~ Research Note ~
In a celebratory article of Socialist Albania’s 35th anniversary of its founding there was praise for, what was increasingly the main theme of the CPB (ML)’s own politics, the historic struggle “for national independence and for socialism, because the two are ultimately inseparable” [The Worker #45 November 22nd 1979]. For the CPB (ML) the lessons were learnt: a historical-proven common sense one of self-reliance
“As in Russia, the successful revolutions there demonstrated how socialism in one country depends on understanding our national contradictions…..” The conclusion is that “All this means that socialism can only develop in one country- it cannot be exported or imported…. We can’t turn to a united international communist movement for aid, which is no great handicap really. We have to rely on our resources in any case.” [The Worker #45 December 21st 1978]
This conclusion matched their recent experience that saw the end of fraternal relations with the Communist Party of China, sliding with the Party of Labor of Albania, but then becoming estranged from Tirana’s line that fraternal parties ought to organise the class in independent red union formations separate from the existing trade unions in their country. This line had not been favourably regarded by the CPB (ML) and it curtailed the political alignment with Albania, reducing coverage in the party’s paper and abruptly closing down the New Albania Society it dominated. In 1979 Albania almost disappeared from the pages of The Worker. Drawing upon all this the Fifth Congress of the CPB (ML) set itself a phenomenon task:
The survival of socialism and or the future of communism depend on the proletariat of the advanced industrial countries moving to revolution. The British working class and our Marxist-Leninist Party must each accept the responsibility which falls upon it, arising from its own particular historical development.
The abandonment of socialism in China and the aggressive assault on a neighbouring country is the same kind of setback for the world working class as the Soviet Union’s defection with socialism twenty years ago. [Editorial, The Worker #16 April 26th 1979]
While referencing the experience in China and the Soviet Union, but pointedly not mentioning the Socialist Republic of Albania, the CPB (ML) argued that what had not yet been proven was the capacity of a working class, having made the revolution, succeed in building and consolidating that socialist society. It asked,
“Where were the independent organs of a working class capable of challenging the emerging revisionist apparatus which was seizing hold of the socialist state to transform to transform it into capitalism?”
It had an explanation in that up till now socialist revolutions have occurred in countries where the industrial aspect has not been dominant, where the proletariat has been in the minority. It saw a solution in drawing upon the tradition of autonomous working class organisations – that is the British trade unions. The history and functions of trade unions as seen by the CPB (ML) was documented from its foundation in speeches, history notes and internal educational piece e.g. Notes on the Struggle of the Working Class in Britain, The Working Class, Past, Present & Future? and The Special Nature of British Trade Unions a speech by Reg Birch. With its specific class analysis codified in The Definitive Statement on the Internal Polemic, 1972-1974 [on classes] that there were only two classes in modern capitalist society, a dominant role was ascribed to the organised working class that is workers in trade unions. There is a narrow focus that is pale and male reflective of the organisation’s binary understanding of, and what constitute, class struggles. Intersectionality is not a concept to be found in the understanding or writings of the CPB ML. Revolution in Britain would come about through the ideological clarity gained through the kinds of struggles others denigrate as “economic”; trade unions were “schools for revolutionaries”, organs of mass struggle. The “two-class analysis” adopted by the Party in 1971 argued that in “Britain the oldest and most proletarianised of capitalist countries, all the intermediate classes left over by feudalism have been absorbed into the proletariat.” White collar workers were workers, none of this middle class fiction, please. As a class analysis to guide revolutionaries it had no use value, instead the explanation was that the class had chosen its organic form of organisation.
“Over 200 years of class struggle have given British workers a tradition of organisation, democracy, discipline, knowledge, an accumulated experience, all this the property of their mass organisations. Within our class we have all the abilities and skills required to run our country in a socialist way. The character of the British working class is such that if once convinced of the need to discard social democracy and embrace its own natural ideology, revolution, it will pose new questions and formulate new solutions to the whole challenge of retaining control in a workers’ dictatorship.”
The Congress ’79 document made clear that “Weird notions such as ‘three worlds’ and ‘social imperialism’ are discarded. Proletarian internationalism is seen as an important practical matter, (already a reality embodied in various international bodies of the labour movement)” [Congress 1979]
But to reassert the right of collective bargaining as a revolutionary act in contemporary imperialist countries raises the basic issues of the nature of the organised working class, the role of the unions today in the survival of (bourgeois) democracy, the stature of the labour movement “and how its Party works” . The answers supplied was one that explained the actual circumstances of the CPB (ML) as a minority force, and also its role in the protracted struggle in the ebb and flow of class struggle.
“The working class needs its own political party, a revolutionary party, as an expression of this class political consciousness, not to direct the struggle but to help make that struggle a consciously organised, united and protracted struggle whose end is the overthrow of the system that exploits us.” [Editorial, The Worker #12 March 22nd 1979]
The CPB (ML)’s singular compulsive focus on trade union work was on the misapprehension that: “They are more than just defensive organisations to protect workers from the excesses of the profit grubbers — they are an expression in organisational form of working class ideology.” [Editorial, The Worker #24 June 14th 1979]
That the CPB (ML) had seen itself as the “Party” of the organised working class because it was so embedded in the trade union bureaucracies reflects more on their political perspective than their marxist understanding. They argue:
“Ironically, some calling themselves Marxists and Leninists have wanted to import, even for Britain, the very features of the revolutionary movement in other countries which reflect the lack of a long continuous development of an organised working c lass: our own. Not until eleven years ago was there established for the first time in Britain a revolutionary party growing directly out of the organised working class here, having no other interests but those of that working class fully aware that the only revolutionary force is that same working class and that the revolutionary party serves the class and does not try to command or rule in its name.” [Editorial, The Worker #24 June 14th 1979]
They based their assertions on a simplistic observation of the time: the CPB (ML) argued, as if the empirical context was a permanent, that
“The consequent growth of bureaucratic capitalism has gone so far in a country like Britain that over 50 per cent of the working class are more or less directly employed by the state and any class struggle over the right of collective bargaining tends to become a conflict between workers and the state.” (Editorial, The Worker #10 March 8th 1979)
There is no differentiation between conflict with the state as employer at whatever level and capacity and the state as the coercive integrationist agent of a status quo ideology. Disputes with the bosses over “fair pay” are not regarded as challenging the imperatives of management but, for the vast majority of participants, more part of the corporate game. Recognition of the social relations dictated by the workers’ dependence on capital for the sale of their labour power can awaken a powerful awareness however for most it is about doing a job to earn the necessities and luxuries of life. If it was otherwise then talk of revolution would be unnecessary because it would have occurred.
The oblique critique publically given of Albanian criticism of trade unions can be seen in the passage contained in The Worker’s editorial:
Marxism and Unions
Ironically, the very ideas Lenin developed in applying Marxism to a situation different from that of capitalism’s home, Britain, have often been imported back into Britain as the only way forward to revolution. Since the day-to-day class struggle was assumed to be “economist”, without political significance, would-be Marxist theoreticians have called trade union activity “spontaneous”. Thinking of themselves as bringing Marxism to the workers from outside the class struggle between workers and capitalists they have said of such struggle, “since it is not what I think, since my thoughts, my plans for progress are not adopted, then it is without thought, that is ‘spontaneous’.” These ‘theoreticians’ have even wanted to write off altogether the trade unions developed by the working class over many decades as a defence to minimise the degree of exploitation and replace them with “red unions” of their own devising.”[Editorial, The Worker #35 September 13th 1979]
In the schematic approach drawn upon by the CPB (ML) is the rationale that:
“There must be an unqualified acceptance that the class struggle is waged most effectively, solely so, through the trade unions who are the most advanced section of their class … class struggle, which within capitalism goes on daily and continuously, is not synonymous with revolution, which is the accumulation of all forces within the contradictions gathered by the class in one fell blow to seize power and rule; but it need not and must not be separate.” The problem of the relationship between the two which is also the problem of the relationship between the trade unions and the communist party has never been solved because “no capitalist country has achieved a revolution.”
The rich development in Marxist investigation and understanding of the function of capitalist state within imperialist societies by-passed the certainties of the CPB (ML)’s apocalypse politics.
“Left to itself there is only one direction in which capitalism can be led by these contradict ions – to fascism and war. The working class in Britain has no alternative but to make revolution to prevent war and to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat in order to put an end to capitalism’s contradictions by socialism….. it may well prove to be the case that the oldest capitalist country will also be the birthplace of socialism a s a permanent alternative to exploitative systems. From a revolutionised Britain a proletarian way of life, thought and action could spread to the rest of the world.”
After all, in the CPB (ML)’s universe:
“It is not a mere personal nor historical accident that the founder of our Party, presently attending the TUC conference as a member of the General Council, is an industrial worker and life-long trade unionist.
So much for any idea that in Britain today revolutionary theory must or could “come from outside the economic struggle”
The Worker, #35 September 13th 1979