November 24, 2017

The Anglo-Soviet Unity Committee

The International Situation and the Defence of the U.S.S.R.
Speech Delivered on August 1

About the Anglo-Soviet Committee. 
The opposition asserts that we banked, so to speak, on the Anglo-Soviet Committee. That is not true, comrades. It is one of those slanders that the bankrupt opposition so often resorts to. The whole world knows, and, therefore, the opposition should know too, that we do not bank on the Anglo-Soviet Committee, but on the world revolutionary movement and on our successes in building socialism. The opposition is deceiving the Party when it says that we banked, or are banking, on the Anglo-Soviet Committee.

What, then, is the Anglo-Soviet Committee? The Anglo-Soviet Committee is one of the forms of contact between our trade unions and the British trade unions, reformist trade unions, reactionary trade unions. At the present time we are carrying on our work for revolutionising the working class in Europe through three channels:

a) through the channel of the Comintern, through the Communist sections, the immediate task of which is to eliminate reformist political leadership from the working-class movement;

b) through the channel of the Profintern, through the revolutionary trade-union minorities, the immediate task of which is to defeat the reactionary labour aristocracy in the trade unions;

c) through the Anglo-Soviet Unity Committee, as one of the means of helping the Profintern and its sections in their struggle to isolate the labour aristocracy in the trade unions.

The first two channels are the main and permanent ones, essential for the Communists as long as classes and class society exist. The third is only a temporary, auxiliary, episodic channel and, therefore, not durable, not always reliable, and some times quite unreliable. To put the third channel on a par with the first two means running counter to the interests of the working class, to communism. That being the case, how can one talk about our having banked on the Anglo-Soviet Committee?

Our aim in agreeing to form the Anglo-Soviet Committee was to establish open contact with the masses of the organised workers of Britain.

For what purpose?

Firstly, for the purpose of helping to form a workers' united front against capital, or, at any rate, of hindering the efforts of the reactionary trade-union leaders to prevent the formation of such a front.

Secondly, for the purpose of helping to form a workers' united front against the danger of imperialist war in general and against the danger of intervention in particular, or, at any rate, of hindering the efforts of the reactionary trade-union leaders to prevent the formation of such a front.

Is it permissible at all for Communists to work in reactionary trade unions?

It is not only permissible, but sometimes it is positively essential to do so, for there are millions of workers in the reactionary trade unions, and Communists have no right to refuse to join those unions, to find a road to the masses and to win them over to communism.

Look at Lenin's book "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder 20 and you will see that Lenin's tactics makes it obligatory for Communists not to refuse to work in reactionary trade unions.

Is it at all permissible to conclude temporary agreements with reactionary trade unions, agreements on trade-union matters, or on political matters?

It is not only permissible, but sometimes it is positively essential to do so. Everyone knows that the ma jority of the trade unions in the West are reactionary, but that is not the point at all. The point is that these unions are mass unions. The point is that through these trade unions it is possible to gain access to the masses. Care must be taken, however, that such agreements do not restrict, do not limit the freedom of Communists to conduct revolutionary agitation and propaganda, that such agreements help to disintegrate the ranks of the reformists and to revolutionise the masses of the workers who still follow the reactionary leaders. On these conditions, temporary agreements with mass reactionary trade unions are not only permissible but sometimes positively essential.

Here is what Lenin says on this score :

"Capitalism would not be capitalism if the 'pure' proletariat were not surrounded by a mass of exceedingly motley intermediate types between the proletarian and the semi-proletarian (who earns his livelihood in part by the sale of his labour power), between the semi-proletarian and the small peasant (and the petty artisan, handicraft worker and small proprietor in general), between the small peasant and the middle peasant, and so on, and if the proletariat itself were not divided into more developed and less developed strata, if it were not divided according to place of birth, trade, sometimes according to religion, and so on. And from all this follows the necessity, the absolute necessity, for the vanguard of the proletariat, for its class-conscious section, for the Communist Party, to resort to manoeuvres, arrangements and compromises with the various groups of proletarians, with the various parties of the workers and small proprietors.* The whole point lies in knowing how to apply these tactics in order to raise, and not lower, the general level of proletarian political consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and ability to fight and win" (Vol. XXV, p. 213).

And further:

"That the Hendersons, Clyneses, MacDonalds and Snowdens are hopelessly reactionary is true. It is equally true that they want to take power into their own hands (though, incidentally, they prefer a coalition with the bourgeoisie), that they want to 'rule' on the old bourgeois lines, and that when they do get into power they will unfailingly behave like the Scheidemanns and Noskes. All that is true. But it by no means follows that to support them is treachery to the revolution, but rather that in the interests of the revolution the working-class revolutionaries should give these gentlemen a certain amount of parliamentary support"* (ibid., pp. 218-19).

The misfortune of the opposition is that it does not understand and does not accept these instructions of Lenin's, and instead of Lenin's policy prefers "ultra-Left" noisy talk about the trade unions being reactionary.

Does the Anglo-Soviet Committee restrict our agitation and propaganda, can it restrict it? No, it cannot. We have always criticised and will criticise the reactionary character of the leaders of the British labour movement, revealing to the masses of the British working class the perfidy and treachery of these leaders. Let the opposition try to refute the fact that we have always openly and ruthlessly criticised the reactionary activities of the General Council.

We are told that this criticism may cause the British to break up the Anglo-Soviet Committee. Well, let them do so. The point is not whether there will be a rupture or not, but on what question it will take place, what idea will be demonstrated by that rupture. At the present moment we are faced with the threat of war in general and of intervention in particular. If the British break away, the working class will know that the reactionary leaders of the British labour movement broke away because they did not want to counteract the organisation of war by their imperialist government. There can scarcely be any doubt that a rupture brought about by the British under such circumstances will help the Communists to discredit the General Council, for the question of war is the fundamental question of the present day.

It is possible that they will not venture to break away. But what will that mean? It will mean that we have established our freedom to criticise, our freedom to continue criticising the reactionary leaders of the British labour movement, to expose their treachery and social imperialism to the broad masses. Will that be good for the labour movement? I think it will not be bad.

Such, comrades, is our attitude towards the question of the Anglo-Soviet Committee.