J. T. Murphy

How a Mass Communist Party will Come in Britain

Source: The Communist International, No. 9 (New series) 1925.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/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.

IN the last issue of the Communist International, there were two important contributions by Comrades R. P. Dutt and A. Martinov, dealing with the developments in the Labour Movement of Britain. Both articles are worthy of the closest possible study, especially by every member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The conclusions of both writers cannot be ignored by our Party.

Each writer sets out to diagnose the situation after the fall of the Labour Government and to answer the questions, “What must the workers do about it?” and “What must the Communist Party do?” Whilst there is a general agreement as to the nature of the present situation, there is a profound difference between them on the last question. There is a complete divergence on the estimate of the future of the Labour Party and the question of the development of a leftwing within it and our attitude towards such phenomenon. It is necessary, therefore, to carry this discussion a stage further.

Comrade Dutt most lucidly sets forth the following observations:—

1. “The collapse of the MacDonald Labour Government brings the British working class face to face with the question of leadership in the sharpest form.”

2. “The existence and collapse of the Labour Government were governed by capitalist strategy, of which it was a willing tool, and is, therefore, now incapable, because of its commitments, of putting forward anything but a sham opposition.”

3. The workers are faced with unbridled reaction in the saddle, and “the Labour Party has just signally proved itself a broken instrument in the hands of the workers to protect their interests or lead their fight. For the workers to trust it now to look after them in the coming period of reaction and oppression, would be the height of open and self-confessed folly.” What are the workers going to do about it?

4. The Labour Party is “faced with the following alternatives, either to develop further along the line of a ‘constitutional’ democratic party, and come increasingly in opposition to the workers, and openly surrender their leadership, or to endeavour to maintain contact with the masses by adapting itself, putting forward ‘left’ leaders, adopting semi-revolutionary phrases, etc., all of which can immediately be brought to the test of action. In this way a process of differentiation begins, in which ‘left’ leaders come to the front, and are themselves subjected to the test of events, while the masses are compelled to search for the real leadership that will meet their needs.”

5. “Such a leadership is and can only be the leadership of a mass Communist Party.” This is the supreme signal of the present period both for the British Communist Party and for the British working class.

6. “The role of the C.P. must be made clear to the workers to be not simply the role of a propagandist force, within the Labour Party and the trade unions for the adoption of certain ‘views.’ The role of the C.P. is the role of the alternative leadership of the British working class, which the workers themselves must build up and realise to replace the failure and decomposition of the Labour Party. This is the fact which must be proclaimed on every side. . . ” If we fail to make this clear, we sink into a “left-wing” of the Labour Party—at the very moment when the Labour Party as such is separating itself from the working class, and the call is for just such an independent leadership as only the C.P. can provide. The absolute independence of the C.P. is the vital point for the future of the working class in Britain. The remains of the “left-wing of the Labour Party” conception must be wiped out, and the whole of our propaganda no less than the character of our participation in current struggles, must be directed to the supreme issue.

7. “The role of the Communist Party becomes of special importance in relation to the ‘left’ leaders, whose emergence to the front is the reflection of the movement away from the old leadership. . .” This left will now be brought to the test of events. In the period immediately in front, the concentration of the Party will need to be far more specifically directed to this left, its ideology and actions (Hicks, Purcell, Cook, Maxton, etc.), than to MacDonald and MacDonaldism.

The next period of British working class history is the period of the mass Communist Party.

Comrade Martinov then enters the lists with the following thesis.

1. The election results show that our party lost ground, having polled only 55,000 votes instead of 78,000, showing that our party has not discovered the right way to win the masses. The Party should have been more revolutionary.

2. Our Party must find a “way to the British proletariat in order to gain the hearing of the wide masses for our ideas—our Party should not only address itself directly to the masses, but it should also gain influence in those organisations which have a historic past and which embrace a large number of workers. Such organisations are on the one hand the trade unions, and on the other hand the Labour Party.

3. The success of the Minority movement in the trade unions marks the beginning of the fight for influence with the Labour Party. The only way to carry on this fight is to assist the process of differentiation which is going on in the Labour Party, and to help in the shaping of the left-wing, whose value will be measured by the extent of Communist influence that is brought to bear on it.

4. In this respect our Party is still following the line of least resistance. It is far easier to establish strong positions in the trade unions and to assist in the formation of a left-wing current in the trade unions than to help in the formation of the left-wing in the Labour Party.

5. If we must fight for the admission of our Party into the Labour Party, and against the exclusion of Communists from the latter, and to this all the British comrades agree, then we must draw the logical deductions. The Communists who are in the Labour Party should assist in strengthening the left-wing within the Labour Party. Within the Labour Party we should maintain a united front with the left-wing against the present leaders of the Labour Party, we should push this left-wing forward, criticise it for its half-heartedness and use it as a vehicle for the dissemination of our revolutionary ideas among the proletarian masses until we shall have succeeded in transforming our own Party into a mass Party, and eventually liquidating the Labour Party.

6. In the presentation of the immediate prospects of the British Labour movement, Comrade Palme Dutt skips a whole phase in its development. Should the British C.P. follow his suggestion and concentrate all its efforts in an attack upon the left-wing at this juncture, it would at once get out of touch with the masses, and instead of becoming a workers’ mass party would become a sect. The bourgeoisie are afraid of the consolidation of the left-wing of the Labour Party, it is clear then that all our efforts must be concentrated upon it.

It is difficult to avoid feeling that there is here not only a conflict of views in relation to the development of the left-wing of the Labour Party, but a totally inadequate analysis of the process of change in the Labour Party and how the mass Communist Party is to be formed. Comrade Dutt denounces MacDonald, speaks of the decomposition of the Labour Party, the growth of an unreliable left-wing, and simply says the alternative is—a mass Communist Party. Comrade Martinov says quite correctly that Comrade Dutt has skipped a whole historical phase in the life of the Labour Party. He says quite correctly too, that the Communist Party must help in the development of a left-wing in the Labour Party. But this our Party has been saying continuously. The problem yet to be faced is—how is this left-wing developing and by what means can the Communist Party become a mass Party.

On Measuring our Party Strength

Comrade Martinov makes a big error in attempting to estimate the strength and influence of our Party by using the general election figures as a criterion. To compare the Party vote with the Labour Party vote, is almost valueless. Only two Party candidates, Comrade Stewart and Comrade Tom Mann ran on the clear Communist Party ticket. The others—Geddes, Saklatvala, Vaughan, Paul, Wall, Dunstan, were Communists running under local Labour Party auspices, in opposition to the Labour Party Executive’s dictum and the London Conference decisions. The value of the votes cast is limited to a comparison only with the previous election results in the same constituency, and the number of fresh constituencies wherein a Communist appeared as a Labour candidate and the constituencies lost. When it is remembered that every fresh constituency for a Communist means that the candidate must secure a majority vote in the selection conference it is obvious that in general our party may be increasing its influence and grip on the Labour movement without in so short a period as eleven months securing a single new constituency. In all constituencies where Communists did not appear as candidates all the votes of those who would support a Communist must perforce go to the Labour candidate. What then becomes of the comparison of the Labour vote with the Communist? As a matter of fact, more than one Liberal correspondent to the Manchester Guardian when discussing this phase of the political situation, estimated that if the electoral system was run on the same lines as in Germany, the Communists would poll 500,000 votes. But the electoral system is not the same, and the Communist Party enters the electoral struggle heavily handicapped from the beginning. It is only able to get into the electoral arena after the conquest of the local Labour organisations. Hitherto it was dependent more on personal influence than strength of Party. Hence it may be that at a time when we are losing votes we may be and are increasing our party strength. If the Communist Party pursued another course, i.e., entered its candidates against the Labour candidates, irrespective of the local Labour organisation, we should witness a split workers’ vote against the Liberals and Tories, and it would thereby create a tremendous barrier of prejudice against it on the grounds that it was fighting the elected candidates of the trade unions and other workers’ organisations to the advantage of the Liberal and Tory parties.

From the standpoint of “pure politics” this would be quite justifiable, i.e., if we were only concerned with wanting to know who would vote Communist, who would vote Labour, Liberal, Conservative, etc. But with this kind of pure politics we are not concerned. We must be governed by our relation to the class forces that are struggling in the elections. The workers may be mistaken in electing Thomas and MacDonald as their candidates for the election, but the choice before the electors, of which the Communist voters are a part, have to choose, not Thomas’ or MacDonald’s politics versus Liberals or Tories, but whether they will vote for the elected representatives of the Labour organisations versus those of the capitalist parties. Our Party said, whilst unhesitatingly pointing out that MacDonaldism and Thomasism were enemies which the workers would have to fight, they must, at this stage, vote for the Labour candidates against the Liberal and Tory parties.

I am well aware that it is argued that we should select the notorious reactionaries of the Labour Party and fight them with candidates, too. But again, I must say that at this stage in the history of the Labour movement, it would be fatal to the progress of the Communist Party throughout the country. Such an action the Labour Party Executive has been seeking, is seeking and attempting to provoke as a means of proving to the workers that we are the splitters and disrupters of the Labour movement. The relative strength of our Party in relation to the Labour Party and the tasks we have set ourselves, prohibit such a luxury at present whatever the future may hold.

Hence any consideration of the votes cast for Communist candidates must be viewed from a totally different angle to that indicated by Comrade Martinov. The 55,000 vote is no measure of our influence if directly compared with the votes cast for Labour as a whole. They indicate only that in a number of centres our Party has so far won local positions from the right-wing of Labour to the extent of being able to come out as the spokesmen of the whole Labour movement in these localities. But this by no means shows the progress made in developing our influence in all the other centres where our candidates did not appear before the electors.

This also disposes of the further criticism of Comrade Martinov when he addresses our Party as if it had been inactive in relation to the permeation of the Labour Party. I believe he is quite right when he urges us to help in the development of a Left-wing, but he is quite wrong when he assumes that little has been done in this direction and we have now to begin our work in the Labour Party. Such an observation has no regard for the history of our Party. For although at successive stages we have fought for affiliation as a party, insisted upon our members joining the individual sections of the Labour Party, the majority of the members of our Party have been members of the Labour Party continuously by virtue of our trade union membership and payment of the political levy. Had it not been for this fact, we would have stood no chance of fighting the Labour Party leaders effectively with so small a membership as we have at present. The fact of the matter is that there has been no real mass leftward movement in the Labour Party which could be harnessed to challenge the present leadership of the Labour Party. Comrade Dutt sees the Labour Party from the newspapers as one reading from afar, and impatiently dismisses the Labour Party as finished and calls up the only hope—a mass Communist Party, forgetting entirely that the Labour Party is a mass movement of which we are a part in spite of the efforts to crush us as a Party. Comrade Martinov misses the same important fact in the situation when he criticises our Party and its work in the Labour Party as if it was not there, although he is quite correct in his anticipation of, and in his emphasis upon, the importance of the left-wing of the Labour Party.

The Process of Differentiation

But Comrade Dutt’s error is greater and more dangerous for our Party. When he says “For the workers to trust it (the Labour Party) now to look after them in the coming period of reaction and oppression, would be the height of open and self-confessed folly,” he places the workers in an entirely false position and approaches the problem from an entirely sectarian standpoint. He assumes that the workers are already conscious of the weaknesses of the Labour Party leadership, are conscious that it is leading them to disaster, or how could this trust be described as “the height of open and self-confessed folly?” The same sectarianism colours entirely his appreciation of the process of differentiation that has started in the Labour Party. Throughout he speaks as if we were not in the midst of it, as if we were a detached body watching the process from some neighbouring vantage ground, ready to step into the arena when the decomposition of the Labour Party leadership has gone far enough to permit the groping masses to discover the Communist Party. He sees the leaders, their speeches and writings are in the papers, classifies them admirably, tells us to hammer first one, and then another, now the “left leaders” more than any other, but misses the actions of the masses while the process of differentiation is going on. This is not a Marxist line of approach to the problems before our Party or the working class of this country.

The actual situation reveals our Party right in the midst of this process, growing at the very foundations of the Labour Party. Were it not so, think you that the Labour Party Executive could not have rid the Labour Party of 5,000 members during the last four years? Think for a moment of a fight against the Fabian Society instead of the C.P. Let a difference arise between them and the Labour Party, and the Labour Party Executive could wipe it off the books in five minutes without shaking the Labour movement in the least. But the attempt to rid the Labour Party of the Communists has shaken it to its foundations, and given a tremendous impetus to the process of differentiation which everybody now sees before their eyes. Why the difference? Because we cannot speak of the decomposition of the Labour Party in the same way as we can speak of the decomposition of the Liberal Party at this stage. The Labour Party is not based upon a class that is rising power, but upon a class that is rising to power. To speak of the decomposition of the Labour Party is to speak of the decomposition of the trade unions which are its main support, and which are called by the very nature of the struggle which has given them birth to play an increasingly vigorous and militant role. The trade unions are certainly not decomposing. Nor let us be under any illusions concerning even the individual sections of the Labour Party. Those sections are increasing their strength week by week. Let us be quite clear, therefore, when we are talking and not confuse the leadership of the Labour Party with the masses of the Party. The masses rid themselves of the MacDonald leadership, and those who carry the banner of Liberalism, but that does not mean the end of the Labour Party, but a stage in the differentiating process when the Labour Party is increasing in strength the workers become more class conscious.

It is in the midst of this differentiating process that our Party, the Communist Party, grows from strength to strength. Comrade Martinov is wrong when he thinks our work has to be started. We have been in it all the time. Indeed, the very birth of our Party was an indication that the process of differentiation had already begun in the Labour Party. My complaint is not that the work has to be started, but that our Party has done so much work within the Labour Party on the lines which justify Comrade Dutt’s insistence upon the wiping out of the idea that we should aim at being merely a left-wing of the Labour Party, and a propagandist ginger group within the trade unions and the Labour Party. This is a weakness which must be eradicated, and one which the right-wing of the Labour Party is fast helping us eradicate. Weakness as it may be, however, it has also been a source of strength and increased the difficulties of the Labour Party Executive in this expulsion policy. If our Party is to be criticised at all for its attitude to the left-wing elements in the Labour Party during the last twelve months, its most vulnerable point I think is the fact that we have devoted too much attention to the leaders who are designated “left” and too little to develop the leftward moving workers in the Labour Party. We have appealed to this one and that one. Talked with the Clyde group in Parliament, etc., wrote encouragingly about them, and so on, but done nothing to bring together those rank and file forces of the Labour Party which have supported the issues we have raised, passed our resolutions, participated in our campaigns. The columns of the Workers’ Weekly will show numbers of local Labour Parties who supported us in our protests against the persecution of the Indian Communists, the forged letter campaign, the opposition to the Dawes Report, opposition to Communist expulsion from the Labour Party, etc. The area of influence is now indisputably wide, but it is left entirely in its local setting and has not formed collectively the basis on a national scale for an oppositional leadership in the Labour Party. It has been assumed too readily that the Parliamentary “left” leaders represent this development. But they do not in any organisational sense. They are only typically and symptomatic of it, and do not speak with the authority of this mass movement behind them. Consequently, they are the victims of the tactics of the right-wing who advance them or push them into the background according to the exigencies of the situation. To begin to concentrate our attention upon them as suggested by Comrade Dutt, and treat them as more dangerous and worse than MacDonald and Thomas would by no means help us to defeat MacDonald and Co., or to win the masses into our Party. Much as we must keep our Party clear of their weaknesses, they are not the centre of our attack or even the principal object of our concern. They are not our leading enemies, but the indicator of where friendship for our Party lies. Our concern is for the winning of the masses whose sentiments and aspirations these people are attempting to voice, and upon whom they depend for whatever position they hold in the Labour movement.

Breaking the Workers from Liberalism

In order to get this new development in proper perspective, let us review the main lines of the Labour Party’s growth. It is only 25 years since the Labour Representation Committee was formed in order to give form to the idea of the independence of the Labour representation in Parliament. The L.R.C., consisting of seven trade unionists, two members of the I.L.P., two members of the S.D.F., and one of the Fabian Society, represented 375,931 trade unionists and socialists, among them being 13,000 members of the I.L.P., 9,000 S.D.F., and 861 of the Fabian Society. Membership was not open to individuals. From this moment the struggle begins for the ascendency of some party programme. It was obvious that this form of alliance meant a degree of toleration between those who were immediately desirous of imposing the recognition of the class war and the trade unions which were little removed, if any, from Liberalism. Only the question of the independence of the Labour movement held them together.

It was not until 1917 that the Labour Party, which was only the L.R.C. enlarged, appointed a sub-committee to prepare a scheme of re-organisation and provide it with a programme and to make the first and most important constitutional break with its past.

The years between had been years of increasing revolutionary ferment. Great mass strikes had shaken the British Labour movement from end to end. The enormous growth of trade unionism during the war, the profound sharpening of class antagonisms laying bare the foundations of modern capitalism, awakened not only the workers to class consciousness, but set loose from their old moorings sections of the middle class who had previously anchored in the Liberal Party. Whilst the masses of the workers were being prepared to struggle for Socialism, as a class objective, the middle class elements, the salariat, and aristocracy of labour, saw in the rising movement their only hope simultaneous with these changes, the suffrage was extended to millions of women just awakening to political consciousness.

The Labour Party constitution was changed both in regard to aim and enrolment of members. The aim was defined as follows:—

“1. To secure for the producers by hand and by brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of common ownership of the means of production and the best obtainable system of popular administration and content of each industry or service.

2. Generally to promote the political, social and economic emancipation of the people, and more particularly of those who depend directly upon their own exertions by hand or by brain for the means of life.”

Organisationally, the gates of the Party were thrown open to the middle class intellectuals and those who could not join the trade unions, or subscribe to the Socialist Parties.

The full significance of these changes in relation to the workers is not yet fully realised. It has not yet dawned upon the masses of the Labour Party that this historic change cut two ways. In widening the basis of membership, they certainly made way for many working class women to come in, but the price paid has been the increasing domination of middle class politics and politicians.

Mr. Sidney Webb describes the change as follows: “The formulation of a comprehensive social programme and of ‘terms of peace,’ based upon the principles for which the war had ostensibly been fought—principles which were certainly not carried in the Peace Treaty—transformed the Labour Party from a group representing the class interests of the manual workers into a fully constituted political party of national scope, ready to take over the government of the country and to conduct both home and foreign affairs on definite principles.”

Max Beer in his “History of British Socialism,” describes the change thus: “For the reconstruction on socialist lines, the Labour Party stood in need of social economic knowledge. And there were men and women with that knowledge, middle class intellectuals, who had cut themselves adrift from their class and sought admission to the Labour Party, but whose straight gate did not allow them to enter freely, since the old constitution of the Labour Party had been made mainly for manual workers. To allow them to join the Labour Party and supply the necessary knowledge to the proper instrument of reconstruction, a re-organisation or new constitution of the Labour Party was necessary. The need was all the more imperative as the democratisation of the suffrage extended the basis of Party life to the limits of the nation.”

There is, therefore, no disputing the claim that the change signified that the middle class intellectuals were taking ideological charge of the Labour movement and fastening itself upon the leadership. The change in aim proved that the working class movement had settled in its own ranks the question of adherence to capitalism. The second change indicates that the question of ways and means of settling its accounts with capitalism had not yet been determined, and it was handicapping itself at the moment it was being called upon to face its greatest problems by handing over its leadership into the hands of the class which, however much they may idealistically subscribe to the aims of the Labour Party, fight every inch of the way against the class activity of the workers. This meant and could only mean that while the Labour Party, which in the main has its basis in the trade union movement, had broken with the aims of Liberalism, it had not yet shaken itself free from the methods of Liberalism.

The moment had not yet come for the settlement of accounts on this score. The truce with capitalism signed on the declaration of war had not yet been completely broken by mass action involving the whole apparatus of the trade unions. Ideologically, the break had come. The workers were preparing to fight. Hundreds of thousands of them had been involved in unofficial strikes. The Russian Revolution and the upheaval in Europe stirred the working class movement to its depths. Even the right-wing leaders with the exception of Mr. Sidney Webb, the middle class Fabian who understood the significance of the situation, participated in the Leeds Conference of Workers’ Councils. Nevertheless, these experiences only in the main gave an impulse to the traditional lines of development—massing the workers in the trade unions and organising increasing Parliamentary representation. The clash that was bound to come found expression in the annual conference discussions of the Trade Union Congress and the Labour Party on the issue of Direct Action versus Parliamentary Action, and in the crystallisation of forces in the Socialist parties and the industrial workers of the trade unions which had been involved in unofficial strikes during the war and had felt the revolutionary shocks of Europe more keenly than the rest.

The pendulum swung to and fro on the question of direct action. The B.S.P. which had split on the war question and thrown out its national patriots, adopted the main tenets of the programme of the Russian C.P., but would not disaffiliate from the Labour Party on that account. The Shop Stewards and Workers’ Committees responded to the Russian Revolution and saw in their own organisations foreshadowings of the Soviets. The I.L.P. developed revolutionary tendencies and was most active in the Leeds conference. The Socialist Labour Party, though not affiliated to the Labour Party as a Party, had the majority of its members in the Labour Party by virtue of their membership of the trade unions. This Party, which was De Leonist in its politics adapted its programme as a result of the influence of the Russian Revolution and the experience of its members in the Shop Stewards’ movements.

But the whole movement was advancing on an upward wave. The reaction from the war and revolution surged through every part of the Labour Party. The capitalist class made concessions all along the line.

This fact prevented the rapid crystallisation of the revolutionary forces because it now appeared that all were marching forward together. Consequently, when the Parliamentarians were reinforced by the middle class intellectuals, the development of the class conscious process was retarded under the glamour of successful bargaining and parliamentarianism. It is not until 1920 that the small forces named as revolutionary—the B.S.P., the S.L.P., Shop Stewards and Workers’ Committees, a left-wing of the I.L.P. grouped together in a single party—the Communist Party. Then we were faced with the anomaly of a party whose membership was in the Labour Party being refused affiliation as a party. This crystallisation of working class elements into a revolutionary working class party first focussed clearly the fact that the burning question before the Labour Party was now a question not of objective, but of ways and means. The new middle class intellectuals reinforcing the parliamentarians sensed the situation at once and saw in the formation of the C.P. the focussing of the class war as a policy in juxtaposition to class collaboration and the subordination of the Labour Party to Parliamentary careerism.

Petty bourgeois through and through in their intellectual make-up, they approached the problem as doctrinnaires without regard to the class foundations of the Labour Party or the fact that the British workers are essentially empiricists and not theoreticians. Thinking to be rid of this small group they succeeded in securing rejection of the affiliation of our Party and began the campaign for eliminating us as individuals forgetful of the fact that they were asking the workers to reject those who were accused of prosecuting their interests too vigorously and who were inseparable from their daily trade union struggle.

The record of this fight is the record first, of not simply an effort to prevent a new body entering the Labour Party from outside, but to prevent the crystallisation within its ranks of a definite working class policy. Second, of the fight against Liberalism as a method to achieve Socialism. The first twenty years of the Labour Party was the struggle of the workers to get free from the fetters of Liberalism in aim. That was a revolutionary achievement. The struggle of the Communists is to liberate the workers from the fetters of Liberalism in practice, a task which the old Socialist parties could not undertake. Their Socialism was an ideal. Their practice—indistinguishable from Liberalism—is a far greater obstacle than the former. The first phase was carried through before the new invasion of middle class intelligentsia. The second task involving a struggle against all the traditional Liberal practices that have governed the affairs of the trade unions and Labour bureaucracy for generations, practices which the new invaders consciously use and endeavour to make sacrosant as a means of stifling the direct mass activities of the workers, comes after the reinforcement of the middle class elements of the I.L.P. and Fabians.

From the moment the invasion began, the tactics they have pursued have been governed by the determination to subordinate the trade unions to the politics of the individual sections. The more the latter developed, the more the Labour Party leadership in the hands of middle class intelligentsia or trade union bureaucrats trained by them, attempted to make the Party into a homogeneous Social Democratic Party and less as a federation of trade unions and socialist parties. This was a comparatively easy task so long as the masses of the workers were not brought up against the inadequacy of the policy to meet their class demands. But immediately the situation changes, as it did change, on a wide scale after 1920, the question of ways and means of struggle becomes more than ever before the subject of heart searchings and no longer left for the leaders to explain away.

Three Vital Periods

There are three distinct periods since 1920 which have contributed tremendous experience to the masses. The first was the calamity of 1921. The failure of the Triple Alliance when only the newly-formed small C.P. stood by the miners, and the subsequent sweeping defeats administered to every section of the trade union movement, contributed to a vast disillusionment as to the courage, willingness, and capacity of the trade union leaders to face the implications of mass action. But this was not the only aspect of the situation. The workers themselves had not realised on so large a scale what were the implications of the situation. Few there were who realised that so great a challenge to the State as the movement of the united forces of the unions exhibited had in it all the potentialities of civil war.

The reaction to this situation and the defeats which followed was a profound sweep towards Parliamentarism as the means to avoid calamity and to get something without fighting for it, culminating in the formation of the Labour Government in 1924.

But this swing of the pendulum was not so complete that large masses of workers did not think over the experiences and become sceptical of the new lead by the same people towards Parliament. Nor did they forget that the Communists had fought with miners. Witness the complete failure of the Labour Party to carry through the Edinburgh resolution of 1922 which, although passed in conference were a total failure when applied in the districts apart from the question of affiliating the Communist Party to the Labour Party.

This latter question must be examined apart from the question of expelling the Communists, for it has an important bearing upon the situation again developing in the Trade unions, and the struggle against the new offensive of British capitalism against the workers, mentioned by both Comrades Dutt and Martinov. Both cry loudly that 1921 must not he repeated, and say that the C.P. must take the lead in the crisis now developing before our eyes. All of which is good propaganda. But we must not lose our sense of reality in regard to the situation.

Why have not the miners voted for our Party in the Labour Party conferences, and yet strongly resist expulsion of Communists? For this most important reason, the role of a political party is the least understood of all questions in the working class movement of Britain. Parliamentarism and politics are regarded as synonymous terms by the vast majority of the Labour movement. The policy of revolutionary parliamentarism of the Communist Party is not understood, but treated as anti-parliamentarism by the reformists, while those who react against the reformists fall back upon the industrialist attitude to parliament characteristic of the De Leonists. When the reformists fail in Parliament the industrialists argue that our strength lies in the unions thus, without parliamentary representation is backed up by industrial might there can be no victory—and they are not at all clear as to the form the victory must take.

This attitude of mind has a big historical background in the trade unions. For half a century and more they were taught to keep clear of politics—politics were for politicians, i.e., Members of Parliament. It was strengthened in the ranks of those who revolted against the reformist parliamentarianism by the agitation for industrial unionism conducted for many years on a wide scale long before the idea of a revolutionary party came before the workers. Again, the idea of a party calling a strike or taking charge of a strike was unthinkable, entirely outside the range of the experience of the workers of this country. Indeed, political strikes are few and far between, and when they have occurred, they have only involved a limited number of workers. For example, the Sheffield strike of 1916 against the Government for calling up an engineer to military service, and the strike of the dockers against sending munitions to wage war on the Soviet Republic in 1919. Of course, we had the great threat of a general strike against the Government in 1920, and the will was there for a strike, but it also was in charge of the trade unions.

This lack of experience of political strikes, as well as the strong industrialist background I have indicated, to a considerable extent explains the slow growth of our Party, and why the growing resentment against the existing leadership has not yet come into our Party in spite of the undoubted extensive influence it wielded, and why it is that the attacks on Communists are resented and the significance of the role of a revolutionary Party is not understood. The same reason explains, I think, why the Shop Stewards and Workers’ Committee movement contributed so little, to the development of a revolutionary party, and why a working class educational movement like that of the National Labour Colleges can muster 20,000 students and so few of them are in our Party.

With these characteristic features of the British working class movement before us, it becomes easier to understand the forms through which the workers’ resentment manifests itself before the concrete conditions exist which produce the mass Communist Party. Throughout the second period I have indicated, that of the general forward movement of the Labour Party culminating in the Labour Government, there was as a growing revival of trade union activity leading to a series of clashes just at the moment the Labour Government is formed. Immediately the Government began to tackle the disputes, the class line became clearer to large numbers of the workers. From jubilation at the existence of the Labour Government, the movement became doubtful, apologetic, disappointed. The class war showed itself with the leaders of the Labour Party who formed the Government, on the wrong side in the name of democracy. Every week that passed is witness to the Communist Party increasing its criticism and exposing the class lines of the situation. The Party visibly grew and its influence grew enormously in the ranks of the Labour Party, especially on the trade union side. The I.L.P. had to accept responsibility for the policy of the Labour Party and steadily lost every vestige of its claim to be a Socialist party in its anxiety to defend the Labour Government, and explain its follies and its disappointing actions.

Again, the resentment of the workers manifests itself in the unions affiliated to the Labour Party, and in increasing numbers of local Labour Parties passing our resolutions, and not in a rush into the Communist Party, which itself was undergoing internal development, imposing a sterner discipline and breaking away from traditional ways of Socialist thinking; in short, becoming more Communist. The nearest approach to the Party is the rallying to the Minority Movement which again keeps close to the traditional industrialism of the unions.

The third period opens with the fall of the Labour Government, and the coming of the reactionary Conservative Government. The Labour Party leadership having fiercely attacked the Communist Party, sought to kick it out of the Labour Party, lock, stock and barrel, in order to bring in further reinforcements of the middle class, fails again in its efforts, and comes under fire because of its policy of capitalist continuity. The I.L.P. tries to sever its connection with this continuity, and finds it impossible. This is obviously due to the fact that they are conscious that an increasing volume of opinion in the working class elements of the Labour Party are finding that to reach a Socialist goal there has got to be a break with capitalism and not continuity. A wide support to the Communist agitation against the Dawes Report produces an effort to sidetrack by an apologetic acceptance. Maxton, Kirkwood, Lansbury, and Wheatley meet with increasing support. Lansbury breaks away from official leading-strings and starts a new paper with nearly 200,000 circulation.

The Sunday Worker appears more closely associated with the Communist Party than the Lansbury paper, and orders pour in for 250,000 copies for the second number. The attempted operation of the Communist exclusion resolutions is effective in only a few cases. In the main centres they are inoperable, especially in relation to the position of Communists as trade union delegates to the local Labour Parties.

What is this process? Can it be described as a process of decomposition of the Labour Party? Assuredly not. Rather is it a process of clarification, a battle between the working class forces of the Labour Party steadily crystallising a revolutionary working class policy into a Communist Party, against the domination of a middle class policy derived partly from the invaders and partly an historical remnant of Liberalism characteristic of modern trade unionism and the early history of the Labour Party. The working class is awakening, and the fierce discussions raging throughout the Labour Party are not the signs of decay, but the manifestation of life and vitality, a class thinking over the ways and means to reach the goal it has set before it. It is out of this process in the Labour Party and the trade unions which are the basic material of the Labour Party, that our Party, the majority of whose members are inseparable from the Labour Party by virtue of their union membership, will grow to a mass Communist Party.

The Coming of the Mass Communist Party


By continuing our demand for affiliation to the Labour Party as an independent workers’ Party concentrating within itself the interests of the working class and directing the workers against the bourgeois Liberal politics of the I.L.P., Fabians, and middle class politicians who have taken advantage of the opening of the gates of the Labour Party to individual membership to retard the development of the workers along their own independent lines. By keeping abreast of the changes now clearly manifest before our eyes in the Labour Party, as a mass movement grows, which is inevitably destined to be driven closer and closer to our Party. Our Party saw the change coming in the trade union struggles and has played its proper role in developing the Minority Movement. The Labour Party now manifests similar symptoms. Whereas last year we could only look to Maxton, Kirkwood, Hicks, Purcell, etc., as individuals with left tendencies, now we know that large numbers of workers in the Labour Party locals express themselves, in support of the sentiments they express, and also know that the confusion in the minds of the comrades I have named and their colleagues prevents them harnessing these forces into an effective challenge to the existing leadership of the Labour Party. Four questions present themselves to our Party: (1) Shall we help these masses to effectively challenge the leadership which they resent? or, shall we vigorously attack the prominent leaders who are typical of the movement, drive them further from us in the hope of a direct appeal to the rank and file to join us proving successful? or, shall the Minority Movement attempt to harness these forces? or, shall we permit them to drift and be content to issue calls for campaigns, with local manifestation of support and prevent the national left-wing bloc taking shape in the Labour Party?

There appears to me only one course to take, and that is the first. If we vigorously attack the “left-wing leaders” we attack the mass with a similar outlook and drive them away from the Party. This is the course which permits the rightwing of the Labour Party to use the left as a safety valve, expressing revolutionary words, but leaving the deeds to be governed by the right-wing. The third is impracticable at the present moment because it is too closely following trade union tradition to immediately switch into the task of rallying the local Labour Parties to a united political policy. To pursue the fourth policy is to diffuse influence without harnessing it for effective national action, without developing and bringing to the front the leadership necessary to challenge the MacDonalds and Thomases.

The first policy is the only policy we can pursue with any hope of success, with any hope of developing into a mass Communist Party. The fears of many party comrades that such a policy is dangerous to us does not alter the fact that a mass Communist Party has to be created to conquer capitalism. If we cannot be bold enough to risk the dangers of winning the workers and workers’ leaders who are near to us, who are being attacked by the capitalists and the reactionaries as Communists, how shall we win the workers who are farther away from us than these? How can we explain this phenomenon in the Labour movement other than as a historic process of the working class finding its way towards a clear working class policy of which the Communist Party is the embodiment? We should welcome this process as the guarantee of our Marxian conclusion that a mass Communist Party will be formed in Britain as in every other country where capitalism has to be conquered by the working class. The only way our Party of to-day can prove that it is the real beginning of a mass Communist Party is seen in the measure it understands this process and shows itself capable of handling it. The “left” forces are coming hearer to us and our task is not only to win them still nearer, but to set before them the fact that they can never carry through the revolutionary tasks for which they profess sympathy until they have joined with us in the making of a party equal to all that revolution will demand of it—a party formed not simply for parliamentary and propaganda purposes, but a party with its foundations in the factories, its units the factory groups, its purpose to lead in strikes, demonstrations, elections and in every phase of the political struggle, culminating in the seizure of power and the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is this latter kind of party we are striving for in the efforts we are making to transform our Party on to the factory group basis.

But the “left” movement in the Labour Party does not understand this yet. It has only got to the stage when it feels itself in sympathy with much for what we stand. All the implications of this they do not yet appreciate. But there are many political questions upon which we can fight together whilst maintaining our own political valuation of them and frankly explaining to them where we think they are wrong. Upon these issues we can form a united front, not simply a platform front, but a national organised fighting front. For example, are there not many Labour Parties who will agree with us in fighting for a new Treaty with Soviet Russia, for the rights of trade unions and political organisation of the workers in the colonies and dependencies of the British Empire, for scrapping the Versailles Treaty and the Dawes Report, for international trade union unity, for the Parliamentary Labour Party to be subordinated to the Labour Party Executive, and not vice versa; for a Labour Government to be selected and controlled by the Labour Party, for Communist Party affiliation and equal rights of the Communists in the Labour Party and trade unions; for the nationalisation of banks, mines, railways, with workers’ control; for a State and municipal housebuilding schemes by direct labour, etc.

I set these as examples of questions where there is a large volume of agreement which cuts straight across the policy of the present leaders in the Labour Party.

The Communist Party can unite with local Labour Parties to fight for these demands, without giving away one of its revolutionary political integrity. Indeed, it is under obligation to do so if it is a party of struggle against capitalism and not a sectarian society, and it must perforce help those who are seeking to find the best way of fighting, to come together on a national scale. The actual experience of struggling would carry the workers farther towards the Communist Party than all the propaganda appeals to join the Party separated from the tests of such experience. It is a move of this nature which the workers in the Labour Party need to-day more than at any time since its inception.

To suggest that such a movement provides an alternative to our Party and functions as a barrier between our Party and the workers, is to mistake through impatience the nature of the movement and to forget the kind of Party that must be created for revolution. This movement is a movement of masses not ready for the Communist Party, but getting ready through experiences which we must help it to understand as we travel with it. If it is suggested that out of it a new Communist Party will be formed on the sly, then there is something remarkable about such a movement, and something radically wrong with our Party. Such reasoning will not meet the situation. Our Party is a section of the Communist International in its fifth year of party experience, containing, whatever its defects, the only Communists in this country, guided by the world’s best revolutionary leaders who have taught us the kind of party that is required, and it is the kind of party which cannot be built in a night or on the sly. The left-wing of the Labour Party will have to face the problems we have already faced and solved, and we know there is no other answer. The attempt to solve them will sort them out, prove who is for the workers’ revolution, who against. The one thing which our Party need not fear is that any left-wing movement can take the place of our Party or that the workers can escape the task of forging a mass Communist Party to win its victory over capitalism.

Our concern, therefore, must be to encourage every manifestation in the working class which will make it more politically conscious, help to organise and to clarify every effort of the workers to break free from the fetters of Liberalism and capitalist politics; strengthen and develop our Party in its independence and help the working class organisations, the trade unions, and Labour Party to shake themselves free of the control of bourgeois politicians. The Labour Party to-day has by no means finished its course. The working class is only at the beginnings of its revolutionary experience and education. The Labour Party will grow in numbers and strength as the working class in increasing numbers awaken to political consciousness. In the process, especially as the conditions of the workers become more difficult, the question of the ways and means of struggle will come increasingly to the fore until the bourgeois politics which dominate it to-day are cleansed from its ranks. This fight is already on. The attack on the Communist Party is the attack of the bourgeois politicians to prevent the crystallisation of working class politics (which are fundamentally revolutionary), in the Labour movement. They will split the Labour movement, disrupt it, use constitutions, smash constitutions to achieve their object. We on the contrary, fight against splits in the workers’ organisations, and become the one Party fighting for united working class action against capitalism. It is through this process and by these means that the mass Communist Party grows from the foundations of the Labour organisations of this country.