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F.A. Ridley

The British Scene

A Communist Party – The Problem
of the Revolution in England


From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 29 (Whole No. 88), 31 October 1931, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The contemporary situation in Britain can only be understood against its historic background. Considered as a “thing in itself” the present crisis is as meaningless as would be a single algebraic formula deprived of its correlative factor. The problems of Britain are problems that history has placed on the order of the day. And problems of such an order are not to be arbitrarily checked or swept back by the broom of the bourgeois Mrs. Partingtons.

The Industrial Revolution created new conditions in Britain, its classical home. To serve its newly-acquired world market, British capitalism brought into existence a population of wage slaves far in excess of its domestic capacity to maintain on even the barest subsistence level. Now that the Victorian age is gathered to its fathers and the world hegemony of Britain is a thing of the past, the British bourgeoisie finds itself faced with a reaction of proportionate dimensions to its previous gigantic action. The markets have gone but the working class remains! The problem of British Imperialism, today, is to reduce its population in proportion to the rapid loss of its markets. How this can be done without riot, insurrection, and, ultimately, civil war; that is the question of the day for the British ruling class.

Taken in its broadest sense (and history, unlike the historian, is never narrow) the present crisis is merely the first stage in this process. Now that the World Banker, London, has followed London, the commercial metropolis, into limbo, the British bourgeoisie has lost no time in reminding the British working class that it must no longer remain on the stage now that its raison d’etre, the world market, is a thing of the past. The concerted attack on the whole working class (unemployed and employed alike) is merely the first step in the process that will render the socially unnecessary working class socially impossible. The issue is now transparently clear. If the capitalists are shown in the light of Marxian science to be a socially unnecessary class, it is clear that the continued existence of the working class (in, at any rate, anything like its present dimensions) is incompatible with the necessities of the bourgeoisie. And this fact is most of all evident in Britain, the classical parasitic rentier, whose World Empire has gone but whose swollen slave class yet remains. British Situation Is Beyond Reform Viewed from this angle, nothing could be more mechanical and inane, than to isolate the crisis both from what preceded it and also from what will come after it. The present attack on the British workers is merely experimental, and, with an Imperialist bourgeoisie, notoriously, “appetite comes with eating”. The British working class is not, therefore, fighting merely for trade union standards. It is, ultimately, fighting for bare existence. And this, save the mark, is the time that the mandarins of the C.P.G.B. deem fit and proper for the slogan of a workers’ charter and a guaranteed minimum wage! If the issue were left to reformism, the only concession that the members of the working class are likely to get is a “stake in the country” large enough to contain their coffins!

It is clear that the situation has now got beyond reform. It is no accident that there is a simultaneous collapse of the bourgeois reformist Liberal Party and the working class reformist Labour Party whose policy is, in any case, merely the cast-off clothes of liberalism. It is Socialism or starvation, Communism or chaos! Only the iron broom of revolution can be relied upon to cleanse with complete efficiency this Augean Stables.

The events of the last few weeks have shown that the “inevitability of gradualness” only applies to overthrowing Capitalism. There was nothing gradual about the methods taken by Messrs. MacDonald, Snowden and Co., to save it! Reformism presupposes a stable and expanding capitalism as an essential preliminary to its reforms, and an even relatively stable capitalism can in Britain only be achieved over a literally decimated working class. The logical conclusion of reformism is, undoubtedly, that of MacDonald; since, unless Capitalism can be first saved, obviously, it cannot be reformed! The position of the Fabians in their “cloud-cuckoo-land” is, therefore, a fantastic farce, and the attitude of the I.L.P. in trying to pour the new wine of revolution into the old bottles of reformism, is merely a grotesque comedy.

If the I.L.P. is a comedy, the Communist Party is a tragedy. In an era when speedy revolution has become the one crying necessity of the working class, the only alleged revolutionary party indulges in chartist antiquarianism, converting the living slogans of the period of capitalism’s rise into musty falsehoods in the period of its decline. When the proletariat needs its party as never before in British history, the party is skulking in a sectarian corner, striving vainly to cling to the coat-tails of the militant workers outside.

Objective Conditions Favorable to Revolution

Indeed, so completely has a vulgar empiricism succeeded and superceded a Marxian analysis, that theory in the C.P.G.B. is despised on the eminently bourgeois ground that it is “unpractical”. In the laboratory of these alchemists, the word “intellectual” has undergone a “translation”. In the epoch of Marx and Lenin, the term “intellectual” denoted a revolutionary student preoccupied (sometimes excessively) with the intellectual problems that are inseparable from a revolutionary analysis. In the epoch of Stalin and Pollitt, an intellectual is scouted and condemned as a counter-revolutionary merely because he possesses an intellect! It is only such an attitude that could produce such theoretical Siamese Twins as the Workers’ Charter and the doctrine of socialism in one country, with its corollary of friendly (sic) competition with the world bourgeoisie.

What is our conclusion? It is that the era of gradual reform is over, and that of a swift reaction is at hand. The law of the pendulum applies to politics. The decline of British imperialism will be of a corresponding magnitude with its unparalleled ascent, and the speed of its world decline will be matched by the ferocity of its drive against the working class. If the 2nd Labour Government represented the last ineffective splutterings of British democracy, the “National” government represents the first stage of British fascism, which only requires time to become fully articulate.

Under these conditions, the period when the working class mustered under the banner of the Labour Party, with its bourgeois outlook and “evolutionary” socialism, is doomed to a speedy end, and an epoch of revolution is already rising above its ruins. For that revolution two things are indispensable, militancy and a party that is revolutionary to the end. The militancy is there, and grows rapidly – of that there can be no doubt whatsoever. Only the party is lacking, and the time is short.

If, as Disraeli once said, “adventures are to the adventurous”, it is no less true that revolutions can only succeed, if, and when, they are led by revolutionaries. From the era of Wat Tyler to that of the general strike of 1926, British history affords examples to show what happens to a movement whose leaders fear victory more than defeat!

For the solution of the revolutionary problem in England, all the ingredients are there except one; the most essential of all; the party that is not afraid both to think and fight out the problems of the British proletariat to their revolutionary end. The British revolution is now attaining dramatic proportions; but it is a drama without a centre; Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, so to speak. All the problems of the British revolution are now reduced to this single problem. Without the lead of a mass party, revolutionary energy will dissipate itself in abortive and scattered riots. The problem of the revolution is now; simply and solely, the problem of a party.

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Last updated: 3 August 2019