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Workers’ International News, February 1941


The People’s Convention and Now ...?


From Workers’ International News, Vol.4 No.2, February 1941, pp.6-8.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


After a campaign waged principally by the Communist Party lasting months, the so-called “People’s Convention” has concluded its “epoch-making” deliberations. 2,234 delegates representing 1,200,000 it is claimed, attended the Conference. One and a quarter million people supported the Convention, is the boast of the sponsors. This, to say the least, is fantastic. The majority of the delegates present, could by no stretch of imagination be depicted as actually representing the opinions of the members of the organisations they claimed to represent. If the Convention represented one tenth of the number published, it would be an approximate estimate of the influence which it possessed among the masses. The fake character of the mass support claimed, was shown by the action of the workers in Napiers, one of the biggest engineering factories in Britain, whose shop committees are dominated by supporters of the Communist Party, and which the Communist Party considered as one of their strongholds. 2,000 workers repudiated the delegates who were supposed to represent them at the Convention. They had neither been consulted on the policy of the Convention, elected delegates, or given permission to the shop committees to do so. 400 workers in De Havilland’s aircraft factory did the same. Most of the other delegates had no more support among the rank and file for their policy than these. For example Park Royal, one of the biggest industrial centres in Britain, but which is mainly unorganised even into Trade Unions, is supposed to have sent over 20 delegates representing thousands of workers.

The capitalist press, including the Daily Herald has made ample use, for its own reactionary ends, of this counterfeit representation on the part of the organisers of the People's Convention. We criticise this from a Marxist aspect – from the point of view of achieving clarity in estimating the actual situation.

However it is a fact that large numbers of the most militant sections of the workers in trade unions and factories, especially those actually members or supporters of the Communist Party, looked to the Convention as an expression of an alternative to the present coalition government waging the war for imperialist aims. They saw in it the means of realising the overthrow of capitalism and the first steps on the road to socialism. It would probably be correct to estimate the percentage of members and supporters of the Communist Party as at least one half to two thirds of the entire numbers of delegates present. So far as the main mass of even the organised workers is concerned, the Convention left them completely indifferent.

The whole tragedy of this vicious masquerade consists in the fact that on the one hand it isolates the militants from the working class in a sectarian manner, and on the other the programme is that of Popular frontism in a new garb and holds the danger of being used as a brake on the real workers struggle when it develops at a later stage in Britain. The safety switches, when the ordinary channels for holding the masses in check are exhausted, are being prepared in advance by the Stalinist leadership.

The programme adopted is typically vague and ambiguous: how it is to be achieved is not in the least explained. The “People’s Convention” is to be elected as an alternative to the present Government – but how? The Convention is to shake the Government – but with what weapons? Let us listen to Harry Pollitt on the results of the January 12th meeting.

“There is a political truce between Tory, Liberal and Labour Parties, but all that it was hoped that this truce would accomplish has been smashed to smithereens by the development of the mass movement behind the People’s Convention. Now the unity of the Tory, Liberal and Labour Parties in their attacks on the People’s Convention is the most salutary proof of how correct this movement is ... The Convention was the most outstanding political event that has taken place in this country since the outbreak of war ... What alarm was displayed in Government circles, in Fleet Street, and among the Party managers of the Liberal, Tory and Labour Parties.”

The emptiness of this puerile boastfulness was revealed by the lack of response on the part of the workers to the Communist Party’s campaign against the suppression of the Daily Worker. The masses remain behind the Labour Leaders despite the reactionary legislation enacted with the assistance of these leaders, If they are to be torn away from the Bevins and Morrisons, they must be given a simple, clear fighting programme. The first necessity is to rally them to separate themselves from the capitalists. They must be mobilised on an independent class basis.

The masses follow the Labour leaders and will continue to do so until it is demonstrated by experience that their needs cannot be served by collaboration with the bourgeoisie. We have to take as a basis the feeling among the workers at the present time in order not to lead them backward, as the amorphous programme of the Convention does, but to lead them forward to the Socialist revolution.

The Convention has the disastrous effect of separating from the main body of the workers who still continue to support the Labour Party and the war, the best, most self-sacrificing, courageous and militant workers who are conscious of the impasse into which capitalism has led them and who support the Communist Party for that reason. It also separates the militant workers, disgusted with the Labour leaders, who are looking for a way out. The result is that all their work in the factories and workers’ organisations is doomed to sterility and meets with the opposition of the workers and arouses actual antagonism against them as “Fifth Columnists” and “defeatists”. On the other hand, when the inevitable reaction of the workers against the betrayal and deception of the Labour leaders takes place, there is a danger that from lack of an alternative they might be rallied round the class collaborationist programme of Popular Frontism. This programme, therefore, has the worst features of both opportunism and adventurism.

In the December issue of WIN the proposed platform was carefully analysed. The programme adopted is no different in any major aspect from the original Six Points, and it is not proposed to deal with it in any detail in this article. But it is essential to counterpose to it a programme of demands which gets right to the needs and aspirations of the workers. The demand is that Labour break the truce and takes power on the following programme: – (1) Arm the workers. (2) Officers in the army to he elected by the workers and soldiers from their own ranks. (3) Workers control of production. (4) Nationalisation of the arms industry, mines, banks, land, transport etc, without compensation, (5) Freedom for India, Ireland and the Colonies, (6) An appeal to the European workers for peace on the basis of the establishment of the Socialist United States of Europe. These demands together with those catering for the everyday needs of the workers – adequate ARP, sliding scale of wages to rise automatically with rise in prices, etc. could be made the basis of a real campaign among the working-class: a campaign which would expose the rottenness and treachery of the sell-out of the Labour leaders to the capitalist class.

The real impotence of the Convention was best revealed by the attempt to adorn it with some show of popularity by getting the support of Bohemian celebrities who had no influence whatever among the main mass of the “people”. Actors, dance-band leaders, professors, parsons, anybody who desired cheap publicity and an air of being “progressive” were asked to give support to the Convention. At the first sign of trouble these people made for the door. Immediately the bourgeois Press exerted pressure, they made haste one after the other to repudiate their support and to demonstrate that they are reliable citizens of the “democracy”. The small shopkeepers, professional people, etc. cannot be won for Socialism by pandering to their prejudices, but only by a programme which will demonstrate that Socialism alone can cater for their needs. The crying need of the hour is to mobilise the masses of British workers round a programme of demands which will put their leaders to the test and demonstrate that only the Socialist revolution can solve their problems.

Harry Pollitt gives a fine quotation from Lenin in a recent article in World News & Views about the Convention. Pollitt aims the quotation at the variety of programmes of social reform put forward by the various petty bourgeois, such as J.B. Priestley and Acland, who sense the feeling that is stirring among the whole toiling population and who are preparing a harmless outlet for its inevitable explosion.

“Once we forget the crude and cruel conditions of capitalist domination, all such platforms, all such lists of high-sounding reforms are nothing but empty words which in practice turn out to be either the most pious wishes or simple deceptions of the masses by ten-a-penny bourgeois politicians.”

No better words could be written to characterise the programme and idea of the People’s Convention.

The job now is to “patiently explain” to the masses, round a programme which they can immediately support, the role of the Labour leaders and the fact that the “war against Hitlerism” which the Labour leaders make the axis of their policy just now, can never be carried out under the leadership and control of the capitalist class, but can only be accomplished by the working-class taking power.

We appeal to the Communist workers, those shop stewards and militants who are in the van of the struggle today: Do not allow your leaders to confuse and mislead you. The People’s Convention is a trap which can only plunge you into disaster. Do not separate yourselves from the mass of the workers today by the adventurist slogans of the Convention. Do not allow yourselves to be used to put a bridle on the real aspirations of the masses tomorrow by the slogans of the Convention. Labour to Power on the programme briefly given above, is the only means of approaching the workers today.

Not the “People’s Government” but only Workers’ Power and Socialism can solve the problems of the working class. The Fourth International alone has this correct approach to the problems of our epoch.

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