Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain
Volume 2

The Anglo-Russian Committee

Trotsky on the Struggle
in Britain in Retrospect

In the hunt after an artificial acceleration of the periods, not only were Radic, LaFollette, the peasant millions of Dombal, and even Pepper [1] clutched at, but a basically false perspective was also built up for Britain. The weaknesses of the British Communist Party gave birth at that time to the necessity of replacing it as quickly as possible with a more imposing factor. Precisely then was born the false estimate of the tendencies in British trade unionism. Zinoviev [2] gave us to understand that he counted upon the revolution finding an entrance, not through the narrow gateway of the British Communist Party, but through the broad portals of the trade unions. The struggle to win the masses organized in the trade unions through the communist party was replaced by the hope for the swiftest possible utilization of the ready-made apparatus of the trade unions for the purposes of the revolution. Out of this false position sprang the later policy of the Anglo-Russian Committee which dealt a blow to the Soviet Union, as well as to the British working class; a blow surpassed only by the defeat in China.

In the Lessons of October, written as early as the summer of 1924, the idea of an accelerated road – accelerated through friendship with Purcell and Cook [3], as the further development of this idea showed – is refuted as follows:

Without the party, independently of the party, skipping over the party, through a substitute for the party, the proletarian revolution can never triumph. That is the principal lesson of the last decade. To be sure, the British trade unions can become a powerful lever of the proletarian revolution. They can, for example, under certain conditions and for a certain period, even replace the workers’ Soviets. But they cannot play such a role without the Communist Party and certainly not against it, but only provided that communist influence in the trade unions becomes decisive. We have paid too dearly for this conclusion as to the role and significance of the party for the proletarian revolution to renounce it so lightly or even to have it weakened. (Trotsky, Works, Vol.III, part 1, p.9)

The same problem is posed on a wider scale in my book Where is Britain Going?. This book, from beginning to end, is devoted to proving the idea that the British revolution, too, cannot avoid the portals of communism and that with a correct, courageous and intransigent policy which steers clear of any illusions with regard to detours, the British Communist Party can grow by leaps and bounds and mature so as to be equal in the course of a few years to the tasks before it.

The Left illusions of 1924 rose thanks to the Right leaven. In order to conceal the significance of the mistakes and defeats of 1923 from others as well as from oneself, the process of the swing to the Right that was taking place in the proletariat had to be denied and revolutionary processes within the other classes optimistically exaggerated. That was the beginning of the down-sliding from the proletarian line to the centrist, that is, to the petty bourgeois line which, in the course of the increasing stabilization, was to liberate itself from its ultra-Left shell and reveal itself as a crude collaborationist line in the USSR, in China, in Britain, in Germany and everywhere else ...

As to the Anglo-Russian Committee, the third most important question from the strategical experiences of the Comintern in recent years, there only remains for us, after all that has already been said by the Opposition in a series of articles, speeches, and theses, to make a brief summary.

The point of departure of the Anglo-Russian Committee, as we have already seen, was the impatient urge to leap over the young and too slowly developing communist party. This invested the entire experience with a false character even prior to the General Strike.

The Anglo-Russian Committee was looked upon not as an episodic bloc of the tops which would have to be broken and which would inevitably and demonstratively be broken at the very first serious test in order to compromise the General Council. No, not only Stalin, Bukharin, Tomsky [4] and others, but also Zinoviev saw in it a long lasting “co-partnership” – an instrument for the systematic revolutionization of the British working masses, and if not the gate, at least an approach to the gate through which would stride the revolution of the British proletariat. The further it went, the more the Anglo-Russian Committee became transformed from an episodic alliance into an inviolable principle standing above the real class struggle. This became revealed at the time of the General Strike.

The transition of the mass movement into the open revolutionary stage threw back into the camp of the bourgeois reaction those liberal labour politicians who had become somewhat Left. They betrayed the General Strike openly and deliberately; after which they undermined and betrayed the miners’ strike. The possibility of betrayal is always contained in reformism. But this does not mean to say that reformism and betrayal are one and the same thing at every moment. Not quite. Temporary agreements may be made with the reformists whenever they take a step forward. But to maintain a bloc with them when, frightened by the development of a movement, they commit treason, is equivalent to criminal toleration of traitors and a veiling of betrayal.

The General Strike had the task of exerting a united pressure upon the employers and the state with the power of the five million workers, for the question of the coal mining industry had become the most important question of state policy. Thanks to the betrayal of the leadership, the strike was broken in its first stage. It was a great illusion to continue in the belief that an isolated economic strike of the miners would alone achieve what the General Strike did not achieve. That is precisely where the power of the General Council lay. It aimed with cold calculation at the defeat of the mineworkers, as a result of which considerable sections of the workers would be convinced of the “correctness” and the “reasonableness” of the Judas directives of the General Council.

The maintenance of the amicable bloc with the General Council, and the simultaneous support of the protracted and isolated economic strike of the mineworkers, which the General Council came out against, seemed, as it were, to be calculated beforehand to allow the heads of the trade unions to emerge from this heaviest test with the least possible losses.

The role of the Russian trade unions here, from the revolutionary standpoint, turned out to be very disadvantageous and positively pitiable. Certainly, support of an economic strike, even an isolated one, was absolutely necessary. There can be no two opinions on that among revolutionists. But this support should have borne not only a financial but also a revolutionary-political character. The All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions should have declared openly to the British mineworkers’ union and the whole British working class that the mineworkers’ strike could seriously count upon success only if by its stubbornness, its tenacity, and its scope, it could prepare the way for a new outbreak of the General Strike. That could have been achieved only by an open and direct struggle against the General Council, the agency of the government and the: mine owners. The struggle to convert the economic strike into a political strike should have signified, therefore, a furious political and organizational war against the General Council. The first step to such a war had to be the break with the Anglo-Russian Committee, which had become a reactionary obstacle, a chain on the feet of the working class.

No revolutionist who weighs his words will contend that a victory would have been guaranteed by proceeding along this Line. But a victory was possible only on this road. A defeat on this road was a defeat on a road that could lead later to victory. Such a defeat educates, that is, strengthens the revolutionary ideas in the working class. In the meantime, mere financial support of the lingering and hopeless trade union strike (trade union strike – in its methods; revolutionary-political – in its aims), only meant grist to the mill of the General Council, which was biding calmly until the strike collapsed from starvation and thereby proved its own “correctness”. Of course, the General Council could not easily bide its time for several months in the role of an open strike-breaker. It was precisely during this very critical period that the General Council required the Anglo-Russian Committee as its political screen from the masses. Thus, the questions of the mortal class struggle between British capital and the proletariat, between the General Council and the mineworkers, were transformed, as it were, into questions of a friendly discussion between allies in the same bloc, the British General Council and the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, on the subject of which of the two roads was better at that moment: the road of an agreement, or the road of an isolated economic struggle. The inevitable outcome of the strike led to the agreement, that is, tragically settled the friendly “discussion” in favour of the General Council.

From beginning to end, the entire policy of the Anglo-Russian Committee, because of its false line, provided only aid to the General Council. Even the fact that the strike was long sustained financially by the great self-sacrifice on the part of the Russian working class, did not serve the mineworkers or the British Communist Party, but the self-same General Council. As the upshot of the greatest revolutionary movement in Britain since the days of Chartism [5], the British Communist Party has hardly grown while the General Council sits in the saddle even more firmly than before the general strike.

Such are the results of this unique “strategical manoeuvre”.

The obstinacy evinced in retaining the bloc with the General Council, which led to downright servility at the disgraceful Berlin session in April 1927, was explained away by the ever recurring reference to the very same “stabilization”. If there is a setback in the development of the revolution, then, you see, one is forced to cling to Purcell. This argument, which appeared very profound to a Soviet functionary or to a trade unionist of the type of Melnichansky [6], is in reality a perfect example of blind empiricism – adulterated by scholasticism at that. What was the significance of “stabilization” in relation to British economy and politics, especially in the years 1926-1927? Did it signify the development of the productive forces? The improvement of the economic situation? Better hopes for the future? Not at all. The whole so-called stabilization of British capitalism is maintained only upon the conservative forces of the old labour organizations with all their currents and shadings in the face of the weakness arid irresoluteness of the British Communist Party. On the field of the economic and social relations of Britain, the revolution has already fully matured. The question stands purely politically. The basic props, of the stabilization are the heads of the Labour Party and the trade unions which, in Britain, constitute a single unit but which operate through a division of labour.

Given such a condition of the working masses as was revealed by the General Strike, the highest post in the mechanism of capitalist stabilization is no longer occupied by MacDonald and Thomas, but by Pugh [7], Purcell, Cook and Co. They do the work and Thomas adds the finishing touches. Without Purcell, Thomas would be left hanging in mid-air and along with Thomas also Baldwin. [8] The chief brake upon the British revolution is the false, diplomatic masquerade “Leftism” of Purcell which fraternizes sometimes in rotation, sometimes simultaneously with churchmen and Bolsheviks and which is always ready not only for retreats but also for betrayal. Stabilization is Purcellism. From this we see what depths of theoretical absurdity and blind opportunism are expressed in the reference to the existence of “stabilization” in order to justify the political bloc with Purcell. Yet, precisely in order to shatter the “stabilization”, Purcellism had first to be destroyed. In such a situation, even a shadow of solidarity with the General Council was the greatest crime and infamy against the working masses.

Even the most correct strategy cannot, by itself, always lead to victory. The correctness of a strategical plan is verified by whether it follows the line of the actual development of class forces and whether it estimates the elements of this development realistically. The gravest and most disgraceful defeat which has the most fatal consequences for the movement is the typically Menshevist defeat, due to a false estimate of the classes, an underestimation of the revolutionary factors, and an idealization of the enemy forces. Such were our defeats in China and Britain.

What was expected from the Anglo-Russian Committee for the USSR?

In July 1926, Stalin lectured to us at the joint plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission as follows:

“The task of this bloc [the Anglo-Russian Committee] consists in organizing a broad movement of the working class against new imperialist wars and generally against an intervention in our country (especially) on the part of the mightiest of the imperialist powers of Europe, on the part of Britain in particular.”

While he was instructing us Oppositionists, to the effect that “care must be taken to defend the first workers’ republic of the world against intervention” (we, naturally, are unaware of this), Stalin added:

“If the reactionary trade unions of Britain are ready to conclude a bloc with the revolutionary trade unions of our country against the counter-revolutionary imperialists of their own country, then why should we not hail such a bloc?”

If the “reactionary trade unions” were capable of conducting a struggle against their own imperialists they would not be reactionary. Stalin is incapable of distinguishing any longer between the conceptions reactionary and revolutionary. He characterizes the British trade unions as reactionary as a matter of routine but in reality he entertains miserable illusions with regard to their “revolutionary spirit”.

After Stalin, the Moscow Committee of our party lectured to the workers of Moscow:

“The Anglo-Russian Committee can, must, and will undoubtedly play an enormous role in the struggle against all possible interventions directed against the USSR. It will become the organizing centre of the international forces of the proletariat for the struggle against every attempt of the international bourgeoisie to provoke a new war.” (Theses of the Moscow Committee)

What did the Opposition reply? We said:

“The more acute the international situation becomes, the more the Anglo-Russian Committee will be transformed into a weapon of British and international imperialism.”

This criticism of the Stalinist hopes in Purcell as the guardian angel of the workers’ state was characterized by Stalin at the very same plenum as a deviation “from Leninism to Trotskyism”.

Voroshilov [9]: “Correct”

A Voice: Voroshilov has affixed his seal to it.”

Trotsky: “Fortunately all this will be in the Minutes.”

Yes, all this is to be found in the Minutes of the July plenum at which the blind, rude and disloyal opportunists dared to accuse the Opposition of “defeatism”.

This dialogue which I am compelled to quote briefly from my earlier article, What We Gave and What We Got, is far more useful as a strategical lesson than the entire sophomoric chapter on strategy in the draft programme. The question – what we gave (and expected) and what we got? – is in general the principal criterion in strategy. It must be applied at the Sixth Congress to all questions that have been on the agenda in recent years. It will then be revealed conclusively that the strategy of the ECCI, especially since the year 1926, was a strategy of imaginary sums, false calculations, illusions with regard to the enemy, and persecutions of the most reliable and unwavering militants. In a word, it was the rotten strategy of Right-Centrism.

From Strategy and tactics in the imperialist epoch
(dated 28th June, 1928), first published in Die Internationale
Revolution und die Kommunistische Internationale
, 1929

Volume 2, Chapter 2 Index


1. Stjepan Radic (1871-1928), Croatian politician; founder of the Croatian Peasant Party in 1905; assassinated in 1928 by a Serbian nationalist. – Robert LaFollette Sr. (1855-1925), American Progressive politician; Governor of Wisconsin 1901-06, US Senator from Wisconsin 1906-25; presidential candidate of the Progressive Party in 1924. – Tomasz Dombal (1890-1937), Polish communist and peasant leader; leader of Polish Communist Party, executed on Stalin’s orders in the purge of the exiled PCP in 1938 - John Pepper (1886-1939), born Pogany, a Hungarian, was associated with Bukharin in the International Right Opposition. This tendency developed in opposition to Stalin’s ultra-left turn in 1928-9, and had organizations in a number of countries, particularly the United States and Germany, which maintained their existence until around 1939. Pepper had been ultra-left at the time of the Third Congress of the Communist International, and in the later 1920s was described by Trotsky as “a political parasite”. He was expelled from the Hungarian Party and went to live in the United States.

2. Grigory Zinoviev (1883-1936), Russian Bolshevik; joined RSDLP in 1901 and supported the Bolshevik faction in the split in 1903; on of Lenin’s closest collaborators between 1903 and 1917; opposed the seizure of power in october 1917 along with Kamenev but nevertheless remained in the Central Committee of the party; Chairman of the Comintern 1919-26; allied with Stalin againhst Trotsky after Lenin’s death, but the alliance collapsed in 1925; gradually removed from all positions of influence Zinoviev joined forces with Trotsky to form the Joint Opposition; expelled from the party after their defeat at the 15th Party Congress in December 1927; capitulated to Stalin in early 1928 and eventually readmitted into the party; arrested in December 1934 after the Kirov assassination and put on trial in January 1935; admitted “moral complicity” in the assassination and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment; put on trial with Kamenev and 14 other Old Bolsheviks in August 1936, the First Moscow Show Trial, and sentenced to death; executed immediately after the trial.

3. Alfred Purcell, left-wing member of the General Council of the TUC; president of the TUC 1924. – A.J. Cook (1883-1931), British coal miner and militant trade union leader; General Secretary of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain 1924-31.

4. N.I. Bukharin (1888-1938), Bolshevik who joined the Party in 1906, had worked with Stalin against the oppositionsince 1923. In late 1928, in launching his ultra-left turn, Stalin broke with Bukharin removing him in the following year from his posts as editor of Pravda and chairman of the Comintern. On capitulating to Stalin he was assigned to “educational work”. Framed and murdered by Stalin in the last of the Moscow Trials, 1938. – Mikhail Tomsky (1886-1936) was an old Bolshevik and a trade unionist. Always on the right wing of the Party, he opposed the 1917 insurrection and was closely involved in Stalin’s policies in the mid-20s, particularly on the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee. He opposed the left turn in 1928 along with Bukharin and Rykov and committed suicide after the first of the Moscow Trials.

5. The first political movement of the British working class. Chartism took up the traditional demands of universal manhood suffrage and other parliamentary reforms, and tried to achieve them by methods including petitions, strikes and armed insurrections during the period from 1837 to 1848. The strikers were beaten back to work and the insurrectionists were transported to Australia. The three petitions presented to Parliament in this period had enormous working class support, but were contemptuously rejected with large displays of force and arguments about the sanctity of property and the constitution.

6. Grigorii Natanovich Melnichansky (1886-1937), member of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party from 1902. Secretary and then Chairman of the Moscow City Trade Union Council after the Revolution, and in 1926 a member of the Praesidium. One of the many faithful Stalinists who perished in the purges.

7. Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937), Scottish Labour politician, member of Independent Labour Party (ILP), adopted pacifist position during World War I, prime minister in the first (1924) and second (1929-1931) Labour governments, defected in 1931 with Philip Snowden and Jimmy Thomas to form National Government with the Conservatives after the Labour government split on the question of cutting unemployment benefits, served as prime minister until 1935. – Jimmy Thomas (1874-1949), British trade unionist and Labour politician; General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen 1917-31; member of first (1924) and second (1929-31) Labour governments; supported MacDonald in the split in the Labour government over the reduction of unemployment benefit and went with MacDonald and Snowden into the National Government with the Conservatives; as a result he was expelled from the Labour Party and the NUR. – Arthur Pugh (1879-1955), British trade unionist; Secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation 1917-37; Chairman of the TUC General Council during the General Strike.

8. Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947), British Conservative politician; prime minister three times 1923-1924, 1924-1929 and 1935-1937; prime minister during the General Strike.

9. Kliment Voroshilov (1881-1969), Bolshevik since 1903, formed close alliance with Stqalin during the Civil war – often against Trotsky’s policies; member of Central Committee 1922-19612; People’s commissar for Military and navy affairs 1925-34; member of politburo 1926-1960; his career benefitted from the downfall of Tukachevsky, commander of the Red Army untilo his execution in 1937; although he was placed in command of various armies during World War II he proved to be a poor planner and an incompetent commander, but nevertheless he survived as a leading member of the party until the de-Stalinisation under Khruchchev.

Volume 2 Index

Trotsky’s Writings on Britain

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Last updated on: 2.7.2007