From the June 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard
A malady stalks through Britain—ruthless self-criticism! The serried ranks of the Communist Party have been decimated. From the humblest local official to the most renowned national protagonist, none are safe from its insidious attack. All the tried and trusty slogans, such as "Work or Wages," "Fight like Hell," and "Hands off China," threaten to vanish into obscurity before the parrot-like repetition of this sinister phrase.
Even ten years ago it seemed inevitable that something dreadful would happen to the British recipients of Russian money; and here, at long last, it has. The Slavonic vice of introspection has followed in the wake of the rouble, and displaced the good old Teutonic virtue of which they used to boast—Solidarity!
Ten years ago when carping critics—such as are to be found in the S.P.G.B.—tried to point out to the romantic worshippers of Lenin the obstacles and dangers in the way of any attempt to adopt his policy in this country, they were waived aside as beneath contempt. Was not the German revolution already in progress and would not Britain inevitably follow suit? But now!
Dangers to Right of them, danger to Left of them, dangers all around them, dangers inside them! Such is the state of affairs revealed by "ruthless self-criticism." Pick up almost any copy of the Daily Worker and then ask yourself how any member of the Politbureau manages to get a night's sleep. Take this, for example, from the issue of May 3rd; "Since the 10th Plenum, particularly, the Party leadership has made the grave error of not conducting a relentless struggle against the right elements in the Party who—and this is significant—have been strongest in the mining areas, particularly in South Wales." In other words, even some of their own members evidently realise the absurdity of telling workers to "Fight like hell" on empty bellies.
Further, "The Party's mistake in supporting Cook has materially contributed to the unsatisfactory state of the mining campaign. Cook's whole line, which had the full support of the Party, was to work within the apparatus of the M.F.G.B.; to work wholly from within the narrow circle of the trade union bureaucracy, while he deceived the Party with the illusion that he was preparing for an open break with the bureaucracy."
"He headed the fight at a certain period only to betray it more effectively." We of the S.P.G.B. never credited Cook with so much brains as to be able to think that out, nor have we come across evidence that he was ever more than a weak, emotional "hero" who found the forces of capitalism too strong for him. We did, however, point out at the time the childish futility of this nationalisation - cum - rationalisation campaign (supported by the Communist Party), and the sheer folly of trusting the miners' case to the General Council of the Trades Union Congress.
The Communist Party, however, self-styled "leaders off the masses in the daily struggle" discovers its error four years after the event and straightaway puts on sackcloth and ashes. That is "the new line"! A veritable clothes-line upon which the Party's dirty linen is to be publicly hung out to dry. Well may they tell us now that "the Leadership that the Party achieved in the 1926 struggle has been dissipated through lack of understanding of the objective character of the coal situation," and that in the principal industrial areas "the May Day demonstrations cannot be described as other than a complete failure." (Daily Worker, May 17th.)
Mr. J.T. Murphy (see issue of May 19th) has discovered the "necessity of study"!
This, from one of those who told us ten years ago that the time for propaganda even, let alone study, had gone by, and that "now ia the time for action"! "Theoretical study," he says, "is an essential part of practical work, and those who try to set them one against the other have not yet learnt the first lesson of Bolshevism."
Evidently, the state of the Communist Party in this respect leaves much to be desired, for he proceeds: "It is too often assumed the changing of the Executive of the party settled the question of the Right danger. No greater mistake could be made than to encourage this idea. That was only a beginning . . . the transformation of the whole Party into a real Bolshevik Party is a much bigger job, involving not only a complete change in methods of work, but a deep and thorough understanding by the Party of the reasons for the changes and the methods that have to be employed." In short, after telling us for ten years that all we had to do was to fall in and follow them, they confess to not having been a "real Bolshevik Party" at all, and have just awakened to the necessity of having something firm upon which to place their intellectual feet.
Twenty-six years ago the founders of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, drawn from the obscure rank and file of the working class (bricklayers, compositors, cabinet-makers, day labourers and out-of-works) with never an "intellectual," so-called, among them, framed a set of principles. These had been derived from the scientific examination of working class experience. They have always been open for inspection and outside critics have been freely challenged to do their worst. They form the basis of the party's existence.
We do not claim to be infallible. There are mistakes that any Socialist may make, being but human; but there are mistakes which no Socialist does make because he understands the position of the working class. Under this latter heading we place the "mistakes" of the Communist Party. Nothing but blindness to the plain lessons of the workers' history and the everyday facts of the workers' loves can account for them. No eloquent orators nor brilliant dictators can replace the need for learning those lessons and facing those facts—and the leaders of the C.P. in this country are anything but brilliant.
having stifled criticism where possible—as in Russia—and ignored it elsewhere, the would-be dictators have gone from blunder to blunder, piling up disappointments upon one another for their easy followers, until at length even they feel the need for some explanation for the never-ending series of defeats. Democratic criticism is as incompatible with dictatorship as oil is with water. hence the dictators must criticise themselves! Their followers can be trusted to swallow the dope.
Dictatorships are supposed by their admirers to secure unity; but the superficial unity secured by suppression, as practised by the C.P., merely cloaks the ceaseless passing of the dictators from left to right in the endeavour to preserve the balance of their power.
Instead of a consistent policy arising logically from a set of principles intelligible to all the members of the Party, the dictators have as many policies or "lines: as there are days in the week and use them to play off their supporters against each other. Divided, either by material interests or sheer ignorance, these latter are an easy prey. Each change of policy appears either to one section or another to be the long-looked-for resurrection of the Party, the evidence of new-life. By the time this section has spent its force and enthusiasm it is time for another change. And so the game goes on.
In economically backward countries—such as Russia—where the peasantry form such a large proportion of the population, this political fluctuation has some kind of meaning; it is rooted in, and, therefore, explained by the conditions. In this country, where the overwhelming mass of the population are wage-slaves with a common interest in abolishing capitalism, would-be dictators are merely ridiculous.
The remedy in Russia is economic development which proceeds, now with the assistance of the Bolsheviks, and now in spite of them. In Britain the remedy lies in Socialist education. The economic conditions are ripe for Socialism. What the workers lack is knowledge of the fact!