Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Communists, the Labour Party, and Parliament (1943)

Editorial from the April 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

We hold that as the Labour Party is committed to the policy of trying to reform capitalism, instead of the policy of abolishing capitalism, no purpose useful to the Socialist movement would be served by the S.P.G.B. seeking affiliation with the Labour Party. Consequently the S.P.G.B. never has tried to affiliate with the Labour Party or any other party in this country. We could not pledge ourselves to give loyal adherence to the non-Socialist programme of the Labour Party.

On the other hand, the S.P.G.B. is not opposed to the Parliamentary system. We hold that the only important thing that is wrong about Parliament, from our point of view, is that it is controlled by the wrong people and for the wrong purpose. Its M.P.s at present have been sent there by electors who want capitalism to be retained. When a majority of the electors have become Socialists they will send their delegates to Parliament with the mandate to establish Socialism. In the words of our Declaration of Principles, the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, will be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation. We have always held the above views, and have never been beguiled by the various opposing views that have had their long or short periods of popularity. The S.P.G.B. never went in for theories of armed revolt or general strikes, or "taking and holding" the factories by industrial organisations. Nor did we ever give support to the idea of soviets or dictatorship.

All of this is by way of providing a background to the dispute between the Communist Party, which wants to affiliate with the Labour Party, and the Labour Party Executive, which doesn't want the Communists to win enough support to be able to force a way in. The Communist Party's position, judged by any ordinary standards, is peculiar—but then, if any such standards are applied, the Communist Party itself is revealed as a peculiarly irresponsible and dishonest organisation. It has proclaimed for years that the Labour Party is this "third capitalist Party," yet it wants to be inside. It has proclaimed that the road to emancipation lies through soviets not parliament, and through civil war and dictatorship not votes and democracy, yet it unhesitatingly affirms its belief in Parliamentary democracy when trying to wheedle its way to affiliation.

The Daily Worker (March 6th, 1943) published an article by J. Walker, M.P., putting the Labour Party's view against Communist affiliation, and alongside it a reply by W. Gallacher, M.P., writing as a Communist M.P.

Here is a question put by Walker, followed by Gallacher's reply:—
Walker: "Does the Communist Party believe in the British, system of democracy and democratic elections, or does it still believe in a policy of dictatorship?"
Gallacher: “ Of course, we believe in parliamentary democracy. That is why I am in Parliament. That is why I am such a regular attender and why the Party is so anxious that I should give a good account of myself.
   The dictatorship of the Proletariat applies to quite different conditions from those we are discussing now. It arises out of the attempt of the dispossessed exploiters to overthrow by violence the victorious forces of the working class."
Anyone who knows what was and is the official policy of the Communist International, of which the British Communist Party is a subordinate part, will recognise at once that Gallacher's reply is not by any means full-blooded Communist doctrine. Why Gallacher does not state his own Party's case only he knows. Perhaps he has forgotten what it is. Let us therefore recall a few earlier statements made by the Communists.

The fundamental document is the "Statutes and Conditions of Affiliation of the Communist International," as adopted at the Second Congress, Moscow, August, 1920 (published by the Communist Party of Great Britain at the time, price 2d.).
The opening statement contains the following:—
   The aim of the Communist International is to organise an armed struggle for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the establishment of an international Soviet Republic as a transition to the complete abolition of the capitalist state. The Communist International considers the dictatorship of the proletariat an essential means for the liberation of humanity from the horrors of capitalism; and regards the Soviet form of government as the historically necessary form of this dictatorship. (Page 4.)
Another interesting little item is contained in the first of the 21 Conditions which are binding on bodies like the British Communist Party which are affiliated to the Communist International. Condition No. 1 lays it down that adherents of the Third International must use any means of propaganda that are at their disposal, "in the columns of newspapers, at public meetings, within the Trade Unions and Co-operatives," to " denounce not only the capitalists, but also their allies, the reformists of every colour and shade."

Another document worth recalling is the answer the Communist International gave to the I.L.P. when the latter contemplated seeking affiliation. It was drafted by Lenin, and published by the British Communist Party under the title "The Communist International answers the I.L.P." (1920, reprinted 1932, price 2d.).

This is what Lenin wrote on Parliament:—
    "Whoever tells the British working class that it can overthrow the capitalist dictatorship in the British Empire through any other means than the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is by taking the full power into their own hands by depriving of political power all those who defend capitalist exploitation, and by organising a Red labour army—deceives himself and others."
Lenin went on to say that even supposing the unlikely event of a working class gaining power by parliamentary elections, "even in that case the Communists are not for a minute freed of their duty of saying to the workers the following: (1) that it is most unlikely that the English bourgeoisie . . . will give up its power without a struggle and become subject to the paper will of the parliament; (2) that, therefore, the workers should prepare not for an easy parliamentary victory, but for victory by a heavy civil war; (3) that should the workers have succeeded in gaining power without this civil war, that would only signify that the necessity of civil war would confront the working class as soon as it set out to realise its will to defend itself from capitalist exploitation and speculation; so soon as it began to liberate the masses in the colonies, now oppressed by British Imperialism." (Page 21.)

It will now be seen that Gallacher's "Of course, we believe in parliamentary democracy" is quite a long way from the whole of what good Communists are supposed to believe.

Above all, Gallacher did not recall what Lenin wrote in reply to Gallacher about the question of supporting the Labour Party. This was in Lenin's "Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder" (1920, published by Martin Lawrence, 1/-) Gallacher at that time was opposed to Parliamentary action and to voting for Labour Party candidates. Lenin replied to Gallacher by showing why Communists should take such action.
   At the present time the British Communists very often find it hard to approach the masses and even to get them to listen to them. If I as a Communist come out and call upon the workers to vote for the Hendersons against Lloyd George, they will certainly listen to me. And I will be able to explain in a popular manner not only why Soviets are better than Parliament, and why the dictatorship of the proletariat is better than the dictatorship of Churchill (which is concealed behind the signboard of bourgeois " democracy”), but I will also be able to explain that I want to support Henderson with my vote in the same way as a rope supports one who is hanged—that the establishment of a Henderson Government will prove that I am right, will bring the masses over to my side, and will accelerate the political death of the Hendersons and the Snowdens, as was the case with their friends in Russia and Germany. ("Left-Wing” Communism, p. 68.)
Last of all there was Gallacher's original opposition to Parliamentary action altogether. He used then to describe himself as “anti-Parliamentarian,” and wrote about his views in a letter to the Workers' Dreadnought (February 21st, 1920).

"Any support given to Parliamentarism,” he wrote, "is simply assisting to put power into the hands of our British Scheidemanns and Noskes. Henderson, Clynes & Co. are hopelessly reactionary.”

    The rank and file of the I.L.P. in Scotland is becoming more and more disgusted with the thought of Parliament, and the Soviets or Workers' Councils are being supported by almost every branch. This is very serious, of course, for the gentlemen who look to politics for a profession, and they are using any and every means to persuade their members to come back into the Parliamentary fold.
Gallacher in his letter had a final word of disgust for those "who are so eagerly clamouring for Parliamentary 'honours' (?) and who are so anxious to prove that they can rule as effectively as the 'boss' class politicians themselves.”

Now all is changed. Gallacher now has Parliamentary honours himself and wants to take what he regards as his rightful place alongside Henderson's successors in the Labour Party. 

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