Source – Marxist Internet Archive
There is no Communist Party in
Thus, the main division is the same as in
On the question of participation in Parliament,
Comrade Sylvia Pankhurst refers to an article in the same issue, by Comrade
Gallacher, who writes in the name of the Scottish Workers’ Council in
"The above council," he
writes, "is definitely anti-parliamentarian, and has behind it the Left
wing of the various political bodies. We represent the revolutionary movement
"But this state of affairs cannot long continue. We are winning all along the line.
"The rank and file of the I.L.P. in Scotland is becoming more and more disgusted with the thought of Parliament, and the Soviets [the Russian word transliterated into English is used] or Workers’ Councils are being supported by almost every branch. This is very serious, of course, for the gentlemen who look to politics for a profession, and they are using any and every means to persuade their members to come back into the parliamentary fold. Revolutionary comrades must not [all italics are the author’s] give any support to this gang. Our fight here is going to be a difficult one. One of the worst features of it will be the treachery of those whose personal ambition is a more impelling force than their regard for the revolution. Any support given to parliamentarism is simply assisting to put power into the hands of our British Scheidemanns and Noskes. Henderson, Clynes and Co. are hopelessly reactionary. The official I.L.P. is more and more coming under the control of middle-class Liberals, who ... have found their ’spiritual home’ in the camp of Messrs. MacDonald, Snowden and Co. The official I.L.P. is bitterly hostile to the Third International, the rank and file is for it. Any support to the parliamentary opportunists is simply playing into the hands of the former. The B.S.P. doesn’t count at all here.... What is wanted here is a sound revolutionary industrial organisation, and a Communist Party working along clear, well-defined, scientific lines. If our comrades can assist us in building these, we will take their help gladly; if they cannot, for God’s sake let them keep out altogether, lest they betray the revolution by lending their support to the reactionaries, who are so eagerly clamouring for parliamentary ’honours’ (?) [the query mark is the author’s] and who are so anxious to prove that they can rule as effectively as the ’boss’ class politicians themselves."
In my opinion, this letter to the editor expresses
excellently the temper and point of view of the young Communists, or of rank-and-file
workers who are only just beginning to accept communism. This temper is highly
gratifying and valuable; we must learn to appreciate and support it for, in its
absence, it would be hopeless to expect the victory of the proletarian
The writer of the letter is full of a noble and working-class hatred for the bourgeois "class politicians" (a hatred understood and shared, however, not only by proletarians but by all working people, by all Kleinen Leuten to use the German expression). In a representative of the oppressed and exploited masses, this hatred is truly the "beginning of all wisdom", the basis of any socialist and communist movement and of its success. The writer, however, has apparently lost sight of the fact that politics is a science and an art that does not fall from the skies or come gratis, and that, if it wants to overcome the bourgeoisie, the proletariat must train its own proletarian "class politicians", of a kind in no way inferior to bourgeois politicians.
The writer of the letter fully realises that only
workers’ Soviets, not parliament, can be the instrument enabling the
proletariat to achieve its aims; those who have failed to understand this are,
of course, out-and-out reactionaries, even if they are most highly educated
people, most experienced politicians, most sincere socialists, most erudite
Marxists, and most honest citizens and fathers of families. But the writer of
the letter does not even ask—it does not occur to him to ask—whether it is
possible to bring about the Soviets’ victory over parliament without getting
pro-Soviet politicians into parliament, without disintegrating
parliamentarianism from within, without working within parliament for
the success of the Soviets in their forthcoming task of dispersing parliament.
Yet the writer of the letter expresses the absolutely correct idea that the
Communist Party in
It is true that the Hendersons, the Clyneses, the MacDonalds and the Snowdens are hopelessly reactionary. It is equally true that they want to assume power (though they would prefer a coalition with the bourgeoisie), that they want to "rule" along the old bourgeois lines, and that when they are in power they will certainly behave like the Scheidemanns and Noskes. All that is true. But it does not at all follow that to support them means treachery to the revolution; what does follow is that, in the interests of the revolution, working-class revolutionaries should give these gentlemen a certain amount of parliamentary support. To explain this idea, I shall take two contemporary British political documents: (1) the speech delivered by Prime Minister Lloyd George on March 18, 1920 (as reported in The Manchester Guardian of March 19, 1920), and (2) the arguments of a "Left" Communist, Comrade Sylvia Pankhurst, in the article mentioned above.
In his speech Lloyd George entered into a polemic
with Asquith (who had been especially invited to this meeting but declined to
attend) and with those Liberals who want, not a coalition with the
Conservatives, but closer relations with the Labour Party. (In the above-quoted
letter, Comrade Gallacher also points to the fact that Liberals are joining the
Independent Labour Party.) Lloyd George argued that a coalition—and a close
coalition at that—between the Liberals and the Conservatives was essential,
otherwise there might be a victory for the Labour Party, which Lloyd George
prefers to call "Socialist" and which is working for the "common
ownership" of the means of production. "It is ... known as communism
"...If you go to the agricultural
areas," said Lloyd George, "I agree you have the old party divisions
as strong as ever. They are removed from the danger. It does not walk their
lanes. But when they see it they will be as strong as some of these industrial
constituencies are now. Four-fifths of this country is industrial and
commercial; hardly one-fifth is agricultural. It is one of the things I have
constantly in my mind when I think of the dangers of the future here. In
From this the reader will see that Mr. Lloyd George is not only a very intelligent man, but one who has also learned a great deal from the Marxists. We too have something to learn from Lloyd George.
Of definite interest is the following episode, which occurred in the course of the discussion after Lloyd George’s speech:
"Mr. Wallace, M.P.: I should like to ask what the Prime Minister considers the effect might be in the industrial constituencies upon the industrial workers, so many of whom are Liberals at the present time and from whom we get so much support. Would not a possible result be to cause an immediate overwhelming accession of strength to the Labour Party from men who at present are our cordial supporters?
"The Prime Minister: I take a totally different view. The fact that Liberals are fighting among themselves undoubtedly drives a very considerable number of Liberals in despair to the Labour Party, where you get a considerable body of Liberals, very able men, whose business it is to discredit the Government. The result is undoubtedly to bring a good accession of public sentiment to the Labour Party. It does not go to the Liberals who are outside, it goes to the Labour Party, the by-elections show that."
It may be said, in passing, that this argument shows in particular how muddled even the most intelligent members of the bourgeoisie have become and how they cannot help committing irreparable blunders. That, in fact, is what will bring about the downfall of the bourgeoisie. Our people, however’ may commit blunders (provided, of course, that they are not too serious and are rectified in time) and yet in the long run, will prove the victors.
The second political document is the following argument advanced by Comrade Sylvia Pankhurst, a "Left" Communist:
"... Comrade Inkpin [the General Secretary of the British Socialist Party] refers to the Labour Party as ’the main body of the working-class movement’. Another comrade of the British Socialist Party, at the Third International, just held, put the British Socialist Party position more strongly. He said: ’We regard the Labour Party as the organised working class.’
"We do not take this view of the Labour Party. The Labour Party is very large numerically though its membership is to a great extent quiescent and apathetic, consisting of men and women who have joined the trade unions because their workmates are trade unionists, and to share the friendly benefits.
"But we recognise that the great size of the Labour Party is also due to the fact that it is the creation of a school of thought beyond which the majority of the British working class has not yet emerged, though great changes are at work in the mind of the people which will presently alter this state of affairs....
"The British Labour Party, like the social-patriotic organisations of other countries, will, in the natural development of society, inevitably come into power. It is for the Communists to build up the forces that will overthrow the social patriots, and in this country we must not delay or falter in that work.
"We must not dissipate our energy in adding to the strength of the Labour Party; its rise to power is inevitable. We must concentrate on making a communist movement that will vanquish it. The Labour Party will soon be forming a government, the revolutionary opposition must make ready to attack it" [[RjC: could be incomplete here; check]]
Thus the liberal bourgeoisie are abandoning the historical system of "two parties" (of exploiters), which has been hallowed by centuries of experience and has been extremely advantageous to the exploiters, and consider it necessary for these two parties to join forces against the Labour Party. A number of Liberals are deserting to the Labour Party like rats from a sinking ship. The Left Communists believe that the transfer of power to the Labour Party is inevitable and admit that it now has the backing of most workers. From this they draw the strange conclusion which Comrade Sylvia Pankhurst formulates as follows:
"The Communist Party must not compromise.... The Communist Party must keep its doctrine pure, and its independence of reformism inviolate, its mission is to lead the way, without stopping or turning, by the direct road to the communist revolution."
On the contrary, the fact that most British workers still follow the lead of the British Kerenskys or Scheidemanns and have not yet had experience of a government composed of these people—an experience which was necessary in Russia and Germany so as to secure the mass transition of the workers to communism—undoubtedly indicates that the British Communists should participate in parliamentary action, that they should, from within parliament, help the masses of the workers see the results of a Henderson and Snowden government in practice, and that they should help the Hendersons and Snowdens defeat the united forces of Lloyd George and Churchill. To act otherwise would mean hampering the cause of the revolution, since revolution is impossible without a change in the views of the majority of the working class, a change brought about by the political experience of the masses, never by propaganda alone. "To lead the way without compromises, without turning"—this slogan is obviously wrong if it comes from a patently impotent minority of the workers who know (or at all events should know) that given a Henderson and Snowden victory over Lloyd George and Churchill, the majority will soon become disappointed in their leaders and will begin to support communism (or at all events will adopt an attitude of neutrality, and, in the main, of sympathetic neutrality, towards the Communists). It is as though 10,000 soldiers were to hurl themselves into battle against an enemy force of 50,000, when it would be proper to "halt", "take evasive action", or even effect a "compromise" so as to gain time until the arrival of the 100,000 reinforcements that are on their way but cannot go into action immediately. That is intellectualist childishness, not the serious tactics of a revolutionary class.
The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. It is only when the "lower classes" do not want to live in the old way and the "upper classes" cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph. This truth can be expressed in other words: revolution is impossible without a nation-wide crisis (affecting both the exploited and the exploiters). It follows that, for a revolution to take place, it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class-conscious, thinking, and politically active workers) should fully realise that revolution is necessary, and that they should be prepared to die for it; second, that the ruling classes should be going through a governmental crisis, which draws even the most backward masses into politics (symptomatic of any genuine revolution is a rapid, tenfold and even hundredfold increase in the size of the working and oppressed masses—hitherto apathetic—who are capable of waging the political struggle), weakens the government, and makes it possible for the revolutionaries to rapidly overthrow it.
Incidentally, as can also be seen from Lloyd
George’s speech, both conditions for a successful proletarian revolution are
clearly maturing in
I will put it more concretely. In my opinion, the British Communists should unite their four parties and groups (all very weak, and some of them very, very weak) into a single Communist Party on the basis of the principles of the Third International and of obligatory participation in parliament. The Communist Party should propose the following "compromise" election agreement to the Hendersons and Snowdens: let us jointly fight against the alliance between Lloyd George and the Conservatives; let us share parliamentary seats in proportion to the number of workers’ votes polled for the Labour Party and for the Communist Party (not in elections, but in a special ballot), and let us retain complete freedom of agitation, propaganda and political activity. Of course, without this latter condition, we cannot agree to a bloc, for that would be treachery; the British Communists must demand and get complete freedom to expose the Hendersons and the Snowdens in the same way as (for fifteen years—1903-17) the Russian Bolsheviks demanded and got it in respect of the Russian Hendersons and Snowdens, i.e., the Mensheviks.
If the Hendersons and the Snowdens accept a bloc on these terms, we shall be the gainers, because the number of parliamentary seats is of no importance to us; we are not out for seats. We shall yield on this point (whilst the Hendersons and especially their new friends—or new masters —the Liberals who have joined the Independent Labour Party are most eager to get seats). We shall be the gainers, because we shall carry our agitation among the masses at a time when Lloyd George himself has "incensed" them, and we shall not only be helping the Labour Party to establish its government sooner, but shall also be helping the masses sooner to understand the communist propaganda that we shall carry on against the Hendersons, without any reticence or omission.
If the Hendersons and the Snowdens reject a bloc
with us on these terms, we shall gain still more, for we shall at once have
shown the masses (note that, even in the purely Menshevik and
completely opportunist Independent Labour Party, the rank and file are
in favour of Soviets) that the Hendersons prefer their close relations
with the capitalists to the unity of all the workers. We shall immediately gain
in the eyes- of the masses, who, particularly after the brilliant,
highly correct and highly useful (to communism) explanations given by Lloyd
George, will be sympathetic to the idea of uniting all the workers against the
Lloyd George-Conservative alliance. We shall gain immediately, because we shall
have demonstrated to the masses that the Hendersons and the Snowdens are afraid
to beat Lloyd George, afraid to assume power alone, and are striving to secure
the secret support of Lloyd George, who is openly extending a
hand to the Conservatives, against the Labour Party. It should be noted that in
If the Hendersons and the Snowdens reject a bloc with the Communists, the latter will immediately gain by winning the sympathy of the masses and discrediting the Hendersons and Snowdens, if, as a result, we do lose a few parliamentary seats, it is a matter of no significance to us. We would put up our candidates in a very few but absolutely safe constituencies, namely, constituencies where our candidatures would not give any seats to the Liberals at the expense of the Labour candidates. We would take part in the election campaign, distribute leaflets agitating for communism, and, in all constituencies where we have no candidates, we would urge the electors to vote for the Labour candidate and against the bourgeois candidate. Comrades Sylvia Pankhurst and Gallacher are mistaken in thinking that this is a betrayal of communism, or a renunciation of the struggle against the social-traitors. On the contrary, the cause of communist revolution would undoubtedly gain thereby.
At present, British Communists very often find it
hard even to approach the masses, and even to get a hearing from them. If I
come out as a Communist and call upon them to vote for
If the objection is raised
that these tactics are too "subtle" or too complex for the masses to
understand, that these tactics will split and scatter our forces, will prevent us
from concentrating them on Soviet revolution, etc., I will reply to the
"Left objectors: don’t ascribe your doctrinairism to the masses! The
I cannot deal here with the second point of disagreement among the British Communists—the question of affiliation or non-affiliation to the Labour Party. I have too little material at my disposal on this question, which is highly complex because of the unique character of the British Labour Party, whose very structure is so unlike that of the political parties usual in the European continent. It is beyond doubt, however, first, that in this question, too, those who try to deduce the tactics of the revolutionary proletariat from principles such as: "The Communist Party must keep its doctrine pure, and its independence of reformism inviolate; its mission is to lead the way, without stopping or turning, by the direct road to the communist revolution"—will inevitably fall into error. Such principles are merely a repetition of the mistake made by the French Blanquist Communards, who, in 1874, "repudiated" all compromises and all intermediate stages. Second, it is beyond doubt that, in this question too, as always, the task consists in learning to apply the general and basic principles of communism to the specific relations between classes and parties, to the specific features in the objective development towards communism, which are different in each country and which we must be able to discover, study, and predict.
This, however, should be discussed, not in connection with British communism alone, but in connection with the general conclusions concerning the development of communism in all capitalist countries. We shall now proceed to deal with this