J. T. Murphy

There is a Right Danger

Source: The Communist Review, Vol. 1 January 1929, No. 1.
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.

WHEN the Party discussion began there were numerous complaints about the concentration of discussion on the tactical questions bound up with our policy in relation to the Labour Party and the trade unions. The discussion, however, contains an exceedingly important lesson which it would have been better for our Party if we had all learned it earlier, viz., tactical questions cannot be separated from principal questions without damage to our policy. In my opinion these differences are based upon our respective estimates of the role of our Party, the trade unions and the Labour Party and our application of the united front tactic.

Our Starting Point

The Communist Party has been defined as

“part of the working class, namely, its most advanced, intelligent, and, therefore, most revolutionary part. . . . The Communist Party has no other interests than those of the working class. It differs from the general mass of the workers in that it takes a general view of the whole historical march of the working class, and at all turns of the road it endeavours to defend the interests, not of separate groups or professions, but of the working class as a whole. The Communist Party is the organised political lever by means of which the more advanced part of the working class leads all the proletarian and semi-proletarian mass.”

This is how the Second Congress of the Communist International defined the Party. It did not say that the Party must have the mass of the workers in it before it could function as a class leader. On the contrary, it made it perfectly clear that because of its character it would be bound to be a minority. Nor did it say that a Communist Party must be of given dimensions before it asserted itself as a leader. On the contrary, it follows from the nature of the Communist Party as defined with “its interests inseparable from the interests of the working class,” that whether it be four hundred or four hundred thousand strong, its job is to express the interests of the working class in contrast to all other parties. The amount of support it will attract to itself thereby depends, in the main, upon the historical stage of development reached by the working class at any given period and the general historical conditions existing.

The smallness of our Party in Britain cannot be explained by the weakness of this or that organiser, but by a whole host of factors, most of them beyond our control. We cannot, however, postpone the independent expression and action of the Party until more favourable conditions exist or we immediately become part of the forces aiming at the liquidation of the Communist Party. This is the case even with those who argue that they can express the interests of the working class either in the name of some other organisation or without an organisation. The first becomes merely a Left-Wing of some other organisation, the second is the anarchist evolving working-class policy out of his own head and depending upon “spontaneous generation” of action and leadership.

Such being the case, the Communist must perforce start from the premise of the Communist Party as the organised expression of the interests of the working class. Our guiding policy must be that of advancing the Party and helping the workers to see in the Party their leader in the war for their class liberation.

About “Bridges” and “Avenues”

If the above definition and line of the Party are correct then it follows that our Party must combat every liquidationist tendency and every tendency that retards the recognition of our Party as the leading Party of the working class. That there are such tendencies in our ranks is certain. The history of the Left-Wing Movement proves this most conclusively. Here let it be said that it is not a question of the subjective estimate of the Left-Wing Movement as T. Bell appears to think in his article in “Workers’ Life” of December 21st, 1928, when he writes:

“The Left-Wing Movement has never been conceived by our Party as anything other than a bridge between the Communists and sections of workers beyond our direct contact.”

Whatever comrade Bell’s illusions may have been concerning bridges, we are here concerned with reality. At not a single conference of the National Left-Wing Movement have the Communists spoken in the name of the Communist Party. The Left-Wing has functioned as an independent political force, in which our Party members operated as a fraction of the Left-Wing having Communist views which it sought without identifying the Party to get the Left-Wing to utter in the name of the Left-Wing. This means, and can only mean, that the role of the Communists in the Left-Wing has been reduced to that of radicalising the Left-Wing which functions as an organised independent political force. The “bridge” under these conditions was a “one-way bridge” of the Communists to the Left-Wing and not vice versa.

At each conference we are usually subjected to the most profuse explanations that the National Left-Wing Movement is not “a Communist conspiracy.” If it is an avenue to the Communist Party why the profound anxiety to prove that it is not? Here is what the chairman said at the last conference:

“We are simply a national group of socialists, and it does not matter if a comrade is linked up with the Labour Party, the I.L.P. or the Communist Party; we are waging a relentless war on capitalism, and are determined, no matter what the cost, to bring the facts and implications of the class struggle to our comrades in workshop, factory and mine. We are not a new Party. Our adherents remain fast to the organisations to which they belong.”

What does this mean other than that the National Left-Wing Movement is the unifying force of the class struggle and not the Communist Party? The pivot of the situation here is not our Party, nor is there a united front of our Party (the organised expression of the class interests of the workers) with other workers, but the creation of a new organ parallel with the Communist Party. This could be supplemented by a mass of evidence from the pages of the “Sunday Worker”—Communist Party victories announced as Left-Wing victories, Communist leaders referred to as “prominent Left-Wingers,” even the Communist Party Bazaar as a bazaar to raise funds for Left-Wing candidates. This is liquidationism, comrade Bell, practised by “professional Communists,” and not the Communist united front tactic.

The United Front

It does not follow that sectarianism is the alternative, and it is useless for comrades to sling this term about so freely as an alternative to intelligent argument. I do not propose sectarianism but the direct approach of the Party to the workers in the factories, the streets, the trade unions and local Labour organisations, with proposals for the formation of a united front with the Party on specific questions and not the organisation of a parallel party organisation with a duplicate Communist programme under the Left-Wing label. The organisation of forces on the basis of a complete programme means the organisation of a party. There cannot be two Communist Parties, not even if one is labelled Left-Wing. This should be clear to every Communist.

The organisation of a united front on specific questions, on wage questions, hours of labour, democratic rights, etc., as occasion demands, is not “sectarianism,” comrade Campbell, nor “running helter-skelter from the enemy,” but a working alliance with non-Communists on the initiative of the Communist Party, which reveals the Party as the only organisation with a programme of the class struggle, and therefore attracts the workers to the Party.

The question of “permanency of united front organisations” must be determined by a variety of factors, but mainly the character of the task which is undertaken. For example, the I.C.W.P.A. undertakes a definite piece of work, viz., the uniting of forces for the defence of the workers, who in the class war have come under the heavy lash of the capitalist law. But it does not attempt to evolve a more or less complete political programme as in the case of the National Left-Wing. It, therefore, throws into sharp relief the limitations of a united front movement as compared with the Communist Party. It is only then that these movements function as bridges to the Party.

About the “Alternative” Party

When comrade Bell says “The danger lies in seeing the Left-Wing Movement as a Party and seeking to make it such—a socialist Labour Party, or a workers’ political federation, etc.,” he is simply beating the air like a blind man. The fact of the matter is that the Left-Wing functions as a parallel party. This is an incontestable fact. After the Aberdeen bye-election the E.C. of the Party confirmed the action of the Left-Wing as an independent organisation, whilst the proposals associated with the “workers’ political federation, etc.,” were proposals for the liquidation of the present Left-Wing, and the alternative organisation of sympathetic forces expelled from the Labour Party around our Party and under the leadership of our Party. Bell and others have fastened on to the labels, placed them on a parallel party of their own making, and then thrown their bricks at it without in any way attempting to analyse the content of the real proposals.

The new Labour Party I proposed was “a Labour Party as it used to be” when Lenin described it as “not a party in the real sense of the word,” which should be under the leadership of the Communist Party. The “Workers’ Political Federation” was only another name for the same thing. In no case was there the proposal for these bodies to have a parallel programme to that of the Communist Party. On the contrary, I emphasised the necessity of these organisations endorsing the C.P. candidates and programme rather than the course which is so frequently adopted to-day wherein the Communist is the candidate of these organisations rather than the candidate of our Party.

This was not subordinating the Communist Party but advancing it as the leading party with loosely organised forces around it and supporting it. Comrade Bell has thus simply created a dummy, labelled it “Socialist Labour Party” or “Workers’ Political Federation” and proceeded to knock it down whilst in practice he has supported a liquidationist policy. He may deny it. Others who support him may deny it. But anyone who supports a parallel organisation to that of our Party, under whatever label and however Communist its programme, and is afraid of the accusation of “Communist Party domination,” is a liquidationist. If the programme of the National Left-Wing Movement is “identical with mine” (see Ferguson in the “Sunday Worker”) then one or the other is redundant. This should be obvious to the most elementary schoolboy in politics. And this is the situation with which we have to deal.

The New Situation

Why, then, it will be asked, did I withdraw my proposals? Because it became obvious in the discussion in our Executive and the delegation to the World Congress that the proposals were acting as a lightning conductor and diverting attention from the real danger to an illusory one, viz., the misapplication of the united front tactic in relation to the National Left-Wing Movement. Since then important developments have taken place, not the least of which is the Birmingham Conference of the Labour Party. This conference, with its imposition of a single programme and a single “loyalty” upon its constituents, brought us and everybody else face to face with a new situation, imposing new conditions of struggle and new tasks for our Party.

First, with regard to the National Left-Wing Movement it has shown that such does not exist within the National Labour Party, and what is more, cannot exist within the Labour Party. There is no room within it for a rival programme and organisation based upon it. The fate of the I.L.P. should be sufficient evidence of the fact. To think that a Communist programme passing under the title of a Left-Wing programme can exist within the Labour Party and be the basis of an organisation within it is to blind ourselves to reality. The theory advanced in the World Congress delegation discussion, that the Left-Wing is to provide the alternative leadership to MacDonald in the Labour Party, just as the M.M. provides the alternative in the trade unions, is entirely without foundation in the realm of reality. There can be no rival programme in the Labour Party and no rival organisation based upon it. Therefore, no National Left-Wing programme and organisation as one knows it within the Labour Party.

Does this mean there can be no further differentiation in the Labour Party, no leftward tendencies? No, it does not mean anything of the kind, and comrade Campbell is simply refusing to see the wood for the trees and misrepresenting his opponents when he lumps together the question of the National Left-Wing Movement and the united front tactic in relation to the differentiation development in the Labour Party. The National Left-Wing Movement is a definite independent organisation, with its own programme outside the Labour Party with as little possibility as the Communist Party of getting into the Labour Party with it.

What is the National Left-Wing Movement under these circumstances but a centrist party? He wants this organisation to continue in order to harness the differentiation process in the Labour Party later on (see his article in current number). He wants it also to initiate the differentiation in the Labour Party. So also does the editor of the “Workers’ Life” (see December 21st, 1928, issue). Why these tasks should be relegated to some other organisation than our Party is unknown. Yet he writes: “The masses are not streaming towards the Party but have to be won by ceaseless struggle. Through the National Left-Wing the Party can make contacts with that section of the masses which, in the words, of comrade Bukharin, ‘regards reformism with scepticism, but has not yet come over to us,’ and bring them towards the Party.” Why the National Left-Wing is needed for our Party to make contact with those who “regard reformism with scepticism” passes comprehension. If this is required for these enlightened workers what shall we need to reach the most backward masses? This, comrade Campbell, is downright liquidationism and complete lack of faith in the Party to do the most elementary of its tasks.

The Need for Independence

The correct line of Communist policy, in addition to the propaganda of our programme, etc., is the independent Communist Party approach to the rank and file of the Labour Party, trade unions, I.L.P., etc., on immediate issues of the day with proposals for united action. The response to our approach and the character of the action undertaken determine the form of the united front organisation it may be necessary to create and its duration. For example, the International Women’s Day Committees were united front organisations led by our Party, fulfilling their task admirably, attracting women to our Party, but they were never allowed to develop a parallel programme to the Party.

But, says comrade Campbell, we want permanent contact with Left workers. By all means let us have permanent contact. This, however, depends upon the permanence of our Party’s mass activity with them and not upon the creation of national organisations for Party contact by proxy and under cover of a pseudo-Communist organisation.

“But,” interjects comrade Campbell once more, “Left-Wing workers won’t have 100 per cent. domination of our Party.” What does Campbell mean by this? If he means that Left workers who form a united front with our Party shall not have the right to freely elect their representatives to any united front committee, local or national, then nobody is suggesting such a course. If he means that the Left worker needs an intermediary body such as the National Left-Wing organisation then he is back again on the liquidationist track.

The Difference Between the N.M.M. and the N.L.W.

Then in rushes comrade Strain to the rescue, impatient of arguments and forgetful of the fact that a year ago he was a very conservative member of a majority that was in the wrong, and assures us that the N.M.M. is a national organisation and has a national programme. If a M.M. with a programme, why not a National Left-Wing with a programme? Is there, then, no difference between a trade union and a party, no difference between a trade union minority and a parallel party? Is it possible to set before the workers of the Labour Party the same means of attack upon the bureaucracy as in the trade unions? First, the Communists are not in the Labour Party but they are in the trade unions. The members of the M.M. are in the trade unions but the members of the National Left-Wing Movement are not in the Labour Party. The programme of the National Left-Wing is a parallel programme with that of the Communist Party. The programme of the M.M. is essentially a programme of immediate demands, upon which Communists and non-Communists unite together in the M.M. for common action within the trade unions. But even here within the M.M. is a strong tendency to regard it as an alternative to the C.P. and a definite reluctance of the Party members within it to identify the Communist Party. There are many who whilst prepared to let themselves be known as Communists are terribly anxious that the role of the Party and its open alliance with non-Party workers in the unions shall be obscured.

Nevertheless, the difference between the position of the M.M. and the N.L.W. is obvious. The one has a basis in the trade unions for a working alliance of our Party and non-Party workers. The National Left-Wing has no basis in the Labour Party, and cannot have a basis. The C.P. is not in the Labour Party, and is the enemy of that Party, whilst not being an enemy of the trade unions. There is, therefore, neither a basis for a National Left-Wing organisation nor a Communist Party within the Labour Party. We are forced by the nature of the changes that have taken place in the Labour Party to completely change our line of approach to the Labour Party. We are compelled to attack it from outside, and to win the workers away from it. A totally different proposition to our task in relation to the unions. Comrade Strain fails completely to appreciate the difference between a trade union and a party, and seeks to reduce politics to trade union parliamentarism. He can see nothing but his A.S.W. rule book. But if he would read his own quotations carefully he would see that my argument about our position is correct. His argument consists of a fight for trade union parliamentarism. In this he is not alone. We have all been tarred with this brush more or less in our time. This is perfectly clear in the letters and articles on the political levy.

The tactical thesis and every supporter of it approach the payment of the political levy, and the affiliation of the unions to the Labour Party, entirely from the premise of trade union parliamentarism. Comrade Campbell says, “We must start our discussion of the political levy from the fact that trade union political funds exist (the Labour Party claiming to control their disposal, and that the unions are in the habit of putting forward their members) within limits prescribed by the Labour Party.”

The New Stage

This is the common basis of approach to the question by every supporter of the C.C. thesis. The whole question of the role of our Party as the leading Party is here completely eclipsed. It fails both to advance the Party as the leader and totally fails to appreciate the completeness of the changes that have taken place within the Labour movement. The one outstanding feature of the new situation, brought to its consummation by the Birmingham Conference decisions, is the fact that the British working class have passed completely into party politics. The fight is no longer the fight to attract the workers to politics but a fight as to which party they will support and join—the Labour or the Communist Party. This is an entirely new stage towards which all previous developments were pointing. To confine ourselves to old forms of struggle when these forms have outlived themselves is simply to be guilty of “right sectarianism.”

From the end of the Chartist movement to the end of the last century the workers of Britain were entirely under the political domination of the bourgeois parties. There were no workers’ parties—only small groups of socialists. This was the reason of the pioneer efforts to break the allegiance of the workers from the Liberals and Tories that the Labour Representation Committee was set up in 1900. Unable to get a party following the pioneers started with trade union politics. There was no party programme, only the question of separation from the Party control of the Liberals and Tories. By 1906 the title of Labour Representation Committee was dropped and the Labour Party name taken on. The progress in a few years was phenomenal. They were phenomenal years of mass strikes and war. But it was not until 1918 that a programme emerged called “Labour and the New Social Order.” Coincident with this an individual membership section was established facilitating the inflow of the middle classes. Thus the party character of the movement got into its stride, but as yet the discipline was loose, the federal character of the Labour Party still maintained.

The rise of the Communist Party in 1920 and its demand for affiliation to the Labour Party, raised sharply the question of the kind of politics which were to dominate the Labour Party. The Edinburgh Conference of 1922 began the purge of the Communists and revolutionary doctrine from the Labour Party; 1923 saw the affirmation of “gradualism” as the dominant politic. The Labour Government raised still more the Party question. 1925 brought the Liverpool Conference decisions, eliminating Communists as individual members, etc., and beginning the attack in the unions as the next step to the subordination of the unions to the Labour Party. The General Strike carried the Labour Party still further. The political issue of the General Strike, i.e., the raising of the question of the conquest of power, consolidated the Labour Party and the trade union bureaucracy against the revolution, awakened their party consciousness to its maximum for the drive against the Communists.

This consolidation was followed with the Trade Union Act, which deprived the unions of collective affiliation to the Labour Party, established individual contracting in, and carried the Labour Party still one big stage further towards a consolidated individual membership party. It had yet to settle with the I.L.P. and the loopholes in the trade unions left in the Liverpool resolutions. Birmingham completed the business. It produced a single programme and enforced a single loyalty. From this neither the I.L.P. nor we can escape. The I.L.P. is defunct and decomposing. None of its leaders had the guts to challenge the process, to the point of breaking with the Labour Party. The trade unions in relation to politics (parliamentary) have been completely subordinated to the Labour Party, and the collection of the political levy is nothing more nor less than the collection of dues for the Labour Party—through the trade union apparatus.

The Executive’s Wrong Answer

What have comrade Campbell and the E.C.’s resolution to answer to this situation? Do they recognise that the fight has shifted on to a higher plane, that it is now a fight between parties for the allegiance of the workers to one or other party and not the old question of a trade union parliamentarism? No. This is not recognised. They answer the new situation not by confronting the workers in the trade unions with the Independent Communist Party, the rival and enemy of the Labour Party, but by reverting back to trade union parliamentarism in which centrism predominates. They plead not for a policy of open support of the unions to our Party as part of our independent fight against the Labour Party, but for a formal trade union opposition. They plead for a ballot vote to disaffiliate when everybody knows that contracting in is the trade union means of membership of the Labour Party, and any voting would be limited to those who contract in governed by acceptance of the Birmingham loyalty decision, i.e., they ask for a vote of the Labour Party to liquidate itself. They plead for changing the constitution of the unions to permit a fifty-fifty division of the dues of the Labour Party in the unions between the locals and the E.C.’s, although everyone knows that locally and nationally expenditure is governed by loyalty to the Labour Party. They plead for the trade unions to elect their own candidates free from the Labour Party, and to give the Communist members a democratic chance to be elected.

If this is not running “helter-skelter” from the fight of the Party in the unions and answering only with trade union parliamentalism of a more or less pink variety, a demand to revert back to pre-Party times, it would be interesting to know what is. We are asked what would we do if we captured a union? When the Communist Party captures a union there is not the least doubt that we can ask that union to directly support the Communist Party.

But comrade Campbell says, and the resolution says, that if we advance the Party claim as against the trade union claim then we “shall be objectively supporting the Baldwin Government and its Act of 1927,” by depriving the unions of their participation in politics. This is so like the Labour Party argument that I wonder why they do not go back completely to the old line and reject the new policy entirely by withdrawing our candidates who are opposing the Labour Party, for if this is to pass for a Communist estimate of the situation, are we not objectively supporting Baldwin in the elections?

It is quite evident that our comrades have got swallowed up in trade union parliamentarism, and on various grounds we are advised to do anything but advance the Party to the foreground of events. It is very good that we Communists should prove to be the best trade unionists, but it is bad when we are to be nothing more, when trade unionism supersedes the role of the Party. How can the Party ever be looked upon as the alternative party to the Labour Party if by one means or another we push the Party into the background?

The Answer of the Opposition!

The battle in the unions is now a battle between parties for trade union support, and not that of reversion to trade union parliamentarism. This must be the main line of our fight which can only be effectively waged by advancing our Party to the front of the battle, which involves: (1) dropping the affiliation tactic; (2) fighting for the disaffiliation of the unions, locally and nationally, from the Labour Party; (3) non-payment of the political levy, the payment of which is equivalent to membership of the Labour Party; (4) direct recruiting to the Party, financial and moral support of the unions and their members to the Communist Party; (5) united front of our Party with unions or locals which revolt against the Labour Party; (6) affiliation of the unions and branches to the M.M., led by the C.P.; (7) formation of Communist workers’ electoral committees in elections for support of Communist Party candidates.

This is neither “helpless, hopeless sectarianism,” nor liquidationism, but the advance of the Communist Party as an independent party, leading the workers to the revolutionary workers’ government, through the operation of the united front of our Party from below, conducting a battle on two fronts against the Tories and Liberals on the one hand and the Labour Party on the other. It means the end of liquidatory policies in our Party, a recognition of the new period now begun in the history of the working class of this country, and the ascendancy of our Party to a consciousness of its role as the leader of the class battles of the workers.