Secretary of the British Socialist Party
Source: The Communist International, June-July 1920, no.11-12, pp. 2233-2240, (2,608 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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.
The British Socialist Party (B.S.P.), the principal Communist organisation in Britain, has just held its Ninth Annual Congress in London. In every respect—in regard to the attendance, the high level of the discussions, and the revolutionary vigour and enthusiasm of the delegates—the Congress was unquestionably the most successful gathering of British Communists that has yet been held.
The proceedings were held at the Town Hall at Bethnal Green—an East London Borough municipally controlled by the Labour Party whose Bolshevik Mayor, comrade J.J Vaughan, after welcoming the Congress in the name of workers of the Borough, was unanimously invited to preside over its deliberations. Vaughan is an old Socialist fighter and a leader of the Electrical Trades Union, one of the more revolutionary of British trade unions, and his presidential address was a masterly survey of world events from the view-point of the Third International and the Communist working class.
He declared that the difficulties of capitalism had not decreased with time, but had swollen to larger proportions as the rate of development had become more rapid. The class war had not abated its fury. On the contrary it had grown fiercer. The mask of hypocrisy had fallen from the face of the politicians, and they too were forced to avow themselves the open enemies of the working class in its struggle, instead of posing as benevolent arbiters outside the scope of the conflict. After dealing with the various industrial struggles which had taken place during the past year, and castigating the official leaders of British Labour for their treacherous policy of opportunism and compromise, Vaughan said that the economic dislocation and disintegration of Britain is not merely a legacy of the war, but also of the economic ruin of the continent of Europe, which is so great as to be past all remedy under capitalism. The capitalist countries of Europe cannot sell and cannot buy. It is like a death dance, in which the dancers are led to destruction one after the other. Capitalism has reached its last hour and lies in mortal agony. No social order has ever wanted to die, but capitalism, which has just celebrated a bloody orgy, is mad with the lust to live and is fighting death with a savage determination. Look at the fight it has waged for the last two years in Russia, at the savage energy with which it fought for its life in Hungary and Bavaria, at the tenacity with which it is fighting for every inch of power in Germany! Judging by externals, Russia is still the only country in which the revolution has made further progress. Capitalism was able to defeat capitalism, but it has been unable to defeat Socialism—that is the great lesson to be learned. Russia is showing the way along which all will have to walk: first revolution, then labour for the common good. In a few years’ time Russia will be the richest and happiest country in the world.
The marvellous growth of the Third International, another glorious creation of the Russian Communists, is eloquent proof of the fact that the revolution is moving faster than can as yet be discerned on the surface. Wherever we look, we see a strong fermentation of the masses and a distinct move of the Socialist parties towards revolutionary Communism. There are a good many, of course, in every country, like the Independent Socialists of Germany and the French majoritaires who dearly like trying to sit on two chairs. But the fact that most of them have already made up their minds to move away from the “Right” chair shows clearly enough where we are, and all talk about forming a Fourth or a combined Third-Fourth International is only an idle waste of breath. Comrade Vaughan concluded an inspiring address by leading three cheers for revolutionary Communism and the Third International.
It is impossible here to do more than refer briefly to the more important subjects discussed at the Congress.
First among these was the question of further action to compel the British Government to take its claws off the Russian Socialist Republic, and to enter into definite negotiations for peace with the Soviet Government. In this connection I read to the Congress a stirring Manifesto that has been received from the Amsterdam Sub-Bureau of the Third International, calling for the organisation of a General Strike on May the First. Comrade Mary Bamber then moved the following resolution on behalf of the Executive Committee:
The B. S. P. expresses its admiration of the boundless courage and glorious achievements of the Russian workers and peasants, who have set an example to the world by the establishment of a Socialist Republic, and thus realised the dream of ages for the first time in history. It condemns the British and Allied Governments in unmeasured terms for the help given by them to the Tsarist generals and counter-revolutionary capitalists, and congratulates the Soviet Government on the continued military successes of the Red Army, and its resistance to the combined forces of world capitalism. The conference calls the attention of the organised workers of this country to the appeal issued by the West European Secretariat of the Communist International for a general strike on May Day in support of the demand for peace with Russia and the full recognition of the Soviet Government, and it pledges the branches and members of the B.S.P. to do everything in their power to bring about a complete cessation of work on May Day as an expression of the solidarity of British workers with the Russian Soviet Republic.
This resolution was supported by comrade George Ebury, one of our National Organisers and propagandists, and was carried unanimously with great acclamation.
After Russia, the thoughts of the delegates were centered on the struggle being waged by the revolutionary German workers against the coalition of sham Socialists and bourgeois politicians now in power in the German Republic. A resolution on this matter was introduced by comrade F. Willis, editor of the party organ, The Call, as follows:
This conference of the B.S.P., affirming now as ever the international solidarity of the working class, hails with joy the uprising the German workers against the militarist and capitalist clique which is endeavouring to maintain its old supremacy over them. It pledges itself to use its whole influence with the organised British workers to prevent support being given to the reaction, and to use all means to break the dastardly blockade threatened by British and American capitalism against a Soviet Germany. The Conference further expresses its detestation of the action of those social democratic traitors who by treachery and fraud, have assisted the German capitalists to defeat the revolutionary movement. The German revolution is not an isolated national event; it is a phase of the world revolution, and, as such, we affirm our solidarity with it and send greetings to our comrades who are fighting the battle of the working class.
This resolution was also carried unanimously, together with an addendum suggested by comrade John MacLean to the effect that, should the Allies cross the Rhine, the B.S.P. would use every endeavour to bring about a general strike of the British working class.
During the sitting of the Congress a letter was read from a representative of the Communist Labour Party of America now in Britain, asking for the support of British workers for American Communists who are being subjected to brutal persecution by the capitalist government in America. A resolution of protest and sympathy was carried unanimously, in which the name of Eugene Debs was specifically included, and it was referred to the Executive Committee to consider a national campaign of protest against the White Terror in Hungary, Germany and America.
In a series of resolutions the Congress denounced the Versailles treaty as a brigands’ peace, involving open and secret annexation, and the suppression of small nations or their reduction to mere pawns in the hands of the great Imperialist Powers, proclaimed its detestation of British Imperialist rule in India, Egypt, Ireland and elsewhere, and conveyed the greetings of the revolutionary workers of Britain to the peoples of those countries; and declaring that only Communism can end war between nations and give to all peoples an assured independence and an incentive to peaceful cooperation, called upon all B.S.P. members to expend a maximum effort in arousing the masses for a universal triumph of the Third International.
The principal discussion on party aims and policy took place on the following resolution introduced by comrade H.F. Hodgson on behalf of the Executive Committee:
That this Conference of the B.S.P. reiterates its adhesion to the Communist platform as an essential part of its revolutionary attitude towards the State at the present juncture. The time has arrived for the abolition of the capitalist order of society and the establishment of the Communist Commonwealth, in which everyone shall work for the common benefit and everybody shall have his share in the common product of labor and the common benefits of life. To this end the working class must establish its own exclusive domination, in place of that of the capitalist and landlord classes, and reorganise the State on the basis of the transfer of all public power to workers’ councils directly elected by the rank and file in their places or work, and amenable to their direct control. The Conference has no faith in parliamentary institutions ever being able to effect this political and social revolution,. they are in their very tendency, mode of construction and working, eminently calculated to serve the interests of the capitalist classes only; and sees in the universal organisation of the working class in such councils and in direct action by them the sole means of achieving such a revolution. The Conference pledges the party to propagate these views incessantly among the working class, availing itself for this purpose, among other means, of the very parliament and other public bodies which it seeks to supplant, as a public platform, and thus, in conjunction with the Third International, to which it belongs, to help the working class to bring about a Communist revolution and the realisation of the Communist Commonwealth.
It was during this discussion that expression was found by the small section still remaining in the B.S.P. which does not identify itself unreservedly with the program of revolutionary Communism. The chief spokesman at the Congress for this group, comrade F.A. Broad, president of the Scientific Instrument Makers’ Society, moved an amendment which, while not disavowing the fundamentals of the Communist program—the dictatorship of the working class, the Soviet system and Revolutionary mass-action, laid greater emphasis upon the use of parliamentary and so-called “constitutional” methods. The views of the overwhelming majority of party members, however, were clear and unequivocal. The amendment was rejected by 80 votes to 20 and the Executive Committee’s resolution was adopted by 82 votes to 16.
The other and not the least important matter dealt with by the Congress was the question of the unification of the revolutionary left wing organisations in a united Communist Party. In submitting a report on this matter on behalf of the B.S.P. Executive, I described the protracted negotiations that took place during the last nine months; reported in detail on the several conferences with the other bodies (the Socialist Labour Party, the Workers’ Socialist Federation and the South Wales Socialist Society) and indicated the points of disagreement, all having reference to tactics, that had manifested themselves from time to time. The B.S.P., in accordance with the views expressed by its members, both in Congress and by ballot, considered affiliation to the British Labour Party to be necessary in order that the revolutionary movement here should be kept in contact with the mass of organised workers. Nevertheless, in order to obtain unity, a considerable concession was made on this point, and on the proposal of the B.S.P. delegates it was agreed that the whole question of the relations of the new Communist Party to the Labour Party should be left to a referendum of the new party three months after its formation. The S.L.P. Executive, however, subsequently threw over the whole proposal and repudiated its delegates to the Unity Conference. Later the B.S.P. endeavoured to re-open the negotiations and made even more concessions, so that no possible obstacle to Communist unity should remain. It agreed to waive altogether the question of national affiliation to the Labour Party, provided that branches of the Communist Party had local autonomy in regard to their relations with local Labour Parties (this suggestion also had been put forward by the S.L.P. delegates) and that we had freedom, as individual members of the Communist Party, to advocate affiliation to the Labour Party. Even this further concession, however, was rejected; the S.L.P. stated categorically that under no circumstances could they consider unity with the B.S.P., and we were reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the W.S.F., also, did not want to unite. It was common knowledge, however, that a considerable section of the S.L.P. membership was profoundly dissatisfied with the attitude adopted by the S.L.P. Executive, which was largely dominated by Party traditions and past enmities, the real basis for which has long since passed away; and this section was understood to be willing to continue the negotiations with the B.S.P. It was on these grounds that I asked the Congress, after endorsing the steps we had already taken in the matter, to pledge itself not to allow minor points of detail or tactics to stand in the way of unity, and to empower us to proceed with the negotiations. The Congress by 90 votes to 16 adopted the resolution I proposed and gave the Executive Committee the mandate suggested. And it must not be imagined that even the 16 votes represented opposition to unity. On the contrary they were given in expression of the fear that the Executive Committee would not act swiftly enough, and were cast by those who preferred that the matter should be taken up by a special committee elected from the conference.
The news has now been received that the unity movement in the S.L.P. has taken definite shape, and at an unofficial S.L.P. Conference held at Nottingham, at which representatives were present from all parts of the country, including all the best known writers and propagandists of the S.L.P., a committee was appointed to carry on unity negotiations with the B.S.P. We shall now make an effort to re-open negotiations with the other bodies, and so far as we are concerned, no minor points of detail or tactics will be allowed to stand in the way of complete Communist unity. In the meantime, the view we have expressed with regard to the relations of the Communist Party with the general mass of the organised workers, as represented by the Labour Party, have found striking confirmation in the statement dealing with “Parliaments or Soviets” issued by comrade Zinoviev on behalf of the Central Executive Committee of the Communist International. That statement is a complete vindication of the use by Communists of bourgeois parliamentarisrn as providing an excellent pulpit for the propaganda of the proletarian revolution. “Being inside the hostile camp” says Zinoviev, “they (the Communists) drop mines in the way of their enemies”. Precisely. And being inside the political organisation of the slowly awakening masses, we, too, “drop mines in the way of our enemies” the social-patriotic and opportunist mis-leaders, and gradually and surely win the masses over to our side.