The Communist Party of Britain, Brexit, and Bourgeois Democracy: A Contemporary Exemplar in Modern Revisionism

Posters from the CPB’s youth wing, the YCL, calling for the boycott of the European elections in May. Credit: Party9999999

Anyone who has encountered any or read any of their theory will know that Marxists regularly talk of ‘revisionism,’ and often this term is used rather freely and in such a way that someone new to Marxism might be left rather confused as to just what it is, and to why, precisely, it must be fought. This is an important matter to clarify, for the contesting of the degeneration of communist ideology is at the very forefront of the tasks of our movement. Every ideological struggle is a material struggle. However, the purpose of this article is not explanation, but exposé —example. The particular exemplar to be addressed is the latest (22/09/19; date of writing) statement of the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Britain titled Statement on Brexit and the next general election, which the reader should take the time to read themselves before this article (it is less than 500 words long). The statement, from beginning to end, is a revisionist declaration; it abandons genuine class analysis and class politics for bourgeois ideals, bourgeois demands, and bourgeois results. It is not what Marxism is meant to be.

The first of the statement’s six points reads as follows:

The Communist Party reaffirms its commitment to working for the election of a left-led Labour government on a left and progressive manifesto at an early General Election. Once again, we will call upon all socialists, progressives, trade unionists, Greens and Scottish and Welsh nationalists to vote for such a government led by a socialist who has a long and proven record of defending the interests of working people and their families and of opposing militarism and imperialist wars.

The very first sentence of this entire statement makes apparent the thoroughly un-Marxist attitude with which the CPB approaches the issues discussed: “The Communist Party reaffirms its commitment to […] the election of a […] [bourgeois] government.” The sheer ludicrousness of such a “commitment” on the part of a communist party is surely apparent. Now this is not to say that the CPB are wrong for favouring a Labour government over a Conservative one (the only other realistic alternative) — far from it. But there is a chasm of difference between seeking to avoid the most devastating, brutal and anti-worker austerity, racism, violence and policeism of the British state as expressed by the Conservatives and actively “working for the election of a left-led Labour government.” This is not the kind of support Lenin meant when he said that communists must support the Labour Party “in the same way as the rope supports a hanged man.” How quickly does a nominally Marxist-Leninist party discard and forget what Lenin actually believed.

Second, the CPB appeals to the “Scottish and Welsh nationalists” — since when are communists — communists in the very heart of the imperialist world no less — supposed to court the support of nationalists, and white-comma-nationalists at that? To talk of nationalists in the same breath as “socialists, progressives, trade unionists,” is an insulting watering down of what should be considered to constitute the anti-bourgeois opposition. This is not a country with empire’s blade pressed to its throat, where the communists can feasibly make common cause with the nationalists and non-comprador bourgeoisie against the greater foe. We can have nothing but animosity for the nationalists of an imperialist population.

The second point of the statement merely sets our the CPB’s abstentionist attitude to the inevitable forthcoming general election, and does not hold anything of notable ideological character, though the qualification given that the CPB only does so in order to support the Labour Party fully falls within the criticism given above. The third offers an extremely brief outline as to the reasons for the Party’s opposition to the European Union, which we can only here affirm as being correct.

The fourth point, then:

Therefore, the CP reiterates its demand for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU in accordance with the result of the June 2016 referendum, on terms which enable future governments to engage in commerce and make trade agreements which mutually benefit the workers and peoples of Britain and other countries.

It is here that we find a revisionist attitude of a wholly different magnitude to that seen in point 1: “the CP reiterates its demand for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU in accordance with the result of the June 2016 referendum” (emphasis added). Why? Why not “in accordance” with point 3, which is entirely correct and surely what is relevant? The implication is that it is right to push for leaving the EU because there was a referendum result to that end, and not because of what was outlined in point 3. The referendum result should be completely irrelevant to the issue (from our, that is, from the communist, perspective); a communist party’s position vis-à-vis Britain’s exit from the EU should be identical whatever the result of the 2016 referendum was, there is absolutely no reason why it should change. Lowering what is meant to be the workers’ party to such levels is merely taking it into bourgeois politics — is ‘merely’ (!!) making it a representative party, a taillist party, a bourgeois party. It is anathema to the maintenance of the integrity of the political programme that is needed for any revolutionary movement to succeed. It is difficult to overstate the severity of mistake in ideology being committed here.

Point 5 continues along the same lines:

Britain’s Communists condemn as anti-democratic all efforts to delay or block any kind of Brexit, including by holding a second referendum. Democratic principles require that the result of the June 2016 referendum be honoured, which can only mean implementing it. Popular sovereignty demands that the people’s vote of June 2016 overrides all machinations in or by the Westminster parliament and the courts to delay or prevent Britain’s exit from the EU. Refusing to implement that Brexit referendum result — not the temporary absence of MPs from Westminster — will represent the biggest threat to democratic rights and principles in Britain for many decades.

The issues here are numerous, and dire.

“Britain’s Communists condemn as anti-democratic all efforts to delay or block any kind of Brexit.” Communists are not beholden to the abstract ideal of democracy; quite the opposite, we are opposed to it. This betrays a fundamental ignorance of the most key qualities of communism. The same sentiment and flaw is repeated in the suggestion that “[d]emocratic principles require that the result of the June 2016 referendum be honoured.” What are these “democratic principles”? Why are we communists beholden to them? In who’s interest do they work? All such vital questions are totally absent here, but as this is a statement and not an exposition of party programme, that is understandable and not in and of itself a cause for concern. The problem lies in just what the Executive Committee clearly considers those answers to be: “democratic principles” are defined by (bourgeois) elections and (the liberal ideas of ) the right to vote, the legitimacy of the state being derived from the mandate bestowed to it by the electorate; communists are beholden to them because we are beholden to the very same electorate, to ‘the people’; and that they work in the interests this ‘people’ as a whole. All of these beliefs are wrong and totally alien to Marxism.

Then there is the talk of “[p]opular sovereignty.” As above, this is an entirely wrong-footed representation of reality; it is a bourgeois and reactionary principle of an even more explicit nature than the preceding protestations before democracy. It is quite simply a reactionary idea to advance.

“Refusing to implement that Brexit referendum result — not the temporary absence of MPs from Westminster — will represent the biggest threat to democratic rights and principles in Britain for many decades.” Not only is this simply not true, it’s pathetically irrelevant. Again, why should we care? Since when are Marxists meant to defend liberal democracy? Our goal is to destroy it, not prolong or strengthen it. One could be forgiven for forgetting that we call for dictatorship!

At a time when a communist party should be agitating and propagandising against the entire bourgeois state, highlighting that it exists in a moment of crisis, and painstakingly pointing out that both sides of the European question represent tactical planning by the imperialist bourgeoisie in preparation for the coming third great redivision of the world through blood and arms, to be in favour of one of these imperialist camps and agitating for that cause (for the bourgeoisie’s cause!) by appealing to bourgeois democracy, is a disgrace, and not simply revisionist regarding Marxism, but anticommunist and antiproletarian. These critical issues of our time are beyond the scope of this piece, but hopefully one can see easily enough how the abandoning of genuine Marxism can so quickly leads to outright reactionary positions.

Marxism is more than capable of explaining the current crisis in global and British politics and economy. It is also capable of providing the way out. Revisionism not only undermines its ability to do both, but in the long term fundamentally undermines and weakens the movement. Ideological integrity and the refusal to water down, even for a moment, the communist programme is of utmost importance. This is forgotten only with severe danger.

Britain, and the entire imperialist world with it, stands on a knife-edge. The moment of historic importance where the future direction of this and all countries is decided is fast approaching. We are in desperate need of a potent revolutionary organisation committed to the Marxist programme in order to rise up and meet the demands of the moment. At present, we lack it. This must be the focus of all British communists.

Philosophy. Writing on Marxism, eliminativism in philosophy of mind and metaethics, suffering(-focused ethics), and philosophical pessimism.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store