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J. Deane

The Future of Common Wealth?

(October 1945)

From Workers International News, Vol. 6 No. 1, October 1945, pp. 26–29.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE special conference of Common Wealth held in London on September 16th, rejected by 118 votes to 89 the resolution proposed by Sir Richard Acland and his supporters. This resolution called for the dissolution of Common Wealth as an organisation so that its members could enter the Labour Party. Following the decision to maintain Common Wealth, Acland and Wintringham have resigned, and along with their supporters will enter the Labour Party, leaving C.A. Smith, ex I.L.P. chairman and former claimant Marxist, as leader of this organisation.

THE fact that this life or death choice faced Common Wealth so early after the ending of the war is no accident. The ending of the Coalition was the ending of Common Wealth. The General Election, from which only one Common Wealth candidate was returned, and in which it lost most of its deposits, dealt the death blow to this organisation. The decision to maintain Common Wealth will not prevent its steady disintegration. This process is determined by far more formidable and real forces than C. A. Smith's “ethical standards”. Common Wealth is in an impasse. The entire situation demands that the sincere socialist members of Common Wealth should review their position, and by a thorough consideration of the programmes of the various parties, particularly the programme of revolutionary Marxism, choose their path.

WHAT is the future for Common Wealth?

IN order to answer this question correctly it is necessary to understand the social basis and evolution of this movement as a separate organisation of the lower middle class, moving in the direction of the organised labour movement.


THE crisis of capitalism on a world scale gave rise to a growing radicalisation amongst all sections of the population, and most significantly amongst the middle class which looked to the Left for a solution to its problems. This development represented a break of the middle class from Big Business and a progressive evolution towards the organised labour movement. Out of this general situation Common Wealth was formed in July 1942, by an amalgamation of the “1941 Committee”, led by J.B. Priestley, and a number of people gathered around Sir Richard Acland.

TWO conditions gave rise to a separate organisation of the middle class. On the one hand, their desire to criticise the Tories through the official labour movement was prevented by the coalition politics of the Labour leaders, which had tied the labour movement to the capitalists and their war programme. On the other hand, certain sections of the middle class, having broken with the capitalists, feared the direct link with the labour movement and its discipline.

THE treacherous coalition policies of the Labour leaders during the war gave the opportunity for Common Wealth to develop, both as an avenue of expression for the anti-Tory and coalition tendencies, and as an electoral machine. During the war period Common Wealth had phenomenal successes in the by-elections. Thousands of workers, as well as middle-class elements, voted for Common Wealth candidates because they offered an alternative to the coalition. But these successes were only to be shortlived. The ending of the coalition ended this situation. Common Wealth went to the polls during the General Election with a programme no different from that of the Labour Party. It was no surprise, therefore, that it should suffer eclipse. The working class and the radicalised middle class, seeing no difference in the policies of the two parties, gave their votes to the Labour Party, which is more formidable with its giant electoral machine. The leadership of Common Wealth led this organisation light-mindedly into the General Election. It is now obvious to Acland and his leading supporters that there is no future for this movement.


THE ephemeral character of Common Wealth was always clear to Marxists, who understand that in the present epoch of social revolution a Party not based upon revolutionary theory cannot withstand the test of events. Such parties come over to revolutionary working class movement, or go over to capitalist reaction or simply disintegrate. This law is clear from the experience of the I.L.P. and other such organisations in other countries which have disappeared in the course of the imperialist war. The only parties which can possibly have a future are those which have stood the test of events. It is no accident that the Fourth International is the only international organisation. Only a revolutionary party based upon revolutionary Marxist theory can develop and grow into the present epoch.

AT one time the Stalinists characterised Common Wealth as a fascist movement. Revolutionary Marxists continually opposed this false and entirely opportunist characterisation, made by a party which had betrayed every meaning of Communism, and which acted as the direct agents of reaction within the labour movement. Revolutionary Marxists welcomed the evolution of the middle class towards organised labour, but pointed out that there was no basis for a separate organisation of the middle class. We considered that it was the task of all sincere socialists to help the middle class to find its way into the ranks of the labour movement. The only conceivably valid reason for maintaining a separate organisation would be for that organisation to have a revolutionary Marxist programme. We explained that it the middle class failed to make an alliance with the working class it would be used by Big Business against the working class and its struggle for Socialism. Marxists have always understood that it is not only permissible, but obligatory for the working class to make an alliance with the middle class, provided that such an alliance is directed against Big Business. Anyone who impedes or opposes this process can only aid the capitalists.

THE experience of every revolutionary crisis teaches that the working-class must win over to its side the middle classes, which do not remain “independent” but end up either in the camp of the capitalists, or the camp of the revolutionary working-class. The failure of the working-class, its defeat and prostration, can only send the middle class, which no less than the working-class demands a change, into the camp of Big Business. A separate organisation of the middle classes can only assist this latter reactionary process.


DURING the imperialist war in Europe, Common Wealth revealed that it had no difference in programme with the official labour movement. It supported the imperialist war and the traitorous coalition. Despite its talk of a “fully Socialist policy” its only difference with the policy of the Labour leaders was of a secondary nature; it called for a measure of electoral freedom. Not only did Common Wealth Members of Parliament support the Coalition between labour and Big Business, but they hailed Churchill as the leader of the struggle for “Freedom” and “Liberty”. The “difference” between Common Wealth and the Labour leaders was, therefore, only one of degree.

EVEN today Common Wealth has no fundamental difference with the policy of the Labour Party. Acland is quite open about this, but C.A. Smith prefers to be a little more concealed. In a statement by C.A. Smith and his supporters on the National Committee we read some very correct criticisms of the Labour Government's policy:

“Typical of Labour policy is the announcement of Sir Stafford Cripps that the cotton industry will not be nationalised, but that the Government is bringing together the employers and the employed to discuss its reorganisation.

“Precisely! Not Socialism, but capitalist reorganisation ... So cotton magnates again breathe freely realising that Labour won't hurt them.” ...

“Other aspects of Labour policy will be less popular with big business... These activities will annoy big business but not eliminate it.” (Common Wealth Review, September, 1945)

AFTER reading these criticisms of the Labour Government's policy one is amazed to read that the:

C.W. no more need be in opposition to the Labour Government than the Parliamentary Labour Party of 1906–14 was in opposition to the Liberal Government of which it formed the Left Wing ...” (Ibid.)

THE criticisms of the Labour Government turn out to be meaningless! If these criticisms are justified and we suggest that they are, then one could only draw the conclusion that a revolutionary party with a revolutionary programme is necessary. The political differences between Acland and C. A. Smith disappear, both are agreed to become the Left Wing of the Labour Government – if they are permitted. But the matter does not end here. Later in the same Statement we read:

“Common Wealth demands a fundamental change – political, economic and moral – of our national life, and this cannot be realised by an extension of social insurance plus one or two measures of nationalisation”

HAVING recognised the fact that a change is necessary, one must ask: How is such a fundamental change to be accomplished? Quite correctly, not by the Labour Party. By Common Wealth, whose programme does not fundamentally differ from that of the Labour Party? Certainly not! Only a party based upon Marxism, a vanguard of the working class, can lead the struggle for a fundamental change. The middle class is incapable of leading such a struggle.

ONE of the alleged programmatic differences between Common Wealth and the Labour Party is the issue of nationalisation without compensation. This is a thoroughly progressive and correct demand, which, if understood, can mean a world of difference between the policy of the Labour Party (State-Capitalism) and the policy of any other party. But this can only be of fundamental difference if it is linked to a revolutionary programme. By itself it is meaningless since to expropriate the capitalists is a revolutionary demand which can only be carried through by the organised working class under the leadership of a revolutionary Marxist party. It is necessary to understand that correct criticism along with occasional correct demands are meaningless, and under certain conditions reactionary, unless they are linked to a Marxist programme, which can only be advanced by a revolutionary Marxist party.


C.A. Smith and those who wish to maintain Common Wealth do so on the basis of the following argument:

“If, according to our prophecy it (the Labour Government) does not (adopt a “fully socialist” policy), why disband Common Wealth in order to become entangled in the Labour wreckage? Now is the time to stand firm to maintain our socialist integrity and to preserve an organisation ready to join forces with the socialists at present in the disillusioned with its gradualist Labour Party when they are finally reformism.” (Common Wealth Review, Sept. 1945)

THE failure of the Labour Government would have the opposite effect to that envisaged in the above statement, if we fail to win the workers to a revolutionary Marxist programme. Precisely the middle class, characteristically empirical and hysterical, would swing in the direction of reaction. The middle classes integrated in the Labour movement would, by itself, be no guarantee against this most dangerous possibility, which can only be prevented by the building of a strong revolutionary communist party. A separate organisation, of the middle class, fundamentally reformist, could only assist the swing to-wards reaction as a result of bitter disillusionment with the Labour Government. THE new turn towards organised labour is a progressive one insofar as it expresses the desire of the middle class to integrate itself with the organised working-class movement. Many of these who will enter the Labour Party do so because of their belief in reformism. These considerations however, are totally different from those of Acland and his leading supporters who are seeking a comfortable place within the Labour Party. The cynicism of these gentlemen has nothing in common with the sincere desires of those who wish to take their place in the Labour movement.

THE new leaders of Common Wealth (C.A. Smith, etc.) have no fundamental difference with the Labour Party policy. Amongst their supporters, however, are many who seek alternative policies to the reformism of the Labour and Stalinist parties. These members of Common Wealth, some of whom came from the C.P., I.L.P., and Labour Party, have been convinced by the two months experience of the Labour Government and its complete absence of socialist measures that an internationalist socialist movement is necessary. We appeal to all who seek a revolutionary internationalist programme to study the programme of revolutionary communism of Trotskyism.

WE of the Revolutionary Communist Party invite members of Common Wealth to open up discussions with us. To others, who still have faith in the reformist policies of the Labour Party, we strongly urge that they join the Labour Party; for we believe that this experience will reveal their error. There is absolutely no excuse for maintaining a separate organisation with a programme no different to that of the Labour Party. Such organisations are doomed to failure. We are confident that all sincere socialists will learn that only the policy of Marxism, of Trotskyism, can lead the workers and their allies, the middle classes, to Socialism. There is no middle road.

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