When the Thirtieth Congress of the so-called Communist Party meets in Camden Town Hall at the end of this month the delegates will have before them a new draft of their programme The British Road to Socialism. There is nothing new in the draft. It is merely a watered-down version of the old programme in line with the change from Daily Worker to Morning Star. The vanguard role of the party gives way to that of being little more than the tail-end of a reformed Labour Party:
It is not the aim of the Communist Party to undermine, weaken or split the Labour Party. On the contrary we believe that the struggle of the socialist forces within the Labour Party, to make it a party of struggle and socialism, will grow (p.25).
The Communist Party and the Labour Party in which the right wing has been defeated, will be the political organisations of the working class primarily responsible for the success of the building of socialism (pp. 33-4).
Of course by Socialism they mean nothing of the sort but nationalisation or state capitalism, to be achieved through Parliament and the ballot-box. So after nearly fifty years the Communist Party reaches the position once held by the Labour Party.
When the Communist Party of Great Britain was set up in August 1920 it stood, like all affiliates of the Communist International, for a policy of armed minority uprising to seize power. Lenin and the Bolsheviks firmly insisted that all their supporters should split from Social Democratic parties and set up independent communist parties. This was duly done in France in Tours in December 1920, in Germany in Berlin the same month and in Italy in Leghorn the following February.
After the failure of the German uprising in 1921 the Bolsheviks changed their tune. Now, they said, there must be a United Front of all workers’ parties. The poor Communist Party in Britain which had just been opposing Labour now had to support them.
In fact the zigs and zags of the Communist Party attitude towards Labour can only be explained by changes of policy in Moscow. The United Front policy lasted until 1928 when Stalin ordered an abrupt left turn. From now on the Social Democrats were “social fascists”. The 1929 election manifesto Class Against Class denounced Labour as “the third capitalist party”. Harry Pollitt called for the break-up of Labour meetings. On January 29, 1930 he wrote in the Daily Worker:
Workshop meetings should be called by such workers and resolutions for the support of our Party should be carried, but the mere passing of resolutions is not enough. There should not be a Labour meeting held anywhere, but what the revolutionary workers in that district attend such meetings and fight against the speakers, whoever they are, so-called ‘left’, ‘right’ or ‘centre’. They should never be allowed to address the workers. This will bring us in conflict with the authorities, but this must be done. The fight can no longer be conducted in a passive manner.
During this period two prominent Communists debated the Socialist Party of Great Britain: J. T. Murphy (soon to be expelled as a ’rightist’) in Sheffield in March 1930 and Peter Kerrigan in Clydebank in May 1931
. Both Murphy and Kerrigan came out with the old nonsense about Parliament being a capitalist institution and the need to smash the state in an armed uprising.
With Hitler in power in Germany the line again changed. Of a sudden the Communist Party became patriotic and for democracy (which, like the fascists, they had been denouncing for years as a farce). Soon the call extended from a United Front to a People’s Front (to include open capitalist parties like the Liberals) and later to a National Front (to include anti-fascist Tories). William Gallacher wrote to the old News Chronicle on July 18, 1936:
Will the Communists work with the Liberals? Surely, if the Liberals are prepared to fight for peace and for the practical proposals that will mean an advance in the health and well-being of the workers. Already we have been on peace platforms with Labour, Liberal and Co-operative representatives. What’s wrong with that? If we can get unity of the workers’ forces, the strength gained thereby will attract more and more the middle class towards our movement. The liberals who represent these middle class forces will have to come towards us. If they are prepared to support the campaign that we are making — such campaigns, for instance, as the fight against the Unemployment Regulations, shorter working week, peace, etc, — it would be political folly not to accept their co-operation.
The Communists made a determined attempt, not without some success, to infiltrate the ILP which had broken from Labour in 1932. All the same, as the Communist Party put on a respectable image they were frequently out-sloganed by the ILP.
When the war broke out in 1939 the Communist Party here in backing Britain and France jumped the gun. They were ordered by Moscow to retract, to denounce the war as imperialist and to call for peace talks with Stalin’s new friend, Hitler. After the German invasion of Russia in June 1941 the Communist Party at last got a chance to show how low they could stoop in patriotism. They managed to rival Horatio Bottomley’s first world war performance; they backed Tory candidates at by-elections; they opposed strikes and wage demands; they denounced all opponents of the war, including pacifists, as fascists. In a pamphlet put out in August 1942 under the title Clear Out Hitler’s Agents! An exposure of Trotskyist disruption being organised in Britain such weak and watery characters as Maxton, McGovern and Fenner Brockway of the ILP were denounced as trotskyists and fascists. “They should be treated”, said the pamphlet in a thinly disguised incitement to violence, “as you would treat a Nazi”. This scurrillous pamphlet partly explains the following reply which our West Ham branch received in answer to a challenge to the debate. The secretary of the West Ham Branch of the Communist Party wrote on February 23, 1943 as follows:
The Communist Party has NO dealings with murderers, liars, renegades or assassins. The SPGB, which associates itself with the followers of Trotsky, the friend of Hess, has always followed a policy which would mean disaster for the British working class. They have consistently poured vile slanders on Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, told filthy lies about the Red Army, the Soviet people and its leaders, gloated over the assassination of Kirov and other Soviet leaders, applauded the wrecking activities of Trotskyist saboteurs in the Soviet Union. They have worked to split the British working class and are in short agents of Fascism in Britain. The CPGB refuses with disgust to deal with such renegades. We treat them as vipers, to be destroyed, (Socialist Standard, May 1943).
No wonder the Communist Party came to be known as “scummunists”.
In the 1945 election the Communists put up a few candidates of their own but elsewhere supported Labour. They backed the government, soft-peddling the trade union struggle, until 1948. Then in France and Belgium Communist Ministers resigned and policy again took a “left turn.” The ‘‘right-wing leaders” of the Labour and Social Democratic parties were denounced; a vicious anti-Americanism was stirred up and a bogus peace campaign launched. At this time the original British Road to Socialism was adopted. Communist policy has changed little since.
Now the party is in a sorry state. Many members left over Hungary. A few, hopelessly disorganised, members back China. It is true that some older members of the Labour Party, including councillors, trade union officials and even some MP’s, have a certain amount of sympathy for Russia and the Communist Party. But for younger people Russia has none of the attraction it used to have. More and more are seeing that what exists there is state capitalism, not Socialism. And, as the party tries to become more respectable, both romantic revolutionaries and union militants are turning elsewhere, to the various anarchists and trotskyist groups (who — but this is another story — are repeating many of the mistakes the Communists used to make).
There is no need to feel any sympathy about the fate of the so-called Communist Party. On the contrary, it is to be welcomed. It is merely getting what it deserves for dragging the name of Socialism through the mud and for selling out the interests of the working class to the rulers of state capitalist Russia.