1. 'Anti-Parliamentarism' and 'Communism'

Submitted by libcom on October 28, 2005

Anti-Parliamentary Communism - The movement for workers councils in Britain, 1917-45

by Mark Shipway

1. 'Anti-Parliamentarism' and 'Communism'

The term 'anti-parliamentary communism' begs two questions. First, what is 'anti-parliamentarism'? Secondly, what is 'communism'? This opening chapter is intended to answer these questions. It begins with a chronological account of the history of the anti-parliamentary communist groups in Britain during 1917-24, followed by an examination of the meanings attached to 'parliamentarism' and 'anti-parliamentarism' in the debates over tactics which took place within the revolutionary movement during these years. After a discussion of the deeper philosophy of anti-parliamentarism that informed its adherents' views on a wide range of issues, the chapter ends with an explanation of the anti-parliamentarians' conception of communism.


The association between the Pankhursts and Votes For Women is so firmly established in most people's minds that it may come as a surprise to find Sylvia Pankhurst occupying such a prominent place in this account of anti-parliamentarism. Most descriptions of Pankhurst's life end, or leave an unexplained gap, where this account begins with Sylvia Pankhurst still a militant suffragist, but on the brink of a major change in her ideas.

Until 1917 Pankhurst's political ambitions were summed up in the aims of the Workers' Suffrage Federation, the organisation which she had founded (as the East London Federation of Suffragettes) in 1914:

'To secure Human Suffrage, namely, a Vote, for every Woman and Man of full age, and to win Social and Economic Freedom for the People.' In July 1917 the WSF changed the name of its newspaper from the Woman's Dreadnought to Workers' Dreadnought and expanded its statement of aims slightly in order to clarify that 'Social and Economic Freedom for the People' would be established 'on the basis of a Socialist Commonwealth'.

The WSF argued that the vote would enable women workers to exert influence over the fundamental decisions affecting their lives. Universal suffrage would 'make Parliament obedient to the people's will'. [1] If it was the will of the people that a socialist society should be established, they could bring this about by electing socialists to Parliament. A prerequisite of this strategy was that the suffrage should be extended to every woman and man.

The centrality of the suffrage issue in the WSF's political outlook was reflected in its response to the February Revolution in Russia. The news that the Tsarist autocracy had been overthrown and that 'a constituent assembly is to be elected by the men and women of Russia by secret ballot and on the basis of Universal Suffrage' [2] was one of the main reasons why the WSF reacted favourably towards the February Revolution.

We can gauge how far the WSF was from anti-parliamentarism at this stage by contrasting its views with those of Guy Aldred, whose rejection of the idea that universal suffrage would produce governments which reflected and responded to ordinary people's wishes was evident in his own response to the February Revolution. In May 1917 Aldred wrote: 'We know that the vote does not mean freedom . . . In Britain, our parliament has been a sham. Everywhere parliamentary oratory is bogus passion, universal suffrage an ineffective toy gun of the democracy at play in the field of politics. Why celebrate the triumph of the toy in the land of the ex-Czar?.' [3]

While the February Revolution evoked very different responses from Aldred on the one hand and Pankhurst on the other, the October Revolution in Russia acted as a catalyst in the WSF's ideas which would eventually lead it to adopt the position already held by Aldred and his comrades. This change began in dramatic fashion. The WSF's statement of intent, 'To Secure a Vote for every Woman and Man of full age, and to win Social and Economic Freedom for the People on the basis of a Socialist Commonwealth', no longer appeared in the Workers' Dreadnought after the issue dated 19 January 1918, and the following week's issue carried an article by Sylvia Pankhurst praising the Bolsheviks' dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in Petrograd just eight days previously.

In March 1917 the WSF had looked forward to the establishment of the Constituent Assembly with keen anticipation', in January 1918 the Bolsheviks dispersed the very same Assembly before its first meeting - with Pankhurst's endorsement. Until 1917 the WSF had viewed events such as the February Revolution through the prism of the suffrage issue: after 1917 it would view issues such as suffrage through the prism of the October Revolution.

It was the emergence of the soviets in Russia, seen as the means by which the revolution had been carried out and as the administrative machinery of the post-revolutionary society, which caused the WSF to reject the parliamentary route to socialism. The group's commitment to 'Popular Control of the Management of the World' [4] was not abandoned; it was simply felt that soviets (committees of recallable delegates elected by and answerable to mass meetings of working-class people) would be far better able to bring about this goal than parliaments. In her article on the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly Sylvia Pankhurst argued: 'As a representative body, an organisation such as the All-Russian Workers', Soldiers', Sailors' and Peasants' Council is more closely in touch with and more directly represents its constituents than the Constituent Assembly, or any existing Parliament.' [5] Likewise, the view of the WSF Executive Committee was that soviets were 'the most democratic form of government yet established'. [6]

The WSF's recognition of the superiority of the soviet form quickly cast doubts on the parliamentary approach to which the group had previously adhered. In February l918 Sylvia Pankhurst asked:

"Is it possible to establish Socialism with the Parliament at Westminster as its foundation? . . . We must consider very seriously whether our efforts should not be bent on the setting aside of this present Parliamentary system and the substitution for it of a local, national and international system, built upon an occupational basis, of which the members shall be but the delegates of those who are carrying on the world's work." [7]

Similar doubts about the possibility of establishing socialism by parliamentary means and tentative suggestions of soviets as an alternative were also raised by the rest of the WSF. Resolutions adopted at the WSF's Annual Conference in May l918 showed that the organisation had not yet rejected parliamentarism completely. For example, one resolution urged workers in Britain to elect 'International Socialists' to Parliament and not to vote for any candidate who supported the war. However, another resolution argued that 'Parliament organised on a territorial basis and government from the top are suited only to the capitalist system', and called for the organisation of 'a National Assembly of Local Workers' Committees . . . which shall render Parliament unnecessary by usurping its functions'. [8] The Conference's decision to change the organisation's name from the Workers' Suffrage Federation to the Workers' Socialist Federation also signified a growing rejection of parliamentarism, as did the removal of the slogan 'Socialism, Internationalism, Votes For All' from the masthead of the Workers' Dreadnought in July 1918, and its replacement with a simple appeal 'For International Socialism'.

By the time of the general election at the end of 1918 the WSF's views on parliamentarism were still in a state of transition. When a group of Sylvia Pankhurst's admirers in Sheffield asked her to stand as a candidate in the Hallam constituency, the Dreadnought reported that Pankhurst had declined the invitation: 'in accordance with the policy of the Workers' Socialist Federation, she regards Parliament as an out-of-date machine and joins the Federation in working to establish the soviets in Britain'. [9]

Other responses to the election were less clear-cut. When a General Meeting of the WSF was questioned about its attitude it replied that the WSF 'would not run candidates and would only support Socialists, but that it could not prevent members working for Labour candidates if they wished to'. [10] Furthermore, the following statement by Sylvia Pankhurst could be interpreted as supporting involvement in the election in order to spread revolutionary ideas:

The expected General Election interests us only so far as it can be made a sounding-board for the policy of replacing capitalism by Socialism, and Parliament by the Workers' Councils. We shall be at the elections, but only to remind the workers that capitalism must go. [11]

Thus despite the WSF's growing anti-parliamentarism, in the end it gave support to three Socialist Labour Party candidates (J.T. Murphy, Arthur MacManus and William Paul) and also to David Kirkwood and John Maclean. [12] Indeed, Pankhurst herself travelled to Glasgow in mid- November 1918 to open a Grand Sale Of Work in aid of Maclean's campaign fund.

Pankhurst's support for Maclean enables us to draw another comparison between the WSF's views at this point and the anti-parliamentary position as represented by Guy Aldred. In June 1918 Aldred had opposed Maclean's decision to stand for Parliament, citing the 'Marxian truism that the workers for their own political purpose - which is the social revolutionary one of expropriating the ruling class - cannot seize and use parliamentary machinery of the capitalist state'. This was Aldred's rendition of Marx's statement in The Civil War in France, that 'the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes'. [13]

Aldred advised Maclean to 'make your programme analagous to the Sinn Fein programme only with Socialism and not mere nationalism for its objective'. [14] At the 1918 general election the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein had said that its elected Members of Parliament would boycott Westminster and establish their own parliament in Dublin. In the context of communist candidatures the 'Sinn Fein' tactic meant that

Successful candidates would not go to parliament, but would remain in their constituencies till they had a quorum, then they would constitute an assembly, insisting on the right to represent the district which elected them. Thus a dual authority is established. which could possibly spread like wild- fire, as these innovations do, and eventually challenge the state. [15]

The election of a communist candidate standing on the 'Sinn Fein' programme would be an expression of the voters' opinion that 'political authority should be withdrawn from Parliament and represented in Councils or Soviets created by and responsible to the workers'. [16] These references to 'dual authority' and 'Councils or Soviets' suggest that besides the obvious influence derived from the Irish nationalists, the example of the 1917 Russian revolution also entered into the thinking behind the 'Sinn Fein' tactic advocated by Aldred.

Only by 1919 could the WSF be said to have finally arrived at a fully-fledged anti-parliamentary position. In March of that year Sylvia Pankhurst wrote: 'Circumstance are forcing the Socialists of every country to choose whether they will work to perpetuate the Parliamentary system of government or to build up an industrial republic on Soviet lines. It is impossible to work effectively for both ends. [17] It soon became clear which choice the WSF had made. A resolution 'to ignore all Parliamentary and Municipal elections and to expose the futility of workers wasting their time and energy in working for these ends' was submitted for inclusion on the 1919 Annual Conference agenda. In June the resolution was approved and became WSF policy. [18]

On the recommendation of a courier from the newly-formed Third International the Conference instructed the WSF Executive Committee to take steps towards linking up with the new International and with other communist groups in Britain. WSF delegates were told by the Executive Committee to 'stand fast' on the position of 'No Parliamentary Action' in their discussions with other groups. [19]

Guy Aldred's favourable comments about the WSF's attitude around this time indicate the extent of the change which had taken place in the WSF's views in the space of two years; in May 1919 Aldred observed that 'the Workers' Dreadnought, under the editorship of our comrade, Sylvia Pankhurst, has been making great strides intellectually speaking, and seems now to have become a definite Revolutionary Marxian Anarchist weekly with a clear outlook on the question of Soviet Republicanism as opposed to Parliamentarism'. [20]

In July 1919 Pankhurst attempted to enlist Lenin's support for the WSF's anti-parliamentary stance in the communist unity negotiations. In a letter to the Bolshevik leader she suggested that 'if you were here, I believe you would say: Concentrate your forces upon revolutionary action; have nothing to do with the Parliamentary machine. Such is my own view.' [21]

However. Pankhurst's belief was soon disillusioned when she received Lenin's reply. After a few conciliatory remarks about anti-parliamentarians being among 'the best, most honest and sincerely revolutionary representatives of the proletariat', Lenin announced that he personally was 'convinced that to renounce participation in parliamentary elections is a mistake for the revolutionary workers of England'. [22] This was not the sort of response that anti-parliamentarians in Britain had hoped or expected to receive. The example of the Russian revolution had been instrumental in causing the WSF to abandon notions that parliamentary action could play any role in the revolutionary struggle - how quickly Lenin had forgotten the lessons of his own revolution!

Furthermore, the little anti-parliamentarians in Britain knew about Bolshevism had led them to identify it with the anarchist variety of anti-parliamentarism which inspired Aldred and his comrades. In State and Revolution (first published in English in 1919), Lenin had returned to Marx's The Civil War in France in order to revive the idea of smashing, rather than taking over, the existing state apparatus. In its own day Marx's argument had been regarded by his anarchist critics (such as Bakunin) as a retraction of his previous view that state power had to be conquered as a prelude to social change, and as an admission that anarchist views on this issue were correct. We have already seen how Guy Aldred based his opposition to John Maclean's parliamentary candidature on the arguments in The Civil in France. Thus it is hardly surprising that Aldred should have regarded State and Revolution, which put forward the same line of argument, as one of the 'immense services rendered to the cause of the workers' world revolution by Lenin', [23] Reviewing Lenin's pamphlet in December 1919 Aldred wrote that the author, 'in showing the revolutionary one-ness of all that is essential in Marx with all that counts in Bakunin, has accomplished a wonderful work'. [24]

Aldred summed up his perception of the affinity between Bolshevism and anarchist anti- parliamentarism when he wrote: 'No man can be really and truly an Anarchist without becoming a Bolshevist... no man can be really and truly a Bolshevist without standing boldly and firmly on the Anarchist platform.' [25] Other anti-parliamentarians shared this view. For example, one of the topics which Willie McDougall of the Glasgow Anarchist Group spoke about when he toured Scotland as a Spur 'missionary' in the winter of 1919-20 was 'Lenin's Anarchy'. [26]


The communist unity negotiations, which had provoked Pankhurst to seek Lenin's views, continued throughout the rest of 1919 and most of 1920. One of the most contentious issues was whether or not the communist party should engage in parliamentary action. There was basic agreement that Parliament was not a suitable administrative form for communist society and that the revolution would not be carried out through Parliament. Both of these tasks would be fulfilled by the workers' soviets. Disagreement arose, however, over whether or not Parliament could be put to any use pending the revolution. The British Socialist Party and the Socialist Labour Party supported the use of election campaigns for propaganda purposes and Parliament as a 'tribune' from which to make revolutionary speeches. These tactics were also advocated by the Bolsheviks who termed them 'Revolutionary Parliamentarism'. The other main participants in the negotiations - the WSF and the South Wales Socialist Society - opposed Revolutionary Parliamentarism in favour of complete abstention from any involvement in parliamentary activity.

Guy Aldred had already proposed the 'Sinn Fein' tactic as one attitude communists could adopt towards elections, and in October 1919 he suggested two other options. Communists could use elections to measure the level of support for communism and to 'demonstrate the supreme political strength and unity of the Communist Party, as a prelude to revolutionary action'. Alternatively, communists could 'organise a disciplined boycott of the ballot box'. Aldred favoured the organised boycott, but could support either tactic 'without any violation of principle'. [27]

The 'bottom line' of Aldred's position was that under no circumstances should successful communist candidates take their seats in Parliament; in his opinion Revolutionary Parliamentarism, which required communists to enter Parliament and use it as a platform for revolutionary propaganda, was a contradiction in terms, because 'there can only be revolutionism OR parliamentarianism'. [28] Lenin's support for the tactic was a 'fatal compromise'. [29]

When it became clear that unity in Britain would have to be based on terms dictated by the Bolsheviks, anti-parliamentarians such as Aldred therefore faced the choice of compromising their principles or excluding themselves from the unity negotiations. In May 1920 the Glasgow Anarchist Group had renamed itself the Glasgow Communist Group to express its support for communist unity, and announced that it stood for 'the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the Soviet Republic, anti-Parliamentary agitation, and the Third International'. At the same time, however, the Group had also stated that it would not be party to 'any Unity Convention willing to . . . support men and women sitting in the capitalist Parliament House'. [30] In October 1920 the Group acknowledged that this combination of views amounted to an untenable position when it declared that it had 'suspended' its support for the Third International 'until such time as that body repudiates its "wobbling" on the question of Parliamentary Action'. [31]

The WSF tried to pursue a different course of action. In August 1920 Aldred's comrade Rose Witcop criticised the WSF for having been 'prepared to waive the question of parliamentary action for the sake of unity'. [32] This seems to have been a fair assessment of the WSF's attitude during early 1920. Sylvia Pankhurst suggested that parliamentary action was 'not a matter of principle but of tactics, always provided, or course, that Parliamentary action by Communists is used in a revolutionary manner'. [33] Within the WSF Executive Committee there was 'a very strong feeling against Parliamentary action,' but WSF delegates to the unity talks were advised that 'we might leave the question of Parliamentary Action to be worked out by the party as the situation developed'. [34] Contrary to most accounts of the unity negotiations, therefore, it was not parliamentary action which proved to be the insurmountable obstacle in the way of unity between the WSF and the other groups, but the other contentious issue of affiliation to the Labour Party.

After the announcement of a Communist Unity Convention to be held in London on 1 August at which policy decisions would be settled by majority votes binding on all participants, the WSF called an 'Emergency Conference' of 'left wing' communist groups (that is, those opposed to affiliation and parliamentary action). This was originally intended to enable the 'left wing' communists to plan their strategy in advance, since the proposed Unity Convention was bound to be dominated by 'right wing' (that is, pro-parliamentary and pro-affiliation) delegates. [35] In the event, however, the participants at the 'Emergency Conference' (held in London on 19-20 June) decided to take no further part in the unity negotiations. Instead, they proceeded to form themselves into the 'Communist Party (British Section of the Third International)' on a platform of seven 'cardinal points' which included 'refusal to engage in Parliamentary action'. [36]

Besides the WSF the other founder-members of the CP(BSTI) were the Aberdeen, Croydon and Holt Communist Groups, Gorton Socialist Society, the Manchester Soviet, Stepney Communist League and the Labour Abstentionist Party. Fortunately it has been possible to discover a little about who some of these groups were and what they stood for.

An exchange of correspondence between the Aberdeen Communist Group and one of its critics was published in the Glasgow Forward in 1920. The critic paraphrased the Group's views as follows: 'Lenin has been guilty of some fatal compromise, and Guy Aldred is entirely wrong in seeking to use the ballot box in order to register the strength of his following. Johnnie Maclean is a reformist . . . Willie Gallacher is a job hunter.' In reply, William Greig of the Aberdeen group explained that it stood for a 'clear-cut Revolutionary, anti-Parliamentary, anti-Trade Union, anti-Reform policy'. He was opposed to trade unions because they split the working class into '1,300 different sections' and he described parliamentary elections as 'job hunting expeditions at the polling booths of the capitalist class'. [37]

The Stepney Communist League had been a founder-member of the national Communist League, formed on the initiative of the Socialist Labour Party's London District Council in March 1919 and consisting mainly of a few SLP branches plus some of the groups associated with Guy Aldred, such as the Glasgow Anarchist Group. The WSF was also affiliated. The League stood for the formation of workers' committees to 'resist all legislation and industrial action directed against the working class, and ultimately assuming all power, establish a working class dictatorship'. [38]

The Labour Abstentionist Party published its programme in May 1920. The Party's aim was 'The Collective Well-Being of the People', and its 'Tactical Methods' included 'Securing the election of Parliamentary Candidates pledged to abstain from taking their seats' and 'Propagation of the Futility of Parliamentary Action'. [39]

The secretary/treasurer of the Labour Abstentionist Party, E. T. Whitehead, became secretary of the CP(BSTI) at the June conference and was soon soliciting Guy Aldred's support. Whitehead told Aldred that

we are definitely against parliamentary action. This does not mean that we are necessarily against taking part in elections, but the party is against running candidates for the present. It will always be dead against any candidates taking their seats, and should it decide to run them, they would have to adopt your ['Sinn Fein'] programme as suggested by you in the May Spur. [40]

Aldred spurned Whitehead's approach: partly because he was opposed to the way in which the CP(BSTI)'s programme had been 'foisted on the movement' by a conference of 'delegates' with no real mandates from the groups they claimed to represent, but mainly because of the inconsistency of an avowedly anti-parliamentary organisation declaring itself the 'British Section' of an organisation committed to Revolutionary Parliamentarism. [41] This inconsistency. which had led the Glasgow Communist Group to 'suspend' its support for the Third International rather than compromise its adherence to anti-parliamentarism, perplexed the CP(BSTI) for several months after its formation, and the party's attempts to resolve the problem had fractious consequences.

In 'Left-Wing' Communism, An Infantile Disorder (written during April-May 1920). Lenin had just directed a strong attack against anti-parliamentary tendencies within the various Western European communist groups. Regarding the situation in Britain Lenin stated that 'British Communists should participate in parliamentary action' and that communist unity in Britain should be based on 'obligatory participation in parliament'. [42] During the summer of 1920 extracts from Lenin's pamphlet were published in the revolutionary press in Britain. Because of the prestige Lenin enjoyed in the eyes of most British revolutionaries, his pamphlet undoubtedly exerted considerable influence in the debates about parliamentary action. This became clear when the decisive Communist Unity Convention was held on 31 July-I August. In a message addressed to the delegates Lenin repeated that he was 'in favour of participation in Parliament' [43] and it was duly decided by 186 votes to 19 that the Communist Party of Great Britain would adopt Revolutionary Parliamentarism as one of its tactics. At the same time, the Second Congress of the Third International was being held in Moscow. Various resolutions advocating Revolutionary Parliamentarism were adopted and the tactic was also included among the International's Twenty- One Conditions of Admission.

Lenin's pamphlet, his letter to the Communist Unity Convention, and the decisions of the Second Congress, all emphasised the conflict inherent in the CP(BSTI) declaring itself against parliamentary action and for the Third International. The British delegates to the Second Congress, Sylvia Pankhurst among them, left Russia with instructions to unite in a single party within four months of their return, on the political basis of the resolutions adopted by the Congress. Initially the CP(BSTI) remained defiant. At a conference in Manchester on 18-19 September it voted to accept the Third International's Conditions of Admission 'with the reservation that the passages referring to the discipline to be applied to parliamentary representatives does not affect our Party, which does not take Parliamentary action'. [44]

Soon afterwards, Sylvia Pankhurst outlined her views on what course of action the CP(BSTI) should follow. Arguing that the tactic of Revolutionary Parliamentarism was likely to be abandoned at the next Congress of the International, she advised the CP(BSTI) to accept the International's terms of admission and unite with the CPGB to form a single, united Communist Party in Britain. [45]

This advice was based on the impressions Pankhurst had formed whilst attending the Second Congress in Moscow. There had been a sizeable presence of anti-parliamentary delegates from various groups throughout Europe and America. Pankhurst believed that if they held to their views and grew in strength they would be able to form an anti-parliamentary majority by the time the Third Congress was held. Pankhurst also had informal discussions with Lenin, during which he told her that parliamentary action and affiliation to the Labour Party were 'not questions of principle at all, but of tactics, which may be employed advantageously in some phases of the changing situation and discarded with advantage in others. Neither question, in his opinion, is important enough to cause a split in the Communist ranks.' According to Pankhurst, Lenin 'dismissed' the issue of parliamentary action as 'unimportant'; if the decision to employ Parliamentary action had been a mistake it could be 'altered at next year's Congress'. [46] Judging by the advice Pankhurst gave the CP(BSTI), she seems to have been won over by Lenin's persuasive assurances.

Subsequently, at a conference in Cardiff on 4 December, the CP(BSTI) voted to accept fully all Statutes and Theses of the International - although, once again. 'it was made abundantly clear in the argument that this vote did not mean that this party had in the slightest degree changed its views on the advisability of Revolutionary Parliamentarism for Britain'. [47]

Not all CP(BSTI) members agreed with this decision. The four Manchester branches, which between them claimed to have 200 members (a third of the party's total membership), resigned from the party in protest, regarding the decision to unite with the CPGB on the basis of a programme including a commitment to parliamentary action as a 'sell-out' to parliamentarism. [48] E. T. Whitehead replied that as far as he was aware 'no single member of this Party is prepared to be a member of a party which adopts revolutionary Parliamentarism as one of its tactics'. [49] Unity with the CPGB and affiliation to the Third International would involve joining organisations committed to the possibility of using Revolutionary Parliamentarism, but the CP(BSTI) would still be free to argue against the tactic ever being put into practice. To this end, Sylvia Pankhurst advised the anti-parliamentarians to 'keep together and form a strong, compact left block' within the CPGB and to 'insist that the constitution of the Party should leave them free to propagate their policy in the Party and in the Third International as a whole'. The Workers' Dreadnought would continue to appear, as 'an independent organ giving an independent support to the Communist Party from the Left Wing standpoint'. [50]

The CP(BSTI) finally united with the CPGB at a second Communist Unity Convention held in Leeds at the end of January 1921. This provoked an immediate response from those anti- parliamentarians who had doubted the compatibility of opposition to parliamentary action and support for the Third International. The Glasgow Communist Group began publication of a new paper (the Red Commune), because 'there is no other party organ in this country . . . that stands fearlessly for Communism. They all urge or compromise with, in some shape or form, parliamentarianism.' The new platform of the Glasgow Communist Group advocated 'Anti- Parliamentary Activity; (a) Boycotting the Ballot Box; (b) Communist Anti-Parliamentary or Sinn Fein Candidature'. The Glasgow Group also invited all anti-parliamentarians to 'unite with us in an anti-Parliamentary Federation or Party'. [51] As a result a conference was held in Glasgow at Easter 1921 at which the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation was formed as a direct challenge to the pro-parliamentary CPGB. The Glasgow Communist Group became the Central Branch of the new organisation.


The CP(BSTI)'s expectation that it would be able to put forward anti-parliamentary views freely within the CPGB turned out to be mistaken. In September 1921 Sylvia Pankhurst was expelled from the CPGB because the Dreadnought's repeated criticisms of CPGB policy contravened party discipline as laid down in the Conditions of Admission. [52] Many of Pankhurst's comrades were forced out of the CPGB on similar charges.

The position that Aldred and the Glasgow Communist Group had adopted that anti-parliamentarism and support for the Third International were mutually exclusive commitments - proved to be more perceptive. In 1921, while Aldred was serving a one-year prison sentence for sedition arising out of the publication of the Red Commune, Rose Witcop went to Russia to sound out the possibility of the APCF acquiring 'associate membership' of the Third International. This could be granted to 'groups or parties . . . who in due course would be prepared to join the national Communist Party of their country'. Aldred was not prepared to contemplate unity with the CPGB, but 'he was not opposed to the mission seeking information and financial backing'. Witcop attended the Third Congress of the International and 'received promise of solid financial backing for the Spur, payment of all legal and other expenses of the High Court trial at Glasgow [the Red Commune sedition case], maintenance for Guy Aldred whilst in prison, and financial backing when liberated'. However, such support would only be given 'on condition that she could secure the promise by Aldred and the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation of acceptance of membership of the Communist Party and the Moscow line'. Since this would have required the APCF to abandon its anti-parliamentary principles, when Guy Aldred was released from prison in mid-1922 all contacts between the APCF and the Third International were severed. [53]

Following her expulsion from the CPGB Sylvia Pankhurst involved herself in efforts to regroup anti-parliamentary communists at a national and international level. The anti-parliamentary Communist Workers' Party of Germany (KAPD), which had been excluded from the International following the Third Congress, had announced that it was a forming a Fourth International. The Workers' Dreadnought quickly declared its support for the KAPD's initiative [54] and during the winter of 1921-2 Pankhurst began organising a Communist Workers' Party in Britain. In February 1922 the new party published a brief set of principles which included the statement that it was resolved 'to take no part in elections to Parliament and the local governing bodies, and to carry on propaganda exposing the futility of Communist participation therein'. [55].

Anti-parliamentarianism also featured in the programme of the All-Workers' Revolutionary Union, an organisation formed on the Dreadnought group's initiative in September 1922. The AWRU was set up as 'One Big Union' which would unite workers in the struggle to overthrow capitalism and then function as the administrative machinery of the post-revolutionary communist society. The AWRU's statement of principles declared: 'The AWRU rejects all responsibility for the administration of the capitalist State or participation in the elections to Parliament and the local governing bodies.' [56]

The programmes adopted by the Communist Workers' Party and the All-Workers' Revolutionary Union set the tone for Sylvia Pankhurst's remarks about the general election held in November 1922:

'We expect nothing from the General Election. It belongs to the Capitalist civilisation which is nearing its end. With that civilisation Parliaments and Cabinets as we know them today will disappear. We are looking forward to the advent of Communism and its industrial councils.' [57]

In the November general election Guy Aldred fulfilled his intention of putting into practice the 'Sinn Fein' tactic by standing in the Glasgow constituency of Shettleston. This caused some dissension within the ranks of the APCF: the 'anarchist faction' within the group 'asserted its opposition to the use of the ballot box even as a weapon against parliamentarism', and the APCF refused to give official support to Aldred's campaign. The APCF's decision was somewhat inconsistent, considering that its forerunner, the Glasgow Communist Group, had endorsed the 'Sinn Fein' policy as a valid anti-parliamentary tactic in the Red Commune in February 1921. Nevertheless, 'repudiating the election as a group, the comrades still helped, unenthusiastically, as comrades'. [58]

Aldred's election address stated: 'I stand for the complete and final overthrow of the present social system and the immediate establishment of a Socialist Commonwealth.' He rejected all canvassing, electioneering and promises of reforms. In opposition to 'the capitalist State and the Parliamentary system of Government', he urged workers to 'discover and evolve into a new political or social structure their power on the industrial field'. If elected he would refuse to swear the oath of allegiance to the monarchy or take his seat in Parliament. [59] The result was: J. Wheatley (Labour) 14 695 votes; T. Ramsay (National Liberal) 9704; G. Aldred (Communist) 470.

When the Glasgow Communist Group announced its support for the 'Sinn Fein' tactic in February 1921 the Workers' Dreadnought had commented: 'It is a puzzle to us how to reconcile the anti- parliamentarism of the platform of this Group with its tactics of running anti-parliamentary candidates pledged not to take the oath and pledged not to sit.' [60] Consequently, the Dreadtnought criticised Guy Aldred's Shettleston campaign. dubbing him an 'Anti-Parliamentary Parliamentarian'. [61] In June 1923 Aldred and Pankhurst spoke in opposition to each other in a debate in London. and according to Aldred Pankhurst 'proclaimed herself a convinced anti-parliamentarian and again denounced my Shettleston candidature'. Aldred continued: 'In the Workers' Dreadnought for 7th July, 1923 Sylvia Pankhurst returned to her attack on me for the Shettleston campaign and again sneered from the absolute Anti-Parliamentarian standpoint of one who believed in boycotting the ballot box entirely'. [62]

When Sylvia Pankhurst visited Glasgow in November 1923 to address two Scottish Workers' Republican Party municipal election meetings. the APCF made the most of its opportunity to turn the tables. The SWRP had used a Dreadnought account of the Poplar Board of Guardians' instigation of a police baton charge on a demonstration of unemployed workers as the basis of a leaflet distributed when Poplar Board member George Lansbury addressed Glasgow Trades Council in October l923. [63] This was the only link between Pankhurst and the SWRP, and Pankhurst claimed afterwards that she had spoken against parliamentarism at the two meetings. [64] However, her appearance on the platform of a group contesting twelve seats in the municipal elections proved irresistible to the APCF. They distributed a leaflet for the occasion entitled 'Sylvia's Anti-Parliamentary Comedy', in which Pankhurst's criticisms of Aldred were returned in good measure: How can the person who urges you to "boycott the ballot box" also advise you to "Vote Red Labour" [the SWRP's campaign slogan] . . If it is wrong to support a candidate pledged not to take his seat, is it not more wrong to support candidates who intend to take their seats?.' [65]

Nevertheless, Pankhurst's appearance on the SWRP platform did not mean that she had changed her attitude towards elections or Parliament. During the 1923 general election she called for propaganda to expose the futility of involvement in Parliamentary elections. [66] The APCF also distributed leaflets urging workers to boycott the ballot box. [67] By the time of the 1924 general election the Workers' Dreadnought had ceased publication, but anti-parliamentary propaganda was sustained by the APCF, who repeated that workers 'have nothing to gain from voting. Consequently they should boycott the ballot box.' [68]


We now turn to a more detailed examination of the precise meanings attached to 'parliamentarism' and 'anti-parliamentarism' during the period covered by the preceding chronological account. After 1917 the anti-parliamentary communists' efforts to define their opposition to parliamentarism were mainly provoked by the Bolsheviks' advocacy of Revolutionary Parliamentarism as a tactic to be adopted by the Third International's member parties. Therefore an examination of the communist theory of anti-parliamentarism is best considered in the context of this tactic.

The Bolsheviks were not suggesting that communists should enter Parliament in order to agitate for reforms. The Third International had been founded on the premise that the era in which reformist legislation benefiting the working class was possible had come to an end, and that 'The epoch of the communist revolution of the proletariat' had begun. [69] Nor were the Bolsheviks suggesting that the revolution could be carried out 'within the framework of the old bourgeois parliamentary democracy'. The 'most profound revolution in mankind's history' required 'the creation of new forms of democracy, new institutions', which the experience of the revolution in Russia had revealed to be the soviets or workers' councils. [70] The anti-parliamentary communists in Britain agreed with the Bolsheviks on these points. Rose Witcop stated that 'it is impossible for the working class to gain its emancipation by Act of Parliament', [71] and the WSF argued that the 'guiding and co-ordinating machinery' of the revolutionary struggle 'could take no other form than that of the Soviets'. [72]

The Bolsheviks, however, drew a distinction between 'the question of parliamentarianism as a desirable form of the political regime' and 'the question of using parliament for the purpose of promoting the revolution'. [73] Although the revolution itself would be carried out by soviets and not by Parliament, this did not rule out the possibility of using Parliament to 'promote the revolution' in the meantime. Whether or not communists chose to use Parliament in this way was entirely a tactical matter:

'Anti-parliamentarianism' on principle, that is, the absolute and categorical rejection of participation in elections and in revolutionary parliamentary activity, is therefore a naive and childish doctrine which is beneath criticism, a doctrine which is . . . blind to the possibility of revolutionary parliamentarianism. [74] The Bolsheviks acknowledged that the abstentionist position was 'occasionally founded on a healthy disgust with paltry parliamentary politicians' [75] but they criticised abstentionists for not recognising the possibility of creating 'a new, unusual, non- opportunist, non-careerist parliamentarism'. [76] According to the Bolsheviks, Parliament was a 'tribune' of public opinion which revolutionaries could and should use to influence the masses outside, while election campaigns should also be used as an opportunity for revolutionary propaganda and agitation. This was what the Bolsheviks meant by 'Revolutionary Parliamentarism'. As Lenin put it, 'participation in parliamentary elections and in the struggle on the parliamentary rostrum is obligatory for the party of the revolutionary proletariat precisely for the purpose of educating the backward strata of its own class'. [77] However, the anti-parliamentary communists in Britain doubted that this tactic could be put to any effective use and advanced three main arguments against it.

First, the aim of winning votes would come into conflict with the aim of putting across revolutionary propaganda: 'the way to secure the biggest vote at the polls is to avoid frightening anyone by presenting to the electors diluted reformist Socialism . . . Whatever party runs candidates at the election will trim its sails'. [78] In her letter to Lenin in July 1919 Sylvia Pankhurst explained that

our movement in Great Britain is ruined by Parliamentarism, and by the County Councils and Town Councils. People wish to be elected to these bodies . . . All work for Socialism is subordinated to these ends; Socialist propaganda is suppressed for fear of losing votes . . . Class consciousness seems to vanish as the elections draw nigh. A party which gains electoral successes is a party lost as far as revolutionary action is concerned. [79]

Secondly, the anti-parliamentary communists disagreed that Parliament could be an effective platform for revolutionary speeches. The Dreadnought pointed out that 'most people do not read the verbatim reports of Parliamentary debates'. The capitalist press never gave revolutionary speeches the prominence enjoyed by the utterances of capitalist politicians, and only reported 'those least wise, least coherent sentences which the Press chooses to select just because they are most provocative and least likely to convert'. [80] Guy Aldred argued that 'the value of speeches in Parliament turn upon the power of the press outside and exercise no influence beyond the point allowed by that press'. As long as newspapers' contents remained dictated by the interests of their capitalist owners, revolutionary speech-making in Parliament would be 'impotent as a propaganda activity'. [81] In his Shettleston election address Aldred maintained that 'street-corner oratory educates the worker more effectively than speeches in Parliament'. [82] This being the case there was little to be gained by entering Parliament: as the Glasgow Anarchist Group argued, 'fighters for Revolution can more effectively spend their time in propaganda at the work-gates and public meetings'. [83]

Thirdly, the anti-parliamentary communists pointed out that 'it is the revolutionary parliamentarian who becomes the political opportunist'. [84] They saw 'nothing but menace to the proletarian cause from Communists entering Parliament: first, as revolutionary Communists, only to graduate later, slowly but surely, as reformist politicians'. [85] No matter what their initial intentions might be, communist MPs would soon 'lose themselves in the easy paths of compromise'. [86] As Pankhurst argued in September 1921, 'the use of Parliamentary action by Communists is . . . bound to lead to the lapses into rank Reformism that we see wherever members of the Communist Party secure election to public bodies'. [87]

When they sought to explain why out-and-out revolutionaries became tame reformists after entering Parliament, the anti-parliamentary communists referred to the class nature of the capitalist state, of which Parliament was a part. The entire function and business of Parliament was concerned with the administration and palliation of the capitalist system in the interest of the ruling class. Parliament was 'the debating chamber of the master class'. [88] Anyone who entered Parliament and participated in its business automatically shouldered responsibility for running capitalism. 'The result of working class representatives taking part in the administration of capitalist machinery, is that the working class representatives become responsible for maintaining capitalist law and order and for enforcing the regulations of the capitalist system itself.' [89] The only way to avoid such lapses into reformism or outright reaction was to shun any participation in capitalism's administrative apparatus - and that meant rejecting any notion that communists should enter Parliament.

The Bolsheviks' most telling response to the anti-parliamentarians' case was to argue that while opportunism, careerism and reformism were characteristics of capitalist politicians, there was no reason why communists should inevitably end up behaving in the same manner. Willie Gallacher, whose anti-parliamentary views were criticised by Lenin in 'Left-Wing' Communism, An Infantile Disorder, recalled arguing with Lenin that 'any working class representative who went to Parliament was corrupted in no time'. Lenin then asked Gallacher:

'If the workers sent you to represent them in Parliament, would you become corrupt?' I answered: 'No, I'm sure that under no circumstances could the bourgeoisie corrupt me.' 'Well then, Comrade Gallacher,' he said with a smile, 'you get the workers to send you to Parliament and show them how a revolutionary can make use of it.' [90]

In retrospect, however, this was an argument from which the anti-parliamentary communists emerged victorious. The CPGB did use election campaigns to advocate all sorts of reformist demands. The few MPs who represented the CPGB in Parliament did not use Parliament as a platform for revolutionary speeches. Soon after the 1922 general election Sylvia Pankhurst observed that the CPGB's MPs had 'told the House of Commons nothing about Communism . . . Yet it is to secure Parliament for speeches on Communism, and for denunciations of Parliament as an institution, that they claim to have sought election'. [91] Where they won places on elected bodies CPGB members did participate in reformist or reactionary administration of parts of the capitalist state. The anti-parliamentary communists' case was strengthened by every 'incorruptible' communist who turned reformist. There was no need to develop any systematic explanation for this phenomenon for, in practice it inevitably occurred, and the anti-parliamentarians were able to point to a never-ending series of examples to support their contentions.


The anti-parliamentarians' case against Revolutionary Parliamentarism was based on political principles which found expression not only in opposition to the use of elections and Parliament as weapons in the class struggle, but also in every other aspect of their political ideas and activities. It is to a discussion of these underlying principles that we now turn.

The Spur argued that anyone who sought to abolish capitalism by first gaining control of Parliament was going the wrong way about it, because 'Parliament is not the master of capitalism but its most humble servant'. [92] The state, including the Parliamentary apparatus, arose from the conflict between social classes and serves the interests of the ruling class. But the fundamental source of the capitalist class's power lies in its ownership and control of the means of production. Therefore, the Glasgow Anarchist Group argued, 'the State cannot be destroyed by sending men to Parliament, as voting cannot abolish the economic power of the capitalists'. [93] In order to achieve revolutionary social change the working class had to organise its power not in Parliament but on the economic field. As Guy Aldred put it: 'the working class can possess no positive or real power politically until the workers come together on the industrial field for the definite purpose of themselves taking over directly the administration of wealth production and distribution on behalf of the Workers' Republic'. [94] Parliamentary action was therefore a futile diversion from the real tasks facing the working class. It was necessary for workers to 'look, not to Parliament, but to their own Soviets'. [95]

In order to convey this view to the rest of the working class, it was the duty of revolutionaries to reject parliamentary activity 'because of the clear, unmistakeable lead to the masses which this refusal gives. [96] The Dreadnought group believed that 'the revolution can only be accomplished by those whose minds are awakened and who are inspired by conscious purpose'. [97] The working class's attachment to Parliament would have to be broken as much in the minds of working-class people as in their activities:

For the overthrow of this old capitalist system, it is necessary that the people should break away in sufficient numbers from support of the capitalist machinery, and set up another system; that they should create and maintain the Soviets as the instruments of establishing Communism. To do this, the workers must be mentally prepared and must also possess the machinery which will enable them to act. [98]

Revolutionaries could not assist this process of 'mental preparation' if they denounced Parliament as a capitalist institution whilst leading workers to the polling booths to elect communist candidates into that institution. Such behaviour would only create confusion. The use of elections and the Parliamentary forum was 'not the best method of preparing the workers to discard their faith in bourgeois democracy and Parliamentary reformism', [99] since 'participation in Parliamentary elections turns the attention of the people to Parliament, which will never emancipate them'. [100]

The anti-parliamentary communists emphasised the importance of widespread class consciousness because they believed that the revolution could not be carried out by any small group of leaders with ideas in advance of the rest of the working class: 'the revolution must not be the work of an enlightened minority despotism, but the social achievement of the mass of the workers, who must decide as to the ways and means'. [101] Parliamentary action restricted workers to a subordinate and passive role as voters and left everything up to the 'leaders' in Parliament: 'Any attempt to use the Parliamentary system encourages among the workers the delusion that leaders can fight their battles for them. Not leadership but MASS ACTION IS ESSENTIAL.' [102] Opposition to parliamentarism was vital, therefore, in order to 'impress upon the people that the power to create the Communist society is within themselves, and that it will never be created except by their will and their effort'. [103]

The term 'parliamentarism' was in fact used by anti-parliamentarians to describe all forms of organisation and activity which divided the working class into leaders and led, perpetuated the working class's subservience, and obstructed the development of widespread revolutionary consciousness. These reasons for opposing parliamentarism - in the widest sense of the term - were expressed in 1920 by the Dutch revolutionary Anton Pannekoek, who was one of the foremost theoreticians among the left communists in Germany:

parliamentary activity is the paradigm of struggles in which only the leaders are actively involved and in which the masses themselves play a subordinate role. It consists in individual deputies carrying on the main battle; this is bound to arouse the illusion among the masses that others can do their fighting for them . . . the tactical problem is how we are to eradicate the traditional bourgeois mentality which paralyses the strength of the proletarian masses; everything which lends new power to the received conceptions is harmful. The most tenacious and intractable element in this mentality is dependence upon leaders, whom the masses leave to determine general questions and to manage their class affairs. Parliamentarianism inevitably tends to inhibit the autonomous activity by the masses that is necessary for revolution. [104]

Parliamentary action - in the strictest sense - was a paradigm, that is, the clearest example of the sort of activity which anti-parliamentarians opposed; but other forms of action were also open to criticism on precisely the same grounds. For example, Sylvia Pankhurst also described trade unionism as a 'parliamentary' form of organisation, since it 'removes the work of the union from the members to the officials, [and] inevitably creates an apathetic and unenlightened membership'. [105]

The principle of working-class self-emancipation implied that the revolution could be carried out only by an active and class conscious majority of the working class. The anti-parliamentary communists' opposition to electoral and parliamentary activity was an expression of this principle, since parliamentary action obscured the vital point that Parliament was useless as a means of working-class emancipation and diminished the capacity for action by the working class as a whole. Opposition to parliamentary forms of organisation and activity was the 'negative' aspect of the principle of working-class self-emancipation; its positive aspect was expressed in the anti- parliamentary communists' support for all forms of working-class activity which encouraged the development of the class's own consciousness and capacity to act by and for itself.


The belief that widespread class consciousness was one of the essential preconditions of revolutionary working-class action - a belief which played such an important part in determining the antiparliamentarians' opposition to parliamentary action - also meant that descriptions of socialism or communism (the two terms were used interchangeably) occupied a prominent place in the anti-parliamentarians' propaganda. The anti-parliamentary communists believed that 'until the minds and desires of the people have been prepared for Communism, Communism cannot come', [106] and that 'since the masses are as yet but vaguely aware of the idea of Communism, its advocates should be ever vigilant and active in presenting it in a comprehensible form'. [107] The subject of the final section of this chapter is the idea of communism which the anti-parliamentary communists presented to the masses.

According to the anti-parliamentarians, communist society would be based on common ownership of all wealth and means of wealth-production. The abolition of private property would be decisive in overthrowing capitalism: 'Social revolution means that the socially useable means of production shall be declared common-wealth . . . It shall be the private possession of none.' [108] As soon as private property had given way to common ownership all men and women would stand in equal relationship to the means of production. The 'division of society into classes' would 'disappear' [109] and be replaced by 'a classless order of free human beings living on terms of economic and political equality'. [110] Communism would also mean the destruction of the state, which, as an institution 'erected for the specific purpose of protecting private property and perpetuating wage- slavery', [111] would disappear as a consequence of the abolition of private property and of the division of society into classes. This classless, stateless human community, based on common ownership of the means of production would also involve production for use, democratic control and free access. These three features of communist society will now be explained and examined.

Under capitalism, virtually all wealth is produced in the form of commodities, that is, goods which are produced to be sold (or otherwise exchanged) for profit via the market. In other words, there is no direct link between the production of wealth and the satisfaction of people's material needs. Such a link is established only tenuously, if at all, through the mediation of the market and the dictates of production for profit. Regardless of their real material needs, people's level of consumption is determined by whether or not they possess the means to purchase the things they require. What the system of commodity production means in practice is that the class in society which owns and controls the means of production accumulates vast extremes of wealth, while the class which is excluded from ownership and control of the means of production - the vast majority of the world's inhabitants - exists in a state of constant material insecurity and deprivation. The solution to this problem would be: 'The overthrow of Capitalism and its system of production for profit and the substitution of a system of Communism and production for use.' [112] Communism would abolish the market economy and undertake production to satisfy people's needs directly.

This takes us to the second feature of communist society mentioned earlier - democratic control, or 'the administration of wealth by those who produce wealth for the benefit of the wealth producers'. [113] Just as the struggle to overthrow capitalism would involve the conscious and active participation of the mass of the working class, so too in the post-revolutionary society of communism would the mass of the people be able to participate actively in deciding how the means of wealth-production should be used. In institutional terms this would be realised through the soviets or workers' councils, which would be 'the administrative machinery for supplying the needs of the people in communist society'. [114] The soviets would be 'councils of delegates, appointed and instructed by the workers in every kind of industry, by the workers on the land, and the workers in the home'. [115] Council delegates would be 'sent to voice the needs and desires of others like themselves'. [116]

In this way 'the average need and desire for any commodity [meaning here, any object] will be ascertained, and the natural resources and labour power of the community will be organised to meet that need'. [117] Decisions about what to produce, in what quantities, by what methods and so on, would no longer be the exclusive preserve of a minority as they are in capitalist society. Instead, the soviet decision-making machinery would 'confer at all times a direct individual franchise on each member of the community'. [118] All decisions concerning production would be made according to the freely-chosen needs and desires expressed by all members of society.

We come now to the third feature of communist society mentioned earlier: free access. The abolition of commodity production and the establishment of common ownership would mean an end to all forms of exchange: 'Money will no longer exist . . . There will be no selling, because there will be no buyers, since everyone will be able to obtain everything at will, without payment.' [119] Selling and buying imply the existence of private property: someone first has to have exclusive ownership of an object before they can be in a position to dispose of it by selling it, while someone else first has to be excluded from using that object if the only way they can gain access to it is through buying it. If common ownership existed there would be no reason for people to have to buy objects which they already owned anyway. In short, access to wealth would be free.

As a classless society of free access and production for use, communism would also mean an end to exchange relations between buyers and sellers of the particular commodity labour power (that is, between the capitalist and working classes, or bourgeoisie and proletariat. No-one's material existence would depend on having to sell their ability to work in return for a wage or salary. Sylvia Pankhurst wrote that 'wages under Communism will be abolished' [120] and that 'when Communism is in being there will be no proletariat, as we understand the term today'. [121] The direct bond between production and consumption which exists under capitalism would be severed: there would be no 'direct reward for services rendered'. [122] People's needs would be supplied 'unchecked' and 'independent of service'. [123] On the basis of the principle that 'each person takes according to need, and each one gives according to ability', [124] everyone would share in the necessary productive work of the community and everyone would freely satisfy their personal needs from the wealth created by the common effort.

The establishment of free access to the use and enjoyment of common wealth would facilitate the disappearance of the state's coercive apparatus. The concept of 'theft', for example, would lose all meaning. Thus, 'Under Communism, Courts of Justice will speedily become unnecessary, since most of what is called crime has its origins in economic need, and in the evils and conventions of capitalist society'. [125] For the same reasons, 'stealing, forgery, burglary, and all economic crimes will disappear, with all the objectionable apparatus for preventing, detecting and punishing them'. [126]

Common objections encountered by advocates of communism are that a society based on free access to wealth be open to abuse through greed and gluttony and that there would be no incentive to work. Such assertions are often based on a conception of human nature which sees people as inherently covetous and lazy. The standard communist response is to deny that any such thing as human nature exists. What these opponents of communism are referring to is human behaviour, which is not a set of immutable traits but varies according to material circumstances. Such a distinction (between human nature and human behaviour) is useful in making sense of some of the anti-parliamentarians' arguments. However, a conception of human nature does appear to lie beneath other arguments that they used - albeit a conception radically different from that which sees people as naturally idle beings. Rose Witcop argued that 'the physical need for work; and the freedom to choose one's work and one's methods' were in fact basic human needs and urges. [127] Indeed, this could be taken as another example of capitalism's inability to satisfy basic human needs. Within the capitalist system workers are not free to choose what work they do and how they do it. Such decisions are not made by the workers, but by their bosses. Only when the workers manage the industries', Sylvia Pankhurst argued, would they be able to make decisions about the conditions of production 'according to their desires and social needs'. [128]

At this point it might be helpful to draw a distinction between 'work', meaning freely-undertaken creative activity, and 'employment', meaning the economic compulsion to carry out tasks in order to earn a living. The anti-parliamentarians felt that an aversion to the latter was perfectly understandable, since employment in this sense could be seen as 'unnatural': 'a healthy being does not need the whip of compulsion, because work is a physical necessity. and the desire to be lazy is a disease of the capitalist system'. [129] In a communist society employment, or forced labour, would give way to work in the sense of fulfilment of the basic human need for freely-undertaken creative activity. As Guy Aldred pointed out, the urge to satisfy this need was evident in workers' behaviour even under capitalism; communism would provide the conditions for its most complete fulfilment: 'Men and women insist on discovering hobbies with which to amuse themselves after having sweated for a master. Does it not follow that, in a free society, not only would each work for all, but each would toil with earnest devotion at that which best suited and expressed his or her temperament?'. [130] Sylvia Pankhurst shared Aldred's expectations: in her vision of communism 'labour is a joy, and the workers toil to increase their skill and swiftness, and bend all their efforts to perfect the task'. [131] Thus the severance of all direct links between 'services rendered' and 'rewards' would not result in any lack of inclination to work, because in a communist society work would be enjoyable and satisfying in itself, instead of simply a means to an end.

The anti-parliamentary communists approached the problem of abuse of free access in a number of ways. First, on a common sense level, Rose Witcop pointed out that 'a man can consume two lunches in one day only at his peril, and wear two suits of clothing, or make a storehouse of his dwelling, only to his own discomfiture'. In the unlikely event of anyone wanting to discomfit themselves in such a way, 'we will be content to humour such pitiful perverseness. It is the least we can do'. [132]

Secondly, the anti-parliamentary communists argued that greed was a behavioural response to the scarcity which characterised capitalist society. Different material conditions would produce other forms of behaviour. The establishment of communism would 'provide a soil in which the social instincts of mankind will rapidly develop. The anti-social propensities not being stimulated by unbearable economic pressure will tend consequently to die out.' [133] Sylvia Pankhurst also argued that as a behavioural response to scarcity greed would disappear when the circumstances which stimulated it were abolished. While suggesting that a communist society would not permit anyone to 'hoard up goods for themselves that they do not require and cannot use', she went on to argue: 'the only way to prevent such practices is not by making them punishable,' it is by creating a society in which . . . no-one cares to be encumbered with a private hoard of goods when all that they need is readily supplied as to need it from the common storehouse'. [134]

These comments suggest a third way of overcoming the problem of abuse of free access. 'Over- indulgence' presupposed a continuation of scarcity: if one person consumed more than their 'fair share' there would be insufficient left over for everyone else. However, if there was sufficient wealth to satisfy everyone's needs, no matter how much any individual wanted to consume, then the problem of abuse of free access would disappear, along with any need to refute such an objection with arguments concerning altruism, human nature and so on. This was the main way in which the anti-parliamentary communists addressed the problem of abuse of free access. According to Sylvia Pankhurst, in a communist society there would be 'Abundance for all' [135] and people's needs would be satisfied 'without stint or measure'. [136]

The question of how a communist society would be able to provide abundance was tackled in a number of ways.

First, the meaning of abundance was related to the level of needs which people in a communist society might be expected to express. Rose Witcop observed 'how few things we really need' : food, clothing and shelter by way of material essentials, and work, comradeship and freedom from restrictions by way of non-material essentials. [137] This might sound more like austerity than abundance - but if a communist society satisfied only these basic needs and nothing more it would still be a vast improvement on capitalism for most of the world's population, since capitalism has never shown itself capable of providing even these most basic of needs for more than a small minority of the world's inhabitants.

Even if abundance is defined merely as the adequate provision of basics such as food, clothing and shelter, this still begs the question of how communism would be able to provide everyone with such things when capitalism patently cannot. To answer this question we must move on to a second argument put forward by the anti-parliamentary communists. Through its constant development of the means of production and distribution capitalism itself had laid the technological foundations upon which a society of abundance could be built. So long as the level of production remained fettered by the dictates of production for profit via the market, the potential for abundance which capitalism had created would never be realised. The communist revolution would smash these fetters and institute direct production for use. New inventions and technology in the field of production would be applied to the satisfaction of human needs. They would 'constantly facilitate' greater and greater increases in society's productive capacity and 'remove any need for rationing or limiting of consumption'. [138] In short, there would be 'plenty for all'. [139]

Thirdly, the anti-parliamentary communists argued that levels of production would also be boosted by integrating into socially-useful productive activity the vast numbers of people whose occupations were specific to a money-market-wages system:

Just consider the immense untapped reservoirs for the production of almost unlimited supplies of every imaginable form of useful wealth. Think of the scores of millions of unemployed, not forgetting the useless drones at the top of the social ladder. Estimate also the millions of officials, attendants, flunkeys, whose potentially valuable time is wasted under this system. Consider the wealth that could be created by the huge army of needless advertising agents, commercial travellers, club-men, shop-walkers, etc., not to mention the colossal army of police, lawyers, judges, clerks, who are ONLY 'NECESSARY' UNDER CAPITALISM! Add now the scandalous waste of labour involved in the military machine - soldiers, airmen, navymen, officers, generals, admirals, etc. Add, also, the terrific consumption of energy in the manufacture of armaments of all kinds that is weighing down the productive machine. Properly used, these boundless supplies of potential wealth-creating energy, could ensure ample for all - not excluding 'luxuries' - together with a ridiculously short working day. Likewise, there would be pleasant conditions of labour, and recreation and holidays on a scale now only enjoyed by the rich! [140]

Finally, the anti-parliamentary communists argued that communism had to be established on a global scale, so that to assist its aim of bringing about abundance for all communism would have the productive capacity and resources of the entire world at its disposal.

Only when abundance was not assumed did the anti-parliamentary communists on a view of people as naturally altruistic beings. Sylvia Pankhurst acknowledged the possibility of 'some untoward circumstance' producing 'a temporary shortage'. To cope with scarcity in such circumstances everyone would 'willingly share what there is, the children and the weaker alone receiving privileges, which are not asked, but thrust upon them'. [141]

When the anti-parliamentarians described themselves as communist, therefore, they meant that they stood for the establishment of a classless, stateless society based on common ownership and democratic control of the world's resources, in which money, exchange and production for profit would be replaced by production for the direct satisfaction of people's needs and free access to the use and enjoyment of all wealth.

The description of communism was a vital element in the anti-parliamentarians' propaganda, since it held out the prospect of a solution to the problems confronting working-class people every day of their lives. However, the description of communist society was more than just a pole-star guiding the direction of the class struggle. After the Russian revolution the anti-parliamentary communists were confronted with a regime under which, it was widely believed, the distant goal of communism was actually being brought into reality. In Chapter 2 one of the issues which will be discussed is the extent to which the anti-parliamentarians were able to evaluate this claim by using the conception of communism outlined above as their yardstick.