A delegate writes: British Communists, no less than other sections of the left, are faced with the problem of taking an attitude to the Labour Government. ‘Why has the Labour Government been unable to provide even the basis for solving problems in which not only its own future but the future of the nation is at stake?’: this question opens the Political Resolution endorsed overwhelmingly at the Communist Party Congress. The answers to the Government’s problems are also phrased along national rather than specifically class lines and further on the Resolution states the necessity of arousing ‘the patriotism of the British people’ to remove us bases. Throughout Congress a clear division was made between the ‘imperialist’ policy of the present and the potentialities of the Labour Party itself within which ‘there is a growing revolt against that policy’. The decisive role of the cp is seen in developing its influence on the lp and the trade unions.
Thus the Congress made its most important appeal that for a United Left: one that it has been making fairly consistently since its formation. The eight point appeal adumbrated by John Gollan in his opening address and agreed to in the final stages of Congress is essentially a moderate one: few socialists could not agree on the ending of the incomes policy; opposition to rent and price increases; support for steel nationalization; rejection of the Immigration Bill; rejection of American and British imperialist policies; and various social advances dependent on a cut in military expenditure.
The limited nature of these demands reflect the present weakness of the British Left and indeed the lack of success as yet in creating any broad united front. It is also a function of the cp’s failure to solve its own problems. Reading Harry Pollitt’s report to the 22nd Congress in 1952 one is struck by the same weaknesses as were openly admitted 13 years later. The low level of party education, the stagnation in party membership and Daily Worker circulation, the inactivity of most members and the special weakness of factory branches in relationship to their potential importance: these are some examples of recurring problems
Congresses of political parties are not really the best places for serious discussions of political differences. The need to formulate policies for the next two years, the number of delegates wishing to speak on the widest variety of issues from the hazards of smoking to the necessity for international Communist unity, and the time-consuming but necessary tasks of committee reports, amendments and resolutions all make serious political debate rather unlikely. However the simplistic belief that the cp does not allow disagreement has little basis, at least at Congress. There was a real attempt made to allow those with basic criticism to state their case, and resolutions and amendments rejecting the ‘British Road to Socialism’ and ‘parliamentarianism’ and referring back the Political Resolution were moved. However the structure of Congress, concentrating as it did in a discussion of the opening statement of John Gollan, does make any debate disparate and patternless. Thus contributors on widely different subjects followed each other and though this was partly rectified in the course of Congress there was no attempt to discuss particular topics in a thorough and unified way.
In the course of the debate it became clear that only a small minority of delegates saw any essential contradiction between militant work in the factories and increased electoral participation. The last available figures (1962) show only one out of eight organized in branches at their place of work and this year it was again decided ‘to make a much more serious effort to (so) organize as many workers as possible’. The electoral aim since the war has been to produce a situation where there is a Left Labour and Communist majority in the House of Commons. The ‘immediate test’ of this policy will be the extension of contests in the local elections this year. In his opening speech the secretary stated, ‘a Party branch that doesn’t contest local elections is failing to carry out one of the essential functions of a political party’. In addition Congress agreed to increase cp candidates to at least 50 (from 36 in 1964) at the next General Election. This will ensure under the present rules that the Party is given some time in the pre-Election broadcasts on radio and television. The Party will continue to support Labour candidates where no Communist is standing, and is also pledged to increase its contacts with local Labour Party branches.
It is evident from what has been said that there will be little change in the Party policy in the near future. It sees itself as an integral part of the labour movement with its fortunes linked to the possibilities of general left advance. Its policies, in part determined by the present situation, are radical rather than revolutionary. If the repeated call for a ‘United Left’ is answered then it is likely that the cp could recommence some slow advance. Conversely, in spite of the obvious historical reasons for the Party’s political isolation, it is time that the non-Communist Left began to be aware of the degree to which this weakens the whole Left.