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From the Red Flag to the Union Jack: The Rise of Domestic Patriotism in the Communist Party of Great Britain

Paul Flewers

From New Interventions, Vol.6 No.2, 1995

THE EXPERIENCE of the First World War exerted a tremendous effect upon the international socialist movement. Not only was the movement split between the majority which supported their governments in the conflict and the small minority which remained faithful to the anti-war declarations that the movement had previously endorsed, but each side of the split explicitly or implicitly drew theoretical conclusions from their stance on the war. Those socialists who supported their government’s war effort drew closer to the state, and the tremendous increase in state intervention in society reinforced their opinion that the state was the mechanism through which social progress would be made. Those who opposed the war were hardened in their opposition to the capitalist system, and were forced to re-examine and to reformulate their views on crucial aspects of capitalist society, especially around the questions of war and the state. This latter process was most visible in respect of Lenin, for whom the experience of the war and the social upheavals which it provoked led to his calling for the formation of the Communist International on the basis of a forthright revolutionary opposition to the capitalist state and imperialist war.

As in other countries, the founders of the Communist Party of Great Britain were socialists who had opposed the First World War as an imperialist conflict, and who desired the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. As a constituent part of the Communist International, the CPGB had adhered to a revolutionary anti-war orientation; indeed in 1929 it went so far as to declare that "the central task of the party" was "to fight the war danger".1 As late as 1935, the party’s main theoretician declared that the party did not "for a moment exclude military defence against fascism", but only on the condition that there was "a country to defend": "We shall defend workers’ Britain ... "2 Yet when war broke out in September 1939, the CPGB could be found supporting Britain against Germany. Far from being a workers’ state, by any Marxian analysis Britain was an imperialist country, and the war between it and Germany was an imperialist conflict. To complicate matters further, on 23 August 1939 Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Soviet and German foreign ministers, had signed a non-aggression pact. The CPGB was giving its full-hearted backing to a war against a country which was now allied to the Soviet Union. Moreover, when instructed in mid-September 1939 by the Communist International to oppose the war, Harry Pollitt, the party’s general secretary, and Johnny Campbell, the editor of the Daily Worker, voted to continue with the pro-war orientation. Something had clearly gone wrong. This article aims both to explain these events by investigating the rise of domestic patriotism within the CPGB, and to show the political consequences of this process.

"Socialism in One Country" and the Communist International
In the first few years of its existence, the Soviet Union was in a unique position. On the one hand, the ruling party was a section of the Communist International, the aim of which was the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism on a world scale, which would also guarantee the survival of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the Soviet government was obliged to forge diplomatic and economic relations with the very governments which communist parties were trying to overthrow. In theory, if not necessarily in practice, Soviet diplomacy was subordinated to the tasks of the Communist International.

In 1924, however, Stalin revealed his theory of "Socialism in one country". Based upon Bukharin’s idea that a national economy can exist in a self-contained form, it overturned the hitherto orthodox communist precept which considered that the survival of the Soviet Union was predicated upon the success of proletarian revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries. and it had significant implications for both Soviet foreign policy and the Communist International. Trotsky, drew out its consequences for the Soviet government: "From this there can and must follow ... a collaborationist policy towards the foreign bourgeoisie with the object of averting intervention, as this will guarantee the construction of socialism, that is to say, will solve the main historical question."3

Stalin’s theory laid the basis for realpolitik to become the guiding factor of both Soviet foreign policy and the Soviet influence within the Communist International. If the building of socialism was possible within the bounds of the Soviet Union, and there was no necessity for proletarian revolutions in advanced capitalist countries, then, as far as Moscow was concerned, the chief role of communist parties was to apply pressure upon their governments to establish good relations with the Soviet Union, in other words, to act as adjuncts of Soviet diplomacy, and that class struggle in the capitalist world would, therefore, not be directed towards the seizure of power, but would be tailored to suit the requirements of Soviet foreign policy.

This process was greatly intensified by the rise of Stalin’s faction and the consolidation of the Soviet bureaucracy during the first Five Year Plan of 1929-33 into a ruling elite. Although, as Trotsky noted, its policies were "diametrically opposed to the programme of Bolshevism", the Soviet bureaucracy still used the language of Marxism, and spoke in the name of the international proletariat. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, there were objective factors:

"But inasmuch as the institutions erected by, the revolution still continue to exist, the bureaucracy is compelled to adapt externally its tendencies to the old principles of Bolshevism: it continues to swear by the covenants of October; it invokes the interests of the proletariat, and invariably refers to the Soviet system as socialist."4

Secondly, the existence of an international movement under its control was extremely useful, as the Soviet bureaucracy was able to use the influence of the parties of the Communist International as useful bargaining counters in its relations with the capitalist world. Trotsky was not exaggerating when he commented in March 1939: "The fundamental trait of Stalin’s international policy in recent years has been this: that he trades in the working class movement just as he trades in oil, manganese and other goods.... Stalin looks upon the sections of the Comintern in various countries and upon the liberation struggles of the oppressed nations as so much small change in deals with imperialist powers."5

It would, however, be wrong to consider that the parties of the Communist International were merely local agencies of the Soviet foreign ministry. Kevin Morgan, an historian sympathetic to the CPGB, criticises those who treat the party’s policies "as the disembodied incarnation of a political ‘line’ ... formulated in Moscow", which leads them "inevitably to the conclusion that the paramount question posed by a study of the CP – of any CP – was to ascertain how the Soviet leadership arrived at a particular policy".6 Nevertheless, he states that "if the CP was unquestionably a genuine British working class party responsive to the British political situation, it was also, from another aspect ... an ‘agent’ of Soviet foreign policy", and he makes the correct point that "possibly the main problem in writing Communist Party history is to comprehend the sometimes complex relationship between the two".7

The policies of the Communist International were certainly drawn up in Moscow, but the conditions under which they were interpreted and implemented differed from one country to another. Any serious study of a communist party in a specific country must take into account a wide range of factors: the domestic social pressures upon the party, the party’s own history and its relationship with Moscow, and the relationship between the government in that country and the Soviet government.

The Popular Front: From the "Peace Front" to Support for War
The public image of Soviet foreign policy in the latter half of the 1930s was the attempt to construct an alliance between the Soviet Union and the parliamentary democracies of Europe in order to contain Nazi Germany, which was seen as posing a major threat to the Soviet Union. This image was neither a façade designed to cover Stalin’s desire for a deal with Hitler, nor did it exemplify a selfless commitment to "the defence of democracy", as detractors and apologists variously claimed. One analyst makes a more balanced and accurate judgement:

"For the immediate and foreseeable future, the Soviet aims were not the punishment of aggressors or the preparation of a grand military alliance against them, but the non-involvement of the Soviet Union in war. Not a crusade against fascism, but the sensible objective of sparing their sorely tried country a military conflict they secretly realised it could not afford – this was uppermost in the minds of Stalin and his colleagues."8

The Soviet "collective security" drive was, therefore, a genuine but necessarily conditional policy; it was not a mere façade.

The orientation of the official communist movement during the Popular Front era was promulgated at the seventh congress of the Communist International in 1935. It stood in sharp contrast to the shrill ultra-leftism that had characterised the Third Period of 1928-34, and veering from an isolationist stance, the Stalinists called for unity with social democratic and, later on, liberal and even conservative parties and organisations, in order to enforce a foreign policy based upon "collective security" against fascism and for democracy.

The Popular Front approach rejuvenated the flagging fortunes of the Communist International, as parties grew in size and increased their influence, not merely within the working class, but amongst intellectuals and other middle class strata. The CPGB’s membership grew from 5,800 in December 1934 to 17,756 in July 1939,9 a substantial rise, and although it remained a small party its influence spread well beyond its actual membership. It gained support amongst militant trade unionists and left wingers in the Labour Party, and cohered a large constituency of working class and middle class people through the Left Book Club, which was led by three left wing intellectuals. Victor Gollancz, John Strachey and Harold Laski, of whom only Strachey was particularly politically close to the CPGB, and which by April 1939 had 57,000 members in 1,200 readers’ groups, and had distributed over two million books.10

Georgi Dimitrov outlined the essence of the Popular Front in November 1937: "The touchstone in checking the sincerity and honesty of every individual active in the working class movement, of every working class party and organisation of the working people, and of every democrat in the capitalist countries, is their attitude toward the great land of socialism.... You cannot carry on a serious struggle against the fascist instigators of a new world bloodbath, if you do not render undivided support to the USSR, a most important factor in the maintenance of international peace.... The historical dividing line between the forces of fascism, war and capitalism, on the one hand, and the forces of peace, democracy and socialism on the other hand, is in fact becoming the attitude toward the Soviet Union, and not the formal attitude toward soviet power and socialism in general, but the attitude to the Soviet Union."11

The appeal to "every democrat", and the shift of the "historical dividing line" away from the concept of "soviet power and socialism" – that is to say, proletarian revolution – to the "attitude toward the Soviet Union" – to be more precise, the foreign policy of the Soviet bureaucracy – confirmed that the Soviet bureaucracy was aiming to use the parties of the Communist International in all the countries where they had any presence, to bring together anyone from any class who, for whatever reason, favoured an alliance between the democratic capitalist powers and the Soviet Union, in order to forestall any military moves by Nazi Germany.

Britain was considered by the official communist movement to be a crucial factor in European politics, as Chamberlain’s National Government was viewed as a major bastion of reaction, with "a policy of supporting and accommodating the fascist aggressors".12 The choice facing Britain was clear, as the CPGB explained: "Either she must drop her hostility to an international peace front based on a thoroughgoing application of the principles of collective security, take her stand with the USSR and France and the USA, and check the ‘drift from the League [of Nations]’ of the smaller powers, or else she must capitulate further – and ultimately completely – to the bloc of the aggressors."13 A major task of the CPGB was, therefore, to change the orientation of British foreign policy.

Much of the CPGB’s energy was spent in attempting to build a wide opposition to the National Government, and the call for an all-class alliance was explicit at the party’s congress in 1938. In his political report, general secretary Harry Pollitt noted the "growing disillusionment inside the Tory and Liberal Parties" and the "uneasiness" felt by many Catholics and Protestants, and declared: "It is politically very short-sighted not to recognise these developments and to ignore the importance of bringing all these sections of the people and their organisations into co-operation with the labour movement."14

Obviously, the Conservative and Liberal Parties and the big churches could not be attracted on the basis of a socialist outlook and during this period Stalinist propaganda adopted a decidedly patriotic stance. Pollitt condemned the National Government for "betraying the interests of the British people, surrendering strategic positions to the fascist states, and lowering Britain’s prestige in the eyes of the peoples of the world".15 The CPGB promoted the removal of the National Government as a nationalist crusade: "To that end every Englishman, who loves his country, who is proud Of and anxious to preserve the democratic traditions of the British people, can, without any distinction of party or creed, work. Indeed it is a patriotic duty to do so."16

In its struggle for a British foreign policy based upon "collective security", the CPGB condemned the leadership of the Labour Party, on the one hand, for acquiescing to Chamberlain’s "appeasement" of Hitler, and, on the other hand, for refusing to contemplate any electoral blocs with non-socialist forces, and it found itself gravitating towards Winston Churchill’s wing of the Conservative Party, which took an anti-German position, and did not rule out an agreement with the Soviet Union.17 In March 1939 Pollitt made a public call for the Labour Party leader Clement Attlee, the Liberal Party leader Sir Archibald Sinclair, and Churchill to fight for an "anti-appeasement" government: "Let Attlee, Sinclair and Churchill get together without another minute’s delay. Let them issue a call to the nation.... Let the common demand be: Chamberlain must go! A government of the people must come to power."18 However, another event in March 1939 was to foretell a drastic change in Soviet policy, although this was not realised by the official communist movement at the time.

Stalin’s address to the eighteenth congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 10 March 1939 discounted any idea of German designs on the Soviet Union. He noted that "the majority of the non-aggressive countries, particularly England and France", had "rejected the policy of collective security", yet he made no call for a Soviet alliance with them, and only vaguely stated that would support nations which were "victims of aggression". He declared that, whilst admitting that the "non-aggressive states" were "making concession after concession to the aggressors", the Soviet Union was continuing its "policy of peace and of strengthening business relations with all countries", and intended: "To be cautious and not allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them."19 This was intended to warn the democratic powers that they could not necessarily rely upon the automatic support of the Soviet Union in the event of war. Stalin was publicly making the none-too-subtle implication that some form of deal between the Soviet Union and Germany could not be ruled out.

Throughout the late spring and early summer of 1939, whilst contact between Britain and France and the Soviet Union was desultory, negotiations were quietly taking place between the Soviet Union and Germany. On 23 August the Soviet and German foreign ministers, Molotov and Ribbentrop, signed a non-aggression pact. What the British Stalinists had previously considered as unthinkable had occurred.20

The second and fourth clauses of the pact were significant: "Should one of the high contracting parties become the object of belligerent action by a third power, the other high contracting party shall in no manner lend its support to this third power." "Neither of the two high contracting parties shall participate in any grouping of powers whatsoever that is directly or indirectly aimed at the other party."21

These clauses categorically ruled out any possibility of an Anglo-Franco-Soviet alliance against Germany. The CPGB, however, did not recognise that its longstanding demand had been rendered obsolete. It declared: "Rapidly the masses are beginning to realise that the Soviet Union remains the steadfast friend of peace and democracy, and that with Chamberlain out the way, no further obstacle would remain to the completion of a genuine pact in which the people of Britain and France would be linked together with the Soviet Union for the checking of aggression and the maintenance of peace."22

Seemingly unaware that there was a real contradiction in its policies, the CPGB also pledged its support for a war against Germany should one break out. The British Young Communist League published the text of the Soviet-German pact in its paper, yet declared in the same issue: "If fascism looses war upon the world the Young Communist League fully supports the policy of the Communist Party, which declares it will do all in its power to ensure a speedy, victory over fascism."23

Predictably, when war was declared on 3 September, the CPGB considered it "to be a just war which should be supported by the whole working class and all friends of democracy in Britain".24 The YCL expressed its profound patriotism, talking of the "deep thrill of pride in the people of Britain".25 Nevertheless, the party did not think that Chamberlain’s "appeasers" were the right men for the job. The Daily Worker declared that "there is not a minute to be lost in getting for Britain at war a new government, a government that has the unstinted trust of the people, a government that gets things done".26 In his report to the September central committee meeting. Pollitt proposed his ideal Popular Front war government:

"We have to face facts. Labour cannot form a government that can win this war on its own. My personal opinion is that you can’t win this war unless you have in the new government not only representatives of Labour, but men like Lloyd George, Eden, Churchill and Duff Cooper all imperialists. But we have to win this war and to win it with people who are going to be mthiess."27

The Rise of Stalinist Patriotism
So, despite the fact that Britain was now at war with Germany, and that there was no alliance between Britain and the Soviet Union (which was precluded by the pact in any case), the CPGB was giving its support to Britain’s war against Germany, with which the Soviet Union was formally allied.

The process which led to this remarkable situation was rooted in the nature of the Popular Front. We have seen that the CPGB’s attempt to build a "peace front" led it to seek allies in Churchill’s wing of the Conservative Party, in order to oppose Chamberlain’s "appeasers", and to force a change in Britain’s foreign policy. This had important consequences, as one recent account explains: "What their calculation had missed is that patriotic Tories were more bellicose than Chamberlain’s appeasers in their aims of maintaining Britain’s prestige in Europe and its empire abroad, and their accession to power in any shape or form would be more likely to lead to war than to prevent it."28

This was precisely what left wing opponents of the CPGB were saying. They rejected the Stalinists’ contention that the Popular Front was capable of preserving democracy and peace in Europe. They claimed that it would have precisely the opposite effect, and that the Stalinists were in fact preparing their constituency for war. They considered that as fascism and war were inseparable from capitalism, the fight against them was simultaneously and necessarily a struggle against capitalism, and that an alliance with capitalist forces would lead to disaster. Starkey Jackson, a Trotskyist, concluded:

"The real object of the Popular Front or Peace Alliance is not to preserve peace, but to make it easier for capitalism to go to war, The only real obstacle to the war plans of imperialism is the organised might of the working class, the Popular Front not only removes this obstacle. but actually seeks to mobilise the workers behind their own capitalist class in time of war. In order to do so, they use the same slogans which were worn threadbare during 1914-18 – the ‘defence of democracy’, ‘the protection of small nations’, together with a few new ones equally meaningless, ‘collective security’, and similar twaddle."29

In March 1938 Johnny Campbell, the editor of the Daily Worker, asked rhetorically whether "defeatism" was still the best policy for the workers in a capitalist country associated with the Soviet Union in a war. "Obviously not", he replied, as this would help the fascist powers attack the Soviet Union, and overthrow parliamentary democracy elsewhere. Therefore: "The workers in a capitalist country associated with the Soviet Union are interested in victory, and must do everything to further it."30 Moreover, he said that to oppose the coming war as an imperialist conflict was "nothing more nor less than a whitewashing of fascism".31 But in September 1939 Britain was not "associated with the Soviet Union", it was at war with its ally.

The political development Of the CPGB was paralleled in other communist parties, and they all adopted a more patriotic and moderate stance during the late 1930s. This process went the furthest in France, where the French Communist Party (PCF) was a major factor in the country’s political life. It participated in government for a while, its membership stood at around 300,000, and it controlled trade unions with a total membership of 1.5 million. The PCF’s general secretary, Maurice Thorez, declared in July 1936: "For welfare, for liberty, for peace, we are pledged to unite and reconcile the people of France. Division of the people means endless exploitation and complete enslavement of the workers, in a word, economic disorder, weakening of the country so as to become a tempting prey for fascist adventurers abroad."32

With a strategy of an all-class alliance, and operating in a country formally allied with the Soviet Union and with a Popular Front government, it is not surprising that the PCF played a prominent role in defusing the mammoth strike wave which was threatening the stability of France at the time. As Thorez said: "Everyone realises that a France weakened by civil war would soon fall a prey to Hitler."33 The "collective security" drive ultimately required social peace at home, with the interests of "the nation" being given priority over the sectional demands of the working class.

The degree to which domestic patriotism had developed within the PCF was demonstrated by its reaction to the outbreak of the Second World War, which was remarkably similar to that of the CPGB. The day after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had been signed, the party’s daily L’Humanité called for a Franco-Anglo-Soviet alliance, and the day after that Thorez declared: "If Hitler should unleash war, let him be aware that he is confronted by a united French people which will defend, with the communists in the forefront, the country’s security and the liberty and independence of the nations. That is why our communist party approves the steps taken by the government to safeguard our frontiers ..."34 On 2 September the party’s parliamentary fraction voted for military credits. Only on 18 September did the PCF leaders start to consider that the war could no longer be supported.

Many observers had noted the growing nationalism and moderation of the Communist International in the late 1930s. George Orwell rooted the growing patriotic tendency of Stalinists in the "uneasy rapprochement" between the Soviet Union and France and Britain in the late 1930s, which led to the English or French communist being obliged "to become a good patriot and imperialist".35 It is, however, a gross simplification to consider communist parties purely as adjuncts of Soviet diplomacy,36 as they were subject to a whole range of domestic pressures and influences. The growing domestic patriotism of communist parties during the Popular Front era went beyond its original impulse as a reflex of Soviet patriotism.

Back in 1928 Trotsky had noted that the theory of "socialism in one country" had broken the backbone of internationalism within the Communist International. If the prerequisites for socialism were present within backward Russia, then the basis for socialism surely existed within every advanced country. This would represent "the beginning of the disintegration of the Comintern along the lines of social patriotism", as each communist party would develop its own national programme.37 In 1935 he was convinced that the kind of alliance that the Soviet Union had negotiated with France, what with its approval of French defence policies, would signify for the Communist International "nothing more or less than the complete abandonment of the class struggle", because if the proletariat was "to support its bourgeoisie in war, that political line must begin in time of peace".38 He declared: "Nothing now distinguishes the communists from the social democrats except the traditional phraseology, which is not difficult to unlearn."39

In 1938 he made another perceptive observation. He referred to "twofold nature" of the Communist International: "On the one hand, it lives on the subsidies of the Kremlin, submits to the latter’s commands, and, in this respect, every ex-communist [Stalinist] bureaucrat is the younger brother and subordinate of the Soviet bureaucrat. On the other hand, the various machines of the ex-Comintern feed from the same sources as the social democracy, that is, the superprofits of imperialism. The growth of the communist parties in recent years, their infiltration into the ranks of the petit-bourgeoisie, their installation into the state machinery, the trade unions, parliaments, municipalities, etc., have strengthened in the extreme their dependence on national imperialism at the expense of their traditional dependence on the Kremlin."40

The "centrifugal nationalist tendencies" within the Communist International were growing ever stronger, each section would "begin to evolve a patriotic policy on its own account", and, in time of war, the communists in the democracies would be found alongside the social democrats "completely on the sides of their general staffs".41

Trotsky overestimated the pace of the process, but he was one of the very few who recognised and understood the complex social basis behind the growth of moderation and patriotism within the parties of the Communist International. Stalin’s theory of "socialism in one country" had led to the subordination of the Communist International to the foreign policy requirements of the Soviet bureaucracy, but it also led to the emergence of another tendency – domestic patriotism – which would lead to a situation, as it did in September 1939, when the British and French communist parties supported their governments in the war against Germany, with which the Soviet Union was by then allied, without them understanding that there was a profound inconsistency in their position.

The Effects of War
The support shown by communist parties for the war against Germany was in line with the official orientation of the Communist International. However, on 7 September Stalin, no doubt recognising that this orientation did not coincide with the requirements of Soviet foreign policy, called in Dimitrov to discuss the character of the war and what the Communist International should do. Dimitrov, drew up some theses, which were approved by the secretariat of the Communist International on 9 September. These stated that the war was imperialist and unjust, and could not be supported by the working class. Communist parties now had to oppose the war, and to vote against war credits. On 14 September the CPGB received a telegram to this effect, which Pollitt hid as it went against both existing party policy and his own outlook.

The CPGB’s central committee met on 24 September, and the majority of its members maintained their support for the existing line. Dave Springhall returned from Moscow that evening with the new orientation, and the meeting was adjourned until 2 October. In the meantime, the party’s public stance was neither for nor against the war. Rajani Palme Dutt, the party’s vice-chairman and principal theoretician, and who was always to the fore when drastic policy changes were in the offing, took the lead in the resumed central committee meeting in promoting the anti-war line, but it took all of his not inconsiderable powers of persuasion to win his colleagues across, as at first only he, Springhall and Bill Rust supported it.

In the event, Pollitt, Campbell and the party’s sole member of parliament, Willie Gallacher, stuck to their guns, and voted against the new line, although for some reason Pollitt then asked for Gallacher’s "no" vote to be recorded as a "yes". Stripped of their positions as general secretary and Daily Worker editor, Pollitt and Campbell wrote (or signed) grovelling and disingenuous self-criticisms, and accepted the new line publicly, if not privately.42 That this episode had occurred, and that two leading officials could have voted against a directive of the Communist International, shows how deeply domestic patriotism had developed within the leadership of the CPGB.

The Communist International maintained an anti-war orientation for the duration of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. As this forced its parties in countries at war with Germany into an extremely antagonistic position vis-ŕ-vis the governments, institutions and parties that supported the war, the development of domestic patriotism within the communist parties was retarded. But this was just a temporary setback to this process,43 and things were dramatically to change after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, and the emergence of the "Big Three" alliance against Germany.

The entry of the Soviet Union into the war provoked another dramatic volte face in Stalinist policy. After a momentary hesitation, the CPGB declared itself fully in favour of the Allied war effort. In a political letter, Pollitt informed the party members that they should henceforth give full support to Churchill’s coalition government, "wholeheartedly" and "without any reservations".44 Communists considered that class divisions within the Allied countries were to all intents and purposes transcended, and Dutt declared that "the speediest victory of Britain and Britain’s allies over Hitler" was "not the special interest of one class or section of the nation, but the common interest of all classes and sections of the nations", and called for the "collaboration of all sections of the nation".45 Stalinists now called for maximum production, sponsored peedup campaigns in the factories, opposed strikes, and slandered left wingers who supported the right of workers to defend their living and working conditions as "agents of Hitler".46

The Stalinists’ support for Allied governments and activities within nationalist resistance movements after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 had a tremendous effect upon them. The seeds of domestic patriotism which had taken root during the Popular Front period of the late 1930s could now flourish, and could happily coexist with their existing Soviet patriotism (which at this point was eminently respectable). Their support for the war effort led to their re-evaluating their attitude towards the capitalist state, and led them to adopt many of the characteristics of social democracy. In a keynote pamphlet, Pollitt pondered upon the massive preparations for the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944:

"If all this many-sided effort and sacrifice of peoples and governments, this tremendous international co-operation is possible for war, why not for peace too? If the united effort of the people can be built up and all resources of the state organised for victory over fascism, with never a question about where the money is to come from, the same can be done in peacetime to secure social progress, provided the people are prepared to unite and fight for these things with the same intensity and singleness of purpose that they displayed throughout the war."47 In a further twist, Dutt condemned the "big bourgeoisie" for saying "farewell to national patriotism", and considered that the working class was taking over "the leadership of the nation".48

Although there was a certain reversion towards more conventional Marxian terminology as the official communist movement adopted a more militant stance with the onset of the Cold War in 1947 (and actually started to support working class struggles again), the nationalism of the communist parties if anything became more intense. At times, the British party’s nationalism took on an unintentionally humorous air, reminiscent of a Colonel Blimp or a Conservative backwoodsman holding forth in the saloon bar, such as when the Daily Worker complained that "Britain and the Empire", no less, were "to be sold piecemeal to the American moneylenders"49 or when Pollitt declared that "British culture" was "threatened by the inroads being made in Britain by the decadent and degenerate character of American literature and films".50 At the same time, it took on a sinister edge, with Pollitt recommending that trade unions should "demand that no foreign worker should be employed while a British worker is unemployed or on short time".51

The traumatic events of 1956 – Khrushchev’s partial denunciation of Stalin in his "Secret Speech", and his subsequent crushing of the Hungarian Revolution – led to a gradual but continual distancing of communist parties from the Soviet Union, until their once total commitment to it became little more than a sentimental attachment, if that. Although communist parties still required a residual link with Moscow in order to maintain some legitimacy as independent organisations (which, however, prevented them from being accepted as truly national parties), their political programmes were increasingly strictly that of national reformism. The official programme of the CPGB was intentionally, called The British Road to Socialism,52 and each new edition was more moderate than its predecessor. By the time the CPGB wound itself up in late 1991. its programme was indistinguishable from that of modern-day social democracy. The same can be said about many other communist parties.

The overt championing by the official communist movement of national reformism was the logical consequence of the effect upon the Communist International of the policy of "socialism in one country". The subordination of the parties of the Communist International to the foreign policy of the Soviet bureaucracy led within a few years to the rise of domestic patriotism within them, although the latter tendency was temporarily submerged in 1939 – albeit not without problems, as we have seen – and was subsumed in the general pro-Soviet atmosphere after 1941. The experience of the Second World War, however, greatly reinforced the national reformist tendencies within the official communist movement, paralleling the process that occurred within the pro-war majority of the socialist movement during the First World War. The Stalinists’ domestic and Soviet patriotism sat uneasily together during the Cold War, and the antagonism between them came to the surface after 1956. After then, the development of their domestic patriotism proved to be irreversible, and as the 1990s opened, there could be little doubt that the process had more or less been completed.


1. Resolutions of the Eleventh Congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain, London, 1929, p.33.

2. Labour Monthly, January 1935.

3. L.D. Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, London, 1974, p.47.

4. L.D. Trotsky, "Does the Soviet Government Still Follow the Principles Adopted 20 Years Ago?" Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-38, New York, 1976, p.126. And it did so right up until 1991, when the bureaucracy decided to repudiate the Soviet system and try to return to capitalism.

5. L.D. Trotsky, "What Lies Behind Stalin Bid for Agreement with Stalin?", Writings of Leon Trotsky 193-39, New York, 1974, p.202.

6. K. Morgan, Against Fascism and War: Ruptures and Continuities in British Communist Politics 1935-41, Manchester, 1989, p.7. He adds that "an intelligent appreciation of the changing political environment – the objective framework – in which the CP operated is thus ruled out" (ibid., p.5). Morgan aims this accusation specifically at Trotskyist historians, which in my opinion is not entirely fair (cf. my review of Morgan’s book in Revolutionary History, Vol.3 No.3, Spring 1991, pp.50-1), and it would be better applied to historians and commentators of other political persuasions, for example Franz Borkenau, whose European Communism (London, 1953) views every slightest shift in any communist party’s policy as a direct response to shifts in Soviet foreign policy.

7. Morgan, op. cit., pp.116-17.

8. A. Ulam, Expansion and Coexistence: Soviet Foreign Policy 1917-73, New York, 1975, p.217. Ulam notes that in 1936, when the "collective security" bandwagon was well on the road, Molotov was telling his colleagues that "an improvement in Soviet-German relations [was] possible" (ibid., p.236).

9. H. Pelling, The British Communist Party: An Historical Profile, London, 1975, p.192.

10. Morgan, op. cit., p.256.

11. G. Dimitrov, "The Soviet Union and the Working Classes of the Capitalist Countries", Selected Articles and Speeches, London, 1951, pp.l84-5, original emphasis.

12. W. Gallacher, "Presidential Address", For Peace and Plenty: Report of the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain, London, 1938, p.8.

13. International Press Correspondence, 12 February 1938.

14. H. Pollitt, "Economic Security, Peace and Democracy", For Peace and Plenty ..., p.55, my emphasis.

15. Ibid., p37.

16. International Press Correspondence, 2 April 1938.

17. In the Perth by-election in 1938 the CPGB backed the Duchess of Atholl, an "anti-appeasement" Conservative, against the official Conservative candidate, as "she was the ideal candidate to split the Tories on patriotic grounds" (S. Bornstein and A. Richardson, Two Steps Back: Communists and the Wider Labour Movement 1935-1945, Ilford, 1982, p.43).

18. Daily Worker, 30 March 1939, original emphasis.

19. J.V. Stalin, "Report on the Work of the Central Committee to the Eighteenth Congress of the CPSU", Works, Vol.14, London, 1978, pp.364, 365, 372.

20. A fortnight before the pact was signed, CPGB leader Johnny Campbell said that there could "be no rapprochement between the Soviet Union and the fascist states" (Daily Worker, 9 August 1939).

21. "Treaty of Non-Aggression Between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics", in J.S. Beddie and R.J. Sontag (eds), Nazi-Soviet Relations 1939-1941, Washington, 1948, p.77.

22. World News and Views, 2 September 1939.

23. Challenge, 2 September 1939.

24. H. Pollitt, How to Win the War, London, 1939, p.3.

25. Challenge, 9 September 1939.

26. Daily Worker, 4 September 1939.

27. Cited in J. Mahon, Harry Pollitt: a Biography, London, 1976, p.251.

28. Bornstein and Richardson, op. cit., p41. The authors also point to the irony of the Stalinists allying with "the bitterest enemies of the labour movement" (ibid., p.51.)

29. S. Jackson, Peace Alliance: The Road to War, London, n.d. (probably 1938), pp.7-8.

30. J.R. Campbell, Questions and Answers on Communism, London 1938, pp.46-7.

31. J.R. Campbell, "The Trotskyist Danger", For Peace and Plenty ..., p.96.

32. Left News, August 1936.

33. Cited in F. Claudin, The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform, Vol.1, New York, 1975, p.208.

34. Cited in S.F. Kissin, War and the Marxists: Socialist Theory and Practice in Capitalist Wars, Vol.2, London, 1989, p.81.

35. G. Orwell, "Inside the Whale", Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Vol.1, Harmondsworth, 1984, p.563.

36. Orwell, for instance, considered: "It is only natural ... that the English communist movement should be controlled by people who are mentally subservient to Russia and have no real aim except to manipulate British foreign policy in the Russian interest" (ibid., p.562).

37. L.D. Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, p.55.

38. L.D. Trotsky, "Who Defends Russia? Who Helps Hitler?", Writings of Leon Trotsky 1935-36, New York, 1977, p.60.

39. L.D. Trotsky, "The Comintern’s Liquidation Congress", ibid., p.93.

40. L.D. Trotsky, "A Fresh Lesson", Writings of Leon Trotsky 1938-39, pp.70-1.

41. Ibid., pp.71, 76.

42. Pollitt said in a television interview in April 1956: "In 1939 1 thought it an anti-fascist war. I thought it then and I think it now." (Cited in Mahon, op. cit., pp.253-4.) Cf. K. Morgan, Harry Pollitt, Manchester, 1993, pp.112ff. The party historian Monty Johnstone says: "Johnny Campbell expressed a similar view to me, as to other comrades, in the last years of his life." (M. Johnstone, contribution to J. Attfield and S. Williams, 1939: The Communist Party and the War, London, 1984, p.44.)

43. Even then the Communist Party of the USA blatantly appealed to the anti-British patriotic spirit of the American War of Independence in its campaign to keep the USA out of the war. Cf. E. Browder, The Way Out, New York, 1941, pp.230ff.

44. Cited in V. Gollancz, Russia and Ourselves, London, 1941, p.123.

45. R.P. Dutt, Britain in the World Front, London, 1942, p.197.

46. Cf. Bornstein and Richardson, op. cit., pp.103ff.

47. H. Pollitt, How To Win The Peace, London, 1944, pp.3-4.

48. Labour Monthly, January 1946.

49. Daily Worker, 12 September 1949.

50. H. Pollitt, Britain Arise, London, 1952, p.12.

51. Ibid., p.28.

52. Hence, the version published in 1968 declared that "we have outlined a British road to socialism." (The British Road to Socialism, London, 1968, pp.47, 71, original emphasis.)