J. R. Campbell
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Printer: Farleigh Press., Aldenham, Herts.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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.
FORTY YEARS AGO on July 31st and August 1st, 1920, the British Communist Party was born in the midst of the revolutionary crisis which developed towards the end of the first world war. For the first time in the history of the capitalist system socialism appeared to millions of workers as an immediate possibility. The Russian Revolution had proved that the capitalists and the landlords could be overthrown, and the construction of a socialist order of society commenced. With every victory of the Red Army over capitalist intervention the enthusiasm of the active workers grew. The Russian Revolution had been followed by the German Revolution, and although this had been halted, as a result of the treachery of the right-wing Social-Democrats, there were hopes that in this key country of European capitalism the advance might be resumed. At home there was a terrific strike wave. In 1919 the miners had won the seven-hour day and the promise of mines’ nationalisation, should a Royal Commission, which had been appointed, pronounce in favour of that policy (a promise that the Government subsequently repudiated). The railways had been reorganised and big wage increases won, and the dockers had obtained an agreement which looked forward to the ending of the blight of casual labour. Associated with the growing militancy, was an increased understanding that the Russian Revolution was a victory for the workers everywhere, and that industrial action must be used to hinder the attempts of the capitalist states, with Britain and France at their head, to destroy the new socialist state. In the East End of London, Harry Pollitt, Mrs. Walker and others, active in the “Hands Off Russia” movement, were carrying out an agitation which culminated in April 1920 in the dockers’ refusal to load the Jolly George with munitions for Poland.
All over Europe, important, and in some, majority sections of the established Socialist Parties, were beginning to transform themselves into Communist Parties, and were seeking to direct the rapidly rising mass movement. In Britain there was no mass Socialist Party on an individual membership basis, and the militants who were attracted to communism were scattered in propaganda socialist groups of the left like the British Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party, the South Wales Communist Council, the left wing of the Independent Labour Party, and groups connected with the wartime shop stewards’ movements and the miners’ reform movements. It was out of these groups that the cadres and membership of a united Communist Party, capable of giving leadership to the developing mass movement had to come.
The united Communist Party came into existence in three stages. On July 31st and August 1st, 1920, the Communist Party was formed at a conference of delegates from the British Socialist Party, the Communist Unity Group of the Scottish Labour Party, and the South Wales Communist Council. It included such stalwarts of the British working class as Harry Pollitt, Tom Bell, Arthur MacManus, Albert Inkpin, Arthur Horner, William Paul, R. Page Arnot, James Gardner, Isabel Brown, Andrew Rothstein, and Bob Stewart. In January 1921 there was a unity conference with the Workers Socialist Federation and the Communist Labour Party in Scotland (composed mainly of shop stewards’ and miners’ reform movements grouped around the Scottish Worker) in which William Gallacher, J. R. Campbell, and Alec Geddes were prominent members. By the spring of 1921 the left wing of the I.L.P., with Palme Dutt, Emile Burns, Ernest Brown, and Shapurji Saklatvala (later M.P. for North Battersea elected on a Communist policy) came in, and unity was complete.
The united Communist Party had hardly been formed when the economic crisis of 1921-23 broke out and the growth of mass unemployment encouraged the employers to apply their traditional remedy of wage cuts. The reformist leaders of the railwaymen and transport workers broke up the triple alliance and left the miners to battle, heroically but unsuccessfully against wage cuts. Subsequent to the defeat of the miners every other section of the workers suffered wage cuts.
Such were the circumstances in which the Communist Party had to transform itself from an association of propaganda groups into a militant Communist Party capable of giving the entire working class a lead in its daily struggles, and of pointing the Socialist way forward. Communist principles of organisation and mass work were outlined in a famous commission report from Harry Pollitt, R. Palme Dutt, and Harry Inkpin issued in 1922. It took quite a time and a lot of serious mistakes before the Communist Party organisation began to function. Yet the turn to mass politics, coupled with this organisation, enabled a party of devoted men and women to make a powerful impact on the workers’ struggle.
In this pamphlet we can only deal with some of the many occasions when our party influenced masses of the British people to struggle against the might of British monopoly capitalism. We choose, because of their topical interest for the present generation:
I. The struggle against the employers’ offensive, which culminated in the General Strike of 1926.
II. The struggle for an alliance of British workers and colonial peoples.
III. The struggle for unity against fascism and war.
IV. The Party in the post-war struggle for peace.
V. The Party in the post-war struggle for a socialist policy for Britain.
When the Party commenced this campaign in 1922 under the slogan of “Stop the Retreat” its members were influential in some of the leading trades councils in the country, which were coming together in a federation to discuss common problems. At a district level its members were prominent in a number of important unions. The party organ the Workers’ Weekly was reaching out to about 40,000 readers per week, being sold mainly in door-to-door canvassing. Everywhere Communist Party members were influential in the rapidly growing National Unemployed Workers’ Movement whose leader was Wal Hannington. It was soon realised, however, that if the trade union movement was to beat off further attacks there had to be a closer association between the Communist Party members and the active militants in a number of unions, so in response to this need the National Minority Movement was born in 1924, with William Gallacher and later Harry Pollitt as the Secretary, and the veteran Socialist Tom Mann as the Chairman.
Arthur James Cook, General Secretary of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, was a member of the movement, and for a time good relations were maintained with a number of members of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress. In 1924 the Communist Party began to establish factory groups, which were immediately encouraged to get out factory papers. These papers besides criticising management policies and personalities put across the party’s general industrial and political policy. They were a relatively new thing in British political life and were snapped up eagerly. The workers were determined to force increases of wages, the forty-four-hour week and work or full maintenance for the unemployed. Rank-and-file lefts inside the Labour Party were determined that the next Labour Government would operate a definite socialist policy, as opposed to the spineless wobbling of the 1924 MacDonald Government. In order to unite all these streams of left opinion a Sunday newspaper— the Sunday Worker, was formed under Communist influence but drawing—its contributors from the lefts in the General Council of the T.U.C. from a number of left M.P.s, and from local Labour Party activists. At its highest point its circulation was around the 100,000 mark. So despite the numerical weakness of the Communist Party—approximately 4,000 members in 1925—there was a reasonably powerful propaganda machine, influencing many workers and creating a feeling for working class unity in the fight to wrest concessions from the capitalist class and to defeat the Tories.
It was in this situation that the Tories adopted a policy which involved a headlong attack against working class wages. Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, took the fateful step of putting the pound back on the gold standard while raising its exchange rates. This increased the price of all British exports at the stroke of a pen. Export trade was faced with disaster unless export prices came down and so long as the pound remained overvalued the only way that the capitalist class saw of achieving this was an all-round reduction of wages. The miners who had obtained a slight increase in wages in 1924 were not only faced with a demand for a reduction of wages, but with the replacement of the seven-hour day with the eight-hour day. From every section of the movement came demands for resistance. The miners’ case was stated at a special Trades Union Congress on July 24th, 1925, and the following day the General Council of the T.U.C. got the agreement of the railway and transport unions that in the event of a miners’ lock-out they would impose a complete embargo on the transport of coal. Faced with unity and with a knowledge of working class determination in every area of the country, the Tory Government surrendered. It induced the mine-owners to withdraw their lock-out notices, and agreed to subsidise the industry up to April 1926, in order that existing wages might be paid. It also set up a Royal Commission, under Sir Herbert Samuel, to investigate the conditions of the mining industry.
Everyone knew that without the tremendous self-sacrificing drive of the Communists and their left allies amongst the rank and file, the irresistible working class pressure, which created the unity of Red Friday, would not have existed.
So the right-wing leader, Ramsay MacDonald decided on a political show-down with the Communists, while the Government prepared to clap the Communist leaders in jail, as a preliminary to a show-down with the entire Labour movement.
At the Labour Party conference in October, 1925, the reactionary forces organised by MacDonald rejected, by an overwhelming vote, a resolution calling for Communist affiliation to the Labour Party and endorsed previous decisions that no Communist could represent his union in any Labour Party organisation, and that no Communist should be allowed to be an individual member of the Labour Party. This was a signal to the Government.
So a few days later it arrested twelve  Communist leaders on a charge of “seditious conspiracy”. The Government was wise enough not to rest its case on the activity of the accused in organising resistance to wage cuts, but on their dissemination of “seditious” communist literature, (particularly the resolutions of the Communist International), their speeches, and occasional articles. Campbell, Gallacher and Pollitt defended themselves. Five of the prisoners who had previous convictions, Gallacher, Hannington, Inkpin, Pollitt and Rust, were sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment and the others (after rejecting the Judge’s offer that they could go free if they renounced their political activity) were sentenced to six months. The sentences did not intimidate the Communist Party. An emergency leadership, which included Bob Stewart, George Hardy, Andrew Rothstein, Aitken Ferguson, and Emile Burns took over, and the entire activity of the Party was intensified. The circulation of the press grew; new members were made. A powerful campaign for the release of the prisoners was launched, in which 300,000 signatures were collected; but the main activity of the Communist Party was to induce the working class movement to prepare for the next round of the struggle.
Agitation in the factories and systematic activity in the trade union branches were increased. The Minority Movement organised a number of local and sectional conferences which led up to a National Conference of Action held on March 1926 at which there were 883 delegates.
The main demands of the Conference were Councils of Action in every town, 100 per cent trade unionism, formation of Workers’ Defence Corps, Organisation of Food Departments in touch with the Co-operatives, publication of Strike Bulletins, the summoning of a National Congress of Action to secure full power to the General Council.
Meantime the Government was preparing to crush the movement. A body called the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies was formed whose main function, in practice, was to keep the transport system going.
On the other hand, the General Council of the Trades Union Congress displayed the most bovine passivity. They were hoping that the Samuel Commission would make a number of recommendations which would enable them to wriggle out of their obligation unconditionally to support the miners’ resistance. When the Samuel Commission Report came out the General Council slowly moved to a position that involved its acceptance (with its proposals for the rationalisation of the industry), and also the acceptance of some wage cuts by the miners.
Given the tremendous pressure of the working class, the General Council had no alternative but to recommend a Conference of Trade Union Executives on May 1st, 1926, to call a General Strike for Monday evening, May 3rd, in support of the miners, who were already locked out. They did so not to force the Government and mine-owners to withdraw the demand for wage cuts, but to compromise.
The strike was envisaged to take place in waves. The first wave to be called out were (in addition to the locked-out miners) all transport, printing, heavy industry (iron and steel, metals, heavy chemicals), building (except housing and hospitals). Engineering and shipbuilding workers were to be called out later. A sub-committee of the General Council met the Prime Minister and two colleagues on Saturday, May 1st, and Sunday, May 2nd. From these meetings a formula emerged which had to be taken back for consideration by the General Council of the T.U.C. and the miners.
“We will urge the miners to authorise us to enter upon a decision with the understanding that they and we accept the Report, as the basis of a settlement, and we approach it with the knowledge that it may involve some reduction in wages.”
This was the capitulation of 1921 all over again. It was a formula which, if completely rejected by the miners, would have enabled the General Council to call off the strike. But when conversations with the General Council as a whole and the miners were still proceeding the Government struck its first blow. Members of NATSOPA at the Daily Mail had refused to print it with an editorial denouncing the strike. The Government asked the General Council to repudiate this and “immediately and unconditionally” withdraw “the instructions for a general strike”.
With the tremendous solidarity of the rank and file for the strike, the General Council could not call it off, and so on the evening of May 3rd, 1926, the struggle was on. The T.U.C. admitted that “reports have passed all expectations. Not only the railwaymen and the transport men, but all other trades came out in a manner we did not expect immediately”.
All over the country the Trades Councils immediately formed themselves into Councils of Action or Strike Committees, and sought by mass picketing to ensure that the stoppage was as complete as possible. Over seventy of those local organisations issued duplicated strike or information bulletins, in which the experience of Communist Party branches was often utilised. In addition, many Communist branches got out their own duplicated bulletins and leaflets. Party Centre issued “Workers’ Daily” and the “Workers’ Bulletin”, and in Scotland a duplicated “Worker”.
Throughout the whole nine days the General Strike continued unshaken. The B.B.C. afternoon bulletin on May 11th announced “there are no signs of a relaxation of the strike situation as a whole”. In the evening bulletin it said, “There is as yet little sign of a collapse of the strike” and on Wednesday, May 12th, “The position as a whole is still one of deadlock”.
The General Council was being intimidated by Government allegations that the strike was illegal. They flinched before the workers’ demands for a more aggressive strike policy, so on May 12th they decided to call the strike off without even attempting to get any guarantees against victimisation. They pretended that concessions had been won in negotiations with Sir Herbert Samuel, the Chairman of the Coal Commission, but this was false.
The employers, particularly the railway companies, felt that they could afford to victimise; but speedily found out that they were not confronted with a demoralised mass. The workers stood firm and there was aggressive picketing outside all the main depots. In the main the employers had to take the men back without victimisation though they extracted agreements from some unions that they would not, in future, strike without negotiations.
The miners were to fight for another seven months before resuming work. Their magnificent struggle, however, held the capitalist class off from attacking other workers. Wage-cutting had proved to be a very costly thing for the British capitalists’ economy. Today the right-wing leaders are fond of declaring that strikes alienate support from their Party. The General Strike had no such effect. It opened the eyes of many workers who broke away from the capitalist parties and supported Labour, despite the shifty, treacherous attitude of its leaders. The Labour vote advanced from 5,500,000 in 1924 to 8,400,000 in 1929.
From its inception the Communist Party strove to explain to the British workers the nature of monopoly capitalism as a cause of war, of the oppression of colonial peoples and of the intensified exploitation to which the British workers were being subjected in an effort to provide the resources for an extension and strengthening of the power of the British Empire. The Socialist Parties, which were operating before the Communist Party was formed were (with the exception of the Fabians) anti-imperialist in the sense that they opposed wars (like the Boer War) for the expansion of the empire, and looked to freeing the colonial peoples under socialism.
The Communist Party was the first organisation, however, which treated the colonial people as a progressive force in their own right, as allies of the British workers in the struggle against British monopoly capitalism. Gradually the most progressive workers were won to this point of view which found an expression in a successful resolution of the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association at the 1925 T.U.C. This said:
“This Trades Union Congress believes that the domination of nonBritish peoples by the British Government is a form of capitalist exploitation having for its object the securing for British capitalists (1) of cheap sources of raw materials, (2) the right to exploit cheap and unorganised labour and to use the competition of that labour to degrade the workers’ standards in Great Britain.
“It declares its complete opposition to imperialism and resolves (i) to support the workers in all parts of the British Empire to organise the trade unions and political parties to further their interests, and (ii) to support the right of all peoples in the British Empire to self-determination, including the right to choose complete separation from the Empire.”
The celebrated Jimmy Thomas, the General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen, who was later to rat from the movement, plaintively asked: “Does he [Mr. Purcell, the mover of the resolution] want self-determination for Kenya?” Harry Pollitt, supporting the resolution, said that “imperialism meant the slavery which existed in Kenya at the present time . . . Empire to the whole of the exploited races of the world simply meant that they were being exploited by a set of capitalists. The Indian workers could not hold a strike meeting without being shot”.
The Communist Party did not confine itself to pious declarations of support for colonial peoples forming their own political parties and trade unions. It sent some of its members, Percy Glading, the late George Allison, the late Ben Bradley, and Philip Spratt to India to assist in the development of the unions and the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party. In the famous Meerut Trial of 1929-33, Bradley, Spratt and Lester Hutchinson (a left Labour M.P., 1945-50) stood alongside twenty-nine leaders of Indian trade unionism and of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party, charged with organising the struggle of the workers and peasants against inhuman conditions and for struggle against British imperialism.
In the second world war, British Communists on service in India had an opportunity of seeing at first hand the powerful Communist Party which had grown from the small beginnings of a few years previously. Indeed, non-Communist soldiers often made their first contact with Communism through the Indian Communist Party, and returned to Britain to join the Communist Party and fight for the liberation of all colonial peoples.
That struggle still goes on. Although many of the colonies have achieved political independence, they are still in the grip of the imperialists as far as their economic life is concerned; and their struggle together with the British workers in order to achieve complete national freedom has still to be won.
From 1926 onwards the capitalist system in Europe began to expand, most of all in Germany, least of all in Britain. Theories of “organised capitalism” alleging that the capitalists now understood how to minimise booms aid slumps were widespread. In the midst of this boastful complacency, the crash of share values on the New York Stock Exchange in the autumn of 1929 reverberated round the world. Mass unemployment, amounting at its height to 25 per cent of the employed population, developed in all industrial countries.
A few months before this crisis broke out the second Labour Government, dependent on Liberal support, was elected, as a “lesser evil” to the hated Toryism. It neither expected the crisis, nor had the faintest idea what to do about it. It dithered while unemployment grew to monstrous proportions, and finally split asunder in the midst of the world-wide financial crisis of 1931.
In 1929 Harry Pollitt, universally acknowledged as the Party’s outstanding leader, became General Secretary, and promptly began to reorganise methods of work. A number of new leaders began to come to the front, including William Rust, D. F. Springhall, Ted Bramley, Peter Kerrigan, Idris Cox, John Mahon, Abe and Alex Moffat, Isabel Brown, Marjorie Pollitt, Rose Smith, Joe Scott, George Allison, Claude Berridge and James Shields. On January 1st, 1930, the long-awaited Daily Worker came out with William Rust as the editor. Walter Holmes, Allen Hutt, Frank Patterson, were prominent members of the staff in those early days. A new and highly successful phase of the Party’s activity had opened.
Here we have only space to deal with the Party’s leadership of the British workers in the struggle against fascism which had emerged out of the crisis. For in January 1933 the German monopoly capitalists lifted Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party to power and initiated the chain of events which led to the second world war. It took some time for the Communist Party to convince masses of the British people that this was no specific German event, and that fascism in various forms threatened the freedom and peace of all mankind.
The right-wing Labour bureaucracy which had blundered so badly in relation to its estimate of capitalist trends proceeded to blunder even more outrageously. Fascism and communism were two forms of dictatorship, they alleged, and the British workers must resist both. On this basis the T.U.C. General Council in 1934 issued Black Circulars suggesting that Communists should not be elected as delegates to Trades Councils. They also came out against the policy of resisting the activity and provocation of the British Union of Fascists, led by Sir Oswald Mosley (a renegade from the Labour Party).
But the Communist Party, on the basis of a united front with socialist groups, trades union branches, and trades councils, the local branches of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement, brought masses of workers on to the streets. When Mosley in the autumn of 1934 tried to stage a great demonstration in Hyde Park, it was the Communist Party which was the driving force in the united front group which organised the huge counterdemonstration, behind which Mosley and his supporters skulked, protected by a circle of police.
When Mosley attempted to march through the East End of London in the autumn of 1936, it was the Communist Party which issued the slogan “MOSLEY SHALL NOT PASS”. There was a tremendous response on the part of trades councils, trade union branches, and the smaller socialist organisations. The workers set up barricades in Cable Street and the police advised Mosley to call off the march. The right wing, however, kept disdainfully aloof.
From 1933 onwards the Communists were the driving force in the Committee for the Relief of the Victims of Fascism, in which many Labour M.P.s, like Ellen Wilkinson, Sir Stafford Cripps and D. N. Pritt co-operated. Huge meetings and conferences were held all over the country. Thousands of trade union branches, Co-operative Guilds, Trades Councils and local organisations participated.
That fascism led directly to war was underlined when the Italians attacked and annexed Abyssinia in the autumn of 1935, and when Italian and German troops and air force intervened in the attack on the democratically elected Government in Spain in 1936.
The British Government pretended at first to be against the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, and got a League of Nations’ decision against Italy. On the basis that it was defending collective security against aggression it launched a powerful campaign in the General Election of 1935. The Communist Party declared that a change of government was necessary if a genuine policy of resistance to fascist aggression was to be operated. In pursuance of its united, front policy it withdrew all its candidates except Harry Pollitt in East Rhondda and William Gallacher in West Fife. Pollitt got over 13,000 votes but could not defeat his right-wing Labour opponent. Gallacher succeeded, however, in defeating Adamson, a notorious right-winger, and for fifteen years fought a tremendous battle for working class unity, peace and socialism, by pointed questions, powerful speeches (not to speak of deadly interruptions) inside Parliament.
The attempt in 1936 on the part of a military-fascist group, headed by General Franco, to dissolve the Spanish Government was at first defeated by the united struggle of the democratic forces, at the head of which stood the Communist Party and the Socialist Party. The rising would have been finally overcome had not the German and Italian Governments sent food, military supplies and men. Hitler sent 50,000, Mussolini sent 110,000, Portugal 20,000 and hundreds of thousands of Moors from Spanish Morocco served in the fascist forces. The fascist war against democracy and national independence had commenced.
The Spanish struggle awakened many British to an understanding that fascism would ultimately attack Britain and an even wider Committee, the National Joint Committee was formed, which had members on it from every political party, from trade unions, from the Co-operative movement and from the various other committees on Spain which were already in existence. The right-wing lie that nobody can work with the Communists was exploded by the united enthusiastic work of these committees, in which well-known Communists like Isabel and Ernest Brown, were amongst the leading spirits.
One day in the early autumn of 1936 the veteran Socialist H. N. Brailsford called at the Communist Party office to urge Harry Pollitt to begin recruiting a corps of volunteers to go to Spain and fight on the Republican side. To his immense delight he found that the first contingent of British and Irish volunteers had already crossed the Channel.
The British Battalion of the International Brigade was in all the main battles of the Spanish civil war and proved itself to be a hard hitting dependable force. During the life of the Brigade British comrades like Peter Kerrigan, Bill Alexander, D. F. Springhall, Sam Wild, Walter Tapsell, Bert Williams, William Paynter, William Rust and Bob Cooney were active in command. Harry Pollitt visited the battalion five times during the course of the war. One thousand, five hundred men served in its ranks. Five hundred and thirty-three were killed and the majority of the others were wounded at one time or another. One half of the members of the Battalion were Communist Party members as were one half of the dead.
During this period the Communist Party was to participate in one more effort to promote working class unity in the struggle against fascism. Conversations were held with the Socialist League, in which Sir Stafford Cripps, Aneurin Bevan, Barbara Castle, and Michael Foot were prominent members, and the Independent Labour Party with Fenner Brockway, James Maxton, John McNair at the head. An agreement on the lines of the campaign was drawn up and powerful enthusiastic demonstrations were held throughout the country. As usual the right-wing bureaucracy threatened the members of the Socialist League (affiliated to the Labour Party) and the character of the campaign had to be changed to protect these comrades. Nevertheless, the vast anti-fascist activity was having a tremendous effect inside the Labour Party. Local Labour Parties were clamouring for the right to elect their delegates directly to the constituency section of the National Executive Committee, instead of the entire conference, including the trades union delegations with their block votes electing them. At the 1937 Conference at Bournemouth they won this precious right and Sir Stafford Cripps, D. N. Pritt, and Harold Laski were amongst the lefts elected to the N.E.C.
In this period great numbers of middle class and professional people were drawn into the campaigns on behalf of Spain and on behalf of a Popular Front policy. The need for a class alliance of the workers and middle class and professional sections became widely understood. It was the unity campaigns which the bureaucracy opposed, the policy of the class alliance between the working class and middle class and professional sections, which won increasing numbers of the latter for support of the Labour movement and for the Labour Party in the General Elections of 1945.
The Communist Party and its allies played a major part in the struggle to prevent the betrayal of Czechoslovakia which the Chamberlain Government was plotting throughout the summer of 1938. On May 23rd, 1938, a manifesto from the Communist Party said: “The aims of Hitler are directed to making Czechoslovakia a vassal state of Germany, and clear the way for Hitler’s war aims in Europe as a whole. These aims are the conquest of Europe and that means Britain as well as Czechoslovakia and France, as well as the Balkan countries and the Soviet Union.”
A powerful campaign of meetings and demonstrations for the defence of Czechoslovakia was organised. The Daily Worker day after day exposed the trickery of the Chamberlain Government and amidst the disgraceful rejoicing in the British Parliament when Chamberlain was about to depart for Munich, to sign the final act of betrayal, William Gallacher declared:
“No one desires peace more than I and my Party, but peace based on freedom and democracy, and not on the dismemberment and destruction of a small state. It is the policy of the National Government which has led us into this situation.” [Shouts of “No”.]
“Yes, and if we get peace it is the determination of the people that has saved it.
“Whatever the outcome the National Government will have to account for its policy. I am no party to what is going on here. There are many fascists on the other side of the House as in Germany. I object to the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia.”
Though the betrayal of Czechoslovakia was carried out and encouraged Hitler to go on to his next victim, Poland, and to precipitate the second world war, it did succeed in convincing great masses of the British people that they were in deadly peril from aggressive fascism and sooner or later Hitler had to be stopped.
The Young Communist League led by John Gollan, William Wainwright, and others, became in this period the most influential youth organisation in the struggle against fascism and war. Prevented by the right-wing bureaucracy from having a formal united front with the Labour League of Youth, the branches of the Y.C.L. and the L.L.Y. engaged in joint work in many localities. A broad alliance was formed with other youth organisations. The Emergency Youth Peace Campaign united the League of Nations Youth Groups, the Young Liberals, the University Labour Federation and the Labour League of Youth in great demonstrations against the threat to Czechoslovakia and other forms of peace and anti-fascist activity. The Y.C.L. also co-operated in the British Youth Peace Assembly in which thirty national organisations of youth were united. Challenge, whose first editor was William Wainwright, was built up as the most successful youth paper in the country, with a circulation of 20,000 per week.
Communist groups were active in the universities and worked together with Labour Party members in an endeavour to build the University Labour Federation as the mass organisation uniting all Socialist, Communist and anti-fascist students. George Matthews and James Klugmann are amongst the present leading comrades who were active in this work.
In this period Marxist-Leninist theory, particularly in relation to imperialism, was studied by many active workers and intellectuals. Before the first world war Marxist classics were few and usually badly translated and the infinite richness of Marxism was whittled down to an economic theory. After the formation of the Party the circulation of Marxist-Leninist classics began to increase but it was not until the 1930’s that they began to be studied on a really massive scale, as were books by British Marxists like R. P. Arnot, Emile Burns, Christopher Caudwell, Maurice Cornforth, J. R. Campbell, R. P. Dutt, Maurice Dobb, Hyman Fagan, Ralph Fox, William Gallacher, John Gollan, J. B. S. Haldane, Wal Hannington, Allen Hutt, Jack Lindsay, A. L. Morton, John Mahon, Harry Pollitt, George Thomson, Dona Torr and Alick West.
In the latter part of this period the Communist Party and the Communist press began to grow. At the Thirteenth Congress in 1935 it was announced that membership was 6,500; at the Fourteenth Congress in 1937, 12,250; and at the Fifteenth in 1938 there were 15,750. At the time of the Thirteenth Congress (1935) the weekly print of the Daily Worker was 180,000; at the Fourteenth (1937), 425,000. In a campaign before the Fourteenth Congress 20,000 new daily readers were won. Some special editions of the paper in this period sold 150,000 copies.
Even when it became clear that Hitler was about to attack Poland the Chamberlain Government refused to build an effective political and military front. Under the pressure of public indignation they pretended to be anxious to discuss the formation of a bloc of peaceful states, including the Soviet Union. They even sent a mission of fourth-rate military personalities by slow boat to the Soviet Union, but these had no firm propositions to discuss and it was only too clear that the government still hoped to divert the Nazis against the Soviet Union; and so the Soviet Union, in self-protection, had to sign the Soviet-German non-aggression pact.
The Anglo-French declaration of war in September, 1939, did not basically challenge the aggressive plans of fascism. The aim of the “phoney war” was to force Germany to a compromise in the West and to encourage it to turn East against the Soviet Union. Thus, although France and Britain had superiority in the West, they did not attack, and remained passive when the Germans were over-running Poland.
The capitalist press naturally sought to divert attention away from the British Government’s refusal to agree to a bloc with the Soviet Union by denunciation of that state. During the Finnish war it made such bellicose anti-Soviet propaganda that it was clear that a section of the British imperialists, while failing to develop the struggle against the Nazis, were enthusiastic for a war against the Soviet Union. They rushed planes and equipment to Finland and sought Norwegian permission (which was refused) to send a British force across Norway to fight alongside the Finns against the Soviet Union. Indeed, until France and Britain were defeated in the offensive of the Nazis in May, 1940, there were strong elements in both countries who argued that it was necessary to “switch the war” against the Soviet Union.
Throughout this period the Communist Party fought for adequate air raid protection for the people, defended the workers’ interests by building up powerful shop stewards’ organisations; demanded the suppression of war-profiteering; denounced the repressions in India; combated the anti-Soviet lies and kept the way open for an understanding with the Soviet Union, which was ultimately made possible by the strong resistance trends emerging in Europe and by the warlike hostility of the Nazis to the Soviet Union (which they recognised was an obstacle to their plans), culminating in their declaration of war in June, 1941.
The keynote of the Communist Party’s struggle during the great antifascist war was expressed by Harry Pollitt when he said “an anti-fascist war can only be won when the whole resources of the nation are fully utilised and the common people drawn more directly into the whole conduct of the war, alongside the essential measures for social and economic betterment.” In a resolution entitled “Britain Today and Tomorrow” the Party outlined a series of important social changes “which we believe that the Government should carry through now, both in order to strengthen the home front for victory and to prepare for after the war.” At the same time the Party carried out a ruthless exposure of the imperialist policy of delaying the opening of the Second Front in the hope that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany would mutually exhaust themselves and that the Western imperialists, winning the war “on the cheap”, would establish their predominance after victory.
In combating this imperialist policy the Communist Party carried out a great impressive campaign throughout the country which inspired the masses of British workers with the conviction that the war could be won, the reactionaries in Britain decisively weakened, and a government installed which would bring about sweeping changes after the war.
As the end of the war approached and it became clear that the Tories in the coalition government were about to stage a sudden election, the Party issued the slogan “Clear Out the Tories”. It approached the Labour Party with proposals for co-operation to secure a government based on a majority of Labour and Communist M.P.s. This was, as usual, rejected, but at the Labour Party Conference held in Blackpool in May 1945, the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the National Union of Distributive Workers moved that the Conference Arrangements Committee proposals be referred back in order to permit the Conference to discuss “the advisability or otherwise of making an arrangement with the progressive parties at the General Election”. The reference back was only lost by 1,314,000 votes to 1,219,000.
The Labour Party won a sweeping victory at the General Election, getting 12 million votes against 10 million for the Tories and their allies the National Liberals and 2,200,000 for the Liberals. The Communist Party ran twenty-one candidates, who got 102,780 votes, and comrades William Gallacher and Phil Piratin were elected to Parliament. There was an especially close contest in Rhondda East, where Harry Pollitt was defeated by 16,733 to 15,761.
The Labour Party took office in 1945, with vast opportunities confronting it. The fascist powers had been ground into the dust. Their pre-war supporters, the great monopolists of all capitalist lands, had been heavily discredited. A major part in the victory over fascism had been achieved by a socialist great power-the Soviet Union. Where fascist or near-fascist groups had ruled in Eastern Europe, there were now governments controlled by Socialists and Communists. In capitalist Western Europe Socialists and Communists were prominent in nearly every government. The capitalists in Britain, as in Western Europe generally, had no alternative but to make concessions. Major colonies were throwing off the imperialist yoke. The capitalist class of Europe was never in a poorer position to resist working class advance.
The one country in which the capitalist class was still unshaken, the United States of America, had a huge surplus of food and raw materials at its disposal and intended to use it to promote the restoration of capitalism in all Europe west of the Soviet Union. To get Europe in its grip it abruptly terminated the Lease-Lend in 1945. It made a loan to Britain in 1946 but attached a convertibility clause which rendered it completely abortive. It poured its millions into France and Italy and incited the capitalist parties and the Right Socialists to throw the Communists out of the Government. Aided by the British Labour Party it sought to operate the same policy in Czechoslovakia but it was the workers who threw the capitalist parties out and the frustrated Western powers had the audacity to denounce this as an unforgivable example of Communist aggression.
Finally, spurred on by Ernest Bevin, the U.S. formulated the Marshall Plan, whose basic idea was to use American economic and political weight to restore capitalism in Europe. When the Soviet Union and the People's Democracies in Eastern Europe refused to accept it, their decision was denounced as an act of Communist aggression.
The aims of the so-called Anglo-American Alliance were (1) to restore capitalism in Western Europe; (2) to mobilise under the slogan of “containment” all possible force against the Soviet Union; (3) ultimately to “liberate” Eastern Europe by force.
So in 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was born and the vicious cold war against the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was institutionalised. “Negotiation from Strength” was the slogan—which meant that no negotiations with the Soviet Union would be undertaken until the West, which had of course the atom bomb, had built such superiority of strength as to be able to overawe that state. The British economy, struggling desperately to modernise industry and build up foreign trade, was called to face new crushing arms burdens. In 1950 in the midst of the Korean War, military expenditure was increased from £861 million per year to a projected £1,600 million.
It was in this period that the tragic worship of the atom bomb commenced in the Labour movement. Although Britain is one of the states most vulnerable to nuclear warfare, countless Labour speeches were made as if this deadly form of mass murder was of some special advantage to Britain. Peace became a dirty word for many right-wing leaders. Members of the Labour Party taking part in peace organisations, advocating negotiations with the Soviet Union, became liable to expulsion. The final and most disastrous step was taken in 1950. Ernest Bevin landed at the Idlewild Airport in America declaring that Britain still opposed the rearmament of Germany. When he flew out again the Americans had convinced him of its necessity.
In this period the Communist Party sought to win the British people for a policy of “Britain Free and Independent” (1948 Congress).
In the autumn of 1948 the Daily Worker organised great peace conferences. In London 1,300 delegates attended, and in Glasgow 600.
The Party began to campaign for:
1. Unconditional prohibition of nuclear weapons and the establishment of strict international control.
2. A peace pact between the U.S.A., Great Britain, China, France and the Soviet Union.
In the spring of 1950 the Party supported the Stockholm Petition for the banning of the H-bomb. Tremendous work was done in door-to-door canvassing, in the market places and in the factories. Hostility had to be overcome, arguments answered, and people persuaded to sign. It was the first large-scale sustained campaign denouncing the employment of this murderous weapon, exposing nuclear strategy and its dangers to all mankind. Over one and a quarter million signatures were collected in favour of the ban.
It was inevitable that in the early stages of the Korean War, Party members had to overcome a great deal of ill-feeling, particularly in the factories as the American interpretation of that event was widely accepted. The American attempt to conquer all Korea on behalf of their puppet, Syngman Rhee, and the vicious American hostility to the People's Republic of China was courageously exposed, and so gradually the Party's campaign to end the war by negotiations grew in strength. An especially important role in the struggle for peace in Korea was played by the National Assembly of Women in which Communist Party members united with other progressive women in a valiant struggle for peace. The Daily Worker, with its correspondent Alan Winnington on the spot, rendered outstanding service in making the facts about this war widely known.
In the tremendous struggle which went on for a period of several years to induce the Labour movement to abandon its support of German rearmament, the Communist Party members were the driving force in the union branches and the factories, though influential sections of the Labour Party, under the influence of Aneurin Bevan, were in the struggle right from the start. The British Peace Committee mobilised many adherents of peace for this campaign. The right wing played down the dangerous and infamous policy which they were supporting by declaring that all that was being asked for was that Western Germany “should make a contribution to the defence of Europe”. When one looks today at the powerful West German army, the strongest army in the capitalist world, next to that of the U.S.A., and when one realises that the American generals are out to arm it with nuclear weapons, then one can only regard the right-wing campaign as one of the most infamous deceptions in all Labour history. A majority of trade union conferences declared their opposition to German rearmament. The Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers’ delegation at the Labour Party Conference brushed aside the decision of their annual conference, and voted for it, and the right wing won by 3,270,000 votes to 2,910,000.
A still more hazardous decision was taken in the spring of 1955 when the Labour opposition declared its support for the Tory decision to manufacture the hydrogen bomb. In the General Election which followed almost immediately after, the Communists were the only party which condemned the decision to manufacture this weapon.
In March 1954 a Japanese fishing vessel, the Fukuryu Maru was caught by the fall-out of an American hydrogen bomb test, and the crew suffered terrible injuries through burns. It was a convincing demonstration of the hideous character of the new weapons, and was soon reinforced by the warnings of the scientists that the radiation from these tests was a menace to the human race.
In the autumn of 1957 it was disclosed that U.S. planes, based on Britain, were engaged in flights while carrying H-bombs and were liable to receive orders to proceed against the Soviet Union. The Communist Party conducted a powerful campaign against such flights and demanded the removal of American air bases from this country. A series of demonstrations were held at all the American air bases inside Britain. In addition large peace demonstrations were held in various parts of the country. The Communist Party always linked the campaign against the H-bomb, against H-planes and rocket bases, with the drive for a Summit conference of the heads of government which would clear the way for the settlement of the outstanding questions, which would end the cold war and open the way to peaceful co-existence of states with different social systems.
Early in 1958, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which was independent of all political parties, was formed. It brought together many people (particularly the youth) who had no connection with the existing political parties, attracted enormous meetings and organised the successful Aldermaston marches.
In 1959 the vast swing of public opinion on the H-bomb was expressed in the growing success of Aldermaston marches and in the declaration of the Annual Conference of the General and Municipal Workers in favour of the renunciation of the H-bomb. Although this decision was subsequently reversed by a special conference, it was an accurate reflection of the development of opinion inside the Labour movement. In the months that followed, the union branches, particularly those in which the Communists and the lefts were active, began to show their appreciation of the fact that a large-scale nuclear war meant not defence but the annihilation of the human race, and therefore as part of a wider peace policy the British Government ought to renounce nuclear weapons now. Important union conferences endorsed this policy.
Point was added to this campaign when it was discovered in 1960 that the Blue Streak rocket which was to convey Britain’s hydrogen bomb warheads had already been rendered obsolete by the rocket developments. This completely destroyed the main thesis of Messrs. Gaitskell and Strachey and other British hydrogen bomb worshippers, that the British hydrogen weapons would enable them, in certain circumstances, to act independently of the United States. The right-wing leaders have since, however, demonstrated their continued adherence to the cold war and to N.A.T.O. Let America be the H-bomb state inside N.A.T.O. and let the others supply the conventional weapons—“the poor bloody infantry”—is the basic proposition of their new defence document.
Far be it from us to claim that the Communist Party is the only force for peace in Britain, but there is no denying that its campaigns have played a major part in bringing about an immense change in public opinion in recent years.
The right-wing policy of “no negotiations” with the Soviet Union until that state shows signs of a change of heart has been sunk without trace.
The belief that the Soviet Union is an aggressive power threatening war is discredited amongst the British people. The intransigence of the United States, its consistent refusal to engage in serious negotiations on any questions, the adventurist and aggressive policy pursued by its military leaders exemplified in the concepts of “liberation” (of Eastern Europe) and “massive retaliation” (all-out hydrogen bomb warfare); the contemptuous attitude to allies are provoking increasing resentment amongst the British people.
The building up of the military power of Western Germany is being widely recognised as a disastrous mistake, especially as that state is displaying an attitude of pronounced hostility to Britain.
The folly of nuclear strategy, which means gambling with the very existence of the human race, is being widely recognised.
All this adds up to what the Communist Party has been preaching since 1945-the need for an independent British foreign policy, which throws overboard all vestiges of cold war thought and which bases itself on the interests of the mass of the British people.
In 1945, the Communist Party was agreed that the Labour Party policy, operated in a democratic fashion, could be a big step forward. It therefore called for the “fulfilment of the Labour electoral programme and full support of the Labour Government for the fulfilment of this programme, including nationalisation of coal and power, transport and iron and steel, a vigorous housing programme, and Mension of health, education and social services”.
The Party warned, however, that “entrenched monopoly in Britain resists social and economic change, and demands lowered standards of the working people,” in order to promote its aims of trade war and that “within the Labour movement, unity has still to be achieved, and the dangerous influence of, reformism, which opposes unity and surrenders to capitalist policies, has still to be overcome”.
The Labour Party economic policy was based on the “mixed economy”. A number of basic industries were to be nationalised and private industry was to be subject to a modified system of price and raw material controls, which would enable the government to influence their policy. The monopolies resisted this control policy right from the first. An elaborate system of evasions developed, and step by step the control machinery broke down and the Government was compelled to make a bonfire of controls. Private industry was allowed to raise its prices on the market to the highest possible extent.
Amongst the industries taken into public ownership, railways and coal were technically backward, requiring an enormous outlay for their modernisation. It should have been obvious that they could not (1) meet the interest charges on these new loans and (2) find heavy compensation for the old shareholders. Labour Government policy assumed that they would do both.
At first, price control in both nationalised industries and privately owned industries was assumed. Then price control of goods produced by private enterprise was lifted (except food prices). On the other hand price control in nationalised industries was maintained.
So the nationalised industries had to buy their supplies at full market prices from private enterprise while being competed to sell their own goods and services at less than full market prices, and thus private enterprise was permitted to prey on them. This became the basis for the “failure” of nationalisation, which the Tory Party has made much of in recent years.
Finally, the warning of the Communist Party that huge military expenditure was the enemy of social progress was dramatically justified in the closing months of the Labour Government. The doubling of arms expenditure, in the midst of a powerful spurt of inflation, due to the world-wide arms drive, led to an unprecedented rise in prices, and the sharp reduction of the purchasing power of all wages and salaries. In the General Election of 1951 the Government was defeated.
Throughout the whole of the period of the Labour Government the Communists opposed the reformist policy. The Communist Party put forward a number of measures for reducing the inflationary tension, which included (1) the reduction of the armed forces; (2) more severe limitation of dividends paid, and an annual capital tax on holdings of over £10,000.
The Communist Party opposed the policy of the wage freeze from its inception, declaring that “living standards have already been reduced by rapidly rising prices”. Despite the furious anti-Communist campaign in the unions, a direct product of the cold war, the Communists, supported by masses of trade unionists, fought this infamous policy, until the General Council of the Trades Union Congress was compelled to drop it.
The existing type of nationalisation was criticised. “Only a handful of industries are nationalised, and these are used to provide profits for the former owners and cheap services for the private profit-making industries. This has to be wrung out of the workers of those industries before any improvements are made in their wages and working conditions, or in prices to the general public, while the new capital required to put those industries in order adds new burdens of interest. Neither the people as a whole, nor the workers in those industries can afford to go on paying these huge compensation charges.”
In its election programme for the 1950 election the Party showed how the social services were being eroded by the constantly rising prices. “Advance in the social services has been blocked by war policy. The Government in 1949 spent more on war preparations than it did on health, housing, labour, national insurance and grants to local authorities all put together.”
Pensions and unemployment and sickness benefit, at 26s. per week, were far too low. “Twenty-six shillings at the present level of prices buys much less than the pre-war benefit (for unemployment and sickness benefit) of 18s. did.” An increase of pensions and benefits was demanded.
In 1950, on the insistence of Harry Pollitt, the Party began to discuss its long-term programme, the first draft being prepared by him and John Gollan.
The programme—The British Road to Socialism—showed how working class unity could attract other sections of the people to united action for peace and for social and democratic advance and could on that basis win a parliamentary majority. This majority, supported by the mass organisations of the people, could transform parliament and the State apparatus into effective instruments of the people’s will.
Parliament had existed in different forms, under different social systems, for a period of almost 800 years. It had been a feudal assembly in the Middle Ages, had, during the dissolution of feudalism, been influenced and later dominated and transformed by the rising bourgeoisie. It was now an institution which by and large served the monopoly capitalist system. Nevertheless, The British Road insisted, account had to be taken of the fact that this institution had been looked up to throughout English history, by up and coming classes in society.
The programme, therefore, outlined a peaceful road to socialism in accordance with British conditions. This was not merely a matter of securing a majority of the seats in an election. There had to be organised struggle before the election, and the mass organisations of the working class and the people generally had to be prepared to back the parliamentary majority by action outside parliament.
This could best happen if the working class achieved unity on the basis of a socialist policy and sought to enter into an alliance with other important groups of the population.
So the programme rejected the idea that those groups could not be won for a policy of united struggle on immediate questions of peace, salaries, rents, improvements of social services and defence of the interests of the mass of the people against the encroachments of the monopolists.
It combated the idea that the professional classes could not be won for a socialist policy. Under socialism there would be an enormous expansion of education and much greater opportunities for teachers than there is today. The National Health Service, whose development is being hampered by monopoly capitalism, would be expanded, would be given the best possible facilities and would give much greater opportunities for doctors and health workers than exist today. The intelligent and cultured planning of our towns and cities, which is being frustrated by capitalism, would be undertaken. For the first time in recent history architects would have the possibility of showing what they could do on the basis of large scale comprehensive planning. Socialism would apply science to industry and agriculture, in order in the shortest possible time to raise their productivity. There would be an immense demand for scientists to enable this to be done. There would be public support of all kinds of culture, with the immense opportunities for actors, musicians and other cultural workers.
It was emphasised that there can be no serious politics, which do not take into consideration that Britain is the centre of a world empire in which the oppressed peoples are fighting for, and have in some cases achieved, their political independence, but in which the problems of economic independence and of independent economic development have still to be achieved.
The Communist Party realised that there could be no greater impediment to working class advance, no greater danger to British democracy itself, than for the workers to back imperialist policies and to resent the loss of British rule over the peoples of the empire.
In accordance with this policy the Communist Party has consistently in the teeth of prejudice sought to rally the British people for support of colonial struggles. That was particularly the case in relation to the heroic struggle of the Malayan People’s Army and in the independence struggle of the people of Kenya. When Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal the Communist Party was the only party which hailed this as a justified act of liberation. Big sections of the Labour movement repeated Sir Anthony Eden’s comparison of Colonel Nasser with Hitler, and Gaitskell suggested economic sanctions. The Communist Party stood firmly by the principle that in a struggle to break the chains that bind it to imperialism the oppressed nation is always right.
The programme recognises that the achievement of political independence by a colonial country is but the first step on the road. The economic heritage of colonial oppression has still to be ended. A socialist government would hand over “all national resources and assets owned by the Crown or British capital in the former colonies to their people“.
British industry could play a powerful role in the development of those countries through the technical and economic aid and the supply of machinery and technicians.
“A socialist government in Britain can seek to promote close, voluntary, fraternal relations for economic, political and cultural co-operation of mutual benefit, on the basis of national independence, equal rights and noninterference in internal affairs between Britain and the former colonial countries, and existing Commonwealth countries, willing to develop such relations”.
As revised in 1957, the programme campaigns for a full-fledged socialist democracy as contrasted with the restricted, precariously based “democracy” of present-day capitalism.
The programme guaranteed basic civil rights for all citizens, but it stressed as of even greater importance the everyday functioning of democracy in a socialist society.
The essence of socialist democracy is to replace the control of the rich by participation of the people in running the country, in the work of local government and in the management of industry.
On this basis the unions would not only protect the workers against bureaucratic administration and injustice, but would play a key role in the management of nationalised industries and in the planning organs of society; co-operative organisations would be given greater importance.
That is a genuine socialist democracy, which involves the common ownership of all large-scale industry plus “the participation of the people in running the country”.
It has nothing in common with the so-called “democratic socialism” of the right wing, in which democracy is interpreted to mean the dominance of private enterprise, particularly the great monopolies, in the economy.
In the fight for a policy such as that outlined in The British Road, united action is essential. Right-wing Labour, seeking to transform the Labour Party into a colourless opposition, accepting all the essentials of capitalism, is the bitter enemy of such unity. Nevertheless, it cannot prevent a great deal of unity at the bottom. Communists and Labour Party workers co-operate in the factories in building up workshop organisation and so improving earnings and working conditions. They co-operate in trade union branches, district committees and national conferences. Indeed, it is the tacit alliance of Communists and the Labour Party militants that is ensuring that the unions will defeat all attempts to abandon the socialist aims of the Labour Party; that they will defeat all attempts to reduce that Party to a corrupt appendage of the Establishment; and that they will, through unity increase the power of the unions, and the working class generally.
All the progressive forces in the Labour movement are handicapped because members of the Communist Party, although they have the complete confidence of their fellow trade unionists, are not allow to represent their union in Constituency Labour Parties or Labour Party Conferences. All who are interested in a genuine socialist policy must unite to sweep aside these bans.
Throughout the forty years the Communist Party has urged the British workers not to tolerate bad conditions of life and work but to fight to change them. Its intervention inspired the workers to resist wage cuts, the unemployed to fight for higher relief, the great mass of the British people to do all in their power to stop the advance of fascism. It was the first to show that the revolt of the colonial people was one of the great liberating movements of our time and the need for the British workers to form an alliance with it. It had faith in the ability of the Russian workers, in the most difficult conditions, to build a socialist society, when large sections of the labour movement in the capitalist world were rejecting that possibility. It has inspired masses of the British people to throw their weight on the side of peace. It has fought to inspire the British workers with faith in themselves and in their ability to achieve a Socialist Britain. In every phase of the British workers’ struggle it has given an inspiring constructive lead.
A majority of the working class has been detached from the support of the open capitalist parties, and, despite recent temporary electoral losses due to right-wing policy, this constitutes a powerful political force—a force which if united around a policy challenging the great monopolists could win the overwhelming majority of the British people to its side today. There is, despite right-wing revisionism, a much greater socialist understanding amongst the British workers than in the period between the wars. To that understanding the extensive activity of the Communist Party has contributed.
The trade unions have been built up to their highest point. Amalgamation has reduced the number of unions and the power of workshop organisation has greatly increased. The unions fight on a wider range of issues, not only on wages and hours, but on redundancy, arbitrary dismissals, etc., and make their will known on all the leading political questions of the day. From the 1920’s, when it inspired the unions to stop the retreat, the Communist Party has fought for the greatest possible unity in the trade union movement, on the basis of the widest trade union democracy. The hatred of Communist Party members’ activity in the trade unions, which in the press of the monopolists is always manifest, is an expression of the importance of this work.
The imperialist outlook of the British workers has been substantially weakened. There is a keener understanding that success for the colonial workers is to the advantage of the British workers. A great deal still remains to be done, but the Communist Party can congratulate itself in playing a major part in bringing about the very great understanding that every advance of the colonial workers is to the advantage of the British worker.
Not only has the hatred of war grown and popular jingoism declined, but the opinion that the working class can influence the course of events is widespread. In the inaugural address to the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864 Karl Marx said that events “have taught the working class the duty to master the intricacies of foreign policy; to watch the diplomatic acts of their respective governments; to counteract them if necessary by all means in their power; when unable to prevent war, to combine in simultaneous denunciations, and to vindicate the simple laws of morals and justice, which ought to govern the relations of private individuals, as the rules paramount to the intercourse of nations. The fight for such a foreign policy forms part of the general struggle for the emancipation of the human race.” If in a period when peaceful co-existence is possible the British working class is expressing itself more vigorously than ever in the cause of peace, this owes a great deal to the ceaseless activity of the Communist Party.
The furious cold war propaganda, particularly during the period of the Labour Government, was intended to diminish the feeling of the British workers for the Soviet Union; and it had some effect, which was earing off, however, when the exposure of the harmful results of the personality cult at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the counter-revolutionary events in Hungary stimulated a temporary revival. However, the effect of this propaganda is diminishing as intercourse between the British unions and those of the socialist world increase, as cultural exchanges develop, and as the tremendous progress of the socialist world becomes better known. Attempts of the right-wing Labour worshippers of N.A.T.O. and the H-bomb to depict the socialist world as “the enemy” are vehemently rejected.
Many of the militants of the British working class have thoroughly absorbed these lessons. They are resisting all attempts of the right-wing leadership to induce the Labour Party to drop its socialist aims. They seek to preserve these aims not merely as a declaration of principles, but as a guide to the action of the new generation coming into politics. Increasing unity of the left can isolate the right wing and release the vast potential strength of the movement in the fight for socialism in Britain.
Outside Britain the world has changed enormously in these forty years. When the Communist Party was formed, Soviet Russia was defeating the last (the Polish) intervention. The tremendous task of developing socialist industry and agriculture on the basis of the most modern technique and of carrying through the cultural revolution lay in the fixture. Today the Soviet Union is the second industrial power in the world and has set itself the task of surpassing the United States in production and consumption per head. This claim is being taken seriously. American economists and business leaders are admitting that the growth of the American capitalist economy is lagging behind that of the Soviet Union. What Mr. Richard Nixon calls “growth-manship” occupies U.S. business and economic thought.
In Asia the victorious Chinese Revolution is an example to all peoples anxious to throw off age-long backwardness and rapidly to develop their country on the basis of socialist economic planning. No-one doubts that China’s advance outpaces by far that of India, where the capitalist (native and foreign) elements in the economy are still strong.
In Eastern Europe, a group of countries—Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania, which before the war were dominated by military-fascist dictatorships, are progressing rapidly on a socialist basis. Balkans and Eastern Europe are no longer synonymous with ignorance and poverty, but with rapid social advance. In the German Democratic Republic (once the home ground of the Junkers) and in Czechoslovakia, in both of which there was already considerable industrialisation, the pace of socialist advance is exceptionally rapid.
In the colonial world the vast liberation movement sweeps aside all obstacles. The imperialists in abandoning direct political control of the colonies sought to control them economically. They cherished the delusion that they were the only sources from which the colonies could obtain economic assistance, and that therefore their economic domination could continue. The existence of the rapidly developing socialist world, able and willing to grant economic and technical aid without strings, is successfully challenging this strategy.
The socialist world, supported in the main by the ex-colonies, is the mainstay of world peace. Its peace policy is supported by growing numbers of peoples in the capitalist lands. Throughout the world the movement of the peoples to dispel the menace of nuclear war and to secure peaceful co-existence between states based on different social systems, is advancing triumphantly.
In such a world situation the Communist Party is in a better position than it has been for many years, to influence the British people, winning them for a policy of socialism and peace. The fight against the attempts to revise the Labour Party constitution has shown the very strong socialist convictions existing in the working class, and the possibility of building a measure of unity amongst Socialists in the Labour and Trade Union movement. Such a left grouping would have the powerful support of the Daily Worker, the only daily newspaper devoted to the political and economic struggle of the British people, applying socialist criticism to monopoly capitalism and pointing the socialist way forward. A rapid increase in the membership of the Communist Party and in the circulation of the Daily Worker will give an impetus to the revival of socialist thought and socialist policies throughout the movement.
The British people by their past labours have amassed a vast fund of productive power, of science and technique, and of democratic initiative, which if applied in the service of the people, in this age of automation, can guarantee unheard of prosperity, leisure and opportunities of free development for all.
So on its Fortieth Anniversary the Communist Party, proud of its past contribution to the progress of the British people, invites all who desire to see Britain a prosperous, socialist democracy, participating in worldwide socialist advance, to join its ranks and hasten the achievement of this great goal.
1. Arthur MacManus (Chairman); William Gallacher (Vice-Chairman); Albert Inkpin (Secretary); Harry Pollitt, J. R. Campbell, Tom Bell, William Rust, J. T. Murphy (members of the Political Bureau); Ernest Cant (London Organiser); Walter Hannington (Secretary of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement); Robin Page Arnot (of the Labour Research Department who had been active in preparing the miners’ case, and Tom Wintringham (Assistant Editor of the Workers’ Weekly). Harry Pollitt was Secretary of the National Minority Movement and J. R. Campbell was Acting Editor of the Workers’ Weekly. Simultaneously on the instigation of Scotland Yard Palme Dutt was arrested and held in prison in Brussels, with orders to deport him in order to take his place in the trial of the twelve, but an international campaign defeated the deportation order.