J. T. Murphy

The Right Danger in New Clothes

Source: The Communist Review, Vol II, June 1930, No. 6.
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.

THAT the Eleventh Congress of our Party registered the determination of the party to fight the “right” danger and gave specific instructions to the new Central Committee on this question there can be no manner of doubt. Not only were the resolutions of the Congress very detailed in this matter, but the whole Congress was reinforced in this fight by the open letter of the Presidium of the Communist International, which said:—


“The failure of the Party to become the mass leader of the workers and the failure of the Minority Movement to become a mass independent workers’ movement are due primarily to the Right-wing mistakes committed by the Party and its leadership. The opportunist elements in the Party leadership hindered the reorganisation of the Party on a factory basis. These elements clung to the old forms of contacts with the masses, and to the old methods of work, instead of utilising the existing and creating new approaches to the masses on the basis of the united front from below in the factories. These elements must be brought out into the open and ruthlessly exposed. Particularly must determined and ruthless efforts be made to eradicate the form of opportunism which finds expression in the mechanical acceptance of all resolutions and criticisms from the E.C.C.I. without a radical change in the practical everyday work and tactics of the Party.

“In order to apply the line of the Comintern, not merely in words, but in deeds, in order that the Party may become the vanguard and revolutionary organiser in the everyday struggles of the working class, it must not only declare ruthless war against Right opportunism and conciliation, but actually conduct this war in all spheres of its practical work. Only in this way will the Party purge itself of Right opportunism and conciliation. The over-estimation of capitalist stabilisation by the Party leadership, the inability to see the development of the trade unions and the Labour Party towards Social-Fascism, the dragging at the tail of the sham Left representatives of Social-Fascism (Cook and Maxton), hindered the Party from realising the necessity for new and independent forms of struggle. The deviation of a number of leading members of the Party in this direction explains the resistance to the complete independent action of the Communist Party against the Labour Party during elections, the passive subordination to trade union legality, and to the leadership of the reactionary trade union bureaucrats, the under-estimation of the need for the Party guidance of trade union work, etc.”

One of the big weaknesses of the Party Congress proceedings as distinct from the resolutions was the absence of a thorough discussion of the content of the resolutions, especially in relation to the tasks before the party. Hampered by shortness of time on the one hand and the lack of effective guidance to the pre-Congress discussion on the other hand, all attention was concentrated on the question of changing the composition of the E.C. This should have been recognised as a serious defect calling urgently for an intensive enlightenment campaign throughout the party on the resolutions of the Congress. The resolution of the C.C. at its April meeting recognises this and places the responsibility for it.

But it is now important to recognise to what this big omission has given rise. Because of a lack of understanding of the new methods of work and a desire to eradicate the “right danger,” there has been by many comrades, indeed, whole district party leaderships—which include members of the C.C.—a leap into left sectarianism which has isolated the party more than ever from the workers. The independent leadership of the party has become in these districts the isolated leadership, dashing about with revolutionary sounding propositions, accompanied by the transformation of revolutionary terms which mean something, into revolutionary jargon which drives the workers away from us.

In order that the seriousness of this situation can be realised by the whole party and the new danger be seriously fought and liquidated, it is necessary to analyse some of these experiences which have led to serious struggles between the Political Bureau and the comrades concerned, though these comrades finally admitted their mistakes.


In the preparations for March 6, the Manchester Working Bureau put forward, among other proposals, that a number of leading comrades should on March 6 lead a march of workers on to Burnley Barracks and call on the soldiers in uniform to demonstrate with the workers in the streets. Now, no member of our Party will question the desirability of propaganda amongst the troops. But when it is realised that in Burnley we had not a single Party cell in the mills, that the whole Party membership in Burnley did not muster a dozen members, that there had been not the slightest preparation for mass action of the workers, no preliminary work amongst the soldiers, indeed, that there are no Burnley barracks and no soldiers in Burnley, then the absolutely unreal and romantic line of approach by the Bureau can be seen at a glance. Once upon a time, there were barracks in Burnley, but so realistic was the approach of the Manchester leadership to Burnley that they had not discovered that these barracks had long ago been transformed into slum property.

The reasons given for this romantic gesture are still more interesting. This proposal, among others, was made “because of the weakness and isolation of the Party and to break through the passivity of the Party.” It will be necessary to refer to this reason for the leap forward to the revolutionary situation, combining a mutiny with a mass political strike later on. Sufficient here to note it. At the same time, this W.B. challenged the line of the Party, relative to the March 6 campaign, concerning strike action. We were told we had not brought the strike question to the front. It was clear from the speeches of Comrades Bright, Frow and Flanagan, at the subsequent meeting with the representation of the P.B., that all question of strike strategy and tactics had been resolved into the simple proposition of calling for strike action on all occasions, at all times, irrespective of conditions. Sufficient that the Party had decided that on March 6 the workers ought to strike.

It must be remembered that in any given situation, there are always two dangers—the danger of running too far ahead of the masses and the danger of lagging behind them. Both these dangers have a common feature—they isolate the Party from the masses. They have also common political roots in a basically wrong interpretation of Communist policy and methods of work, which is a right wing interpretation showing the strength of Reformist influence in the party. In nothing is this more clear than in the attitude to united front work. So long as the old line operated letters were sent to trades union branches, local Labour Parties, I.L.P., Co-op. Guilds, etc., whenever a call went out for united front work—an essentially formal bureaucratic method, supported more or less by fraction work in these organisations. When the call went out for the Independent leadership of the Party on the basis of the new line, the unreal character of the old form of united front work was soon obvious. We found in branch after branch of these organisations we had not really won the membership, proving conclusively that so far as method was concerned, it was essentially that of the Labour Party. But the new line with many comrades has assumed that the fight against the Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy means ignoring the membership of these organisations and the united front tactics have been translated either into a convening of a joint meeting of the branches of the N.U.W.M. and M.M. and the Party, or a few factory gate and Labour Exchange meetings. That the outlook remains basically unchanged is clear. The estimate of the united front tactic is thus of a formal character, the only change being that the Social-Fascist bureaucracy has closed down one avenue, whilst the other assumes the form of propaganda meetings and thus the isolation of the party is complete. That this is the case can easily be shown from the Manchester district. The Manchester Local, led by Comrades Frow and Flanagan, who on March 6, were party to the proposal to storm the military citadels of the Empire and to lead the troops, miraculously won over with the first blasts of our propaganda, sent in the following programme for May Day:—


“Each of the party groups in the Local have held special meetings and drawn up a list of factory gate and Labour Exchange meetings which are to culminate in a march of unemployed workers to a selected factory in the area, with the object of bringing the workers along to a demonstration which is to be held at the Co-op. Hall, Downing Street, in the evening.

“All sympathetic organisations are being drawn into this campaign and each of the party organs has convened local united front conferences to be held during the course of the next few days. . . .

“For the demonstration itself 500 tickets at 3d. each are to be issued and the programme is to be made as attractive as possible. The programme is to be composed of short speeches, a revolutionary sketch, revolutionary singing and a couple of recitations.”

“This campaign is being made the commencement of a real drive to the factories, based upon planned work, and is being linked up with a strong recruiting drive.”

This might be thought to be more “realistic” than the March 6 proposal, but when we protested against this maypole variety programme, promptly by return of post, the thing was cancelled and a new one hatched. There had been no tickets issued; in fact, they had not raised the necessary money to book the hall.

Could anything be clearer? At one moment, launching into adventurism, the next reduced to making May Day into a farce. The activity, however, remained in the heads of the leaders and passivity reigns supreme outside them. Could there be more glaring, more disgraceful manifestations of the “right” danger, or more convincing evidence of the common roots of “right” passivity and “left” sectarianism?


But the Manchester district is not alone in this danger. On April 15 the South Wales D.P.C. issued a circular to the party in their district concerning the strike in the woollen industry. We will quote from this circular:—

“The significance of this action of the woollen workers must be explained to every worker (man and woman) in South Wales, and the enthusiastic support of all sections of the workers mobilised behind the heroic Yorkshire textile strikers. These actions of the workers in Yorkshire raise, for our Party in South Wales, the question that must be placed on the order of the day: The slogan of the mass political strike. This question must be popularised among all sections of the workers of South Wales. Every pit, factory, depôt and workshop in the district must be approached by the Party at once for application of this slogan. This is a responsibility that rests on every Party member in the task of securing the most immediate victory for the striking woollen textile workers.”


“The workers in South Wales, the trainers in the pits, in the rail depôts, in the iron and steel plants, on the docks, in the ships, at the labour exchanges, are all prepared for the fight against the increased exploitation and speeding-up methods now intensifying under capitalist rationalisation, provided they have the leadership for such struggle. The Party is in duty bound to provide this leadership. The example of the Yorkshire striking textile workers gives to every Party local, cell and individual member, the weapon for mobilising the workers for action. The mass political strike—strike in support of the textile strikers, against rationalisation in the pits and factories, and for the programme of the National Minority Movement—calls for operation NOW, and it can be achieved by linking up the struggle all round.

“Every Local, Cell, Group and Party member is, therefore, called upon to operate the above line by immediately calling upon the workers in every pit, factory, workshop and labour exchange, as well as in every trade union and working class organisation, to:—

“1. Take strike action supporting the Yorkshire textile workers, linking up this slogan with the struggle in the given pit or factory, against rationalisation, the speed-up and local grievances, and for the demands formulated by the workers locally, together with the programme of demands of the Minority Movement.

“2. Establish in every locality, Textile Aid Committees of an All-In character, based on rank and file representatives from the job . . . for the purpose of establishing fraternal relations with the textile strikers and for carrying on the most widespread campaign, through the W.I.R., for assisting the strikers so that they may win out victoriously.

“Locals and Cells can achieve these by immediately organising meetings, producing leaflets, factory and pit papers, chalking, posters, demonstrations, etc.

COMRADES! The working class are looking to the Party in this situation! To fail on this occasion, the sharpest point in the-struggle of the British workers, will be a crime against the working class and the Party.”

The Secretariat on seeing this document promptly intervened and asked for a withdrawal of the document, and criticised the line of the Working Bureau. Here was exactly the same kind of lead as the Manchester Working Bureau had given for March 6. The actual situation called for immediate financial aid to the textile workers as the initial means of developing the interest and solidarity of the South Wales workers, but this, according to our South Wales comrades, was an underestimation of the importance of the wool strike. Nothing less than a mass political strike throughout South Wales would meet the situation. The Secretariat pointed out how unreal such a proposition was under the existing conditions. It said in a letter to the Bureau:—

“What have we to do in the present situation? To explain the importance of the struggle in Yorkshire, its historical demonstration against the Labour Government, employers and Trade Union Congress, and then to show from this the necessity of winning the greatest possible support for the strikers in every district where the Party has any forces, by the Party conducting campaigns, throughout the country, explaining the significance of the strike, the rallying of the workers on to the streets on May Day in support of the Party’s slogans, in which the need for supporting the textile strikers has a very prominent place, and the raising of the greatest possible financial support to enable the struggle in Yorkshire to be carried on.

“A practical example: The London district is alone in endeavouring to tackle this problem of developing Textile Aid Committees in a sympathetic manner. It is true that the London D.P.C. has not issued any slogans calling upon Party members in London to arrange immediate strike action in support of the textile workers, but what it has done has been to mobilise a considerable number of comrades to organise meetings at the factory gates, at all the prominent public meeting places at which the importance of the textile strike is dealt with and agitation and organisation initiated to get strike action on May Day, which means also strike action in support of the textile workers of Yorkshire, and to go forward with comrades collecting money, so that it can be sent direct to Yorkshire to assist the work of the W.I.R.

“This is the way that this campaign has got to be conducted. This is the way to win support. To expect our comrades in South Wales to go forward with the demands outlined in your circular is simply a case of asking them to do something which you must know, in the objective situation, is absolutely impossible and because of this simply retards the development of a political campaign, which can meet with a mass response for strike action of a mass character on May Day.

“We believe that your formulation of the question arises from the strength of the right wing passivity in your district, and your sincere desire to break through this. But as the matter stands, in your circular, it resolves itself into an attempt to leap over a period instead of daily leading the fight of the workers to a higher stage of the class struggle expressed in their support of the textile strike.

“To get strike action, we must prepare for strike action as well as propagate it, and unless this is carefully and systematically done, we simply fall into the rôle of phrasemongering, without any possibilities of realising our slogans in action.”

The Working Bureau rejected the line of the Secretariat. In a letter to the Secretariat, the South Wales Working Bureau developed their argument as follows:—

You take it upon yourselves to assume that there is no chance, and declare that by calling for the political strike, “without any relation to the objective situation,” we have reduced the question to a farce.

The Secretariat will surely not deny that the objective conditions of the workers, particularly miners, are brimful of prospects for immediate struggle? And surely you will not argue that the difficulties standing in the way of accomplishing a vitally necessary task must in any way be allowed to stifle our efforts towards its accomplishment?

The central slogan for May Day is “Unity of All Workers.” We shall aim at achieving this. Taking into account the objective conditions of the Party, can we hope to achieve “Unity of All Workers”? Do we drop the central May Day slogan because of the objective conditions of the Party? Certainly not. The central slogan for May Day is formulated on the basis of the objective conditions in general and we shall fight tenaciously to bring the Party into line, in order to struggle towards its realisation. When putting forward the slogan of the political strike in our lead on the textile struggle, we also looked further than the “right danger” in the district.

This was supplemented by a letter from Comrade Garfield Williams, in which he identified himself with the line of the W.B. and set out a memorandum containing the following leading points:—

1. A recognition of the significance of the Yorkshire Textile Strike in that this is the highest point attained by the British workers (a mass of 100,000), against capitalist rationalisation and against social fascism.

2. This action of the workers confirms to the hilt the Party Line, particularly the analysis that the workers are prepared for struggle. This is of vital importance in the practical fight against the Right Danger.

3. That the workers in the pits and factories in South Wales are no less prepared for struggle against rationalisation. That is, the objective situation is favourable for the Party leading the masses in struggle, here, in this district.

4. The Yorkshire struggle proves to all Party Members in our district that the Party can independently lead the struggle of the workers. That is, this provides the most glowing example yet at our disposal for smashing through the last vestiges of the Right Danger.

5. While the Yorkshire struggle is of importance to the Party, it is also of tremendous importance to the workers in the district, who are seeking to break through the barrage of the Labour and trade union bureaucracy.

6. The woollen fight is itself vital. But the perspective of victory for these strikers is no less vital. This can only be secured on the basis of the most deep class issues being raised. The perspective of a long-drawn-out fight is the perspective of defeat. Hence, while it is a dire need that finance and W.I.R. activities be carried out, it is all-important that the Party, in the first place, and this ensures the workers will then, realise that it is only on the basis of class action that the woollen workers can win. This is the justification for the slogan of the political strike. For the action of the workers in a given undertaking or so will strengthen the Yorkshire fight tremendously.

Hence, in my opinion, the district lead endeavoured to break through the last vestiges of pessimism by bringing out the significance of the woollen strike as both justifying the Line of the Party and at the same time providing the Party in this district with a tremendous weapon for mobilising the masses here. Therefore, the lead was aimed at both mobilising the Party and South Wales workers behind the Party.

Further, “we must prepare for strike action as well as propagate it” (phrase from Secretariat letter), in its context in the letter, implies that in raising the strike slogan in the lead, this was done in a loose or high-and-dry manner. If this is the case, then the same thing applies to the May 1 slogans this year. I would suggest that since the Red Day, 1929, this slogan has been raised with the workers more or less continuously, with the exception that for the past three to six months the strike slogan has been applied to concrete grievances operating in the pits and factories and has been linked up with the higher and political demands. But the district lead actually asked that preparations be made with meetings demonstrations, pit and factory papers, etc., for the popularisation of the slogan of the political strike. Therefore, the district lead involves a recognition that the situation in the district, with the Party correctly appreciating its tasks, is favourable for the most widespread development of the Party and the struggles of the workers. The lead was intended to give the Party here the basis for such an understanding of its tasks.

Finally, the Secretariat requests the “withdrawal” of the district lead. I, on the other hand, suggest the withdrawal of the Secretariat letter, because:—

A. It underestimates (after admission in words) the woollen textile strike.

1. It indicates an underestimation of the objective situation in South Wales.

2. Reflects an openly conciliatory attitude to the Right Danger.

3. The withdrawal of the district lead, would, because of the above, be a direct incentive to the development of the Right Danger in the district and would actually weaken the fight against it, that would result in a deepening of the already unsatisfactory Inner Party situation.

Comrade Williams repeats unknowingly the very language of the Manchester Working Bureau, when he says: “the district lead endeavoured to break through the last vestige of pessimism, etc.”


The seriousness of this situation for the party cannot be overestimated. Pessimism will never be eradicated nor passivity eliminated by playing leap-frog with history. After a special discussion with the Political Bureau the whole. Working Bureau of the South Wales district, including Comrade Williams, openly admitted they had been wrong and their statements have been published in the Daily Worker. This is all to the good, but the right danger nor the left sectarian danger are not so easily eliminated. The Manchester comrades admitted in the District Conference following March 6, all their errors and repudiated the line they had been taking and yet the May 1 fiasco followed March 6 in Manchester. It cannot be without significance that these developments take place in the districts which were the strong centres of leading comrades removed from the old Central Committee because of their “right” tendencies.

There is need now not only for the publication of the letters, as we have done, but for an intensive education of the party of the errors contained therein. Of all the questions raised, the questions of strike tactics and the united front tactic, call for the most careful study and explanation. The political strike is one of the highest forms of political action. To think that a political strike can be called at any moment, without the existence of certain historical conditions in which the workers not only know what they want and feel it intensively enough to act, is an absurdity. Comrade Williams says, in one letter of April 25, “It is true that in our district the workers know absolutely nothing of the woollen fight apart from what is told them by the party.” Is it conceivable that with such meagre information, the absence of pit committees, the absence of a Minority Movement, the unpreparedness of the party itself, existing in South Wales in scattered groups, isolated from the workers, that by shouting strike, strike, strike, that the political mass strike will come? Impossible. It is our job to-day to propagate the strike weapon. But strikes are not pulled off by propaganda alone. There must be deep political and organisational preparation. We must learn to fight with the workers on the smallest questions every day, help them to build the organised means of action in the pits and factories and mills if ever we hope to be the leaders of great mass movements.

To propagate strike action is one thing. To get a strike is another. Without we estimate the situation correctly, not only in general, but in particular, we cannot hope to get the workers with us. Every situation must be studied concretely as part of the general developing struggle and the art of leadership is revealed in the ability to advance with the workers, at their head, not miles in front or miles behind, from struggle to struggle. We must not talk at the workers but with them, listen to what they have to say, discuss with them and show them the full meaning of the situation and what our party policy is. Then our party can really become the workers’ party, expressing the class interests of our class at every step. Strikes can only be successfully led when prepared and developed in a proper political manner. To lead them, we must know what our fellow workers are thinking in relation to strike action, from what the strike feeling has arisen or how it can be generated. We must know the state of organisation of the workers in the factory, or mills, or mines, etc., the strength of the party, the M.M., etc., in these organisations, the strength of opposing forces, the resources of the workers, the relation of the strike situation to the rest of the working class, the aim of the contemplated strike, the perspectives, etc. Without serious consideration of these factors we can neither get a strike, nor lead a strike if it came in spite of us, nor grasp its significance. Only when a situation is studied in this way and its essentials thoroughly grasped can we effectively plan what is required to meet the situation and prove the party to be the real leader of the class battles of the workers.

The moment such considerations are thought of at all, the more imperative is seen to be the need for grasping the essentials of the united front tactic. It brings the leadership down from propaganda of the struggle in general to the organising of the struggle in particular. And this struggle demands that we unite with the workers on every issue of the class battle, however small it may appear. Uniting with the workers on such issues must call into being organisation for mass actions on these issues. The aim of such organisation must be to bring within its range every worker that can be harnessed for this fight. The principal organisation of necessity must be the mill or factory committee of action, harnessing every possible support from labour exchanges, trade union branches, committees, rank and file members of the Labour Party and I.L.P., co-op. guilds, etc., not by merely circularising the officials but by the direct approach to the members of these organisations. In this process the party should prove itself leader by the energy and clearness it shows in the mobilisation of the workers for action, deepening the political content at every stage by revealing to the workers the full revolutionary significance of this struggle and every struggle in the present period. Only thus can we forge a fighting mass organisation—a great Minority Movement—and make the fight for the revolutionary workers’ government into a living reality instead of a propaganda slogan. Only thus can we transform economic strikes into political strikes and initiate political strikes.

There are no short cuts to winning the leadership of the majority of our class. There is only one way and that is the Bolshevik way. Here is no attempt to say all there is to say about strike action, but an indication of the line of thought and action which must govern our leadership. The mistakes of our Manchester and South Wales, comrades are not isolated, but characteristic of much of our party. Until this line of thought, indicated by these mistakes, is eliminated, we have not eliminated the right danger from the party, but dressed it up in “left” phrases. We have now to fight on two fronts—against the Right danger and against Left sectarianism which grows from it. And this fight we can wage effectively along the lines of the Eleventh Party Congress.