J. T. Murphy

The Single Front

All in for Action!

Source: The Communist Review, March 1922
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.

WITHIN the next few months measures will be taken which must launch the working class movement of the world, into making gigantic strides in the direction of a united struggle against Capitalism. It may also result in the greatest exposure of the “yellow” leaders that modern history can show. The call has gone forth for a single front for all Labour forces. The Communist International issued a manifesto on December 18, 1921, clearly and unhesitatingly taking up the challenge for working-class unity which the leaders of Amsterdam, the Second International, and their compatriots, have tripped upon the tongue for years without meaning anything.

Preliminary canters have begun. The Vienna International at its meeting on December 19, 1921, indicated its willingness for an all-in Conference. The Paris Conference of Socialist and Labour Parties agreed to move in this direction, although old fogies such as Mr. T. Shaw actually trotted out the hypocritical cant about guarantees from the German workers. Williams, of the “Yellows,” has written appealingly in the Daily Herald for the united front whilst giving knowing tips concerning inside information gathered from the Reds. Longuet, trying to score off the French Communist Party and revive the French Socialist Party, writes in a similar strain. We have undoubtedly entered a new stage in the history of the working-class movement.

That all will be smooth sailing in this direction we cannot for one moment assume. Already the Communists of France have shown decided differences of opinion as to the wisdom of this call of the Communist International. Others of the revolutionary movement will also have their doubts and fears, whilst the leaders of the union movement, etc., will undoubtedly be in a mess with their conflicting aspirations. Some there are who think the Communist International is becoming “moderate” under the influence of the transitions in Russia. Others regard the move as a new tactic and so on.

But the move has not sprung, Minerva like, from the heads of the Communist International. It is the historical product of the forces operating in the arena of the international class struggle and cannot be understood or appreciated apart from them. It comes at a time when the working-class everywhere is in retreat. The weakening of the old internationals set them moving towards each other in the closing month of last year. As far back as October 19 the Vienna International and the Second International tried to square accounts and failed. Since then the battering of the sectional battalions of the workers in all countries has become so severe that it is a common cry that something must be done to stop the retreat. Early in December the German Communist Party appealed to the Executive Council of the Communist International to move in the direction of a united front. The Norwegian Communist Party followed, and in an effort to avert a split in the French Trades Union movement, consequent on the ascendancy of the supporters of the Red International of Labour Unions, the Red International Executive tried to open negotiations with the Amsterdam leaders. The prospect of an international economic conference called by the Capitalist Governments, and to include the Proletarian Government of Russia, to deal with the world’s economic crisis, stressed the necessity of a move in the direction indicated by Communist International.

Paradoxical as it may seem, this step, taken because the workers are everywhere in retreat, is the greatest stride forward since the founding of the Communist International and the early efforts to rally the unions to the Moscow under the banner of the Red International of Labour Unions. And the founding of the Communist International in turn is the greatest stride forward since Marx concluded the first Communist Manifesto with the clarion call, “Workers of all lands unite.”

There have been internationals before this but they were more international in name than in fact, foreshadowings of the International that was yet to be. 1864 saw the First International formed in London under the guidance of Marx. 1872 saw its end in America. The period of colonial expansion provided too many facilities for the masses to become adapted to Capitalism for any international of working-men to become an effective organ of struggle against Capitalism. True, the idea had been born of the struggle, but history had not yet marshalled her big battalions behind the idea.

It was not until 1889 that the Second International was born. Then the great idea came forth again, not strongly, but nevertheless there it was. The forces of production had been and were rapidly reaching over frontiers, increasing the proletarian army by millions and closing up the safety valves of colonialism. From this time onward to 1914 internationals began to spring up monotonously. The miners established the International Miners’ Federation in 1890. Woodworkers, printers, textile workers, metal workers, tailors, hatters, potters, etc., followed in succeeding years. The beginnings of the International Federation of Trade Unions were seen in 1901 in the formation of the “International Secretariat of the National Trade Union Centres.” By 1914, the working class movement had thrown up thirty-two International Secretariats, besides the Second International of Socialist Parties and the ponderous International Secretariat of the National Trade Union Centres.

At no time can it be said that any one of these fulfilled the basic needs of a workers’ international of struggle. The union secretariats were never more than information departments, and their conferences trailed along the old traditions against politics. Even so late as 1909 the Christiania Conference declined to discuss theoretical questions of the tactics of the Trades Union Movement. Only the miners succeeded in drawing up an international programme by 1913, and how far the miners had become an international of action is evidenced in the terrific defeat of the British miners in 1921 despite the revival of the international after the war. The whole movement was hampered with the limitations peculiar to the individual experiences of the national organisations. Autonomy, no politics, nationalism, all products of capitalist ideology, bound them in fetters whilst the fundamental forces intensifying the class struggle were sweeping them from the village green into the international arena of class war. International direction of the struggle was still a dream of a small minority.

Equally immature and equally confused was the political Second International. It was a product of the same period and as an organisational force, totally incapable of international action because of the many conflicting elements within it. Like the unions, it grew up in the spirit of nationalism, and was equally limited. Nevertheless, within its limitations enormous cultural work was achieved. Socialist philosophy emerged more and more as the international conference fulfilled the rôle of a debating school until the mutterings of war sharpened the internal conflicts. History was steadily marshalling her proletarian forces behind the international idea, but those responsible for the harnessing of the forces were hopelessly divided. Time and again compromise glossed over the divisions, and in 1910 we had the ironic situation of the Copenhagen Congress defeating the resolution for a general strike against war by 131 to 51 votes as outside the scope of the political international to decide. The trade union International at its Christiania Conference in 1907 would not allow the question of a strike against war to be discussed, and remitted it to the Socialist International as a “political” question. Tut! tut!

These developments were symptomatic of the period in which the internationals grew, and whilst we offer no condonation of either the defects of the leaders, or the incompetence of executive committees, the fact remains that these incidents were but indications of a conflict of forces emerging from insularity and petty bourgeois ways of thought to internationalism and class war. The First International gave out the far-flung call for working-class solidarity throughout the world. The Second International and all the attendant organisations of the period in which it thrived, were the products of the painful struggles of the masses as they hammered out, through concrete experience, the weapons of their final triumph. It was the period of expanding, ever-developing capitalism conceding and conceding to the ever-growing proletariat that capitalism might continue to expand. It soaked the proletariat with its teachings, and moulded it with its institutions. No wonder, therefore, when the crash of 1914 came upon the world that “history took her broom in hand and swept the internationals apart in all directions.” She banged the door of the conferences, and kicked the leaders into the school of life. She flung the nationalism of the internationals into the terrible crucible of war that out of it might come the Internationalism of revolution. Thus ended an epoch of capitalism and working class history. Thus old forms and limitations were violently shattered.

The war ran the nations of Europe into exhaustion, and made impossible the continuation of the policy of concessions to the proletariat. Having spilled the blood of millions of its youth to win the victories of capitalism, it attacked the whole social life of the masses to squeeze from them the spoils of victory, it intensified the process of class consolidation. The weakest links in the chain of capitalist states snapped asunder under the pressure of these social contradictions of capitalism. Through the great gap rushed the Russian revolution before even the proletariat of the western countries and their leaders had recovered from the shock of war. Not a single international was left to function. The Russian workers were alone, and in their revolutionary struggle they passed through the stages of cleansing and consolidating the class position through which the international working class had yet to pass. They brushed on one side, after bitter struggles, all the old limitations of craft, trade, nationalism, pacificism, etc., and strode forward on the basis of working class unity in action, led by the most consolidated party of working class history, towards the conquest of power. This was no formal sentimental unity of phrase, but a unity forged by struggle and conflict directed towards a definite objective. No longer could there be any equivocation by the unions as to what was political and what industrial. Here life flung them all into the political struggle for power, and willingly they accepted the guidance of the party which experience had proved most capable of leadership. Out of this conflict rose the new Communist International equally united and equally definite in its objective.

From the moment it burst into the international arena, calling the workers of all lands to action, the process of assimilation in the working class movement received an impetus hitherto unknown. The old leaders of the old internationals were resentful, and strove with might and main to stop the gravitation of the masses of the world to the heart of the revolution, and to the kind of international unity all their experience had been demanding. They resurrected the 32 secretariats and re-christened the International secretariat of National Trade Union Centres, and it became the Amsterdam International. The old bones of the Second International were so shaky, that a new intermediate international was created, and for the first time in the history of the working class movement internationalism became a live, vital issue, challenging the masses at every turn of the way.

Within three years the Communist International organised a party membership three millions strong, which is fast becoming an International Communist Party. Around it gather the unions in the Red International of Labour Unions, along with large minorities of the unions affiliated to Amsterdam. For a period 1919-1920 the old brigades appeared to revive and thrive on the apparent revival of capitalism. But 1921 shattered the illusion. The struggle of capitalism to save itself from the consequences of its surgery compels it to ferociously attack the workers in every direction. The old leaders, fearful of struggle, bid retreat. The workers retreat and retreat until the retreat becomes a rout. Bankruptcy faces the unions, and misery and distress increases a thousandfold until the retreat leads to the UNITED FRONT. It is the gravitation of the workers of the world, through the tragic paths of suffering, to united class action for liberation through the conquest of power. To save themselves the workers must unite in action, and action leads to conquest. There is no escape.

True to itself as the proven leader of the masses in action, the Communist International seeks to harness the forces history thus drives in its direction. It has no alternative. The Communist International is not the whole working class, but it has no interests apart from the interests of the working class. It is the workers’ human instrument striving to enrol all the masses under its banner and lead them to Communism as the one solution to their problems. It has defined the problem as follows:—“The new Labour Organisation is established for the purpose of organising united action of the world proletariat aspiring to the same goal—the overthrow of capitalism, the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of an international Soviet Republic, for the complete elimination of classes and the realisation of Socialism as the first step towards the Communist Commonwealth.” This definition of the aims of the Communist International distinctively defines all the questions of tactics to be solved. Born in the midst of intense revolutionary period, and clearly recognising the violent inception of the Russian Revolution as the beginning of the epoch of revolutions ever widening towards the world revolution, it could not approach the task thus defined as a metaphysical problem to be solved by a new treatise on ideal forms of organisation. Nor could it approach the problem as something apart from and independent of the daily struggles of the masses throughout the world, for it is the cumulative effect of these struggles which produce the revolutionary crises of history. Nor could it build its organisation in the libraries, valuable as these institutions may be, or set itself the task of making its own organisation perfect, and then begin on world problems and working class battles. It is the International of Conflict emerging from the historic struggles of the workers rich with the ideas and lessons of all preceding epochs, growing from strength to strength with every intensification of the fight. It has not only to organise within itself those who believe in Communism. It has to translate its leadership of the workers into concrete terms of their daily needs, and harness all forces converging upon the goal of the proletarian conquest of power. It has not only to examine programmes; it has to measure forces. It has not worried so much about perfect organisational forms. It believes that it is revolutionary deeds which help the workers forward from darkness to light.

These are the facts of its history which have determined its attitude to the old parties and the unions. The old parties were challenged with the needs of the revolutionary epoch, and accepted, split, or rejected according to their willingness to measure up to the needs of the workers’ struggle for power. The unions were called to new leadership by the establishment of the Red International of Labour Unions, and the opening of war upon the leaders of the Amsterdam International, who kept the workers divided in their distress. Within fifteen months sixteen million workers rallied to the new centre of international unionism. The Amsterdam leaders have become savage in their defeats, and turned to union smashing, expelling minorities and majorities alike as the masses turned Red. To think that the fight against these leaders can stop for a single moment is to make a great mistake. The fight must and will go on though weapons change. The call for the united front is the introduction of another weapon, the weapon of the mass struggle. We cannot desert the masses because the leaders are treacherous. Draw them one and all into the fight. Action tests all alike. Its dynamics cleanse and purge as by fire.

This, then, is the key to the lead of the Communist International in this hour of crisis in the history of the working class movement of the world. Draw together the organisations of the workers, even with their present leaders, for common action on a common programme, that by action the process of clarification, cleansing, and consolidation of the movement can proceed apace and pave the way to the final victory. The Amsterdam leaders, the Second International leaders, the Vienna leaders dare refuse at their peril. They cannot stand alone. Capitalism is deserting them. They must fight with the masses and with us or perish. Most probably they will perish.