Edgar Hardcastle

The People's Convention

Source: Socialist Standard, December 1940.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2016). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

The Communist Party, through the Daily Worker, are giving great publicity to a so-called People's Convention which is to meet on January 12th, 1941, and will inaugurate a campaign for a People's Government. The following six-point programme is the basis of the movement between now and the holding of the Convention: —

1. Defence of the people's living standards.
2. Defence of the peoples democratic and trade union rights.
3. Adequate air raid precautions, deep bomb-proof shelters, rehousing and relief of victims. 4. Friendship with the Soviet Union.
5. A People's Government, truly representative of the whole people and able to inspire the confidence of the working people of the world.
6. A people's peace that gets rid of the causes of war.

Among the signatories are, naturally, leading members of the Communist Party, including Mr. Harry Pollitt, Mr. R. Palme Dutt, and Mr. William Gallacher, M.P. Others are trade union officials, present or past members of the Labour Party, officials of the Co-operative movement, etc.

It will be noticed at once that the programme is mostly phrased in general terms, about the only specific item being "deep bomb-proof shelters." All of the others are items that every member of the present Government could and would support. They declare every day that they are anxious to defend the people's living standards the war being waged for that purpose and with the aim of securing a "people's peace that gets rid of the causes of war."

It is therefore obvious that proclaiming vague aims like these six points tells us nothing. What we want to know is the meaning placed on them and the means by which they are to be attained. In the meantime the signatories, who day by day explain in the Daily Worker why they support the Convention, each give their own interpretation. One sees in it "the destruction of Fascism," another wants "the conscription of wealth," another sees in the Convention the means of making the transport industry efficient. Others want no more "appeasement" in foreign policy, action to deal with rising prices, and bigger old-age pensions. The one thing they all agree about is, in the words of Mr. Pritt, K.C., that the movement "is winning the support of people of various parties and of no party at all" (Daily Worker, October 21st, 1940).

The Trades Union Congress is opposed to the movement on the ground that it is a new Communist Party manoeuvre and that its people's government is to be one "in which apparently neither the trade unions nor the Labour Party had any part" (Manchester Guardian, November 18th, 1940).

Incompatible Aims

It will be seen that this "new movement" has not been unwilling to use the familiar old method by which other reformist bodies like the Labour Party and I.L.P. were built up. By drafting its aims in terms which are capable of various interpretations and will cover all kinds of piecemeal demands for reform, the movement hopes to bring together numerous small bodies of discontented people and thus give the appearance of a great united body, driving towards one common aim. Mr. D. N Pritt, K.C., one of the signatories, has promptly made such a claim. He declared in a speech at Newcastle (Manchester Guardian, November 18th, 1940) that "the aim of the People's Convention was a working-class government pledged to establish a Socialist State and which would eliminate the causes of war." In spite of Mr. Pritt's belief there is nothing whatever in the six points committing those who support it to the establishment of Socialism.

Other criticisms present themselves. The movement is to seek the overthrow of Fascism, and also friendship with the Soviet Union which is closely bound in friendship to Nazi Germany!

The movement wants to overthrow the present Government, including its Labour Party members, and is already at loggerheads with the T.U.C. Yet the T.U.C. and Labour Party have declared themselves to be wholeheartedly in favour of all the points.

And what is to be the composition of a "people's government, truly representative of the whole people"? No names are given, but early in 1939, when the Communist Party was likewise demanding a truly representative cabinet, the three names they mentioned were Winston Churchill, Attlee and Sir A. Sinclair. All three are now in the Government.

What about war? For the first month or so after the war broke out, the Communist Party, in line with its pre-war policy, was proclaiming the necessity of waging war on Germany as the only means of safeguarding democracy and the workers' standard of living.

An Echo of 1917

The new People's Convention is, of course, an echo—and a faint echo at that—of something which took place on June 3rd, 1917—the so-called Leeds Convention. A similar Convention, called by the same type of person and organisation, met to form workers' and soldiers' councils, and to "hail the Russian Revolution and organise the British democracy." It was to begin "a new era of democratic power in Great Britain." It passed flamboyant resolutions, proclaimed the beginning of a great movement which would sweep away the Government and the war, and after frightening a number of Tories who took it seriously, it just faded out. Historians of the period now barely mention it, and Mr. G. D. H. Cole, although he claims that it set the anti-war movement definitely on foot, has to add "though many of those who took part in it had no really revolutionary intention." (A Short History of the British Working-Class Movement, Vol. III, Page 123.) Looking back, and recalling that among the prime movers of the Leeds Convention of 1917 were Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden and H. Alexander, it will not be difficult to understand why the Convention counted for nothing and gave no help to the movement towards Socialism.

The present movement is, of course, an admission that the Communist Party recognises its utter failure to catch the support of "people of various parties and of no party at all" for its own programme, just as the Leeds Convention was a sign of the failure of the MacDonald I.L.P. group to do so in 1917.

The only noticeable difference is that the demands made by the Leeds group in 1917 were far too bold in appearance to suit the organisers of the present movement, so the revival of the political "co-optimists" is on a much censored and toned-down programme. Thus do the "left- wing" groups reach ever lower levels, so that MacDonald-Snowden, low as their political understanding was, appear to tower by comparison with Pollitt and Gallacher.