Our point of view - Sylvia Pankhurst

Explanation of the principles of the Workers' Dreadnought group, and their reasons for joining the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Submitted by Spassmaschine on June 25, 2009

What is the difference between ourselves and the Communist Party?

Our differences are partly of principle, partly of practical utility.

As to the second, we believe that we can do useful work for Communism by continuing the Workers' Dreadnought, and we do not admit the right of anyone to stop us.

Moreover, we desire to remain an independent communist voice. An independent organ is a guard against the corruptions, opportunisms and tyrannies which are apt to attend on Parties, and especially Parties formed, as the Communist Party of Great Britain has been, from groups of conflicting tendencies, brought together by outside pressure and largely composed of persons as yet untried in the political struggle. The doctrine: "My Party, right or wrong", which leads inevitably to the practice of putting party before principle, must be shunned consistently by those who desire to take part in the creation of revolutionary change. The past constantly stretches out its tentacles to draw us back to it; constantly strives to clog our minds with sophistries. A high order of mental courage and independence is necessary to maintain always the hard, steep path of the revolutionary. The comfortable, care-free official position; the members so apt to be amenable and trusting, if only they are not asked to leave their groove, or to worry their minds with new and startling thoughts: all these provide an incentive towards opportunism, against which a constant spur is needed.

The danger of opportunism, from which an independent organ can help to protect a party, is moreover inherent in those compromise tactics for which the Third International declared itself at its Second Congress in Moscow last year, and to which it still remains committed.

We contend that the present policy of the Third International is illogical and unworkable, and either the policy must be changed, or a new force must arise to achieve the workers' revolution outside Russia, and to make Russia herself a Communist country.

Briefly, the present policy of the majority in the Third International is to secure numerous adherents, by striving to combine mutually conflicting policies.

Thus the Third International declares that Communism will not come by Act of Parliament, that Parliament is part of the machinery of Capitalism, and must be swept away; that the workers must be estranged from it and induced to set up their Soviets as the rival organism that will overthrow and supersede it; that Capitalism will be overthrown, not by a Parliamentary majority, but by actual force, by the industrial and armed power of the workers.

Having laid all this down in the most unmistakable fashion, the Third International goes on to declare that Communists, though they must not work for reforms through Parliament, must yet seek election to Parliament.

The only official reason given for this weak conclusion is that the election contest and Parliament provide effective platforms for Communist oratory, and that the speeches of Communist candidates and Members of Parliament may be widely reported in the capitalist press.

In reply to these arguments we must point out that the Parliamentary speeches of Colonel Malone went unreported after he joined the B.S.P. and the Communist Party, and that it was only when he was in the dock being tried for his speeches outside Parliament that the Press gave much space to his activities. As for the Communist candidate at Caerphilly his speeches were not even reported in the Daily Herald. But the point is of minor importance; the speeches of Lloyd George, Churchill, Asquith and the rest occupy column upon column in the capitalist newspapers: we Communists can never be given anything approaching the great and constant publicity in capitalist organs that is accorded to the idols of capitalist politics.

We must find other means of reaching the popular ear. Yet even were a candidate or Member of Parliament entitled to a verbatim report in the entire press every day, how flimsy a reason this would be for insisting that Communist Parties must, of necessity, take part in the political scramble for seats in Parliament; how miserably insufficient a reason for casting out the fighting Communist Labour Party of Germany, and many more!

But there are other reasons, reasons not given in Theses, why the Third International demands Parliamentary action from the Parties affiliated to it. Two deeply opposed policies are represented by the Communist acceptance or refusal or Parliamentary action.

Those of the sincere and intelligent Communists decide to use Parliamentary action do so because they believe they can thereby obtain sway over unawakened, unconscious masses: they are not content, patiently, to gather a body of thinking workers, but desire to take a short cut by capturing unthinking masses.

An extreme instance of such opportunism is the decision that the Communist Party should seek affiliation to the Labour Party. Our Russian comrades fail to realise that the present Labour leaders cannot always count on the response of the inert masses in their Unions unless the issue be a very simple bread and butter one of hours and wages. If the Communist Party could conceivably capture executive power in the Labour Party, it would have captured a gigantic machine that would not move.

When we, who are against the use of Parliamentary action, argue that it is contradictory and confusing to declare on the one hand that Parliament is useless and must be destroyed, and on the other hand to urge the workers to put us into Parliament, those who have chosen the way of Parliamentary action, reply that great masses of unconscious workers still have faith in Parliament. Quite so, we answer, then we must undermine that faith; but appalled by the magnitude of the task of creating a body of conscious workers strong enough to effect any changes, the Communist opportunists propose to accomplish the revolution with crowds of unconscious workers.

We, who believe that the revolution can only be accomplished by those whose minds are awakened and who are inspired by conscious purpose, have decided to shun the administrative machinery of Capitalism.

We have decided this because of the clear, unmistakable lead to the masses which this refusal gives, a lead, surer and more effective, because it is a lead given by action, not merely by words.

We have so decided also because the refusal to compete for electoral seats means the cutting off from us of those weak and self-seeking opportunists to whom seats in Parliamentary and on the local government bodies are attractive because of the position they confer upon the holder.

So much for our difference on the Parliamentary question with the Third International, as officially represented in its Theses. Our differences with the Communist Party of Great Britain go still further, for the British Party does not operate the Parliamentary policy in the destructive sense laid down by the Third International.

The British Party has no representatives in Parliament at present; but it has many representatives on local governing bodies: the policy of these representatives is not the policy of the Third International Theses. As we have already pointed out, during the coal strike, when the miners were fighting the concerted attempt of the employing class of this country to reduce the working class standard of living, the representatives of the Communist Party in Poplar were responsible for cutting down wages of bricklayer's labourers, painter's labourers, bakers, sewing machinists and others, as well as reducing the rate of Poor Law Relief to the poor and unemployed. Such examples can be multiplied by anyone who takes the trouble to inquire into the doings of the representatives of the Communist Party of Great Britain, on the local Boards and Councils, up and down the country. Where, indeed, are to be found Communist Party representatives on local bodies using they position on the bodies in a revolutionary way? Where are those Communists? Let us hear of them. Echo, answering " where?" has long given the only response to that urgent question.

We do not blame those "Communists" and Labour representatives who do not see eye to eye with us on this matter; we do not accuse them of bad faith or dishonesty. We simply say that they are not operating the policy of the Third International as set forth in its Theses. We exist to point out such facts: we shall continue to do so, and, in so doing, without malice, we shall educate the movement.

In our opinion, the use of Parliamentary action by Communists is illogical, contradictory and bound to lead to the lapses into rank Reformism that we see wherever members of the Communist Party secure election to public bodies. These Communist Party members who have been elected to public bodies, are simply trying, like the Labour Party, to secure reforms: they are taking no step to unhinge the capitalist system. Some of them may be more, some less, effective Reformists than the Labour Members, but they are doing precisely the same sort of work, whilst the Communist Party fulminates against all Reformers.

Let us look the matter squarely in the face. We are for Revolution: we have done with Reform and, leaving it altogether alone, we concentrate our efforts on bringing people to an understanding of Communism and to a determination to discard Capitalism, and replace it by Communism.

We know that the breath of Parliamentary intrigue, the breath of the Parliamentary Committee Room, the entire atmosphere of the House of Commons and the jugglery of political parties there, is antagonistic to the clean white tire of revolutionary Communist enthusiasm. Comrades who have not, like ourselves, come into close and wearisome contact with the Parlamentary machine, who have not Lobbied and sat in the Gallery, hour on hour, day on day; who have not, year by year, poured over the daily verbatim reports, and drafted and engineered Amendments to Government Bills, cannot know the devitalising pettiness, the hideous imposture of the Parliamentary machine.

We who stood closely by at the birth of the Labour Party, holding the near confidence of its creator, the honest and true man, Keir Hardie, whose spirit, was broken by its failure, its wholly inevitable failure; we say from the depths of our consciousness: never again!

Oh, young body of earnest Communists (if such, genuinely and truly you are) break with the past and its traditions, do and dare for your faith, take not that road.

The Parliamentary contest belongs to the politics of Capitalism; the politics of Communism must forge, new weapons, must find new paths. Do not cling to the skirts of the dead past. Go out without fear to seek the future.

Trade Unionism
The difference of policy between the Communists who place their faith in numbers rather than in consciousness, is evidenced in other matters than that of Parliament.

The decision of the Third International, that the British Communist Party should affiliate to the Labour Party, the decision that the Red Trade Union International shall he a hybrid body, composed of Trade Unions, of whatever sort and political, or non-political complexion, that are willing to join it, as well as of Shop Stewards and Workshop Committee organisations, and militant industrial organisations like the I.W.W.; the decision to expel the German Communist Labour Party for forming new revolutionary Unions: these things display the same hesitant fear of shutting out anyone, the same policy of roping in passive, unawakened masses, that has dictated the use of Parliamentary action.

The Russian leaders who have largely engineered the Third International into its opportunist decisions, refuse to recognise the significance of the persistent tendencies of the working class movement which manifest themselves unmistakably in the highly, industrialised Western countries. We see in these countries a triangular struggle between three forces. Firstly, the employers; secondly, the Trade Union leaders backed by unconscious masses; thirdly, the smaller body of awakened workers. The real struggle is between the employers and the awakened workers; the Trade Union officials, vacillating between the two, occasionally pulled nearer to the side of the conscious workers by the unconscious masses growing restive under economic pressure.

The awakened workers, finding the power of the, Unions concentrated in the hands of the Trade Union officials by the obstructive rules and passive assent of the unawakened masses, who far outnumber the awakened, proceed to form new organisations. The merit of these new organisations is that they are manned by those who have joined them with a definite purpose and a desire for change, and are operated by the rank and file. Therefore, instead of being composed, like the Trade Unions, of inert masses, brought in by the pressure of custom and the attraction of the friendly benefits, they are composed of more or less conscious elements.

These rebel organisms, at war with the old Trade Unionism, cannot be combined with it: to make them an official part of the Unions is to destroy them: they exist as a protest against Conservatism in the Unions. They are an effervescent force, spasmodic and uncertain, sometimes merely revolting against hard conditions with no more than a fugitive purpose, but nevertheless representing the high-water mark of class-consciousness and discontent in the workshop. They are the forerunners of what, some day, will break out spontaneously to form the Soviets. They will function in times of crisis and they will die away, as the English Shop Stewards have now died down, almost to the point of extinction. Their more conscious elements are the active working-class Socialists, Communists, and Anarchists, who form the backbone of those movements, and who rally round them the rank and file of the workshops when feeling runs red enough amongst the masses to dispose the masses for action.

The Red Trade Union International formed by the Russian Communists as an ally of the Third International might have been composed of such elements: all the rebel elements that fight within the workshops. Its mainstay then (beside the Russians who have achieved their revolution) would have been the Germans who are near enough to the Revolution to maintain continuously in existence revolutionary groups within the workshops which, transcending the power ever yet exercised and the consciousness ever yet reached by the British Shop Stewards' movement, are able to assume the title of revolutionary Unions and have proved themselves by actual fighting in the revolutionary struggle.

The Third International was not content to make its industrial ally a relatively small, though intensely revolutionary body: it wanted something big and showy that could rival the Yellow Amsterdam International in actual numbers. Therefore it has built up a shapeless, incoherent body, decorated by the names of non-Communist Trade Union "bigwigs", with the paper backing of unconscious memberships that do not know what Trade Unionism means. These "bigwigs" would all depart from the Red International should it declare a policy of action that would lead to hardship and danger. But such an International is unlikely to declare such a policy.

When the Revolution comes, it is the revolutionary groups within the workshops which will make it – not the N.U.R., the Workers' Union, the Dockers' Union, and the rest, but those spontaneously-gathering workshop groups engineered by the conscious propagandists who maintain the Communist and Anarchist organisations and guided by the Communist and Anarchist organisations themselves, if any of them are strong enough to lead in the crisis. The Unions like the miners', in which the rank and file have obtained most power, and in which advanced thought has a hold on the largest proportion of the membership, may perhaps swing into line after the Revolution has been precipitated by unofficial action; they will not precipitate it.

To state this is not to follow mere imaginings: Russia herself, and Germany, with greater, more prolonged emphasis, have proved this to be the inevitable path of development.

Smillie and Hodges, Thomas, Henderson and Robert Williams may perhaps rush in to capture the Revolution when it is made, and may perhaps succeed for a time; that depends on whether there is a Labour Ministry at the moment of the outbreak, and upon a number of other considerations. In any case, it is certain that neither the Trade Unions nor their officials will actually make the Revolution. The Revolution will be a coup d'état by the conscious Communists and the turbulent rank and file.

It is essential that the Communist Party should not be a large confused mass of incoherent elements honeycombed by Parliamentary and Local Government place-hunters, by people who believe that "Parliamentary action will do it", and by those who have come into the Party merely because they disliked the intervention against Soviet Russia.

The Communist Party can only help to precipitate the Revolution, and, more important, to make the Revolution, when it comes at last a Communist Revolution, if it be a Party of Communists.

The Need to make Communists
From friends and opponents of Communism there is much talk of Revolution but, after all, our paramount need is to make Communists.

What proportion of the British population knows what Communism is?

What proportion of Communists agrees in its version of Communism; in its ideals for Communism?

When we come to discuss closely what is Communism, and how shall we make Communists, we find that the differences of opinion between Right and Left Communists are as deep and far reaching upon these two questions, as upon Parliamentarism and the Trade Unions. This again proves the need for perpetual controversy, study, and exchange of views in the Communist movement.

Why we joined the United Communist Party
We were strongly urged to throw, in our lot with a United Communist Party, and we ourselves desired a United Party: firstly most obviously, because, all told, we Communists, are as yet so few that it seemed desirable to join forces; secondly, because it was obvious that the B.S.P., the S.L.P., the W.S.F., the S.W.S.S. and the rest were divided, not wholly upon principle, but partly on geographical lines and on the accidental fact that certain members had happened to be converted by certain people. There were Parliamentarians and anti-Parliamentarians in every one of these organisations; there were opportunists and extremists in them all. If they were brought together, we hoped that the various like elements would amalgamate and form distinct blocks. Of course, we hoped most for the joining of forces by the scattered anti-Parliamentarians and extremists. We hoped also for their growing influence and final ascendancy in the united Party, failing that they could, should some crisis render it advisable, break out later on.

We never concealed this view, this desire and intention.

In Moscow, when Lenin strongly urged us to join the United Party, he said: "Form a Left block within it: work for the policy in which you believe, within the Party."

But the British Communist Party will not have it so. It declares for the extermination of Left Wing propaganda.

The Right majority in the Communist Parties of other countries has taken a similar line. The Executive of the Third International, after pleading with us to enter, now apparently encourages the excommunication of the Left Wing.

The Russian Party itself is being split; for Lenin, in a recent speech, which has just reached this country, announces that the "Workers' opposition is leaving the Russian Communist Party".

The German Communist Labour Party, the K.A.P.D. held an International Conference in Berlin, on September 11th, of Communists opposed to the Third International.

But the Communist Cause advances; do not doubt it: new tendencies are developing in the movement and must displace the old to make way for themselves.

Published in Workers' Dreadnought, September 24th, 1921. Taken from the Antagonism website.



14 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on June 25, 2009

fixed spelling of workers dreadnought, and added workers dreadnought author/group tag