What’s the difference between a socialist and a communist?

Party Congress, a biennial event at which delegates from every branch, district and nation meet to agree party policy and strategy and to elect a new Executive Committee which, in turn, will elect Party Officers, including the General Secretary, will be held later this month. It’s therefore an appropriate time to reflect on why we are communists and what is the difference, if any, between a communist and a socialist.

In the popular mind, the distinction is one of degree. Socialists want a significant degree of public ownership and greater equality of outcome – although some would settle for mere equality of opportunity. Communists, on the other hand, are commonly thought to want to abolish all private property and achieve total equality. There is also a commonly held view that communists want a society modelled on that of the former USSR and former socialist states in Eastern Europe. There may be elements of truth in all these distinctions, but they are, nevertheless, mistaken. The principal distinction between a socialist and a communist is that anyone can call themselves a socialist, but to call yourself a communist you need to be a member of a communist party.

Communist parties differ from other parties in that they are subject to democratic centralism, which means they arrive at decisions and policies after unrestricted internal discussion and debate and then unite to promote these policies and implement them. Communist parties reach their decisions by applying the ideas of Karl Marx as developed by others Marxists such as Lenin and Gramsci. These ideas can be described in one hyphenated word: Marxism-Leninism.

Does Marxism-Leninism mean that we are striving to replicate the former USSR and Socialist countries of Eastern Europe? No. We recognise that, while the USSR achieved much, it failed in the end to build socialism. Lessons must be learnt from these failures, and no one is keener to discover them than communist parties. Next time we must do it better – more democracy, greater efficiency, deeper humanity and more effective connection with working people.

This emphasis on communist parties begs the question – what is a communist party? The much loved and missed Tony Benn was fond of pointing out that there were too many socialist parties and not enough socialists. Regrettably, this is also true of communist parties. Only one party in Britain can trace its origins back the formation of the British Section of the Communist International in 1920. This section became the Communist Party of Great Britain and, in 1991, the Communist Party of Britain. Now known simply as the Communist Party or CP (generally preferred to CPB), we do not recruit in Northern Ireland, leaving that to our sister party, the Communist Party of Ireland. There are, however, four or five other parties and small groups in Britain calling themselves communist parties – the New Communist Party, the Communist Party of Scotland, CPB-ML, CPGB-ML etc. Without wishing to disrespect individuals who are members of these groups – some are sound Marxist who engage constructively with the wider labour and trade union movement – overall they lack substance, legitimacy and, as reference to Solidnet, will confirm, recognition by the international movement of communist and workers parties[i]. This lack of legitimacy is especially true of the so called Communist Party of Great Britain, a grouplet that high-jacked the party name dropped in 1991 in order to defeat an attempt at that time to dissolve the party and close our newspaper, the Morning Star. This attempt failed and the group behind it has long since dissipated, but the consequence, loss of the use of our original name, continues, only partially ameliorated by the fact that we retain its exclusive use for electoral purposes, having registered it with the Electoral Commission.

No review of communism in Britain, however brief, would be complete without reference to the other revolutionary Marxist tradition present in the UK. This derives, however tortuously, from Trotsky’s Fourth International founded in 1938 rather than directly from the British Section of the Communist International formed in 1920. While also suffering from an excess of minor parties and grouplets, it is represented by two quite significant parties, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Socialist Party (formerly Militant). We share much Marxist theory with these parties but, given the history of conflict between us and a resulting lack of trust, it is hardly surprising that it is not always easy to work with them; and these difficulties can be exacerbated by their employment of “entryism” whereby membership is concealed in order to enter social democratic parties and coalitions. This practice was encouraged by Trotsky but abjured by communists who point to the advice in Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto that communists should not hide their membership of the party. Despite these differences, we have, however, in recent years managed to work successfully with them in certain narrow areas, particularly opposition to the EU and it is to be hoped that these tentative links will grow in future.

The above reflections are personal ones and don’t necessarily reflect the CP’s formal policy or official history. If your views differ from mine, you are invited to comment accordingly.

[i] With one minor exception – the small New Communist Party has secured some limited recognition internationally.

Bring it on

Having jumped the gun last week and been recalled to the starting line, Angela Eagle finally left the starting blocks today in her bid today to oust Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader. If the intention of those behind the unrest in the Parliamentary Labour Party really is to replace Jeremy with someone more “electable”, they could hardly have found anyone less suitable. Their real motive is, of course, money. The plotters fear that Corbyn won’t deliver the needs of Big Business, on whom the careerists in the Labour Party depend and whose interests they represent. If Corbyn cannot be kept off the ballot paper (an issue that may be resolved by the NEC tomorrow) and the ballot cannot be rigged, their Plan B will be to form an SDP Mark 2 comprising Labour MPs, managed by the existing Labour office staff and funded by Big Business. This new party will, however, require a more “electable” leader than the hapless Angela.  Whatever the outcome, her leading role is likely to be very temporary.

The outcome of the EU referendum came as a surprise to many commentators and has been blamed by the plotters on Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to join Project Fear, the Tory led attempt to frighten electors into voting to stay in the EU. The conspicuous absence of a similar strategy to block Theresa May from becoming Tory Leader and, by default, Prime Minister, on similar grounds is significant. The difference between Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn is that the former will act in the best interests of Big Business and the latter cannot be relied on to do so.

What the referendum vote to leave the EU actually reflected was the growing gulf between the middle classes and the working class. This gulf has been growing apace under ‘austerity’, the policy pursued by the Tories and, until Corbyn was elected leader, by Labour. Under austerity social spending benefitting the working class and the taxes paid by Big Business are both cut. That this is the explanation for the significant working class vote for exit has escaped much of the liberal intelligentsia. Their spokespersons – the likes of Will Self and the hacks at the Guardian – have not blamed Corbyn  – instead they  have turned on the working class itself, attributing their support for Exit on endemic racism.

What the liberal intelligentsia overlook is that it is easy to be liberal about the free movement of labour when you gain from the arrangement. For the middle classes it provides lots of well paid jobs for UK graduates and professionals across the EU. Together with a rather woolly feel-good attitude about European togetherness, the EU also provides them with cheap building labour, cheap, unchavvy nannies and cheap fruit picked in the UK by sweated labour. If, on the other hand, you are not a member of the middle class and are denied access to further education, or can acquire it only at the cost of incurring crippling debt, the glittering job opportunities in Europe are irrelevant. The attractions of cheap, unskilled labour are also diminished when it’s you who have to compete for the zero hours jobs on offer. If you are in a trade union, the EU’s failure to recognise and respect collective bargaining and its opposition to trade union solidarity is also a major concern. To be told by those who are unaffected by these issues that you are racist is insulting. There is nothing inherently anti-racist or honourable in supporting the free movement of labour when you happen, personally, to gain from it at the expense of your fellow citizens; and there is nothing inherently racist or dishonourable in opposing the free movement of labour when it damages the collective interests of your class. The liberal intelligentsia need to wake up to these facts and, like the Communist Party, show the working class some respect.

The liberal intelligentsia could also usefully follow the Communist Party in rallying to the defence of Corbyn. This does not mean that the CP is going to indulge in mass entryism which, according to the Guardian today, Labour HQ claim to fear. This is simply scare tactics on their part. Had Labour HQ ever read the Communist Manifesto, they would know that communists “disdain to conceal their aims and views”. What was true in 1848 is true today: communists don’t do entryism. We will, however, openly and defiantly campaign, shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement, including those represented by Croydon TUC, with ordinary Labour Party members and in the pages of our newspaper, the Morning Star, to see Jeremy Corbyn re-elected. Bring it on.

 

Love’s Labour’s Lost? Not yet!

The clear message to emerge from the Croydon Assembly held at Ruskin House on Saturday was that people are desperate for an end to austerity and want progress towards a more equal and democratic society. Equality of opportunity, once thought sufficient by New Labour, just won’t do. Star speakers, all echoing this theme, included John McDonnell, the Labour Shadow Chancellor, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT , Philipa Harvey , President of the NUT, and Andrew Fisher, economics adviser to Jeremy Corbyn and currently suspended from the Labour Party. This followed a complaints by Emily Benn about a tweet he made about her prior to General Election when she stood as the Labour Party candidate in the Tory stronghold of Croydon South. One wonders what her grandfather Tony would have made of her efforts in support of the malign Stop Corbyn lobby inside the Labour Party.

Whether the Labour Party is actually reformable by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters is an open question. He received a massive endorsement from Labour Party members and supporters and, as the event on Saturday showed, he continues to have wide support amongst ordinary working people inside and outside the Labour Party. Labour’s payroll membership – MPs, MEPs, councillors and those like Emily Benn seeking well paid jobs within the structure –  are the huge obstacle. While they are a pretty uninspiring bunch, they do represent a powerful interest group within the party. Due to their privileged positions, they are, however, completely out of touch with needs and interests of ordinary working people. This was never better illustrated than when, on Saturday, Jamie Audsley, Labour Councillor for Bensham Manor and a leading light on the ruling Labour Group running Croydon Council, joined in the debate and told the Assembly that he would be happy to ‘consult’ them and others on where the next round of cuts imposed by the government should fall. His inept intervention duly received the response from the meeting one would expect.

Even if Lost Labour can be brought back from the Blairite abyss, it would be a mistake to think that this would be sufficient for progressive change. Even if Corbyn holds on and wins the next general election, his party will remain a coalition of disparate interests – more Methodist than Marxist as Morgan Phillips once put it – and full of class collaborationists, opportunists and self-promoting careerists. As Marx and Engels argued 167 years ago in the Communist Manifesto, while we should support parties of the working class where they exist, real progressive change requires a strong and independent Communist Party. Fortunately we have one and we are not going away.