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Arne Swabeck

C.P. Policy in England

The Stalinists’ Sterility Before the Problem of the United Front

(October 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 28, 24 October 1931, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Since the Fall of MacDonald “Labor” government the class struggle in England has entered a new and more decisive stage. A revolutionary perspective, although yet only in its embryonic form, is at hand. But the all important question of ability of the Communist party to meet this situation still remains unanswered.

The real significance of the October 27 elections is not so much determined by the immediate question as to who wins the majority of seats in parliament. The almost certain prospect of the national government bloc, – in reality the Conservative party, – winning a majority will make but little difference. The all important fact for the future lies in the beginnings of the new and more definite line-up of forces. To the extreme Right, those represented by the national government; in the Center, those most nearly representative of social reformism in England, the official labor party opposition, with perhaps a section of the liberals; to the Left, the revolutionary forces, of the Communist Party and the Letfward moving sections from the labor party.

Serious Currents Within Labor Opposition

The future role of the official labor opposition will more than ever be that of social reformism, i.e. to continue under a new cloak the capitalist policies of the past. Its resources are still powerful. Its leadership may still develop a far greater skill and cunning in keeping the working class under illusions and ward off its natural progressive course toward the Left. But whether MacDonald and Henderson again find common ground, which is most likely, and in spite of the great hold which the official labor opposition still has upon the British working masses, the disintegrating process which has now hit European social democracy will perhaps have an accelerated course in England. In general there should be excellent prospects for Communism.

The break-up of the labor party is already an actual process though as yet only in its initial stage. The old and tried imperialist agents, the Hendersons and the trade union leadership, have time only for efforts to find new ways of balancing the capitalist budget, meanwhile winking a friendly eye to a coalition with the Lloyd George liberals. With the lines so sharply drawn by the general crisis and the economic ultimatum of the National government, their only alternative course would be a revolutionary one which they have no intention whatever of pursuing. The Left section of the I.L.P. is by the force of events being driven further Leftward. The “challenge” of such leaders as Maxton, Brockway and others of a “socialist program”, of “socialism in our time”, of “socialism with speed” is being taken seriously by their rank and file followers. In scores upon scores of letters to their official organ, the New Leader, they ask pointed questions, demanding recognition of the necessity of revolutionary action, of the necessity of forcible overthrow of the system, for affiliation to the Communist International and for unity with the Communist party. These leaders, seeing the masses moving Leftward are hurriedly covering themselves with the red mantle and moving in that direction also, endeavoring to keep step so as to maintain their leadership and head it off. When the masses, compelled by the force of necessity, continue further in this course and attempt to translate their program of “socialism with speed” into action, a program which was conceived purely on the basis of reformist measurtes, but which can be accomplished only by revolution, they will soon change their tune. Then the actual separation of the masses from these charlatans begin.

C.P. Leadership Impotent

With these splendid possibilities the Communist party leadership has unfortunately not measured up at all. During the first phase of the present situation it displayed its utter impotence in failing to give any direction whatever. But a “turn” came, a turn with an adventurist vengeance, however, maintaining all its former opportunist essentials, it emerged with a basic program formulated in the following slogan:

To this even the Henderson official labor opposition, since it has extricated itself from the MacDonald government can well subscribe without difficulty as it does not in the least take cognizance of the revolutionary potentialities of the present situation. It does not even approach the “challenge” of “socialism with speed” which is put forward by the “Left” mountebanks.

Adding New Confusion

Our London correspondent correctly criticizes the recent confusion of adventurist mixture added by the Communist Party leadership of calling for councils of action and general strike, all within one week and without any previous preparation. And further proposing to build alongside of the unemployment movement also the charter movement, which was already antedated at its inception and became only a sorry caricature of the proud old Chartist movement. It is naturally difficult for revolutionists to have any patience with such people, who, while remaining steeped in their opportunist outlook, suddenly discover at last that they are somewhat belated and hurriedly, in panic, call upon the working class for action without performing their duty of previous preparation. Their characteristics are that of contemptible bureaucrats.

Surely there should be opportunities for strike action against the National government economy program of drastic reduction of the working class standard and yet much more heavy cuts to come. Surely councils of action, which already have a good tradition in England, should be created to lead these economic struggles and become a weapon against treason of the reactionary trade union bureaucrats. However such strikes in the present situation will inevitably have dynamic political implications and naturally the danger of defeat by isolation or lack of preparation become so much greater. The actual steps of preparation, thorough preparation of organization, of tactics and of object are yet in order and no moment should be lost. As a matter of fact they should have been taken from the very first day of the National government. That much at least should be known to revolutionary leaders.

The United Front Policy

However, the main key to the present situation, which the C.P. leaders must learn to take hold of, is the united front policy. Not its perversion, neither of the alliances behind the workers’ backs with reformist leaders nor the fakery of “united front from below”, but a united front policy as taught by Lenin. The former method was well exemplified by the spurious Anglo-Russian Unity Committee. The latter has now become the “line” by which party bureaucrats can unload responsibility for their own failures upon the membership for not being in the shops and not understanding the unity with the workers. But it has nothing in common with the united front policy and does not lead toward a solution of the revolutionary problems.

It is necessary for the C.P. leaders to define their attitude particularly clearly toward the Leftward moving section of the I.L.P., to consider them potential revolutionists who, however, still follow the I.L.P. leaders. The C.P. must speak to them as class brothers in arms. It must say to them:

“You trust these leaders, we don’t, and in our opinion it is well founded upon past experiences. You believe their ‘socialist program’ is seriously conceived as an actual overthrow of capitalism and the building of a new system, we don’t because that becomes a revolutionary objective which they fear. The realization of an actual socialist program, how-ever, must of necessity proceed through the struggle for the immediate and pressing needs of the workers. On the basis of these needs we propose a united front with you so that we may in common endeavors work out the well defined immediate demands which the situation now requires and by united efforts fight more effectively for their attainment. We propose to reserve for ourselves the right to aim for an actual socialist program, for a revolutionary objective. For this objective we will fight also within this united front.

“However, that itself must first of all imply on your part a complete break with the official labor party parliamentary opposition and its whole apparatus, both ideologically and organically, because their objective goes definitely in the opposite direction.”

In such an attitude and approach lie the possibilities of the Communists taking over leadership of this Leftward moving section. It is true that in this process new problems will arise such as even the question of a slogan for a socialist government, which under present conditions in England has a different connotation from say, for example, in Germany. But once the approach to the problems is begun correctly the further solutions will not have the greatest difficulties. Finally it goes without saying that such approach can never in the least be confined within the narrow scopes of parliamentary activities. Revolutionary objectives by far transcend such bounds and it is precisely around these objectives that the strike movements can have real meaning and become an integral part.

Now is the Time to Apply Lessons of Past Experiences

The present situation in England pressingly demands a revolutionary orientation by the Communist party. That dare not be delayed, any longer if it is at all to take advantage of the exceptional possibilities. But to accomplish this means a definite fight to eliminate root and branch the heavy burden of the Stalinist bureaucratic leadership, the penalty of which the party is now suffering. Of course, this would be altogether inconceivable without a broad, open and free discussion within the party. To any such attempt the bureaucrats will certainly answer by, if possible, reinforcing their edict against any discussion under the plea that now is the time for action, and there is not a moment to lose. But for the party to act correctly in this situation first of all implies a proper evaluation of the experience and disastrous orientation of 1926. If this is further compared with the puerile banalities of the “third period”, a good beginning will have been made. Many lessons could be learned of incalculable value for the present situation. And to initiate this is precisely the duty of a revolutionary leadership.

Of course, judging the present serious situation in England from a considerable distance, there may be many developments unavoidably escaping our attention and thus of necessity make our suggestions incomplete. Nevertheless we believe our Left Opposition supporters should give these suggestions their most serious attention.

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