The Communist

The Communist Conference

Source: The Communist, August 5 1920.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The call of our Russian comrades has been responded to and a united Revolutionary Communist Party in this country is now an accomplished fact. A protracted conference, with its interminable discussions, amendments, points of order, and so forth, is of necessity a very wearying thing, but those delegates who filled the great hall of the Cannon Street Hotel on Saturday, July 31st, may rest assured that they took part in a gathering which will be regarded as constituting a definite landmark in the history of the social revolution in this country when it comes to be written. And this whether they are in full accord with the decisions arrived at or not.

The story of the negotiations that led up to the present position is lucidly put in the Secretary’s report presented to conference and is summarised here in order to show the difficulties that had to be surmounted before unity was finally achieved.


The present negotiations have been proceeding for some fourteen months. In June, 1919, a meeting was arranged in London at which members of the B.S.P., S.L.P., W.S.F., and S.-Wales S.S., attended. The discussion showed that there was little, if any, disagreement so far as concerned fundamental principles, and the main difficulty arose on the question of tactics. Eventually, after several meetings, it was agreed to submit the following proposal to the various executives:

“That the membership of the various organisations be consulted as to their willingness to merge the existing organisations in a united party, having for its object the establishment of Communism by means of the dictatorship of the working class working through Soviets; and that the question of the affiliation of the new Party to the Labour Party be settled by a referendum of the members three months after the party is formed.”

A complication ensued here by reason of the repudiation by the S.L.P. executive of the action of their delegates. This action caused a struggle inside the ranks of the S.L.P. which ended in the formation of a Communist Unity Group, whose members were formally expelled from the S.L.P. Henceforward Comrades Bell, McManus, and Paul acted upon the Committee as representatives of that group and the S.L.P. withdrew. Later the attitude assumed by the W.S.F. became more lukewarm, and, later, distinctly hostile, and their contributions to the discussions revealed them as being more desirous of creating additional obstacles and propounding fresh problems than of devising ways and means of overcoming difficulties. Nevertheless the discussions were continued, in spite of the W.S.F. rather than by their aid. At this stage the S.-Wales S.S. had become defunct. Their place on the joint provisional Committee was subsequently taken by the S.-Wales Communist Council, a much stronger and more influential body.

The report proceeds: “They (the W.S.F.) presently broke away from the Provisional Committee, and a tiny and uninfluential gathering of their supporters, held on June 19th, ostensibly summoned to discuss their views on the convention proposals, decided to change their name from the “Workers’ Socialist Federation” to the “Communist Party.” This may have been considered good tactics from their point of view, in that it may serve to give them temporarily a new lease of life. But that such disruptive action deservers the severest condemnation of all genuine Communists is seen from the message received from Comrade Lenin by the Joint Provisional Committee and from the declarations presented by the Central Executive Committee to the Congress of the Third International just assembled at Moscow.

“The Joint Provisional Committee has, therefore, proceeded with its work on the lines agreed upon, and it is to give effect to that agreement that this convention has been called. It is the conviction of the joint Provisional Committee that a great deal of the difficulty that has had to be met and contended against will disappear of itself once the real Communist Party stands as an established fact. The pursuit of its policy and the defence of its programme will create such an atmosphere as is calculated to develop the revolutionary fervour that is latent within the movement, and sweep aside the distrust, suspicion, and tardy indecision that has marked it hitherto.

“On behalf of the Provisional Committee for the Communist Party.”

The conference itself owed much of its success to the tactful handling of the chairman, comrade A. McManus, but his task was made all the lighter by the evident determination of the delegates to discuss points of difference with a single eye to the attainment of the object for which the conference was called. Here it may be mentioned that the invitation to be represented was extended only to those organisations, or branches of organisations, which accept the fundamental bases of Communist unity: (a) The dictatorship of the working class; (b) The Soviet system; (c) The Third International. That excluded from the conference all those reformist elements which believe in the possibility of attaining some form of Socialism by means of Parliamentary enactment, and gave it a very definite and clearly marked character. In all 158 delegates attended.

After the usual formalities, the conference opened by a silent tribute to those in all lands who had died in the cause of the revolution. Fraternal messages were then read from the Communist parties of Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Holland, the Italian Socialist Party, the Norwegian Labour Party, and from comrades Clara Zetkin, Tom Mann, and N. Lenin.

The first resolution, defining general policy and formally constituting the Communist Party, was moved by comrade A. A. Purcell and, after one or two verbal alterations, carried unanimously. It reads as follows:

“The Communists in conference assembled declare for the Soviet (or Workers’ Council) system as a means whereby the working class shall achieve power and take control of the forces of production; declare for the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessary means for combating the counter-revolution during the transition period between capitalism and communism; and stand for the adoption of these means as steps towards the establishment of a system of complete communism wherein all the means of production shall be communally owned and controlled. This conference therefore establishes itself the Communist Party on the foregoing basis and declares its adherence to the Third International.”

The resolution dealing with Parliamentary action caused much more discussion and gave rise to a large number of amendments. As finally carried (by 186 votes to 19) it reads:

“The Communist Party repudiates the reformist view that a social revolution can be achieved by the ordinary methods of Parliamentary Democracy, but regards Parliamentary and electoral action generally as providing a means of propaganda and agitation towards the revolution. The tactics to be employed by representatives of the Party elected to Parliament or local bodies must be laid down by the Party, itself according to national or local circumstances. In all cases such representatives must be considered as holding a mandate from the party, and not from the particular constituency for which they happen to sit. Also that in the event of any representative violating the decisions of the party as embodied in the mandate which he or she has accepted, or as an instruction, that he or she be called upon to resign his or her membership of Parliament or municipality and also of the Party.”

It was moved by comrade T. Bell in a closely reasoned speech. The opposition to it was based upon grounds which the conference clearly showed by its vote were not convincing, and Robert Williams gave the gentlemen of the Press a good opportunity for a spicy paragraph by asserting, with the enthusiastic endorsement of all the delegates present, that it would be an excellent thing if, whenever a Cabinet Minister rose in the House of Commons to utter his calculated falsehoods, he were met by the rejoinder: “You’re a liar! You’re a liar!”

The Provisional Committee had wisely decided to present the question of relations with the Labour Party in the bald form of (a) a proposal to affiliate, and (b) a proposal not to affiliate, thus leaving the matter perfectly clear for a definite vote. It was evident that opinion among the delegates was sharply divided, although there was complete unanimity on one point at least. Advocates and opponents alike were united in insisting upon the absolutely reactionary character of Labour party leaders and policy, and of the necessity of fighting both to a finish. All the speakers for affiliation based their arguments on the need for maintaining contact with the mass of organised workers of the rank and file at present controlled and hoodwinked by the Labour leaders. Nor did one of them suggest that it should supplant other methods, industrial or political. On the contrary, it was insisted upon, ad nauseam, that Labour Party affiliation could be used only to supplement other means for waging the revolutionary class struggle. In a word, it was the revolution, sans phrase, that was in every delegate’s mind; it was the attainment of the revolution that dominated the conference; and the division of opinion on tactics was completely overshadowed by the obvious unanimity on the immediate goal. Since all bodies sending delegates had previously agreed to abide by the decision of the conference on the point in dispute, it is manifest that the Communist Party of this county, whatever difference of opinion on tactics there may be within its own ranks, at one with the Communist parties of all other countries in its ideals and objects and will not swerve from the path it has set out for itself until those ideals have been realized.

The debate was a long one, as will be seen by the fact that nearly thirty speakers took part. It was fought with tolerance and ability. Hardly a speaker throughout the long discussion wandered into irrelevancy. Hodgson’s opening on behalf of affiliation was a model of keen but good-humoured debate. W. Paul’s negative was equally effective, although striking a different and more rhetorical note. The chairman held the scales impartially, and every ebullition of feeling from either side (natural enough under the circumstances) that might have interfered with proper discussion, was promptly suppressed. Everyone present must have felt, whatever his own private opinion, that the question had been thrashed out as it has never been thrashed out before. The vote was taken amid suppressed excitement and showed a small majority for affiliation, the actual figures being: for, 100; against, 85,

Two significant resolutions had been carried during an interval in the proceedings. Resolutions of greeting on behalf of the new party were sent to the E.C. of the Communist International in Moscow, and to Kameneff and the Russian delegation just arrived in London. Both were carried with acclamation.

Tentative proposals for carrying on the work of the party during the period of transformation had been laid before the delegates by the Provisional Committee and were carried with a few slight alterations. It was now proposed to augment the original committee by a further six members elected from the conference. This body will carry on the work of the party until an executive committee, properly elected according to rule, has been appointed.

Sixteen nominations were handed in for the additional members, and, after an exhaustive vote, the following were elected Geo. Deer, C. L. Malone, W. Mellor, Mrs. D. Montefiore, Fred Shaw, and R. Stewart (Dundee). These, together with the original committee, consisting of A. McManus, T. Bell, W. Paul, W. Hewlett, J. F. Hodgson, A. A. Watts, and F. Willis will constitute the provisional executive. A. Inkpin will act as secretary and A. McManus as chairman.

The conference had now sat for sixteen hours and several matters still remained to be settled. A resolution submitted by Robt. Stewart calling upon the Communist party to consider the question of prohibition in the interests of the revolutionary movement was formally moved and remitted to the provisional executive, and a resolution of protest against the white terror in Hungary was unanimously agreed to. This concluded the business.

A Communist Party in this country, with the definitely avowed object of carrying on the fight for the world revolution is now an accomplished fact. To our comrades of other countries fighting under the same flag we send greetings of encouragement and good cheer. To the workers of Great Britain, consciously or unconsciously fighting the class struggle, we issue a call for action. Nationally or internationally it will be our duty to provide a rallying-point for all who realise that the collapse of capitalism, so long foretold, is now here; that the social revolution, so long hoped for, is upon us. May the spirit that animated the conference of last week be the spirit that animates every member of the new party from now onward.

* * * *


The Convention more than surpassed the best of my expectations. The feeling created was that, after all, everything involved in its preparation had been well worth while. The atmosphere was intense, with the earnestness and determination of the delegates. To preside over such a convention was a pleasure indeed, because however delicate the moments may have been, and these I can assure were many, the sincerity of all was demonstrated by the willing and ready assistance rendered to the chair. The value of the work done is inestimable at the moment, but of one thing I feel sure. It will bring more hope and gladness to the soul of our struggling comrades in Russia and elsewhere, than anything else which has been done in this country.

The decisions were all well taken, and while I may have felt a pang of disappointment at being on the losing side on the Labour Party issue, I must say the battle was fought with healthy vigour and clean frankness, which augers well for the Communist Party. We demonstrated that we were all capable of disagreeing, and that, to my mind, was not the least important manifestation of the Convention. The victorious side were generous to a defeated foe in a moment of victory, while my own erstwhile colleagues at least demonstrated how they could take a defeat. One impression I should like to definitely clear as gathered from Sunday’s experience, and that is, that those arguing for affiliation to the Labour Party did not urge for, nor contemplate working with, the Labour Party.

The antagonists to the Labour Party was general, but those for affiliation held the opinion that such antagonism would be best waged within their own camp. This much in fairness to the other side. There exist no sides now, but separate opinions only within the Communist Party. We are ready now for the real work.


* * * * *

The essence and value of the conference was its evident eagerness and sincerity. Its old men were young, and its young men did not lack wisdom and that comprehensive understanding which seeks and finds and acts upon its findings. To chair a conference where all can talk and nearly all wish to, where tension is strong, and issues are straight, is a test to try even a nimble-witted laddie like McManus, but he survived the ordeal, and will chair a bigger, where issues will be still further narrowed to immediate questions of life and death import. The leftest of the left and the rightest of the right showed an evident anxiety to start fair, and to keep the Communist Party of Great Britain free from puerilities and that ineptitude for action which has hitherto been a not uncommon feature in the debating stage of our growth. In resolute action and emulation of the high-spirited and farseeing but practical social revolutionists of Russia, minor differences will be relegated to their proper place, and the Communist Party of Great Britain, belated in arrival though it be, will play its part in the overthrow of capitalism and the raising of the first real common civilisation built by workers for workers.


* * * * *

I think the Convention quite a good one: good in its constituent members, good in its tone, good in its debating power and ability to deal with the important matters that came before it for decision. It will be of no use for the capitalist press to call this Convention a collection of hot-headed, irresponsible youths; there was a very considerable number of middle-aged men and women delegates, and when it is remembered that these men and women have arrived at the need for a Communist Party, that they represent a definite membership, and also a large, indefinite body of opinion outside their actual membership, the outlook for a powerful revolutionary party in this country is exceedingly hopeful. Its power will depend upon its numbers, its energy, its determination. It is possible for every Communist organisation to be affiliated; it should be made possible for every individual Communist to became a member. It is up to every organisation and every Communist to rally to the Party and to make it the power it should be.


* * * * *

The number of delegates who were able to be present was good, remembering that owing to the difficulties of travel, expenses, etc., the numbers present were only a percentage of the Communist groups in Great Britain, apart altogether from the bodies of Communist opinion not yet organised.

Some delegates appeared even now a little muddled as to Parliamentary action. Of course it is purely for propaganda, and I still hold, not the most effective means of employing available energy. As to affiliation with the Thomas Henderson crowd, a little more effort and the motion would have been defeated.

But the formation of the Party stands out as a definite milestone of the week-end. The resolutions are subsidiary.

Work, WORK everywhere, and organisation are now required; not discussions or resolutions. Let the delegates go back and those who were not present devote all efforts they can spare in workshop, factory, town, and hamlet to make the Party not merely a strong force, but in the not far distant future, the governing force in this country.


* * * * *

The heartiest possible welcome to the Communist Party of Great Britain! To my mind it behoves every out and out Communist in this country to lend every energy towards building up “this party in one rock-bound programme of the Communist International.” We who embrace without hesitation or reserve the Soviet system, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, with all that it entails; who reject parliamentary “democracy” and all the apparatus and ideology of the capitalist State must, responding with enthusiasm and determination to the ringing call “to the Communists of the Independent Labour Party” sent with delightful insistence on their democratic faith in ”no secret diplomacy” to the N.A.C., and to the Left Wing, do all in our power to swing our party into, and merge it into, the Communist Party. My loyalty, at any date, is now as it has been for two and a half years—first and foremost to the position of the Third International.

I call on my comrades “to fight for the affiliation of our Party with the Communist International; not by obtaining the unwilling consent of your leaders to join it, but by means of determined propaganda within our own party to rid ourselves of the opportunist leaders of the Right.

Remember the secret letter to I.L.P. candidates telling us we need not say too much about the war now it was over (and vote catching had begun!) Remember MacDonald’s recruiting message to the Mayor of Leicester! Remember the letter the N.A.C. sent to Wilson and the deaf ears they turned to the negotiators of Brest-Litovsk! Remember that during the whole war and the whole recruiting campaign Ramsay MacDonald remained responsible treasurer of the Labour Party, and was responsible for its expenditure! Do you wonder Moscow, which calls a spade a spade, compares these compromisers and opportunists with Pontius Pilate, “washing their hands of the guilt!”

Who is not with us is against us, and we are with the Communist International every time!


* * * * *

The watchword of the newly formed Communist Party must be loyalty and organisation. We need loyalty to the aims we have set before us; loyalty to the cause to which we belong; loyalty, above all, to the will of the Party as expressed in its resolutions. We need organisation of our own forces so that the influence of our ideas may change workers; we need also to help the organisation of the workers so that they too shall look on their struggles and strivings as part of that class war that can end only with the triumphant coming of a Socialist Republic.


* * * * *

It was, indeed, an inspiring sight to look upon the delegates in the Great Hall at Cannon Street Hotel, especially when one’s thoughts turned to the schemes and plots against labour that have undoubtedly been hatched here by the junkers of Capitalism in Britain. The spectacle itself brought a feeling of compensation to those of us who took up the task of Communist unity nearly two years ago, and when the resolution to form the Communist Party was carried with acclamation, one felt for the moment that nothing else mattered.

Naturally, I was a bit disappointed in the decision to affiliate with the Labour Party. I would have liked it to have been otherwise, because I believe it would have been better for the new party to have demonstrated at the outset that it had no intention of following the same old lines adopted by the Socialist parties of this country before the war. Also because I think we are strong enough to challenge the Labour Party and to give a straight and independent lead and so rally into one camp those workers who have lost all faith in the idea of a peaceful transformation in social institutions. I am certain, of course, that we shall strike a different line from the past, but we would have been saved much unnecessary explanations to many of our comrades had we won on this issue.

The optimism which I maintained to the last regarding our chances of winning the new party to our views on Labour Party affiliation has been amply justified by the narrow majority against us. The failure itself is the responsibility of those elements who were so self-opinionated as to keep away from the convention, while making a virtue of non-affiliation.

However, the main object has been achieved in the formation of a party that will at last definitely link up the Communists of Great Britain with the main army, whose headquarters are at Moscow.

I appeal to all members of the late Communist Unity Group to loyally accept the decisions of the convention; throw their proven weight and strength into the new organisation, and, while maintaining the independence of their views, help forward the raising of the Communist Party towards the day when Communism will triumph in this country.


* * * * *

The outcome of eighteen months’ hard work has at last reached a successful consummation in the launching of the Communist Party. Whatever may happen to the Communist Party in the future, we all feel that last week’s conference marked an epoch in the history of the British revolutionary movement. The spirit and enthusiasm of the delegates was a source of inspiring stimulation to every one of us. Delegates representing one-time hostile groups forgot all the petty and doctrinaire dogmas which had emasculated our movement, and which were threatening to wreck all possibility of social emancipation in the near future. During the keenly debated problems it seemed as though every one of us desired to bury that malicious bigotry and personal animus which, in some quarters, seems to be the only criterion of revolutionary faith.

We of the Communist Unity Group feel our defeat on the question of Labour Party affiliation very keenly. But we intend to loyally abide by the decision of the rank and file convention because the magnificent force which our group mustered—getting within 15 votes of victory—shall be so increased that we are confident of carrying our point at the next Conference. If any of the doctrinaire parties or groups criticise us for being voted down on the Labour Party question, let them ask themselves why they did not help us by adding to our voting strength. If any of out short-sighted critics had enough influence to send sixteen delegates to the open Convention and did not do so, then they are responsible for betraying us who strenuously opposed affiliation to the Labour Party.

The comrades who voted in favour of the Labour Party were undoubtedly influenced by the arguments put forth on this question by Lenin, Radek, and many other Russian Communists. We believe that these heroic comrades, in urging Labour Party affiliation, have erred on a question of tactics. But we frankly admit that the very fact that Lenin, Radek, Bukharin, and the others advise such a policy is a very good reason why a number of delegates thought we were perhaps in the wrong. We look to historical experience demonstrating the wisdom of our tactics. And just as Lenin, when defeated in the councils of the Russian Communist Party, loyally abided by the decision of his organisations, and waited upon the passing of events to prove the truth of his case, so we intend to do the same. Time is working on our side.

Let us, then, get on with our great work. We have serious, severe, and thrilling times ahead. We have within the Communist Party the best elements in the revolutionary movement of this country. We may not have the doctrinaires or formula worshippers, but we have the fighters, who test principles by action.


* * * * *

Lookers on, they say, see most of the game. To me, as a silent participant, the National Convention amply justified those who, in the long and sometimes critical course of the unity discussions, held fast to negotiations in the belief that a way over the obstacles to unity would eventually present itself. Not the least striking feature of a remarkable gathering was the splendid manner in which the minority on the thorny subject of Labour Parity affiliation accepted the vote and showed their determination not to allow this minor question of tactics to be transformed into a fundamental question of principle. The Executive Committee, in considering the decision of the Convention, cannot fail to interpret the generous and tolerant spirit the majority undoubtedly feel towards the minority. The Communist Party is now a fact. Let us devote our energies and enthusiasm towards proving the Party, in numbers, vigour, and determination, worthy of the great and inspiring cause for which if stands. All power to the Communist Party of Great Britain.


* * * * *

I have been requested to give my impressions of what I think is destined to become one of the most potent and historical events in social and political evolution.

As a Communist comrade I offer my impressions of the conference for what they are worth. I have stated its great possibilities. I have looked forward, worked, and waited for the day when the British workers would assemble for an honest effort to form a real, live revolutionary Communist Party, that would be broad enough to take within its constitution all the revolutionary elements from the Orkney Islands to the West of Wales. I say that Party was born on July 31st, 1920. It was a soul-inspiring conference, where the ideals were high and the spirit was the right one. Tribute must also be paid to the comradely manifestation in which matters were discussed. There is but one disappointment to me, i.e., I would have preferred, in fact I was keenly hoping, that any thought of Labour Party affiliation would have been turned down in no uncertain manner. I fail to sychronise the contradiction, i.e., the affiliation to the Second and the Third International, still I contend the conference was a good one and reached a very high level. In conclusion, I trust the comrades will work hand in hand, go forward together, bound in that great unbreakable comradeship that is necessary as a prelude to the great International Comradeship that is the goal of the “working class.” Finally I profoundly believe that the now historical Convention is destined to play a great and important part in the overthrow of International Imperialism. Long live the British Communist Party! Long live the World’s Socialist Soviet Republic!

W. J. HEWLETT (S. Wales)