Communism — Chapter 16 : Communism in Britain, 1917-21

By Guy Aldred (1935)

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(1886 - 1963)

Scottish Bakuninist and Anarcho-Communist from Glasgow

: Guy Alfred Aldred had worked ceaselessly at his propaganda, writing, publishing and public speaking, he took on injustices wherever he saw it. He had spoken at every May Day for 60 years except the years he spent in prison. (From: Glasgow Caledonian University.)
• "It is only the effect of this menace, only the fear of the power of the revolutionary agitator outside parliament, that persuades the capitalist class to tolerate the presence of Labor members inside." (From: Socialism and Parliament.)
• "To dream of a society not founded on the 'law of constructive murder,' of a social state in which all are brethren and peace and good fellowship prevail, of a society founded on truth and freedom, is to become an enemy of the society that is, and to be regarded as a dreamer of the most fanatical type." (From: Studies in Communism.)
• "Anti-Parliamentarism is now the recognized Socialism of the Proletariat." (From: Socialism and Parliament.)


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Chapter 16

On Friday night, January 28th, 1921, three separate Communist Parties gathered together in Leeds. The following morning these three Communist Parties ceased to exist, and a new Communist Party, claiming to be the only revolutionary party in Great Britain, an active disciplined section of the 3rd (Communist) International was born. The conference that brought it into being was called by the International Executive Committee at Moscow. This was not the birth of the Communist movement in Britain that had been inspired by the Russian Revolution. On the contrary, as time has shown, if it was not the end at least it was the beginning of the arrestment of the revolutionary movement. It represented the passing from Communist propaganda to Communist illusion. This unfortunate official fusion and domination of the Communist movement in Britain did not come about all at once.

Coming events cast their shadows before; and it is not uninteresting to note that in August, 1920, a special mission that I was to have conducted under the auspices of the
Greenock Workers’ Committee was canceled owing to my criticism of Lenin and Gallacher. The action of the Greenock Committee was the beginning of party dictatorship in the British workers’ movement. Down to this date magnificent feeling existed in the proletarian movement. The unity that resistance to the war had inspired among certain sections of those Socialists who had retained their sanity was perpetuated by the events connected with the Russian Revolution. In place of the deadness and silence of imprisonment that had characterized the war resistance, there was now an outbreak of activity. Everywhere the Socialist groups were aggressive and everywhere they moved in solidarity. No attention whatever was paid to party barriers. The columns of The Spur, the Anti-Parliamentary Communist paper, which I founded in 1914, during this period of 1919–20 is alive with evidence of this living unity of the working-class movement. It was left to Moscow and the official Communist Party to make an end of this splendid struggle and agitation.

The Anti-Parliamentary movement definitely inaugurated Communist propaganda, as Communist propaganda, in London in 1906. This movement reached Glasgow in 1912. The condition of the war years compelled the affiliation of the Glasgow Communist and Anarchist Groups. Known as the Glasgow Anarchist Group down to May, 1920, in that month, this group officially revived its old name. Alike under its title of the Glasgow Anarchist Group, and also its title of Glasgow Communist Group, this organization, first from its headquarters in Windsor Street, Glasgow, and then from its headquarters at Bakunin House, conducted a tremendous Communist campaign following upon the Russian Revolution, just as it had maintained a strong Anti-Militarist campaign during the war years. It can be seen, therefore, that the Anti-Parliamentarians did not merely pioneer Communist propaganda in Britain, but that they passed from offering definite resistance to war, to pioneering the new form of Communist propaganda rendered necessary for the support of the Russian Revolution.

I was active on the platform, and in the press, defining the Anti-Parliamentary attitude towards the Revolution between January 7th, 1919, and March 2nd, 1921. This was a period of strenuous agitation rounded by imprisonment.

No sectarianism was displayed by the Anti-Parliamentarians and down to the action of the Greenock Workers’ Committee no sectarianism was displayed by the parliamentary groups. It was the time of intense activity, great solidarity, and keen discussion with full exchange of ideas between the different groups. Behind all this activity was the idea of proletarian emancipation and the development of the world revolution in order to further the revolutionary triumph in Russia.

On my release from prison, I delivered my first lecture at the Watson Street Hall, Glasgow. This was on Sunday, February 2nd, 1919, and the subject, which traced the history of proletarian struggle, was “ Crises : Past, Present, and to be.” The following evening I received a public welcome at St. Mungo Hall, my subject being: “ The Present Struggle for Liberty.” Both these addresses defended the Bolshevik upheaval.

After this I spoke for the Bridgeton I.L.P., the Anderston I.L.P., the Blantyre I.L.P., the Dumbarton I.L.P., Clydebank I.L.P., Partick I.L.P., and the Clapham I.L.P.; for the Walthamstow B.S.P., the Anderston B.S.P.; for the Herald League in North and South London; for the Ealing Labor Party, and also the Clapham Labor Party; for the Hands Off Russia Committee in various parts of the country; for the Fife Socialist League in Kirkcaldy and neighboring districts ; for various Communist Groups established by the activity of the Glasgow Communist Group, such as the Aberdeen Communist Group, The Edinburgh and Rosyth Communist Group; and for the S.L.P. in South Shields, Shettleston, Dumbarton and Croydon. The subjects dealt with were the following :” Our duty to Russia,” “ British Labor and Soviet Russia,” “ As to Politics : a Challenge to Parliamentary Bolsheviks,” “ The War on Russia,” “ Bolshevism, Anarchy and Parliament,” “ Why I am a Bolshevik,” etc. Details of this campaign for Communism is to be found as indicated in the columns of The Spur and also in the columns of a paper called The Communist, the first paper of that name to be established in Britain after the Russian Revolution, but not subsidized by that revolution.

In addition to this campaign in London and Glasgow, in Fifeshire and Aberdeenshire, I visited Wales and conducted a campaign from town to town under the auspices of the various Socialist Groups, at street corners, in town halls and in theaters. This campaign was bitterly attacked at the time in the Anti-Socialist press. In the east end of London, under the auspices of the Workers’ Socialist Federation — which Sylvia Pankhurst had renamed her Women’s Suffrage Federation, en route to establishing it as the Communist Party, British Section, Third International — I conducted a “ Hands Off Russia “ Communist campaign.

On its part, the Glasgow Communist Group established the principle of the open platform. It introduced George Hardie of Seattle, and at that time a member of the I. W. W. to Scotland. It also brought Charles B. Roberts, who was nosing around as a kind of most unsatisfactory Soviet missionary, from the U.S.A., acting in cunjunction with the Workers’ Social Federation. It had Willy Gallacher and James Maxton on its platform. Above all it pioneered the Communist League. This organization was brought into existence in March, 1919, by the London S.L.P. The League established a paper of which only three issues were published, largely owing to the fact that it was an entirely rank and file movement. These three issues covered the period from May to August, 1919. The manifesto of the Communist League was published in The Spur for March, 1919. It was an excellent statement of the Anti-Parliamentary position.

The theoretical statement of the manifesto, was divided into four sections : —
(1) STATE AND GUILD SOCIALISM.
(2) INDUSTRIAL SOCIALISM OR COMMUNISM.
(3) WORKERS’ COMMITTEES AND COUNCILS.
(4) THE COMMUNISTS.

The fourth section declared : —
The Communists are not merely Anti-Parliamentarians in that they ignore the legislation of the Parliamentary machine, for, as previously stated, the working-class attacks the class legislation of Parliament by direct industrial action through its committees and councils.

The constitution of the Communist League consisted of five planks. These were appended to the theoretical statement mentioned. The first plank declared that the struggle of the working-class for its emancipation was “ a political struggle taking place on the industrial field. “ The second plank called upon the working-class in the name of the Communist League to organize into local councils in order to establish a “ proletarian dictatorship.” The third plank denounced parliamentary action and all use of the ballotbox. The fourth plank announced that a member of the Communist League could not become a candidate for Parliament or Municipal Council or in any way use the Capitalist franchise. The fifth plank declared :
At all times the Communist League shall expose the futility of the Parliamentary and Municipal franchise.

Commenting editorially on this manifesto of the London S.L.P., the Spur detailed my relation with the S.L.P. since 1906, and the various attacks that has been made upon my consistent Anti-Parliamentarism in the name of De Leonism. The editorial concluded: —
To-day, a section of the S.L.P. is proposing to establish a sound revolutionary organization. This section’s proposals embody all that the Bakunin Press has consistently stood for, all, that Guy Aldred has urged for over twelve years in the face of S.L.P. opposition and bitter criticism. Those proposals our comrade cheerfully supports. He looks forward, with us, to a complete unity of thought, action and purpose with these Communist comrades. He pledges his support, as do we, to the proposed Communist League, and will do all he can to assist in the realization of its purpose — the overthrow of Capitalism ,and its parliamentary democracy and the substitution of the Soviet Republic. His message, like ours, and that of our comrades, is the brave old Marxian slogan: ‘ Workers of all lands, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! You have a world to gain!’ Comrades, advance the republic, by developing the Communist League. To your tents, O Israel!

The Communist League established branches in London, at Peckham, Brixton, Stepney, Croydon, and Greenwich as well as in Central and West London. Most of these branches had their own rooms, a tremendous amount of activity being organized from the Peckham rooms at Queen’s Road.

In Scotland, the League established branches in Edinburgh, Musselburgh and Portobello; at Rosyth, Kirkcaldy, and Cowdenbeath, Dundee, Broxburn, and in Glasgow at Bridgeton, in addition to the Glasgow Central Group, by which name the Glasgow Anarchist Group now became known in relation to Communist propaganda in Scotland.

In Wales, the Treherbert Group spread the news of the Communist League throughout the Rhondda Valley, the group maintaining that the use of the word “ political “ in relation to the class struggle was open to misconception ; and that the parliamentary vote was not obsolete because it had never been,of any use. I visited all these centers and extended the campaign throughout Wales. My activities were reported in The Communist under the heading :” Spreading the Red Light “; “ Towards Communist Unity.

Opposition to the Communist League was forthcoming from the Workers’ Socialist Federation and Sylvia Pankhurst. At the Whitsun Conference, 1919, of this faction, it was decided to change the name to “ Communist Party,” Sylvia Pankhurst making a definite bid for Lenin’s recognition, instead of continuing the struggle for a united Communist movement. In the end, Lenin refused to recognize her, and the official Communist,.Party, destroyed her activities. It was the activity of the Lenin-adoring elements of the now popularized Communist movement that finally destroyed the Communist League. All that survived were a few scattered Anti-Parliamentarians in London and the definite Central Group in Glasgow, with one or two federated groups in Lanarkshire.

The Cowdenbeath group went over bolus-bolus to the Communist Party. Originally this group had been more Anarchist than Socialist and had been brought about by a fusion of Communist and Anarchist elements. The February, 1920, Spur was edited by me. Answering the spokesman of this group, I said in this issue, defining the Anti Parliamentary attitude : —
We are distinctly Marxist in our thought as was Michael Bakunin, but we also object to ignorant hero-worship. There is a great deal of truth in our Comrade Selkirk’s contention that a large number of Marxians claim that Marxism is infallible whilst taking care never to read him. We are willing to agree that it is not necessary to study Marx in order to propagate Socialism. But we would ask our Comrade Selkirk to reflect that our ability to do so may be due to the fact that Marx, accomplished his life task so well, and influenced so many propagandists, that we feel his influence in works which he never wrote and could never have written. Anti-Marxism, as a protest against stupid hero-worship, may be an excellent tonic, but it is a poor philosophy... Marx gave to the modern revolutionary movement its vital character and essential form. No amount of criticism can destroy the debt we owe to Marx.

The following paragraph in the editor’s chair of that issue makes interesting reading at the present time : —
Some of our readers may regret that we have not devoted more space to Russian manifestoes. Our reason has been, not that we wanted enthusiasm in the Bolshevik revolution, but simply that we have deemed it our duty not to repeat matter which was appearing in the columns of our contemporaries, but to publish independent articles upon the subject. We are pleased to think, however, that; in the May and June, 1917 issues of this journal, when the labor movement was applauding Kerensky and threatening to stand by him, we expressed our distrust of the provisional government and our great hopes of the Russian situation. We did this, notwithstanding the difficulties under which we wrote, and our total inability, under military arrest, of securing anything like the information, the labor movement was so busy mis-using. The first movements of the Bolsheviks awoke our sympathy, and we listened to every rumor of their struggling triumph which penetrated into our prison cell, with anxious affection.

The June, 1917, essay was entitled “ The World as we Leave It,” and was written on the eve of May 1917, and also the eve of the writer’s third continuous imprisonment for resisting military service. After discussing events in Russia up to the point of the Czar’s abdication and. his arrest, the essay continued : —
We have no faith in Russia’s democratic republic, but we are sure that Russian thought will prove the hope of the world. The lateness of the Russian Capitalist Revolution will menace seriously the prospect of the Russian capitalistic political institution oppressing too much the emancipation of the Russian proletariat. This fact is the great hope and promise of the Russian situation, not its provisional government, nor the fake labor delegations of the present British government anxious to save monarchy and capitalism.

This was my personal view, maintained, consistently , during my imprisonments. On the other side of the prison walls similar very definite views were being expressed by the Glasgow Anarchist Group. In May 1918, this group and the Cowdenbeath Group met to draw up an Anarchist manifesto that was published in the Spur for that month. The manifesto consists of five theoretical divisions with an additional platform of five principles and tactics. Unlike all previous Anarchist declarations, it definitely attacks Capitalism, asserts the class war and conceives of the revolution being brought about by class-conscious workers. It is direct actionist and Anti-Parliamentary. It is probably the best manifesto that was ever issued by any Anarchist group. The fact makes it lamentable that at a later date the Cowdenbeath Group should have gone over so completely to Lenin’s parliamentarism and have pioneered Gallacher’s return to the House of Commons.

When Lenin addressed his letter to the Communist Party of Germany, condemning as a blunder the attitude of the Anti-Parliamentarians, his communication was attacked in the Spur, for May, 1920, as “ Lenin’s Fatal Compromise.” In this issue the Glasgow Anarchist Group announced its change of name to the Glasgow Communist Group and gave its history up to that date.

The record of Glasgow Group’s reaction to Moscow developments is worthy of note. In July, 1920, the group issued its conditions of membership. These were as follows : —
The group stands for the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Soviet Republic, Anti-Parliamentary agitation, and the Third International.

Three months later the group revised its political platform, as follows (See Spur, October, 1920), It retained the first three items but discarded the last. Against this, it announced :”Suspends its support of the Third International until such time as that body repudiates its ‘ wobbling.’ ...

“ Wobbling “ has been a feature of the Communist Party and the Third International : criminal wobbling on all issues : on parliamentarism ; on the labor strugg]e ; on unity against Fascism ; on alliance with Fascism ; on Capitalist Peace and Capitalist War.

In 1921, the Glasgow Communist Group became the Anti-parliamentary Communist Federation. It dropped the dictatorship clause entirely because it realized that this clause was never interpreted to mean industrial struggle but always to imply political power and authority, and finally bureaucracy. The Anti-parliamentarians sympathized with the idea of struggle but had no love for terrorism in the struggle. They realized that terrorism always turned to power, stagnation and counte-revolution.

The Leeds Unity Conference of January 29, 1921, which produced the Communist Party of Great Britain, was criticized by me in an essay I contributed to the Spur for February, 1921. This essay was reproduced in full in chapter 17 of the first edition of this pamphlet. Summary will serve the purpose of reference.
The essential passage of criticism complained : —
According to a contemporary the meeting was ‘ historic ‘ and represented the ‘ breath of Moscow in Britain.’ The same labor daily insinuates that all the Communist elements in this country were represented at this Conference. As a matter of fact, the REAL Communist elements were not represented at this conference at all. Pioneer revolutionary Socialist bodies, who have done more to spread Communism in this country than any element represented at Leeds, declined to have anything to do with the conference. Among others, the pioneer Communist organization in this country was not represented.

This was a reference to the Anti-parliamentary Movement whose history dated back to 1907 and was, unbroken.

The article criticized Francis Meynell, the editor of the Communist Party organ, The Communist, and complained of the boycott of The Communist that was established in May 1919, as a monthly organ of the Communist League, and was a genuine pioneer organ established by working men who had been active Socialists for years. I protested against Anti-parliamentarians stampeding into joining the so-called United Party, and added :
The Anti-Parliamentarians alone are on the revolutionary side of the barricade and when the day of action comes the United Party must either accept the Anti-Parliamentary tactics or retire. In the meantime, the persons who are standing really and truly for Communism, and speeding the Workers’ Republic, are the Anti-Parliamentarians.

Time has vindicated this claim. Even to-day, when the Anti-parliamentarians have liquidated their movement into the United Socialist Movement, and maintain a firm stand for Anti-militarism, they are vindicating the logic of their original integrity.

The essay proceeded to discuss the relation of the K.A.P.D. (Communist Labor Party of Germany) and the K.P.D. (Communist Party of Germany) to Moscow. This discussion matters no longer.

The question, “ Shall we support the Third International? “ was discussed in the Spur, for November, 1920. Edgar T. Whitehead, then associated with Sylvia Pankhurst, and later a leading light for some time of the Communist Party of Great Britain, answered “ Yes,” in the first essay. I replied to him and answered “No.” Here are some excerpts from rny reply :
We face the logic of facts, stand by the logic of our contention, and deny that Lenin and his associates are internationally behaving as becomes genuine revolutionaries.
“ We accuse them of turning into parliamentary trimmers. We charge them with social democratic parliamentarism. We decline to support their policy, knowing it to be worthless...
“ If Lenin can compromise with men of really non-revolutionary record and exclude the aggressive revolutionists, there is no reason why we should stand in the presence chamber waiting for the glimpse of an occasional genuine revolutionist....
“ Taking these facts into account, I ask: ‘ Shall we support the Third? ‘ And I say: ‘ Yes, WHEN it gives up wobbling and stands for revolution.’ Until then, I say, clearly and distinctly: No!’

From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org

(1886 - 1963)

Scottish Bakuninist and Anarcho-Communist from Glasgow

: Guy Alfred Aldred had worked ceaselessly at his propaganda, writing, publishing and public speaking, he took on injustices wherever he saw it. He had spoken at every May Day for 60 years except the years he spent in prison. (From: Glasgow Caledonian University.)
• "Anti-Parliamentarism is now the recognized Socialism of the Proletariat." (From: Socialism and Parliament.)
• "It is only the effect of this menace, only the fear of the power of the revolutionary agitator outside parliament, that persuades the capitalist class to tolerate the presence of Labor members inside." (From: Socialism and Parliament.)
• "To dream of a society not founded on the 'law of constructive murder,' of a social state in which all are brethren and peace and good fellowship prevail, of a society founded on truth and freedom, is to become an enemy of the society that is, and to be regarded as a dreamer of the most fanatical type." (From: Studies in Communism.)

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May, 1935
Chapter 16 — Publication.

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