The Communist Wreckers
Towards the end of the war there was a small but growing body of workers who viewed with ever greater disgust the Labour Party, which they had previously supported. These Trade Unionists who had been tricked into enthusiastic approval of the war by appeals to their patriotism and to their natural sympathy for “defenceless” Belgium, had their suspicions aroused by shameless profiteering at home, and by rumours of secret treaties between the Allies. The discontent was fanned by the daring seizure of power by the Bolsheviks.
The workers found themselves gagged and blindfolded by D.O.R.A., bound in industrial conscription and flung into the war machine. They saw all the liberties for which they were asked to fight taken from them, and the armed forces used to intimidate men at home who made spasmodic efforts to retain some few of their hardly won safeguards against workshop tyranny. When the war ceased and the soldiers returned, discontent grew in spite of attempts to set ex-Service men against the rest. They were beginning to think, and their anger was turning against the leaders and the policy of the Party which had betrayed them; against the Clynes’s and Thomases who had sold them for honours and turned the Labour Party into a recruiting machine, and against the minor officials of the Trade Unions who had bought immunity from military service themselves by defending and assisting the better known labour leaders in the work they were doing for successive Capitalist Governments. The workers were slowly groping their way to a realisation that these patriotic braggarts who were hand-in-glove with the ruling class were not fit and proper guides for the workers in their struggles; and always fresh evidence was forthcoming in campaigns for increased production, for making Germany pay, etc., led by Labour men. (It is interesting to note that Clynes is still an unrepentant advocate of increased production in spite of our 1½ million unemployed. See Current Opinion, Jan., 1924.)
Here then was material for the building up of a really powerful revolutionary movement ; but out of this ferment we got, instead, the Communist Party of Great Britain.
Worshipping, without troubling to understand, the very real achievements of the Bolsheviks, the leaders of this Party trumpeted forth their supposedly brand-new principles of working class action.
To hell with that “bourgeois shibboleth” Democracy! Hail the “Dictatorship” and revolution by a minority of intellectuals! Down with Parliament; “the Soviet form of government” is the “historically necessary form of this dictatorship.” (Statutes of Communist International, August, 1920.) Let us prepare for the armed struggle, let us form communist groups in the army and navy. War to the death against Henderson and Clynes and all the “lackeys of the Bourgeoisie.”
We, poor hidebound creatures, thinking that Socialist propaganda was still useful and necessary, were “cave-men” ; we were stranded on the mud-flats of “Bourgeois ideology” (what a godsend that word ” Bourgeois ” was to the ranter as a cover for his ignorance of Socialist principles); we did not move with the times, and were unaware that Capitalism had crashed about our ears, and that we were plump in the midst of a “revolutionary situation.” In short, they were sorry for us, but we were simply played out.
So they had their glorious fling. In the joyful exuberance of youth these blind dreamers preached the necessity of “living dangerously”; they tickled themselves nearly to death with thrilling conspiracies and landed many of their followers needlessly in jail (usually themselves keeping well within the laws of that “myth” parliament.) They planned insurrections and drilled with broomsticks in secret places. They opposed MacDonald and Morgan Jones at bye-elections, furiously denouncing them for their infamy and frightening nobody but the ignorant and nervous readers of the Morning-Post. They went about preaching Sovietism and did great harm by butting in with this propaganda whenever an industrial dispute occurred. Each succeeding strike or lock-out was without hesitation (or thought) greeted as the revolutionary crisis, and as each passed without their hopes being fulfilled so their wrath against the criminality of labour leaders became more violent and uncontrollable.
They organised spectacular boycotts of the export of arms for wars in Russia and Ireland with “terrific” success. The boycotts only failed in the quite minor respect that the arms went through. (Communist, October 7th, 1920.)
They helped to organise the unemployed and were even more disastrously futile. This is their own estimate of their work :—
“The unemployed have done all they can, and the Government know it. They have tramped through the rain in endless processions. They have gone in mass deputations to the Guardians. They have attended innumerable meetings and been told to be ‘solid.’ They have marched to London, enduring terrible hardships. . . . All this has led to nowhere. . . . In weariness and bitter disillusionment, the unemployed movement is turning in upon itself. . . .” (Workers’ Weekly, Feb. 10th, 1923.)
Consistent only in failure, the Communists were forced to find fresh stunts to hold the attention that their plentiful supplies of money had won for them.
In due course they were ordered to stage the “United Front” farce. They had to eat their bold words and line up with “Capitalist flunkeys” in the Labour Party. They had to prove themselves constitutionalists in spite of all their brave speeches, and had to humble themselves at the feet of Henderson and Ramsay MacDonald. It is only fair to say that some at least of them did so with every sign of shame; they excused themselves by saying that they wanted to “shake Henderson’s hand only in order to get hold of his throat.”
Later still all pretence was dropped and at the 1923 elections we find quite a number of Communists running as official Labour candidates. We find Mr. W. Paul, sometime firebrand, going to the poll with an election address graced by a message from Ramsay MacDonald (Socialist, Jan., 1924). We have these erstwhile Bolsheviks who were once too revolutionary to shake the “bloody hands” of the “Social patriots,” boasting of having given unqualified support to the worst of them, to Thomas, Clynes, and the rest. We have Harry Pollitt, writing in the Workers’ Weekly (Dec. 21st, 1923) to expose the latest trickery of Frank Hodges, and confessing that “we did not expose Mr. Hodges during the Election because we did not desire to split the workers’ vote. . . ” His article has a postscript, “Miners, away with this man !” Does Pollitt think that Frank Hodges cares twopence about people who keep their exposures until after the Election? He is now Civil Lord of the Admiralty and can snap his fingers at the people who might, had they known him, have checked his career at the polling booth. His power to do harm to the workers was increased by the deliberate action of these Communists. Do they anticipate that Frank Hodges will now organise “Communist nuclei” in the ranks of the men of the Navy?
And what has happened to the Soviets? You will search their Election literature in vain to find mention of Soviets now. They, with minority action and armed insurrection, have gone into the discard with other of their “brand-new” principles, which were really very old. Tom Bell, Editor of the Communist Review, an official C.P. organ (Jan., 1924), comments on the Election and jettisons almost all the remainder of them.
“The advent of a Labour Government, even of a Liberal type, would nevertheless be a matter of tremendous importance in world politics. For one thing, it would help to spread confusion in the camp of the swashbuckling reactionaries now rampant in Middle Europe. This, in turn, may open a period of democratic pacifism, which would have the effect of stupefying such large masses of the working class, instinctively yearning for peace, as to postpone any revolutionary action for a decade, and certainly once the workers are affected by the illusions of pacifism and reformism, and that upon an international scale, Capitalism throughout Europe may very well strengthen .its position. A Labour Government, therefore, in Great Britain, especially supported by Liberalism, with its repercussions on the Continent, and particularly on that of the social democratic elements in Germany, might conceivably give rise to that era of ‘Wilsonism ‘ predicted by Comrade Trotsky at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International. That is a prospect to which we Communists cannot shut our eyes and ignore.”
We, who were “behind the times,” observe with some bewilderment Communists assisting into power a Labour Government;, which may have the effect of “strengthening Capitalism” and postponing “any revolutionary action for a decade.”
After affirming that “MacDonald, Webb and the other Fabian leaders of the Party will strike the road of ‘Wilsonism.’ ” Tom Bell goes on to say that:—
“As things are, the proletarian opposition to the Fabianism of MacDonald, Webb and the dominant Parliamentary leadership falls to Wheatley, Maxton, Johnston, Kirkwood, and the other proletarian element,”
who, he says, are
“already committed to the policy of a fight to a finish with Capitalism.”
It is cheering to know that working class interests are in such safe keeping. Wheatley, the Jesuit, who, according to his Election address, sees the cause of our troubles in our not having “an unselfish ruling class,” and who wants to lead us “along a safe and sane course ” of the Labour Party, which is going to benefit “shopkeepers and every other class “; Maxton, whose Election address proclaims higher wages as the solution for unemployment, and who seeks to divide the workers on the Capitalist demand for Scottish Home Rule; Johnston, who condemns repudiation of financial obligations to bond holders entered into by Capitalist Governments as “dishonesty” (Forward, Feb. 11th, 1922); dishonest to expropriate the robber class! Kirkwood, who at the Election also prosperity promised to “merchants and manufacturers” and “every other class” (Election address.) These are the broken reeds on whom the Communists tell you to depend. Is their present advice more reliable than their past action would lead you to expect? In the Workers’ Weekly (Jan. 11th, 1924) Albert H. Hawkins, a C.P. official writes as follows :—
“In the December issues of the Communist Review and Labour Monthly, no fewer than four members of the Party E. C. attempted to explain the underlying causes of the General Election, and each one had a different explanation. This tragedy was only surpassed by the greater tragedy that very few Party members appeared to notice the confusion of thought. It would appear that we are losing the arts o£ political discussion and criticism.”
Not one God but four Gods; not one United Front, but four United Fronts !
And these are the “intelligent minority,” the men of “first class brains” who were to be your heaven-sent guides.
In these few years they have revived a number or long-rejected policies and proved their futility once again; they have multiplied confusion in the ranks of the working class and boxed the political compass; and worst of all they have rallied the growing mass of discontented workers, led them up half a dozen blind alleys and then manoeuvred them back to where they were in 1919, in the ‘Labour Party. As the Daily News says (Dec. 10th, 1923), for the Labour Party to keep these elements where they can do no more harm is a “laudable and valuable service.” This Capitalist journal ought, however, if it would be fair, to give some of the credit to the leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain, who, seeing that all of their candidates failed to get in, have so far been very inadequately rewarded for their unconscious services to the Capitalist class.