John MacLean Internet Archive                                                    From the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement

The Unemployed: Will There be a General Strike?

by John Maclean

First Published: The Socialist, 27 January 1921
Transcription\HTML Markup: Scottish Republican Socialist Movement Archive in 2002 and David Walters in 2003
Copyleft: John MacLean Internet Archive (, 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Keir Hardie insisted at the now dead Second International that the best way Labour might avert a world war would be by the adoption of the policy of the general strike. The respective governments in the late war saw to it that national patriotism was used to influence the minds of the leaders of Labour as the first step to using them as recruiting agents for their masters’ armies and navies. It would have been better had Hardie fought for a general strike policy to raise the wages of the British workers as a preliminary to the attempt at an international strike.

Rightly or wrongly, I have been, and still am, of the opinion that his chum, Bob Smillie, in the last two years was manoeuvring for a general strike -if required -on the question of nationalisation of the mines. Recognising the narrowness of the basis of appeal to all wage-earners, he coupled with it a policy of “hands off Russia”. I maintain that the government broke Smillie’s health, outmanoeuvred the miners in the publicity campaign, and used the tame, insane leaders such as Clynes and Henderson to turn the workers’ thoughts last March from industrial to political action. Still, the miners forced into being the new practice of special congresses.*

Special congresses cannot meet often without bringing to the top in workers’ minds the idea of class instead of craft or industry. The idea of class leads to class action in its primary form -the class or general strike…

When the London letter-writer of The Glasgow Herald on Monday 17 January writes that “leaders of labour are beginning to realise, no less than the captains of industry, that there must be a reduction in all standards of wages this year”, the rank and file must be on the look-out. Unemployment and starvation are the methods used to bring the workers “down from the clouds” to the realities of life.

The general strike may bring starvation, but it will be the starvation of our class and not of a fraction of our class, and it will be starvation in the struggle for existence. Such starvation, even followed by reduced wages, is better than these evils unaccompanied by a fight. Solidarity of fight and solidarity of suffering will weld our class together for the final solidarity of success….

If we are defeated at this juncture through defective organisation we shall be able to rectify it at the annual Trades Union Congress in September, when it is expected to abolish the Parliamentary Committee and institute in its place a full-time paid committee, with an adequate staff, with the object of bringing every wage-earner into the fold, sorting the unions out on lines of industry, and cohering all the forces for united pressure on capitalism from then onwards. Thus may be built up outside Parliament the instrument that will take the place of Parliament, that will as well take over production and exchange of wealth from the Federation of British Industries, the Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Bankers.

That the science of society in its evolution and its functioning may guide the workers in the mighty transformation that is preparing, it is necessary that we hammer the fundamentals of marxism into the brains of our class. This can be most systematically done by the new Trades Union Congress Committee taking over the Labour College, London and the Scottish labour College, and making these the basis of a series of colleges and a network of evening classes all over the countryÉ

*Special Congresses of the TUC began to be held in autumn 1919, and were the first step in transforming the Parliamentary Committee into the General Council (a step which MacLean had advocated for some time previously).