Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain
Volume 2

The Anglo-Russian Committee

Mistakes of the Right Elements ...

4. The disastrous experience with the Anglo-Russian Committee was based entirely upon effacing the independence of the British Communist Party. In order that the Soviet trade unions might maintain the bloc with the strike-breakers of the General Council (allegedly in the state interests of the USSR!) the British Communist Party had to be deprived of all independence. This was obtained by the actual dissolution of the party into the so-called “Minority Movement” [1], that is, a “left” opposition inside the trade unions.

The experience of the Anglo-Russian Committee was unfortunately the least understood and grasped even in the Left Opposition groups. [2] The demands for a break with the strike-breakers appeared even to some within our ranks as ... sectarianism. Especially with Monatte [3], the original sin which led him into the arms of Dumoulin [4] was most clearly manifested in the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee. Yet, this question has a gigantic importance: without a clear understanding of what happened in Britain in 1925-1926, neither Communism as a whole nor the Left Opposition in particular will be able to find its way on the road.

Stalin, Bukharin, Zinoviev [5] – in this question they were all in solidarity, at least in the first period – sought to replace the weak British Communist Party by a “broader current” which had at its head, to be sure, not members of the party, but “friends”, almost Communists, at any rate, fine fellows and good acquaintances. The fine fellows, the solid “leaders”, did not, of course, want to submit themselves to the leadership of a small, weak Communist Party. That was their full right; the party cannot force anybody to submit himself to it. The agreements between the Communists and the “Lefts” (Purcell, Hicks and Cook [6]) on the basis of the partial tasks of the trade union movement were, of course, quite possible and in certain cases unavoidable. But on one condition: the Communist Party had to preserve its complete independence, even within the trade unions, act in its own name in all the questions of principle, criticize its “Left” allies whenever necessary, and in this way, win the confidence of the masses step by step.

This only possible road, however, appeared too long and uncertain to the bureaucrats of the Communist International. They considered that by means of personal influence upon Purcell, Hicks, Cook and the others (conversations behind the scenes, correspondence, banquets, friendly back-slapping, gentle exhortations), they would gradually and imperceptibly draw the “Left” opposition (“the broad current”) into the stream of the Communist International. To guarantee such a success with greater security, the dear friends (Purcell, Hicks and Cook) were not to be vexed, or exasperated, or displeased by petty chicanery, by inopportune criticism, by sectarian intransigence, and so forth ... But since one of the tasks of the Communist Party consists precisely of upsetting the peace of and alarming all centrists and semi-centrists a radical measure had to be resorted to by actually subordinating the Communist Party to the “Minority Movement”. On the trade union field there appeared only the leaders of this movement. The British Communist Party had practically ceased to exist for the masses.

What did the Russian Left Opposition demand in this question? In the first place, to re-establish the complete independence of the British Communist Party towards the trade unions. We affirmed that it is only under the influence of the independent slogans of the party and of its open criticism that the Minority Movement could take form, appreciate its tasks more precisely, change its leaders, fortify itself in the trade unions while consolidating the position of communism.

What did Stalin, Bukharin, Lozovsky [7] and company reply to our criticism? “You want to push the British Communist Party on to the road of sectarianism. You want to drive Purcell, Hicks and Cook into the enemy’s camp. You want to break with the Minority Movement.”

What did the Left Opposition rejoin? “If Purcell and Hicks break with us, not because we demand of them that they transform themselves immediately into Communists – nobody demands that! – but because we ourselves want to remain Communists, this means that Purcell and company are not friends but masked enemies. The quicker they show their nature, the better for the masses. We do not at all want to break with the Minority Movement. On the contrary, we must give the greatest attention to this movement. The smallest step forward with the masses or with a part of the masses is worth more than a dozen abstract programmes of circles of intellectuals, but the attention devoted to the masses has nothing in common with capitulation before their temporary leaders and semi-leaders. The masses need a correct orientation and correct slogans. This excludes all theoretical conciliation and the patronage of confusionists who exploit the backwardness of the masses.”

What were the results of the Stalinists’ British experiment? The Minority Movement, embracing almost a million workers, seemed very promising, but it bore the germs of destruction within itself. The masses knew as the leaders of the movement only Purcell, Hicks and Cook, whom, moreover, Moscow vouched for. These “left” friends, in a serious test, shamefully betrayed the proletariat. The revolutionary workers were thrown into confusion, sank into apathy and naturally extended their disappointment to the Communist Party itself which had only been the passive part of this whole mechanism of betrayal and perfidy. The Minority Movement was reduced to zero; the Communist Party returned to the existence of a negligible sect. In this way, thanks to a radically false conception of the party, the greatest movement of the English proletariat, which led to the General Strike, not only did not shake the apparatus of the reactionary bureaucracy, but, on the contrary, reinforced it and compromised Communism in Great Britain for a long time.

From The mistakes of the Right elements of
the French Communist League on the trade union question

(dated 4th January 1931), Byulleten Oppozitsii, March 1931

Volume 2, Chapter 2 Index


1. The Minority Movement: A body of trade unionists was organized under the leadership of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1924 from the militant rank and file in many industries. It built up support and its conferences secured increasing representation up to the 1926 General Strike. However, it never really broke from its syndicalist antecedents and came under the control of Stalinist policies, collapsing under the suicidal dual unionist policies of the Comintern in the late 1920s.

2. The Left Opposition originated in Moscow in 1923 around the questions of workers’ democracy in the Russian Communist Party and of the decisive role of state-planned industrialization in the social life of the Soviet republic. After a long, muted struggle in the Political Bureau during which Trotsky vigorously advocated the establishment of workers’ democracy and struggle against bureaucratism, he summarised his standpoint, as against that of the ruling triumvirate (Stalin, Zinoviev, Bukharin) in a letter to the Central Committee and Central Control Commission on 8th October 1923. Following a vigorous denunciation of his views by the Politburo, which marked the opening of the public fight against “Trotskyism”, a collective letter of solidarity with Trotsky and his views was signed by 46 prominent old Bolsheviks and received by the Central Committee on 15th October, 1923. This group was joined in 1926 by the so-called Leningrad Opposition, led by Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sokolnikov, Krupskaya and others, which had arisen in 1925 as a result of the alarm of the Leningrad workers over the Stalin-Bukharin orientation towards the kulak and their theory of “socialism in one country”. The fused Opposition Bloc of Bolshevik-Leninists, which summarized its views in the famous Platform of the Joint Opposition presented to the Fifteenth Party Congress in 1927, was outlawed by that Congress. Most of the Leningrad leaders, headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev, capitulated to Stalin and were eventually readmitted into the party; thousands of recalcitrants were expelled, imprisoned and exiled. Stalin’s exiling of Trotsky was essential to the drive to crush the Opposition. It was in the fight to keep it alive and develop it in the other sections of the Communist International that Trotsky wrote the material on Britain contained in Volume Three. For more details about the origin of the Opposition see Ten Years by Max Shachtman (New Park Publications, 1974).

3. Pierre Monatte (1881-1960), anarcho-syndicalist. Founded Voix Ouvrière in 1909 and joined Trotsky in opposition to capitalist war after 1914. joined the French Communist Party in 1923 but left the following year as a result of the “Bolshevization campaign”. Set up an organization known as Proletarian Revolution, then the Syndicalist League; maintained until the end of his life the principle of trade union independence.

4. Georges Dumoulin (1877-1963), miner and trade unionist. Supported the right wing by the end of the First World War and became an official of various right wing trade union organizations between the wars. Collaborated with the Vichy regime during the Second World War.

5. 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. – 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.

6. Alfred Purcell, left-wing member of the General Council of the TUC; president of the TUC 1924. – George Hicks (1879-1954), British trade unionist; originally a lewft-winger, but moved to the right during the 1920s; member of General Council of the TUC 1921-1941. Labour MP 1931-1950. – A.J. Cook (1883-1931), British coal miner and militant trade union leader; General Secretary of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain 1924-31.

7. Solomon Abramovich Lozovsky (1878-1952), originally a Menshevik, joined the Bolsheviks in 1917 and became Secretary of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions. Because of disagreements over the question of trade union independence and exclusively Bolshevik government, he set up, an organization of his own for a time, but rejoined the Communist Party in December 1919. Thereafter he was a leading official of the Red International of Labour Unions and a consistent supporter of Stalinist policies. Later he became a Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs and head of the Soviet information Office. One of the few major figures of the 1920s to survive the purges of the 1930s, Lozovsky was seized and shot on Stalin’s orders at the age of 74 during an anti-semitic campaign.

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Trotsky’s Writings on Britain

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Last updated on: 2.7.2007