Kent Communist Group Public Meeting on the ‘Anti-Parliamentary’ Tradition in Britain
This report has been written by our close sympathiser Mark Hayes whose book was the basis for the presentation given to the meeting. As the report makes clear, the Kent Communist Group is a very welcome sign of a growing interest in revolutionary politics in the UK as elsewhere.
On 25 November the Kent Communist Group held a meeting in Canterbury on the ‘Anti-Parliamentary’ Tradition in Britain presented by Mark Hayes, author of The British Communist Left.
The KCG is a new group formed in 2011 active in and around Canterbury University – for more see their blog https://kentcommunistgroup.blogspot.com/. We’re also reprinting their statement here for information. We think that, whatever its specificities, and whether or not it survives and develops further in 2012, this group, like others that have appeared (like the class struggle forums in Manchester and other British cities), is a very encouraging sign of a commitment to proletarian political activity and of a growing interest in discussing revolutionary politics faced with a revival of struggles worldwide and the deepening capitalist crisis.
Despite being held at 6.30pm on a Friday night in an out-of-the-way
university lecture hall some distance from the town centre, November’s meeting attracted around 20 people. In addition to members of the KCG these included representatives from the ICC, the Communist Workers’ Organisation, the Anarchist Federation, Socialist Party of Great Britain and The Commune, as well as former members of the ICC and half a dozen other students from the university.
The title of the meeting was chosen by the KCG themselves, but as the presentation explained, the left communist tradition is much more than ‘anti-parliamentarism. Focussing on the period at the end of the first world war it showed that opposition to parliamentary activity was a major trend within the early Third International, basing itself on the concrete experience of the seizure of power by the soviets in Russia and the counter-revolutionary role played by social democracy, the Labour Party and trade unions. Far from being an ‘infantile disorder’ as Lenin argued in his notorious pamphlet, anti-parliamentarism was a practical response to the need to develop new forms of mass organisation based on general assemblies, in order to wage an autonomous struggle to overthrow decadent capitalism. Despite eventual defeat, the left communists around Sylvia Pankhurst and the Workers’ Dreadnought fought for these positions against the growing trend towards opportunism and centrism in the International itself, while still attempting to form a principled communist party in Britain and fighting for their positions within it.
There was no vocal disagreement with these arguments in the meeting. Instead, the discussion that followed was around two main areas.
The first was dominated by the SPGB whose interventions focused on the need for us today to work in bourgeois parliaments in order to achieve a majority vote to peacefully overthrow capitalism. ‘Why not use parliaments?’ was the question asked by one SPGB speaker. This argument, which has been consistently advocated by this group since 1904, allowed other speakers to repeat the answer given by the left communists of the 1920s: because firstly the power of the bourgeoisie no longer resides in parliaments but rather in the executive apparatus of the state, and secondly because the exploiting class will never willingly give up its power peacefully through some simple vote. The peddling of such arguments today can only help to spread illusions in bourgeois democracy at a time when the power of this mystification is being unmasked by the realities of the economic crisis and increasing examples of mass revolt against it, in Greece, Spain, the Middle East...
The second area of discussion was of more interest in terms of understanding the issues and concerns of a new generation coming towards revolutionary politics and militant activity today, with a whole range of questions and assertions by ‘non-aligned’ students (and also by the Anarchist Federation). Isn’t the whole concept of class outmoded? ‘I’ve never even been in a factory, nor am I likely to’. Isn’t it better to talk instead of ‘the 99%’? Hasn’t the working class in Western Europe been decimated by or integrated into capitalism? Doesn’t the very term ‘communism’ put people off or make them think of Stalinist Russia? ‘We should forget old arguments, go out into the community, and listen to ordinary people’s concerns’....
On the face of it these sound like the same questions raised in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the revolutionary movement was just re-emerging from the counter-revolution. What are we to make of such questions today? In fact they are typical of discussions we’ve had with many others in the students’ struggles and the Occupy movement internationally, and despite their many weaknesses, and the continuing weight of the past, these movements, like the ‘Indignados’ movement in Spain, and the struggles in Greece and Israel, represent an important development of class consciousness – for much more on this crucial issue see the article on social movements in International Review no. 147.
In short, without underestimating the difficulties for the recovery of the class struggle, the situation today increasingly provides concrete answers to such questioning and helps dispel the mystifications behind them – as they were to an extent at the meeting. And whatever confusions were expressed, we can certainly say the discussions among the comrades present were marked by an openness and very fraternal spirit which gives us confidence that they can be overcome.
We are the Kent communist group.
The aggressive attacks on public service provision and the austerity agenda of the ruling class are symptoms of an ongoing crisis of capitalism. These austerity measures are a way in which the capitalist class attempts to cut costs in order to restore its rate of profit. Today the crisis is not simply a cyclical downturn but shows a system which has become obsolete, which cannot even reproduce that class whose work sustains it – the working class. With this in mind the overthrow of capitalism, and the misery it causes - Poverty, War, and Environmental degradation – is a necessity.
The alternative to capitalism is communism, and by this we do not mean the horrors of Stalinism, or the state dictatorships of the USSR and its ilk. What happened in Russia and other “socialist” countries, was not a challenge to capitalism, but its consolidation in the hands of the state. Whilst private property was abolished the state remained as the only capitalist, it is for this reason we refer to such regimes as “State-Capitalist”.
Instead we put forward a vision of communism as a stateless, classless society based on the principle of “from each according to ability to each according to need”. In such a society a multiplicity of councils and mass assemblies, directly controlled by workers themselves, direct the productive forces towards the fulfilment of society's needs. Communism therefore represents a real human community, where the free development of each is guaranteed by the free development of all.
The only way that this can come about is through the mass movement of the working class organized in its own interest and through its own organizations. However, the ways in which capitalism divides us through racism, nationalism, sexism and homophobia provide a barrier to working class solidarity and must be overcome. Workers must unite across national boundaries. Capitalism is a global system, and its overthrow must also be on a global scale.
The Kent Communist Group is an organization of revolutionary communists, from both Marxist and Anarchist traditions. We seek to provide a platform for cooperation and debate between revolutionary communists. We are not a specific political organization but provide points of common agreement as the basis of revolutionary cooperation.
These Points of agreement are:
- Global Revolution for the overthrow of capitalism.
- Proletarian Internationalism and Opposition to Nationalism of all kinds.
- Opposition to Stalinism and State Capitalism.
As an organization seeking to facilitate cooperation between communists of different traditions & tendencies, we seek to provide activities that are practical and activities that are more theoretical and further our understanding of communism – its history and ideas.
If you are interested in taking part in activities and discussions within the organization, please contact us via email: [email protected]