Session 1 – Capitalism and Exploitation
The bankruptcy of capitalism
Britain’s Road to Socialism (BRS) begins by arguing that capitalism is economically, socially and politically bankrupt. As a system, it no longer makes a progressive contribution to human development. Capitalism’s sole purpose – to make maximum profit for the private owners of industry and commerce – is exposed, together with its deep general crisis and the suffering it causes.
Billions of the world’s people live in poverty, without access to education, medical services and sanitation. Populations starve, while food mountains are destroyed. Environmental destruction goes unchecked. Big business fails to cut carbon emissions, depletes finite resources and refuses to invest in safe, renewable energy.
Corruption discredits politics. Culture is usurped to try to ensure that selfishness and individualism permeate society. Social inequality is deep-rooted and endemic.
First, BRS outlines the development of capitalism, concentrating on its imperialist stage from the late 19th century. This provides important background for the whole of the programme that follows.
As monopolies grew, each sector of the economy came to be dominated by a handful of giant enterprises. Industrial and banking capital merged to form finance capital. Monopoly capitalists invested abroad, moving some operations overseas and forming vast trans-national corporations (TNCs).
Inter-imperialist rivalry over resources and markets intensified. State functions were enhanced during the First World War between the imperialist powers. The ruling class in each of the main capitalist countries used the power of the state to protect their monopolies. Economic and political power fused, giving birth to state-monopoly
But, from the 1917 October Revolution, imperialist domination was challenged by socialism. Fascism – the terroristic weapon of the most reactionary capitalists – was unleashed in Italy, Germany and elsewhere to crush the demands of working people expressed through their trade unions and communist and workers’ parties.
After the Second World War, imperialism entered its second phase. States regulated the unprecedented demand for commodities, promoted monopoly profits and coordinated international trade and currency relations. At home, working people were kept ‘on side’ through enhanced living standards. Around the world, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and TNCs controlled newly-free colonies.
Inter-imperialist rivalry was moderated by the need to collaborate in hot and ‘cold’ wars against the Soviet Union, the new socialist states of eastern Europe and communist regimes in North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam.
Nonetheless, despite every attempt to ‘manage’ capitalism through regulation after the 1930s Depression, economic crises returned. The long, post-war boom ended in the late 1960s. From the late 1970s, neoliberalism gained ascendancy with its ruthless agenda of lower wages, labour ‘flexibility’, the suppression of trade unionism, privatisation, banking deregulation and the free movement of capital. The dismantling of socialism in the Soviet
Union and eastern Europe allowed monopoly capitalists to seize opportunities in those countries and act with impunity to extend control over resources, labour and markets across the developing world. This heralded the beginning of imperialism’s third and present phase.
Led by the US and backed by Britain, imperialism has pursued its agenda with all ‘necessary’ force, blitzing whoever stands in the way: Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Yugoslavia. China has been ringed with military bases. The September 2001 attacks on the US provided the pretext for a ‘war on terror’, allowing seizure of the oil, gas and strategic supply routes of the Greater Middle East. The end of the Cold War has brought intensified conflict, not peace.
Next, BRS explains the inherent contradictions and crises of capitalism. Production is privately owned by capitalists and run for the maximum possible profit. However, the interests of working people to maximise wages and improve living standards are diametrically opposed to this. Thus capitalist society is always divided between the capitalist class and the working class.
Capitalism’s drive to produce more and more commodities is the source of its cyclical crises. Workers must buy most of the goods and services but, as real wages decrease to maximise profit, they can afford less and less.
The point is reached when working people can no longer buy commodities at prices that sustain profit. Production is cut. Workers are laid-off. Demand is further depressed. The economy enters recession. Now, big companies take over failing ones, increasing productive capacity through super-exploitation and grabbing market share.
The cycle begins again, only to repeat itself in the succession of booms and crashes.
Lastly, BRS ends its first chapter with an analysis of capitalism’s general crisis. This was created by the sharpening contradictions and class conflict of the 20th century, generating the historic challenge of the forces of socialism.
Counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe and the liberalisation of financial markets temporarily reinvigorated capitalism. But the huge bubble burst in 2007, once again starkly revealing the underlying general crisis. Capitalist governments and central banks had to rescue their financial monopolies with the biggest bailouts in history. Millions of people were thrown out of work in the leading capitalist countries, while the drive to exploit the
developing world was intensified.
But the experience of deepening crisis has made working people aware of the inhuman nature of capitalism. They are realising that the economy can and must be run for the benefit of all, not for the few. They recognise the liberating potential of culture and that new technology can enhance life rather than reinforce the apparatus of war and oppression.
How capitalism can be overthrown and a progressive, just and peaceful society built is precisely what Britain’s Road to Socialism goes on to propose.
Questions for discussion
- How is surplus value created by workers and appropriated by capitalists?
- What are the key features of imperialism and how does it differ from earlier stages of capitalism?
- In what way is the environmental crisis linked to the capitalist mode of production?
- What is the distinction between the general crisis of capitalism and periodic crises of overproduction?
After May, Communist Party members wanting to set up an online discussion with other comrades, can Invite them to a meeting using our meeting facility.
- Marx: Wages, Price & Profit (CP)
- Lenin: Imperialism
- Griffiths: Global Imperialism or Peace and Popular Sovereignty (CP)
Session 2 – State-monopoly capitalism in Britain today
State-monopoly capitalism today
The second chapter of Britain’s Road to Socialism (BRS) is about power and how it is exercised in our society. It seeks to define present-day relations between economic power and political power, the consequences for the lives of working people and the options that exist for shifting the balance of power in their favour. The chapter begins by posing the riddle of our democracy. Workers secured the vote almost a century ago. Yet the interests of the very rich remain overwhelmingly dominant – so much so that the distribution of wealth has become even unequal over the past 50 years.
How can this be? How can working people gain the power to elect governments, yet find that political power is still exercised against them? The answer is that there is more to power that simply governmental power. There is also state power.
This represents the whole complex of institutions that ensure that the necessary conditions are continually reproduced in which capitalist exploitation can take place. They originate in the 17th century, when capitalist power was first consolidated in Britain,
This state power comprises all the institutions that make the unequal relationship between capital and labour inescapable and also, in terms of the way people see the world, make them seem necessary and normal.
These institutions are the legal system, the apparatus of government represented by the senior civil service and intelligence chiefs, the media, the education system and, in the last resort, the forces of armed coercion that defend the rights of capitalist property and prevent labour from exercising its full collective strength.
This capitalist state is far older than our democracy. It ensures that even a government wanting to move in a socialist direction is faced by a functioning system policed by market forces and an array of institutions that will seek to define and limit that government’s options.
A bleak prospect, then? Yes, possibly. The past century certainly indicates as much. But the Communist Party’s programme also argues that change is possible and that the first step is to recognise the role of the capitalist state and analyse how it works concretely in present conditions.
The big problem with Labour governments has been that they have not done this. Instead, they have simply assumed that elected governments can improve the lot of working people by using parliamentary means to reform capitalism’s abuses.
The communist approach put forward in BRS is quite different. Most fundamentally, it argues that socialist change can only be permanently secured by dismantling the capitalist state apparatus and replacing it through the collective power of the working class.
In the meantime, however, it insists that more limited advances can be secured in face of capitalist state power – but on two conditions.
The first is that an elected left-wing government must actively draw on the extra-parliamentary force of a mobilised working class to carry forward its democratic mandate. Only this can begin to counter-balance the concentrated power of capitalist state institutions.
The programme notes that one of the key objectives of the capitalist state in the 1920s was to get the Parliamentary Labour Party to agree that any sort of external trade union pressure on parliament was ‘unconstitutional’ (while that by banks and big business was totally normal and acceptable).
Previously it had always been assumed by those who fought for democracy in Britain that such electoral power had to be exercised collectively as a class – hence the very term ‘Labour’ Party. Workers operating as isolated voters would be powerless in the face of capital. Hence the need for extra-parliamentary action to support a left agenda.
The other condition is that the combined power of the working class – economic and political – should be exercised strategically to exploit the contradictions within the capitalist state.
The most fundamental of these contradictions goes back a long way. It is that the modern capitalist state no longer represents the capitalist class as a whole but only the dominant monopoly section.
Early in the 20th century, a few big producers began to dominate particular markets and were thereby able to extract super-profits at the expense of other capitalists as well as workers. This had two effects. One was to depress non-monopoly profits and hence lead to deeper and more protracted economic crises. The second was an accelerating accumulation of capital in the hands of monopoly that could not be invested internally without further intensifying crises.
The solution was for the state itself to intervene in the capitalist market – but on the terms set by the dominant groups of capital. This intervention was both to promote external expansion (‘imperialism’ as Lenin described it), and increasingly to seek to manage capitalist crisis by politically redistributing income to big business to stimulate investment. The result is what has been described as ‘state-monopoly capitalism’. The capitalist state increasingly operates only on behalf of a numerically small segment of the capitalist class and against the interests of the rest. The BRS details the accentuation of this process over the past decade. Super-profit is now increasingly extracted directly through the financial sector. Investment banks use the savings of working people invested in retail banks to control and manipulate the productive economy and to divert resources, in particular, towards international speculation.
The City of London is now the world centre for these activities – with the majority of the capital US-owned.
The economically destructive consequences affect not just working people but also the great mass of small and medium firms in services and industry.
Those who benefit, the super rich with the £4 million plus required to invest through investment banks, constitute far less than 1 per cent of Britain’s population. Their interests enforce a system that is parasitic, dangerously dependent on an external imperialist power and which directly undermines our productive economy.
This is how the capitalist state operates in Britain today.
Hence the key importance of uniting around the labour movement a much wider alliance that can expose the antidemocratic character of state-monopoly capitalism, politically isolate the ruling class and advance an alternative programme for economic regeneration and democratic transformation as envisaged by the Labour Party’s early pioneers.
How to accomplish this is considered in subsequent chapters of the Communist Party’s programme.
Questions for discussion
- What are the key features of state-monopoly capitalism?
- What is meant by the process of ‘financialisation’ of the British economy?
- What are the immediate opportunities and dangers created by Brexit?
- What threats did a Left-led Labour government pose to ruling class strategy in Britain and internationally?
After May, Communist Party members wanting to set up an online discussion with other comrades, can Invite them to a meeting using our meeting facility.
- Lenin: The State and Revolution (marxists.org)
- Binus, Landefeld & Wehr: State Monopoly Capitalism (Manifesto)
- Foster: The Politics of Britain’s Economic Crisis (CP)
Session 3 – The case for Socialism
As we know from our current experience in Britain and the world, capitalism cannot solve crises, despite the fact that it commands the productive forces to do so.
The profit motive on which capitalism is based ensures that crises are endemic in this parasitic system. Far from solving crises, accumulation, speculation and greed ensure that the merry-go-round of temporary stability is quickly followed by recession.
Social democratic attempts to reform the system have had some positive effects. They have demonstrated the benefits of public ownership, planning and the redistribution of wealth. However, while capitalist economic and state power remains dominant, the social democratic experiment has always proved to be doomed. This is certainly the case in Britain, Germany, some Scandinavian countries, Australia and New Zealand.
On the other hand if democratic rather than capitalist public ownership had been implemented, with greater workers’ control, less compensation for the former owners and a greater attention to public need rather than private greed, the outcome might have been different and longer lasting.
Socialist public ownership would end monopoly capitalist control of the economy and in doing so would put an end to the exploitation of the working class, because surplus labour would no longer be performed for capitalist profit. Instead, it would be used for the benefit of society as a whole.
Furthermore, the material basis for the oppression of women and black people which sustains class relations would also be removed. Racism and sexism have operated at an ideological and an economic level to sustain capitalist relations of production. Since its inception, capitalism has extracted super profits from women and black people: socialism provides the material basis for ending this oppression and super-exploitation. However, it doesn’t eradicate it immediately.
The huge inequalities of wealth in capitalist society continue to have a major impact on the political system and on people’s democratic capacity to control their own future (‘popular sovereignty’).
The economic, ideological and repressive apparatus of the state is constantly used to protect the interests of the ruling class. The fact that there is no effective representation of the majority class and that the likes of Murdoch control such vast sections of the mass media exposes the shallowness of capitalism’s claim to democracy. Genuine popular sovereignty will only come about when the working class control state power.
But what happened in those countries which once offered an alternative to capitalism, notably the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of eastern Europe?
The pundits in the bourgeois media have written off the socialist era lock, stock and barrel. They conveniently forget some of the enormous gains made in what was – in the case of Russia – a semi-feudal autocracy. The Soviet Union was transformed into a society which provided housing, education and work for all. Above all, the role of the Red Army in defeating Nazism is shamefully underplayed.
Although the war-shattered Soviet Union and eastern Europe were then left to reconstruct their societies without any Western help, the socialist countries went on to assist national liberation movements against imperialism around the world.
However, all was not well despite the many achievements. Already, in the 1930s, there were severe violations of Soviet democracy with mass arrests of innocent people. By the 1970s, economic growth was falling behind the advanced capitalist countries. The command-style economy and the failure to mobilise the Communist Party and the advanced capitalist countries. The command-style economy and the failure to mobilise the Communist Party and the people led ultimately to stagnation and, in 1989, the collapse of the socialist system.
But the capitalism that replaced socialism in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe has not solved the economic and social problems of those societies. Far from it – millions of workers have lost their jobs and all the social gains of the past 50 years and more have been eradicated.
Yet this has not been the tragic experience of other socialist states. For example, China, Cuba and Vietnam have taken their own roads to socialism in very different circumstances.
The Cuban model seeks to involve the people from the bottom up. Cuba has built advanced first-world health and education services despite its Third World beginnings, while also having to defend its national sovereignty against US imperialist incursions.
Vietnam had to embark on its socialist path of development after French occupation and a long and brutal war waged by the US against national freedom and unification.
In China, a country of 1.3 billion people (almost one-fifth of the world’s population), great emphasis has been placed on economic and social development. A combination of Communist Party rule, state ownership and planning, market reform and foreign private capital has lifted 600 million out of extreme poverty since 1981.
In Britain, our road to socialism will be different. Nobody can predict the future, but the power of the British working class throughout its 200-year history to re-group, reconstruct itself and fight back is legendary. It will be strengthened by learning from its own mistakes and those of others.
Among other things, it must ensure that working class unity incorporates the fullest recognition of race and gender – vital dimensions that have been neglected in the past.
Questions for Discussion
- Using concrete examples, what is the impact of social democracy’s failure to involve and mobilise the working class and its allied beyond elections?
- What lessons can be drawn from the experience of socialist countries in the 20th and 21st centuries?
- What is the relationship between capitalist public ownership, progressive public ownership and socialist public ownership?
- What is the relationship between ideology, oppression and super-exploitation?
- Marx & Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party (CP)
- Luxembourg: Reform of Revolution (marxists.org)
- Davis: Women & Class (CP)
Session 4 – The labour and progressive movements
The role of the labour and progressive movements
Which forces in society can be mobilised to resist the policies of state-monopoly capitalism and won for progressive change and socialism?
Britain’s Road to Socialism (BRS) aims to maximise the forces for progress and revolution, and minimise those in opposition at any given stage.
Different groups of people have their own reasons for challenging aspects of today’s economic and social system. But their common enemy is state-monopoly capitalism, which exploits workers here and abroad, oppresses large sections of society, strives to roll back democratic rights, blocks progress on every front, generates militarism and war, and now threatens the viability of our planet.
The working class has the most direct interest in overthrowing the system that rules and exploits workers, condemns them to poverty at various stages in life and confines most people to a lifetime of inequality and insecurity.
The BRS identifies at the core of the working class those industrial workers who produce commodities directly for capitalist profit. But it also breaks new ground with its insistence that public sector workers are exploited as well, although the benefit of their unpaid surplus labour accrues to the capitalist class as a whole through the state. Public services are essential for the functioning of capitalist society, not least those that sustain and enhance the provision of labour power.
In fact, without the labour power supplied by these workers, capitalism would almost immediately cease to function. Self-employed and sub-contracted labour also helps provide surplus value for the capitalist class.
Yet the conditions of capitalist production, trade and administration create the potential for the working class to liberate itself. Workers who share the same premises, employer or industry have a common interest in organising to improve their terms and conditions of employment. Through trade unions, in particular, they can develop and express their collective strength as a democratic, disciplined force in society.
The BRS fully recognises the importance of trade unionism embracing many more public sector, women, black, part-time and casual workers, and establishing itself more widely in small and hi-tech enterprises. It is in the interest of all workers to prevent super-exploitation of one section of the working class, which is used to undermine terms and conditions for all.
Unions can also seek to represent the wider and more fundamental interests of workers in society. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) and various socialist organisations established the Labour Party at the beginning of the 20th century, not only to represent working class interests in parliament but to strive for a socialist society.
More politically advanced workers founded the Communist Party in 1920 to fight not only for reform, but for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
These organisations, together with the cooperative movement and other bodies built by the working class, comprise the labour movement. Only this movement has the organisational capacity to overcome the forces of state-monopoly capitalism.
Since its formation, the Labour Party has been the mass party of the organised working class. It continues to enjoy the electoral support of large sections of workers.
But its politics and ideology have predominantly been those of social democracy, seeking to manage and reform capitalism in the immediate temporary interests of the labour movement, rather than abolish it in the fundamental interests of the working class and humanity as a whole. Labour’s reformist outlook neglects socialist education and sees political campaigning almost entirely in terms of elections.
The ‘New Labour’ faction emerged in the 1990s from within social democratic trend, breaking from it to champion neoliberal policies and imperialist ‘globalisation’. It openly represented monopoly capital in the emerging new phase of imperialism.
Yet the Labour Party’s federal structure, especially its trade union affiliations, has ensured the continuation of a significant socialist trend within the party. This trend was strengthened during the Corbyn leadership of the party and many new, young and returning members were drawn to Labour, and to this trend within it, by a radical socialdemocratic policy programme.
However, the weaknesses noted above, in particular the lack of attention to socialist education and to building an extra-parliamentary movement, combined with internal attacks by the liberal pro-EU wing of the party, led ultimately to electoral defeat and a shift to the right in the balance of forces within the Labour Party. The working class and peoples of Britain need a mass political party, based on the labour movement, that can win general elections, form a government and implement substantial reforms in their interests.
But this requires the unions themselves to fight both inside and outside the Labour Party for policies that will challenge state-monopoly capitalism.
Other forces, whether in left-wing parties or in the Green and Welsh and Scottish national movements also have an important role to play in shifting the political balance of forces to the left.
So, too, do movements fighting oppressions based on gender, race, age and sexual orientation. The selforganisation of women, Black people, youth, students and the unemployed must be supported and their needs and aspirations championed by the labour movement.
The peace, anti-war and international solidarity movements uphold a proud record of internationalism and antiimperialism in one of the world’s oldest imperialist countries.
Rooted in the working class, but active in all the major movements that bring people into activity against oppression and injustice, is Britain’s Communist Party. Its Marxist-Leninist outlook, creativity, discipline and role as part of the international communist movement enable it exercise influence way beyond its small membership.
History and experience show that a powerful, influential Communist Party is essential if a mass movement for revolutionary change is to succeed.
Questions for Discussion
- How does the nature of capitalist exploitation give the working class both the means and necessity of ending capitalism?
- What are the lessons of the Left leadership of the Labour Party 2015-2020 and its defeat in the 2020 leadership election?
- What is the relationship between the working class and the progressive movements and alliances which have been built to resist specific aspects of monopoly capitalism?
- What is the role of the Party’s programme Britain’s Road to Socialism and how should it be used within the movement?
- Lenin: Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder (CP)
- Little: New Draft of BRS (Communist Review)
- Communist Party: All Power to the Working Class – The Role of the Communist Party (CP)