Thomas Bell

In the International

The Communists and the Labour Party in England

(30 June 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 56, 30 June 1922, pp. 415–416.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive

The annual conference of the British Labour Party this year will begin on June 27th at the Assembly Hall, Edinburgh, and as usual will last for five days.

This year the struggle of the C.P. for affiliation to the Labour Party will again come to the front. The question will receive added attention however from the proposals of the Labour Party Executive to amend the constitution, amendments which are obviously designed to act as a barbed wire defense against the Communists. And of this I wish to speak

It will be useful to digress for a moment and explain the make-up of Labour Party conferences. We shall then have a better idea of the perfidy of the gentlemen who presently manage the Labour Party machine.

The organization of the British Labour Party is principally made up of gigantic but loose federations of trade unions. Trades Councils and Divisional Local Labour Parties which include individuals as well as local political groups. The preponderating influence however is with the trade unions. Thus last year out of 842 delegates the trade unions sent 611 with a vote of 4,158,000 out of a total of 4,417,000. On the financial side, out of the total delegation fees of £48,775/10/6 the trade unions paid £47,281/13/10. It will be seen at a glance where the material strength of the Party comes from.

The bourgeoisie has always understood this and only recently a bill received its second reading in the Mouse of Commons that was designed to weaken the Labour Party, by making it impossible for a snatch majority vote of a union to commit the individual member to financial support of the Labour Party.

The practice of a simple majority vote deciding the principle of a Union’s affiliation to the Labour Party has led to many anomalies. Thus we may have a union like the National Union of General Workers, the union of W. Thorne, jingo Hyndmanite, and J.R. Clyne the amateur statesman, represented as having 444,312 members affiliated to the Labour Party, while it is doubtful if 10% of these ever go to the polls for a labor candidate. The same applies to nearly every union affiliated. In many cases trade union delegates find themselves at party conferences with political views which could scarcely be distinguished from the most orthodox Liberal and Tory. The only demand made upon them is the recognition of the Labour Party’s complete independence from either of the capitalist parties. At the same time this looseness has had certain advantages. Members of an energetic political group by means of trade union membership could obtain a wider platform than that afforded by a formal political federation. For years the I.L.P. especially, has realized the value of these means. Since its inception the policy of the I.L.P. has been to work along the lines of obtaining control of official positions in the unions, and in this policy they have been very successful, thanks to the sectarian attitude of the groups of revolutionary Socialists, who were more concerned with the theoretical abstractions of Marxism than with the political daily struggles of the workers. The I.L.P. has had to clear field for years in this direction.

When, however, the Labour Party opened its ranks to individual membership, the I.L.P. received a severe blow. Formerly, its organizers or propagandists could use the platform of the Labour Party, to recruit members for its own ranks. Today, the individual members are recruited directly into the Labour Party, and so the I.L.P. is being weakened.

The antagonism of the Independent Labour Party to the Communist Party as revealed during its Easter Conference at Nottingham is therefore easily understood. It sees in the C.P. a competitor on hitherto monopolistic territory, the modern Communist Party unlike the so called Marxist groups of the pre-war days, does not carry its head in the clouds. It demands the realistic application of the tenets of Socialist theory to the daily class struggle. It does not look upon the labor unions as does the I.L.P., as financial feeders for political job hunters. For the Communists the labor unions are the organs of daily struggle against the industrial and political power of the bourgeoisie, and it is in this spirit that the Communists approach the leading positions in the trade unions.

When therefore the Labour Party Executive on which are prominent I.L.P. members, turned down the application of the C.P. for affiliation, we had still the reserve of the trade unions for reaching the floor of the party conference. And in a number of cases all over the country our comrades succeeded in winning over trade union branches and Local Labour Parties to their side.

Out of the sympathetic resolutions, particularly from the London and Glasgow local councils, direct negotiations were opened up again at the end of December 1921 between the two Executives, with a view to finding some common ground. A questionnaire was drafted with a list of questions to be answered by a Communist Party Conference, and replies to be submitted to the Labour Party Conference in June.

These replies have been duly submitted, but as anticipated, have been declared unsatisfactory, and the Labour Leaders will move the rejection of the Communist application for affiliation when the debate comes up.

The Communist Party has no illusions as to the nature of the present struggle. Our fight for affiliation is a challenge to the caucus clique that is thwarting the will of the struggling masses who are looking for a way out of the capitalist wilderness. It is a challenge to the dictatorship of a group of opportunist leaders, Henderson, MacDonald, Clynes, Thomas, etc., who merely use the grievances of the working class to carve out for themselves inglorious political careers.

Understanding the nature of the opposition they are up against, and anxious to thrust the Communist Party into tire category of a sect in the eyes of the working class, they are not content to leave the question to the result of a free conference decision. Against the demand of the Communists for a united front, the labor leaders are once again revealing their real character as the defenders of the bourgeois policy of a divided labor camp, by making it impossible for Communists to appear at the Party Conferences. They propose to move the following resolutions:

“Conditions of eligibility of delegates from constituent bodies to either Local Labour Parties or any national or local conference of the Labour Party;

  1. Every person nominated to serve as a delegate shall individually accept the constitution and principles of the Labour Party.
  2. >No person shall be eligible as a delegate who is a member of any organization having for one of its objects the return to Parliament or to any local governing authority of a candidate or candidates other than such as have been endorsed by the Labour Party, or have been approved as running in association with the Labour Party.”

Coming as this amendment does upon the controversy of the United Front tactics of the Third International, there can only be one inference. The labor leaders are throwing up a barbed wire defense to keep the Communists out of the political labor movement. This attempt to arrogate to themselves the power to manipulate the political movement of the working class, reveals more clearly than a thousand verbal arguments, the correctness of the the United Front tactics. What worker will not now be able to see that the opposition of Henderson and MacDonald of the Second International, supported by the broad-minded, all- inclusive-internationalists of the I.L.P., to the Communist Party is based upon deeper motives than superficial political differences?

But that brings the Communist Party to new tasks.

We shall not be slow in demonstrating to the masses of unemployed workers who see in the Communist Party a loyal ally and champion of their interests, the hypocrisy and cant of the Second International leaders, who only talk about the solidarity of labor while opposing it in reality. We shall prove to the Labor Unions, by this attitude of the labor leaders, that the real splitters of the working class movement, are not the Communists who everywhere partake of the daily life of the masses, but the self-seeking group of politicians and talkers of Eccleston Square and St. Stephens.

Henderson and company are showing, as Macdonald and Wels revealed at Berlin, the impossibility of a United Front from above. They are furthermore showing that from the breakup of the Commission of Nine at Berlin there has emerged a world conspiracy of the yellow leaders against the Communist International.

Our answer must be a more energetic campaign from below.

Last updated on 9 May 2019