Max Shachtman

Nine Years of the Struggle of the Left Opposition

The Anglo-Russian Committee
and the British General Strike

(June 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 24 (Whole No. 120), 11 June 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Continued from last issue)

The Test of Events

The first really serious test of the Anglo-Russian Committee was the British general strike of 1926 which broke out in the midst of the great miners’ strike. Just as metals are best tested in heat, so all the assurances of friendship for Russia, of loyalty to British labor and enmity to British imperialism, freely given by Purcell and Co., were subjected to a decisive test in the flames of the general strike. And just as the Opposition had warned, the British General Council, its Left wing as well as its Right wing, revealed its disgraceful cowardice and treachery, its fundamental loyalty to British imperialism, its hatred and fear of the revolutionary proletariat. After nine days of the general strike, in which a revolutionary situation was engendered, in which the strength of the ruling class rested not so much upon its immediate ranks as it did in the strength which the labor leaders, Left and Right enjoyed in the working class, the General Council deliberately delivered the death blow to the general strike and to the miners whom all the other workers had struck to defend. In face of the extremely militant mood of the workers, in face of the pitiful helplessness of the bourgeoisie, in face of such phenomena as the refusal of numerous armed regiments to proceed against the strikers, all the trade union lackeys of the ruling class rushed to the government buildings to confer with the king’s ministers on how to crush the movement. The “red” veneer with, which the “Left” labor leaders had coated themselves was wiped off in a patriotic frenzy. The financial aid sent the striking miners from Russia was indignantly returned with the epithet of “the damned Russian gold”. The red flag was hastily dropped for the Union Jack. Purcell and Co. proved to be not the “organizatory center that embraces the international forces of the proletariat for the struggle”, but a most reliable prop of a desperate ruling class. Had the whole affair been played out according to the plot of a stage drama, it could not have presented a more annihilating indictment of the Stalinist view and confirmation of the Opposition’s.

And where was the Committee as a whole during these stirring days of magnificent struggle and base treachery? As Kautsky said plaintively about his Second International: it was only an instrument of peace: in times of acute conflict, it was worthless.

More correctly, it was worthless to the revolutionists, to Soviet Russia. But to the British labor fakers it had a distinct value. Purcell, Hicks, Swales and Citrine utilized to the maximum the prestige accruing to them out of their formal and inexpensive collaboration with the Bolshevik representatives in the Anglo-Russian Committee. Instead of helping to emancipate the British masses from the chains of their false leaders, the A.R.C. served these leaders as a “Bolshevik” shield from the blows of the rank and file, and particularly of the British Communists. Purcell could easily defend his treason from the attacks of “his own” Communists by saying: The Russian Communists are different, as you see, they do not attack me as you do. Quite the contrary, they sit together with us in friendly conference.

The Demands of the Opposition

What did the Opposition demand? That the prestige enjoyed among the British workers by the A.R.C. and by its Russian half in particular should be utilized to expose the treason of the British leaders. It demanded a demonstrative break with Purcell and Co. because of their open betrayal, so that the latter could no longer hide behind the Russian trade unions. Stalin and Bucharin violently opposed the break – the same Stalin and his apparatus (it seems incredible!) who today consider it a crime to propose a united front not only to the Purcells but even to the ordinary, misguided “social fascist” worker who still follows the Purcells.

The Committee was now beginning to be justified by Bucharin and Co. on the grounds of “political”, of “Soviet”, of “diplomatic” requirements. And it is allegedly on this basis that a disgraceful “united front” was maintained with Purcell and Co. for more than a year after the abominable betrayal of the general strike! The Anglo-Russian Committee, it was argued, would prevent British intervention against Russia and thereby enable the Soviet republic ... to build up socialism undisturbed. This fatal tragedy was played until the Berlin Committee conference in April 1927. What was accomplished then? Did the Committee protest the bombardment of Nanking by British imperialism? No! Did it protest the British raid on Arcos in London? No! Did it say a word about the treachery of its British half during the general strike and the miners’ strike? No! Then what did it do? It adopted a resolution in which the Russians declare together with the Englishmen:

1. “The only representatives and spokesmen of the trade union movement are the Congress of the British Trade Unions and its General Council;

2. “Esteems, at the same time, that the fraternal union between the trade-union movements of the two countries, incorporated in the Anglo-Russian Committee, cannot and must not violate or restrict their rights and autonomy as the directing organs of the trade union movement of the respective countries; nor interfere in any manner whatsoever in their internal affairs.”

This document, which could not but have a stunning effect upon the British revolutionists, marked the high water mark of the Stalin-Bucharinist capitulation to Purcell and Co. (who in turn “capitulated” to Baldwin and the British bourgeoisie at every decisive moment) – and all in the name of the theory of “socialism in one country”.

The Anglo-Russian Committee was one disappointment after another to those who sowed illusions about it and those who accepted these illusions as Bolshevism. It was a signpost on the road of degeneration of the puling regime in the Russian party and the International. It was one of the natural fruits of the theory of national socialism. It was the best example of how the united front should never be made. Its only positive aspects were its negative aspects, that is, the only good to come out of the whole experiment was in learning from its fundamental defects and avoiding them in the future.

But to learn – is forbidden. To learn from this tragic experience which set back the British revolutionary movement for years and hurt the Soviet republic, means to reveal the deep abyss of revisionism into which Stalin and Bucharin had dragged the International. And in forbidding it, its lessons remain unavailable to the Communist masses. Yesterday’s mistakes lie at the bottom of the innumerable blunders (this time in the opposite direction) which are being made today. But the Opposition is working with history at its side and therein lies the great hope for the coming day.

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Last updated on 25.6.2013