J. T. Murphy

Is There a “Right” Danger in Our Party?

Source: The Communist, Vol. III, November 1928, No. 10, pp. 619-627
Publisher: 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.

ALTHOUGH the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International did not have on its agenda the “British Question” as a special feature, it would be a mistake to think that the British situation was forgotten or that the Congress decisions had no regard for, and bearing upon, our special problems and our tasks in this country. I do not think anyone in our Party would question this, and everyone will agree that in this period of preparation for our Party Congress and in the Congress itself, we must subject our Party line to critical examination in the light of the World Congress discussions and decisions as well as our own experience.

A number of outstanding conclusions characterised the work of the Congress. First it was agreed that the war danger dominated the world situation that it is the pivotal question upon which all other things converge. Second “the change in the objective situation (the special form of stabilisation the trustification, the State capitalist tendencies, etc.)” has thrust the question of social-democracy to the front. The role of the leaders of social-democracy is far more shameful than in 1914. They are jointly with the bourgeoisie actively preparing the masses for the coming shambles. The sharp turn towards a more energetic fight against social-democracy is an international necessity of the general objective situation and not a mere resentment against harsh treatment of Communists. Third, the colonial question assumes an ever more important role in the development of the world revolution. A correct understanding of the policy of the imperialists in relation to the colonies and the possibility of a non-capitalist (that is, socialist) development of the colonies, is absolutely essential to all Parties and especially to the Parties in imperialist countries. Fourth, the “right” tendency is the greatest internal danger in the Communist International. This danger expresses itself in various ways—aspiration to legality at any price, ecessive submission to bourgeois laws, ignoring the necessity to accentuate the class struggle (for instance, during strikes), adoption of wrong policy towards social-democracy, and an insufficient accentuation of the struggle against “left” social-democratic leaders, inadequate internationalism of the Parties. “The same tendency is observed in the trade union activities, viz., where general trade union discipline is frequently considered more important than the Party discipline, etc.”

I think we must ask ourselves whether any of these things apply to our Party, especially must we ask ourselves the question: Have we a “right” danger?

This question is not a doctrinaire or sectarian question, but one the answer to which profoundly affects every part of our practical daily work. If we are not turning sharply enough to the left in the present period, i.e., moving direct to the masses as the single force fighting the war danger, if we are lagging behind events when we should be leading them, then we shall lose ground and be reduced to a sect however much we may speak of keeping near to the masses. I think there are good reasons for coming to the conclusion that this is happening, and I propose to show the evidence.

Our Differences

Immediately after the last Party Congress it became evident that it was becoming increasingly necessary to review our whole Party line, but more especially our relations to the Labour Party. In January last there appeared the “Open Letter to the Party.” In February and March there appeared several theses containing the estimates of the situation in Britain and setting forth certain tactical conclusions. Our Executive were divided into two groups on the estimate of the situation. But on tactical conclusions there were further groupings. After the Ninth Plenum of the E.C.C.I. the situation changed. There was almost complete unanimity the Party as a whole on the estimate of the situation and the necessity of a basic change in our attitude to the Labour Party. But on the tactical line there were considerable differences. According to the Ninth Plenum resolution it was still deemed expedient to retain the tactic of affiliation to the Labour Party and to pay the political levy. The question of our attitude to the Left-Wing Movement and its future was undefined, and there were differences on the question of voting for Labour candidates where it was not possible to put forward a Communist candidate. After further discussion, both in the Executive and in the delegation to the World Congress, this latter question was solved by those of us who had stood for voting for the Labour candidate where there was no Communist recognising we were wrong. This was a definite move to the left. But the differences re the affiliation tactic, payment of the political levy and the future of the Left-Wing Movement remained. The last question was made easier by my withdrawal of the proposal for the transformation of the Left-Wing Movement into a Second Labour Party or Workers’ Political Federation led by the Communist Party. This was regarded as a “second Party” danger, the danger which I proposed to avoid by my proposal and the precise danger which I saw in the National Left-Wing Movement in its present form and with our existing relations to it.

There are three specific questions, therefore, which remain as burning questions, and which, in my opinion, we are answering in a way that reveals that the right danger is still in the ascendancy. These three questions are—affiliation to the Labour Party, payment of the political levy and attitude to the Left-Wing Movement. That the tendency revealed on these questions is not isolated I will show later. First let us deal with these three.

Since the affiliation question was last discussed the Birmingham Conference has passed the “loyalty resolution” and the programme, “Labour and the Nation.” I doubt whether anyone in our Party will venture to advocate the continuation of the affiliation tactic now. But—

What of the Political Levy?

Here we strike differences at once. Yet how can we advocate payment when completely denied all rights which are supposed to follow from payment? Why we should make a free gift to our enemies I cannot see. It is argued, however, that we must pay: first, because without payment we have no political rights in the union; second, because the unions have political funds as distinct from the Labour Party, part of them being available for other things than the Labour Party. The first is not correct. Payment gives no political rights whatever. In fact, after Birmingham it takes our rights away. As for the second, it makes no difference so long as the union is affiliated to the Labour Party. Nor should we assume that union candidates are not Labour Party candidates. They are one and the same, everyone being bound by the unions’ affiliation to the Labour Party. In any case, it is entangling the Party in union apparatus as the means of retaining attachment to the Labour Party. This is seen at once when we raise the question of the unions’ affiliation to the Labour Party. Can we advocate the affiliation of the unions to the Labour Party when we cannot advocate that our party should affiliate? Do the political reasons we give for our own conduct not apply to other workers?

In my opinion such a course is impossible. How can we repudiate the Labour party programme, fight the Labour Party with our own programme and candidates, and simultaneously advocate the unions’ affiliation to the Labour Party? Why should we ask the miners to pay 10,000 per year to the Labour Party, to come under the control and discipline of the Labour Party, and then go to them again and appeal for funds to fight the Labour Party? It is difficult to see what motive there can be other than the false notion that the unions can somehow or other reform the Labour Party, or that to the degree which we conquer the unions we will reform the Labour Party.

Both ideas simply ignore realities. No “left” forces can make conquests for us. They can only follow our lead. They cannot be the leadership. The conquest of the unions on the basis of the political levy and affiliation is now out of the question with the operation of the Birmingham resolution. To argue about the local control of the political levy is either to dodge the issue by relegating the question to a “Reform the Union” campaign of interminable length or to place the local branch in an invidious position, open to be attacked by the law and by the union Executive. By the law for misappropriation of funds, the funds having been collected on the basis of affiliation to the Labour Party, or by subjecting them to the discipline of the union executive.

Politically affiliation to the Labour Party is an absurdity showing that we have not turned fully from our old line, i.e., a line which has become a “right” line and practically ruinous, leaving the local branches to be victimised. The straightforward course which the workers can understand is the obvious one—drop affiliation to the Labour Party, stop paying the political levy. Payment of the political levy is not compulsory (50 per cent. of the miners don’t pay it now). This would leave the union branches free of Labour Party control, and every member of the branch free to raise whatever question he thought fit without being brought up against its “loyalty” to the Labour Party. At the same time this would widen the basis of our fight against the trade union bureaucracy, whilst weakening their means of fighting us by depriving them of the Labour Party discipline in the branches and lodges of the unions.

These are the practical aspects of the situation in the fight against the Labour Party. Viewed politically, these measures are necessary corollaries to our turning away the masses from the Labour Government to the revolutionary Workers’ Government, from MacDonald to the Communist Party. If it be asked how shall the unions combine locally and participate in politics the answer is clear—affiliate to the National Minority Movement and the local Trades Councils formed of the union branches attached to the N.M.M., and in election time support the C.P. candidates, the branch members attaching themselves to the Communist Workers’ Electoral Committees.

The “right” danger consists in the present period in turning the workers to the Labour Party instead of away from it, in helping by any means whatever the retention of faith in the Labour Party, whether it be through payment of money or by affiliation. The retention of these measures indicates that we still have some faith in the Labour Party, and if only something was done to change the leaders (that is reform the Labour Party) then even the Communist Party would renew its application for affiliation. This is a distinctly “right” danger against which we must fight. Hence the above alternative course.

What of the National Left-Wing Movement?

A similar line has developed in our relations with the National Left-Wing Movement which I think has become a positive danger. The National Left-Wing Movement arose as a loose movement of left forces within the Labour Party, including members of the Communist Party. It has now a programme, a national committee district committees, local committees, district conferences, annual national conferences and a paper. On all important questions, including elections, it makes its own pronouncements and runs its own candidates and recruits members. Here is all the apparatus of a party. It must also be observed that within it the Communist Party does not function as an independent body, but as a fraction of the National Left-Wing, speaking as Left-Wing members. This has led to some interesting developments—to the Left-Wing Movement being regarded as a camouflaged Communist Party instead of a genuine united front movement of the Communist Party and forces sympathetic to it, to redundancy and confusion which have made the National Left-Wing a laughing stock and our Party membership bewildered.

Our Party members are not quite sure when they should be recruiting for the Left-Wing and when for the Party. It appears that we can carry the programme of the Left-Wing in one pocket and that of the C.P. in the other, and, according to the audience we are addressing, use one or other without contradiction, for as comrade Ferguson publicly stated in the “Sunday Worker,” the Communist programme and the Left-Wing are identical in all essentials. The only people who ought to be bewildered apparently should be the audience who are to be led into the Left-Wing or the C.P. according to circumstance (i.e., whichever meeting they have attended—if a C.P. meeting, then into the C.P., if a Left-Wing Meeting, then into the Left-Wing). This may be considered by some comrades to be tactical, but I am sure that our Party members are unhappy about it and cannot get results whilst such a policy exists. It neither builds a real left movement nor helps our Party. It creates the illusion that there is no real need to join the C.P. whilst it does not develop as a real left movement because it functions as a Party which denies its own existence as a Party, and at the same time does not know what to do with itself as a left-wing movement. Shall it tell the workers to stay in the Labour Party? Shall it maintain the idea that the Liberalising of the Labour Party can be stopped, that the Labour Party can be reformed, that a revolutionary leadership can be secured? It does not know what to say. The Communist members speak with tongue in cheek. I venture to say that the majority of what is left of the National Left-Wing Movement have no faith in its future.

Some comrades say that it provides the alternative leadership or will provide the alternative leadership in the Labour Party to that of MacDonald just as the N.M.M. represents the growth of the alternative leadership in the trade unions. I do not think there is any parallel between the two. A trade union is not a political party. We do not aim at the liquidation of the trade unions. But we do aim at the liquidation of the Labour Party. The Communist Party is the alternative to the Labour Party, and we have already come to the conclusion that the way to establish the alternative completely cannot be through internal revolutionary changes in the Labour Party. We have never agreed that the Labour Party was the instrument of proletarian dictatorship. We fought for affiliation as a means of winning the workers into the Communist Party, knowing full well that the struggle towards the conquest of its leadership would be answered by the splitting of the Labour Party.

The splitting of the Labour Party has come. It is not as big as we would like to see it, a fact for which I think we are responsible through the policy of keeping the face of the working class towards the Labour Party long after the time had come to turn it away towards the revolutionary Workers’ Government, because we were still infected with the “right” tendency. Even when workers had followed us to the point of breaking with the Labour Party we never held out to them any independent perspective but drove them back to the Labour Party. We neither absorbed the disaffiliated bodies into our own ranks nor led them independently away from the Labour Party. When they put up candidates against the Labour Party it was in protest against expulsion, to force their recognition as the real Labour Party which should be re-attached to the parent body, the National Labour Party. No wonder they are dying bodies. The roots of this Policy lie in the belief in the possibility of reforming the Labour Party, which is the main feature of the National Left-Wing Movement policy. It began as a united front movement. It has now become a redundant political organisation and not a united front movement at all. It ought to be liquidated, and would die in a fortnight if the Party ceased to support it.

Does this mean that we should reject all united front tactics and all attempts to develop differentiation in the Labour Party? No. We cannot drop the united front tactic. To refuse to unite with Labour Party members and I.L.P.’ers, or any other rank-and-file workers who are prepared to fight on some issue against the capitalists, would be criminal on our part. But how shall we do it? We have much experience in this matter. The marches of the miners in South Wales and Scotland were remarkable united front activities under our Party leadership. The calling of the conference and the organisation of united front committees for International Women’s Day and later for the anti-war demonstration were examples, and good examples, of united front work through the direct approach of our Party to the workers. But these efforts do not make permanent organisation necessary with a complete political programme. A united front organisation should come into existence on the initiative of our Party to undertake a particular piece of work or some special struggle, and then go out of existence when it is accomplished. On no account should we let them develop into a parallel Party or even the semblance of a parallel Party. Then such movements can be, indeed are, avenues to the Party, and the workers see there is no alternative party to the Communist Party. Retain the united front tactic? Yes, certainly. It is an essential of our policy. But it must be a united front from below through the direct approach of our Party to the masses as in the illustrations given. To support the so-called organised National Left-Wing Movement is not the correct way to apply the united front tactic, but subscribing to the politic of reforming the Labour Party—a distinctly “right” tendency for us to pursue.

The Cook-Maxton Movement

But this tendency goes much deeper into our political life. It was clearly revealed in our attitude to the Cook-Maxton movement, especially after the Glasgow Conference. Instead of advancing the Party sharply to the front and completely exposing Maxton, Wheatley and Co. especially, we have allowed them a fairly easy passage, at one moment directing them to the National Left-Wing Movement at the next deploring what the have done or not done, but always leaving the idea that there is some possibility of them making good Even after the most disgraceful exhibition on the part of Maxton at Birmingham we still refrain from openly fighting Maxton and Co. when it is obvious that they are not going to fight the Labour Party, when it is clear that they are simply mobilising workers behind the Labour Government with the illusion that there are some “left” possibilities in the Labour Party. Why do we pursue this policy? Because there is still a lingering idea that the Labour Party can be made more radical, on the one hand, and on the other, an oppositional movement in the Labour Party to MacDonald is helpful to us. Both ideas are, in my opinion, a mistake. The first I have already dealt with. The second is false at the present time because it plays up to the first and is nothing more than the means of preventing workers coming to our Party and retaining their faith in the Labour Government.

This is the time for the break with the Labour Party and not for staying with the Labour Party, and we should fight those who are helping to keep the workers in the Labour Party. This will become ever more clear as we approach the General Election. The issue we have raised does not permit of half-way houses. Either we ask the workers to fight for a Labour Government or for the revolutionary Workers’ Government. To-day we are either with the Labour Party or against it, with the Communist Party or against it. Our Party must, therefore, advance sharply and boldly against all the means adopted to help the workers to support the Labour Party or be reduced to a sect waiting for “the historical development of the Labour Party to divide it in its own good time when the masses are disillusioned by experience.” This is a “right” danger which we must eliminate.

Our Trade Union Line

The “right” danger is apparent in our trade union work also. When we made the mistake of advising the Trades Councils to sign the document of the General Council in the name of unity we showed then that we approached our trade union work in a very formal way. The unity we had in mind was that of official trade unionism (i.e., of the bureaucrats), simply unity according to structure and form. When we continue to advance the slogan of “More power to the General Council” in one guise or another we are revealing the same line in our policy. The question of centralised leadership of the trade unions is not the burning question of the day as it was when the tempo of the movement teas leading towards the General Strike. The central question of the day is to find the ways and means of revitalising the workers into active struggle in spite of the bureaucracy and against the bureaucracy. Our main line is not to the unions as the means to the conquest of the masses, but to the masses as the means to the conquest of the unions. Not away from the unions but once more the united front from below, in the factories, in the N.U.W.C.M., and in the trade union branches. I think we have reached the period when the rich experience of the shop stewards and workshop committees should be turned to account. The conquest of the unions will not come by simply recruiting trade unionists into the unions, getting them to regularly attend their branch meetings, important as these measures are but our conquest of the unions will come through our leadership of struggles, of strikes and campaigns which the bureaucrats either will not lead or more likely will actively oppose. Again much of this is already entering into our Party experience and our Party in practice is showing that it can lead struggles and conquer positions. But we have yet to rid ourselves of the “right” danger and have more faith in the independent power of the leadership of our Party.

The war danger makes it absolutely necessary that we quickly Full ourselves together and get clear on these issues. There are those who are ever speaking about the smallness of our Party. But the Party cannot grow unless we show that we have faith in its capacity to lead the workers and the workers see it clearly as their indispensable weapon.

We are facing a struggle against big odds. The persecution by the capitalist class directed especially against our Party, the persecution by the Labour Party and the trade union bureaucrats make it difficult to recruit to our Party. But it does mean also that our Party will be more and more composed of the best fighters. This is the process of forging a revolutionary Party. All this is true. But it becomes, because of this fact, more and more essential to clear from our minds and from our policy those tactics which hinder the party’s development and hold back the workers from giving their direct support to us. This I regard as the correct reading of the Sixth Congress conclusions and their application to our own Party experience.