The Causes And Consequences Of The General Strike In 1926 Essays
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The Causes And Consequences Of The General Strike In 1926
For a brief period after the First World War, Britain faced an economic boom. Workers were in a strong position and businesses were optimistic, believing that world demand for British goods would increase and trading would return to the success it had prior to the war. However, in 1920, Britain experienced their worst economic slump in history. This was caused by a poor performance in foreign markets due to the lack of reinvestment, modernisation in British industry and increased competition abroad, especially from the USA and Germany.
In response to this slump, the Government tried to stabilise the British economy by reintroducing the…show more content…
Therefore they were particularly disappointed and upset that the politicians had not done the things they said they would. Miners who had carried on working in the mines during the First World War enjoyed many improvements in their work. This was mainly because; the government took over control of the mines. Wages were increased and standardised.
Before the war wages depended on how cheap and easy there work was at each individual mine, therefore wages varied from mine to mine. Most miners hoped that all mines would remain nationalised after the war; however in 1921 Lloyd George allowed the mines to go back into private ownership. This was because the royal Commission couldn't agree on a suitable solution to the problems in the coal-mining industry. Most members agreed that mines being nationalised would be the best idea but however this did not happen. For miners, the idea was not acceptable and should have not been considered in the first place, they were already working in miserable conditions.
The government initially decided that the conflict between the mine owners and miners was none of their concern. But in 1925, the Trade Union Congress became involved and threatened to lock-out
The General Strike 1926
Written: April 1973
Source:Militant (April 27, 1973)
Transcription: Maarten Vanheuverswyn, August 2006
Markup/Proofread:: Maarten Vanheuverswyn, August 2006
The one day May Day general strike marks a peak in the post-war struggle of the British working class. It may be succeeded by a lull for a short time, in the sense that there may be no national strikes organised by the unions in defence of wages and conditions, and against the incomes policy.
This is a policy of limiting wages, while prices, especially of food, are going up twice as fast as they were before it was introduced. Thus it is a policy to limit the income of the working class.
As prices continue to mount, the exasperation and anger of the working class will grow. The trickery and confidence tricks of the employers and the government in the prices and incomes policy will become even clearer than at the present time.
The Trade Union leaders are endeavouring to arrive at some sort of "compromise" and "agreement" with the employers and the government on a viable incomes policy. Even such leaders as Scanlon and Jones have suggested agreements of this sort. But the endeavours to arrive at a compromise will break down when it comes clear to the workers what this involves.
Some capitalist Cambridge economists have pointed out that it is necessary to maintain consumption at the same level as it is at the present time for the next five years. That is at the level where rickets have appeared in all the main cities because of the poverty standards of the lower paid workers, where the consumption of meat per head of population is now 20% below the last year of rationing which means an even lower level for the working class, and where malnutrition has appeared among building workers (not the worst paid section of the working class).
Thus, inevitably the attempt to maintain this position will meet with further resistance on the part of the working class. During the last three years there has been an unprecedented level of struggle, a far higher level than the stormy years of 1918 to 1921. White collar workers as well as industrial workers, skilled and unskilled, have been involved in battle with the employers and the government. For the first time in history, all the different layers of the working class have been involved in militant struggle.
The mood of the workers is such that the exposure of the confidence trick of the government will make new battles inevitable. Despite the wish for compromise by the Trade Union leaders, Left and Right, under the pressure of the working class, new national strikes will take place. This in its turn, because of the explosive mood in a period of sharp changes and abrupt turns in which we live, could possibly even involve the outbreak of an all-out general strike.
At the moment the prospect of this has receded, and it seems as if partially at any rate the workers will turn to the political field as a means of solving their problems. But the possibility still exists, therefore it is imperative that the active layers of the working class, the most conscious politically and industrially, should be armed with the understanding of what is really involved in a general strike, and the history of the great events of 1926.
The causes of the 1926 general strike lay in a similar situation to the position which is developing at the present time. In 1925 the ruling class had a policy of deflation, instead of, as at present, inflation. But the results for the working class are the same. It is the choice of death by fire or death by a thousand cuts.
In 1926, the position of the ruling class was that of a direct assault on the wages of the working class. The Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, has declared at a meeting with the Miners' Union on July 30th, 1925: "All the workers in this country have got to take reductions in wages to help put industry on its feet".
The miners were to accept a reduction of 13% in starvation wages and to work an extra hour. This attack on the miners and on all sections of the working class was because of the decline of British Capitalism. With an antiquated industry, she could only succeed in maintaining a hold on world markets in the face of more modern and up to date rivals, at the expense of the working class.
It is a similar situation which the working class in Britain is facing at the present time. The British capitalist class wishes to put the burden of its own inefficiency and incapacity onto the shoulders of the working class.
The working class in solidarity with the miners and in defence of its own living standards, were prepared to resist. The transport unions and other sections issued instructions to black the handling and transporting, of coal if the coal owners carried out their threat to lock out the miners. The shadow of conflict loomed.
Despite the complaint of the backwoodsmen of the Tory Party in Parliament, 300 of whom moved a resolution of protest, Baldwin and the government prepared a temporary retreat in order to thoroughly prepare for a showdown with the miners and with the whole of the working class. A 23 million subsidy was given for nine months to allow the government time to complete its preparations.
At the same time the Samuel Commission was appointed to go into the question of the mining dispute. At the end of nine months they recommended increased hours, lower wages and district agreements, a policy which the miners and the trade union movement generally had already rejected!
The Tory government prepared an "Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies" (OMS), a civil guard, which the British Fascists joined, Special Constables, and an elaborate network for each county in Britain to confront the TUC and the working class
The working class in Britain had been swinging to the left after the coming to power of the Baldwin government in 1924, on the basis of the forged and notorious, "Zinoviev Letter". The expression of this move to the left was the organisation of the Minority Movement in the trade unions, with a left wing programme, which succeeded in organising in its ranks 1,250,000 members, or a quarter of the organised Trade Union Movement.
The leaders of the left wing in the TUC made far more radical speeches and gestures than the Left Wing at the present time. An "Anglo-Russian Committee" of Russian and British Trade Union leaders, to cement an alliance allegedly to fight war, was organised, on which the Left wing leaders of the General Council were prominent.
The Left leaders were immensely popular throughout the working class, and gave very fiery speeches, some even coming out for the "Socialist Revolution". They reflected the pressure of the masses, thoroughly aroused and alarmed at the threatened attacks on an already low standard of living. A.J. Cook went around saying that he was "proud to be a follower of Lenin".
He coined the phrase "Not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day". This was a fine and decisive slogan to rally the miners and the working class. He argued that a "strike of the miners would mean the end of capitalism". And that "97% of the new recruits to the police and armed services have come from the working class, and thousands of them are miners, who will not shoot against their kith and kin when the order comes."
But even Cook, the best and most honest of these leaders, had no idea of what was involved or how to organise it. For him it was just radical phraseology.
Because of the enormous indignation of the workers, the General Council, in reply to the refusal of the government to make concessions, threatened to call a General Strike. The decision to strike was taken by 3,653,527 votes to 49,911 votes. This historic decision was taken on May 1st. But behind the scenes, desperately, the General Council of the TUC appointed a Committee to try to negotiate with the Conservative Government.
They were prepared even to accept a cut in wages for the miners as the price of a "negotiated settlement". In the Cabinet, the extreme right wing, the Monday clubbers of that day, were exerting pressure for a showdown. Under this pressure, Baldwin used the pretext of the Daily Mail printers' refusal to print a vicious attack on the Unions and the miners, to break off negotiations.
After the TUC, with great difficulty, had succeeded in getting the printers reluctantly to print the editorial, they returned to the negotiations with the Prime Minister at Downing Street in the early hours of Sunday morning, where they were told "Mr. Baldwin has gone to bed and cannot be disturbed."
Thus the ruling class deliberately provoked and precipitated the general strike as a means of defeating the workers and forcing them to accept a lower standard of living.
They got more than they bargained for! Hoping against hope for some sort of agreement, the TUC tremblingly had made no preparations for the strike whatsoever. But the magnificent capacity of the Trade Union and Labour Movement to improvise and organise came as a surprise to the government and even to the Union leaders themselves. The first sections to be called out were the miners, dockers, seamen and workers in transport, heavy chemicals, building (except housing) and production of electric light and gas for industrial purposes.
The leaders of the Seamen's union refused to join the strike and organised blacklegging. But in spite of this, the strike was absolutely solid, and the rank and file of the seamen supported the strike.
There was initiative and improvisation from below. The Trades Councils in every area formed Councils of Action, and strike committees. In some areas the Co-ops and Labour Parties were involved, and in many less, also the Communist Party. Prominent leaders and individuals were co-opted to the Strike Committee.
The organisation of the strike in the North East, for example, was to form Committees in each area with an overall Committee for Durham and Northumberland. Transport, food, a workers defence force, publicity and permits were organised. In a sense these were the elements of an alternative government appearing to confront the so-called "legal" government.
Many of the police were sympathetic and troops were held in reserve. Two submarines were used in the Thames for the purpose of providing light on the docks. But a warship which appeared in the Tyne was withdrawn after threats of the Council of Action to withdraw the safety and emergency men. So powerful was the Council of Action on Tyneside that Kingsley Wood, the representative of the government in the area was compelled to negotiate with the Tyneside Regional Council of Action for permits for the transport of food.
Non-Unionists joined in the struggle and joined the Unions in droves; in some cases non-unionists even preceded the union workers in coming out on strike! There were militant demonstrations and processions in all the main towns and baton charges were used by the police. There were about three thousand arrests.
The brunt of the repression was felt by the then revolutionary Communist Party. In preparation for the strike, already twelve of their main leaders had been sentenced to imprisonment, and were safely out of the way on charges of "sedition".
The Workers' Weekly was raided and the press was immobilised by taking away key parts of the machinery. Up and down the country Communists were also being arrested, along with thousands of workers, who were charged with incitement and jailed for terms of six weeks to two months.
The ranks of the workers were solid, and each day more were coming out. But the very success of the strike provoked more fear in the General Council than in the government! They were terrified of the movement they had called into being on May 3rd.
On the eighth day there was a call-out of the engineers and other sections, although in many cases these were already coming out before the call to action. Thus on the eighth and ninth days the strike was extending.
But behind the scenes the General Council were "negotiating" with Sir Herbert Samuel, the chairman of the Samuel Commission who had recommended drastic cuts in wages, an added hour on the miners' day and district agreements.
Without consulting the miners, the General Council informed Samuel that the miners would accept a cut in wages. Samuel had "obligingly" come back from Italy, but had no "official standing" to negotiate for the government.
Yet, with no guarantees that the terms of the miserable agreement with Samuel — already a capitulation — would be carried out, the "Lefts" as well as the Rights on the General Council agreed precipitately and asked to see the Prime Minister, who accepted "surrender" terms.
Why was the General Council prepared to capitulate to the government when the strike was actually developing and the ranks of the working class were becoming more solid every day? Every day that passed there was a hardening of the attitude of the rank and file, as well as the lower leaders in all the districts in Britain.
J.H. Thomas, the then "leader" of the railmen put it in the crudest terms: "God help Britain in any challenge to the Constitution unless the government won."
For Thomas, McDonald and the Right wing leaders of the TUC, a victory of the government and thus of the employers was preferable to a victory of their own class. The "Lefts" had no alternative to offer when it was no longer a question of woolly phrases, but of the concrete reality.
The problem of power had been clearly posed. In addition to that, the organisation of the strike was entirely in the hands of the lower ranks throughout the country. The General Council in effect was a passive recipient of the accomplished actions of the Councils of Action and Strike Committees, whatever they were called in the localities. Each day that passed saw a strengthening of the power, initiative and resource of the committees in the localities.
The spectre that haunted the General Council and gave them sleepless nights was the possibility of their replacement in the struggle by the lower ranks who would threaten to by-pass them. In his book on the General Strike, Julian Symons, not at all a revolutionary, nevertheless was compelled to remark:
"They (the General Council) were not rash but feebly timid; they hoped for the collaboration of their opponents and never really trusted the mass of their supporters. They feared the consequences of complete victory more than those of a negotiated defeat" (p.143) (My emphasis).
"The General Council was torn by conflicting desires. First, it wanted to make the strike effective; second, it wanted to make certain that control of it did not pass into the hands of revolutionary agitators." (My emphasis).
He quotes Thomas:
"What I dreaded about the strike, more than anything else, was this; if by any chance it should have got out of the hands of those who would be able to exercise some control, every sane man knows what would have happened ... That danger, that fear, was always in our minds, because we wanted, at least, even in this struggle to direct a disciplined army." (p.52).
In their panic to call off the strike, at a time when it was expanding and growing, the Union leaders did not even put forward the elementary demand in every strike that there should be no victimisation and that every worker must be taken back. In his speech on the radio, Baldwin implacably declared that there were no "conditions" and that it was unconditional surrender in the strike. The scabs taken on must have first claims on the jobs. This was a signal for the employers to try and wreck, weaken or destroy Union organisation.
The rank and file had greeted the decision to call off the strike with indignation and resentment:
"We've been twisted" — Longeaton Trades Council. "The men were like a rock; the first man to bring the news was the sub-editor of the County Express and after giving us the news he asked us what we were going to do about it. The answer was double the pickets." — Stourbridge. "The strike was 100% strong and could not get any stronger in that respect. But in organisation it was getting stronger and more efficient every day" — Blaina. "We were not at our maximum when the strike was called off — another 12 hours would have a position the like of which in our wildest moments we have never imagined." — Coventry. "The ranks of the strikers strengthened daily" — Goodwick. "Non-Unionists joined up at the end of each (engineering) shift" — Lincoln. "At high tide promptly and remained so" — Longeaton. "Everything was going perfectly when the bombshell fell" — Ramsgate. "The fight was just about to begin" — Wellingborough. "Every prospect of it growing stronger .. Bitter feeling among the rank and file at the calling off" — Woking.
They felt themselves betrayed by the leadership. And it was the local leadership and this rank and file which was to save the situation from developing into a rout. When they heard of the conditions being offered by the employers, the railmen, dockers, engineers and other sections renewed the strike. In fact, two days after the General Strike had been officially called off there were 100,000 more on strike!
The leaders of the different unions then issued instructions to their members to come out on strike — which they were already doing — and not to accept any terms in relation to wages and conditions worse than before the strike. There would be no going back unless there was no victimisation by the employers and the government.
Faced with the veritable fury of the working class and the possibility of large-scale clashes in the localities, Baldwin then came forward in his hypocritical role of a "conciliator". He broadcast that the employers must take back the workers on the old terms, and that he would not countenance any attempt to break up the Unions. The employers consented.
The railway unions negotiated an agreement with the railway leaders that there would be no victimisation, but they refused to take back any worker who was guilty of "intimidation or violence". The printers agreed not to hold any more meetings in work time, and on this concession the printers went back.
Thus what had begun as a tremendous movement ended up in defeat, and was only saved from rout by the solidarity and militancy of the local leaders and of the rank and file who stood shoulder to shoulder against the attempts of the employers to weaken the organisations of the working class.
The working class was caught completely by surprise by the betrayals of the "Left" as well as the Right Wing leaders. This was especially so with regard to the Communist Party, where at that time not only the rank and file but also the leadership were endeavouring to create a revolutionary Party.
At that time the leadership were interested in developing a revolutionary party and preparing for the socialist revolution. Why then were they disarmed and unprepared by these events? They were caught by surprise because of the policy of Stalin and the Russian leaders who dictated the policy of the then Communist International.
The Anglo-Russian Committee, they had been taught, was a mobilisation of the British and Russian Trade Unions to fight war. They took at face value the speeches of the "Left" leaders. At least they were instructed by Moscow to do so and accepted the policy.
In the strike, the rank and file of the Party had naturally been among the most active sections of the workers. After the immobilisation of their press, they reacted by bringing out duplicated papers with a total circulation of over 100,000.
But an examination of these papers indicate that they gave no perspective, either in their speeches or in writing, during the strike. There was no guidance, no perspective for the struggle beyond support for the strike and support for the General Council.
From the first day the General Council had issued a statement to the ranks to "trust the leadership". During the course of the strike, there was not a single word of warning in all the agitation and propaganda of the Communist Party. They were caught completely unprepared and on one foot.
Had they been, even in those days, they would have undoubtedly won over hundreds of thousands of the best workers.
People learn far quicker under fire and in the heat of events, especially the active layers of the working class. But the howl of the CP of "betrayal" which was entirely unforeseen and unprepared for came too late to have any effect except to demoralise their own ranks.
They had been taught not to offer any real criticism of the "Left" leaders, or even of the General Council, whom they saw as leaders of the struggle. They did not pose a single idea beyond the winning of the strike until it was too late. Moreover, they had not prepared in any way for this inevitable turn of events, given the situation, and the fact that without Marxist perspective and Marxist understanding the "Left" leaders had no other course to take, except to join in the betrayal with their Right Wing colleagues.
The working class being caught completely unprepared by the betrayal from the top, and the CP leadership having failed utterly to warn against this before and during those great events, it was the Communist Party and revolutionary methods which were discredited.
Instead of enormous gains which should be inevitable in a period like that, on the basis of correct policies, strategy and tactics, the back of the Communist Party was broken. The Minority Movement disappeared.
By 1927 the Trade Union leaders, "Lefts" and Rights, having contemptuously cast aside the Anglo-Russian Committee, by breaking off relations, had turned to ‘collaboration’ with the employers in the Mond-Turner discussions. They could do this because of the mood of apathy and indifference which pervaded the Trade Union Movement.
Of course we are not suggesting that militants should embark on the crude and hysterical mud-slinging of the ultra-left sects which infest the movement. This inevitably merely recoils on the people who use it.
What was necessary in 1926 and is necessary today is a friendly but implacable criticism of the left leaders in the unions — and in the Labour Party. A skilful criticism of the woolliness, the vagueness and inconsistency of the Lefts and their failure to present the issues in sharp and clear class terms; not to wobble over the issue of the "nation" or "collaboration with the management", or even with the Tory government as suggested by Scanlon and Jones in recent weeks, but to pose the issue clearly of the "two nations" in Britain — workers and capitalists.
In this new epoch of inflation — it is either/or — either a struggle for the transformation of society, or an inevitable capitulation to the interests of Big Business. In 1925 to 1926 it was the struggle against deflation.
In 1973, the Communist Party leadership is playing an entirely disastrous role. By not explaining the crisis of British Capitalism at the present time — and not putting forward a complete Socialist alternative — they play into the hands of "Left" and then Right reformism. How could it be different today to 1926 when they themselves have become a caricature variant of Left Reformism? In 1926 at least they were trying to find the revolutionary road. The attempted compromise of the union leaders with the government on the Prices and Incomes Policy is bound to break down. The cooing of Heath and the glad invitations to the unions, conceals the knife he is trying to put in their backs. The Left leaders, because they are not Marxists, do not prepare the workers for the overthrow of Capitalism but on the contrary try to act as mediators with the capitalists within the system.
That can only be because they do not see that the onslaught on wages and conditions is not determined by the subjective wishes of Heath and the government but by the objective position of British Capitalism on national and world markets.
This is caused by the economic crisis of British Capitalism — low investment and the falling rate of profit which has been explained in many articles in Militant; this is the background to the policies of the Left Union leaders. It makes inevitable the prospect of new storms and battles by the working class.
Even more imperative is the need for uncompromising Marxist policies and of Marxist analysis for industrial militants.
After the collapse of the General Strike of 1926 — too late — the CP tried to make a change and criticise the role of the Left union leaders -theoretically and practically. Palme-Dutt, their leading "theoretician" at the time quoted the criticism of the left leaders made in 1924! Not a sentence, not a word could he find in 1925, or 1926, explaining in theoretical or practical terms the role of the Left in the material published by the Communist Party.
However, it would be instructive to quote the strictures on the Left leaders when it was too late:
In the July 1926 Labour Monthly, Palme-Dutt wrote in his "Notes of the Month": "The experience of the General Strike has shown that the question of leadership is a life and death question for the workers and to neglect it or treat it lightly is fatal ... The enemy within in fact is most dangerous ... the old reformist myth that it is only the backwardness of the workers which is the obstacle to the progressive intentions of the leaders is smashed. (It is repeated by the CP leaders today — EG). Only a couple of weeks before the General Strike, Brailsford (ILP leader) in his answer to Trotsky, was expressing polite incredulity at Trotsky's statement that the workers in Britain were already in practice far in advance of the ILP leaders, and holding it up as a glaring example of Russian "ignorance" of British conditions. After the General Strike the statement appears as the merest commonplace." (p.393). On the right wing leaders, he comments (at the 13th hour): "having
ensured its defeat, they come forward to proclaim the final failure of the .General Strike weapon, and even that they knew its folly all along. That is the typical role of Social Democracy."
On the other hand, it was conspicuously obvious that the left wing (my emphasis) which had developed as an opposition tendency in the Trade Unions during the past two years around the personalities of certain leaders on the General Council such as Hicks, Bromley, Tillett, Purcell and others, completely failed to provide any alternative leadership during the crisis and in practice fell behind the right wing. This is an extremely significant fact and it is all important."
Palme-Dutt =— not sure at that time which way events in Russia were going to move — even quoted Trotsky, writing before these great events and warning of the role of the Lefts. Palthe-Dutt quotes this, alas, when the working class had been defeated and without honestly criticising the policy of the Communist Party in the months and years before the General Strike:
"The Trade Union Left Wing was not able to provide any alternative to the Right wing because the Trade Union Left wing had not yet in practice reached any basic difference from the Right. The TU Left wing was the reflection of the important and growing tendencies and aspirations within the working class, of a growing opposition to the opportunism and betrayals of the existing leadership, and the demand for a policy of solidarity and class struggle.
"But these tendencies and aspirations were not translated into any positive programme and proposals, any organised policy and action, any recognition of the alternative to opportunism, or any clearly formulated tactics and methods of struggle. Therefore, the phrases of solidarity and class struggle inevitably became air without substance; in practice the Left wing leaders were impotent and therefore became the prisoners of the Right wing, who at any rate had a positive polish, although a policy of surrender and co-operation with the bourgeoisie."
Palme-Dutt wrote in the Labour Monthly again: "In a recent article, Trotsky has pointed out that the more revolutionary in principle a resolution was at Scarborough, the more easily it was carried; but the closer it came to an even elementary task of action, the stronger was the opposition. International unity with the Communist-led Trade Unions of Russia was carried unanimously by the same delegates who a few weeks later were voting for the expulsion of Communist trade unionists at home from the Labour Movement ... But the formation of factory committees, and even that in principle, was only carried by 2,456,000 to 1,218,000 ... Thus the move to the left was in practice a show move to the left reflecting the undoubted movement of working class opinion but sterilised and neutralised by the skilful opportunist leadership who allowed no change in policy.
"In consequence, the sequel of Scarborough by Liverpool, with its victory of extreme reaction and the conspicuous collapse of the left wing, was not a contradiction of Scarborough but its completion." (p.518, August 1926).
In an article by Jack Tanner in Labour Monthly, he declared that the mood amongst Trade Union activists was that "there is a feeling now that it would have probably been better if they had ‘trussed ’ them! (In reference to the General Council leaders' appeal to ‘trust us’) ... after the first week this outlook (merely to fight in defence of the miners) changed somewhat. They were in the fight and up against all employers and the state. They began to realise that and were prepared to continue." (p.420).
Too late, after the strike had been called off, the CPGB sent a telegram to all parts of the country, emphasising the following points:
"1) The General Council, despite previous promises and of unanimous demands of workers, has ceased the struggle against lower wages without receiving any kind of guarantee from government.
2) That is treachery, not only in relation to miners but all workers.
3) While the Right wing of the General Council and Labour Party has exhibited utmost energy, the Left wing has tolerated defeatist agitation and not protested against this treacherous decision."
Thus, when it was too late, the CP leadership started explaining the real issues. This is the opposite of the method of Lenin.
The changes in the situation since 1926, in objective terms, are all favourable to the working class. From 5 million then, there are now 10 million organised in Trade Unions. In the last three years, millions of workers have been involved in struggle. Skilled, unskilled, industrial and white collar workers, through their union organisations, have been on strike against the employers — and against the government.
There is now a temporary lull, while the workers take stock of the situation. The heavy battalions of the working class, miners, railmen, dockers and other sections of the industrial workers understand that conflict with the employers is now also conflict with the government and the state — serious and heavy sacrifices would be necessary and the goal must be worthwhile.
Consequently, they are preserving a more watchful attitude: thus the lull in the industrial struggle. But the workers are far stronger; the capitalists far weaker. Once again rapidly increasing prices of most necessities and the runaway increase in the price of food which are gaining momentum, will anger and incense the working class — consequently in the months ahead there will be industrial explosions. In that situation there is the possibility — not at all the certainty — of an all out general strike — against the Tory government.
The government has not got the social reserves they had in 1926. Students, civil servants and sections of the white collar workers blacklegged and supported the government. Now they would support the workers and the unions if it came to a showdown.
In the period before the General Strike, only about a third of the electorate voted Labour. In the post-war period it has been between 44% and 48%.With entirely new social layers involved in struggle, the working class is 1,000 times as strong as in 1926. The magnificent response to the one day strike call is an indication of the combativity of the working class. The traditions of 1918 to 1921 have been re-awakened — on a much higher level.
Despite the lukewarmness of some union leaders and the open hostility of others the movement has gained impetus. The main Civil Service and Local Government unions have come out in favour, confirming the new mood of these layers who rarely, and then only in isolated cases struck in the past. Many will participate in the May Day marches.
Despite the weakness of the Communist Party among the broad masses — as shown by the Council election results — they contain within their ranks a sizeable minority of industrial militants. These desire to work for the Socialist Revolution. But the leadership, having learned nothing from the experience of Italy are calling for a succession of one day strikes, leading to a longer strike and then a general strike.
They have not learned anything from the experience of the 1926 General Strike. To their leaders, this is a closed book. Their programme, industrially and politically is the same as the programme of the left leaders. Consequently, far from differentiating, they make strenuous efforts to appear exactly the same!
In none of their literature is the problem of power posed. On a higher historical level they repeat in a cruder form the mistakes of the CP in 1925 and 1926. Nowhere have they criticised Scanlon and Jones for trying to arrive at an agreement with the Heath government. But this is because they have long ago ceased to be Marxists, who try to benefit the working class by generalising the experience of the working class in the past, in order to learn the lessons and prepare the workers for present and future struggle. That is the essence of the Marxist method as developed by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.
Thus the need above all for industrial militants, is political clarity. To immerse themselves purely in the industrial struggle is to prepare terrible defeats.
A clear perspective, a clear understanding are necessary if they are not to move forward blindly to defeat. The elemental movement of the class will take place in any case. But to guide it to victory the active minority must clearly understand the problems posed.
In the Militant International Review of January we have dealt with broad perspectives. We will return to the theme of the General Strike and the role of leadership in future issues of Militant and MIR, our theoretical review.