J. T. Murphy
Source: The Workers’ Weekly, January 4, 1924
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
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.
In response to “Practicus’s” article “Towards an Immediate Programme,” which was published in our issue of November 23, as a basis of discussion, the following contribution has been made by Comrade Murphy.
A reply from “Practicus” will appear next week.
During the last few months there has been considerable talk about programmes.
There appears to be a great desire to have “a programme” such as “to call forth the entire forces of the working class in a real agitation and campaign.” This is the characteristic demand in the articles by “Practicus” appearing in our paper. Now let us ask ourselves a straight question or two. Can the whole working class be inspired to unite on a programme embodying a number of demands? Does not a programme partake of the character of party politics determined by the political conceptions and interests of the makers of the programme? Single big issues such as war, or, as in Russia, the existence of the Revolution, can unite the masses and secure spontaneous mass movements which can be harnessed to programmes. Apart from such issues the acceptance or rejection of programmes depends upon the political consciousness of those to whom we appeal or upon it being hitched to some big issue which the party or organisation has succeeded in leading.
Except, therefore, when big issues spontaneously rouse the whole working class because the masses feel their fate or their livelihood at stake, programmes are the products of political groups or parties within the working class which express their views as to how the workers should conduct their struggles and for what they should aim. They become the basis of argument and struggle within the movement, which only ends when the working class has eliminated the unfit programmes with the unfit parties as they are tested in actual life. To talk of all the workers uniting on a programme at this stage seems to me entirely out of the question. Will the Labour Party drop its programme in the hope of an All-in Programme? Why should it? Will the I.L.P.? Will the S.D.F.? Will the C.P.? Not likely. Each of them believes they have got the goods and are prepared to back their message to the workers as the best.
What then is the meaning of the demand for a programme of immediate demands? There are two contributing factors. One arising out of discontent with the official programmes and lack of fighting leadership in the general labour movement. The other out of the position of the Communist Party in a period when the revolutionary tempo does not make the full revolutionary measures of the Communist Party the natural expression of the immediate political situation. Under these circumstances the Communist Party has either to retreat with the masses and rouse them to renewed efforts on the basis of the most immediate issues which hold the interest of the workers or resolve itself into a body propagating Communism in the abstract. It prefers to struggle with the workers on the most immediate questions knowing that, whilst they may not be consciously struggling for the revolution, unconsciously they are doing so and through these struggles they will be roused and led into the revolutionary fight.
The issue for the Communist Party, therefore, is not that of a “uniting the whole of the workers,” but that of expressing the interests of the working class and developing the fighting class-conscious spirit through action on however small an issue (so long as it is in line with the class struggle), and directing it along the route which leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat. The elements within the working-class movement which are nearest to us who are willing to fight, are obviously those discontented with the programmes and leadership of the Labour Party, I.L.P., S.D.F., Syndicalists, Non-party Trade Unionists, Unemployed Workers’ Committee Movement, &c. To aim for these to come still nearer by crystallising the points of agreement into a number of common demands is a sound and necessary movement. But again its object is not that of “uniting the whole movement,” but of expressing definite working-class interests within the movement and making a more effective struggle against reactionaries, all of which clears the way and develops class consciousness within the workers’ movement.
But “Practicus” agrees, apparently, that some big issue which strikes all the parties and organisations as a vital issue, will rouse the workers to united action, and fastens on unemployment as a uniting issue.
Now, can this question unite the movement? All experience goes to show that rather than uniting the workers it is the most demoralising factor in the whole movement, dividing employed and unemployed, and placing a paralysing hand upon one time vigorous organisations. Witness also the isolation of the Unemployed Workers’ Committee Movement.
As an economic problem to be tackled it becomes the central theme for every political party anxious to try its own solution rather than a uniting force. The fact that it is what “Practicus” calls “the sharpest expression of the crisis of capitalism” encourages this.
Especially is this the case if we agree that the problem of unemployment cannot be solved under capitalism. Every Communist knows that to solve the unemployed problem we need the social revolution. Can we immediately unite the whole working class for that? We cannot. If so, then the proposals must be within the framework of capitalism, must partake of the character of relief work, higher wages, unemployment benefits, &c. Then why waste time and paper in denouncing the Labour Party relief schemes, higher wages, &c., as capitalist schemes and putting forward alternative proposals equally denounceable from the standpoint of abstract socialism. “Practicus” spills considerable ink in the WORKERS’ WEEKLY in this game, chirping away that there is no difference between MacDonald or Clynes, or Baldwin, or Sir Allan Smith. He slams Wheatley & Co. because they propose to restore the home market by higher wages and denounces higher wages as most pernicious, as Moloch’s little way of appeasing our anger. Then he puts forward demands which also do not constitute a programme of Socialism but immediate proposals applicable within the framework of capitalism. Amongst these we discover high wages, stats control of industry, &c. I presume now, that “Practicus” also must be numbered amongst the capitalist politicians. At least he has demonstrated the absurdity of his criticism of MacDonald, Webb, Baldwin, Wheatley, & Co., for what becomes of his Socialism which was the basis of his attack on these people?
High wages proposed by “Practicus” fall equally within the framework of the Labour Party, programme as when proposed by Wheatley or Mr. Hodges, and so do all the proposals. There is nothing fundamentally contradictory to the Labour Party’s programme.
“Practicus” has simply got entangled in his sectarian attempts to be practical and remain different from others to preserve his revolutionary soul amidst the entanglements of Reformism. Why must the Communist support the demand for high wages? Because it solves the problem of wage slavery? Not at all. But because the action, the struggle, to get high wages is a means of developing the struggle for power. Our complaint against Hodges, is not because he proposes high wages, but because he will not fight for high wages.
The same must be said of all other demands within the framework of capitalism. We cannot complain of MacDonald, Webb, the Labour Party, &c., demanding relief schemes, when we propose measures which can be placed in the same category. Not one of them solves the problem of unemployment, not even state control of production and the banks within capitalism, not even the demand for a gold basis for wages as a check to inflation, not even the seizure of idle factories, &c., &c. Otherwise all our contentions that unemployment is a disease of capitalism which capitalism cannot cure fall to the ground.
These measures or any measures we may put forward must be based upon the needs of the workers now, and of such a character that their application is in keeping with the fundamental movement towards socialism and communism. Such measures are then at once of agitational value in rousing the workers to the fight, and economically and sociologically sound in relation to the development of society.
Tested by these principles there is no point in asking us to prove the immediate character of the proposals of “Practicus” by reading his contribution two years hence, or the need to wonder what we shall do pending the arrival of the Workers’ Government, which he tells us is necessary to carry out his “non-socialist programme.” We can go ahead fighting in this period of capitalist instability for higher wages, shorter hours, improved conditions of labour, caring little whether Hodges or MacDonald or Wheatley are in favour or not, concerned principally whether the workers and these people are fighting for them or preventing a fight. These are things we can do, that by the time we get the “Workers’ Government backed by the whole working class” the proposals of “Practicus” will be as dead as the dodo and a socialist programme then as now will be the order of the day. Then we can get more of it than what we can now because the relations of power will have changed. But of this programme more anon.