6. The Split in the APCF and Formation of the USM

Submitted by libcom on October 28, 2005

6 The Split in the APCF and Formation of the USM


At the beginning of the 1930s an irreparable split among the anti-parliamentary communists in Britain was caused by a combination of two separate sets of events.

The first of these concerned the world economic crisis which began in 1929, and the consequent political crisis in Britain which resulted in the formation of a national coalition government in 1931. The anti-parliamentary communists interpreted these events in apocalyptic terms. The long-prophesied collapse of capitalism was at last nigh. The obviously bankrupt system had nothing left to offer the working class except increasing misery, unemployment and war: The existing social order, operating through the chaos of its economic forces, imposes upon the working-class nothing but: A tendency towards Poverty and Corruption.'1 Sheer economic necessity would compel the working class to revolt; as Guy Aldred wrote on May Day 1929, 'the economic incentive to revolution is with us as it was on no previous May-Day'.2

The economic crisis had also destroyed the material basis of reformism: 'In place of palliation of poverty, the world is witnessing the poverty of palliation.'3 This was bound to have fatal implications for parliamentarism. As APCF member William McGurn pointed out in 1932, 'there remains nothing to palliate. Seeming security for the great majority has passed away forever. This fact has emptied the political programmes. Politicians have no careers because they can promise nothing.'4 Since anti-parliamentarians had always said that all parliamentarism was reformism, it followed that if reformism was bankrupt, so too was parliamentarism. In 1929 Guy Aldred had predicted that 'MacDonaldism' (the Labour Party) and 'Baldwinism' (the Tories) would converge;5 the formation of the National government in October 1931, with MacDonald as Prime Minister and Baldwin as Lord President of the Council, seemingly vindicated everything the anti-parliamentarians had ever said about Labour parliamentarism. MacDonald's decision to join forces with Conservatives and Liberals was surely the ultimate betrayal of the working class, the last word in parliamentary careerism, opportunism and corruption. In triumph Aldred declared: 'Anti-Parliamentarism has arrived.'6

This partly explains why, in February 1933, Aldred announced his resignation from the APCF. As his comrade John Caldwell would explain later, "the betrayal of MacDonald and the general collapse of the Labour Party . . . made it so clear to the workers that Parliament was not the way to Socialism that Anti-Parliamentary propaganda seemed superfluous'.7 In Aldred's opinion it was 'no longer necessary to pioneer Anti-Parliamentarism, because Anti-Parliamentarism has conquered. Parliamentarism has collapsed. Our task is to define Anti-Parliamentarism in living terms of action.'8

Exactly what these 'living terms of action' would be became clear in the light of the second set of events which contributed towards the split in the APCF: namely, the fight for free speech on Glasgow Green at the beginning of the 1930s. During the First World War Glasgow Corporation had passed a by-law which made open-air public meetings illegal unless the organisers had obtained a permit from the authorities. In 1931 a number of organisations began a campaign of direct action to re-establish free assembly and free speech on the popular speaking pitches at Glasgow Green.9 As far as the split in the APCF is concerned the significance of the free speech fight lay in the manner in which it was conducted. Representatives from a wide range of organisations collaborated in the formation of a Free Speech Committee. This seems to have filled Guy Aldred with enthusiasm for lasting unity among the various groups. At a conference in Glasgow in September 1931, the Free Speech Committee transformed itself into a permanent workers' Council of Action, so that the co-operation achieved during the free speech fight could be sustained and extended into unity based on a much wider set of issues.10 The founding conference was attended by 200 delegates. However, this initial support soon declined, so that the Council of Action became in effect the APCF under another name, along with some participation from members of the ILP. The monthly Council. edited by Guy Aldred, was started as the organisation's unofficial mouthpiece.

Having been struck by 'the value of the unity attained in the fight for freedom of speech on Glasgow Green', the delegates to the September conference agreed that 'the vital need of the moment' was 'a united movement composed of all the organisations of the working-class and of the organised unemployed to concentrate upon a mass agitation to defeat the ends of the capitalist class and to oppose immediately the attacks upon all wages and unemployment benefits under the plea of economy'. (September 1931 had seen the 'Economy Cut' of 10 per cent in the level of unemployment benefit.) Beyond this immediate aim the conference also proclaimed its intention to 'promote the transfer in every district of all power of political action and all social authority to representative Councils of Action, properly delegated and established'." To further its programme the Council of Action aimed to end all inter-party sectarianism and bring about 'the complete re-organisation of workers, through delegation from all factions, in one movement of action'.12 The Councils would 'include all factions without impeaching the integrity of any'.13 Participating groups would be bound by all Council decisions which had been properly discussed and put to a vote.14 'All political sectarianism must vanish . . . Above our respective groups and factions, our supreme loyalty must be to the Council of Action as the instrument of working-class struggle and achievement.'15

Guy Aldred saw the Council of Action as the means by which the political conclusions he had drawn from the capitalist crisis and the formation of the National government could be put into practice: 'Instead of continuing to criticise the parliamentarians, we advance to building the Workers' Council Movement'.16 However, not all APCF members drew the same conclusion. In June 1932 William McGurn expressed grave reservations about Aldred's enthusiasm for the Council of Action:

There is an Anti-Parliamentary criticism, which arises consistently from our past propaganda. This criticism objects: such Councils will arise, and can arise only, at the moment of crisis. They will arise spontaneously, because they must arise to administer production when the system collapses. Meantime, Councils of Action must fall into two groups: one grouping the Anti-Parliamentarians can support; the other, they must oppose. These groups are as follows:-

(1) Councils of Action can act as propaganda bodies; or

(2) they can act as bodies, agitating for, or advocating reforms.

Anti-Parliamentarians can support propaganda centres, but they cannot support reformist activity. They are not opposed to the idea of the Council of Action. But they are opposed to Councils of Action, in their present form.17

McGurn concluded by conceding that Councils of Action could be supported if their activities did not make use of capitalist political institutions nor assist the careerism of aspiring professional politicians, and provided their activities were aimed at destroying the capitalist state (he cited rent strikes as an example of action which satisfied these conditions). Nevertheless, McGurn's criticisms were serious enough to place him among those members of the APCF who chose not to follow Aldred's example in resigning from the group.

Aldred and the APCF did not part company on amicable terms. The 1933 split sowed the seeds of personal antagonisms which bedevilled relations between the disunited anti-parliamentary groups for the rest of the period covered in this book. At the same time, the genealogy of the anti-parliamentary tradition became a matter to be squabbled over by belittling any other group which posed as the rightful heir. In 1935, for example, Guy Aldred claimed that the APCF had been in decline since February 1933 - that is, since his own resignation!18 Likewise, in 1942 he stated that 'As a virile organisation, the APCF ceased to exist in 1933', and claimed that the group to which he then belonged - the United Socialist Movement-was the APCF's 'direct successor'.19 Two years later USM member John Caldwell expounded a similar version of the APCF's history when he wrote that after Aldred's resignation the APCF had 'declined and died a few years later'.20

These reports of the APCF's death were somewhat exaggerated. In April 1934 Aldred told a London comrade: 'I don't think the Anty-Panty Group [a popular diminutive of 'Anti-Parliamentary'] is doing very much here ... it does not seem to be very active.'21 This was, however, no more than a temporary lull. In 1935 the APCF resumed its activity, publishing two pamphlets which will be discussed in due course. Meanwhile, important developments had taken place among those who had split away from the APCF.


In August 1933 a new body called the Workers' Open Forum was formed on the initiative of newly-resigned ex-members of the APCF - such as Aldred, Ethel MacDonald and Leigh Fisher - along with 'outsiders' such as William Dick of the Glasgow Townhead branch of the ILP. The Workers' Open Forum met regularly for political discussion and to organise propaganda.22

At the end of 1933 Aldred published the first issue of a newspaper called the New Spur. The title recalled the 'old' Spur - so called 'Because The Workers Need A Spur' - which had appeared from 1914-21. The name was revived 'Because The Workers Need A Spur More Than Ever'. Since Aldred's own 'Bakunin Press' was by now defunct, the New Spur was printed by Aldred's comrade Andre Prudhommeaux in Nimes. Running to five monthly issues, the paper was filled mainly by historical essays on 'Pioneers Of Anti-Parliamentarism' such as Bakunin and Malatesta; its topical content was limited due to the early deadlines imposed by having each issue printed in the south of France. One issue was devoted to commemorating the anti-parliamentarian Reichstag arsonist Marinus van der Lubbe,23 while another article, spread over two issues, criticised moves towards a united front between the ILP and CPGB.24

Aldred had more than a passing interest in the latter topic, for in January 1934 he had requested to join the ILP. He explained his application for membership in the following terms:

I have before me this choice. Either I must remain a strict anti-Parliamentarian, practically futile in my activity because standing apart from my fellow socialists in the struggle, or I must pool my abilities and help to build a genuine all-in revolutionary movement.

The situation today is such that I must either join up with some existing Socialist organisation or else remain forever outside the main historic events of our time.25

It was the rise of fascism in Europe which had presented Aldred with these choices: 'It is obvious that no anti-Parliamentary movement exists in the country and that Fascism grows daily a greater menace. Under these circumstances, it is imperative to build, to the best of our ability, a united revolutionary movement . . . Parliamentarism versus anti-Parliamentarism is not the immediate issue.'26

Aldred elaborated these remarks, and related them to his train of thought since the end of 1931, in his 1934 Socialist May Special, and in a new edition of Socialism and Parliament published later the same year. Aldred repeated his view that anti-parliamentarism had been completely vindicated by recent events: 'No longer should we cry: "Parliamentarism Is Illusion", because that issue has been settled beyond dispute.'27 But now another reason for abandoning outright attacks on parliamentarism had arisen; recent events on the continent of Europe had thrown up a new anti-parliamentarism more threatening than parliamentarism itself. This was not the 'Anti-Parliamentarism of the new Social Order' (that is, communism), but the 'Anti-Parliamentarism of Fascism'.28 In these circumstances, Aldred argued, 'the attack on Parliamentarism must give place to the attack on the Anti-Parliamentary product of Parliamentarism: Fascism! . . . Today, our cry must be: "Division is Dangerous" '.29 Overthrowing views he had held for nearly 30 years, Aldred argued that anti-parliamentarism was no longer synonymous with communism - since fascism was also opposed to parliamentary democracy - and that communism was no longer synonymous with anti-parliamentarism - since many parliamentary socialists were as genuine in their desire for revolution as the anti-parliamentary communists. Aldred thus appealed to all 'socialists', parliamentary and anti-parliamentary , to unite against the immediate danger of fascism, and advanced the slogan: 'THE PROLETARIAT PARLIAMENTARY or the PROLETARIAT ANTI-PARLIAMENTARY but THE PROLETARIAT UNITED.' 30

When applying to join the ILP Aldred had stated that he remained 'convinced of the accuracy of my anti-Parliamentarian conceptions'.31 The 1934 edition of Socialism and Parliament was no different from its two predecessors in arguing that parliamentarism could 'never secure to the wealth-producers the ownership by themselves of the means of production and distribution'.32 In Socialism and the Pope (also published in 1934), Aldred still maintained that the future of working-class struggle lay with the Council of Action form of organisation.33 However, these ideas were now set aside; the issue of parliamentarism versus anti-parliamentarism had become 'subsidiary to the interests of the working class as a whole'.34 Working-class unity against fascism took precedence over anti-parliamentary principles. Aldred's initial application to join the ILP was accepted and he became a member of the Townhead branch in February 1934, but soon afterwards he ran into difficulties. He was asked to appear before the Management Committee of the ILP's Glasgow Federation to be interviewed about his membership, but the Townhead branch was not in favour of him attending since it resented the federal body's interference in local branch affairs. After failing to attend the Management Committee Aldred and William Dick were suspended from membership.3S In response to these expulsions the Townhead branch resigned from the Glasgow Federation and united with the Workers' Open Forum in July 1934 to form the United Socialist Movement.36 During the same month Aldred visited Leeds on a speaking tour and persuaded the Leeds Anarchist Group to affiliate to the USM. The new group also had some support in London among old adherents of the APCF and of the long-defunct Hammersmith Socialist Society (1911-16)."

In July 1931, at the height of the Glasgow Green free speech fight, Aldred had advocated electoral action 'to sweep from the Council every councillor standing for the suppression of free speech and the present iniquitous by-laws'.38 This ambition had been thwarted by the rest of the APCF's refusal to support any ballot box activity.3g However, since the free speech fight had not succeeded in completely abolishing speaking permits, in October 1934 the USM decided to nominate Aldred as a free speech candidate in all 37 wards in the forthcoming Glasgow municipal elections.40

In his election address Aldred stated that he stood for

the total abolition of the existing Parliamentary and Municipal system, which merely reflects the interests of Capitalism. I desire to see established a Workers' Industrial Soviet Republic. Meanwhile, I am living under the present system, and, with my comrades of the United Socialist Movement, I believe in the inviolate right of Free Speech.

The main demand of the address was for complete freedom of assembly and public speaking. The voters were urged to Treat the election as a referendum on this great public issue . . . The desire of the United Socialist Movement is not to secure the return of a representative to the Town Council ... It simply wishes to ask the electors to think and to direct their attention to the fundamental issue of Free Speech'.41 In the elections, on 6 November 1934, Aldred came bottom of the poll by a long way in all fourteen wards for which he had been nominated. When he stood for a second time in, the Exchange Ward on an identical platform42 in a municipal by-election the following month the result was typical of his efforts first time around: W. Unkles ('Socialist') 1881 votes; A. Holmes (Independent) 1767; G. Aldred (Communist) 22.


During Aldred's brief period of membership the Townhead branch had sent William Dick as its delegate to the 1934 Annual Conference of the 1LP, briefed with 'revolutionary and anti-parliamentary' amendments to conference motions. One of these amendments, concerning a motion on 'The Struggle Against Fascism', proposed to delete a reference to unity with 'the workers of Soviet Russia' on the grounds that this phrase had become synonymous with

the present Stalin regime and what many of us have come to regard as the Soviet Bureaucracy. To some of us this bureaucracy is not developing Socialism, but is compelled, even though it may destroy itself, to retreat to Capitalism. This retreat is described as the building of Socialism in one nation. The Townhead Branch holds to the theory of permanent revolution and maintains that Socialism cannot be built in Russia until a definite proletarian revolutionary struggle is moving towards triumph in the Capitalist nations of the West.43

The Trotskyist phraseology of this amendment suggests that Aldred had played a significant part in drafting it. In Towards The Social Revolution?, a pamphlet explaining his reasons for wanting to join the ILP, Aldred had appended two articles about the ILP written by Trotsky. In March 1934 Aldred approached Frank Leech of the APCF with a proposal to produce a reply to William Gallagher's pamphlet Pensioners of Capitalism: A-' Exposure of Trotsky and the Social Democrats.44 When Leech declined to co-operate Aldred proceeded with the project on his own, publishing two essays by Trotsky as a pamphlet titled The Soviet Union and the Fourth International. Aldred's foreword to this pamphlet was remarkable for its endorsement of Trotsky's views about the nature of the Russian state and economy:

[Trotsky's] point that the Soviet bureaucracy is not an independent class but only an excrescence upon the proletariat makes clear exactly what attitude the genuine and intelligent working class revolutionaries must adopt towards the USSR . . .

The tendency of the bureaucratic dictatorship over the proletariat is towards the collapse of the Soviet regime. But until this

tendency results in the end of the bureaucratic domination as well as of the workers' republic, the necessity is for the reform, however violent, of the Soviet regime, but not for the overturn of its property relations, i.e., a new social revolution.45

This represented a radical departure from the established anti-parliamentary position. Since 1925 the APCF had argued that Russia was not in any sense a 'workers' state', that the dictatorship of the party bureaucracy was the dictatorship of a new ruling class, and that capitalist property relations (and hence the need for a social revolution) did exist in Russia. However, Aldred's apparent conversion to Trotskyist views was short-lived. Only seven months after publishing the Trotsky pamphlet he was once again expressing the view that 'to pretend that Russian Capitalism is some kind of Socialism is ridiculous. Russian industry is entirely capitalistic; and we have in Russia today a propertyless class of wage earners, a class of capitalist investors, and concessions worked by foreign capitalists.'46

Aldred clarified his views in For Communism (1935), a pamphlet containing a lengthy appraisal of Russia's post-revolutionary history. Here Aldred rejected Trotskyist ideas as insufficiently thorough in tracing the origins of the defeat of the revolution: The destruction of Soviet Russia as the land of Sovietism and the temporary stabilisation of capitalism is said by the Trotskyists to date from the death of Lenin . . . Trotsky is quite wrong to make Stalin solely responsible . . . as regards the collapse of Socialism in Russia, Stalin merely continued the work that Lenin began.'47 Aldred's argument that Russia's 'economic opportunism' began 'with Lenin and goes back to 1921 and the NEP'48 was a further reaffirmation of the established anti-parliamentary position. Distancing himself still further from Trotskyism, Aldred also argued that 'the Soviet Union is not a Workers' State' and that 'fundamentally [Russia] is a capitalist country'.49

It is curious to note that while Aldred was engaged in reiterating the accepted anti-parliamentary communist analysis of Russia, the APCF had just published a pamphlet on the same subject which departed from the usual anti-parliamentary viewpoint in several crucial aspects. This pamphlet was the work of the Dutch-based Group of International Communists (GIC) and had first appeared as Theses On Bolshevism' in the German council communist publication Ratekorrespondenz. It had then been translated into English and published in the December 1934 issue of International Council Correspondence, a journal edited by Paul Mattick in Chicago. The APCF published the text exactly as it had appeared in International Council Correspondence, save for retitling it The Bourgeois Role of Bolshevism.

As this new title suggested, the GIC's text challenged the anti-parliamentarians' view of the Russian revolution by arguing that it had been a 'bourgeois' revolution from the very beginning. Before 1917, the pamphlet argued, the dominant agricultural sector of the Russian economy had been 'a feudal economy sprinkled with capitalistic elements', while its industrial sector had been 'a system of capitalist production interspersed with feudal elements'. The historic-tasks of the revolution had therefore been:

first, the setting aside of the concealed agrarian feudalism and its continued exploitation of the peasants as serfs, together with the industrialisation of agriculture, placing it on the plane of modern commodity production; secondly, to make possible the unrestricted creation of a class of really 'free labourers', liberating the industrial development from all its feudal fetters. Essentially, the tasks of the bourgeois revolution.50

The period from the collapse of Tsarism in February 1917 to the success of the Bolshevik insurrection in October had been 'a quite unitary social process of transformation'; it was an 'absurdity' to regard the February Revolution as bourgeois and the October Revolution as working class, since Russia had only just entered the era of capitalism and could not have created 'the economic and social presuppositions for a proletarian revolution' in the space of only seven months.51

The Bolsheviks had seized power by welding the mass insurrection of 'the peasant masses fighting for private property and the proletariat fighting for communism' into an alliance which overthrew the 'feudal' state.52 Then,

Just as the state apparatus of Czarism ruled independently over the two possessing classes [nobility and bourgeoisie], so the new Bolshevik state apparatus began to make itself independent of its double class basis.

Its existence as an independent state power depends on its success in maintaining an equilibrium between the dominated working class and peasantry.53

It is obvious even from such a brief outline that several elements of the anti-parliamentary critique of the Russian revolution were also expressed in the GIC's text, such as the theory of stages of development, the incompatibility of the aims and interests of the working class and peasantry, and the overriding dominance of the Bolshevik party. The crucial difference was that the GIC did something that anti-parliamentary communists in Britain had resisted: it rejected the idea of 1921 as a turning point and applied its critique to the period in Russia's history between 1917 and 1920. Central to the GIC's assessment of the revolution as bourgeois was its portrayal of the Bolsheviks as a party with a capitalist programme: even before 1917 the Bolsheviks' plans for 'socialisation of production' had been conceived in terms of 'nothing but a capitalist economy taken over by the State and directed from the outside and from above by its bureaucracy. The Bolshevik socialism is state-organised capitalism'.54

The anti-parliamentary communists in Britain had hitherto regarded the Bolsheviks as revolutionaries who had been more or less forced by circumstances beyond their control to set Russia on the road of capitalist development. Furthermore, it had always been an article of faith among the anti-parliamentarians that 1917 had been a working-class revolution. Thus the GIC's claims that 1917 had been a bourgeois revolution, and that the Bolsheviks had always been a capitalist grouping, were views which one would have expected the APCF to address, either reaffirming their old ideas or else intimating that they now endorsed the GIC's standpoint. However, the APCF's foreword to The Bourgeois Role of Bolshevism was non-committal on these issues, and gave the impression that the text was being published to add weight to the argument that Russia was fully capitalist now, regardless of the precise origins of this development.


Besides the issue of the nature of the Russian state and economy, another subject discussed in the publications of the APCF and USM after 1933 was the relationship between communist organisations and the rest of the working class during revolutionary periods. This question was related to an analysis of the failure of the Russian revolution, from which the anti-parliamentarians drew lessons intended to guarantee the success of any future revolutions.

In two articles about the revolutionary role of workers' councils published in the USM journal. Attack, in 1936, Guy Aldred argued that 'a revolutionary class dictatorship' would be 'indispensable' during the immediate aftermath of the revolution, whilst repeating what he had said in his revised work on Bakunin (1934) about the need for this dictatorship to be based on working-class self-activity. The transitional dictatorship, Aldred stated, 'must be the work of a class: not of a small minority in the name of a class; that is it must proceed at each step with the active participation of the masses, be subject to their direct influence, stand under the control of unlimited public opinion, proceed from the growing political education of the masses'. By stressing these principles, Aldred once again rejected the substitutionism of political parties taking power on behalf of the workers: the dictatorship should be exercised by 'no single revolutionary group, no party or outstanding selection of revolutionists', nor should it be 'the dictatorship of a Marxist party executive whose power extends over that of the Soviets'. Party dictatorship, Aldred warned, 'paves the road for class oppressions, leads to new forms of exploitation and revives the evils that had been swept away with the revolution'55 In For Communism Aldred had derived the same point of view from his analysis of the fate of the Russian revolution:

Lenin erred in regarding the Soviets merely as organs of insurrection and civil war, which they are, and not as organs of administration, which is their final and higher function if democracy is to be established ... To recognise this fact is to liquidate the political party in the course of the struggle, and to conceive of the party as being subsidiary to the working class. Lenin lacked the ability to realise this simple truth ... to him the party was more important than the workers.56

The relationship between revolutionary groups and the working class was also the subject of the second pamphlet published by the APCF in 1935. This consisted of two texts by Rosa Luxemburg: 'Organisational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy' (1904) and The Problem of Dictatorship' (1918). After they had appeared in the February 1935 issue of International Council Correspondence. the APCF published them together under the title Leninism or Marxism.

The 1904 text was a reply to Lenin's case for centralised organisation, as a safeguard against opportunism, within the Russian Social Democratic Party and in the party's relations with the working class. Luxemburg observed that in all of the Russian working class's 'most important and fruitful' actions of the previous decade, 'the initiative and conscious leadership of the social-democratic organisations played an exceedingly small role'. The St Petersburg textile workers' strike of 1896, the political demonstrations in St Petersburg in 1901, and the Rostov-on-Don general strike of 1902, had been 'things of which the boldest blusterer among the Social Democrats would not have ventured to think a few years earlier'. The tactics adopted in these actions 'were in each case the spontaneous product of the unbound movement itself. This applied to other countries besides Russia:

the small part played by the conscious initiative of the party leadership ... is still more observable in Germany and elsewhere. The fighting tactics of the Social Democracy, at least as regards its main features, is absolutely not 'invented', but is the result of a progressive series of great creative acts in the course of the experimenting and often elemental class struggle.57

Luxemburg also opposed centralisation within the party. In her view, the only sure guarantee against 'opportunistic abuses on the part of an ambitious intelligentsia' was 'the revolutionary self-activation of the working masses, the intensification of their feeling of political responsibility'.58 Luxemburg concluded with a warning that subsequent events would make famous: 'Mistakes which a truly revolutionary labour movement commits are, in historical perspective, immeasurably more fruitful and valuable than the infallibility of the very best "central committee".'59

The 1918 text also emphasised mass action by the entire working class as indispensable in overthrowing capitalism. There was no 'ready-made recipe' for revolution 'in the pocket of the revolutionary party'. Party programmes contained only 'a few big sign-posts'; the 'thousand concrete practical matters to be dealt with' in the course of establishing communism were ones in which 'the whole mass of the people must participate': 'Only unrestrictedly flowing life hits upon a thousand new forms, makes improvisations, contains creative power,

itself corrects all blunders."1" Luxemburg ended by supporting the need for proletarian dictatorship after the overthrow of capitalism, but on these conditions:

This dictatorship must be the work of the class, and not of a small minority in the name of the class; that is it must proceed at each step with the active participation of the masses, be subject to their direct influence, stand under the control of unlimited public opinion, proceed from the growing political education of the masses.61

These were precisely the words in which Guy Aldred, without acknowledging Luxemburg as their author, expressed his own support for working-class dictatorship the year after Luxemburg's texts had been published by the APCF.

The APCF's own introduction to Leninism or Marxism observed that Lenin had 'consistently denied that the working class could be active and conscious agents of revolutionary change . . . his works teem with arguments that a revolutionary policy could only be thought out and imposed upon the working class by the "intellectuals" '. As such, Leninism remained 'a strong tradition in the working class movement, delaying the development of revolutionary working class understanding. To destroy this tradition ... is the immediate and urgent task of the Communist movement.'62 Hence the publication of Luxemburg's texts, as a contribution to the destruction of the 'Leninist tradition' in this sense.


Throughout the 1930s the APCF and USM made occasional attempts to co-operate between themselves and with other like minded political groups. While he was writing For Communism, Guy Aldred came into contact with various groups and individuals overseas, including the French anarchist Andre Prudhommeaux, Lopez Cordoza (secretary of the Communist Workers' International in Amsterdam), Paul Mattick (an ex-member of the KAPD who had helped to form the United Workers' Party in Chicago and was now editor of International Council Correspondence) and Albert Weisbond (a leading member of the Trotskyist Communist League of Struggle in New York). Aldred argued: 'If we are to build up a revolutionary movement we must throw down the sectarian barriers and affiliate our groupings.'63 His ambition was the formation of a new anti-parliamentary International, involving the above groups and individuals plus any others which might be persuaded to join. However, Aldred's appeal fell on stony ground. The United Workers' Party rejected the suggestion of uniting with the Communist League of Struggle, criticised Aldred for being 'incapable of seeing the real differences between these groups', and firmly declared that it wanted 'nothing to do with people of Aldred's stamp'.64 Thereafter, the International Council Correspondence Group's links with communists in Britain were maintained solely through the APCF.

Despite the UWP's rebuff Aldred had high hopes that the Communist League of Struggle was evolving in a positive direction, having expressed the opinion in For Communism that its history was one of 'slow approach to the real Anti-Parliamentarian conclusion'.65 In May 1935 Vera Buch Weisbord of the CLS arrived in Glasgow at the invitation of the USM, and during her visit she spoke of 'the vital need for an International Conference of the various Left Wing Communist groups, to discuss points of difference with a view to forming a 4th International'.66 Her departure was soon followed, however, by an acrimonious exchange of correspondence with Guy Aldred over financial arrangements and political disagreements, and relations were severed.67

Aldred's strategy for unity in Britain - which was that anti-parliamentarians should either build up the USM or join the APCF with the aim of uniting it to the USM - was equally unfruitful. Vera Buch Weisbord's visit encouraged the USM to resolve to 'meet the Anti-Parliamentarian Group in mutual discussion with an endeavour to find a basis of agreement for calling an International Conference of Left wing Communist Groups with a view of forming a 4th International',68 but nothing concrete resulted from this decision. The USM itself only managed to establish affiliated groups outside Glasgow and its environs in Leeds (1934) and in London, where a United Socialist Movement Anti-Parliamentary Group was formed in 1938. Aldred edited and published one issue of a paper called Hyde Park for the London group in September 1938.

During the Spanish Civil War years contact between the APCF and USM increased, and these relations will be discussed in the following chapter. Before leaving this topic, however, one other attempt at co-operation between the two groups is worth mentioning.

One of the USM's main concerns during the 1930s was with the 'Stalinist Terror' in Russia, as manifested in events such as the Moscow Show Trials. The USM's comments on this issue sought to emphasise that there was nothing new about such events. A letter sent to the Russian Ambassador in August 1936 by Ethel MacDonald on behalf of the USM pointed out that 'this horror is merely the culmination of the imprisonments and persecutions of Socialists that has been continuous in the USSR since 1920'.69 The USM's attitude was the same as it had been during Trotsky's persecution and exile: the former leading Bolsheviks now standing trial had been 'parties to these outrages' in The past and were now paying 'the penalty of acquiescence'.70 As Guy Aldred pointed out in May 1938, 'the Stalinist conspiracies are but the continuation of methods which prevailed in Trotsky's lime. Zinoviev, and those who were parties to the Kronstadt massacre, reaped what they helped to sow.'71

Nevertheless, when a Socialist Anti-Terror Committee was formed in Glasgow al the end of 1937, the USM felt prompted to participate, along with members of the APCF, ILP and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (a group which had evolved towards Trotskyism from De Leonist origins). In March 1938 Guy Aldred wrote a pamphlet for the SATC titled Against Terrorism in the Workers' Struggle, in which he argued that 'the perpetuation of persecution, firing squads, and the supremacy of The State' were alien lo The socialist philosophy of freedom and liberty, and that 'those who call Themselves Socialists must rally against this terrorism and denounce it in the name of Socialism and the workers' struggle'. The pamphlet accused the Stalinist Communist Parties of 'three crimes against the workers' struggle: (1) terrorism; (2) imperialism opportunism and counterrevolution; (3) corrupt destruction of working class propaganda throughout The world', and called on The working class lo 'organise to destroy Communist Party and Stalin Terrorism, and to rank it with Fascism and all other terrorism'.72

Soon after co-operating to publish this pamphlet the organisations involved in the SATC again went their separate ways. Guy Aldred claimed that the Committee had been illicitly sabotaged by the ILP participants, who had wanted to give the impression that it was impossible for anyone else to work in organisations in which Aldred was involved.73 Certainly, accusations concerning Aldred's domineering personality were always plentiful, and were made by friend and foe alike. In June 1935, for example, B. Meehan resigned from the USM because of Aldred's inclination to 'ignore organisations and work on his own initiative'. Such behaviour discouraged other USM members from developing their own ideas and abilities: 'the majority of the Comrades that at present are members of the USM are members because Comrade Aldred is a member; if Comrade Aldred left they would also leave, because they can only think and act through the medium of Comrade Aldred'.74 When these allegations were discussed by the USM William Dick moved that Meehan's criticisms should be acknowledged as correct. When this motion was defeated Dick tendered his own resignation.75 He was later readmitted to membership, but after the group barred him from speaking on its public platform he resigned for a second time, 'stressing the point that he was sick of the Socialist movement'.76 Soon afterwards Dick joined the APCF, so it was clearly the United Socialist Movement with which he was disenchanted, rather than 'the Socialist movement' as a whole.

It would be too simple, however, to view these acrimonious clashes as merely the inevitable product of Guy Aldred's supposed egomania. Aldred's attempts to unite the various small groups in a new International had come to nothing. In terms of numbers and their ability to influence events the USM and APCF remained pathetically weak. As such they were forced to live what Serge Bricianer, referring to the German council communists during roughly the same period and in similar circumstances, has called a 'group-centred life': 'unable to direct one's aggression effectively against the world, one directed it against the nearest group, and, through lack of numbers, one saw discussions about principles in terms of personal antagonisms'.77

The isolation Bricianer describes was felt keenly by all the anti-parliamentarians. In 1935, for example, Guy Aldred expressed profound pessimism about the prospects for revolution in Asia or continental Europe. In his view only the workers of the English-speaking countries - primarily Britain and America - remained likely instigators of the world revolution.78 Yet even in those countries the outlook was bleak. In his vision of Britain in 1936, Aldred saw only 'the poverty and apathy of the working class; its exhaustion by despair and charlatanism; the menace of war . . . this massed confusion of misery and error'.79 In such circumstances, however, Aldred did not admit defeat. In May 1936 he launched the first issue of a new paper, called Attack, precisely because this bleak outlook made it 'imperative that Anti-Parliamentarism should be heard again in the land'.80 However, the response to this initiative

was insufficient to sustain the Attack beyond its first and only issue. It was the same for the APCF. In the May 1936 issue of the APCF paper Advance, R. Bunton wrote: Today, an atmosphere of despair envelops the working class.' The same atmosphere that surrounded the working class as a whole was also felt by the anti-parliamentary groups in particular. The fascists had taken power in Germany; the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935 made the threat of another world war loom large (in August 1935 Guy Aldred wrote that 'there can be no doubt that war is inevitable');81 Britain was only just beginning to recover from the effects of the greatest ever crisis of the world capitalist system. The anti-parliamentarians were powerless to influence the working class's response to any of these events. All they could do was analyse and comment from the sidelines. It is hardly surprising that such circumstances gave rise to tension and frustration, and that when these feelings did burst forth they were often expressed on a personal level.


The APCF's contribution in the mid-1930s, towards the development of anti-parliamentary theory in the area of capitalist economic crisis, provides a good example of the way in which the anti-parliamentarians were restricted to commenting from the sidelines about events which they were in no position to influence.

Previously, a lack of serious study and comment on the dynamics of world capitalism had distinguished anti-parliamentary communists in Britain from their comrades in other countries, notably the Dutch and German council communists, among whom such work was undertaken in order to give a 'scientific' underpinning to their view of parliamentarism, trade unions, the revolutionary party, and so on. During the 1930s International Council Correspondence (later known as living Marxism and New Essays) was the main forum for the debate on economics among the council communists. The editor, Paul Mattick, recalled that it had shown:

A great concern with the inherent contradictions of the capitalist system and their unfolding in the course of its development. The nature of the capitalist crisis was more intensely discussed, and on a higher theoretical level, than is generally the rule in labour publications, encompassing as it did the most recent interpretations of Marxist economic theory and its application to the prevailing conditions.82

The contributors to these debates developed a general line of argument known now as the theory of 'capitalist decadence1. The starting-point of this theory was Marx's argument that

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production . . . From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution ... No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed.83

Decadence theory was an attempt to establish when the epoch of social revolution began, and why the relations of production fettered the development of the productive forces.

According to decadence theory, during capitalism's early period of development crises were the growing pains of an ascendant mode of production which was integrating the whole world into a single economy and raising the productive forces to great heights: 'depressions could be regarded as a "healing process" of a sick economic body . . . leading to a new prosperity enjoying a new level of productivity which the depression itself established'.84 So long as this progressive phase continued, the main task on the working class's agenda was to organise itself in trade unions and parliamentary parties to win the economic and political reforms which capitalism could afford to grant.

As Marx had pointed out, however, capitalism's ascendant era would not last for ever. Among the council communists there was disagreement over precisely why the relations of production should become fetters on the development of the productive forces - that is, over the fundamental causes of capitalist crisis. While Mattick and Henryk Grossman based their analyses on the 'falling rate of profit' theory, other contributors took up the position adopted by Rosa Luxemburg, who had argued that crises were caused by 'overproduction', the saturation of markets, and the capitalists' inability to realise the profits derived from the exploitation of labour power. Here we will concentrate on the Luxemburgists' ideas, since these were the ones taken up by anti-parliamentarians in Britain.

The Luxemhurgist position pointed to imperialist expansion - a source of new markets in which to sell goods - as one way in which capitalism could offset its tendencies towards crisis. However, in 1914 the outbreak of the First World War between the most powerful imperialist rivals signalled that the limits of this outlet had been reached, since there were no unclaimed areas of the world left to conquer. Capitalism's ascendant period had come to an end. In the following period - decadence - further development could take place only at great cost to humanity through a military redivision of markets. Capitalism's cycle of boom and slump now took a different form: 'The question today is only inasmuch as the depression no longer seems to re-establish a basis for prosperity, whether in the same way war no longer can establish a basis for another period of capitalist peace'.85 In the ascendant period crises had eliminated 'excess' capital, enabling the system to emerge each time on a healthier basis. In the decadent period the only resolution to crises was war, but this merely laid the foundations for a short reconstruction-based boom, before the inevitable emergence of another crisis, and so on.

The onset of economic decadence also affected the political organisation of capitalism. During the ascendant period,

the capitalists, still fighting against the remnants of feudalism, fighting between themselves and against the workers, at first needed a political democracy in which they could settle their problems within the general competitive struggle. But the more the concentration process of capital became intensified, law and government became less and less the synthesis of numerous political and economic frictions, and instead 'the needs of the whole' were served better through exclusively serving the needs of the few. Government became solely the instrument for suppression within the country and an instrument for imperialistic policies.86

The decadent period witnessed a huge increase in state intervention in the economy - in order to carry out 'the economic centralisation and the "rationalisation" which the intensification of international competition on a saturated market imposes on each nation'87 - accompanied by a widespread emergence of totalitarian forms of political rule. Stalinist state capitalism in Russia, fascist corporatism in Italy, National Socialism in Germany and the New Deal in America, were all regarded as evidence of these phenomena.

Capitalism's entry into its period of decadence and permanent crisis destroyed the material basis for the mass reformist movements built up during the era of ascendant capitalism, since according to decadence theory lasting reforms could no longer be granted nor won. The workers' organisations could no longer limit themselves to struggling for higher wages. They could no longer see their principal aim as one of acting as parliamentary representatives and extorting improvements for the working class'.88 In the period of decadence and 'eruption of open revolution', the immediate task of the working class had become nothing less than the smashing of the fetters of profit and market which were restraining the potential development of the productive forces, and the establishment of a worldwide communist society. To do this the working class would have to create new revolutionary organisations, not least in opposition to the 'old' labour movement of social democratic parties and trade unions, which had passed over to become the left wing of the capitalist political spectrum.

The council communists' attitudes toward issues such as parliamentarism and trade unionism were firmly rooted in this distinction between capitalism's 'ascendant' and 'decadent' periods. Practically all of the European left or council communists had originally belonged to the pre-First World War mass parliamentary parties of the Second International, and had supported the electoral and trade unionist struggle for political and economic reforms within capitalism. However, these ideas and activities were rapidly rejected once the First World War had signalled the end of capitalism's ascendant period. When the Comintern advocated a continuation of the same old methods of struggle (such as Revolutionary Parliamentarism) after the war - that is, when capitalism had entered its decadent period - the European left communists and council communists were the foremost opponents of such tactics.

The European left communists thus evolved from very different origins compared to their counterparts in Britain. Possessing no theory of ascendant and decadent periods in capitalism's development, British anti-parliamentarians had been consistently hostile towards parliamentarism, trade unionism and reformism since long before the First World War. In the mid-1950s, however, some of the council communists' ideas - transmitted via the APCF's contact with International Council Correspondence - began to enter into the thinking of the movement in Britain. For example, whilst opposing parliamentarism on the customary grounds that it led to 'self-seeking', 'desire for office', 'revisionism' and 'betrayal', a statement of 'APCF Aims' published in 1935 also declared that it was 'the permanent crisis of capitalism' that had 'rendered obsolete the official trade and industrial union movements'.89

The influence of decadence theory was also evident in the first issue of the APCF paper Advance, published in May 1936. In one article, T. L. Anderson (who at that time belonged to the USM) explained Italy's invasion of Abyssinia in a manner consistent with the Luxemburgist analysis which underpinned council communist theories:

like every other capitalistic country in the world, [Italy] is suffering from a lack of markets . . . Complete bankruptcy stares her in the face. She is now learning by bitter experience what Karl Marx taught about 80 years ago - that the law of capitalist development is expand or collapse. The result is, of course, she decides to expand on Abyssinian territory.90

In the same issue an editorial on the class struggle in Spain put forward the standard anti-parliamentary criticism of reformist demands - the working class should use its power 'not to modify the existing regime but to abolish it' - but also criticised reformism on the grounds that 'the economic laws of developing capitalism continually cancel out any immediate gains'.91

Most interesting of all was an article by APCF member Willie McDougall, titled 'Capitalism Must Go!', which explained the economic crisis in terms of 'over-production' and also hinted at the concept of decadence. 'Side by side with prolific production and ever increasing potentialities for higher standards of living, the people are driven down to even lower levels.' Starvation and poverty co-existed with the destruction of produce which could not be sold profitably. 'Glutted markets' and over-production had caused unemployment and short-time working, as there was a lack of 'effective' demand for products and thus for the labour power used to make them.

[Capitalism's] historic mission - the superseding of feudalism - has been accomplished. It has raised the level of production to heights undreamed of by its own pioneers, but its peak point has been reached and decline set in. Whenever a system becomes a fetter to the expansion or proper functioning of the forces of production, a revolution is imminent and it is doomed to make way for a successor. Just as feudalism had to give way to the more productive system of capitalism, so must the latter be swept from the path of human progress to make way for Socialism.92

Apart from providing further evidence of International Council Correspondence's influence on anti-parliamentarians in Britain, McDougall's article also typified the anti-parliamentarians' dilemma in the first half of the 1930s. Perceptive in its analysis, hard-hitting in its condemnation of capitalist 'anarchy', and convincing in its case for capitalism's replacement by communism, its impact on the reality it described and criticised was nevertheless nil. To their great credit, the anti-parliamentarians had followed the advice of Channing quoted at the beginning of one of Guy Aldred's autobiographical pamphlets: 'Wait not to be backed by numbers. Wait not till you are sure of an echo from the crowd. The fewer the voices on the side of truth, the more distinct and strong must be your own.'93 They had continued to state in distinct and strong voices that 'Capitalism Must Go!', but rarely in the years from 1925-35 was there ever an echo from the crowd. As we are about to see, however, this bleak period of isolation came to an end in 1936, with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.