[OPE] Comments on the CPGB Economic Programme

From: <clyder@gn.apc.org>
Date: Sun Mar 14 2010 - 20:38:44 EDT

The CPGB has proposed a new programme the economic aspects of which may be
of interest to OPE-l, here are my impressions

There are definite positive aspects to the programme, In particular it is
strongly pro European, breaking with the narrow nationalism that some
previously associated with communism have espoused. It is strongly
pro-democracy, though it has a rather limited and conventional idea of
what democracy is, but since
I have already gone into that issue here
(http://londonbookclub.co.uk/?p=617), and I
do not want to waste space rehashing these issues.

A programme is a sequence of steps, the following of which will achieve
some predefined goal. A
programme can be judged on what its goals are, and on the adequacy of the
steps that it
proposes to achieve those goals.

Let me concentrate on the economic goals in the draft, and the adequacy
of the measures proposed to achieve these goals.
Socialism has always been about running the economy in a different way –
politics has been the means to that end.

The daft split the programme into two phases - a minimum programme and a
maximum programme.
There are historical precedents for this. In the late 19th century
socialist groups in countries like Russia
that were governed by autocracies had a minimum goal of a democratic
republic with various social welfare
measures that by late 20th century standards were quite modest. Their
maximum programme was the achievement
of socialism which was seen as something which would come later.

This late 19th century structure has been revived with a minimum programme
having as it goal " winning the battle for democracy and ensuring that the
market and the principle of capitalist profit is subordinated to the
principle of human need." which is seen as being "technically feasible
under capitalism. However, it can only be fully realised through the
working class taking power - not only in Britain, but on a continental
European scale.".

The longer term goal is given as "Next, again logically, comes the tasks
of the CPGB in terms of the worldwide transition to communism. Here is the
maximum programme.".

Let us look at the first goal means. They want the working class to take
power accross Europe, and on that basis to ensure that the
market and principle of capitalist profit is subordinate to the principle
of human need. And at the same time they assert that
it is technically feasible to do this under capitalism. The logic of this
is that even in the event of communists
having taken power on all Europe basis, their European economic aims are
compatible with the continued existence
of capitalism. Progress beyond capitalism is relegated to the long term
future when communist parties hold power on
a world wide scale.

The economic goals that the draft sets thus very modest. For the
forseable future the draft seeks no more
than a reformed capitalism - what used to be called the mixed economy.
It is much less radical than
what 20th century European communists aimed at : the replacement of
capitalism economies with socialist economies.
A close equivalent in economic terms would be the 1940s Labour Party or
the Chinese CP in the 1950s and
or the Chinese CP again in the 1980s. The draft says that only those
capitalists who ‘rebel’ should have their firms confiscated. This is what
CPC initially did, only those capitalists who sided with the Guaomintang
lost their property. But since shareholders can not collectively rebel,
all public companies would be safe under a Communist government.

In all these historical cases the goal was a predominantly market economy
a significant state owned sector but where the characterisic features of
capitalism: money, wage labour and profit and marked
differences in class and income persist.

That communists even in the EU, arguably the most advanced part of the
whole world economy, should have
pulled back from advocating a socialist economy is a testimony to the
ideological power of neo-classical
and neo-liberal economics. These people have become convinced that taking
the means of production into
public ownership or attempting to eliminate exploitation would be
economically disasterous.

Indeed the abolition of exploitation is not even given as an explicit
It is no secret that the principle founder of communism, Karl Marx gave
the best years of his life to the writing of Das Kapital, his analysis of
how capitalism worked.

Marx argued that the value of commodities derived from the labour required
to make them, and that under capitalism only a portion of the value
created by workers is paid to them as wages. He said that employees are
only paid for the first part of the working day, in the second half they
work for their employer for free. Property incomes like profit, interest
and rent, arose from the unpaid labour. By exploitation he meant this
process by which people are forced to do unpaid work.

Marx’s concept of exploitation is completely absent from the draft
programme. Yes, the word exploitation is used. It says that backward
countries are viciously exploited that nature is an object of
exploitation, that the economy is distorted by exploitation. But this is
just using the word as a general term of moral condemnation.

Does this matter?

Yes, because without an understanding of exploitation and how it is
inherent in the wages system the authors are unable to explain

a) why it is in the immediate interest of workers to abolish the wages system
b) how to go about doing this.

Instead the economic objectives they set are either very modest, or very
vague. So they say, “The political economy of the working class brings
with it not only higher wages and shorter hours. It brings health
services, social security systems, pensions, universal primary and
secondary education …”

While it is true that the labour movement aimed at all these things in
the past, it greatly understates the objectives of socialist political
Indeed those points above were also advocated and supported by European
Christian Democracy.
The old Clause 4 of the Labour Party, despite being written by a Fabian,
gave a clearer and more accurate summary of Marx’s economic aims than
today’s lengthy draft:

    “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of
their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be
possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of
production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system
of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

Here we have the elimination of exploitation ( full fruits of industry ),
egalitarianism ( most equitable distribution ), common ownership, and –
stretching it a little – a consciously planned economy.

Today’s draft comes out as basically against public ownership. Their
section on the economy starts out by condemning nationalisation.

    “From the point of view of world revolution, programmes for wholesale
nationalisation are today objectively reactionary. The historic task
of the working class is to fully socialise the giant transnational
corporations, not break them up into inefficient national units“

Remember the context. They are talking about a programme that they hope
that a European CP will put into effect once
being elected to power on an all European basis - so by nationalisation
they must mean taking into European
public ownership. If one was talking about the old nation states then
their point may some validity in the most technically advanced industries
: aircraft, cars and semi-conductors spring to mind, but these are only a
part of the economy. Having initially damned nationalisation, the authors
backtrack and say that they support it for banking and the basic
In which case why not say that they favour nationalisation apart from
those industries where development costs are too high for individual
countries to afford them?

If we look at what they think should be nationalised : "land, banks and
financial services, along with basic infrastructure such as public
transport, electricity, gas and water supplies.", it is markedly to the
right of Labour Governments past and present. Alistair Darling has
nationalised a large part of the banking system. In the past public
transport, electricity, gas and water were nationalised. But under past
Labour governments coal, oil (BNOC), shipbuilding, steel, parts of the car
industry, road transport, air transport, the health system, etc.
In view of their currently limited goals for nationalisation the draft
must agree that the Tories did the right thing when
they privatised much of this. Indeed, since the draft does not include the
NHS as something which should still be
nationalised, they must favour privatisation there too.

They are basically against public ownership saying : “universal
nationalisation, forced collectivisation and flat-wage egalitarianism are
ruled out – historic experience certainly shows that they lead to

The whole tone of this is reminiscent of the Labour right in the 1960s.
Forced collectivisation, in Britain?

In a country where the peasantry was dispossessed by the landlords three
centuries ago?

It is just put in as a scare to distract readers from the objection to
public ownership and egalitarianism.
Which country has ever applied the ‘flat wage egalitarianism’ and found it
to be disastrous?

What they are trying to cover up here is that there is very little
egalitarianism of any sort
in their programme. For instance there is nothing at all on taxation in
their programme.
At least the old Labour Party tried to achieve egalitarianism by steeply
income tax. Since then the income tax system has been shifted to favour
high earners,
with regressive taxes like VAT and Council Tax becoming more important.
As far as the draft is concerned, this Tory tax structure is not worth

And when has nationalisation led to disaster?
It is pretty clear that the denationalisation of industry in the East
Block after 89 did result in a disastrous recession, but what disasters
followed nationalisations in say the UK or Czechoslovakia the 40s?

Nationalisation is the only route to common ownership. There are other
more direct and radical courses that can be taken.

What I object to is the way the authors make the sort of unsubstantiated
and emotive criticisms of socialist economics that one is used to from
They seem to believe that unemployment is inevitable until capitalism has
been abolished, and since they
do not actually propose any measures at all to abolish capitalism, they
say that unemployment can not
be blamed on government policy. This is to conceed far to much to right
wing economics.
The LP had, from 1945 to the late 60s a policy of full employment, which
it largely achieved.

This full employment policy greatly strengthened the labour movement and
raised the social
influence of the working class. Its abandonment from the end of the 70s
involved very definite
changes in economic policy that can be blamed on subsequent governments -
in particular the
removal of exchange controls and prices and incomes policies. Instead
there was a deliberate
neo-liberal policy of encouraging the a in unemployment to discipline labour.
The economic mechanisms that allowed full employment in the 40s to the 60s
are still there in the policy arsenal. The refusal to use them is entirely
a matter of
class politics.

It seems that the CP would be resigned to seeing high levels of
unemployment and capitalist exploitation continuing
well after they came to power.

When this policy was adopted by the Chinese in the 50s it was an
understandable, if ultimately dangerous, policy given the undeveloped
state of their economy. The justification that the capitalists were needed
to accelerate industrialisation can hardly be used in Britain. Instead the
authors justify leaving most of the economy in private hands on the odd
grounds that: “socialisation of production is dependent on and can only
proceed in line with the withering away of skill monopolies of the middle
class and hence the division of labour.”

Nonsense on stilts!

Production in a capitalist economy isy already socialised. Production is
for society in general via the intermediary of the market. Production is
already social. Appropriation is private and not only private, but
privately monopolised by one class.

Bill Gates, Lakshmi Mittal, and Richard Branson are not billionaires
because of the ’skill monopolies of the middle class’ but because
capitalist property relations mean that they are the legitimate owners of
the surplus value created by workers they employ. Bill Gates is not rich
because of his undoubted middle class professional skills. Such skills
would at most command him a modest wage differential. He is rich because
he can afford to employ tens of thousands of other people with middle
class skills to work for him.

The authors confuse three quite distinct issues

1. How to eliminate capitalist exploitation -- this has to be the key
question for socialists.

2. In what way the market can be replaced as a mechanism of economic

3. How to eliminate class differences between the working class and the
middle class.

Let us look at each of them.

Capitalist exploitation rests on wage slavery and can be eliminated by
abolishing wage slavery, as chattel slavery was abolished in the past.
It requires only a legal change to the effect that net value added is the
property of employees not employers. When slavery was abolished in 1833
compensation was paid by the state to slave-owners. In the case of an
abolition of wage slavery no compensationarises since the employers are
deprived of no property, but merely of the opportunity to use property in
an exploitative way. Secondary forms of exploitation like interest can be
substantially abolished by making interest debts no longer legally

Eliminating the market as a coordination mechanism requires the
introduction of a society wide system of time accounting. Marx and Engels
wrote about this and experiments in how to do it were carried out in
Czechoslovakia in the 60s and more recently by Stamher at the
Statistischen Bundesampt in the 90s. The technologyit needs is now clearly
present in the internet and modern databases.

The authors speak loosely of eliminating the division of labour as if this
was either a necessary or desirable goal. Eliminate the division of labour
and you eliminate civilised society.

Without a division of labour we would regress to the neolithic. What the
draft presumably mean is the elimination of lifelong class divisions
between mental and manual workers. Well if that is the case they should
propose concrete measures to achieve this. Albert and Hahnel for example
propose systems of rotating roles, though a precondition for this is a
general raising of educational levels. The programme does contain some
good progressive
proposals on state education, but strikingly it says absolutely nothing
about private education. Any socialist government that was serious about
eliminating class differences could not overlook the role of fee paying
schools in reproducing the class hierarchy.

In terms of economic policy the draft attempts to place the CP in a
position which was historically occupied by the center-right of the Labour
I would not criticise this unless I was convinced that there was a real
economic alternative, that a radically egalitarian socialist economy
was a realistic objective. I and others have been arguing for years that
Marx's vision of an economy without exploitation and without
money is now a practical objective. For detailed arguments about how this
can be done, read Towards a New Socialism by Cockshott and Cottrell or
Parecon: Life after Capitalism by Albert. For a transition programme based
on these principles to contrast with the CPGB draft see
"http://www.socialismoxxi.org/Transition Program english.pdf".

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Received on Sun Mar 14 20:40:45 2010

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