The Communists and the Labour Party Alliance
There has of late been much talk in Communist circles for and against assisting the Labour Party into power at the next election. The position at the moment is that the Communist Party officially favours the idea of getting inside the Labour Party, but that the latter body nationally (and often locally, too) rejects the request for permission to affiliate. There now arises the problem of whether or not the Communists are to support Labour candidates when Lloyd George thinks fit to appeal to the electorate.
In the main the Communists do not pretend to believe that the accession to power of the Labour Party will directly and of itself solve the problems facing the workers. It is true that Malone, the C.P.’s solitary M.P., is of the opinion that the “few divergences between the Communist Party and the Labour Party … will soon be settled by affiliation” (Daily Herald, January 23rd), but probably the majority of the Communists who desire affiliation regard it as a tactical weapon likely to be of value to them, not as an admission that they and the Labour Party have much in common.
This kind of discussion is not new: for generations the question of alliance with capitalist political parties has agitated the minds of sections of the working class. Our attitude is clear and definite enough. We want Socialism, and we are convinced that we should not be bringing it nearer by angling for the support of anti-Socialist bodies, even although it might seem superficially that some gain would accrue.
The discussion only interests us in so far as it serves to expose the danger to the working class of following those who advocate such a course.
What is strikingly new is the claim for this idea that it has had its origin in Russia, as one of the lessons of the Revolution there. W. Paul, who for years in the S.L.P., opposed alliance with the reactionary Labour Party as a principle (although in practice joint demonstrations, etc., did take place), now that he is in the Communist Party has seen the “Light from the East” and stands forth as a convert. Lenin has taught him what his own knowledge and experience could not.
The object aimed at is, to gain the sympathy of the rank and file, discredit the present leaders, and then capture or disrupt the party. In addition, Paul has in mind the urgency of removing the Coalition in order to save the Bolshevik Government. The Bolsheviks, fully aware at last of the futility of expecting revolution in Western Europe or America, and equally aware that they will only with difficulty maintain themselves in power in face of internal and external pressure, seek to gain relief by aiding their alleged enemies of the Labour Party to gain a Parliamentary majority.
John S. Clarke, in the Worker (November, 26th), opposes the view point of W. Paul. He deals very successfully both with the lack of tactical value of this move, and with its history. His main arguments are that it is not new, having been tried before in this country with unfortunate results, and that the possibility is that the Bolsheviks themselves, far from having; originated; it, actually learned it here.
“As a political tactic it has had an interesting history and by no means successful one. Not to carry the reader too far back, we see it operating in the year 1841. The Whigs and the Chartists met together in that year on the 21st January to try and arrange a ‘bloc.’ Three months later at a parliamentary by-election (Nottingham), the Chartists actively supported the Tory candidate, Mr. Walter, in order to deal a blow at the Whig Government.”
The Chartist paper, the Northern Star, commented as follows, says Clarke :
“It is better at all times to submit to a real despotism than to a government of perfidious, treacherous and pretended friends. We are the natural enemies of Whiggism and Toryism, but, being unable to destroy both factions, we advise you to destroy the one faction by making a tool of the other.”
In 1921, eighty years after, we find the Communist Party seeking to destroy one “natural enemy” (the Coalition) by making a tool of another ,(the Labour Party). What 1922 will bring forth the Lord only knows.
The Chartists alternately supported. Whigs and Tories, sometimes neither, and sometimes both together. In the Northern Star, on June 12th, 1841, were two leading articles advising opposite policies. We now have the Communist Party actively opposing some Labour candidates (e.g., MacDonald at Woolwich) and taking up a non-committal attitude towards others (Naylor at Walworth).
“Chartism collapsed in 1848. The Social Democratic Federation was not born until 1885. In 1908 it changed its name to Social Democratic Party, a distinction without a scrap of difference. In 1911 it was joined by a few Clarion Scouts and I.L.Pers, and changed its name again to British Socialist Party.
Each of these different political parties (if thy can be writ as different parties) was practically dominated by the same personalities—Hyndman, Quelch, Lee, Hunter-Watts, Belfort Bax, Dan Irving, Tom Kennedy, Jack Jones, and Will Thorne. Each party practised the ‘ tactic’ inherited from the Chartists.”
The S.D.F., alter seeking in vain for an alliance with the Liberals, went to the Tories, and fought the 1885 Election on their money, with the avowed object of splitting the Liberal vote. This very nearly brought the party to an unhonoured end, the only good that could have come to the workers out of the transaction.
This policy of political bargaining went on, with varying success in the shape of Parliamentary honours for the auctioneers of working-class votes, until in 1903 the Scottish, and in 1904 the London, branches left in disgust to form the S.L.P. and S.P.G.B. respectively. Old readers of this journal will remember that our pages between 1904 and 1914 contained ample evidence of the persistence of the S.D.F.’s peculiar conception of working-class antagonism to capitalist political organisations. It changed its name to S.D.P. without discarding its errors, and in 1910 another attempt was made to form a “bloc” with the Liberals, who, however, like the Labour Party now, were indifferent if not actively hostile.
In 1901 the S.D.F withdrew from the Labour Party (then the Labour Representation Committee), and for twelve years remained outside, supporting first one and then the other of the capitalist parties. It incidentally carried on a guerrilla warfare with the I.L.P. rather in the nature of a squabble for the spoils attaching to the disposal of the corpse of working-class independence.
The S.D.F. stuck tight to the alliance idea, and in 1913 had decided to re-affiliate with the Labour Party, when the war came. The inevitable then took place, and the B.S.P. went all out for the murder of the workers at their masters’ behest.
In due time another split took place: Hyndman and the jingo group called themselves the National Socialist Party, while the others, still the B.S.P., first worked the I.L.P., and later affiliated again with the Labour Party. Both sections kept their belief in the use of helping one enemy to fight another. The N.S.P. reverting to its old name, S.D.F., is now again urging that the Labour Party should link up any party which will endeavour to oust the Coalition.
The B.S.P. eventually formed the bulk of the membership’ of the Communist Party and that body—having re-discovered the “tactic”—proclaims amid great flourish of trumpets that if only they can help the Labour Party, to help the Liberals, to turn out Lloyd George, the Russian Revolution will be saved and all will be well. They are urged by the Bolsheviks to this course as the last word in political strategy, but, as Clarke points out, many exiles from Russia towards the end of last century were studying the English political world, and at a later date many of those now prominent in the Bolshevik Party, including Litvinov, Rothstein, Tchicherine, and Petrov, were members of the S.D.F. or B.S.P. This, then, was where they picked up the idea, which
“was conveyed to Russia, where the masses are not more, .but less, advanced than they are here (vide Lenin), and where it is alleged to have been successful in the hands of a party of ‘iron discipline,’ which is due, to quote Lenin again, ‘to a great many historic peculiarities of Russia.’ In the process of time it arrives back to the land of its birth, where it succeeded in sowing only distrust and dissension and is dished out to British revolutionaries as ‘Lenin’s revolutionary strategy’ and ‘the adroit tactic of the Bolsheviki’ in the pious hope that the reiteration of such alluring phrases will convince the unsuspecting that they are marrying a comely damsel of tender years, whereas in truth they are being saddled with a withered-up, prehistoric hag.”
The foregoing brief history of the “tactic” is commended to the notice of those who think that the
Socialist Revolution can be achieved by some energetic political wire-pulling, and by cunning manoeuvring of the votes of the “masses.” In a game of that kind the ruling class and their hirelings know all there is to be known. They have been at it for centuries, and if the outcome of it is to be somebody’s funeral, it won’t be theirs. The result of this fooling will be what it has always been, suffering and disillusionment for the unfortunate workers who are taken in by it.
The antecedents as well as the present activities of the “intelligent minority,” who, as the Communist Party, are to shepherd the mere untutored workers, are sufficient to justify describing them as in the main blind leaders of the blind. Under the guise of revolutionary discipline, that party shows just the same slavish hero-worship arid ignorant chatter of revolution as typified the S.D.F. at its worst. A recent incident will serve to illustrate this internal rottenness of the “Burlesque Bolsheviki.” At a meeting of the London District Council (October 8th) the delegates were asked to rise to their feet as a token of respect when ‘‘Lord” McManus entered the room, and with hardly an exception the request was immediately complied with !’
Could “Jimmy” Thomas expect or receive more?
Whether these people are good or bad leaders is, however, not the important point. The particular course they are advising has in the past proved disastrous, not only here, but in Germany, France, and everywhere else where working-class organisations have left the safe path of independence for the morass of alliances.
Socialism will be achieved by Socialists; by the deliberate action, that is, of those who, understanding. what is at the root of the present evils, know what is necessary for their removal.
The existence of a considerable proportion of convinced Socialists precludes the possibility of swaying the electorate by emotional appeals. Without ignorant emotionalism there is no need, no possibility, of political leadership, whether from a traditional ruling class or from a minority of superior intellects.
Political bargaining exists because Socialist knowledge is lacking. Without such knowledge neither the Communist Party nor anyone else can give you Socialism. Do not, therefore, waste time trying to dragoon the working class into striving for an object which they do not understand;
HELP US TO PROPAGATE SOCIALISM.