J. T. Murphy

Towards the Tenth Communist Conference

Source: Workers’s Life, January 11, 1929
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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.

It is interesting to observe how the advocates of the payment of the political levy have quite unconsciously fallen into the same camp as those who don’t want the Ninth Plenum resolution at all. Comrade Campbell, for example, advances the same argument as Comrade Rushton, who is against the new policy of the Party.

Comrade Campbell wants the workers to learn from experience what paying the political levy means in terms of Labour Party dictatorship, as if the workers and we had not had any experience in this matter. Comrade Rushton wants another Labour Government in order to teach the workers by experience what a Labour Government is, as if they and we had had no experience of a Labour Government.

This, of course, is not an accident. The common denominator is the fact that both Comrades Campbell and Rushton face the question as good Left Social Democratic trade unionists, Comrade Rushton sees the trade unions and the Labour Party as one and the same. Comrade Campbell says, “I start my political fight from the formal basis that as a Communist working in the unions I subscribe to both the political and industrial funds of the union, etc.”

The fight is at once resolved into a fight for trade union rights, without the slightest indication of the basic reasons for our change of policy, the character of the task which the Party has undertaken, and the goal in view.

The E.C. resolution is drafted with similar defects. No one reading this document can discover that our Party is advancing as the leader of the working class, setting before the workers the goal of a Revolutionary Workers’ Government. The whole line of the resolution is that of good Left Wingers in the Labour Movement who are struggling against Right Wing persecution and trying to avoid extinction.

“Rupture with the Labour Party must only come when it is forced upon us.” “Upon the Labour Party must rest the responsibility of rupture,” and so on.

This is not the line of an independent Party making war upon the Labour Party and all other Parties of Capitalism, but the line of those who have got to leave the Labour Party, but don’t want to do it.

Comrade Campbell then supplements the E.C. resolution nonsense about “objectively supporting the Baldwin Government,” and speaks of those who oppose his line as taking advantage of two capitalist Acts of Parliament of 1913 and 1927. . . . etc.

If this has to pass for Communist appraisement of the situation, then our Party must at once drop the idea of running candidates in opposition to the Labour Party, for is not this “objectively helping the Baldwin Government”? This is precisely the Social Democratic argument of the Labour Party.

But Comrade Campbell, in his anxiety to do battle with the Labour Party only on the conditional basis determined by the Labour Party is getting more wide of the mark. What are the facts concerning our relation to the Trade Union Act of 1927?

Up to the passing of the Bill, by virtue of their trade union membership, every trade unionist who did not contract out was a member of the Labour Party, i.e., there was mass affiliation of the unions as unions. The T.U. Act changed this situation. It proceeded to destroy the mass affiliation of unions and compelled individual contracting in.

We advised the workers to contract in, first, as a demonstration against the Government, which was violating the old right of the unions as such to participate in politics; second, because we could still go forward as trade union delegates to the Labour Party.

But we were not content with this. We also joined hands with the social democrats in limiting the rights of the unions and accepted and propagated the idea that participation in politics in the trade unions was conditioned by payment of the Labour Party levy.

On formal grounds this was quite correct.

In practice it meant the limitation of politics to 60 per cent. of the trade unionists. If this is not taking advantage of the T.U. Act, and adapting ourselves to it, I would like to know what is. This was not only objectively adapting ourselves to the Act, but consciously utilising it in the same way as the Labour Party.

But then came the Birmingham Conference, setting further limitation on membership of the Labour Party, imposing acceptance of its programme, and individual and collective loyalty thereto. What is the answer of Comrade Campbell and the E.C.? Propaganda for disaffiliation of the unions and a union vote thereon, and individual contracting in, which is the condition of confirmation of membership of the Labour Party as per the T.U. Act of 1927.

This is not only “objective support of the T.U. Act” but a conscious adaptation to it and a resolving of the struggle against the Labour Party into the most formal constitutional Left trade union opposition conceivable.

But more important still is the lack of appreciation of the completeness of the evolution of the Labour Party into a Social Democratic Party. The Labour Party began as a Labour representation committee, in which the trade unions were free to elect their candidates. There was no political programme and no individual membership section. 1918 brought the beginnings of a single programme and individual membership section. The Edinburgh Conference began the purge of conscious class war doctrine. Liverpool marked the ascendancy of the political party over the unions.

The Trade Union Act liquidated the functioning of the trades union, as such in Parliamentary politics by the transformation of the political levy of the union into an individual affair. Formally the unions remain affiliated, but this depends entirely upon individual contracting in, i.e., the Labour Party becomes an individual membership Party utilising the trade union apparatus for the collecting of its dues and the distribution of its forces for Parliamentary representation.

The loopholes of the trade union struggle which permitted the invasion of Communist and revolutionary elements were closed by the Birmingham Conference loyalty and programme decisions, and everyone knows that the local or national control of the political levy is conditioned by loyalty to the Labour Party.

The fight in the unions is then completely transformed from a fight to get the unions to participate in Parliamentary politics, which was the historic path to the development of Party politics in the working class, to a fight of the Parties to secure the backing of the trade unionists and their organisations.

This is the “higher stage” of politics to which the working class of this country is advancing. To answer this development by trying to revert back is futile. It is like the cry of the little shopkeeper against the growth of the trusts—utterly hopeless.

The gauntlet we have thrown down by advancing independent Party candidates must be accompanied by the rejection of membership in and detachment of membership from the Labour Party, and that means the rejection of contracting in, direct recruiting to our Party, and the harnessing of trade union support to our Party.

It is the fight of Party against Party, and one of the battle grounds is the trade unions. This is the fight of to-day, and not trade union Parliamentarism against the Labour Party. This is the inevitable sequence to the emergence of our Party to complete independence and the abandonment of its role as a fellow-traveller of the labour Party which history has forced upon us.



Comrade Murphy’s remarks about the similarity of comrade Rushton’s and Comrade Campbell’s arguments will deceive no one. Comrade Rushton’s argument was to the effect that we should not directly fight the Labour Party until the workers have been disillusioned by a further Labour Government. Comrade Campbell’s theme was that we fight to break the unions away from the Labour Party now, using the fight around the political levy to expose the bureaucracy and win reinforcements to our standpoint.

Comrade Murphy has noticed the word exposure in both contributions. The political context has escaped him. The resolution on tactical questions is not a complete statement on our entire attitude towards the Labour Party, but on the three tactical questions connected therewith (affiliation, left wing and political levy).