First Published: The Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Communist Unity. January, 1964
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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This statement was prepared as a speech for the London District Congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the Spring of 1962. An application to speak was rejected. The statement was subsequently submitted to, and rejected by, the London District Committee of the C.P.G.B.
I want to speak on the need to build the factory branches, and on the reasons for past failure to build them. Why do we need factory branches? More correctly, why should we have the bulk of our members organised at the point of production rather than in the localities?
In general, because it is at the point of production that we can most effectively wage the class struggle.
Firstly, our Party is above all the Party of the industrial workers, the organised working class. And all experience shows that those who work in industry just do not find it so easy to undertake political work where they live, as opposed to where they work. The factory branch can meet just after work; and before comrades go home. The local branch usually meets at 8 p.m., and it is more difficult to prise yourself away from a warm fire after you have had a meal and begun to relax after a hard day’s work than it is to attend a meeting on the way home.
Partly for this reason, all too often, local branches do not succeed in drawing many industrial comrades into regular political discussion and activity. The result may be a political atmosphere in the local branch which is a little bit out of touch with the realities of the class struggle. And this atmosphere, in its turn tends to discourage industrial comrades from participating in their local branches, so that, for lack of political discussion, they under-emphasize the political, as compared with the economic aspects of the struggle against the capitalist class.
Secondly, it is at the point of production, the place of work, that Communist argument and Communist agitation is most effective. Why?
Because at the place of work you come up against the class enemy, or his stooge, directly, in person. He emerges as a real enemy, not just an abstraction. But only if the political point is made-only if the Communist is there to point him out as a member of the exploiting class.
Because at the place of work we are known to our fellow-workers; not Communists in the abstract, but Joe, who is also a Communist. People listen to friends; listen to work mates more readily than to a stranger who calls at the door.
Because at the place of work there are five days in the week, maybe six, in which one is inevitably drawn into contact with one’s fellow-workers; into conversation with them. But unless there is a Party Branch, no matter how small, meeting to plan Communist argument and Communist agitation, these regular contacts will be so many politically wasted opportunities. It is not as a rule sufficient to leave this to individual initiative, to each individual conscience, it needs the collective, the branch, to encourage and organise Daily Worker and pamphlet sales, leaflets etc. It needs collective effort to ensure that we work in the most effective way to win our fellow – workers to our Communist understanding of the class-divided world of the 1960’s.
Thirdly, and most important of all, unless we have active Party branches in all the main factories and depots in Britain, branches which have won the confidence of the workers, we shall not be able to lead the working-class into action at the decisive moments in the economic, and still more the political battle against the capitalist class. And when the next potentially revolutionary situation develops – as in 1919 or even 1926 – and the possibility of seizing power is placed on the agenda; then above all, unless we can lead the decisive sections of the working-class into action at the decisive moments (general election or no general election) there will be no revolution – but defeat for the working-class; as in 1919 and 1926.
We have had plans to build the factory branches before; introduced at District Congress after District Congress, and National Congress after National Congress for years past. But time after time these plans have crumbled away when it came to the task of implementing them. Very inadequate leadership has in practice been given on this issue by the District and the Executive Committee. In the last five years, for instance, for most of which time I have been on the Central London Area Committee, there has been practically no lead, no plan, no pushing and prodding from the District on this issue.
Symptomatic of our whole approach has been the repeated contrast made in the District Bulletin and elsewhere, between Party Branch and Factory Group. There is no mention of the term group in Party rules – the Branch is the basic unit, in factory or locality. Use of this term inevitably suggests a second-class status for factory branches. I know that many factory branches are very small, and maybe don’t meet regularly to plan political activity. But that is no reason for calling them groups (which merely confirms them, as it were, in their inactive state) rather for throwing some energy into helping them develop into active branches.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. About one comrade in nine, in London District, is organised at his or her place of work.
Quite possibly this is an all-time low, except for that disastrous period from 1945 when the Executive Committee actually disbanded the , Factory Branches altogether. And if you excluded those factory branches that exist on paper in District and Area offices, but don’t function as branches, the proportion would be even lower.
What is the reason? It would be correct, in a sense, but a superficial judgment, to blame the comrades in leading positions for their failure to give a firm and sustained lead on this question. What we should rather ask is, why have they failed to give a firm lead? Why has the Party as a whole failed to follow up its good intentions in this matter?
In my view one cannot escape the conclusion that the practical failure to organise at the place of work is inseparably connected with the Party’s general policy, its general line of advance as expressed (in the British Road to Socialism). If you believe in the possibility of legal revolution, with a general election achieving a Communist and left-Labour majority, which forms a Government, and proceeds to legislate in Socialism, then your Party organisation must tend inevitably towards the localities rather than towards the factories. One cannot escape the fact that a Party base mainly upon branches is best able to organise the constitutional fight, best able to wage the fight for electoral advance.
Factory Branches have their place in this picture of constitutional advance towards Socialism, but it is one subordinate to, as it must be, the Party’s general line of electoral advance for Communists and left-Labour. As the discussion article circulated to branches prior to this Congress put it. “We need to work in a way which will make electoral work the continuous centre of Branch activity, local and factory.” One cannot dodge the logic of the British Road to Socialism. The constitutional development of the revolution demands a traditional, electoral-type, organisation for our Party; and the Factory Branch just does not fit neatly into this pattern. The class struggle, which the Factory Branch is best designed to wage, does not fit neatly into the constitutional pattern, it is an unruly beast, forever rearing its ugly head when least expected.
So long as we concentrate almost exclusively upon the constitutional road to Socialism it would be wrong not to recognise the fact that we cannot base ourselves, as a Party, mainly upon the factories. Policy limits room for manoeuvre in terms of organisation much more closely than one might suppose. The latter is determined by the former. Within our Party’s present policy I do not believe that we can in practice achieve an appreciable advance in the proportion of our membership organised on a factory basis or work-place basis. It would amount to a re-organisation of our Party which would not best-serve the constitutional aims of the British Road to Socialism.
The decision to dissolve the factory branches which was taken in 1945 was only carrying to its extreme conclusion the logic of the constitutional advance to Socialism, with the order to industrial comrades to abandon their factory organisations and get cracking in the electoral field. Partially rectified later, this great mistake has never, to my knowledge, been adequately analysed by the Party; and the correct conclusions drawn from it.
Do we over-estimate the possibility of winning Socialism by Constitutional means? I believe that we do grossly over-estimate it. I do not believe that the second most powerful capitalist class in the world would allow itself to be legislated out of existence, within the framework of the laws, the constitution, which it has drawn up for its own preservation. As the 1960 statement of the World Communist Parties states. “In the event of the exploiting classes resorting to violence against the people, the possibility of non-peaceful transition to Socialism should be born in mind. Leninism teaches, and experience confirms, that the ruling classes never relinquish power voluntarily.”
Sometimes when I hear comrades talk about the Parliamentary road, the constitutional road to Socialism, I think of the foolish biblical virgins who were caught on the hop when the bridegroom did finally arrive. I think we need to prepare our party more thoroughly for the coming struggle for power – and that means above all building the factory branches.