Workers Socialist Federation

From Academic Kids

The Workers Socialist Federation was a socialist political party in the United Kingdom, led by Sylvia Pankhurst. Under many different names, it gradually broadened its politics from a focus on women's suffrage to eventually become a left communist grouping.


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 democratic and 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 class people 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 Women's Dreadnought.

At first, the group campaigned for universal suffrage and 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. This view initially lost the group support, but they began work to ameliorate suffering the East End.

The ELFS got a chain of cost price restaurants set up, and itself set up a toy factory, free clinic and Montessori nursery. They also agitated for widow's pensions and dependant'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 Workers' Dreadnought.

The WSF supported the 1916 Irish Rising and became a leading proponent of improved social welfare while continuing agitation for a universal franchise. As such, it opposed the Franchise Bill which 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 Russian Revolution and renamed itself again, this time as the Workers' Socialist Federation. It was the first British party to affiliate to the Third International and lead campaigns against the British government's anti-Bolshevik activities with the slogan "Hands off Russia".

But Sylvia Pankhurst had become disillusioned with parliamentary politics, particularly after the death of Keir Hardie. Under her guidance, the WSF at first refused to join a unified British Communist Party as they proposed to affiliate to the Labour Party (which was ultimately not permitted by the Labour leadership), and to stand in elections.

Communist Party (British Section of the Third International)

Having rejected Communist unity, the party renamed itself again in June 1920, this time as the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International). But after travelling to the second congress of the Comintern, Lenin personally persuaded Sylvia that her objections were less important than unity, and so they finally merged with the Communist Party of Great Britain at the beginning of 1921.

After a period, Pankhurst was instructed to place the Workers' Dreadnaught under the control of the party, which she refused to do, leading to her expulsion from the CPGB in September 1921 for indiscipline. 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 Dutt and even received subsidies.

Whatever the rights of her case, Pankhurst reorganised her group of supporters as the Communist Workers Party, affiliated to the Communist Workers International (KAI, also known as the Fourth International) although it was now a very small party and fated to dissolve by 1924.


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