Should Socialists Vote for Labour Candidates?
At its formation the Communist Party of Great Britain decided by a small majority to seek entrance to the Labour Party. But while willing to sacrifice their independence, they nevertheless denounced the leaders of that Party and ran candidates against MacDonald at Woolwich, and Morgan Jones at Caerphilly. Later they were ordered by those who pay the piper and call the tune to advocate the policy of the “united front.” They expressly pointed out that this did not mean unconditional support of the Labour Party, but only a willingness to co-operate in any action against the employing class. At the 1922 Congress of the Communist International, the following statement was issued :—
The tactics of the United Front should by no means imply the forming of electoral combinations of leaders for the pursuit of certain parliamentary aims. The tactics of the United From is the call for the united struggle of Communists and of all other workers, either belonging to other parties and groups, or belonging to no party whatever, for the defence of the elementary and vital interests of the working-class against the bourgeoisie. (Fourth Congress Thesis on Tactics, page 10).
In actual practice, although the Communists have all along strenuously denied that the Labour Party has been engaged in “the defence of the elementary and vital interests of the working-class,” they have given them full and unconditional support at election times.
Now Moscow has ordered another volte face, and the Communists are busy trying to prove that the United Front never existed, or alternatively, that it is not inconsistent with opposing Labour candidates.
At the Linlithgow bye-election they first put up a Communist candidate against the Labour candidate (E. Shinwell) and then withdrew him on the plea of shortness of time and told the workers not to vote at all. Their manifesto says:—“We, therefore urge the workers not to waste time and energy in voting for any candidate in the present election.”—(Sunday Worker, 25th March.)
A few weeks later, at the Hanley bye-election, the Communist, J. R. Campbell, was speaking in the constituency, billed as the “man who brought down the Labour Government.”. After denouncing the Labour candidate at Hanley, Campbell told them to vote for him!—(Daily Telegraph, 19th April, 1928.)
In the Labour Monthly (April, 1928) the Communist Editor, R. Palme Dutt, tries to explain away this confusion, and actually has the temerity to quote with approval the views of Marx on the need to run independent working-class candidates. At Aberdeen the Communists did indeed run their own candidate—but on a programme of reforms!
With the views expressed by Marx on this subject in the Address to the Communist League (1850) we heartily agree. They are in line with our own attitude and directly opposed to that of the Communist party in the past seven years.
Beside the bourgeois democratic candidates there shall be put up everywhere working-class candidates, who, as far as possible, shall be members of the League, and for whose success all must work with every possible means. Even in constituencies where there is no prospect of our candidate being elected, the workers must nevertheless put up candidates in order to maintain their independence, to steel their forces, and to bring their revolutionary attitude and party views before the public. They must not allow themselves to be diverted from this work by the stock argument that to split the vote of the democrats means assisting the reactionary parties. All such talk is but calculated to cheat the proletariat. The advance which the Proletarian Party will make through its independent political attitude is infinitely more important than the disadvantage of having a few more reactionaries in the national representation!!
Now contrast with Marx’s definite and clear-cut attitude the muddled Communist record. At the 1923 election quite a number of Communists were running as official Labour Candidates. Mr. W. Paul went to the poll with his election address graced by a message to the electors from Ramsay Macdonald. The Communists worked and voted for J. H. Thomas and Clynes, and the rest of the Labour defenders of Capitalism and boasted of it. In particular compare Marx’s advice to ignore the “stock argument ” about splitting the democratic vote, with the following words written by Mr. Harry Pollitt after the 1923 election. He said that the Communists, if they had used the information in their possession, could have prevented the election of Mr. Frank Hodges. Instead they supported him. “We did not expose Mr. Hodges during the Election because we did not desire to split the workers’ vote.”— (Workers’ Weekly, December 21st, 1923.)
As against this tortuous and ineffective Communist policy we commend to Palme Dutt and his fellow Communists the passage he quotes from Marx.