The current edition (20 February 2014) of the Weekly Worker (the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain) includes a letter of mine. I disagree with quite a lot of their politics instead of a broad socialist party like Left Unity, they advocate a Marxist party, and set up the Communist Platform of Left Unity to argue for such a party and “communist” views in LU), but their letters page is open to a wide range of left-wing arguments. This issue is broader than just the CPGB, since the SWP and Socialist Party are in favour of some sort of “workers’ state” rather than a society where everybody is in control.
Although I have had a few letters published on the subject of proportional representation (which had some success in them supporting PR, albeit with a party list system which gives a lot of power to party machines, whereas I generally favour single transferable vote but am not particularly prescriptive nowadays), they have always previously cut out sections of my letters in which I argued for PR under socialism – rather than just something to advocate under capitalism to be replaced by some sort of “workers’ state” after a revolution.
My (fairly) minor gripe is that the section of the Communist Platform on “republican democracy”, that I praised wholeheartedly, was cut from the letter. [It is at http://communistplatform.org.uk/?p=30 and I had previously added a comment there on much the same lines, which had been approved by a moderator.] That section reads as follows:
Left Unity does not counterpose democracy to socialism. Democracy is much more than voting every four or five years. Democracy is the rule of the people, for the people, by the people. To make that aspiration real necessarily means removing all judicial, structural and socio-economic restraints on, or distortions of, popular control from below.
Left Unity stands for republican democracy. That means demanding:
- Abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, and a single-chamber parliament with proportional representation, annual elections and MPs’ salaries set at the level of a skilled worker.
- No to the presidential prime minister. End prime ministerial appointment of ministers and all other forms of prime ministerial patronage.
- Disband MI5, MI6, special branch and the entire secret state apparatus.
- For local democracy. Service provision, planning, tax raising, law enforcement and funding allocation to be radically devolved downwards as far as possible and appropriate: to ward, borough, city and county levels.
The following is my letter, as published on this week’s letters page:
I really like many of the positions of the Communist Platform. In particular the agreed motion on democracy is great. I like that part of your programme largely because it doesn’t define socialism in terms of just workers being in control of society (using the term, ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, which has been widely dropped due to it sounding extremely off-putting!
I also agree with “the working class taking the lead in the fight to ensure popular control over all aspects of society” – despite the efforts of middle class people like Russell Brand, the ability of workers to withdraw their labour by going on strike (including carrying out general strikes) will probably prove key to achieving socialism. Perhaps Syriza could win majority support in a Greek election, but under our very undemocratic, misnamed ‘first past the post’ electoral system, Left Unity doing so here is virtually impossible.
I have a question, though – regarding the CPGB’s ‘minimum’ and ‘maximum’ programmes, which the Communist Platform’s programme doesn’t differentiate between. Is your call for “republican democracy” part of your minimum or maximum programme, or both? It seems to me to be of great propaganda value in our present society, in explaining how undemocratic capitalism is, but that the chances of it being implemented under capitalism is essentially nil.
I am reminded of the Bolsheviks calling for a constituent assembly after the capitalist provisional government came to power in the February revolution in 1917 and failed to grant any form of democracy; then Lenin returning from exile and calling for “All power to the soviets” (with much higher representation for workers than peasants) and the subsequent abolition of the assembly that was set up after the October revolution when the Bolsheviks and their allies in the Left Socialist Revolutionaries lost in elections to it.
This must not be repeated – if Left Unity (perhaps aligned with other socialists) comes to power through a general strike or insurrection, it would be vital to hold a democratic election (which these days means by a form of PR) soon afterwards (as well as carrying out the other improvements in democracy your platform suggests). If we don’t win such an election, the revolution is doomed anyway and it’d be better to be in opposition for a while than risk another 100 years of people called ‘socialists’ and particularly ‘communists’ being regarded as undemocratic by huge sections of the populations of Britain and across the world.
Mark Fischer’s report of the LU transitional national council (‘Assume we have a tin opener’, February 13), which unfortunately took place simultaneously with the Communist Platform meeting, omitted one significant detail – it was agreed (by a large margin) to conduct internal elections by a form of PR (single transferable vote). This may make it easier for your platform to get members elected, and it also makes a very democratic future socialist society which includes PR more likely!