ON THE GENERAL STRIKE IN BRITAIN
5 May 1926
Inprekorr, vi, 70, p. 1111, 7 May 1926
The ECCI had not waited for the beginning of the strike to issue appeals and manifestoes calling for support against 'the capitalists who were trying to destroy the British labour movement'. In a manifesto dated 25 April the ECCI wrote that 'victory or defeat for the miners means victory or defeat for the entire British working class. A strike by the miners would imply a general strike, and a general strike cannot remain an industrial struggle. It is bound to develop into a political struggle; the proletariat will be fighting the capitalists, that is to say, class will be fighting class. The British bourgeoisie and the British Government will mobilize the entire power of the State, because the basic question of capitalist society will be raised, the question of private property; the entire machinery of the capitalist State will be brought into action to defend private property. The fight for wages and working conditions will raise before the working class the question of power.' It went on to warn 'the working masses who are ready for the fight' that their leaders were irresolute, and some were prepared to betray the fight before it had even begun.
Even 'the left-wing leaders of the Labour Party and the unions are showing themselves unequal to the situation.
Only the Minority Movement and the CPGB have called on the workers to resist, have tried to organize the struggle, have advocated the militant unity of the trade union movement in Great Britain and throughout the world.' When the strike began on 3 May the ECCI and the RILU sent a number of messages to the IFTU proposing joint activities; the IFTU replied that it was already consulting with the TUC.
In a message to the CPGB dated 7 May the ECCI presidium urged the British communists to make clear to the masses that the strike was a class struggle—one side led by the TUG, the other by the Government. As the struggle developed, the party's slogans must be carried to a higher level, up to the slogan of the struggle for power. The Government no longer appeared as the mediator; the masks had fallen; it stood revealed as the executive organ of the employers. The Russian unions' offer of 2 1/2 million rubles was rejected by the General Council, which decided not to accept any foreign financial help.
To the workers of all countries
The events in Great Britain are of historic importance. The British capitalists are intent on the ruthless defeat and humiliation of the miners, the vanguard of the British proletariat, with the object of demoralizing the British labour movement and setting the British proletariat back for decades. The Conservative Government decided to wage 'preventive war' on the British working class, for it feared that the discontent, provoked by Conservative rule and growing steadily, would drive the wave of the labour movement still higher. For several months the Baldwin Government has been coldbloodedly preparing to destroy and suppress the British working class with the object of improving its own position in the country.
The great fight between capital and labour began as an industrial struggle but is developing into a political one.
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The army, the navy, the air force, and the police are being mobilized against the working class. A censorship has been established throughout the country and arrest warrants have been issued. The methods used in the world war against the 'external enemy' are now being used against the 'internal enemy', that is, the working class
defending its rights.
The bourgeoisie have established a united front against the working class.
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To this we must oppose the united front of the proletariat. The fight of the British proletariat is a fight of the entire world proletariat. The Communist International calls on all its members and adherents to do their utmost to support the great struggle of the British proletariat.
Miners of Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, America, Japan, and other countries! To you the Communist International addresses its first word.
The victory of your British brothers, which will be your victory too, depends on you.
Not a single ton of coal or oil must be sent to British ports.
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Transport workers and railwaymen of the world, the eyes of the fighting British proletariat are on you. You must not allow a single train or ship to carry coal or oil to Britain so long as the fight is on.
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All sections of the Communist International are to propose to the socialdemocrats the immediate establishment of joint committees of action to support the struggle of the British workers.
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To the British workers the Communist International expresses its enthusiasm for the fight so heroically begun.
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Since the days of the Chartists Britain has seen no movement so powerful as the present one. The British workers can be certain that all honest proletarians throughout the world will come enthusiastically to their aid.
The British workers will not forget the grave lessons of 1921. The heroes of Black Friday are deservedly suspect. The history of industrial disputes in Britain gives many examples of treacherous leaders placing themselves at the head of the movement in order to take the first opportunity of betraying it. Do not forget, comrades, that this is the greatest danger which threatens you.
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Whatever the immediate outcome of the fight now begun by the British workers. . . one thing is certain: this great struggle opens a new era in the class struggle not only in Britain but throughout the world.
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THESES ON THE LESSONS
OF THE GENERAL STRIKE
8 June 1926 Inprekorr, vi, 84, p. 1339, 15 June 1926
At a meeting in Xiflis on 8 June Stalin referred to the leaders of the TUC and the Labour Party as 'downright traitors or spineless fellowtravellers of these traitors'; one of the reasons for the failure of the strike, he said, was that the CPGB enjoyed little prestige among British workers, although its attitude throughout the strike was absolutely correct.
The CC of the CPGB wrote to the CC of the CPSU protesting against the Russian trade union declaration, made without prior consultation with the CPGB. At the ECCI presidium on 7 August Stalin stated that the declaration had been made with the knowledge and approval of the CI and the RILU. Stalin defended the action of the Russian unions, saying they could not give the impression that they condoned the General Council's attitude. The communist press continued to issue manifestoes and appeals in support of the miners' strike, and reports on the progress of fund-collecting, etc., became a regular feature of Inprekorr. A 'conference of revolutionary miners' was held in
Essen on 16—17 June to discuss ways and means of supporting the Miners' Federation of Great Britain (MFGB). Representatives of the MFGB and the Russian miners' union met in Berlin on 7 July and advocated an early meeting of the Anglo- Russian committee. The TUC agreed to the Russian request and the meeting was held in Paris at the end of July. In the meantime the Comintern sections had issued statements repeating the charge of treachery and urging British trade unionists to elect new leaders. On 17 August the ECCI issued a statement attacking the General Council which wanted 'all its sins and crimes against the English and the world proletariat to be forgiven'. It urged the English unions to ensure the continued existence of the Anglo-Russian committee.
In Berlin the Russian comrades put forward a 14-point resolution attacking the IFTU, proposing action in support of the miners, etc.
At the meeting of the CC of the CPSU on 15 July Stalin defined the tasks of the committee as to 'widen the fissure between Amsterdam and the British trade union movement', to create conditions favourable to removing the reformist leadership of the unions, and replacing it by communist, to organize a movement against British intervention in the Soviet Union. Those who were trying to torpedo the committee were playing into the hands of the interventionists. At the ECCI presidium meeting on 7 August he suggested that the British side would be unwilling to break up the committee because of the financial help coming from the Russian unions to the MFGB.
THE CRISIS OF ENGLISH CAPITALISM
(a) The position of the English economy within world economy, and England's situation as an imperialist State, can be said to be in irresistible decline.
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(b) One of the most important elements in the general decline of English capitalism is the chronic crisis in coal-mining, which is growing steadily more severe. This industry ... was the basis of England's economic power. Its decline is a striking indication of the general decay of English capitalism.
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ENGLAND'S DECLINE AND THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
English capitalism in its classic period gave rise to the classic type of English trade unionism. Its socio-economic basis was the surplus profit which the English bourgeoisie received from all quarters of the globe, part of which entered into the wages of the English proletariat, which thus steadily raised its living standards and improved its skill.
Within the international labour army the English proletariat thus developed as a privileged group, occupying an exceptional position as a labour aristocracy, and to a certain extent bound economically by common interests to its employers.
(b) The beginning of the decline of English capitalism and the parallel decline in imperialist surplus profits have radically changed class relationships, both between the classes and within the working class. The growing acuteness of class contradictions has greatly diminished the political importance of traditional English liberalism.
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The strengthening of the Conservatives on the one side and the growth of the Labour Party on the other, the general move to the left of the workers . . . the formation of the communist party, the establishment of the so-called Minority Movement, the campaign for rapprochement with the Soviet Union, the creation under mass pressure of the Anglo-Russian committee—all these are links in one and the same chain of development.
(c) The process by which the English workers are shaking off the influence of opportunism is not an even one.
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The greatest obstacle is the hierarchy of trade union and Labour Party officials which grew up in the old conditions. The great majority of them are either conscious allies of the bourgeoisie and conscious enemies of the proletarian class movement, or 'leftists' (centrists) who, because of their timidity, their political cowardice, and their consequent inevitable inclination towards surrender, at critical moments go over to the enemy's side.
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THE COURSE OF THE GENERAL STRIKE AND ITS END
(a) The course of the general strike and its liquidation offer a vital lesson for the entire international proletariat. On 30 April the mine-owners presented the miners with an ultimatum.
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When the miners rejected the terms offered the lockout began. Under mass pressure the General Council decided on the strike.
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On 1 May the workers gave striking proof of their attitude in tremendous demonstrations.
In the meantime the Government was taking energetic measures to suppress the workers. On 1 May a state of emergency was declared over the whole country and troops were sent to Lancashire, Scotland, and Wales; all the forces of the counterrevolution were mobilized. At the same time Messrs. Thomas, MacDonald, and Co. took over the conductor's baton in the General Council; the 'left' made a pitiful retreat to the background.
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The fear of what was happening and the preparations to liquidate the general strike were revealed above all in the statement that the strike was a 'purely industrial struggle'.
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(b) If the labour leaders acted as though they failed to understand the political
character of the strike, the Government and the bourgeoisie understood it very well,
and acted accordingly.
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(c) The 'left' leaders, who had a majority in the General Council, put up no resistance whatever to the deliberate traitors like Thomas, but marched all the time under right-wing orders. In fact Thomas and Co. ran the General Council throughout the course of the strike.
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Thus the 'left' objectively played an even more shameful role, for they had a majority and bore direct responsibility for the conduct of the strike.
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(e) The Second International and Amsterdam in practice supported the policy of the right-wing leaders of the General Council, that is to say, they sabotaged the strike.
It was only under mass pressure that they took a few minimal steps in support of the strikers. From the point of view of the development of the movement, the policy of these associations was one of sabotage.
(f) The strike was called off because it was spreading, for the leaders feared nothing so much as its extension.
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The strike could have moved forward and triumphed only if it developed further, that is, if the class struggle had become more acute. The decisive turning-point was already perfectly clear when the 'leaders' refused to accept financial aid from the Soviet trade unions, in collaboration with whom they had established the Anglo-Russian unity committee, and explained their refusal by saying that acceptance would have been wrongly interpreted. In trying to cover up this refusal by refusing all help from abroad, they isolated the English workers from the international proletariat.
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The tactics of the Government and the bourgeoisie were the tactics of vigorous and calculated offensive. The tactics of the trade union leaders were the tactics of betrayal and surrender. The refusal to shift the strike into political channels was at bottom a blow against the mobilization of internal forces. The refusal to accept international aid was a blow at the mobilization of the external forces of the proletariat. The order to end the strike put the finishing touch. The working class was demobilized by its leaders and lost the biggest battle in the history of the English labour movement.
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THE MINERS' STRIKE AND THE OUTLOOK FOR THE FUTURE
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The economic basis for reformism in England has disappeared once and for all. The shedding of parliamentary and constitutional illusions, the revelation of the role of the State as a class instrument, the inevitable disappointment in the old reformist leaders and their methods, the clarity with which the question of the seizure of power is now presented—all this must lead to a growth in the workers' class consciousness. The rapid decline of capitalism in England is bound to lead to further revolutionary struggles.
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THE LESSONS OF THE STRIKE
(a) The great English general strike completely confirmed the appraisal of the international political situation given by the Comintern as a period of relative and temporary capitalist stabilization.
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ust as the colonial wars, the national revolution in China, the bankruptcy of Locarno, etc., reveal the baseness of socialdemocratic 'pacifism', so the civil war in Poland and the strike of millions of English proletarians reveal the pitiful reformist utopianism of social-democracy in the question of the class struggle...
(b) The strike again brought up in pronounced form the question of the general strike as a method of struggle. It was on a scale, and had an impetus . . . previously unknown in the history of the labour movement. It proved, against all the assertions of the bourgeoisie and the labour renegades, that a general strike is possible, and can be victorious if it is correctly carried forward.
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The reformist leaders surrendered because they were unable to break through the limits of their reformism, because they did not and could not dare to carry the strike forward and transform it from an industrial into a political struggle. Calling the strike off showed, not the bankruptcy of the strike as a method of struggle, but the bankruptcy of its reformist leaders.
(c) In this bankruptcy both wings of opportunism were involved, both the right, openly and insolently treacherous and consciously serving the bourgeoisie (Thomas, MacDonald, Clynes, and Co.), and the capitulators who conceal their opportunism (Purcell) and who, because of their petty-bourgeois political lack of character and cowardice, at the critical moment go over to the right wing.
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(e) The general strike demonstrated the correctness of the policy of the Comintern and the RILU on establishing international trade union unity.
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(f) In this connexion it would be wholly inexpedient for the Soviet trade unions to leave the Anglo-Russian unity committee. The Soviet workers did not send their representatives into the committee because they hoped thereby to substitute negotiations with opportunist leaders for the tasks of the revolutionary transformation of capitalist countries.
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The English union leaders agreed to the committee under mass pressure. If they now make a turn to the right—which is not only possible, but highly probable—and draw closer to Amsterdam, if they themselves break up the committee or boycott it, that will only expose them and bring them into conflict with that part of the masses which still supports them. Now particularly, when the English Government is opening the offensive against the workers, and inciting a campaign against the proletarian republic because of the support given by the Soviet trade unions... for the English union leaders to break up the committee would be such a demonstratively anti-working-class act that it would greatly accelerate the leftward movement of the English working masses.
In these circumstances for the Soviet unions to take the initiative in leaving the committee . . . would deal a blow to the cause of international unity, a thoroughly 'heroic' gesture, but politically inexpedient and infantile.
(g) The experience of the struggle for international trade union unity, which was the prime object for which the Anglo-Russian committee was formed, has shown that this was a wholly correct step to take. The accusation that it was taken for national State reasons has been refuted by practice and repeatedly and emphatically rejected by the Communist International.
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(m) By and large the CPGB passed the test of its political maturity. The attempt to present it as a 'brake on the revolution' is beneath criticism. The ECCI was completely right when it unanimously approved the attitude of the CPGB.
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The CPGB gave a correct appraisal of the liquidation of the strike as the 'greatest treachery', attacked the left sharply, and demanded the continuation of the strike despite the orders of the General Council, etc.
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OUR IMMEDIATE TASKS
A. The Immediate Tasks of the British Communist Party
1. Vigorous support for the striking miners.
2. Organization of fighting detachments against strike-breakers, and for selfdefence.
3. Advocacy of the nationalization of mines without compensation and workers' control of the mines.
4. A campaign for new elections to all trade union bodies up to and including the General Council. Control of the leaders by the masses.
5. Exposure of the right-wing leaders of the unions and the Labour Party as deliberate traitors.
6. Exposure of the left as capitulators, who, although they had a majority, carried out the policy of the right wing and are therefore chiefly responsible for the defeat.
17. Fight to rescind the decision to exclude communists from the Labour Party.
18. Strengthen and extend the Minority Movement, and concentration of all forces on capturing the most important industries (mining, railways, shipping, electricity).
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B. The Tasks of the Comintern and its Sections
1. Vigorous and unreserved support for the English miners' struggle under the slogan: 'The miners' cause is our cause'.
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3. Explaining to the masses the part played by Amsterdam, the Miners' International, and international social-democracy, which in fact sabotaged and broke the strike.
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5. A more intense fight for the unity of the trade union movement, nationally and internationally, and for the proletarian united front.