In October 1992, after seven years of trade-union setbacks following the miners' defeat of 1985, hundreds of thousands of workers crowded onto the streets of London. 100,000 demonstrated on Wednesday 21 October, and 200,000 on Sunday 25 October, against Tory Government plans for further pit closures. Socialist Organiser discussed the next steps, and disputed the SWP's u-turn from its "downturn" dogma (since 1979) to suddenly demanding that the TUC call a general strike "now".
Where do we go from here? The immediate focus of the movement must be defence of the miners. The Tories continue with closures: there will most likely be a new attempt at widespread shut-downs in the New Year. Against closures, the miners should seize control of the threatened pits and then conduct a tremendous political campaign around such occupations, building political support and solidarity strikes.
Last week’s demonstrations proved that a TUC-called Day of Action on a working day would bring millions of workers out in support of the miners — and in protest at the long chain of past and present Tory atrocities, the latest of which is the proposal to close ten London hospitals. Trade unions and Labour Parties should demand that the TUC take up Arthur Scargill’s proposal, and call such a Day of Action. Trades Councils and Labour Parties should launch broad anti-Tory action committees in every area, drawing in community and campaign groups as well as the usual labour movement affiliates. These action committees, organising rallies, demonstrations, leafleting, petitions, and meetings, will provide a framework for thousands of people who want to remain active after last week’s marches.
Even after last week’s demonstration, the call for "General Strike Now" still makes no sense. If by a miracle the TUC were “now” to declare a General Strike, it would probably be a flop. The ground has not been prepared. The labour movement is only beginning to feel a limited confidence in itself and in what it might do. The present upsurge might not have got this far except for the encouragement from outside the ranks of the labour movement.
A TUC Day of Action makes sense now. It is not the same as an open-ended all-out General Strike which would have to end in the surrender of either the Government or the TUC. "General Strike Now" is a proposal to abort the movement which began last week! Such "left" shouting is not the way to promote the labour movement towards a general industrial confrontation with the Tories. It is a way to brand the left as toy-town and irresponsible.
Were revolutionary socialists in the Marx-Engels-Lenin Trotsky tradition to find themselves, in the present situation in Britain, with a majority on the TUC, they would not call an all-out General Strike now. They would suspect anyone in their own ranks who made such a proposal of being a police agent, if they did not already know him to be an unteachable blockhead! Starting from the situation now, a revolutionary TUC would proceed by way of days of action, mass demonstrations, and encouraging other groups of` workers - rail-workers, Tube workers, health workers, and so on - to bring their own disputes forward. It would undertake the political work of agitation and propaganda needed to raise up the as yet untouched millions of the labour movement and of the unorganised to an understanding of the need to fight.
lt would recall the words of Frederick Engels: "the political strike must either prove victorious immediately by the threat alone... or it must end in a colossal fiasco, or, finally, lead directly to the barricades". A revolutionary Marxist TUC would know that a general strike is a serious business, and that an open-ended general strike "now" - should they even get enough millions of workers to answer their instruction "now" - would be the short road to outright political defeat of the movement just starting. They would know that the only TUC which would play this game would be one like that which used a nine-day general strike in l926 to betray and behead the mass working- class movement.
The General Strike slogan was artificially prominent on last week’s demonstrations because it was raised by the Socialist Workers’ Party (a determined opponent of the call for a general strike during the 1984-5 miners’ strike, when it did make sense, and it was the duty of socialists to argue for a general labour mobilisation to back the embattled miners), which is a big presence in the shrunken left, and because the SWP is rich enough to spend thousands of pounds saturating demonstrations with its placards.
It is not serious politics! Cut off from the rhythms and logic of the class struggle now just as cripplingly as they were during the great miners’ strike of 1984-5, when they did not dare promote a general strike, these sectarians jump in at the first stage of the labour movement’s revival with the most advanced of all slogans (short of "Revolution Now!") It makes no sense unless you remember that they are not in fact really proposing slogans or activity for the millions of the labour movement, but slogans and activity to "build the party" by recruiting young people who want to fight and have had no chance of learn to understand how to fight, or how to relate to the labour movement.
For the SWP, "General Strike!" is also an alternative - on paper, not in life - to the necessary political focus and slogans dictated by the situation the labour movement is in; the need to fight for a Labour government Yet, the Labour Party remains the labour movement’s only alternative to the Tories, and, short of an immediate socialist revolution, there is no way other than by a Labour government to break this Tory Government of big business. Even a general strike would not immediately change that: in 1918, the traitor right wing of the German Social Democracy was, even after soviets had been created, the working-class "party of government".
Denial that there is this necessary political dimension to the labour movement - through the Labour Party, for now - is usually no more than a way of abandoning politics to the right wing. In fact, the SWP’s call for a General Strike to kick out the Tories must translate into either a call for revolution now, or a call for a General Strike to force the Tories to call a General Election! This, we repeat, is not serious politics. It is trifling and slogan-mongering to "build the revolutionary party". It will not build a revolutionary party, but a stupid and irresponsible sect.
("Where Do We Go From Here", Socialist Organiser 540, 29 October 1992)