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Les leçons de la grève générale de 1926 en Angleterre (en français) and the general strike of Great Britain in 1926 (in english)
lundi 3 janvier 2011, par
UN VASTE MOUVEMENT POPULAIRE
Au début, c’est la grève des mineurs.
Les piquets de grève se multiplient.
Puis la grève se généralise devenant une grève insurrectionnelle de masse mais, dirigée par les syndicats qui font semblant de la soutenir, elle est ensuite trahie et arrêtée. Elle a mené le pays à deux doigts de la révolution sociale.
Manifestation à Hyde Park
Action contre des bus "jaunes"
A partir de là, le texte est en anglais - Les événements en français sont à la fin.
The Anglo-Russian Committee and Comintern policy
1. The plenum states that for the whole direction of our work in the British labour movement, especially for the correct understanding and carrying out of the tactic of the united front, the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee at the present moment has a decisive significance. Without a clear principled attitude to this question, the Comintern and above all the British Communist Party will be condemned to ever newer mistakes and vacillations. In the struggle against the war danger, the resolution of the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee is the basic prerequisite for resolving all other questions, just as (by way of example) in the year 1914, no step forward could be made without first resolving the question whether Social-Democratic deputies could vote for the war budget.
2. In the British trade union movement, just as in the Labour Party, the leading role is played by reformists of different varieties, the majority of whom are liberal Labour politicians. In view of the profound leftward development of the working masses, it must be acknowledged that the most dangerous variety of the liberal Labour politicians are politicians of the type of Purcell, Hicks, Brailsford and Co. The tottering structure of British imperialism is being supported at present not so much on Thomas and MacDonald as on Purcell, Brailsford and the like, without whom politicians such as Thomas and MacDonald, despite the fact that they are supported by the bourgeoisie, would no longer be able to maintain their leading position in the workers’ movement. The irreconcilable and relentless struggle against the left lackeys of imperialism, both in the trade unions and in the Labour Party, is becoming especially urgent now, when the sharpening international and domestic situation will strike mercilessly at every indecision and hypocrisy.
3. The trade unions and the party have without doubt their special characteristics, their special methods of work, in particular their special methods of carrying out the united front. But it is precisely on the question of the political bloc with the reformist leaders that the distinction between the trade unions and the party is completely effaced. In all important and critical cases, the General Council proceeds hand in hand with the Executive Committee of the Labour Party and the parliamentary fraction. In calling off the great strike, the leading politicians and trade unionists went hand in hand. In such conditions, not a single honest worker will understand why Purcell is said to be politically a left lackey of the bourgeoisie, while on the other hand with respect to the trade unions we stand in ‘cordial relations,’ ‘mutual understanding’ and ‘unanimity’ with him.
4. In particular cases, the tactic of the united front can lead to temporary agreements with this or that left group of reformists against the right wing. But such agreements must not in any circumstance be transformed into a lasting political bloc. Whatever concessions of principle we make for the purpose of artificially preserving such a political bloc must be recognized to be contrary to the basic aim of the united front and to be extremely harmful for the revolutionary development of the proletariat. During the last year the Anglo-Russian Committee has become just such an extremely harmful, thoroughly conservative factor.
5. The creation of the Anglo-Russian Committee was at a certain juncture an absolutely correct step. Under the leftward development of the working masses, the liberal Labour politicians, just like the bourgeois liberals at the start of a revolutionary movement, made a step to the left in order to maintain their influence among the masses. To reach out to them at that time was absolutely correct. However, it had to be clearly kept in mind that, just like all liberals, the British reformists would inevitably make a leap backwards to the side of opportunism, as the mass movement openly assumed revolutionary forms. This is just what happened at the moment of the General Strike. From the time of this gigantic event, the temporary agreement with the leaders had to be broken. and the break with the compromising of the ‘left’ leaders used to advantage among the broad proletarian masses. The attempt to cling to the bloc with the General Council after the open betrayal of the General Strike, and even after the betrayal of the miners’ strike, was one of the greatest mistakes in the history of the workers’ movement. The Berlin capitulation is a black mark in the history of the Comintern and represents the inevitable consequence of this false line.
6. One must be blind or a hypocrite to see the ‘main defect’ of the Berlin decisions in the fact that they narrowed the competence of the Anglo-Russian Committee instead of broadening it. The ‘competence’ of the Anglo-Russian Committee during the last year consisted of this : that the AR-Union Central Council of Trade Unions [AUCCTU] was trying to support the General Strike, while the General Council was breaking it. The AUCCTU was helping the miners’ strike on a broad scale, while the General Council was betraying it. If one talks about the broadening of the activity of the Anglo-Russian Committee (cf. no. 29 of the Resolution of the Commission), one is hypocritically pretending that this activity served some real interest of the workers, while in reality the Anglo-Russian Committee merely shielded and covered over the base and treacherous work of the General Council. To broaden this ‘activity’ contradicts the basic interests of the working class. Ridiculous and disgraceful is the attempt to get free from the Berlin decisions simply by appealing to the fact that the General Council bears responsibility for them (cf. again no. 29 of the draft Resolution). That strike-breakers who descend lower and lower, seek to protect their strike-breaking work from outside intervention ; that strike-breakers take pains to cover over their strike-breaking with the capitulation of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions ; all that is quite in the order of things. But all that does not justify our capitulation one iota.
7. The plenum indignantly rejects the vulgar, philistine, thoroughly Menshevik argument that Chamberlain ‘also’ wants the break-up of the Anglo-Russian Committee. The very attempt to determine our revolutionary line according to the arbitrary guidance of the enigma of what at every given moment Chamberlain wants or doesn’t want is nonsensical. His task consists in getting the left lackeys, as far as possible, into his hands. For this purpose he squeezes them, unmasks them, blackmails them, and demands they break with the Bolsheviks. Under the influence of this pressure and this blackmail, the General Council blackmails the All-Union Council of Trade Unions and, for its part, threatens it with a split. Under the pressure of the General Council, the AUCCTU agrees to capitulate. In, this devious way Chamberlain’s task has been completed, for his blackmail has led to the capitulation of the AUCCTU.
8. If we were to break with the General Council in order to discontinue all intervention in the affairs of the British working class ; if, after the break, we were to confine ourselves to our internal affairs, while the British Communist Party was not developing with redoubled energy its campaign against the General Council ; then Chamberlain would have every cause to be satisfied with this state of affairs. But the break-up of the Anglo-Russian Committee ought to mean the very opposite. Since we flatly reject the Berlin principle of non-interference as the principle of chauvinism and not of internationalism, we must support with redoubled energy the British Communist Party and the Minority Movement in their redoubled struggle against the left lackeys of Chamberlain. In the presence of such a policy, Chamberlain will very soon be convinced that the revolutionary wing of the movement grew stronger after it shed the reactionary connection with the General Council.
9. The plenum therefore considers it absolutely necessary to break up in the shortest space of time the political bloc, which carries a disastrous ambiguity into our whole policy towards British reformism. The plenum is of the opinion that the British Communist Party must at once openly pose the question of the mutual relationship between the AUCCTU and the General Council. The British Communist Party, as well as the left-wing trade union Minority Movement, must demand the immediate summoning of the Anglo-Russian Committee in order to develop, in the name of the AUCCTU, a clear revolutionary programme of struggle against war and the offensive of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. The programme must be so formulated that it provides no scope to the charlatan trickery of Baldwin’s pacifist party. Refusal of the General Council to summon the Anglo-Russian Committee, or refusal of its delegation to accept the programme of struggle, is to lead to immediate breaking up of the bloc from our side and to a broad campaign against the reformists, especially the left variety who, better and on a wider scale than all the rest at the present moment, are helping the British Conservatives drag the British working class into war, without themselves being aware of it.
10. While giving all-round support to the movement of the truly revolutionary minority and particularly while giving support to acceptable candidacies of representatives of this minority for this or that position in the trade union movement (always on the basis of a specific practical programme), the British Communist Party must not in any circumstances or under any conditions identify itself with the Minority Movement or merge the organizations. The British Communist Party must maintain full freedom of criticism with respect to the Minority Movement as a whole as well as with respect to its individual leaders, their mistakes and vacillations.
11. The sharpening class struggle in Britain and the approaching danger of war are creating conditions under which the policy of the particular ‘labour’ parties, organizations, groups and ‘leaders’ will quickly be put to the test by the course of events.
The inconsistency of word and deed should manifest itself in the shortest space of time. In. such a period the Communist Party can rapidly enhance its revolutionary authority, its numbers, and especially its influence, provided that it conducts a clear, firm, bold, revolutionary policy, calls everything by its right name, makes no concessions of principle, keeps a sharp eye on its temporary alliance partners and fellow travellers and their vacillations, and mercilessly exposes trickery and above all direct treachery.
Amendments to the ECCI resolution on the situation in Britain, first published in Documents de 1’Opposition de Gauche de l’Internationale Communiste, October 1927
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  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.  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  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.
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.
5- Les conclusions de Trotsky
Trotsky on the struggle in Britain in retrospect
In the hunt after an artificial acceleration of the periods, not only were Radic, LaFollette, the peasant millions of Dombal, and even Pepper clutched at, but a basically false perspective was also built up for Britain. The weaknesses of the British Communist Party gave birth at that time to the necessity of replacing it as quickly as possible with a more imposing factor. Precisely then was born the false estimate of the tendencies in British trade unionism. Zinoviev gave us to understand that he counted upon the revolution finding an entrance, not through the narrow gateway of the British Communist Party, but through the broad portals of the trade unions. The struggle to win the masses organized in the trade unions through the communist party was replaced by the hope for the swiftest possible utilization of the ready-made apparatus of the trade unions for the purposes of the revolution. Out of this false position sprang the later policy of the Anglo-Russian Committee which dealt a blow to the Soviet Union, as well as to the British working class ; a blow surpassed only by the defeat in China.
In the Lessons of October, written as early as the summer of 1924, the idea of an accelerated road - accelerated through friendship with Purcell and Cook, as the further development of this idea showed - is refuted as follows :
Without the party, independently of the party, skipping over the party, through a substitute for the party, the proletarian revolution can never triumph. That is the principal lesson of the last decade. To be sure, the British trade unions can become a powerful lever of the proletarian revolution. They can, for example, under certain conditions and for a certain period, even replace the workers’ Soviets. But they cannot play such a role without the Communist Party and certainly not against it, but only provided that communist influence in the trade unions becomes decisive. We have paid too dearly for this conclusion as to the role and significance of the party for the proletarian revolution to renounce it so lightly or even to have it weakened. (Trotsky, Works, Vol.III, part 1, p. 9.)
The same problem is posed on a wider scale in my book Where is Britain Going ? This book, from beginning to end, is devoted to proving the idea that the British revolution, too, cannot avoid the portals of communism and that with a correct, courageous and intransigent policy which steers clear of any illusions with regard to detours, the British Communist Party can grow by leaps and bounds and mature so as to be equal in the course of a few years to the tasks before it.
The Left illusions of 1924 rose thanks to the Right leaven. In order to conceal the significance of the mistakes and defeats of 1923 from others as well as from oneself, the process of the swing to the Right that was taking place in the proletariat had to be denied and revolutionary processes within the other classes optimistically exaggerated. That was the beginning of the down-sliding from the proletarian line to the centrist, that is, to the petty bourgeois line which, in the course of the increasing stabilization, was to liberate itself from its ultra-Left shell and reveal itself as a crude collaborationist line in the USSR, in China, in Britain, in Germany and everywhere else. . . .
As to the Anglo-Russian Committee, the third most important question from the strategical experiences of the Comintern in recent years, there only remains for us, after all that has already been said by the Opposition in a series of articles, speeches, and theses, to make a brief summary.
The point of departure of the Anglo-Russian Committee, as we have already seen, was the impatient urge to leap over the young and too slowly developing communist party. This invested the entire experience with a false character even prior to the General Strike.
The Anglo-Russian Committee was looked upon not as an episodic bloc of the tops which would have to be broken and which would inevitably and demonstratively be broken at the very first serious test in order to compromise the General Council. No, not only Stalin, Bukharin, Tomsky and others, but also Zinoviev saw in it a long lasting ’co-partnership’ - an instrument for the systematic revolutionization of the British working masses, and if not the gate, at least an approach to the gate through which would stride the revolution of the British proletariat. The further it went, the more the Anglo-Russian Committee became transformed from an episodic alliance into an inviolable principle standing above the real class struggle. This became revealed at the time of the General Strike.
The transition of the mass movement into the open revolutionary stage threw back into the camp of the bourgeois reaction those liberal labour politicians who had become somewhat Left. They betrayed the General Strike openly and deliberately ; after which they undermined and betrayed the miners’ strike. The possibility of betrayal is always contained in reformism. But this does not mean to say that reformism and betrayal are one and the same thing at every moment. Not quite. Temporary agreements may be made with the reformists whenever they take a step forward. But to maintain a bloc with them when, frightened by the development of a movement, they commit treason, is equivalent to criminal toleration of traitors and a veiling of betrayal.
The General Strike had the task of exerting a united pressure upon the employers and the state with the power of the five million workers, for the question of the coal mining industry had become the most important question of state policy. Thanks to the betrayal of the leadership, the strike was broken in its first stage. It was a great illusion to continue in the belief that an isolated economic strike of the miners would alone achieve what the General Strike did not achieve. That is precisely where the Power of the General Council lay. It aimed with cold calculation at the defeat of the mineworkers, as a result of which considerable sections of the workers would be convinced of the ’correctness’ and the ’reasonableness’ of the Judas directives of the General Council.
The maintenance of the amicable bloc with the General Council, and the simultaneous support of the protracted and isolated economic strike of the mineworkers, which the General Council came out against, seemed, as it were, to be calculated beforehand to allow the heads of the trade unions to emerge from this heaviest test with the least possible losses.
The role of the Russian trade unions here, from the revolutionary standpoint, turned out to be very disadvantageous and positively pitiable. Certainly, support of an economic strike, even an isolated one, was absolutely necessary. There can be no two opinions on that among revolutionists. But this support should have borne not only a financial but also a revolutionary-political character. The All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions should have declared openly to the British mineworkers’ union and the whole British working class that the mineworkers’ strike could seriously count upon success only if by its stubbornness, its tenacity, and its scope, it could prepare the way for a new outbreak of the General Strike. That could have been achieved only by an open and direct struggle against the General Council, the agency of the government and the : mine owners. The struggle to convert the economic strike into a political strike should have signified, therefore, a furious political and organizational war against the General Council. The first step to such a war had to be the break with the Anglo-Russian Committee, which had become a reactionary obstacle, a chain on the feet of the working class.
No revolutionist who weighs his words will contend that a victory would have been guaranteed by proceeding along this Line. But a victory was possible only on this road. A defeat on this road was a defeat on a road that could lead later to victory. Such a defeat educates, that is, strengthens the revolutionary ideas in the working class. In the meantime, mere financial support of the lingering and hopeless trade union strike (trade union strike - in its methods ; revolutionary-political -in its aims), only meant grist to the mill of the General Council, which was biding calmly until the strike collapsed from starvation and thereby proved its own ’correctness’. Of course, the General Council could not easily bide its time for several months in the role of an open strike-breaker. It was precisely during this very critical period that the General Council required the Anglo-Russian Committee as its political screen from the masses. Thus, the questions of the mortal class struggle between British capital and the proletariat, between the General Council and the mineworkers, were transformed, as it were, into questions of a friendly discussion between allies in the same bloc, the British General Council and the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, on the subject of which of the two roads was better at that moment : the road of an agreement, or the road of an isolated economic struggle. The inevitable outcome of the strike led to the agreement, that is, tragically settled the friendly ’discussion’ in favour of the General Council.
From beginning to end, the entire policy of the Anglo-Russian Committee, because of its false line, provided only aid to the General Council. Even the fact that the strike was long sustained financially by the great self-sacrifice on the part of the Russian working class, did not serve the mineworkers or the British Communist Party, but the self-same General Council. As the upshot of the greatest revolutionary movement in Britain since the days of Chartism, the British Communist Party has hardly grown while the General Council sits in the saddle even more firmly than before the general strike.
Such are the results of this unique ’strategical manoeuvre’.
The obstinacy evinced in retaining the bloc with the General Council, which led to downright servility at the disgraceful Berlin session in April 1927, was explained away by the ever recurring reference to the very same ’stabilization’. If there is a setback in the development of the revolution, then, you see, one is forced to cling to Purcell. This argument, which appeared very profound to a Soviet functionary or to a trade unionist of the type of Melnichansky, is in reality a perfect example of blind empiricism - adulterated by scholasticism at that. What was the significance of ’stabilization’ in relation to British economy and politics, especially in the years 1926-1927 ? Did it signify the development of the productive forces ? The improvement of the economic situation ? Better hopes for the future ? Not at all. The whole so-called stabilization of British capitalism is maintained only upon the conservative forces of the old labour organizations with all their currents and shadings in the face of the weakness arid irresoluteness of the British Communist Party. On the field of the economic and social relations of Britain, the revolution has already fully matured. The question stands purely politically. The basic props, of the stabilization are the heads of the Labour Party and the trade unions which, in Britain, constitute a single unit but which operate through a division of labour.
Given such a condition of the working masses as was revealed by the General Strike, the highest post in the mechanism of capitalist stabilization is no longer occupied by MacDonald and Thomas, but by Pugh, Purcell, Cook and Co. They do the work and Thomas adds the finishing touches. Without Purcell, Thomas would be left hanging in mid-air and along with Thomas also Baldwin. The chief brake upon the British revolution is the false, diplomatic masquerade ’Leftism’ of Purcell which fraternizes sometimes in rotation, sometimes simultaneously with churchmen and Bolsheviks and which is always ready not only for retreats but also for betrayal. Stabilization is Purcellism. From this we see what depths of theoretical absurdity and blind opportunism are expressed in the reference to the existence of ’stabilization’ in order to justify the political bloc with Purcell. Yet, precisely in order to shatter the ’stabilization’, Purcellism had first to be destroyed. In such a situation, even a shadow of solidarity with the General Council was the greatest crime and infamy against the working masses.
Even the most correct strategy cannot, by itself, always lead to victory. The correctness of a strategical plan is verified by whether it follows the line of the actual development of class forces and whether it estimates the elements of this development realistically. The gravest and most disgraceful defeat which has the most fatal consequences for the movement is the typically Menshevist defeat, due to a false estimate of the classes, an underestimation of the revolutionary factors, and an idealization of the enemy forces. Such were our defeats in China and Britain.
What was expected from the Anglo-Russian Committee for the USSR ?
In July 1926, Stalin lectured to us at the joint plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission as follows : ’The task of this bloc [the Anglo-Russian Committee] consists in organizing a broad movement of the working class against new imperialist wars and generally against an intervention in our country (especially) on the part of the mightiest of the imperialist powers of Europe, on the part of Britain in particular.’
While he was instructing us Oppositionists, to the effect that ’care must be taken to defend the first workers’ republic of the world against intervention’ (we, naturally, are unaware of this), Stalin added :
’If the reactionary trade unions of Britain are ready to conclude a bloc with the revolutionary trade unions of our country against the counter-revolutionary imperialists of their own country, then why should we not hail such a bloc ?’
If the ’reactionary trade unions’ were capable of conducting a struggle against their own imperialists they would not be reactionary. Stalin is incapable of distinguishing any longer between the conceptions reactionary and revolutionary. He characterizes the British trade unions as reactionary as a matter of routine but in reality he entertains miserable illusions with regard to their ’revolutionary spirit’.
After Stalin, the Moscow Committee of our party lectured to the workers of Moscow :
’The Anglo-Russian Committee can, must, and will undoubtedly play an enormous role in the struggle against all possible interventions directed against the USSR. It will become the organizing centre of the international forces of the proletariat for the struggle against every attempt of the international bourgeoisie to provoke a new war.’ (Theses of the Moscow Committee.)
What did the Opposition reply ? We said :
’The more acute the international situation becomes, the more the Anglo-Russian Committee will be transformed into a weapon of British and international imperialism.’
This criticism of the Stalinist hopes in Purcell as the guardian angel of the workers’ state was characterized by Stalin at the very same plenum as a deviation ’from Leninism to Trotskyism’. Voroshilov : ’Correct’ A Voice : Voroshilov has affixed his seal to it.’ Trotsky : ’Fortunately all this will be in the Minutes.’
Yes, all this is to be found in the Minutes of the July plenum at which the blind, rude and disloyal opportunists dared to accuse the Opposition of ’defeatism’.
This dialogue which I am compelled to quote briefly from my earlier article, What We Gave and What We Got, is far more useful as a strategical lesson than the entire sophomoric chapter on strategy in the draft programme. The question - what we gave (and expected) and what we got ? - is in general the principal criterion in strategy. It must be applied at the Sixth Congress to all questions that have been on the agenda in recent years. It will then be revealed conclusively that the strategy of the ECCI, especially since the year 1926, was a strategy of imaginary sums, false calculations, illusions with regard to the enemy, and persecutions of the most reliable and unwavering militants. In a word, it was the rotten strategy of Right-Centrism.
From ’Strategy and tactics in the imperialist epoch’ (dated 28th June, 1928), first published in Die Internationale Revolution und die Kommunistische Internationale, 1929 2. ... In the capitalist states, the most monstrous forms of bureaucratism. are to be observed precisely in the trade unions. It is enough to look at America, Britain and Germany. Amsterdam is a powerful international organization of the trade union bureaucracy. It is thanks to it that the whole structure of capitalism now stands upright, above all in Europe and especially in Britain. If there were not a bureaucracy of the trade unions, then the police, the army, the courts, the lords, the monarchy would appear before the proletarian masses as nothing but pitiful ridiculous playthings. The bureaucracy of the trade unions is the backbone of British imperialism. It is by means of this bureaucracy that the bourgeoisie exists, not only in the metropolis, but in India, in Egypt and in the other colonies. One would have to be completely blind to say to the British workers : ’Be on guard against the conquest of power and always remember that your trade unions are the antidote to the dangers of the state’. The Marxist will say to the British workers : ’The trade union bureaucracy is the chief instrument for your oppression by the bourgeois state. Power must be wrested from the hands of the bourgeoisie and for that its principal agent, the trade union bureaucracy, must be overthrown’. Parenthetically, it is especially for this reason that the bloc of Stalin with the strike-breaker Purcell was so criminal.
From the example of Britain, one sees very clearly how absurd it is to counter-pose in principle trade union organization to state organization. In Britain, more than anywhere else, the state rests upon the back of the working class which constitutes the overwhelming majority of the population of the country. The mechanism is such that the bureaucracy is based directly on the workers, and the state indirectly, through the intermediarv of the trade union bureaucracy.
Up to now, we have not mentioned the Labour Party which, in Britain, the classic country of trade unions, is only a political transposition of the same trade union bureaucracy. The same leaders guide the trade unions’ betray the General Strike, lead the electoral campaign and later on sit in the ministries. The Labour Party and the trade unions - these are not two principles, they are only a technical division of labour. Together they axe the fundamental support of the domination of the British bourgeoisie. The latter cannot be overthrown without overthrowing the Labourite bureaucracy. And that cannot be attained by opposing the trade union as such to the state as such, but by the active opposition of the Communist Party to the Labourite bureaucracy in all fields of social life. In the trade unions, in strikes, in the electoral campaign, in parliament and in power. The principal task of a real party of the proletariat consists of putting itself at the head of the working masses, organized in trade unions and unorganized, to wrest power from the bourgeoisie and to strike a death-blow to the ’dangers of state-ism’.
From ’The Errors in Principle of Syndicalism’ Byulleten Oppozitsii, November-December 1929. 3. Stalin, Bukharin and, in the first period, Zinoviev as well, considered as the crowning achievement of their policy, the policy of a diplomatic bloc between the top circles of the Soviet trade unions and the General Council of the British trade unions. In his provincial narrowness Stalin had imagined that Purcell and the other trade union leaders were ready or capable of giving support to the Soviet republic against the British bourgeoisie in a difficult moment. As for. the trade union leaders they, not without grounds, considered that in view of the crisis of British capitalism and the growing discontent of the masses it would be advantageous for them to have a cover from the left in the shape of an official friendship with the leaders of the Soviet trade unions that committed them to nothing. Both parties beat carefully about the bush most of all fearing above all to call things by their real names. A rotten policy has more than once before foundered on great events. The General Strike of May 1926 was a great event not only in the life of Britain but also in the internal life of our party.
Britain’s fate after the war presented exceptional interest. The abrupt change in her world position could not but produce an equally abrupt change in the internal balance of forces. It was absolutely clear that even if Europe, including Britain, was again to reach a certain social equilibrium for a more or less prolonged period Britain could not arrive at such an equilibrium other than through a series of the gravest conflicts and upheavals. I considered it probable that the conflict in the coal industry in Britain especially could lead to a general strike. From this I deduced that in the near future the deep contradiction between the old organisations of the working class and its new historical tasks would be inevitably revealed. In the winter and spring of 1925 in the Caucasus I wrote a book on this topic (Where is Britain Going ?). The book was in essence directed against the Politburo’s official conception with its hopes for a leftward swing in the General Council and for a gradual and painless penetration of communism into the ranks of the Labour Party and the trade unions. Partly in order to avoid unnecessary complications and partly in order to test out my opponents I passed the manuscript of the book for scrutiny by the Politburo. As it was a question of a prognosis and not a criticism in retrospect none of the Politburo members decided to make observations. The book passed the censorship favourably and it was printed just as it was written without the slightest alternation. It quickly appeared in English too. The official leaders of British socialism treated it as the fantasy of a foreigner who did not know British conditions and dreamt of transplanting a ’Russian’ general strike onto the soil of the British Isles. Such reactions could be counted in dozens if not in hundreds beginning with MacDonald himself to whom in the political banalities competition first place must unquestionably belong. Meanwhile hardly had several months passed when the miners’ strike turned into a general strike. I had not at all reckoned on such a speedy confirmation of the prognosis. If the General Strike demonstrated the correctness of a Marxist prognosis as opposed to the homespun estimations made by British reformism then the behaviour of the General Council during the General Strike signified the dashing of Stalin’s hopes in Purcell. In the clinic I gathered and brought together with great eagerness all the material characterizing the course of the General Strike and the inter-relations of the masses and the leaders in particular. I was above all exasperated by the nature of the articles in the Moscow Pravda. Its main task lay in covering up bankruptcy and saving face. This could not be achieved in any other way than by a cynical distortion of the facts. There can be no greater ideological decline for. a revolutionary politician than deceiving the masses !
Upon my arrival in Moscow I demanded the immediate break of the bloc with the General Council. Zinoviev after the inevitable wavering supported me. Radek was against. Stalin clung to the bloc and even to the semblance of one for all his worth. The British trade union leaders waited until the end of their sharp internal crisis and then shoved their generous if dull-witted ally out with an impolite movement of the foot.
From Chapter 42 of My Life (1930) 4. 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.
The experience of the Anglo-Russian Committee was unfortunately the least understood and grasped even in the Left Opposition groups. The demands for a break with the strike-breakers appeared even to some within our ranks as ... sectarianism. Especially with Monatte, the original sin which led him into the arms of Dumoulin was most clearly manifested in the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee. Yet, this question has a gigantic importance : without a clear understanding of what happened in Britain in 1925-1926, neither Communism as a whole nor the Left Opposition in particular will be able to find its way on the road.
Stalin, Bukharin, Zinoviev - in this question they were all in solidarity, at least in the first period - sought to replace the weak British Communist Party by a ’broader current’ which had at its head, to be sure, not members of the party, but ’friends’, almost Communists, at any rate, fine fellows and good acquaintances. The fine fellows, the solid ’leaders’, did not, of course, want to submit themselves to the leadership of a small, weak Communist Party. That was their full right ; the party cannot force anybody to submit himself to it. The agreements between the Communists and the ’Lefts’ (Purcell, Hicks and Cook) on the basis of the partial tasks of the trade union movement were, of course, quite possible and in certain cases unavoidable. But on one condition : the Communist Party had to preserve its complete independence, even within the trade unions, act in its own name in all the questions of principle, criticize its ’Left’ allies whenever necessary, and in this way, win the confidence of the masses step by step.
This only possible road, however, appeared too long and uncertain to the bureaucrats of the Communist International. They considered that by means of personal influence upon Purcell, Hicks, Cook and the others (conversations behind the scenes, correspondence, banquets, friendly back-slapping, gentle exhortations), they would gradually and imperceptibly draw the ’Left’ opposition (’the broad current’) into the stream of the Communist International. To guarantee such a success with greater security, the dear friends (Purcell, Hicks and Cook) were not to be vexed, or exasperated, or displeased by petty chicanery, by inopportune criticism, by sectarian intransigence, and so forth.... But since one of the tasks of the Communist Party consists precisely of upsetting the peace of and alarming all centrists and semi-centrists a radical measure had to be resorted to by actually subordinating the Communist Party to the ’Minority Movement’. On the trade union field there appeared only the leaders of this movement. The British Communist Party had practically ceased to exist for the masses.
What did the Russian Left Opposition demand in this question ? In the first place, to re-establish the complete independence of the British Communist Party towards the trade unions. We affirmed that it is only under the influence of the independent slogans of the party and of its open criticism that the Minority Movement could take form, appreciate its tasks more precisely, change its leaders, fortify itself in the trade unions while consolidating the position of communism.
What did Stalin, Bukharin, Lozovsky and company reply to our criticism ? ’You want to push the British Communist Party on to the road of sectarianism. You want to drive Purcell, Hicks and Cook into the enemy’s camp. You want to break with the Minority Movement.’
What did the Left Opposition rejoin ? ’If Purcell and Hicks break with us, not because we demand of them that they transform them selves immediately into Communists - nobody demands that ! - but because we ourselves want to remain Communists, this means that Purcell and company are not friends but masked enemies. The quicker they show their nature, the better for the masses. We do not at all want to break with the Minority Movement. On the contrary, we must give the greatest attention to this movement. The smallest step forward with the masses or with a part of the masses is worth more than a dozen abstract programmes of circles of intellectuals, but the attention devoted to the masses has nothing in common with capitulation before their temporary leaders and semi-leaders. The masses need a correct orientation and correct slogans. This excludes all theoretical conciliation and the patronage of confusionists who exploit the backwardness of the masses.’
What were the results of the Stalinists’ British experiment ? The Minority Movement, embracing almost a million workers, seemed very promising, but it bore the germs of destruction within itself. The masses knew as the leaders of the movement only Purcell, Hicks and Cook, whom, moreover, Moscow vouched for. These ’left’ friends, in a serious test, shamefully betrayed the proletariat. The revolutionary workers were thrown into confusion, sank into apathy and naturally extended their disappointment to the Communist Party itself which had only been the passive part of this whole mechanism of betrayal and perfidy. The Minority Movement was reduced to zero ; the Communist Party returned to the existence of a negligible sect. In this way, thanks to a radically false conception of the party, the greatest movement of the English proletariat, which led to the General Strike, not only did not shake the apparatus of the reactionary bureaucracy, but, on the contrary, reinforced it and compromised Communism in Great Britain for a long time.
From ’The mistakes of the Right elements of the French Communist League on the trade union question’ (dated 4th January, 1931), Byulleten Oppozitsii, March 1931
1 The Left Opposition originated in Moscow in 1923 around the questions of workers’ democracy in the Russian Communist Party and of the decisive role of state-planned industrialization in the social life of the Soviet republic. After a long, muted struggle in the Political Bureau during which Trotsky vigorously advocated the establishment of workers’ democracy and struggle against bureaucratism, he summarised his standpoint, as against that of the ruling triumvirate (Stalin, Zinoviev, Bukharin) in a letter to the Central Committee and Central Control Commission on 8th October, 1923. Following a vigorous denunciation of his views by the Politburo, which marked the opening of the public fight against ’Trotskyism’, a collective letter of solidarity with Trotsky and his views was signed by 46 prominent old Bolsheviks and received by the Central Committee on 15th October, 1923. This group was joined in 1926 by the so-called Leningrad Opposition, led by Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sokolnikov, Krupskaya and others, which had arisen in 1925 as a result of the alarm of the Leningrad workers over the Stalin-Bukharin orientation towards the kulak and their theory of ’socialism in one country’. The fused Opposition Bloc of Bolshevik-Leninists, which summarized its views in the famous Platform of the Joint Opposition (see note 96 above) presented to the Fifteenth Party Congress in 1927, was outlawed by that Congress. Most of the Leningrad leaders, headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev, capitulated to Stalin and were eventually readmitted into the party ; thousands of recalcitrants were expelled, imprisoned and exiled. Staliri’s exiling of Trotsky was essential to the drive to crush the Opposition. It was in the fight to keep it alive and develop it in the other sections of the Communist International that Trotsky wrote the material on Britain contained in Volume Three. For more details about the origin of the Opposition see Ten Years by Max Shachtman (New Park Publications, 1974).
2 Pierre Monatte (1881-1960), anarcho-syndicalist. Founded Voix Ouvrire in 1909 and joined Trotsky in opposition to capitalist war after 1914. joined the French Communist Party in 1923 but left the following year as a result of the ’Bolshevization campaign’. Set up an organization known as Proletarian Revolution, then the Syndicalist League ; maintained until the end of his life the principle of trade union independence.
3 Georges Dumoulin (1877-1963), miner and trade unionist. Supported the right wing by the end of the First World War and became an official of various right wing trade union organizations between the wars. Collaborated with the Vichy regime during the Second World War.
suite à venir...
Le conflit prend naissance dans le secteur des charbonnages. La rentabilité de ce secteur historique du développement industriel britannique était en effet de moins en moins assurée depuis la fin de la Première guerre mondiale, notamment du fait du sous-investissement des compagnies. La faible compétitivité du charbon britannique était en effet ancienne ancienne, avec une productivité déclinante (de 310 tonnes par an et par mineur dans les années 1880, elle était d’abord tombée à 247 tonnes au début du siècle pour atteindre 199 tonnes au début des années 1920), des structures archaïques et des salaires relativement élevés négociés par les mineurs lors de leur mobilisation pour soutenir l’effort de guerre britannique de 1914-1918. La situation se dégrada peu à peu jusqu’en 1925, où la menace qui pesait sur les mineurs se fit nettement plus précise.
En effet, deux facteurs soulignèrent cette année-là la fragilité de l’industrie charbonnière britannique en renchérissant le prix du charbon britannique relativement au prix mondial : d’abord, le plan Dawes, avec comme objectif de régler le problème de l’hyperinflation allemande lié au paiement des réparations de guerre, instaura un paiement « en nature », notamment en charbon, ce qui entraîna une chute des cours sur le marché mondial ; ensuite, le retour à l’étalon-or engagé par Winston Churchill en 1925, en maintenant une livre forte, acheva de rendre très difficiles les exportations de charbon britannique tout en pénalisant les entreprises du pays du fait des taux d’intérêt élevés qu’il impliquait.
Volonté patronale de baisser les salaires et concession gouvernementale : le Red Friday
Dès lors, les sociétés minières, confrontées à une baisse conjointe de la production et des profits, envisagèrent de restaurer leur compétitivité, grèvée notamment par la réévaluation de la livre sterling, en imposant à leurs ouvriers à la fois une baisse de salaire (de -13 à -48 % selon les compagnies) et une augmentation de leur temps de travail (qui devait passer de sept à huit heures journalières).
Lorsque les exploitants de mine firent part de leur intention de réduire les salaires, le Syndicat des mineurs (Miners Federation), sous la houlette du « militant enflammé haï du patronat et adoré des ouvriers » Arthur J. Cook, annonça sa volonté de s’y opposer par tous les moyens, y compris la grève générale : le Trades Union Congress (TUC) avait en effet promis aux mineurs de les soutenir dans leur lutte en engageant les autres professions dans la grève, ce qu’ils avaient refusé de faire quatre ans plus tôt, le 15 mai 1921 (Black Friday).
Confronté à cette menace de grève générale et aux conclusions d’une commission d’enquête gouvernementale qui donnait raison aux mineurs, le gouvernement, dirigé par le conservateur Stanley Baldwin, choisit de temporiser, d’une part en accordant une subvention de neuf mois pour maintenir les salaires, d’autre part en lançant une enquête parlementaire, dirigée par Herbert Samuel, pour examiner les solutions possibles à la crise à partir de septembre 1925.
Cette décision gouvernementale du jeudi 31 juillet 1925 fut qualifiée de Red Friday (« Jeudi rouge »), dans la mesure où elle fut alors perçue comme une victoire importante de la solidarité ouvrière et du socialisme face au gouvernement et au capitalisme. Mais loin de profiter uniquement aux ouvriers, cette subvention provisoire permit surtout au gouvernement et au patronat de se préparer au conflit à venir, au cas où le compromis avancé par la commission Samuel serait refusé par les mineurs. Dans ce but, le gouvernement incarcéra par exemple les dirigeants du Parti communiste, sous prétexte qu’ils conspireraient contre la nation. Herbert Smith, un des leaders de la Miners Federation of Great Britain, percevait d’ailleurs bien que le Red Friday n’était qu’une victoire provisoire, puisqu’il déclara à cette occasion : « Ne crions pas victoire, ce n’est qu’un armistice » (« We have no need to glorify about victory. It is only an armistice »).
Le rapport Samuel[modifier]
Le rapport publié par la commission Samuel le 31 mars 1926, s’il rejetait l’idée de la nationalisation des houillères (solution préconisée par la commission Sankey en 1919 mais qui avait été rejetée par le premier ministre de l’époque, David Lloyd George), avait par plusieurs aspects de quoi satisfaire les syndicats. Il proposait ainsi de nationaliser non les houillères elles-mêmes, mais les royalties perçus par les propriétaires du sous-sol. Il soulignait surtout la carence des houillères en matière d’investissement et la vétusté des installations, défauts à l’origine de la chute de productivité des mineurs britanniques, des maladies professionnelles qui les frappaient comme des nombreux accidents du travail dont ils étaient victimes (à cette époque, quatre hommes mouraient au fond de la mine toutes les 24 heures). Le rapport proposait d’améliorer conjointement la productivité et les conditions de travail des mineurs : mécanisation de la production, multiplication des bâtiments de surface (douches, vestiaires...), concentration industrielle par regroupement des puits (on compte alors 1500 compagnies différentes pour 3000 puits au Royaume-Uni). Il rejetait en outre le principe d’une augmentation du temps de travail des mineurs. Cependant, si le rapport Samuel préconisait la mise en place de procédures de concertation entre employeurs et salariés ainsi qu’une négociation globale des salaires à l’échelle nationale, il recommandait également une réduction des salaires d’environ 10 % en vue de maintenir les profits des entreprises.
Suite à la publication du rapport de la commission Samuel, les négociations s’ouvrirent en avril et les exploitants annoncèrent leur volonté d’imposer un allongement de la durée de travail quotidienne et des réductions de salaires allant de 10 à 25 % selon les régions. La Miners Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) refusa les baisses de salaires et les négociations au niveau régional, usant du slogan « Pas un centime de moins sur la paie et pas une seconde de plus par jour » (« Not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day »). Tout aussi déterminés, les compagnies minières organisèrent un lock-out le 30 avril (pratique par laquelle les employeurs empêchaient les mineurs de travailler pour épuiser leurs économies et leur imposer des conditions de travail plus dures) pour faire plier les syndicats, lesquels répondirent par un appel à la grève générale.
Une large mobilisation ouvrière
Le 1er mai 1926, le TUC, par la voix d’Ernest Bevin, annonça pour le 3 mai à minuit un débrayage général en soutien aux mineurs. Entre le 1er et le 3 mai, d’ultimes tentatives de négociations entre gouvernement, syndicats et patronat ne débouchèrent sur aucun accord, du fait de la tension sociale et de l’intransigeance des deux parties en conflit. Les antagonismes de classes étaient alors très puissants : les ouvriers étaient tout aussi déterminés au combat que les cercles patronaux et conservateurs qui tenaient à « donner une leçon aux trade-unions, voire à les briser ». La tension n’était pas limitée au secteur des mines : par exemple, à la dernière minute avant l’impression de l’édition du 3 mai du Daily Mail, les ouvriers imprimeurs refusèrent de publier un éditorial hostile la grève générale intitulé For King and Country (« Pour le roi et pour le pays »), dans la mesure où on pouvait y lire qu’« une grève générale n’est pas un conflit confiné à un secteur de l’industrie mais représente une menace pour le gouvernement et l’État de droit ».
Le mouvement rencontra immédiatement un grand succès : le 4 mai 1926, le nombre de grévistes était compris entre 1,5 et 1,75 millions. Le chiffre de trois millions de grévistes fut rapidement atteint et le pays paralysé : transports, gaz, électricité, industrie métallurgique et chimique, mines, docks, bâtiment et presse n’étaient plus en mesure de produire. Comme le souligne François-Charles Mougel, « la solidarité ouvrière et syndicale fut alors sans faille ».
L’ampleur de la mobilisation surprit autant le gouvernement que le TUC. Ce dernier souhaitait mettre en place une stratégie d’entrée en grève progressive des différents secteurs, en maintenant en réserve les électriciens et surtout les ouvriers des industries navales et métallurgiques de la région de Glasgow (la « Clyde rouge »). Il se révéla en fait largement débordé par l’enthousiasme de la base ouvrière du pays, qui engagea le conflit plus rapidement que prévu. Le TUC, et notamment les plus modérés de ses dirigeants (le secrétaire général du TUC James Henry Thomas, le secrétaire général du Syndicat des transporteurs Ernest Bevin), était en fait nettement plus circonspect que la plupart des grévistes. Soucieux de ne pas prêter le flan aux critiques des opposants à la grève générale qui décelaient dans cette action une volonté révolutionnaire inspirée de l’exemple soviétique, ils tentèrent par exemple de limiter la mobilisation des grévistes aux industries clés telles que les chemins de fer, l’imprimerie, les docks et la métallurgie, ou refusèrent un don substantiel des syndicats soviétiques.
Bataille de l’opinion et antagonismes sociaux
De fait, le gouvernement consacra beaucoup d’énergie à décrédibiliser le mouvement, se lançant dans « une véritable guerre des ondes et des médias ». Le chancelier de l’Échiquier de l’époque, Winston Churchill, fut de ce point de vue à la pointe du combat (davantage que Stanley Baldwin, plus conciliant) : il prit à cette occasion la direction d’un journal gouvernemental, The British Gazette, improvisé d’une part pour suppléer la disparition de la plupart des titres de presse faute d’ouvriers pour les imprimer, d’autre part pour faire pièce au British Worker qui soutenait le mouvement. Churchill tenta ainsi de jeter l’opprobre sur les grévistes en avançant dans The British Gazette que « nourrir la nation [était] une tâche beaucoup plus ardue que de la détruire » et en posant comme alternative : « soit le pays va briser la grève générale, soit la grève générale va briser le pays ». Le TUC rejeta l’accusation dans son organe The British Worker en déclarant : « Nous redoutons que le citoyen ordinaire soit pénalisé par l’attitude anti-patriotique des exploitants miniers et du gouvernement ». La BBC elle-même fut mise à contribution pour relayer le discours gouvernemental, bien que sur un ton moins agressif que Churchill et The British Gazette.
Ces tentatives opposées d’orienter l’opinion publique entraînèrent rapidement une scission en son sein, essentiellement en fonction de l’extraction sociale des individus concernés. D’un côté, les ouvriers furent ulcérés des accusations grandiloquentes du gouvernement et notamment de Churchill (dont l’image en fut écornée pour longtemps au sein des catégories populaires) : de ce point de vue, la propagande qui se déployait dans la British Gazette fit beaucoup, par ses outrances, pour souder les grévistes, compliquant les manoeuvres de Baldwin pour détacher du mouvement ceux des dirigeants du TUC qui, plus modérés, souhaitaient mettre fin à un conflit qui leur échappait et les effrayait. D’un autre côté, la bataille de l’opinion fut clairement gagnée par le gouvernement en ce qui concerne les classes moyennes. Ces dernières, pour une part dès avant le conflit d’ailleurs, soutinrent majoritairement le gouvernement, considérant l’action des grévistes comme une atteinte au processus démocratique visant à instaurer le communisme en Grande-Bretagne. De fait, nombreux étaient ceux à craindre le développement sinon d’un processus de type insurrectionnel, du moins un affrontement social violent entre les élites économiques du pays et le peuple ouvrier. C’était notamment le cas de George V lui-même, qui préconisa une politique conciliante de la part du gouvernement en déclarant par exemple : « Essayez donc de vivre avec leur salaire avant de les juger » (« Try living on their wages before you judge them »). Pourtant, si les puissants antagonismes sociaux pouvaient évoquer l’idée d’une division en deux parties de la nation britannique à l’instar de ce qu’écrivait Benjamin Disraeli en 1845, on était loin de la révolution sociale. Même si cet épouvantail avait pour le gouvernement l’avantage de clarifier de manière manichéenne les enjeux, la société britannique, y compris le labour movement, fit à nouveau à cette occasion la démonstration de son profond légalisme : « personne n’entendit mettre en cause l’ordre public, ni même les institutions ».
Mobilisation de l’État et échec de la grève
Le gouvernement était décidé à défendre ses prérogatives face aux prétentions du mouvement social. Il fit ainsi la démonstration de sa volonté de combat en mettant en alerte l’armée et la Royal Navy, dont certains bâtiments furent positionnés dans les estuaires. Durant les neuf mois de répit que lui avait ménagé l’enquête menée par Herbert Samuel, le gouvernement conservateur se prépara d’ailleurs pour sa part à la crise. Les possibilités offertes par le Supply and Transport Committee, organisme créé par Lloyd George pour assurer l’approvisionnement du pays en cas de grève, furent étendues. Au niveau régional, la création d’organismes tels que l’Organisation pour le Maintien de la production (« Organization for the Maintenance of Supplies, OMS »), destinés à assurer un service minimum dans les secteurs touchés, fut encouragée par le gouvernement, y compris en jouant la carte du patriotisme anti-bolchévique pour recruter des volontaires : ainsi, les extrémistes de droite, réunis dans un groupe prétendument apolitique (The Loyalists) se mirent massivement au service de l’OMS. Le gouvernement fit également usage de l’Emergency Powers Act de 1920 qui lui permettait de mobiliser soldats et bénévoles pour prendre le relais des grévistes et continuer à faire fonctionner l’économie. Au bout du compte, aux 3 millions de grévistes firent face 323 000 volontaires antigrévistes, issus essentiellement des classes moyennes et supérieures. Soucieux notamment d’empêcher toute paralysie des transports, ils furent mobilisés par l’Etat pour assurer, sous la protection et de l’armée et de la police, les services essentiels : conduite des bus et des trains, distribution de vivres et de combustible, etc..
La chronologie précise des différents évènements qui émaillèrent le conflit est assez confuse est contradictoire. Le 7 mai, les représentants du TUC et Herbert Samuel tentèrent une reprise des négociations. Entretemps, Churchill avait pris le contrôle des fournisseurs de papier ce qui rendit plus difficile la diffusion du discours du TUC via le British Worker. Le 8 mai, l’action des grévistes fut brisée temporairement sur les docks de Londres par l’intervention de l’armée qui ouvrit le chemin à des camions transportant de la nourriture vers Hyde Park. Le même jour, deux syndicats engagèrent une procédure judiciaire contre le TUC pour ne pas prendre part à la grève. Le juge Astbury leur donna raison et déclara la grève générale illégale, privant ainsi le TUC de la protection du Trade Disputes Act de 1903 et fragilisant la base financière du TUC par les amendes qu’il était susceptible de se voir imposer.
En fait, le TUC, travaillé par une puissante tendance modérée, se révéla en fait indécis voire inconstant. Il semble que les syndicats aient présumé de leur force et/ou reculé devant une confrontation de longue haleine : craignant que la paralysie gagnant progressivement toute l’économie déclenche « une vague d’impopularité dommageable à des syndicats déjà affaiblis par le chômage », leurs dirigeants jugeaient à la fois contre-productive et sans espoir la volonté des mineurs de refuser tout compromis, « contrairement aux syndiqués de base qui croyaient la victoire possible ». Rapidement, la tournure des évènements affola la plupart des élus travaillistes et les dirigeants modérés du TUC, qui n’eurent de cesse de saisir toutes les occasions possibles pour mettre fin au mouvement. Le 12 mai 1926, après avoir repris langue avec Herbert Samuel, James Henry Thomas, « faisant état de prétendues promesses gouvernementales » comme quoi aucune représaille ne serait imposée aux travailleurs grévistes, convainquit le conseil du TUC d’abandonner la lutte. Le jour même, le secrétaire général se rendit au 10 Downing Street pour annoncer la décision du syndicat d’appeler à la reprise du travail sur la base des conditions spécifiées dans le rapport de la commission Samuel. La décision du TUC s’apparenta en l’occurence largement à une « capitulation sans condition », d’autant que le gouvernement Baldwin refusa de garantir un bon traitement pour les grévistes retournant au travail, considérant qu’il n’avait aucun moyen de l’imposer aux employeurs.
Suites et conséquences du mouvement
Malgré la défection du TUC, les mineurs, dans l’amertume, résistèrent encore, « dans des souffrances terribles », pendant plus de six mois. Cependant, « réduits à la misère noire après avoir épuisé toutes les ressources de la solidarité », ils durent peu à peu rendre les armes : à la fin du mois de novembre, une grande partie des mineurs avait repris le travail. Beaucoup de travailleurs ayant pris part à la grève furent renvoyés et inscrit sur une liste noire plusieurs années, et ceux qui reprirent leur poste durent accepter des journées plus longues et des salaires moindres.
Le gouvernement conservateur chercha en outre à exploiter son avantage. Dès 1927, il promulgua le Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act, véritable « législation de combat » à destination des ouvriers, des syndicats et du Labour party. Ce texte proscrivait la grève générale comme les grèves de solidarité, établissait de sévères restrictions aux piquets de grève et interdisait l’affiliation des syndicats de fonctionnaires au TUC. En outre, il imposait que tout syndiqué déclare explicitement, au moment de son adhésion, qu’il souhaitait qu’une part de sa cotisation participe au financement de partis politiques (principe du opting in plutôt que du opting out). L’objectif était clairement de porter un coup aux finances du Parti travailliste et il fut atteint : celles-ci furent brusquement amputées d’un quart. Cette volonté « plutôt réactionnaire » de transformer l’essai en humiliant et en limitant les possibilités d’action des syndicats avait l’avantage de répondre aux revendications patronales et de rassurer les classes moyennes effrayées par le spectre du bolchevisme. Cependant, comme le souligne François-Charles Mougel, « à moyen terme, elle a nui à l’image des Tories et radicalisé les maximalistes du Labour : les conséquences s’en feront encore sentir en 1945 ».
Notes et références
1. ↑ a, b, c et d Dominique Barjot (dir), Le monde britannique (1815-1931), CNED/SEDES, 2009, p. 251
2. ↑ a, b, c, d, e et f Christophe Charle, La crise des sociétés impériales, Seuil, 2001, p. 438
3. ↑ François Bédarida, Churchill, Fayard, 1999, p. 200
4. ↑ Ce refus du TUC de s’associer aux mineurs en 1921 laissa d’importantes traces dans les relations entre modérés et radicaux. Christophe Charle, La crise des sociétés impériales, Seuil, 2001, p. 438
5. ↑ Dominique Barjot (dir), Le monde britannique (1815-1931), CNED/SEDES, 2009, p. 251-252
6. ↑ a, b, c, d et e Dominique Barjot (dir), Le monde britannique (1815-1931), CNED/SEDES, 2009, p. 252
7. ↑ a, b et c François Charles Mougel, Histoire du Royaume-Uni au XXe siècle, PUF, 1996, p. 240
8. ↑ a et b François Bédarida, Churchill, Fayard, 1999, p. 201
9. ↑ « A general strike is not an industrial dispute. It is a revolutionary move which can only succeed by destroying the government and subverting the rights and liberties of the people »
10. ↑ a, b et c Roland Marx, L’Angleterre de 1914 à 1945, Armand Colin, 1993, p. 70
11. ↑ a et b François Charles Mougel, Histoire du Royaume-Uni au XXe siècle, PUF, 1996, p. 240-241
12. ↑ « It is a very much more difficult task to feed the nation than it is to wreck it »
13. ↑ « We are anxious that the ordinary members of the public shall not be penalized for the unpatriotic conduct of the mine owners and the government »
14. ↑ a, b et c François Bédarida, Churchill, Fayard, 1999, p. 202
15. ↑ a, b, c, d et e François Charles Mougel, Histoire du Royaume-Uni au XXe siècle, PUF, 1996, p. 241
16. ↑ Dans Sybil or the Two Nations, en 1845, le dirigeant conservateur Benjamin Disraeli avançait , pour le regretter, que la reine Victoria régnait non sur une « communauté » mais sur un « agrégat » de deux nations, « les Riches et les Pauvres », « deux nations entre lesquelles il n’y a ni relation ni sympathie ; qui sont aussi ignorantes des coutumes, des pensées et des sentiments l’une de l’autre que si leurs habitants appartenaient à deux planètes différentes ». Cité dans François Bédarida, Churchill, Fayard, 1999, p. 201
17. ↑ Ainsi, le 6 mai, Baldwin déclara : « La grève générale est un acte de défiance vis-à-vis du parlement qui ne peut mener qu’à l’anarchie » (« The General Strike is a challenge to the parliament and is the road to anarchy »).
18. ↑ Jacques Leruez, Jeannine Surel, Le Royaume-Uni au XXe siècle, Ellipses, 1997, p. 45
19. ↑ François Kersaudy, Winston Churchill, Tallandier, 2000, p. 242
20. ↑ a et b Christophe Charle, La crise des sociétés impériales, Seuil, 2001, p. 439
21. ↑ François Bédarida, , La société anglaise, Seuil, 1990, p. 261
22. ↑ Jacques Leruez, Jeannine Surel, Le Royaume-Uni au XXe siècle, Ellipses, 1997, p. 46