J. V. Stalin
Source: Works, Vol. 8, January-November, 1926, pp. 164-181
Publisher: Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
First Published: Zarya Vostoka (Tiflis), No. 1197, June 10, 1926
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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.
Comrades, with your permission, I shall proceed to make a statement on affairs in Britain in connection with the strike1 and on the recent events in Poland,2 a statement which your chairman, Comrade Chkheidze, has been good enough to call a report, but which can only be called a statement because of its brevity.
The first question is that of the causes of the strike in Britain. How could it happen that Britain, that land of capitalist might and unparalleled compromises, has of late become an arena of gigantic social conflicts? How could it happen that “great Britain,” “mistress of the seas,” became the country of a general strike?
I should like to point out a number of circumstances which made the general strike in Britain inevitable. The time has not yet come to give an exhaustive reply to this question. But we can, and should, point out certain decisive events which made the strike inevitable. Of these circumstances, four may be noted as the most important.
Firstly. Britain formerly occupied a monopoly position among the capitalist states. Owning a number of huge colonies, and having what for those days was an exemplary industry, it was able to parade as the “workshop of the world” and to rake in vast super-profits. That was the period of “peace and prosperity” in Britain. Capital raked in super-profits, crumbs from those super-profits fell to the share of the top section of the British labour movement, the leaders of the British labour movement were gradually tamed by capital, and conflicts between labour and capital were usually settled by compromise.
But the further development of world capitalism, especially the development of Germany, America and, in part, of Japan, which entered the world market as competitors of Britain, radically undermined Britain’s former monopoly position. The war and the post-war crisis dealt a further decisive blow to Britain’s monopoly position. There were fewer super-profits, the crumbs which fell to the share of the British labour leaders began to dwindle away. Voices began to be raised more and more frequently about the reduction in the standard of living of the British working class. The period of “peace and prosperity” was succeeded by a period of conflicts, lockouts and strikes. The British worker began to swing to the Left, to resort more and more frequently to the method of direct struggle against capital.
That being the state of affairs, it will be easily understood why the bullying tone of the British mine owners in threatening a lock-out could not remain unanswered by the miners.
Secondly. The second circumstance is the restoration of international market connections, and the consequent intensification of the struggle for markets among the capitalist groups. It is characteristic of the post-war crisis that it severed practically all the connections between the international market and the capitalist countries, replacing those connections by a certain chaos in relations. Now, with the temporary stabilisation of capitalism, this chaos is receding into the background, and the old connections of the international market are gradually being restored. Whereas a few years ago the problem was to restore the mills and factories and to recruit workers to work for the capitalists, the problem now is to secure markets and raw materials for the restored mills and factories. As a result the struggle for markets has assumed new intensity, and victory in this struggle is going to that group of capitalists and that capitalist state whose goods are cheaper and whose level of technique is higher. And new forces are now entering the market: America, France, Japan, Germany, and Britain’s dominions and colonies, which managed to develop their industry during the war and have now joined in the fight for markets. It is natural in view of all this that the easy extraction of profits from foreign markets, so long resorted to by Britain, has now become impossible. The old colonial method of monopolistic plundering of markets and sources of raw material has had to give way to the new method of capturing the market with the help of cheap goods. Hence the endeavour of British capital to restrict production, or at any rate not to expand it indiscriminately. Hence the vast army of unemployed in Britain as a permanent feature of recent years. hence the threat of unemployment, which is exasperating the British workers and rousing their fighting spirit. Hence the lightning reaction. which the threat of a lock-out evoked among the workers in general and the miners in particular.
Thirdly. The third circumstance is the endeavour of British capital to secure reduced costs of production in British industry and a cheapening of commodities at the expense of the interests of the British working class. The fact that the miners were the target of the main blow in this case cannot be called an accident. British capital attacked the miners not only because the mining industry is badly equipped technically and is in need of “rationalisation,” but primarily because the miners have always been, and still remain, the advanced detachment of the British proletariat. It was the strategy of British capital to curb this advanced detachment, to lower their wages and lengthen their working day, in order then, having settled accounts with this main detachment, to make the other detachments of the working class also toe the line. Hence the heroism with which the British miners are conducting their strike. Hence the unparalleled eagerness displayed by the British workers in supporting the miners by means of a general strike.
Fourthly. The fourth circumstance is that Britain is governed by the Conservative Party, the most bitter enemy of the working class. It goes without saying that any other bourgeois government would, in the main, have acted in the same way as the Conservative government to crush the working class. But there is also no doubt that only such sworn enemies of the working class as the Conservatives could have so lightly and cynically thrown down such an unparalleled challenge to the whole British working class as the Conservatives did when they threatened a lock-out. It can now be considered fully proven that the British Conservative Party not only wanted a lock-out and a strike, but that it had been preparing for them for nearly a year. Last July it postponed the attack on the miners because it considered the moment “inopportune.” But it made preparations during the whole period since then, accumulating stocks of coal, organising strikebreakers and suitably working up public opinion, so as to launch an attack on the miners in April of this year. Only the Conservative Party could have taken such a perfidious step.
The Conservative Party wormed its way into power with the help of forged documents and provocations. It had no sooner come into office than it attacked Egypt, using every means of provocation. For a year now it has been waging direct war on the Chinese people, resorting to the tried and tested colonial methods of plunder and oppression. It is not sparing of means to make impossible the development of closer relations between the peoples of the Soviet Union and the peoples of Great Britain, steadily building up the elements of an eventual intervention. It is now attacking the working class of its own country, having for a whole year prepared for this attack with a zeal worthy of a better cause. The Conservative Party cannot exist without conflicts inside and outside Britain. After this, can one be surprised that the British workers returned blow for blow?
Those, in the main, are the circumstances which made the strike in Britain inevitable.
The British general strike failed owing to a number of circumstances, of which the following, at least, should be mentioned:
Firstly. The British capitalists and the Conservative Party, as the course of the strike has shown, proved in general to be more experienced, more organised and more resolute, and therefore stronger, than the British workers and their leaders, as represented by the General Council and the so-called Labour Party. The leaders of the working class proved unequal to coping with the tasks of the working class.
Secondly. The British capitalists and the Conservative Party entered this gigantic social conflict fully armed and thoroughly prepared, whereas the leaders of the British labour movement were caught unawares by the mine-owners’ lock-out, having done nothing or practically nothing in the way of preparatory work. It should be mentioned in this connection that only a week before the conflict the leaders of the working class were expressing their conviction that there would be no conflict.
Thirdly. The capitalists’ general staff, the Conservative Party, waged the fight as a united and organised body, striking blows at the decisive points of the struggle, whereas the general staff of the labour movement—the T.U.C. General Council and its “political committee,” the Labour Party—proved to be internally demoralised and corrupted. As we know, the heads of this general staff proved to be either downright traitors to the miners and the British working class in general (Thomas, Henderson, MacDonald and Co.), or spineless fellow-travellers of these traitors who feared a struggle and still more a victory of the working class (Purcell, Hicks and others).
How could it happen, it may be asked, that the powerful British proletariat, which fought with unexampled heroism, proved to have leaders who were either venal or cowardly, or simply spineless? That is a very important question. Such leaders did not spring up all at once. They grew out of the labour movement; they received a definite schooling as labour leaders in Britain, the schooling of that period when British capital was raking in super-profits and could shower favours on the labour leaders and use them for compromises with the British working class; whereby these leaders of the working class, becoming ever more closely identified with the bourgeoisie in their manner of life and station, became divorced from the mass of the workers, turned their backs on them and ceased to understand them. They are the kind of working-class leaders who are dazzled by the glamour of capitalism, who are overwhelmed by the might of capital, and who dreary of “getting on in the world” and associating with “men of substance.” There is no doubt that these leaders—if I may call them that—are an echo of the past and do not suit the new situation. There is no doubt that in time they will be compelled to give way to new leaders who do correspond to the militant spirit and heroism of the British proletariat. Engels was right when he called such leaders bourgeoisified leaders of the working class. 3
Fourthly. The general staff of British capitalism, the Conservative Party, realised that the gigantic strike of the British workers was a fact of tremendous political importance, that such a strike could be seriously fought only by measures of a political character, that the authority of the king, of the House of Commons and of the constitution would have to be invoked to crush the strike, and that it could not be brought to an end without mobilising the troops and proclaiming a state of emergency. The general staff of the British labour movement, the General Council, on the other hand, did not, or would not, realise this simple thing, or was afraid to admit it, and assured all and sundry that the general strike was a measure of an exclusively economic character, that it did not desire or intend to turn the struggle into a political struggle, that it was not thinking of striking at the general staff of British capital, the Conservative Party, and that it—the General Council—had no intention of raising the question of power.
Thereby the General Council doomed the strike to inevitable failure. For, as history has shown, a general strike which is not turned into a political struggle must inevitably fail.
Fifthly. The general staff of the British capitalists understood that international support of the British strike would be a mortal danger to the bourgeoisie. The General Council, on the other hand, did not understand, or pretended not to understand, that the strike of the British workers could only be won by means of international proletarian solidarity. Hence the refusal of the General Council to accept financial assistance from the workers of the Soviet Union4 and other countries.
Such a gigantic strike as the general strike in Britain could have yielded tangible results if, at least, two fundamental conditions had been observed, namely, if it had been turned into a political struggle, and if it had been made an action in the struggle of the proletarians of all the advanced countries against capital. But, in its own peculiar “wisdom,” the British General Council rejected both these two conditions, thereby predetermining the failure of the general strike.
Sixthly. There is no doubt that a role of no little importance was played by the more than equivocal behaviour of the Second International and the Amsterdam Federation of Trade Unions in the matter of aiding the British general strike. In point of fact, the platonic resolutions of these organisations of Social-Democrats on aiding the strike were actually tantamount, to a refusal of any financial aid. For in no other way than by the equivocal conduct of the Social-Democratic International is it possible to explain the fact that all the trade unions of Europe and America together donated not more than one-eighth of the amount of financial aid which the trade unions of the Soviet Union found it possible to afford their British brothers. I say nothing of aid of another kind, in the form of stopping the transport of coal, a matter in which the Amsterdam Federation of Trade Unions is literally acting as a strikebreaker.
Seventhly. There is likewise no doubt that the weakness of the British Communist Party played a role of no little importance in contributing to the failure of the general strike. It should be said that the British Communist Party is one of the best sections of the Communist International. It should be mentioned that throughout the general strike in Britain its attitude was absolutely correct. But it must also be admitted that its prestige among the British workers is still small. And this circumstance could not but play a fatal part in the course of the general strike.
Such are the circumstances, at any rate the chief ones, which we have been able to ascertain at the present time and which determined the undesirable outcome of the general strike in Britain.
What are the lessons of the general strike in Britain—at least, the most important of them? They are the following.
Firstly. The crisis in the British coal industry and the general strike connected with it bluntly raise the question of socialising the instruments and means of production in the coal industry, with the establishment of workers’ control. That is a question of winning socialism. It scarcely needs proof that there are not and cannot be any other ways of radically solving the crisis in the coal industry other than the way proposed by the British Communist Party. The crisis in the coal industry and the general strike bring the British working class squarely up against the question of the practical realisation of socialism.
Secondly. The British working class could not but learn from its experience at first hand that the chief obstacle in the way to its goal is the political power of the capitalists, in this case, the Conservative Party and its government. Whereas the T.U.C. General Council feared like the plague to admit the inseparable connection between the economic struggle and the political struggle, the British workers cannot now fail to understand that, in their difficult struggle against organised capital, the basic question now is that of power, and that until it is settled, it is impossible to solve either the crisis in the coal industry or the crisis in the whole of British industry in general.
Thirdly. The course and outcome of the general strike cannot but convince the British working class that Parliament, the constitution, the king and the other attributes of bourgeois rule are nothing but a shield of the capitalist class against the proletariat. The strike tore the camouflage of a fetish and inviolable shrine both from Parliament and from the constitution. The workers will realise that the present constitution is a weapon of the bourgeoisie against the workers. The workers are bound to understand that they, too, need their own workers’ constitution, as a weapon against the bourgeoisie. I think that the learning of this truth will be a most important achievement of the British working class.
Fourthly. The course and outcome of the strike cannot but convince the British working masses of the unsuitability of the old leaders, of the unsuitability of the old functionaries, who grew up in the school of the old British policy of compromise. They cannot but realise that the old leaders must be replaced by new, revolutionary leaders.
Fifthly. The British workers cannot but realise now that the miners of Britain are the advanced detachment of the British working class, and that it is therefore the concern of the entire British working class to support the miners’ strike and ensure its victory. The whole course of the strike brings home to the British working class the absolutely unassailable truth of this lesson.
Sixthly. The British workers could not but be convinced in the difficult moment of the general strike, when the platforms and programmes of the various parties were being tested in action, that the only party capable of boldly and resolutely upholding the interests of the working class to the end is the Communist Party.
Such, in general, are the principal lessons of the general strike in Britain.
I pass on to a few conclusions of practical importance.
The first question is that of the stabilisation of capitalism. The strike in Britain has shown that the resolution of the Communist International on the temporary and insecure character of stabilisation is absolutely correct.5 The attack of British capital on the British miners was an attempt to transform the temporary, insecure stabilisation into a firm and permanent one. That attempt did not succeed, and could not have succeeded. The British workers, who replied to that attempt by a gigantic strike, have shown the whole capitalist world that the firm stabilisation of capitalism in the conditions of the post-war period is impossible, that experiments like the British one are fraught with the danger of the destruction of the foundations of capitalism. But if it is wrong to assume that the stabilisation of capitalism is firm, it is equally wrong to assume the contrary, namely, that stabilisation has come to an end, that it has been done away with, and that we have now entered a period when revolutionary storms will reach their climax. The stabilisation of capitalism is temporary and insecure, but it is stabilisation nevertheless, and so far still remains.
Further, precisely because the present temporary and insecure stabilisation still remains, for that very reason capital will persist in attempts to attack the working class. Of course, the British strike should have taught the entire capitalist world how risky experiments like the one made by the Conservative Party in Britain are for the life and existence of capitalism. That the experiment will not be without its cost for the Conservative Party, that is scarcely open to doubt. Neither can it be doubted that this lesson will be taken into account by the capitalists of all countries. All the same, capital will attempt fresh attacks on the working class, because it senses its insecurity and cannot but feel the need to establish itself more securely. The task of the working class and of the Communist Parties is to prepare their forces to repel such attacks on the working class. The task of the Communist Parties is, while continuing the organisation of the united working-class front, to bend all their efforts to convert the attacks of the capitalists into a counter-attack of the working class, into a revolutionary offensive of the working class, into a struggle of the working class for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and for the abolition of capitalism.
Lastly, if the working class of Britain is to accomplish these immediate tasks, the first thing it must do is to get rid of its present leaders. You cannot go to war against the capitalists if you have such leaders as the Thomases and MacDonalds. You cannot hope for victory if you have traitors like Henderson and Clynes in your rear. The British working class must learn to replace such leaders by better ones. For one thing or the other: either the British working class will learn to dismiss the Thomases and MacDonalds from their posts, or it will no more see victory than it can see its own ears.
Those, comrades, are a few conclusions which suggest themselves.
Now permit me to turn to the events in Poland.
An opinion exists that the movement headed by Pilsudski is a revolutionary movement. It is said that Pilsudski is fighting for a revolutionary cause in Poland—for the peasants against the landlords, for the workers against the capitalists, for the freedom of the oppressed nationalities in Poland against Polish chauvinism and fascism. Because of this, it is said, Pilsudski deserves to have the support of the Communists.
That is absolutely wrong, comrades!
Actually, what is going on in Poland at present is a struggle between two groups of the bourgeoisie: the big bourgeois group, headed by the Poznaners, and the petty-bourgeois group, headed by Pilsudski. The purpose of the struggle is not to defend the interests of the workers and peasants or the interests of the oppressed nationalities, but to consolidate and stabilise the bourgeois state. The struggle arises from a difference concerning the methods of consolidating the bourgeois state.
The fact of the matter is that the Polish state has entered a phase of complete disintegration. Its finances are going to pieces. The zloty is falling. Industry is in a state of paralysis. The non-Polish nationalities are oppressed. And up above, in the circles close to the ruling elements, there is a regular orgy of theft, as is admitted quite freely by spokesmen of all the various groups in the Sejm.6 The bourgeois classes are therefore faced with the dilemma: either the disintegration of the state goes so far that it opens the eyes of the workers and peasants and brings home to them the necessity of transforming the regime by a revolution against the landlords and capitalists; or the bourgeoisie must hurry up and stop the process of decay, put an end to the orgy of theft, and thus avert the probable outbreak of a revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants before it is too late.
Which of the bourgeois groups, the Pilsudski or the Poznan, is to undertake the stabilising of the Polish state?—that is the point at issue.
Undoubtedly, the workers and peasants link their aspirations for a radical improvement of their lot with Pilsudski’s struggle. Undoubtedly, for this very reason the top section of the working class and the peasantry in one way or another support Pilsudski, as being the representative of strata of the petty bourgeoisie and petty nobility, in his struggle against the Poznaners, who represent the big capitalists and landlords. But undoubtedly also, at the present time the aspirations of certain sections of Poland’s labouring classes are being utilised not for a revolution, but to consolidate the bourgeois state and the bourgeois order.
Of course, certain external factors are also playing their part here. Poland is a small country. It is linked financially with certain Entente circles. In the present deplorable state of its finances, bourgeois Poland cannot, of course, do without foreign loans. But the so-called Great Powers cannot finance a country in which the ruling circles unanimously admit that there is an orgy of theft in all branches of state administration. In order to obtain loans, the state administration must first be “improved,” the orgy of theft must be stopped, some kind of guarantee must be provided that the interest on the loans will be paid, and so on. Hence the necessity for the “rationalisation” of the Polish state.
Such, in the main, are the internal and external factors which have determined the present struggle between the two principal bourgeois groups in Poland.
There are in Poland today a number of fundamental contradictions which, when they develop further, are bound to create a direct revolutionary situation in the country. These contradictions occur in three basic spheres: that of the working-class question, that of the peasant question, and that of the rational question. All these contradictions may at once become evident and cause an explosion if Poland embarks on a war adventure, if it is incapable of establishing good-neighbourly relations with the surrounding states. Can Pilsudski, can the motley Pilsudski group, resolve these contradictions? Can this petty-bourgeois group solve the working-class question? No, it cannot, for to do so it would have to come into fundamental conflict with the capitalist class, which it cannot and will not do under any circumstances if it does not want to forfeit the financial support of the Great Powers. Can this group solve the peasant question—for example, along the lines of confiscating the landlords’ land? No, it cannot; and it will not do so if it does not want to bring about the complete disintegration of the commanding personnel of Pilsudski’s army, which consists mostly of small and middle landlords. Can this group solve the national question in Poland along the lines of granting freedom of national self-determination to the oppressed nations: the Ukrainians, the Lithuanians, the Byelorussians, etc.? No, it cannot; and it will not do so if it does not want to forfeit all confidence in the eyes of those “Greater Poland” chauvinists and fascists who constitute the chief source from which Pilsudski’s group derives its moral support.
What, then, remains for it to do?
Only one thing: after defeating the big bourgeois group militarily, to submit to the same group politically and drag at its tail—unless, of course, the Polish working class and the revolutionary section of the Polish peasantry in the near future set about the revolutionary transformation of the Polish state and drive out both groups of the Polish bourgeoisie, the Pilsudski group and the Poznan group.
That raises the question of the Polish Communist Party. How could it happen that the revolutionary discontent of a considerable section of the workers and peasants in Poland brought grist to the mill of Pilsudski, and not of the Polish Communist Party? Among other reasons, because the Polish Communist Party is weak, weak in the extreme, and because in the present struggle it has weakened itself still further by its incorrect attitude to Pilsudski’s army, in consequence of which it has been unable to assume the lead of the revolutionary-minded masses.
Recently I read in our Soviet press an article on Polish affairs by Comrade Thälmann,7 member of the Central Committee of the German Communist Party. In that article Comrade Thälmann touches on the attitude of the Polish Communists in calling for support of Pilsudski’s army, and criticises it as unrevolutionary. I have to admit, unfortunately, that Comrade Thälmann’s criticism is absolutely correct. I have to admit that our Polish comrades committed a gross error in this instance.
That, comrades, is all I wanted to tell you about affairs in Britain in connection with the general strike and about the recent events in Poland. (Stormy applause.)
1. The general strike in Britain took place on May 3-12, 1926. More than five million organised workers in all the major branches of industry and transport took part in the strike.
2. This refers to Pilsudski’s armed coup of May 12-13, 1926, by which he and his clique established a dictatorial regime in Poland and gradually carried out the fascination of the country.
3. See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Britain, Moscow 1953
4. On receipt of the news of the general strike in Britain, the Presidium of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, at a meeting on May 5, 1926, with the participation of representatives of the Central Committees of the trade unions resolved to call upon all members of trade unions in the U.S.S.R. to contribute one-quarter of a day’s earnings in support of the British workers on strike, and that same day it remitted 250,000 rubles to the British T.U.C. General Council. On May 7 the A.U.C.C.T.U. sent to the General Council a further two million rubles collected by workers of the U.S.S.R. On May 9 the General Council informed the A.U.C.C.T.U. of its refusal to accept this money or any other support from the workers of the U.S.S.R.
5. This refers to the theses on “Immediate Problems of the International Communist Movement” adopted on March 15, 1926, by the Sixth Enlarged Plenum of the E.C.C.I. (See Sixth Enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. Theses and Resolutions, Giz, 1926, pp. 4-39.)
6. The groups in the Sejm were groups in the lower house of the Polish bourgeois parliament. In 1926 the deputies in the Sejm were divided into more than thirty groups, representing the interests of the various classes and intermediate sections of Polish society.
7. This refers to Ernst Thälmann’s article, “The Tactics of the Polish Communist Party,” printed in Pravda, No. 123, May 30, 1926.