(Editor, Sunday Worker)
Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 8, February 1926, No. 2, pp. 108-111, (1,441 words)
Transcription Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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 striking features of the history of the British working class is that it has, time after time, during periods of economic and political crises, thrown up militant groups which were always out-manoeuvred by the moderate leaders who controlled the official machinery of the Movement. It is not necessary to examine the many futile attempts made, before the war, to give the British workers a Left-Wing lead. We can find an abundance of facts since 1918 to prove our point.
Everyone in the Labour Movement knows that there were revolutionary tendencies among the workers from 1918 to 1920. They flocked into the Trade Unions in great numbers. The capitalist class and its Government were aware of the ferment of revolt that was stirring up the masses. There were indications on all sides that the proletariat were prepared to follow a bold lead. This lead was not given. The great spirit of revolt was frittered away. Instead of important concessions having been won, the workers were ultimately led in such a way that they suffered defeat after defeat.
The important question we have to ask ourselves to-day, if we intend to glean any experience from our past failures, is why a Left-Wing leadership did not manifest itself and supply the guidance that was so much needed in 1918 and the two following years?
Firstly: the Left-wing Groups on the industrial and political field were scattered up and down the country, and were impotent because they had no organised contact with each other and no common policy.
Secondly: this criminal weakness of the Left Wing was further paralysed by the clever tactics of the Right-Wing leaders, who were organised, and whose policy was to delay every attempt at concerted attack upon the capitalist class.
Thirdly: the propertied interests, in the absence of an organised Left wing with a common policy, were able to use the timidity of the Right-Wing leaders to side-track all the revolutionary tendencies of the period and to so weaken the Movement that it could not defend itself against the cruel blows that began to shower upon it in 1921 and the following years.
While the workers were being battered from defeat to defeat, the capitalist class and its press praised the wise policy of the parliamentary and industrial Right-Wing leaders and, at the same time, attacked every manifestation of militant tactics either as a “Red” plot engineered by the recently formed Communist Party, or as something that had been planned in Moscow. So cleverly was this game played that well-known Right Wingers were enabled to earn enormous sums of money by attacking the “Reds” in the capitalist Press. But the propertied interests always demand good value for their money. They knew that a Left-Wing Movement was bound to come into existence and they were determined to kill it at birth by smothering it as a “Red” menace. So successful were they in creating this psychological atmosphere that when attempts were made, last year, to build up an organised militant movement, many leaders who thought themselves Left Wingers got cold feet and ran away from it as something that had been specially concocted by the Communists.
Such childish tactics could not for long hold back the development of a Left-Wing Movement in Britain. The problems facing the workers are such that they are being driven forward, even in spite of themselves; to attack capitalism. The rising spirit of industrial discontent made itself felt in the Hull Trades Union Congress in 1924. It expressed itself in an even more determined form last year at Scarborough. One of the main factors in the consolidation and success of Left-Wing industrial expression was that it was organised, to some extent, by the Minority Movement inside the Trade Unions.
While the industrial Left Wing had many elements of organised contact, both in policy and action, no serious attempt had been made inside the Labour Party to organise the wide-spread Left-Wing feeling against the liberal policy of the Right-Wing parliamentarians. The only organised group that opposed MacDonaldism was the small band of Communists who fought very bravely to bring the Labour Party back to its Labour principles. The determined attempt made at the Edinburgh, London and Liverpool Labour Party Conferences to expel them made a very deep impression upon those who imagined they were Left Wingers because they used Left-Wing phrases. When deeds were demanded these Left Wingers failed.
This was most clearly revealed at the London and Liverpool Conferences where the Right-Wing leaders put forth their liberal policy. None of the Left Wingers, outside of the small Communist group, dared to put forward an alternative programme. But there was something more than a mere lack of moral courage. The main reason for the collapse of the Left Wing at the big conferences was their lack of organised contact and the absence of any common line of action. And this weakness, let it be emphasised, is still preventing the rise of a real Left Wing that means business.
There are many reasons why it is difficult to organise a Left Wing upon a common policy. Up and down the country there are thousands who are in revolt against MacDonaldism. This is, of course, a spontaneous revulsion against liberalism. But it requires much more than a hatred of liberalism to produce a good Left Wing. It requires something of a positive character in the shape of a definite policy of organised action. Until such a policy and lead is produced the Left Wing must remain a tendency, a sort of sentimental yearning after something that has little relation to the immediate needs of the masses or the concrete realities of the present day. And yet the revolt against MacDonaldism is the symptom that the rank and file Left Wing do want a lead in the struggle against capitalism.
Another factor that tends to create misunderstanding, in the ranks of those opposed to the Right Wing, is the confusion of those who realise the impossibility of operating the decisions of Scarborough and Liverpool which cut across each other.
Why then, it may be asked, do not the Left-Wing parliamentary leaders give the lead? It is because of their fear of the Right Wing. The Left-Wing parliamentarians are not afraid to use bold phrases in the constituencies when they are amongst the rank and file. But they are not prepared to organise the rank and filers and give them a Socialist policy. Neither MacDonald nor Henderson are afraid of critics who do not proceed further than phrases. Their wrath will be instantly roused, however, when any criticism inside the Party manifests itself in an organised policy.
From all this it follows that the Left-Wing element, scattered up and down the country, can expect little help from the “ginger group” in the House of Commons. Attempts must be made, and are being made with growing success, to hammer out a Left-Wing policy of united action. This will demand some simple machinery, inside the Labour Party, to keep the militant rank and file in organised contact with each other. Unless this is done the present Left-Wing ferment may be, once again, out-manoeuvred by the cunning Right-Wing leaders working hand-in-hand with the capitalist Press.
Without under-estimating the influence of the Right Wing one must pay attention to the importance of the enthusiastic Left-Wing Groups which are now operating all over the country. The provincial towns are holding conferences, and one has only to notice the success of the Greater London Left Wing Provisional Committee to see that not only is a militant policy being demanded, but that one is taking root. The London Left Wing Conference, held on January 23, was represented by no less than 107 delegates, of whom 53 were sent by local Labour Parties. In addition to this, many of the important Labour Parties have decided to suspend the liberal decisions rushed through at Liverpool. These facts indicate the real spirit of the rank and file of the Movement.
There are several important factors that are present to-day that were absent in the past. Firstly: the capitalist class can make no concessions to the workers and are actually trying to depress their already low standard. These attacks of the employers and the chronic conditions of capitalism must keep driving all alert elements in the Labour Movement towards the Left. Secondly: the Left Wing has now a press that is neither afraid of the capitalist newspapers nor the threats of the Right-Wing leaders. Viewed from this angle the prospects of a powerful Left-Wing mass movement are indeed bright.