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Growing Revolt against National Government
Marks British Scene

(October 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 28, 24 October 1931, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

LONDON. – This week has seen the struggle against the National government’s economies reach its highest point since the fight began. Not a day has passed without demonstrations of unemployed workers; demonstrations which by their size and militancy testified to the deep feeling and anger of the unemployed at the threatened reactions in their benefits.

Last Sunday over twenty-thousand workers assembled in Hyde Park and at the conclusion of the meeting, marched off to Wormwood Scrubs Prison, where several militants were imprisoned. On Tuesday evening, thousands gathered again in the Park: a deputation proceeded to the House of Commons with a petition against the cuts and in support of them the workers surged out of the Park, through the West End and gathered around Parliament. The police attempted to disperse them, there were baton charges, several scuffles between groups of workers and mounted policemen, and twelve arrests. When the deputation returned, the crowd formed up again and in spite of the police, marched away to the Park. In the Park, thoroughly aroused by the brutal methods of the police, they tore down railings and distributed the staves, carrying these in readiness on the homeward march.

In Manchester, Rochdale, Salford, Birmingham and a score of equally important industrial centers, great demonstrations took place whilst the campaign in Glasgow culminated on Thursday with a demonstration of 50,000 workers; police interference with the march caused trouble and a miniature battle took place, the workers using railings, bottles and sticks against the police: the fight lasted well into the night. This by no means exhausts the week’s story of demonstrations, baton charges and “skirmishes” between police and unemployed. But it is sufficient to show the widespread character, as well as the militancy of feeling, of the movement against the economy cuts.

I have briefly recounted certain happenings of the last few days because they are of importance for the International Opposition. The party press here, as elsewhere, indulges in continual exaggeration and distortion of happenings and there is a danger that comrades aware of this will tend to minimize the strength of the mass movement against the economy cuts. It cannot be made too clear that there is a real, widespread and militant revival of the working class movement here and that, in spite of the stupidities of our party leaders, it finds its reflection in increased support for our party. But the effectiveness and durability of this “revival” must be greatly affected by the policy pursued by the party during the next few weeks.

A Turn-About

Today’s Daily Worker issues a new call to the workers: partly due to the fact that in less than a week the cuts begin and partly because even a Stalinist official cannot altogether avoid seeing the obvious. Having refused from the beginning to work for united workers’ councils, bringing into the movement the workers in industry as well as the unemployed, the party leadership suddenly realizes that the campaign has been largely an unemployed campaign and that, save in a few districts, there are no broad united front bodies influential enough to mobilize effective resistance. Had they, right from the start, set about getting all the workers, employed and unemployed, organized in each locality and linked up nationally in councils of action, they might now have been at the head of a powerful mass movement, with strength inside and outside of the trade unions and organized for action. Instead, at the eleventh hour, they are compelled to issue a last minute call, without having in any way prepared the road for such a call, for strike action. And even now they blunder. This is how it is done:

“How to stop the cuts? What can be done in the next few days to organize the wonderful fighting spirit evidenced on all sides? ... The great need during the coming days is more and more activity, more factory gate meetings, demonstrations, mass marches, resolutions in the trade union branches and local Labour Parties, the building up of united front organizations – committees of action, Charter committees, unemployed committees, etc.” (October 3, 1931)

What a conception of organization for serious struggle! Here “Charter Committees”, “unemployed committees” and “councils of action” mean the same thing: the “etc.” is especially revealing. To such stupidity it is impossible to find an adequate reply: certainly, in this way will lie disaster for the movement. Careful explanation of the reasons why united workers’ councils are needed; how they are to be formed and of whom they are to be composed; what attitude is to be taken to the councils already established, or in process of establishment. by the branches of the Independent Labour Party; what form of action is to be worked for and in what way – these elementary things have not been done in this latest pronouncement and as a result it is worthless to the workers and even may help to spread further confusion and uncertainty.

The statement already quoted also says in the usual panic-stricken way that “the lower scales will be paid out – unless the attack is defeated”. There is exactly a week to build united workers’ councils, to orgsnize a strike find to bring the whole working class “on the streets”.

To have done at the beginning of the struggle in a systematic way, what they are now, at this late hour, doing so badly and foolishly, would have advanced the revolutionary movement in England further than all the party’s efforts for the last ten years. This was not done when it should have been done: worse even – those who suggested doing it were attacked as “sectarians” and now, in a frantic effort to develop the fight further, the party leadership screams out for workers’ councils and for strikes – all in a week!

Most interesting perhaps has been the dropping of the “Nine Points” of the Workers’ Charter. After a year’s campaign for these “Nine Points”, they are quietly pushed aside and to save the faces of the sponsors of this Workers’ Charter, the present slogans of the party against the cuts are now put forward as the “Charter”.

Establish an English Opposition!

Clearly, the time is ripe for the consolidation of all the critical elements under the banner of the International Left Opposition. So far nothing has been done in this direction: isolated comrades have been crushed easily by the leadership: the party press has not only refused to publish criticism but it has even suppressed reports of very large and important demonstrations when those demonstrations have been carried through by comrades in disagreement with the party policy. At present, the control by the Stalinists of the press, and the lack of an organized Opposition, together with the low theoretical level of the English party membership, makes the position of the present leadership very strong.

The need is for an English Opposition platform around which the best elements in the English party can rally.

London, October 3, 1931


LONDON. – In previous letters some of the weaknesses of the party’s campaign around the National government’s economy attack have been pointed out. Events have more than justified this criticism and more than ever is it necessary to rouse the party membership against the policy pursued by the party leadership.

At the commencement of the campaign it was pointed out in these columns that failure on the part of the party to give a definite lead for the formation of councils of action and to urge preparation for strike action would prevent the widest possible mobilization of all workers under militant leadership. In addition, it was shown that the line carried out by the party was a reformist line, not a revolutionary one and that such a policy could only result in a strengthening of the I.L.P. “Lefts” at the expense of the party.

It is now possible to see that the virtual restriction of the campaign to the unemployed has found our party after seven weeks’ agitation with no real gains to register as far as the trade unions and the factories are concerned. Whilst in the great demonstrations of unemployed, the party, as a party, has scarcely appeared at all. All the great demonstrations in London and in the provinces, have been organized by the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement: all the speakers at these demonstrations have been unemployed leaders or local unemployed organizers. There can be, of course, no objection to the organizing of the unemployed in the N.U.W.M., but the party should work to secure a workers’ united front movement to bring together employed and unemployed under the leadership of the Communist party. The need for the party, its role [1] in the workers’ struggle should be explained and demonstrated day in and day out, especially in this time when the workers are more politically active than for some years past. In the meantime, precisely because the party is not pursuing a correct policy, the influence of the “Lefts” increases: in Glasgow, for example, only a week ago, Maxton and other I.L.P. leaders were greeted with enthusiasm by a demonstration of 100,000 workers.

The Party and the Election

During the General Election, of course, we shall hear and see more of the party. This is a hard thing to say, but it is true, and one can even see that, under certain circumstances, a big party vote in the election will be a step backward for the movement.

How should the party approach the election? Clearly it should enter the election primarily to strengthen and develop the mass movement and not merely to get seats in Parliament. The worst thing that could happen would be that the naturally strong tendency amongst the workers is to rely upon the vote rather than upon their own organized strength, should be encouraged by our participation in the election. To enter the election to help to extend the mass agitation against the economy cuts and to prepare for strike action is one thing; to enter it to gain seats in Parliament is another. Let Communists go to the poll wherever possible by all means, but see that they utilize the campaign principally to gain support in the unions, in the factories, and at the unemployment exchanges, for the extra-Parliamentary struggle against the employers’ attack. Where it is not possible to raise the necessary money (150 pounds deposit is needed before a candidate can go to the poll which is lost unless a certain percentage of the total vote is registered for the candidate concerned) then let candidates be put up and lead mass marches of workers to the polling stations to vote Communist, although such votes will of course be disallowed. But everywhere the party should carry to the workers the message: build your movement in the factories and outside the factories for in this way only can you achieve anything real.

Fighting – for Votes!

Unfortunately, the party is not entering the fight in this way. The party seeks seats in parliament: it is therefore to concentrate mainly upon certain constituencies where they believe they have a chance of getting in. Although this plan has been partly defeated by the insistence of the locals upon running at least “demonstrative” candidates, yet in the main it still holds good. It can only mean that in many areas, the workers will get no real and effective lead from the party, that the party comrades in certain areas will work, not amongst the workers in their own areas but in nearby places where, by concentration, the party hopes to secure a seat in Parliament.

This is opportunism of the worst kind and it means, so far as the party leaders are concerned, that they are more concerned about results to report to their Stalinist masters than with the effect of their campaign upon the mass of the workers.

Against such a policy, the Oppositionist in England should fight not only by raising the question inside the party but also by refusing to consent to the desertion of the workers in their own areas for the purpose of getting a Communist in somewhere else.

Division and Doubt

The serious nature of the crisis is revealed in the election, for at this election no less than eight different groups will fight for seats.

The Liberals are now divided into three groups: one led by Sir John Simon who is pro-National government and pro-tariff: another group led by Sir Herbert Samuel who is a member of the National government but anti-tariff; and a third group led by Lloyd George who is now out openly against the National government and getting nearer to the Labour party. The Labour party, save for one or two constituencies where the I.L.P. are running their own “rebel” candidate, without the sanction of the Labour party, will fight as one party but with their late leaders fighting against them and with several “National-Labour” candidates in various constituencies. Then, of course, there are “independents” of all shades, a few “Prohibitionists” and so on to make confusion worse confounded. To forecast the result of this election is obviously impossible but the Communist party, of whose candidates about forty may go to the poll, will do well in spite of its stupidities and the Labour party will probably get a very large working class vote. The result will be known on October 28.

The Case of the Meerut Prisoners

The campaign for the release of the Meerut prisoners, three of them are comrades, started well over two years ago. Since then, it has, save for occasional spurts, almost disappeared and real effective agitation has long abandoned. Occasionally a letter from one of the English prisoners would be received and published in the Daily Worker. Will the Daily Worker publish the latest letter received from Meerut jail?

In this letter, the English party leaders are bitterly reproached not only for the failure to conduct an effective campaign but also for their failure to fulfill their obligations to the English prisoners. The latter states that money due to them has not been sent as it should have been sent, which, considering the position of the prisoners, who have been nearly three years in Meerut Jail, is scandalous. The proletarian members of the League against Imperialism Executive raised an indignant protest, much to the embarrassment of the party functionaries present.

An attempt is being made to hush the matter up, but it should be made known and remedied.

October 12, 1931


Note by ETOL

1. In the printed version of this article this word is “vote”.

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