On Entry into the Labour Party at the 2nd Congress of the Comintern

By Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst

Entry 9377


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Revolt Library Anarchism On Entry into the Labour Party at the 2nd Congress of the Comintern

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(1882 - 1960)

Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst (born 5 May 1882 in Manchester – died 27 September 1960 in Addis Ababa) was an English campaigner for the suffrage and suffragette movement, a socialist and later a prominent left communist and activist in the cause of anti-fascism and the international auxiliary language movement. She spent much of her later life campaigning on behalf of Ethiopia, where she eventually moved. (From: Wikipedia.org.)

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On Entry into the Labour Party at the 2nd Congress of the Comintern

Thirteenth Session
August 6

Zinoviev: The Bureau proposes to end the Congress with today’s session.

Münzenberg: I propose on behalf of the members of the youth organizations present the motion that the Congress should not be closed without having discussed the question of the youth movement. On the one hand the representatives of the youth movements have every interest in discussing the question of the communist youth movement and its relationship to the Communist International in a full session. On the other hand the significance of the youth movement is so great in the Communist Party that the discussion of the question in front of the whole Congress should take place. Perhaps it is possible to so so today in which case we have got nothing against the Bureau’s motion. If not, then the question of the youth movement should be discussed.

Sylvia Pankhurst: We have been sitting so long already we could continue meeting for some time more. The question that is being dealt with now has not yet been discussed enough. I am against finishing the work of the Congress.

Goldenberg: I repeat what Münzenberg has said. The youth question must be discussed before the Congress is over.

Zinoviev: I should like to defend the Presidium’s proposal. Those comrades who were unfortunately greatly delayed in coming, like Sylvia Pankhurst, know that we have been discussing the question here for the last two weeks and that we discussed it previously two or three months ago on the Executive. I therefore propose that we close today, for we cannot deal with the youth question thoroughly today. It would have been very useful for dealing with the youth question if the representatives of the youth movements had been present for the whole discussion. Perhaps it would he advisable for the youth movement and for the whole International if we have a discussion and the comrades who have already been away from home for two weeks should go back. Therefore we want to finish today and solve the question quickly and without debates. [The proposal is adopted.]

Zinoviev: Comrades, we have decided to close the Congress today. Therefore we must use our time economically. Moreover, we already have twelve speakers registered for every question. I propose the following. New amendments which have not been dealt with in the Commission will only be published and not discussed. Secondly on the question of entry into the Labor Party only two speakers for and two against will be allowed.

Wijnkoop: Comrades, I am against this proposal, for the question of the Labor Party and the BSP is of the utmost importance. Because this is so, and not for Britain but for the whole world, it seems to me to be necessary to be able to discuss the question really freely. If only two speakers for the one standpoint and two for the other are allowed here, then in fact only the British delegation will be able to have anything to say about this matter. Two perhaps against, one for and perhaps another party apart from the British will have the opportunity to say something; that is no good. The workers of the whole world have the right to know why we take one side or the other. This is of the very greatest importance and I would therefore be in favor of free discussion on this question. But even if we do not decide to have a free discussion I think that two speakers for and two against are too few. We should in any case give a few more parties the opportunity to express their standpoint. I propose against the Presidium to have a free discussion on this matter. [Vote. Zinoviev’s proposal is adopted.]

Sylvia Pankhurst

Pankhurst: It is quite impossible to tell workers what difference there is between the Communist Party, the BSP and the Labor Party. It is very characteristic of Britain in general that no clear demarcation lines exist in politics there which would give the workers in particular the opportunity to distinguish one party from another. Therefore it is difficult to explain to workers how the supporters of the Communist Party are distinguished from those to whose party they themselves belong. Think of the example of Comrade Williams of whom it was thought that he adopted the standpoint of soviets. We had to discover that he was in favor of English workers loading munitions for Poland.

I say this in order to show how easy it is to be wrong. On the one hand one claims to belong to a tendency and on the other hand one is forced by membership of the Labor Party to carry out such policies. If we think of the position at any phase in the election campaign a fine of demarcation must exist between the candidates. That is to say that one would like to know who the candidates are and what programs they represent. I deny that it is possible because of the structure of the Labor Party which is dominated by old traditions. There is also the question of paid officials there. Moreover, all members of the parties which belong to the Labor Party are subjected to the strictest discipline and when it is a question of making a showing in parliament on this or that question then they are officially subordinated to Party discipline.

In the elections, too, a local organization can choose its candidates, but when it is a question of being put up as a candidate one must be confirmed by the Labor Party headquarters. It is the same with the individual speeches and votes. This way of doing things has also forced the members of the Independent Labor Party to understand that it is very difficult to be a member of the Independent Labor Party and at the same time belong to another party because one is tied down too much by the discipline.

I refer to an expression of Comrade Lenin’s, who said, one should not be too extreme. I think, however, one should be even more extreme than one is. Particularly in England there is a lack of courageous people. Although I am a socialist I have fought for a long time in the suffragette movement and I have seen how important it is to be extreme and to have the courage to defend one’s ideas. A candidate of the Independent Labor Party who was also very radical was put up as a candidate and read his manifesto, his program, to his electors before he was Proposed to the Labor Party. When he read his manifesto once more to his electors after it had been checked by the Labor Party there was great excitement for the Labor Party had changed its member’s manifesto.

I emphasize once more the great degree of dependency and discipline within the Labor Party. If you speak of the Labor Party then you must also speak of its extremely ossified structure and of the structure of the trades unions which belong to it which are also bureaucratic, ossified organizations. Thus you find quite a different structure from what you thought. It is impossible to remain inside the party and change this organization in any way.

In the parliamentary arena one is in a very difficult situation in Britain. We are dealing with a country with a parliamentary tradition that goes back many years and with really democratic traditions. These traditions are rooted in the workers too and if you propose to them to participate in the elections in order to do damage to the Labor Party then the English workers would not understand such advice. That will not get through to them because they have been worked on by the bourgeois press. You cannot compare these experiences with experiences in Russia. In England every worker reads the bourgeois press. I myself have seen – and I was one of those speakers who came out most often on the question of the Russian Revolution that the most difficult thing to teach the workers was the attitude towards parliamentarism. They asked why the Constituent Assembly had been convened and then afterwards dispersed. I believe that the democratic prejudices which one will have to take into account are deeply rooted in the English workers. There is another reason why I am against the point of view taken here by the International. If one were to say to the parties that they should join the Labor Party and allow themselves to be tied by a common discipline and action one would thus give the fate of the English proletarian revolution into the hands of the old trades unions. All the arguments that have been advanced here are against that and one can see daily how difficult it is to breathe a new spirit into the old trades unions.

If the English Communists are required to affiliate to the Labor Party the fate of the trades unions and the soviets would thus be given into the hands of the old ossified trades unions. The special conditions must be taken into account under which people in Britain live. The most extreme points of view must be defended in politics. That was proved in the question of support for the soviet power in Britain and everywhere that it was a question of coming out boldly. I stand by my point of view and therefore ask you not to adopt the motion on entry into the Labor Party.

McLaine: What has been said here is nothing new because Comrade Pankhurst’s attitude towards parliamentarism in general is known. The decision proposed here to the Congress by the Commission is only a logical development of those decisions that have already been taken on other questions. It is no mere coincidence that precisely those who have come out most of all in favor of affiliation of the Communist Party to the Labor Party are the representatives of a country in which the dictatorship of the proletariat already exists. They were mainly Russian comrades. What is this Labor Party really? The Labor Party is nothing other than the political expression of the trade union-organized workers. The workers in the Labor Party defend the economic standpoint in one question or another. Nine tenths of those who belong to the Labor Party simultaneously belong to the trades unions.

Comrade Pankhurst’s example is childish. She has chosen the most reactionary of all trades unions. By and large there can be nobody who does not see that the workers, organized in the trades unions, are developing to the left. One can see the trade union movement change under the pressure of time and of events. One cannot regard the trades unions and their members as something eternally fixed. I remember the great strike of engineers in Manchester in 1917. Various comrades took part in it. The Communists emerged there and represented the standpoint of the strikers in the light of the Communist movement. We obtained the best possible results. In the beginning it was moved that the Labor Party itself should affiliate to the Communist International but the motion did not come to a vote. Nevertheless the fact that the question was raised aroused great political interest for this question was discussed everywhere in England, in all the sections of the Labor Party who otherwise never heard anything. A tremendous agitation was developed this way.

In contradiction to what has been said here and despite the fact that the BSP has become a member of the Labor Party, it still retains complete freedom of criticism. I myself and my party comrades have repeatedly criticized the press, and on other occasions at various congresses, the leaders of the Labor Party without that leading to any consequences at all. I insist on two points: first of all that the Labor Party is the political expression of the workers organized in the trades unions and must be conceived of as a political organization, and secondly that within the Labor Party the supporters of another party retain their complete freedom of movement and of criticism.

Gallacher: I regret that this Congress has to concern itself with the same threadbare phrases that have been discussed for twenty years inside the British workers’ movement. And, moreover, on the part of the British Socialist Party that defended the same point of view that is defended here today. It is said that the particular reason that this affiliation to the Labor Party is encouraged is that it is thought possible thus to get into contact with the masses. We are in contact with the masses. One must distinguish between those who really want to get into contact with the masses and those who do not want to do so. [...] It was we who organized big demonstrations in Glasgow in Scotland. The greatest orators in England came to Scotland and tried to make social-patriotic speeches there. They had brought their clique with them – the worst section of the population. They had support. And although the representatives of the ILP suggested we should keep quiet, the comrades there managed to prevent the speakers in question from getting a hearing. The biggest popular meetings were organized although we didn’t want the speakers to get a hearing. I emphasize this kind of direct contact with the masses.

I refer to the experiences during the war, when the Scottish workers, despite the prevalent chauvinism, took good care that the wives and children of German internees were given the opportunity to live in a humane way while the other workers’ parties, whose freedom of action was limited by their bending to the bourgeoisie, could not participate in this. I should also like to point to the various internationally famous social-patriots like Thomas and Henderson who have betrayed the working class in a variety of ways. How would it look if we were to come out in the name of the same party whose representative Henderson is? I have clarified my views in my article against chauvinism. The paper which at the time was not prepared to publish this article was the Call. It was very strange to me to hear Comrade Lenin and others adopting the standpoint of Comrade McLaine here. The responsibility that Comrade McLaine has taken on himself is probably very weighty since he has converted the other communists to this point of view which does not correspond to their interests.

What matters is to bring the masses to an understanding of the present moment through agitation and through action. One should call forth the indignation of the proletariat, bring the masses to action by all ways and means, and not choose such diversions, such means that could divert them from their revolutionary struggle.

I shall close my speech with the appeal that the motion that is put here, and which would cause the Communist Party to distort its character, should not be accepted. I ask the comrades who represent the various parties here not to be too hasty in this question. We should be given the opportunity to found a true Communist Party on a true communist basis and to find the ways and means of speaking to the masses. Then they will be given the opportunity to decide this question too. It cannot be demanded of us that we should deny and work against everything for which we have been fighting for years. That is the decision between the revolutionary and the communist elements. The position of the Scottish comrades should not be made difficult and intolerable by a decision being forced upon them which they cannot defend in their position because it contradicts everything that they have defended previously in their lives and everything that they grew up with.

Lenin: Comrades, Comrade Gallacher began his speech by expressing regret at our having been compelled to listen here for the hundredth and the thousandth time to sentences that Comrade McLaine and other British comrades have reiterated a thousand times in speeches, newspapers and magazines. I think there is no need for regret. The old International used the method of referring such questions for decision to the individual parties in the countries concerned. That was a grave error. We may not be fully familiar with the conditions in one party or another, but in this case we are dealing with the principles underlying a Communist Party’s tactics. That is very important and, in the name of the Third International, we must herewith clearly state the communist point of view.

First of all, I should like to mention a slight inaccuracy on the part of Comrade McLaine, which cannot be agreed to. He called the Labor Party the political organization of the trade union movement, and later repeated the statement when he said that the Labor Party is ‘the political expression of the workers organized in trades unions’. I have met the same view several times in the paper of the British Socialist Party. It is erroneous, and is partly the cause of the opposition, fully justified in some measure, coming from the British revolutionary workers. Indeed, the concepts ‘political department of the trades unions’ or ‘political expression’ of the trade union movement, are erroneous. Of course, most of the Labor Party’s members are working men. However, whether or not a party is really a political party of the workers does not depend solely upon a membership of workers but also upon the men that lead it, and the content of its actions and its political tactics. Only that determines whether we really have before us a political party of the proletariat. Regarded from this, the only correct point of view, the Labor Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act quite in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organization of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers with the aid of the British Noses and Scheidemanns.

We have also heard another point of view, defended by Comrade Sylvia Pankhurst and Comrade Gallacher, who have voiced their opinion in the matter. What was the substance of the speeches delivered by Gallacher and many of his friends? They have told us that they are insufficiently linked with the masses. But take the instance of the British Socialist Party, they went on. It is still less linked with the masses and it is a very weak party. Comrade Gallacher has told us here how he and his comrades have organized, and done so really splendidly, the revolutionary movement in Glasgow, in Scotland, how in their wartime tactics they maneuvered skillfully, how they gave able support to the petty-bourgeois pacifists Ramsay MacDonald and Snowden when they come to Glasgow, and used this support to organize a mass movement against the war.

It is our aim to integrate this new and excellent revolutionary movement – represented here by Comrade Gallacher and his friends – into a Communist Party with genuinely communist, i.e., Marxist tactics. That is our task today. On the one hand, the British Socialist Party is too weak and incapable of properly carrying on agitation among the masses; on the other hand, we have the younger revolutionary elements so well represented here by Comrade Gallacher, who, although in touch with the masses, are not a political party, and in this sense are even weaker than the British Socialist Party and are totally unable to organize their political work. Under these circumstances, we must express our frank opinion on the correct tactics. When, in speaking of the British Socialist Party, Comrade Gallacher said that is is ‘hopelessly reformist’, he was undoubtedly exaggerating. But the general tenor and content of all the resolutions we have adopted here show with absolute clarity that we demand a change, in this spirit, in the tactics of the British Socialist Party; the only correct tactics of Gallacher’s friends will consist in their joining the Communist Party without delay, so as to modify its tactics in the spirit of the resolutions adopted here. If you have so many supporters that you are able to organize mass meetings in Glasgow, it will not be difficult for you to bring more than ten thousand new members into the Party. The latest Conference of the British Socialist Party, held in London three or four days ago, decided to assume the name of the Communist Party and introduced into its program a clause providing for participation in parliamentary elections and affiliation to the Labor Party. Ten thousand organized members were represented at the Conference. It will therefore not be at all difficult for the Scottish comrades to bring into this ‘Communist Party of Great Britain’ more than ten thousand revolutionary workers who are better versed in the art of working among the masses, and thus to modify the old tactics of the British Socialist Party in the sense of better agitation and more revolutionary action.

In the Commission, Comrade Sylvia Pankhurst pointed out several times that Britain needed ‘Lefts’. I, of course, replied that this was absolutely true, but that one must not overdo this ‘Leftism’. Furthermore she said that they were better pioneers, but for the moment were rather noisy. I do not take this in a bad sense, but rather in a good one, namely, that they are better able to carry on revolutionary agitation. We do and should value this. We expressed this in all our resolutions, for we always emphasize that we can consider a party to be a workers’ party only when it is really linked up with the masses and fights against the old and thoroughly corrupt leaders, against both the right-wing chauvinists and those who, like the Right Independents in Germany, take up an intermediate position. We have asserted and reiterated this a dozen times and more in all our resolutions, which means that we demand a transformation of the old party, in the sense of bringing it closer to the masses.

Sylvia Pankhurst also asked: ‘Is it possible for a Communist Party to join another political party which still belongs to the Second International?’ She replied that it was not. It should, however, be borne in mind that the British Labor Party is in a very special position: it is a highly original type of party, or rather, it is not at all a party in the ordinary sense of the word. It is made up of members of all trades unions, and has a membership of about four million, and allows sufficient freedom to all affiliated political parties. It thus includes a vast number of British workers who follow the lead of the worst bourgeois elements, the social-traitors, who are even worse than Scheidemann, Noske and similar people.

At the same time, however, the Labor Party has let the British Socialist Party into its ranks, permitting it to have its own press organs, in which members of the selfsame Labor Party can freely and openly declare that the party leaders are social-traitors. Comrade McLaine has cited quotations from such statements by the British Socialist Party. I, too, can certify that I have seen in The Call, organ of the British Socialist Party, statements that the Labor Party leaders are social-patriots and social-traitors. This shows that a party affiliated to the Labor Party is able, not only to severely criticize but openly and specifically to mention the old leaders by name, and call them social-traitors. This is a very original situation: a party which unites enormous masses of workers, so that it might seem a political party, is nevertheless obliged to grant its members complete latitude. Comrade McLaine has told us here that, at the Labor Party Conference, the British Scheidemanns were obliged to openly raise the question of affiliation to the Third International, and that an party branches and sections were obliged to discuss the matter. In such circumstances, it would be a mistake not to join this party.

In a private talk, Comrade Pankhurst said to me: ‘If we are real revolutionaries and join the Labor Party, these gentlemen will expel us.’ But that would not be bad at all. Our resolution says that we favor affiliation insofar as the Labor Party permits sufficient freedom of criticism. On that point we are absolutely consistent. Comrade McLaine has emphasized that the conditions now prevailing in Britain are such that, should it so desire, a political party may remain a revolutionary workers’ party even if it is connected with a special kind of labor organization of four million members, which is half trade union and half political and is headed by bourgeois leaders. In such circumstances it would be highly erroneous for the best revolutionary elements not to do everything possible to remain in such a party. Let the Thomases and other social-traitors, whom you have called by that name, expel you. That will have an excellent effect upon the mass of the British workers.

The comrades have emphasized that the labor aristocracy is stronger in Britain than in any other country. That is true. After all, the labor aristocracy has existed in Britain, not for decades but for centuries. The British bourgeoisie, which has had far more experience – democratic experience – than that of any other country, has been able to buy workers over and to create among them a sizable stratum, greater than in any other country, but one that is not so great compared with the masses of the workers. This stratum is thoroughly imbued with bourgeois prejudices and pursues a definitely bourgeois-reformist policy. In Ireland, for instance, there are two hundred thousand British soldiers who are applying ferocious terror methods to suppress the Irish. The British socialists are not conducting any revolutionary propaganda among these soldiers, though our resolutions clearly state that we can accept into the Communist International only those British parties that conduct genuinely revolutionary propaganda among the British workers and soldiers. I emphasize that we have heard no objections to this either here or in the Commissions.

Comrades Gallacher and Sylvia Pankhurst cannot deny that. They cannot refute the fact that, in the ranks of the Labor Party, the British Socialist Party enjoys sufficient freedom to write that certain leaders of the Labor Party are traitors; that these old leaders represent the interests of the bourgeoisie; that they are agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement. They cannot deny all this because it is the absolute truth. When Communists enjoy such freedom, it is their duty to join the Labor Party if they take due account of the experience of revolutionaries in all countries, not only of the Russian revolution (for here we are not at a Russian congress but at one that is international). Comrade Gallacher has said ironically that in the present instance we are under the influence of the British Socialist Party. That is not true; it is the experience of all revolutions in all countries that has convinced us. We think that we must say that to the masses. The British Communist Party must retain the freedom necessary to expose and criticize the betrayers of the working class, who are much more powerful in Britain than in any other country. This is readily understandable.

Comrade Gallacher is wrong in asserting that by advocating affiliation to the Labor Party we shall repel the best elements among the British workers. We must test this by experience. We are convinced that all the resolutions and decisions that will be adopted by our Congress will be published in all British revolutionary socialist newspapers and that all the branches and sections will be able to discuss them. The entire content of our resolutions shows with crystal clarity that we are representatives of working-class revolutionary tactics in all countries and that our aim is to fight against the old reformism and opportunism. The events reveal that our tactics are indeed defeating the old reformism. In that case the finest revolutionary elements in the working class, who are dissatisfied with the slow progress being made – and progress in Britain will perhaps be slower than in other countries – will all come over to us. Progress is slow because the British bourgeoisie are in a position to create better conditions for the labor aristocracy and thereby to retard the revolutionary movement in Britain. That is why the British comrades should strive, not only to revolutionize the masses – they are doing that splendidly (as Comrade Gallacher has shown), but must at the same time strive to create a real working-class political party. Comrade Gallacher and Comrade Sylvia Pankhurst, who have both spoken here, do not as yet belong to a revolutionary Communist Party. That excellent proletarian organization, the Shop Stewards’ movement, has not yet joined a political party. If you organize politically you will find that our tactics are based on a correct understanding of political developments in the past decades, and that a real revolutionary party can be created only when it absorbs the best elements of the revolutionary class and uses every opportunity to fight the reactionary leaders, wherever they show themselves.

If the British Communist Party starts by acting in a revolutionary manner in the Labor Party, and if the Hendersons are obliged to expel this Party, that will be a great victory for the communist and revolutionary working-class movement in Britain.

Zinoviev: A vote must now be taken on the question of the entry of the English parties into the Labor Party. All those in favor of the Commission’s motion, that is to say for affiliation to the Labor Party, please raise your hands. [The motion is adopted by 58 votes to 24 with 2 abstentions.]

We now wish to take the vote on the whole resolution but first to give the floor to some comrades to make statements.

Serrati: I declare that I shall vote against the theses because of the attitude on the English and American question and because of the criticisms that have been made of the leadership of the Italian Party. I should not like to hold up the Congress with a long statement but I shall hand over a long statement to the Presidium for the minutes.

Graziadei: We propose that the 17th thesis should be formulated as follows:

‘As far as the Italian Socialist Party is concerned the Second Congress of the Communist International recognizes that the revision of the program that the Bologna Party Congress adopted in the last year marks an important stage in its transformation to communism, and that the proposals that were presented to the General Council of the Party by the Turin section, and published on May 8, 1920 in the newspaper Ordine Nuovo, are in agreement with the fundamental principles of communism. The Congress asks the Socialist Party of to check the above proposals and all the decisions of the two Congresses of the Communist International, particularly those concerning parliamentary action, the trades unions and the noncommunist elements in the Party, at the next Congress which has to take place on the basis of the Statutes and the general conditions of affiliation to the Communist International.
Signed., Graziadei, Bombacci, Polano.’

Zinoviev: On behalf of three members of the Russian delegation, Lenin, Bukharin and myself, I declare that we accept this wording by Graziadei and hope that the majority of the Commission will also accept this wording.

Wijnkoop: I should like to state here that I shall vote for these Theses although they are against my views on the English question, because they take up a very sharp position against the opportunists and because, in the Commission, they were sharpened up even further precisely on the Italian question.

Serrati: Despite the statement that has now been made by Graziadei and the members of the Commission, I still stand by my statement that in fact there is no difference between what has been said in the Theses and what has been said now. Perhaps a lawyer could read a difference in or out of it but we are not a Congress of lawyers but of communists. These theses mean a disavowal of the Italian Party leadership and of Avanti. We should say that straight out.

Zinoviev: I must state that Serrati is right. In fact it is the same. But this is a proposal by the Italian comrades and we have gone halfway to meet it. We are always prepared to make concessions in form for comrades who want to fight against lawyers and say on this question the members of the Commission and the Congress are on the S side of Comrade Serrati.

Bordiga: On behalf of the left wing of the Italian party I declare that I am not at all concerned with the form or the style but only with the content.

And I believe what emerges from all the speeches made by Lenin and Zinoviev is that the Italian party is being criticized because at the Bologna Congress it did not do its duty on the question of parliamentary activity. Should the Italian party have the opportunity to do justice to the obligations it has assumed here it will do so. The Central Committee will be able to gain acceptance of the decisions that have been taken here.

Zinoviev: We now come to the vote on the Theses as a whole. [The Theses are adopted with 3 votes against and 1 abstention.]

The question is thus settled.

From : Marxists.org


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