Peter Petroff September 1935

The Plight of the Honest Left Winger

Source: Labour, September 1935, p. 15;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

In every virile and healthy movement there can be discerned two main currents – a more “radical” and a more “moderate” one. The variety of temperament, social environment and experience always causes people who agree in the object of a movement to differ as to the methods of attaining this object. Just as no bird can fly with one wing alone, so no movement can prosper when one of its wings is bound or cut off.

In the pre-war Labour movement these two wings were very clearly defined, nationally and internationally.

All through the parties of the International there was a continuous fight between the radical Marxists and the opportunist Reformists.

While the Marxist wing of the movement – in Britain represented by the Social Democratic Party later renamed the British Socialist Party) – regarded reforms as important landmarks on the road to the inevitable revolutionary change of the entire social system, the opportunist section of the Movement hoped to attain Socialism by instalments through reforms.

This difference of outlook naturally led to very serious differences of policy. The question of co-operation or non-co-operation with the advanced sections of other classes was the chief point of discord. But all the sections of the Movement always were in complete accord as to the necessity of combating any form of political oppression or limitation of personal liberty.

During the war the old differences faded away in face of the new issue: Class or Country. The Movement split almost in every country, but the new line of demarcation was not the one formerly dividing “right” wing from “left” wing, “revolutionaries” from “reformists.” Now the anti-War section was considered its left wing though it comprised within its ranks some who had formerly been very moderate while some of the old left-wingers turned jingo.

The Russian Revolution gave a new impetus to the Socialist Movement of the whole world. It was hailed by the entire Labour Movement. In 1919 the British Trade unions compelled Lloyd George to withdraw the British army of intervention and to stop his direct support of the counter-revolutionary armies. Yet the Russian Revolution become the cause of a new re-grouping of the international Socialist Movement.

The Communist International was conceived as a combination of left-wing parties or sections for the preparation of the approaching world revolution. However, the internal political developments in Russia from the outset perverted it into an instrument of Russian foreign policy.

Honest revolutionaries representing left tendencies in the Labour Movement of various countries were looking to revolutionary Russia for a lead in the coming struggle and were proud to join the Comintern. But along with them many adventurers were attracted by the glamour and well-filled coffers of this new international centre. It was usually these adventurers – the Bela Kun, Macmanus, Freiner, Heinz Neumann, Rudnianski, etc. – who became the pets of Moscow and were placed in leading positions in their respective parties by order from Moscow.

In Russia the dictatorship originally conceived as a “dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” narrowed down into a dictatorship of the Communist Party, then of its Executive Committee and finally of its General Secretary, Mr. Stalin, who wields the powerful instrument of the new bureaucracy, all mighty under state capitalism. Russia developed into a totalitarian One-Party-State with a regimented press, a powerful secret police unchecked by any guarantees of personal liberty of the citizen. Consequently, in Russia also, the genuine revolutionaries were replaced by a new type of obedient officials more suited to this form of dictatorship.

Thus the honest Left Wingers, desirous of supporting the Russian Resolution, found themselves in a trap. Having set out to fight for liberty and extensive democracy against political oppression, for social and economic equality against privilege, for free creative. labour against wage slavery, for a free socialist society against the coercive capitalist state, they now find themselves marching under the banner of a totalitarian form of police state, of a peculiar kind of barrack-like collectivism divorced from liberty, of an economic system fostering the development of new privileged castes, of a system of mental bondage based on universal censorship and the enforcement of a monopoly of ideas.

Hitherto, the left wing movements had been fighting for great objects furnished with an abundance of ideas and enthusiasm but with scarce financial means. Now there suddenly was an abundance of funds, but ideas became scarce and the old enthusiasm withered away.

Ideas stand no longer against ideas, but against a machine ruthlessly worked from ulterior motives. The notion that the end justifies the means has become a dogma of international Communism. Hitherto principles had been regarded as primary and discipline as secondary now – amongst Communists – the principle consists in having no principles and is replaced by a soldier-like discipline.

Working under the guise of Left-Wingers, an army of agents, acting under orders from communist or fascist institutions, are working to disintegrate and disrupt the Labour Movement propagating not their own ideas, but imported slogans in which, often enough, they do not themselves believe.

This jeopardises the position of the honest Left-Winger, hampers and discredits him who is working hard in his Trade Union, or other Labour Organisation, advocating his revolutionary ideas and policies in order to strengthen the Movement and make it more effective in the struggle for the cause of Labour. Any confusion of the honest Left-Winger with the pseudo-"left” agents would be a grave danger to the Movement.

Nowadays, the honest Left-Winger has an increasingly strong case. The crisis of capitalism has made the re-organisation of society on socialist lines an imperative necessity. The events in Germany have shown the bankruptcy of a policy based on Edward Bernstein’s doctrine: “The aim is nothing, the movement is everything.”

On the dangerous and slippery ground the movement has yet to cover, it requires the brakes of its right wing, but it cannot move on without the motor-power of the honest Left-Wing.