Source: The Communist Review, July 1922, Vol. 3, No. 3.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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.
IN all moderate sections of the British Labour movement one hears nothing but puerile lamentations regarding the great capitalist conspiracy to crush the organised industrial workers. This is the cry that is now uttered by Messrs. Henderson, Clynes, Thomas, and the other “privies” of modern Labourism. We do not deny that the capitalist class has organised its forces to try and smash the trade union movement; indeed, we have never heard of a time, in the history of propertied society, when the aim of the property owners was not to try and subjugate the toiling masses. But it is not only necessary that the workers’ attention should be directed to the determined attack which the master class is making upon them, of even greater importance is it for them to know about the hideous conspiracy of the trade union leaders who have wrought more havoc among the organised masses than all the combined onslaughts of the propertied interests could ever have done. For, after all, a capitalist offensive upon the trade union masses automatically reacts upon them and instinctively creates resentment, which in its turn produces defensive and aggressive tactics. No one can deny this. The rank and file miners wanted to fight when Smillie diverted the struggle into the Sankey Commission truce of defeat. Last year the industrial mass struggle was sabotaged by Black Friday. This year 47 unions, led by A. Henderson, went down in a defeat unparalleled even in the history of British trade union betrayals. The conspiracy against the working-class, in this country, is not that it is being attacked by the capitalist class; that is the normal condition of the class struggle. The real conspiracy against the trade unions lies in the damnable treachery of the trade union leaders themselves who, since the armistice, have systematically and successfully undermined every instinctive attempt of the rank and file to put up a fighting resistance against the employing class. The dauntless fighting spirit of the masses was such that easily it could have surmounted the inherent weakness of the trade unions. But what it could not surmount was the bureaucratic power of leaders determined to avoid a struggle even at the expense of betraying their own members.
Only the Communist Party, and its press, has had the courage to point out this true explanation of the recent defeats of the working-class. Our mild contemporary, the Labour Leader, which has, with characteristic I.L.P. cowardice, failed to point out the real lessons of Labours’ debacle contents itself by saying:—
The engineers have been beaten by the superior economic staying power of the Employers’ Federation. They have not admitted the moral right of the masters to “do what they like with their own,” which formed the basis of the memorandum which led to the dispute. What has been demonstrated is simply the now familiar lesson that, aligned on its present front, and operating with its present machinery and methods, Trade Unionism cannot hope to triumph in its struggle with amalgamated capitalism.
Neither the superior economic power of the employers nor the machinery of trade unionism can be utilised to cover up the treacheries of the labour leaders, many of whom learnt the gospel of class timidity from the I.L.P.
When we remember the above facts we can easily understand why the masses are leaving the trade unions in hundreds of thousands. No rank and file soldier feels safe in an army led by cowards and traitors. Desertions are bound to take place and the number of deserters determine the revulsion of the soldiers against their so-called leaders.
It is necessary, at the present juncture, to enquire into the reasons why the trade union leaders have so basely capitulated, all along the industrial front, to the employing class. We do not for one moment suggest, despite well-founded rumours, that the leaders are in the pay of the Federation of British Industries. Many of them are so desperately egoistic and politically ambitious that mere money could not satisfy them; besides, capitalist governments can tickle the vanity of such men by political baubles and distinctions which are much more valued than lucre—there are such things as being made privy councillors; and there are many well paid sinecures, carrying with them social prestige, which are among the gifts that the propertied class can bestow among its deserving vassals. There are other leaders whose timidity in the class struggle is based upon good intentions which form, it is said, the paving stones of hell.
Many of the most prominent trade union leaders look upon the industrial movement as the jumping board for a political career. Their interests are not the same as their dues paying members. If at any moment the intensity of the class struggle demands a vigorous onslaught upon capitalism the politically minded leader will readily sacrifice the well-being of the industrial masses upon the altar of his parliamentary ambitions. The growing intensity of the class struggle is revealing the Communist truism that success in the industrial conflict can only be won by virile mass action directed against capitalism and all its institutions. To lead in a fight of this character is not the sort of job the modern trade union leader desires, it would mean that the capitalist press would dub him as one who neither understood “statesmanship” nor the gentler methods of solving social grievances. Anyone who knows the traits of the capitalist class knew that the miners were foredoomed to failure, last year, from the moment that the “kept” press hailed Frank Hodges as a brilliant young man who would leave his mark on the political history of his time. The trade union leader with parliamentary ambitions would very much like to dispense with the annoying tasks allotted to him as an official in an industrial organisation. He cannot leave the union because it is his financial support before and after he enters Parliament. His official position in a big union increases his political importance; it gives him a better organised power to flaunt in the face of opponents than that which he derives from the constituents who elect him to the House of Commons. Thus the ideal of the average Labour leader is to settle down to a nice parliamentary career and to be sustained therein, both politically and financially, by a big trade union membership which neither believes in strikes nor agressive industrial action, but which feels that it is sweeping from victory to victory in the same measure that its leader earns the praise of the capitalist press and is ultimately rewarded by being elected to the “privy.” This explains why the large salaried trade union leaders in parliament frankly admit that a strike should be the last weapon to be used by their dues paying members. Therefore, the task of these gentlemen is to so arrange matters that the members pay, but do not strike while the leaders declaim in parliament regarding the virtues of a Labour party which is not a class organisation but which exists, as Mr. J. R. MacDonald would say, to perform its tasks in a spirit of social co-operation.
But how can our trade union parliamentarians retain their official contact with the unions, and all that that involves, and yet prevent the masses from upsetting matters by such drastic things as strikes? Mr. Arthur Henderson has propounded the solution. He suggests nothing more or less than a ten years’ industrial truce! Right here we wish to say that Mr. A. Henderson is the best poised Labour Party politician in this country. As wily strategists Mr. J. H. Thomas and J. R. MacDonald are mere Lilliputians in comparison; the former being as stupidly bombastic as the latter is arrogantly vane. Mr. Henderson would never have made himself so petty as to prosecute his critics in a capitalist court, and he would never have taken up the hypocritical war attitude adopted by Mr. J. R. MacDonald who attempted to run with the timid hares of pacifism, to bark with the blood-hounds of war, and finally to land in the ditch of war indemnities. For good or evil Mr. Henderson takes up his stand and sticks to it. He has always been a sincere advocate of a sacred union between Capital and Labour. It is said that his hand helped to draft the Munitions Act which was an industrial truce imposed upon the trade unions during the war. In the cause of industrial peace he faced, in company with Mr. Lloyd George, the Glasgow rebels organised by the Clyde Workers’ Committee during the war; that visit, it may be remembered, ended in the suppression of his comrade Johnson’s Labour weekly, The Forward. Within the last few weeks Mr. Henderson achieved an industrial truce by leading the retreat of the 47 unions. His new agitation for a ten years’ industrial truce may well be the crowning achievement of his career. This policy would be akin to the Munitions Act and even Mr. Smillie—haunted by the devastating results of his Sankey truce—has denounced it.
A ten years’ industrial truce in practice would mean that the trade unions would become the financial milch cow of the leaders, who, being relieved from such irritating tasks as strikes and lockouts, would be able to devote their best energies to developing their parliamentary careers. It is an open secret that many of the parliamentary trade union leaders rejoice in the disasters that have recently overtaken the masses on the industrial sphere. These leaders imagine that once Labour has been thrashed industrially it may transfer its energies from the economic field to that of pure and simple parliamentary action. Thus the masses, during a ten years’ industrial truce, would not only supply the financial needs of the trade union parliamentarians, they would also be treated as mere voting cattle by the leaders.
Regarding the suggested ten years’ industrial truce there is an important point that has not been overlooked by Mr. Arthur Henderson and the leaders of the Second International. They know better than most people that the fighting spirit of the masses passes through a series of cycles. The fighting spirit of the British workers, as elsewhere, was at its highest point when the army was demobilised; it was during this period that the workers flocked into the unions. They had been keyed up by the Russian revolution, by the overthrow of the Kaiser and by the forward surge of the European masses. The leaders of the Second International were able to check the inherent revolutionary impulses of the workers in every country except Russia. The glowing enthusiasm of the proletariat was not harnessed, and it was not meant to be. Instead of the revolutionary fervour being exploited to lead the workers against Capitalism, the leaders of the Second International retreated at every point. When an army which feels it can be victorious, if led against the enemy, is given the order to retreat in face of a terrified foe, and if retreat after retreat is ordered it results in destroying the fighting quality and moral fibre of the troops. This is precisely what the Second International did, with the result that the suddenly emboldened capitalist battalions have inflicted defeat after defeat upon Labour’s army. These defeats have been so humiliating, and the treacheries perpetrated have been so numerous that the fighting spirit of the masses is now at its lowest point. But the reaction is bound to set in. Human flesh and blood will refuse to endure the hideous degradation that the capitalists are now enforcing upon the workers. And when the masses are goaded, by sheer desperation, to turn upon their task-masters they will use the industrial organisation as the chief weapon of attack. It is here that the real genius of Mr. A. Henderson reveals itself. His projected ten years’ industrial truce is intended to spike the industrial gun so that it will be useless as a weapon of attack. The ten years’ industrial truce is the Second International’s latest attempt to save Capitalism by arranging with the propertied interests that the industrial organisation shall be impotent during the next decade.
There is another point that must be emphasised. The leaders know that a virile industrial policy breeds a fighting spirit in the rank and file. They also know that the waging of the class struggle leads the masses into close contact with the Red International Labour Unions. It is this fear of the class struggle and where it leads to, that has compelled the leaders of the Second International to renounce a United Front with the Communists. To keep the workers away from Communism it is necessary to make industrial struggles impossible and it is therefore imperative to inaugurate a ten years’ truce. Mr. Henderson who wishes such a truce is in reality, in conjunction with the Second International, seeking to form a united front with the employers against the vital needs of the masses and the policy of the Communists. And the leaders who are making such overtures to the capitalist class are the very same people who are so enthusiastic in their wholesale condemnation of Soviet Russia!
When the war broke out in 1914 it was Mr. Henderson who led the wavering Labour leaders in Britain to the support of imperialism; in doing this he proved himself an able exponent of the tactics of the Second International. When the war ended it was the Second International that saved European Capitalism from the wrath of the masses. And now on the dawn of a new revolutionary crisis the Second International, in anticipation of the coming fury of the workers, proposes to act as the bulwark of Capitalism by advocating a ten years’ truce. But it will fail. Such a truce may bind the leaders, as they were bound by the Munition Acts during the war, but it will let loose a new rank and file and Workers’ Committee Movement which will harness every element of industrial revolt to break down the bureaucratic power of the Hendersons, to sweep away the inefficiency of the unions, and to prepare the proletariat for a mass attack upon the capitalist system.
Since the Second International has refused to form a united Labour front to fight Capitalism, it is the duty of all Communists in denouncing the ten years’ industrial truce to rally the workers for a new offensive. The Communists have failed to unite the Labour forces despite their overtures to the leaders of the Second Internationai; it remains now for the appeal to be made over the head of these leaders to the masses themselves.
At the present moment there is a great deal of worthy interest being manifested in a crusade against war. Many of the active participants in the campaign are leaders who were loud voiced imperialists during the last great war. The tendency of many of the advocates of no more war is to emphasise the dangers of French imperialism. Very few of the Labour parliamentarians seem to realise that the present strength of French imperialism is due to the Versailles policy which the Labour Party did not repudiate when it was first foisted upon Germany. To hear indemnity mongers, like Mr. J. R. MacDonald, denouncing war while spurning the best opportunity ever offered to seriously combat it—the offer of the Communist International—is to listen to the meanest hypocrisy.
The pacifists of British Labourism have always been very tame people of the I.L.P. brand. They can be very bold when attacking every imperialism except the one that matters to us in this country—British imperialism. Side by side with the growth of the conflict between French and British financiers, over foreign plunder, there is developing a healthy hatred between French and British statesmen. The duty of anti-militarists in this country is not to attack the imperialism of France—that is one of the special tasks of the French working-class. The French Communists are doing their duty by publishing a series of books based upon the contents of the Czarist government archives at Moscow and Petrograd. René Marchand, the well-known French journalist and Communist, is busily at work on this job. By attacking French imperialism at the present moment we are only playing the game of the British financiers who are clever enough to use such propaganda against their French enemies; our duty in this country is to attack British imperialism.
During the war Karl Liebknecht very cleverly pointed out that for German Socialists to attack British imperialism or for British Socialists to attack German imperialism was nothing less than a betrayal of internationalism. When British Socialists and Labourists attack the French government they are laying the basis for a national war; when they direct their attention to British imperialism they are helping to carry on the class war. Let the reader study the manifestoes issued by the Japanese Communists against their government (published in our International Review in this month’s issue) and it will be seen that the real struggle against imperialism must mean the prosecution of the class war; let the reader observe how that splendid old Japanese agitator, Sen Katayama, calls upon the soldiers of Japan, situated in Siberia, to revolt against their government. His call is not that of an I.L.P. pacifist, it is the clarion note of one who understands that the fight against imperialism means struggle, struggle, struggle. Likewise, Clara Zetkin also tells us that communist anti-militarism is opposed to sentimental pacifism. To prepare and organise the masses to attack Capitalism is the only sane method of combating imperialism.