Works of Stalin 1926

The General Strike, 1926

Speech at a meeting of workers of the main railway workshops at Tiflis. June 8, 1926


Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. XXXV, No. 4, April 1953, pp. 169-174
Publisher: The Proprietors, Trinity Trust, 134, Ballards Lane, London, N3
Transcription/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 first question is that of the causes of the strike in Britain. How could it happen that Britain, that land of capitalist might and unexampled compromises, should have lately become an arena of the greatest social conflicts. How could it happen that Great Britain, ‘mistress of the seas’, has become the country of the General Strike? I would like to point out a number of circumstances determining the inevitability of the general strike in Britain. The time has not yet come to give an exhaustive answer to this question. But we can and should point out certain decisive events which determined the necessity for the strike. Of these circumstances one might point to four as being the most important.

First. Britain formerly occupied a monopolist position among the capitalist states. Possessing a number of huge colonies and having what at that time was an exemplary industry, she was in a position to play the part of ‘workshop of the world’ and to rake in enormous super-profits. That was the period of ‘peace and prosperity’ for Britain. Capital pocketed super-profits, crumbs from these super-profits fell to the upper section of the British labour movement, the leaders of the British labour movement were gradually rendered docile by capital, and conflicts between labour and capital were usually settled by compromise.

But the further development of international capitalism, particularly the development of Germany, America and to some extent Japan, who made their appearance on the world market as competitors of Britain, struck at the very roots of Britain’s former monopolist position. The war and the post-war crisis delivered a further decisive blow to the monopolist position of Britain. The super-profits became smaller, the crumbs falling to the British labour leaders began to run out. Voices demanding the lowering of the standard of living of the working class in Britain were more and more frequently heard. The period of ‘peace and prosperity’ gave place to a period of conflicts, lock-outs and strikes. The British worker began to swing to the left, resorting more and more to the method of direct struggle against capital.

It is not difficult to understand that, in such a state of affairs, the brutal crack of the whip by the British mineowners, expressed in the threat of a lock-out, could not remain unanswered by the miners.

Secondly. The second circumstance consists in the restoration of international market connections [1] and the sharpening, in this connection, of the struggle of the capitalist groups for markets. Characteristic of the post-war crisis is that it broke up almost all the connections between the international market and the capitalist states, replacing these connections by a certain chaos in relations. Now, as a result of the temporary stabilisation of capital, this chaos is receding into the background and the old international market connections are gradually being restored. Whereas a few years ago the question was, how to restore the factories and works and get the workers to work for capital, it is now a question of securing markets and raw materials for the restored factories and works. In this connection the struggle for markets has intensified with fresh force, while the victory in this struggle is going to that group of capitalists and to that capitalist state where goods are cheaper and technique more advanced. And new forces are now coming forward on the markets: America, France, Japan, Germany, the British Dominions and the British colonies, which managed to develop their industry during the war and are now fighting for markets. Naturally, in view of all this, 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 materials has had to give place to the new method of conquering the market with the help of cheap goods. Hence the endeavour of British capital to restrict production or, at any rate, not to extend it wholesale. Hence the vast army of unemployed in Britain, a constant feature of recent years. Hence the threat of unemployment, which agitates the British workers and tunes them up to a fighting key. Hence the lightning-like effect which the threat of a lock-out had on the workers generally and on the miners in particular.

Thirdly. The third circumstance consists in the endeavour of British capital to obtain a reduction in the cost 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 coal industry is badly equipped as regards technique and requires ‘rationalising’, but primarily because the miners have always been, and still remain, the vanguard of the British proletariat. To bridle this vanguard, to lower wages and lengthen the working day, in order, having dealt with this vanguard, then to put a curb on other detachments of the working class also—that was the strategy of British capital. Hence that heroism with which the British miners are conducting their strike. Hence that unexampled readiness which the British workers have displayed in supporting the miners by means of the general strike.

Fourthly. The fourth circumstance is the rule of the Conservative Party in Britain, the party which is the most malignant enemy of the working class. It goes without saying that every other bourgeois government would, in the main, have done the same as the Conservative government in crushing the working class. But it is without doubt also that only such sworn enemies of the working class as the Conservatives could so easily and so cynically have entered upon such an unexampled challenge to the whole of the British working class as they did when they made the threat of a lock-out. It should now be regarded as fully proven that the British Conservative Party not only wanted the lock-out and the strike, but had spent almost a year preparing for them. It postponed the attack on the miners in July last year, considering the moment `unsuitable'. But it made preparations during the whole period since then, piling up stores of coal, organising blacklegs, suitably working up public opinion, in order to strike out at 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 the government on the basis of forged documents and provocations. [2] On the very first day after its advent to power it attacked Egypt, using every means of provocation. For a year now it has been carrying on direct war against the Chinese people, resorting to the tried means of colonial methods of plunder and oppression. It is sparing no means in order to render impossible any rapprochement between the peoples of the Soviet Union and the peoples of Great Britain, steadily preparing the elements of a possible intervention. Now it is attacking the working class of its own country, preparing the attack with a zeal worthy of a better cause, over a period of fully twelve months. The Conservative Party cannot live without conflicts inside and outside Britain. After this, can one be surprised that the British workers replied with blow for blow? These, in the main, are the circumstances which determined the inevitability of the strike in Britain.

The British general strike was defeated for a number of reasons, of which the following, at least, should be pointed out:

First. The British capitalists and Conservative Party, as the course of the strike has shown, proved in general to be more experienced, more organized, more resolute and, therefore, stronger than the British workers and their leaders in the persons of the General Council and the so-called Labour Party. The leaders of the working class proved not to be equal to the tasks of the working class.

Secondly. The British capitalists and the Conservative Party went into this tremendous social conflict fully armed and undoubtedly prepared, while the leaders of the British labour movement were caught unawares by the mineowners' lock-out and did nothing, or next to nothing, in the way of preparatory work. Here it should be noted that not more than a week prior to the conflict the, leaders of the working class were expressing their conviction that there would be no conflict.

Thirdly. The staff of the capitalists—the Conservative Party—conducted the fight unitedly and in an organised manner, striking blows at the decisive points of the struggle, while the staff of the labour movement, the Trades Union Congress General Council and its ‘political commission’—the Labour Party—proved to be internally demoralised and degenerate. It is known that the head people of this staff were found to be either direct traitors to the miners and the British working class in general (Thomas, MacDonald, Henderson and Co.), or spineless fellow-travellers of these traitors who feared the struggle and still more the victory of the working class (Purcell, Hicks, etc.).

It may be asked, how could it happen that the powerful British proletariat, which carried on the fight with unexampled heroism, proved to have leaders who were either capable of being bribed, or cowardly or simply spineless? This is a question of great importance. Such leaders did not appear all of a sudden. They grew out of the labour movement, they passed through a definite schooling for labour leaders in Britain, the schooling of that period when British capital, raking in super-profits, was able to make a fuss of the labour leaders and use them to make compromises with the British working class; moreover, by coming close to the bourgeoisie in their ways of life and status, these leaders of the working class thereby broke away from the working masses, turned their backs on them and ceased to understand them. These are the kind of leaders who have been blinded by the glamour of capitalism, whom the power of capital has overwhelmed, and who dream of ‘becoming somebody’ and of joining the ‘people of substance’.

Without doubt these leaders—if I may call them that—are an echo of the past who now do not suit the new situation. Without doubt they will in time be compelled to give way to new leaders who do correspond to the fighting spirit and heroism of the British proletariat. Engels was right when he called such men bourgeois leaders.

Fourthly. The staff of British capitalism—the Conservative Party—understood that tie gigantic strike of the British workers was a fact of tremendous political importance, that a serious struggle could be waged against such a strike only by measures of a political character, that in order to break the strike the authority of the King and the authority of the House of Commons and the Constitution must all be invoked, that the strike could not be ended without mobilising the troops and proclaiming a state of emergency. Meanwhile the staff of the British labour movement—the General Council—did not, or would not, understand this simple thing, or were afraid to admit it, assuring all and sundry that the General Strike was a purely industrial dispute, that it did not want or intend to transform 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—did not intend to raise the question of power.

The General Council thereby doomed the strike to inevitable failure. For, as history has shown, a general strike which is not developed on the lines of political struggle must inevitably fail.

Fifthly. The staff of the British capitalists understood that international aid to the British strike constituted a mortal danger to the bourgeoisie, while the General Council did not understand, or pretended not to understand, that the strike of the British workers could only be won with the aid of international proletarian solidarity. Hence the refusal of the General Council to accept the financial aid of the workers of the Soviet Union [3] and of other countries.

Such a gigantic strike as the General Strike in Britain could yield tangible results given two basic conditions at any rate: the development of the strike on political lines and the transformation of the strike into an act of struggle of the proletarians of all the advanced capitalist countries against capital. But the British General Council, with the peculiar ‘wisdom’ distinguishing it, rejected both these conditions, thereby pre-determining the failure of the General Strike.

Sixthly. Without doubt a role of no little importance was played by the more than ambiguous behaviour of the Second International and of the Amsterdam Trade Union International in the matter of aid to the British General Strike. In essence, the platonic decisions of these organisations of the Social Democrats concerning aid to the strike amounted to the actual refusal of all and any financial help in practice, for in no other way than as ambiguous behaviour on the part of the social democratic International can one explain the fact that the trade unions of Europe and America together contributed 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 need not dwell on the aid of another nature, in the form of stopping the import of coal, in which respect the Amsterdam Trade Union International is literally behaving in blackleg fashion.

Seventhly. There is likewise no doubt that the weakness of the British Communist Party was of no small importance in the defeat 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 pointed out that its policy throughout the time of the strike in Britain was perfectly correct. It must, however, also be admitted that its prestige among the British workers is still weak. And this circumstance could not fail to play a fatal part in the course of the General Strike.

These are the circumstances, at any rate the most important of them, which we are able to ascertain at the present time and which determined the undesirable outcome of the General Strike in Britain.

(To be concluded next month)


Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. XXXV, No. 5, May 1953, pp. 232-234
Publisher: The Proprietors, Trinity Trust, 134, Ballards Lane, London, N3
Transcription/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.


WHAT are the lessons of the General Strike in Britain, at any rate the most important of them? These lessons amount to the following:

First. The crisis in the mining industry in Britain, and the General Strike linked with it, raise foursquare the question of socialising the implements and means of production in the mining industry, with the establishment of workers’ control. This is a question of winning Socialism. It is hardly necessary to prove that there are not and cannot be any ways for the radical solution of the crisis in the mining industry other than the way proposed by the British Communist Party. The crisis in the mining industry and the General Strike bring the British working class face to face with the question of the practical realisation of Socialism.

Secondly. The British working class could not but experience at first hand that the chief obstacle on the road to its aim is the political power of the capitalists, in the present case, the Conservative Party and its Government. Although the General Council feared like the plague to admit the indissoluble connection between economic struggle and political struggle, the British workers cannot now fail to understand that, in their difficult struggle against organised capital, the question of power is now the main question, and that it is impossible to solve either the crisis in the mining industry or the crisis in the whole of British industry, in general, without solving the question of power.

Thirdly. The trend and outcome of the General Strike cannot fail to convince the working class of Britain that Parliament, the Constitution, the King and other attributes of bourgeois power are nothing but the shield of the capitalist class directed against the proletariat. The strike has torn aside the covering of a fetish and sacred shrine both from Parliament and from the Constitution. The workers will realise that the present Constitution is a weapon for the bourgeoisie directed against the working class. The workers cannot fail to understand that they, too, need their workers’. Constitution as a weapon against the bourgeoisie. I believe that learning this truth will, for the British working class, be one of its most important achievements.

Fourthly. The course and outcome of the strike cannot fail to convince the working masses of Britain of the unfitness of the old leaders, of the unfitness of the old heads who have grown up in the school of the old British policy of compromise. They cannot fail to understand that the old leaders must be replaced by new, revolutionary leaders.

Fifthly. The British workers cannot fail now to understand that the miners of Britain are the vanguard of the British working class, that support for the miners and securing their victory is, therefore, the concern of the entire working class of Britain. The whole course of the strike dictates to the British working class that this conclusion is absolutely unquestionable.

Sixthly. The British workers, in the difficult moment of the General Strike, when the platforms and programmes of the various parties were being tested in action, could not but realise that the only party capable of boldly and resolutely defending the interests of the working class to the end is the Communist Party.

These, in general, are the lessons of the General Strike in Britain. I now proceed to a few conclusions which are 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 passing and temporary character of stabilisation is perfectly correct. The attack of British capital upon the British miners is an attempt to transform the passing, temporary stabilisation into a durable and permanent stablisation. This attempt was not and could not be crowned with success. The British workers, who replied to this attempt with a gigantic strike, have shown the whole capitalist world that the permanent stabilisation of capitalism in the conditions of the post-war period is impossible, that experiments like the British are fraught with the danger of the destruction of the foundations of capitalism. But though the assumption of the firmness of capitalist stabilisation is false, the opposite assumption that the stabilisation is past and done with, and that we have now entered a period of great revolutionary upheavals, is equally false. The stabilisation of capitalism—passing, temporary, yet nevertheless stabilisation—so far still remains.

Further, precisely because the present passing, temporary stabilisation still remains, for that very reason capital will try and attack the working class. Of course the lesson of the British strike should show the whole capitalist world how risky for the life and existence of capital is an experiment like that which was undertaken by the Conservative Party in Britain. That the experiment will not be without effect upon the Conservative Party, of that there is no reason to doubt. Neither can it be doubted that this lesson will be taken into account by the capitalists of all countries. Nevertheless, capital will all the same endeavour to make a fresh attack upon the working class, for it thinks its position insecure and cannot but feel the need to make itself more stable. The task of the working class and of the Communist Parties is to prepare their forces to resist 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 towards transforming 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.

Finally, the working class of Britain, in order to fulfil these immediate tasks, has first and foremost to get rid of its present leaders. You cannot go into war against the capitalists with such leaders as the Thomases and MacDonalds. It is impossible to hope for victory with such traitors in the rear as Henderson and Clynes. The British working class will have to learn to replace such leaders by better ones, for it is one of two things: either the British working class will learn to remove the Thomases and MacDonalds from their posts, or they will no more see victory than they can see their own ears.

These, comrades, are the few conclusions which are obvious in themselves.

 


Notes

1.  i.e., after their disruption by the first world war.—Trans.

2.  The reference is to the forged ‘Zinoviev Letter’ of 1924.—Trans.

3.  The Soviet trade unions on May 5, 1926, called on their members to subscribe a quarter of a day’s pay in aid of the British workers. That day they transferred 26,427. On May 7 they sent a further 200,000. On May 9 the General Council rejected the aid. The money was returned to the U.S.S.R. Subsequently these amounts and others to a total of 1,100,000 were sent to the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain in aid of the locked-out British miners, and accepted.—Trans.