Workers' Liberty 3/4: The 1926 general strike

The defeats we learn from

The British general strike of May 1926 was one of the great events in working-class history. Its consequences were felt far beyond Britain, in far-off Russia and by Communist Parties all over the world.

It was a great working-class defeat. It was an unnecessary defeat brought about by the treachery of the leaders of the British trade union movement.

The history of the bourgeoisie for hundreds of years past is the history of states in which they rule, deeds that some of them have successfully done, victories that they have won.

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The striker’s alphabet

(From the St Pancras Bulletin, May 5-10 1926)

A is for ALL, ALL OUT and ALL WIN,

And down with the blacklegs and scabs who stay in.

B is for Baldwin, the Bosses’ Strong Man,

But he’s welcome to dig all the coal that he can

C is for Courage the workers have shown,

Class Conscious and Confident that they’ll hold their own.

D is for DOPE that the Government spread—

Dishwash for Duncos and Dubbs—“nuff sed”.

E is for Energy that will carry us through,

Everyone class-conscious, steadfast and true.

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The story of the strike

By Stan Crooke

At the close of the nineteenth and opening of the twentieth centuries the international working class had added the weapon of the general strike to its arsenal in the war against capital. In the decades before the British General Strike, Belgium, Russia, Sweden and Germany had all experienced general strikes — Belgium more than once.

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The workers’ councils

At the time when the General Council issued its call to Trades Councils, these bodies, taken as a whole, were organisations accustomed to monthly delegate meetings, with fortnightly or monthly meetings of Executive Committees. Practically in all cases there were no paid officials, and some even of the most energetic Councils had no premises of their own. With one or two exceptions, no preparatory work of any kind had been undertaken before the call was issued.

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Workers’ defence

The problems facing the Councils of Action went much deeper than aid for arrested persons. The arrests themselves were in part based on political actions by the victims: as the reports show the members of the Communist Party were especially singled out for arrests under this heading. But the attack of the capitalist state machine was not confined to arrests of speakers or writers (or distributors) of “sedition.”

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Trotsky on the Anglo-Russian Committee

The disastrous experience with the Anglo-Russian Committee was based entirely upon effacing the independence of the British Communist Party. In order that the Soviet trade unions might maintain the bloc with the strike-breakers of the General Council (allegedly in the state interests of the USSR!) the British Communist Party had to be deprived of all independence. This was obtained by the actual dissolution of the party into the so-called “Minority Movement”, that is, a “left” opposition inside the trade unions.

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How the Communist Parties became “frontier guards of the USSR”

By Max Shachtman

The defeat of the September 1923 insurrection in Bulgaria and the October retreat in Germany, followed a few months later by the crushing of the Reval uprising in Esthonia, opened up a new period of development in Europe, replete with far-reaching consequences. The retreat in Germany gave the bourgeoisie the breathing space it sought and needed... In England, the MacDonald Labour government came into power for the first time. In France, the liberal Herriot ministry was established....

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From “leftist impatience” to servility

The Third International After Lenin, a critique of Comintern policy which Leon Trotsky wrote in exile in Alma Alta in 1928, was addressed to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International.

In it he tells in outline the story of the share of the Communist International and the British Communist Party which obeyed the International’s instructions in the responsibility for the defeat of the British general strike. It is a model of how Marxists analyse a political situation.

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