Ted Grant

Opposition at C.P. Conference—Reformist policy criticised

Source: Socialist Appeal, no. 39 (March 1947)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008

The outstanding feature of the Communist Party conference this year was the revolutionary opposition among sections of the rank and file which succeeded in penetrating to the floor of the conference.

This was a reflection of the restlessness of the worker element in the rank and file at the policy of the Party since the end of the war.

To the more advanced and sincere members of the Communist Party it is beginning to be plain that the policy of the “Communist” Party is not really Communist, that it is merely a more “Left” version of the policy of reformism which was attacked by Lenin.

This mood is demonstrated by the discussion which the leadership has been forced to allow within the pages of World News and Views. From branches all over the country have come letters of criticism and suggestions in the direction of a sound working class policy.

From Manchester, one of the members of the Rails Group, Comrade Bill Ward, writes of the nationalisation of the railways which he correctly supports:

“It seems apparent that what is needed is a national policy of depot committees that could be related to regional committees [i.e.—what this comrade is really advocating is workers’ control which the leadership of the Communist Party is studiously avoiding—EG]. Class conscious workers have dreamed of this change-over, the dream must not become a nightmare.”

This reflects the instinctive opposition of the best Communist Party workers to the policy of State capitalism of the Labour Government which can only lead the workers to catastrophe. But neither in the Conference or anywhere else have the C.P. leaders explained this problem to the working class or even their own members. They have covered up the reactionary aspects of the policy of the Labour Government on nationalisation and evaded the Leninist solution.

This revolutionary opposition tendency was most firmly and consistently expressed by the amendment from Hertford and Welwyn Garden City which criticised the policy of the Party.

Marxist criticism from Hertford

In an excellent letter published in World News and Views, Eric Heffer writes the following unassailable Marxist criticism of the Congress resolution of the Communist Party:

“The E.C. Resolution, Section 1, ‘The deepened crisis of capitalism’, begins from a correct premise, but leaves out a vitally important feature of the present situation, and as a result it gives a wrong conclusion. It shows the weakened position of British imperialism, but does not show the strengthened position of monopoly within Britain, and their fusion with the state apparatus which resulted from World War II, and which is the basis of the present predatory foreign policy. Imperialism is not a policy preferred by this or that group of capitalist politicians, but is a definite stage of capitalism.

“The E.C. Resolution glosses over vital theoretical problems. The policy presented as a result of this failure can only be described as Left Social-Democratic, i.e. opportunist. Lenin says, ‘A Marxist is one who extends the acceptance of the class struggle to the acceptance of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Herein lies the deepest difference between a Marxist and an ordinary petty or big bourgeois. On this touchstone it is necessary to test a real understanding and acceptance of Marxism.’ (State and Revolution).

“It would appear that today our E.C. does not accept this statement, because in place of a clear formulation of the basic tasks of the proletariat and the Party we are given the vague term, ‘the Socialist way’.

“By the E.C. forgetting the dictatorship of the proletariat, and informing that now a peaceful transition to Socialism is possible, it means that they have virtually abandoned Marxism, or only make use of those parts and quotations, etc., which are acceptable to the-petty bourgeoisie.

“Lenin says: ‘Only a proletarian, Socialist revolution is able to lead humanity out of the blind alley created by imperialism and imperialist wars!’ ‑ (Revision of the Party Programme). This has little in common with the theory of peaceful transition.”

The Daily Worker, in reporting the amendment only gives part of it, “He [Comrade Eric Heffer ‑ EG] accused the executive committee of taking a reformist opportunist path ‘the perspective of the proletarian revolution has been abandoned,’ he declared: ‘Our executive committee is committing us to the support of a Government of social traitors who are leading this country to economic disaster and the victory of reaction. We must endeavour to use the economic crisis for the overthrow of the capitalist system’.”

Among the “crimes” of the comrades which were recorded against them by one of the C.P. leaders was that, “The length to which they are prepared to go was shown by the fact that during discussion at the Welwyn Garden City Branch about nominations to the Executive Committee, they voted down Comrades Pollitt, Gallacher, Putt, Kerrigan, Horner and others.”

Using the typical slander method which is used against all revolutionary opposition in the Communist Party, Betty Matthews, the South-East Midlands District Organiser, then tried to make an amalgam and link the opposition with Churchill:

“There isn’t a single word in the amendment about the menace of the Tories. We are invited to join hands with Churchill and the big industrialists to weaken the Labour Government,” she said. “This policy completely ignores the power of the working class to direct the affairs of the nation.”

Coming from people who had advocated support for Churchill during the war, and at the time of the General Election advocated a coalition government with the Tories, this constituted cynical contempt of the thinking members of the C.P. The reference to the power of the working class was sheer demagogy to cover up the capitulation to reformism.

The amendment from Hertford showed a genuine attempt to return to the policy of Lenin. True, in the reaction to the opportunist policy of the C.P. leadership it was slightly ultra-left, a position which the leadership attempted to use in order to cover their retreat from the revolutionary position. But in its main essence it was a Leninist position in relation to strategy, while it was faulty in relation to tactics. Whereas the position put forward by the C.P. leadership had nothing in common with the method and aims of Lenin whatsoever. In conducting the struggle against Kornilov (the Russian Franco) in “support” of Kerensky (the Russian Attlee), Lenin wrote:

“And even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. That would be unprincipled. It will be asked: What, not even fight Kornilov? Of course, fight him! But that is not the same thing; there is a dividing line; that line is being overstepped by certain Bolsheviks, who allow themselves to become ‘compromisers’ and to be carried away by the flood of events.

“We will fight and are fighting Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops are. But we do not support Kerensky; on the contrary, we expose his weakness. That is the difference. It is a rather subtle difference, but an extremely important one, and must not be forgotten.” (Selected Works, Vol. 6, p. 205, emphasis in original).

Contrast this with the attitude of the Communist Party leaders. Against the Tories the Trotskyists have always supported the Labour leaders. Carrying out Lenin’s advice, we advocated “Labour to Power” at the General Election. But we never identified ourselves with the reactionary policy of the Labour leaders, we never lied to the workers and deceived them that the measures advocated by the Labour leaders could serve the needs and interests of the workers. Thus by going through the experience of the workers together with them, we hoped by patient explanation to win them to the programme of the Socialist revolution.

This is the policy which the Hertford and Welwyn Garden City amendment is striving to express, and to which many of the worker-members of the Communist Party are groping. It has nothing in common with the shameful policy of the Communist Party leadership which is a travesty of Communism.

Having failed by all the usual methods of pressure to shake the members of these branches, Pollitt indicated that they would suffer the usual fate of any determined opposition within the C.P.: “Referring to the Welwyn Garden City and Hertford amendment, he [Pollitt—EG] said the new executive committee would have as one of its first duties the task of ensuring that these branches were reorganised.” (Daily Worker, February 12th).

What Pollitt means, of course, is, that every step will be taken to silence all those who remain true to their convictions and attempt to stand by a Leninist position.

If these workers wish to fight for a genuine Marxist-Leninist policy, they will find this possible only within the ranks of the Fourth International.