Thomas Bell

Are We Realists?

A Reply to William Paul

Source: The Communist, November 26, 1921.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

LEST there be any danger of relapsing into the old socialist Party frame of mind which prided itself on rising above party I want to assert that never more so than the present have our comrades had greater need of faith and loyalty to our Party. Many of our comrades have yet to learn the inner meaning of Party. They do not realise that to work, to make material sacrifices and live for the Party is the true hallmark of the real Communist. No harm can come to our communist activity by a prejudice for the Party, provided it does not blind as into becoming sectarian. To me, however, the danger of prejudice in favour of the Party, is not so great as the “Open mind.” The latter disposition may very well handicap us to a greater extent from seeing the realities of a situation than the partizan spectacles made from sound communist thinking.

The Communist Party is nothing if it is not a party of realism, i.e., if it does not set its face before the immediate realist problems that confront it and seek to tackle them in a common-sense way. But these problems the Party have to face must indeed belong to the world of reality and not of fancy. Comrade Paul has brought forward a bold proposition, viz., that the Communist Party should form a bloc with the Labour Party. In support of his proposition it seems to me he brings forward evidence which is unsupportable from all the observed facts and tendencies while, in the main, he seems to me to be a bit too previous and has not given the matter sufficient thought.

It is true capitalism in England is passing through a stage of economic sickness bordering on collapse. Try as they may our “captains of industry” are unable to get into their pre-war stride. Unemployment is not diminishing and starvation is widespread. But so long as the working class are content with the piece-meal relief they are getting, either in the shape of the dole or in municipal works, employment, even at 45 per cent of municipal rates, our good bourgeois can sleep o’ nights. The industrial situation is serious, but why must it be followed by a political crisis? If the F.B.I. and Lloyd George as representing the industrial lords and the Government respectively can come to terms—and there is no evidence of a rift in the lute—then there may be a stage managed election, but there will be no crisis. Should an election take place the Communist Party will certainly use it for our own communist purposes in opposition to all the forces of Capitalism.

But to say that our only hope against a further military attack on Russia is to stamp out the present government is not taking a realistic view of the immediate situation. Apart from the immediate feasibility of stamping out a capitalistic government—for a change of personnel is not a stamping out process—it has already been demonstrated as with the “Councils of Action” that even in spite of reactionary leaders, if the workers are determined and communist propaganda has been efficiently applied there need be no military attack on Russia. No one will seriously argue that the French jingoes would be upset by a pure Tory government in place of the present hybrid coalition.

If these points are conceded then the urgency of the bloc with the Labour Party is diminished. But what of this bloc? To read Comrade Paul’s article one would imagine the C.P. was a strong powerful political factor in politics capable of making or unmaking governments instead of the numerically small Party that it is. Let us be realist by all means. Let us realise what we are up against both internally as a Party and as an opposition to all other Parties in the state.

From our own Party point of view there is much hard work to be put in before we can act in unison upon such an important tactical question as making an alliance with an avowed anti-communist and bourgeois opportunist outfit such as the Labour Party—and that before our Party is properly knit together. For that is what the proposal of a bloc means. On the other hand it is an open secret that Arthur Henderson is bent on preventing any Communist Party member from being endorsed by the Labour Party as a Labour Candidate. The realities of the situation, it seems to me, demand first, a more intensive campaign on our organisational side to weld together our Party and prepare it for the tactical problems that lie before it. Secondly, preparations for a wide agitational campaign during the next election and a wholesale distribution of Communist literature in every constituency in the country against the entire capitalist bureaucracy and dictatorship. Thirdly, through the concentrated effort of our Party in opposition to some of the leading reactionary leaders of the Labour Party to compel them to reckon with the C. P. as a force instead of regarding it, as a small band of sectarian disrupters. By this latter method we may be able to meet the Labour Party on equal terms.

Comrade Paul gives us no evidence that the Labour Party is anyway near becoming the government. On the other hand I think the British bourgeoisie are not such fools as to allow Arthur Henderson, J. H. Thomas, Ramsay MacDonald—safe men as they are—to regulate their business without a bitter struggle, and the real struggle has not by any means begun. Apart from the tremendous difference in voting strength, not to speak of the power of the military machine, we have yet to witness a “democratic reform” in the electoral apparatus which will postpone the return of a Labour majority for some time yet. I entirely dissent from the idea that the success of the C.P. will only come when the Labour Party stands discredited. Why should we go through the travail of a Labour Government?

The explanation of this mistaken notion lies in the equally wrong idea that the Labour Party stands between us and the masses. Has the Labour Party prevented the C.P. from exercising its dictatorship in the unemployed agitation? Is there not a wide field for our activity in the millions of trade unionists who do not believe in the Labour Party? Is there not a fertile field in the growing numbers of the working class who have ceased to look to the Parliamentary institutions for a solution to the problems of their economic slavery?

The theory of getting a Labour government in order to get communism is as stilted as the Kautskyan idea that Russia should go through period of capitalist development under the democratic bourgeois institutions in preference to the Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ dictatorship.

The Labour Party is becoming discredited in the eyes of the more far-seeing sections of the proletariat. It draws its strength today from the petty bourgeois and professional elements of suburbia who are groaning beneath the burden of taxation. It is beside the point, however, to talk of blocs before the C.P. has gathered its own strength.

But this need not mean that the C.P. should aid the capitalist candidates at the polls by a policy of open hostility everywhere or by a policy of benign negation. The Communist Party is a party of the proletariat. As such its interests are bound up with the interests of the masses. While building up our own Communist Party machinery and at the same time opposing the leading reactionaries in the Labour Party for the treacherous conduct in isolating the C. P. from the Labour Party and denying our claim to be a section of the Labour movement, there is no inconsistency in seeing to it that apart from the selected heads which I believe we should oppose, nothing is done to aid the capitalist nominees in other constituencies.

I am sure the workers will understand us and we shall gain strength and prestige for our Party by such a realist policy than by slavishly merging our identity in an alliance with the Labour Party on the latter’s terms to the detriment of our communist independence. By such a policy our Party will go forth with the clear tactic of compelling the Labour Party to recognise the C.P. on equal terms in a political sense.

By our opposition in all other constituencies to the capitalist nominees we shall on the basis of our independence, demonstrate to the masses that we are the real party of the working class while disarming the slanderous insinuation of the MacDonalds and Hendersons that we are playing the game of the coalition. Above all we shall truly show that we are a Party of Realists. But the question of forming a bloc with the Labour Party does not arise until we have a strong centralised Communist Party. Let us see that we get that first.