Communist Party of Great Britain

The Role of the Communist Party

Marxist Study Themes

Published: 1955
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This Marxist Study Theme on the role of the Communist Party is intended as a basis for Branch education classes.

The understanding of the role of the Communist Party is essential not only for the members of the Communist Party itself, but as the whole British working class and working people need the Communist Party, it is equally essential that an understanding of the role of the Communist Party be spread in the broader Labour movement. We would stress the importance of throwing open all the classes and discussions on this Study Theme to non-Party members and of making every effort to win their attendance and to recruit them to the Party.

The Study Theme is divided into three main Sessions, but in many cases it will be found useful to hold two or more discussions on a single session. The duration of the course, therefore, must be decided by the branch organising it.

Advice for further reading is given after each session, but the following reading should, as far as possible, be carried out by all who attend the classes:

J. V. Stalin . . . Foundations of Leninism—Section 8.

H. Pollitt . . . Challenge to Labour, pp. 23/48

J. Gollan . . . Build the Communist Party. (C.P., 2d.)

Forging the Weapon—A Handbook for Members of the Communist Party. (C.P., 6d.)

Rules of the Communist Party.

The Role of the Communist Party

Session I

The Lessons of History

Why was the British Communist Party founded in July/August 1920? Who founded it and with what aim?

To answer these questions we have to look at the long-term lessons of British Labour history, to examine the immediate background of the establishment of the Party—World War I, the October Revolution, the first stormy post-war years—and we have to study the deep urgent needs of the British working class and the British people to which the Party’s foundation corresponded.

(A) What were the long-term lessons of British Labour History?

The British Labour movement is the oldest in the world. The first real modern proletariat began to emerge in Britain in the last thirty years of the eighteenth century. It was in Britain that the trade unions and co-operative movements first began to develop on a wide scale. And it was in Britain that some of the first attempts were made to form an independent working-class political party. The early rudimentary efforts at the formation of such a party can be seen in the Corresponding Societies of the 1790s, some of which, like the London Corresponding Society, were mainly working-class in composition; and still more in the National Charter Association of 1840, which was organised in branches (called “classes”) of ten, with a Party card renewed quarterly and an elected Executive Committee.

In the years 1850-1880, when Britain was the workshop of the world and when the British capitalist class, dominating the world market, were coining colossal profits and were able as a consequence to “buy off” large sections of the working class and to tie them to capitalism and the capitalist outlook, the British working class lost for a time its revolutionary aims. This was the period when the strongly centralised unions of the skilled workers were developed (New Model Unions), but these unions accepted the capitalist system and confined their struggles to the defence and improvement of wages, hours and living conditions within the framework of the capitalist system. There was no attempt to form an independent or political working-class party in this period, but the workers followed the political lead of the Liberal and Radical wing of the capitalist class.

After 1880, when Britain had lost its monopoly position in the field of world trade, and new rivals like Germany, France and the U.S.A. were challenging Britain’s position, the socialist movement and the ideas of Socialism found new roots in the British working class. But Britain had and was rapidly extending an enormous colonial Empire from which increased profits were still culled, and which allowed the capitalist class to “buy over” an upper section, an “aristocracy of labour”, within the working class.

Thus when the socialist movement returned to Britain in the 1880s there were two more or less clearly defined trends within Socialism—a right and a left: a reformist trend, which talked about the advance to Socialism in terms of social reform, as something gradual, piecemeal, peaceful, within the framework of capitalism; and a Marxist revolutionary trend, which understood the class struggle and saw that Socialism could be achieved only if the working people, led by the working class, won political power.

In this period, 1880-1914, the working class again began to develop the struggle to form their own independent political parties. The Marxist Social Democratic Federation was formed in 1883, and the Socialist League led by William Morris, in 1884. The Independent Labour Party was founded in 1893, and the Labour Party (at first the Labour Representation Committee) in 1900. Why was it that these political parties and groupings were not adequate to lead the British people to the victory of Socialism?

In essence this was the position. The trade unions were great mass organisations, the greatest in the world. But the role of the unions was to defend and improve the living conditions of the workers; they were not socialist bodies. Vital though they were, they could not lead the political struggle for the defeat of the capitalist system.

The Independent Labour Party (I.L.P.) a political party, officially socialist, was not a Marxist organisation. Its leaders rejected Marxism, and it quickly came under the leadership of the right-wing reformist Labour leaders like Ramsay Macdonald. The Labour Party, the formation of which represented an important step forward for the British working class, was not at first a socialist body at all (only in 1918 were socialist aims written into its Constitution), and it, too, quickly came under the leadership of the right-wing reformists.

On the left, the small revolutionary Marxist groups like the Social Democratic Federation (S.D.F.), later the British Socialist Party (B.S.P.), and splits off from it like the Socialist Labour Party (S.L.P.), together for a period (1884-94) with the Socialist League, carried out a wonderful, courageous, pioneering activity, spreading the ideas of Scientific Socialism. But they were weakened by sectarianism, they tended to confine themselves to propagandist activities, and many of their leaders belittled the immediate struggles of the mass of the Labour movement. They were isolated from the mass movement, organisationally weak, lacking in cohesion.

Thus by 1914 the British working-class movement tended to be divided. There were great mass organisations like the trade unions, and the Labour Party, but lacking socialist theory and socialist leadership. And there were revolutionary groupings which accepted Marxism, but which lacked contact with and roots in the mass Labour movement.

There was a deep rift between Socialism and the mass Labour movement. And neither a mass Labour movement (however well organised) without Socialism, nor socialist groupings (however courageous) lacking contact with the mass Labour movement, could successfully lead the British people forward to Socialism.

Already by 1914 history was demanding that the British working class should create a new revolutionary Party whose task would be to unite Socialism and the mass Labour movement. But it was the next stormy six years of 1914-20 that were to bring this deep lesson of history to a head.

(B) What was the Immediate Political Background to the Formation of the Communist Party?

The outbreak of the first world war brought the position to a head. The right-wing leaders of the Labour Party and the T.U.C., betraying all international socialist decisions, gave full support to the war and made every effort to tie the Labour movement to the official capitalist war machine.

On the left, many of the men and women in the Marxist groupings, like the British Socialist Party and the Socialist Labour Party, or in the left of the trade union movement, conducted a courageous struggle against the war and in the defence of living conditions. This was seen in the anti-war campaign of John Maclean in Scotland, in the wage struggles of the engineers on the Clyde and in other areas, and in the great rent struggles. But with all this courage and with all the militant struggle, the movement lacked cohesion and clear political leadership. There was no revolutionary organisation with a revolutionary policy to supply such leadership.

The Russian Revolution of October 1917 made a tremendous impact on the British working class. There was a great movement of solidarity with the Russian workers and against intervention. The triumph of the Revolution made the most militant workers in Britain think what it was that had led the Russian workers to their victory. In Britain militant workers began to study the example of the Bolshevik Party. Marxist literature, including works of Lenin like Imperialism, State and Revolution, and in 1920, Left-Wing Communism, were translated and distributed. The formation of the Communist International in 1919 gave a new impetus for the founding of Communist Parties in other countries.

The stormy post-war years of 1919-20, with the economic slump, unemployment mounting, and a fierce employers’ attack on living conditions coinciding with the rise of a revolutionary wave of struggle throughout Europe, gave rise to the ever-growing feeling of the need to found a revolutionary Communist Party in Britain.

In February 1919, a “Joint Provisional Committee for the formation of a Communist Party” was established, with representatives from the British Socialist Party, Socialist Labour Party, South Wales. Socialist Society and Workers’ Socialist Federation (mainly in the East End of London), and after many stages of complex negotiation and discussion, the 1st Convention of the Communist Party was held on July 31-August 1, 1920, in London.

The Daily Herald (then still a working-class paper) wrote on July 31, 1920:—

“Today the National Convention that is to found the Communist Party of Great Britain meets in London. The founding of such a Party we count emphatically a gain to the movement in this country. It is not a new split. It is indeed a fusion. It is the creation of an organisation for the expression in action of a definite and existent body of revolutionary thought. . . .

“They are preparing to face the question which too many of us are inclined temperamentally to evade—the problem of the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the British revolution. The strong point of the Communist Party is its steady realism.”

(C) What were the Historic Needs of the British Working Class that led to the Formation of the Communist Party?

The success of the October Revolution, the example of the Bolsheviks, the help of Lenin himself, were all vital contributions to the formation of the British Communist Party; but the Party was not formed from outside, through outside intervention and influence. It arose to meet the historic needs of the British working class. It emerged as an integral part of the British Labour movement, bringing together its most militant and far-sighted representatives, meeting the historic needs of the British working people who had learned from the lessons of British Labour history.

What were these urgent needs to which the formation of the Communist Party corresponded?

The working class and its allies needed a party which would lead them on all the immediate issues that confronted them, give them a socialist consciousness, and provide their leading section with a revolutionary form of organisation. They needed a new type of Party which would carry out at one and the same time these three tasks:

(i) To give the working class a scientific socialist theory, a socialist perspective, socialist consciousness, based on Marxism. To help the working class and its allies to understand the capitalist system under which they lived; how to end it by winning political power, and to replace it by a system of Socialism.

(ii) To give leadership to the struggle of the working class and working people on all issues which confronted them at the moment; wages, prices, social services, rents, issues of peace and democracy—to lead, guide, co-ordinate these struggles.

(iii) To provide the vanguard, the most conscious section of the British working class, with a new sort of organisation, a revolutionary organisation capable of leading the struggles of the British working people right up to the winning of political power and the building of Socialism.

These were the urgent needs of the British working class. And it was to meet these needs that the Communist Party was founded.

Further Reading

Harry Pollitt . . . Serving My Time (Chaps. 5-8).

William Gallacher . . . Revolt on the Clyde (Chaps. 10-11).

On the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Communist Party (C.P., 1s., especially an article by Bob Stewart on The Foundation of the Communist Party).

John Gollan . . . Thirty Years of Struggle (C.P., 6d., pp.1-5).

Articles in World News July and August 1955 on the 35th Anniversary of the Communist Party.


The Role of the Communist Party

What are the essential aspects of the role of the Communist Party? The working class needs the Communist Party:—

(i) To give the Labour movement a socialist consciousness, a scientific socialist theory, a perspective of advance to Socialism.

(ii) To lead the workers and their allies in all the struggles which confront them—from the immediate struggles under capitalism right up to the struggles for political power and the building of Socialism.

(iii) To provide the organisation for the vanguard of the working class and working people capable of carrying out these two tasks.

(A) Socialist Theory and Perspective

(i) Living under capitalism, the working people of Britain cannot easily and can never spontaneously achieve a socialist outlook, a socialist consciousness. They are subjected, throughout their lives, to the capitalist propaganda machine. School text books, comics and children’s papers, the bulk of the daily and weekly press, the B.B.C., television and the great majority of films and plays combine to try to fill their heads with the ideas, outlook, prejudices and illusions of capitalism. These same capitalist ideas are served up to them in a different form by the right-wing Labour leaders.

In this situation, the majority of workers rebel against the effects of capitalism long before they understand and challenge the capitalist system itself. This means that they will fight on wage issues long before they understand and challenge capitalist exploitation and the wage system; they will fight against unemployment long before they understand the nature of capitalist crisis; they will fight for democracy long before they understand the nature of the capitalist state; they will fight on concrete issues of peace long before they understand the connections of imperialism and war, and Socialism as the only road to permanent peace. They will not, by themselves, come to understand the need to end capitalism, to replace it by Socialism, and how to make the transition from the one to the other.

(ii) It is the special task, therefore, of the Communist Party on the basis of Scientific Socialism, Marxism-Leninism, to infuse socialist theory, socialist consciousness into the Labour and progressive movement.

A Communist Party is needed to give the working people an understanding of the nature of the capitalist system in which they live, the nature of capitalist exploitation and capitalist slump; the nature of imperialism and the role of imperialism in the Colonies, the socialist solution to the problems of the British people, the nature of Socialism, and the method of transition from capitalism to Socialism.

Only the Communist Party can do this. It will never happen spontaneously (by itself). Socialist understanding does not arise by itself from the immediate struggles, however hard or successful they may be:

“ . . . We have not learned, despite years of bitter experience, that the working class does not spontaneously develop a political, socialist consciousness out of separate or even out of a series of struggles or campaigns.” (Harry Pollitt—Challenge to Labour, p. 42.)

In the period 1910-14, for example, some of the most bitter trade union battles which the British working class has ever known took place. Great strikes of railwaymen, miners, dockers etc.—but no socialist consciousness was born spontaneously from these struggles, as was shown when the mass of workers were swept so speedily into support for the war in 1914.

Everyone who has participated in a strike knows that the strikers, however militant, do not automatically become socialists as a result of their struggles. In a period of struggle the workers can more easily come to understand the socialist approach and a socialist solution, but only a Communist Party with a clear theory can take this opportunity to develop socialist consciousness in the course of the daily struggles.

(iii) Applying the general principles of Marxism-Leninism to the concrete problems of Britain, the Communist Party puts before the British working people a perspective of advance to Socialism, the real line of march. It can show them the gleam of Socialism in Britain, make clear to them the role which is before them.

The reformist right-wing Labour leaders belittle or reject the aims of Socialism. In times of boom they demanded certain reforms, but even that is disappearing; in times of slumps which inevitably follow they call for retreat and “sacrifice”. They tie the workers to the capitalist system.

But the Communist Party, showing the line of advance and pointing out the socialist goal, gives purpose to the daily struggles and, in so doing, strengthens the daily struggles, linking them with and showing their place in the fight for political power. The long-term programme of the British Communist Party, The British Road to Socialism, is based on the application of Marxism to British conditions in the post-war world. It gives the working class purpose and direction, inspiration, a socialist perspective, and enables them to see their daily struggles linked to this general perspective of advance to Socialism in Britain.

(iv) Marxist theory enables the Communist Party to act in the interests of the whole of the working class and not of any one section of it at the expense of others; to act in their future as well as in their present interests. This means that the Communist Party has to help the working class to fight against narrow sectional and craft ideas, to fight for the unity of the working class, to fight for unity of the whole working people, to fight for the common struggle between the people of Britain and peoples of the British Empire, to fight for international working-class solidarity.


It is a fundamental task of the Communist Party, on the basis of Marxism-Leninism, to provide the British working class and its allies with socialist theory, socialist consciousness, that frees them from the chains of capitalist (and reformist) ideas, enables them to understand the capitalist system in which they live, how to change it and replace it by Socialism, and how the transition from capitalism to Socialism can be brought about in the concrete conditions of Britain.

(B) Leadership of the Immediate Struggles and of the Struggle for Socialism

(i) The Communist Party works to give the working people an understanding of Socialism, a socialist consciousness, but no amount of socialist propaganda and education, essential though it is, is sufficient by itself to lead to the victory of Socialism.

The mass of the people under capitalism do not start with a socialist consciousness, but the Communist Party has to find the means of leading them into the struggle against capitalism and, step by step, into the conscious struggle for Socialism. There must be no wide gap between the Communist vanguard and the mass of the people. The Party cannot find the way to lead the people to Socialism if it is isolated from them. Failure to understand this was one of the greatest weaknesses of the Marxist groups which existed before the foundation of the Party, and these sectarian weaknesses were, to an extent, carried forward into the Communist Party.

(ii) The mass of the people are hit and hurt by capitalism. Capitalism hits them on the issue of wages, prices, hours of labour, rents, inadequate social services, insecurity, unemployment, housing, attacks on their liberties, threats of war etc. etc. The people are ready to fight on these immediate issues long before they are clear on the nature of the system which is responsible for these attacks and the need to replace it with a socialist system.

What is the attitude of the Communist Party on all these immediate issues which confront the working people of Britain under capitalism? Is it indifferent—does it look on these struggles on immediate issues as “mere palliative measures” that weaken the fight for Socialism?

On the contrary, the Communist Party is deeply concerned with the defence and improvement of the immediate living conditions of the people within capitalism. It does not wait for Socialism to start the defence of the interests of the people.

The Communist Party must work in every way to help the people and lead them to carry out every form of struggle in defence of their immediate interests. No aspect of the struggle is too humble. Whatever concerns the people is the concern of the Communist Party: therefore the Communist Party and its members must take up the active leadership of all the immediate struggles on economic issues, social issues, issues of democracy, independence and peace.

Every victory in the immediate struggle weakens capitalism, strengthens the working class. In the struggle the workers learn facts about the nature of capitalism and the need to change it, provided that the Communist Party works correctly.

And in leading the immediate struggles, the Communist Party works for the greatest possible unity, both within the working class and of the working class with all the other sections of the people who are also attacked by capitalism.

This means knowing the people, living as part of them, fighting on the issues which most concern them, helping them to find the most effective forms of action in all their struggles and the greatest unity and solidarity in the course of the struggles.

(iii) In the course of their struggles, the working class and working people develop a great variety of organisations concerned with the defence of their immediate interests—trade unions, trades councils, shop stewards committees, co-operative organisations, organisations of ex-Servicemen, of the women and of youth; organisations for civil liberties, peace organisations and committees, professional and cultural organisations. The Communist Party gives every support to all organisations which in any way defend the interests of the mass of the people. It supports their actions, works to strengthen them, and its members will be amongst the most active, loyal and self-sacrificing members of all organisations of this type.

The Communist Party works to strengthen their struggles and to co-ordinate them. It fights for unity amongst them; it helps to give them perspective and to show them the link between the immediate struggles and the struggle against capitalism. Wherever the struggles are waged—provided they are objectively anti-capitalist—the Communist Party will be to the fore.

(iv) The Communist Party and its members, armed with a Marxist theory, can see the long-term objective of political power and of building Socialism.

And thus, not only do they loyally and actively work side by side with the people in all their mass organisations, on all the immediate issues, but they will work continuously to explain their long-term socialist aims and perspectives.

They will help to select the most effective issues of struggle and most effective forms of struggle. They will work to lift up, step by step, the level of the struggle from the more humble issues to the more vital political issues.

As Stalin explained in the Foundations of Leninism, the Party is:

“the highest form of class organisation, co-ordinates all the aspects of struggle—moves them in a single direction—towards a single end”.

Thus, step by step, in the course of the immediate struggles in every field, the Party spreads the ideas and perspectives of Socialism until it can win a decisive majority of the people to take the road of achieving political power and building Socialism.

This means that whilst campaigning daily on all the immediate issues of wages, hours, rents, social services, democracy, independence, peace, the Communist Party must continuously put forward the ideas contained in its long-term programme, The British Road to Socialism, and work to win a decisive majority for these ideas.

(v) The Party nationally, the District and Area Committees, Party branches in the localities and factories, work to become the all-round political leadership of the working people. But leadership, does not come automatically or just from wanting it, or talking about it. Leadership has to be won and can only be won if it is deserved. As Harry Pollitt explains in Britain Arise, page 32:

“The leading role of the Communist Party does not come of itself, it has to be won in action.”


The second aspect of the role of the Communist Party is to be linked inseparably with the mass of the working class and working people, to lead them on immediate struggles which confront them, to be the most active constant defenders of their daily interests etc. To coordinate the various streams of struggle in different fields. To work for the greatest measure of united action for the working class and of the whole of the working people, and—step by step—to lift the level of struggle until it is possible to win the people for the aim of political power and the building of Socialism.

(C) Building an Organisation Capable of Leading the Struggle

But it is not enough to be a Party with a scientific theory of Socialism and a Party leading the immediate struggles. To accomplish these tasks the Communist Party has to be organised in a way different from that of earlier political parties of the working class.

The ruling class, under capitalism, seems to have all the trump cards. It has the State, the propaganda machine, the money, the experience. But the working class and working people have one weapon which their class enemy never has—their numbers and their power as being the people that man the factories, the transport and communications and even the apparatus of state. For their numbers to be effective, organisation and discipline is necessary, and the vanguard of the working class needs a revolutionary organisation which can enable them to lead the people to Socialism.

The Communist Party is not just the sum of its individual members, but its strength depends on how these members are organised and knit together. The question of organisation is not a subsidiary question, it is a question of principle. As Stalin said in his Report to the 17th Congress of the C.P.S.U. (B) 1934:

“ . . . After the correct political line has been laid down, organisational work decides everything, including the fate of the political line itself, its success or failure”.

We examine the organisational work of the Communist Party in the next session.


A Communist Party cannot function as an effective Party unless it carries out all three aspects of its role—Socialist propaganda, leadership of the immediate struggles, the development of a revolutionary organisation.

Socialist propaganda alone, however eloquent, will not win the victory of Socialism if it is carried out in isolation from the mass of the people and the daily struggles. Leaders of the daily struggles, however militant, will not win the victory of Socialism if it is carried out without socialist propaganda and education. Neither socialist propaganda nor leadership of the immediate struggles can be successful if out of these do not arise the steady building and strengthening of an organised Communist Party, rooted amongst the masses in the factories and areas, capable of leading the people from the immediate daily struggles to the struggle for political power and the building of Socialism.

(D) The Communist Party and the Labour Left

There has always been a left in the Labour Party ever since its formation. But today an important new stage has been reached. A powerful progressive movement has developed in the key trade unions and the majority of the constituency Labour Parties. There have been important movements in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

The Communist Party takes a most positive attitude to the development of the left in the Labour Party. All experiences before the war and since show that the deeply entrenched right-wing leadership of the Labour Party, with its grip on the official machine, cannot be defeated except by the powerful united effort of all the working-class forces. The maintenance of bans and proscriptions within the Labour Party and Labour movement is a key weapon in the hands of the right wing for preserving its domination. It is essential to develop the fight to swegp away all bans on unity within the Labour movement if victory is to be achieved.

The Communist Party works in every way for united action and mutual discussion with all sections of the Labour left. Experience shows that, in fact, it is the work of the Communist Party and the Daily Worker, its propaganda and education, its fighting initiative on all immediate issues of wages, hours, social services, democracy, independence, peace, that has been the key factor in giving rise to the development of the Labour left.

There can be no victory of the left in the Labour movement without the Communist Party. Every effort to build a left without the Communist Party has failed to change the right-wing leadership of the Labour Party. The successes of the left have always been gained in unity with the Communist Party.

The Communist Party is the only organised Party of the left in the British working-class movement, with a centralised leadership, branch organisations covering the main centres and industrial concerns, and a consistent socialist (Marxist) outlook, and is engaged in systematic mass work and consistent socialist propaganda and education.

For left policies to triumph in the Labour Party, all obstacles to unity in the working class must be overcome; there must be cooperation, joint campaigning and work of all the Left forces and the Communist Party.

Above all, the working class cannot advance to political power and Socialism without the Communist Party. The key issue of the advance is the strengthening of the Communist Party.

Further Reading

V. I. Lenin . . . Left Wing Communism

Lenin and Stalin . . . On the Party (L.L.L. No. 27)

J. V. Stalin . . . Foundations of Leninism, Sect. 8.

H. Pollitt . . . Arise Britain (1952), pp. 34/45.

H. Pollitt . . . Challenge to Labour 1954, pp. 37/45.

J. Gollan . . . Build the Communist Party, C.P., 2d.

J. Gollan . . . The Workers Need the Communist Party in World News, Vol. 2, No. 30, July 23, 1955.


The Organisational Principles of the Communist Party

(A) Organisation Corresponds to Political Aim

(i) The organisation of a political party depends on and corresponds to its political aims and its conception of how those aims are to be achieved. Organisation depends on aim.

(ii) That is why the form of organisation adopted by the Labour Party is not suitable for the Communist Party.

The Labour Party, according to its constitution, stands for Socialism, but the right-wing leaders of the Labour Party have revised and even rejected the aims of Socialism. But whether they accept in words, revise or reject such aims, the leadership of the Labour Party are reformists. The British state, they proclaim, is neutral, above classes. The so-called new society which they talk about is to be achieved by gradual piecemeal reform within the framework of the capitalist state and the capitalist economic system, and is nothing but the continuation of capitalism. They reject the need of the working people to win political power. Most of them reject the class struggle itself and put forward in theory and practice a line of class collaboration.

The main purpose becomes the winning of Parliamentary and local elections, the election of Labour councils, and a Labour Government which will “introduce Socialism” within the framework of capitalism.

The Labour Party, therefore, is organised above all for electoral activity and not for the all-round political struggle against capitalism. Its organisation encourages long periods of passivity and inertia, with occasional flare-ups of routine electoral action.

Moreover, with all the emphasis on elections, the Labour Party leadership subordinates the whole Party to the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is a law unto itself, which makes its own interpretation of Party policy, violating Conference decisions. It is the leader of the Parliamentary group who is the leader of the Party, and he, not the Party leadership, chooses the members of the Labour Government. A Labour Government, and especially the Cabinet and the Prime Minister himself, are responsible not to the Party, but only to themselves. To maintain their domination of the Party, the right-wing leaders introduce a whole series of bans, proscriptions and purges, more and more restricting the democratic control of the Party by the Party membership.

The Labour Party forms of organisation are copied and taken over from the examples of the Tory and Liberal Parties.

Such a form of organisation, arising from such reformist aims which encourage passivity, which is geared only to electoral activity, which subordinates the whole Party to its Parliamentary section, which limits and restricts inner-Party democracy, is one which is incapable of leading the British working people to the victory of Socialism.

(iii) The Communist Party has a quite different aim and a quite different conception of how to achieve its aim from that of the rightwing leadership of the Labour Party.

The Communist Party stands for the ending of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism in Britain. In its long-term programme, The British Road to Socialism, the Communist Party outlines its conception of how Socialism can be achieved through the election of a People’s Government and the building of a People’s Democracy.

The Communist Party explains that to achieve People’s Democracy and then Socialism it is necessary for the British working class at the head of the whole working people not only continuously to carry out the immediate struggles on economic and social issues, democracy, independence acid peace, but for the working people, led by the working class, to win political power. Only when this is done does the real transition to Socialism begin. Without political power in the hands of the working people led by the working class, there can be no successful advance to Socialism.

The Communist Party stresses, therefore, the role and importance of electoral work. To realise the aims outlined in The British Road to Socialism, the Communist Party works to win and steadily to increase its representation in Parliament and the local councils, but at the same time it sees the electoral struggle as an important part of the all-round political struggle which must be continuously waged if capitalism is to be defeated.

The Communist Party, therefore, is organised to carry out the continuous all-round political struggle on the immediate issues, to carry out continuous propaganda and education on the theory and aims of Socialism, and to lead the mass of the people, in the struggle for political power.

(B) The Communist Party Branches

(i) The Role of the Branches

The Communist Party is organised in branches—factory branches and local (area) branches.

Clause 2 of the Party rules states:

“Membership shall be open to persons of eighteen years and upwards, who accept the aims of the Party, pay their dues regularly, and work in a Party organisation.”

The Communist Party, which is a Party of struggle, must be organised for struggle. Its members must be so organised that they can most effectively preserve contact with the mass of the people and lead them in their daily struggles: the branches are therefore based on the places where the mass of the people work and live—the factories, rail depots, pits, offices on the one hand; and the localities on the other.

The Party, as a party of struggle, cannot be a loose assembly of individuals. The Party is the sum, not of its individual members, but of its branches. For the Communist Party, therefore, it is a point of principle that every member must work in a basic Party unit, a Party branch.

The strength and influence of the Communist Party depends above all on the strength of its branches. It is through the branches that we get the closest unity between the Party and the people.

Just as the Executive Committee of the Party must give an all-round continuous political leadership to the British people as a whole, so the Party branches must give all-round continuous political leadership to the people in the fields in which they operate.

(ii) The Factory Branch

Of special, indeed key, importance are the factory branches of the Party (under this term are included branches in depots, pits and offices). Why is this?

In modern capitalist society the key section of the working people, the section which is the most politically conscious, which leads all other sections, are the workers in the great industrial concerns. Within the working class, the key role is played by the organised workers in large-scale industry. For the development of mass struggle against capitalism, the key places are the factories and the trade unions.

Communist Party factory branches organise the vanguard of the working class at the point of production. It is here that the workers can best be mobilised for the struggle against capitalism; it is here that the struggle is the most effective; it is here that is the best centre for achieving working-class unity—the unity of workers of different trades and unions, skilled and unskilled, young and old, male and female. Often the large factories can become a centre for rallying the people in a whole area. It is for this reason that the organisation of factory branches is a question of principle, of first priority for the Party.

The factory branch is responsible for carrying to the workers of the factory the Party’s policy both on all current issues and its longterm policy. It must know all the problems that concern the workers. It conducts public meetings, above all at the factory gates. It carries out campaigns in the factory in defence of the workers’ conditions, on social issues, on peace. It sells the Daily Worker and the Party literature. It organises classes and meetings to explain the theory of Socialism.

An important task of a factory branch when it reaches the necessary stage of ability and experience is to work out a policy for the factory based on the Party’s policy for the particular industry with which it is concerned. Such a policy is the best way of relating the immediate demands of the workers and the general national policy of the Party.

The factory branch is an all-round political body; it has an important responsibility for the Party’s electoral work in the area.

(iii) The Local (Area) Branches

Not all the members of the Party work in factories, depots, pits, large offices and concerns. That is why the Party, alongside the factory branches, organises local (area) branches. The struggle of the working people develops not only where they work, but also where they live.

The local (area) branch is responsible for formulating a policy on local issues in line with the Party’s national policy, popularising it and organising the people to take action around it.

The first task of the local branch is to know intimately the area in which it works. What are the key section of workers or people in it? What organisations are there in the area—trade unions, co-operatives. Labour Party, other political Parties, peace committees, friendship societies, ex-service organisations, organisations of the women and the youth, cultural and sports organisations, churches, local press etc. etc.? Who are the political and other personalities? What special problems affect the local population? What are the problems and conflicts of the local council?

In order to win the position of all-round political leadership in the area, the local branch and its individual members have to be known locally, they have continuously to make a public appearance putting the policy of the Communist Party. The area branches have a special responsibility to help the development of factory branches in the area.

The local (area) branches have also a particular responsibility for developing the electoral work of the Party. It is only through a consistent public appearance, and a consistent fight on the issues, local as well as national, that concern the people, that the Communist Party can win successes in local and national elections. Election of candidates is only secured where branches are seen as the continuous leaders of the struggles of the people in the areas and in the factories.

(C) Democratic Centralism

(i) The Communist Party has to give political leadership under all types of conditions—from the limited democracy of capitalism to periods of outright oppression, in periods of upsurge and periods of lull, in periods of victory and of defeat.

The capitalist class seems to have all the weapons—the machinery of the state, the whole apparatus of propaganda, press and education, its long experience in the maintenance of its class rule. Against this the working people have their trump card—their numbers and their power. They are many, the ruling class is few.

But for the members of the working people to become effective, they need a disciplined organisation, above all the vanguard of the working people, the Communist Party, must be organised in a disciplined way.

The Communist Party is the sum of its branches and not of its individual members. But to be fully effective the branches of the Communist Party must become part of a single system, knit together in a disciplined way, following a common policy.

This is the basis of the Marxist conception of democratic centralism.

Democratic centralism represents the fusion of two principles without which the development of a revolutionary working-class Party is impossible. These principles are firstly, democracy from the bottom to the top and, secondly, centralism—the co-ordination of the activity of the whole Party from top to bottom along common agreed lines of policy.

(ii) Democracy

Democracy is ensured by the right of all members and units to participate in the making of policy and in the election of all higher bodies. The membership at all levels are the people to whom higher bodies give account of their stewardship at regular intervals at annual general meetings, area, district and national congresses.

There is thus the fullest freedom of discussion of policy. But discussion has an aim. This is the elaboration of a policy which shall be the basis for action. After the fullest discussion, a policy is arrived at on the democratic basis of the majority vote. Once such a decision has been arrived at it becomes Party policy binding on all Party members, including the minority.

Similarly with the election of the leading bodies. At branch, district and national level, the election of the leading bodies is one of the most important tasks. Every facility is given for the airing of views and criticisms in connection with the election of the personnel of the leading committees. These are elected not on the basis of block votes or of bargains behind the scenes, but on the basis of open explanation of the political fitness of the people concerned and by democratic vote. Thus the leading bodies at all levels are elected on the basis of being the best people for the job.

(iii) Centralism

In the Communist Party there are higher and lower leading bodies. This means that some leading bodies have greater political responsibility than others. The District Committees have greater responsibilities than area or branch committees. The Executive Committee has greater responsibilities than the District Committee. The principle of centralism is reflected in the subordination of the lower leading bodies to the higher ones, not in any blind mechanical sense but on the basis of the recognition of the greater political knowledge, standing, and responsibility of the higher body.

Differences are ironed out in joint discussion between higher and lower bodies and, where necessary, at District and National Congresses.

The motive force making democratic centralism a living reality is not, however, the organisational mechanism. Its effectiveness depends above all on the live and continuous discussion of political problems in the branches and amongst the members.

(D) Collective Leadership and Cadres

(i) Collective Leadership

The Communist Party numbers in its ranks some of the most splendid and outstanding individuals in the British Labour movement. It is proud of them and holds them up as an example of what Communists are like. But the Party cannot be built on outstanding individuals. Unlike the situation in the Labour and Tory parties, the Communist Party emphasises not the leadership of individuals but the need for working in such a way that responsibility and activity are developed collectively.

Some of the reasons for this are that individuals come and go, but the Party must continue; further, that the collective experience and activity of a group is likely to be much greater and more effective than reliance on one individual—no matter how outstanding; finally, that responsibility for elaborating and carrying out Party policy cannot be left to one or two people. The Party can develop only if all members of leading bodies and branches participate fully in the elaboration of policy and are made to feel responsibility for the collective carrying out of this policy.

The fight for this conception and method of work is of the greatest importance. It demands from leading comrades an attitude of faith in the capacities for development of other people. It demands on the part of all members of committees and branches an interest in and a feeling of responsibility for, all the problems facing the Party. It is the only method whereby Communist work can be made really effective.

(ii) Criticism and Self-criticism

A fundamental weapon for the fight for collective leadership, for developing the Party and all the people in it, is the Communist practice of criticism and self-criticism. The basic ideas behind criticism and self-criticism are—the collective responsibility of all Party organisations and members for activity; the need for a regular objective assessment of the work of the Party in order that it can be improved, and the need for self-examination by individual Communists of the nature of their contribution to the work of the Party as a whole.

Criticism and self-criticism does not begin or end with what is negative and poor in the work of the Party—on the contrary. It starts with what is positive and good and examines why it was not even better. It analyses what is poor and bad in the light of all the circumstances and of the work of all the people involved. It is therefore always constructive, not niggling or wounding, and aims to advance the work at all times.

The linking of self-criticism with criticism of others has the aim of emphasising the collective aspects of work as well as developing the habit by individual Communists of analysing the positive and negative side of their own development.

This critical and self-critical attitude to individual and Party work is of the greatest value in the fight against “hand-to-mouth” methods of Party work, against routinism and slovenliness in Party work. It helps to uncover what is new in the situation, in Party activity and in people.

(iii) Cadres

The word “Cadre” means a frame. Its use in our Party means that framework of experienced, reliable, developed and developing people around whom the whole of the work of the Party revolves. It embraces therefore the key comrades in the Party at national, district and branch level, those on whom falls the responsibility of Party leadership and example.

The development of cadres is a basic principle of Party organisation and is of the greatest importance for us in Britain today. Cadres do not grow on trees or develop continuously. They must be helped to develop, and the essence of cadres work is assisting people to develop their political and other capacities.

This demands a proper attitude to people, an end to dismissing people as weak, incompetent etc., once and for all. It demands an understanding that people develop, and that one of our main tasks is to help them to develop. Thus, it demands a proper knowledge of people, their strong and weak points. It demands further a rational approach to allocation of responsibilities and a careful selection of people for particular tasks. It demands above all consistent help to comrades who are given responsibilities, not leaving them to grapple with unfamiliar problems on their own.

Regular consistent work with people, discussing their problems, helping them to overcome them, encouraging them, promoting them, assisting them to extend their own understanding of Marxist theory, attention to their personal problems and difficulties—this is what is meant by consistent cadres work.

(E) The “Daily Worker”

Neither the role nor the organisation of the Communist Party can be considered and understood separate from the Daily Worker. The Daily Worker plays an essential role in all the aspects of the work of the Communist Party—as agitator, educator, organiser.

It helps to lead the mass of the people in all their daily struggles against capitalism. It helps to educate the people in socialist theory and points the way forward to Socialism.

It acts as an “organiser” for the Communist Party and the working people. It is the daily organised link between the Party branch and the non-Party workers, and it is among the Daily Worker readers that the most fruitful field of Party recruitment is to be found.

Thus the campaign for the sales of the Daily Worker is a continuous task of all Party branches, and its sale should be linked with all aspects of Party activity.

(F) Building the Communist Party and Y.C.L. and “Daily Worker” Circulation

The advance to Socialism depends on the strength of the Communist Party. Influence in the Labour movement and amongst the people is not enough. Militancy, sharp struggle by the rank and file against the right-wing leaders in the trade unions and Labour Party, although of great importance, are by themselves no guarantee that the struggle for Socialism will be victorious.

All the lessons of the history of the modern Labour movement emphasise that without a strong Communist Party there can be no advance to Socialism. The size of our Party, the smallness of the Young Communist League, the present figures of circulation of the Daily Worker, all despite the favourable objective situation, emphasise the danger of the present situation.

The whole Party must go into action to increase the Party membership especially in the factories, to increase the Y.C.L. and the circulation of the Daily Worker. These are not questions for the Communist Party alone. They are decisive questions for the whole of the British working class and of the people, for the future of the British people depends on the speedy solution of these problems.

Further Reading

Party Rules

Forging the Weapon: A Handbook for the Communist Party. C.P., 6d.