Source: The Communist, August 19, 1920.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
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.
The decision of last week’s Special National Labour Conference of the various Executives, to endorse the formation of a “Council of Action,” and the granting to this Council of “full powers” to organise a general strike, call for a statement from the Communist Party as to what our policy will be, and what advice we have to offer to our members anent the same.
The significance of the Congress decisions cannot be ignored, and neither prejudice nor traditional bias should stand in the way of our fullest appreciation of all that is involved in them.
Both the composition of the Congress itself and its infant Council of Action are without precedent in the history of the Labour movement, and, taken in conjunction with the circumstance which called them both into being, constitute a situation which must be examined and judged on its merits of revolutionary possibility.
Apart from the actual decision to prevent war by a general strike if need be, the general course adopted to arrive at this decision, and the path pursued, contain significant consequences which are at once vital and important.
To decide to strike against war, or the threat, of war, dismisses once and for all any further question as to the validity of Industrial or Direct Action for political purposes, and relegates the bones of that skeleton in Labour’s cupboard to the political crematorium.
Again, the granting of power to the Council of Action is to summon a strike immediately, should such be necessary, is not only as J. H. Thomas put it: “a challenge to all constitutional institutions,” but, however little he may have dreamt it, it is a challenge to the constitutionalism of Labour itself. The unwarrantable insistence of a constitutional ballot before any industrial action could be adopted, which has in the past been well-nigh the strongest weapon in the armoury of capitalism, is, let us sincerely hope, also a thing of the past.
We must see to it that the working-class tactics against capitalism in future are determined solely by the exigencies of the moment, and the possibilities of success, and not by any stale and crusted formulas which may have served Labour a hundred years ago. The other feature, the challenge to capitalist institutions, is the first real ringing declaration of war against the power of our exploiters and oppressors, which has gone up from Labour’s ranks.
On this score “The Times” rightly attaches the greatest importance, and it is tragically amusing to read that—
“Any overt attempt to overthrow the Constitution would be met with a firmness on the part of the great bulk of the people of this country that would bring our magniloquent revolutionaries to their senses.”
And then to read almost immediately following that—
“Most British citizens know as little of the Constitution as of the composition of the air they breathe.”
Due attention is paid to the possibilities thus opened up to such a body as the Communist Party, and certain of our Executive recommendations are quoted to show that, we are alive to such possibilities. Well, they will not be disappointed. We see in the threatened war with Russia not only another military holocaust, but a deeply conspired imperialist attempt to crush the working-class Republic of Russia.
Official Labour can rest assured of our support in this crisis, because the Communist Party is to the Republic of Russia flesh of its flesh, and bone of its bone.
We are not to be intimidated into a luke-warm support or pacifist shelter by thee insidious references to the conditions in Russia and the policy of those whom we seek to support. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat has no terrors for us, in that, not being blinded by capitalist morality and sentiment, we can appreciate realities when such confront us, and we do know that capitalism will not allow the working class of this country to attain its economic emancipation unless compelled to do so by the organised might of that working class. That is the dictatorship so much decried, particularly by those who to-day dictate for capitalism.
The Communist Party has sent out several communications to its members, advising them as to policy and a general line of action. Its Executive are apprehensive of all that is at stake, and of what is involved in the formation of the Council of Action. We have sought for representation both at the Congress and on the Council, but so far our efforts have met with a refusal. We intend to insist upon such representation, not as a successfully absorbed body, but as an independent and free unit, with equal right to advise and urge both as to policy and action. Meantime our members are again strongly advised to get on to the local councils, not only as representing the local branch but as delegates from their shops, unions, committees, etc.
The Councils may be called upon to function not only in controlling a strike, but constructively in efforts to maintain the strike.
Any local construction must bear the hallmark of Communism, and only the Communists can stamp such an imprint. Labour will, and must, obviously in the interests of its own policy, endeavour to effect a consummation to the present decisions by the establishment of a Labour Government. This is in their minds and the Councils of Action but the means to this end.
We must follow the developments very closely, and all the time keep strengthening our organisation and machinery to ensure that we shall be fit and prepared to take the fullest advantage of any opportunities which may present themselves. Our work is not for a political revolution with a Labour Government, but a social revolution with administration by Soviets or Workers’ Councils. Your Local Councils of Action have potentialities which should be nourished and developed, and in the meantime we hope that all members will endeavour to act in uniformity with the Executive policy, and thus ensure the greatest margin of success from this impasse. Get to your post! Keep there! And be prepared to respond to such advice as the situation at Headquarters may warrant the offering. Our watchword for the present should be “Be active, alert and ready.”