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On Class Against Class
Class Against Class was the 1929 general election programme of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The programme was historically significant for it marked a break with social democracy and the Labour Party.
Previously, the CPGB strategy “advised the working class to push the Labour Party into power whilst sharply criticising and exposing the leaders of the Labour Party.” This was a position which had found its basis in Lenin’s report to the 2nd congress of the COMINTERN in 1920. In this Lenin noted that the Labour Party were a “thoroughly bourgeois party” and that it “exists to dupe the workers”. Nonetheless, Lenin spotted a potential in the Labour Party with regards to two aspects:: it had trade union affiliation and there was sufficient freedom for communists and socialists to operate within the party. These were the conditions on which previous strategy was formed. Once the latter condition was no longer met, strategy had to change.
By not allowing freedom of criticism within the party,. Labour had chosen capitalism. “Class is against class. The Labour Party has chosen the capitalist class. The Communist Party is the party of the working class.“ Now, the Communist Party did not just criticise the treacherous leaders of the Labour Party, as it had previously done. Now it turned it’s criticism to the institution as a whole. Communists declared
“The Labour Party, this Party is the third capitalist party. It lays claim to the title of Socialist Party, but has nothing to do with socialism. Whatever associations it has with the working class are due to its development as a parliamentary wing of the trade unions, now turned to account as the means of subordinating the trade unions to its dictatorship on behalf of capitalism. It rejects working class politics and exploits the workers’ organisations for “national politics.”
It would be a gross absurdity to reduce Class Against Class to mere sloganeering for violent revolution, as some have attempted to do. Yes, the party unequivocally proclaimed that parliament could provide no path to socialism. It stated “the impossibility of the working class capturing and utilising the capitalist State apparatus for the exercise of its own class power for the building of socialism”. Therefore, “the working class can only conquer capitalism and become the ruling class by the creation of its own instruments of power”.
Regardless of this, the party correctly stood for parliamentary elections and was in favour of reforms. However, this was no attempt to reform one‘s way to socialism, far from it. Reforms were to encourage revolution, parliament would prepare the working class for rule, it would not be an instrument of their rule.
Success or Failure?
So what did the programme achieve? The standard position is to mock the programmes success, to suggest the party was alienated from the wider workers movement.. It is said that this era represented a low point in public support for the communist movement. Is any of this true? The short answer is “No”.
The reality is that between 1930-31, the Communist Party membership grew by 137%. Quite the successful failure it would seem. Likewise, in the 1931 general election the 26 party candidates averaged an excellent 7.5% of the votes. This is dizzying success when compared to modern times. Indeed the only time the party was stronger was in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s liberation of Europe from Nazism. Success and growth here is obviously related to this fact and Stalin’s popularity rather than party theory.
Success was to die alongside Comrade Stalin. From the dizzying heights of the aftermath of the Great Patriotic War to the aftermath of Khruschev’s counter-revolutionary falsified speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, saw party membership collapse by 47%. In 1946 membership stood at 60,000, by 1957 it had been reduced to 32,000. For historical contextualization it is worth noting that the first edition of the party programme Britain’s Road to Socialism (which turned back attitudes to the Labour Party) was introduced in 1951. It is a noteworthy point, but one paling insignificance to the now discredited secret speech of Khrushchev’s.
Class Against Class, Available online at:
Lenin, Speech on Affiliation to the British Labour Party, Available online at: