1930s >> 1939 >> no-423-november-1939

Moscow Turns a New Somersault and Mr. Pollitt Holds the Baby

It is many years since a prominent English Communist fell a victim to the acrobatic changes in Communist Party policy. Some years ago J. T. Murphy walked the plank and fell. He resigned, but his resignation was refused on the grounds that working-class parties do not accept resignations. His deviation was duly and gravely considered by the Executive Committee of the Communist Party and he was expelled.

And now Mr. Pollitt has fallen from grace. True he has not been expelled, nor has he resigned. In this connection the Daily Worke (October 12th, 1936) puts the matter very nicely: “There is no truth in the suggestion that Harry Pollitt has resigned from the Communist Party. In view of the differences of opinion which were expressed during the discussion (on the question of continuing the war), the Central Committee decided that Harry Pollitt should not continue as General Secretary, but should undertake other duties for the Party.” Despite a weak attempt to obscure the facts, Mr. Pollitt is obviously a casualty of the polite English equivalent of the Russian purge. Mr. Pollitt’s name was associated more publicly with the recent peace-front and anti-Nazi line than any other Communist. Without warning Moscow decided on a change of policy. To put some sort of face on the change, Mr. Pollitt has been liquidated. A short while ago the first hint of a change in Russian foreign policy came when Litvinoff was removed from his position of Commissar for Foreign Affairs in the Russian Government. The uninitiated may be puzzled by the procedure. It is, nevertheless, a way they have where the dictatorship ideology prevails. Unlike countries where democratic institutions exist, the machinery of dictatorial government provides few means of escape from situations like this.

For many years Mr. Pollitt has been the most outstanding and popular personality in the Communist Party, loyal to every change in policy. He was the loudspeaker which faithfully relayed Moscow. No matter how much the line changed Mr. Pollitt could always put over those changes with sufficient adroitness to make black appear white, and white appear black. Though, of course, constant changes in policy could not fail to promote skill in this direction. And what changes there were! One week the “line” was, support the Labour Party, the next, oppose it. One day the “line” was to treat the Labour Party like well-meaning, but mistaken, brothers in a common cause, and the next to refer to the erstwhile brethren as “traitors,” “Social-Fascists,” “renegades,” “capitalist hacks,” etc., and etc. Had the Vicar of Bray known our modern professional Communists he surely would have acquired rapid promotion to the Archbishopric of Canterbury! And yet even the Communist Party has met a situation which now taxes its ingenuity in finding plausible explanations to satisfy its followers. And this time it is no ordinary somersault. Previous changes in policy have been relatively harmless. have had no worse effect than to provide entertainment for the sophisticated. But the present is the somersault of somersaults. It is supreme in its cynicism, trickery and double-dealing. Communist Party supporters have been as severely shaken as the self-righteous equanimity of the official elements.

The policy of the Communist Party in this country and elsewhere has always been subject to the dictates of Moscow. Of recent years it has been along lines which the present ruling clique in Russia considered to be in conformity with Russia’s trading interests. The desertion by Russia of the traditional policy of isolation and the joining of the League of Nations placed the Communist Party in the position of having to turn its back on about fifteen years of anti-capitalist and anti-League propaganda. It was embarrassing, but not beyond their resourcefulness. The results have now come home to roost. Russia’s need and desire for position and prestige in the international trading and political world were the mainsprings that pressed her on. The necessities of the game soon found her supporting one Power or group of Powers as against another Power or group. And the Communist Party soon found that it not only had to support the League of Nations, but what it really stood for: the political dominance in Europe of the Powers that dominated the League, Great Britain and France. And so the Communist Party, which never practises half-measures, were soon the loudest in demanding the logical application of League principles. Hence its demand for military sanctions against Italy and the closing of the Suez Canal during the Abyssinian War. When the influence of the League waned they came out openly in support of an alliance between the “peace-loving” Powers against the “aggressors.” In domestic politics this resulted in the demand for the popular front, which became a plank in Communist Party programmes, even as far afield as the United States. The Popular Front was to include “progressives” of all parties, that is, all those who agreed with the Communist Party and their methods of “standing up to the aggressors.” They roundly abused Chamberlain for even negotiating with the untouchable Hitler. The effect on Communist Party propaganda was not without its amusing side. The hammer and sickle and the slogan, “Workers of the World, Unite,” disappeared from the front page of the Daily Worker. The customary violent and flamboyant abuse vanished and the “traitors” became “statesmen.” Tories, duchesses, bishops, and Communists appeared together at public meetings in support of the new policy, and cooed at each other like old maids at a christening party.

And now it has all ended, suddenly and without warning. Even the wily political variety artists at Communist headquarters have been caught napping. The Russian Government changed its mind and deserted the Allied group of capitalist Powers in favour of Germany. The Nazi and Soviet gentlemen have arranged a truce in the war of loathing and abuse which they have hurled at each other for years, and ingenuous Communists have now had the pleasure of gazing in rapture at the Press pictures of Stalin and Ribbentrop smiling sweetly into each other’s eyes. Whereas the old policy expressed itself in demands for self-determination for small nations, e.g., Czecho-Slovakia, Spain, Austria, and so on, the new one has to approve the agreement to carve up Poland and to square the “self-determination” propaganda with Russia’s efforts to acquire dominance over small nations like Latvia, Estonia and Finland, an effort which she pursued with the familiar Nazi technique of placing an army on the borders of those countries. Military force, the last word in capitalist argument, will decide the issue when Russia seeks to “protect” little nations, not conferences which will discuss democratically the “rights” of “self-determination.”

But does the Communist Party eat its words? Does it come before the workers in humble repentance for the criminal hoax which it has perpetrated upon them in the name of Marx and revolutionary traditions? Do they—do they hell! In the words of many a humble stumper of earlier and more honest days, when less of the bourgeois accent was heard from the Communist platform—not bloody likely! The Communist Party has subtler methods. Witness a statement issued by the Central Committee which appeared in the Daily Worker (October 12th). It says: —

The manifesto of October 7th corrects the declaration issued on September 2nd. The present war is not a just war, but an unjust and imperialist war. . . .

A few strokes of the pen and the tearing, raging, democratic (pro-British, pro-French), anti-Nazi (German) propaganda has been wiped out. Only the Catholic Church could equal this easy wiping away of past sins. Note that the “Manifesto of October 7th corrects the declaration of September 2nd.” A three years orgy of high-pressure propaganda in all branches of Communist activity is a little error, made on September 2nd, and corrected on October 7th. Could chicanery go further? Just a little. Read on: “In view of the differences of opinion . . . the Central Committee decided that Harry should not continue as General Secretary.”

Get the implication? It was Harry Pollitt’s error which stood to be corrected. It was Pollitt who wrote the pamphlet, “How to Win the War,” which has proved awkward for Moscow and the Communists. In it Pollitt wrote: —

“The Communist Party supports the war, believing it to be a just war, which should be supported by the whole working class and all friends of democracy. . . . To stand aside from this conflict, to contribute only revolutionary-sounding phrases while the Fascist beasts ride roughshod over Europe, would be a betrayal of everything our forbears have fought to achieve in the course of long years of struggle with capitalism.
The British workers are in this war to defeat Hitler, for a German victory would mean that Fascism would be imposed on the defeated countries. If there is one thing that is certain, it is this, that the British working class detests Fascism, as it does those who in Britain have helped to strengthen it, and is determined to do everything in its power to bring about the defeat of Fascism and that of its supporters in Britain. Therefore it will do everything it can to bring the war to a speedy conclusion, but only by the defeat and destruction of Hitler and the Nazi rule from which the German people have been suffering for six years.”

But Pollitt wrote what every Communist journalist has been writing and working up to for years, what every paid and unpaid speaker has been expounding. He wrote what was strictly in accordance with the policy dictated by the Russian Government and in line with their interests. Now he has slipped—in short, he has been left holding the baby. Could anything more expose the whole make-believe of leadership and dictatorship?

But the Communist Party now says that the war is an imperialist war, and cries for peace. Shall we, then, be soft in our judgment and give praise? Pause, friend, and think. The Communist Party has had no change of heart; it has merely obeyed the College of Cardinals at Moscow. In doing so it has been true to its traditions and its paymasters. And when Moscow calls again it will obey. And if later it appears to be in line with Russia’s interests to make a deal with the “democracies,” then the Communist Party will experience another change of heart. The “just war” which became an “unjust war” by the simple process of the Daily Worker issuing a decree on October 7th, will again become a “just war.” The suppression of objective truth, the sycophantic flattery of representatives of the capitalists will re-appear. Watch carefully the peaceful Communist Party. The honest pacifist commands our respect. The purely professional, time-serving politician, our contempt.

But—it is an ill wind that blows no good. The case that we have stuck to for twenty years has again been justified by events. At the time of the Russian upheaval, and since, we have consistently maintained that Russia had to develop along capitalist lines. It has done so, and the history of the last twenty years, culminating in the present position, proves our case right up to the hilt. After futile attempts at isolation, Russia was compelled by her own economic development to enter the international competitive markets and into commercial and political relations with the rest of the capitalist world. Its foreign policy reflected the needs of its position in the international market. Ten years ago W. N. Ewer brought upon his head the opprobrium of some of the Labour and Communist Press because of an article he wrote in the Communist Labour Monthly, in which he made out the case that Russia’s foreign policy was a continuation of the foreign policy of the Czarist Government. Mr. Palme Dutt later had to publish a repudiation of the article in response to the official demand of the Communist Party. Russia’s subsequent development has shown a still further acceleration of the process to which Ewer drew attention. By whatever name the Communists like to call Russian efforts to achieve political and commercial dominance in China, and of similar efforts in S.E. Europe, they are, for those who understand, different only in degree from what has always been condemned by the Communists as imperialism. To-day the Soviet Government and its agents might give another name, but they cannot alter its essentially capitalist character. Russia’s foreign policy expresses needs which are governed by her position in the competitive cockpit of international markets, her need for markets and trade routes, and the acquisition of territories for dominance, or influence. Where the economic urge drives, pretty names will not alter the fact that this is the very thing that the Communists have been pretending to denounce for about twenty years.

The workers must face the fact that the Communist movement throughout the world is tied to the Russian Government; it cannot, dare not, consider the merits of any policy in the light of what ‘is in line with working-class interests. The Communist movement owes its first loyalty to Moscow. What is best in working-class interests is secondary, even if it is ever considered at all.

This is the lesson of events which Communists throughout the world must accept or, in default, mesmerise themselves into mental paralysis.

H. W.

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