Works, Vol. 8, January-November, 1926, pp. 164-181
Comrades, with your permission, I shall proceed to make a statement on affairs in Britain in connection with the strike  and on the recent events in Poland,  a statement which your chairman, Comrade Chkheidze, has been good enough to call a report, but which can only be called a statement because of its brevity.
The first question is that of the causes of the strike in Britain. How could it happen that Britain, that land of capitalist might and unparalleled compromises, has of late become an arena of gigantic social conflicts? How could it happen that “great Britain,” “mistress of the seas,” became the country of a general strike?
I should like to point out a number of circumstances which made the general strike in Britain inevitable. The time has not yet come to give an exhaustive reply to this question. But we can, and should, point out certain decisive events which made the strike inevitable. Of these circumstances, four may be noted as the most important.
Firstly. Britain formerly occupied a monopoly position among the capitalist states. Owning a number of huge colonies, and having what for those days was an exemplary industry, it was able to parade as the “workshop of the world” and to rake in vast super-profits. That was the period of “peace and prosperity” in Britain. Capital raked in super-profits, crumbs from those super-profits fell to the share of the top section of the British labour movement, the leaders of the British labour movement were gradually tamed by capital, and conflicts between labour and capital were usually settled by compromise.
But the further development of world capitalism, especially the development of Germany, America and, in part, of Japan, which entered the world market as competitors of Britain, radically undermined Britain’s former monopoly position. The war and the post-war crisis dealt a further decisive blow to Britain’s monopoly position. There were fewer super-profits, the crumbs which fell to the share of the British labour leaders began to dwindle away. Voices began to be raised more and more frequently about the reduction in the standard of living of the British working class. The period of “peace and prosperity” was succeeded by a period of conflicts, lockouts and strikes. The British worker began to swing to the Left, to resort more and more frequently to the method of direct struggle against capital.
That being the state of affairs, it will be easily understood why the bullying tone of the British mine owners in threatening a lock-out could not remain unanswered by the miners.
Secondly. The second circumstance is the restoration of international market connections, and the consequent intensification of the struggle for markets among the capitalist groups. It is characteristic of the post-war crisis that it severed practically all the connections between the international market and the capitalist countries, replacing those connections by a certain chaos in relations. Now, with the temporary stabilisation of capitalism, this chaos is receding into the background, and the old connections of the international market are gradually being restored. Whereas a few years ago the problem was to restore the mills and factories and to recruit workers to work for the capitalists, the problem now is to secure markets and raw materials for the restored mills and factories. As a result the struggle for markets has assumed new intensity, and victory in this struggle is going to that group of capitalists and that capitalist state whose goods are cheaper and whose level of technique is higher. And new forces are now entering the market: America, France, Japan, Germany, and Britain’s dominions and colonies, which managed to develop their industry during the war and have now joined in the fight for markets. It is natural in view of all this that the easy extraction of profits from foreign markets, so long resorted to by Britain, has now become impossible. The old colonial method of monopolistic plundering of markets and sources of raw material has had to give way to the new method of capturing the market with the help of cheap goods. Hence the endeavour of British capital to restrict production, or at any rate not to expand it indiscriminately. Hence the vast army of unemployed in Britain as a permanent feature of recent years. hence the threat of unemployment, which is exasperating the British workers and rousing their fighting spirit. Hence the lightning reaction. which the threat of a lock-out evoked among the workers in general and the miners in particular.
Thirdly. The third circumstance is the endeavour of British capital to secure reduced costs of production in British industry and a cheapening of commodities at the expense of the interests of the British working class. The fact that the miners were the target of the main blow in this case cannot be called an accident. British capital attacked the miners not only because the mining industry is badly equipped technically and is in need of “rationalisation,” but primarily because the miners have always been, and still remain, the advanced detachment of the British proletariat. It was the strategy of British capital to curb this advanced detachment, to lower their wages and lengthen their working day, in order then, having settled accounts with this main detachment, to make the other detachments of the working class also toe the line. Hence the heroism with which the British miners are conducting their strike. Hence the unparalleled eagerness displayed by the British workers in supporting the miners by means of a general strike.
Fourthly. The fourth circumstance is that Britain is governed by the Conservative Party, the most bitter enemy of the working class. It goes without saying that any other bourgeois government would, in the main, have acted in the same way as the Conservative government to crush the working class. But there is also no doubt that only such sworn enemies of the working class as the Conservatives could have so lightly and cynically thrown down such an unparalleled challenge to the whole British working class as the Conservatives did when they threatened a lock-out. It can now be considered fully proven that the British Conservative Party not only wanted a lock-out and a strike, but that it had been preparing for them for nearly a year. Last July it postponed the attack on the miners because it considered the moment “inopportune.” But it made preparations during the whole period since then, accumulating stocks of coal, organising strikebreakers and suitably working up public opinion, so as to launch an attack on the miners in April of this year. Only the Conservative Party could have taken such a perfidious step.
The Conservative Party wormed its way into power with the help of forged documents and provocations. It had no sooner come into office than it attacked Egypt, using every means of provocation. For a year now it has been waging direct war on the Chinese people, resorting to the tried and tested colonial methods of plunder and oppression. It is not sparing of means to make impossible the development of closer relations between the peoples of the Soviet Union and the peoples of Great Britain, steadily building up the elements of an eventual intervention. It is now attacking the working class of its own country, having for a whole year prepared for this attack with a zeal worthy of a better cause. The Conservative Party cannot exist without conflicts inside and outside Britain. After this, can one be surprised that the British workers returned blow for blow?
Those, in the main, are the circumstances which made the strike in Britain inevitable.
The British general strike failed owing to a number of circumstances, of which the following, at least, should be mentioned:
Firstly. The British capitalists and the Conservative Party, as the course of the strike has shown, proved in general to be more experienced, more organised and more resolute, and therefore stronger, than the British workers and their leaders, as represented by the General Council and the so-called Labour Party. The leaders of the working class proved unequal to coping with the tasks of the working class.
Secondly. The British capitalists and the Conservative Party entered this gigantic social conflict fully armed and thoroughly prepared, whereas the leaders of the British labour movement were caught unawares by the mine-owners’ lock-out, having done nothing or practically nothing in the way of preparatory work. It should be mentioned in this connection that only a week before the conflict the leaders of the working class were expressing their conviction that there would be no conflict.
Thirdly. The capitalists’ general staff, the Conservative Party, waged the fight as a united and organised body, striking blows at the decisive points of the struggle, whereas the general staff of the labour movement—the T.U.C. General Council and its “political committee,” the Labour Party—proved to be internally demoralised and corrupted. As we know, the heads of this general staff proved to be either downright traitors to the miners and the British working class in general (Thomas, Henderson, MacDonald and Co.), or spineless fellow-travellers of these traitors who feared a struggle and still more a victory of the working class (Purcell, Hicks and others).
How could it happen, it may be asked, that the powerful British proletariat, which fought with unexampled heroism, proved to have leaders who were either venal or cowardly, or simply spineless? That is a very important question. Such leaders did not spring up all at once. They grew out of the labour movement; they received a definite schooling as labour leaders in Britain, the schooling of that period when British capital was raking in super-profits and could shower favours on the labour leaders and use them for compromises with the British working class; whereby these leaders of the working class, becoming ever more closely identified with the bourgeoisie in their manner of life and station, became divorced from the mass of the workers, turned their backs on them and ceased to understand them. They are the kind of working-class leaders who are dazzled by the glamour of capitalism, who are overwhelmed by the might of capital, and who dreary of “getting on in the world” and associating with “men of substance.” There is no doubt that these leaders—if I may call them that—are an echo of the past and do not suit the new situation. There is no doubt that in time they will be compelled to give way to new leaders who do correspond to the militant spirit and heroism of the British proletariat. Engels was right when he called such leaders bourgeoisified leaders of the working class. 
Fourthly. The general staff of British capitalism, the Conservative Party, realised that the gigantic strike of the British workers was a fact of tremendous political importance, that such a strike could be seriously fought only by measures of a political character, that the authority of the king, of the House of Commons and of the constitution would have to be invoked to crush the strike, and that it could not be brought to an end without mobilising the troops and proclaiming a state of emergency. The general staff of the British labour movement, the General Council, on the other hand, did not, or would not, realise this simple thing, or was afraid to admit it, and assured all and sundry that the general strike was a measure of an exclusively economic character, that it did not desire or intend to turn the struggle into a political struggle, that it was not thinking of striking at the general staff of British capital, the Conservative Party, and that it—the General Council—had no intention of raising the question of power.
Thereby the General Council doomed the strike to inevitable failure. For, as history has shown, a general strike which is not turned into a political struggle must inevitably fail.
Fifthly. The general staff of the British capitalists understood that international support of the British strike would be a mortal danger to the bourgeoisie. The General Council, on the other hand, did not understand, or pretended not to understand, that the strike of the British workers could only be won by means of international proletarian solidarity. Hence the refusal of the General Council to accept financial assistance from the workers of the Soviet Union  and other countries.
Such a gigantic strike as the general strike in Britain could have yielded tangible results if, at least, two fundamental conditions had been observed, namely, if it had been turned into a political struggle, and if it had been made an action in the struggle of the proletarians of all the advanced countries against capital. But, in its own peculiar “wisdom,” the British General Council rejected both these two conditions, thereby predetermining the failure of the general strike.
Sixthly. There is no doubt that a role of no little importance was played by the more than equivocal behaviour of the Second International and the Amsterdam Federation of Trade Unions in the matter of aiding the British general strike. In point of fact, the platonic resolutions of these organisations of Social-Democrats on aiding the strike were actually tantamount, to a refusal of any financial aid. For in no other way than by the equivocal conduct of the Social-Democratic International is it possible to explain the fact that all the trade unions of Europe and America together donated not more than one-eighth of the amount of financial aid which the trade unions of the Soviet Union found it possible to afford their British brothers. I say nothing of aid of another kind, in the form of stopping the transport of coal, a matter in which the Amsterdam Federation of Trade Unions is literally acting as a strikebreaker.
Seventhly. There is likewise no doubt that the weakness of the British Communist Party played a role of no little importance in contributing to the failure of the general strike. It should be said that the British Communist Party is one of the best sections of the Communist International. It should be mentioned that throughout the general strike in Britain its attitude was absolutely correct. But it must also be admitted that its prestige among the British workers is still small. And this circumstance could not but play a fatal part in the course of the general strike.
Such are the circumstances, at any rate the chief ones, which we have been able to ascertain at the present time and which determined the undesirable outcome of the general strike in Britain.
What are the lessons of the general strike in Britain—at least, the most important of them? They are the following.
Firstly. The crisis in the British coal industry and the general strike connected with it bluntly raise the question of socialising the instruments and means of production in the coal industry, with the establishment of workers’ control. That is a question of winning socialism. It scarcely needs proof that there are not and cannot be any other ways of radically solving the crisis in the coal industry other than the way proposed by the British Communist Party. The crisis in the coal industry and the general strike bring the British working class squarely up against the question of the practical realisation of socialism.
Secondly. The British working class could not but learn from its experience at first hand that the chief obstacle in the way to its goal is the political power of the capitalists, in this case, the Conservative Party and its government. Whereas the T.U.C. General Council feared like the plague to admit the inseparable connection between the economic struggle and the political struggle, the British workers cannot now fail to understand that, in their difficult struggle against organised capital, the basic question now is that of power, and that until it is settled, it is impossible to solve either the crisis in the coal industry or the crisis in the whole of British industry in general.
Thirdly. The course and outcome of the general strike cannot but convince the British working class that Parliament, the constitution, the king and the other attributes of bourgeois rule are nothing but a shield of the capitalist class against the proletariat. The strike tore the camouflage of a fetish and inviolable shrine both from Parliament and from the constitution. The workers will realise that the present constitution is a weapon of the bourgeoisie against the workers. The workers are bound to understand that they, too, need their own workers’ constitution, as a weapon against the bourgeoisie. I think that the learning of this truth will be a most important achievement of the British working class.
Fourthly. The course and outcome of the strike cannot but convince the British working masses of the unsuitability of the old leaders, of the unsuitability of the old functionaries, who grew up in the school of the old British policy of compromise. They cannot but realise that the old leaders must be replaced by new, revolutionary leaders.
Fifthly. The British workers cannot but realise now that the miners of Britain are the advanced detachment of the British working class, and that it is therefore the concern of the entire British working class to support the miners’ strike and ensure its victory. The whole course of the strike brings home to the British working class the absolutely unassailable truth of this lesson.
Sixthly. The British workers could not but be convinced in the difficult moment of the general strike, when the platforms and programmes of the various parties were being tested in action, that the only party capable of boldly and resolutely upholding the interests of the working class to the end is the Communist Party.
Such, in general, are the principal lessons of the general strike in Britain.
I pass on to a few conclusions of practical importance.
The first question is that of the stabilisation of capitalism. The strike in Britain has shown that the resolution of the Communist International on the temporary and insecure character of stabilisation is absolutely correct. The attack of British capital on the British miners was an attempt to transform the temporary, insecure stabilisation into a firm and permanent one. That attempt did not succeed, and could not have succeeded. The British workers, who replied to that attempt by a gigantic strike, have shown the whole capitalist world that the firm stabilisation of capitalism in the conditions of the post-war period is impossible, that experiments like the British one are fraught with the danger of the destruction of the foundations of capitalism. But if it is wrong to assume that the stabilisation of capitalism is firm, it is equally wrong to assume the contrary, namely, that stabilisation has come to an end, that it has been done away with, and that we have now entered a period when revolutionary storms will reach their climax. The stabilisation of capitalism is temporary and insecure, but it is stabilisation nevertheless, and so far still remains.
Further, precisely because the present temporary and insecure stabilisation still remains, for that very reason capital will persist in attempts to attack the working class. Of course, the British strike should have taught the entire capitalist world how risky experiments like the one made by the Conservative Party in Britain are for the life and existence of capitalism. That the experiment will not be without its cost for the Conservative Party, that is scarcely open to doubt. Neither can it be doubted that this lesson will be taken into account by the capitalists of all countries. All the same, capital will attempt fresh attacks on the working class, because it senses its insecurity and cannot but feel the need to establish itself more securely. The task of the working class and of the Communist Parties is to prepare their forces to repel such attacks on the working class. The task of the Communist Parties is, while continuing the organisation of the united working-class front, to bend all their efforts to convert the attacks of the capitalists into a counter-attack of the working class, into a revolutionary offensive of the working class, into a struggle of the working class for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and for the abolition of capitalism.
Lastly, if the working class of Britain is to accomplish these immediate tasks, the first thing it must do is to get rid of its present leaders. You cannot go to war against the capitalists if you have such leaders as the Thomases and MacDonalds. You cannot hope for victory if you have traitors like Henderson and Clynes in your rear. The British working class must learn to replace such leaders by better ones. For one thing or the other: either the British working class will learn to dismiss the Thomases and MacDonalds from their posts, or it will no more see victory than it can see its own ears.
Those, comrades, are a few conclusions which suggest themselves.
Now permit me to turn to the events in Poland.
1. The general strike in Britain took place on May 3-12, 1926. More than five million organised workers in all the major branches of industry and transport took part in the strike.
2. This refers to Pilsudski’s armed coup of May 12-13, 1926, by which he and his clique established a dictatorial regime in Poland and gradually carried out the fascination of the country.
3. See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Britain, Moscow 1953
4. On receipt of the news of the general strike in Britain, the Presidium of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, at a meeting on May 5, 1926, with the participation of representatives of the Central Committees of the trade unions resolved to call upon all members of trade unions in the U.S.S.R. to contribute one-quarter of a day’s earnings in support of the British workers on strike, and that same day it remitted 250,000 rubles to the British T.U.C. General Council. On May 7 the A.U.C.C.T.U. sent to the General Council a further two million rubles collected by workers of the U.S.S.R. On May 9 the General Council informed the A.U.C.C.T.U. of its refusal to accept this money or any other support from the workers of the U.S.S.R.
5. This refers to the theses on “Immediate Problems of the International Communist Movement” adopted on March 15, 1926, by the Sixth Enlarged Plenum of the E.C.C.I. (See Sixth Enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. Theses and Resolutions, Giz, 1926, pp. 4-39.)
Speech Delivered at a Joint Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission, C.P.S.U.(B.) , July 15, 1926;
we are passing through a period of the accumulation of forces, a period of winning over the masses and of preparing the proletariat for new battles. But the masses are in the trade unions. And in the West the trade unions, the majority of them, are now more or less reactionary. What, then, should be our attitude towards the trade unions? Should we, can we, as Communists, work in the reactionary trade unions? It is essentially this question that Trotsky put to us in his letter recently published in Pravda. There is nothing new, of course, in this question. It was raised before Trotsky by the "ultra-Lefts" in Germany, some five years ago. But Trotsky has seen fit to raise it again. How does he answer it? Permit me to quote a passage from Trotsky's letter:
"The entire present 'superstructure' of the British working class, in all its shades and groupings without exception, is an apparatus for putting a brake on the revolution. This presages for a long time to come the pressure of the spontaneous and semi-spontaneous movement on the framework of the old organisations and the formation of new, revolutionary organisations as the result of this pressure" (see Pravda, No. 119, May 26, 1926).
It follows from this that we ought not to work in the "old" organisations, if we do not want to "retard" the revolution. Either what is meant here is that we are already in the period of a direct revolutionary situation and ought at once to set up self-authorised organisations of the proletariat in place of the "old" ones, in place of the trade unions -- which, of course, is incorrect and foolish. Or what is meant here is that "for a long time to come" we ought to work to replace the old trade unions by "new, revolutionary organisations."
This is a signal to organise, in place of the existing trade unions, that same "Revolutionary Workers' Union" which the "ultra-Left" Communists in Germany advocated some five years ago, and which Comrade Lenin vigorously opposed in his pamphlet "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder. It is in point of fact a signal to replace the present trade unions by "new," supposedly "revolutionary" organisations, a signal, consequently, to withdraw from the trade unions.
Is that policy correct? It is fundamentally incorrect. It is fundamentally incorrect because it runs counter to the Leninist method of leading the masses. It is incorrect because, for all their reactionary character, the trade unions of the West are the most elementary organisations of the proletariat, those best understood by the most backward workers, and therefore the most comprehensive organisations of the proletariat. We cannot find our way to the masses, we cannot win them over if we by-pass these trade unions. To adopt Trotsky's standpoint would mean that the road to the vast masses would be barred to the Communists, that the working-class masses would be handed over to the tender mercies of Amsterdam , to the tender mercies of the Sassenbachs and the Oudegeests. 
The oppositionists here have quoted Comrade Lenin. Allow me, too, to quote what Lenin said:
"We cannot but regard also as ridiculous and childish nonsense the pompous, very learned, and frightfully revolutionary talk of the German Lefts to the effect that Communists cannot and should not work in reactionary trade unions, that it is permissible to turn down such work, that it is necessary to leave the trade unions and to create without fail a brand-new, immaculate 'Workers' Union' invented by very nice (and, probably, for the most part very youthful) Communists" (see Vol. XXV, pp. 193-94).
"We wage the struggle against the 'labour aristocracy' in the name of the masses of the workers and in order to win them to our side; we wage the struggle against the opportunist and social-chauvinist leaders in order to win the working class to our side. To forget this most elementary and most self-evident truth would be stupid. And it is precisely this stupidity that the German 'Left' Communists are guilty of when, because of the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the trade-union top leadership, they jump to the conclusion that -- we must leave the trade unions!! that we must refuse to work in them!! that we must create new, artificial forms of labour organisation!! This is such unpardonable stupidity that it is equivalent to the greatest service the Communists could render the bourgeoisie" (ibid., p. 196).
I think, comrades, that comment is superfluous.
This raises the question of skipping over the reactionary character of the trade unions in the West, which has not yet been outlived. This question was brought forward at the rostrum here by Zinoviev. He quoted Martov and assured us that the point of view opposed to skipping over, the point of view that it is not permissible for Marxists to skip over and ignore the backwardness of the masses, the backwardness and reactionariness of their leaders, is a Menshevik point of view.
I affirm, comrades, that this unscrupulous manoeuvre of Zinoviev's in citing Martov is evidence of one thing only -- Zinoviev's complete departure from the Leninist line.
I shall endeavour to prove this in what follows.
Can we, as Leninists, as Marxists, at all skip over and ignore a movement that has not outlived its day, can we skip over and ignore the backwardness of the masses, can we turn our back on them and pass them by; or ought we to get rid of such features by carrying on an unrelaxing fight against them among the masses? That is one of the fundamental questions of communist policy, one of the fundamental questions of Leninist leadership of the masses. The oppositionists spoke here of Leninism. Let us turn to the prime source, to Lenin.
It was in April 1917. Lenin was in controversy with Kamenev. Lenin did not agree with Kamenev, who overestimated the role of petty-bourgeois democracy. But Lenin was not in agreement with Trotsky either, who underestimated the role of the peasant movement and "skipped over" the peasant movement in Russia. Here are Lenin's words:
"Trotskyism says: 'No tsar, but a workers' government.' That is incorrect. The petty bourgeoisie exists, and it cannot be left out of account. But it consists of two sections. The poorer section follows the working class" (see Lenin's speech in the minutes of the Petrograd Conference of April 1917, p, 17 ).
"Now, if we were to say, 'no tsar, but a dictatorship of the proletariat,' that would be skipping over * the petty bourgeoisie" (see Lenin's speech in the minutes of the All-Russian Conference of April 1917, p. 76 ).
"But are we not incurring the danger of succumbing to subjectivism, of desiring to 'skip over' the uncompleted bourgeois-democratic revolution -- which has not yet outlived the peasant movement -- to a socialist revolution? I should be incurring that danger if I had said: 'No tsar, but a workers' government.' But I did not say that; I said something else. . . . I absolutely insured myself in my theses against any skipping over the peasant movement, or the petty-bourgeois movement generally, which has not yet outlived its day, against any playing at the 'seizure of power' by a workers' government, against Blanquist adventurism in any shape or form, for I pointed directly to the experience of the Paris Commune" (see Vol. XX, p. 104).
That is clear, one would think. The theory of skipping over a movement which has not outlived its day is a Trotskyist theory. Lenin does not agree with this theory. He considers it an adventurist one.
And here are a few more quotations, this time from other writings -- from those of a "very prominent" Bolshevik whose name I do not want to mention for the present, but who also takes up arms against the skipping-over theory.
"In the question of the peasantry, which Trotsky is always trying to 'skip over,' we would have committed the most egregious blunders. Instead of the beginnings of a bond with the peasants, there would now be thoroughgoing estrangement from them."
"Such is the 'theoretical' foundation of Parvusism and Trotskyism. This 'theoretical' foundation was later minted into political slogans, such as: 'no tsar, but a workers' government.' This slogan sounds very plausible now that after a lapse of fifteen years we have achieved Soviet power in alliance with the peasantry. No tsar -- that's fine! A workers' government -- better still! But if it be recalled that this slogan was put forward in 1905, every Bolshevik will agree that at that time it meant 'skipping over' the peasantry altogether."
"But in 1905 the 'permanentists' wanted to foist on us the slogan: 'Down with the tsar and up with a workers' government!' But what about the peasantry? Does it not stare one in the face, this complete non-comprehension and ignoring of the peasantry in a country like Russia? If this is not 'skipping over' the peasantry, then what is it?"
"Failing to understand the role of the peasantry in Russia, 'skipping over' the peasantry in a peasant country, Trotskyism was all the more incapable of understanding the role of the peasantry in the international revolution."
Who, you will ask, is the author of these formidable passages against Trotskyism and the Trotskyist skipping-over theory? The author of these formidable passages is none other than Zinoviev. They are taken from his book Leninism, and from his article "Bolshevism or Trotskyism?"
How could it happen that a year ago Zinoviev realised the anti-Leninist character of the skipping-over theory, but has ceased to realise it now, a year later? The reason is that he was then, so to speak, a Leninist, but has now got himself hopelessly bogged, with one leg in Trotskyism and the other in Shlyapnikovism, in the "Workers' Opposition."  And here he is, floundering between these two oppositions, and compelled now to speak here from this rostrum, quoting Martov. Against whom is he speaking? Against Lenin. And for whom is he speaking? For the Trotskyists.
To such depths has Zinoviev fallen.
It may be said that all this concerns the question of the peasantry, but has no bearing on the British trade unions. But that is not so, comrades. What has been said about the unsuitability in politics of the skipping-over theory has a direct bearing on the trade unions in Britain, and in Europe generally; it has a direct bearing on the question of leadership of the masses, on the question of the ways and means of emancipating them from the influence of reactionary, reformist leaders. Pursuing their skipping-over theory, Trotsky and Zinoviev are trying to skip over the backwardness, the reactionariness of the British trade unions, trying to get us to overthrow the General Council from Moscow, without the British trade-union masses. But we affirm that such a policy is stupidity, adventurism; that the reactionary leaders of the British trade-union movement must be overthrown by the British trade-union masses themselves, with our help ; that we must not skip over the reactionary character of the trade-union leaders, but must help the British trade-union masses to get rid of it.
You will see that there certainly is a connection between policy in general and policy towards the trade-union masses.
Has Lenin anything on this point?
Listen to this:
"The trade unions were a tremendous step forward for the working class in the early days of capitalist development, as marking the transition from the disunity and helplessness of the workers to the rudiments of class organisation. When the highest form of proletarian class association began to develop, viz., the revolutionary party of the proletariat (which will not deserve the name until it learns to bind the leaders with the class and the masses into one single indissoluble whole), the trade unions inevitably began to reveal certain reactionary features, a certain craft narrowness, a certain tendency to be non-political, a certain inertness, etc. But the development of the proletariat did not, and could not, proceed anywhere in the world otherwise than through the trade unions, through interaction between them and the party of the working class' (see Vol. XXV, p. 194). [Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder. VI. Should Revolutionaries Work in Reactionary Trade Unions? (1920)]
"To fear this 'reactionariness,' to try to avoid it, to skip over it, is the height of folly, for it means fearing that role of the proletarian vanguard which consists in training, educating, enlightening and drawing into the new life the most backward strata and masses of the working class and peasantry" (ibid., p. 195).
That is how matters stand with the skipping-over theory as applied to the trade-union movement.
Zinoviev would have done better not to come forward here quoting Martov. He would have done better to say nothing about the skipping-over theory. That would have been much better for his own sake. There was no need for Zinoviev to swear by Trotsky: we know as it is that he has deserted Leninism for Trotskyism.
That is how matters stand, comrades, with the Trotskyist theory of skipping over the backwardness of the trade unions, the backwardness of the trade-union movement, and the backwardness of the mass movement in general.
Leninism is one thing, Trotskyism is another.
This brings us to the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee. It has been said here that the Anglo-Russian Committee is an agreement, a bloc between the trade unions of our country and the British trade unions. That is perfectly true. The Anglo-Russian Committee is the expression of a bloc, of an agreement between our unions and the British unions, and this bloc is not without its political character.
This bloc sets itself two tasks. The first is to establish contact between our trade unions and the British trade unions, to organise a united movement against the capitalist offensive to widen the fissure between Amsterdam and the British trade union movement, a fissure which exists and which we shall widen in every way, and, lastly, to bring about the conditions essential for ousting the reformists from the trade unions and for winning over the trade unions of the capitalist countries to the side of communism.
The second task of the bloc is to organise a broad movement of the working class against new imperialist wars in general, and against intervention in our country by (especially) the most powerful of the European imperialist powers, by Britain in particular.
The first task was discussed here at adequate length, and, therefore, I shall not dwell upon it. I should like to say a few words here about the second task, especially as regards intervention in our country by the British imperialists. Some of the oppositionists say that this second task of the bloc between our trade unions and the British is not worth talking about, that it is of no importance. Why, one asks? Why is it not worth talking about? Is not the task of safeguarding the security of the first Soviet Republic in the world, which is moreover the bulwark and base of the international revolution, a revolutionary task? Are our trade unions independent of the Party? Is our view that of the independence of our trade unions -- that the state is one thing, and the trade unions another? No, as Leninists, we do not and cannot hold that view. It should be the concern of every worker, of every worker organised in a trade union, to protect the first Soviet Republic in the world from intervention. And if in this the trade unions of our country have the support of the British trade unions, although they are reformist unions, is that not obviously something to be welcomed?
Those who think that our unions cannot deal with state matters go over to the standpoint of Menshevism. That is the standpoint of Sotsialistichesky Vestnik.  It is not one we can accept. And if the reactionary trade unions of Britain are prepared to join with the revolutionary trade unions of our country in a bloc against the counter-revolutionary imperialists of their country, why should we not welcome such a bloc? I stress this aspect of the matter in order that our opposition may at last understand that in trying to torpedo the Anglo-Russian Committee it is playing into the hands of the interventionists.
Hence, the Anglo-Russian Committee is a bloc of our trade unions with the reactionary trade unions of Britain, the object of which is, firstly, to strengthen the connections between our trade unions and the trade-union movement of the West and to revolutionise the latter, and, secondly, to wage a struggle against imperialist wars in general, and intervention in particular.
But -- and this is a question of principle -- are political blocs with reactionary trade unions possible at all? Are such blocs permissible at all for Communists?
This question faces us squarely, and we have to answer it here. There are some people -- our oppositionists -- who consider such blocs impossible. The Central Committee of our Party, however, considers them permissible.
The oppositionists have invoked here the name of Lenin. Let us turn to Lenin:
"Capitalism would not be capitalism if the 'pure' proletariat were not surrounded by a mass of exceedingly motley intermediate types between the proletarian and the semi-proletarian (who earns his livelihood in part by the sale of his labour power), between the semi-proletarian and the small peasant (and the petty artisan, handicraft worker and small proprietor in general), between the small peasant and the middle peasant, and so on, and if the proletariat itself were not divided into more developed and less developed strata, if it were not divided according to place of birth, trade, sometimes according to religion, and so on. And from all this follows the necessity, the absolute necessity for the vanguard of the proletariat, for its class-conscious section, for the Communist Party, to resort to manoeuvres, arrangements and compromises with the various groups of proletarians, with the various parties of the workers and small proprietors. The whole point lies in knowing how to apply these tactics in order to raise, and not lower, the general level of proletarian political consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and ability to fight and win" (see Vol. XXV, p. 213).
"That the Hendersons, Clyneses, MacDonalds and Snowdens are hopelessly reactionary is true. It is equally true that they want to take power into their own hands (though, incidentally, they prefer a coalition with the bourgeoisie), that they want to 'rule' on the old bourgeois lines, and that when they do get into power they will unfailingly behave like the Scheidemanns and Noskes. All that is true. But it by no means follows that to support them is treachery to the revolution, but rather that in the interests of the revolution the working-class revolutionaries should give these gentlemen a certain amount of parliamentary support" (ibid., pp. 218-19).
Hence, it follows from what Lenin says that political agreements, political blocs between the Communists and reactionary leaders of the working class are quite possible and permissible.
Let Trotsky and Zinoviev bear this in mind.
But why are such agreements necessary at all?
In order to gain access to the working-class masses, in order to enlighten them as to the reactionary character of their political and trade-union leaders, in order to sever from the reactionary leaders the sections of the working class that are moving to the Left and becoming revolutionised, in order, consequently, to enhance the fighting ability of the working class as a whole.
Accordingly, such blocs may be formed only on two basic conditions, viz., that we are ensured freedom to criticise the reformist leaders, and that the necessary conditions for severing the masses from the reactionary leaders are ensured.
Here is what Lenin says on this score:
"The Communist Party should propose a 'compromise' to the Hendersons and Snowdens, an election agreement: let us together fight the alliance of Lloyd George and the Conservatives, let us divide the parliamentary seats in proportion to the number of votes cast by the workers for the Labour Party or for the Communists (not at the elections, but in a special vote), and let us retain complete liberty of agitation, propaganda and political activity. Without this last condition, of course, we cannot agree to a bloc, for it would be treachery; the British Communists must absolutely insist on and secure complete liberty to expose the Hendersons and the Snowdens in the same way as (for fifteen years, 1903-17) the Russian Bolsheviks insisted on and secured it in relation to the Russian Hendersons and Snowdens, i.e., the Mensheviks" (see Vol. XXV, p. 223).
"The petty-bourgeois democrats (including the Mensheviks) inevitably vacillate between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, between bourgeois democracy and the Soviet system, between reformism and revolutionism between love for the workers and fear of the proletarian dictatorship, etc. The correct tactics for the Communists must be to utilise these vacillations, not to ignore them; and to utilise them calls for concessions to those elements which turn towards the proletariat -- whenever and to the extent that they turn towards the proletariat -- in addition to fighting those who turn towards the bourgeoisie. The result of the application of correct tactics is that Menshevism has disintegrated, and is increasingly disintegrating in our country, that the stubbornly opportunist leaders are being isolated, and that the best of the workers and the best elements among the petty-bourgeois democrats are being brought into our camp "
There you have the conditions without which no blocs or agreements with reactionary trade-union leaders are permissible.
Let the opposition bear that also in mind.
The question arises: Is the policy of our trade unions in conformity with the conditions Comrade Lenin speaks of?
I think that it is in full conformity. In the first place, we have completely reserved for ourselves full freedom to criticise the reformist leaders of the British working class and have availed ourselves of that freedom to a degree unequalled by any other Communist Party in the world. In the second place, we have gained access to the British working-class masses and strengthened our ties with them. And in the third place, we are effectively severing, and have already severed, whole sections of the British working class from the reactionary leaders. I have in mind the rupture of the miners with the leaders of the General Council.
Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev have studiously avoided saying anything here about the conference of Russian and British miners in Berlin and about their declaration . Yet, surely, that is a highly important fact of the recent period. Richardson, Cook, Smith, Richards -- what are they? Opportunists, reformists. Some of them are called Lefts, others Rights. All right! Which of them are more to the Left is something history will decide. It is very difficult for us to make this out just now -- the waters are dark and the clouds thick. But one thing is clear, and that is that we have severed these vacillating reformist leaders, who have the following of one million two hundred thousand striking miners, from the General Council and linked them with our trade unions. Is that not a fact? Why does the opposition say nothing about it?
Can it be that it does not rejoice at the success of our policy? And when Citrine now writes that the General Council and he are agreed to the Anglo-Russian Committee being convened, is that not a result of the fact that Schwartz and Akulov have succeeded in winning over Cook and Richardson, and that the General Council, being afraid of an open struggle with the miners, was therefore forced to agree to a meeting of the Anglo-Russian Committee? Who can deny that all these facts are evidence of the success of our policy, that all this is evidence of the utter bankruptcy of the policy of the opposition?
Hence, blocs with reactionary trade-union leaders are permissible. They are necessary, on certain conditions. Freedom of criticism is the first of them. Our Party is observing this condition. Severance of the working-class masses from the reactionary leaders is another condition. Our Party is observing this condition too. Our Party is right. The opposition is wrong.
The question arises: What more do Zinoviev and Trotsky want of us?
What they want is that our Soviet trade unions should either break with the Anglo-Russian Committee, or that they, acting from here, from Moscow, should overthrow the General Council. But that is stupid, comrades. To demand that we, acting from Moscow, and by-passing the British workers' trade unions, by-passing the British trade-union masses, by-passing the British trade-union officials, skipping over them, that we, acting from here, from Moscow, should overthrow the General Council -- is not that stupid, comrades?
They demand a demonstrative rupture. Is it difficult to understand that if we did that, the only result would be our own discomfiture? Is it difficult to understand that in the event of a rupture we lose contact with the British trade-union movement, we throw the British trade unions into the embraces of the Sassenbachs and Oudegeests, we shake the foundations of the united front tactics, and we delight the hearts of the Churchills and Thomases, without getting anything in return except discomfiture?
Trotsky takes as the starting point of his policy of theatrical gestures, not concrete human beings, not the concrete workers of flesh and blood who are living and struggling in Britain, but some sort of ideal and ethereal beings who are revolutionary from head to foot. Is it difficult, however, to understand that only persons devoid of common sense take ideal, ethereal beings as the starting point of their policy?
That is why we think that the policy of theatrical gestures, the policy of overthrowing the General Council from Moscow, by the efforts of Moscow alone, is a ridiculous and adventurist policy.
The policy of gestures has been the characteristic feature of Trotsky's whole policy ever since he joined our Party. We had a first application of this policy at the time of the Brest Peace, when Trotsky refused to sign the German-Russian peace agreement and countered it with a theatrical gesture, believing that a gesture was enough to rouse the proletarians of all countries against imperialism. That was a policy of gestures. And, comrades, you know very well how dear that gesture cost us. Into whose hands did that theatrical gesture play? Into the hands of the imperialists, the Mensheviks, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and all who were then trying to strangle the Soviet power, which at that time was not firmly established.
Now we are asked to adopt the same policy of theatrical gestures towards the Anglo-Russian Committee. They demand a demonstrative and theatrical rupture. But who would benefit from that theatrical gesture? Churchill and Chamberlain Sassenbach and Oudegeest. That is what they want. That is what they are waiting for. They, the Sassenbachs and Oudegeests, want us to make a demonstrative break with the British labour movement and thus render things easier for Amsterdam. They, the Churchills and Chamberlains, want the break in order to make it easier for them to launch intervention to provide them with a moral argument in favour of the interventionists.
These are the people into whose hands our oppositionists are playing.
No, comrades, we cannot adopt this adventurist course.
But such is the fate of "ultra-Left" phrasemongers. Their phrases are Leftist, but in practice it turns out that they are aiding the enemies of the working class. You go in on the Left and come out on the Right.
No, comrades, we shall not adopt this policy of theatrical gestures -- we shall no more adopt it today than we did at the time of the Brest Peace. We shall not adopt it because we do not want our Party to become a plaything in the hands of our enemies.
1. The Anglo-Russian Unity Committee was set up on the initiative of the A.U.C.C.T.U. at an Anglo-Soviet trade-union conference in London, April 6-8, 1925. It consisted of the chairmen and secretaries of the A.U.C.C.T.U. and the T.U.C. General Council and another three members from each of these organisations. The committee ceased to exist in the autumn of 1927 owing to the treacherous policy of the reactionary leaders of the British trade unions.
2. The joint plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission, C.P.S.U.(B.) was held July 14-23, 1926. It discussed a communication of the Political Bureau on its decisions in connection with the British general strike and the events in Poland and China, and reports on the results of the elections to the Soviets, on the case of Lashevich and others, and on Party unity, housing development, and the grain procurement campaign. At the plenum J. V. Stalin spoke on the Political Bureau’s communication concerning the decisions taken by it in connection with the events in Britain, Poland and China, on the report of the Presidium of the C.C.C., C.P.S.U.(B.) on the case of Lashevich and others, on Party unity and on other questions. The plenum approved the activities of the Political Bureau of the C.C. and of the C.P.S.U.(B.) delegation in the E.C.C.I. on the international question, and adopted a number of decisions on important questions of state and economic affairs, inner-Party life and the conditions of the workers. The plenum expelled Zinoviev from the Political Bureau of the C.C. (For the resolutions of the plenum, see Resolutions and Decisions of C.P.S.U. Congresses, Conferences and Central Committee Plenums, Part II, 1953, pp. 148-69.)
3. This refers to the Amsterdam Trade Union International, founded in July 1919 at an international congress in Amsterdam. It included the reformist trade unions of the majority of the West-European countries and the American Federation of Labour. The Amsterdam International pursued a reformist policy, openly collaborated with the bourgeoisie in the International Labour Office and various commissions of the League of Nations, opposed a united front in the labour movement, and adopted a hostile attitude towards the Soviet Union, as a result of which its influence in the labour movement gradually declined. During the Second World War the Amsterdam International practically ceased to function, and, in December 1945, in connection with the foundation of the World Federation of Trade Unions, it was liquidated.
4. Sassenbach and Oudegeest were secretaries of the reformist Amsterdam Trade Union International and leaders of its Right wing.
5. See V. I. Lenin, Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 24, p. 123.
6. See V. I. Lenin, Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 24, p. 216.
7. The “Workers’ Opposition”—an anti-Party anarcho-syndicalist group in the R.C.P.(B.), headed by Shlyapnikov, Medvedyev and others. It was formed in (he latter half of 1920 and fought the Leninist line of the Party. The Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) condemned the “Workers’ Opposition” and decided that propaganda of the ideas of the anarcho-syndicalist deviation was incompatible with membership of the Communist Party. The remnants of the defeated “Workers’ Opposition” subsequently joined the counter-revolutionary Trotskyists.
8. Sotsialistichesky Vestnik (Socialist Courier)—a magazine, organ of the Menshevik whiteguard émigrés, founded by Martov in February 1921. Until March 1933 it was published in Berlin, and from May of that year until June 1940 in Paris. It is now published in America and is the mouthpiece of the most reactionary imperialist circles.
9. The conference of representatives of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain and the Miners’ Union of the U.S.S.R. was held in Berlin on July 7, 1926. It discussed continuation of the campaign in aid of the locked-out British miners. It adopted a declaration “To the Workers of the World,” appealing for energetic support of the British miners and it expressed the need for an early meeting of the Anglo-Russian Unity Committee. The conference decided on the expediency of setting up an Anglo-Soviet Miners’ Committee for maintaining mutual contact and for achieving united revolutionary action of the Miners’ Union of the U.S.S.R. and the International Miners’ Federation.
March 1926 Inprekorr, vi, 68, p. 1038, 5 May 1926
The change in sentiment among the working masses and the majority of the organized working class in England is expressed organizationally in the creation of the Anglo-Russian unity committee. This did not happen without a struggle. The
Amsterdam International made great efforts to prevent a rapprochement between the English and Russian unions, as did the reactionary wing of the trade union movement in England. Nevertheless the rapprochement took place and was consolidated by the establishment of the committee.
The Anglo-Russian committee, whose foundation was greeted joyfully by the masses, marks a new stage in the history of the international trade union movement. ... It demonstrates the practical possibility of creating a unified International, and of a common struggle of workers of different political tendencies
against reaction, fascism, and the capitalist offensive...
All communist parties must support the Anglo-Russian committee in every way and wage a vigorous struggle against the social-democrats and right-wing Amsterdamers who are sabotaging the work of the committee and hope to break up
the Anglo-Russian bloc. The Comintern welcomes most warmly the rapprochement between the English and Soviet trade unions, and for its part will do everything in its power to help the committee to carry out its tasks. . . .
April 24, 1926.
“Dear Comrades,—As you are aware, the R.I.L.U. has proposed to the International Federation of Trade Unions that joint assistance and support be organised for the mine workers of Britain, on the grounds that the forthcoming struggle would definitely be of an International character and importance.
“In reply to this proposal, the R.I.L.U. received the following answer: ‘The I.F.T.U. is already collaborating with the Trades Union Congress one of its affiliated centres, on the mining crisis.’ This reply rejects the proposal made in all good faith to unify all forces to assist the British miners in their fight against the mineowners.
“Their reply was not based upon the interests of the British miners, and may do much harm, not only to the British workers, but to the proletariat of the world.
“The R.I.L.U. has called on all its affiliated sections to render wholehearted support to the British miners. The All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions has already informed you that it will carry out its duty of international solidarity. The Russian miners, the miners of Czecho-Slovakia, and France, who are all supporters of the R.I.L.U., and the transport workers of various countries, have already signified their readiness to do everything possible to further the victory of the British miners.
“As a body representing the British Trade Union Movement, the General Council undoubtedly recognises the sincere desire of workers of all schools of thought to render assistance to the British miners, and to see that assistance practically and systematically organised.
“The Executive Bureau of the R.I.L.U., therefore, makes the following proposal to the General Council:
“The General Council, as the body interested in the British miners beating back the coalowners’ attacks on the wages and working day, shall take the initiative in whatever manner it considers advisable, in convening an International Conference of all trade union organisations desirous of rendering assistance to the miners. This conference will be for the purpose of co-ordinating and most expeditiously arranging international support for the British miners.
“The British miners once again are facing a serious battle. Let us remember how during the miners’ lock-out in 1921 the proposal of the R.I.L.U. to the Amsterdam International regarding a joint effort to assist the miners was turned down. The miners were defeated. This sad experience should have served as a lesson, yet the I.F.T.U. is repeating its action of 1921, subordinating the interests of the proletariat to what are plainly side issues.
“We are confident the British trade unions and the General Council, having taken the initiative in trying to establish world trade union unity, will view with disapproval the rejection of united action in a case of such importance to the working class.
“In view of the extreme importance and urgency of this question, and the tremendous responsibility which the approaching miners’ struggle places on every working-class organisation, the Executive Bureau of the R.I.L.U. awaits a favourable answer to the above proposal.
“With fraternal greetings,
“Executive Bureau, Red International of Labour Unions,
Workers of Britain!
You have begun a General Strike of vast extent in defence of the miners’ standard of living, knowing full well that further degradation for the miners means immediate attacks on the wages and hours of other workers. The General Strike is not only a magnificent act of brotherly support to the miners, it is an act of self-defence on the part of the working class, who, with their families, constitute the vast majority of the people.
The first watchwords of the General Strike, therefore, have been and remain: “All Together Behind the Miners Not a Penny off the Pay. Not a Second on the Day.”
But now that the struggle has begun, the workers have it in their power to put an end once and for all to this continual menace to their living standards and working conditions. Simply to beat off the employers’ present offensive means that they will return to the attack later on, just as they did after Red Friday last year. The only guarantee against the ravenous and soulless greed of the coalowners is to break their economic power.
THEREFORE LET THE WORKERS ANSWER THE BOSSES’ CHALLENGE WITH A CHALLENGE OF THEIR OWN: “NATIONALISATION OF THE MINES, WITHOUT COMPENSATION FOR THE COALOWNERS, UNDER WORKERS’ CONTROL, THROUGH PIT COMMITTEES.”
The Government in this struggle has dropped the pretence of being above all classes. It made no objection to the coalowners’ decision to hold the community to ransom by their attack on wages: but it delivered an insolent and provocative ultimatum when the Trades Union Congress decided, in the exercise of its undoubted rights, to defend the miners against starvation wages and slave conditions. Ever since the strike began, the Government has welcomed the aid of the capitalist strike-breaking organisations, the O.M.S. and Fascisti but it issued an insulting rejection of the trade union offer to maintain essential services without blacklegs. Troops, aeroplanes and battleships are being used to overawe the workers, if possible, and to crush the General Strike. If the strike ends, though it be with the defeat of the coalowners, but with the Government’s power unshaken, the capitalists will still have hopes of renewing their attack.
Therefore, the third essential slogan of the General Strike must be: “RESIGNATION OF THE FORGERY GOVERNMENT! FORMATION OF A LABOUR GOVERNENT!”
The Communist Party continues to instruct its members and to urge the workers to take every practical step necessary to consolidate our positions against the capitalist attack. Such essential steps are: to form a Council of Action immediately: to organise able-bodied trade unionists in a Workers’ Defence Corps against the O.M.S. and Fascisti: to set up feeding arrangements with the Co-operative Societies, to hold mass meetings and issue strike bulletins, and to make their case known to the soldiers.
But the Communist Party warns the workers against the attempts being made to limit the struggle to its previous character of self-defence against the capitalist offensive. Once the battle has been joined, the only way to victory is to push ahead and hit hard. And the way to hit the capitalist hardest is for the Councils of Action to throw out the clear watchwords
NOT A PENNY OFF THE PAY: NOT A SECOND ON THE DAY!
NATIONALISE THE MINES WITHOUT COMPENSATION, UNDER WORKERS’ CONTROL FORMATION OF A LABOUR GOVERNMENT!
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
THE British and international bourgeoisie are singing their song of triumph over the defeat of the British general strike. It is a song that will be short-lived. The British general strike is not only the greatest revolutionary advance in Britain since the days of Chartism, and the sure prelude of the new revolutionary era, but its very defeat is a profound revolutionary lesson and stimulus. Gigantic tasks await the working-class vanguard in Britain: but henceforth the old conditions can no longer continue; the old British social fabric of parliamentary and democratic hypocrisy has received shattering blows; and the British working class has entered into a new era, the era of mass struggle, which can only culminate in open revolutionary struggle. By their methods of suppressing the general strike, by their open dictatorship and display of armed force, by their ruthless prosecution of the struggle on the basis of war, by their transference at last of the methods of armed force from the colonies into Britain itself, the British bourgeoisie has taught the proletariat a lesson of inestimable revolutionary value. The defeat of the general strike is itself a gigantic piece of revolutionary propaganda.
Not the masses were defeated, but the old leadership, the old reformist trade unionism, parliamentarism, pacifism and democracy. The masses stood solid: these broke down; these were the real casualties of the fight; and the masses will learn to fling them aside when it comes to the future struggle. The driving home of this lesson, the shattering of the old traditions and leadership, the tireless preparation for the future struggle, and above all the building up of an iron revolutionary vanguard of the workers and kernel of new leadership—these are the tasks that follow or the collapse of the general strike.
The general strike has brought the British working class face to face with the political issue of power, with the legal and armed force of the State. The old trade union tradition has been brought to its highest culminating point, only to have its complete impotence shown unless it can pass into this higher plane. The masses have entered into the full highway of mass struggle, and shown a solidarity, courage, tenacity and class-will, which affords the guarantee of future revolutionary victory. This time they entered the struggle with the old traditions, apparatus, leadership, all fundamentally opposed to the struggle, and only dragged along with them by the force of their mass-will; their limbs were shackled by the myriad trade union-economic-pacifist-legalist-constitutional-democratic traditions; and under these conditions defeat in the first shock was inevitable. But the positive lessons of the struggle are stronger than all the treacheries of the reformist leadership. The class-character of the State has been exposed. The trappings of parliament, democracy, trade union legalism and economism have been torn aside, and laid bare the naked class-power opposition with its ultimate weapon of armed force. The future struggle in Britain can henceforth only be the revolutionary mass struggle with an open political aim. The bourgeoisie have themselves shown the way forward to the proletariat.
The first British general strike is so decisive a turning point in British history, its whole process so complete a picture of the existing stage of the Working-Class Movement, and the lessons to be drawn from it on fuller analysis so infinite and varied, that at the present moment in a pamphlet written immediately after the calling off of the general strike, it is only possible to deal with a few of the simplest and plainest issues.
The Drive to the Crisis
The first British general strike was at once the culmination of a whole epoch, and the beginning of a new era. It was the extreme point of the development of the old trade unionism and economic struggle, which by the inevitable process of concentration and enlargement had reached the point of automatically passing into a political struggle, i.e., a conflict with the whole forces of the State, whereas the fight was still being endeavoured to be fought by the old means. It was at the same time the reflection of the new revolutionary forces, of the complete economic and social unsettlement and decline of British capitalist society, of the consequent pressure of the masses towards more fundamental aims, of the younger militant workers who were driving forward the old leaders, of an incipient mass struggle which went far beyond trade unionism.
This double character is the secret of its history. It was essentially a political struggle, the first stage of the revolutionary struggle of the masses for power; but this struggle was endeavouring to find expression through an obsolete apparatus of liberal trade unionism and parliamentarism which was wholly unsuited for it and could only betray it. From this arises its tremendous significance in the future and the reason for its immediate failure in the present.
From 1911 to 1926 everything was driving with cumulative impetus to a clash between the whole forces of capitalism and the working class in Britain. In 1911, in the first great national Railway Strike, for the first time the State with its armed forces appeared as a direct protagonist in an industrial dispute. Troops lined the railways and bridges. In words that sunk deep into the memory of every militant worker, the Prime Minister, Asquith, declared that the whole resources of the State were behind the railway companies. From that date the most far-sighted of the militant workers knew that there was something more than the economic struggle of trade unionism in front in the path to emancipation. And from that date the Government became more and more directly concerned in every large-scale industrial crisis, and more and more concentrating attention on the preparations for large-scale conflict with the whole trade union forces.
This outcome of liberal trade unionism was inevitable with the concentration of capitalism. Liberal trade unionism can only exist alongside liberal free trade capitalism, where competition still has free play. Once the industries are linked up and syndicated into national trusts, closely interlocked and organised through the banks and the State, there is no more room left for the free play of bargaining. The trade unions are compelled to mass their forces likewise on a national scale to meet their opponents. Henceforward every slightest economic struggle becomes in fact a trial of strength of massed class forces: the liberal principle of competition has disappeared. Thus in modern state capitalism it follows that trade unionism can only either become the slave of the trusts, as in America and Germany to-day, or else, if the slightest attempt at economic struggle continues, trade unionism must enter on the path of revolutionary class struggle, involving struggle with the whole State. This has been the situation confronting trade unionism in Britain during the twentieth century.
Thus the history of the past fifteen years has been a history of so-called industrial crises which have been in fact veiled political crises. 1911-1914 were years of ascending unrest. After the war the political character became even more open. 1919 was the revolutionary year. In 1920, with the Council of Action to stop the war on Russia, the trade unions were brought into play on a direct political issue. With 1921 came the supreme test: and the trade union leaders, in terror at the magnitude of the issues opening out before them, surrendered at the last hour without a struggle and betrayed the working class. It took four years for the working-class to recover from this deadly blow: but the lesson of Black Friday sank deep, and by 1925 the mass pressure of the united working class front was so strong that the trade union leaders dared not deny it. (“It has been a crucifixion,” said Bevin, the transport leader, of the four years since Black Friday, “we cannot go through it again.”) The Government was so taken back by the strength of working-class solidarity on Red Friday, 1925, that it deliberately postponed the conflict and paid the £20 millions subsidy in order to prepare more completely. The date of conflict was fixed for nine months ahead, for May Day, 1926.
During all these years the bourgeois view was gathering more and more definite shape, that this constant impending menace of a general strike must be dealt with once and for all, that the old liberal methods of manœuvring, corruption and trickery were no longer adequate, that a smashing blow must be dealt, and that the legal rights of the trade unions must be curtailed. The Extreme Right has gathered strength; Liberalism has been eclipsed. The policy of stabilisation has contributed to this necessitating the driving down of all the workers’ standards. Already in the crisis of 1925 the Prime Minister, Baldwin, had declared in an unguarded moment: “The wages of all workers must come down”—a statement which it was subsequently attempted to deny. The attack on the miners’ wages was, as in 1921, only the spearhead of a general attack on the wages and conditions of all workers in order to stabilise capitalism on a basis of lower wages and longer hours; and for this reason, the Government and the employers, after due preparation, pursued a policy actually to provoke the general strike in order to make the attack of the widest possible scope, as was shown in the obviously prepared campaign that immediately followed the collapse.
Thus it seemed that with 1926 the time had come for the long prepared decisive blow. A Conservative Government was in power with an absolute parliamentary majority. The political aspirations of the Labour Party had been thrown into discredit and confusion by the record of the MacDonald Government. The international situation following on Locarno, despite the subsequent unexpected fiasco of Geneva, was favourable for concentration on the fight on the home front. It was a question of Now or Never. The whole bourgeois and governmental policy drove straight to the fight with open provocation.
But at the same time the revolutionary awakening of the masses was reaching a point not before equalled. Behind all the rapid and startling transformation of the social and political fabric in Britain in the twentieth century lay the accelerating decline of British capitalism. From the beginning of the twentieth century the standards of the masses, as shown by the figures of real wages, began to decline. This was already reflected in the pre-war unrest, in the sweeping radical-liberal electoral vote, and then in the subsequent disillusionment and industrial unrest end militancy. The whole process was powerfully hastened by the results of the war. There followed the four million vote for the Labour Party and the throwing up of the mockery of a Labour Government. Following on its failure came the Left trade union wave and the growth of an influential Minority Movement. Through all this process can be seen the steady deepening and widening and revolutionising of the mass movement in England, the gathering pressure towards more fundamental demands, towards revolutionary issues, towards the struggle for power, groping through the forms and institutions of an obsolete epoch and gradually beginning to find its way. The consciousness of the struggle for power was not yet in more than a primitive stage: the strong consciousness already developed was the sense of class solidarity and the need for united defence against the capitalist attack. But this was already preparation for the fight and when the fight came, the spirit of the masses was ready to take it up, and to force on their unwilling leaders the revolutionary measure of the general strike.
It was not accidental that the crisis came on the issue of the miners’ wages. Alike in 1921, in 1925, and in 1926, the issue was the miners’ wages. This issue summed up the existing situation. In the first place, it was just such a broad economic issue as wages and the fight against a reduction of wages that could most easily unite the whole body of the working class at the present stage. In the second place, the coal industry was the acutest expression of the whole crisis of British capitalism; the brunt of the decline had fallen hardest on the miners; the inability of capitalism to find any solution, and the naked struggle between profits and the livelihood of the workers was there most clear. Thus the issue of the miners’ wages summed up the whole issue of capitalism and the working class in Britain, though in a concealed form, and not yet with a conscious and direct expression.
So it came about that all forces by 1926 had brought England, the classic home of capitalist stability, to become the scene of intensest class conflict, reaching the verge of civil war.
The Nine Months
Never was any crisis more completely prepared and forewarned than that of May Day, 1926.
From July, 1925, the Government made its intentions absolutely: plain and visibly carried out its preparations. In their defence of the subsidy the Government made clear that they regarded the subsidy only as a means of obtaining a truce in order to prepare a smashing defeat of the working class. It is only necessary to recall two typical declarations of the days immediately following Red Friday. Joynson-Dicks, the Home Secretary, declared:—
He was going to say straight out what the Prime Minister was alleged to have said in conference—namely, it might be that, in order to compete with the world, either the conditions of labour, hours or wages would have to be altered in this country.
He said to them, coming straight from the Cabinet Councils, the thing was not finished. The danger was not over. Sooner or later this question had got to be fought out by the people of the land. (August 2, 1925)
Churchill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and second in command of Baldwin, used even more militant language to describe the approaching struggle:—
In the event of a struggle, whatever its character might be, however ugly the episodes which marked it, he had no doubt that the national State would emerge victorious in spite of all the rough and awkward corners that it might have to turn. But if they were going to embark on a struggle of this kind, let them be quite sure that they had decisive public opinion behind them. As the struggle widened, and it became, as it must, a test whether the country was to be ruled by Parliament or by some sort of other organisation not responsible by our elective processes to the people as a whole, new resources of strength would come to the State, and all sorts of action which we should now consider impossible would, just as in the time of the war, be taken with general assent as a matter of course. (House of Commons, August 6, 1926 .)
This language was sufficiently definite. No less definite were the preparations made. The emergency organisation of the Government already initiated under Lloyd George alongside the Emergency Powers Act of 1920, and elaborated under successive Governments (including the “Labour” Government), was pushed forward to a high pitch. In August the Coal Commission was appointed to prepare the diplomatic ground, and wrap up the proposal for a reduction of wages in a voluminous report, which would afford the Right Wing Labour leaders the basis for betrayal. In September, the O.M.S., or Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, was instituted under the auspices of all the leading generals, admirals, and diplomats, with the official blessing of the Government, and by the date of the crisis had enrolled 75,000 volunteers. In October, the Communist leaders, who were alone concentrating all their forces on warning and preparation for the crisis, were put into prison. In January a secret circular to local authorities (from the Ministry of Health) put them in possession of the necessary arrangements and their duties. By February, Joynson-Hicks announced that the Government was “ready.” Inspired Press statements indicated the character of the plans: a small cabinet was to be instituted with the supreme power, consisting of Baldwin, Chamberlain, Churchill, Birkenhead, Joynson-Hicks, Cave (law officer), Bridgeman (navy), Worthington-Evans (army), and Hoare (air), the country was to be divided into fourteen districts, with a Government Minister in absolute control in each, with military officer, transport officer, supply officer, &c.; registers of volunteers and stocks were ready; troops were to be posted. When the crisis came, the Government had 200,000 commercial vehicles at its disposal, by reason of a previous subsidy arrangement to private owners; and stocks of coal to supply gas, electricity and utility services for five months. In addition the police service had been inconspicuously increased.
In the face of these open preparations of the Government, the official Labour direction made no attempt to meet them. When the crisis finally broke out, MacDonald in the heat of the moment at the Trade Union Conference which decided on the general strike declared the truth about the Government’s policy during the nine months:—
From that day to this, the Government have not devoted five minutes’ time to considering the coal problem except so far as it is associated with O.M.S.
But right through the nine months there was no recognition of this fact, and no warning of the workers, but only the whole time lulling and disarming and suggestions of a peaceful settlement; so that at that same Conference Bevin could make a statement which, set alongside MacDonald’s, sums up the position:—
The Trade Union Movement had had no thought of war. The General Council had believed peace would accrue.
Alone the revolutionary Left, represented by the Communist Party and the Minority Movement, concentrated all its energy on warnings and preparation. They demanded:—
(1) Unification of the Trade Union command through the General Council.
(2) Factory Committees.
(3) 100 per cent. Trade Unionism.
(4) Agreement between Trade Unions and Co-operatives for supplies during the struggle.
(5) Workers Defence Corps against Fascism.
(6) Propaganda to the soldiers and sailors.
The majority of the official leadership, while maintaining platonic pledges of solidarity with the miners, preferred to place their hopes on a possible peaceful settlement, an expected continuance of the subsidy, &c. At Christmas, 1925, came out a manifesto of the Labour Party Leader, MacDonald, for “Industrial Peace” in the Rothermere capitalist journal, Answers; and at the same time a manifesto for “peace and goodwill in industry” was issued, signed by Lansbury along with leading employers. In January, 1926, the General Council met the miners; and, according to the Daily Herald, the prevailing view was that “conflict was not inevitable”; the Chairman of the General Council, Pugh, declared that “no special significance need be attached to the Conference. No steps of any kind could be taken until the Report of the Coal Commission had been issued” (Daily Herald, January 20, 1926). At the end of January the General Council appointed its special Industrial Committee to maintain contact with the miners, consisting of Thomas, Pugh, Walkden (Right Wing); Tillett, Bromley, Hicks (Left tendency); and Hayday, Walker and Citrine. According to The Times correspondent, “the committee can hardly be said at present to have formulated any policy, but it is going on the assumption that the subsidy cannot be suddenly stopped in May” (The Times, January 30, 1926). In February, the Co-operative Wholesale directors officially disclaimed any intention to help the workers in a struggle or even grant credits. The same month the General Council turned down the question of more powers, and issued a circular refusing to carry out the Scarborough Congress instruction to call a Conference of trade union executives on this question. In March the Coal Commission Report appeared, with its proposals for the reduction miners’ wages; and, while the whole capitalist Press conducted propaganda in its favour as an impartial verdict, the Labour Movement placed an official ban of silence on every individual leader to allow no adverse expression of opinion (there were plenty of welcomes by Right Wing leaders); so that the real meaning of the Report was only expressed in the Communist Press. When the final crisis came, the General Council exerted all its pressure on the miners to induce them to abandon their position and accept the Report; and only the stubborn opposition of the miners prevented their realising this. Right to the last the official Labour direction maintained the policy of obscuring the issue and concealing the combative plans of the Government. Even after the blow had fallen, the official Labour organ came out with a leader headed “Mr. Baldwin Blunders Into War,” which declared that only “one phrase caused the breakdown” (a “phrase” about miners’ wages) and added the fool’s judgment that Mr. Baldwin “has spent £20,000,000 of the nation’s money to no purpose” (to very efficient purpose from the bourgeois point of view); while the final issue of the Labour organ before the conflict came out with an appeal to Mr. Baldwin as to a god above the battle: “Let him cease to be the tool of Big Business. Let him be the Prime Minister of the People” (Daily Herald, May 3, 1926).
The failure of the official Labour direction before the conflict was not only a failure to foresee it or to prepare for it. It was also a direct breaking of the working-class ranks and playing into the hands of the Government. At the Scarborough Trades Union Congress, in September, where the tide of working-class feeling after the success of Red Friday ran high, many strong resolutions were carried, on the proposals of the Communists, but not one of the resolutions came from the official leadership, or even from the Left leaders, and no attempt was made to put them into operation after the Congress. On the other hand, at the Liverpool Labour Party Conference in October, the Right Wing leaders of the Labour Party, panic-striken for their own position at the red light of Scarborough, forced the whole trade union machine (by very narrow majorities) to be put into operation to carry out the exclusion of the Communists; and the Left leaders put up no opposition. This direct invitation to the Government was followed within a fortnight by the arrest of the Communist leaders. The protests of the Labour Party leaders were formal and without backing, and devoted mainly to expressing disapproval of the Communists rather than of the Government. Finally, when the Coal Commission Report came out, the Right Wing leaders openly welcomed and acclaimed it; and the Left leaders again attempted no counter-propaganda and did not even express opposition. Hodges declared that “the constructive proposals of the Coal Commission give one cause to rejoice”; MacDonald acclaimed the Report as “a conspicuous landmark” and “our triumph”; Henderson welcomed the “valuable reforms” and expressed the view that “within the limits of the Report it is possible to find a solution.” Thus the position was that during the nine months the Right Wing leaders were actively engaged, with the passive acceptance of the Left leaders on the General Council, in sabotaging any measures of defence, in breaking up the working-class ranks, and in playing up to and acclaiming the Government’s policy in direct opposition to the registered policy of the Working-Class Movement.
Under these conditions the general strike was in fact surrendered by the reformist leadership before it was called. The calling of a general strike by leaders such as MacDonald, Thomas and Henderson, who had a hundred times declared their opposition to the whole principle of a general strike, and who had sabotaged all measures of preparation, was a sufficiently ominous sign that the struggle, after all attempts to avoid it had failed, would be surrendered at the first opportunity, and failure even courted as a means to discrediting all revolutionary action of the working class.
The Final Crisis
What caused the final breakdown, in view of the fact that the reformist leadership was ready to surrender at the outset?
Two forces, which between them expressed the intensification of the class struggle in Britain. On the one side, the pressure of the masses, expressed most powerfully in the rigid refusal of the miners to accept any reduction of wages and the determination of the other workers to stand by them, which pressure compelled the leaders to take up a position from which they tried in vain later to retreat. On the other side, the determination of the Government to force a conflict on the widest possible ground, to call this time at last the quasi-revolutionary bluff of the reformist leaders and compel them to fight, and not to accept their surrender until the whole forces of the working class had been brought into action.
The strength of the mass pressure preceding the conflict was shown in the demonstrations, meetings and branch and district resolutions which poured in on the Union Executives, as well as in all measurable evidence of conferences and ballots. The Miners’ Conference of April 9 was with difficulty restrained from carrying a downright rejection of the Coal Report (which was the demand of the Lancashire miners, and according to general opinion would have been carried if put to the Conference); instead a resolution was unanimously adopted repudiating any reduction in wages, increase of hours or district agreements. This resolution, binding the miners’ executive, was the irremovable obstacle which the Right Wing leaders on the General Council were unable to get round by all their arts. The ballot votes taken shortly before for a workers’ alliance of united action of the mining, transport and engineering workers were also significant; in addition to the unanimous support of the miners’ and the transport workers’ delegate meetings, they showed majorities in those Unions where full ballots were taken, of 25,000 to 2,000 in the iron and steel trades, of 43,000 to 4,000 in the Workers’ Union, and of 70,000 to 31,000 in the engineers; while for the railwaymen Thomas refused to take ballot. The Minority Conference of Action on March 21, which united delegates of over a million organised workers, astounded even the leaders of the Minority Movement by the tremendous response. This response meant that one-quarter of the organised Working-Class Movement not only willed united action and a revolutionary lead, but was ready, without the assistance of the official movement, to find the means of sending delegations and organising to give expression to their will.
In the face of this mass pressure the reformist leaders could not openly deny their pledges of solidarity to the miners. They could only endeavour to confuse the issue, to appeal to the Government and public opinion, to express confidence of a peaceful settlement, to hunt for a “formula” to concentrate every effort, not to maintaining the front of the workers; but to find a “way out.” They sought to water down their pledge from an explicit “no reduction of wages” (February) to a promise of solidarity in seeking “an honourable settlement,” “an equitable settlement” (April). They exerted pressure on the miners to retreat from their position. They appealed to the Government, both publicly and privately, in conference and in backstairs parleys, to help them out.
But this precisely the Government was not prepared to do. The Government stood firm, leisurely and unmoved. The subsidy must go; wages must reach an economic level; no temporary prolongation of the subsidy would be considered unless this basis was accepted. The appeals of the Right Wing Labour leaders grew desperate and (in Thomas’s own word) “grovelling.” The General Council leaders were prepared to surrender the position and accept the basis of the Coal Report, but they could not carry with them the miners. The Miners’ Executive, unshakable, bound by the mandate of the delegate conference, represented the unbreakable will of the working class. Between the bourgeoisie and the working class there could be no compromise. And because they could not be counted to carry with them the working class, the offers of surrender of the Right Wing leaders were of no value to the Government and were rejected with contempt. A dozen times the act of treachery and surrender was prepared during those last feverish days of the negotiations, and as many times broke down for the same reason. The Government went steadily forward with its final preparations for the inevitable conflict which it was determined to carry through. By the middle of the final week, three days before the Emergency was officially proclaimed, the posters announcing it were being printed, while negotiations were still in full swing. Dispositions of troops were being made; leave was stopped certain naval manœuvres were cancelled; reserves were being called up. On Friday, April 30, at the same time as negotiations were going on, the Privy Council was meeting and drawing up the necessary Emergency proclamations for the inevitable conflict. As Bevin declared at the Trade Union Conference on May 1, which finally decided on the general strike, “the Government behind the scenes was mobilising its forces for war.”
Grovelling for Peace
Consequently the efforts of surrender beforehand on the part of the Right Wing Labour leaders failed. For once these past-masters of cant and servility found themselves rejected; their arts and manœuvring no longer availed; they were kicked back with contempt by the Government into the ranks of the workers (the worse for the workers); and they returned with tears in their eyes to the Labour Conference to swear “before God” they had had no thought but peace:—
In the name of all that I hold sacred, I tell the British public that I have never been associated with a body of men that have striven, that have turned phrases and words and facts over more patiently to make peace. (MACDONALD at the Trade Union Conference, May 1.)
If we had had another half-dozen hours, the Government could not have decently drawn the sword at all. They would not give us time. (Ibid.)
Mr. Thomas said he almost grovelled to get peace. Never in his whole experience had he begged and pleaded so hard, not alone in the interests of the miners, but as his duty to the country. “We We failed.” (THOMAS at the Trade Union Conference, April 30. Daily Herald, May 1, 1926.)
So these Right Honourable Privy Councillors signed the order for the general strike, in which they did not believe and which they did not want.
The Trade Union Conference carried the general strike unanimously. The roll-call of Unions ready to come out was taken: it showed 3,653,217 ready, against 49,511 refusals.
One last effort at surrender was made by the Right Wing leaders on the eve of the conflict. On the night of Sunday, May 2, twenty-four hours before the general strike orders were due to take effect, when the miners’ dock-out and the Government Emergency were already in operation, the General Council leaders in charge of the negotiations (it is to be noted that by a skilful stroke of the Right, MacDonald and Henderson had been added “on behalf of the Parliamentary Labour Party” to the Trade Union Industrial Committee which already contained Thomas, and these three gentlemen became the dominant representatives of the workers in the negotiations) were ready to desert the miners and accept a Government formula for settlement without the miners. This fact did not become known until two days after the conflict had begun, in the House of Commons debate on Wednesday, May 5, in the course of which both Thomas and MacDonald declared that the Trade Union representatives had already accepted the Government formula, when the Government broke off negotiation on the issue of the Daily Mail:—
Mr. J. H. Thomas said that on the vital Sunday evening the negotiating committee of the Trade Union Council sitting at Downing Street received in the Prime Minister’s handwriting a form of words which they agreed to accept as the basis of a settlement. They were getting into touch with the miners to secure their agreement, but the news of the stoppage of the Daily Mail was brought to Downing Street of which they knew nothing till then. The first that they knew of it was the ultimatum from the Government breaking of} negotiations at the very moment when they were agreed on acceptance of the Prime Minister’s form of words. They had in fact taken the responsibility of saying that whatever the miners’ views might be, the T.U.C. representatives would accept it. (J. H. THOMAS in the House of Commons, May S, 1926.)
Thus the General Council representatives had already deserted the miners before the general strike began.
But the Government brushed this surrender aside; and in doing so revealed their intentness on engaging the conflict along the whole line. They declared that the General Council representatives were “not plenipotentiaries” since they could not carry with them the miners. They declared that the issue of the general strike far, outweighed the original issue. And they finally broke off negotiations on the issue of the Daily Mail—a spontaneous action of the workers themselves of which the leaders had no knowledge and which they were ready to disown and apologise for. But when they came to the Cabinet room to make their explanations, according to the statement of MacDonald, “they found the door locked and the whole room in darkness.” Their explanations were not wanted when the hour of action had begun.
The Baldwin Government had gone to war, had gone to war for the “freedom of the Press”; not over the miners, not over the degradation of the workers’ standards, not over the attack on the whole Working-Class Movement, but for the “freedom of the Press”; the Baldwin Government, which holds the press chained, curbed or forbidden all over the world, and which came fresh from the impounding and seizing of the issues of the Workers’ Weekly six months ago and the imprisonment of the editorial staff.
But the Trade Union leaders were not disposed to raise these things. They issued a statement that the stopping of the Daily Mail was “unauthorised” and had been done without their knowledge. And they entered the struggle with the one thought to find by one way or another the most rapid way out to call it off.
In this way the general staffs of the two sides entered the conflict.
The leadership of the working class went to battle with treachery thus already manifested in their ranks and concealed from the workers, with the knowledge among themselves that there was this treachery in their ranks, with division between the General Council and the miners, with division between Right and Left in the General Council itself. And alongside, the Daily Herald came out in its last issue on the eve of the conflict, with its final admonition to the workers in flaming letters: “TRUST YOUR LEADERS! Heed none who speak ill of those in command. Any who try to sow distrust are the worst foes of Labour, worse than any Capitalist.”
The British Government and the bourgeoisie went to battle with a single front and aim, closing all divisions against the common enemy, with every weapon prepared to prosecute war without reserve to complete victory, and with battle cries calculated to raise the issue to its widest extent.
And yet, despite this contrast of the two leaderships, the shock of the massed battlefront of the entire organised working class shook the whole fabric of society in Britain as it had not been shaken for two and a half centuries.
A Political Issue
The greatest strength of the bourgeoisie was that they recognised with absolute clearness the political character of the conflict.
They recognised from the outset that it was not simply a question of a particular figure of wages, nor yet a question of a particular industry, but that it was a struggle of the whole organised strength and power of two classes, in which every weapon of class-power needed to be brought into play. “Either you govern here or we do. There cannot be two dictatorships.”
This political character of the conflict was much more clear to the bourgeoisie than to the working-class leaders, who remained to the last clinging to the assertion that it was a “purely industrial conflict.” The distinction of the economic and political struggle was to them all in all as the one rope of salvation against being submerged in the flood of revolutionary issues inevitably raised by the actual character of the fight. But the distinction is, in fact, in any large-scale conflict, extremely artificial. As MacDonald himself declared on the occasion of “Red Friday”:—
If Trade Unionism had to mobilise itself for the legitimate purpose of industrial defence, especially when a Government was concerned, the difference between that and mobilisation for industrial action was extraordinarily thin. (MACDONALD In the House of Commons, August 6, 1925.)
The political struggle is simply the concentrated and most highly organised expression of the economic struggle: and as soon as an economic struggle, of even the most limited original scope, passes to the stage of a general strike, the issue of the relations of class-power is inevitably raised. To imagine that the bourgeoisie, if pressed, will fail to use all the weapons of its dictatorship (out of respect for some supposed rules of the “industrial” game like a game of football) is naive folly.
The bourgeoisie recognised the brute fact that the actual struggle was between the capitalist dictatorship, with its whole apparatus of legal and armed force, and the Working-Class Movement with its mass-loyalty and gathering challenge to the whole capitalist order. This clearness gave them strength in action. They threw without hesitation or scruple every resource and weapon into the field to maintain their class-power against the still confused and half-conscious challenge of the working class.
In the first place, the bourgeoisie directly brought the political issue into the open. They raised all the cries and slogans of their class-power—“democracy,” “parliament,” “the Constitution,” “freedom,” “King and Country,” “the freedom of the Press”—in order to mobilise all the resources of class-strength and loyalty which they could still command. To meet this would have required the most merciless exposure of the hypocrisy of these cries and of the real dictatorship behind. But the trade union and Labour Party leaders, on the contrary, accepted these slogans and endeavoured to vie with the Government in expounding their loyalty to them. Thus the bourgeoisie exploited the confusion in the ranks of the reformist leadership in order to paralyse the action of the working class.
In the second place, the bourgeoisie brought into play all the weapons of their dictatorship. The whole government apparatus was mobilised and worked overtime. There was no question of any appearance of neutrality of “the State above the classes.” It was a war between the Government and the working class. When the “independent” Press of the millionaires was smashed by the action o£ the working class, the Government not only took up the war publicly on its behalf, and on behalf of its sacred right to deceive the people, but directly issued its own official organ under armed protection and brought up its print to the millions. The whole strike-breaking apparatus was directly organised by the Government under the protection of the whole civil and military power. The police and special police were spread in a network over the industrial centres, to the number of a quarter of a million, to protect the strikebreakers. The full power of the law was brought into play. The police courts were filled with strikers, strike-pickets, Labour speakers, agitators, literature-sellers, demonstrators in hundredsbut not a single strike-breaker, special police rowdy, coalowner or capitalist propagandist (nor a single member of the General Council). Under the Emergency provisions any one could be summarily arrested and imprisoned for any action or speech likely to cause “disaffection”; and this was interpreted to include the mere issuing or even possession of leaflets inciting to strike. The process of law was set into motion with unprecedented rapidity to secure within a week of the strike a High Court of justice decision that the general strike was “illegal” and every striker and trade union official was personally liable and outside the protection of the law (the calling off of the general strike followed immediately within twenty-four hours of this decision). Finally the Army, the Air Force and the Navy were brought into play. Warships were stationed outside the ports; and when at Newcastle the strikers appeared to be gaining the upper hand, cruisers were dispatched to command it from the sea. Troops were concentrated in all the industrial areas; the East End of London was covered with the picked Guards troops; armoured convoys were transported through the streets; and armoured cars and tanks paraded through London. In the last days of the strike, just before the calling off, the first incidents had already begun of the use of the troops against the population (soldiers at Hull and marines at Middlesbrough).
The Holy State
Against all this concentrated attack the reformist leadership of the. trade unions and the Labour Party was completely confused, paralysed and helpless. They could not admit that the working class was at war with the State. To admit that they were at war with the State would have been to admit their own bankruptcy. For them the sanctity of the Capitalist State, its super-class character, the sanctity of the Capitalist Democracy were the corner-stone of their political being. If that corner-stone collapsed, if the card-castle of Capitalist Democracy came tumbling down, there was nothing left but the naked revolutionary struggle. Therefore, they could only shut their eyes to all that was going on around them. They remained feebly and helplessly protesting to the end that it was a “purely industrial struggle.” Anybody with one eye in his head could see that it was not. It was not a fight with a group of employers. It was a fight with the whole forces of the State. The official Labour direction had to remain with its head in the sand to the end. They remained protesting their loyalty to the Crown and Constitution, that is, to the very forces that were being organised against them. In their official strike organ they directly suppressed the news of the wholesale arrests that were taking place, the police raids (which moved even a Right Wing Labour M.P. like Haden Guest to protests against their wanton brutality), the breaking up of meetings, the mounted police baton-charges into helpless crowds. The bravest fighters of the working class, who were going to prison in hundreds, were without honour in the Labour organ, which instead was publishing news of jolly billiard matches between police and strikers in some remote village, or advising strikers to stay at home and amuse the children. Such was the culmination of hypocrisy to which Reformist Pacifism was reduced in the actual class struggle.
The British Worker, the organ of the General Council, proclaimed again and again in large black type:—
AN INDUSTRIAL ISSUE ONLY
The General Council does NOT challenge the Constitution. It is not seeking to substitute unconstitutional government. Nor is it desirous of undermining our Parliamentary institutions. The sole aim of the Council is to secure for the miners a decent standard of life.
Or again, in explanation of the distinction:—
Do make every one understand that this is an industrial, not a political dispute. It concerns wages, decent conditions of life, fair methods of negotiation; not the Constitution, nor the Government, nor the House of Commons.
These proclamations were issued when the struggle had already entered into a full political stage, and when the masses were feeling the full weight of the Government attack. The General Council, instead of recognising the new plane of the struggle, and coming out boldly in opposition to the Government, instead of utilising the Government’s attack in order to make clear to the masses the real character of the struggle, remained protesting the original industrial character of the conflict and the innocence of its intentions, and servilely affirming its loyalty to a Government which was hitting the working class on the head. The General Council refused to see that even the fight for wages, in the stage which had now been reached, necessarily involved the fight against the whole apparatus of the Government, and that, if this fight was not faced, the fight for wages also could not be carried on. Instead of saying “We are fighting for decent standards of life, and not against the Government and Constitution,” they should have said, “We are fighting for decent standards of life, and, since the Government and the Constitution stand with the employers against this, therefore we are compelled to fight the Government and Constitution.”
The General Council was not ready for this. Therefore, the General Council could not carry on even the original struggle. The General Council had to abandon the struggle for wages.
The Power of Mass Struggle
Four million workers entered on the struggle.
The solidarity was absolute. With a unanimity and discipline that staggered the organisers themselves the workers responded to the call. Not only that, but many more workers came out than were called. It was impossible for the General Council to restrain the enthusiasm of the working class.
Bromley, one of the leaders of the General Council, declared in the House of Commons that they had had to send masses of workers back to work who had come out in sympathy, and claimed credit for the General Council that they had succeeded in preventing hundreds of thousands from striking. The organ of the General Council, the British Worker, announced:—
The trouble everywhere is to keep those men at work who have not yet been ordered to strike. (British Worker, May 6.)
Even under the limited conditions of the struggle, with the only partial calling out that took place and the extensive system of permits of the General Council, the power of the action of the masses was shown. The productive processes of the country were effectively paralysed. The mines, the docks, the railways, the repair shops, the printing presses were all deserted. The handful of activities of almost entirely middle-class strike-breakers could not affect the real losses of the stoppage, as the business world clearly enough knew. The Government, despite all their elaborate preparations, were taken aback by the vastness and extent of the movement. The newspapers stopped; and a paralysis much greater than the war descended on the country. The Government, in complete possession of the finest printing machinery in the world, with troops to guard it, was unable even to bring out a tiny newspaper until the second day (and even then their sole type-setter to begin with was a onetime linotype operator who had become a master-printer and. a business manager). When The Times appeared on the second day, it consisted of one tiny sheet, 33 centimetres by 20. The supply of volunteers was wholly inadequate. On the third day, after two days’ hard recruiting, the Government boasted that in the whole London area they had won 12,000 volunteers. In the whole Northern Division they had won 10,000.
Not only that, but the masses showed a capacity and initiative of active struggle which swept past the passive inactivity of the General Council. All over the country a terrific struggle was undertaken against the Government’s strike-breakers. Masses of workers held up the strike-breaking lorries and ’buses, and forced the drivers to descend. The Government responded with violence. Wholesale police charges, mounted police charges, and arrests were carried out in defence of the strike-breakers. Collisions took place all over the country. In vain the General Council issued instructions to the workers to remain passive, to remember that it was an “industrial” conflict, to remain at home and mind the children or look after the garden, and to keep off the streets. The workers pressed forward into the fight with unhesitating class-instinct, left completely without official direction; against the endless admonitions and rebukes of their legalist pacifist leaders, with only the revolutionary nucleus in each locality to guide, and threw themselves again and again into the struggle.
The difficulties of the Government were shown by the fact that in the Newcastle District (the great coal, iron and shipping region of the North East coast) the Government Minister in charge, Sir Kingsley Wood, declared it impossible to continue his task of maintaining the government apparatus of supplies, and invited the local strike committee to help him out-which they refused to do. Immediately on this, the Government sent an urgent message to all localities, instructing no surrender and no co-operation with the local strike committees.
It was at this point, when the strikers were visibly gaining ground, that the Government brought into play the military and legal weapon. A direct Government incitement to violence was issued to all troops on May 7 in the following terms:—
All ranks of the armed forces of the Crown are hereby notified that any action which they may find it necessary to take in an honest endeavour to aid the civil power will receive both now and afterwards the full support of His Majesty’s Government.
On May 8 occurred the first uses of the troops against the population at Hull and Middlesbrough. On May 9 the first armed convoy was conducted through London, with an escort of cavalry, mounted police, sixteen armoured cars and two regiments in full war kit. At the same time the Government had begun to recruit a new Auxiliary Corps or Civil Constabulary Reserve, to be composed solely from Officers Training Corps members, Territorials, Special Police and ex-soldiers “vouched for at Territorial Army units headquarters.” Meanwhile the legal attack was pushed forward. The speech of the Liberal lawyer, Sit John Simon, in the House of Commons declaring the strike illegal and every official calling it liable “to the uttermost farthing of his personal possessions” was broadcast by the Government. On May 11 came the High Court judgment of Sir John Astbury officially declaring the general strike illegal.
Thus the intensity of the struggle was growing with every day, and it was clear to all that critical events were threatening throughout the country. The solidarity of the strikers was greater than ever, and their spirit and confidence unbroken. The number of the strikers was increasing with every day of the strike, and indeed reached its highest point the day after the “settlement.” Impatient of the delays and hesitations of the General Council, bodies of workers all over the country were joining the strike without waiting for central orders. In addition increasing numbers of industries were becoming paralysed and throwing out more workers. Numbers of unorganised workers were joining the Unions in a body.
At this moment came the sudden capitulation of the General Council on May 12.
The Collapse of the Reformist Leadership
The capitulation of May 12 came as a thunderclap without warning to the majority of the workers all over the country. Nevertheless it was in fact only the inevitable sequel of all that had gore before.
From the outset of the strike the scene presented by the central direction was in startling contrast to the scene throughout the country. The natural unity of the struggle throughout the country was replaced at the centre by paralysing divisions and, on the part of certain responsible leaders, unconcealed hostility to the whole general strike itself. Those leaders who had voted the general strike out of fear and not out of conviction, and who had never believed they would have to carry it out, were now exerting all their efforts to paralyse its action and bring it to a speedy conclusion. Thomas openly declared during the struggle that he was against the general strike. MacDonald made in the House of Commons the speech of a strike-breaker and a coward. He is reported to have said:—
I again ask this House if it cannot do it (resume negotiations). I am not speaking for the Trades Union Congress at all. I am speaking for nobody. I have not consulted my colleagues. I am speaking from my own heart. I am not a member of a Trade Union, and therefore am a little freer than some of my colleagues, and can do things for which perhaps I will get blamed to-morrow by the trade unionists, but I cannot let this opportunity go. (MACDONALD in the House of Commons, May 5, 1926.)
The intrigues of the Right Wing leaders were neither countered nor exposed by the Left leaders, but in the interests of “unity” the facts were concealed and the workers left without warning.
From this situation resulted a paralysis of direction at the centre. From the moment of the calling of the general strike there was no decisive attempt to follow up the fight, but only hesitation, delay and a continual vacillating between the possibilities of negotiating or a vigorous prosecution of the struggle. Just as there had been complete failure to prepare the struggle, just as there had been complete failure to present the issues and stand up to the Government, so there was equal failure to conduct the struggle; and for the same reason, namely, the confusion and fundamental opposition to the whole struggle within the leadership. The general strike had been called, but almost by accident or mistake rather than conviction on the part of the majority of the leadership; and the working-class leaders were as lacking in self-confidence as the Government was abounding in it. The sacrifice, the fighting force and the enthusiasm of the working class were thrown into the field; but instead of there being behind them the strongest leadership to exact the maximum advantage and drive the hardest blows upon the Government, there came from the General Council only efforts to restrain the workers, to send workers back to work, to prevent more workers coming out, legalist-pacifist appeals, pleas, apologies, protests that they did not wish the fight, rallying behind the Archbishop of Canterbury, &c. Everything depended upon the most rapid blows being dealt before the Government and the bourgeoisie had time to organise more fully; but the strikers waited in vain for the follow-up move to the first calling out. The “second line” that was to follow the first was continually talked about, but until the last day nothing was done.
It was therefore only a question of time when the cracking up at the centre would occur. The critical turn of events and the intensified offensive of the Government hastened its occurrence. On May 11 came the court judgment of the illegality of the general strike and of the personal responsibility of the leaders. That same evening the General Council decided the time had come to call off the strike. They seized on the pretext of the Samuel Memorandum (which was simply a re-hash of the Coal Report and its proposals for the reduction of miners’ wages) as offering a “new” hope of settlement; and presented it like an ultimatum to the minerswho had not been consulted. Then the General Council at last took their courage in their hands-the courage of treachery -and after a last unsuccessful plea publicly deserted the miners. Late that night the miners left; MacDonald and the General Council remained together. Next morning the General Council went to the Prime Minister and made their surrender. The miners issued an official statement, disclaiming all responsibility for the calling off of the general strike.
It was a capitulation without conditions. The Samuel Memorandum, which was in any case worthless, was in no way formally binding on the Government. The Government was able to claim its formal victory of unconditional surrender as well as its material victory. The General Council did not even secure any conditions for the return to work of the strikers or the protection of the Unions, as the events of the next few days were to show.
It was a capitulation, based on the desertion of the miners. The miners were left fighting alone.
It was a capitulation without any justifying basis in the situation of the struggle or in the readiness of the Working-Class Movement throughout the country. The Working-Class Movement throughout the country was solid; the strikers’ ranks were daily increasing, the engineering, shipbuilding and electrical workers had just added half a million more to the strikers; there was no hint of unreadiness to continue the struggle. On the contrary the news of the calling off was received everywhere with mystification and disbelief; strikers’ meetings were held demanding continuance; hostile demonstrations took place outside trade union offices and were dispersed by the police with casualties.
What was the reason of the capitulation at this point?
Two reasons are discernible in the statements so far made by the leaders most directly responsible.
One was the fear of the possibilities in front, with the Government’s military threats and the legal attack.
The other was the fear of the revolutionary possibilities and the Working-Class Movement passing out of their control. In the House of Commons on the day after the settlement Thomas stated:—
What he dreaded about this struggle more than anything else was that by any chance it should get out of the hands of those who would be able to exercise some control. Every sane man would know what would happen then. That was why he believed that the decision yesterday was such a big decision.
The price of the betrayal of May 12 is a heavy one. A campaign of repression has followed immediately on the capitulation and is being pushed to the furthest extremes. This campaign has been actively organised by the Government (alongside hypocritical talk of “reconciliation”) and taken up with obvious concerted preparation by the whole body of employers. The Government on the day after the settlement issued a notice to employers through their official organ in two million copies under the heading “No obligations,” stating that the Government had undertaken no obligations with regard to the reinstatement of strikers; and at the same time the Government set the example in its own departments under the Admiralty and War Office in refusing to reinstate strikers or in penalising them on return. The employers have demanded new agreements shackling the unions from undertaking further strikes save after due and long notice, conciliation machinery, &c.; have refused to give any promise of taking back strikers save individually, with discrimination and at their leisure; have insisted on the retention of the non-union strike-breakers in future to work alongside the trade unionists; and in some cases have endeavoured to prohibit trade unionism or to prohibit trade unionism in the supervisory grades. The shameful Railway Agreement, signed by Thomas, Cramp, Bromley and Walkden, and conceding all these points (no guarantees on reinstatement save “as soon as work can be found”; recognition of the strike as “a wrongful act” and of the companies’ rights to legal damages; guarantees against future strikes save after proper negotiation, and no support for unauthorised strikers; no strike participation for supervisory grades; exclusion from settlement of all militant workers—“persons guilty of violence or intimidation”) is typical of the employers’ policy, and has served as a model for the other industries, in particular the transport settlement and the printing settlement.
By this means the Government and employers are endeavouring to extract the maximum advantage from the capitulation in order to bind trade unionism hand and foot. New legislation is also threatened to curtail the powers of the union.
The campaign of repression has been particularly heavy against all militant workers and Communists. It has been, in fact, heavier after the “settlement” than before, the whole emergency apparatus and dictatorship being maintained in force. A typical example may be given from the police reports:—
Under the Emergency Regulations. John Forshaw, 47, was charged at the Salford Police Court with having at his premises in Peacock Street a document headed a “Great Betrayal,” likely to cause disaffection among the civil population. He was found guilty, and remanded in custody for judgment. The police stated that they found on the premises copies of the document and a duplicating machine complete with stencil. The last paragraph of the stencilled copy called on all workers who had returned to cease work and to convene conferences to decide upon action in support of the miners. The document was signed “Salford District Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain.” Six other men were charged at the same court for having copies of the document in their possession.
From this it will be seen that in England after the General Council’s capitulation the mere possession of a document accusing the Labour leaders of “betrayal,” and advocating a continuance of the strike, was dealt with by the police and punished with imprisonment.
The lesson to be learnt from the heavy price that is being paid needs to be a heavy one. The future of the working class depends on that lesson being learnt, and on the correct analysis of the experiences that have taken place.
In a characteristic article in the Vienna Arbeiterzeitung on “The Lessons of the English Struggle,” Otto Bauer, the spokesman of the Second International, endeavours to save his colleagues by throwing the blame for the defeat on the English masses. Not the noble strike-heroes, MacDonald, Thomas, &c., were responsible, but the backward English masses who could not rise to the height of their conceptions-this is the typical AustroMarxist version. Communism, he declares, with its easy explanations ready to hand of the betrayal of the working class by their leaders, is simply repeating the bourgeois individualist outlook of explaining history in terms of individual leaders and is remote from Marxism.
In the same way Austro-Marxism sought to cover up the treachery of the Social Democratic leaders in the war under the plea that the “mood of the masses” was to blame; while the unsavoury Barmat scandals were explained away in the Arbeiterzeitung by the statement that “the entire population had become corrupt.”
The Failure of an International
This version of the events and lessons of the English strike is not only a shameless travesty of the facts and an insult to the whole English working class which every English worker who has been through the strike would spit back in his face with contempt (the actual facts are the exact contrary: it is only necessary to consult the leaders’ own statements to see how their whole problem and preoccupation was how to hold in the masses, to prevent more strikers coming out, to prevent the struggle extending, to call it of at any price before they lost control of the whole movement), but in addition it is a shameless travesty of Communism and Marxism.
Not this or that individual leader, but a whole policy, a whole social stratum of leadership in the Working-Class Movement, the whole Second International, failed in the British general strike. Only by the relentless exposure of this failure can the mass-movement advance. The development of the mass-movement is not a passive reflex of economic and social conditions, for Herr Bauer to observe from a coffee-house window. The development of the mass-movement proceeds by the interaction of masses and leaders in relation to every struggle and change in conditions. And it is precisely this dialectic of the mass-movement which Bauer ignores, and by ignoring abandons the whole kernel of Marx’s living and fighting teaching. (How vulgar and un-Marxist to Bauer’s sensitive ears must sound Marx’s reference to the English Labour leaders as “sold to the bourgeoisie.”) The leadership of the Second International is to-day the expression and instrument of capitalist influence in the Working-Class Movement. It is precisely this corrupting, stupefying, distorting, betraying influence, embodied in this leadership which needs to be most mercilessly fought if the working class is to advance. And the greatest lesson of this influence and its meaning has come for the English proletariat in the general strike of 1926 and its betrayal.
What is the position? A new phase of struggle has opened out before the English working class. The old trade union: struggle, the old parliamentary struggle, have merged into a new mass-struggle which has raised completely new problems. But the whole apparatus, policy and leadership of the Working-class Movement has continued to reflect the conditions of the old struggle, of the old limited sectional struggle, of the period of adaptation to the capitalist state; and is fundamentally hostile to the new struggle or to the endeavour to solve its problems. In consequence, faced with these new problems, the Working-class Movement has had to find itself unready and retreat. But these new problems have to be solved if the Working-Class Movement is to recover and advance.
What is the stage of advance which the general strike represents? The old sectional trade union action had already been condemned on all hands as no longer effective. In the conditions of capitalist decline it was no longer possible to win by this means any important gain in particular industries, or even to check the capitalist degradation of working-class conditions by piecemeal defeating of the workers. A more fundamental class battle with the capitalist regime was necessary. There followed the sweep forward of the trade unions into the parliamentary battle after the war, not merely to secure parliamentary representation for trade union legislative purposes, but to win a Labour Government. But the limitations of parliamentarism were already beginning to become apparent after the experience of the MacDonald Government. And in addition, whatever hopes might still be entertained therefrom for the future, and illusions still to be lived through, it was clear to all that the parliamentary future hopes provided no answer to the current struggle of the workers, to the immediate tack of the capitalists and driving down of working-class standards. Therefore the conception of combined trade union action gained ground and overwhelming force; until at last, when the renewed capitalist attack on wages and hours came in 1926, the general strike of the trade unions was proclaimed to answer it.
The general strike was proclaimed as an economic battle of the whole working class. Its advance was that it was the first attempt at a battle of the whole working class, without distinction of sectional interests, against the attack of the whole capitalist class. Its weakness was that it endeavoured to remain confined as a limited economic struggle, without recognising that such a confrontation of the strength of two classes becomes inevitably a political struggle, and in fact a revolutionary struggle. In consequence the Government was able to take advantage of the confusion of the Working-Class Movement and bring every weapon into the field against it, while the Working-Class Movement remained uncertain in aim and completely taken aback by the methods of the Government. Under these conditions defeat was inevitable. These conditions of the struggle must not be repeated.
The collapse of the general strike was the final collapse of the methods of the old trade union economic struggle, as it has been fought in the past, which reached its extreme culminating stage in the general strike and can go no further. The workers are now face to face with the legal and armed force of the State. The future struggle can only be carried forward as the direct political revolutionary struggle with the State. The lesson of the defeat of the general strike of 1926 is not the failure and discrediting of the weapon of the general strike, but the necessity of carrying the general strike forward to the inevitable political revolutionary struggle.
What are the new conditions of the struggle?
First, the new struggle is, by the Government’s declaration, an illegal struggle, and it is necessary to calculate on this. The High Court declaration of the general strike as illegal is very important. What does it mean? If the General Council calls another general strike, it will have to be prepared to be declared an illegal body. Either this alternative will have to be faced or the General Council will have to abjure the general strike, conform to the requirements of capitalist society, and in fact surrender the leadership of the working class. But what was the purpose for which the general strike was instituted? To organise the common action of the working class. Therefore, the General Council will either have to surrender its function and become a clerical, co-ordinating and negotiating body of the trade unions with no connection with action; or else it will have to be prepared to be declared an illegal body in a crisis.
Thus trade unionism so long as it remains sectional, so long as it remains company-tied and shackled with conciliation machinery, is of too great value to the employers to be attacked and declared illegal. But the revolutionary trade union struggle of to-day, which alone can be of value to the workers under modern conditions, is made illegal.
Second, the new struggle is inevitably a struggle against the Government. This has been demonstrated once and for all by the present experience. No matter how limited the original scope, a mass struggle is inevitably a political struggle against the Government and can only be fought as such.
Third, the struggle inevitably brings into play the armed forces of the State. Failure to recognise and prepare for this is to court surrender, and abandon all future struggle. But this can only be prepared for by propaganda among the soldiers and sailors, workers’ defence, &c., which goes beyond the whole existing movement.
Fourth, and as a consequence of the above, the struggle becomes inevitably a struggle for political power for the working class. Neither can the sacrifices demanded for the struggle be forthcoming or justified for any less objective, nor in fact can any more limited objective be obtained in so fundamental a struggle.
But a struggle of this character is in fact of a completely new type for the English Working-Class Movement; and the question therefore inevitably arises whether the apparatus of the movement is fitted for such a general struggle. The experience of 1926 throws an important light on this. The trade unions proved able to assemble the masses and to call them to battle upon a broad economic issue. But as soon as the struggle became political in character, it passed beyond the possibility of trade union direction. Such a struggle demanded a single unified direction and movement, with a single aim, a clearness of objective and outlook parallel to that of the Government, and a readiness to lead in every field of the struggle. But such a lead can only be the lead of a political party. The Labour Party, however, could not provide such a political leadership required, not only because the existing leadership of the Labour Party is rotten to the core with reformism and parliamentarism and therefore incapable of giving any leadership to the class struggle of the workers save to betray it, but also because the Labour Party itself is a loose federal body of exactly parallel character to the trade unions, and therefore incapable of uniform centralised direction. Only a centralised revolutionary political party can have the necessary unity, concentration, single aim and rapid adaptation to all the needs of the struggle. This iron necessity to the workinb class of a revolutionary political party to lead their struggle is a central lesson of the present crisis for the whole English Working-Class Movement. It is the central need for the trade unions at the present stage. Only a mass Communist Party, acting in conjunction with the trade unions as the mass organisations of the workers, can lead the whole working class to victory.
The general strike of 1926 and its collapse leaves the working class confronted with urgent tasks.
First, the fight against reaction; against the attack on the trade unions and on organisation rights; against the attack on wages and hours (in which the miners are still bearing the brunt of the combat); against the attack on the militant workers; to rally the working class and re-form the front.
Second, the fight against the disintegration of the Working-Class Movement, desertion of the unions, breaking up of the front, splits and exclusions; instead to show the way forward for the revolutionary workers to fight for the leadership, and on this basis to recruit for the unions and for 100 per cent. trade unionism.
Third, the fight against the reformist leaders responsible for the collapse of 1926; refusal to allow the episode to be covered in oblivion; relentless exposure of their rôle, and analysis of the lessons of the struggle; fight to drive them out of the Working-Class Movement, and to win revolutionary leadership in the movement.
Fourth, the fight to drive home the lessons for the future from the struggle of 1926: the exposure of bourgeois democracy, the exposure of the rôle of the bourgeois State, the necessity of the political struggle for power.
Fifth, the fight for the unification of the working-class ranks, both through the combination of the trade unions, the concentration of power in the hands of the General Council, and also above all through the development of factory organisation and the formation of factory committees.
Sixth, the fight for preparation to meet the new conditions of the struggle and for the new methods required: in particular, for the organisation of Workers’ Defence Corps directly under the auspices of the trade unions, and for the institution of working-class propaganda from the whole organised Working-Class Movement to the army, navy and air force.
Seventh, in conjunction with all this, and most important of all, the fight for the mass Communist Party as the sole means to establish the new revolutionary leadership in the English Working-Class Movement.
Die außerordentliche Tragweite des englischen Generalstreiks45 für die gesamte internationale Arbeiterbewegung und insbesondere für die deutschen Arbeiter veranlassen uns, dem Bundesvorstand des ADGB folgende Vorschläge zu einer wirklich tatkräftigen Unterstützung der englischen Arbeiterklasse zu machen:
1. Die Brüsseler Entschließung46 des Exekutivausschusses der Bergarbeiterinternationale bildet zweifellos eine günstige Basis für die Entfaltung einer internationalen Solidaritätsaktion für den Kampf der englischen Arbeiter. Jedoch hängt alles davon ab, daß die dort in Betracht gezogenen Maßnahmen so schnell wie möglich durchgeführt werden. Die englischen Arbeiter stehen bereits im Kampf. Jede Stunde ist kostbar. Jede Verzögerung der Solidaritätsaktion nützt unmittelbar der englischen Bourgeoisie, die alle ihre Kräfte zusammenrafft, um die englischen Arbeiter niederzuschlagen. Es gibt nur eine Möglichkeit, die internationale Hilfsaktion in Gang zu bringen: die selbständige Initiative der angeschlossenen nationalen Verbände. Wir schlagen deshalb vor, unverzüglich das gemeinsame Vorgehen der wichtigsten Verbände auch in Deutschland zu organisieren, um die durch den Generalstreik in England geschaffene Lage auch zugunsten der deutschen Arbeiter auszunützen.
2. Die KPD betrachtet es als ungenügend, wenn der Bergarbeiter- und Transportarbeiterverband den Export von deutscher Kohle bloß nach England verhindert.
Diese Maßnahme allein würde im gegenwärtigen Moment einen Schlag ins Wasser bedeuten.
Denn es ist bekannt, daß die englische Industrie und das Transportwesen für längere Zeit mit Kohle eingedeckt sind. Worauf es ankommt ist zu verhindern, daß die deutsche Bourgeoisie in die Lage versetzt wird, für England auf dem Weltmarkt einzuspringen, um auf diese Weise zum wirksamsten Streikbrecher gegenüber der kämpfenden englischen Arbeiterschaft zu werden. Wir schlagen deshalb vor, daß für die Dauer des englischen Streiks jeglicher Export von Kohle eingestellt wird.
3. Ebenso muß verhindert werden, daß unter dem Titel „Reparationslieferungen” der englischen Bourgeoisie Kohle für Exportzwecke seitens der deutschen Bourgeoisie zur Verfügung gestellt wird, weil auf diese Weise ein großer Teil des Exportbedarfs der englischen Bourgeoisie für die nächste Zeit eingedeckt werden könnte.
 Der Generalstreik und der Bergarbeiterstreik in England wurden ausgelöst durch den Angriff der Unternehmer auf den Lebensstandard der Arbeiterklasse, Die Bergarbeiter beantworteten die Aussperrung, die von den Grubenbesitzern verhängt worden war, weil die Bergarbeiter einen Abbau der Löhne und eine Verlängerung des
Arbeitstages abgelehnt hatten, am 1. Mai 1926 mit dem Streik. Zum Zeichen der Solidarität mit den Bergarbeitern begann am 3. Mai ein Generalstreik, an dem mehrere Millionen organisierter Arbeiter der wichtigsten Zweige der Industrie und des Verkehrswesens teilnahmen. Am 12. Mai, mitten im Kampfe der Arbeiter, übten der Führer des Generalrates der englischen Trade-Unions an den streikenden Arbeitern Verrat und erklärten den Generalstreik für beendet. Aber der Kampf der Bergarbeiter ging weiter. Lediglich die Repressalien der Regierung und der Unternehmer sowie die schwere materielle Lage zwangen die Bergarbeiter, im November 1926 den Streik einzustellen und die Bedingungen der Grubenbesitzer anzunehmen.
 Die Entschließung wurde am 16. April 1926 auf der Tagung des Exekutivkomitees der reformistischen Internationalen Bergarbeiterföderation in Brüssel in einer Situation angenommen, in der sich die englischen Bergarbeiter zum Streik rüsteten. Die Entschließung spricht von einer allseitigen Unterstützung der Bergarbeiter und versichert feierlich, „erforderlichenfalls“ alle nationalen Bergarbeiterverbände zu einem Solidaritätsstreik aufzurufen. Die Tatsachen entlarven den demagogischen Charakter der Solidaritätserklärung. Die Bergarbeiter wurden von ihren reformistischen Führern verraten, die niemals daran dachten, die Entschließung zu verwirklichen.
4. Wir schlagen weiter vor, zur sofortigen Schaffung eines Unterstützungsfonds für den englischen Kampf einen Extrabeitrag von allen Mitgliedern des ADGB zu erheben.
5. Die durch den Generalstreik in England geschaffene Lage ist besonders geeignet, endlich auch in Deutschland den Kampf für die Forderungen der Bergarbeiter und der gesamten Arbeiterschaft - Achtstundentag, Siebenstundenschicht im Bergbau, höhere Löhne, ausreichende Unterstützung der Erwerbslosen und Kurzarbeiter – zu organisieren. Es ist durchaus ungenügend, wenn der BAV den Bergarbeitern empfiehlt, keine Überschichten zu verfahren. Notwendig ist die fristlose Aufhebung des Arbeitszeitabkommens und die restlose Wiederherstellung der Siebenstundenschicht.
6. Um dies zu erreichen und den Sieg zu gewährleisten, ist sofort eine gewerkschaftliche Allianz der Bergarbeiter, Eisenbahnarbeiter, Transportarbeiter und Metallarbeiter herzustellen.
7. Die Durchführung all dieser, sowohl für die deutsche als für die englische Arbeiterklasse lebensnotwendigen Maßnahmen kann selbstverständlich nur im Kampfe erfolgen. Seit langem war die Lage nicht so günstig wie jetzt. Alle Voraussetzungen für eine siegreiche Beendigung des Kampfes sind gegeben. Die Sympathie der deutschen Arbeiterschaft für die Kämpfe der englischen Brüder hat breiteste Schichten ergriffen. Zur Durchführung dieser und aller anderen, sich aus der täglich sich verschärfenden Situation ergebenden Maßnahmen sowie der Beschlüsse der Brüsseler Tagung ist die Proklamierung des sofortigen Streiks der deutschen Berg- und Transportarbeiter, der Eisenbahner, Binnenschiffer, Hafenarbeiter und Metallarbeiter mit dem Ziele der restlosen Unterstützung des englischen Kampfes und der Durchsetzung der Forderungen der deutschen Arbeiterschaft notwendig. Zur Durchführung des Kampfes ist die Einsetzung einer zentralen Kampfleitung aus allen beteiligten Verbänden erforderlich. Wir halten es zum Schluß für unbedingt notwendig, daß der ADGB die ganze deutsche Arbeiterschaft für diesen Kampf mobilisiert, sie zu Demonstrationsversammlungen aufruft, in denen einerseits der tatkräftigen Sympathie zum englischen Kampfe Ausdruck gegeben und andererseits der Kampfwille der breitesten Massen zusammengefaßt wird.
8. Der Kampf in England ist eine Kraftprobe, die die imperialistische englische Bourgeoisie der englischen Arbeiterklasse liefert, weil diese sich immer mehr und mehr für den revolutionären Kampf um die Ziele des Sozialismus organisiert. Wir halten es für nötig, daß in der gewerkschaftlichen Kampagne dieser Charakter des Kampfes um so mehr herausgehoben wird, als auch in Deutschland die Offensive der Unternehmer von einem immer schärfer werdenden Angriff der Reaktion gegen die Arbeiterbewegung begleitet wird.
Wir sind der festen Überzeugung, daß eine Durchführung unserer Vorschläge die Kraft des deutschen Proletariats erhöhen und den Einfluß der Gewerkschaften in den breiten Massen festigen würde. Wir schlagen Euch vor, diese Vorschläge zur Grundlage der Aktion des ADGB anläßlich des Kampfes in England zu machen, und erwarten von Euch eine dementsprechende Antwort.
A.: Ernst Thälmann
„Die Rote Fahne”
vom 6. Mai 1926.
25 press photos of the General Strike