J. T. Murphy

The Significance of the
Bradford Conference of the I.L.P.

Source: The Aldelphi, September 1932, Vol. 4, No. 6
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.

IT would be the easiest thing in the world to denounce the Bradford Conference of the I.L.P. as “a manœuvre of the leaders to prevent the workers from joining the Communist Party.” No doubt it has been described in this manner already. But it will cut no ice anywhere. It is more important that we make a correct estimate of its historical meaning. No “manœuvre” involving most drastic changes in the programme of a party could be made, or would be made, without there existed definite political and historical tendencies which make such a “manœuvre” necessary.

Marxists have always declared that the crisis of capitalism will produce tendencies and splits both “left” and “right” in the ranks of the working class movement, that it will be out of this process of differentiation that the party of proletarian revolution will be forged. It is obvious that such a party does not come out of the forces that move to the “right,” but from the forces moving “left.” The question therefore is, does the Bradford Conference represent a movement to the left, that is, towards the party of the proletarian revolution? In my opinion it does, although not for one moment would I subscribe to the idea that the Bradford conference represents the end of the differentiation in the I.L.P. leadership or programme or structure. Indeed, I do not think there is anybody in the I.L.P. itself who thinks that it has reached the final stage of its evolution in any sense whatever.

I would go still further and say that the split of the I.L.P. from the Labour Party is neither the first nor the last. The more the crisis of capitalism increases in its severity, the more certain it is that its working class membership and support will find itself in conflict with the leadership of the Labour Party and the Trades Union bureaucracy, which are the driving forces towards fascism in the ranks of the working class. The policy resolutions of the Labour Party Executive for the Labour Party Conference to be held in Leicester in September, and the reports of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress Economic Committee on new forms of public control in industry and trade are unquestionably fascist documents. Every resolution and report aims at strengthening every tendency in capitalism towards the Corporate State as exemplified in Fascist Italy. The frequent use of the word “socialisation” is a cover for varying forms of state capitalism. Socialisation as used in these documents has nothing whatever to do with socialism, except as a means to prevent the coming of socialism; it is a weapon to beat back the working class attack on capitalism and not the means to bring about its overthrow. Socialisation separated from the dictatorship of the proletariat is out of the question for socialists.

The proposals for “re-organising industry, agriculture and the banks, etc.,” are calculated to strengthen capitalism along the lines which the capitalists themselves are now taking. For example, take the question of the reorganisation of transport. If the proposals of Mr. Cramp and his colleagues, which are nothing more than a further development of the present process of trustification, were adopted, unemployment among the transport workers would increase enormously, wages still be attacked and re-grading proceed apace. Can the workers support indefinitely leaders and parties responsible for these things? In my judgment, no. Revolt is certain. If revolt, then new splits and the gathering of proletarian forces on the class war front, and the duty of everyone who wishes the forces of proletarian revolution to grow strong is to support such splits.

To adopt a sectarian attitude to these developments is fatal to those who do so and counter-revolutionary in its tendency. We are not without experience in this matter. In the period when the Communist Party was fighting for affiliation to the Labour Party and battling against expulsion, no less than twenty-two local labour parties were disaffiliated because of their support of the Communist Party. It was estimated at the time that one hundred thousand workers were supporting them. Instead of harnessing this revolt and leading it away from the Labour Party as I then proposed, the Communist Party put the ultimatum to those who had supported it against disaffiliation—either join the Communist Parry or go back to the Labour Party. This was the triumph of sectarianism. They did not join the Communist Party. They went back to the Labour Party and the Communist Party remained a sect.

A similar situation obtained with regard to the Minority Movement and the Trades Councils. When the Trades Councils were faced with the demand of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress to sign a document signifying their dissociation from the Minority Movement, the Trades Councils revolted. Instead of the Communist Party leading the revolt against the document, it killed the independent movement and, with the Minority Movement, advocated the signing of the document. Later, both recognised the mistake but it was too late, the document was signed and the independent revolt of the Trades Councils vanished. The Trades Councils felt that they had been let down. This was not a sectarian mistake but it was certainly a failure to lead a workers’ revolt when it showed itself very clearly as a class conscious advance on the part of the workers.

The Independent Labour Party itself has had considerable experience of this process of the evolution of class consciousness in its ranks. In 1920 when MacDonald was its leader it was so influenced by the Russian Revolution of November, 1917, and the wave of revolution that swept Europe, that it considered the question of joining the Communist International. A section split off after its refusal and joined the Communist Party. Its next split was from the “right” when it shed MacDonald and Snowden and Allen, and later the whole army of I.L.P. members of Parliament with the exception of a small group. Now has come Bradford, and a further split. One cannot speak of a Communist Party split, but only of a continuous process of people passing through it. It is no exaggeration to say that thirty thousand have, at some time or other, been members of the Communist Party. To-day its nominal membership is not more than six thousand. Its paying and working membership is far less.

The process of the evolution of the forces which will make the foundations of the party which will lead the proletarian revolution in this country has proved, therefore, to be a slow one, much slower than all of us thought it would be. There is a basic historical cause for this in the strength of British Imperialism, which, though in the throes of deep crisis, still affords a level of existence to the working class of this country that holds them back from revolutionary mass action on a scale dangerous to the bourgeoisie.

How will the I.L.P. face the situation of which it is apart? Judged by its new programme it has certainly made a big change. It turns from a policy of reform to a policy of revolution, declaring its object to be “the complete overthrow of the economic, political and social organisation of the capitalist state and its replacement by a Socialist Commonwealth.” “It rejects, therefore, all policies based on collaboration with capitalist parties either in political or industrial action.” “It declares for the capture of power by the working class.”

These declarations are in flat contradiction to its previous policy. No one can say that they are not fundamental. But the programme as printed in draft will have to undergo drastic alteration before it is consistently in line with those principles.

For example, what does it mean by “the replacement of the capitalist state by the Socialist Commonwealth”? The latter means such a lot, covering a whole historic epoch from the first stages of socialism to its transition to communism. Does it, therefore, mean that it aims at a Soviet Britain and internationally a world federation of Soviets? If so, why does it not say so? Again, what does it mean by “the capture of power by the working class”? It would appear from the following quotation that it does not accept the Marxian analysis of the State, which is based upon the class war principles enunciated, and is still of the opinion that Parliament can be captured by the working class. It says, “The Independent Labour Party believes that electoral activity for the capture of all the organs of Government, national and local, is essential, recognising that such control would be of the greatest importance in the change from capitalism to socialism.” Certainly this is qualified somewhat by the recognition of capitalist resistance, but what is meant by the “use of mass strength for the capture of power” is by no means clear. Indeed, the whole section of the programme dealing with “method” is distinctly parliamentary, and shows that there has been no recognition of the capitalist state as a class weapon which must be destroyed and replaced by a Workers’ State exercising the dictatorship of the working class through Soviets. Nor is there any recognition of the changes that have taken place in the Trades Unions and the Co-operatives, and a purely formal policy of propaganda and agitation for the application of class war principles is outlined.

Further on there is a clear indication that the I.L.P. has not dropped its pacificism, although the latter is incompatible with the advocacy of the class war. It says, “It re-affirms its demand for disarmament by example, irrespective of what other Governments may do. . . .” Does it mean to demand of the National Government that it shall disarm? Or that it can rally the workers of this country to force the National Government to disarm? If so, it is going to engage in the most futile campaign ever initiated. Does it mean, however, that a Revolutionary Worker,' Government will disarm as an example to the world when everybody knows that it is at once faced with the problems of capitalist intervention and repeated efforts of the capitalist class to make a counter revolution? Such a step would be disastrous if attempted, and woe to the party that seriously proposes such a thing. But the party that will lead the proletarian revolution in Britain will never have such a proposal in its programme. Facing a revolution means facing civil war and intervention and a party that puts revolution on its banner and refuses to face this fact will not travel far along the Moscow road.

I have selected only a few fundamental questions to show that the draft programme is contradictory in many respects, and a very long way from being a programme for the British proletarian revolution. Nevertheless, the fact that the I.L.P. hay declared for revolution as against reformism, has declared for the class war and against class collaboration, and no longer looks for Socialism through the conversion of the capitalists, but through fighting the capitalists, is a step to the left. It is a clear indication that class consciousness is growing in the ranks of the working class, and it is this which matters most at this stage of the history of the British working class. It is through this process of differentiation that the forces of the party of proletarian revolution are created as the monopoly position of British capitalism crumbles and class antagonisms grow more acute.

This, I think, is the significance of the Bradford Conference—it emphasises once again that this process is ceaselessly growing. To adopt a negative attitude to it and judge every manifestation it evolves only from a programmatic point of view satisfies no one but the doctrinaire. The Marxian revolutionary on the contrary will welcome every positive class war factor which shows itself within the ranks of the working class and its organizations, in order to create the widest possible class war front in the struggle against capitalism. A little less concern about differences, a little more concern and united effort for what we are agreed upon, would inspire greater confidence from the workers and assist history in developing the differentiation within the ranks of the working class on a greater mass scale. This is the essential pre-requisite for the development of the Party of Proletarian Revolution in Britain. The I.L.P. is far from being such a party. The Communist Party lays claim to its banner, but has not the forces. It has proclaimed on numerous occasions that its sectarianism drives the workers away from it; yet it remains sectarian. The task of the revolutionary socialists to-day, therefore, in whatever party they may, or in no party, is to repudiate sectarianism as objectively assisting the growth of fascism and to create as wide a unity of action as possible on the class war issues that are already agitating the minds of the working class, and will increasingly agitate them. By this generation and organisation of action and the subordination of criticism to the positive revolutionary struggle the working class of this country can rapidly advance along the revolutionary road.