J. T. Murphy

Choosing Our Leadership

Revolutionary Theory and Clear Political Line

Source: Workers’ Life, October 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.

DEAR COMRADES,—The WORKERS’ LIFE asks the question in a headline. “Is the Right Wing Danger Dead?” It is necessary to say, at once that it is not dead; it is very much alive.

The letters and resolutions in the WORKERS’ LIFE show the depth of the revolt against its control of the Party, but this revolt is as yet confused.

Some comrades think the Right Danger can be conquered if everybody is in the workshop. If workshop experience was the cure-all, then the sixteen million workers employed in the industries of this country ought to be thoroughly Bolshevised. Valuable as workshop experience is (and I have had twenty years of it), without political understanding it is valueless. And to get political understanding one needs not only workshop experience, but theoretical training in Marxism and Leninism.

Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary party. Without a revolutionary party no proletarian revolution.

The party we have to build must be deeply rooted in the workshops, etc., or it is worthless. But the leadership of this party, from the centre to the lowest organs of the party, must combine revolutionary. theory with revolutionary practice, or it will never be a thoroughly Bolshevik party, and therefore never capable of leading a revolution. These questions are more important than the raggedness of a fellow’s trousers.

All Bad, So Why Change

Once the question of leadership is faced in this way it is no longer a question of mobilising an attack upon the central committee alone, but a question which profoundly effects every part of the party. At the same time it would be foolish to say as some comrades I have heard, “If all the party have been guilty of making Right mistakes, what is the use of making a change in the leadership?”

It is equally foolish to say, as many do, “Well, all the members of the Executive have made Right mistakes (which is true) and therefore there is nothing to choose between them. Clear them all out!”

These attitudes constitute a “Right danger” too, in that they both obscure the differentiation in the ranks of the leadership and of the party. One adopts an attitude of conciliation, and the other can’t see the wood for the trees.

Nor is it enough to call for the “records of voting of leading comrades since the Tenth Plenum of the E.C.C.I.,” and then tick off this or that comrade according to his or her voting record. It is just as important to know what the Central Committee members have done to build the locals of which they are members, and who are the exceptions in this respect mentioned in the C.C. resolution.

The root cause of the strength of the Right Danger to our Party lies in the profound lack of theoretical Marxist Leninist equipment of the leadership. It is no exaggeration to say that theoretical discussion, what little there has been in the Central Committee, was confined to a handful of the C.C. members until the most recent meetings, when the shock of the revolt in the party and the challenge of the E.C.C.I. forced the C.C. members to come forward with their political ideas.

It is only now that the real conscious assimilation of tine situation has begun in the minds of the majority, and an alignment of currents of thought to clearly take shape.

Some Examples

A few examples:—After the Fourth Congress of the Comintern a commission was appointed by the P.B. to study the question of the International Programme and make a draft for the British Party. The commission could never be got together, and finally the matter was left to Comrade Bell and myself. I wrote the draft. Comrade Bell looked it over with me. The P.B. gave not more than twenty minutes consideration to it.

The draft was put in the hands of each C.C. member for a month, and each was asked to send in his observations. No one replied.

The Party Congress gave me fifteen minutes to report. There was no discussion. There was one article of criticism from Comrade Lecky.

That was in 1925, I believe. It is now 1929. How much have things changed? Six months before the last Party Congress I was given the job of drafting the Party Programme for the coming General Election. I wrote not less than three drafts before the final copy was published as “Class against Class.” The only comrades who rendered any service whatever by their criticism were Comrades Campbell and Gallacher.

The P.B. dealt with the question very cursorily. The C.C. was silent. Everyone had the opportunity to write in their observations. None came. Comrade Campbell had to protest at the C.C. meeting prior to the Party Congress, against this treatment of the question.

I was given twenty minutes to report to the Congress. There was no discussion. An editorial commission was appointed to make the final cuts. Finally it was printed.

It would be possible to give other examples but these will suffice. These two incidents, so characteristic as they are of the “English habit of practicalism, which sneers at theoretical discussion,” illustrate the principal reason for the Party crisis.

Lenin Not Understood

The fundamental cause of the failure of the party leadership in recent years is founded upon a non-understanding of the period and an inadequate grasp of essentials of Marxism and Leninism. Travelling with the stream of the general Labour movement in 1925 and 1926, our mistakes were easily obscured and overtaken by the onward sweep of the working class. But after the General Strike the situation is completely changed. For every blunder we have to pay a heavy price; and the history of the Party from the General Strike is that of an increasing number of blunders, which are daily being paid for in the loss of members, decline in circulation of the paper, etc.

To think that any mechanical re-shuffling either at the centre or in the districts of locals will eradicate the Right Danger is therefore an obvious mistake. There must be a guiding principle underlying the changes. That guiding principle must be in my judgement—the selection of a leadership approximating as closely as possible in outlook and methods of thought to the line of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern and the Tenth Plenum of the E.C.C.I.

This must apply to those inside the factory and outside, but especially to the latter and I am in full agreement with the proposal that not less than 50 per cent. of the new C.C. shall be working in the factories.

But the application of this principle by the Party Congress can only be done effectively to the extent to which the whole Party membership applies itself to the understanding of the Sixth Congress discussions and decisions of their application to the Party and its problems through the most extensive and deep discussion of all the leading questions raised by the C.C. resolution.