J. T. Murphy

The Fight against the Right Danger

Source: The Communist Review, Vol. 1 November 1929, No. 11.
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.

THE Eleventh Party Congress will undoubtedly be the most serious gathering in the history of our Party. For the first time in our experience it has been hastened by a revolt of the membership and the pressure of the E.C.C.I. against the Executive of the Party. This, of course, is not an accident, as everyone must recognise. It is neither due to fractional activities nor personal ambitions. It is symptomic of the process through which the whole of the Communist International is passing and is inseparable from the needs of the new period of revolutionary struggle now opening before the proletariat.

It is therefore essential that we grasp the central features of this period and the tasks arising therefrom if we are to make the forthcoming Party Congress into an effective means of re-vitalising and redirecting the party on correct lines.

There is a great danger, however, of simply looking for all the phenomena analysed in the Sixth World Congress and the Tenth Plenum re the British situation, and merely tabulating them instead of grasping the central, dominating feature of the period especially in relation to Britain, and relating all other things to it. This, in my opinion, is exemplified in the C.C. resolution published in the September issue of the Communist Review. It is a kind of “hot pot” containing everything from a characterisation of the “third period” to factory groups, but it is difficult to tell what is the central feature of the situation and what the principal task. All features of the new period appear to be principal features, all tasks principal tasks.

The resolution is divided into four parts, viz.: a summary of the Tenth Plenum resolution, Gt. Britain in the “third period,” the situation in the Party, the tasks of the Party. I am of the opinion that this structure is not sound and that it would have been better to have dealt with the self-criticism of the Party and the inner-Party situation on the basis of the study of the objective situation and the tasks arising therefrom, and then in the light of this analysis have reviewed our mistakes and the state of the Party to undertake the tasks which the situation demands.

Britain in the Third Period

But let us deal with the section “Britain in the third period.” This is not an analysis of Britain in this period leading to certain conclusions and a principal conclusion which must dominate and determine the work of the Party from now onwards. It is not an analysis but a description of “the situation when the Labour Government took office,” and draws the moral that economic battles of the workers “must be developed into a political struggle against the Labour Government and for the Revolutionary Workers’ Government.”

Paragraph 16 draws the conclusion that we are at the opening of a new revolutionary struggle for power. But Paragraph 17 leads to the inevitability of war, concluding with “Any agreement (between Britain and U.S.A.) which is arrived at will be merely a stage in the preparation for war.” So it would appear that although we have entered a new period of revolutionary struggle for power, the inevitable war supersedes it.

Paragraph 17 tells of the difficulties of British capitalism and how the Labour Government is called in to the rescue and how well equipped it is for the job, concluding as already quoted.

Paragraph 18 switches off to speak of the illusions of the workers re the Labour Government and the opportunities before us for the creation of a mass Communist Party. Paragraph 19, describes the background of the General Election. Paragraphs 20, and 21 tell us of the revival of working class action, the growing number of strikes, and again inform us that this “is the opening of a new period of revolutionary struggle for a Revolutionary Workers’ Government.” Paragraph 22 tells us of the differentiation in the Labour Party, and Paragraph 23 finishes the analysis of Britain in the third period by telling us of the rôle of the I.L.P.

All references to Britain in relation to the Empire in this period are absent and no conclusions are drawn from this review. The resolution leaves us in a quandary and each of us must draw his own conclusions as to what is the principal feature of the period. We are left to our independent judgment to estimate whether the forces making for revolution are moving more rapidly than the forces towards war, whether the revolution can precede war or whether war has to precede revolution.

The Roots of Vacillation

This indecisiveness must of necessity give rise to numberless vacillations. This indecisiveness does not characterise the Tenth Plenum resolution. It not only rejected the attempts of Com. Campbell to revise the Sixth Congress estimate of the British situation, but emphasised that we are in the period of maturing revolutionary crisis. The C.C. resolution says this when summarising the Tenth Plenum resolution in the first part of its own and repeats it among other things in its analysis of the British situation, but as I have already shown, does not make this the principal motive of the situation governing all our tasks whether they be the fight against the war danger or the building of factory groups. The Party cannot afford to have this agnosticism which makes uncertainty a virtue.

The sequel is seen in the section on the tasks of the Party. Paragraph 45 begins well. It tells us that the Party must win the independent leadership of the working class in all its struggles to win over the majority of the workers and to “lead them in the struggle for the revolutionary workers’ Government.” Paragraph 46 tells us we must link up all our campaigns with the struggle against “the war danger which remains the central point of all Party activity in the present period.” Which is the central point of all our Party activity in the period of maturing revolution? Is it “the struggle against war” or is the struggle against war part of the struggle for the revolutionary workers’ Government? If so, then the latter is the central point of all our activity. The struggle against war as outlined in Paragraph 46 says nothing whatever of this, but enumerates a lot of detailed jobs, all of which are important but detached from the main motive line of the Party in the present period. The same observation applies to all the tasks catalogued and detailed. They are neither placed in the order of their importance nor related to the principal line of Party development. Factory group organisation comes in once more as an appendix emphasised in a very categorical way but unrelated to the whole question of Party structure in relation to the main work of the period before us.

The resolution needs thoroughly overhauling so that the revolutionary perspectives before the working class are seen clearly and all other features of the “third period,” the war danger, the rôle of social democracy, etc., related thereto. Then with our perspectives clear we can define the rôle of the Party in this period and the tasks before it as the leader of the revolutionary working class. Nothing is more urgently needed to aid us in the process of self-criticism and the understanding of the vastness of the mistakes that have been made and the full significance of the fight against “the Right danger.”

The anti-imperialist war campaign revealed as nothing else has ever done the glaring weaknesses of the Party in relation to our revolutionary tasks. One of the conclusions drawn from the campaign was the imperative need for factory groups. But this is not an isolated weakness. We have never yet considered Party building as a serious political question and planfully worked with a guiding principle determining the line of our development. We have grown haphazard, not only outside the factories, but in every way. We have never considered except in a very loose and general way which are the most important industries, which are the most important centres of these industries and which are the most important factories, etc., upon which to concentrate in order to deliver the most effective and vital blows at capitalism. But if we are to be a serious revolutionary Party there must be such guiding principles of our development. The absence of clear revolutionary perspectives and a lack of appreciation of the rôle of the Party as the leader of the forces of revolution are the basic reasons for these defects.

Vacillations and Right Mistakes

It was the absence of these which accounted for the resistance to the new line and the preservation of bureaucracy in the Party by the majority of the C.C. before the Ninth Plenum. They had only social-democratic perspectives—the return of a second Labour Government, the Communist Party as a Labour Left-wing. It was evident again in the conflict at the World Congress on the colonial question when Comrades Rothstein and Bennett led the majority of the British delegation into theoretically defending the favourable perspectives for the British imperialists “carrying through the industrialisation of India”—thus postponing the colonial revolutions and providing the economic basis for the “decolonisation” which they repudiated. It was the same lack of revolutionary perspectives and non-understanding of the rôle of the Party in this period that gave rise to the vote of the five comrades for the second Labour Government, the attempts of Comrade Campbell to revise the Sixth Congress resolution, the alignment of Comrade Horner with Herbert Smith and Joe Jones at the Blackpool Conference of the miners and to the bureaucratic stifling of the criticism of the Y.C.L. Executive by Comrades Rothstein, Wilson, Inkpin and Watkins in their resolution of censure against Comrade Tapsell for reporting the proceedings of the C.C. meeting to the Y.C.L. political bureau. These definitely “Right tendencies” retard the development of the Party, hold it back from its independent course, isolate it from the masses and hinder the Party in its work of revolutionising the workers. These were the reasons for the isolation of the Party in recent years. The workers were ahead of us. When they wanted to leave the Labour Party and were breaking away in thousands we drove them back to the Labour Party because the face of the Party was towards the Labour Party and not towards the independent leadership of the workers. When the workers were revolting against the General Council of the Trades Union Congress we drove them away from us back under the control of the General Council. No wonder the Party has dwindled in membership and the circulation of the Party press suffered the same fate.

Since the Passing of the C.C. Resolution

It must not be thought that the passing of the C.C. resolution with its pledge to fight the “Right danger” and the removal of three comrades from the P.B. because of their “Right tendencies” has liquidated the Right danger in the leadership. Indeed, what with the anxiety of the “Rights” to prove themselves to be “Left,” the Party leadership is in such a state of confusion that one almost stands aghast at the situation. I will illustrate this criticism. First examine the way in which the anti-war question is being handled and especially the Russo-Chinese crisis.

In Workers’ Life of August 30, headlines of a splash article on the Russo-Chinese crisis proclaim: “Hostilities have broken out.” It goes on to tell that we are on the brink of world war. We must “Organise demonstrations and strikes against the war-makers’ Government.” The first paragraph of the article qualifies the headlines. The second and the third paragraphs hold America responsible as the devil behind the Chinese Government. The fourth tells us that the Labour Government is assisting the Border States to prepare for war. But it does not say a word as to what the Labour Government is doing in relation to the Russo-Chinese war. How we shall get the British workers to strike against the Labour Government because America is pushing the Chinese on to war in Manchuria is not explained to us at all.

But the splash article goes on to talk to the Party members and not the masses. Perhaps under the circumstances this is fortunate. At one moment there appears to be time enough to get a delegation to the twelfth anniversary of the Russian revolution in November. At the next it appears as if we have to rush into the streets for war is upon us. At the top of the page we are told that “Hostilities have broken out.” At the end of the manifesto we are told “not to wait for hostilities to break out, but to strike now.” Whether it is that the Party members who have to strike now or the workers in general, whether the Party has to call the strike itself or through a strike committee, and how long for nobody knows. What the immediate object of the strike will be, whether it is to stop munitions production or the transport of troops, whether it is to be a general strike, an attempt to bring down the Government or a demonstration strike, is left to our own conjecture.

Then, please turn up the next issue of Workers’ Life, September 6th, and it will be found that the Russo-Chinese crisis has vanished into thin air and nobody knows why. There is no news of the strikes we were to call the previous week. No news of the world conflagration that was overwhelming us. This also has vanished. Surely we ought to have been told as to how this happened. But by September 13th the Russo-Chinese crisis quietly re-appears.

Can we hope to win influence amongst the workers so long as the most serious questions are treated in such an irresponsible manner? The Party appears to be wildly gesticulating and nothing happens, except that we continue to report decline in sales of Party papers. Is it surprising?

Independent Leadership

This however is not an isolated matter. The C.C. resolution speaks very clearly about the need for the Party to play the rôle of the independent leader of the workers’ struggles. It also says that the M.M. is under the leadership of the Party. But it is necessary to raise the question as to whether the Party is one of three leaders or the leader of the workers’ struggles. It is necessary because it appears from our press that there is a division of labour between the Party, the National Minority Movement and the National Unemployed Workers’ Committee in this question of leadership.

According to the leading article of Workers’ Life, August 16th, “To Shoreditch”: “The Minority Movement is therefore confronted with the task of grouping all revolutionary elements together for the purpose of leading the independent economic struggles of the workers against the will of the trades union bureaucracy. . . . Not the policy of ‘Make the Leaders Fight,’ not the mechanical formation of new unions, but the leadership of the economic struggles of the workers through the appropriate organs of struggle—that is the keynote of the new policy of the M.M.” If the Minority Movement is to be the leader, where does the Communist Party come in? Ought we not to say in a leading article of the Party press that the Communist Party is therefore confronted with the task of grouping all revolutionary elements together into the Minority Movement for the purpose of leading the struggles of the workers, etc., etc.? I think so. But this leading article has no place for the Party. Instead of the Party leading organ being the vehicle for the P.B. to give the lead to the M.M. Conference, the Party organ is the means of giving the M.M,. lead to the Party and the readers of its press.

This, of course, is not confined to the leading article. In the same issue of the paper splash headlines tell us: “Minority to give a real lead.” This is the headline for two articles, one by Comrade Loeber and the other by Comrade Kerrigan, both of which could have been written by non-party members and the main purpose of which is to draw the attention of railwaymen and engineers to the M.M. Conference. Of course, it is necessary to direct attention to the M.M. Conference, but both these articles and others play no other rôle than a boost to the M.M. Comrade Cox has an article in the same issue based upon the principle of the M.M.’s independent leadership, and one is left wondering as to where the Party comes into the picture.

The next issue of the paper contains more of it. And so does the report of the M.M. Conference itself, both in Workers’ Life and The Worker. Examine the list of speakers at the Conference reported in either paper and it will be found that almost every speaker is a Communist, and you can search in vain for a reference to the Communist Party. The Conference itself pledges to fight for the “Revolutionary Workers’ Government” which means for the dictatorship of the proletariat, but no Communist ventures to say that the dictatorship of the proletariat without the Party of the proletarian dictatorship is unthinkable. And the platform of the Conference is dominated by Communists. Can we conceive of such reticence on the part of the trades unions towards the Labour Party?

This absence of Party leadership applies equally to the N.U.W.C.M. A reference to the articles of Comrade Hannington and Comrade Elias re the National Conference of the Unemployed appearing in Workers’ Life, August 16th and 23rd, and in The Worker of these dates, are articles which have nothing to do with the Party. From a reading of these articles it would appear that the Communist paper Workers’ Life has kindly given space to the leaders of the N.U.W.C.M. to advertise their conference. Again I would emphasise that it was necessary to boost the Conference. But has the Party no special message to the Unemployed Conference, no lead to give?

Comrade Hannington evidently has other ideas, for he has defined for us in the article of August 23rd in The Worker what he thinks of the situation. He says, writing of the M.M. and the N.U.W.C.M., “Both movements have their special fields of activity—the M.M. in the workshop, factories and mines, and the N.U.W.C.M. on the streets, leading the agitation of the unemployed against central and local government authorities for the defence and improvement of the standards of those divorced from industry.” Again we must ask: What is the special field of the Communist Party? It is necessary to ask because none of the articles give the answer. They have wiped out the Party instead of revealing the Party as the leader of all struggles of the workers. The N.U.W.C.M. conference repeats the performance of the M.M. declaring for the Revolutionary Workers’ Government without the Communist Party.

Thus is the rôle of the Party forgotten by its leaders.


But the chaotic condition of the leadership under the pressure of its anxiety to prove free from “Right” tendencies, receives its classic expression in the new ruling as to the relations of our Party to the Labour Government and the struggle for immediate demands. At the last meeting of the National Meerut Defence Committee I attended as the representative of our Party. In this meeting we had to consider what steps we could take to further the purpose of the Committee at the Labour Party Conference. It was unanimously agreed that to allow the occasion of the Conference to go by without an effort being made to mobilise opinion against the Government would be an exceedingly wrong thing to do, especially in view of the fact that a half-dozen Labour M.P’s were members of the Meerut Committee and would be present at the Conference. I therefore put forward, along with a number of other suggestions for meetings, etc., the proposal that a meeting be called of all the members of the Meerut Defence Committee attending the Labour Party Conference, that a special resolution be prepared, an attempt be made to get it on the floor of the Conference as an emergency resolution and that a demonstrative protest be made with it whether the Standing Orders Committee permitted it to go on the agenda or not.

I informed the Secretariat of my proposals and I received the following letter in reply:

“The Secretariat desires to draw your attention to paragraph d in your letter, where you ask that an emergency resolution of protest against the trial, demanding the release of the prisoners and condemning the Labour Government, etc., be put forward. It is no part of the new line that we deceive the workers by asking them to demand anything from the Labour Government, but that we call upon the workers to fight the Labour Government. We thought it necessary to draw your attention to this Right-wing deviation.

Yours fraternally,

Here is a remarkable situation. We are to demand and the workers are to demand nothing of the Labour Government! This has got the psuedo Lefts beaten to a frazzle. They and the Right-wing only plead that “we don’t embarrass the Government” and “give the Government a chance” but we, well, we are nothing if we are not whole hoggers—we beg the workers to ask nothing at all!

But what an anomalous situation we are in. It is permissible for the Secretariat itself to enter into negotiations with the Labour Government to send a political adviser to the prisoners, but it is not permissible to demand that the same Labour Government release the prisoners!

“But,” says the Secretariat, “the workers must fight the Labour Government.” What the issues of the fight are to be if we have got no demands and the workers have got no demands is not explained. Are we driven into complete ultra-Leftism and to call on the workers to immediately seize power and establish the Revolutionary Workers’ Government? It would appear so. For I am told in a further letter: “Capitalism cannot afford ‘concessions,’ and the only way to obtain them is through the defeat of the capitalist class in open struggle.” When I asked the question “Suppose we organise a strike on behalf of the Meerut prisoners, against whom will it be directed in this case? Against the Labour Government. How will it express itself?” Instead of answering—in the demand for the release of the prisoners—I receive the following: “It will express itself in conjunction with the growing struggle on the other issues, in a fight for the overthrow of the Labour Government and for developing the mass struggle for the Revolutionary Workers’ Government.”

But I did not ask what this strike will express itself “in conjunction with.” This was not under discussion. The fact is we cannot call a strike with the slogan “in conjunction with.” The workers only strike for something concrete and specific. We cannot go to them and say the Labour Government are a lot of rotters, down with it and up with the Revolutionary Workers’ Government. Yet this is the essence of the reply of the Secretariat. Nor can we go and say to the workers: “Without the overthrow of the Labour Government nothing can be done for the Meerut prisoners (except sending them legal advice and a political adviser), otherwise there will be no action at all.”

It is quite evident that the Secretariat has here fallen into ultra-Leftism when it says nothing can be gained “except by the defeat of the capitalist class in open struggle.” This is putting the question of insurrection in a non-Marxist way. If the Communist programme is any guide to us on this question, and I believe it is, then instead of there being no demands made upon the Government of the day in the period leading up to insurrectionary struggles, the immediate demands will increase a thousandfold, will become increasingly radical and more far reaching. It is the inability of the-Government of the day and the capitalist class as a whole to meet these demands that forces into the foreground of the workers’ struggle the issue of overthrowing the Government and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is the task of the Communist Party in this period not to put forward the slogan “Demand nothing of the Government,” but to place itself at the head of every demand of the workers, to relate it to the revolutionary struggle for power. This is not done by dropping the demands but by bringing them “into conjunction with” other demands and merging them into the struggle for power. The programme of the Communist International says (p. 63): “Partial demands and slogans generally form an essential part of correct tactics; but certain transition slogans go inseparably with revolutionary situation. Repudiation of partial demands and transitional slogans ‘on principle,’ however, is incompatible with the tactical principles of Communism, for in effect, such repudiation condemns the Party to inaction and isolates it from the masses.”

To demand nothing, therefore, is a manifest absurdity for the Communist Party.

More “Leftism”

But there is still another aspect of this question. The Secreariat, in its letter of October 2nd, 1929, says: “When the textile workers were attacked, did we call upon the General Council to demand the withdrawal of the reductions? . . . . What then are we to say when it is seriously argued that we should invite the Labour Party Conference (Thomas, Henderson, Clynes and Co.) to ‘condemn’ and to ‘demand’ of the Labour Government (Thomas, Henderson, Clynes and Co.) the release of the Meerut prisoners? The whole of your polemic is actually a case for reformism.”

Let us be perfectly clear, the proposal was not that the Communist Party call upon the Labour Party Conference to demand this or that, although the Secretariat itself instructed Comrade Mrs. Knight to go to the Conference and make such a demand. The proposal was that the members of the Labour Party who were also members of the Meerut Defence Committee pledged to fight for the release of the prisoners, shall make this demand and get as many of the Labour Party Conference as possible to support them, obviously against the platform as well as against the Government. A defeat of the platform on this occasion was a censure of the Government.

It is an absurdity to treat the Labour Party Conference as simply Thomas, Henderson and Clynes and Co. This is to reject all possibilities of differentiation in the Labour Party and to make the line of the C.C. resolution relating to the development of Left forces in the Labour Party into a farce. Here we were faced with the fact that the Labour forces were so far differentiated that a number of M.P.’s and delegates were part of a united front committee associating with us in the demand for the release of the prisoners. Is it conceivable that we could say to these men, “Go to the Labour Party Conference and be silent on the Meerut question”? If so, then the Communist Party will be placed in the most absurd position imaginable. It demands nothing itself and calls on others to demand nothing. In short, gives the Labour Government a free hand.

It was necessary to put forward such demands not only because it is the obvious, commonsense thing to do, but also to hasten forward the differentiation within the Labour Party on the one hand and sort out the Lefts from the pseudo-Lefts. To allow M.P.’s and others to become members of the Committee and then to acquiesce in their silence instead of putting up to them the line of battle, is not the way to expose the pseudo-Lefts and bring the fighters into our ranks, but the line of isolation and disaster. The Party must avoid treating either the Meerut Trial or any other single issue in an isolated way. We must link it up with the class fight, indeed, show it as part of the class fight so that the Party as the leader of all the struggles can bring these struggles to merge and concentrate upon the central issues in the fight for the proletarian dictatorship.


These blunders, which could easily be supplemented by still further evidence of the strength of the “Right-wing danger” (ultra-Leftism is a part of it), illustrate the deadly seriousness of the situation of the Party at this moment when everything is crying aloud for the Party of proletarian revolution to step forward boldly and systematically set about its tasks as the only leader of the workers in the class war. Leadership of the workers is not won by wildly gesticulating and dashing hither and thither to catch up with the struggle but by thoroughly understanding the period in which we struggle, defining clearly the perspectives before the workers, defining the basic tasks of the Party and setting about them planfully and systematically.

The C.C. resolution must, therefore, be thoroughly reconstructed by the Congress so that the Party and the workers will have a clear presentation of the principal features of the “third period” in Britain, will see it as a period of the maturing of the revolutionary crisis, will understand the line or the principal “motif” of the Party’s tasks, will see clearly the vastness of the mistakes that have been made and understand their character, and know how to systematically set about the eliminating of the “Right danger” from top to bottom of the Party. If the Party can emerge with such a reconstructed resolution and a new leadership really accepting the resolution to put it into life, then the Party can advance with confidence.