Arne Swabeck Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Arne Swabeck

The British Scene

The Bankruptcy of British Stalinism

(August 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 20, 22 August 1931, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On the shoulders of European revolutions England for decades consolidated her progressive development into an ever more powerful imperialist power. But her position as world’s banker is now witnessing its eclipse. Her capitalist economy is afflicted with the illness of decay. Her statesmen, those who are capitalist in name and those who are labor in name, are at this present moment endeavoring to pool their resources to overcome the much feared economic disaster and to save the proud mother of the capitalist empires from the humiliation of a Hoover moratorium for England. England’s present development is toward a revolutionary situation at an accelerated tempo.

However, so long that the British Communist Party remains what is tantamount to an impotent, isolated sect the situation is not so hopeless for the British bourgeoisie. However, it follows that to get the Communist Party out of its present stagnation is an imperative task. But to this task, its Centrist leadership does not at all measure up.

The disillusionment of two years of the “labor” government, the innumerable betrayals of the reactionary labor leaders the growing discontent with unemployment and a constantly reduced standard of living, are preparing the working masses for motion. A point has already been reached where in situations of labor conflicts these leaders speak to empty halls or meet loud protests. Even the imperialist agents in the Trade Union Council, sensing the danger, have on two occasions come out in criticism of the “labor” government. It protested the government attitude to the report of the Royal Commission on Unemployment; it protested the liberal-labor agreement to the bill of repeal of the anti-trade union act. But these are merely the efforts to construct if possible a safety valve for reaction. Yet the Communist party has not at all been able to supply leadership in this situation of rich possibilities.

Pollitt Recites the Failures

At the Eleventh Comintern Plenum, Harry Pollitt, the most perfect prototype of a Stalinist third rate functionary, presented a tragic picture. His lamentations were:

“The trouble is that our comrades do not differentiate between the workers in the I.L.P. and their leaders and because of this we build up a great barrier between ourselves and the workers in the other parties ... the attitude of nine members out of ten in our party to a new worker, and particularly to an I.L.P. worker is that if they are not prepared to swallow the whole 21 points of the Comintern program they are social fascists ... Today we have a big strike move in England which has not been headed by the party and the Minority Movement ... we are not able to develop the independent forms of struggle, the independent forms of leadership, so that we are not in a position to be able to give the call – Strike on – we are not able to get the lead of the strike movement. The reformists are able, on the whole, to call the workers out and call the strikes off.”

A dismal picture of failure indeed, particularly when one considers the objectively favorable situation. But do these leaders attempt seriously and thoroughly to account for the reasons? Not at all. One may go further and ask: What does the present Comintern leadership propose to remedy the faults? From the shameful combinations of the Anglo-Russian Unity Committee, which served to give the reactionary Trade Union Council a Left covering and subjected the Minority Movement and the Communist party to these “Left” representatives of the Trade Union Council, the Comintern commanded the party to execute a sharp turn to “class against class”. It instructed the party to assume “independent leadership” à la the “Third Period” style; not because of specific factors of the objective conditions which were then particularly favorable to the reformists, but because of the proclamation of the “Third Period”. It became naturally translated, not into struggle to prove the superiority of the Communist program, but by arbitrary division of separate strike committees, of separating and isolating the militant minority from the trade unions for creation of new independent unions. Thus the blundering stupidity of the British party leadership must, of course, first of all be traced to its roots of the Stalin policies in the Comintern, and a correction must first of all begin with a decisive condemnation of these false policies.

The Party Leadership Views

The opportunist nationally-limited position inevitably flowing from the reactionary theory of “socialism in one country” invented and applied by the Stalinized Comintern leadership has found its particularly crass expression in the whole concept of the British party leadership. In the cardinal question of the Indian revolutionary perspectives, the party leadership confines itself in the main to demanding independence for India, that is it calls upon the British workers to demand for the Hindus the same national liberty which they have. This allows for no distinction whatever from the position of the “Left” I.L.P. But what is yet worse it fails entirely to establish the intimate connection which is so essential between the British workers and the Indian proletariat and poor peasantry. The continued subjugation of India remains one of the main pillars of the British empire, and just as much so is the development of the revolution in India – not merely its national liberation – one of the main pillars of the proletarian revolution in England. A correct orientation on this question thus becomes a cardinal task of the British Communist Party.

However, the opportunist nationally-limited position of the party leadership applies also in a full measure to its views of the situation of the British working class. The axis of its present propaganda and activities is the fight for shifting the burden of the growing crisis from the working class to the bourgeoisie. To this end it advances, as is for example contained in the program of the “Charter movement”, the slogans of the partial demands for an increased dole at the cost of the owners of industry, the seven hour day, housing for workers, reduction of rents, a guaranteed minimum wage, repudiation of arbitration, release of class war prisoners, repeal of Trades Disputes Act, against tariff attacks upon workers’ standard, added to which are the slogans, for fight against imperialism and for the defense of the Soviet Union, etc.

“Simplifying” the Problems of Revolution

These leaders have arrived at an altogether too simple rationalization of the power and resources of imperialism and the problems of the working class. Their conclusions are that since capitalism in its present declining stage cannot grant the necessary reforms to the workers, hence every struggle for reforms becomes a revolutionary struggle. But the problem is not quite so simple. While struggles for reforms have a different significance today than during the period of organic development of capitalism; while reformism could then play a progressive role but today will definitely have to choose between the paths of proletarian revolution or organic support of capitalist reaction, and invariably chooses the latter, nevertheless, for the Communist party, there still remains the problem of giving the struggle for reform needs and democratic demands a revolutionary content. Above all, there remains the problem for the party of building the forces which under its leadership in the struggles must consciously select the road toward the revolution. The party must establish itself as the vehicle of the revolution.

The British party writes voluminously about the growing capitalist crisis and the debacle of the MacDonald gradualness. It quite correctly endeavors to unmask the “Left” of the I.L.P. and usually draws the conclusion formulated in blanket statements to the effect: These experiences will prove to the British workers that the Communist party is the only party fighting for their interests. This, however, does not at all follow. That is, it does not and cannot follow unless the party also succeeds in proving its worth as a revolutionary leader.

What did Pollitt have to offer, at the Eleventh Comintern Plenum, as a solution for the present party difficulties? Of course, one must not expect a serious examination of possible fallacies of past and prevailing policies and directives from self-contented bureaucrats. And so, Pollitt, also remained true to the established style of empty platitudes. He recommended “... to intensify work ... to lead workers’ economic struggles ... to build broad union front activities from below ... activities against growing tendencies of fascism against growing war danger, etc.” The particular possibilities for this, Pollitt saw in the Charter Movement.

Alas, in the Charter Movement the deceptive practise of, in view of all the failures, to appear stronger prevailed, from its inception. In conformity with the “Third Period” style the party leadership set out to drum up a large delegation at the initial charter conference. It became a substitute for the reality of mass influence which the party still has to win. 788 delegates were secured, but only 68 representing trade union branches, 51 the unemployment movement branches (a movement hardly existing in reality), 31 representing the party and Y.C.L., the balance were supposed to represent various miscellaneous mass meetings, sports clubs, Minority Movements groups etc. This undoubtedly becomes its first fatal weakness. The revolution cannot be organized by deceiving the workers. Secondly, one cannot yet notice any visible effort to correctly connect the economic needs and demands of this movement with the political issues. Thirdly, being borne out of the conception of finding a substitute for the ill-fated Minority Movement and a short cut to mass influence, the party’s problems have not been brought nearer its solution. Essentially these problems remain as before.

The Future Holds Great Possibilities

The future orientation of the party still remains intimately bound up with the lessons of the past from which it has not yet drawn the necessary conclusions. Particularly so with the lessons of the 1926 general strike and the Anglo Russian Unity Committee. Pressed by the growing workers discontent, today, similarly as prior to the general strike. “Lefts” are again coming forward from the reformist ranks to serve as a shield for the reactionaries to endeavor to defeat the struggles growing out of the discontent and to return to their original camp when this “danger” again blows over. The Communist party is yet entirely isolated. There is therefore a great danger that the struggle of the discontented masses, which marks the developing revolutionary forces, may be swallowed in this “Left” reformist swamp. The party cannot prevent it by its so-called “united front from below” coupled with the perfidious practises of what is called independent leadership. This will only mean to substitute deception and cunning for the actual unification of the workers. Moreover it always leaves the door wide open for the other desperate alternative, – that is, to attempt to overcome the isolation which will ensue by alliances behind the backs of the workers with these Left coverings. In other words to repeat the shameful alliance with the “Lefts”, the Hicks, Purcells and Cooks in the Anglo-Russian Unity Committee.

These “Lefts” in England have considerable experiences precisely in deception and cunning. The party has nothing to gain by attempts to emulate them. It has therefore become so much more an imperative duty for the British Communist Party to conduct an extended discussion to enable it to draw the proper lessons of 1926 so that it may arrive at a position of correctly estimating the future perspectives, correctly work out its orientation for genuine unification of the British workers which will in reality mark the end of “Left” reformist deception and lay the basis for Communist leadership.

Arne Swabeck Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 13.1.2013