Party News: Debates
Our Opponents Unwilling to Meet Us
Our efforts to arrange debates with the I.L.P., even when the challenge has been offered by an I.L.P. Branch, have been in vain, owing to the expressed refusal of their Head Office to permit a debate with us. Last month a challenge thrown out by the West Leyton Conservative Association was at once taken up by us with similar result. Their first excuse, so thin that it was subsequently dropped, was that their finances would not permit. Secondly, it was admitted by their representative that when they offered to debate with Socialists they meant “the so-called Labour Party,” and finally, we were told in effect that our membership is too small.
At the same time an endeavour was being made to arrange a debate with Mr, Saklatvala, M.P., on the respective merits of ourselves and the Communist Party.
At first Mr. Saklatvala expressed himself as being “only too pleased,” merely pointing out that he wished those who dissented from his views would challenge him at his meetings. He must remember, however, that it is not the practice at his or other Communist meetings to allow ample time for questions, or to allow opponents the platform. While we regret this unwillingness to encourage unfettered discussion, we do not make a habit of disturbing the meetings of opponents because their method of conducting differs from our own.
Although up to this point the correspondence on our side had been conducted by our Battersea Branch, they had made it clear that they would obtain the endorsement of our Executive Committee, and the Communist Head Office were approached to learn if they would give similar endorsement to Mr. Saklatvala.
As the subject of debate was agreed to be the merits of the two organisations, this seemed to us not only reasonable but necessary. Mr. Saklatvala nevertheless strongly objected. He then expressed his willingness to debate “my exposition of my political views or activities,” but “ I am not interested in what may be claimed to be the official programme of your party or of mine.” At the same time he made the curious claim that he was interested in us and our challenge only because our Battersea members are constituents of his. Now it is obvious that a useful debate cannot take place between the principles of an organisation on the one hand, and the “views and activities” of an individual responsible to no party and bound by no known and definite principles on the other, especially as Mr. Saklatvala confessed that he did not know our policy, anyway. As the Communist Head Office did not even acknowledge our letters the whole affair has fallen through.
It affords one or two points of interest. The first is the unwillingness of the Communists to risk their case in debate at the present time. Judging, too, from Mr. Saklatvala’s first willing acceptance and later withdrawal from the debate on the terms originally proposed, it would seem reasonable to assume that their unwillingness was intimated to him by his own Headquarters.
It is also somewhat astounding that a professed Communist owing nominal allegiance to the Moscow International should accept the orthodox political view of the obligations of an M.P. to his constituents. It shows vividly how far from the class conceptions of Socialism a Communist M.P. (elected on a Reformist Programme) can be driven by circumstances. Who does not remember how the Communists used to assert the iniquity of “geographical representation” and demand industrial representation through the Soviets?
It is, of course, true that Mr. Saklatvala has always been an advocate of Nationalism in various forms—that is, an advocate of the “rights” of those exploiters and exploited who happen to dwell in a certain geographical area. But while “India for the Indians” is not Socialism, it does at least not sound so absurd as “Battersea for the Battersea-ites.”