Reply to "Draft Revolutionary Democratic Communism"

The following is a reply to a platform drafted by the sponsors of the 'Revolutionary Democratic Communist Tendency', which was founded as effectively a political bloc between the left-centrist ex-Stalinist current currently known as the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and the Revolutionary Democratic Group, a 1980s split from Tony Cliff's Socialist Workers Party (SWP). For readers' information, the original RDCT draft is included as an Appendix.

The four points of this platform have the quality of "apple pie and motherhood" insofar as they are correct. Points two, three and four are simply general statements that could be agreed to in the abstract by organisations as diverse as the SWP and the Spartacist League, for instance. Despite that, however, these organisations in recent memory found themselves supporting forces on opposite sides of the barricades in actual shooting wars (Afghanistan!). Indeed, the SWP found itself on the wrong side of the barricades. As a programme for a communist tendency, a platform like this is meaningless, since it is a general statement of principles that has no necessary impact on the positions Marxists must take on actual events in the real, material world of today. To put it slightly differently, it is possible to deduce from these aspects of the "maximum" element of the communist programme, many different routes as to how allegedly to get to them.

The main problem with the left (or at least the ostensibly Leninist left) is not generally differences over the maximum programme, which points three and four exclusively and point two largely are composed of. It is rather about the strategy and tactics necessary to get from the here and now, with the working class at its present level of consciousness, to the point where it has the class-consciousness and organisation to carry out the "maximum" programme. The comrades should for instance, read the document "Where are we going?" produced by Trotskyists within the SLP in early 1997 for a contemporary application of the transitional method, derived from the best contributions of the revolutionary Third and Fourth Internationals to the matter of programme. In the words of Leon Trotsky:

"The Fourth International does not discard the programme of the old ‘minimal’ demands to the degree to which these have preserved at least part of their vital forcefulness. Indefatigably, it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But it carries on this day-to-day work within the framework of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary perspective. Insofar as the old partial, ‘minimal’ demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism -- and this occurs at each step -- the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very foundations of the bourgeois regime. The old ‘minimal programme’ is superseded by the transitional programme, the task of which lies in systematic mobilisation of the masses for the proletarian revolution." (The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, 1938)

In my view there are also a number of concessions to vulgar conceptions of ‘democracy’ in the draft platform, particularly in point one but also in point two. What does a "revolutionary democratic attitude" mean in practice? What indeed, given that those whose views closely parallel those of at least one of the components of the joint tendency regard the views of subjective Trotskyists on questions of "Republicanism" "in Britain and Ireland" as "ultra-left and therefore reactionary" (see exchange with SLP Republicans in Marxist Bulletin no 5, December 1997)? Given that these views concern the need for the workers’ movement to adopt as its crowning demand that of a workers government, which is quite clearly based on the armed power of workers councils?

In other words, not the aim of a reformed bourgeois parliamentary regime, which is clearly to most people the meaning of the slogan of a ‘Federal Republic’ without specifying the class nature of that republic. Of course Marxists defend the rights of the working class that have grown up under bourgeois democracy, against reactionary attack. The working class in general, and revolutionaries in particular, must become the most consistent fighters for the democratic rights of specially oppressed minorities under capitalism. But that is as far as it goes. The statement that "the working class can become the leading force in society by championing the struggle for democracy" is an ambiguous statement that could mean many things to many people. I note for instance that the CPGB has been holding a series of seminars on the works of Hal Draper. Now there is nothing wrong in itself with studying the works of Draper, many of which contain much insight particularly on historical questions (his savage indictment of Mikhail Bakunin in his Critique of Other Socialisms, for instance, is quite remarkable).

But politics abhors a vacuum, and there is a dangerous vacuum around the politics of the CPGB at this time, which seems to be slowly being filled with politics at least in part derived from the tradition of which Hal Draper (and Hillel Ticktin) is part. That is, the tradition of the ‘Third Camp’ defectors from Trotskyism, whose vulgar conceptions of ‘democracy’ as an end in itself led to such atrocities as the support by Max Shachtman and his followers for US imperialism’s Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. A less extreme example, more in tune with comrade Draper (who, to his credit, broke with Shachtman over the Bay of Pigs) was the support of these ‘third campists’ (and indeed, even many ostensible ‘orthodox’ Trotskyists) for Polish Solidarnosc in the 1980s, even after it had quite openly stated its programme of capitalist restoration, in the name of ‘democracy’. In this context, the proclaimed opposition to ‘socialism in one country’ in the draft platform also can mean many things to many people, and does not clarify matters. The ‘third campists’ frequently proclaim their opposition to ‘socialism in one country’ (read the ‘Where we stand’ column in Socialist Worker for instance) -- in order to justify their refusal to defend such historic gains of the proletariat as the planned economies of the former Soviet bloc.

The slogan of a ‘workers parliament’ in part two of the draft also appears in my view to be confusionist, and tends to blur the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat does not simply mean more ‘democracy’ but will involve serious restrictions on ‘democracy’ for a section of the population - the bourgeoisie. While the workers’ state will not engage in pointless persecution of such elements, it will take all means necessary to ensure that there is no way they can reconquer power as a class. That is the meaning of the term dictatorship (of a class).

As a programme, however, even if these matters were ‘corrected’, it would be inadequate, for there are world-historic questions that are not addressed in it at all. For instance, the attitude of Marxists to the remaining workers’ states, such as China, Cuba, North Korea, which revolutionaries are duty bound to defend against imperialism and internal counterrevolution (as indeed the Leninist, in a crude way, did over Poland), while seeking workers’ political revolution. The attitude of Marxists to dependent capitalist countries in the semi-colonial world, where we are duty-bound to defend states such as Iraq which come under military attack from the imperialists. The attitude of Marxists to the Popular Front, and the united front, and a decent contemporary analysis of the rightward drift of mass social democratic parties, with the appropriate tactical conclusions when layers of ordinary workers with even left-reformist consciousness can see that these no longer claim to represent the working class. All these matters need to be addressed concretely, and at least the main outline of the strategy of Marxists in dealing with them, in any document that purported to be the programme of a revolutionary tendency.

Such a programme would need to be of the same general thrust as the Transitional Programme of 1938. While that particular document in many of its conjunctural specifics is no longer adequate, in its essential thrust if such a programme were to be re-written today to take account of recent developments, it would not be a different programme. It would rather be a different elaboration, or concretisation, of the same programme, whose fundamental core is the need for a bridge from today’s felt needs of the working class to the socialist programme of the revolution. In this regard, the draft platform of the ‘Revolutionary Democratic Communist Tendency’ is fundamentally flawed as the programme of a revolutionary tendency.

Marxists do not simply ultimatistically rule out collaboration, or even joint organisation, with those with whom they have significant differences, if on there is sufficient agreement on the key issues facing revolutionaries in a particular period and real pointers to the fact that outstanding differences can be resolved through common struggle. It does appear, however, that the formation of this joint tendency is based on a congruence around a stagist strategy based on vulgar democratism as the basis for convergence, rather than a regroupment than offers the possibility of the emergence of a revolutionary party. While Trotskyists are very willing to engage in political discussion with comrades who support this mistaken perspective, to endorse such a bloc on this basis would give credibility to something that can only muddy the waters, not lead to an advance for revolutionary politics.


Ian Donovan
Revolution and Truth

cc. Marxist Bulletin

Appendix - Draft Revolutionary Democratic Communism

For revolutionary democracy
For workers power
For international socialism
For world communism

1. For revolutionary democracy
We hold a revolutionary democratic attitude to all questions of bourgeois democracy (e.g. civil liberties, women's rights, national question, racism, constitutional change etc.). We utilise bourgeois democracy, defend it against all anti-democratic forces, including the capitalists and the fascists. We seek to entend all democratic rights by mass struggle and revolutionary action. We consider the working class is the only genuinely democratic class under capitalism. We consider the working class can become the leading force in society by championing the struggle for democracy.

2. For workers power
We support the democratic self-organisation of the working class in trade unions, workplaces and communities. We are in favour of workers control of all industries and services. We are in favour of replacing parliamentary democracy with a more advanced form of democracy, based on workplace councils electing delegates to a workers parliament. This must be defended by an armed working class organised as the state (i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat).

3. For international socialism
Socialism cannot be built in one or more countries. It must be developed by the international organisation of the working class. Socialism is the transitional period between world capitalism and communism.

4. For world communism
Our aim is to abolish the world market system of capitalism and replace it by world communism. Communist society is a classless world-wide community based on global planning, co-operation and mutual solidarity between the people of the world.

February 1998

Return to Revolution & Truth Home Page