Problems of the British Revolution

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This collection of articles was first brought together in book form under the title Where is Britain Going? Second Issue published by the State Publishing House in Moscow and Leningrad in 1926. A previous English version of the first article appeared in the periodical Communist International No. 22, 1926 and one of the last articles in the June 1926 issue of International Press Correspondence. The present publication however represents the first complete English translation of the collection.

– New Park Publications, Problems of the British Revolution by Leon Trotsky, July 1972.

CHAPTER I. Problems of the British Labour Movement[edit source]

May 19, 1926

The article printed below consists of fragments written at various times since the end of last year. These fragments were originally intended to form the material for a more complete work. The General Strike like any momentous event at once shifted our perspectives, brought forward some problems and removed others. From the point of view of understanding and evaluating the General Strike and its outcome it would now appear more appropriate to print these fragments in the form they were written, that is, chronologically following the facts and events to which they refer.

December 22, 1925

We have already mentioned that we have in our possession two letters from a British “left” socialist separated by an interval of several weeks. The first letter was written before the Liverpool Conference of the Labour Party (September 1925)[1] and the second after it.

The most fateful question in the world of politics (writes our correspondent in the first letter) is without doubt the question of what will take place at Liverpool at the Annual Labour Party Conference ... The Liverpool Conference will in all probability not only reverse last year’s resolution banning communists from membership but it will possibly give rise to a decisive split in the ranks of the Labour Party.

As we now know exactly the opposite happened. The right wing were wholly victorious. The lefts presented the most wretched picture of impotence and confusion. The ban on communists was endorsed and strengthened.

In the second letter written just after the conference our correspondent makes the following admission:

With regard to the Liverpool Conference at which I was not present, I can make only one comment. The rights gained the upper hand while the lefts once again revealed insufficient cohesion. The communists also gained a victory. The rights played directly into the hands of the communists ...

Our correspondent himself scarcely understands what this signifies. But nonetheless the logic of the facts is simple: if you wish for victory over MacDonaldism, over organized betrayal and over treachery elevated into a system then you must operate not in the spirit of the “lefts” but in the spirit of the Bolsheviks. It is in this sense and only in this sense that the rights play into the hands of the communists.

The working class is in the words of the same critic “burdened by both the extreme wings”. How remarkably put! What our “left” calls the right wing is the official leadership of the Labour Party. The political will of the British proletariat must pass willy-nilly through the customs house of Thomas and MacDonald. The opposite wing, that is the communists, represent a tiny persecuted minority inside the labour movement. In what way can the working class be “burdened” by them? It is at liberty to listen to them or not for they do not have in their hands any means of imposing themselves. Standing behind Thomas and MacDonald is the whole machine of the capitalist state. MacDonald expels the communists while Baldwin puts them in jail. The one complements the other. The working class will be able to throw off MacDonald only when it genuinely wishes to throw off Baldwin. It is absolutely true that the working class is burdened by its dependence on the conservative Fabian bourgeois. But how it can rid itself of them and what path it should choose it still does not know. The lefts reflect the lethargy of the British working class. They convert its as yet vaguely defined but profound and stubborn aspiration to free itself from Baldwin and MacDonald into left phrases of opposition which do not place any obligations upon them. They convert the political feebleness of the awakening masses into an ideological mish-mash. They represent the expression of a shift but also its, brake.

We have already heard a prophecy to the effect that the Liverpool Conference would give rise to a decisive split in the ranks of the Labour Party and we have seen what a cruel mockery life has made of this prophecy. The essential thing about centrists is that they do not make a decision to decide. It required the imperialist war to force the centrists to split away temporarily from the social-imperialists. As soon as the impact of events was relaxed the centrists turned back. Centrism is incapable of an independent policy. Centrism cannot be the leading party in the working class. The essential thing about centrism is that it does not make a decision to decide except where events seize it firmly by the throat. But it has not yet reached this stage in Britain: that is why there was no split at Liverpool.

But what would have happened if a split had nevertheless taken place? Our correspondent leaves us unclear on this question:

As a result of such a split in the existing Labour Party two parties would in the end be formed, the one left-liberal and the other genuinely socialist. Even if you allow that development will lead to economic crises and revolutions, the socialist party which would emerge from the split would be able to place itself at the head of the revolution, yet Trotsky does not take this point into account.

In this argument grains of truth become lost in a welter of confusion. Of course a split by centrists like our critic away from the Fabian bourgeoisie would not be irrelevant to the labour movement. But to bring about such a split at present would require insight and determination, which are the very qualities of which the British “opposition” has not the slightest trace. If the centrists do split away then it will be at the last minute when there is no other way out. But a party which hatches out at the “last moment” cannot lead the revolution. This does not mean that the centrists who have split away could not find themselves temporarily “at the head” of the masses similar to the German Independents and even Social-Democracy at the end of 1918 and to our Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries[2] after February 1917. Such a stage in the development of the British revolution cannot be excluded. It may even prove to be inevitable if the sharpening of social contradictions proceeds more rapidly than the formation of the Communist Party. Under the pressure of a General Strike and a victorious uprising) a certain section of the “left” leaders could even come to power – with approximately the same sensations and moods with which a calf goes to the slaughter. Such a state of affairs would not however last long. The independents despite all their policy might come to power. But they could not retain that power. From the centrists power must pass either to the communists or return to the bourgeoisie.

The German Independents who had against their will been elevated to the summit of power by the revolution immediately shared it with Ebert[3] and Scheidemann.[4] Ebert immediately entered into negotiations with General Groener to suppress the workers. The Independents criticized the Spartacists[5], the Social-Democrats slandered them and the army officer-caste shot Liebknecht[6] and Luxemburg.[7] Events from then on followed their logical sequence. The coalition of the Social-Democrats and Independents gave way to a coalition of capitalists and Social-Democrats. And then the Social-Democrats proved unnecessary. Ebert died at the right moment. The revolution which had started out against Hindenburg[8] ended up by electing Hindenburg President of the Republic. And by that time the Independents had already returned to Ebert’s ranks.

In Russia the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary patriots who, in the name of defence, had opposed the revolution by every means, were raised to power by the revolution. The Bolshevik Party despite a decade and a half of uncompromising educational, organizational and militant work found itself in the early stages in an insignificant minority. While prepared at any moment to come forward on the left flank against every attempt at counter-revolution it all the same set course for a ruthless ideological struggle against those parties which had found themselves against their will at the head of the revolution”. Only thanks to this did October become possible.

A split by the British independents from MacDonald and Thomas five minutes before the bell is not excluded. Nor, in the case of a precipitate development of events, is the centrists’ coming to power excluded. One cannot doubt that in this event they will implore MacDonald and Webb to share their burden with them. Nor can one doubt that MacDonald, either personally or through Thomas, will conduct negotiations with Joynson-Hicks. A powerful mechanism for liquidating the proletarian half-victory will be set in motion. It is quite possible that a new split will take place within the lefts. But the development will follow the “Russian” rather than the “German” path only where there is present a mass communist party armed with a clear understanding of the whole course of development.

December 28, 1925

Our “left” critic accuses us of the very fact that we place our stakes on the British Communist Party. This does not mean that he himself rejects it out of hand. No, the position of a “left”, drifting like a boat without rudder or sails, consists in neither acknowledging anything out of hand nor totally rejecting anything. Here we once again feel obliged to make a quotation:

Instead of seeking to regenerate the masses they (the communists) attempted to drive them along with a bludgeon and the masses do not take to this at all. A striking testimony in support of the correctness of the principles they defend lies in the fact that in spite of their crude tricks at the expense of their friends and their enemies and in spite of their very deep ignorance of the very masses that they wish to lead they nevertheless do have a great influence. If workers join them then they do so out of desperation and because they can see no other answer – not because they approve of the party as it is now but because they are forced to accept its conclusions.

This statement is truly remarkable as an involuntary testimony by an opponent in support of those ideas and methods against which he is waging a struggle. The inner strength of communism proves to be so great that an increasing number come to support it in spite of the “crude” character of the communists. “But the workers do so out of desperation!” exclaims our critic himself too apparently not without desperation. It is completely correct that workers come – and increasingly so as time goes on – to a state of real “desperation” because of worthless, treacherous. cowardly or dissolute leadership. Nor can one think that the British workers with their age-old traditions of liberal politics, parliamentarism, compromises, national self-esteem and so on will take to the revolutionary path other than in a state of utter desperation with those very politics which had previously given them something but which all along the line deceived them. Here the critic has come to the crux of the matter. It is just herein that the strength of the communist party lies, in that despite its numerical weakness, its inexperience and its mistakes the whole situation increasingly compels the working masses to pay heed to it.

Bruce[9], the Australian Prime Minister, in defending his policy of banishing revolutionary labour leaders, said on the eve of the last elections:

The Communist Party in Australia has a membership of less than a thousand. But it is able to direct 400,000 workers in the Commonwealth.

The Times quoted these words with great approval (see the leading article of 12th November, 1925). While speaking about Australia The Times of London has Britain in mind of course. In order to emphasize this the newspaper states with a blunt frankness:

The truth is that the great majority of those Labour leaders in Australia who are moderate in their views are equally moderate in their ability. The control of the party is passing more and more into the hands of its “wild men”.

This is what in Russian is called “beating the cat but slanging the sister-in-law”. We are quite prepared to agree with the paper that the ability of the official leaders of the British Labour Party (this is what The Times implies) is just as moderate as their views. But in the last resort independent abilities are not required of them for they transmit the will and the ideas of the British bourgeoisie into the milieu of the working class. They were “skilful” for just as long as the bourgeoisie was all-powerful. We should say that even the sage Times seems to us somewhat inane when it mumbles away about the mutual relations between the United States and Britain. This stems from an inner consciousness of weakness together with an effort to preserve the appearance of strength and a restrained gnashing of teeth. In the final count the cause of the decline of The Times as well as the disclosure of MacDonald’s modest capabilities lies in the poor balance of trade and payments of Great Britain. And inasmuch as the most powerful historical factors are at work in the disruption of the British balance of payments there can be no doubt that the working masses will increasingly fall into desperation with their old leaders and fall under the influence of the “wild men”.

January 5, 1926

In an American publication with pretensions to Marxism and even communism (Freiheit) it has been pointed out in condemnation that while criticizing the British centrists I had failed to take into account that “revolution” which had already taken place in the British trade unions.

There is no need at this point to mention the fact that the causes and prospects of the evolution of the trade unions have been noted in the chapter Trade Unions and Bolshevism. Nor is, there any need to repeat the rudimentary concept that without a turn by the working class, and consequently by its trade unions too, towards a revolutionary road there can be no talk of a conquest of power by the proletariat. But it would be the utmost disgrace to brush aside the struggle against opportunism in the top leadership by alluding to the profound revolutionary processes taking place in the working class. Such a supposedly “profound” approach stems entirely from a failure to understand the role and the significance of the party in the movement of the working class and especially in the revolution. For it has always been centrism which has cloaked and continues to cloak the sins of opportunism with solemn references to the objective tendencies of development. Is it worth wasting time and energy in fighting the muddleheads of the type of Wheatley, Brailsford, Purcell, Kirkwood and others, now that revolutionary aspirations are on the increase in the proletariat, now that the trade unions are turning towards co-operation with the Soviet trade unions and so on and so forth? But in actual fact expressed in this alleged revolutionary objectivism is merely an effort to shirk revolutionary tasks by shifting them on to the shoulders of the so-called historical process.

And it is in Britain that the danger of this sort of tendency is particularly great. Yesterday we had to prove that objective conditions there are working in a revolutionary direction. To keep repeating this today is to knock at an open door. The growing preponderance of America; the burden of debts and military expenditure; the industrialization of the colonies, dominions and the backward countries in general; the economic strengthening of the Soviet Union and the growth of its attractive revolutionary force; the liberation movement of the oppressed nations; all these are factors which are growing. Through an inevitable series of fluctuations in the conjuncture of events British capitalism is going to meet a catastrophe. It is clear what shifts in the correlations and consciousness of classes this implies. But the objective pre-conditions of the proletarian revolution are being prepared and are maturing far more rapidly than are the subjective. And this is what above all must be remembered today.

The danger is not that the bourgeoisie will again pacify the proletariat, nor that an era of liberal labour politics is again opening up before the trade unions: the United States has monopolized for itself the ability to give a privileged position to broad circles of the proletariat. The danger comes from another direction: the formation of a proletarian vanguard can lag behind the development of a revolutionary situation. While faced with the necessity for decisive actions the proletariat might not find at its head the necessary political leadership. This is the question of the party. And this is the central question. The most mature revolutionary situation without a revolutionary party of due stature and without correct leadership is the same as a knife without a blade. This is what we saw in Germany in the autumn of 1923. A Bolshevik Party will take shape in Britain only in a perpetual and irreconcilable struggle against centrism which is becoming the substitute for the Liberal policy of Labour.

January 6, 1926

The struggle for a united front has such importance in Britain precisely because it answers the elementary requirements of the working class in the new orientation and grouping of forces. The struggle for a united front will thereby pose the problem of leadership, that is of programme and tactics and this means the party. Yet the struggle for a united front will not in itself solve this task but will merely create the conditions for its solution. The ideological and organizational formation of a genuinely revolutionary, that is of a communist, party on the basis of the movement of the masses is conceivable only under the condition of a perpetual, systematic, inflexible, untiring and irreconcilable unmasking of the quasi-left leaders of every hue, of their confusion, of their compromises and of their reticence. It would be the crudest blunder to think – and this can be seen to happen – that the task of the struggle for a united front consists in obtaining a victory for Purcell, Lansbury, Wheatley and Kirkwood over Snowden, Webb and MacDonald. Such an objective would contain within itself a contradiction. The left muddleheads are incapable of power; but if through the turn of events it fell into their hands they would hasten to pass it over to their elder brothers on the right. They would do the same with the state as they are now doing in the party.

The history of the German Independents, let us again recall, provides us with instructive lessons on this account. In Germany the process took place at a more rapid tempo owing to the directly revolutionary character of the recent years of German history. But the general tendencies of the development are the same whether you call MacDonald Ebert or you christen Wheatley and Cook, Crispien[10] and Hilferding.[11] The fact that Hilferding, the most vulgar Philistine, still makes references to Marx while Wheatley displays a preference for the Holy Father in Rome flows from the peculiarities of Britain’s past as compared with that of Germany but for the present day it is of tenth-rate importance.

January 7, 1926

The left faction at the top of the trade unions leads the General Council on a number of questions. This expresses itself most clearly in the attitude towards the Soviet trade unions and to Amsterdam.[12] But it would be a mistake to overestimate the influence of these lefts upon the unions as the organizations of class struggle. This is not so much because the masses in the trade unions are not radical enough, on the contrary the masses are immeasurably more left than the most left of the leaders. In the British labour movement international questions have always been a path of least resistance for the “leaders”. In regarding international issues as a sort of safety valve for the radical mood of the masses Messrs. leaders are prepared to bow to a certain degree to revolution (elsewhere) only the more surely to take revenge on the questions of the domestic class struggle. The left faction on the General Council is distinguished by a total ideological formlessness and for this very reason it is incapable of consolidating around itself organizationally the leadership of the trade union movement.

This too explains the impotence of the lefts within the Labour Party. The latter rests of course upon the same trade unions. It might appear that the left faction which “leads” the General Council would have taken control of the Labour Party. But we see something quite different in reality. The extreme rights continue to control the party. This can be explained by the fact that a party cannot confine itself to isolated left campaigns but is compelled to have an overall system policy. The lefts have no such system nor by their very essence can they. But the rights do: with them stands tradition, experience and routine and, most important, with them stands bourgeois society as a whole which slips them ready-made solutions. For MacDonald has only to translate Baldwin’s and Lloyd George’s suggestions into Fabian language. The rights win despite the fact that the lefts are more numerous. The weakness of the lefts arises from their disorder and their disorder from their ideological formlessness. In order to marshal their ranks the lefts have first of all to rally their ideas. The best of them will only be capable of doing so under the fire of the most ruthless criticism based upon the everyday experience of the masses.

January 12, 1926

More influential leaders of the “lefts” like Purcell, Cook and Bromley besides our “left” critic in his letter were as late as 17th September predicting that the Labour Party Conference would be distinguished by a great swing to the left. The opposite came about: the Liverpool Conference which was separated by a few weeks from the Scarborough Trades Union Congress[13] gave a complete victory to MacDonald. To ignore this fact, to gloss over it, to minimize it or to explain it by accidental secondary causes would be crass stupidity and courting defeats.

The party has fundamentally the same base as have the trade union leaders. But the General Council whose authority is extremely limited does not have any power over individual trade unions nor less over the country. But the Labour Party has already stood in power and is about to do so again. This is the gist of the question,

In connection with the Scarborough Congress the liberal Manchester Guardian wrote that Moscow’s influence made itself felt only in the left phraseology while in practice the trade unions remained under the leadership of wise and experienced leaders. The liberal newspaper has need of consolation. But there is in its assertions an element of truth and a large one at that. The resolutions of the congress were the more to the left the further removed they were from immediate practical tasks. Of course the leftness of the resolutions is symptomatic, marking a turn in the consciousness of the masses. But to think that the leading figures at Scarborough might become the leaders of a revolutionary overthrow of power would be to lull oneself with illusions. It is sufficient to recall that 3,802,000 votes were cast in favour of the right of oppressed nations to self-determination and even to secession and only 79,000 against. What an enormous revolutionary swing this might appear to be! Yet on the question of forming shop committees – not for an armed uprising nor for a General Strike but for nothing more than forming shop committees and only “in principle” at that – the voting was 2,183,000 in favour and 1,787,000 against; in other words congress was split almost in half. On the question of extending the powers of the General Council the lefts suffered a complete defeat. It is small wonder if after all the left resolutions the new General Council has proven to be more right than the old one. It must be clearly understood: this sort of leftism remains only as long as it does not impose any practical obligations. As soon as a question of action arises the lefts respectfully surrender the leadership to the rights.

January 13, 1926

A spontaneous radicalization of the trade unions expressing a deep shift in the masses is in itself totally inadequate to liberate the working class from the leadership of Thomas and MacDonald. National bourgeois ideology in Britain presents a formidable force – not only in public opinion but also in established institutions. “Radical” trade unionism will break itself again and again against this force as long as it is led by centrists who cannot draw the necessary conclusions.

At the same time as the British unions fraternize with the Soviet trade unions which are under the leadership of communist, at Liverpool the British Labour Party which rests upon these same unions expels British communists from its ranks thus preparing a government-fascist operation to smash their organizations. It would be criminal to forget for one day that lefts such as Brailsford and even Lansbury in effect approved of the Liverpool Conference resolution and blamed the communists for it all. It is true that when indignation with the reactionary police-state spirit of the Liverpool conference revealed itself from the lower ranks, the “left” leaders readily changed their line. But to evaluate them one must take both sides of the matter into account. Revolutionaries need a good memory. Messrs. “lefts” do not have a line of their own. They will go on swinging to the right under the pressure of bourgeois-Fabian reaction and to the left under the pressure of the masses. In difficult moments these pious Christians are always ready to play the part if not of Herod then of Pontius Pilate and facing the British working class there are many difficult moments ahead.

There is inside the Independent Labour Party a movement favouring unification of the Second and the Third Internationals. But try asking these people whether they would agree not to unification but to a militant agreement with British communists and they recoil there and then. In all matters relating to revolution there reigns supreme among the British “lefts” a “love for the distant”. They are for the October revolution, for Soviet power, for the Soviet trade unions and even for a rapprochement with the Comintern but under the immutable condition that the British Constitution, the system of parliamentarism and the system of the Labour Party suffer no harm. It is necessary to direct the main blow against this repulsive two-faced policy of the lefts.

To this one should add in the sympathies of many lefts for the Soviet Union (alongside hostility towards their own communists) there is contained a good deal of the deference of the petty-bourgeois towards a strong state power. This should not be forgotten. Of course the petty-bourgeois who has turned his face towards the Soviet Union is more progressive than the petty-bourgeois who goes on his knees before the United States. This is a step forward. But one cannot build revolutionary perspectives on such a deference.

December 25, 1925

A foreign communist who knows Britain well and has only recently left there wrote to me the other day as follows:

During my stay in England I had numerous conversations with certain prominent left leaders on the subject of the British revolution. I brought away approximately this picture: they are sure that in the near future they will win a majority in parliament and will commence a cautious but decisive implementation of the maximum demands of the working class such as the nationalization of the mines, certain other branches of industry, the banks and so on. If the industrialists and bankers dare to resist then they will be straight away arrested and their enterprises will be nationalized too. To my question: what in this case will the fascist bourgeoisie who have the army and the navy in their hands do? they replied: in event of armed resistance on the part of the fascists they will be declared outlaws and the overwhelming majority of the British people will back the Labour Party in defence of the legal government. When I pointed out: since they will inevitably resort to arms wouldn’t it be better to prepare the working class now for such an outcome so that the armed forces of the bourgeoisie cannot catch it off guard? they replied: such a preparatory move would be a premature signal for civil war and would prevent the Labour Party from winning a majority in parliament. To the question: on which side of the barricades will MacDonald, Snowden, Thomas and their friends be, they replied: on the side of the bourgeoisie most probably. Why then do you work together with them against the communists in order to strengthen a party leadership which Will betray the working class at the critical moment? To this came the reply: we think that we will nevertheless[14] retain a majority in parliament behind us and that a split by MacDonald and his liberal friends will not threaten in the slightest a favourable outcome to a peaceful revolution.

This sheaf of personal impressions and conversations is truly precious. These people have decided in advance to come to power in no other way than through the asses’ gate which the enemy, armed to the teeth and standing guard, has shown them to. If they, the lefts, take power (through the indicated gate) and if the bourgeoisie rise up against this legal power then the good British people will not tolerate this. And if MacDonald and Thomas whom the wise lefts are carrying on their backs are found by chance to be in a plot with the armed bourgeoisie against the unarmed workers then this should not cause alarm to anyone for the lefts have provided for victory in this event. In a word the brave spirits and wise men have firmly decided to conquer the bourgeoisie whatever the political combinations and at the same time maintaining the best relations with parliament, the law, the courts and the police. The only trouble is that the bourgeoisie does not intend to surrender the privilege of the legal expropriation of power to the lefts. By advancing the fascist wing more energetically, as the threat of civil war becomes more immediate, the bourgeoisie will find sufficient means of provocation, of a legal coup d’état and so on. In the final count the question is not who can best interpret laws and traditions but who is master in the house.

The discussion which has recently flared up in the British Labour Press on the question of self-defence is in the highest degree significant. The question itself arose not as a question of armed uprising for the seizure of power but as a question of strikers repulsing blacklegs and fascists.

We have already shown elsewhere how trade unionism by the logic of development – and especially in the period of capitalist decline – inevitably bursts the framework of democracy. It is not possible to postpone arbitrarily class conflicts until the conquest of a parliamentary majority. Cramped by its own decline the bourgeoisie puts pressure on the proletariat. The latter defends itself. Hence the inevitable strike clashes. The government prepares strike-breaking organizations on a scale previously unheard of. The fascists link up with the police. The workers pose the question of self-defence. At this point the foundation of civil war has already been laid.

A worker writes in Lansbury’s Labour Weekly[15]; “Fascism is purely and simply a military organization and is not amenable to argument. It can only be successfully countered by a similar organization on the other side.” The author recommends taking the military organization of fascism as a model. That is correct: the proletariat can and must learn military knowledge from the enemy.

And it is from the same source – the objective sharpening of class contradictions – that the aspiration of workers to draw soldiers over to their side flows. Agitation in the army and the navy is a second powerful element in the civil war the development of which does not stand in a direct connection with the winning of a parliamentary majority. The defection of a considerable part of the armed forces to the side of the workers can guarantee the conquest of power by the proletariat without any parliamentary majority. The workers’ majority in parliament can be destroyed if armed force is in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Whoever does not understand this is not a socialist but a numbskull.

In opposition to the slogan of arming the workers the wise men of the left have scraped together all the prejudices and platitudes of centuries past: the superiority of the moral factor over force, the advantages of gradual reforms, the anarcho-pacifist idea of the peaceful General Strike which they require not as a means of struggle but as an argument against insurrection, and a heroic readiness ... to permit violence in the so-called “extreme case when it is forced on us”. Obviously this means when the enemy has caught you off guard and is crushing you unarmed against the wall.

March 5, 1926 (from a letter)

In Britain more than in all the rest of Europe the consciousness of the working masses, and particularly that of their leading layers, lags behind the objective economic situation. Arid it is precisely in this direction that the main difficulties and dangers lie today. All shades of bosses of the British labour movement fear action because the historical impasse of British capitalism places ever, problem of the labour movement, however major, at point-blank range. This applies especially to the coal industry. The present miners’ wages are maintained by a subsidy from the state, burdening an already crippling budget. To continue the subsidy means to accumulate and deepen the economic crisis. To withdraw the subsidy means to produce a social crisis.

The necessity of a technical and economic reconstruction of the coal industry represents a profoundly revolutionary problem and requires a political “reconstruction” of the working class. The destruction of the conservatism of the British coal industry, this foundation of British capitalism, can only be through the destruction of the conservative organizations, traditions and customs of the British labour movement. Britain is entering an entire historical phase of major upheavals. An “economic” solution of the problem can be expected only by the conservative British trade union leaders. But it is just because the British trade union leaders direct their efforts towards an “economic” (i.e. peaceful, conciliatory, conservative) solution of the problem, that is they run in defiance of the historical process, that the revolutionary development of the working class in Britain in the period to come will have higher overhead costs than in any other country. Both the rights and the lefts, including of course both Purcell and Cook, fear to the utmost the beginning of the denouément. Even when in words they admit the inevitability of struggle and revolution they are hoping in their hearts for some miracle which will release them from these perspectives. And in any event they themselves will stall, evade, temporize, shift responsibility and effectively assist Thomas over any really major question of the British labour movement (with regard to international questions they are a bit bolder!).

Hence the general situation can be characterized in this way. The economic blind alley of the country which is most sharply expressed in the coal industry thrusts the working class on to the path of seeking a solution, that is on to the path of an even sharper struggle. Its very first stage will as a result reveal the inadequacy of the “usual” methods of struggle. The whole of the present-day “superstructure” of the British working class – in all its shades and groupings without exception – represents a braking mechanism on the revolution. This portends over a prolonged period the heavy pressure of a spontaneous and semi-spontaneous movement against the framework of the old organizations and the formation of new revolutionary organizations on the basis of this pressure.

One of our principal tasks is to assist the British Communist Party to understand and think out this perspective fully. Inside the trade union apparatus and amongst its left wing the active elements, that is the elements which are capable of understanding the inevitability of major mass battles, and who are not afraid of them but go to meet them, must be sifted out far more energetically and decisively than has been done up to now. The tactic of the united front must be increasingly and more firmly placed within the context of this perspective.

With regard to the miners’ strike, it is not of course a question of an isolated strike, however big it may be, but the commencement of a whole series of social conflicts and crises. In this situation one cannot of course orientate oneself with the conceptions of Purcell and others. They fear the struggle more than anyone. Their thoughts and words can at best have in our eyes the importance of a symptom.

The British trade unions fear (in the form of their bureaucracy and even of its left) our “intervention” in their internal affairs no less than Chamberlain does.

There are any number of inhibiting elements in the apparatus of the British working class. The whole situation can be summarized in the fact that the alarm, discontent and pressure of the British working masses is all along the line running up against the organizational and ideological barriers of the conservatism of the apparatus. Under these conditions to worry about how best to assist the impatient leaders is really to pour water into the ocean

Everything goes to suggest that in Britain in the next period (I have in mind two or three years), a struggle will break out against the will of the old organizations yet with the complete unpreparedness of the young ones. Of course even with the firm revolutionary (i.e. active) footing of the Communist Party and of the best “left” elements it cannot be assumed that the proletariat will come to power as the result of the first big wave by itself. But the question is this: Will this left wing pass through the first stage of the revolution at the head of the working masses as we passed through 1905; or will it miss a revolutionary situation as the German party did in 1923? This latter danger is in the highest degree a real one. It can only be reduced by helping the left wing (the really left wing and not Lansbury or Purcell) to an effective orientation. And to accomplish this task (that of assisting the revolutionary elements in Britain to a correct orientation) it must be clearly understood that all the traditions, organizational habits and the ideas of all the already existing groupings in the labour movement in different forms and with different slogans predispose them either towards direct treachery or towards compromise, or else towards temporizing and passivity in relation to the compromisers, and complaints about the traitors. [See below for a further article on this subject written on May 6]

May 13, 1926

The defeat of the General Strike is “logical” at the present stage in that it flows from all the conditions of its origin and development. This defeat could have been foreseen. There is nothing demoralizing about it. But we will deal with the lessons of the defeat and of the General Strike itself later.

Addenda[edit source]

From a speech to the 6th Congress of Textile Workers, January 29, 1926

From Pravda, 25th and 26th May, 1926

Take just a cursory glance at the situation in the chief European states today, and you are bound to conclude that history, in approaching its day of reckoning, is in no mood to play around with Europe. The strongest country in Europe is Britain. Leaning on Europe, Britain has grown accustomed to a position where ruling over the world comes as easily to her as breathing. The Englishman (I have in mind of course the ruling Englishman, a bourgeois or a lord) has thought of himself for centuries as nothing less than the ruler of the world. Yet today the former sovereign of the oceans and continents is staggering under irreversible blows: the rise of the colonies, their. economic development and drive for independence; the national upsurge and the growth of industry in the Dominions; the growth of competition, first from Germany – who had to be strangled – and then from the United States – who will not be strangled, and will in fact do any strangling there is to be done. And finally, the growth of the might of the Soviet Union, reflecting the rise of the oppressed peoples and oppressed classes of the whole world. Britain is sliding further and further downhill before our eyes.

Today, I believe you sent greetings to the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee. How did that come about? It grew out of the economic decline of Britain. Comrades of the older generation, those who were learning their Marxism twenty and twenty-five years ago, will remember how the British trade unions used to be regarded as a bulwark of conservatism. Where did our hopes lie? With the German workers first of all, and then the French workers, but we said that the British worker would be the third, fourth or fifth to launch into struggle. And this because the upper layers were accustomed to an aristocratic position made possible only by the privileged position of British industry. Twenty-five years ago – and that’s not such a long time – the Russian revolutionaries of the day had offered to fraternize with the British workers’ leaders, and if twenty years ago Tomsky[16] had been sent to London to join with British trade unionists they would have told him where to go. [Laughter] But now the trade unions receive Tomsky as a brother. What is the reason for this change? It is that the last decades have undermined British industry, leaving not a trace of the privileged position of the working class, with the result that the British worker has become proletarianized politically. He is in search of a new source of support and it is no chance matter that he finds it first and foremost in our Soviet trade unions. The Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee is the highest expression of the shift in the situation of all Europe and especially Britain, which is taking place before our very eyes and will lead to the proletarian revolution. There can be no other solution.

Not so long ago a Conservative government came to power in Britain promising to rectify the economic ills of the country with protectionist policies. We predicted failure for Mr. Baldwin along this road: Britain lives on imported agricultural produce, raw materials and semi-finished goods, and therefore cannot become a protectionist country. If one branch of industry prospers from protective tariffs, another will perish. Baldwin nonetheless even lured along a considerable section of workers by promising to save British industry by means of a protectionist system of high customs duties. But what were the results? Protectionism was brought in for ladies’ gloves, carpet tacks, and I believe for toilet paper [Laughter] ... and for two or three other items equally necessary to life, but without this resurrecting the British economy. The last-mentioned commodity is possibly the most fitting symbol of the Conservative government’s protectionist programme in action. [Applause, laughter]

To be sure, back in his Leeds speech Baldwin instructed us all (especially transgressors like me) that the first requirement is gradualness. Don’t hurry, don’t overstep the mark, gradualness above all! But if Baldwin wishes to take protective measures for British industry with this gradualness then some three hundred years will pass while he is carrying out his programme. Life, of course, does not wait: the working class is shifting to the left and the formation of the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee was no accident. And we have yet to see how with God’s help – for in Baldwin’s realm nothing can happen without God’s help – the British bourgeois regime will be “gradually” overthrown.

May 6, 1926

A year ago the Conservative government was still on its honeymoon. Baldwin was preaching social peace. With nothing to oppose to Conservatism, MacDonald rivalled it in hatred of revolution, civil war and class struggle. The leaders of all three parties pronounced the institutions of Britain entirely adequate to ensuring peaceful collaboration between the classes. Naturally, the revolutionary prognosis for the future of the British Empire made in this book [Where is Britain GoingEd.] was declared by the whole of the British press – from the Morning Post to Lansbury’s Labour Weekly – to be hopeless drivel and Moscow phantasmagoria.

Today the situation looks somewhat different. Britain is convulsed by a huge mass strike. The Conservative government is carrying on a policy of frantic onslaught. From the top, everything is being done to provoke open civil war. The contradiction between basic social facts and the fraud of an outlived parliamentarism has been revealed in Britain as never before.

The mass strike arose from the imbalance between the current position of the British economy on the world market and the traditional industrial and class relations within the country. Formally the question at issue was one of reducing miners’ wages, lengthening their working day and throwing part of the sacrifices necessary for a serious reorganization of the coal industry onto the workers’ shoulders. Put in this way the question is insoluble. It is perfectly true that the coal industry, and indeed the British economy as a whole, cannot be reorganized without sacrifices on the part of the British proletariat, and substantial ones at that. But only a wretched fool can imagine that the British proletariat will agree to shoulder these sacrifices on the old foundations of private property.

Capitalism has been portrayed as a system of continual progress and consistent improvement in the lot of the labouring masses. This used to be the case to a certain extent, at least in some countries during the nineteenth century. In Britain the religion of capitalist progress was more potent than anywhere else. And it was just this that formed the foundation of the conservative tendencies in the labour movement itself and especially in the trade unions. Britain’s wartime illusions (1914-1918) were, more than anywhere else, the illusions of capitalist might and social “progress”. In the victory over Germany these hopes were supposed to find their highest fulfilment. Yet now bourgeois society says to the miners: “If you want to secure for yourselves at least the kind of existence you had before the war, you must reconcile yourselves to a worsening of all your conditions of life over an indefinite period.” Instead of the perspective of uninterrupted social progress recently held out to them, the miners are invited to move down one step today so as to avoid tumbling down three or more steps tomorrow. This is a declaration of bankruptcy on the part of British capitalism. The General Strike is the answer of the proletariat, which will not and cannot allow the bankruptcy of British capitalism to signify the bankruptcy of the British nation and of British culture.

This answer, however, has been dictated by the logic of the situation far more than by the logic of consciousness. The British working class had no other choice. The struggle, whatever its backstage mechanics, was thrust upon it by the mechanical pressure of the whole set of circumstances. The world position of the British economy did not leave the material basis for a voluntary compromise. The Thomases, MacDonalds and the rest have ended up like windmills whose sails turn in a strong wind but fail to produce a single pound of flour because there is no corn for them to grind. The hopeless emptiness of present-day British reformism has found itself so convincingly unmasked that the reformists were left with no other recourse than to take part in the mass strike of the proletariat. This revealed the strength of the strike – but also its weakness.

A general strike is the sharpest form of class struggle. It is only one step from the general strike to armed insurrection. This is precisely why the general strike, more than any other form of class struggle, requires clear, distinct, resolute and therefore revolutionary leadership. In the current strike of the British proletariat there is not a ghost of such a leadership, and it is not to be expected that it can be conjured up out of the ground. The General Council of the Trades Union Congress set out with the ridiculous statement that the present General Strike did not represent a political struggle and did not in any event constitute an assault upon the state power of the bankers, industrialists and landowners, or upon the sanctity of British parliamentarism. This most loyal and submissive declaration of war does not, however, appear the least bit convincing to the government, which feels the real instruments of rule slipping out of its hands under the effect of the strike. State power is not an “idea” but a material apparatus. When the apparatus of government and suppression is paralysed the state power itself is thereby paralysed. In modern society no-one can hold power without controlling the railways, shipping, posts, telegraphs, power stations, coal and so on. The fact that MacDonald and Thomas have sworn to renounce any political objectives may typify them personally but it in no way typifies the nature of the General Strike which if carried through to the end sets the revolutionary class the task of organising a new state power. Fighting against this with all their might, however, are those very people who by the course of events have been placed “at the head” of the General Strike. And in this the main danger lies. Men who did not want the General Strike, who deny the political nature of the General Strike, and fear above all the consequences of a victorious strike, must inevitably direct all their efforts towards keeping it within the bounds of a semi-political semi-strike, that is to say, towards emasculating it.

We must look facts in the face: the principal efforts of the official Labour Party leaders and of a considerable number of official trade union leaders will be directed not towards paralysing the bourgeois state by means of the strike but towards paralysing the General Strike by means of the bourgeois state. The government in the shape of its most die-hard Conservatives will without doubt want to provoke a small-scale civil war so as to gain the opportunity of applying measures of terror before the struggle has fully unfolded and so throw the movement back. By depriving the strike of a political programme, dissipating the revolutionary will of the proletariat and driving the movement up a blind alley the reformists are thereby pushing individual groups of workers on to the path of uncoordinated revolts. In this sense the reformists go towards meeting the most fascist elements in the Conservative Party. There lies the principal danger of the struggle now opening up.

Now is not the time to predict the duration, the course and still less the outcome of the struggle. Everything must be done on an international scale to aid the fighters and improve their chances of success. But it must be clearly recognized that such success is possible only to the extent that the British working class, in the process of the development and sharpening of the General Strike, realizes the need to change its leadership, and measures up to that task. There is an American proverb which says that you cannot change horses in midstream. But this practical wisdom is true only within certain limits. The stream of revolution has never been crossed on the horse of reformism, and the class which has entered the struggle under opportunist leadership will be compelled to change it under enemy fire. The conduct of the really revolutionary elements in the British proletariat and above all the communists is pre-determined by this. They will uphold the unity of mass action by every means; but they will not permit even the semblance of unity with the opportunist leaders of the Labour Party and the trade unions. An implacable struggle against every act of treachery or attempted treachery and the ruthless exposure of the reformists’ illusions are the main elements in the work of the genuinely revolutionary participants in the General Strike. In this they will not only aid the fundamental and protracted task of developing new cadres, without which the victory of the British proletariat is wholly impossible, but they will directly assist the success of this strike by deepening it, uncovering its revolutionary tendencies, thrusting the opportunists aside and strengthening the position of the revolutionaries. The results of the strike, both the immediate and the more remote, will be the more significant the more resolutely the revolutionary force of the masses sweeps away the barriers erected by the counter-revolutionary leadership.

The strike cannot of itself alter the position of British capitalism, and the coal industry in particular, on the world market. This requires the reorganization of the whole British economy. The strike is only a sharp expression of this necessity. The programme for reorganizing the British economy is the programme of a new power, a new state and a new class. The fundamental importance of the General Strike is that it poses the question of power point-blank. A real victory for the General Strike lies only in the winning of power by the proletariat and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In view of the insolvency of British capitalism, the General Strike is less able than at any other time to be made a vehicle of reforms or partial gains. To be more precise, even if the mine-owners or the government were to make this or that economic concession under pressure of the strike, such concession could not, by virtue of the whole situation, be of a profound, still less of a lasting significance.

This in no way means, however, that the present strike faces the alternative: all or nothing. If the British proletariat had a leadership that came near to corresponding to its class strength and the ripeness of the conditions, power would pass out of the hands of the Conservatives and into the hands of the proletariat within a few weeks. But such an outcome cannot be relied upon. This again does not mean that the strike is futile. The more broadly it develops,, the more powerfully it shakes the foundations of capitalism and the further back it thrusts the treacherous and opportunist leaders the harder it will be for bourgeois reaction to go over to the counter-offensive, the less proletarian organizations will suffer, and the sooner will follow the next, more decisive stage of the fight.

The present collision of the classes will be a tremendous lesson and have immeasurable consequences, quite apart from its immediate results. It will become plain to every proletarian in Britain that parliament is powerless to solve the basic and most vital tasks of the country. The question of the economic salvation of Britain will henceforth confront the proletariat as a question of the conquest of power. All the intervening, mediating, compromising pseudo-pacifist elements will be dealt a mortal blow. The Liberal Party, however much its leaders may twist and turn, will emerge from such an ordeal even more insignificant than it entered it. Within the Conservative Party the most die-hard elements will obtain a preponderance. Within the Labour Party the revolutionary wing will gain in organization and influence. The Communists will advance decisively. The revolutionary development of Britain will take a gigantic stride towards its denouément.

In the light of the mighty strike wave now under way, the questions of evolution and revolution, of peaceful development and the use of force, of reforms and class dictatorship, will grip the consciousness of British workers in their hundreds of thousands and millions, with all their acuteness. Of this there can be no doubt. The British proletariat, kept by the bourgeoisie and its Fabian agents in a state of horrifying ideological backwardness, will now spring forward like a lion. Material conditions in Britain have long been ripe for socialism. The strike has placed on the agenda the replacement of the bourgeois state by the proletarian state. If the strike itself does not produce this change, it will bring it far closer. The exact date we cannot say. But we should be prepared for it to be early.

CHAPTER II. Replies to critics[edit source]

(Part 1) On the Tempo and Timescale of the Revolution[edit source]

(February 1926)

EVENTS over the year which has passed since my book Where is Britain Going? was written have in no way developed according to the scheme of either Baldwin or MacDonald. The starry-eyed idealism of the Conservative minister has faded away very rapidly. The communists who had been expelled from the Labour Party by MacDonald have been put in jail by King George’s judges, thus putting the party on an illegal basis. These same judges pat young fascist thugs encouragingly on the back and recommend the violators of the law to join the police who are charged with safeguarding the law. The judges thereby bear witness to the fact that the difference between violation of the law by fascists and safeguarding the law by the police merely relates to the form and in no way to the essence. The fascists are good citizens but too impatient: their methods are premature. The class struggle has not yet reached civil war. MacDonald and Lansbury are still performing their functions restraining the proletariat with the fictions of democracy and the myths of religion. Fascism remains in reserve. But the capitalist politicians understand that matters do not end with the methods of democracy and in private Mr Joynson-Hicks[17] is trying on Mussolini’s[18] mask.

The tough repressiveness of the Baldwin government complements, out of necessity, its wretched confusion on economic problems. Faced with the new economic facts, the protectionism of the Conservative Party is just as feeble as the free trade of the Liberals was. It was clear from the very start that the vain attempts at protectionism would run into the conflicts of interests of the basic branches of the British economy. But a year ago we still did not think that a protectionist programme would degenerate into such a farce. In the period since then, duties have been imposed on lace, gloves, musical instruments, gas mantles, penknives and toilet paper. No more than 10,000 workers are employed in these branches of industry. Yet there are 1,231,900 miners. And the registered unemployed number 1,215,900. Isn”t Mr Baldwin abusing “gradualness” just too much?

The Liberal Party whose downfall continues to remain one of the sharpest political expressions of the decline of Britain has for the most part abandoned any hopes of independent power and while the right wing dreams of a role as a left brake on the Conservatives its left wing would like to support MacDonald from the right who, in turn, will have increasing need of such support as time goes on. When old Asquith[19] commented ironically upon the speech of Snowden[20] and Churchill, of whom the former urged the Liberals to enter the Labour Party and the latter to enter the Conservative Party, then Mr Asquith was right in his way: between dying in the capacity of yes-men of old political adversaries and dying on the principles of independence the difference is not so great.

The role of the MacDonald clique over this period can be adequately characterized by a simple juxtaposition of facts. In 1924 the MacDonald government convicted communists under the Incitement to Mutiny Act of 1797 (of the era of the French revolution!). At the end of 1925 MacDonald carried out the expulsion of communists from the Labour Party. The ultra-reactionary Home Secretary in the Conservative government, the already mentioned Benito Hicks, has convicted communists under the same Act of 1797 and has placed the leaders of the party in jail. The working masses protest. The MacDonald clique too is compelled to issue inarticulate sounds of protest. Against what? It is quite evident that it is against the rival Hicks taking the bread out of its mouth.

Neither the economics nor the politics of Britain over the last year provide any reason whatsoever to make alterations to the conclusions drawn in our book. There is no cause to react to the gnashing of teeth in the bourgeois press, of Britain and especially of America. “Behind the mask of a new book”, howls one of the New York papers, “the author teaches Americans and Englishmen how to conduct an uprising”. The paper then demands tough measures against the book on account of the geographical distance of the author. All this is in the order of things. There is no occasion to reply. Events will reply. The only thing that I have learnt from the criticisms in the British bourgeois press is that Mr Winston Churchill is not yet a lord as I had mistakenly or at least prematurely supposed.

The official Menshevik Press says essentially the same thing; only the appeal to the bourgeois police against the “sermon of violence” has a somewhat more masked form. But here, neither, is there any place for polemics. For us at the present stage of development the British opposition on the left is far more interesting. From its literary representatives we will however hear little. “If the crazy Moscow tendencies are able to find roots here then it will be simply thanks to the greed of our bourgeoisie and the compliance of the leaders of the Labour Party” and so on and so forth. This is the gist of the articles of Lansbury, Brailsford and others. The complete centrist stamp of thoughts and arguments could be predicted in advance. To hope for a positive attempt at an analysis of facts and reasoning on the part of these gentlemen is about equivalent to expecting milk from a billy-goat.

Fortunately we do have in our hands a document which is distinguished by a considerably greater spontaneity and as it were, naturalness. A Russian comrade who maintains a correspondence with figures in the British labour movement has sent me two letters from a “left” member of the Independent Labour Party directed against my book Where is Britain Going?. These letters seemed to me more interesting than the articles by British and other “leaders” some of whom have lost the ability to think and others of whom had never acquired it. I do not at all mean to say by this that the writer of the letters argues correctly. On the contrary it would be hard to conceive of a greater chaos than that which reigns in his thoughts, which by the way he himself regards to be his principal advantage over the finished compromisers of the MacDonald variety and over the “dogmatists of revolution”, that is ourselves. Through our Russian and international experience we are pretty well familiar with confusionists of this type. If we nevertheless consider the critical letters of the “left”, which had not been intended for publication more instructive than the glossy articles of the specialists of centrism then it is just because, in the honest-to-goodness eclectic mish-mash of the letters, the political shifts in the masses are more directly reflected. It goes without saying that we are using the letters with the kind permission of both the English and the Russian correspondents.

The ideological groupings in the British labour movement and particularly in its leading layer can be divided along three basic lines. The leading position in the Labour Party is occupied by the rights as the Liverpool Conference once again showed. The official ideology of these gentlemen who will stop at nothing in the defence of the foundations of bourgeois society consists of the left-overs of bourgeois theories of the 19th century and primarily of its first half. At the other pole stands the small minority of communists. The British working class will achieve victory only under the leadership of the Bolshevik party. Today it is still walking in toddler’s shoes. But it is growing and can grow up rapidly.

Between these two extreme groupings there stretches, as between two shores, an innumerable quantity of shades and tendencies which, though having no future in themselves, do prepare it. The “theoreticians” and “politicians” of this broad middle tendency are recruited from eclectics, sentimentalists, hysterical philanthropists and, generally, muddlers of every type. For some, eclecticism is a complete life’s vocation while for others, a stage of development. The opposition movement headed by the lefts, semi-lefts and the extreme lefts reflects a profound social shift in the masses. The woolliness of the British “lefts” together with their theoretical formlessness, and their political indecision not to say cowardice makes the clique of MacDonald, Webb and Snowden master of the situation which in turn is impossible without Thomas. If the bosses of the British Labour Party form a bridle placed upon the working class then Thomas[21] is the buckle into which the bourgeoisie inserts the reins.

The present stage in the development of the British proletariat where its overwhelming majority responds sympathetically to the speeches of the “lefts” and supports MacDonald and Thomas in power is not of course accidental. And it is impossible to leap over this stage. The path of the Communist Party, as the future great party of the masses, lies not only through an irreconcilable struggle against capital’s special agency in the shape of the Thomas-MacDonald clique but also through the systematic unmasking of the left muddleheads by means of whom alone MacDonald and Thomas can maintain their positions. This is our justification for paying attention to the “left” critic.

It goes without saying that our critic accuses our pamphlet of rectilinearity, a mechanical posing of the question, a simplification of reality and so on and so forth. “Running through his [i.e. my] book is the conviction that the decline of Britain will proceed for another four to five years [?!] before it will bring on serious internal complications.” While in the opinion of the critic the next 12 months will form the peak of the crisis after which “subsequent development over the coming decade [?!] will take place without major difficulties”. In this way, our critic first ascribes to me a firm prediction with regard to the sharpening of the crisis over four to five years and then counterposes to this an even more firm prediction which divides the coming period of British history into two periods: 12 months of sharpening crisis and ten years of peaceful prosperity.

In the letter there are not unfortunately any economic arguments. In order to give the prophecy concerning a year of crisis and a secure decade any economic weight it has to be allowed that the writer is linking his prognosis with the present acute financial difficulties which flow from the return to the gold standard and the regulation of the debt question. The economic crisis is apparently reduced by the writer to a deflationary crisis and for this reason he assigns to it such a brief period. It is quite probable that after the most grave financial and credit difficulties have been overcome a certain relaxation of the money market will in fact ensue and consequently likewise in commercial and industrial activity. But a general prognosis cannot be based upon fluctuations of this sort which have essentially a secondary nature. And in any case the prediction of a prosperous decade is derived from absolutely nothing. Britain’s fundamental difficulties are rooted in, on the one hand, the re-grouping and relative movement of world economic and political forces, and on the other in the inner conservatism of British industry.

The immeasurable industrial and financial preponderance of the United States of America over Britain is a fact whose importance in the future can only grow. There are not nor cannot be any circumstances which can mitigate the mortal consequences which arise for Britain from the unparalleled superiority of America.

The development of modern technology and in particular the growing importance of electrification is aimed directly against the coal industry and obliquely against all of the generally extremely conservative British industry which is based largely upon coal.

The growth of the industrial and political self-sufficiency of Canada, Australia and South America which revealed its full proportions after the war is inflicting continually fresh blows upon the metropolis. The dominions are, for Britain, turning from sources of enrichment into sources of economic deficit.

The national movement in India, Egypt and in all the East is directed first and foremost against British imperialism. There are hardly any grounds to expect that this movement will begin to weaken “in 12 months”.

The existence of the Soviet Union – and in this one can agree with British Conservative and Liberal politicians – contains within itself considerable economic and political difficulties for Great Britain. There are here once again no grounds for thinking that these difficulties will diminish in 12 months.

If the so-called pacification of Europe continues it will entail the re-birth and strengthening of German competition. And if pacification is succeeded by a military or a revolutionary crisis this too will strike at the economy of Great Britain.

The coming period will therefore create even more severe conditions for British capital and thereby the question of power will stand out before the proletariat with still greater sharpness. I did not set any time scale. The only remark in my book in this regard stated that the revolutionary development of the British working class will be measured in quinquennia rather than decades. It is clear that by this I did not mean that a social overturn would take place “in four years” (although I do not consider even this excluded). My point was that the prospects of revolutionary development should be reckoned not over a number of decades, not on sons and grandsons but on the generation living now.

At this point I am obliged to include an extensive quotation from the “left” critic’s letter:

Trotsky speaks nearly all the time about decades. But can you speak of decades when applied to the economic or even to the political situation? I think not in any instance. It is impossible as Trotsky himself has previously pointed out, to assign and fix an exact date when the explosion of the revolution will begin and although he had in mind more the impossibility of indicating the day [?] I consider it to be impossible to predict even the year [?]. A revolution depends above all upon economic factors and at the present time there are an endless number of economic factors which may prove to favour or oppose a revolution in Britain. A revolution could have flared up on August 1, 1925 as a result of the crisis in the coal industry. A revolution may break out with the renewal of the crisis next May. A revolution may be accelerated by the Far Eastern crisis, war, the economic collapse of other countries, the short-sightedness of a few industrialists at home, the inability of the government to solve the unemployment problem, a crisis in other branches of industry besides coal, and also by socialist propaganda among workers which elevates their demands and hopes. Each of these possibilities is highly probable in the conditions of the present day and not a single one of them can be predicted even to the month. The present day is characterized by extreme economic and consequently political instability; one move can ruin the whole game but on the other hand the existing system can be artificially maintained for many years more. Thus the British revolution, if you understand a political revolution by that, is marked by uncertainty.

The confusion in these lines is absolutely unimaginable, and yet it is not a personal confusion, but on the contrary it is deeply typical. It is the confusion of the people who “speaking generally” recognize the revolution but who fear it to the marrow of their bones and who are ready to adopt any theoretical justification for their political fear.

Indeed let us take a closer look at the writer’s line of argument. He is knocking at an open door when he proves that the tempo of development of the revolution and consequently its date depend on the interaction of numerous factors and circumstances of both an accelerating and a retarding effect. Hence he draws the conclusion indisputable in itself of the impossibility of predicting the timing of the revolution. But he contrives to formulate this most elementary thought thus:

Trotsky considers it impossible to predict the day of the revolution but he, the sage critic considers it impossible to predict even the year. This contraposition appears to be completely implausible by its childishness. It may even seem that it does not deserve an answer at all. But as a matter of fact how many “extreme lefts” are there who have not thought over, even in the rough, the most elementary problems of the revolution and for whom the very fact of reflections about its day and year represent a huge step forward, similar for example to the transition from total illiteracy to the muddled reading of individual syllables?

If indeed I had considered it impossible to determine in advance the day [?!] of the revolution then I would have probably attempted to determine the week, month, or the year. But you see I did not make such an attempt. I merely indicated that the social development of Britain had entered a revolutionary phase. At the end of the last century one could speak of a revolution in Britain only within the context of the most general foresight. In the years immediately preceding the imperialist war one could already point with certainty to a number of symptoms which evidenced the approach of a turning point. After the war this turn, and in the event a sharp one, set in. In the past the British bourgeoisie had by oppressing the toilers and plundering the colonies led the nation on the path of material growth and thus guaranteed its rule. Today the bourgeois regime is not only incapable of leading the British nation forward but neither can it maintain for it the level already achieved. The British working class is beating against the contradictions of capitalist decline. There is not a single question of economic life: the nationalization of the mines, and the railways, the fight against unemployment, free trade or protectionism, housing and so on which does not lead directly to the question of power. Here is the social-historical foundation of a revolutionary situation. Of course it is a question of the struggle of living historical forces and not of an automatic accumulation of arithmetical quantities. And this alone makes impossible a passive prediction of the stages of the process and timing of the denouement. A finger must be kept on the pulse of the British economy and politics and, while not omitting overall perspectives for a moment, one must attentively follow all the partial fluctuations, the flows and the ebbs, and determine their place in the process of the capitalist decline. only upon the basis of such a general orientation can the revolutionary party conduct its policy the flexibility of which is expressed by the fact that it does take partial fluctuations into account but in no way loses sight of the basic line of development.

My “left” critic has evidently heard something – in quite another connection – about the determination of the “day” of the revolution and has not grasped that then we were referring to the moment of armed insurrection placed on the order of the day by the revolution. Here are two questions which although interlinked are quite distinct.

In the one case it is a question of a historically based prognosis and the general strategic line flowing from this; in the other, of a tactical plan which presupposes a more or less exact determination of a place and time. It would not enter anyone’s head – except perhaps that of the British Attorney-General – to say that in Britain at the present moment armed uprising is on the order of the day and that fixing its plan and thus its date is a practical task. And yet only in this connection could we speak of the day or of days. In Germany in the autumn of 1923 matters stood in just this way. Today in Britain the question is not one of assigning a “day” for the revolution – we are a long way from this! – but in clearly understanding that the whole objective situation is bringing this “day” closer and into the ambit of the educational and preparatory work of the party of the proletariat and at the same time creating conditions for its rapid revolutionary formation.

In his second letter the same critic brings to the aid of his scepticism about dates (in fact scepticism about revolution) still more unexpected arguments. “The domain of economics,” he argues, “is, practically sneaking, limitless ... new inventions, re-grouping of capitalist forces ... the other side also recognizes the danger. ... America too may take measures against an impending collapse of Britain. In a word,” the critic concludes, “the possibilities are very many and Trotsky has by no means exhausted them all.” Our “left” has need of all possibilities except one: that of revolution. While playing hide-and-seek with reality he is ready to seize hold of any fantasy. In what sense for example can “new inventions” alter the social conditions of the development of Great Britain? Since the time of Marx there have been plenty of inventions through which the effect of Marx’s law of the concentration of capital and the sharpening of class contradictions has not weakened but on the contrary has become stronger. New inventions will in the future also provide advantages to the more powerful, i.e. not to Great Britain but to the United States. That the “other side”, that is the bourgeoisie, is aware of the danger and will fight against it by all means is beyond question. But just this is the most important prerequisite for revolution. To hope for a saving hand from America is in the end completely preposterous. It is more than probable that, in the event of a civil war in Britain, America will attempt to assist the bourgeoisie but this merely signifies that the British proletariat will have to seek allies beyond its frontiers too. We think that it will find them. Hence it follows that a British revolution will inevitably acquire an international scale. We least of all intend to dispute this. But our critic means something else. He expresses the hope that America will so relieve the existence of the British bourgeoisie that it can assist it to avoid revolution altogether. It is hard to think of a better one than that! Each new day testifies that American capital forms a historical battering ram which intentionally or unintentionally is dealing the most crushing blows to Britain’s world position and internal stability. This however does not in the least prevent our “left” from hoping that American capital will kindly squeeze up to help British capital. For a start he must evidently expect that America will relinquish the discharge of the British debt; that she will hand over to the British Treasury the $300m which form her reserve of British currency without compensation; that she will support Great Britain’s policy in China; that perhaps she will also hand over to the British Navy a few new cruisers and sell back her Canadian shares to British firms at a discount of 50 per cent. He must in a word expect that the Washington government will put the management of the affairs of state into the hands of the ARA[22] having picked for this the most philanthropic quakers.

People who are capable of consoling themselves with nonsense of this sort must not lay claim to the leadership of the British proletariat!

(Part 2) Brailsford and Marxism[edit source]

Pravda, No.60, March 14, 1926

(March 1926)

THE London edition of Where is Britain Going? has appeared with an unexpected foreword by Brailsford[23], the former bourgeois radical who after the war joined the Independent Labour Party and now edits its organ. Mr Brailsford despite his socialist sympathies has not ceased to be a radical. And as moderate liberals stand at the head of the Independent Labour Party Brailsford has ended up on the left wing.

The fact that it is not in backward China nor even in japan, where radical bourgeois publishers consider it still useful to issue books by Russian communists, but in Britain with her crying social contradictions that the appearance of a book by a communist with a patronizing foreword by a member of MacDonald’s party is possible, serves in the eyes of any Marxist as evidence of the inconceivable backwardness of British political ideology as compared with her material relations. In this judgement which needs no proof there is at once a condemnation of this sort of unexpected literary bloc. We do need a unity of front with the working masses. But the unity or a semi-unity of a literary front with Brailsford signifies but an aggravation of that ideological chaos in which the British labour movement is rich enough as it is.

There is however no mistake herd on Brailsford’s part. His historical mission consists in “correcting” Thomas and MacDonald, in creating a safety valve for the discontent of the masses, in blurring the edges and in dissolving cogent thought into a formless “leftism”. It is of political advantage to Brailsford, whose intentions we do not in the least suspect (though we do bear firmly in mind that it is from reformist intentions that highways to hell are built), to appear within the same covers as us. The working masses of Britain are immeasurably more to the left than Brailsford. By “fraternizing” with Moscow communists Brailsford camouflages his adherence to a party which expels British communists.

But we have different tasks. We do not want masks. Our first obligation is that of destroying ideological masks. The British working masses are immeasurably more to the left than Brailsford but they have not yet found the appropriate language for their own inclinations. The rubbish of the past still separates the leftward moving masses from the programme of communism with a thick layer. So much more impermissible is it then to add even a shred to this garbage. In fighting for the interests of the miners the communists are prepared to take several steps alongside Mr Brailsford in this struggle. But with no ideological blocs, and no united front in the field of theory and programme! And this very Brailsford himself puts it thus with regard to the American edition of our book: “We are separated from these people by a gulf.” Correct, correct and three times correct! But from the standpoint of Marxism there is nothing more criminal than to throw literary olive branches across this political gulf: the worker who is deceived by the camouflage will set his foot down and fall through.

For Mr Brailsford camouflage is necessary. He makes use of a revolutionary book in order to fight against revolution. Brailsford, a defender of democratic illusions and parliamentary fetishes is saying in his foreword: “Just look, in our British democracy we can publish a Bolshevik book without fear thereby demonstrating the breadth and power of democracy.” Moreover by his little demonstration Brailsford would like to gloss over the, for him, inconvenient outcome of the recent trial of the communists. Brailsford himself openly admits this. The sentencing of the British communists now, when the revolution is taking shape only at a remote distance, is an immeasurably sharper and more convincing refutation of democratic illusions than all our books and pamphlets. Brailsford understands this. In fighting for the preservation of democratic illusions he “greets” the appearance of our book in these words: “If it may come freely from the Press in public, if it may be discussed ... then the nightmare of this trial is dissipated.” By sparing democratic illusions at such a cheap price Brailsford wants to give the British proletariat the idea that once a revolutionary book accompanied by an appropriate dose of antidote in the shape of a pacifist foreword appears on the British book market it is thereby proven that the British bourgeoisie will tamely bow its head when the banks, land, mines, factories and shipyards start to be taken “democratically” away from them. In other words Brailsford unceremoniously admonishes our book with concepts directly contrary to its aim, sense, spirit and letter.

It is not surprising if Brailsford reproachfully describes the “Russian methods” of polemic as ruthless and hopes that they will produce in the British reader quite a different impression from that intended. Let us wait for the “impressions”. Readers vary. Methods of polemic flow from the essence of the politics. “Ruthlessness” is caused by the necessity to reveal the reality behind a deliberate falsehood. Nowhere in Europe does canonized hypocrisy – “cant” – play such a role as in Great Britain. Different political groupings and even the most “extreme” of them are, when fighting against each other, accustomed not to touch upon certain questions or to call certain things by their proper names. The reason is that from time immemorial the political struggle has been waged inside the ranks of the possessing classes who have never forgotten that a third party is listening in. The system of conventions, implications and reservations has over the ages worked itself downwards and today finds its most reactionary expression in the liberal Labour Party including its radical opposition wing. Here it is not a question of literary style but of politics. Our polemic repels Brailsford because it lays the class contradictions absolutely bare. It is ,quite true that in those enlightened readers who have been brought up in the parliamentary tradition of political cant this polemic will produce not sympathy but annoyance. But Brailsford notwithstanding this is just the effect that the author, rightly, intends. It is also quite true that politicians with such an education still form a dense stratum between the working class and the programme of communism. Nevertheless, in Britain too, class realities are more powerful than traditional hypocrisy. Once aroused, British workers blazing themselves a trail through the thicket of inherited prejudices – both those of Baldwin and Brailsford – will find in our polemic a particle of their own struggle. And this again will be the effect that we intend.

Brailsford’s foreword represents an intermixture of immoderate praise and moderate censure. The praise relates to what is secondary, the form of the book. The censure is directed against the essence. The immoderate nature on the praise is to lend extra weight to the careful attacks on Bolshevism. Brailsford operates expediently. He fulfils his assignment. He is interested in camouflage. But we need complete clarity. That is why we reject equally both Brailsford’s praises and his censure.

Brailsford operates expediently but is utterly impotent all the same. But then this is not his fault. He cannot leap out of the historical task of centrism; blurring realities in order to sustain illusions. We have seen how ridiculously Brailsford dealt with the lessons of the trial of the communists. This same impotence lies at the root of the whole of his appraisal of our book. On the one hand for him it emerges that the book is based on the knowledge of facts and an understanding of the logic of their development. On the other, it turns out that the author of the book is “a man of another world” who is incapable of comprehending either the nature of British Protestantism or the force of parliamentary traditions. It is not only in parliament, but also in the Church, trade unions and even clubs, Brailsford tries to convince us, that respect for the majority has been instilled into generations of British people. “What does a Russian know about this and how can he assess the force of traditions in our ancient civilization?” Brailsford’s arrogant helplessness lies in his method: he does not understand the material basis of social development as the decisive factor. He halts before traditions, before the ideological residue of old struggles and thinks that this crust is an eternal one. He does not know the simplest laws of the dependence of ideology upon class foundations. Arguing with him on these matters is as good as trying to convince the inventor of perpetuum mobile who denies the law of the conservation of energy. It is plain to any literate Marxist that the more firmly the conservative forms of British society have ossified, the more catastrophically new eruptions of the social volcano will explode the crust of the old traditions and institutions.

The ideas and prejudices which have been handed down from generation to generation become a factor of great historical force. This “independent” force of prejudices condensed by history is only too evident in Brailsford himself. But material facts are nevertheless stronger than their reflection in ideas and traditions. And of this it is not hard to be convinced at the present day, faced with the most instructive picture that we have of British liberalism in its death throes. Can one find another tradition more powerful than this? At its source liberalism was connected with the first Protestant movements and consequently with the revolution of the 17th century which opened the history of the new England. And yet this mighty liberalism is before our eyes warping and crumbling like a sheet of parchment tossed on to a hot hearth. Living facts are more powerful than dead ideas. The decline of the middle classes in Britain and the decline of British capitalism in the world are material facts which are mercilessly settling the fate of British liberalism. The figure of the agrarian reformer Gracchus Lloyd George who in the evening denies what he said in the morning in itself forms a marvellous mockery of liberal traditions.

We heard from Brailsford that for “a man of another world” an understanding of “how deeply the instinct of submission to the will of the majority is stamped in the consciousness of the British people” is unattainable. But it is a remarkable thing that when Brailsford descends from the heights of doctrinairism into the sphere of living political facts he himself unexpectedly reveals at times the mystery of “submission to the will of the majority”. Thus in tracing the course of the last Liberal conference which against all its “traditions’ and more important, against its own wishes adopted (in half-measure) Lloyd George’s charlatan programme of land, nationalization, Brailsford wrote in the New Leader of February 26: “The payment of expenses from a central fund (in Lloyd George’s hands) and the provision of a gratuitous luncheon apparently created the right sort of majority.” Luncheons created a majority! From these realistic words it is evident that the democratic instinct of submission to the majority instilled by a number of British generations and unattainable to men “of another world” every so often requires in addition free roast beef and other auxiliary resources to display its omnipotence. Brailsford could scarcely write better words than these. Our idealist has here collided with the thing that usually spoils metaphysical schema: a slice of reality. It has been long known that German Kantian professors in the course of devising an eternal morality stumbled on such obstacles as inadequate wages, intrigues of their colleagues or a cantankerous aunt. The democratic socialist Brailsford has slipped up, far more dangerously than he might imagine, on roast beef. Of course we people of another world are incapable of appreciating the noble worship by all British people of parliamentary methods. But then why embarrass us with the report that inside the Liberal Party, the creator of parliamentarism, a majority is achieved by means of hand outs and a series of lunches, free, but we must suppose, quite copious. A majority achieved in this way is very like a fraudulent or falsified majority. But here of course at the moment only the struggle for parliamentary seats and portfolios is at stake. What will happen when the issue is posed point blank: who should have state power: the bourgeoisie or the proletariat? And who shall have the property; the capitalist or the people? If through considerations of parliamentary careerism the leaders of the Liberal Party successfully set bribery and falsification into motion then at what violent means and at what crimes would the ruling classes stop when the whole of their historical fate is on the order of the day? I very much fear that if, out of the two of us. one is a man of another world who does not” understand the most important thing about British politics, then it is Mr Brailsford. He is a man of another era. The new era is ours.

In his foreword Brailsford does not miss the opportunity to take up a defence of religion; It is curious that in doing so he calls himself an agnostic. In Britain this word tends to be used as a polite, drawing-room, emasculated name for an atheist. More often it characterizes a semi-atheism which is unsure of itself i.e. the variety of idealism which on the question of God abstains from voting, to put it in parliamentary language. And so we see here once again the force of cant, convention, the half-truth, the half-lie and philosophical hypocrisy. Implying his atheism and calling himself an agnostic Brailsford here takes on the defence of religion. These are the ambiguous customs which British revolutionaries will have to expel from the ranks of the labour movement. Enough of hide-and-seek, call things by their names!

Brailsford defends religion by denying its class character. Not a single Russian is able, don”t you see, to understand what British religion is, with its “traditions of free discussion, its democratic form, and its relative freedom from any other-worldliness’ and so on and so forth. There is not a single democratic priest who could pronounce a more apologetic speech in defence of religious dope than does our “agnostic”. His evidence in support of the Church must acquire the greater weight since he declares himself to be an unbeliever. Here is duplicity and falsehood at every step. While attempting to refute the bourgeois character of Protestantism, Brailsford accusingly asks whether Trotsky has ever been to a Non-Conformist chapel in a mining area, whether he has read Bunyan[24] and whether he has ever taken a look at the revolutionary history of the Anabaptists[25] and the men of the Fifth Monarchy.[26] I must admit that I have not been in a miners’ Non-Conformist chapel and that I am very insufficiently familiar with the historical facts of which Brailsford speaks. I promise to visit a mining area and its chapel as soon as Brailsford’s party takes power and permits me in accordance with the principles of democracy, unimpeded passage through the possessions of His Majesty. I will attempt to acquaint myself with Bunyan and the history of the Anabaptists, in the Fifth Monarchy before that date. But Brailsford is cruelly mistaken if he thinks that the facts and circumstances he has enumerated can alter a general evaluation of religion and in particular of Protestantism. I once visited, together with Lenin and Krupskaya[27] a “free church” in London where we heard socialist speeches interspersed with psalms. The preacher was a printer who had just returned from Australia. He spoke about the social revolution. The congregation begged God in the psalms that he establish such an order where there would be neither poor nor rich.[28] Such was my first practical acquaintance with the British labour movement nearly a quarter of a century ago (1902). What role, I asked myself at the time, does a psalm play in connection with a revolutionary speech? That of a safety-valve. Concentrated vapours of discontent issued forth beneath the dome of the Church and rose into the sky. This is the basic function of the Church in class society.

To be sure different Churches fulfil this task in different ways. The Orthodox Church, while not having overcome primitive peasant mythology as time went on, turned into an external bureaucratic apparatus existing alongside the apparatus of Tsarism. The priest walked hand in hand with the constable and any development of dissent was met with repression. It was for this reason that the roots of the Orthodox Church proved to be so weak in the popular consciousness and especially in the industrial centres. In shaking off the bureaucratic ecclesiastical apparatus the Russian worker in his overwhelming mass and the peasant milkmaid together with him, shook off religious thinking altogether. Protestantism is quite another matter: it came to its feet as the banner of the bourgeoisie and the small people of the towns and the countryside against the crowns of the privileged and courtly, and against the cavaliers and the bishops. The genesis and development of Protestantism is so closely bound up with the development of urban culture and the struggle of the bourgeoisie for a firmer and more stable position in society that there is really no need to prove it. The bourgeoisie could not of course fight successfully for, and then retain power if it had not made its banner to some degree or other the banner of lower social layers that is, the artisans, peasants and workers. In its struggle against the nobility the bourgeoisie tied the lower layers very firmly to itself using the Protestant religion. Of course the Scottish woodcutter would not put into his psalms the same subjective content as the respectable Mr Dombey, or his honourable grandson sitting in the House of Commons either to the right or to the left of Mr MacDonald. And just the same applies to liberalism too. The liberal workers, not the trade union bureaucrats but the proletariat understood the liberal programme completely differently from Gladstone. They introduced a class instinct into their liberalism but a helpless one. But will Brailsford dispute on these grounds that liberalism was the programme of the middle and small merchant, the industrial bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intelligentsia socially rising upwards?

It is true, and this is what Brailsford wants to adduce, that many petty-bourgeois radicals and opponents of the class struggle were inclined towards atheism while the pioneers of trade unionism stood in equal measure for Christianity and for the class struggle. But there is no contradiction here with what has been said above. Marxism in no way teaches that every man receives his share of religious and philosophical convictions depending upon the scale of his income or his wages. The question is more complex. Religious, as indeed any other. ideas being born out of the soil of the material conditions of life and above all the soil of class contradictions, only gradually clear themselves a way and then live on by force of conservatism longer than the needs which gave birth to them and disappear completely only under the effect of serious social shocks and crises. The petty-bourgeois British radicals from the utilitarian and Owenite schools could be militant atheists only as long as they seriously believed that they possessed the painless means of solving all social problems. But in proportion as class contradictions sharpened, militant radicalism disappeared or moved over into the Labour Party bringing into it its threadbare idealistic arrogance and its political impotence. The organizers of the trade unions who had been thrown up by workers’ strikes could not renounce the basis of their activity and the source of their influence, that is the class struggle. But they at the same time remained within the narrow limits of trade unionism not leading the struggle to the necessary revolutionary conclusions and this allowed and still does allow them to reconcile trade unionism with Christianity, i.e. with a discipline which imposes upon the proletariat the faith and morality of another class.

It is completely indisputable that the revolution will find a good share of the Welsh miners still in the grip of religious prejudices. It cannot be doubted that despite this the miners will do their job. From some prejudices they will free themselves in the heat of the struggle while from others only after victory. But we categorically deny that the Welsh miners and the British proletariat in general can be shown the correct path by people who have not separated themselves from infantile nonsense, do not understand the structure of human society, do not grasp its dynamics, do not understand the role of religion in it and to one degree or another are ready to subordinate their actions to the precepts of ecclesiastical morality which unites oppressors with oppressed. Such leaders are unreliable. For their part the working class can expect capitulation or direct treachery – justified by the Sermon on the Mount – at the most crucial hour.

The traditional force of British Protestantism is clear to us. Brailsford depicts the matter in vain, as if he were judging Protestantism by orthodoxy. Nonsense. We Marxists are accustomed to taking historical phenomena in their social context, in their concrete aspect, and to judge them not by their names but by that content which living, that is class-divided, society imparts to them. The traditional power of Protestantism is great but not limitless. In its very essence, that is as a religious and not political teaching, Protestantism is more elastic than liberalism which represents its younger brother. But the elasticity of Protestantism has its limits. The profound turn in the fate of Britain predetermines them. All her national traditions will undergo a test. What was shaped by centuries will be destroyed in the course of years. The revolution will bring a process of verification based on inexorable facts which will reach into those last refuges of consciousness where the inherited religious prejudices are concealed. Our task is to assist this cleansing operation and not to block its way as the ambiguous agnostics do by implying their atheism only to defend religion.

We can see in this way that on the most important questions on which the historical life and death of the proletariat depend we and Brailsford stand on different sides of the ideological barricade. That is why our appearance before the British reader within the same covers forms the crudest misunderstanding. With the present article I am correcting this misunderstanding as well as I can.

(Part 3) Once More on Pacifism and Revolution[edit source]

(May 1926)

[A reply to The New Leader, February 26, 1926, Trotsky on our sins by Bertrand Russell[29]]

THE majority of British critics of my book see its chief failing in that the author is not British and that consequently he is incapable of understanding British psychology, British traditions and so on. It must however be said that the more the British Fabians clutch at this argument the less they appear to be British: in the final analysis they add very little to the arguments which we have heard more than enough of from the Russian Mensheviks and before that, from the populists.

Today, when we are victorious, British and European socialists in general are inclined to permit us to be left alone in view of the peculiarities of our country and its national culture. They want in this way to erect an essentially ideological barrier along the same frontiers where Lloyd George, Churchill, Clemenceau[30] and others attempted to set up a material barbed wire blockade. “It may be all right for Russians” – so the “lefts” say to all intents, “but just let the Russians dare to cross the Russian frontiers with their experience and their conclusions”. The peculiarities of the British character are introduced as a philosophical justification for the theory of Bolshevik “non-intervention”.

Fabian and other critics do not know that we have been well tempered by all our past against arguments of this brand. But the irony in it is that while the Fabians are agreed nowadays, that is after our victory, to recognize Bolshevism, that is Marxism in action, as corresponding to the national peculiarities of Russia, the old traditional Russian ideology and not just that of the government but that of the opposition, invariably regarded Marxism as a creature of western culture and would proclaim its total incompatibility with the peculiarities of Russian national development.

My generation can still remember how the overwhelming majority of the Russian press declared the Russian Marxists to be ideological aliens who were trying in vain to transplant Britain’s historical experience on to Russian soil. On every pretext we were reminded that Marx created his theory of economic development in the British Museum and through observing British capitalism and its contradictions. How could the lessons of British capitalism have any relevance to Russia with its enormous “peculiarities”, its predominantly peasant population, its patriarchal traditions, its village commune and its Orthodox Church? Thus spoke the Russian reactionaries and the Russian populists with the appropriate right and left variations. And it was not only before and during the war but even after the February revolution of 1917, when Mr Henderson came over to Russia to try to persuade the Russian workers to continue the war against Germany, that there was scarcely a single “socialist” in the world, right or left, who considered that Bolshevism suited the national peculiarities of Russia. No, at that time we were regarded at best as maniacs. Our own Fabians, the Russian Mensheviks and the so-called Social-Revolutionaries brought against us, all the same arguments which today we hear from Lansbury, Brailsford, Russell and their more right-wing colleagues. presented as the conquests of a pure British philosophy. In the final count resorting to the question of national peculiarities forms the last tool of any ideological reaction in shielding itself from the revolutionary demands of the time. By this we do not at all mean that there do not exist national peculiarities or that they are of no substance. The residue of the past represents in institutions and customs a great conservative force. But in the final analysis the living forces of the present decide. The position of the British coal industry on the world market cannot be rectified by any recourse to national traditions. At the same time the role of the coal industry in the fate of Great Britain is immeasurably more important than all the devices and ceremonies of parliamentarism. The House of Commons rests upon coal and not the converse. The conservatism of British forms of property and the means of production comprise just that national “peculiarity” which is capable only of deepening the social crisis together with all the revolutionary contradictions which flow from it.

Mr Bertrand Russell, a philosopher of mathematicians, a mathematician of philosophers, an aristocrat of democracy and a dilettante of socialism has considered it his duty to set his hand also, and not for the first time, to the destruction of those pernicious ideas which emanate from Moscow and are inimical to the Anglo-Saxon spirit.

On the question of religion Russell takes a step forward from Brailsford. He admits that in present conditions any organized religion must become a reactionary force (this does not stop Russell from leaving a loop-hole on this point: personal religion, well that’s another matter). Russell approves of our arguments concerning the fact that even the most economic king cannot become a component part of a socialist society. Russell refuses to regard the parliamentary road as a guaranteed road to socialism. But all these admissions as well as certain others are made by Russell only in order to reveal more sharply the antirevolutionary character of his thinking on the question of the future road of the British working class. Russell declares the proletarian revolution in Britain not only to be dangerous but also disastrous. Britain is too dependent upon overseas countries and above all upon the United States of America. If cut off by a blockade from the outside world the British Isles would not be able to feed a population of more than 20 million. “While [such a reduction of] the population was being effected by starvation,” Russell taunts us, “Trotsky’s sympathy would be a great comfort. But until Soviet Russia can place a fleet in the Atlantic stronger than that of America it is not clear what we should gain by sympathy, however enthusiastic.” These strategic considerations are most interesting from the lips of a pacifist. We find that in the first place the fate of British pacifism. as far as it attempts to link itself to the working class, depends upon the strength of the American navy. We find in the second place that it would not be at all a bad thing if British pacifism could be protected from its enemies by a Soviet navy of the necessary strength. Our worthy idealist disdainfully tosses aside an ideological sympathy which is not reinforced by sufficient quantities of shells and mines. But for us, however, it evidently more than suffices.

Russell’s own sympathies for the October Revolution (which are however very much like antipathies) have not over the last few years provided us with any “comfort”. But the sympathies of the British and European workers in general saved us. Of course Churchill caused us as much trouble as he could. Chamberlain is doing everything he can. But we would have been crushed long ago if the ruling classes of Great Britain and Europe had not been afraid to send their armed forces against us. Of course this safeguard is not an absolute one. But along with the antagonisms between the capitalist states it proved sufficient to protect us from intervention on a major scale during the most critical first years. And yet both before October and after October our own Russells would assure us that we would be crushed by either the armies of Hohenzollern[31] or the armies of the Entente.[32]

They told us that the Russian proletariat, as the most backward and numerically small one, could take power into its hands only in the event of a victory of the world revolution. To make reference to the international revolution as a preliminary condition for the overthrow of the bourgeois state in one’s own country represents a masked denial of revolution. For what is the international revolution? It is a chain – and not an even one either – of national revolutions within which each one feeds the others with its successes and, in turn, loses from the failures of the others. In 1923 when the revolutionary situation reached its sharpest point in Germany the left Social-Democrats in their struggle against the communists argued the danger of military intervention by France and Poland. The German left Mensheviks were totally prepared, at least in words, to seize power in Germany under the condition of a preliminary victory of the proletariat in France. This Menshevik agitation was one of the factors which paralysed the revolutionary initiative of the German working class. In the event of a decisive sharpening of the political situation in France – and this is the way things are going – the French socialists will doubtless intimidate the French workers with the danger of a German revanche on the one hand and with that of a British blockade on the other. But who would have the slightest doubt that Leon Blum[33], Jean Longuet[34] and other heroes would agree to the conquest of power under the condition of a preliminary and what is more a complete victory of the working class of Great Britain and Germany? And the socialists of small states consider it to be doubly impossible to start a revolution at home as long as the bourgeoisie maintains power in the large states. The Mensheviks of the different countries toss the right to revolutionary initiative back and forth with about as much skill as performing seals at the circus toss burning torches from one to another.

Russell the pacifist considers it impossible to embark upon a revolution in Britain as long as the United States retains its powerful navy. It would of course be pretty good if the American proletariat seized power in its hands in the near future and with it the navy. But then wouldn”t the American Russells tell us that proletarian power in the United States would inevitably be threatened by the combined navies of Great Britain and Japan? True, this argument could be ignored if the proletarian revolution really was on the immediate agenda in the United States. Unfortunately it is not yet. Great Britain from every point of view is immeasurably closer to revolution than North America. Consequently we have to reckon with the fact that the struggle of the proletariat for power in Britain will take place in the face of the still unshaken rule of the American bourgeoisie. So what can we do? Russell indicates, more in irony it is true, a solution to the problem: he proposes to the Soviet Union that it creates a navy capable of guaranteeing free access to proletarian Britain. Unfortunately the poverty and technological backwardness of our country do not permit us at the moment to fulfil such a programme. Of course it would be more advantageous, economical and simpler, if the proletarian revolution commenced in the United States and extended through Britain and from the West eastwards across Europe and Asia. But the actual course of development is not like this: the chain of capitalist rule like any other chain breaks at its weakest link. After Tsarist Russia, Austro-Hungary, Germany and Italy came closest of all to the proletarian revolution. For France and Britain the day of reckoning for the war is merely still to come. Europe as a whole is immeasurably closer to the revolutionary overthrow than the United States. And this has to be taken into account.

Of course the situation of a blockaded Britain would, in view of its vital dependence upon imports and exports, be more grave than the situation of any other European country. However the resources of a revolutionary Britain in its struggle against hardships would also be extremely great.

While referring to the American navy Russell for some reason forgets about the British navy. In whose hands would it be? If it remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie then the closer and more acute danger to threaten the proletarian revolution would be not from the American navy but from the British navy. But if the latter ended up in the hands of the proletariat then the position would at once become immeasurably more favourable than Russell depicts it. From our critic there is not a word on this question of no little importance. But we must dwell on it in somewhat more detail.

The major peculiarities of British development have been determined by its island position. The role of the British navy in the fate of the country has formed the sharpest expression of these peculiarities. At the same time the British socialists who reproach us for ignorance or incomprehension of the hidden and imponderable peculiarities of the British spirit forget without exception when discussing the question of the proletarian revolution such an extremely ponderable quantity as the British navy. Russell while ironically appealing for assistance from the Soviet navy says nothing about the navy which continued to be reinforced with light cruisers when the party of MacDonald. Brailsford and Lansbury was in power.

Here we have a question of conquering power in a country where the proletariat constitutes the preponderant majority of the population. The political prerequisite for success must only be the aspiration of the proletariat itself to master power at any cost, that is at the price of any sacrifice. Only a revolutionary party is capable of uniting the working masses in this aspiration. The second prerequisite of success is a clear understanding of the paths and methods of struggle. Only a workers’ party freed from pacifist cataracts in its eyes can see itself and explain to the proletariat that the real transfer of power from the hands of one class into the hands of another depends in immeasurably greater degree upon the British army and the British navy than upon parliament. The struggle of the proletariat for power must therefore be its struggle for the navy. Sailors, not of course the admirals but the stokers, electricians and ratings must be schooled to understand the tasks and aims of the working class. A road to them must be found across all obstacles. Only systematic, stubborn and insistent preparatory work can create a situation where the bourgeoisie cannot rely upon the navy in the struggle against the proletariat. And without this condition it is senseless to talk about victory.

It is of course impossible to conceive the question as though in the first period of the revolution the navy will en bloc and in full combat order go over to the side of the proletariat. Matters will not proceed without deep internal unrest inside the navy itself. The history of all revolutions bears witness to this. Unrest in the navy connected with an overall renewal of the officer corps inevitably signifies a general weakening of a navy over a fairly long period. Once again one cannot close one’s eyes to this. But a period of crisis and an internal weakening of the navy will proceed more rapidly the more decisive the leading party of the proletariat, the more contacts it has in the navy during the preparatory period, the bolder it is during the period of the struggle and the more clearly it shows to all oppressed people that it is capable of seizing power and retaining it. Pacifism only to a very insignificant extent affects the military machine of the ruling class. The best evidence of this is provided by Russell’s own courageous but generally futile experience during the war. It resulted merely in a few thousand young people being put in prison on account of their “conscience”. In the old Tsarist army members of sects and especially followers of Tolstoy frequently suffered persecution for this kind of passive anti-militarism. But they did not solve the problem of the overthrow of Tsarism. And in Britain they did not and could not prevent the war being carried on until the end. Pacifism turns its face not so much towards the military organization of the bourgeois state as towards the working masses. Here its influence is absolutely pernicious. It paralyses the will of those who as it is suffer no shortage of it. It preaches the harmfulness of armaments to those who are, as it is, disarmed and represent the victims of class violence. Under the present conditions of British life when the problem is posed point-blank Russell’s pacifism is reactionary through and through.

Not so long ago Lansbury, according to the newspapers, invoked British soldiers not to fire on strikers. Thousands of those present at the meeting of working men and women raised their hands to show their solidarity with this appeal which, it is true, hardly reconciles itself with MacDonald’s policy and yet represents a certain step forward on the road to revolution. One must be very naive to think that Lansbury’s appeal opens up the possibility of a peaceful, bloodless, pacifist solution to the problem of power. On the contrary this appeal inasmuch as it makes any headway in practice will inevitably bring on the sharpest military conflicts. It cannot be imagined that all soldiers and all sailors will simultaneously refuse to fire on workers. In actual fact the revolution will drive a wedge into the army and navy; a rift will pass through every company and through the crew of every warship. One soldier will have firmly made his mind up not to fire even though it may cost him his life. A second will waver. A third will be prepared to fire on the one who refuses to fire. And in the early stage most numerous are those who waver. How was it with us in 1905 and 1917? The soldier or sailor who showed in practice his solidarity with the workers fell under the fire of an officer. In the next stage an officer would fall under the fire of soldiers inspired by the heroic example of their more advanced comrades. Such conflicts spread. A regiment in which revolutionary elements hold control stands against a regiment where the command of the old officer corps is maintained. At the same time finding support in the revolutionary regiments the workers arm themselves. In the navy it was no different. We would very much advise Russell and his sympathizers to see the Soviet film The Battleship Potemkin which shows quite graphically the mechanism of the revolution inside an armed mass of people. Even more important it would be to show this film to British workers and sailors. Let us hope that the Labour Party will do so when it comes to power.

The congenital bourgeois bigots and the civilized cannibals will of course speak with the greatest vexation of how we are striving to set brother against brother, soldier against officer and so forth. The pacifists will echo them. They will once again not fail to remind us that we see everything in a bloody light because we do not know the peculiarities of Great Britain and because we underestimate the beneficial influence of Christian morality upon the naval officers, the policemen and Joynson-Hicks. But this cannot stop us. A revolutionary policy requires above all that we look facts openly in the face so as to foretell the course of their subsequent development. A revolutionary policy appears fantastic to philistines only because it is able to predict the day after next, while they do not dare to give a thought to the next day.

In conditions where the national organism as a whole can be saved not by conservative therapy but only by surgical intervention and amputating the malignant organ – that is, the class which has outlived itself – the pacifist sermons flow in essence from an attitude of complacent indifference. The highest degree of “mercy” in such conditions demands the greatest firmness so as to reduce the time-span and minimize the pain. The more decisively the British proletariat sets its hand upon all means and implements of the British bourgeoisie the less temptation the American bourgeoisie will have to intervene in the struggle. The more speedily and fully the proletarian power dominates the British navy the less opportunity the American navy will have to destroy that power in Britain. We do not mean by this that military intervention by the transatlantic republic is excluded. On the contrary it is very probable and within certain limits entirely inevitable. But the results of such an intervention will depend in enormous measure upon our own policy before and during the revolution.

To impose a total blockade of the British Isles and above all their isolation from the European continent the behaviour of the French navy will be of no little significance. Will the French bourgeoisie send its warships against the proletarian revolution in Britain? On this score we have had certain experiences. In 1918 Millerand[35] sent French warships to the Black Sea against Soviet ports. The result is well known. The cruiser Waldeck-Rousseau raised the banner of mutiny. Neither did everything go well with the British in the Russian North. Revolution is highly infectious. And sailors are, more than anyone else, susceptible to revolutionary infection. At the time when the French sailors Marty[36] and Badin[37] mounted the uprising because they did not wish to go into action against the proletarian revolution in Russia, France seemed to be at the summit of her power. But today the period of reckoning for the war has begun for her too, no less than for Britain. To think that even in the event where in Britain the monarchy, landlords, bankers and industrialists have been thrown overboard the French bourgeoisie will retain the possibility of playing the part of the gendarme in the Atlantic Ocean or even just in the English Channel is to display a monstrous optimism on behalf of the bourgeoisie and a shameful pessimism as regards the proletariat. Britain, that is her bourgeoisie, was not for nothing the ruler of the waves. The British revolution will set ripples in motion throughout the oceans. Its first result will be to upset the discipline of all navies. Who knows whether in these conditions the American naval commanders will have to abandon the idea of a tight naval blockade and to withdraw their vessels away from the European infection?

But in the end even in America itself the navy is not the final decisive factor. The capitalist regime is more powerful in America than anywhere else. We know as well as Russell does the counter-revolutionary character of the American Federation of Labour” of which he reminds us. just as the bourgeoisie of the United States has raised the power of capital to an unprecedented height so the American Federation of Labour[38] has brought the methods of conciliation to the lowest limit. But this does not at all mean that the American bourgeoisie is all-powerful. It is immeasurably more powerful against the European bourgeoisie than against the European proletariat. Under the lid of the American labour aristocracy, the most privileged of all the world’s labour aristocracies, there slumber and ferment the revolutionary instincts and moods of the multi-racial working masses of North America. A revolution in the Anglo-Saxon country on the other side of the Atlantic will affect the proletariat of the United States more strongly than any other revolution previously. This still does not mean that the rule of the American bourgeoisie will be toppled the day after the conquest of power by the British proletariat. A series of serious economic, military and political crises will be required before the kingdom of the dollar is toppled. The American bourgeoisie is itself today preparing these crises by investing its capital throughout the world and thereby tying its rule to the European chaos and to the powder magazines of the East. But the revolution in Britain will inevitably evoke a powerful reaction on the other side of the “great water” both on the New York Stock Exchange and in the workers’ ghettoes of Chicago. A change will immediately take place in the self-awareness of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat of the United States: the bourgeoisie will feel weaker and the working class stronger. And the self-awareness of classes is a major component element of the so-called balance of forces. Again this does not mean that the American bankers and tycoons will be unable to make attempts with their navy to choke economically the revolution of the British proletariat. But such an attempt will in itself mean a further crisis in the internal regime of the United States. In the final count, in the very heart of every American warship, in the engine room, not only the revolutionary events in Great Britain but also the new moods produced by them in the proletariat of the United States will take their effect. Taken together all this does not signify that the proletarian revolution in Britain is not fraught with hardships and dangers. On the contrary both the former and the latter are colossal. But they exist on both sides. And this is in fact what the essence of revolution consists of. The greater the place occupied by a given nation in the world the more sweeping will be the forces of action and counteraction that the revolution awakens and releases. Our “sympathies” can in these conditions prove to be of some use.

Revolutions are not made in the order of the most advantageous sequence. Revolutions are not generally made at will. If one could rationally map out a revolutionary itinerary then it would probably avoid revolution altogether. But this is just the point, for revolution forms the expression of the impossibility of reconstructing class society by rational methods. Logical arguments even if elevated by Russell to the status of mathematical formulae are impotent against material interests. The ruling classes will sooner condemn all civilization, including mathematics, to ruin rather than renounce their privileges. In the struggle between the miners and the coal owners of Great Britain the coming revolution already wholly exists in embryo just as in the grain of corn the future stalk and ear exists in embryo. The irrational factors of human history operate most brutally of all through class contradictions. Over these irrational factors one cannot leap. Just as mathematics by working with irrational quantities arrives at completely realistic conclusions so in politics one can rationalize, that is bring a social system into a reasonable order, only by clearly taking into account the irrational contradictions of society so as to overcome them finally – not by avoiding revolution but through its agency.

We could essentially finish at this point. Russell’s objections have given us an opportunity to examine additionally those sides of the question which our pamphlet left in the shade. But perhaps it would not he superfluous to touch upon the last and most powerful argument of the pacifist critic. Russell declares that our attitude towards the British revolution is dictated by ... our Russian patriotism. He says:

I am afraid that like the rest of us Trotsky is a patriot when it comes to the pinch: a communist revolution in England would be advantageous to Russia; and therefore he advises it without considering impartially whether it would be advantageous to us.

This argument has everything in its favour except novelty. Chamberlain’s and Joynson-Hicks’ Press – the Morning Post[39] takes this up with the greatest fervour – long ago proved that the international communist movement serves the aims of Soviet imperialism which in turn continues the traditions of Tsarist policy. This sort of accusation started at the time when the bourgeoisie became convinced that our party had taken power in earnest and was not about to give up. In the period preceding the seizure of power and directly following it the accusations had. as is well known, a directly converse nature. The Bolsheviks were accused of being alien to national feelings and patriotic considerations and of carrying out Hohenzollern policy in relation to Russia. And this was not at all so long ago. Arthur Henderson[40], Emil Vandervelde[41], Albert Thomas[42] and others made visits to Russia to convince the Russian workers that the Bolsheviks were prepared to betray the basic interests of Russia in favour of their international chimera (or according to another version for the German Kaiser’s gold). Again it was the Morning Post which developed this theme with the most sharpness and vigour. In exactly the same way as Russell now accuses us of being ready to reduce the population of Great Britain to 20 million for the benefit of Soviet imperialism, nine years ago we were accused of a heartless readiness to reduce the population of Russia two- and three-fold in the name of our international aims. Our party, as is well known, took the point of view that the defeat of Tsarist Russia in the war would be advantageous as much for the Russian as for the international working class. The socialist lackeys of the Entente could not shift us from this position. In the period of the Brest-Litovsk peace, accusations of an antinational policy (in the other version – of collaboration with Hohenzollern) reached fever pitch. Nevertheless our party did not allow itself to be drawn into the war in the interests of American capital. The Hohenzollern regime fell and in its downfall the October revolution played no less a role than did the arms of the Entente. The antagonism between the Soviet Republic and the governments of the victorious Entente moved into the foreground. The most reactionary world role is played by the ruling class of Great Britain: in Europe, in Egypt, in Turkey, in Persia, in India and in China. Any changes in the world situation, either economically or politically are directed against the ruling class of Great Britain. Hence the obsolete British bourgeoisie in its struggle for its dwindling power furiously fights against changes. The American bourgeoisie is more powerful. Its struggle against the revolution will be on a larger scale. But America stands for the moment in the second line. The most active and vicious enemy of the revolutionary movement in Europe, in Asia and in Africa is the dominant class of Great Britain. It would appear that for a socialist this fact is more than sufficient to explain the antagonism between the Soviet Union and the British Empire. Are we “patriots”? To the same degree as we were “anti-patriots” during the imperialist war. By the methods of state power we are defending the same interests for which we fought by the methods of insurrection: the interests of the world proletariat.

When Russell says that we are prepared in the interests of the Soviet state to make a sacrifice of the interests of the British working class then this is not only false but absurd. Any weakening of the British proletariat and even more so its defeat in open struggle must inevitably inflict a heavy blow both to the international and to the internal position of the Soviet Union. When in March 1921 the German communists made an attempt artificially to force the proletarian revolution they were subjected to sharp criticism at the Third World Congress of the Communist International. They justified themselves by referring to the difficult position of the Soviet Republic and to the necessity of assisting it. Lenin and ourselves said to them: neither heroic outbursts nor even less revolutionary adventures can help the Soviet Republic; we need the same thing that the German proletariat needs: that is a victorious revolution; it would be fundamentally wrong to think that the proletariat of any country must in the interests of the Soviet state undertake any steps which do not flow from its own interests as a class fighting for its complete liberation. This standpoint which has entered our flesh and blood is alien to socialists who. if not always then at least at the decisive moment, invariably end up on the side of their own bourgeoisie. And Russell does not form an exception. To be sure during the war he displayed brave, though politically quite hopeless, resistance to his government: this was an individual demonstration, the tribute of conscience – the fate of the regime was not in slightest degree placed in jeopardy. But when it comes to the revolution of the proletariat Russell cannot find in his intellectual arsenal any other arguments beyond those which make him kindred to the Morning Post and all the Churchills of his country.

The principal peculiarity of British politics, and its past history is summed up in the blatant disparity between the revolutionary maturity of the objective economic factors and the extreme backwardness of ideological forms particularly in the ranks of the working class. Least of all is this basic peculiarity understood by the very people who most sharply demonstrate it: the bourgeois humanists and the latter-day enlighteners and pacifists. Along with the reactionary petty-bourgeois reformists they consider themselves to be the anointed leaders of the proletariat. Bertrand Russell is not the worst among them. But his writings on social and political topics, his outcry against war, his polemic with Scott Nearing[43] regarding the Soviet regime characterize his unmistakable superficial dilettantism, his political blindness and his complete lack of comprehension of the basic mechanism of historical development; that is the struggle of living classes which grow out of the basis of production. To history he counterposes the propaganda of a few pacifist slogans which he formulates quite wretchedly. And in the process he forgets to explain to us why pacifist enlightenment has not saved us from wars and revolutions despite the fact that such eminent people as Robert Owen[44] in the first half of the 19th century, the French enlighteners of the 18th century, the quakers beginning in the 17th century and many, many, others concerned themselves with this question. Russell is a latter-day enlightener who has inherited from the old enlightenment not so much its enthusiasm as its idealistic prejudices. Russell is a sceptic through and through. He counterposes the peaceful and gradual methods of science and technology to the violent methods of revolution. But he believes just as little in the salutary force of scientific thought as he does in the force of revolutionary action. In his polemic with Nearing he attempts under the cover of pseudo-socialist phrases to belittle, discredit and compromise the revolutionary initiative of the Russian proletariat. In his polemic against the biologist Holden he makes a mockery of scientific-technical optimism. In his pamphlet Icarus he openly expresses his conviction that the best outcome would be the destruction of all our civilization. And this man, worm-eaten through and through with scepticism, egoistic, reclusive and aristocratic, considers himself called upon to give advice to the British proletariat and to warn it against our communist intrigues! The British working class is entering a period when it requires the greatest belief in its mission and its strength. To gain this there is no need for any stimulants like religion or idealist morality. It is necessary and sufficient that the British proletariat understands the position of its country in relation to the position of the whole world, that it has become clear about the rottenness of the ruling classes and that it has thrown out of its way the careerists, quacks and those bourgeois sceptics who imagine themselves to be socialists only because they from time to time vomit in the atmosphere of rotting bourgeois society.

Crimea, en route

May 3, 1926

P.S. These lines were being written during the days when the question of the miners’ strike and the General Strike hung on a thin thread. Today a final solution has still not come about or at least news of it has not reached us. But whatever direction events in Britain take in the coming days and weeks the questions to which the present article in particular is devoted can no longer be taken off the agenda of British political life.

CHAPTER III. The General Strike[edit source]

From a speech to the All-Russian Conference of Agricultural Workers, 28th June 1926 (For Quality, Against Bureaucratism, For Socialism!)

(May 1926)

Comrades, as I speak to you the miners are on strike in Britain. The General Strike has been strangled but the miners’ strike goes on. It is not out of the question that this miners’ strike holds within itself new revolutionary possibilities. But whatever the outcome, the miners’ struggle is a struggle of the world working class and therefore our struggle too. There is no going back from the General Strike. It is not out of place at this meeting to note a seemingly minor, but highly indicative fact: the importance of the strike was expressed in the production of such phenomena as wall newspapers and worker-journalists among the British working class. Wall newspapers in Britain! No one had dreamt of such a thing before the strike but two or three weeks later wall newspapers were appearing there. There is a general strike, no newspapers, they need communications and so out comes the wall newspaper.

The General Strike was strangled not so much by the capitalists as by the perfidious leaders. The miners’ strike goes on and if the signs are not deceptive, it will be sharp and bitter. Britain has entered a period of prolonged revolutionary shocks. there will of course be pauses and lulls, but The Times will not be able to relapse into the peaceful and prosperous existence it would like.

The gigantic upsurge experienced in this country during the days of the British General Strike was a truly great demonstration of the intimate ties linking the labouring masses of our Union with the life and struggle of the British proletariat and the world working class as a whole.

When our workers collected money and the trade unions sent it to the strikers, the British bourgeois press wrote that the Russians were supporting the strike out of patriotism, in order to wreck the British economy. It is curious that a few weeks before the strike the British quasi-socialist Bertrand Russell wrote that the Bolsheviks’ positions and advice regarding the revolutionary development of Britain were dictated by patriotism. The Russians, it is said, want to drag Britain into an armed uprising, and bring about her downfall in order to strengthen their own position.

These gentlemen forget that in 1917 there came to us in Petrograd a British quasi-socialist, Arthur Henderson, one of the purported leaders, but actual betrayers, of the recent General Strike. What he said to us was more or less this: “The Bolsheviks are traitors to Russia, they are serving German imperialism, they have not a drop of healthy national feeling or patriotism in their hearts. The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries are patriots who support the struggle for political independence and democracy.”

Thus spoke the voice of official British socialism in 1917 at the most crucial moment when the Bolsheviks were fighting against imperialist war. But now when the Comintern transplants the very same principles and methods to British soil, reflecting the objective course of events, the position of the British economy, the growth of its contradictions, and the desperate situation of the British proletariat under declining capitalism – when all these circumstances likewise transplant the methods of Bolshevism in British soil: then the selfsame Henderson, along with the Daily Mail on the one hand, and Russell on the other, no longer says that the Bolsheviks are turncoats and traitors to their country. No, he says: “The Bolsheviks are very crafty patriots, they are serving the national, Great Russian idea, they wish to continue the policy of Tsarism and undermine the power of old Britain.” These gentlemen hedge, lie and turn themselves inside out. But we remain the same as we were. Whether Messrs. Hendersons call us traitors to Russia or the most bloodthirsty Russian patriots is neither here nor there to us. We have been, are and shall remain the same as we were. If we are patriots then we are patriots to the entire working class, including the British workers, and patriots to the international proletarian revolution! [Applause]

Appendices[edit source]

  1. The Liverpool Conference of the Labour Party was held from 29th September to 2rd October 1925. The National Executive recommended that: (a) no member of the Communist Party should be eligible to become or remain a member of a local Labour Party and that (b) no affiliated trade union ought to appoint delegates who are communists to national or local Labour Party conferences. Pollitt of the Communist Party moved the reference back of (a), which was lost by 321,000 votes to 2,871,000. Shinwell moved the reference back of (b) which was lost by 480,000 to 1,692,000. In the period leading up to the conference the Communist Party had mounted a campaign for the lifting of the ban on communists and motions to this effect were passed by 75 local Labour Parties and trades councils and trades councils and three trade unions.
  2. The Russian Socialist-Revolutionary Party was founded by Chernov in 1903 from various petty bourgeois, populist and student groups. The party based itself on the peasantry and radical intelligentsia although it did recruit workers. In 1905 it allied itself with the bourgeois liberals and in 1906 the right wing formed a bloc with the Constitutional Democrats. Their essentially liberal politics were often masked by terrorist acts in the tradition of the populists. With the outbreak of war the majority took a patriotic stand although a small minority opposed the war. In 1917 the right wing of the party in the person of Kerensky, and the centre in the figure of Chernov, took a leading part in the Provisional Government and denied the peasants the land that the party had always promised them. The left wing of the party led by Spiridonova and Steinberg joined the Bolsheviks in the first workers’ and peasants’ government and formed a separate Left Socialist-Revolutionary Party in December 1917. After the Brest peace however they resigned and resorted to terrorism to provoke a resumption of the war with Germany and organized a rebellion against Soviet power in alliance with the Whites.
  3. Friedrich Ebert (1871-1925), a saddler by trade, had acquired leading organizational posts in the German Social-Democratic Party by the time of Bebel’s death in 1913. He then shared the party leadership with Scheidemann and was, like him, a leading social-patriot during the war. When the Independents broke away in 1917 he concentrated the control of the party into his hands and played a key role in betraying the German revolution of November 1918 and preserving the capitalist state and army. From then until his death he was President of the bourgeois “Weimar” republic and was the most trusted agent of the bourgeoisie in the German labour movement.
  4. Philipp Scheidemann (1865-1939), Bebel’s closest colleague in the German Social-Democratic Party, took over its leadership (with Ebert) when Bebel died in 1913. A rabid patriot during the war, he played a decisive role in tying German labour and its party to the imperialist war effort. He became Chancellor of the first bourgeois coalition government in 1919. Retired from political life soon after.
  5. Members of the revolutionary faction in German Social-Democracy formed in 1916 and led by Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Franz Mehring. They conducted revolutionary agitation against the war and after the November Revolution of 1918 when the Independents opposed Soviet power in Germany, they formed the Communist Party of Germany.
  6. Karl Liebknecht (1871-1919), founder of the German communist movement and son of the co-founder of the German Social-Democratic Party. Before the First World War he was an active opponent of militarism and was imprisoned for his agitation. In 1914 he, together with Luxemburg, Mehring and Zetkin publicly opposed the Social Democratic Party’s official support for the war. In 1915 he began to organize the Spartacus League and when the International Socialist Conference was held that year at Zimmerwald to formulate a policy of opposition to the war, he wrote from the army where he had been conscripted “Not civil peace but civil war – that is our slogan”. He was expelled from the Social-Democratic parliamentary group in 1916 and was imprisoned for anti-war agitation the same year. Greatly inspired by the Russian revolution and freed from prison by the 1918 revolution he led the struggle against the Social-Democrats and the Independents and for the immediate and unconditional transfer of state power to the Soviets formed in the revolution. He led the Berlin uprising of January 1919 and on its suppression by Scheidemann, Ebert and Noske was arrested and assassinated by a squad of counter-revolutionary officers.
  7. Rosa Luxemburg was a left-Social Democrat who opposed the War and joined in the formation of the Spartacus League. Imprisoned during the war she wrote articles on a range of theoretical questions and in particular advocated the formation of a new International. After the 1918 revolution she took part in organizing the Communist Party and founded Rote Fahne its central organ. After the January uprising she was arrested and assassinated along with Karl Liebknecht.
  8. Paul von Benekendorff und von Hindenburg (1847-1934), Prussian aristocrat and soldier who fought in the battle of Koniggrätz in 1866 and in the Franco-German war of 1870-1871, became a general in 1903 and retired in 1911. Recalled by the Kaiser at the outbreak of the First World War he and Ludendorff won decisive early victories over the Russians. In 1918 he supervised the retreat of the German armies and was a party to the secret understandings reached between Ebert and Scheidemann and the counterrevolutionary monarchist military leaders to crush the emerging workers’ revolution. On the death of Ebert in 1925 he was elected President of the Republic and in the last years of the Republic appeased the rise of Hitler and several times invoked emergency powers to rule by decree and effectively strengthened the power of the right. For the monarchists he was regarded as something of a regent.
  9. Stanley Melbourne Bruce (1883-1967), Australian bourgeois politician educated at Cambridge. Entered the Australian parliament in 1918 and was Prime Minister 1923-1929. In 1925 his government took repressive measures against a wave of labour unrest throughout Australia.
  10. Artur Crispien (1875-1946), German Social Democrat who became a leading member of the Independent Social-Democratic Party. Together with Haase he enjoyed during 1918-1920 considerable following in the German working class. Attended the Second World Congress of the Comintern in 1920 and took part in negotiations on affiliating the independents but was himself opposed to affiliation along with Dittman, Hilferding, Kautsky. An intractable centrist, he ended up back with the reformists after the rump of the Independents re-joined the Social-Democrats in 1922.
  11. Rudolf Hilferding (1878-1941), German Social-Democrat who wrote a number of books on economics and politics and, supporting Kautsky’s middle-of-the-road attitude to the imperialist war, became a member of the Independents. In 1918-1920 he attempted to devise elaborate constitutional schemes representing a compromise between parliamentarism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. When the Independents split at Halle in 1920 over the attitude to the Communist Party he led the right wing and in 1922 became leader of the re-amalgamated Social-Democrats. In 1923 despite his previous opposition to participation in bourgeois governments he became Minister of Finance in Stresemann’s “Grand Coalition” of Liberals, the Catholic Centre, Democrats and Social-Democrats. Died in obscurity. [This final comment is not strictly true. After the Nazis came to power in 1933 Hilferding went into exile and was a leading member of the SPD in exile. He was arrested by the Gestapo in Paris in 1941 and died in prison of injuries suffered while being tortured by his captors. – Note by TIA]
  12. This refers to the reformist or “yellow” International Federation of Trade Unions re-established in 1919 at Amsterdam. It comprised trade union federations of European countries for the most part dominated by reformist and centrist socialist parties and also the British Trades Union Congress. Trade unions controlled by or sympathetic to parties affiliated to the Communist International formed the Red International of Unions.
  13. The Scarborough Congress of September 1925 marked die high point of a “left wing interlude” at the TUC. Its President was left-winger Alonzo Swales of the Engineers and its policies included general support for socialism and a call for more power for the General Council. However, there was no discussion of how the former policy could be achieved or how the latter could be made to support the interests of the workers or resolve the inevitable confrontation in the coal industry that came in the following May. With extreme right wingers like Jimmie Thomas back on the General Council and Arthur Pugh in the Presidency there was no serious prospect that the Congress could lead a struggle against the employers or the state.
  14. Ernest Johns, writing in the issue of 5th September, 1925.
  15. Newspaper run by George Lansbury as an alternative to the Daily Herald which was now entirely under the control of the right wing. It appeared in 1925-6 and reflected generally the policies of the “left” union leaders in the TUC and an incoherent but largely undirected disillusionment following the failure of the 1924 Labour Government.
  16. M.P. Tomsky (1880-1936) joined the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in 1904. Bolshevik and Chairman of the Central Council of Trade Unions from 1919 to 1928 when he was expelled as a member of the Right Opposition. Committed suicide after being accused in the 1936 Moscow Trial.
  17. William Joynson-Hicks (1865-1932), right-wing authoritarian Conservative politician, who was Home Secretary from 1924 to 1929. As such he was responsible for the prosecution and jailing of the leaders of the CPGB for sedition during the run-up to the General Strike and during the strike itself he was one of the most hawkish members of the government.
  18. Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), the fascist dictator of Italy who started political life as a socialist activist and became editor of Avanti, the Socialist Party paper, before World War I. During the war he became a rabid agitator for Italy to enter the war on the side of the Entente. Following the First World War he extended his extreme nationalism to organizing an anti-labour paramilitary terrorist movement, the Fascists or blackshirts. After the betrayal of the revolutionary working class in 1920-21 by the reformists and centrists he obtained the backing of the Italian bourgeoisie and formed a bonapartist government. By 1926 he finally abolished every trace of bourgeois democracy and freedoms. Having liquidated the organized labour movement he embarked on an imperial policy, bloodily seizing Abyssinia in 1935, sending armies to Spain and occupying Albania in 1939. In 1940 he led Italy into the Second World War in alliance with Hitler. After defeats in Greece and then in Italy he resigned in 1943. With the defeat of Nazi forces in Italy he was captured and hanged by partisans.
  19. Herbert Asquith (1852-1928), Liberal politician and prime minister from 1908 to 1916, when he was ousted by David Lloyd George.
  20. Philip Snowden (1864-1937), Labour politician who served Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first and second Labour governments (1924, 1929-1931) and defected to the National Government along with Ramsay MacDonald and Jimmy Thomas in 1931.
  21. Jimmy Thomas (1874-1949), trade union official and Labour politician, served in the first Labour government (1924) as as Colonial Secretary and became Minister for Employment in the second Labour govedrnment (1929-1931). Along with snowden he was responsible for the proposal to cut unemployment assistance which split the government and along with Snowden and MacDonald he defected to the National Government, in which he served in the same position until 1935.
  22. The American Relief Administration which as an official body ostensibly provided medical aid and civilian supplies for areas under famine and epidemic primarily in central and eastern Europe at the end of the First World War. It also sent aid to White-held areas of Russia if not to the White armies themselves.
  23. Henry Noel Brailsford (1873-1958). A socialist writer who came to prominence as a journalist in the Daily News over the issue of women’s suffrage. He joined the ILP in 1907 and took a pacifist position in the First World War. He was editor of the ILP paper New Leader, from 1922-26 and as such was an opponent of MacDonald within the ILP. He was active in efforts to reunite the Second and Third Internationals and in the ILP campaign of 1926 entitled “Socialism in Our Time”.
  24. John Bunyan (1628-1688), a former soldier in the revolutionary parliamentary army who became a radical preacher. While in prison for preaching without a licence he started The Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the most widely read and translated works of 17th century English literature.
  25. Puritan sect at the time of the English Revolution, which opposed infant baptism and emphasised congregational organization in opposition to government by the church hierarchy. The name came to be applied generally to the extreme left wing in religion and politics during the Civil War period.
  26. A group of Puritans during the English Revolution who believed that the return of Christ and the establishment of the millennium was imminent. They engaged in risings in 1657 and 1661 against the respective governments existing at these dates.
  27. Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya (1869-1939), Lenin’s wife and a leading figure in the Bolshevik Party in her own right.
  28. Trotsky related this episode in chapter 11 of his autobiography, My Life.
  29. Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Great British philosopher, a long-time pacifist and radical who, very late in life, took a left position on the Vietnam War.
  30. Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929). Leading French bourgeois politician. He emerged as a radical during the period of the Paris Commune (1871). In the 1890s he became popular through his part in the Dreyfus case, whom he defended along with Zola and Jaurés. As a prominent deputy in parliament Clemenceau more than once caused the fall of a government by his energetic speeches, and thus received the nickname of “the breaker of ministries”. From 1902 he was either Prime Minister or another government member. As Prime Minister from 1917-1920 Clemenceau was hailed as the “architect of victory” and was the leading figure of the Versailles peace conference in 1919. At the same period, he was the inspirer of intervention against Soviet Russia.
  31. Hohenzollern was the name of the ruling dynasty in Prussia from 1701 to 1918. From 1871 the King of Prussia was also German Emperor. The dynasty was overthrown in the German Revolution of November 1918.
  32. The Entente was the name of the alliance between Britain, France and Russia that fought the first world War against the Central Powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman empire.
  33. Leon Blum (1872-1950). Leader of the French Socialist Party from 1924. As an extreme right-winger he formed a coalition that year with the Radicals (Liberals) under Herriot. He became Prime Minister of a similar coalition in 1936 on the wave of major labour struggles but pursued a treacherous policy of preserving capitalism and won the support of the Stalinists by his demagogic appeal to defend democracy against fascism. He pursued Laval’s policy of non-intervention in Spain jointly with Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain in Britain. Replaced as Prime Minister by Daladier in 1938, he remained leader of the socialists until his death.
  34. Jean Longuet (1876-1938). French Lawyer and Socialist who in the First World War held a pacifist position but invariably voted for war credits. Founder and editor of the newspaper Le Populaire. At the Strasbourg Congress in 1918 the majority of the French Socialist Party adopted Longuet’s policy. After the Tours Congress in 1920 where the communists gained the majority he supported the minority and joined the centrist two-and-a-half International which returned later to the Second International. [He was also the grandson of Karl Marx. – ERC]
  35. Alexandre Millerand (1859-1943). Originally a French socialist, he achieved notoriety as the first socialist ever to enter a bourgeois government, which he did in 1899. This gave rise to the condemnation of parliamentarism at the Amsterdam Congress of the Second International in 1904 and the unification of the French Socialist Party on a basis of opposition to participation in bourgeois governments. He proceeded to become a leading bourgeois politician and as Prime Minister in 1920 formed a coalition (the “Bloc Nationale”) and gave support to the Polish Whites against Soviet Russia in that year. He was President from 1920 to 1924 when he resigned through the opposition of the Left Bloc which had come to power.
  36. André Marty (1886-1956). French sailor who led the mutiny in the Black Sea fleet on 16th April 1919 when French units were operating in support of the Whites in Russia. The fleet had to be withdrawn. Marty became a leading member of the French Communist Party but was expelled in 1952.
  37. A lesser-known associate of Marty in the leadership of the French sailors’ uprising.
  38. Founded in 1881 as the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, in 1886 it became the American Federation of Labor. Led by Samuel Gompers, the federation linked craft unions which preserved a wide degree of independence. The leaders were extremely patriotic and anti-revolutionary, basing themselves on the most skilled and conservative sections of American workers.
  39. The Morning Post was a conservative daily paper published in London from 1772 to 1937 when it was purchased by the Daily Telegraph.
  40. Arthur Henderson (1863-1935), a leader of the British Labour Party, who rallied the party to support World War I and became a government minister. He later served as Home Secretary in the first Labour government (1924) and Foreign Secretary in the second Labour government (1929-1931).
  41. Emile Vandervelde (1866-1941), Leader of the Belgian Labour Party (POB) and president of the Socialist International (1900-1918)
  42. Albert Thomas (1878-1932), a moderate French socialist, who supported the first world War and became a government minister. He was sent to Russia in 1917 to try to persuade the new government to stay in the war. After the war he became head of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
  43. Scott Nearing (1883-1983). Sociologist in the US who lost a university post there for opposing the First World War. Worked as a journalist in Britain for a time during the 1920s.
  44. Robert Owen (1771-1858), a Welsh utopian socialist who played an important role in the early British working class and socialist movements. He is also regarded as a founder of the cooperative movement.