Beginning a conversation about communism

I recently went out canvassing for Communist Future (CF) in the Cheetham Hill area of the Manchester Central constituency for the General Election on 4 July.

There were eight of us and we all had really positive conversations – not necessarily that will translate into votes but showing that people are interested in the idea of challenging the very basis of existing society. We argued that all the established parties stand essentially for the same thing – a continuation of the capitalist system in which the billionaires get richer at the expense of the rest of us. Under capitalism, workers work and bosses profit.

Labour doesn’t challenge capitalism. It defends it, and wants to manage it on behalf of the capitalist class.

Labour has never been a socialist party. Historically it has tried to implement a few reforms while leaving the system itself intact. But now it doesn’t even promise any reforms. Just more of the same economic austerity and cuts as the Tories.

Labour doesn’t challenge the power of big business. It wants to be the party of big business. It wants to be the party of the capitalist class. It claims to be the party of the working class and will receive votes primarily from working-class voters. But it offers only titbits to the trade union movement and workers generally, telling them that they must be patient and wait until the economy revives.

Labour’s programme to ‘grow the economy’ is a programme directed at meeting the interests of business, at creating the conditions in which profits can increase, not at meeting the hopes and expectations of the majority. Business profits can only grow to the collective detriment of the working class. The interests of business and workers are not the same. They are completely opposed. Business makes its profits by exploiting workers who have to sell their labour power to survive. Workers have constantly to fight against the bosses for better pay, better conditions and better pensions. And even if pay rises are won, workers still end up working harder and longer for less pay in real terms, as pay rises don’t keep up with prices. Profit is the unpaid labour of the working class.

No party can represent the interests of both the capitalist class and the working class. We need a party that unequivocally and unashamedly represents the interests of the working class, that is, of the overwhelming majority of society, the class that produces the wealth and provides the services we all depend on.

Communists – or socialists, the terms properly used mean the same thing – argue that another society is both necessary and possible. We argue and struggle for a society in which the world’s resources are collectively owned and democratically controlled by everyone, for the benefit of everyone.

All sorts of issues came up on the doorstep – the NHS, mental health care, housing and, at almost every house, Gaza. Very few expected anything to improve under a Labour government. They can see that there will be more privatisation of the NHS,  and affordable housing will remain out of reach for most, especially young people. Starmer’s position on Gaza was overwhelmingly criticised.

At one household a woman read our leaflet and said, “You’re opposed to militarism and war. I can’t support you because I’m ex-services.” She used to be in the RAF. I asked her if she and her family had been treated well since she left the forces. Were they provided with decent housing, decent pay. Did she think that servicemen and women who got injured were properly looked after? I referred to a news item I had seen recently about service personnel living in housing not fit for human habitation. Did the government that declared its support for the armed services really mean it? I put our case that it was always working-class youth who were sent to fight wars on behalf of those who ran society, and that these wars were not really our wars. It was only the beginning of a longer conversation required but I could see that seeds of doubt had already been planted.

There is a class perspective to every issue. But the working-class, communist point of view is seldom, if ever presented to people. How can we expect to build the ideas of genuine communism if these arguments are never put, if they are never part of day to day conversations. Working-class people constantly discuss the important issues facing them in their daily lives – housing, transport, health, war and peace, corruption, Covid – but the communist explanation and solution is not yet a part of those discussions.

If communism is to grow as a political force, then it has to be put forward as often as possible. That includes standing candidates and presenting a clear programme as often and in as many places as possible.

There will be many, including on the left, who will be waiting for the results only to pour scorn on the small number of votes received by Communist Future and others communist/socialist initiatives. But at this stage the key issue is not the number of votes obtained, but beginning to get our ideas across, even to small numbers.

The Communist Future election campaign in Manchester Central  is very small, with a very few comrades involved.  It has no money, and it was caught a bit unprepared by the surprise calling of the General Election by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. It would have been better if there had been more time to campaign and to prepare the ground. It can’t expect to achieve very much on this occasion. But the conversations I and others had that evening reinforce my belief  that people are open to at least begin to discuss ideas that they haven’t ever considered before and that communist ideas, simply explained, are easily understood and attractive to  workers and youth. Whatever the result on this occasion the comrades in Communist Future deserve our support and encouragement.

The majority of working class voters who vote, will vote for Labour, to get the Tories out, even if they hold their noses while doing so. According to the most recent Financial Times opinion poll tracker Labour is currently twenty percent ahead of the Tories (40% to 20% respectively) and is expected to win a huge majority on 4 July. Labour could win around 450 of the 650 House of Commons seats.

The Tories are under threat from the right, with Nigel Farage’s Reform eating into the Tory vote. But Labour also has its problems. There is no great enthusiasm for Labour, with Starmer’s determination not to promise any meaningful departure from Tory policy. A significant section of Labour voters, especially but not only Muslim voters, are aghast at Labour’s position on the Israeli onslaught on Gaza and will cast their votes elsewhere for candidates who oppose the war and the mass murder of Palestinians.

So, in Manchester Central and elsewhere I expect that a significant number will vote for either the Workers Party of Britain (WPB), which has prioritised the issue of Gaza, or for one of the ‘independent’ candidates who have done the same. Notwithstanding this, it is unlikely that anyone but Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn has any chance of being elected. It is likely that not all WPB candidates support George Galloway’s reactionary, social conservative policy on gay rights or his opportunist, nationalist position on immigration. If they want to develop a serious working class programme they will have to break with Galloway and his programme.

The array of independent candidates is a sorry reflection on the state of the ‘left’ in Britain, four and a half years since the Corbynite left was routed in the Labour Party. Most of these candidates seem to have turned being an ‘independent’ into a virtue, while in reality it demonstrates the weakness and fragmentation of the left. Corbyn is not presenting himself as a ‘socialist’ candidate. His programme does not mention socialism, socialist or even capitalism. Although thousands of supporters have turned out to enthusiastically support Corbyn’s election campaign, his decision to stand as an independent has been so late that he may not win.

There are various parties or coalitions – Collective, Assemble, Transform, Reliance – and many independents such as Andrew Feinstein standing in the general election. Some of these candidates are very good, sincere fighters for reforms, improvements in jobs and services, and support for Palestine.

However, the programme on which they stand, which is usually some variant of the Corbyn manifestos of 2017 and 2019, or his more limited Peace and Justice project are incapable of delivering what they promise. The mildly reformist Corbynite programmes fail to identify and challenge capitalism as the source of the ills they seek to cure. Without defeating capitalism the ills will not be overcome. They are symptoms of the diseased profit system, which can only be maintained at the expense of the working class. Any party, coalition or individual who wants to tackle poverty, inequality, austerity, war, climate catastrophe, attacks on democratic rights, and all the other problems we face, has to confront the system that produces them. That is the capitalist system.

I hope that all those who campaign for reforms do well. It will encourage others to continue to fight. But we really need to do more than fight for reforms. Even if reforms are won, they will be insecure and will be under immediate and constant attack, just as we see reforms of the past such as the NHS or free university education undermined and destroyed. We need to fight for the fundamental transformation of society.

We need a programme to defeat capitalism and to create the conditions for a new communist/socialist society. And we need a new mass working-class communist/socialist party to help to achieve that. We need a party that fights for that programme on all fronts – in elections, in the trade unions, in schools, colleges and universities, in work places, in the campaigns to protect the environment, and against the war on Gaza and the burgeoning militarism and increased spending on NATO and the war in Ukraine.

All communists/socialists who share the goal of fundamentally changing the system need to unite in one united and democratic communist party and initiate a massive public conversation about the nature of our current society, boldly presenting the arguments for a new society based on collective ownership and democratic planning of production for need, not profit.

Communist Future is clearly not able to do this on its own. Its manifesto is engaging but has its own shortcomings. It is primarily propaganda for the new communist society. It therefore tends to the abstract and lacks substantial concrete programmatic demands. It is not written as a programme for government, which is understandable but, I think, a mistake. We communists need to discuss a much fuller programme. It is essential that we clearly set out our differences with, and criticisms of, what most people think of ‘communism’, that is the experience of Stalinism. There is nothing explicit to distinguish the communism of CF from the history of ‘communism’ in the Soviet Union and other similar states, which have nothing to do with genuine communism, or from the communism of the Communist Party of Britain’s Morning Star, which is a variant of a left reformism and presents a national road to socialism, rather than having an international perspective. Genuine communism is completely democratic, without any oppressive state, and is completely international in outlook. I also have some differences over the way it deals with the issues of democracy and democratic demands, which I hope to develop in another article. But, having said all that, it is a serious, significant and exciting development. The CF comrades should be congratulated. It is a small initiative that could be emulated elsewhere. And unlike the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) the Socialist Party (SP), and other smaller groups, it does not see itself as the answer, but only as part of the answer, as a cell of the new party that needs to be created.

The RCP, which is standing Fiona Lali as an independent candidate in Stratford and Bow, the Socialist Party, which is standing a large number of candidates under the banner of TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition), the SWP, and other smaller communist/socialist organisations, if serious about their own commitment to changing the world, should look to the steps required to form a new united party, in which the shared goal of communism/socialism is central and unifying, and in which there is the democratic space for debate and discussion about how to achieve it. Separately we are weaker. Together we can force our ideas onto the public agenda and decisively change the way communism is discussed, understood and fought for. The creation of such a new United Communist Party would mark the beginning of a new stage in serious working-class politics in Britain.

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One thought on “Beginning a conversation about communism

  1. The idea that an alternative communist society is possible will remain abstract until it has mass support and becomes a material force. So the main thrust of the CF Manifesto is a strength rather than a weakness. Making communists is an important ideological or cultural emphasis. But there are flaws in the Manifesto

    It should have made clear our communism is not the perspective of a party dictatorship over workers. The lack workers democracy in the USSR after 1917 occurred before the establishment of Stalinism. We should not be uncritical of Bolshevism. The Bolshevik regime adopted undemocratic methods before and after the civil war. We should show more respect for history and not simply blame external forces or isolation for the revolutions failure after 1917.

    The communist programme is not a programme of government but democratic and collective control from below the state which absorbs the functions of a government and a state. The manifesto is unclear about a working class alternative to Parliament. A citizen is a concept of capitalist society. The Boss of Iceland and the Iceland shop worker are equal: they both have a vote. But the Iceland boss has more influence over Starmer than the shop worker. He has more economic and social weight. It is a class issue. Citizen obscures inequality and exploitation. An alternative would be based on representation of the workplace and working class community to end the separation of civil society and the economy.

    The celebration and pride in Manchester giving the world capitalist technology is wrong at a number of levels. Technology is seen as class neutral in the conventional sense. Technology does not drive history forward. Collectively working class people make history but not in circumstances of their own choosing. In large part the Communist manifesto was a celebration of Capitalism and Capitalist technology. But later, Marx developed his understanding of history and the darker reactionary aspects of Capitalist expansion in Colonialism. Capitalism did not roll out progress across the globe. It strengthened reactionary forces in Germany and Japan and elsewhere. The pride should be in the Manchester’s working class opposition to technological advance in the interests of few not the many. The Manchester Cotton mill gave us child slavery and black slavery in the southern states of the USA and the Caribbean. It also gave us starvation for the Manchester handloom weavers and the handloom weavers in India.

    If we are to teach workers the ideas of genuine communism then who educates the educators? The complex and different interpretations of the ideas of communism or Marxism should be to be debated and discussed rather than clinging to one red thread to the exclusion of others. There can be no Marxist unity without that. One of the strengths of the CF manifesto was there was no reference to Marxist -Leninist Gods or sect shibboleths.

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