By Nitya Chakraborty
In a significant development in the communist strategy in influencing the political course in United Kingdom, the Communist Party of Britain, has extended its total support to the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in his bid to oust the Tories from power to implement his programme of building a new Britain for many and not few. The CPB has officially announced it by saying that Britain’s communists will not be putting candidates of their own in the December 12 elections since calling for any vote other than for Labour, jeopardises the prospect of securing a Labour Government.
This decision of the CPB is historic in the sense that this is for the first time that the British Communists are working for the election of a leader Jeremy Corbyn whom they consider truly Left and capable of offering a pro-people programme for which the CPB is fighting. According to CPB, Corbyn’s victory is the only attainable outcome that would serve the interests of the working class and the people of Britain.
This total support to Corbyn comes out of the assessment of the CPB that any division in anti-Labour vote, will help the Tories and unless Corbyn becomes victorious after the elections, the right wing elements in Labour Party will be launching the offensive and work against the Left programme so long being implemented by the Labour Party supremo. That way, the British communists want to strengthen the Left wing elements of the Labour Party led by Corbyn and they think that this is the final opportunity to end austerity, privatization and inequality under the leadership of a Corbyn led government.
The decision of the British communists is being watched closely by the left parties including the social democrats throughout Europe and America. In USA, hectic campaigning is on for the Presidential poll in November 2020.The Communist Party of the USA is solidly behind the socialist Bernie Sanders and all efforts are being made to make Bernie’s campaign a success. But the CP has taken the position that the main task is to defeat President Donald Trump and whoever is the Democratic nominee finally, he/she has to be supported to defeat Trump. In 2016 Presidential poll, the US communists gave full support to Sanders in the campaign but when finally Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination, the CP extended support to Hillary since the primary task of the democratic forces in USA, is to defeat Trump.
There was a big debate at that time in 2016 among the different left groups and academics in USA whether the Left should support Hillary who is close to Wall Street, but the CP of USA maintained the position that the struggle on issues launched by Sanders continues and that has to be expanded, but not voting Hillary, will only help Trump, the worst conservative. Further, the CP took the position that the issues raised by Sanders have radicalized the Democratic Party and Hillary can not operate without taking cognizance of this radical politics in the Democratic Party.
Though Hillary lost in 2016 elections, the issues raised by Sanders have become the main focus of 2020 Presidential poll and most of the Democratic candidates, apart from Sanders, are talking of pro people programmes including medicare for all and $ 15 per hour minimum wage. Both Biden and Elizabeth Warren are talking of programmes for labour. Sanders original campaign has become the national campaign of the Democrats. The American communists are small in number but they are playing a very important role in changing the dynamics of the Democratic Party’s polity like the way the British communists are doing with Corbyn and Labour Party.
As regards Britain, the relationship between the Communists and the Labour Party has undergone twists and turns taking into account the nature of Labour leadership.
In January 1921, the CPGB was refounded after the majorities of Sylvia Pankhurst’s group the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International), and the Scottish Communist Labour Party agreed to unity. The party benefited from a period of increased political radicalism in Britain just after the First World War and the Russian Revolution of October 1917, and was also represented in Britain by the Red Clydeside movement.
Initially, the CPGB attempted to work within the Labour Party, which at this time operated mainly as a federation of left-wing bodies, only having allowed individual membership since 1918. However, despite the support of James Maxton, the Independent Labour Party leader, the Labour Party decided against the affiliation of the Communist Party. Even while pursuing affiliation and seeking to influence Labour Party members, the CPGB promoted candidates of its own at parliamentary elections.
Following the refusal of their affiliation, the CPGB encouraged its members to join the Labour Party individually and to seek Labour Party endorsement or help for any candidatures. Several Communists thus became Labour Party candidates, and in the 1922 general election, Shapurji Saklatvala and Walton Newbold were both elected.
After the victory of Adolf Hitler in Germany the Communist Parties all over switched to the policy of the Popular Front. This policy argued that as fascism was the main danger to the workers’ movement, it needed to ally itself with all anti-fascist forces including right-wing democratic parties. In Britain this policy expressed itself in the efforts of the CPGB to forge an alliance with the Labour Party and even with forces to the right of Labour.
In the 1935 general election Willie Gallacher was elected as the Communist Party’s first MP in six years, and their first MP elected against Labour opposition. Gallacher sat for West Fife in Scotland, a coal mining region in which it had considerable support. During the 1930s the CPGB opposed the Conservative government’s policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. On the streets the party members played a leading role in the struggle against the British Union of Fascists, led by Sir Oswald Mosley whose Blackshirts tried to emulate the Nazis in anti-Semitic actions in London and other major British cities.
In the 1945 general election, the Communist Party received 103,000 votes, and two Communists were elected as members of parliament, Willie Gallacher was returned and Phil Piratin was newly elected, as the MP for Mile End in London’s East End. Harry Pollitt failed by only 972 votes to take the Rhondda East constituency. Both Communist MPs however, lost their seats at the 1950 general election. The Party was keen to demonstrate its loyalty to Britain’s industrial competitiveness as stepping point towards socialism. At the 19th Congress, Harry Pollitt asked rhetorically, “why do we need to increase production?” Answering “to pay for what we are compelled to import. To retain our independence as a nation.”
In the last seventy years since 1950, there has been no Communist MP in Britain Parliament. It is to be seen how the relationship between CPB and the Labour Party matures after the December 12 elections. (IPA Service)