Arthur Horner 1940

The Communist Party and the Mass Struggle

Source: International Press Correspondence, Volume 20, no 31, 3 August 1940. Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

From the first days of its formation the Communist Party of Great Britain has been identified with every great struggle of the working class of Britain.

While taking into account every weakness and error that may have been made, the fact stands out that it was this mass activity of the Communist Party in defending and advancing the daily interests of the workers that broke through the pernicious tradition that the function of working-class political parties was only to teach socialist propaganda, unrelated to the daily fight against capitalism.

At the same time, the Communist Party has never omitted to relate its mass struggle for the present interests of the workers with their future interests and final aims. The significance of this was soon understood by the reformist elements in the labour movement, and forms one of the most powerful reasons why, from the moment of the formation of the Communist Party, they have offered far more opposition to Communism than they have ever organised against capitalism. For they know our fight is for the overthrow of capitalism, for workers’ power and Socialism.

The Communist Party received its first baptism on a mass scale in the great Miners’ Lock-Out of 1921. I remember as if it were yesterday, how the whole party threw itself into this titanic struggle, the outcome of which was to have such widespread results for the whole labour movement of Britain.

When the great betrayal of Black Friday took place, and the collapse of the Triple Alliance, [1] the Manifesto issued by our party found wide support throughout the ranks of the workers, and I believe will be looked upon as one of the most important political documents ever issued by the Communist Party.

That Manifesto, with its exposure of the policy of the reformist leaders, with its clear setting out of the next stage of the struggle, and its call for support for the miners, who were then left to fight alone, also evoked the strong opposition of the government and the official Labour leaders.

Mass arrests of Communists took place all over the country. The whole principles of Communism and the right to advocate them were attacked in the prosecution of Albert Inkpin, [2] the General Secretary of the Party at that time. When these repressive developments began to express themselves, then it also began to sort out the wheat from the chaff in the ranks of our party. Many who had joined the party on the enthusiasm created by the Russian Revolution and the revolutionary wave that had swept Europe after the end of the war now began to see that Communism was no parlour philosophy, that it had nothing in common with revolutionary romanticism, but on the contrary, that it represented principles that demanded sacrifice, courage, determination and the infallible will to stand alongside the working class in every phase of its historic struggle against capitalism and for socialism. These people left the party, and in doing so did not weaken it as they expected; on the contrary, their action served to increase the determination of genuine revolutionaries to carry forward the policy of Communism and to build a mass Communist Party.

Meantime, in the factories, trade unions and working-class localities, the party was getting down to the job, slowly building up the core of its organisation, at the same time it was taking its full part in all the struggles that were now so rapidly developing all over the country.

With the defeat of the miners in 1921, the offensive of the capitalists against the working class got into its full swing. Soon we saw all the promises and fairy tales of the ‘New Britain’ that was to be after the war, blown sky high. The most solemn pledges and vows that trade-union conditions given up during the war would be restored were cynically disregarded, and the drive against wages and workshop customs got into full swing.

There was no common policy, strategy or leadership to meet this situation. The party launched the slogan ‘Stop the Retreat’, and made its practical proposals as to how the resistance of the workers could be organised on a common basis, with a policy based on the united action and leadership of the workers.

It was a policy that took into account also the fierce attacks that were being made on the unemployed as well as the employed workers, and it strove might and main to unite this whole working class against unemployment and all its consequences.

So the party went into full action to defend the workers. In the Engineers’ Lock-out, the strike of the foundry workers, boilermakers, dockers, great unemployed marches, the party did all in its power to develop forms of common action and leadership that could have withstood the offensive of the capitalists.

As always it had to meet the unprincipled opposition of the reformist Labour leaders, whose policy disorganised the workers’ struggle, spread defeatism and confusion, and objectively helped the employers and government to realise their aims.

But the party found its feet; in all these struggles it learnt important lessons that enabled it to develop new ways and means of helping forward the cause of the working class. So that in the years that followed 1922, the party was to the fore in every phase of the activity and class battles of the masses.

In the strikes during the time of the first Labour Government, the General Strike, the memorable Miners’ Lock-out of 1926, the fight against the Trades Dispute Act, [3] the great mass agitation against the Means Test, the never-to-be-forgotten Hunger Marches to London, or the marches from South Wales, in which I was glad to be one of the leaders alongside many other miners; in the fight for trade-union unity, for the amalgamation of trade unions so as to increase the fighting power of the workers, in every struggle to build up the trade unions, such as the Notts and Taff Merthyr dispute, in which our party can be proud to have taken such a leading part, in campaigns against increases in rents and high prices, in all these many-sided phases of the class struggle, the Communist Party took its place, stimulating, guiding and leading the efforts of the workers against their class enemies.

In the fight for the building up of the United Front against Fascism and the mass activities against Mosley’s Fascist party, [4] for help for Republican Spain (and I may be pardoned for saying I believe the South Wales miners have a record second to none in trying to help the Spanish people), in the fight to achieve working-class unity, the extension of this into a People’s Front, that could have prevented war, our party played a great role, that had it been accepted by the decisive majority of the workers, could have prevented this terrible imperialist war that is now upon us.

On looking back over these twenty years of glorious mass struggle, every member of the party can be proud of its record. For our party evokes from its members a spirit of sacrifice, devotion, service and untiring energy that makes it the envy of every other working-class organisation in Britain.

For me it is a matter of great personal pride that I am a foundation member of the Communist Party, for I know from personal experience the power, confidence and strength that membership of the party gives to all who join, and how it helps in collective work and thought.

Therefore, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, I appeal to all who are members to go forward in the period that lies ahead with the fullest confidence that what we fight for we will attain for the whole of the workers. To those who read this and are not members of the Communist Party, I ask them to join, so that alongside us we may all go forward, building up, strengthening and still further widening the appeal and influence of the Communist Party, this incorruptible and indestructible bastion of the working men and women of Britain.


All notes have been provided by the MIA.

1. The Triple Alliance was an informal agreement amongst the unions representing Britain’s miners, transport workers and railway workers that aimed at organising united action to defend employment conditions. However, when miners were confronted with wage reductions in early 1921, on 15 April, a day that became known as ‘Black Friday’, the leaders of the transport and railway workers’ unions refused to call for strike action in support of the miners.

2. Albert Inkpin (1884-1944) was a foundation member of the CPGB, having previously been a member of the Social Democratic Federation and the British Socialist Party. He was the party’s first General Secretary, and served six months’ jail sentences in 1920, 1922 and 1925 for circulating pro-Soviet literature and, in the last case, for inciting mutiny in the armed forces. He was replaced as General Secretary by Harry Pollitt in 1929, and from then until his death headed the Friends of the Soviet Union, subsequently the Russia Today Society.

3. An official report into the mining industry issued in March 1926 recommended either a wage cut or longer hours for the miners. This was rejected by the Miners Federation of Great Britain, negotiations failed and a broad strike-wave called by the TUC General Council commenced on 3 May. Despite solid and enthusiastic support, the General Strike was called off after nine days. The miners fought on until December, but to no avail. The failure of the General Strike was followed by a counter-attack by the Conservative Government, and the Trades Disputes and Trade Unions Act, which severely restricted trade-union rights, was passed in early 1927.

4. Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, Sixth Baronet of Ancoats (1896-1980) was a Conservative MP during 1918-22, an Independent MP during 1922-24, and a Labour MP during 1926-31. In 1930, he proposed a radical programme for the Labour Party, calling for increased state intervention, which was rejected. This programme formed the theoretical basis of the New Party, which he formed in February 1931, and which moved rapidly towards fascism. Mosley formed the British Union of Fascists in October 1932, which became Britain’s main fascist party of the 1930s.