Editorial from the September 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard
Amidst the heated argument for and against the formation of a "Popular Front" of Liberals, Labour Party and Communists in Great Britain, one very significant aspect has been entirely overlooked. Having their eyes fixed on the question which appears to them to be so important at the moment, the advocates of uniting the parties on a strictly limited programme of popular demands have not noticed that their action is a tardy admission of a fundamental mistake made by the British and Continental workers 30 or 40 years ago. At that date, more especially in Great Britain, the workers were faced with two great capitalist parties, the Tories and the Liberals. Because the latter represented very largely the interests of industrial capitalists, they had stood traditionally for democratic government against the earlier undemocratic rule of landed property and the small number of ruling class families. With the extension of the franchise to the workers, both Liberals and Tories had to busy themselves with questions of social reform. Nevertheless it was the Liberals who were associated, more or less justifiably, with the two ideas of democracy and social reform, and for many years before (and even after) the formation of the I.L.P. and Labour Party the notion persisted that the workers must look to Liberal governments for the defence of democracy and the extension of reform legislation. Mr. Lloyd George’s campaigns for political and social reforms in the years before the War were a case in point.
Needless to say, the results were disappointing for the workers. Capitalism cannot be made to work satisfactorily from the point of view of the exploited class. It was therefore inevitable that more and more workers should turn their attention to other methods of securing working class emancipation or at least relief from the worst evils of capitalism. It was here that a disastrous mistake was made. What was the need of the times? Two answers were given to that question. The Labour leaders said, “ Form a new party of democracy and social reform," which meant in effect forming a new Liberal Party. The S.P.G.B. pointed this out and warned against it. We said—and who will dispute it now?—that unless the new party was to be a Socialist party, composed of Socialists and fighting for Socialism, the workers might just as well go on as they were. Why spend a lifetime breaking up one Liberal Party only to form another ?
Events have proved us right, but they have done something more. Without realising it, the advocates of the Popular Front are trying to undo their own handiwork. They are trying to reconstitute a great mass party, able to win a majority at an election, and based on the two pillars of democracy and social reform! They are trying to reconstitute the great Liberal Party which they smashed to form the Labour Party.
Their argument is a plausible one. “Things are bad for the workers economically," they say, “and democracy is in great peril. Let us then unite to save the latter and introduce social reforms to relieve the former." But who put democracy in danger? In recent years it has been the Communists above all others, yet they are now most vociferous in demanding a United Front to save it. It was the Russian Communists who set the modern fashion of seizing power and installing a dictatorship. It is undisputed that Mussolini, and after him Hitler, learned much from Lenin in the technique of seizing power and holding it by force, supported by mass propaganda and political suppression.
It was the Communists who, year in and year out, derided democratic Government, poured scorn on Parliament and the whole parliamentary system, preached Minority revolt and civil war, and in every way idealised the method of violence. Everywhere that their propaganda penetrated they left a trail of hostility to parliamentary methods and a liking for the pseudo-progressive system of armed force and dictatorship.
Let there be no mistake about this. When Mr. Gallacher, for the Communist Party, writes, as he did in Forward (25th July, 1936), that the Communists did not mean “military violence or military revolutionary action," Mr. Gallacher is a liar. The original basis of the Communist International (the “Twenty-one Points") prescribed an “armed struggle," and “heavy civil war" was the favourite catchword. But we have more recent evidence from Communists, indeed from Mr. Gallacher himself. At the 1929 Conference of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Mr. Harry Pollitt made a speech in which he explained to his fellow Communists that “only through armed insurrection can the workers gain power” (see report in Manchester Guardian, December 2nd, 1929). At the same conference, Mr. Gallacher, who now pretends that armed revolt was not intended, said this: —
They had talked of a Revolutionary Workers’ Government, but did they realise what was implied? Would the organisation of the workers for the revolutionary Government be a legal one? The task of fighting for a revolutionary Government would be a task of bringing the workers out on to the streets against the armed forces of capitalism.”—(Worker's Life, December 6th, 1929.)
While the Communists are explaining away the above proclamations of their intention to stage armed revolt, let them also try to justify, if they can, their complete somersault with regard to association with the Liberal and Labour parties. Mr. Gallacher now declares his willingness to work with the Liberals. Only a year ago, at the 7th World Congress of the Communist International, when G. Dimitrov presented a report on “The Working Class against Fascism,” that report specifically mentions the need, while supporting the Labour Party, to oppose Lloyd George, the Liberal leader. (Report published by Communist Party of Great Britain, p. 36.) Even more amazing, however, is the change of front towards the Labour Party and Labour Government. At the 12th Congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain, held in November, 1932, a report was considered called “The Crisis Policy of the Labour Party, the T.U.C., etc.” In this interesting declaration of Communist policy we read that the policy of the Labour Government in 1929-1931 was not only “capitalist” but also “Fascist,” and that “the Labour Party took decisive steps towards strengthening the dictatorship of the capitalists during the Labour Government.” Also that, while opposing the means test in words, the Labour Party “supported the attacks of the National Government upon the unemployed.”
Then we are told that “parliamentary democracy” is a “sham” which the Communists must expose, and that: —
Any party which accepts parliamentary democracy, however revolutionary its phrases, is an instrument of the capitalists.
Lastly, the Report tells us: —
It is unmistakably clear that a third Labour Government is not a “Lesser Evil” than a National Government, or a Tory Government, or a coalition between Labour and capitalist parties.
We are not here concerned with the accuracy of the statements then made by the Communist Party—many of them are absurdly inaccurate—but only with the fact that the Party which held these views now pretends to be enthusiastic for Labour Government, democracy, parliamentary methods, etc. They want now to save us from Fascism, and tell us to do it by supporting the Party whose policy when in office was a “Fascist policy.” They want to save democracy and fight dictatorship (yet their masters created and glorified dictatorship in Russia), and their method is to have another Labour Government, although they say that the last Labour Government helped to strengthen “the dictatorship of the capitalists.” They want to save democracy, although as recently as 1932 they declared it to be a sham.
In short, the Communists are what they have always been, fickle, unscrupulous, superficial in their judgment of working class questions and an unmixed danger to the interests of the working class and the Socialist movement. True they do not belong to the conception of a reconstituted Liberal Party (whether called Liberal, Labour or Popular Front) which could gain a majority on a programme of democracy and social reform. But neither do they belong to the conception of a Socialist Party, for democracy is essential to the progress of the Socialist movement. They are unwittingly an instrument of reaction, unable to assist in saving democracy in the present, and equally unable to use democracy for the promotion of the Socialist movement.