1920s >> 1921 >> no-206-october-1921

“Revolutionary Political Action”

Communist Brand.
In the leading article in the September Socialist Standard the Communist Party’s Caerphilly Election Address was quoted from as follows:

 Pledged as it is to Political Action the Communist Party is enabled by this opportunity to demonstrate just how far and in what way Revolutionary Political Action differs from the creeping thing the worker has learned to know and to hate as Parliamentarism.

The article went on to say: “If the election has provided the Communist Party with an opportunity to explain the meaning of Revolutionary Political Action, then that Party has certainly failed to take advantage of this opportunity.”
If the Communist Party failed on this occasion to make clear what they mean by revolutionary political action, there have been other occasions when they have taken the opportunity. On the Poplar Board of Guardians sit two members of the Communist Party, A. A. Watts and Edgar Lansbury. On June 22nd, at a Board meeting of the Poplar Guardians, the General Purposes Committee recommended a list of reductions in wages of men employed by the Board, building labourers, women sewing machinists, and bakers. What did our two exponents of “revolutionary political action” do? They voted for the reductions!
It was only when the following recommendation was made, viz., “That our action be approved and confirmed and that the wages of the above-mentioned officers be further reduced by 2s. 6d. per week each for every fall of 10 points in the cost of living under figures below 120,” that Edgar Lansbury said, “I’m not opposing the reductions. We’ve already agreed to it, but I don’t like us pledging ourselves to do it in the future.” (Quoted by “Workers’ Dreadnought,” 2/7/21.)
Who have been louder in their denunciation of this principle of the cost of living basis of wages, that the workers should for ever be tied to one bare level of subsistence, than the Communist Party? Yet here we have two of its members lending it their support.
In the “Industrial Notes” in the “Communist” (28/5/21) occurred the following passages:

  Will somebody explain what has happened to the committees set up by the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress to consider joint action against wage reductions.
One explanation offered is that the members of the sub-committees have been so busy negotiating reductions for their own members that they have had no time to meet.
Agreements, even, are being broken and strikes are resulting. Aggression by the boss class is seen on every hand.

Clearly a case of the “pot calling the kettle black.” Even Councillor Charlie Sumner, not a revolutionary Communist, but just a Trade Unionist who believes in “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” said, “Yes, but d’you see, the baking trade has always been a terribly sweated trade, and it isn’t to say that we should join in just because everyone else is coming down on them.” The same is true, of course, of women sewing machinists. Even this failed to move our “revolutionaries”; Sumner, as a matter of fact, voted for the reductions.
A. A. Watts was himself, as Chairman of the Sub-Committee, the signatory to a recommendation to reduce relief to the poor (excepting widows and aged persons) by 10 per cent. The Communist Party’s “revolutionary” Caerphilly Election Address demanded “for the unemployed work or maintenance at full Trade Union rates.” The case of Poplar illustrates how the Communist Party deals with the unemployed when it has the power. Evidently there is little to choose between the Communist Party and those ancient adepts in the art of “piecrust” promising, the Liberal and Tory Parties.
And have Watts and E. Lansbury been expelled from the Communist Party for violating their “principles”? Not a bit of it. Only Miss Sylvia Pankhurst has been expelled for not handing the paper, which published the information, over to the control of the Executive Committee of the Communist Party, of which Watts is a member.
Another occasion is taken advantage of by the Communist Party to show what they mean by revolutionary political action. In the “Communist ” (17/9/21), under “Notes of the Week,” occurs the-following:

  We, as Communists, welcome Poplar’s action for two reasons. The first is that work or maintenance at full trade union rates is a demand which the Communist Party has always pressed, for the revolutionary reason that capitalism can neither refuse it with dignity nor concede it without suicide. Secondly, and more importantly, because the Poplar Council has carried out the advice of the Third International: To capture the machinery of bourgeois administration and use it for revolutionary ends. (Communist’s italics.)

In regard to the first reason, imagine, if you can, capital committing suicide to save its dignity. The idea is too ridiculous to need serious refutation. The Communist Party has been in existence over a year now, and so far capital has refused this demand, which the Communist Party “has always pressed,” and risked its dignity. As for committing suicide——
And what is the revolutionary end that the Labour Party has captured the “machinery of bourgeois administration” to effect? The Poplar Borough Council has refused to levy the precepts of the L.C.C. and other outside authorities as a means to bringing about the equalisation of rates. I take it then, that if this revolutionary end is achieved, the system of society advocated by the Communist Party and called by them “Communism,” will have been inaugurated? Let us see.
Prior to the Rent Restrictions Act the effect on the working-class of equalisation of rates would have been nil. There was an excess of supply of houses over demand and rents were competitive. Higher rates in one borough had to be compensated by lower rents, so that the total amount paid for a house was the same all round for the same class of house. Cases have been cited in the Socialist Standard where rent has even fallen while the rates have been rising. But under the Rent Act the amount of rates in excess of the rate levied in 1914 is added directly to the rent allowed by the Act. This fact gives credence to the idea that the working-class is affected by high or low rates. But what would naturally take place if rates were reduced in working-class boroughs as a consequence of equalisation? Wages, especially in the state the labour market is at present, would almost immediately reflect the reduction.
But, apart from the benefit the capitalists who exploit the workers in London would derive as a consequence of the reduction in the latter’s cost of living, who would really benefit by the change? The big factory owners and other Capitalists who have premises in Poplar and other boroughs whose rates would be reduced. And it would be pertinent to ask who is paying for the floods of literature, some of which is sent to voters in stamped envelopes, with which Poplar is being deluged? No working-class organisation dependent on the pence of its members and sympathisers could afford it at the best of times. The whole thing, so far as the working-class is concerned, is simply summed up: it is yet another red herring serving the purpose of diverting them from their real interests and from what should be their only goal, Socialism.
T. D.