LETTER

FROM THE ECCI AND THE EXECUTIVE

COMMITTEE OF THE RILU TO THE WORKERS OF GREAT BRITAIN

 

[EXTRACTS]


September 1921 Inprecorr, i, I, p. 5, 1 October 1921


 

 

 

 

The working-class of Great Britain is in a position bordering on despair. Divided into a multitude of unions, federations, loose alliances, committees, councils, parties, and devoid of unified and militant leadership, the British labour movement of today is a vast confusion and chaos. Eight million organised workers, a mighty army indeed, cannot point out a single victory won by labour in recent years. The history of the labour movement, especially since the outbreak of the war and after the armistice, has been a record of blunders and defeats. Separate groups of workers, unaided and unsupported by the rest of the working-class, have, time and again, put up the most stubborn and the most heroic fights, but the working class as a whole

has repeatedly suffered itself to be tricked and fooled by the bourgeoisie and labour politicians, has meekly and obediently accepted broken promises and downright betrayals, has submitted to threats and intimidations.

And what is the result? Millions of unemployed, hundreds of thousands of workers on short-time, a general insecurity of work, a continuous decline and fall in the standard of living. . . .

The capitalist system, which is responsible for the present crisis and all its attendant evils of unemployment, misery, and privations, is unable to extricate itself from the economic chaos of its own creation. It is not only unable to solve the

unemployment problem, but to insure its own continued existence it is compelled to degrade the working class and reduce it still further to servitude. The universal economic chaos, to which imperialist capitalism has brought the world, threatens profits, and the bourgeoisie wishes to recoup itself at the expense of the meagre wages of the workers. Thus, the present crisis is being utilised by the capitalist class in a ruthless and ferocious attack on the standard of living of the proletariat. To maintain the profits of capitalism, the workers must starve. . . .

 

How is it that the British proletariat suffers itself to be thus cowed and beaten into submission without putting up a united and determined fight to a finish? This is the foremost question which the workers must raise before the Trade Union Congress

and give a satisfactory answer. We on our part have this to say: The workers of Great Britain are organised in trade unions but not organised as a class. They possess no class organisation capable of leading the whole of the working class to victory. The trade unions form federations and alliances, or belong to the Trade Union Congress or Labour Party, but in spite of this multitude of organisations, the proletariat is not organised as a

class. The bourgeoisie looks to the Federation of British Industries for aid and action. When in need, it has Parliament to fall back upon and a National Government is always at its disposal. The bourgeoisie is indeed organised as a class, but the workers alone are split and torn asunder into a multitude of petty unions, federations, alliances with high-sounding and imposing names, but none of them representing the working class as a whole and with neither authority nor power to act... That's why it has been beaten and crushed time and again, so badly. It is high time for Labour to recognize the painful truth that it is divided against itself, no matter how much it may profess class solidarity, and in spite of its deep conviction

that 'an injury to one is an injury to all'. Class-solidarity, to be effective, must find its expression through class organisation and so long as labour remains disunited, it will be beaten.

The capitalist class and the Government know well that so long as they can keep labour in the present state of disorganisation and chaos, their rule is unassailable and unshakeable. As to the revolt of separate groups of labour, as in the case of the miners, there is nothing much for the bourgeoisie to fear. These can be crushed with comparative ease, and what is more, crushed by the aid of other groups of the working class which, while the struggle goes on, supply the enemy with the sinews of war to be used against their fellow workers. For, and let us not deceive ourselves on that score, when a million miners are engaged in a deadly grip with the employers, and the rest of the workers stand at their benches, drive engines and load cars, they help the enemy to beat the miners. .. .

 

 

 

THE TRADE UNION CONGRESS

 

 

The Trade Union Congress, loose and involuntary as it has been till now, is not the organization capable of leading the working class to victory over the bourgeoisie, or even to defend the workers from capitalist aggression. The annual meetings of the Trade Union Congress only afford an additional platform to a few labour leaders to give vent to their eloquence before a labour audience. Its practical work results in a multitude of resolutions and recommendations and that is all.

The leaders of the Trade Union Congress readily turned into diplomats of the working class and concluded peace with the bourgeoisie and the Government by voluntarily assigning to them the rights of labour on empty promises for the future,

but did nothing to compel the Government and the bourgeoisie to fulfil them. When the industries and the soldiers were demobilised, and hundreds of thousands of men and women were thrown out of work to become a public charge; when every promise made to the workers during the war was broken soon after, what did the Trade Union Congress do to show to the capitalists and the Government that Labour cannot and

will not be trifled with? It did nothing except silently witness the dignity of Labour being gradually degraded and dragged into the mire. Was the Trade Union Congress of any assistance to the workers in 1919? Did it bring active pressure of the whole

working class to bear upon the Government to yield to the railwaymen? No, it did not. Did the Trade Union Congress help the miners to secure nationalisation at a time when the position of Labour was most favourable? No, it did not. Its threat of direct action remained on paper, notwithstanding the fact that over four million workers voted for direct action. Was the Trade Union Congress of any practical use in the Labour disputes of 1920? No, it was not. ... Is it not then correct, fellow workers, to say that Labour has not found in the Trade Union Congress the class organization it needs, and is it not high time that every worker realises this before the capitalist class has got you securely by the throat. . . .

 

The present position of British Labour is such that we are quite justified in pointing out to every worker the immediate need for a centralised, efficient and militant class organisation. In fact the workers themselves realised that the present state of affairs in the labour movement is intolerable, and that drastic changes are needed immediately to avoid further and more crushing defeat. . . .

 

We must never for a moment forget that the leaders, such as Thomas and his like, do not want a real union of Labour, for that means that the large masses of the workers will be involved into a direct struggle with the Capitalist class. This is

precisely what the leaders do not want. Did not Thomas state during the lockout of the miners that nobody could foretell the consequences of a combined strike of the Triple Alliance and other bodies of Labour, and did he not say that whichever side

would win, the nation would lose? That means that even if the workers won, the Nation would lose? And so Thomas is against common action by the workers because the Nation, that is to say the capitalist class, would lose. . . .

 

Both the petty leaders and the leaders of national fame, those who represent labour in the bourgeoisie newspapers, in the Trade Union Congress and in Parliament, those who are hailed as the leaders of the future Labour Government will with a few exceptions oppose a centralised and disciplined organisation of the whole of the working class, because such an organisation would destroy their power of aiding the bourgeoisie and the Government to play off one group of workers against the other; it would eliminate that chaos in the Labour movement which

heretofore afforded to them the very excellent opportunity of keeping Labour under their domination, and thus preventing every attempt on the part of the Workers to revolt against the capitalist system. Their object is, as Thomas has more than once declared, to 'keep the ring' in the big battles of Labour and Capital. Their object can be best attained by holding the working class disunited, disorganised and discentralised.

To insure ourselves against the tricks and machinations of the leaders who will make every attempt to reduce the whole question of the unification of the Labour Movement to a mere change in the names of the old organizations, leaving everything else as it existed heretofore, the workers must take the work of unification into their own hands and see to it that first of all the shops and the works are united, along the lines of industry. The Workers' Committee is the foundation of

working class unity. The Workers' Committee and the Trade Unions must form the Local Trades and Labour Councils with authority to act as the General Staff of Labour for the given locality. Finally, the Trades and Labour Congress must be

representatives of the whole of the working class and responsible only to the working class. Unity in the factory, in the pit, and so on, unity on the point of production, unity in the locality, Working class unity in the whole country. It unites

all the workers at the point of production irrespective of grade, craft, colour or sex.

The creation of directing staffs in the English Labour movement is only one part of the problem. What will the Executive Organs, invested with authority, do? Will they, like the general staffs of the Trade Union movement in other countries, look

for salvation in collaboration with the bourgeoisie or will they carry on a revolutionary struggle against it? Will the new staff spend the revolutionary energy of the working class in bartering, or will it, clearly understanding the contradictions

which tear apart the existing capitalist society, struggle with all its organised power for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the power of the toilers?

Here are the questions that are of the utmost interest to every proletarian, to every worker of Great Britain. You have witnessed the great struggles and social conflicts of the last years. The workers were being vanquished not only because they were poorly organised but also because they were striving for sectional aims. The bourgeoisie had triumphed over you not only because it is better organised than you, but also because it understands its class interests better than the working class. It

never pursues merely economic problems. It always regards its problems as class problems and all its activities are permeated with the spirit of its class. Being numerically weaker than the working class it succeeds by the strength of its organisation and class consciousness.

If the General Staff of the English Labour movement will be permeated with the spirit of hatred against the dominating class, if each little conflict, each skirmish, will serve for the education of the masses, for the single aim of the overthrow of

bourgeois domination, your staff will be worthy of the confidence of the English Labour movement, and will be worthy of its great mission. The victory in the social struggle belongs to the class which is not only better organised, but which is more conscious, to the class which can marshall all the might of its organisation and all its experience for the accomplishment of its class task.


 

 

Comintern

III. International