William Gallacher

Chairman’s Opening Address

Speech at the Sixth Conference of the Communist Party of Great Britain

Source: Speeches & Documents of the Sixth (Manchester) Conference of the Communist Party of Great Britain, May 17-19, 1924
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.

This Conference meets at a time that demands the most careful and serious consideration of the problems that confront the working class movement, if we are to direct the new impulse, so evident in all parts of the country towards the overthrow of capitalism. We are entering a period of new struggles and for these we must be prepared.

Following the defeat of the miners in 1921, the Trade Unions of this country went through two and a half years of retreat and deterioration. Disintegration threatened many of them with complete break-up. The loss in membership has been appalling. The “Back-to-the-Unions” Campaign organised by the General Council was a hopeless failure and degenerated into a “poaching campaign,” so far, at least, as several unions were concerned. Through all this dismal period, one of the worst in the annals of British Trade Unionism, the Communist Party and the Communist Party alone, has kept a clear, unifying programme before the workers of the country. We are not a large Party. Our policy of relentless struggle against the exploiters is not yet understood or appreciated by the workers. They still accept the leadership of those who fool them with fairy stories about voting out the capitalists. But while we have not a large party, the part we have played in bringing about the revival that has now been going on for the past six months, must not be under-estimated. For this is the first thing that we should note. There is a revival which holds great promise for the future: but, it will require a strong, well-poised Communist Party to bring it to full fruition.

There is in some quarters a confused sort of notion that the Labour Government is, somehow or other, responsible for this revival. As a matter of fact it is just the other way round. It was the reaction of the working class to the attacks of capitalism that gave Labour its magnificent vote at the last election. It was a sign that the period of retreat was drawing to a close, a sign that the large masses of the workers were seeking a way of striking back at the enemy. And even while they were voting, they were in several cases preparing for new wage struggles with the employers. This again, was another factor that went far towards making a Labour Government possible. With serious industrial trouble threatened by the railwaymen, dockers and miners, for the forces determining these conflicts were in operation before the Labour Government appeared on the scene, it was obviously an immense advantage to the ruling class to have Labour attending to the administration of its affairs. It thereby brought the influential leaders of Labour solidly down on the side of industrial peace at a time when the workers were capable of winning considerable industrial victories. Nay, more than that, as a constitutional Government following out the procedure set by Conservatives and Liberalism, they were bound to be forced into direct opposition to the workers who were struggling to raise their present miserable wages to a higher level. Any Labour Government earnestly desirous of serving the workers must be ready at any moment of crisis to scrap Procedure and openly identify itself with the workers, throwing itself energetically into the struggle as a part of the Labour Movement organised to combat capitalism. No one can accuse the present Labour Government of having the slightest tendency in this direction. It has been rightly called Conservative, for it would be difficult to find another government in this time of capitalist decay so keenly anxious to conserve the whole outworn fabric of Parliament and Parliamentary procedure. Such a government is extremely useful to the bourgeoisie, especially now when the general collapse of capitalism has thrown up so many conflicting elements in their own ranks, and they are taking full advantage of it. They are deliberately using it to disrupt the Labour Movement.

Comrades, I say to you with all earnestness, if the Labour Movement is saved from disruption, it is the Communist Party that will save it.

Already the Labour Government has thrown over all its original pretensions. It started off by assuring the movement that it only contemplated taking office for a short period for the purpose of preparing a definite Labour programme, and then going to the country and fighting both of the other parties. This met with general approval. But no sooner were they in office than they commenced playing up for an extended period of administration and for that purpose cynically scrapped anything and everything that could have distinguished a Labour Government from an ordinary capitalist administration.

Now they talk of carrying on in the service of capitalism for two or three years. This is sheer treachery to the working class. There is not a member of the Cabinet but knows that so soon as the Government comes forward with a real working class proposal, that will be the signal for turning the Government out, and that only by studiously refraining from serving the workers will they be allowed to remain in, yet they talk of carrying on for two or three years. Carrying on capitalist administration means the building up of armaments and the preparation for new wars.

This doesn’t appear to present very great difficulties to the pacifists and idealists who make up the Government.

When challenged on this they blandly tell us that as a Labour Government they expect at some future unspecified time to be able to do some good for the workers and in order to preserve themselves for that high purpose they must do the dirty work of capitalism and build new cruisers and bombing planes. So that these men who prior to taking office, preached the gospel of “returning good for evil,” have executed a complete somersault and endeavour to justify themselves with the miserable doctrine “do evil that good may come of it.” But worse, by far, than the pitiful excuses of these transformed “doves of peace” was the deliberate decision carried at the I.L.P. Conference held at York during Easter. There, this so-called Socialist organisation came to the extraordinary conclusion that under existing circumstances, armaments were necessary, and gave its parliamentary representatives the right to vote in favour of them.

The army is necessary! Of course it is-for the capitalists. It is necessary for the oppression and suppression of the Indian workers; it is necessary for the suppression of the workers here at home. How long would capitalism last in this or any other country if it hadn’t the machinery of violence and murder always ready to its hands?

But in view of this decision, will the I.L.P. now advise all its members, who are physically fit, to join the army? Surely it is the least it can do? If the army is necessary, the I.L.P. must see that it is maintained, and it cannot possibly continue to harbour conscientious objectors in its ranks. On this question our position is clear and simple. We have nothing to do with, and no support to give to capitalist armies and armaments. We are concerned with the workers’ army—a political and industrial army. If ever the time should come when an army of the workers in a military sense, is necessary, the Communist Party will not only advocate its maintenance, it will be obligatory on every fit member of the Party to be in it.

As I have said, the army is organised for the maintenance of capitalism, for the suppression of the workers. Since the formation of the Labour Government, we have had sufficient evidence of this. There has been the shooting down of unarmed Indian strikers at Bombay. Then we have Bevin at the Dockers’ delegate meeting, called to consider the ending of the strike, informing the delegates that “the Labour Government has the responsibility of unloading the mails. So far it has refrained from taking any action but the pressure being brought to bear on it is so strong that it can hold off no longer. If the strike isn’t settled it will have to introduce ‘scabs,’ and give them military protection.” Or take the case of the Tramway strike, and an almost distracted delegate who attended a meeting at Woolwich, at which I was present, appealing to the strikers to vote for the acceptance of the terms “otherwise,” he said, “the Labour Government will have to operate the E.P.A. and that will mean the break up of the Labour Movement.”

From this it will be seen that the Labour Government has deliberately set itself to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie, and to give all its energy to secure industrial peace and the re-stabilisation of capitalism. This policy it pursues for the purpose of winning the confidence and support not of the working class, but of the petit-bourgeoisie. With the decay of capitalism the old Liberal Party has rotted away and the Labour Government seeks to win the erstwhile followers of the old Liberal Party to its ranks, not by endeavouring to persuade them to accept the Labour programme, but by the scrapping of the Labour programme, and by adopting a policy of new Liberalism. Their conduct reminds one of the American politician, who, after addressing a meeting of business men quite frankly informed them “Gentlemen, these are my principles. If they don’t suit you, I am quite agreeable to change them.” But this whole sale scrapping of principles on the part of those who constitute the Labour Government is causing a ferment amongst their own followers in parliament, and will inevitably bring about a revolt against such leadership on the part of the mass attached to the Labour Movement. This revolt is checked for the time being by the timidity of those Labour members of Parliament, who are opposed to the policy pursued by the Labour Government. But sooner or later they must range themselves with the Communist Party as the only way of saving the Labour Movement from disaster. Even now it is almost too late; for Snowden, through his interference with the McKenna duties, has definitely ranged the Labour Cabinet alongside of Liberalism and forced other sections of Labour temporarily at any rate to align themselves with the Conservatives.

Thus the seeds of disruption are sown in the ranks of Labour. Sham issues are raised instead of class issues and the workers divided into two opposing camps at the very. time when the closest unity is essential.

The Communist Party does not attack the Labour Party. The Communist Party strives all the time to snake the Labour Party a useful organ of the workers in the struggle against capitalism, but we do attack the leadership of the Labour Party and will go on attacking it until the Labour Movement has forced it, either to prosecute a working class policy or to make way for a leadership that will do so. The present leadership of the Labour Party has been provided by the I.L.P. and it pursues the I.L.P. policy of peace with the bourgeoisie at any price, even to the extent of sacrificing the working class.

We will oppose this Policy of class collaboration, for which. the I.L.P. stands with the class war Policy of the Communist Party, and for the purpose of carrying on that war we will bend our energy to the reorganisation and strengthening of the working class movement, so that it may go forward with a militant fighting policy against the organised forces of capitalism that oppose it.

The recent strike wave is evidence that the temperament of the working class is once again rising. The stand made by the Loco’men and Firemen was a very gratifying one and gave a great stimulus to other sections of the workers. They were followed by the dockers and tram men, with the miners and building workers looming in the rear. This new spirit of revolt that is manifesting itself is driving the officials forward, even against their will, and demonstrating the complete bankruptcy in leadership of the old bureaucracy. This bankruptcy was apparent to everyone while the Southampton shipyard workers were on the streets. The bureaucratic officials surrendered completely at the first threat of the organised employers and left the striking shipyard workers to inevitable defeat.

Much has been said about the participation of the Communists in this dispute. Let me say this: when the strike committee found itself deserted by its own officials, then all other sources of help had failed, they then came to the Communist Party, realising as the workers generally will one day realise, that when the day of real conflict comes, the one sure stay of the struggling workers is the revolutionary Communist Party. To those who object to the Communist Party participating in this or any other dispute, we say, “The Communist Party is a part of the working class, and wherever the workers or a section of the workers enter into conflict with the employers, there will we be fighting with them whatever the consequences may be.” The bankruptcy of the bureaucracy has brought into existence fighting groups of workers in all parts of the country, all battling for a fighting policy for the Trade Union Movement. These groups are gradually being co-ordinated into what has come to be known as “The Minority Movement“—the new and encouraging sign of the spirit that will one day overcome all obstacles in the path of working class emancipation.

This movement which is building up around a common programme, calls for a complete reorganisation of the Trade Union Movement, and demands that the General Council shall be invested with power, and shall become a General Staff capable of marshalling the whole working class army if and when occasion demands it. The Communist Party has on all occasions assisted in the development of this Movement, and will continue to do so, but at the same time warns those active workers who participate in it, that only a revolutionary Communist struggle can serve to achieve the object they have in view. The old Trade Unionism, with its bartering with the employing class, can offer them nothing: there must be a complete break with the idea of class collaboration, and the movement must centre more and more on unifying the whole working class for the political struggle for power. It is the task of the Communist Party to take the lead in this struggle. It is the vanguard of the working class and will, therefore, have to bear the heavy brunt of the fighting as the struggle develops. It is essential, therefore, that the Communist Party should strive at all times for working class unity behind a working class programme.

Daily our influence in the working class movement is growing. The greater our influence, the greater our responsibility. We are seeing everywhere an awakening of the workers—already they are beginning to shed their illusions about the Labour Government. Pacifism and legalism no longer make an appeal to them. We have a great opportunity for attracting them to our banner. Already they are with us in spirit. Our strength in the Labour Party and in the Trade Unions is evidence of this. The circulation of the Workers’ Weekly is a further proof, if such were needed, and here let me say that the paper we are producing, which is easily the finest working class paper which has ever been produced in this country, should in itself demonstrate that the Communist Party is on the right lines, and is the only real Party of the workers. But we must not remain satisfied with the paper as it is. A weekly is not sufficient for our heavy task. We must get a daily, and this conference must take a serious resolve to spare no effort to bring a daily into being. Nor is it enough to have the workers with us in spirit alone, we must get every active worker into the Party. The stronger we are when the day of crisis comes, the easier and more complete will be the victory, and, comrades, there is nothing more certain, than that the future holds victory for the Communist Party. British capitalism is bankrupt, its industrial monopoly has gone, and it can no longer find employment for masses of its workers; with a colossal burden in the form of the National Debt, it staggers along seeking for new markets in a world of capitalism as bankrupt as itself. Markets! Everywhere the search goes on. From the land of the Rising Sun, Japanese imperialists stretch out their profit-grabbing tentacles in a desperate effort to find new prey. From the land of the Setting Sun, cute Yankee dollar manipulators cast their greedy eyes around the world, and, driven on by the lust and passion of gain, prepare their armies for the conflict that this struggle for markets is inevitably forcing upon the imperialist nations. Europe is an armed camp. National rivalries have created a riot of chaos and anarchy, and left no possibility of social order or stability. France with her growing power threatens the very existence of British imperialism, and the whole trend of British policy in Europe is directed towards limiting her scope of operations.

Whatever else happens, France must be got out of the Ruhr. Not because Britain is at all interested in the welfare of Germany, but because France in possession of the Ruhr would be a greater danger to Britain than ever Germany was in the days of her greatest expansion. Thus we find Mr. MacDonald, Labour leader and imperialist, a somewhat peculiar type of political hybrid, following the course of Lloyd George, Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin, and making the basis of any settlement in Europe, the withdrawal of France from the Ruhr.

But France has no intention of playing Britain’s game, and it will take more than beautifully phrased letters from Mr. MacDonald to convince France that Britain alone has the right to Empire. For that nerve-shattering cannon and death-dealing bombs are necessary, and these extremely potent arguments our pacifist imperialists are steadily preparing. Yet Mr. MacDonald doesn’t want to use them. If only France would see reason from the British point of view, both countries could settle down to the holy task of sucking the lifeblood out of the German workers and turning Germany into a slave colony. But even in this design they will be baulked. The German workers have reached the limit of endurance and are even now preparing for the mighty struggle that will end the power of their own bourgeoisie. Germany is the key to the world revolutionary situation. When the German workers rise, it means not only the end of German capitalism but the final episode in the history of European capitalism. It is because of this the British troops are still retained on German territory. Because of this we must be ever ready to assist our German comrades in their struggle, conscious as we are that their victory will make the path easier for us. A Workers’ Germany allied to the Workers’ Government of Russia would be a force the European imperialists could never hope, to understand.

Let us, therefore, even while we mourn the great comrade who recently passed from our midst, rejoice that the Russian Revolution is firmly founded and faces a hostile capitalist world with complete confidence in its power to resist attack in whatever form it may be launched. For six and a half years our comrades have carried on against difficulties that seemed absolutely insuperable, and yet they have triumphed. But not without sacrifice. Thousands of the bravest and the best have paid the full price, that the workers of the world might have their fetters broken. May the thought of these “Heroes of the Revolution” be an inspiration to us in the day of conflict that lies ahead. It is well to note, in passing, the conference that is now going on between the representatives of the Labour Government and the representatives of Soviet Russia. Here is an opportunity for laying the foundation of a lasting peace and securing, through the granting of credits, employment for many of those who live at present vainly seeking for it. But will British capitalism take the step? Its desperate position may force it to do so, but it will try by every conceivable means to get our comrades to barter away the gains of the revolution in return. This they will never do. They want credits. Credits would enable Russia to recover very rapidly, but the outrageous proposals of the British bankers will never be considered, should they never get a penny of credit. We want to see the Conference come to a complete and satisfactory conclusion; but we know that there are others, and they are very strong, working incessantly for an opposite result. We must, therefore, use every available means of influencing the working class movement, and through it the Labour Government, to repudiate the wrecking demands of the bankers, and to do the right thing by the Russian Workers’ Government. By so doing it will sow the seeds of a lasting and peaceful relationship between the workers of the two countries. Whatever happens, of one thing we may be sure, the International bandits will not give up the fight. Their last weapon, Fascism, is everywhere being sharpened, against the day of final conflict. Mussolini, the renegade Socialist, really thought at one time that by his policy of murder he was going to raise mankind to new heights of civilisation. Now it is becoming evident even to his dull-witted mind, that he can only hope to continue dictator of Italy so long as he dictates in the interests of his capitalist masters. So it is in all other capitalist countries. The Fascist movement may claim nationalist or constitutional virtues, according to the situation that exists, but these are only masks behind which is hidden the death head of bankrupt capitalism. Against this organised violence the Communist International stands four-square. Its ever-growing power is a dread menace to capitalism and to the lackeys of capitalism—the Social-Democrats. These latter, with their miserable subservience to the bourgeoisie of their respective countries, hate above all things, this International proletarian organisation, that scorns all compromise with the exploiters, and exposes their own mean shabby trickeries to the workers they are supposed to lead. Because of this they let no opportunity pass of attacking it. They lie about it, and abuse it; but still the Communist International grows in power. It is the hope of the oppressed in every country of the tortured Colonial slaves, of the sweated proletarians. With banners flying, it marches to the conquest of the world, to the liberation of mankind from the ruthless oppression of International capitalism. In such an International, in such a world wide army of the workers, the British workers should willingly take their place.

From this Conference we appeal to them .... Their comrades of all lands are on the march .... Their faces set towards the dawn of a new day. A day rich with promise for the toilers of the world .... Surely the British workers will not lag behind? Surely they, too, will share the heat and burden of the march .... The ranks are open to receive them .... The cause is worthy of their utmost effort. If they are worthy of the cause, they will gladly step forward to the place that awaits them.