Source: Communist Unity Convention: Official Report
Date: September 1920
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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 following is submitted on behalf of the Joint Provisional Committee as a record of the steps that have led up to the summoning of this Convention to establish the United Communist Party on a definite and permanent basis.
The present negotiations for Communist Unity have been proceeding for some fourteen months. After several attempts to discover a common platform between the various national Socialist organisations, the movement to unity took a new direction—in an endeavour to unite in one body all the revolutionary left wing groups and organisations that had Communism for their objective and adhered to the Third International.
It was conveyed to these various groups and organisations by the Central Executive Committee of the Third International at Moscow that it was the duty of all sincere Communists to work for unity, and that whilst differences and difficulties undoubtedly existed, the differences and difficulties must be overcome and not permitted to constitute an obstacle to unity in view of the need for consolidating the revolutionary Communist forces all over the world. A meeting was accordingly arranged in London in June, 1919, at which members of the B.S.P., S.L.P., W.S.F., and S. Wales S.S. attended with the hope of ascertaining what the possibilities for unity actually were.
The discussion showed that there was little, if any, disagreement so far as concerned fundamental principles and the general bases upon which the four organisations could unite. The main difficulty arose on the question of tactics, particularly in regard to the relations of the proposed new Party to the Labour Party and the existing industrial and political organisations of the working class. The B.S.P. representatives referred to the referendum of that organisation taken the previous year, and to the vote of its last Annual Conference, when the policy of working through the political Labour movement was reaffirmed by overwhelming majorities. And they stated that they felt that the bulk of the B.S.P. membership would make it conditional upon any steps in the direction of unity that the bases of amalgamation should include the affiliation of the new organisation to the Labour Party.
Against that the members of the S.L.P. and, to a less extent, the representatives of the W.S.F. and the S. Wales S.S., urged that, however much they, as individuals, might be prepared to make that concession in order to achieve unity, it would be quite useless for them to approach their members with any proposal for unity that made affiliation to the Labour Party one of the bases of amalgamation.
Subsequently, a further proposal was made as suggesting a middle course to which all might agree. That proposal was that the membership of the various bodies should be consulted as to their willingness to merge their respective organisations in one Communist Party, and that the question of relations of the new Party with the Labour Party should be settled by the membership of the new Party when it was formed. Eventually this proposal was accepted by all present, and the conference adjourned on the understanding that it should be submitted to the various Executives in the following form.—
“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 who members three months after the Party is formed.”
This proposal was in due course submitted to and adopted by the Executives of the B.S.P., the W.S.F., and the S. Wales S.S. After some delay, it appread that the Executive of the S.L.P. had not accepted the report of their members at the Unity Conference, and whilst they could hardly refuse to consult their membership on a proposal for unity that had assumed such concrete shape, nevertheless their referendum was to be taken in such fashion as was calculated to render its decision null and vold so far as any definite step towards unity was concerned. The result of the S.L.P. referendum was, therefore, a foregone conclusion, and consisted of a pious declaration in favour of unity, the practical value of which was negatived by a rigid refusal to allow the new party an opportunity whatever of departing, if it so wished, from the traditional policy of the S.L.P. on the tactical issues involved.
Thenceforward, right up to Easter of this year, efforts were made, both inside and outside of the S.L.P. to induce its Executive to reconsider their intransigeant attitude that was tending to wreck the whole movement for Communist Unity. It was pointed out to them that the unity of the left wing organisations was only possible if all were prepared to make concessions that other organisations concerned in the negotiations that attached equal importance as themselves, though from a different angle, to the tactical questions in dispute, were prepared to refer them for decision of the rank and file of the new party; and they were repeatedly urged to send representatives to the Unity Conference where the points at issue could be discussed. But all to no avail.
Meanwhile, a struggle was proceeding inside the S.L.P. itself between its conservative doctrinaire executive and the elements that were genuinely desirous of a united Communist Party. These elements summoned a special conference of their sympathisers within the S.L.P., which was held at Nottingham at Easter, and from that conference issued a manifesto in favour of unity, and explaining and defending the attitude of the S.L.P. members at the original Unity Conference. This served to rally those in the S.L.P. who there in favour of a Communist Party, and to save themselves the Executive of the S.L.P. expelled the signatories, from the Party’s ranks. Those expelled from the S.L.P. thereupon constituted themselves a Communist Unity group and applied for and there admitted to separate representation at the Unity negotiations. From that moment the S.L.P. ceased officially to figure in the negotiations, and its place was taken by the Communist Unity Group. Incidentally, this Group attached to itself every single member of the S.L.P. of standing and repute, and all the known active speakers and workers joined with them, so that they now stand as a group much stronger than the S.L.P. ever stood both in morale and numbers.
This change allowed the deliberations to proceed a step further, but shortly a fresh obstacle had to be encountered. Although the discussion on the Unity Conference showed that the tactical difficulties in the way of unity were still not altogether surmounted, they also demonstrated that while each side was not prepared to accept fully the position of the other, nevertheless each—that is so far as the B.S.P. and the Communist Unity Group were concerned—was determined to hold fast to the negotiations in the hope of some way out presenting itself. The attitude assumed by the W.S.F., however, became more and 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. With them anti-parliamentarism—which, in the initial stages of the discussion, they stated they considered to be of altogether secondary importance to the need for unity—suddenly became a fetish, and was used continually to hamper the making of any real progress towards establishing the Communist Party.
Nevertheless, the discussions were continued, in spite of the W.S.F. rather than by their aid, and eventually, a stage was reached when the long-waited solution appeared to present itself. It was decided that, in view of the failure of the delegates to agree upon the question of Labour Party affiliation, the whole matter of tactics should be submitted to a special Convention of the rank and file to be arranged by the Unity Conference. This proposal was unanimously agreed to by all the sections, and the Conference resolved itself into a joint Provisional Committee for carrying the agreement into effect.
It was felt, however, that for the rank and file Conventions to be of any value at all, some understanding should be arrived at as to its relation to the projected Communist Party. Obviously, if such a Convention were held, and no stipulation made in connection with the Communist Party, there was a great danger that the various sides to the negotiations might simply use the Convention to find the volume and extent of their own support and influence, that those whose views on the various questions of tactics were not endorsed by the Convention might break away, and that the outcome would mean several Communist Parties instead of one.
Such an outcome, as will be readily appreciated, would have been anything but unity, and would certainly not have justified the twelve months’ deliberation on the matter. It was, therefore, resolved that the National Convention should proclaim by resolution the formation of the Communist Party, which resolution, if accepted, would transform the remainder of the Convention into a Conference of the Communist Party, deciding its tactical policy and instructing its officials accordingly, the minority in each case being expected to abide by that decision. The bodies participating in summoning the National Convention were to be regarded as pledged to merge themselves in the new Communist Party, and representation to the Convention was to be held to imply that those branches, groups, and societies sending delegates would be bound by the decisions of the Convention and become branches of the Communist Party. To prevent any ambiguity on this point the invitation circular was to make it clear that this course was to be followed, and only those bodies prepared to agree to it were to be urged to send delegates.
To this the W.S.F. delegation took exception; they presently broke away entirely from the Provisional Committee, and at 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 horn 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 deserves 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 our movement, and sweep aside the distrust, suspicion, and tardy indecsion that has marked it hitherto.
On behalf of the Provisional Committee for the Communist Party,