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The tactic of affiliating the CPGB to the Labour Party

The tactic of affiliating the CPGB to the Labour Party
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In the article «Intorno al Congresso Internazionale Comunista», published in «Il Soviet», 3/10/1920, a representative of the Abstentionist Communist Fraction of the Socialist Party of Italy commented on the «big question of the affiliation of the English communist movement to the Labour Party» debated at the 2nd Congress of the Communist International. It was noted that:
supported by Lenin, this proposal was approved in the face of strong opposition. We will limit ourselves for now to saying that we agree neither with Lenin's methodological criteria nor with his evaluation of the English political situation. We recall also that comrade Pankhurst put forward the decisive objection that the English left communists aren't out to separate themselves from the masses, seeing that they assert the necessity of working in the trade unions, but merely wish to stay outside the labourist political party organisation represented by a congress of petty-bourgeois counter-revolutionaries».
Seeking to influence workers in the economic organisations rather than in confusing alliances with the social-democratic parties marked out the Italian left from its very beginnings.

Lenin made his speech «On Affiliation to the British Labour Party» to the 2nd Congress of the Communist International on August 6, a few days after the Communist Unity Convention had met in London on July 31 - August 1 and officially formed the Communist Party of Great Britain. At this latter meeting, whilst the question of affiliation to the Third International was soon settled, the question of affiliation to the Labour Party gave rise to serious differences of opinion, and a strong minority, including Pankhurst, a section of the Shop Stewards and the Socialist Labour Party, argued against the policy and did not join the new party. The absorption of these anti- affiliationists in the following year would mean the humiliating fawning to the Labour Party by the CPGB could continue unobstructed; a policy forged precisely at a stage when the CPGB was still very unsteady on its feet and a maximum differentiation between itself and the Labour Party was required.

Most enthusiastic of the supporters of the affiliation tactic were undoubtedly the former members of the British Socialist Party, an organisation which had been affiliated to the Labour Party on two occasions. The predecessor of the BSP, the Social Democratic Federation, had been a founding organisation of the Labour Party but had broken away in an attempt to build a rival Party, based upon 'political struggle' as against economic issues. It was during this phase that the SDF castigated the involvement of the SLP in the class struggle as 'syndicalist'! The fusions of the SDF with other bodies (invariably on the right) led to the formation first of the Social Democratic Party, then the BSP. The continual fusions was to build an organisation to displace the Independent Labour Party as the main organisation in Britain in the Second International. The initial recommendation of affiliation of the BSP to the Labour Party was by Kautsky, as an organisational solution to the existence of various bodies affiliated to the Second International. There were no political problems to affiliation at that time as the BSP was a defensist, reactionary organisation, led by Hyndman. Only towards the end of the First World War did the BSP start taking a shaky anti-war stance. The BSP, whose members constituted a majority in the CPGB, especially in the first year, had, after years of affiliation to the Labour Party, become used to adopting a very placatory stance towards the Labour Party, and in general its politics consisted of a propagandist approach which played down the importance of industrial organisation.

In February 1920 (before the formation of the CPGB) a certain J.F. Hodgson represented the British Socialist Party at the meeting of the sub-bureau of the Communist International in Amsterdam, and it is revealing that he opposed the Bureau when it carried a resolution calling on all communist groups to unite on the basis of uncompromising opposition to the parties of the Second International (amongst which was the Labour Party). Upon his return to England he protested against the unrepresentative character of the meeting and held that its resolutions were not binding. At the founding conference of the CPGB in 1921 it was none other than this same Mr. Hodgson who moved the resolution in favour of affiliation to the Labour Party and saw it carried by 100 votes to 85.

The adoption of this policy, and the resulting kowtowing to the Labour Party which was the inevitable upshot, has resulted in a legacy of misunderstanding and confusion amongst the British Left which is still very much with us today. And since Lenin's name is so frequently invoked to defend this stance, it is useful to examine particularly his justification for pursuing such a policy.

As Lenin's speeches on the affiliation tactic at the Second Congress of the Communist International are particularly relevant to our enquiry, namely: «Speech on the Role of the Communist Party» and «Speech on Affiliation to the British Labour Party», we will concentrate on those. Quotations are taken from «Speeches At Congresses of the Communist International», Progress Publishers.

The 2nd Congress, as we have noted, took place a few days after the formation of the CPGB in Britain. Characterising the Communist Unity Convention as a «Congress of the British Socialist Party» where the BSP had decided to «change the party into a communist Party», Lenin outlined a strategy where the new party, consisting mainly of the old BSP, would just continue to be affiliated to the Labour Party as before ("I have come to the conclusion that the decision to remain within the Labour Party is the only correct tactic»). Lenin surely could not but have known how the British Socialist Party had operated in the pre-1918 period: it never attempted to mount an organised and concerted campaign against the Labour establishment, and had it done so, it would almost certainly have been expelled. The syndicalist and communist left in Britain, which had not been slow to criticise the BSP in the past and had no intentions of suddenly dulling its criticisms now, compelled Lenin to try and meet their criticisms in order to get them to join the new party. In reply to Sylvia Pankhurst's view that it was impossible for communists to join a party affiliated to the 2nd International, he argued:
It should however be borne in mind that the British Labour Party is in a very special position: it is a highly original type of party, or rather, it is not at all a party in the ordinary sense of the word. It is made up of members of all trade unions, and has a membership of about four million, and allows sufficient freedom to all affiliated political parties».

Lenin concluded his attempt to allay Pankhurst's concerns by portraying the Labour Party as an organisation which is «half trade union and half political» which allowed criticism of the leaders (and therefore, by implication, the possibility of a communist fraction to organise separately within it), and also point to the fact that the question of affiliation to the Third International had been raised at the Labour Party Conference, which had obliged all party branches and sections to discuss the matter. But Lenin's reply failed to answer Pankhurst's question adequately; a question which in essence expressed fears about the effects of fudging of the distinction between 2nd and 3rd International parties, and raised fears about the substitutionism inherent in Lenin's argument i.e. substituting the Labour Party for the Communist Party as a quick fix; a quick way to influence the masses.

Lenin's remarks show that he saw the Labour Party as predominantly a trade union body, with affiliation offering the new communist party in Britain the chance to influence the vast mass of workers, which he mistakenly saw as organised in the Labour Party. This is a point of view he emphasised further in the «Theses on The Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International» where he suggested that the Communist groups of Britain should join the Labour Party while it preserved its character of a federation of all trade union organisations of the working class. In the «Speech on the role of the Communist Party» he said
with regard to the British Labour Party, it is simply a matter of collaboration between the advanced minority of the British workers and their vast majority» and he added that «we categorically insist on the British Communists serving as a link between the Party, that is, the minority of the working class, and the rest of the workers». Lenin's argument about the minority linking up with the majority is a formula which is far better applied in the trade union organisations themselves, and it is interesting that in the rather ambiguous passage which follows, Lenin's clarifies that his policy is conditional, and is to be pursued until «it is refuted that the British Labour Party consists of proletarians».

In fact the figure for Labour party membership of four million was accurate on paper but it is important to consider that the major portion of this figure was trade unionists, paying the political levy. This levy consisted of an automatic deduction from trade-union dues towards Labour Party funds, which also conferred automatic membership of the Labour Party on those who paid it. It is telling in this respect to note that in 1927 the Conservatives introduced a new law where trade-union members instead of 'contracting-out' if they wished not to contribute to the Labour party had instead to 'contract-in' if they did wish to. The result: the paying trade-union membership of the Labour Party almost halved! Whilst indifference had previously prevented workers 'contracting-out' in the same way indifference prevented workers from 'contracting-in'!

Again addressing Pankhurst, and Gallagher (1) too, another opposer of affiliation, Lenin stated:
They cannot refute the fact that, in the ranks of the Labour Party, the British Socialist Party enjoys sufficient freedom to write that certain leaders of the Labour Party are traitors; that these old leaders represent the interests of the bourgeoisie; that they are agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement. They cannot deny this because it is the absolute truth. When Communists enjoy such freedom, it is their duty to join the Labour Party».

This line follows from the first assumption: that there are workers in the LP who might be won over to communism by hearing the coherent criticisms of the Labour Leaders. In practice this would consist of denouncing the leaders in the branch meetings and in Labour Party congresses, rather than in the workplace. In fact, in these settings any criticisms would inevitably be absorbed into debates about Labour Party policy, and rather than drawing workers to the Communist Party, they would instead instil in them illusions about the possibility of changing the Labour Party into a revolutionary instrument to replace the Communist Party.

Herein lies the real error in Lenin's prescription: he thought agitating in the Labour Party was in some way equivalent to agitating in the trade unions. He confused the Labour Party with the trade unions. At the same time though he was keen to refute the notion that the Labour Party was the «political department of the trade unions». He explained that the Communist party was the party of the workers in the trade unions. Now whilst of course this is true in terms of communism being the final logical outcome of workers' economic struggles, the Labour Party is nevertheless still the «political expression of the trade unions» in another sense: it is the political expression of the trade union bureaucracy and Labour aristocracy. This is what the Left in Britain was getting at, and why they were so opposed to joining the Labour Party.

Lenin was in any case wrong about how easy it would be to accomplish affiliation. At the first meeting of the provisional executive of the new CPGB, the proposal that the Labour Party should simply be informed that the BSP had changed its name was turned down; the new Communist party was prepared to court rejection by adopting an uncompromising approach. And despite Lenin seeing the LP as: «a highly original type of party... it allows sufficient freedom to all affiliated political parties», in fact, by 1920 the Labour Party had moved away from its previous less rigid structure and was fast becoming a plain social-democratic party, with a very rigid constitution which specifically ruled out illegal and revolutionary action, and only permitted exactly the amount of flexibility needed to accommodate the viewpoints of the different sections of the bourgeois labour aristocracy. In Lenin's speeches [at the 2nd Congress] there was no mention of the fact that in 1918 the Labour Party's constitution had been drastically changed, that the hitherto federal structure had been replaced by a much more tightly controlled set-up (which in 1932 would eventually compel even the mildly leftish ILP to disaffiliate).

In his speech on the role of the Communist Party at the 2nd Congress Lenin was at great pains to point out energetically that
We must say frankly that the party of the Communists can join the Labour Party only on condition that it preserves full freedom of criticism and is able to conduct its own policy. This is of supreme importance».

In the February, 1920 issue of «The Socialist», the organ of the Socialist Labour Party, J. T. Murphy (2) outlined his 'Ten Points' countering arguments for affiliating to the Labour Party. One of these points consisted of the bald statement that the federalism of the Labour Party was in any case an anathema to Communist principles. Certainly we can say that Lenin wasn't recommending federalism as an internal structure for the communist party itself, but nevertheless, by urging the CP to join a Labour Party which was allegedly a federation he was paving the way, especially for those who were prepared to take his remarks out of context, to a very compromised interpretation of the policy of the united front in the years to come.

It is no wonder then that many of Murphy's points which criticise the policy of affiliation can serve equally well as a criticism of the united front policy. Thus against those who thought that affiliation would provide a fine opportunity to influence the Labour party through participating in its annual conferences and getting socialist resolutions passed, Murphy replied: «This implies that the Communist Party is either intent on capturing the Labour Party or passing revolutionary resolutions for the reactionaries to carry out. If the first, the policy is fundamentally wrong because the Labour party, in composition and form, is not a revolutionary organisation; its members are neither communists nor revolutionaries, and it is structurally incapable of mobilising the masses for revolutionary action. It is a product of capitalism, and is to be used only for the maintenance of capitalism. If the second, then the masses are betrayed and their revolutionary fervour used to strengthen the forces of reaction. This proposition also indicates that the BSP does not clearly understand the functions of a communist party in the struggle for power. It is evidently content to be a spur to another party for whose actions it refuses responsibility instead of being a strong revolutionary party leading the masses into action». Blindly applying Lenin's tactics, given that the original justification for them is false, indeed proved to be very damaging to the independence of the Communist Party, and ended up blurring the differences between revolutionary marxism and reformism.

Feelings ran very high in the period immediately before the formation of the CPGB in 1920, and the left in Britain, who had had first hand experience of the opportunism of the Labour Party, warned Lenin of the damaging affects of pursuing the line of affiliation, but their assertions received a flat denial: «Comrade Gallacher is wrong in asserting that by affiliation to the Labour Party we shall repel the best elements among the British workers,» claimed Lenin, «We must test this by experience.» And so it was, with disastrous consequences. It alienated the overwhelming majority of potential members. The SLP, in the forefront of the organisations wanting regroupment, immediately withdrew from negotiations. The WSF [Pankhurst's group] also stood aloof, as did most of the shop stewards, including the Scottish Workers' Committee. And although these groups joined the party the following year, by this time the damage was effectively done.

A large section of the Left in Britain was not only opposed to affiliation to the Labour Party but to the entire policy of parliamentarism. But Lenin's assumption that the parliamentary tactic would be as relevant for British workers - dulled by decades of participation in Parliament - as it had proved to be for Russian workers in the newly formed and highly volatile Duma, won the day in the debates at the 2nd Congress, with the Italian abstentionists taking the rostrum to speak against the policy. This is a subject which merits a separate treatment (but see the «The Italian Left and the Communist International» in this issue), suffice it to say that the Abstentionists main contention was that electoral activity tends to exclude revolutionary organisation, which slowly becomes marginalised as illusions of achieving gains for the proletariat through parliament slowly, but inevitably, gain ground. And even the use of Parliament as a propaganda platform is a very shaky one: what is the point of making stirring speeches in Parliament to the bourgeoisie? And why rely on the bourgeois press to report stirring revolutionary speeches made by parliamentary communists? Surely the Communist party should rely on its own means of information and propaganda.

Lenin's other rationales for joining the Labour Party build from the mistaken assumption that there was a trade-union membership there to be influenced; and a federal structure to exploit to carry out this aim. It is in this context that he urged the CPGB to affiliate and criticise the labour Party leaders. Thus Murphy's rebuttal of the use of the Labour Party as a public Platform is particularly relevant when he points out that: 'The workers are always accessible in the workshops, the streets, the unions, and the creation of an independent communist platform is better than going cap in hand to the Labour Party for a hearing' (...) 'The Labour Party is not the working class organised as a class, but the political reflection of the trade union bureaucracy and the petty bourgeoisie. Contact with the working class is not, and never has been, dependent upon contact with the Labour Party'.

Murphy's 10th point (we have not included them all, as some address some very arcane ideas... like the Labour Party being equivalent to a soviet!) addressed the argument of those who favoured affiliation as a temporary tactic. To them he replied that sudden shifts of policy were liable to confuse and lessen the confidence of the masses in the Communist Party. Perhaps this is the most damning of all criticisms of affiliation since confusing the workers' is in the interests of the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie only.

There is in any case an important rider clause to Lenin's statements about affiliation to the Labour Party made at the 2nd Congress. «Let the Thomases and other social-traitors, whom you have called by that name, expel you. That will have an excellent effect upon the mass of the British workers». And «If the British Communist Party starts by acting in a revolutionary manner in the Labour Party, and if the Hendersons are obliged to expel this party, that will be a great victory for the communist and revolutionary working-class movement in Britain». Affiliation then was no Sacred Cow for Lenin. It could be sacrificed if the needs of the class and the Communist party dictated it.

Thus clearly Lenin did not want to risk any confusion of the policies of the Communist party with the other currents which sheltered under the 'federal' umbrella of the labour Party; a demarcation which, we will repeat, even the ILP would eventually be unable to achieve within the confines of the Labour Party.

The spirit of Lenin's arguments about the 'Hendersons' being obliged to expel a communist party 'acting in a revolutionary way' were in fact taken on board to a certain extent by left-wingers in the party. Surely the refusal by the Labour Party to allow the CPGB to affiliate was in all important respects equivalent to an expulsion; therefore the CP could court rejection by presenting a forthright declaration of communist principles which would ensure that the door would be slammed in their face? This would have the advantage of preventing any necessity of 'bending' communist principles in order to make the CP really acceptable to the the Labour Party. But if this was the original intent that motivated the drafters of the first application for affiliation (as we have seen, the policy of just informing the Labour Party that the BSP had changed its name to the CPGB was rejected), the policy of emphasising the differences between the LP and the CP was slowly eroded in pursuit of the united front policy.

This policy, adopted towards the end of 1921, and justified on the grounds that having communist parties alone wasn't enough to achieve victory since it was necessary to conquer the masses, and in order to conquer the masses the influence of the social-democrats must be fought on the terrain of demands which are understood by all workers, took only a year to evolve into a policy of support for so- called «Workers' Governments», a policy which was propounded at the 4th Congress at the end of 1922. The Italian Left was damning in its criticism of this policy, and in the 'Draft Theses' presented to the Congress of the Italian Communist Party, held in exile at Lyons in 1926, its spokesman asserted the following in the section: Tactical Questions up to the Vth Congress.

«In the resolution of the tactical problems posed by the situations mentioned earlier in the international field, mistakes have been made, generally analogous to the organizational ones, which derive from the claim of being able to deduce everything from the problems dealt with by the Russian Communist party in the past.
The united front tactic mustn't be understood as a political coalition with other so-called workers' parties, but as a utilization of the spontaneous demands which arise from situations in order to increase the communist party's influence on the masses without compromising its autonomous position.
The basis for the United Front must therefore be sought in those proletarian organizations which workers join because of their social position and independently of their political faith or affiliation to an organized party. This has the double purpose, firstly, of not in any way preventing communists from criticising other parties, or gradually organizing new elements, originally dependent on these latter, into the ranks of the communist party's own framework; and secondly, it ensures that the party will be understood by the masses when it eventually calls on them to mobilize behind its programme and under its exclusive direction.
Experience has shown us many times that the only way of ensuring that the united front is applied in a revolutionary way is by rejecting the system of political coalitions, permanent or transitory, and of committees to direct the struggle which include representatives of different political parties, and also that of negotiations, proposals for common action and open letters to other parties by the communist party.
Experience has shown these methods to be fruitless, and the abuses to which they have been put have nullified any initial effect they might have had.
The political united front which is based on the central demand of the seizure of the state ends up as the tactic of the «workers' government». Here we not only have an erroneous tactic, but a blatant contradiction of the principles of communism. Once the party launches a watchword that backs the assumption of power by the proletariat through the representative organisms of the bourgeois state apparatus, or even if it just refrains from explicitly excluding such an eventuality, then the communist programme is abandoned and denied, not only because of the inevitable bad repercussions of such a move on proletarian ideology, but in the very ideological formulation which the party is enunciating and supporting. The revision which the 5th Congress made to this tactic, after the German defeat, hasn't proved satisfactory, and the latest developments in the realm of tactical experimentation justify calls for the abandonment of even the expression: «workers' government».
As far as the central problem of the state is concerned, the party can only issue the call for the dictatorship of the proletariat, for there is no other «workers' government».
This latter watchword leads to opportunism, and to opportunism alone: that is, to supporting, or even participating in, self-styled 'pro-worker' governments of the bourgeois class.
None of this is in the least contradicts the slogan: 'All Power to the Soviets' and to soviet type organisms (representative bodies elected by workers) even when opportunist parties predominate in them. These parties oppose the assumption of power by proletarian organs, since this is precisely the proletarian dictatorship (exclusion of non-workers from the elective organs and power) which the communist party alone will be able to accomplish.
We don't need to spell out here the formula of the dictatorship of the proletariat with its one and only synonym, namely: 'the government of the communist party'.

In fact, even before the 4th Congress had officially endorsed the «Workers' Government» policy, the 1st Plenum on March 4th 1922 issued its 'Resolution on the English Question' and stated «The Enlarged Executive invites the CPGB to request affiliation to the Labour Party so that it can be in a position to contribute to the political unity of the working class, working specially in view of the next elections to oppose to the coalition of the bourgeoisie a workers' government. Whilst requesting affiliation to the Labour Party, the CPGB will nevertheless retain complete freedom of propaganda. With the same aim, though taking the latter reservation into account, the CPGB is invited to support the Labour Party at the general elections». The 'political unity' cited as the reason for this tactic soon proved to be heavily weighted towards a reformist unity rather than a communist unity; and the 'separate' propaganda of the communists nevertheless simply appeared to workers as expressing a left-wing position within a broad reformist alliance. Now whatever justifications had been made for affiliation before became confused with that of specifically trying to forge alliances with the labourites and to support their Governments.

In 1924, Gallacher (now a fervent pro-Moscow man) reassuringly explained: «The Communist Party does not attack the Labour Party. The Communist Party strives all the time to make the Labour Party a useful organ of the workers in the struggle against capital». And Challinor (3) notes:
At the 1922 general election, when Gallacher unsuccessfully stood at Dundee, he gratefully received the assistance of prominent left-reformist politicians and trade unionists. Lieutenant-Colonel [!] L'Estrange Malone MP took the process of accommodation a stage farther. 'There are still a few differences between the Communist Party and the Labour Party,' he declared. 'I am glad to realise, however, that this will soon be settled by affiliation'».

The failure to secure affiliation led the CPGB to take the still more disastrous option of trying to influence Labour Party policies by means of individual party members; for until revisions of the Labour Party constitution were introduced, nothing stopped CPers from being individual members of the Labour Party. Thus: «at the 1923 Labour Party conference there were 430 communist delegates. In the December 1923 general election, the CP put forward nine candidates, seven of whom stood under the Labour Party banner. Indeed, the party even had two members of Parliament, Sallatvala and J.T. Walton Newbold, returned as Labour MPs» (Challinor). It is difficult to overestimate the damage that must have been wreaked on the newly founded Communist Party by pursuing such a policy. Murphy, even though he supported 'revolutionary Parliamentarism', gave a stinging rebuke [in 1920] to those who defended affiliation on the basis that it might provide the chance for electing Communist MPs on the Labour Party ticket: 'This is sheer parliamentary vote-catching opportunism and a repudiation of independent political action. It is also confusing the masses'. If the masses were likely to be confused by a Communist party formally affiliated to the Labour Party indulging in such measures, how much more confusing it must have been to have individual communist party members, disguised as Labour party members, doing the same thing.

Meanwhile Individual communists in the Labour Party tried to recruit Labour Party members to communism in the setting of the Labour party branches, which in fact were generally tiny cliques, preoccupied with elections, not centres of mass struggle involving large number of workers. In the words of Challinor: «To enter their dismal committee rooms and become involved in the routine of electoral intrigue would merely waste revolutionaries' valuable time and energy, which could be better spent elsewhere».

The Italian Left soon found itself alone in rejecting the united front tactic, and with it the policy of affiliation. Even after the General Strike, Trotsky, despite articulating a number of damning criticisms against the Comintern directives during the strike (see 'Stalinism's Victory over the Oppositions' in this issue) remained preoccupied with the affiliation tactic and failed to realise the part it had played in weakening the development of a resolute and independent communist Party. Thus in the Resolution on the General Strike presented to the Central Control Commission joint Plenum in July 1926, Trotsky wrote:
The Comintern's tactics, which were worked out in all essentials under Vladimir Ilyichs' leadership, ought to remain hard and fast». He went on to enumerate three main planks of this policy, and cited the second as being «The necessity for British Communists to enter the Labour Party and to fight against being expelled from that organisation, since the experience of the past five years fully confirms what Lenin said on this question at the Second World Congress of the Comintern and in 'Left-wing Communism: an infantile Disorder'».
In the light of the above, we find ourselves unable to agree.

The CPGB continued to pursue the policy of affiliation and humiliate itself at a number of meetings with the Labour Party where the latter insistently pointed out that joining the Labour Party meant observing the Labour Party constitution and that the communists loyalty towards it would be expected; a constitution diametrically opposed to the Communist programme and one which effectively negated it. The policy of the communist delegation at the 2nd meeting on affiliation at December 1921 in fact adopted the only viable way around such a serious obstacle: it attempted to convert the Labour Party delegation to communism before the end of the meeting! By 1925 however the Trade unions were prevented from electing CP members as delegates to Labour Party meetings, and eventually a bored Labour Party tired of the unwanted attentions of the CPGB and in 1933 simply proscribe organisations including communist members. But even this would not put a stop to the affiliation tactic which still finds considerable support amongst various «left-wing» groups today, which, quoting Trotsky quoting Lenin, instead of quoting Lenin himself, still greatly enhance the importance and prestige of the Labour Party in the eyes of present day workers by flattering that organisation through resorting to the lowest and most ridiculous measures to 'penetrate' it.

The views of the Workers' Socialist Federation, and their representative Sylvia Pankhurst, strongly opposed to both parliamentarism and the policy of affiliation, are usually consigned to footnotes when these matters are discussed. The final word is invariably left to Lenin. We will redress the balance for once and let Pankhurst conclude our exposition with some passages from an article, written before the formation of the CPGB, in the WSF paper Workers' Dreadnought (February 21, 1920) entitled 'Towards a Communist Party'.

«The social patriotic parties of reform, like the British Labour Party, are everywhere aiding the capitalists to maintain the capitalist system; to prevent it from breaking down under the shock which the Great War has caused it, and the growing influence of the Russian Revolution. The bourgeois social patriotic parties, whether they call themselves Labour or Socialist, are everywhere working against the Communist revolution, and they are more dangerous to it than the aggressive capitalists because the reforms they seek to introduce may keep the capitalist regime going for some time to come. When the social patriotic reformists come into power, they fight to stave off the workers' revolution with as strong a determination as that displayed by the capitalists, and more effectively, because they understand the methods and tactics and something of the idealism of the working class.
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

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  1. William Gallacher: member of the BSP, syndicalist and chairman of the shop stewards organisation, the Clyde Workers' Committee. Gallacher was one of the main opponents of affiliation and the parliamentary tactic until he underwent a no-holds-barred conversion after meeting Lenin in 1920. A fellow shop steward, Harry McShane, reports in his autobiography «No Mean Fighter» how surprised everybody was when Gallacher, not long back from the meeting with Lenin, appeared at a meeting called by John McLean where he
    jumped up (...) and pointed out all the anti-parliamentarians, and said that none of them was eligible to join the Communist Party!».
    The slippery slope in Gallacher's case would be particularly steep. He would become a loyal slave of Moscow, becoming the first MP to be elected as a communist in 1935, and eventually receive his promotion to the presidentship of the CPGB in 1956.
  2. J. T. Murphy: Active in the pre-war syndicalist movement. A leader of the Sheffield shop stewards, and regarded as the theorist of the whole movement. Joined the Socialist Labour Party in 1917 and as a member of its executive committee was actively involved in the Communist unity negotiations which began in 1919. Although originally one of the most articulate opposers of the policy of affiliation, by 1925 he had become a fervent stalinist and anti-Trotskyite. He left the party in 1932 and joined a centrist organisation... in the Labour Party. [back]
  3. «The Origins of British Bolshevism», by Raymond Challinor. [back]

Source: «Communist Left», N° 9, 1995

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