Communist Party of Great Britain
Source: The Marxist Quarterly, July 1956, Vol. 3, No. 3
Publisher: Lawrence & Wishart, 81 Chacery Lane, London
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
The reports and discussions of the Twentieth Congress of the C.P.S.U. revealed the vast progress made in recent years by the forces of socialism.
Side by side with the capitalist world is a socialist world system embracing one-third of the world’s population. The colonial system is disintegrating as country after country wins independence from imperialism. Great economic, social, cultural and political advances are being achieved in the U.S.S.R., People’s China and the people’s democracies.
On the solid foundation of these advances that profoundly change the balance of class forces in the world, the Twentieth Congress expressed its complete confidence in the possibility of preventing a third world war. New and more favourable roads to socialism open up to the peoples of the capitalist world. New opportunities emerge for achieving working class unity.
The successes of the U.S.S.R. have laid the basis for such a transformation of the world that, with all the hard struggles that lie ahead, the future for every country becomes easier.
Stalin, as an outstanding Marxist leader, made a great contribution to the building of socialism in the U.S.S.R. and to the development of the international working class movement.
At the same time, the Twentieth Congress, within the framework of the colossal Soviet advances in every field, revealed a number of serious mistakes and grave abuses that had developed within the period 1934-53 and were connected with the cult of the individual and lack of collective leadership.
It was shown how the fact that Stalin had progressively in this period put himself above the Party and above the state, had led to the belittling of the Party and the people, to serious lapses in the democratic functioning of the Party, to violations of socialist law and grave injustices to loyal comrades, to a certain stultification in intellectual life, and to some serious mistakes in home and foreign policy.
The Soviet leaders at the Congress courageously laid bare these mistakes, and have taken resolute steps to correct the mistakes, to repair injustices done, and to ensure that they cannot recur.
It was inevitable that grave dangers and problems would beset the first country in the world where the working people won political power and began to build socialism.
Under the bitter onslaught of the whole of world capitalism with every foul means, including war, espionage and economic boycott, the Soviet people, led by the Communist Party, had to fight back bitterly and ruthlessly if the revolution was to be defended and socialism built. Strong security organs were essential, as was the inner-Party struggle against those whose wrong policy would have wrecked the revolution.
It was on this background that the mistakes, abuses and grave injustices arose. It is necessary to see them in their historical perspective, for this helps to explain how they could have happened, though it does not justify or excuse them.
It is precisely because of our love of socialism and our admiration for the vast achievements of the U.S.S.R. that we say that the abuses and injustices that arose were alien to socialism. They occurred within the framework of gigantic socialist advances, but they weakened and hampered these advances.
We were shocked to learn that a number of those arrested in the Soviet Union as traitors to the people were in fact devoted patriots and Communists; and that a number of those tried and convicted as traitors in the people’s democracies were the victims of deliberate provocations and fabricated evidence.
We welcome the fact that errors, abuses and injustices have been so fearlessly laid bare by the present leaders of the C.P.S.U. We see this as a demonstration of Communist honesty and integrity. We give full support for the measures they have taken and are taking to correct mistakes and repair injustices.
It is clear now that on the basis of false information we, in all good faith, made a number of mistakes, as in our support for the accusations against the Yugoslav Communist leaders as traitors, and our condemnation of a number of those falsely convicted.
Where we have made such mistakes, we profoundly regret them, and unreservedly withdraw our mistaken attacks.
But while we openly acknowledge and regret mistakes, we are proud of our long record in the field of international working class solidarity. It is the capitalist and right-wing Labour critics of the Soviet Union who have been continually wrong about its socialist achievements, while we, despite errors, have been overwhelmingly correct in our defence of the Soviet Union.
It was our Party that took the lead in defending the achievements of the U.S.S.R. from those who waged the war of intervention and prepared further wars.
It was our Party, above all, that made known the Soviet achievements in the field of industrialisation and collectivisation of agriculture. It was our Party that showed the strength of the U.S.S.R. when others denied it, and that ceaselessly led the fight for peace and friendship and for close economic and cultural relations with the Soviet people. We shall continue to fight for the closest relations of friendship with the U.S.S.R. and to defend it from capitalist aggression. We shall continue to make known its socialist achievements.
There is in the future bound to be a more critical examination of policies, from whatever quarter they come, but our attitude to the policies of other Communist and Workers’ Parties will be based firmly on the principle of international solidarity.
Our support of this principle does not mean that in the past we have defended mistaken policies in the knowledge that they were mistaken, or that we will do so in the future.
It does mean that we recognise that we are engaged in the class war, and therefore cannot be neutral. We have to defend the working class and our brother Parties, in whatever country, against capitalist attacks. There is no contradiction between international working class solidarity and true patriotism—the one demands the other.
We have always been a responsible and independent British political party, deciding our own policy and activities in the light of our knowledge and estimate of the situation. The influence of our Party has been developed in service to the British working people and the British Labour movement, from which our Party sprang.
We will assist in all efforts directed towards developing more exchanges and views between the various Communist and Workers’ Parties. As the Communist Parties throughout the world grow in strength and maturity each Party through its theoretical and practical work will make a greater, more independent contribution to world socialist understanding and experience. To the extent that we strengthen the work of our Party in Britain our contribution will be the more fruitful.
Following the report and discussions at the closed session of our Twenty-Fourth Congress, a whole series of discussions on the Twentieth Congress of the C.P.S.U. have taken place throughout our Party organisations.
We welcome the good attendance at these discussions; we welcome the thought, initiative, and independent approach that has been given to the problems arising; we welcome the fully free atmosphere in which all points of view, however critical, have been put. Our Party can only be strengthened by such live inner-Party discussion.
At the same time the discussions have shown that some comrades have tended to concentrate on the weaknesses revealed at the Twentieth Congress rather than to discuss these within the context of the great advances, new perspectives and new theoretical approaches.
It is quite wrong to refuse to face up to the errors and injustices revealed, to refuse to acknowledge them, to try in any way to cover them up. If that is done we cannot appreciate the important steps already taken in the U.S.S.R. to correct them and to repair them. If we refuse to accept and acknowledge weaknesses, we can never learn from them, nor appreciate the positive influence of their exposure and correction.
But it is equally wrong to see nothing but the errors and abuses, to examine them out of the context of the tremendous total human advance. For if that is done there results a purely negative attitude, a lack of balance and proportion.
It would also be wrong not to see the very great effects which the Twentieth Congress has already had on wide circles outside our Party and especially within the British Labour movement. Its significance for the future development of working class unity on a national and international scale is becoming increasingly clear.
The main purpose of all our discussions must be to learn both from achievements and mistakes in the U.S.S.R., and from our own achievements and errors, to improve the work of our Party in a situation which presents so many new problems but is also so extremely favourable.
It has become clear in the course of discussions both at and following our Twenty-Fourth Congress that we need to take steps to improve the work and thinking of our Party from top to bottom. We have been and are far too prone to neglect discussion of the questions of principle on which our immediate decisions and tactics must be based.
A certain dogmatism, rigidity and sectarianism in our approach and thinking have created unnecessary obstacles to united work and discussion within the Labour movement. Our Twenty-Fourth Congress drew attention to difficulties of our own making in this respect and called for the necessary steps to put this right.
We need to carry through discussion on three main lines:
1. Problems of Unity.—The immediate line of work in connection with working class unity is contained in the decisions of our Twenty-Fourth National Congress. Our task is to try to put these into operation as a matter of urgency so as to develop the struggle against the Tory Government and the capitalist offensive. In addition every success we can register in the struggle to remove bans and proscriptions will pave the way for even bigger and more important developments of unity. At the same time the Executive will initiate a discussion on the longer-term issues of unity, particularly the relations of the Party with the Labour Party, and of the political movement with the trade unions, how to develop the popular alliance etc.
2. The British Road to Socialism.—Ours was the first Communist Party outside the socialist countries to put forward a programme for the peaceful transition to socialism through the establishment of a broad popular alliance, election of a People’s Government and the transformation of Parliament and the state. We did this in the light of the new balance of class forces in the world and the traditions, customs and institutions that are proper to Britain.
But we have not done enough to carry the analysis further. We need to study how the democratic liberties won in generations of people’s struggle can be maintained and extended in the transition to socialism, to consider the problems of Party political life and the relations of other political parties under a People’s Government, and to examine the methods of guaranteeing socialist legality.
We need more study, thought and development of the section of our programme dealing with peaceful co-existence.
We have, in the light of the great new advances to independence of the colonial peoples, to examine more deeply the future relationships of a People’s Britain and the liberated colonial countries.
We have to study the future of local government and how the traditions and gains through popular struggle in that field can be developed and extended.
The Executive Committee will initiate a Party discussion on all these matters with the aim of preparing a new edition of The British Road to Socialism for presentation to the Party branches and to the next Party Congress.
3. The Communist Party.—The Twenty-Fourth Congress put forward the aims of 50,000 members of the Party and 5,000 members of the Y.C.L. as the next stage in our development. We need to strengthen and improve our Party building efforts and to give continual attention to the steady and sustained growth of our Party branches, factory and local. Our Congress drew attention to serious shortcomings in relation to building the Party and developing working class unity. We must overcome these weaknesses in the course of improving our public work and inner-Party life and strengthening the fight for unity. The further development of our collective work at every level, from the Executive Committee to the branches, must be seriously tackled. A special Commission has been established to examine the methods and working of our Party Congress, its committees, methods of discussion and election, criticism and self-criticism, and the improvement of inner-Party democracy. The views of all Party organisations on the report of this Commission will be invited when it is published.
We need at all levels to learn to listen more attentively to those who raise points, suggestions, criticisms. We need to create the atmosphere in all Party branches and committees where points, however critical, are freely raised and listened to in a comradely manner.
We need more controversy and discussion of a positive and constructive character in our Party periodicals.
The Twentieth Congress of the C.P.S.U. showed that socialism is the hope of humanity. It should inspire us to new efforts to defeat the Tories and end capitalism and exploitation in Britain.
Never has the position been more favourable for the work of our Party in Britain. Never has our Party been more urgently needed by the working class and the working people.
Following the visit of Bulganin and Khruschov there has been a considerable relaxation of international tension, and many long established prejudices against the Soviet Union and the people’s democracies have been weakened and broken down.
There is a great wave of struggle developing on economic and social issues, a mounting anti-Tory feeling and determination to oust the Tory Government. There are new opportunities for working class unity and for a broad alliance of the people against Toryism. But in this favourable situation the official Labour leadership is not putting forward an alternative policy nor developing a campaign against the Tories. The role of and need for our Party is clearer than ever before.
Our Party is a fighting Party, striving to unite the working people for the defeat of the Tories and the victory of socialism in Britain. Let our discussions be directed towards improving the fighting capacity of our Party, inspiring. all its members with our socialist aims, turning outwards to the people and leading them into action.