Tom Quelch & W.M. McLaine

Report as to the Communist Movement in Britain

Source: The Communist International, June-July 1920, no.11-12, pp. 2241-2246, (2,503 words).—There are a number of inaccuracies in this account such as the split in the BSP was 1916 and not 1915. Note by transcriber ERC.
Transcription: Ted Crawford
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There are four revolutionary Socialist Parties in Britain, and an attempt is being made to weld them into one Communist Party. Several conferences have been held, the last at the end of May and at the present time subcommittees are at work preparing a scheme that will be submitted to a convention to be held in the first week in August.

The four parties are: The British Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party, The Workers’ Socialist Federation, The South Wales Socialist Society.

The four parties are: The British Socialist Party, the of an attempt to establish a united Socialist Party. The attempt at unity was not very successful and in reality what happened was that the old Social Democratic Party became the B.S.P. The Social Democratic Party was the pioneer Socialist organisation in Britain, and to it belonged at one time or another William Morris, Harry Quelch, H.M. Hyndman, Tom Mann, and many other well known figures. It was a Marxian party, carried on an extensive propaganda, its official organ was Justice and when it became the B.S.P., the same work and traditions were carried on.

At the outbreak of the European War the old leaders of the B.S.P.—men like Hyndman, Hunter Watts, Victor Fisher, Dan Irving, Adolphe Smith and others attempted to turn the Party into a Social Patriotic organisation. The younger elements in the Party, led by E.C. Fairchild, J. Fineberg, T. Quelch, A. Inkpin, Th. Rothstein, and others opposed this, started a new paper The Call, and by March, 1915, had cast out the traitors from the Party. Hyndman & Co., however by a clever manoeuvre obtained possession of Justice, and The Call then became the official organ of the Party. A strong anti-war campaign was carried on. In The Call, by numerous pamphlets and leaflets, at meetings and demonstrations, the war was denounced as a capitalist imperialist venture. The Party at Labour Party Conferences and in the industrial organisations strongly advocated the reestablisnment of international proletarian relations, and urged the working class to bring the war to an end. For its propaganda the Party was subjected to persecution by the Government, several members of the E.C. and a large number of comrades were imprisoned, and the Party premises were raided many times by the police. Literature was confiscated and a special number of The Call was suppressed.

When the Zimmerwald Conference was called, the Party associated itself with that movement, and applied for passports, which were refused. Tom Quelch was appointed correspondent to Zimmerwald and a close contact was kept.

Then the Russian Revolution of March, 1917 was accomplished. The Party organised meetings and demonstrations in all parts of the country to welcome the event and exposed the lies spread by the capitalist press that the revolution was made in order that the war might be more vigorously prosecuted. The October Revolution was hailed with great enthusiasm by the Party, and the E.C. immediately set to work to arouse a response from the British proletariat. We took the initiative in forming a Provisional Committee, which circulated the Socialist organisations.

Trade Unions, in order to get into direct touch with the masses, pointing out the time significance on the October Revolution and responsibility that rested on the British proletariat A convention was called in l917, at Leeds, which was a tremendous success, over 1,200 delegates, from all over the British Isles, representing Socialist organisations, Trades Councils and local organisations of Trade Unions attended. A revolution on the basis of peace without annexation or indemnities was carried, and another instructing the Executive to organise National and local Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils. This was done, The country was divided into thirteen districts in which district conferences were organised. Support came from workers’ organisations all over the country and from the general section of the Army, There is no question that the movement thoroughly alarmed the Government, which took energetic measures to suppress it. The district conferences were prohibited and forcibly broken up by hired gangs of hooligans. Althol1gh there were no immediate results of this effort. Nevertheless, it marked the turning point of the masses towards the war.

The Party initiated and has carried on an important “Hands off Russia” campaign and has sought to enlighten the people as to the real aims of the “democratic liberators” of Britain, who wish to restore capitalism and the old regime in Russia. In addition to that, the workers have been called upon by literature and by propaganda generally to follow the example of the Russian workers. Immediately the programme of the Third International was issued, a referendum on the questions of “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, Soviet System, and the Third International was taken and by a very large majority the Party decided to affiliate with Moscow.

The party carries on an intensive Communist propaganda through the press, its brochures, leaflets, meetings, made at the industrial organisations of the working class, inside the Labour Party and by every means at its disposal.

At its last conference (Easter, 1920,), the following resolution which indicates the policy of the party was passed.

That this conference of the B.S.P. its adhesion to the Communist platform as an essential part of its revolutionary attitude towards the State at the present juncture. The time has arrived for the abolition of the capitalist order of society and the establishment of the Communist Commonwealth, in which every one shall work for the common good, and every one shall have his share in the common product and common joys of life. To this end, the working class must establish its own undivided rule in the place of that of the capitalist and landlord class, and reorganise the State on the basis of the transfer of all public powers to workers’ councils directly elected by the rank and file in their places of work, and amenable to their direct control. The conference has no faith in Parliamentary institutions ever being able to effect this political and social revolution, as they are in their very tendency, mode of construction, and working eminently calculated to serve the interests of the capitalist class only, and sees in the universal organisation of the working class in such councils and in direct action by them the sole means of achieving such a revolution. The conference pledges the party to propagate these views incessantly amongst the working class, availing itself for this purpose, amongst other means, of the very parliament and other public bodies which it seeks to supplant, as a public platform and this in conjunction with the Third International, to which it belongs, to help the working class to bring about a Communist revolution, and the realisation of the Communist Commonwealth.

The Socialist Labour Party was formed about fifteen years ago by a number of comrades who left the S.D.P. because they believed that it was not revolutionary enough. It is a Marxist revolutionary party and has some very fine men in its ranks. It carries on an active propaganda, and during the war was very active. At the last general election it had three Parliamentary candidates (Paul, McManus and T.T. Murphy), so that although some of its members are opposed to Parliamentary action, the Party as such is in favour. Its program is political action and Industrial Unionism. The official organ is The Socialist, published in Glasgow. Recently three of the Party’s best speakers and writers have been expelled for reasons that will be given later, and now the Party is very large1y in the hands of a number of ultra “lefts” who denounce anything that does not appear to be “left” enough as reactionary, etc.

The Workers’ Socialist Federation is the organisation with Sylvia Pankhurst at the head. It. was formed from a women’s suffrage society when the franchise was given to women and such a body was not required. It is also ultra-left, does not accept Parliamentary action, and so far as one can analyse its programme does not accept political action at all. It is a small group mainly composed of women, and its official organ is The Workers’ Dreadnought.

The South Wales Socialist Society is a small active body mainly composed of Welsh Unions, which are active in the Industrial organisations in their districts. It is anti-parliamentary and syndicalist in outlook.

The chief difficulties n the way of unity have been the questions of parliamentary action and the Labour Party.

At the first Unity Conference, a deadlock having been reached on these questions, it was proposed by a Socialist Labour Party representative that a Communist Party be formed, and that a ballot be taken three months after the formation on the disputed questions. This was referred to the organisations and the B.S.P. by ballot agreed to go on the S.L.P., agreed to the formation of a Communist Party but refused to consider a ballot on the Labour Party question, the W.S.F. and the South Wales Society raised difficulties as to Parliamentary action.

The three representatives of the S.L.P., Comrades Paul, McManus and Bell continued to take part in the Unity negotiations but were repudiated by their party and were subsequently, expelled. The S.L.P. is not now a party to the negotiations, but an important section of it is.

On the question of Parliamentary action, there is likely to be more or less general agreement but on the question of the Labour Party there is a wide difference, and it is necessary to state what the Labour Party is, and what it does.

During the latter part of last century, demands began to be made that the Trade Unions should take part in political action m an organised fashion. At congress after congress the subject was raised, but always the old fashioned Unions cried, “No politics in the Unions”. It was not until the end of the century that a Labour Representation Committee was formed, and in 1906 this developed into the Labour Party. Such a move was a distinct victory for the more forward elements in the Trade Unions.

The Labour Party is the political department of the Trade Unions. Members of the unions agree to pay a small sum each year to a political fund, and the Union from this fund pays the election expenses of a certain number of Parliamentary candidates sanctioned by the members. A proportion of the fund goes to the Labour Party, which makes a grant towards the election expenses and assist with literature and advice.

Ninety-five per cent of the members or the Labour Party are not members in the ordinary sense—that is to say, they have not joined as individuals but have affiliated in their collective capacity as members of their unions. Thus the miners affiliate more that half a million in one block.

The Party accepts for affiliation also Socialist bodies and individuals. The British Socialist Party, the Independent Labour Party and the Fabian Society have joined. International members may join the local party centre but only a very small number are individual members.

The British Socialist Party is the only revolutionary body affiliated to the Labour Party. It takes the view that the Labour Party is the political expression of the organised workers of Britain at their present stage of political consciousness and therefore it is necessary to be inside it using its conferences and its local organisations for the purpose of propagating Communism. We of the B.S.P. declare that we should lose a very important avenue of expression if we left the Labour Party. We recognise that it is not a revolutionary organisation, we recognise that some of its leaders, Henderson, Thomas, Clynes & Co. are traitors to the working class, that they supported the Government during the war and are supporting the Government in many ways now, but we recognise also that in the Labour Party are men like Smillie and many others who require to be backed by speech and action. Above all we say that the mass of the organised workers are in the Labour Party and can be united there much better than they can be reached by working outside it. The reactionary leaders would be pleased if we left because it would leave them more free from criticism. We denounce these leaders. The B.S.P. submit its nominations for adoption to the local Labour Parties as candidates for Parliament or for municipal bodies. If adopted the B.S.P.—as the nominating body—is responsible for election expenses. Our members are also nominated by their Trade Unions; in that case the expenses are borne by the Trade Union to which the candidate belongs. In either case our candidates can express the party’s views before the electors.

The B.S.P. does not run candidates for Parliament in order to strengthen Parliamentary Institutions and make them acceptable to the working class as does the I.L.P., but as the resolution quoted above says, it uses Parliament to assist in breaking it down, to expose its futility and to show the need for the new organisations.

The S.L.P. and the W.S.F. will not as yet consider affiliation to the Labour Party. They take the view that Revolutionary socialists must remain independent—must refuse to associate, with non-revolutionary bodies and must take the straight road to Communism. They attach main importance to industrial actions.

The B.S.P. has said that Communist unity is more important than the case for or against affiliation to the Labour Party, and has offered to agree to Unity without affiliation, but reserves the right of its members to bring up the question for discussion at any time in the future. To this the S.L.P. (official section) will not yet agree and the W.S.F. has consented to ballot its members.

If the Communist Party comes into existence as a result of the August convention, many who are not members of any of the four organisations named will join it. The I.L.P. (Independent Labour Party) at its Easter Conference decided to leave the Second International, and inquire as to the program, etc., of the Third. A large and influential group in the I.L.P. desire affiliation to the Third and desire a Communist program for their party (all the Scottish districts are in favour of the Third). Ramsay McDonald, Philip Snowden and similar minded I.L.P, leaders will not turn to Communism and it seems as if a split is inevitable. The Communist Party will receive the Left wing section of the I.L.P. if a split takes place.

The B.S.P. can be relied upon to press vigorously for Communist Unity and to endeavour to secure for the new party a program which while resting upon the principles of Proletarian Dictatorship, Soviet System and the program of the Third International will not be divorced from the organised workers, but will work inside the Trade Unions, inside the Labour Party, inside Parliament and outside all these bodies as well, so far as circumstances and means will permit.

British Socialist Party