Harry Pollitt 1942

Unity For Victory in 1942

Source: World News and Views, Volume 22, no 19, 9 May 1942. Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

‘Why cannot we always be together?’ This thought has been in the mind of every active worker in the labour movement after the May Day demonstrations. It has never been so widely or so strongly expressed as after May Day this year.

In the history of the labour movement there has never been less reason for retaining any barriers to the united power of all sections of the working-class movement that fight against fascism and base their Socialist beliefs on sincerity and reality and not empty phrase-mongering.

Yet the opposition on the part of the dominant Labour leaders to any joint activity with the Communist Party is bitterer than at any time in these last twenty years.

Not one legitimate political reason can be advanced as to why this should be the case. It is a misguided policy, causing great harm to the labour movement as a whole. It represents the refusal to use every weapon in Labour’s arsenal for success in the immediate fight against fascism and for the opportunities to advance towards Socialism.

Every political observer in Britain knows that the only live, real and vital political campaigns that are being conducted are those organised by the Communist Party.

Every political observer is also acutely aware of the lack of political activity by the Labour Party, and even where some local Labour Parties are active the insignificant response of the workers to leading Labour speakers is notorious. There are in fact not more than half a dozen prominent leaders of the Labour Party who can today command mass audiences; and these are men like Shinwell, Laski, Bevan, [1] who are known to be critical of the official Labour policy.

There is nothing to rejoice over in this position. Its results are seen in the present policy of the government. The refusal of the War Cabinet to base its whole war policy on achieving victory this year alongside the Soviet Union must be placed at the door of the Labour members of that Cabinet. If they really fought for such a policy, then with the present mood of the people there is no power in Britain that could withstand Labour’s demands.

The by-elections that have taken place over the last few months reveal how serious the position has become. Rank-and-file members of the Labour Party take no notice of the advice of their leaders as to whom they should vote for. The sense of frustration of the rank and file finds expression in supporting independent candidates – candidates animated by their personal interests and hiding this fact by their use of demagogy, [2] candidates whose policy not only represents a disruption of national unity but provides a nucleus around which dangerous political groupings can emerge, as the development of Mosley’s ‘New Party’ into a Fascist organisation proves. [3]

The recent by-election results will now compel the government to reconsider not only the whole of its policy but also the present form of the electoral truce, and especially the character of the candidates who are selected as the representatives of national unity.

It is the present policy of the government which is the cause of all the discontent, and the more delay there is in changing it the more strongly will the people express their opposition to the government at every opportunity that presents itself.

If there was confidence in government policy there would be confidence in government candidates; and there would also be a more serious approach to the selection of candidates, so that from whatever party they were selected they would be the very best and most capable representatives those parties can put forward. The Communist Party demands that in future by-elections the candidates shall be selected by the agreement of all parties and organisations in the constituency supporting national unity, including the Communist Party.

No one will have to discuss these election results more seriously than the Labour Party. Through its lack of any concrete policy and any accompanying political campaigning, this party is itself one of the most important reasons for the present dangerous situation in Britain.

If the Labour Party openly campaigned for the Second Front; [4] the strengthening of the alliance with the Soviet Union; the setting up of a real National Government in India; for increased production through a Ministry of Production with full powers over all war industries, war materials and manpower, alongside plenary powers for the Regional Boards and full support for Production Committees; [5] for the application of a real policy of equality of sacrifice; for increasing the pay and allowances to the men and women and their dependants in the armed forces; for the lifting of the ban on the Daily Worker [6] – then there would be a very great change in the attitude of the mass of the people.

If at the same time the Labour Party called on all sections of the working-class movement genuinely interested in fighting fascism to participate in such a campaign, then there would be not only an immediate change in the attitude of the people to the government as a whole, but four very important political results.

First, the most responsive rallying of the whole people to winning the war this year and a readiness to make any sacrifice that is necessary.

Second, a strengthening of the entire labour movement that would be of enormous importance for the future as well as the present.

Third, a strengthening of national unity precisely because a united working class must be the basis of an indestructible national unity.

Fourth, profound political effects all over Europe; stimulating all peoples dominated by Hitler to great efforts for his defeat, and great developments towards a united international labour movement.

To win the adoption of such a policy as this is now the urgent duty of every responsible member of the labour movement.

The past is of no consequence in view of the gravity of the present. Old hatreds and old feuds have no place in this moment of life and death for the British people.

It is one of the greatest tragedies in our history that at this moment of all others, instead of a nation firmly united and welded behind a national government, there should be such doubt, confusion and opposition.

It is impossible to allow it to continue. The Communist Party is ready to do everything in its power to achieve such united action. It has one aim, that of helping forward the struggle for victory this year.

It now needs to be remembered that the Communist Party is not a mere handful, as was often alleged as the reason why the Labour Party should not take part in united actions with it. It is fifty thousand strong, with every one of its members active wherever they are. It is recognised as the party whose members are the most active and self-sacrificing in the labour movement. No job is too hard to tackle, no campaign too big to undertake.

The Communist Party can bring strength and virility to the labour movement. It can bring enthusiasm and confidence to the labour movement. It can help build up the trade unions, Labour Party and Cooperative movement.

We hope that the coming Labour Party Conference, which must be the most momentous in its history, will fearlessly face up to all the burning issues of today; will end the present policy of imposing barriers upon its members taking part in Anglo-Soviet solidarity campaigns; will support the lifting of the ban on the Daily Worker; will remove all Black Circulars [7] and other restrictive measures that now prevent the full power of a united labour movement exercising its will and demands upon the government.

The Labour Party Conference ought now to be the centre of attention for millions of organised workers. It ought to be the subject of eager discussion in workshops and all local labour organisations. It ought to be the theme of feature articles in the Daily Herald, Reynolds, [8] weekly labour newspapers and trade-union journals – as it would be in the Daily Worker.

It cannot be allowed to be merely a yearly gathering of delegates who are in the main full-time officials, discussing questions and issues in the abstract: It must be the conference where Labour reviews the whole critical situation and adopts the epoch-making policy that it demands. History hangs on the events of the coming weeks, and there is no more decisive part to be played than that of British labour.

Not elaborate blue-prints for postwar reconstruction, but a fighting policy to win the war this year – this is the real issue.

Not one single Labour leader dare deny that if their Whitsuntide Conference goes on record for such policies as we have dealt with here, it would be greeted with an entirely new enthusiasm throughout the movement. From such a policy the greatest mobilisation of the people could be effected; the decks cleared for action, and victory won this year.

We of the Communist Party are ready to make our contribution to this aim; ready to do anything that is required of us; ready to give our whole strength and energy in the common cause. In this way we serve the best interests of the millions of workers organised in the labour movement and the millions of people outside it who look to the labour movement for a positive lead in the greatest crisis of their lives.

The rock of salvation for the British people is a united labour movement. That is what needs to be understood and acted upon.

It is time to end the hypocrisy of calling for the unity of all peoples to fight fascism – and refusing to take the hand of the Communist Party, whose members are the best and most fearless fighters against fascism to be found in every country of the world.

National Unity: Extract from a Political Letter Recently Issued by the Communist Party to its Branches [9]

Throughout the whole of our campaign we must place the need of national unity as the sure means of being able not only to organise all that the Second Front demands, but also to evoke the fighting spirit, the morale that will never weaken, the capacity for abundant sacrifice and the government leadership that can mobilise the entire people.

Amidst all this speculation as to the role of the Prime Minister; the political intriguing that is going on; to which Beaverbrook [10] also drew attention in his American speech; the putting forward of freak candidates and place-seekers at by-elections, let our party show that it stands out as the champion of a real national unity – one that is unbreakable – one that by its insistence can force through necessary changes in the government.

Not the interests of private persons and political cliques, but the interests of the people and nation as a whole is what we seek to protect and advance. This can only be done on the basis of national unity. These are extraordinary times. Everything that makes life worthwhile is at stake, and if others fail to make this understood – we can.

This is the fundamental approach that governs our attitude at this critical moment to the by-elections which have, and are taking place. This is what will govern our attitude in any future by-election, whatever decisions are reached in each particular case that arises.


All notes have been provided by the MIA.

1. Emanuel ‘Manny’ Shinwell (1884-1986) was a Labour MP during 1922-24, 1928-31, 1935-70, and was Minister for Fuel, Light and Power and for War under Clement Attlee’s governments during 1945-51. Harold Joseph Laski (1893-1950) was an influential left-wing academic and writer, he was Chairman of the Labour Party during 1945-46. Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan (1897-1960) was Labour MP for Ebbw Vale during 1929-60, and Minister for Health during 1945-51 and played a key role in establishing the National Health Service. During the late 1930s, all three were firm advocates of cooperation between the Labour and Communist Parties, which was strongly opposed by the Labour Party leadership, which was dominated by right-wingers.

2. The major political parties in Britain observed an electoral truce during the Second World War, meaning that if, say, a Conservative MP’s seat became vacant through resignation or death, the Labour and Liberal Parties would not stand in the ensuing by-election. The Communist Party supported this, and did not stand candidates once the Soviet Union was invaded in June 1941 and the party gave its support to Churchill’s wartime government. Pollitt’s article appeared shortly after a by-election in Cardiff in which the Labour and Communist Parties supported the Conservative candidate, Sir James Grigg, against Fenner Brockway (1888-1988), who made an unsuccessful challenge for the Independent Labour Party. Left-wingers made various attempts to break the electoral truce, and shortly after the article appeared, Tom Driberg (1905-1976), standing as an Independent Socialist, beat the otherwise unopposed Conservative candidate in a by-election in Maldon, Essex.

3. Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, Sixth Baronet of Ancoats (1896-1980) was a Conservative MP during 1918-22, an Independent MP during 1922-24, and a Labour MP during 1926-31. In 1930, he proposed a radical programme for the Labour Party, calling for increased state intervention, which was rejected. This programme formed the theoretical basis of the New Party, which he formed in February 1931, and which moved rapidly towards fascism. Mosley formed the British Union of Fascists in October 1932, which became Britain’s main fascist party of the 1930s.

4. That is, an invasion of Western Europe.

5. The Communist Party called for the establishment of Joint Production Committees in industry in which trade unions and factory managements could elaborate ways of increasing production.

6. The Communist Party’s Daily Worker was banned in January 1941 when the party was opposed to the war; it was allowed to reappear in September 1942.

7. In October 1934, the General Council of the Trades Union Congress issued an instruction that was known as the ‘Black Circular’ which instructed Trades Councils to bar delegates who were members of the Communist Party. Here, Pollitt is using the term to describe all instructions by the TUC, trade-union and Labour Party leaders aimed against the Communist Party and its ancillary organisations.

8. The Daily Herald was a socialist newspaper that appeared in various guises from 1912 to 1964; at this point it reflected the opinion of the leadership of the Labour Party, that is, a right-wing social-democratic standpoint. Reynolds News was a Sunday newspaper that ran from 1850 to 1967; at first Liberal in outlook, it was acquired by the National Cooperative Press on behalf of the Labour Party.

9. This was appended as an appendix to Pollitt’s article.

10. William Maxwell ‘Max’ Aitken, First Baron Beaverbrook (1879-1964) was a Canadian British businessman and newspaper proprietor; he owned the right-wing Daily Express and Sunday Express, and served in British Cabinets in both World Wars.