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C. Van Gelderen

Britain’s People’s Convention

The Stalinists Saddled It with a Petty-Bourgeois Pacifist Program

(April 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 14, 5 April 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

London, England (By Mail) – 2,234 delegates attended the Stalinist-inspired “People’s Convention” which met in London on Sunday, January 12th.

The People’s Convention had its origin – according to its Chairman, Marry Adams – in the “Men of Munich Must Go’’ movement which the Stalinists foster-fathered after the disastrous defeats of the Allied armies in Scandinavia and France last year. The emphasis of that movement was not directed against the imperialist war but against Chamberlain, Halifax, Kingsley Wood and the other appeasers in the Cabinet. It left untouched Churchill and the Labor Ministers whose declared aim was “war to the end” against German Imperialism.

This “Men of Munich Must Go” movement did not evoke much response among the working class. Then came the Blitz over London and the hopeless inadequacy of the Government’s Air Raid Precautions Policy was revealed in all its ghastly horror. The Stalinists seized this heaven-sent opportunity to extend their influence in the labor movement. They whipped up a campaign on the shelter issue. This was actually the birth of the People’s Convention movement.

The official literature of the Convention claim that the 2,234 delegates represented 1,200,000 people in 1,304 organisations. Of these, it is claimed, 1,014,950 represented 1,136 Trade Unions, Factory Committees and other workers’ organizations.

Anyone acquainted with Stalinist arithmetic will find it a simple matter to discover how these figure’s were arrived at. The A—— Aircraft Factory employs 1,200 workers. Of these from 12 to 20 support the Stalinists. This handful of workers would send a “delegate” to the Convention who would simply be listed as representing 1,200 workers in the A—— Factory.

While the Stalinist figures cannot be accepted at anything like their face value, it would, however, be fatal for revolutionary workers to ignore the portent of the “People’s Convention.

Misled by the treacherous Labor Party leaders, the majority of the British working class are today lined up behind the Government’s war policy. There is a genuine belief among great sections of the workers that they are fighting a war against Fascism. This is due to a great extent to the Stalinist policy in the months preceding the war and in the first three weeks of the war, when the Communist Party was even more vociferous than the Labor Party in whipping up support for the “War for Democracy” against “Fascist aggression.” When Moscow ordered the right-about-turn, not all of their supporters followed the new line.

But in the trade union movement there is a small but militant minority who are today definitely under Stalinist influence.

One of the most significant features of this war was the early re-emergence of the Shop Stewards’ Movement, which played such a magnificent role during the war of 1914–18. In the first Imperialist War it wasn’t till 1915 that the Shop Stewards’ Movement began to make its weight felt. In the first year of this war it is already an important factor in the working class movement.

In the trade union field, therefore, the Stalinists are compelled to adopt a militant policy in order to keep the support of this militant minority. To counter this, their political program is deliberately vague and can mean all things to all people.

As part of their political demands, the People’s Convention calls for a “People’s Government and a People’s Peace.” None of the speakers at the Convention made it clear what was meant by these ambiguous slogans. Some of the delegates obviously interpreted it as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, while to others it meant a Popular Front Government à la Blum. Not one of the three speakers from the platform so much as mentioned the word “Socialism.”

On the crucial question of control of the armed forces, the People’s Convention proposes nothing, except: “Effective democratic rights for members of the armed forces.” A meaningless phrase.

How shall the worker-soldiers secure such democratic rights? What about putting an end to the life-and-death powers of the bourgeois officer-caste? The absolute need of universal military training under the control of the trade unions? The fact that the working class, as a class, must become masters of the military arts in this epoch of war and militarism? The Convention is silent on all this: in a word, it mirrored the purely pacifist policy of the Stalinists and not a proletarian military policy adequate to bring the working class to power and socialism.

The Stalinist crime of preaching impotent pacifism is all the greater because the Convention leaders had fine human material to work on. Although the labor bureaucrats had threatened with expulsion anyone who participated, many militants, especially from the Clyde and the mining areas of South Wales, sent their representatives to London.

Besides the worker delegates, the Stalinists collected together for the occasion all their old friends from Popular Front days. Principal speaker at the Convention was the King’s Councillor, D.N. Pritt, who sold his services to the Kremlin as long ago as the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial. Pritt was Labor Member of Parliament for the Hammersmith Division, and the Hammersmith Labor Party has demanded his resignation. But, though Pritt and the C.P. claim popular support for their Convention, he refuses to take up the challenge and stand for re-election to give the workers of Hammersmith an opportunity to show their feelings at the polls.

It Endangers the Real Militant Task

The People’s Convention movement represents a potential danger to the labor movement. By attracting the most advanced sections by its demagogy the Convention threatens to split the labor movement just at a moment when it is necessary for all militants to concentrate all their energies on ridding the movement of the “leaders” who have betrayed them and entered the war cabinet.

It is of course not accidental that the political program of the People’s Convention is so vague. The Kremlin’s foreign policy is in an impasse. Stalin lives in fear of Hitler. Today Soviet foreign policy is still oriented towards the Axis. That is why the British Stalinists in the factories put forward a policy which would, if effective, seriously hamper the war efforts of British imperialism. When Stalin signed the German-Soviet Pact, he also sold to Hitler a part-share in the Comintern. But tomorrow Stalin may be forced to line up with the “Democracies” and in a much [more] active form than he has hitherto participated in the war.

Stalin’s British Agents Ready for Switch

So the British Communist Party keeps open a line of retreat – the vagueness of their political program. Not anywhere in the “anti-war” propaganda of the Stalinists do they so much as hint at revolutionary overthrow of the imperialist regime.

Stalin’s British stooges are keeping a wary eye on the Balkans and they are ready to jump at any moment should the Kremlin show a sign that it is turning towards the Western powers. The People’s Convention would overnight cease to be an “anti-war” movement. The Stalinists would discover, not for the first time, that Winston Churchill had all the necessary qualifications for heading a “People’s Government.”

By banning the Daily Worker, the bourgeoisie dealt the Stalinists a shrewd body-blow. Having no real roots in the mass organizations, the Daily Worker was almost their sole means for making their influence felt and for spreading their propaganda. Its suppression has been taken very calmly by the workers, who in their present patriotic mood welcomed the ban in many cases. Nowhere have the Stalinists even dared to call for a demonstration against the suppression of the “workers’ own paper.” Certainly, the London meeting of the People’s Convention would not have achieved the success it did without the sustained daily propaganda of the Worker.

To the British Section of the Fourth international falls the vital task of awakening the militant workers to the dangers inherent in the People’s Convention and to counterpose to its false policy our proletarian military policy, based on the historic needs of the working class at this critical moment in the life of humanity.

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Last updated: 4 November 2015