Workers Socialist Federation
The Workers Socialist Federation was a
socialist political partyin the United Kingdom, led by Sylvia Pankhurst. Under many different names, it gradually broadened its politics from a focus on women's suffrageto eventually become a left communistgrouping.
East London Federation of the WSPU
It originated as the East London Federation of the
Women's Social and Political Union(WSPU, better known as the Suffragettes). The East London Federation was founded by Sylvia Pankhurst in 1913, and differed from its parent organisation in being democraticand including men, such as George Lansbury.
By this point, Sylvia had many disagreements with the line the WSPU was taking. She wanted an explicitly socialist organisation tackling wider issues than women's suffrage, aligned with the
Independent Labour Party, based among working classpeople in the East End of London. She also wanted to focus on collective workers' action, not individual attacks on property.
East London Federation of Suffragettes
These and other differences, including personal ones, led to Sylvia's expulsion, along with the East London Federation, from the WSPU. In early 1914, they renamed themselves the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) and launched a newspaper, the "
At first, the group campaigned for
universal suffrageand agitated among parliamentarians, with the assistance of Keir Hardie. But with the outbreak of World War I, they began also to attack participation in the war, supporting the positions of the Zimmerwald Conference. This view initially lost the group support, but they began work to ameliorate suffering the East End.
The ELFS got a chain of
cost pricerestaurants set up, and itself set up a toy factory, free clinicand Montessorinursery. They also agitated for widow's pensions and dependent's allowances.
Workers' Suffrage Federation
As public opinion turned against the war, the group gained new support, and its newspaper increased its circulation. To reflect its now broader political positions, in March 1916 it renamed itself the Workers' Suffrage Federation (WSF). Similarly, the newspaper was renamed the "
The WSF supported the
1916 Irish Risingand became a leading proponent of improved social welfarewhile continuing agitation for a universal franchise. As such, it opposed the Franchise Billwhich ultimately gave women in Britain the vote in general elections as the restrictions on women voting were much stricter than those on men.
Workers' Socialist Federation
The party enthusiastically supported the
October Revolutionof 1917 and renamed itself again, this time as the Workers' Socialist Federation. It was the first British party to affiliate to the Third Internationaland lead campaigns against the British government's anti- Bolshevikactivities with the slogan "Hands off Russia". It also began working with the South Wales Socialist Society(SWSS) and the London Workers' Committee.
Sylvia Pankhurst had become disillusioned with parliamentary politics, particularly after the death of
Keir Hardie, and instead championed soviets. This led some syndicalists and anarchists to join the group. With the aim of forming a united British Communist Party, in April 1918 the WSF opened merger negotiations with the largest far left group in the country, the British Socialist Party(BSP). Although this engendered a co-operative relationship, the negotiations broke down, as the BSP would not countenance withdrawal from the Labour Party. Pankhurst attempted to convince Leninof her positions, but he supported the proposed Communist Party tactically affiliating to Labour.
In June 1919, the WSF and BSP joined with the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) and SWSS in broader negotiations. They agreed the main points of unity, but Pankhurst still foresaw difficulties in joined a party which would engage in
Parliamentaryaction, and initiated an alternative conference, inviting the SLP, SWSS and the Communist League but not the BSP.
Communist Party (British Section of the Third International)
The conference was held in June 1920 but was attended only by WSF members, some local groups and independents. It agreed to form the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International) (CP(BSTI)) and voted to boycott future unity meetings. Instead, it attempted to interest the SLP in a merger. They proposed opening discussions with the
Socialist Party of Great Britainand the British Section of the International Socialist Labour Party, but then withdrew, leaving the exercise a failure. However, the CP(BSTI) did gain influence in the Scottish Communist Labour Party and the tiny Communist Party of South Wales and the West of Englandwas formed on their platform.
The BSP had meanwhile formed the
Communist Party of Great Britain(CPGB). Lenin called on other communists to join the new party, and the CP(BSTI) was one of the groups covered in his work "". Although "Workers Dreadnaught" was openly critical of this pamphlet, Pankhurst attended the Second Congress of the Comintern, where Lenin personally persuaded Sylvia that her objections were less important than unity, and that it would be possible to maintain an anti-Parliamentary opposition within the CPGB. Pankhurst called a conference, inviting the English Shop Stewards' and Workers' Committee Movement, the Communist Labour Party, the Scottish Workers' Committeeand the Glasgow Communist Group. She was imprisoned in September, but with the support of Willie Gallacher, all the groups at the conference bar Guy Aldred's Glasgow Communist Group agreed to merge with the Communist Party of Great Britain in January 1921.
After a period, Pankhurst was instructed to place the "Workers' Dreadnaught" under the control of the party, which she refused to do. In particular, she criticised the Communist Party members of the Poplar
Board of Guardiansfor agreeing to reduce outdoor Poor Lawrelief, which was cited as the reason for her expulsion from the CPGB in September 1921. While the idea of democratic centralism, newly accepted as the governing principle for the CPGB, would seem to suggest that she was in breach of discipline, it should be noted that " Labour Monthly" continued as the personal organ of R. P. Duttand even received subsidies.
Communist Workers Party
Pankhurst reorganised her group of supporters around "Workers Dreadnaught", and began criticising the admittance of
trade unions to the Red International of Labour Unions, and warning that they felt the Bolsheviks were beginning to "slip to the right". The group affiliated to the left communist Communist Workers International(KAI, also known as the "Fourth International") and announced its intention to form a Communist Workers Party. No national group was formally constituted, and they later referred to the network as the Communist Workers Group although it was now a very small party and fated to dissolve in June 1924.
*"The British Communist Left 1914-45", Mark Hayes (
International Communist Current)
*" [http://www.af-north.org/shipway/shipway%20index.htm Anti Parliamentary Communism] ", Mark Shipway (Anarchist Federation)
*"Sylvia Pankhurst: A Crusading Life 1882-1960", Shirley Harrison
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