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Maurice Spector

The Coming Elections in Great Britain

(April 1929)

From The Militant, Vol. II No. 8, 15 April 1929, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

For the Tory government the recent series of of reverses in agricultural no less than in industrial constituencies spell the handwriting on the wall. A premonition of their political fate prompts one of their noted publicists to remark that “the ministerial dullness is like a processional death march in anticipation of one’s own funeral.” Mr. Baldwin still sucks his pipe blandly but the Chinese poet must have had someone like the British Premier in mind, when his own life having been wrecked by intelligence he prayed for a scion sufficiently dull to qualify for the tranquil career of cabinet minister. It may be doubted if a bushel of the reddest “Zinoviev” letters for the Orloff factory lately raided in Berlin, could steam up the “Great British Electorate” to drown the memories of the last four and a half years of Conservative futility.

On the hustings Baldwin continues to reiterate that “socialism is an economic dance of death” but the large and inescapable fact stands out that there are just a quarter of a million more unemployed on the register today than when the Tories took office with the biggest majority, barring one, in British parliamentary history. Other “achievements” of this regime are the lengthening of the miners’ hours, intervention in China, rupture with the Soviet Union, suppression of the General Strike, and enactment of repressive legislation against trade unionism.

The Loyal Oppositions

The signs point to a second Labor government in the form of a more or less veiled “Lib-Lab” coalition, and guided by Ramsey Macdonald’s precepts of “continuity”. That is to say, his present indictment of the Baldwin Administration for its: “inaction and reaction” will fully apply to his own. There will be no Marxian and Bolshevik “despotic inroads into property”. The first Labor government recognized Soviet Russia grudgingly, carried out the cruiser program of their Conservative predecessors, bombed the natives of Irak for taxes, maintained the British Raj in India, avoided anything savoring of nationalization, and helped to put the Dawes Plan into operation.

Since then the British masses have tended more and more to the Left, have gone through the experiences of Red Friday and the General Strike, but the reformist bureaucracy has succeeded in transforming the Labor Party, structurally and in program, into a conventional social-democratic party, worshiping more and more zealously at the shrine of the Constitution and the Empire. Not only are the Communists excluded by chapter and verse but local labor parties suspected of “red” sympathies can be and are also excluded. Nationalization and the capital levy have been dropped from the docket of “practical politics”. Philip Snowden, who may be presumed to know the intentions of his Party, goes so far as to commit himself to the thunderous iconoclasm of a Federal Reserve Banking system! (New York World, March 23, 1929) Nothing is more certain than that the second MacDonald government will prove as helpless in the face of the stern realities as the parties of Capital. It has been truly observed that you cannot make a revolution with rosewater.

England’s Economic Position

The chronic depression for the past six years in the British basic industries, coal, iron, steel, textiles, shipbuilding, is no pre-war cyclical fluctuation of “bad trade”. That is why, during this whole period, successive British cabinets have achieved the impressive results of the members of the old German Club who sat around a table over the center of which was suspended an illuminated board bearing the device: “Es muss was geschehen”. (Something must be done about it.)

England experienced a profound economic crisis and sharp class struggle following the Napoleonic wars, but that proved a crisis of growth, heralding an era of unexampled industrial expansion in a world where other countries were still in the grip of feudalism like Japan, struggling for national unification like Germany, or pioneering like the United States. British pre-war prosperity was rooted in primacy and monopoly in the world market, and these advantages have since disappeared. In these circumstances, rationalization can as little avail as free trade or protection: it can only accentuate the dilemma of British capitalism in a world of increased productive power, intensified competition, and a diminishing market and serious enhance the danger of a second world war.

The Anglo-American antagonism has replaced the Anglo-German in the fateful role it plays in world politics.

“We may as well face the fact,” writes the London Economist, “that the United States in the 20th century is likely to be a much more formidable economic competitor than Germany was in the latter part of the 19th century ... A refusal on our part to make the possible and necessary adjustment would court political and economic disaster.”

On the point of how this adjustment is to be made, the Economist is not explicit but points to the pacific note struck by Hoover in his inaugural address. (“I covet for this administration a record of having further contributed to the advance of world peace.”) Bourgeois pacifists generally hope for the elimination of the competitive causes of war through bigger and better production and sales agreements of international cartels. It was this same Hoover however, who as secretary of commerce formulated American economic policy in these terms:

“The establishment of international price-fixing machinery will never be considered by the people of the United States. United States is more pledged to open competition than any other nation in the world.” (U.S. Daily, February 31 [sic!], 1927)

The United States Senate will sign the Kellogg Pact and pass the Cruiser Bill. The British cabinet will endorse the Locarno Agreement and arrange the Anglo-French naval compromise. The Geneva conferences will go up in smoke.

Weakness of Communist Party

In this changed position of British capitalism, the British working class has ceased to be the “bourgeois” working class it was in the description of Engels’s letter to Kautsky in 1882. The basis of opportunism and “Liberal-Labor” politics has been profoundly undermined. But, unfortunately, despite the rich instructions of the capitalist offensive, of the great strikes, the general election finds the influences of the reformists strengthened and that of the revolutionaries weakened.

In the municipal elections of last year, the Communists lost even their three seats in Bethnall Green. The British Communist, R.P. Dutt, who is quite free from the taint of “Trotskyism”, nevertheless makes this important admission: “At the same time as the leftward advance of the working class is going forward, in 1927, visibly in every direction, the Communist Party is not only stationary but actually going down.” (Communist International, March 15, 1928.) At the last convention of the British Communist Party, its membership was actually down to 3,500. It is no pleasure to record this rout of British Communism but we are under no obligations to send Stalin war communiques from the realm of Peter Pan trumpeting forth the heavy massacre of the enemy and our own trifling losses.

The impotence of the British Communist Party is the punishment history has meted out for the whole opportunist and centrist line of the Comintern since the Fifth Congress At no point of its analysis has the Opposition led by L.D. Trotsky been vindicated with greater precision than its unflagging criticism of the subordination of the interests of the revolutionary movement to the requirements of the Anglo-Russian Committee (the bloc of the Soviet trade unions with the reformists of the General Council). This policy was initiated in 1924 when Zinoviev, before his temporary break with Stalin, developed the idea that the avenue to the proletarian dictatorship in England might lie through the Purcells, Hickses et al. and not necessarily through the Communist Party, a revisionist conception against which Trotsky protested in his Lessons of October (1924).

It was continued under Buchanan who compared the proposal to withdraw from the Anglo-Russian Committee after the betrayal of the General Strike with the enormity of WITHDRAWING FROM THE SOVIETS IN 1917! Stalin in July 1926 before the Plenum of the Russian Central Committee defined the tasks of the Anglo-Russian Committee “to organize a broad working class movement against new imperialist wars, particularly against intervention in our country”. To this the Opposition replied: “The more acute the international position grows, to that extent the Anglo-Russian Committee will become an instrument of British and international imperialism.”

The Anglo-Russian Committee

The Anglo-Russian Committee became the Holy of Holies, which it was sacrilege to attack for inaction. The British Party leadership wanted to renew the agitation for a revival of the Anglo-Russian Committee after it had already become a carcass. In a “confidential” communication to the Presidium of the E.C.C.I. July 1926) the British C.E.C. PROTESTED AGAINST THE CHARACTERIZATION OF THE GENERAL COUNCIL AS “LACKEYS OF CAPITALISM”. In the article of Dutt already referred to, he diplomatically reaveals that “there is no doubt that there was some misunderstanding by Communists of the united front as a direct personal support for and building up of the prestige of these treacherous pseudo-Left leaders, and their exposure only after the “event”. The Bells, Murphys and Gallachers had drunk deeply at the well of the Stalin faction.

DID NOT TOMSKY PROPOSE AT THE 14th CONGRESS OF THE RUSSIAN PARTY THAT THE SOVIET TRADE UNIONS SHOULD ENTER THE AMSTERDAM INTERNATIONAL? Does the membership of the Comintern know of Tomsky’s famous telegram from Paris, May 12, to the Russian Polit-Bureau proposing that “the Communist Party of Great Britain should submit to the decision of the General Council” to break off the strike, which in his view was to be considered as a “partial MORAL VICTORY OF THE PROLETARIAT”? The so-called “new line” of the British Communists (independent political action and candidates) is too far at the tail end of events again to influence this election.

Trotsky on England

Towards the development of the British revolution, we of the Communist Opposition look forward with supreme confidence.

“The entire world situation and role of the British proletariat in production and in society assure it of the victory provided its leadership be truly and resolutely revolutionary ... The Communist Party will prepare itself for the function of leadership only by a merciless criticism of the entire dominating staff of the English labor movement, only by a constant unmasking of the conservative, anti-proletarian, imperialist functionaries in all the fields of social life ... It would be a monstrous illusion that these ‘left’ elements of the Old School are capable of heading the revolutionary movement of the English proletariat in its struggle for power.”

These words were written by comrade Trotsky in his Whither England, in the heyday of the Anglo-Russian Committee and before the General Strike, and they are a golden text for working class strategy today. The second Labor government or Liberal-Labor coalition will collapse miserably under the weight of the contradictions of British imperialism, maturing still further the conditions for a mass Communist Party, capable of leading towards a revolutionary socialist workers’ dictatorship.

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Last updated: 14.8.2012