29 September 2020

‘All power for the workers!’

In August 1921, the CPGB stood Bob Stewart as the CPGB candidate in a by-election in Caerphilly, South Wales. This was the fledgling party’s first challenge at the ballot box and the comrades went into battle with optimism and energy. The town of Caerphilly was dominated by the coal-mining industry, and just a few months earlier the miners had fought a bitter struggle against the government and mine owners.

On April 1 1921 over one million workers in the mining industry were locked out when they refused to accept pay cuts of up to 50%. The government declared a state of emergency and brought in troops. The miners looked for support to their partners in the Triple Alliance – the transport and railway workers – and plans were made for solidarity strike action to start on Friday April 15. But the miners were taught a bitter lesson about the irresolute nature of left reformism when the leaders of the other Triple Alliance unions caved in. The miners were abandoned.

Eighty Communist Party members were imprisoned during this dispute, indicating the fighting spirit and commitment of its militants.

Come August, however, it was time to measure the newly formed party’s progress via the ballot box. Obviously, the election had been preceded by dramatic and telling events and the following address, to the workers of Caerphilly, urged the miners to break with the class traitors of the Labour Party and return a genuine workers’ champion to the House of Commons.

William Sarsfield

To the workers of Caerphilly

The Communist August 13 1921

Your heroically maintained struggle against the coal bosses, backed by the government, has barely ended before you are called upon to declare your will at the ballot box. What should be your will?

That struggle has left you in a deplorable situation. Bad as were the conditions upon which the coal lockout was terminated, they have been rendered still more vile by the manner in which the masters have used, and are using, the advantage they have gained. Being, as they are, determined upon reducing wages by progressive instalments until they have reached the great end they have set before themselves – the destruction of the minimum wage – they are using unemployment systematically as a weapon to break into pieces the solidarity which three months of stress and strain have failed to destroy.

The coal bosses are deliberately victimising the bravest and boldest spirits and the most intelligent and sturdy districts, in the hope that thus they will succeed in weeding out from the ranks of the workers in south Wales all but the faint-hearted and weak-kneed. They, and with them the rest of the British boss class, are resolved upon pushing their advantage until they have secured victory all along the line.

They have shown that they will rest content with nothing short of the unchallenged dictatorship of their plutocracy. Our experience has shown that the courts of law, the machinery of the state and the public powers of coercion are all, with parliament, used as agencies for laying you – and with you the rest of the British working class – prostrate beneath the iron heel of a triumphant capitalist tyranny. If all else fails them, they can still fall back upon their ‘Black and Tans’.

What in face of this appalling situation does the Labour Party offer you? It ought to be, if its name is to be anything but a delusion and a sham, the party that seeks to rouse and rally the working class for a life-and-death struggle to maintain their standard of life in the teeth of boss-class encroachment and to urge and lead them onward until they, the workers, are masters and controllers of their means of living. Its leaders do no such thing; nor will they do it.

They do not believe you are capable of taking over successfully the control of your lives, the management of production, the direction of industry and the coordination of society. They funked on Black Friday because they had no faith in your ability to rise to an emergency. They showed the white feather then – they are not fit to be trusted with the red flag now. They cannot or will not carry a strike or fight a lockout to its logical conclusion – how then can they deal with such a concerted assault as faces you now?

The Labour Party, as it stands, is what its leaders make it, and they will neither lead you into battle nor allow you to lead them. The leaders who brought about the Triple Alliance disaster in spite of the splendid solidarity of the rank and file; the leaders who beat back the miners after a three months’ death grapple, and do so in contempt of the magnificent defiance embodied in your ballot vote; the leaders who in industry after industry accepted reductions and defeat in advance and with a mere pretence of consulting the rank and file – these and not the rank and file constitute the Labour Party, as it stands. The best of men, if he were elected under their auspices, would be paralysed by their vacillation or crippled in the cogs of their controlling machine.

The clearest proof we can give of the need for a new spirit and outlook is found in the case of the miners. A fighting programme aimed (at any rate by the rank and file) at securing both their standard of life and a measure of control over the conditions of their toil was scrapped, in a manner that cannot be characterised in words, for an infamous agreement which ties the miner hand and foot and leaves him thus at the coal bosses’ mercy for a twelvemonth.

Those who cannot or will not see this are not the man to use the floor of the House of Commons as an arena wherein to meet the boss class face to face with a courage as defiant as their rapacity is determined.

Remember, the Labour Party already includes (to the sorrow of the working class) men – Thomas, Clynes, Brownlie, Hodge, Bowerman and others – who have made themselves conspicuous by their diligent propagation of the doctrine of ‘increased production’; for which conduct they give the slavish excuse that thus the worker may gain an increase of crumbs fallen from the loaded tables of the gorged boss class.

We call upon you to scorn these slave doctrines. We call upon you who are unemployed to demand a man’s life, and to allow no-one to insult you with the offer of a puppy’s portion. We call upon you who are employed today to realise your community of interest with the unemployed and to strive side by side with them, less the boss use their misery and your apathy as the hammer and anvil on which to weld chains of slavery for you all.

The Communist Party enters this fight to force to the front the whole question of the working class and its place in the British state and society. What is the working class today? Nothing! What does the Labour Party want it to be? Something! but not ‘too much’. What ought it to be? Everything.

  • The Communist Party fights on the slogan, ‘All power to the workers’.
  • The Communist Party demands for the miners (in common with the rest of the working class) an assured standard of life, and (in cooperation with the organised working class) a control over their means of living and the conditions of their toil.
  • The Communist Party demands for the unemployed work or maintenance at full trade union rates.
  • The Communist Party demands as a solution to all international complications the solidarity of the workers in all lands against the international class that thrives on their subjection and rejoices in consequence of their misery.
  • The Communist Party demands for Ireland independence as a means to enable the Irish worker to realise James Connolly’s dream of an Irish workers’ republic.
  • The Communist Party has faith in the working class and in its ability to work out its own destiny, once it has been roused to the pitch of making the attempt.
  • The Communist Party therefore urges the workers to perfect their organisation, national and local, with the determination to make easy the attainment of workers’ control over alike production and distribution; and in such a fashion and spirit as will enable them to defend themselves from any pro-slavery rebellion of the master class, its allies or its dupes.
  • The Communist Party urges every individual worker, man or woman, to cast his or her vote for the communist candidate as an open declaration of a will to work in solidarity with their fellows until the victory of the workers has been won.

The standard bearer of the Communist Party is a worker – Robert Stewart. He has been dignified at the hands of agencies of boss-class rule by a term of imprisonment for his courageous battling on the side of the workers.

The Communist Party has decided that, as a south Wales mining area was the scene alike of his offence and his incarceration, a south Wales mining area is entitled to the honour of sending him straight from gaol to the House of Commons as the only logical answer a self-respecting working class can give when asked to express their will.

Workers! Vote for Stewart and demonstrate your confidence in your class, your defiance to the boss, and your determination to achieve all power for the workers.

Return to the ‘Formation of the CPGB (1920)’ series