Readings on the programme of the Communist Party of Great Britain
Sometimes unimaginatively referred to by its critics as the ‘The British Road to Nowhere’, the programmatic publication of the Communist Party of Great Britain was first published in 1951 as The British Road to Socialism.
It superseded the previous programme titled For Soviet Britain that was published for the party’s 13th Congress in 1935. The publication of Communist Party programmes in Britain began in the 1920s with the release of Class against Class, the General Election Programme of the Communist Party of Great Britain published in 1929.
At its heart, since the end of the Second World War, the CPGB’s political stance has been on “the leading role of the organised working class in a broad democratic alliance directed against state monopoly capitalism.” Often translated in practice to fighting the Tories. How this has been understood and presented has undergone modification and revision as subsequent editions of The British Road to Socialism were issued and criticised from within and without as essentially a left social democratic and reformist programme.
Rumours that the first edition of the document received the personal approval of Joseph Stalin have been largely substantiate which led some Stalinist to distinguish between the first edition and the revised 1958 edition – seeing evidence of the reformism and revisionism evident in the post-Stalin publication. However the first edition was explicit that
“The enemies of Communism accuse the Communist Party of aiming to introduce Soviet power in Britain and abolish Parliament. This is a slanderous misrepresentation … British Communists declare that the people of Britain can transform capitalist democracy into a real People’s Democracy, transforming Parliament, the product of Britain’s historic struggle for democracy, into the democratic instrument of the will of the vast majority of her people.”
First Edition The British Road to Socialism, https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/brs/1951/51.htm
Subsequent editions of BRS were issued in 1958 – https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/brs/1958/58.htm
The anti-revisionist inner-opposition, that had criticism of the strategy inherent in the British Road to Socialism, drew inspiration from the disputes in the International Communist Movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to organise and coalesce their forces.
The crisis around the Communist Party was an intricate affair, however the groups that supported the anti-revisionist position championed by the Albanian and Chinese parties in the early 1960s had little support within the CPGB. From the anti-revisionist viewpoint one might rankle at the state’s view of the CPGB as “the largest single subversive group in the UK” but in terms of membership even a terminal declining CP for most of its existence outnumbered the rest of the far left. It was the organisation, with its roots in the labour movement that others often revolved around or responded too. Its debates, as around the Alternative Economic Strategy, seeped into the general left agenda. The CP remained the dominant organisation on the Left even when others (particularly following the outbursts of the ’68 activism) were attracting the media headlines. An early break away from the party, the Action Centre for Marxist-Leninist Unity, argued against the revisionist leading clique of the CPGB, explained:
“It has been the extremely protracted and long – standing character of the degeneration of the C.PG.B., dating as it does from at least the year 1943 and the dissolution of the Comintern, that has been a most decisive factor in the development of our Movement .”
The early criticism of the British Road to Socialism from the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists included:
Opposition Inside the Party [Chapter 6 from What’s Left? What’s Right? by Muriel Seltman]
Destroy the Old to Build the New! by Michael McCreery
The Road to Nowhere FORUM for Marxist-Leninist Inner-Party Struggle, Supplement, October 1964.
Editorial Comment: Back To Square One? The Marxist, No. 3, March-April 1967
The Communist Party No Longer Exists in Britain Action Centre for Marxist-Leninist Unity
A New Surface on the British Road by W. B. Bland
The ’British Road’: An Opportunist Path to Counter-Revolution CFB(ML) Revolution issue 5. May 1977
The CPGB Now B&ICO
Revisionism: The Politics of the CPGB Past & Present RCLB Briefing
Warring camps had emerged within the party, those critics of the BRS that remained in the party were mainly associated with those less critical of the Soviet Union and traditional orthodox practices of the party. There is an intricate history of interminable manoeuvring and struggle to be written on the factional life within the decaying party as no single authoritative account has emerged from the literary out pouring and polemical material of the time.
Another edition of the British Road to Socialism was produced in 1968
The British Road to Socialism by Nina Stead [Nina Fishman]
The British Road to Socialism – A Reply to Criticisms by Nina Stead [Nina Fishman]
Since the 1960s a secret faction known as the “Smith Group” and later as the “Party Group” had operated within the CPGB based around the theories of the Italian communist leader Antonio Gramsci. This provided the political base for the emergence of an open Eurocommunist faction in the early 1970s. The John Gollan leadership sought to prop itself up by aligning itself with the Eurocommunist forces further to their right. Within that camp was an active faction that called itself the “Revolutionary Democratic Current”. (see: Evan Smith & Matthew Worley (2014) Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 . Manchester University Press)
By the late 1970s the tensions and contradictory positions within the party were reflected in the pre-Congress discussion period that saw furious arguments within the party – with the majority saying that the British Road to Socialism new programme was about building a broad alliance for revolutionary social change, though implicitly or explicitly agreeing that the proposals broke with the Leninist tradition.
The proposed revisions in the 1977 draft and the leadership’s intention to stamp on its disloyal critics saw the premature breakaway by oppositionists members of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1977, centred on the Sid French-led Surrey district, who disagreed with the direction that party was taking, perceiving that it had abandoned Marxism-Leninism in favour of social democracy. This was heavily linked to the New Communist Party’s support for the Soviet Union and the CPGB’s more nuanced critical stance on the policies and actions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
The factional universe that revolved around the CPGB
The internal crisis 1980s saw a deep rift appeared amongst what many had assumed to be an ideologically united minority in the C.P.G.B. On the one hand those who believed it correct to stay in the C.P.G.B., and continue the fight against Eurocommunism from within, regarded the NCP ‘breakaway’ as betrayal and desertion in the face of the class enemy. On the other hand, those who join the New Communist Party, (reportedly some 700) believing the struggle in the C.P.G.B. to be a lost cause, regarded those who refused to leave as misguided people who naively clung to the notion ( like the anti-revisionists Marxist-Leninists before them) that the revisionist stranglehold on the party apparatus could be broken.
Internally there were two oppositional groupings: Straight Left led by former CPGB student organiser Fergus Nicholson and the Communist Campaign Group (supporting the Morning Star newspaper since 1945 owned by a readers’ co-operative, the People’s Press Printing Society) against the leadership’s Eurocommunist faction aligned to the magazine, Marxism Today. These groupings were as equally opposed to each other; the CCG explicitly excluded from membership fellow oppositionists within the party:
On the fringes were groupscule publishing ‘The Leninist’, the NCP and an expelled group from the NCP – Proletarian (hardly to be confused with the publication published since 2004 by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist)).
The Leninist, noted for their polemical zeal, (and criticised as semi-trotskyists by CP members who questioned their political pedigree) made no reference to the British Road in its founding statement however observed that:
“The leaders of the NCP and the vast majority of the rank and file fought over many years in the Communist Party to defeat what they call the ‘revisionism’ of the party. In this fight, ideological struggle was reduced to the almost ritualistic incantation of the ‘holy trinity’. Proletarian Internationalism, Democratic Centralism, Dictatorship of the Proletariat they chanted, as if that was enough to exorcise the devil of ‘revisionism’.”
[Founding Statement of the Leninist: The Communist Party, the crisis and its crisis. The Leninist No.1 Winter 1981/2 p6]
The group had its roots as a section of the NCP’s youth wing that decided to re-enter the CPGB in the early 1980s under the auspices of The Leninist, which in turn became involved in further factional disputes before being expelled in the mid-1980s. It survived the liquidation of the CPGB and metamorphosed in name to publish the Weekly Worker, “a paper of Marxist polemic and Marxist unity” published under the reclaimed (vacant) name of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee).
Likewise, the Proletarian group emerged from a split in the New Communist Party (NCP). The Proletarian faction around Keith Nelson emerged in 1981, expelled from the NCP in 1982 and dissolved in 1988 following a domestic abuse incident that split the leadership. It briefly spawned ‘Partisan’ that, against the reality of contemporary experience, advocated the united front of communists in the early 1990s.
The Proletarian faction argued that the NCP’s newspaper, The New Worker, should be aimed at raising the level of politically advanced workers. Specifically they looked towards CPGB which they believed was corrupt but had to be saved as it was the largest party for the politically conscious members of the working class. (See: “Economism, Tailism and the New Communist Party” Proletarian No.1 1982)
The group went on to produce a journal, Proletarian: Two issues appeared, the first in 1983 and the second in 1984. Selected articles and correspondence was published in 1987. The specific political stance taken by the journal was clearly its pro-Sovietism as its basic credo, a policy pursued out of genuine loyalty to the Soviet Union and an opportunist hope that they would gain Soviet recognition.
[In the 1990s another expulsion from the NCP later formed the short-lived Communist Action Group.]
After the arguments, expulsions and splits the victorious the Euro-communists dissolved the Party and transformed themselves into the short-lived and never lamented Democratic Left. When the CPGB’s leadership abandoned The British Road to Socialism in 1985, elements in the party that remained loyal to the programme, including the then editorial board of The Morning Star, form the Communist Party of Britain in 1988.
Discussion around the new draft of the British Road to Socialism “is a vital step in the fight to restore the damage done to the Party by revisionism, to build the Party and to resume the struggle for socialism in line with the proud traditions of broad-based working class struggle that have always characterised our Party throughout its history” wrote Tony Charter, editor of the Morning Star (in Communist Review Number 3 Spring 1989).
However the former members of the CPGB (re)established the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), not on the revolutionary ideology of the CPGB at its height in the twenties and thirties but on the basis of the 1978 British Road to Socialism.
Prior to the first Congress, following the re-establishment Congress in April 1988, a commission of nine was established to prepare a redraft of the 1977 edition of the British Road. The draft programme attracted 367 amendments along with 69 policy resolutions provided the main business of, what was labelled to claim the legacy of continuity, the 40th Congress of the Communist Party of Britain. The final version of the programme was to be published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of a communist party in Britain. Still at the Congress , held on the 18th/19th November 1989 in Islington , north London, Mike Hicks, NCP General Secretary, described BRS as “a strategy for advance” and that the party’s “relationship to the Labour Party are crucial questions for this whole strategy”. 1989 Hicks Congress Speech
Noted in an earlier posting ‘Left Counting’: Far Left is a bit of a misnomer given their actual activity which so often revolved, like the CP, around involving Labour Party activism. Come the General Election most far left groups are encouraging its audience to support Labour critically which is largely what they were already doing.
In essence, a political position that is waiting for the historic election of a left-led Labour government while trying to explain that there should be no illusions that social democracy can ever bring about socialism.
Affiliation has been the longstanding position of the CPGB/CPB since the 1930s but without the slightest chance of it since around 1945. There is not the slightest chance of any organisation with “communist” in its title affiliating to the Labour Party. The CPB may have adopted the NCP line of ‘Vote Labour Everywhere!’ but if CPB members want to become part of the Labour Party, they simply leave the former and join the latter. The Labour Party did away with the old proscribed list in the early 1970s. Instead it relies on this catch-all clause in its Constitution:
“Political organisations not affiliated or associated under a national agreement with the Party, having their own programme, principles and policy, or distinctive and separate propaganda, or possessing branches in the constituencies, or engaged in the promotion of parliamentary or local government candidates, or having allegiance to any political organisation situated abroad, shall be ineligible for affiliation to the Party.”
The CPB took no chances and was sole copyright holder for 6th edition of “the British Road to Socialism.”
The 40th Congress report pictures Jeremy Corbyn MP welcoming the delegates to his constituency.
1985 Communist Campaign Group1985 CCG_crisis in the CP
1989 Communist Review Number 3 Spring 1989
1989 Hicks 1989 Hicks Congress Speech
2006 New Communist Party, 2006 NCP The Case for Communism,
2008 Lalkar 2008 Lalkar The British Road to Socialism
The CPB at its 41st Reconvened Congress in November 1992 decided to amend sections on the world situation in the light of the enormous changes which had occurred in the former countries of Eastern Europe. This is the revised and amended version of The Present World Situation based on the decisions of that Congress. https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/brs/1989/ch1rev.htm
Two subsequent editions of the programmatic document have been produced with further revisions and the 7th edition in 2001 was renamed Britain’s Road to Socialism.
The political message was consistent from those nominal opponents that remained in the NCP: NCP leader Andy Brookes at the 15th Congress of the New Communist Party of Britain, at the Marx Memorial Library in London on the weekend of 2nd / 3rd of December 2006:
“We believe that the working class can never come to power through bourgeois elections but that doesn’t mean that we turn our back on working class demands for social justice and state welfare. We believe that social democracy can never lead to people’s democracy but that doesn’t mean that we turn our back on social democratic movements that represent millions upon millions of working people in Britain in the unions and in the Labour Party.
“We believe that the class collaborationist ideas of social democracy must be defeated within the working class but not by imitating it in the countless variations of the British Road to Socialism upheld by the revisionist and Trotskyist movements in Britain today. The fact that these platforms do not work; that they are rejected time and time again by the same working class these programmes claim to advance never deters these pseudo-revolutionaries who believe they can change the consciousness of the masses through rhetoric and wild promises.
“Now we can all play that game and call upon imaginary legions beyond the British working class to advance along the revolutionary road. We can all invent a class that is seething with anger and mobilised for revolutionary change that is just waiting for the correct party with the correct formula to lead them to victory. Unfortunately as communists we have to work with the working class that exists and not the phantom of romantic leftism.
“Running left candidates without mass support against Labour divides the movement and the class and ignores the obvious fact that the only realistic alternate governments are those of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats that would be much worse than any Labour government.” http://www.newworker.org/congressdocs/index.html
An 8th edition was adopted by the CPB Executive Committee in July 2011. https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/brs/2011/toc.htm
In this programme, the CPB explained its view that:
- Capitalism is a system of exploitation that generates crisis, inequality, corruption, environmental degradation and war; and is innately incapable of solving the most fundamental problems of humanity.
- The capitalist monopoly corporations and the state apparatus which serves their interests are the main obstacles to progress on every front: economic, social, cultural and political.
- Socialism is the only form of society that offers the potential for solving humanity’s problems in conditions of individual and collective freedom.
- Because the working class has the most direct and immediate interest in putting an end to capitalism and replacing it with a socialist society, its own class interest also represents the interests of society as a whole.
- In Britain, the potential exists to pursue an alternative economic and political strategy that challenges and ultimately defeats the ruling class.
- More specifically, a popular democratic alliance can be built, led by the labour movement, to fight for a left-wing programme of policies that would make inroads into the wealth and power of the monopoly capitalists.
- Through an upsurge in working class and popular action, a left government can be elected in Britain based on parliamentary majorities of Labour, socialist, communist and progressive representatives, and strengthened by the election of left majorities in Scotland and Wales.
- In striving to implement the most advanced policies of a left-wing programme (LWP), the mass movement and its left governments will have to engage in a decisive struggle for state power and win.
- Ensuring a united challenge to British state-monopoly capitalism will require a high level of working class and progressive coordination and unity, maximising the democratic potential of national rights in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall and minimising the scope for division.
- Achieving state power and minimising the opportunities for counter-revolution will create the conditions in which capitalism can be fully dismantled and the foundations laid for a democratic and peaceful future in a federal, socialist Britain.
- A socialist society can then be built in which wealth and power are held in common and used in a planned way for the benefit of all, with the working class and its allies liberating the people generally from all forms of exploitation and oppression.
- Putting an end to British imperialism – the exercise of monopoly capitalist exploitation and power in other parts of the world – is the biggest contribution we can make to international human liberation and socialism.
- A Communist Party that exercises mass influence will be essential if Britain’s road to socialism is to be realised in practice, through political class struggle.
This programme is based on the study, analysis and assessment of concrete realities, tendencies and trends. It is intended to be a guide to action, not a speculative prediction or a dogmatic blueprint. It is a living, developing programme to be constantly tested in practice and reassessed in the light of experience.
Above all, it is subject to the Marxist insistence that the liberation of the working class and the emancipation of the people can only be achieved by the action of the working class and the people themselves. Freedom cannot be imposed from outside or above – it has to be fought for and won by the overwhelming majority of the population.
It proposes that socialism can be achieved in Britain by the working class leading the other classes in a popular democratic anti-monopoly alliance against monopoly capital, and implementing a left-wing programme of socialist construction. Part of this strategy involves winning the labour movement with a left-wing position, through struggle in the existing democratic bodies of the working class, such as trades unions, trades union councils and tenant’s associations.
A draft of an updated 8th edition of the Communist Party’s programme was issued on International Workers Day, May 1 2018, by the CPB’s Political Committee for wider discussion before an Executive Committee decision on yet another edition of the British Road to Socialism .
Present chairman of the CPB, former welsh republican, Robert Griffiths spoke that June at a conference in Shenzhen, China, on Marxism in the 21st Century and the Future for World Socialism on Mapping an updated road to socialism for today’s world
The present BRS is actually far weaker than the 1978 CPGB Edition.
It talks of a “left government”, but, unlike the 1978 BRS, cannot define what a “left government” would be, and then seems to assume this government will first try and implement the Left Wing programme (a modest list of mildly reformist palliatives), and will then have to progressively democratise the state until it is so democratic it becomes the state of the working people and we have arrived in socialism. This incremental path to socialism is one of the problems with the British Road to Socialism. In all its editions is the unrealism and mechanical progression in depicting the evolution of more and more left and then socialist governments, in the attempts to set out a credible scenario of societal transformation there is a binary position that seems to have faded from the scenarios of political transformation : This can only end one way or another; either in revolution where the working class takes control of the state and ownership of the means of production for their benefit as a class, or the ruling class carries out a counter revolution and snuffs out the workers struggle, if only temporarily. It’s only temporary because capitalism needs workers to produce surplus value and the class struggle is always a product of capitalism. No one can plan out how a revolution will take place, not least because it will be the working class who makes a revolution rather than any individual or any party. All the same it is Leninist ABC that the revolutionary party would have be so much a part of the class that it would be able to take a leading role in bringing about a revolution.
The programme recognised the aim and the need of having a socialist government in power. However you cannot somehow ‘snowball’ democratic, peaceful extra parliamentary activity and then in some way convert that into a movement for revolutionary change. Class struggle is a part of the contradiction of capitalism and if you elect a left reformist government you will inevitably get a left reformist policy, which is then dramatically reversed as the left government is forced to face up to the ebb and flow of capitalist realities. All the workers struggles are reformist – an attempt to improve or reform capitalism to their benefit and as such, they can’t change the system. The British Road to Socialism had long abandoned the notion that only by destroying the bourgeois state can you liberate the working class and only by creating a dictatorship of the proletariat can you build a socialist society.