Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Printer: The Dorrit Press, Ltd. (T. U. throughout), 68 & 70, Lant St., Borough, London, S.E.1
Transcription\HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
THE great General Strike was called off without achieving what the rank and file workers meant it to achieve—a guarantee of no reductions in wages and no lengthening of hours in the mining or any other industry. Its failure must not, however, blind us to the fact that it was one of the greatest displays of working class solidarity in the history of Western Europe, and certainly the greatest in the history of Great Britain.
We had railwaymen stopping work in an even more solid fashion than in their own strike of 1919.
We had a tremendous display of solidarity in the transport industry, including the picketing of the roads for scab buses and for other forms of transport in which the workers were unorganised.
We had the steel workers, who have never had a mass strike within living memory, coming out in a manner that was beyond all praise.
And lastly, we had one of the strongest weapons in the hands of modern capitalism, the press, knocked out of the hands of the employers by the energetic action of the printing trade unions.
The workers in all the industries named (except perhaps printing) were much worse organised than they were in 1921 or 1922, but the very extent of the strike gave them confidence. In most enterprises non-unionists stopped solidly alongside unionists. The victory of the strike would have meant a great influx into the ranks of the trade unions.
The strike movement failed, through causes which we will enumerate later. The whole Labour movement is tasting the bitterness of defeat, but, however great our chagrin must be, we must never forget the essential greatness of those glorious nine days.
The General Strike of 1926 was not something forced upon the Labour movement at a moment’s notice. It was an event whose coming had been foreseen and foretold by the Communist Party for nine months previously. It was something the Government had prepared to meet. It, therefore, took no leader in the Labour movement by surprise. There was no excuse for them not knowing of the Government preparations. There was no excuse for their not making counter-preparations. Yet they made none.
The failure of the leadership in the British unions did not suddenly take place on the fateful Wednesday when the strike was called off. It began long before.
In July, 1925, Mr. Baldwin, faced with the threat of a mass strike of the British working class, agreed to subsidise the mining industry for a period of nine months, while a Royal Commission enquired into the whole position of the industry. Mr. Baldwin’s capitulation was due, not merely to a fear of what the trade unions would do, but also to his anxiety about the effect of a strike upon the financial position of the country, Great Britain having just gone back to the gold standard.
The threat of the strike by the General Council was undoubtedly a political threat, aimed at forcing the (government to do something which it otherwise would not have done. The result was the coal subsidy, a political concession extracted by a strike threat.
While Mr. Baldwin granted the subsidy, he was under no illusions as to the nature of the threat to which he had bowed—for the time being. He told the House of Commons a few days after the granting of the subsidy:
“We were confronted last week by a great alliance of trade unions. If we are again confronted by a challenge of that nature, let me say that no minority in a free country has ever yet coerced the whole community.”
Mr. Baldwin went on to threaten the trade unions that should they endeavour to force concessions from the Government, the whole resources of the State would be used against them.
The Labour movement was here faced with a definite threat from the Government. Two courses were open to it. It could take up the challenge of the Government and prepare for the struggle in front of it, or it could seek to conciliate the Government by refusing to make similar political demands upon it in future, and by refusing to make any preparations for the struggle on the ground that such preparations were “provocative.”
The Communist Party urged the former course. It suggested that Mr. Baldwin’s threat should be met by a campaign for 100 per cent. trade unionism, for the building up of powerful factory committees and trades councils and for preparing the central machinery for conducting a General Strike. It suggested that in such a strike the workers would be liable to unprovoked attacks from the other side, and that the Labour movement ought to form Defence Corps to protect itself from aggression.
The Communist Party also urged that as the Government had threatened to use all the resources of the “community” against the workers, and as these resources included the fighting forces, the Labour movement ought to carry its’ message to the workers in the Forces.
Those immediate measures of preparation were described by the capitalist press as a preparation for armed revolution in May, 1926. The bogey of a “Red Menace” was conjured up and attempts were made to identify the trade union leaders with the Communists because some “Left” resolutions (which have never been acted upon) had been passed by the Scarborough Trades Union Congress.
The trade union leaders took fright and refused to give the suggestions of the Communists any rational consideration whatsoever.
The opportunity was taken at the Liverpool Conference of the Labour Party to secure the expulsion of individual Communists from the Labour Party and to snow under all “red” resolutions by overwhelming majorities. The Liverpool Conference was not merely a defeat for the Communists; it was the direct official repudiation of the necessity for any working class preparation in view of the struggle to come on the 1st of May.
Meanwhile the Government pushed ahead with its preparations. Encouraged by the Liverpool Conference with its formal exclusion of the Communists from the Labour Party, and its recommendation to the trade unions not to elect Communists as trade union delegates, it swooped down upon the Communist Party Headquarters and imprisoned 12 of its Executive members. Apparently the Government was under no delusion as to the influence of the Communist Party, should an open struggle take place. To put the leaders out of the way seemed an essential precaution.
Next, the Government’s aim was that the workers should, if possible, be detached from the miners, who, thus isolated, might be intimidated into accepting wage cuts without a strike. This was the function of the Coal Commission, composed of three. capitalists and one capitalist-minded economist. This Commission had to find means of reducing miners’ wages without provoking a General Strike on behalf of the miners.
In the event of the strike taking place, volunteers must be recruited to help to break the strike. Hence, the week before the Liverpool Conference of the Labour Party was held, a group of prominent public men, headed by admirals and army officers, formed the strike-breaking organisation, the “Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies.”
The “non-provocative” attitude of the Labour Party Conference did not conciliate the Government. During the Conference, the Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, recognised the O.M.S. Mr. MacDonald, who had led the fight at Liverpool against the Communists, weakly protested against this. The difference in attitudes was truly significant. The Labour movement expelled those on the working class side who were advocating preparation. The Government took those who were advocating preparation an the capitalist side to its bosom, and public opinion did not incline to the “non-provocative” Labour side because public opinion is largely manufactured by the capitalist press.
The last contribution of Mr. MacDonalld to the O.M.S. controversy was to suggest that those who were making provocative speeches were really encouraging the O.M.S.; that talk about a sympathetic strike was encouraging the O.M.S.; that the “community” must defend itself from the sympathetic strike (this was quoted by Mr. Baldwin during the General Strike debates in the House of Commons), and that the O.M.S. could best be countered by being non-provocative.
After a time the leaders began to excuse themselves for making no preparations for an industrial struggle in May by suggesting that the “impending industrial struggle” was only a wretched piece of Communist scaremongering. “There will be no struggle in May,” they began to say. “The Coal Commission will renew the subsidy for a time and things will be all right.” Never was there a more pathetic instance of the wish being father to the thought.
The fact that such a thing could be seriously believed shows how far the leaders were from realising the true nature of the situation in which Britain finds itself. “Something strange has happened to the mining industry,” they seemed to say, “but the Commission will set it right.”
They did not realise that something fundamental was happening to Britain; that capitalist Britain has lost her monopoly position in the world; that her heavy industries (because they were the oldest industries of their kind in the world) are hopelessly backward compared with those of her rivals; that there is a continuing depression in all European capitalist countries; that the British capitalists are finding it more difficult than ever before to maintain wages and profits at the same level as heretofore and that they were being forced to defend their position as a class by cutting wages; in order to maintain profits.
The separate elements of this picture were, of course, known to every trade union leader, but the state of affairs revealed here was regarded. as an “abnormal situation” from which we must escape back to “normal” again. This situation is not regarded as the perfectly normal and natural result of all previous capitalist development. To do so would be to cut the ground from under the whole policy of the Right-wing of the British Labour movement. For if capitalism is really in decline, if the decline is not merely a “temporary sickness,” then the policy of the Right-wing leaders—which envisages first the re-organisation of capitalism and then a steady working class progress under this re-organisation—is a fraud and a delusion.
Not really understanding the import of what they saw around them, the leaders looked for a solution of the question at issue in the mining industry, without any strike.
When the Coal Commission’s Report was issued, it demanded the cessation of the subsidy. It ought then to have been apparent to anyone that if miners’ wages were to be maintained a struggle was inevitable. For the only alternative means of maintaining the wages of the miners without a subsidy was that advocated by the Communist Party: the nationalisation of the mines and of bye-product plants, without compensation and with workers’ control. This would have involved closing down the uneconomic mines, concentrating upon the more up-to-date undertakings and upon those undertakings where the application of science could still be effective, and treating the industry as one national unit. The Right-wing leaders were even less prepared to consider this solution than they were to advocate a fight for the continuance of the subsidy; while the Left-wing of the General Council, never politically clear, and affected by the growing Right-wing dominance, drifted along without attempting to influence developments.
The Coal Report had two sections; one to be put into operation immediately, the reduction of miners’ wages, the other the re-organisation of the mining industry on capitalist lines in the distant future. The Right-wing were so entranced with the general criticisms which the report made as to the management of the mining industry (the criticisms of the capitalist class as a whole upon the more backward mineowners) and the measures of re-organisation which the Report advocated, that they considered the reductions in wages as a trifling detail. True to their policy of “re-organising” capitalism first, and then applying Right-wing step-at-a-time Socialist measures to this re-organised capitalism afterwards, they urged the miners to accept the temporary sacrifice of wages involved, in order to get the re-organisation proposals of the report carried. Before the critical last week of the negotiations this policy was being consistently laid before the miners by their trade union colleagues.
They had refused to prepare for the struggle, they had looked to the Coal Commission to find remedies which would make the struggle unnecessary, and even when the Coal Commission was found to have placed the reduction of wages in the very forefront of its “remedies,” they still hoped to avoid the struggle by imposing the acceptance of the whole report upon the miners. Mr. Baldwin’s first line of attack was working well. The Coal Report seemed to be splitting the other unions away from the miners.
At this moment the situation was complicated by the coalowners rushing in with such a preposterous series of demands for the reduction in wages and the lengthening of hours, that the General Council was forced to draw closer to the miners. In the hurried negotiations which followed, however, they never once declared against reductions of wages. Their position remained that the measures of reorganisation suggested by the Report must be initiated first, before a reduction in wages could be assented to. Given legislation or other guarantees that the re-organisation measures would be. initiated immediately, the miners might well accept a temporary reduction in wages.
In the meantime the campaigns of the Communist Party and the Minority Movement in favour of a united struggle against wage reductions was finding a tremendous response amongst the rank and file workers. As the period of the subsidy began to draw to a close, the Communist Party advocated the calling of a special Trade Union Conference similar to that of 1925 to mobilise support on behalf of the miners. The General Council could not find any alternative to this proposal, and the Conference was called. They still hoped, however, that only a gesture would be necessary and that the Special Conference would not require to sanction action.
Then came the formal breaking off of negotiations by Mr. Baldwin, and the General Council Avas forced either to celebrate May Day, 1926, by running away ignominiously from support of the miners or else by making a gesture. To run away without doing anything would, in the prevailing state of working class temper, have meant the speedy discarding of the Right-wing leadership and all that it stood for.
Continuous working class pressure had forced the General Council to take on greater powers at the Hull Congress of 1924; it had forced the General Council to call a conference of Trade Union Executives and issue an ultimatum to Baldwin in 1925; it had forced it to repeat this in the present crisis. Only on the Tuesday previous to the calling of the General Strike, however, were the plans for conducting that strike drawn up; it is said, mainly by Mr. Bevin. The plan leas marred by several weaknesses, but it was much in advance of anything which had ever been previously suggested in the British Labour movement.
The majority of the leaders, however, had no faith in the weapon which they were called upon to employ. Solidarity had been forced upon them and many of them were wishing fervently that they could avoid the use of the strike weapon. The pressure of circumstances combined to force them along the line of action, and the General Strike was declared.
True to type, the General Council—a large number of whom are I.L.P.’ers—recoiled before the General Strike. Instead of realising that the General Strike was a test of working class strength, the preparatory ground for the political challenge to capitalism, these leaders of the Second International saw in the strike a mere gesture and demonstration.
During the days between the calling of the strike and its commencement, they made it as easy as possible for the Government to give way to the threat of a General Strike; they demanded not the safeguarding of miners’ wages but the mere re-opening of negotiations. Once those negotiations were re-opened it was the intention of the Right-wing to go back to their old plan and endeavour to induce the miners to accept lower wages. They would thus claim to have made a move on behalf of the miners without actually going into the struggle, which they feared.
At first it looked as if the plan of the Right-wing was to be crowned with success. On the Sunday previous to the strike, Mr. Baldwin did re-open negotiations and the General Council went back to its old game of trying to persuade the miners to accept “temporary” reductions. They were at this game when Mr. Baldwin broke off negotiations.
Mr. Baldwin’s excuse for breaking off negotiations was that the General Council had committed overt acts in calling the General Strike, that the printers in the “Daily Mail” had prevented that paper issuing a particularly nasty dose of anti-working class poison, and that the Government was not going to bow to the threat of force, etc.
Actually, the cause of the breaking-off of negotiations was, that the Diehard section of the Cabinet had taken the measure of the General Council and had threatened resignation unless Mr. Baldwin called the General Council’s bluff. The result was that a Right-wing General Council, which had refused to prepare for the struggle found itself in control of a General Strike in which it did not believe, and the possible developments of which it dreaded.
No excuse for calling off the strike could be found in the attitude of the rank and file. The workers came out to a man, imbued not with the notion of striking to ensure resumption of negotiations, but with that of striking to ensure no reductions of wages or lengthening of hours anywhere.
The General Strike was on. It was the biggest and most serious struggle which the British working class had ever entered upon. It ought to have been led determinedly. It was led weakly and hesitatingly.
In the class struggle moderation is often little better than imbecility and cowardice. It may be politic in given circumstances to avoid a struggle, but when the struggle is unavoidable, one must go all out to win. The General Council feared the weapon they were wielding and did not even try to use it to its fullest extent.
The demonstration of solidarity by the workers was splendid, but the lead of the Right-wing was pitiful. Men like Mr. Thomas and Mr. MacDonald literally moaned about their desire for “peace” mid their willingness to grovel for it. The strike was a “calamity,” an awful tragedy, etc., etc. Right from the first moment that the strike was launched it was emphasised by the Right-vying that this was purely an industrial dispute, and was in no way a political or constitutional question. A more absurd and dangerous piece of nonsense was never uttered.
It is true that the strike was not inaugurated to overthrow the Constitution, i.e., “King, Lords (Spiritual and Temporal) and Commons in Parliament assembled” and to inaugurate a regime of Workers’ Councils. Nothing was further from the minds of the majority of the strikers than that.
The strikers were out to fight against wage reductions however, and no doubt existed in their minds that they were endeavouring to do this by bringing pressure to bear upon the Government. This pressure was meant to force it to make such arrangements in the mining industry as would guarantee the miners their pre-lock-out wages, and would safeguard the standards of the rest of the working class.
If the workers had been told that they were merely making an impressive demonstration in support of the miners and were not really attempting to bring pressure upon the Government to force it to do what it was not otherwise prepared to do, they would have laughed such a statement to scorn. Many who were involved in the strike were prepared to carry on until the workers were defeated or until the Baldwin Government had been forced to resign.
To the average worker, the question was not whether the strike was against the Constitution, but, whether the Constitution was in favour of lower wages or present wages, The attitude was well expressed by the workers who said: “If the Constitution is for present wages, good old Constitution. If the Constitution is in favour of lower wages, to hell with the Constitution.” Instead of taking this sensible point of view, the leaders wasted time on pitiful lawyers’ quibbles.
The weakness was quite as apparent in the demands made by the leaders. The rank and file were everywhere under the impression that they were fighting against any reductions in wages whatsoever. The leaders were only concerned to demand the resumption of negotiation, upon which taking place they were willing to call off the strike. When this was stated by Communist speakers to strike meetings, the rank and file were absolutely incredulous. Surely the leaders were not such fools! Events proved that they were.
For nine months the capitalist class had been preparing their strike-breaking machinery. The unions had not been preparing at all. This and the vacillating attitude on policy was reflected in the plans and the orders for carrying on the strike.
The object of the strike could only rationally be to extract definite material concessions from the Government. As a means to this end, employers’ profits were cut off and vital services were held up. The whole strategy was only intelligible on the Communist assumption that the Government represented not the “community” but simply the capitalist class as a whole. On the Right-wing assumption that the Government represented the “popular will” the strike was absolutely unintelligible.
The Government had mobilised as many volunteers as possible. Headed by admirals, generals and titled bourgeois, with their young scions from the Universities and idlers from the clubs, it is estimated that nearly 75,000 volunteers had been enrolled under O.M.S.—the Government’s unofficial blackleg organisation.
The obvious reply to that on the part of a leadership bent upon securing victory would be to tie up as many vital services as possible, spread the volunteers over as wide an area as possible, and so diminish their total effectiveness. Power and light services should have been cut off absolutely. No doubt the volunteers would have managed to get skeleton services going in some places, but in doing so they would have been prevented from scabbing elsewhere. Sanitary services in those bourgeois areas which were supplying scabs should have been stopped. The volunteers could then have been given work as dustmen as well as motor drivers! The complete stoppage of municipal services, except in working class areas and then only under the control of the strike committees, would have taken many volunteers away from other work and in particular would have given the Strike Committees more effective control of the situation in the transport industry.
These measures were not undertaken—for fear of antagonising the middle class! The idea that the middle class is more likely to respect the workers when they see the workers going all out to win never seemed to have entered the minds of the leaders.
The weakness of the strike plan was revealed in the attitude towards the press. It was excellent to stop the capitalist press—silly chatter about the “freedom of the press” notwithstanding. It was a mistake to stop the workers’ press, which should have been increased in volume during the strike. To knock a powerful weapon out of the hands of the capitalist class is good. To throw one’s own weapon away after it was foolish.
The moment a movement of the extent of a mass strike is launched, its effective direction passes out of the hands of a central leadership and into the hands of the local strike organisations. Such organisations ought to be given large powers to manuvre, to exert initiative, to call out more men in accordance with local circumstances if necessary. This power was not granted.
The orders given to these local Strike Committees were pitiful. Mass demonstrations were frowned upon, mass picketing was discouraged. Defence Corps were regarded as provocative. Everything that could enable those committees to rouse the workers to enthusiasm and to imbue them with a sense of their power was rejected. The haunting dread of the General Council was that those local committees would take control out of their hands.
As the strike had been unprepared, no local strike machinery existed and had, therefore, to be hastily improvised. The plan of local strike organisation was the formation of a Transport Committee by the transport and railway unions and the formation of other committees by the other unions out on strike. All the committees were then to unite and form one Strike Committee which would co-operate with the local Trades Councils.
The actual form of organisation varied from district to district, yet the information which we have received about its functioning enables us to draw fairly important conclusions. Broadly speaking, the Committees functioned most effectively when they were close to the workers and were amenable to mass pressure. They functioned least effectively in those large industrial centres where the Right-wing trade union officials were strongly represented.
The writers had the opportunity of examining many such committees in operation, and an example of the two methods of conducting the strike is illuminating, though the picture which we present is rather that of the leading types into which Strike Committees were divided than complete pictures of any one industrial committee.
The Right-wing Committees working in the larger centres had upon them a preponderance of local officials who swamped the representation of the Trades Councils and of the actual strikers. It was, generally speaking, a Council of Paralysis and not a Council of Action. The Right-wing stood for the absolute letter of headquarters’ instructions and refused to move beyond them, in some areas giving an even narrower interpretation to instructions than the General Council. The permanent officials on the Committee usually made it clear that on doubtful points they were going to consult their own executives rather than the General Council or the local Strike Committee or the Council of Action.
Generally such Right-wing Committees refused to assume serious control of the strike. Most of their time was solemnly spent in receiving reports upon which they did not act. Their whole conception of the role in the strike was that of a transmitting apparatus for headquarters’ orders, and not a body using considerable powers of initiative to control the local situation.
On picketing the attitude of such a committee was generally legalistic and sectional. Picketing was to be done by each individual union involved in the dispute on the works that were on strike. The idea that picketing resources should be pooled and that a concentration should be made upon the weak spots in the districts was generally opposed. Mass picketing, alleged to be contrary to the Trade Disputes Act of 1906, was absolutely frowned upon.
Meetings were discouraged. If approved of at all, they were generally sectional union meetings where political speeches were forbidden as being dangerous, and likely to split the forces of the workers. The idea that the strike could be solidified through its full meaning (which as political) being explained to the more backward workers, was looked upon as a foolish jest. Mass meetings were, therefore, discouraged and mass processions absolutely opposed.
The mere mention of Defence Corps on such a committee was sure to provoke an explosion. If the workers were peaceful they needed no defence. If they were not peaceful then they were sabotaging the strike and helping the enemy. When it was pointed out that the peaceful intention of the workers was no protection against unprovoked aggression, the reply was given “A kitchen poker or a stout stick is no protection against a Beardmore aeroplane.” And presumably because this was so, the workers were to leave their heads exposed to the batons of the police or Fascists enrolled as special constables. (This enrolment explains why Fascism did not rear its head during the strike. The Fascists were part of the official strike-breaking and special police organisation. There was no need to maintain a special Fascist organisation.)
The general effect of those measures, in the areas where the Right-wing was dominant, was calculated to break the morale of the workers. The General Strike as an organised, disciplined, developing struggle simply did not exist. Instead we had a number of parallel, sectional struggles being conducted. The full strength of the workers could not be put forward.
The effect of the Right-wing Committees refusing to control the strike was precisely the opposite to that which they intended. The workers, left to drift, assembled in the centres of some of the large towns, leaderless, with no set purpose, and were there set upon and batoned by the police. The riots which ensued and the promiscuous arrests which were made was sufficient comment on the idea that the workers’ peaceful intentions were adequate protection against police hooliganism.
The best Strike Committees were those upon which a strong Left-wing Trades Council had effective control of the strike machinery and was prepared to adopt all methods for controlling the strike.
We have before us the strike plans of a number of such Strike Committees and Councils of Action. Their work was often departmentalised as follows:
This committee issued food and transport permits and worked in conjunction with other sub-committees to prevent all unauthorised transport. One such committee envisaged the control of food on behalf of the workers, but this was generally regarded as a somewhat distant possibility.
In many localities this committee absolutely dominated the transport situation and defeated the O.M.S. completely. Local tradesmen using other than union transport were visited and persuaded to fall into line with the Committee’s arrangements. Proprietors of non-union buses were interviewed and requested to take their buses off the road, which in many cases they did.
The authorities were in many cases helpless and not until the ending of the first week did they begin to interfere with the work of these Committees. The Committees had the solid support of the men, however, and were able to keep control of the situation though threatened with F.P.A. That this was not quite the situation in London may be admitted, but it is a colossal mistake to imagine that the situation in the proletarian districts was anything like what it was in London with its huge middle class population. The General Council appears to have made this mistake.
This Committee maintained contact with the Strike Committees in the neighbourhood and with pickets acting under the direction of the Strike Committee. It had at its disposal a corps of cyclists and motor cyclists, and in one or two mining areas where the shopkeepers are united in bonds of interest and sympathy with the working population, had a number of motor cars at their disposal.
The control of meetings, processions, speakers and the issue (usually in conjunction with the Communist Local) of a typed script Strike Bulletin, was under the control of this Committee.
The issue of Strike Bulletins by the Local Councils of Action in a number of districts was an especial feature of the strike, and their continued publication even in the teeth of E.P.A. forms material for a stirring narrative of working class courage and resource.
It was felt by the Propaganda Committees that it was a mistake to cut off the workers’ press and damp down propaganda. The workers were solid, but the degree in which they understood the implications of the strike varied considerably. They were called upon to face a struggle which was every day growing more serious. They must be imbued by propaganda to bear all hardships until victory was won. Hence the need for written as well as spoken propaganda and news.
The need found the means of satisfaction at hand. The Locals of the Communist Party had nearly everywhere been publishing typewritten factory papers in connection with their Factory Group work. These papers had found a ready sale with the workers in the factories, and when the need for a Bulletin was felt the machinery for its production was at hand.
From the first day of the strike the Communist Locals had placed their machinery at the disposal of the local Councils of Action or Strike Committees. The experience of our Party members in producing such papers was utilised to the full and everywhere the demand was greater than the supply.
The police in many Locals took measures for the suppression of the Bulletins. Premises were raided, workers engaged in production arrested, sellers were harassed. Still the work went on, although it meant the removal of typewriting and duplicating machinery, almost every day, to new premises.
Even in Left-wing Trades Councils or Councils of Action, this sub-committee had to struggle against the pacifist illusions of a large number of workers and the progress made in carrying out its functions varied considerably. In some cases the only advance. made on the practice of the Right-wing committees was for each member of a mass picket or mass demonstration to come equipped with a walking stick or similar means of self-defence.
In other areas an enrolment of ex-service men took place first, and after these cadres were formed the enrolment of men in definite sections and platoons took place. Before such bodies could be operated effectively, however, the strike was called off, and how far they were more than mere names was never really tested in any area.
The general methods of linking up those sub-committees was to appoint conveners from the Council of Action or Strike Committee, thus bringing them under the control of the local central body.
In the areas in which such Councils of Action functioned one felt a sense of the General Strike as a living expression of class solidarity and action, and not merely the sense that a number of separate trade union struggles were taking place alongside each other. The strike was not merely a question of stopping work and waiting for the other side to do something. It was a question of active effort to secure that there was a complete stoppage of work in the trades called out; that the only transport permitted was under the control of the Strike Committees; that the Strike Committee was being regarded as a body which exercised considerable directory powers in order to handle the strike in its own area, and not a body mechanically carrying out headquarters instructions.
Every day the strike was developing. Pickets were being interfered with. Were the workers to defend themselves against this interference? Fascists organised as special constables were appearing on the streets. Was a Workers’ Defence Corps going to be organised? Students were working the municipal tramcars. Should the Council of Action strike at the capitalist municipality by stopping all municipal services? Those are but a few of the questions which were being discussed in the various Strike Committees.
Experience was forcing the workers to realise that you cannot stand idle in a General Strike. Every day the Government will do something new in order to beat the workers. Every day the workers must do something new in order to force the Government to give the necessary concessions. The passive strike must give way to the active strike, or the strike is lost.
The real Councils of Action succeeded in keeping the enthusiasm of the strike at a high level and the rank and file went back strong and unbeaten. It is true that they were not fully tested, but over the period of the strike they maintained solidarity better than those committees where the predominance of Right-wing officialism stifled the initiative of the working class.
In one phase of the strike the policy of Right-wing drift broke down and the workers either with or without the sanction of the official committees had to take matters into their own hands. This was in road transport. Road transport has developed enormously in recent years, and is less perfectly organised on the workers’ side than either docks or railways. The small owner of a few buses or motor lorries (for which he is paying on the instalment plan) has created a new problem for trade unionism in the transport industry. The nonunion buses, competing with the municipal tram systems worked by union labour, are one of the most disquieting of recent developments.
On the morning when the General Strike was called, the tramway systems all over the country stopped fairly completely. But the non-union buses were still running merrily, a menace to the whole transport side of the strike. By the end of the week the buses had been cleared off the road, and the transport stoppage was becoming complete. This was the work of the transport mass picket.
Those pickets varied from place to place. Sometimes they were definitely organised by the local Strike Committees. In other places they were spontaneously thrown up by the workers. In some places they were well-organised bodies. In others they were mere mobs. Their procedure was always pretty much the same. They assembled en masse, stopped or turned all transport, applied the necessary persuasion in the case of recalcitrant drivers, and paralysed the power of non-unionism in road transport to affect decisively the morale of the strike. The Right-wing policy of drift proved to be ineffective in this sphere and other means had to be adopted.
In some cases the local Councils of Action were effectively combined in a regional strike organisation and their work effectively co-ordinated. This was particularly the case in Durham and Northumberland, where the activities of the Strike Committees were unified under the Durham and Northumberland General Council. In this area the union officials did not attempt to damp down the enthusiasm of the workers, but worked hand in hand with the Councils of Action. A Regional Conference of Councils of Action was held at the end of the first week of the strike to discuss experiences and future policy.
Similar machinery had been set tip by the Government months previously, when the country was divided into regions each placed under a Civil Commissioner. The fact that the workers had to prepare their counter-organisation when the strike started reveals the lack of preparation. The fact that such working class organisations could be set up so quickly and function on the whole fairly efficiently is a tribute to the organising capacity of the workers when freed from the shackles of trade union passivity.
For years the Communist Party had been advocating a united working class struggle against reductions. Its active work prepared the mind of the working class for action in July, 1925. During the truce which followed, the Communist Party continuously urged preparations for the struggle. “More Power to the General Council,” “Alliance between trade unions and co-operatives,” “Development of Factory Committees and Councils of Action,” “Formation of Defence Corps,” were energetically advocated.
It is true that the trade union and Labour Party leadership held up some of these measures. The General Council intimated that it did not desire further powers. The Co-operative Wholesale Society urged upon the local Co-operative Societies the necessity of a continuous policy in relation to strike credits. Organisational preparation was effectively blocked by the Right-wing, but the mind of the working class was prepared and it was more difficult for the Right-wing to run away from the struggle.
The General Strike had been advocated by the Communist Party and opposed by the Right-wing. The declaration of the strike was, therefore, a partial victory for Communist policy. The control of the strike was in the hands of the Right-wing, which did not really believe in it, and it was necessary to bring mass pressure to bear upon the Right-wing in order to prevent betrayal.
The Communist Party threw itself into this work. Its Locals in any given area were in daily communication with the District Centre and conveying reports and receiving instructions. The whole Party worked as one, advocating the same policy everywhere, seeking to stimulate the initiative of the workers in organising and defending the strike, interpreting the daily events, warning the workers against the possibility of betrayal.
The end of the first week of the strike saw the pressure of the working class on the Right-wing Strike Committees increasing, and everywhere the demand was rising for more vigorous action. In places where the Strike Committees had taken control of the strike, the workers were less disposed to wait passively for the orders of a distant General Council or trade union executive, and were more inclined to follow the local leadership wherever it was moderately courageous. The Communist policy of “Discipline the Strike! Defend the Strike! Develop the Strike!” was being well received everywhere.
The Government and the employing class were meanwhile busy. Their first act was to attack not the strike organisation itself, but the Communist Party, as an active stimulating factor in the strike. Comrade Saklatvala, the Communist M.P. was arrested. Comrades were summarily sentenced to imprisonment for making propaganda speeches. Party Headquarters and the headquarters of the local and district organisations were raided. Comrades producing strike bulletins were arrested and given savage sentences of imprisonment.
Almost any act calculated to increase the solidarity of the workers was an act “calculated to cause disaffection among the civil population,” and was punishable by a heavy fine or imprisonment. The judge of whether an act was likely to cause disaffection or not was usually some old class-biassed magistrate whose sons were probably acting as “volunteers.” (A scab by any other name, etc.)
No capitalists were arrested for “causing disaffection” by advocating lower wages. The prisons were filled by workers whose only crime was participating in a struggle to defend present wages.
As the struggle developed it became plain that the capitalist class was prepared to stick at nothing to imprison the active Communist and Left-wing workers. The mere possession of a Communist strike bulletin was an offence punishable by imprisonment. Most of these comrades were charged with being in possession of material which if published was “likely to cause disaffection among the civil population.” It is only a step from that to imprisoning people for harbouring thoughts, which, if expressed, would cause “disaffection,” etc.
Towards the end of the first week the authorities began to interfere more definitely with the local strike organisations. Mass picketing, particularly on roads, had always been interfered with. Now the Headquarters of the Local Strike Committees began to be raided and the names of transport permit committees taken. This intimidation failed, but it became clear that the Government was prepared to attempt intimidation to an ever-increasing extent.
A feature of the strike was the absence of military display in the strike areas, such as the workers were familiar with in the railwaymen’s strike of 1919 and the miners’ lock-out in 1921. The Government seemed to rely more on their strike-breaking “special constable” civil organisation than on the open display of military force. This seeming pacifism on the part of the Government was largely deceptive. It was possibly better strategy to keep its military forces concentrated and ready for movement rather than to disperse them in small units. It was certainly better class politics to attempt to defeat the strike with the civilian organisations rather than by a display of military force, which would have alienated the Government’s own working class supporters.
The pacifism was only such in appearance. More active workers were being imprisoned than in any previous strike in history.
The working class ought henceforth to be under no illusions as to the nature of the State which everywhere revealed itself as an instrument of the capitalist class. This was not done in defence of the community. The imprisoned workers’ only crime were actions calculated to aid the resistance of the working class (surely the majority of the “community”) against wage cuts. The action of the State was calculated to break working class resistance, make wage cuts easier and, therefore, injure the working class majority of the population.
Thousands of our Liberal and Tory fellow workers realised this for the first time. The speeches of some Right-wing leaders subsequent to the strike show that they have not realised it yet.
The Government then commenced to intimidate the General Council. Sir John Simon in a famous speech in the House of Commons had declared that the General Strike was illegal and unconstitutional. The workers did not care a damn whether this was so or not. They knew that capitalism will always twist the law to make any effective working class action illegal and unconstitutional. They knew that the law had always been re-interpreted against the trade unions at moments of social crisis. Sir John Simon’s speech did not worry them, nor did the decision of Mr. Justice Astbury a few days later.
The General Council was, however, worried. It had made the General Strike threat as a piece of bluff. Now the General Strike was on, the legal position of the unions was being challenged, the rank and file were moving forward to develop the strike on more vigorous lines and the General Council felt itself on the brink of a precipice.
Just at this moment the General Council heard that a motion had been before the Cabinet advocating (1) the arrest of the General Council and the Local Strike Committees; (2) repeal of the Trade Disputes Act, and (3) seizure of union funds. Whether this motion had actually been proposed, or carried, or postponed, or whether it was merely a rumour does not greatly matter. It influenced some members of the General Council, and made it desire peace at almost any price.
The exact details of the Government’s intentions do not really matter. If the Government was going to defeat the General Strike it had to redouble its efforts the next week. If the General Council was going to force concessions from the Government it had to bring fresh forces into the struggle. The Right-wing leaders were panic-stricken and were beginning to communicate their panic to the few Left-wingers on the General Council. Defeat was raising its head amongst the leadership, at the moment that fresh groups of workers full of enthusiasm were preparing to join the strike.
About this time Sir Herbert Samuel, chairman of the Coal Commission (just returned from Italy) approached the General Council with suggested terms of settlement. The General Council clutched at the terms like a drowning man at a straw. In justice to them, however, it may be said that the Samuel terms were very like those that the General Council had favoured previous to the lock-out, viz., wage reductions only to take place after effective guarantees of reorganisation had been given.
The Samuel terms were entirely unofficial. It was true that members of the General Council were’ led by some of their negotiating committee to believe that Sir Herbert Samuel was acting in some way as the agent of the Government; that his statements that this was not the case were entirely of a “diplomatic” character, and that if the strike was called off the Government would accept the Samuel Memorandum as a basis of negotiations.
They accordingly went to the miners with this basis of negotiations. The miners turned it down because it involved reductions in wages and pointed out in any case that the Samuel Memorandum was entirely unofficial. The General Council then intimated that they were calling off the General Strike, and the miners would be left to determine their own line of action! The representatives of the General Council went round to see Mr. Baldwin and intimate that they were calling the strike off. It is believed that Mr. Baldwin refused to see them until he had an assurance that the strike was called off unconditionally. The hurried interview which took place after this assurance was given revealed the General Council in a pitiful light. Nothing was said about the Samuel Memorandum, no effective guarantees were asked for against victimisation. Everything was left purposely vague by the Prime Minister.
Then the capitalist class struck its counter-blow. The members of the unions which had been involved in the General Strike, on presenting themselves for work, found the employers everywhere endeavouring to worsen conditions. But the rank and file workers were not beaten. They spurned the employers’ terms, got sanction from their unions to remain out and on the Thursday after the General Council’s surrender, Mr. Baldwin’s government was confronted by a more menacing General Strike than the day previous.
Faced with this development, Mr. Baldwin made an appeal for peace. He was not in favour of reductions in wages in any industries outside mining and he hoped that peace and harmony would be restored, etc.
It would be foolish to believe that Mr. Baldwin in taking up this attitude, was moved by pacifist or humanitarian sentiments. He was merely correcting the faulty strategy of the employing class. To attack the wages of all workers was to prolong the strike and increase the loss of the capitalist class all round. The loss was certain, the immediate gain was problematical. The political objections to all-round wage cuts following the general strike were overwhelming. Hundreds of thousands of the strikers, millions of the working class which was sympathetic to them, were Liberals and Tories. For the Government to sanction the worsening of conditions in a spectacular manner would be to break those workers a-way for ever from the politics of their masters. It would be a Pyrrhic victory.
This does not mean that the Government, representing the capitalist class as a whole, is opposed to wage cuts. It merely means that they desire to see the workers defeated section by section with a minimum of strikes, Government interference, and political after-effects. Some day the British capitalist government will have to choose between ruling by unconcealed brute force or giving up its rulership altogether. When that day dawns it. will be well on the wav to defeat. To-day it endeavours to keep force in the background as much as possible and to secure its ends by craft and guile. That is the meaning of Mr. Baldwin’s “gesture” for peace.
Following the appeal of Mr. Baldwin, the employers in most cases withdrew their demands for a worsening of conditions and the strikers drifted back to work.
Mr. Baldwin then published the Government’s terms for the settlement of the Coal Dispute. They were markedly worse than the Samuel terms. They included demands for:
Some of the General Council had claimed that the strike was a victory, because it had secured in the Samuel Memorandum better terms than had been offered previous to the lock-out.
Mr. MacDonald had said in the House of Commons on May 13th:
“Those responsible for calling that strike, those responsible for conducting it, said before it began and whilst it was on, that the moment certain industrial securities came over the horizon, they would be satisfied and declare peace.”
The only industrial security that was visible at this moment was the Samuel Memorandum, on which the Government did not act. The attempt which was made when the strike was called off to demonstrate that the leaders had secured tangible results before calling off the strike, broke down because of its own self-evident falsehood.
The leaders had secured no terms of settlement whatsoever. They had run away, leaving the miners and their own men in the lurch. They have subsequently praised the General Strike as a magnificent demonstration of working class solidarity. The more they praise it, however, the more ghastly appears their own betrayal of the strike.
Finding it impossible, in the face of facts, to claim that the strike was called off because they had gained tangible results, the leaders and their Right-wing satellites throughout the country suddenly found a new excuse. Men who had been demonstrating that the strike had really gained some results, suddenly dropped this argument and commenced to argue that a General Strike cannot gain any results, that it is only useful as a demonstration and that the General Strike demonstration had reached the limit of its effectiveness when the leaders called the strike off. The sudden abandonment of the first excuse, and the fastening on to the second, reveals the desperation of the Right-wing. Any excuse, so long as it is plausible, is eagerly grasped.
The second excuse it as far-fetched as the first. It assumes that the leaders were sincerely desirous of supporting the miners, that they called the General Strike with this object, that they pushed the General Strike to the limit of its effectiveness and could go no further.
All the facts are against this view because:
1. Most of the leaders of the General Council were opponents of “more power” and only had this forced upon them by working class pressure.
2. Most of them were opponents of the sympathetic strike and the General Strike, and have always opposed the use of direct action against the Government.
3. Most of them had preached that the “Constitution,” the “Community,” the “Government,” were higher and more important and more representative bodies than the Labour movement, and that the workers’ premier loyalty was to them and not to the Labour movement.
4. All of them had refused to recognise the struggle in May as being inevitable and had, therefore, refused to undertake preparations.
5. When at the eleventh hour the struggle loomed near, they still tried to avoid it by asking the miners to sacrifice some of their wages.
6. They did not call the General Strike to support the miners, but merely to force the Government to reopen negotiations.
7. They were preparing to break away from the miners at the eleventh hour before the strike, when Mr. Baldwin broke off negotiations, and forced them into the strike.
Bearing these facts in mind, it is quite impossible to argue that the leaders had honestly believed in the strike and had honestly used the strike weapon to the limit of its effectiveness.
It is not true to say that the strike had reached the limit of its effectiveness. Enthusiasm was mounting, new bodies of workers were preparing to join the strike and the whole working class (Labour, Liberal and Tory) were solidly behind the strike.
All the available volunteers could have been neutralised by the calling of fresh groups of workers into the struggle, and the effects of the transport paralysis would have been felt in an increasing degree as the days went by. The Samuel conversations were just beginning, and a strong attitude on the part of the T.U.C. could probably have not only got better terms, but also Government acceptance of those terms.
It is true that the Government had not played its last cards, either. It might have proceeded to break the strike by the use of armed force, but in doing so it was employing a very dangerous weapon for itself.
Leaving aside the question of whether the troops could be relied upon or not, there is the more important question of the effect of such action upon the working class in Britain. It would not have been the case of a capitalist Government, relying on the support of reactionary peasant masses, using armed force to coerce a Socialist working class. it would have been the case of a government in a country where the working class is in a clear majority and where the army comprises large sections of the industrial proletariat, with working class traditions of family and trade unionism, using armed force to coerce workers on strike, millions of whom are closely allied to the soldiers by domestic ties and hundreds of thousands of whom still support this government.
That it might. have succeeded in smashing the strike is beyond a doubt, but in doing so it would have struck a heavier blow at capitalist prestige in this country than would have been incurred by the granting of any concession.
The facts are plain. The strike had not been. pushed to the limit of its effectiveness. More workers could have been called out. More control could have been given to the local Strike Committees, emergency machinery could have been set up in view of the possible arrest of strike leaders. This was not done because the leaders did not really believe in the strike.
Mr. Thomas and Mr. MacDonald would have been as pained as Mr. Baldwin if the strike had succeeded in extracting concessions from the Government, because this could have been a defeat not only for capitalism but for the Right-wing Constitutional Socialism which sets the Government above the Labour movement.
The failure of the strike was, therefore, a failure of the leadership, in the widest sense of the word. It. was the failure not merely of some twenty men on the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, but also the failure of the whole Right-wing tendency which most of these men represent. In the nine months previous to the strike, there had been a notable strengthening of the Right-wing on all the official positions of the Labour movement. Many workers had honestly and mistakenly worked to strengthen this tendency, on Trades Councils, trade union branches and local Labour Parties. That had helped to make the great betrayal easy.
The fundamental failure of the Right-wing is a failure to understand the conditions in which the British workers have to struggle. Most of the leaders have. been trained in the easygoing school of trade unionism prior to 1921, when it was a question of asking for an increase of say 1d, per hour and receiving a farthing. In those days trade union negotiations were usually good-natured affairs between “reasonable” capitalists and sensible trade union officials. The economic background which made this state of affairs possible, (i.e., Britain’s economic monopoly), has gore for ever, but the leaders, though realising that the basis of the old form of negotiations had disappeared, regard this as being merely an “abnormal” situation which is bound to give away in the immediate future to “normal conditions” in which trade unionism’s greatest triumphs will be Kwon by arbitration and conciliation.
This is pure delusion. Britain’s economic monopoly has gone for ever and with it the efficacy of old forms of trade union action. The delusion has important consequences, however. The need for new forms of working class action and strategy, which alone can help the working class in the present period, are not appreciated.
A General Council with greater powers, an Industrial Alliance of the unions in the key industries, have only been accepted by the leaders under the pressure of the rank and file and with very little intention of ever using them in the struggle.
The creation of powerful organs of working class struggle in the localities supplementing and strengthening the existing trade union organisations, such as factory committees and more powerful Trades Councils, have been absolutely frowned upon.
The suggestion that a large-scale industrial struggle necessarily becomes a political struggle, and that the workers therefore ought to prepare to defend the Labour movement from unprovoked aggression by forming Defence Corps, is regarded as criminal madness; while the mere suggestion of the Labour movement carrying its propaganda to the Army, Navy and Air Forces provokes derision.
To use those weapons against capitalism would prevent the “return to normal” and would, in the eyes of the Rightwing, be a crime. To resist wage reductions around the negotiating table is still regarded as their duty, but it is also their duty to “face the facts” and if it can be shown by the employers that a reduction in wages would facilitate the “return to normal” then it is regarded as the duty of the trade union officials to induce their men to accept that reduction.
That a whole group of national and local leaders dominated by such conceptions should have fast refused to prepare for the struggle, then tried to avoid it by getting the miners to accept reductions in wages, then refused to organise the strike when it took place, and ended by ignominiously calling it off, is not wonderful. It all happened in terms of their outlook. What was wonderful was that working class pressure forced them on to the position of calling the strike even as a bluff.
The Labour Party leaders were in a similar position to the trade union officials. (In the case of Mr. Thomas and others they are the same people.) They had ever since the end of the war preached that “direct action” against the Government was harmful, that the “Community” was greater than the Labour movement, that the British Constitution gave equal opportunities to all classes. The strike was the absolute denial of all that they had previously preached, and when the Government set out to attack, it did so with quotations from their own speeches and writings. Thus the Labour Party leadership could only be consistent by sabotaging the strike.
They are now endeavouring to prove that the lesson of the General Strike is that mass industrial action is doomed to failure and that better arbitration and conciliation machinery will enable the workers to safeguard their standards of life. This is Mr. MacDonald’s contention in an article in “Answers.” With such leadership no wonder the strike failed!
Mr. MacDonald’s argument indicates a complete failure to understand what is taking place around him. The British trade union movement has always favoured elaborate conciliation machinery. It has always preferred sectional unionism, sectional negotiations, sectional striking to mass action. The fact that it has been gradually abandoning those methods, that it has been forced to enter into a mass strike, is proof that the methods advocated by Mr. MacDonald have completely broken down in the present period of capitalist decline. Mr. MacDonald, the mid-Victorian democrat, is also a mid-Victorian in trade union affairs.
There is a further attempt to confuse the working class being perpetrated by the strike-breaking leadership. “The General Strike,” they are saying, “has shown the futility of mass industrial action. Let us now wait until the next election, get a Labour majority, and things will be all right.” This is simply drawing an evil-smelling red herring across our path.
A Labour majority in Parliament seriously intent upon challenging capitalism would be up against a crisis compared with which the General Strike crisis was a most pitiful storm in a teacup. The power of the press, the power of high finance, the power of the house of Lords, the vast undefined power of the King in Council, would all be arrayed against it. The question of whether the Army was the King’s Army or whether it was to be amenable to the control of parliament would perhaps have to be fought out a second time on English soil. The capitalist class, fighting for dear life, would use all those powers against a Labour majority in Parliament, and people who failed in the small crisis of the General Strike would fail in the vaster crisis which would then arise.
That is if the Labour majority were seriously intent upon challenging capitalism. But the Right-wing would probably adopt the same spirit in Parliament (they did in 1924) that they adopted in trade union negotiations, and ask the working class to make no demands which would prevent capitalism going “back to normal.”
No. The lesson of the General Strike is not that the strike weapon is a bad weapon, but that the Right-wing, because of its anti-working class outlook, is unable to wield any weapon whatsoever against capitalism.
The supreme lesson of the General Strike is that a new leadership will have to be developed in the British Labour movement and that in the process of struggling to develop this leadership a new outlook will have to be created among the mass of the British workers.
The new leadership will have, above all things, to face the facts. It must recognise the facts of British economic decline (which is merely a part of European capitalist decline) and realise that it is not by negotiations, but the creation of more effective means of working class struggle that the British working class will be able to beat off attacks and ultimately take power from the capitalist class.
It must realise that every large-scale industrial struggle is a political struggle, bringing the Labour movement up against the Government.
It must realise that the Government is not a neutral body standing “above the battle” but simply the class weapon of the capitalist class, as a whole. The leadership must never represent the Government as being a body to which the workers owe supreme allegiance. The workers’ supreme allegiance is to the Labour movement and the Labour movement alone.
The leadership must recognise that just as the Government is not a neutral body in the struggle between the workers and the employers, neither are the armed forces, the Army, Navy and Air Force neutral bodies, but are, on the contrary, the political instruments of the capitalist Government. It must, therefore, be prepared to take the workers’ message to the rank and file of the forces, in order to ensure that these bodies will not be used against the workers.
The industrial organisations of the working class must be continuously perfected through amalgamations; more power to the General Council; build the Industrial Alliance. The lesson of the General Strike must be learned, however, and that is that mass industrial struggle throws a considerable strain on the workers locally, and can only be effectively organised by the creation of powerful local mass organs such as factory committees, linked up through more powerful Trades Councils.
The whole central and local machinery of the Labour movement must be prepared for a mass strike at a moment’s notice. The whole experience of the last great mass strike of the British workers must be reviewed and all the weak points of our organisation overhauled. The workers must not be deterred from doing this by Government threats of making the sympathetic strike illegal. If the workers stand by their unions and show that loyalty to their class is to them the supreme loyalty, the Goverment’s attempt to reduce the unions to impotence will fail.
In the General Strike, the local Strike Committees and pickets were subjected to unprovoked attacks by the police. It will be the duty of the new leadership to see that the workers are in position to defend themselves in future through properly organised Defence Corps.
The new orientation must extend to the Labour Party also. The movement must be made to realise that the Liverpool decisions expelling the Communists were but a step in preparation for the betrayal of the General Strike. Those decisions must be repudiated.
They were no isolated decisions. They were part of the preparations for a betrayal of the General Strike. The opposition to the Communists has been based upon the calumny that we are a Party of disruption. The strike has finally given the lie to this canard. During the strike the Communists everywhere were to be found in the front ranks of the struggle, working actively and loyally with the workers. This was made possible because our Party is a living part of the general working class movement.
Right-wing leaders have in the past represented the Communists as a mischievous minority. The strike has shown the Communists are closely identified with the struggle of the vast majority of the working class. It is not the Communists who are in the minority as the strike has shown, it is the small group of Right-wing mandarins and bureaucrats.
For these reasons Liverpool resolutions must be repudiated completely and the Communists re-admitted to the Labour Party. The Labour Party programme must be altered from one of adaptation to capitalism to one of attack on capitalism, and the present leadership which seeks to stifle strikes because of its desire for future electoral success must be replaced by one which will seek to assist the workers in all their struggles.
The creation of such a leadership and the parallel transformation of working class outlook which must accompany it is no little task. Fortunately the nucleus of such a leadership already exists in the Communist Party of Great Britain. The Communist Party can reasonably claim to be the most important, vitalising, constructive force in the British Labour movement.
Most of the constructive ideas current in the British Labour movement were first advocated by the Communist Party: More power to the General Council, the Workers’ Alliance, a Closer Alliance between Trade Unions and Cooperatives, the Development of Factory Committees and Trades Councils.
The role of the State as a weapon of capitalism, which has been so strikingly illustrated to every worker in the events of the General Strike, was propagated for years by the Communist Party as against the doctrine of the Right-wing Labour leaders that the State was the expression of the “Will of the People,” in a great progressive and democratic community. Even to-day the Right-wing leaders can see in the State’s strike-breaking activities only “the Community” defending itself (Mr. MacDonald in “Answers”), and not the coercive apparatus of the capitalists being used against the workers.
The nature of the Right-wing leadership, its fundamental agreement with the capitalist class on all important political issues, its refusal to prepare the working class for the struggle, have long been stressed by the Communist Party. The many workers who in the past have felt that this criticism was only empty abuse, ought now to see their mistake, and to realise that in exposing the Right-wing leadership and endeavouring to remove it from control of the Labour movement, the Communist Party was performing work of vital importance to the Labour movement of this country.
The Communist Party has not only shown that it has the correct policy, but that it is prepared to fight for this policy against heavy odds. In spite of the arrest of its leaders last autumn, the Party carried on its propaganda of preparation, refusing to waver or to water down its policy. The arrest of over 100 of its members for activities in connection with the strike did not daunt it.
Only a Party combining a correct policy with revolutionary determination can help the British working class in the present period. It is not enough for the workers to give greater powers to the General Council, or to local Trades Councils acting under the General Council. It is essential that the people controlling those bodies and the majority of workers supporting them should have a common political outlook, based upon a correct understanding of the situation which the working class in Britain is facing. Instead of the Labour movement being split into warring fractions, having the most diverse views of the tasks which lie before them, we must have a Labour movement the vast majority of whose members hold a common political point of view. The unifying of political outlook must go hand in hand with the unifying of the workers’ organisations.
The means to this unification of outlook and organisation lies in the development of a mass Communist Party, whose members will participate in all the day-to-day work of the Labour movement; who will propagate the same revolutionary policy wherever they find themselves, so that gradually a common consciousness spreads throughout the movement and the workers are prepared for the mass struggle for power.
Without this organised Party effort the Right-wing in the British Labour movement cannot be superseded and without the suppression of the Right-wing there can be no hope of a complete workers’ victory in Britain.
The Right-wing has learned how to profit by its failures. It will endeavour to put the blame for the debacle of the General Strike on the strike weapon itself, on the workers themselves, on everything except their leadership and the defeatist policy which they have consistently pursued. It will do this even at the risk of demoralising and disintegrating the movement itself. No sporadic effort will avail against this Right-wing effort. Only the participation of the active workers in a revolutionary Communist Party will develop the necessary organised strength to combat the Right-wing and to prepare the movement for the struggle which lies ahead.
The “Strike that Failed” may be a prelude to further disasters under Right-wing leadership, or it may be a prelude to a new orientation of the British Labour movement leading to a workers’ victory.
It is for the workers to determine that it will be victory.
1. See Mr. A. J. Cook’s pamphlet for fuller details.