The Communist Unity Group
Source: The Call, July 29, 1920
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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 events of the last ten days surrounding the Polish adventure should leave no doubt in the minds of the Communists of Great Britain as to the nature of the task that lies before them. So far as our heroic Russian comrades are concerned, in war and diplomacy, they have acquitted themselves admirably. In both fields they have proved more than a match for the forces of the capitalist Entente, and by the crushing defeat which they inflicted on the Polish tools of French and British imperialism, still another nail has been driven into the coffin of international capitalism. Thus for the moment all talk about smashing Bolshevism has been silenced.
But this check to the hosts of Lloyd George and the traitor Millerand only means that the tactics of the Entente will be altered. Peace is by no means finally assured, and that is the important thing for us to note.
Now, Communists in Great Britain do not need to be reminded that the real issue is a world conflict between the social classes, i.e., the capitalist exploiters and the wealth-producing toilers. But what we fear is not always appreciated is the specific obligations of the movement in this country towards the world situation. Thus, whereas in most of the advanced capitalist countries a formidable Communist opposition, directly in contact with the Russian Communist Party, is challenging the power of their respective rulers, and that in a revolutionary manner, we in Great Britain have nothing politically to offer, apart from a number of fragmentary groups, but a radical Labour Party, steeped to the neck in the respectabilities and conventionalities of the bourgeois democracy—a veritable rump of liberalism.
All hopes of this rump identifying itself with the world movement for social revolution maybe dismissed as chimerical. On the other hand, as recent experience has shown, it may be said to be the final bulwark of “constitutionalism,” and, as such, is but a harbour of refuge for that nightmare of middle-class capitalism, viz., political and industrial unrest.
No less disastrous, for our Communist movement is the wanton dissipation of revolutionary fervour and energy by the existence of so many isolated groups, which, while agreeing on fundamentals, remain separate on matters of tactics that are minor and secondary to the main object.
We can quite appreciate the attitude of Thomas, Clynes, Henderson, Macdonald, Snowden, etc. These stand at most for reforming, not abolishing, the capitalist system; but sectarianism among professed communists is nothing short of a crime against the at evolutionary movement, particularly when there is common agreement on fundamentals. Were these latter groups united into a single organisation, the Communist Party in Great Britain would undoubtedly play no mean part in the great world movement for labour emancipation. It is with such expectations that we as a Communist Unity Group go forward to the convention on July 31st, and to fulfil our obligations in accordance with the desire for a united Communist Party so often expressed by our competent Russian comrades.
On the subordinate question of tactics, particularly the relation of the Communist Party towards the Labour Patty, we are strong in our opinion that the wisest course for the new party to take is to strike a completely independent Communist line, free from the trammels of bogus Labourism. We are convinced in the first instance that such, is the surest way to get unity among the accepted Communist elements, the majority of whom are disgusted with the opportunism of the parliamentary twisters that at present lead the Labour Party. Further we think a considerable section of the industrial proletariat, at present, outside all parties, no longer pin their faith to the Labour Party policy of “peaceful” transformation, but are looking for a straight Communist lead for social revolution.
These elements can best be organised for the revolutionary struggle by an assurance at the outset of the new organisation that it is not a mere case of changing names with the same old policy of reformism.
Non-affiliation with the Labour Party to begin with is the only assurance.
It is a mistake to imagine, as some of our B.S.P. comrades do, that non-affiliation means aloofness from the mass of the workers. Such a hackneyed objection had some weight in the earlier stages of the Labour Party’s career. To-day, having regard to the numerical strength of the politically class-conscious workers, and their ability to contest elections on independent Communist lines, such an objection is what the Yankees would call, sheer “bunk.” Further, with the active participation in all shop stewards and workers committees; in the industrial union movement generally, together with the formidable Marxian study classes, fostered and encouraged as these are by the active Communists, there is ample scope for direct contact with the rank and file of the working class without let or hindrance from opportunist officials.
Never, indeed, in our opinion was the time more opportune for the Communists to proclaim their open hostility to the utopia aims of the labour reformers, and by pursuing an independent course, get the ear of the mass of the working class. It is on these grounds we hope, and feel confident, the convention will vote against the proposition to affiliate to the Labour Party. Above all, however, this need and urgency of a party of Communism linked up with the Third International is paramount. The capitalist Entente is staggering beneath the load of its ill-gotten gains. In all countries the signal is being awaited for the inevitable clash. It is the business of the Communists here as in all lands to prepare the workers for the supreme task of snatching political power from the usurping capitalist dictators and making way for the international- workers’ republic. But the prerequisite is a consolidated Communist front. It is for that reason we wish success to the National Convention and the speedy downfall of the exploiters. Long live the Workers’ Republic! Long live the Communist Party of Great Britain.
With the expiration of this edition of the “Call” the Communist Party will bean accomplished fact. There remains but a few final words to be said to all our groups. First, it is imperative for every group to be represented at the conference. We get correspondence from a number of “faint hearts,” who agree upon all essentials but are afraid of the direction the new party will take, especially in tactics. A common feeling of this “order of the timids” is that the new party will only be a transformed B.S.P. Obviously the best way to remove such a “snag” is to turn up and cast all our weight against the traditional policy of the B.S.P., particularly against its official attitude towards the Labour Party. Our view is that the numerical weight of the B.S.P. is a bogy, as we believe the decisions will prove, while its official attitude, as we think, towards the Labour Party does not really express the mind of the majority of the B.S.P. rank and file.
In any case, it is the moral obligation of all Communist elements to bring its weight to bear on such matters and ensure their smashing defeat. That way lies success. We have not wavered in our opinion, which we have repeatedly and consistently declared that the Communist Party should in no way be identified with the Labour Party. We shall continue to maintain such a course. It must never be forgotten, however, that the Labour Party itself has the last word on such a matter.
On the question of Parliamentary action we wish to state for the benefit of one or two branches who have written us regarding the resolution on the agenda form that the intention of such a resolution is to provoke discussion on the clear issue, for and against. All questions of definitions as to what is political action, etc., do not arise, since the Communist Party will be essentially political. The issue that had to be referred to the conference was the value or otherwise of taking Parliamentary Action.
Coms. McManus and Bell attended a very successful meeting of the Walthamstow Communist Group last week, specially called to discuss their relation to the convention. After about two hours discussion this group decided to be represented at the convention and to throw its weight in with the policy of the Third International.
Vinny Williams, of Woodhouse I.L.P. (not S.L.P. as stated in last week’s Notes), is putting in some fine work in Yorkshire district. A good group has been formed there, to the disgust of the official I.L.P., and will attend the convention.
A very successful local conference was held at Birmingham last Sunday with Comrade Paul in attendance, delegates being present from the Birmingham and South Staffordshire area, including a delegate from the S.L.P. All present unanimously agreed to support the Communist Convention and to send several delegates.
By sheer misfortune Comrade Bell failed to get to Halifax last week. He, with Frank Jackson, had the chagrin to see the Rochdale train steaming out of Oldham station. Efforts to find a conveyance of any kind met with no success and the Halifax comrades were disappointed. However, we hope to make amends in the future, meantime our apologies to Halifax.
Would all groups sending delegates to the convention note that they should make straight for Cannon Street Hotel. Ample accommodation is available for all delegates and the Conference Hall being on the premises, every convenience and facility is afforded by making straight for the hotel.
All communications to the Communist Unity Group to be addressed to Thos. Bell, 4 Duke Street, Adelphi, London; W.C.
When Mr. J. H. Thomas accepted the “unconstitutional” plea of the Prime Minister regarding the refusal of railwaymen to facilitate the delivery of munitions to the reactionaries of Poland and Ireland, there was an unanimous outburst of indignation in the left wing Socialist Press. So far, however, as we have been able to see, no attempt has been made to probe into what lies beneath the action of Mr. Thomas and the Labour Parliamentarians who agree with him. These gentlemen contend that Mr. Thomas acted quite consistently and in the best interests of the workers. Before we censure Thomas and his Labour Party defenders can we find any possible argument or theory to justify their treachery? At the outset, we contend, they can defend themselves. And in order to safeguard the working class it is imperative for us to examine the problem.
The Labour Party, in its official policy, accepts, whole-heartedly, the Parliamentary form of Government. This policy is explained and defended in a series of sophistical arguments by people like MacDonald, Snowden, etc. Now, what does the Parliamentary conception of Government involve? The theory of Parliamentary representation is based upon, the assumption that the House of Commons represents every section of the community. Thus, the House of Commons, according to this view, stands for the sovereign will of society. The same idea was expressed a few years ago by the I.L.P. leaders in a manifesto in which they said that the State was the People. Behind this conception lurks a further point. If Parliament is the will and represents the whole interests of society, another deduction must be made. It logically follows that no section of society, or class, must use any force outside of Parliament to advance its special interests, or to wring any concessions from the Government. For, consider, what this theory involves. If any section of society were to use a non-parliamentary power to enforce its will upon the Government that action would strike at the very basis of Parliamentary Government. And this conception, let it be repeated, is the policy of the Second International, is he official policy of the Labour Party, and of the official I.L.P. But, let us carry our analysis a little further.
What does the Parliamentary theory of Government mean in action? It conceives society as made up exclusively of citizens. These citizens are all equal in the eyes of the law and are individual units of our “glorious democracy.” This conception of society does not view the modern social system as Capitalism. It does not see classes struggling against each other. And it does not look upon the members of society as being composed of individuals who are either, in the main, wage-workers or capitalists. No! To the Parliamentary democrats society is made up of a conglomeration of free citizens. If there is any problem to be solved, it must be solved through the ballot box, any other method is “unconstitutional.” Thus, a year ago, when the Miners’ delegation visited the Prime Minister they told him that if the Government did not grant their demands they would use the power of the Miners’ Federation and take what they wanted. And what was Lloyd George’s reply? He said that such a policy was a threat and was like holding a pistol to the head of the State. To this argument the miners’ leaders trade no reply. And there is no reply from those who accept the Parliamentary theory of Government. If Parliament represents the interests of the whole community then the will of the Government must neither be challenged nor disputed by any non-parliamentary force. To challenge the Government by an industrial organisation or any power outside of the House of Commons, is a blow aimed at all the citizens, and is, therefore, an attack upon society. Here we come to the basis of the claim that a strike is an attack upon society. And here we get to know what was in the mind of the renegade miners’ leader who exhorted the workers, when a strike was at its height, to put their citizenship before their interests as trade unionists. This gentleman, a distinguished Labour M.P., only expressed the theory upon which the Labour Party conducts its policy. The latest exponent of this principle is Mr. Thomas.
When several enraged railwaymen taunted Mr. Thomas with having betrayed them for not fighting the Government, what was the Right Honourable gentleman’s reply? He said:—
He was opposed to direct, action and had given it his strenuous opposition because he believed it would be disastrous. He took that view because he believed in the power of the ballot to be the real means by which the workers of the country would obtain their ends.—“Daily News,” June 7th, 1920.
That is the case for Parliamentary Government. It is the standpoint of all the trade union leaders. It is the essence oŁ Parliamentary Labourism. It is the policy that will ultimately enslave Labour. It is Parliamentary Labourism in action.
Mr. Thomas, in his defence, only repeated the argument which Lloyd George had used against the position of the railwaymen. When these workers refused to handle the instruments of murder which were being sent against the workers of Poland and the peasants of Ireland the Prime Minister with irresistible logic said:—
Let us make no mistake about it. It seeks to influence political decisions not by the ordinary machinery of the State, the choosing of members on the widest franchise we have ever had, but by bringing pressure to bear through a threat of disorganising the industries to effect changes which up to the present the electorate of this country has not sanctioned. This is a serious issue, and I take it up at once. I should regard it as a complete abdication of Government if I were in the least to countenance this demand. We are here today. You may be here to-morrow.—“Daily News,” June 7th, 1920.
The Right Honourable J. H. Thomas, M.P., as one of the prospective nominees for the Labour Premiership, collapsed in front of this admirable argument. The direct and personal thrust contained in the final sting bereft him of any reply. Nay, worse, Thomas admitted that a Labour Government would have acted precisely as Lloyd George had done! And in that admission Thomas riddled the sophistries of Kautsky and MacDonald regarding the virtues of Parliamentary democracy.
The theory accepted by the official Labour Party regarding Parliamentary Government means that the Labour leaders in their efforts to uphold it will, as a result of their very loyalty to the Labour Party, be compelled to betray the industrial masses during any upheaval. Mr. Thomas was forced into that position. Is Thomas, then, a fool or a knave? We believe he is worse. He is a loyal and consistent Parliamentarian!
And what was the official I.L.P. reply to Lloyd George? An editoral in the Labour Leader said that the workers, who refused to handle the munition for Poland and Ireland, were not active; it was a policy of passive resistance! What a gush of emotional quakerism! The dockers and railwaymen used FORCE when they refused to handle the murderous goods. Force is simply any method used by any class to enforce its will upon society. Our Irish and Russian friends can estimate the logic of our sentimental and pacifists I.L.P. Does the I.L.P. not understand that when the workers withdrew their labour that that was action—direct action? It is very significant that Mr. Snowden do his usual weekly notes to the Labour Leader made no reference to the dilemma into which Lloyd George’s argument has placed the Parliamentary democrats who are opposed to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. On certain matters silence is golden.
The communists do not accept the Parliamentary theory of Government. Parliament does not represent the whole community neither does it manifest the will of society. Parliament merely reflects the well of the class that has the organs of public opinion in its power. At present these powers—the Press, Education, Pulpit, Theatre, Cinema, etc., etc.—are in the hands of the capitalist class. Though its economic dictatorship, the capitalist class is able to dominate all the institutions in the modern “democracy.” To us the main feature in society is the dictatorship of the ruling class. To us the masses are not citizens but commodities, bought and sold for wages in the labour market. To us society is not composed of free units, but of classes with their antagonisms. And in the struggle of classes the only thing that counts is POWER. By every and any means we must organise the MIGHT of the masses. On the industrial field, in educational work, in the highways and byways, we must garner our resources in order to drill discipline, and organise the FORCE of labour. On every field of social action we must boldly conduct our agitational work. And if we contest Parliament it is of because we accept the theory of political democracy, but because we desire to destroy it.
Between the Communists and the parliamentary Labourists there is an unbridgeable chasm. That gorge, is as wide and as deep as that which separated the Majority Socialists and the Communists in the recent parliamentary struggle in Germany. The former are as kin to our Labour Party as the latter are to us. The parliamentary Labourists desire to use Parliamiant as an instrument for positive and constructive work, but we will use it for the very opposite, reason—for negative and destructive work. By that we mean that the Communists would expose and oppose everything of any nature destined to buttress and stabilise capitalism. To us everything would be used for revolutionary and agitational purposes in order to show the masses that the constructive elements in the social revolution must be created and emerge from the industrial field. But the Labourists desire to use Parliament to carry out policy, as Thomas admitted just as Lloyd George has done. And in that lies the danger. Because that will meam to the workers, as it meant in Russia, as it has meant in Germany—through Parliament to Disaster.