J. T. Murphy
Source: The Communist Review, January 1924, Vol. 4, No. 9.
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
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.
OUR Party conference is being held at the beginning of one of the most interesting stages in the history of the Labour movement of this country. At the moment of writing, and by the time our conference is held, it appears quite probable that a Labour Government will have come to power.
This is an event of first class importance to the whole working class movement. We have no illusions as to its character. It will be a Liberal-Labour Government coming into power by the consent of the Liberal Party, and, if it is to live, sustained by the Liberals. It will attempt to represent “all the people” and every day of its existence, it will be increasingly beset with dangers from the capitalist parties, who will manoeuvre to bring discredit on it and the whole Labour movement.
Already, Sir John Bradbury, in his attempts to find an expert committee to deal with the new situation on Reparations, has been met with an attempt at sabotage from a number of “gentlemen,” who will only serve on “terms.” These being, that no revolutionary departure is contemplated by MacDonald, or the Labour Party in financial policy.
The employers, we may be certain will become more stubborn, provoking strikes and lock-outs, for which blame will be laid at the door of the Labour Party. Even ordinary measures in the direction of relieving the unemployed and securing trade improvement will have their reflex in industrial disputes, wherein the workers will attempt, and rightly attempt, to win back what they have lost in recent years. The more we survey the potentialities of the situation, the more complex it appears.
But, complex as the situation undoubtedly is for the whole Labour movement, it is more so for the Communist Party. We shall have demands placed upon us, which will make our previous activities appear as child’s play. Already, danger is acute. The more progress we make in winning our way into the Labour Party, the greater the danger of absorption; the greater the need for political clarity, and the emphasis of first principles.
The experience of the last twelve months fully justifies our warning. The United Front, for example, has too often been regarded as accommodation with the “Right,” instead of a means, of struggle, involving the “Right” in action, or exposure. The advent of a Labour Government will accentuate this accommodation policy. Already, there are those in the Party, who con-template the submersion of our programme to preserve the existence of a Labour Government. These tendencies emphasise the need for sharpening our political criticism and a deeper regard for the theoretical equipment of our Party membership. If our Party conference meets and we do not review our experiences in the light of the new situation, and take measures which will strengthen the political equipment of the Party, we shall have to pay a heavy price for our neglect.
If I were asked what are the principal defects of the Party to-day, I would answer unhesitatingly, formalism, organizational Fetishism, and lack of political training. Not for a moment do I undervalue or underestimate the achievements of the Party during the last twelve months. Its increase of influence, the development of the circulation of our paper, the growth in the number of Party representatives in the unions and Labour Party, are great achievements. But these have been accomplished through making the maximum demands on the time and energy of our Party membership, and in spite of our mistakes. Probably one of the principal reasons why the Party does not grow as rapidly as its influence, is just these abnormal demands on the membership which have over-taxed personal obligations outside the Party.
A further price we have to pay is in the neglect of political discussions and the failure to appreciate the importance of party training. Not by wilful neglect, but in complete lack of opportunity. This is felt throughout the Party. We have only to reflect on our local and district aggregate meetings and ask ourselves how much time is taken in problems of organisation in proportion to that devoted to politics, to become fully conscious of our needs. It has been all organisation, organsiation, technical disabilities and individual grievance. Is it not time we pulled up a little and asked whether we are travelling along right lines?
The Battersea Conference of 1922 passed with enthusiasm, the Party Commission’s Report. Its scheme of organisation was accepted in principle, and immediately embodied in the New Statutes and rules. Anyone venturing on criticism of the Report and its proposals was snowed under as an opponent of group principle. Only experience could settle matters under such circumstances.
After that conference, the Party went into a process of complete re-organisation, and with exceedingly small regard to its material resources, its numerical strength, and the political development of its membership, began to make the Party Commission’s Report play the role of a Communist Holy Bible.
The whole aim of the Party appeared to be that of “building according to model.” Local Party Committees and District Party Committees were created with the membership thinly spread over many miles. The organisers we appointed have been worked to the utmost, but can we say to the best, political advantage of the Party? “Leads” had to come through D.P.C’s. according to plan, and the organisers became duplicating machines. The membership being small, and often scattered, was unable to keep an organiser for lack of funds. The result in some cases being that the organiser had to become propagandist in order to raise the wind. Then the areas they have had to cover have been too large, and the membership in them too small to make the plan workable. There is hardly a district meeting, but what has as its first class problem—how shall we maintain the organiser? This is no plea for the dismissal of our organisers, but a plea for the release of the organisers from a big percentage of the drudgery imposed upon them, a plea for our organisers to have the opportunity to become such, through an adaptation of the Party organisation to the capacities of the membership. It may be, and is true, that certain districts have interests in common, but these common interests could be focussed and expressed by occasional district conferences, rather than by the establishment of permanent D.P.C’s which the local element carry. Until districts can bear the weight and responsibility of a D.P.C., there is no justification for its existence. It should be a product of Party life, and not a burden. Until then, the Local Party Committees, which in turn should not cover too large an area, as has been the case in a number of localities, but in keeping with the capacity of the Party membership, should have direct contact with the Party headquarters.
Equally important is the need for a revision of the relations between the Party headquarters and the Party membership. Again it appears that the formal plan is not suitable at the present stage of Party development. The Party Conference elected an Executive Committee to be in one centre and practically continuous session. In addition, it elected a Party Council in order to have means of testing and reflecting the Party life in the districts. It is fairly evident that whilst the principles upon whit these decisions were made are perfectly sound, the practicability of their application at present is open to question. A Central Committee, residing at the centre under existing circumstances, has little chance of constant personal contact with the membership, whilst the political immaturity of the Party has been a stumbling block in the way of making the Party Council a live political factor in the life of the Party.
This problem of developing the political life of the Party by adjusting ourselves to our capacities will be the most important work of the conference, for I think it is no exaggeration to say that those who have visited the districts have invariably been met with the same complaint. “We have no time for reading, or for Party training. It is as much as we can do to keep pace with the organisational demands. The E.C. seems like some remote body pumping out demands and appeals.” If this is permitted to continue it will inevitably lead to deterioration in the political qualities of the Party. Already the Party lead is accepted too formally, and the voice of political criticism too seldom raised within our ranks. And no wonder! We impose ceaseless work without giving opportunities for tapping the well springs of inspiration and enthusiasm which come from the deep and better understanding of Communism. We absorb the will to revolution in the overwhelming demands for mundane activities and smother the desire for a thorough understanding of our struggle and our aims. We can no longer afford this.
We must release the Party from the fetishism of mechanical formalism, and make way for the dynamics of life, which alone give enthusiasm and power to our movement. Organisation should be a weapon of politics and not politics an afterthought of organisation. Where political tasks are understood and determined upon, organisation is the natural corralory to see them through. But organisation which is created as an end in itself or to correspond simply to a paper plan, drains the energy of the Party at the expense of political development.
In no department of Party life is this more clear than that of Party training. Where Party training is proceeding, it is undertaken as a course to be got through as quickly as possible, an extra burden to carry, instead of a continuous living, vitalizing factor in Party activity. Is there any wonder that aggregate meetings are principally organisational washhouses? So serious is the position, that in many districts, even where there is the will to tackle educational work, there is no one capable of leading it. Yet upon the political equipment of our membership depends the capacity of the Party to deal effectively with all its problems in the political struggles of the workers.
If the Party conference faces these issues boldly—liberates the Party from deadly formalism, brings the Party leadership into closer contact with localities, gives the organisers of the party a chance to do their real work, lifts the incubus of premature superstructures from the backs of the membership and begins the task of training it in political leadership, then we can face the future with all its complexities, capable and unafraid.
J. T. MURPHY.