Source: Militant, no. 77 (July 1971)
Transcription: Nick 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008
The possibility and the problems of a general strike are coming up for discussion among advanced militants in the trade union movement all over the country. Even ordinary trade unionists not particularly active in the trade union and Labour movement, in response to the economic and political situation, are raising the question in their factories and workplaces, and union branches. Resolutions are coming before union conferences.
Clearly, the new generation of workers, who have not experienced any decisive defeats in their political and industrial struggles for the whole of the post-war period, are not prepared to tolerate these Tory attacks. It is in this atmosphere that some of the best worker-leaders in the Unions are raising the question of a general strike to bring down the government. Two issues are involved. The first is the possibility of a general strike, which is latent in the whole situation. The second is the attitude of Marxists towards the slogan of a general strike.
If the possibility of a head-on clash with the government looms ahead, it would be the most shameful and demoralising capitulation if the T.U.C. refused the challenge thrown down by the government and the State. But this would have to be on an issue which was understood by the entire working class, as was the demand of the mine owners and the government in 1926, to the miners, “accept a cut in wages and an increase in hours without an increase in pay”! The imprisonment of shop stewards for refusal to pay damages under the Industrial Relations Act might be a similar issue.
The demand for new elections in itself would not be sufficient reason in the eyes of the workers for such action. It requires fundamental issues, which the trade unions feel cannot be solved in any other way, which would lead to a demand for such action.
For Marxists to call for a general strike, in the air, so to speak, would be light-minded and irresponsible. With the present weakness of the Marxist tendency and the present attitude of the working class as a whole, the problems posed by the “slogan of [a] general strike” largely resolve themselves into the need to educate the advanced militants to what issues would be posed by a general strike and the role of the leadership, the need for the policies, methods and leadership of Marxism to solve the problems facing the toilers.
The Communist Party has issued a call for a “general strike” on the Industrial Relations Bill. “If this (campaign and refusal to register) is combined with a general strike called by the T.U.C. as urged by the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions, the DATA Conference and other trade union organisations, the Tory attacks on the unions can be decisively defeated” (Morning Star editorial 24/5/71, our emphasis).
Marxists do not play with slogans of a “general strike”. A general strike poses the problem of power either of the workers or the bosses. If the situation is not ripe for the taking over of the monopolies as the C.P. argues, how can it be ripe for a general strike? The 1926 general strike was betrayed by the T.U.C. and the trade union “Left” leaders because they did not have a Marxist programme. To prepare for such a decisive struggle implies criticism of the inadequacies and hesitations of the Left union leaders, as well as the Left MP’s, however personally honest and sincere they may be. When the fate of the working class for a decisive period ahead is in question, it calls for a crystal clarity of analysis of policies and strategy of the Left leaders. The T.U.C. was faced with a growing movement towards the end of the general strike in 1926. They had the alternative of preparing for the seizure of power, or capitulation. They capitulated to the capitalist class and the Government. The C.P., which had not prepared for the betrayal of the Left leaders, lost heavily in members and supporters as a consequence. The minority movement in the trade unions, with a membership of over a million disappeared completely.
With the T.U.C. and the Left leaders at the present time, if they were forced into a general strike by the provocations of the employers and the government, and by the pressure of the workers, their preoccupation from the first day, indeed the first hour, would be tremblingly… how to call it off!
Instead of organising committees of action and extending the struggle to all sections preparing an all-out offensive against the Tory government, which involves Socialist aims and the seizure of power, they would from the first hour be concerned with negotiating with the class enemy; (for the general strike is general class war against the employers and against the state machine) thus preparing a sell-out and temporary demoralization of the workers.
A warning general strike of 24 hours duration is a somewhat different question. But to light-mindedly toss out the slogan of “unlimited general strike” without preparing the advanced workers with the implications, and preparing, if the leaders falter, to carry the struggle further to the conquest of power; to fail to subject to relentless and minute criticism the policies of the Left leaders, as well as the Right, is criminally irresponsible and a betrayal of the working class.
There have been many general strikes in the history of the working class internationally. The most recent, apart from the one day general strikes called by the union leaderships in Italy (frivolously called by the T.U. leaderships to pacify the workers and without any perspective of carrying the struggle further) and the general strikes in many of the countries in Latin America (which were not carried forward by the leadership) was the spontaneous, general and sit-in strikes in France in May 1968.
The strike involved the paralysis of the government and the state. But the committees of action in each industry and factory were not linked locally and nationally to form an alternative organisation to the government, or what Marxists call dual power. Consequently the social might of the working class was dissipated in each individual factory. The police and the army were affected but the C.P. and T.U. leaderships were pre-occupied with coming to an agreement with de Gaulle, consequently the revolutionary opportunity was lost and betrayed.
Britain, with the different traditions of the workers is not likely to see a spontaneous movement towards a general strike as in France, much more likely would be that the T.U.C. and the shop stewards would officially call such a movement, under pressure of the workers as in 1926.
However, Heath’s jeering attitude, in a radio interview, to the union leaders, baiting them to call a general strike against the Industrial Relations Bill is an indication of the calculations of the government and the strategists of capital. They are confident, because the T.U.C. accepts the profit basis of society, and even if forced into a general strike, would behave accordingly.
Consequently the problems and policies involved in a general strike are not as simple as they present themselves to industrial militants, who have not thought the question through to the end.
Naturally enough the C.P. having taken up the slogan light-mindedly, has just as light-mindedly dropped it. No more material on the question has appeared in the Morning Star since the article quoted above. Instead tepid reformist policies as put forward before the Editorial on the general strike now appear on its pages. How can such policies or such a paper be taken seriously by workers looking for revolutionary Socialist policies?
Members of the “Communist” Party and industrial militants influenced by them must ask themselves in the light of the above analysis; how far the “leaders” of the C.P. have gone from the policies of the great teachers of the past, Lenin and Trotsky. They must draw the necessary conclusions and support Marxist methods and policies on the questions facing the working class as advocated by the Militant.
We live in a period of developing storm and stress in the class struggle. Only Marxist theory can lead the advanced workers and the Labour and T.U. movement to victory over capitalism.