In the struggle to form a Communist Party in Britain during the revolutionary wave of 1917-23 it was the Left, led by the small group around Sylvia Pankhurst and the Workers’ Dreadnought, that was clearest about the danger posed by the Labour Party to a workers’ revolution.
After some initial hesitations in 1914 the Labour Party had joined the ranks of the ‘social patriots’ and became a supporter of British imperialism in the slaughter. This excerpt from an article written by Pankhurst in 1920 still refers to Labour as ‘reformist’ rather than a capitalist party but it is very clear in denouncing its counter-revolutionary role for the capitalist state.
In opposition to the programme of the social patriotic Labour Party the Dreadnought group defended the need for the overthrow of capitalism and the dictatorship of the working class exercised through the soviets as a step towards the abolition of the wages system and communism.
“The social patriotic parties of reform, like the British Labour Party, are everywhere aiding the capitalists to maintain the capitalist system; to prevent it from breaking down under the shock which the Great War has caused it, and the growing influence of the Russian Revolution. The bourgeois social patriotic parties, whether they call themselves Labour or Socialist, are everywhere working against the Communist revolution, and they are more dangerous to it than the aggressive capitalists because the reforms they seek to introduce may keep the capitalist regime going for some time to come. When the social patriotic reformists come into power, they fight to stave off the workers’ revolution with as strong a determination as that displayed by the capitalists, and more effectively, because they understand the methods and tactics and something of the idealism of the working class.
The British Labour Party, like the social patriotic organisations of other countries, will, in the natural development of society, inevitably come to power. It is for the Communists to build up the forces that will overthrow the social patriots, and in this country we must not delay or falter in that work.
We must not dissipate our energy in adding to the strength of the Labour Party; its rise to power is inevitable. We must concentrate on making a Communist movement that will vanquish it.
The Labour Party will soon be forming a Government; the revolutionary opposition must make ready to attack it.”
Excerpt from ‘Towards a Communist Party’, Workers’ Dreadnought, 21 February 1920.