The Decay of the Communist Party
After a meteoric career lasting no more than 3 or 4 years the Communist Party in this country finds itself trying with ever less success to stem the tide of members drifting away to the Labour Party or into apathy. In spite of the blundering ineptitude of its leaders in a sphere which they thought peculiarly their own—the sphere of stunts and political intrigue—they had at first a small measure of success. That they were able to achieve this was due partly to the money received by them from Moscow and thrown away in advocating futile insurrectionary policies which were always promptly disavowed whenever the authorities threatened suppression, but chiefly due to the chaos of trade and production after the world war, and the consequent weakened hold on the workers’ minds of pre-war political ideas and allegiances. But even in ground apparently so futile the fruit of their labours was ridiculously small in comparison to the cost in money and energy.
Although they began with a flourish and reported frequent huge accessions of new members, they have in fact failed to grow and even to hold their initial position. Their total present membership is less than the 5,000 who were alleged to have joined them from the I.L.P. in 1922. Weaker numerically, they are weaker too in the respect they can demand from the class-conscious worker. From vigorous if somewhat hysterical hostility towards the Labour Party, they turned in 1921 to the United Front policy. They then claimed that support of anti-working-class candidates was not incompatible with the continuation ot communist propaganda and the denunciation of the very men they were asking the workers to vote into power. Incredible as it may seem, it required considerable experience to convince them that the communist rank and file would always in this dilemma be compelled to suppress their own views in order not to offend the Labour Party’s capitalist sympathisers. While the job seekers and the light-minded intellectual riff-raff which had been drawn in by the cash and glitter of the Communist movement saw in the new policy only the promise of elevation to the House of Commons. The boasted thousands of “communist” votes given to communist Labour candidates showed, not the strength but the weakness of the Communist Party; the dependence of a so-called independent organisation on Labour votes and the Labour Party machine. So soon as they found this out the careerists and the “intellectuals” began to desert the sinking ship, following, of course, the ancient custom of their kind of giving every excuse but the true one. Meynell, Malone, Windsor and later, Walton Newbold, Ellen Wilkinson and Philips Price are some of those who have left because of the call of ambition, the passing of the excitement of the earlier months, or simply because they had learned through experience that the fundamental ideas on which Communist Policy had been built were partly false and wholly inapplicable except in the peculiar conditions which gave them birth in Russia.
The disgust and confusion which follow these “betrayals” add point to our criticism of leader worship; the workers lose more than they can possibly gain from the magnifying of the individual and dependence on his leadership. Having foolishly overrated, they now, spitefully belittle the ability of their late members. What is however of rather more importance is the opportunity that offers here of justifying the position of the Socialist Party.
When the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia we alone of the organisations claiming to be socialist in this country, refused to be swept off our feet either by hostile prejudice or by misguided enthusiasm. We never lent ourselves to capitalist condemnation of Bolshevik “violence,” a pastime which was very popular with Labour men who had been preaching murder for the capitalist class during the war, nor did we deceive ourselves with unfounded hopes and mistake intentions for performances. We held that economic backwardness and the anti-socialist peasants would forbid the establishment of Socialism in Russia, and we held that the seizure of power by a minority could not succeed, and need not be attempted in Great Britain where political traditions, institutions and development had been so different. We were told that we were wrong, and the C.P.G.B. came into being to show how it could be done. Now, seven years after the initial success of the Bolsheviks, their too servile imitators are having to confess failure.
Walton Newbold writes (“Forward,” Sept. 13th) :—
“From the autumn of 1920, although it was almost impossible to see it at the time, Capitalism had won, not only the advantage, but the decisive advantage, here in Britain as elsewhere. . . .
There will be no further revolution in Europe for many a long year.”
This is strange talk from one who discoursed then so glibly and learnedly on the “collapse of capitalism.”
Philips Price, in whose judgment the communists were used to express the utmost confidence, takes up a similar attitude. He chides the communists with assuming
“that the same process must be gone through in Western Europe as in Russia, where there never was a Parliamentary machine elected in geographical constituencies and on a democratic franchise. (Forward, August 30th.)
The editor of the “Workers’ Weekly” tries to minimise the force of his argument by offering evidence to show that Newbold had for long been expressing more or less clearly the views on which he based his resignation. But what are we to think of a party which discovers only when a member resigns that the opinions be held years before are incompatible with the party’s position ?
In December, 1922, Newbold wrote this :
“I, like my comrade Saklatvala, am a member of the Labour Party. Either as a member of the Fabian Society or of the I.L.P. or otherwise, I have been a member of that party without intermission since the autumn of 1908. I have never had any cause to disagree with the Labour Party as such.” (“Manchester Guardian,” Dec. 7, 1922.)
And as a matter of fact, in December, 1923, the C.P.G.B.’s official attitude was to give unqualified support to all Labour candidates.
The Manifesto issued by the Executive Committee of the C.P.G.B. during the election contained an appeal to the workers to “Support the Labour and Communist candidates” without any kind of qualification. They themselves in the same issue of the “Communist Daily” which printed the appeal, boasted of the help their members were giving to such men as Jack Mills and John Hodge. Harry Pollitt, Communist candidate, withdrew in favour of the latter and spoke on his platform, although Hodge refused to give a satisfactory answer to the questions put by the unemployed. (“Communist Daily,” 13th November, 1923.)
The Communist Party did and does support reactionary Labour men, but because Newbold wanted the criticism of these people to be confined to private meetings, and wrote that “the moment they came out there was to be no difference between the most extreme right men and left wingers, like himself,” he is denounced by the editor of the “Workers’ Weekly” as “favouring the enemy” (12th Sept.). The charge is surely more damaging to the accuser than to the accused, for how does Newbold’s policy differ from their own of denouncing Labour men at private Communist meetings and then going out to ask workers to vote for a Thomas or a “monstrous gnome” like Stephen Walsh, or allowing their members to appeal for votes on the strength of a letter from MacDonald, as did Paul in Manchester?
And it was the “Workers’ Weekly” itself under Palme Dutte’s editorship which published after the election an article by Newbold which contained the following :—
“If we are not proud of Thomas as Thomas we shall be proud of him as a Labour Minister. Our business is to make him feel, the responsibility, putting the stress on the first, word “Labour,” rather than the second word “Minister.” . . .
In the next few months we shall have to do a great deal of barking back at the “boss” class, and as little as possible, I hope, of snapping at our leaders.”
When, therefore, Palme Dutte goes on to say that in spite of Newbold’s defection the Communist party “has no reason to revise its attitude to the Labour Party,” we cannot refrain from asking what on earth he means. Which of its half-dozen policies is the C.P. determined to persist in? The policy of 1921 of open hostility in theory, coupled in fact with the opposition to some (MacDonald) and the support of others (Naylor), or the policy of 1922 and 1923 of supporting them all where they needed support at election times, and keeping the denunciation where it could do no harm? Or the policy of support on the political field and opposition to the same persons and policies in the Trade Unions?
Palme Dutte can only reply that they will “persist in their policy.” The fact is that the “tacticians” blundered again. They might themselves be proud of J. H. Thomas, but they soon found that the only people from whom they could expect to win support were not proud of him at all, and this explains why T. Johnson, who in January they considered to be a staunch fighter for the proletariat, is described in September as a “capitalist lackey” as are the ministers and other supporters of the Labour Government (“Workers’ Weekly,” 12th Sept.).
And it seems that Newbold and the rest of the “traitors” have the laugh after all. After they have been ridiculed for ignorance and denounced for their cowardice and treachery, they will still as Labour candidates receive the votes and assistance of C.P. members !
They cannot even condemn Newbold for his imperialist tendencies, for it was while he was “Communist” member for Motherwell in 1923 that he admits having defended the Navy as essential for the protection of “our food ships,” and no public condemnation of him was made by his party. (“Forward,” 30th August, 1924.)
It would also be interesting to know what is now supposed to be the attitude of the Communists on the question of minority revolution. Do they hold with Trotsky (“Communist,” 6th Aug., 1921) that the victory of the working class “can only be achieved by the capacity to conduct battles, and above all by gaining over the majority of the working class.” Or do they still believe that an “intellectual minority” can do the work? It was as recently as the end of 1923 that the German Communists made a futile attempt, in spite of the fact that their strength, as shown by the Reichstag elections, was only about 12 per cent. of the votes cast. And the left wing who dominated the party (980 delegates to 369 ot the others combined), referring to this rising, were still able to declare, in April, 1924, that “victory—the seizure of power by the workers—was not only possible, but historically necessary.” (“Workers’ Weekly,” May 16th, 1924.)
In all this welter of confusion the S.P.G.B. stands alone and unshaken. I.L.P. pacifists join hands with Labour jingoes building cruisers to solve unemployment, and joyfully endorse in the Dawes Report a new attempt to intensify the slavery of the European working class; while Communists call them knaves, and vote them into Parliament.
The Communists, trying to emulate their fellow confusionists in the I.L.P., just hug themselves with delight because MacDonald has agreed to give a State guarantee of interest payments on a £40,000,000 loan to Russia, for the benefit of certain financial circles. One of their amusing arguments is that it will make work for the unemployed. They have doubtless overlooked the detail that even if work is provided for engineers now, the ultimate result when Russian agriculture has been reorganised and brought up to date by the imported machinery, is that this and other countries will have to face the competition of cheap Russian wheat. This will be good news for the unemployed agricultural workers. While the Communist propagates futile “solutions” of insoluble problems, the Socialist goes on propagating socialism.
We extend an urgent invitation to those who have seen the Socialist Party stand the test of war and would-be revolution and yet maintain the intellectual strength of its position, to come forward and give us their active assistance.
(Editorial, Socialist Standard, October 1924)