J. T. Murphy

Growth of Social-Fascism in Britain

Source: The Communist Review, Vol 2, January 1930, 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.

ONE of the most important “Right” mistakes of the majority of the old central committee of our Party was their complete failure to understand the evolution of the Labour Party into a Social-Fascist party and the rapid growth of Social-Fascism in the trade unions. They still thought of it as a Social-Democratic party, more or less untouched with this “continental” feature. So strong was their “loyalty” to the Labour Party that five leading comrades voted in favour of voting for the Labour Party in the last general election. There is not the least doubt that this mistake will not be repeated, but we would be making a further mistake if we thought that the repudiation of such a proposition by the whole Party at this stage meant that we had eradicated the theories from which this mistake has arisen. There is still considerable confusion and lack of understanding on this question. The term “Social-Fascist” is being used as a label ofttimes without a full understanding of its meaning and significance. Yet upon the correct appreciation of the growth of Social-Fascism in this country depends the appreciation of the significance of the new line of our Party, and especially in relation to the “Lefts” of Social-Democracy.

It is important therefore that we be perfectly clear as to what we mean by “The growth of Social-Fascism.” Fascism is described in the “Programme of the Communist International” as follows:

“The Fascist system is a system of direct dictatorship, ideologically marked by the ‘national idea,’ and representation of the professions (in reality, representation of the various groups of the ruling class). It is a system that resorts to a peculiar form of social demagogy (anti-semitism, occasional sorties against usurers’ capital and gestures of impatience with parliamentarians ‘talking shop’) in order to utilise the discontent of the petty bourgeoisie, the intellectuals and other strata of society, and to corruption—the creation of a compact and well paid hierarchy of Fascist units, a party apparatus and a bureaucracy. At the same time, Fascism strives to permeate the working class by recruiting the most backward strata of workers to its ranks, by playing upon their discontent, by taking advantage of the inaction of Social-Democracy, etc. The principal aim of Fascism is to destroy the revolutionary Labour vanguard—i.e., the Communist sections, and leading units of the proletariat. The combination of Social-Democracy, corruption and active white terror, in conjunction with extreme imperialist aggression in the sphere of foreign politics, are the characteristic features of Fascism. In periods of acute crisis for the bourgeoisie, Fascism resorts to anti-capitalist phraseology, but after it has established itself at the helm of State, it casts aside its anti-capitalist rattle and discloses itself as a terrorist dictatorship of big capital.”

The conditions which give rise to the phenomenon are also described in the programme as “—instability of capitalist relationship; the existence of considerable declassed social elements, the pauperisation of broad strata of urban petty bourgeoisie and of the intelligentsia; discontent among rural petty bourgeoisie, and finally the constant menace of mass proletarian action. In order, to stabilise and perpetuate its rule, the bourgeoisie is compelled to an increasing degree to abandon the parliamentary system in favour of the Fascist system, which is independent of inter-party arrangements and combinations.”

The conditions described here might be classified as the historical conditions for the Fascist seizure of power. Whilst these have been fairly well recognised and the rôle of Social-Democracy in such a situation is recognised (everyone remembers that Mussolini and Noske and Pilsudsky belonged to the Socialists) and understood, the same cannot be said of the evolution of the Socialist parties and trades union bureaucracy towards Fascism. It has been generally held that the Labour Party and trade unions stand in opposition to Fascism and that Fascism in this country will come through the attempts of the Labour Party to democratise and socialise capitalism; that such efforts will increase the difficulties of capitalism and, thus pave the way to the rescue of capitalism by a coup d’état led by some British Mussolini, defeating Social-Democracy (the Labour Party, trades union bureaucracy, I.L.P., Fabians, etc.). That there are powerful bourgeois forces in this country who look forward to and are preparing for such a state it would be folly not to see. The conservative press provides daily ample evidence of these preparations—the continual discrediting of Parliament, the cry for the strong man, the out bursts against adult suffrage, the boosting of Mussolini and other European dictators abounds in scores of papers, the immense propaganda of an intense nationalism, Empire Leagues, etc., Mondism, etc.

But this theory assumes that the Labour Party and the trades union bureaucracy have undergone little change, and that Social-Democracy is fundamentally opposed to Fascism instead of being a fellow traveller along the historical path that leads to Fascism, and an offspring from the same family tree.

The theoretical unity of Fascism and Social-Democracy is not difficult to establish. Theoretically the Fascist corporate State stands above classes subordinating all classes to the common interests of the national State, incorporating within itself the trade unions and employers’ syndicates, enforcing class collaboration. The British Labour Party regards the State as above classes for the subordination of class interests to the common interest of the State. It stands for class collaboration, for the British Empire, for the unions and co-operatives to play a subordinate rôle, but to be recognised as an integral part of the State apparatus.

The fact that Fascism abolishes parliament, and the Labour Party stands for parliamentary democracy, is not a matter of principle, but of historical expediency, as proven by the history of Fascism and the part played by Social-Democracy. The accord of the Labour Party in this respect was never more clearly exemplified than in the speech of MacDonald on the formation of the Labour Government:

“I want to say something else. It is not altogether because I happen to be at the head of a minority that I say this, because this thought must be occurring to the mind of every one of us who are aware of the very serious problems that this country has to face—problems at home and problems abroad. I wonder how far it is possible, without in any way abandoning any of our party positions, without in any way surrendering any item of our party principles, to consider ourselves more as a Council of State and less as arrayed regiments facing each other in battle. It is perfectly true that the condition of the House at the present moment invites us to make these reflections, and so far as we are concerned co-operation will be welcome—this applies to a majority government as much as it applies to a minority government—by putting our ideas into a common pool and bringing out from that common pool legislation and administration that will be of substantial benefit to the nation as a whole.”—J. R. MacDonald, House of Commons, July 2nd.

The principle enumerated here is the first principle of the corporate State of Mussolini. That this is not an accidental utterance determined by political expediency but in deepest unison with the political conceptions of the Labour Party and the I.L.P., can easily be proved. MacDonald himself, in “Socialism: Critical and Constructive,” writes:

“The relation between the State and industry which I have been discussing suggests the advisability of an industrial chamber of limited authority, which will act in the capacity of advisor and administrator in the industrial activities of the communities. I commit myself to no precise scheme for the construction of such an institution. It would represent the interests and activities of production and distribution, it would include representatives chosen by the Commons and the Government, and it would have the status of a great Council of State which would provide ministers, be in organic relationship with the House of Commons, and be part of Parliament.”—J. R, MacDonald, Socialism, Critical and Constructive, p. 259.

The fact that Mussolini’s black shirts seized power by a coup d’état and that MacDonald and Co. theoretically disapprove of this method does not alter the fundamental unity between them in respect to class relations and the rôle and character of the State. Both stand for the strengthening of capitalism. Both stand for a new type of State apparatus, but the Labour Party operating in a less critical situation than Mussolini in 1921, hastens to transform the existing State apparatus as a preventative against proletarian revolution.

That these are not contradictory policies but merging policies according to the sharpness and intensity of the crisis of capitalism must be obvious to everyone. They are complementary policies, one to the other, in the fundamental counter-revolutionary war of capitalism against the forces of social revolution led by the proletariat.

Social-Democracy, rising with the growth of the working class, capitalising the class struggle in parliamentary votes, waving the red flag, conjuring visions of a far distant socialism and rolling Socialist phrases, passes swiftly from the reform of capitalism ostensibly on behalf of the workers to the violent defence of capitalism against the working class. So long as capitalism was not in danger, Social-Democracy appeared as an opposition to capitalism on behalf of the workers, won their confidence and harnessed their support; from the moment capitalism was endangered its basic accord with capitalism becomes increasingly established; it stands revealed as an integral part of capitalism, responding to the laws of capitalist development and disintegration as inevitably as the rest of capitalism. The world crisis of capitalism ushered in by the war of 1914-18 transformed the passive social patriotism of the Labour Party and trades union bureaucracy—around the slogan of “Defence of the homeland,” into Labour imperialism on a par with the imperialism of the Tories and Liberals. Empire quespons have now passed from the domain of “party politics” to joint commissions, agreed military, naval and air force measures for the determined suppression of the colonial crises.

Social-Fascism is also brought to fruition by crisis—the internal crisis of class relations arising from the breakdown of capitalist economy, the inability of the capitalist class to govern as hitherto, the revolutionary advance of the working class. It was these conditions of crisis in this country after the war, giving rise to a mighty mass movement of the workers against capitalism, which caused the capitalist parties to manœuvre into office the first Labour Government which proved the most corrupting factor in the British Labour movement since its formation, and yet a most revealing factor, setting the Labour Party on the high road of Social-Fascist development. But it was the mighty movement of the workers culminating in the general strike of 1926 that brought the new phase of Social-Democratic development to a head. It thrust the fundamental question of revolution into the foreground, challenged the very existence of capitalism, and the spectre of the dictatorship of the proletariat decisively finished the “oppositional” rôle of reformism in this country and drove the Labour Party, I.L.P. and trades union bureaucracy headlong upon the path of coalition leading to Fascism. The “opposition” was transformed. They have become the mobilisers of social forces for the preservation and restoration of capitalism. “Never again,” said Mr. Cramp. “The old country is not played out,” bawled Mr. Thomas, and one and all of the Labour gang passed openly and completely into the camp of Mondism. And the Labour Party programme formulated the policy of capitalist rationalisation and Empire development as its main plank.

“The prevention, by all practicable means, of trade depression, has for long been an integral part of Labour policy. The most effective lines of advance are the wise development of the nation’s resources—its land, waterways and harbours, its mineral wealth, and above all, its ‘man power’—the improvement of the key services of finance, power and transport, on which all other industries depend, the elimination of waste and inefficiency in productive processes and in the machinery and methods of marketing and distribution, the more active promotion of scientific research, the protection of the consumer . . . etc.”—Labour and the Nation, p. 20.

The employers:

“If, as their spokesman alleges, they are eager to increase industrial efficiency, they will be well advised to begin by setting their own house in order—to modernise their organisation, improve their technique, eliminate waste, apply more intelligently the resources which science has revealed.”—Labour and the Nation, p. 15.

The process whereby this policy is pursued we designate as Social-Fascism because it assumes an increasingly Fascist character under the banner of “social patriotism,” “class collaboration,” “community interests,” “industrial peace,” etc. Labour’s democracy gives place to violence, police socialism against the workers, pacifism to Social-imperialism, strike action to strike breaking, collective bargaining to arbitration, measures which were previously proclaimed as temporary war emergency measures have become Labour measures for capitalist restoration against the workers’ social revolution. The voice is the voice of Labour, but the hands are the hands of Fascist imperialism.

The history of the British Labour movement since the general strike shows a rapid acceleration of the process which was already deeply founded within it. The opposition to Mondism has been transformed into the official policy of the trade union movement blessed by the Labour Party. Mr. Tillett, at the Belfast Trades Union Congress, declared to the approving congress that capitalist rationalisation is inevitable, and that the trade unions are “an integral part of the organisation of industry.” “The worker is more interested in the prosperity of industry than the shareholder, director or the manager . . . . It is his duty to see that the industry is properly run and that industry as a whole is efficient.” This is Social-Fascist doctrine.

The same Congress which acclaimed the imperialist message of Tillett endorsed the Labour Government’s arbitration policy in the cotton textile dispute, and defended the action of Walkden and Cramp in jointly with the employers and the Tory judge awarding 6¼ per cent. wage reductions, “to help the industry to its feet.” Here was much more than a parliamentary coalition. It drew the unions (which, prior to the crisis, expelled the Communists) from leading positions into the apparatus of the State to defend the workers. This is Social-Fascism in practice.

Social-Fascism is thus also inseparable from war preparations, and of necessity takes the form of attempting to harness the masses to the aims of the imperialists’ objectives, and the clothing of these aims and objectives with the social aims of the Labour Party. On two outstanding questions the rôle of Social-Fascism as a means of war preparation is abundantly clear, e.g., relations with the Soviet Union, and Anglo-American relations.

So great is the change in the attitude of the Labour Party and the trade unions to the Soviet Union that 1920 and the threat of the general strike to prevent war on Soviet Russia seems many years ago. In 1924, at the time of the first Labour Government, MacDonald’s delay in the recognition of the Soviet Government brought forth a mass protest from the ranks of the Labour Party. Not so 1929. Five months go by—without an adverse murmur. In the debate on the restoration of diplomatic relations, all the parties stand foursquare on the demands re trade, bondholders, and propaganda. Henderson said:

“After 1924 it has been plainly stated to the Soviet representatives, and stated again twice by myself, that the Communist International will be regarded by His Majesty’s Government as an organ of the Soviet Government.”

This is precisely the attitude of Curzon, Chamberlain and Baldwin, Locker-Lampson & Co. This was not challenged by a single member of the Labour Party, neither “Right” nor “Left,” although every one knows that it is not true and that the situation is exactly as it was in 1920.

Listen to Mr. Bromley, M.P.:

“Treat them as honourable people so far as they will keep to their agreements and discontinue their propaganda—dealing with them if they do not.”

And now Mr. Horrabin:

“Henderson’s strong speech received almost lyrical applause from his supporters. . . . (New Leader, November 8, 1929.)

For two years prior to the General Strike there existed the Anglo-Russian Committee of the trade unions to fight the war danger and build the class unity of the workers of Britain and the Soviet Union. After the General Strike the British General Council smashed the committee and threw their arms around the necks of Lord Melchett and Lord Londonderry. Nothing is too vile for them to say against the Soviet Union, and nothing too drastic to mete out to its supporters in the British trade unions.

Can it be denied that these things are anti-Soviet, anti-working class, and on the side of Melchett and Chamberlain, and constitute preliminaries to war?

The relations with American imperialism are equally illuminating. There is not a child in politics but what recognises America as an imperialist power—indeed the greatest capitalist power in the world. The deep antagonism between American and British capitalism is the pivot around which the antagonisms between other powers move.

Yet the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress turn with one accord to American capitalism for their model. Fordism becomes the Labour acme to which Britain should move. MacDonald visits America as the spokesman of British imperialism to seek a temporary agreement. This prepares the way immediately for joint diplomatic action against the Soviet Union re the Russo-Manchurian crisis. This action completely confirmed the American moral publicist, Herbert Ulliston’s, statement on the significance of the MacDonald-Hoover rapproachment. He wrote in the Nineteenth Century (November 1929):

“The removal of this misunderstanding . . . should mean the rehabilitation of the Four-Power Pact, with all that this means in relations with China and Russia.”

What, then, was the attitude of the Labour Party, including its “Lefts,” to this war preparation diplomacy? Mr. J. F. Horrabin, M.P. expresses it and reveals at a glance the rôle of Social-Fascism in war preparation. Writing in the New Leader, November 8, he says:

“In comparison with all this storm, the return of MacDonald was enacted in a scene of dignified calm. His written but beautifully-phrased account of his visit to America, his thanks to his hosts, and his hopes for the future friendship of the English speaking nations was a model of its kind, and will almost certainly find its place among selected historical documents of our time. The Premier had performed a great task greatly, and everyone recognised it.”

Thus the renegade Communist, now a leading scribe of the I.L.P., performs the Social-Fascist task of uniting the classes under the banner of the “nation.”

The rôle of the “Left” Social-Fascists, the I.L.P. (Maxton and Co.) in the situation stands out significantly and clear. It must be observed that neither Fascism nor Social-Democracy dispenses with demagogic radical declarations. This is but part of their stock in trade to get their policy across. Just so, also, with the “Left” Social-Fascists. The I.L.P. demands the “living wage,” the Labour Party denies that lowering wages will “improve matters.” Neither Maxton nor any of his associates lifted a finger to assist the strikers in the cotton dispute, but went to the Labour Party Conference and “deplored” the horrid job which “Charlie” Cramp and Walkden had to do, thus apologising and defending the wage-cutting Government.

This was an actual defence of Walkden and Cramp, and the Labour Government, the Tories and Liberals, the defence of the combined enemies of the working class—an effective division of labour in a common cause after the heart of Mond and Mussolini.

The Meerut “trial” provides another glaring example of this process. It is obvious that the arrest of 33 leaders of the Indian workers signified a state of crisis in India. It was the answer of the imperialists to the rising anti-imperialist mass movement which threatens British imperialist domination. Promptly on the advent of the Labour Government it endorsed the “trial” and proceeded at once to add to the arrests, to suppress supporting newspapers in India, to prohibit mass agitation in support of the prisoners, to break strikes with police and soldiery. Wedgwood Benn, a prominent member of the I.L.P., as well as the Labour Party, was in charge of Indian affairs. He declared the “trial” must go on. Lansbury, another I.L.P. chieftain, condemned “interference” and declared that the Government refused “to have another Campbell case.” Maxton, Brockway, Horrabin, all joined the Meerut Defence Committee. But for what? To campaign and fight against the Labour Government and secure the release of the prisoners? To support the Indian masses against Labour imperialism? Not at all, but to sabotage the work of the committee, to defend the Labour Government, to divert mass resentment against the Labour Government into a means of support for the Labour Government in its Fascist imperialist policy in India.

The very first act of Maxton and Brockway on the Meerut Defence Committee was to enter into private negotiation with Wedgwood Benn for a private I.L.P. deputation instead of the public deputation of the Defence Committee. The private deputation was accepted. The public deputation was rejected. The I.L.P. in office and the I.L.P. out of office mutually arranged questions and answers in the House of Commons, so that the Government would not be embarrassed.

Then came the Labour Party Conference. Brockway paved the way for the violent attack of Shiels, the Under-Secretary for India, upon the Meerut prisoners, and not one of the I.L.P. members of the Defence Committee rose in protest. The division of labour was complete.

The next stage was reached on the occasion of the Viceroy’s speech in November. Promptly, Brockway and Co., in fact the whole I.L.P., cheered the Tory Viceroy, hailed the unison of all parties. The question of the prisoners sank into a pathetic suggestion to the generosity of the Government in order to strengthen the hands of the Government against the Indian workers and peasants, and to further corrupt the petty bourgeois into greater “loyalty” to the Empire.

A fitting climax to these tactics was reached in the debate on India:

“Fenner Brockway had a notable House of Commons triumph on Wednesday night when he secured without a division the passing of a resolution declaring ‘That this House welcomes the evidence of the co-operation of Indian representatives in the settlement of the Constitutional question, and relies upon the Government of India to encourage good will by the systematic conduct of its administration and executive functions, particularly in relation to the expression of political opinion.’

“Fenner Brockway, who received congratulations for a specially able speech, both from Mr. Wedgwood Benn, the Secretary for India, and Sir Samuel Hoare, who was in charge of the Front Opposition Bench, urged that there were ‘three essential things’ which must be done if wholehearted Indian co-operation was to be secured. They were (1) effective Indian representation at the Round Table Conference, (2) Bill to be discussed to definitely embody the principle of Dominion Status, and (3) the ending of political prosecutions.

“J. F. Horrabin seconded the resolution in another effective speech, which laid special stress on the economic conditions of Indian life.

“Subsequently Sir Samuel Hoare stated that he saw no reason why the House should not send a unanimous message to India, and after Wedgwood Benn had given a very sympathetic reply, the resolution was adopted. Altogether a night full of hope and encouragement for the friends of Indian self-government.” (New Leader, Dec. 20.)

Here is Social-Fascism in all its completeness, its violence, its class collaboration, its corruption, its betrayal of the workers, its consolidation of the forces of counter-revolution, with the “Lefts” playing a leading rôle. There is not a reactionary element in the British Empire but appreciates the services of Maxton, Brockway and Horrabin in the India crisis.

The Palestinian crisis provides a further glaring example of the integration of Social-Democracy with Fascist imperialism. Again a revolutionary mass movement of workers and peasants on the up-grade threatening British imperialism. With unanimity the Labour Party and I.L.P. came down on the side of Jewish Fascism. Henderson declared for the Balfour declaration of 1922 which laid the basis of the Zionist Fascism importing Jewish capitalists, establishing a Jewish aristocracy of labour, co-operating with Arab landlords. Although it was known that Fascism was responsible for the provocative demonstration on the occasion of the “Wailing Wall” incident, the Labour Government flung troops, aeroplanes, battleships into the situation with a promptitude which commanded the admiration of all the bourgeois forces, and Mr. Brailsford, of the New Leader, wrote:

“For the moment, what is urgent, is to deal with a problem of police. The first steps were taken promptly—by air, rail and sea, reinforcements have rushed to the spot. That is well . . . . ”

The Communists came in for the brunt of the attack, as the leaders of the Arab and Jewish workers. Scores were imprisoned, beaten, killed. Insurgents were hanged on the highways, and the authorities prohibited the removal of the bodies. Fascist imperialist violence was let loose by the Labour Government. Lefts and Rights stood foursquare with all counter-revolutionary forces.

The evolution of the Labour Party into a Social-Fascist party was never more clearly seen than in its dealing with the mining crisis. The Coal Bill provides measures of rationalisation for the coalowners, paving the way to the closing of “uneconomic pits,” fusion of companies, the employment of fewer miners, the speeding up of production, the raising of prices, and the establishment of arbitration. The Labour Government has not only turned its back upon the seven-hour day promise and ensured wage reductions, but secured the support of the trade union bureaucracy which is an integral part of the Labour Party for collaboration with the State in suppression of the resistance of the miners by isolating the districts and subordinating them to the arbitration of the wages boards. The very essence of the plan is to make the trade unions function as a State weapon for the increase of production for capitalism and for the suppression of the workers who resist the increased exploitation.

The rôle of the “Lefts,” throughout the development of this crisis, has been that of saving the face of the Government. In a special article in the New Leader, December 20, on “The future of Coal,” Brailsford voices the I.L.P. as follows:

“The real absurdity of this situation is that a bolder Bill on the lines which the Liberal criticisms sketch would have pleased the Government’s own supporters better.”

The resistance of the workers to this process has brought out very clearly the changes of the situation. Labour councils are everywhere showing their Social-Fascist character, whilst the increasing co-operation of the local trades union officials with the police and employers is producing examples of the blackest Fascism. In the recent case of the arrest of Comrades Thurlbeck, Woolley, Mason and Williams at Saddleworth, where a strike was in progress, a trade union official declared in evidence in court that he went every morning to the factory gates “to assist the police.” It is only necessary to remember that the police are in charge of almost every Labour meeting, mainly for use against the Communists. Labour Councils have the honour of initiating police “pill boxes” in almost every town and city to secure effective police control of all “accidents.” Hundreds of police, under the order of a South Wales Labour Council, escort three blacklegs to and from work. Scotland Yard forces increase at every workers’ meeting. Mounted and foot police drew the men and women demonstrators into a cul-de-sac at the American Embassy in order to batter them. All forms of corruption increase. There is a wholesale combination of “soft jobs,” police violence, organised collaboration with employers against revolutionary workers—in short, a general integration of Labour and trade union organisations with the State and the employers. This is Social-Fascism in operation.

It is not a sign of the strength of capitalism, but of its desperation. The last reserves are called up, and as the crisis deepens Social-Fascism swiftly evolves to pure Fascism.

It is this tremendous change in the entire situation which makes all tendencies to cling to the old line of the Party in any shape or form a veritable danger to the Party. How serious and dangerous it is can be seen from a statement recently issued by our Nottingham local, which opens with the sentence: “The Communist Party associates itself with those who are opposed to the militarisation of the police force,” and later says, “The C.P. cannot regard as satisfactory the attitude of that section of the Labour Party which is leading the campaign.” Presumably we would be satisfied with a police force that is not militarised. But most important of all is the second quotation which reveals an entire failure to understand the Social-Fascist character of the Labour Party. Instead of identification with the “satisfactory” elements of the Labour Party, i.e., the “Left” Social-Fascists who are disguising their campaign for strengthening the forces of working class oppression by criticising the “police experience” of the Chief Constable, the local Party should have exposed the fact that capitalism needs, is creating and will increasingly create with the assistance of and through the Labour Party a militarised police force to fight the rising militancy of the workers. It ought to have exposed the “Lefts” as the disguise of the Labour Party using pacifist phrases to secure the same end. It must draw the conclusion that the Communist Party is the leader of the fight against this process, explain the rôle of the I.C.W.P.A., the need for Workers’ Defence Corps as a means to fight against the Labour Government and for the Revolutionary Workers’ Government. Trade union legalism, which is one of the strongest features of the “Right danger” in the Party, under these circumstances is also the sure and certain way to disaster. The retention of the tactic of the united front from above under these circumstances, with the “Left” Social-Democrats in the foreground with their treacherous rôle, is equally disastrous. There is no other course possible than the direct approach to the masses by the Party and the operation of the policy of the united front from below. But the development of the fight in these directions in the light of the growth of Social-Fascism must be dealt with in a further article.