the main enemy of the workers and peoples of the world, would do everything in its power not to allow the establishment of Soviet power in Britain, even if the subjective conditions for it did emerge. (We do not see this aspect of the problem being tackled in the discussion between Stalin and Pollitt.) And they were definitely aware of the machinations of the US and British ruling classes, who were eager to start a Third - and probably a nuclear - World War to defeat the Soviet Union, overthrow the socialist regime and cancel the great gains peoples of the world had made as a result of the anti-fascist war and resistance. And last but not least, the Soviet Union, had emerged from the rack and ruin of the 2nd World War in a state of exhaustion and needed a breathing space to dress its wounds and reconstruct the economy. Therefore, not to be involved in large-scale wars, to try to isolate the most aggressive imperialist cliques and to promote an atmosphere of peace, even if it was a fragile one became one of the mainstays of Soviet policy after 1945. 

Likely Impact on Policy Advice Given to Pollitt by Stalin 

What would the implications of such an analysis be for the British communists? What would Stalin and his comrades, aware of the political conditions in this country – have taken into account the overall dangerous situation in the world in general? I believe Stalin and his comrades were for a Britain not subservient to the warmongering activities of US imperialists and their British counterparts. They wanted to see a Britain on relatively friendly terms with the Soviet Union and People's Democracies, a Britain in which revolutionary workers and other toilers were expected to be more influential in the administration of the state, a Britain on better terms with the peoples of its colonies etc. That is why Stalin said in his letter of 28 September 1950 to Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the CPGB – as cited in the archival papers:
The draft of the Programme (of the CPGB- G. A.) insufficiently underlines the task of the struggle of the Communist Party for national independence of England from American Imperialism. It is necessary to show in the Programme that the English Communists are real defenders of the national interests of the English people...
If you ask me, this is a totally understandable and legitimate stand. BUT trying to derive a theoretical superstructure from this tactical position and to argue for a “parliamentary road” to socialism as Vijay Singh does, cannot be accepted. 

Vijay Singh’s Approach 

In his editorial, Singh says of the “British Road to Socialism”:
The new party programme was not one of establishing a Soviet Socialist Britain but of establishing a People’s Democracy in Britain. As one of the sub-headings of the programme states: ‘People’s Democracy - The Path to Socialism’. It was the road to Socialism and so it did not envisage the immediate establishment of Socialism based on Workers’ Councils, the immediate establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the destruction of parliament, the civil service, the police, the military, the judiciary and the rest of the bourgeois state apparatus.
Drawing on the experiences of the People’s Democracies of Central and South-East Europe the British Road envisaged the utilisation of Parliament and the formation of a People’s Government based on the various sections of the working-class movement: Labour, trade union, co-operative and Communist based on a parliamentary majority. In the economic sphere the road to socialism envisaged socialist nationalisation and workers’ control of monopoly capital and big landed property but not the properties of the small shopkeepers, businessmen, small landowners and farmers in the countryside...
The British Road to Socialism in the editions of 1951 and 1952 does not refer to a peaceful transition to socialism. On the contrary, the programme anticipated that:
In carrying through these decisive measures to implement the democratic will of the people, every effort of the capitalist class to defy the People’s Government and Parliament will be resisted and defeated.  
The great broad popular alliance, led by the working class, firmly based on the factories, which has democratically placed the People’s Government in power, will have the strength to deal with the attacks of the capitalist warmongers and their agents.
One can appreciate the parliamentary illusions of the masses in Britain, which has had a long tradition of parliamentary rule and of parliamentary parties. Singh, however, is grossly exaggerating the role of the parliament and is distorting the concrete facts and the historical experience of proletarian revolutions. This experience has shown time and again that parliament does not and cannot play a central role in class struggle; and, to be able to form a parliamentary majority does not and cannot guarantee the establishment of revolutionary power. If its class interests, class privileges and its class rule are in danger, bourgeoisie will not care a bit about laws, constitution, legitimacy, tradition etc. and will not for a moment hesitate to resort to political violence. 

It cannot be said that communists have been and were against the utilisation of bourgeois parliament for revolutionary purposes. However, there are very strict limits to the benefits working in a parliament can bestow upon the parties of exploited classes. Singh cannot and does not even try to explain the mechanism of the transition from the state power of the bourgeoisie to the state power of the working class and of other exploited masses or rather the transfer of political power from the exploiting classes to the exploited ones. He cannot and does not even try to explain how the political power shall be taken from the bourgeoisie and shall be given to the working class. 

Talking about the “difficulties” of the transfer of political power from the bourgeoisie to the working class in a parliamentary context, he concedes the fact that he doesn't know how this shall be achieved: 
The methods whereby the organised working class would counter and defeat the resistance of the capitalists were not spelt out but it may be reasonably supposed that the methods adopted by the Bolsheviks in the Russian revolution and the Communist and Workers’ Parties in the revolutionary process in the People’s Democracies of Eastern and South-East Europe and the national liberation war in Greece were not unknown to the CPGB.
According to Singh and to the programme called “The British Road to Socialism” it is possible to form a pro-working class and pro-socialist majority in the parliament and a People’s Government supported by this majority could take socialist measures. 

Let's for a moment forget the fact that the CPGB was and had always been an extremely weak party, which has never had the capacity to establish its hegemony over all working class organisations. And let's for a moment forget the fact that the Labour Party, the trade union movement and cooperatives had mostly been led by people who had stood against communism, against a socialist Britain and would never had supported socialist measures even if the CPGB had been much stronger. Again, let's assume that this much stronger CPGB was able to form a clear majority in the parliament and convince other working class organisations represented here, to fight for a “socialist nationalisation and workers’ control of monopoly capital and big landed property” and tried to take other socialist measures. Would the state power of the bourgeoisie, that is “the civil service, the police, the military, the judiciary and the rest of the bourgeois state apparatus” have acted as an impartial arbitrator under such circumstances and stand idly by? Definitely not. 

Lenin’s Approach 

As Lenin said in his “Theses and Report on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, presented at the First Congress of the Communist International on 4 March 1919:
The main thing that socialists fail to understand and that constitutes their short-sightedness in matters of theory, their subservience to bourgeois prejudices and their political betrayal of the proletariat is that in capitalist society, whenever there is any serious aggravation of the class struggle intrinsic to that society, there can be no alternative but the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the dictatorship of the proletariat.
On the International Working Class and Communist Movement, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, p. 255
The relevance of the People’s Democracies for Britain 

The experience of the People’s Democracies of Central and South-East Europe is only partially relevant for Britain. As I have pointed out above, during the War, the state power of the ruling classes in those countries was destroyed not primarily by the struggles of the workers and toilers of those countries, but by the Red Army. (Anti-fascist partisans and even American and British military too had played a partial role in this struggle.) 

So, Enver Hoxha too had a critical opinion about the situation in the countries of Central and South-East Europe, especially about the formation of united workers' parties by the fusion of communist parties and socialist/ social-democratic parties. 

In discussing the crisis that arose during the in-fighting between the Khruschevite revisionists and the revisionist leaders of the Warsaw Pact parties, Hoxha had pointed out that these various Central and South-East European communist parties had been basically brought in by the inflowing Red Army bayonets, following the Second World War:
…Apart from the Polish party, the parties of the revisionist countries are parties which have not waged the struggle themselves, have not gone through that furnace, irrespective of their self-advertisement as allegedly old parties which have been through the fight. Their experience on this issue — and this is the main issue — is very poor if they have any at all. Moreover, these parties were revived, reorganised and took power thanks to the Soviet Army and the direct aid of the Bolshevik Party and Stalin. This assistance was vital to them, not only because they were re-established materially, but also because it helped them to create political and ideological cohesion in their ranks.” 
Enver Hoxha, “The Working Class In The Revisionist Countries Must Take The Field And Re-Establish The Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, Selected Works, Volume IV, Tirana, The «8 Nentori» Publishing House, 1982, p. 425.
So, at the end of the war, the local ruling classes, most of whom had collaborated with the Nazis were both materially/ physically and ideologically/ morally unable to resist the revolutionary onslaught of the masses. Under these conditions and due to the support the Red Army provided to local Communist Parties, transition to People's Democracies was possible. These conditions simply did not obtain in Britain; neither did they obtain in any other country, be it a semi colony or an imperialist power. 

What is more Singh does not really consider the option of a non-parliamentary, that is Commune-type of proletarian political power. This, I believe, is the result of his one-sided obsession with a parliament-centered perspective. For instance he says: 
The CPGB programme in 1935 rejected the possibility that capitalism could be ended and socialism established by the election of a majority in the House of Commons as suggested by the Labour Party as the capitalist class would not permit itself to be expropriated by successive Acts of Parliament...
Historical experience has show that only under exceptional circumstances “capitalism could be ended and socialism established by the election of a majority” in the parliament. So we should consider the viewpoint of the 1935 programme of the CPGB as essentially correct. Besides, Singh should be asked to answer the following question:
If the working class and its allies are able to defeat the armed forces of capitalists and put an end to bourgeois rule, why should they bother to preserve the parliament, one of the apparatus of capitalist system? 
Singh seems to assume that a parliamentary republic dominated by the working class and its allies is the best form of the proletarian state. 

Again, Back to Lenin: 

In 1917, in one of his very important articles Lenin, drew lessons from the experience of revolutions of workers and exploited masses. Here he paid attention to the central role of a state of the Commune type; but not to parliament and parliamentary republic. In this passage he made a reference to Marx, who had described this sort of state as “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour.” Let me quote the most important parts of this passage of Lenin's:
The most perfect and advanced type of bourgeois state is the parliamentary democratic republic: power is vested in parliament; the state machine, the apparatus and organ of administration, is of the customary kind: a standing army, a police, and a bureaucracy—which in practice is permanent privileged and stands above the people.  
But since the end of the nineteenth century, revolutionary epochs have been producing a superior type of democratic state, a state which in certain respects, as Engels put it, ceases to be a state, is 'no longer a state in the proper sense of the word'. This state is of the type of the Paris Commune, one in which a standing army and police severed from the people are replaced by the directly armed people themselves...  
This is the type of state which the Russian revolution began to create in the years 1905 and 1917. A Republic of Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, Peasants’, and other Deputies, united in an All-Russian Constituent Assembly of the people’s representatives or in a Council of Soviets, etc., is what is being realised in our country now...  
Marxism differs from the petty-bourgeois, opportunist 'Social-Democracy' of Plekhanov, Kautsky and Co. in that it recognises that during the said periods what is required is a state not of the customary parliamentary bourgeois republican type, but of the type of the Paris Commune.  
The main differences between a state of the latter type and the bourgeois state are as follows.
It is extremely easy (as history proves) to revert from a bourgeois republic to a monarchy, for all the machinery of oppression—the army, the police, and the bureaucracy—is left intact. The Commune and the Soviet smash that machinery and do away with it.  
A parliamentary bourgeois republic hampers and stifles the independent political life of the masses and their direct participation in the democratic organisation of the life of the state from top to bottom. The contrary is the case with Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' deputies.  
The latter reproduce the type of state that was being evolved by the Paris Commune and that Marx said was 'the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour.' ”  
(Lenin V; “The tasks of the proletariat in our revolution”, Selected Works, Volume 6, London, Martin Lawrence Limited, pp. 56-57)
In September 1928, that is 11 years later Communist International held its Sixth Congress. We read the following in the programme adopted at this congress:
The conquest of power by the proletariat means the violent annihilation of bourgeois power, the destruction of capitalist State machine (the bourgeois army, police, civil-service hierarchy, courts, parliament, etc.) and its replacement by new agencies of proletarian power, which serve primarily as instruments for the suppression of the exploiters.  
The October revolution of 1917 and the Hungarian revolution, which immensely enlarged the experience gained in the Paris Commune of 1871, have shown that the most appropriate form of proletarian State power is a new type of State, the Soviet State, differing in principle from the bourgeois state not only in its class content but in its internal structure.  
Jane Degras, The Communist International, 1919-1943, Documents, Volume 2, 1923-1928, London, Frank Cass and Company Limited, 1971, p. 492.
It might be added, that Enver Hoxha in his remarks upon the tragic events in Chile, that resulted from Allende’s neglect of such issues, touches on Lenin’s lessons: 
All the programmatic documents which the Western revisionist parties have adopted since the 20th Congress of the CPSU, absolutise the «parliamentary road» of transition from capitalism to socialism, while the non-peaceful road is definitely excluded. In practice this has brought about that these parties have finally renounced the revolutionary struggle and strive for ordinary reforms of a narrow economic or administrative character. They have turned into bourgeois opposition parties and have offered to undertake the administration of the wealth of the bourgeoisie, just as the old social-democratic parties have done hitherto.  
The Communist Party of Chile, which was one of the main forces of the Allende government, fervently adhered to the Khrushchevite theses of «peaceful transition», both in theory and practice.  
Hoxha E; “The Tragic Events in Chile-A Lesson for the Revolutionaries of the Whole World”, Selected Works, Volume IV, Tirana, The «8 Nentori» Publishing House, 1982, pp. 854-55.
History has proved, and the events in Chile, where it was not yet a question of socialism but of a democratic regime, again made clear, that the establishment of socialism through the parliamentary road is utterly impossible. In the first place, it must be said that up till now it has never happened that the bourgeoisie has allowed the communists to win a majority in parliament and form their own government. Even in the occasional instance where the communists and their allies have managed to ensure a balance in their favour in parliament and enter the government, this has not led to any change in the bourgeois character of the parliament or the government, and their action has never gone so far as to smash the old state machine and establish a new one.  
In the conditions when the bourgeoisie controls the bureaucratic-administrative apparatus, securing a «parliamentary majority» that would change the destiny of the country is not only impossible but also unreliable. The main parts of the bourgeois state machine are the political and economic power and the armed forces. As long as these forces remain intact, i.e., as long as they have not been dissolved and new forces created in their stead, as long as the old apparatus of the police, the secret intelligence services, etc., is retained, there is no guarantee that a parliament or a democratic government will be able to last long.”
Hoxha, Ibid, p. 858.
Hoxha directly cites Lenin here;
Participation in the bourgeois parliament,” said Lenin, “is necessary for the party of the revolutionary proletariat to enlighten the masses, enlightenment which is achieved through elections and the struggle of the parties in the parliament. But to limit the class struggle to the struggle within the parliament, or to consider this struggle as the ultimate, the decisive form, to which all other forms of struggle are subordinate, means in fact to go over to the side of the bourgeoisie, against the proletariat.

(V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 30, pp. 304-305) (Alb. edition)
Lenin also stressed that:
…the need to systematically educate the masses with this idea, and precisely this idea of violent revolution, is the basis of the entire doctrine of Marx and Engels.”
Lenin cited by Hoxha, Ibid, pp. 859-60
The 1951 British Programme 

The new party programme (that is the British Road to Socialism adopted in 1951- G. A.) was not one of establishing a Soviet Socialist Britain but of establishing a People’s Democracy in Britain. As one of the sub-headings of the programme states: 
People’s Democracy – The Path to Socialism’. It was the road to Socialism and so it did not envisage the immediate establishment of Socialism based on Workers’ Councils, the immediate establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the destruction of parliament, the civil service, the police, the military, the judiciary and the rest of the bourgeois state apparatus. Drawing on the experiences of the People’s Democracies of Central and South-East Europe the British Road envisaged the utilisation of Parliament and the formation of a People’s Government based on the various sections of the working-class movement: Labour, trade union, co-operative and Communist based on a parliamentary majority. In the economic sphere the road to socialism envisaged socialist nationalisation and workers’ control of monopoly capital and big landed property but not the properties of the small shopkeepers, businessmen, small landowners and farmers in the countryside.”
On the 1917 Bolshevik revolution 

So, according to Vijay Sigh, there are important differences between the October 1917 type revolution and the British Road to Socialism. Here he intimates that the October 1917 type revolution envisages: 
…the immediate establishment of Socialism based on Workers’ Councils. 
This, however, is a misrepresentation of the experience of the Russian revolution and is simply not true. Contrary to the superficial understanding of Singh over the socialist revolution, in March 1916 Lenin had said:
The socialist revolution is not one single act, not one single battle on a single front, but a whole epoch of intensified class conflicts, a long series of battles on all fronts, i. e. battles around all the problems of economics and politics, which can culminate only in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.
Lenin V; “Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination”, Selected Works, Volume 5, London, Lawrence and Wishart, p. 268
Besides the Bolsheviks did NOT and due to the socio-economic backwardness of Russia and especially due to the preponderance of petty commodity production and private capitalism could NOT attempt to immediately establish socialism in Russia. Therefore they did not try to socialize “the properties of the small shopkeepers, businessmen, small landowners and farmers in the countryside” despite the fact that they had to pass through a period of "war communism” 1918 through 1921, whereafter they were obliged to allow a controlled growth of capitalism, which was called NEP (=New Economic Policy.) In fact the property of the majority of the working people of the Soviet Union, that is of the small and middle peasants would only be socialized during and as a result of the collectivization of agriculture in 1929-133. In November 1922, Lenin said this over the NEP:
...In 1921, after we had passed through the most important stage of the civil war... we encountered a great - I think it was the greatest - internal political crisis of Soviet Russia, which caused discontent among a considerable section, not only of the peasantry, but also of the workers. This was the first and I hope the last time in the history of Soviet Russia that large masses of peasants were hostile to us, not consciously, but instinctively. What gave rise to this peculiar, and for us, of course, very unpleasant, situation? The fact that we had advanced too far in our economic offensive, the fact that we had not created an adequate base, that the masses sensed what we ourselves were not yet able consciously to formulate, but that we, soon after, a few weeks later, admitted, namely: that the direct transition to purely Socialist forms, to purely Socialist distribution, was beyond our strength, and that if we were not able to retreat, to confine ourselves to easier tasks, we were doomed.”
“Five Years of the Russian Revolution”, Selected Works, Volume 10, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1938, p. 323.
I repeat: Bolsheviks did not attempt to immediately establish socialism in Russia. Nor did they attempt the socialization of “the properties of the small shopkeepers, businessmen, small landowners and farmers in the countryside”. This despite the fact that they had to pass through a period of “war communism”, in the years 1918-1921, whereafter they were obliged to allow a controlled growth of capitalism. 

On the other hand during and right after the October Revolution the Bolsheviks had to form a sort of coalition government with some non-communist groups, that is with Left Socialist Revolutionaries and Menshevik internationalists well into 1918. They already had affected an organisational union with Mezhrayontsi in July 1917, despite the fact that this group had occupied a centrist position with regard to Bolshevik-Menshevik controversy. 

What is more the Great October Socialist Revolution was accomplished not through strictly socialist slogans, but through the slogan “Peace, Land, Bread”. Upon coming to power Bolsheviks did not hesitate to adopt the land reform and redistribution programme of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and reproduced it verbatim in the Decree on Land, despite their differences with this programme. 

Therefore we can say that real life is and shall be much richer and much more complicated than Singh's, and/or anybody's theoretical formulas. 

July 2019
Garbis Altinoglu

Published at Marxism-Leninism Today