IN THEIR Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), Marx and Engels wrote that the Communists have no interests separate and apart from those of the working class as a whole.
This spirit will inform and inspire the 53rd congress of Britain’s Communist Party which takes place this weekend in Croydon, south London.
Since its foundation in 1920, the party has striven to live up to this edict. We have strayed from it occasionally — almost all the time according to our critics on the right and the far left — although communists often differ about when.
Significantly, some of the biggest controversies in our history have revolved around the Communist Party’s relations with other political forces.
In the run-up to the 1926 General Strike, the party’s alliance with some left-wing trade union leaders created problems when they weakened at crucial points in the struggle.
Immediately afterwards, the Labour Party leadership and its trade union supporters intensified their anti-communism and the CP attacked them as “social fascists” for shadowing capitalism’s turn to fascism.
A few years later, when the CP worked with others on the left to build a broad “people’s front” against the fascist movements in Britain, Spain and elsewhere, communists were accused of insincerity or the abandonment of class politics.
Throughout the cold war period, the party’s broad approach to the peace and anti-apartheid movements and to left unity within the labour movement was denounced as manipulation by the Labour right and class collaboration by the Trotskyist left.
In recent decades, since counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe and the opening of a new aggressive, neoliberal phase of imperialism, the CP and sections of the social democratic and far left have engaged more extensively in left-led broad campaigns.
Welcoming these developments, Britain’s communists have played significant roles in the Stop the War Coalition, No2EU and the People’s Assembly.
Our congress this weekend will assess these experiences and discuss proposals for strengthening the movements against militarism, imperialist war, the EU, austerity and privatisation.
On the domestic front, our chief immediate objective is summarised in the title of the main resolution for debate: “For a united, militant and political labour movement to defeat the ruling-class offensive.”
The recent upsurge in trade union action has been encouraging, but strikes and demonstrations alone will not bring down this Tory-led government nor end austerity policies, never mind open the road to socialism.
A mass people’s movement needs to be built, rooted in local communities, uniting workers in every sector, with unions and trades councils making special efforts to draw unemployed, part-time, temporary, casual and migrant workers fully into organisation and activity.
Unions should do more to ensure that their branches join and play an active part in their local trades councils.
As well as launching a new wages offensive, the TUC and its affiliates should consider how best to go on the offensive for a shorter working week with no loss of pay or pension.
Nothing would do more to create jobs, boost purchasing power and improve the quality of life for millions of workers and their families.
The People’s Assembly could also play a central role in building a mass people’s movement. As well as strengthening the assembly organisationally and financially, many more local broad-based groups are needed, with active union involvement at every level and co-ordination across every region and nation of Britain.
Such a movement will be needed whoever wins the general election next May. A Labour victory will be necessary in order to ensure a Tory defeat, but its “austerity-lite” strategy will still need to be opposed.
Women are playing an ever more prominent role in the trade unions and other campaigning bodies, although positive action is still required — not least to take forward the historic struggle for equal pay.
As the National Assembly of Women and the Charter for Women enjoy growing support, communists will consider how they can help build a campaigning movement organised across England, Scotland and Wales.
Government attacks on people with disabilities have prompted an unprecedented number of resolutions from CP branch, district and national bodies.
Inspired by resistance to the bedroom tax, congress delegates will discuss how to work with bodies such as Disabled People Against Cuts to mobilise against such vile injustice and discrimination.
Young people, too, have faced a savage onslaught from the Tory-led coalition when it comes to welfare benefits, tuition fees, housing and the statutory minimum wage.
The Young Communist League has grown in recent years as the result of its work in the trade union and international solidarity movements.
Again, in this as in other fields, the CP congress will consider concrete steps to enhance the participation and influence of young communist workers and students in the battles ahead.
Leading young trade union and YCL activists are standing for election to the party’s executive committee this weekend, which may also see an increase in the proportion of women from its present one-third.
Among reports received by delegates will be that of the party’s reinvigorated anti-racism, anti-fascism commission.
It proposes measures to update party policy, play a more active part in existing anti-racist bodies and raise issues more effectively in trade union and anti-austerity campaigning.
But above all, Britain’s communists want to win greater clarity and unity in the labour and progressive movements around a left-wing programme of alternative policies.
These would include democratic public ownership of the energy, transport, financial, armaments and pharmaceutical sectors, a wealth tax on the super-rich, the reversal of privatisation, massive public investment in council housing and non-nuclear renewable energy, the repeal of the anti-trade union and other anti-democratic laws and the adoption of an independent foreign policy for a federal Britain.
A mass movement mobilised around such a programme would transform the political situation and stop Ukip dead in its tracks.
It would also create the best conditions in which to resolve the long-running crisis of working-class political representation.
Like previous CP congresses, the 53rd will neither ignore the Labour Party elephant in the room nor jump to opportunist conclusions.
Instead, delegates will assess whether or how much progress is being made towards reclaiming Labour for the movement which created it.
If the prospects are improving, then communists will need to work out how the left and the labour movement can intensify that battle and bring it to victory.
If not, the practical question arises yet more urgently — how can the movement, especially but not exclusively its Labour-affiliated unions, take the necessary steps to re-establish its own mass party, capable of winning general elections and implementing reforms in the interests of workers and their families?
Only in the wider national and international context will our 53rd congress consider proposals to strengthen the Communist Party, in particular through recruitment, improved communications, political education and the development of its cadre force.
For Marx and Engels, the communists should constitute the “most advanced and resolute section” of the working-class movement in every country while, in the realm of theory, understanding clearly the conditions, goals and line of march of that movement.
This is the role that the Communist Party of Britain seeks but also has to earn.
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto