International Communist Party Back to C.L. index - No. 9 - No. 12‑13


10‑11 ‑ 1997


- ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH WORKERS MOVEMENT: - [ 1 ---- ]  (Part 1) Primitive Accumulation
        1. THE TACTICS OF THE COMINTERN (Prometeo, August 1946 and November 1947)
        2. McDONALD IN POWER (
Prometeo, no 20, 18th of August 1929)
Prometeo no 5, 1st of September 1928)
Il Programma Comunista no 11, 1964)
        5. SIXTH ENLARGED C.C.I. - Fifth Session, February 22, 1926 - Position of the Left
- Archives: THE BALKAN WAR (l’Avanguardia, 1.12.1912) - Introduction 1997: The ’Big Powers’ and Yugoslavia - Consequences of the Crisis of Capitalism - The Quagmire of Nationalism

Origins and History of the English Workers Movement
(Part 1) - [ 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - ]



The history of England, the history of the successive waves of people who, after the departure of the armies of imperial Rome, went on to establish themselves in England: on an island geographically marginalized with the respect to the much more populous continent, has traditionally been presented as though it were self-contained, as though it were of a separate people with particular origins, organisations, languages and national costumes. It has been presented as a history of political isolation, which despite frequent interruptions, has supposedly left a definite mark on the policies followed by the Governments of England as evidenced by their preference for, when possible, colonising new lands rather than engaging in the interminable wars of the old continent. This isolationist view has been raised to the level of official ideology by the English ruling classes.

We find ourselves unable to condone this view of English history, which depends on half-truths, because England has never really been isolated. It has always absorbed the most important influences from Europe, and reciprocally, Europe has been obliged to draw the most progressive consequences from political-economic events in England.

England, as first of the great national states, was also the first to emerge from the tunnel of feudalism and to develop such thoroughly modern phenomena as mercantile capitalism, imperialism, the revolutionary taking of power by the bourgeoisie, and the large-scale development of industry. This in itself is enough to highlight, besides the fact that these phenomena were sooner or later exported to the rest of Europe, the role that this small country has played in the history of humanity. However, for us, marxist revolutionaries, England is of particular interest because it was there the modern proletariat first emerged, along with its first trade unions and first political parties. Marx drew the material for Capital from his studies of English history, and the lessons drawn from the historical experiences of the English proletariat remain to this day keystones of the political doctrine of communism.

* * *

One of the most repugnant features of Victorian society was its complete hypocrisy. The official ideology of that era wished to present English history as a painless progression of auspicious events which were all designed to produce the maximum welfare both of the English, and of all the peoples with whom they came in contact; all due, but of course, to the wisdom and magnanimity of a succession of kings and queens. Thus was the status quo exalted, and the crimes of English imperialism justified.

In 1848 the venerated bourgeois historian Macaulay wrote: «It can easily be proved that, in our own land, the national wealth has, during at least six centuries, been almost uninterruptedly increasing; that it was greater under the Tudors than under the Plantagenets; that it was greater under the Stuarts than under the Tudors; that, in spite of battles, sieges, and confiscations, it was greater on the day of the Restoration than on the day when the Long Parliament met; that, in spite of maladministration, of extravagance, of public bankruptcy, of two costly and unsuccessful wars, of the Pestilence and of the Fire, it was greater on the day of the death of Charles the Second than on the day of his Restoration. This progress, having continued during many ages, became at length, about the middle of the eighteenth century, portentously rapid, and has proceeded, during the nineteenth, with accelerated velocity. In consequence partly of our geographical and partly of our moral position, we have, during several generations, been exempt from evils which have elsewhere impeded the efforts and destroyed the fruits of industry.
While every part of the Continent, from Moscow to Lisbon, has been the theatre of bloody and devastating wars, no hostile standard has been seen here but as a trophy. While revolutions have taken place all around us, our government has never been subverted by violence. During more than a hundred years there has been in our island no tumult of sufficient importance to be called an insurrection; nor has the law been once borne down either by popular fury or by regal tyranny».

No wonder that Macaulay would have the title of Baron bestowed on him by a grateful ruling class.

But let us look briefly at what Macaulay omitted to mention. Between the Plantagenets and the Tudors was a century of struggles for the monarchy between the houses of Lancaster and York, known as the Wars of the Roses. "No hostile standard has been seen" means ignoring the invasions from Scotland, and considering them as a purely internal British affair. And if we are to take "our government has never been subverted by violence" to mean that no rebellion has succeeded in conquering power, then what about the English Civil War of 1644-8?

As our class interests are opposed to Macaulays, and as we don’t have any queens to keep happy, nor expect any nice sinecures from the class currently in power, we are in a position to study the events which wrought such huge changes in England by sticking to the facts, and to our tried and tested critical method, i.e. historical materialism. That said, we aren’t staking any claim to a patent of objectivity - a myth of decadent bourgeois historicism - rather we aim to counter the truth of a class defending its power, with the truth of a class which history has placed in the situation of needing to attack it; the one class which, through the revolutionary taking of power, can impress on human history the last, decisive push towards a society without exploiters and exploited. We refer of course to the proletariat.

* * *

The Invasion of 1066 allowed the Norman adventurers, as ever in search of new prey, to get their hands on a country which, after the departure of the Roman legions, had for centuries pursued a course distinct from the rest of Europe. The 10th century had seen a significant concentration of power in the hands of central government, a concentration which, despite the continual highs and lows of the Danish invasions, would remain a feature of the English political structure. In Europe there was still nothing comparable to the achievements of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. In England, notwithstanding the existence of the feudal estates, the country was divided into precisely defined shires, and the sheriffs who ruled over them were di nomina regia and owed allegiance to the king alone; the land was divided into units, the hundreds, for the purpose of land registration which allowed the central powers to count on a definite minimum income, as well as keeping the army directly dependent on the king; on the king depended, at least in theory, the fiscal system and the administration of justice.

The sheriffs, exercisers of the kings power at the local level, continually served to check the power of the feudal lords, and even if the sheriffs themselves could sometimes wield considerable power, they remained functionaries, and the post would never became hereditary.

The plantaganet dynasty therefore encountered a situation which was particularly favourable for the direct exercise of centralised power, and even if feudalism in its classical form was revived by the Normans, it never declined to the level existing at the time in France and Germany.

Even the Domesday book was essentially a reaffirmation of the right of the king to collect taxes directly from his subjects, of which at that time (1085) there were around a million and a half. If the appointment of feudal lords nevertheless continued, it was mainly in territories which had not been completely pacified, particularly the North and Wales.

In subsequent centuries, and despite foreign wars and famines, the economic situation in England improved considerably, and by the middle of the 1300s the population was around 4 million. Meanwhile, due to the extension of the monetary economy and continued Tax increases, a major social transformation was taking place: the commutation of goods and services into cash payments. The main impulse to this change came from the Lord rather than from the peasant, and it is calculated that in the first half of the 1300s around half of the feudal services had been commuted. It is important to note however that this didn’t signify immediate release from serfdom, since the lord, the serf’s owners, could still demand services instead of rent. Nevertheless, the legal status of the villain, who still remained in a state of intense subjection, was slowly improving.

This process was accelerated by the Black Death. In a few decades the population fell from 4 to 2� million people. Not until 1500 would the population be back to 4 million.

Land was often abandoned during this period, prices crashed, and in the countryside there was increasing anarchy. One of the first consequences was that the landed proprietors took on anyone they could find to work in the fields, and wages, for the first time in centuries, increased significantly (doubling and even trebling). Lower prices, restricted production and high salaries resulted in a fall in ground-rent. Land was no longer profitable for the landed proprietors - nobles, knights, high clergy, abbots etc. - and these sought to remedy the situation by selling off their land. Whilst this would increase the class of small landowners and contribute to the dissolution of feudalism, there was also the attempt (as exemplified by the Black Prince and his expeditions to hunt down runaway serfs) to go back to classical feudalism, a backward step which would merely provoke the rebellions which culminated in the Peasants Revolt of 1381.

One of the first reactions to these changes, was the promulgation by Parliament of the Statute of Labourers (1351) in which it was ordained that none could refuse to work for wages set at the 1347 level (that is pre-plague wages). This marked the first instance of state intervention in order to fix wages, an example which would be followed in other countries and in England and has continued ever since. But note that whilst salaries were fixed, prices were not.

Laws, if they are not backed up by a force at least equal to those against whom they are issued, are just so many scraps of paper. So even if branding was the penalty for transgressors (N.B. for those who received the wages, not those who paid it) the workers’ conditions saw a notable improvement. But that was not all. The increasingly favourable offers which the Workers were receiving made them aware of their economic weight in society, whilst the tenacity with which the proprietors sought to hold back these improvements highlighted how society was divided into horizontal strata; that is classes characterised by opposing interests. From this new state of affairs arose the first associations of workers, and these in particular, and not surprisingly, were attacked in all the statutes.

The power acquired by the subordinate classes became clearly visible in 1381 when London was occupied by thousands of insurgents rebelling against the famous Poll Tax which was in fact only the latest in a series of tax hikes. The rebellion was suppressed, but even so the readiness with which the insurgents had come together, the decision with which they had orchestrated their movements, and the programme of reform which they had advanced all serve as testimony to the fact that the social situation in England was taking giant strides into the modern world. Moreover, it is in this setting that Lollardism, ancestor of a long line of communistic heresies incubating on the continent since the crusades, spreads amongst the lowest levels of the clergy. The Lollards would survive as a marginalized force in English society for a long time to come, and a less revolutionary version of their doctrines would find great favour at the time of the first schism, and later on as Puritanism; a fact explained by the fact that aversion to the meddling of the Pope in English matters was already by this time a cause fully backed by the King and nobility. In the years which followed, Lollardism would come to be equated above all with a movement to secularise church property; a movement eagerly embraced by the nascent bourgeoisie with the catholic clergy trying in vain to suppress it.

* * *

The 15th Century was the century of the Wars of the Roses and the battles between the Yorkers and Lancastrian dynasties. The final result of this civil strife which drenched England in blood was the instalment of a third dynasty, the Tudors, which would govern England throughout the 16th Century.

But other events of far greater import and duration were taking place during these centuries, the most important of which was the great agricultural revolution.

This is how Engels, (in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific - special introduction of 1892) sums up the process: «Fortunately for England, the old feudal barons had killed one another during the Wars of the Roses. Their successors, though mostly scions of the old families, had been so much out of the direct line of descent that they constituted quite a new body, with habits and tendencies far more bourgeois than feudal. They fully understood the value of money, and at once began to increase their rents by turning hundreds of small farmers out and replacing them by sheep. Henry VIII, while squandering the Church lands, created fresh bourgeois landlords by wholesale; the innumerable confiscations of estates, regranted to absolute or relative upstarts, and continued during the whole of the seventeenth century, had the same result. Consequently, ever since Henry VIII, the English "Aristocracy", far from counteracting the development of industrial production, had, on the contrary, sought to indirectly profit thereby; and there had always been a section of the great landowners willing, from economical or political reasons, to co-operate with the leading men of the financial and industrial bourgeoisie».

The religious schism which occurred under Henry VIII reign was of small significance in theological terms (leaving aside the fundamental refusal of papal authority) since the differences between the churches were very subtle and superficial whilst the economic impact was very deep, in that it both accelerated the process of the formation of bourgeois landed property, and buried feudalism, of which the high prelates were an integral part. These changes marked the loss of the Church’s political and economic power for good. All that would remain would be a vestigial aversion towards Catholicism during the successive centuries caused by the rising bourgeoisie’s fear that there might be a reversal in the economic, and thus the political, process.

In Capital, in the section on primitive accumulation, Marx outlines the economic transformations occurring in England during this period: «In England, serfdom had practically disappeared in the last part of the 14th century. The immense majority of the population consisted then, and to a still larger extent, in the 15th century, of free peasant proprietors, whatever was the feudal title under which their right of property was hidden. In the larger seigniorial domains, the old bailiff, himself a serf, was displaced by the free farmer. The wage-labourers of agriculture consisted partly of peasants, who utilised their leisure time by working on the large estates, partly of an independent special class of wage-labourers, relatively and absolutely few in numbers. The latter also were practically at the same time peasant farmers, since, besides their wages, they had allotted to them arable land to the extent of 4 or more acres, together with their cottages. Besides they, with the rest of the peasants, enjoyed the usufruct of the common land, which gave pasture to their cattle, furnished them with timber, fire-wood, turf, &c. In all countries of Europe, feudal production is characterised by division of the soil amongst the greatest number of sub-feudatories. The might of the feudal lord, like that of the sovereign, depended not on the length of his rent-roll, but on the number of his subjects, and the latter depended on the number of peasant proprietors. Although, therefore, the English land, after the Norman conquest, was distributed in gigantic baronies, one of which often included some 900 of the old Anglo-Saxon lordships, it was bestrewn with small peasant properties, only here and there interspersed with great seigniorial domains. Such conditions, together with the prosperity of the towns so characteristic of the 15th century, allowed of that wealth of the people which Chancellor Fortescue so eloquently paints in his "Laudes legum Angliae"; but it excluded the possibility of capitalistic wealth.
The prelude of the revolution that laid the foundation of the capitalist mode of production, was played in the last third of the 15th, and the first decade of the 16th century. A mass of free proletarians was hurled on the labour-market by the breaking-up of the bands of feudal retainers (...) Although the royal power, itself a product of bourgeois development, in its strife after absolute sovereignty forcibly hastened on the dissolution of these bands of retainers, it was by no means the sole cause of it.
In insolent conflict with the king and parliament, the great feudal lords created an incomparably larger proletariat by the forcible driving of the peasantry from the land, to which the latter had the same feudal right as the lord himself, and by the usurpation of the common lands. The rapid rise of the Flemish wool manufactures, and the corresponding rise in the price of wool in England, gave the direct impulse to these evictions The old nobility had been devoured by the great feudal wars. The new nobility was the child of its time, for which money was the power of all powers. Transformation of arable land into sheep-walks was, therefore, its cry. Harrison, in his "Description of England, prefixed to Holinshed’s Chronicles", describes how the expropriation of small peasants is ruining the country. "What care our great encroachers?" The dwellings of the peasants and the cottages of the labourers were razed to the ground or doomed to decay. "If", says Harrison, "the old records of euerie manour be sought (...) it will soon appear that in some manour seventeene, eighteene, or twentie houses are shrunk (...) that England was neuer less furnished with people than at present (...) Of cities and towns either utterly decayed or more than a quarter or half diminished, though some one be a little increased here or there; of towns pulled down for sheepe-walks, and no more but the lordships now standing in them (...) I could say somewhat" The complaints of these old chroniclers are always exaggerated, but they reflect faithfully the impression made on contemporaries by the revolution in the conditions of production. A comparison of the writings of Chancellor Fortescue and Thomas More reveals the gulf between the 15th and 16th century. As Thornton rightly has it, the English working-class was precipitated without any transition from its golden into its iron age.
(...) What the capitalist system demanded was (...) a degraded and almost servile condition of the mass of the people, the transformation of them into mercenaries, and of their means of labour into capital.
(...) The process of forcible expropriation of the people received in the 16th century a new and frightful impulse from the Reformation, and from the consequent colossal spoliation of the church property. The Catholic church was, at the time of the Reformation, feudal proprietor of a great part of the English land. The suppression of the monasteries, &c., hurled their inmates into the proletariat. The states of the church were to a large extent given away to rapacious royal favourites, or sold at a nominal price to speculating farmers and citizens, who drove out, en masse, the hereditary sub-tenants and threw their holdings into one. The legally guaranteed property of the poor folk in a part of the church’s tithes was tacitly confiscated. "Pauper ubique jacet" cried Queen Elizabeth, after a journey through England.
A system of assistance for the poor had to be instituted which in one form or another would become a permanent feature of English capitalism, and would in itself be enough to put to shame any claims made on behalf of a peaceful and progressive evolution of capitalism. It’s worth remembering that at the time proposals were made to reintroduce slavery in order to eliminate the plague of poverty.
The proletariat created by the breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers and by the forcible expropriation of the people from the soil, this "free" proletariat could not possibly be absorbed by the nascent manufacturers as fast as it was thrown upon the world. On the other hand, these men, suddenly dragged from their wonted mode of life, could not as suddenly adapt themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned en masse into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases from stress of circumstances. Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage. The fathers of the present working-class were chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. Legislation treated them as "voluntary" criminals and assumed that it depended on their own good will to go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed (...) Thus were the agricultural people, first forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded, tortured by laws grotesquely terrible, into the discipline necessary for the wage system.
It is not enough that the conditions of labour are concentrated in a mass, in the shape of capital, at the one pole of society, while at the other are grouped masses of men, who have nothing to sell but their labour-power. Neither is it enough that they are compelled to sell it voluntarily. The advance of capitalist production develops a working-class, which by education, tradition, habit, looks upon the conditions of that mode of production as self-evident laws of Nature. The organisation of the capitalist mode of production, once fully developed, breaks down all resistance. The constant generation of a relative surplus-population keeps the law of supply and demand of labour, and therefore keeps wages in a rut that corresponds with the wants of capital. The dull compulsion of economic relations completes the subjection of the labourer to the capitalist. Direct force, outside economic relations, is of course still used, but only exceptionally. In the ordinary run of things, the labourer can be left to the "natural laws of production", i.e., to his dependence on capital, a dependence springing from, and guaranteed in perpetuity by, the conditions of production themselves. It is otherwise during the historic genesis of capitalist production. The bourgeoisie, at its rise, wants and uses the power of the state to "regulate" wages, i.e., to force them within the limits suitable for surplus-value making, to lengthen the working-day and to keep the labourer himself in the normal degree of dependence. This is an essential element of the so-called primitive accumulation».

The process of expelling peasants from the land wasn’t however a smooth and continuous process; even the State was frequently involved in attempting to stem the tide of the enclosure movement with laws which were nevertheless entirely ineffective. Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie during the 16th century drew strength from its own successful attempts to impose its will on the Executive. During the reign of Henry VIII alone 72,000 vagabonds were put to death, and there would be peasant rebellions under his successors. The most important of these rebellions occurred in 1549 in Norfolk, the so-called Kett rebellion. Before its defeat, this movement managed to organise a small army which inflicted a lot of damage on the King’s troops. The rebels’ demands were quite moderate, but certainly not inspired by Catholicism: the demands were for fair rents and, amongst other things, that priests should not be allowed to own land.

More revolts would follow during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), but these were all crushed either through the direct exercise of state power or by the local armies of the landed aristocracy.

Even in the towns the social situation was changing. The old gild system was starting to break down as the journeymen started to organise to obtain better conditions, and the masters to put obstacles in the way of their promotion to master. This scission in its turn brought about changes in the technical organisation of labour. Instead of everybody working in the traditional workshop, the master gave out work to be completed by the journeyman in his home, and a piecework rate was paid on the finished article. In the end, the master is transformed into a contractor who acquires raw materials, distributes them, and sells the finished product to merchants, or he may even cut out the merchant altogether and sell directly, even abroad. Thus on the one hand struggle between master-capitalist and labourers through strikes and lock-outs, and on the other rivalry between industrialists and merchants. The latter contest remains at a kind of Mexican stand-off, with considerable overlapping of roles, especially within the internal market, whilst the battle between labourers and contractors is resolved in favour of the contractors.

Thus the gild, at least understood as a free corporative association, slowly disappears. For its richest members is substituted the industrial and commercial companies in all their variety of forms and structures. By now the general framework is definitive: proprietors of cash and materials on the one hand, the workers on the other. Neither of these protagonists is particularly interested in production remaining in the towns. As far as the worker is concerned, the town is no longer a place where he is a freeman supported by an organisation. And the entrepreneur prefers to assemble a more easily supervisable workforce, away from the riotous environment of the city, in the provinces, which eventually become industrial centres. The workers are collected together in factories until even the distinction between autonomous workers engaged in piecework and day workers disappears as both become wage workers.

Parallel with these developments the State introduces increasingly comprehensive regulations to govern the relation between masters and workers. In agriculture and in industry, salaries and working conditions are fixed, but always in such a way as to protect the master from the worker rather than the other way around. The most serious consequence of this policy is the decline in real wages during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, with the resultant widespread poverty and, worse than poverty itself, the laws regulating assistance to the poor.

The development of merchant capital doesn’t conflict with landed capital. Both go hand in hand and are entirely bourgeois insofar as both seek to achieve that eternal aim of the bourgeoisie; the realization of profit. The strength of the navy, boosted by Henry VIII’s famous naval shipyards, and the loss of European possessions, along with the opening of the Atlantic routes, gave England a decisive push towards commerce, a move favoured by its advantageous geographical position. Opposed to begin with by other powers, mainly Spain, England had no qualms about using pirates to beat off the competition, with the most exalted of the corsairs licensed to plunder by Queen Elizabeth herself.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) marked a change of pace in England’s march towards ruling the waves. Having got rid of the irregulars (pirates and corsairs), commerce (and robbery) was regulated directly by the government by means of taxes and the granting of monopolies. All this had favourable repercussions on national industry, but still not to the extent that it was favoured in a decisive way. Power still remained in the hands of the capitalist landed proprietors and the big commercial companies.

The bourgeoisie was still prevented from exercising political power directly, power it felt entitled to because of the privileged economic power it had acquired. On the other hand, the absolute monarchy started to represent an obstacle to the freedom of commerce, due in part to the corruption and favouritisms that distinguished the Court. Finally the fear of a restoration of the catholic religion, with all the economic consequences that would have involved, constituted a permanent feature of the period before and after the revolution. The conflict, which for various reasons was placated under Elizabeth, came clearly to the fore under the first of the Stuarts.

The bourgeois movement of opposition to the Anglican church formed by the Puritans soon became one of opposition to the monarchy itself. Initially introduced by protestants returning from Holland after the persecutions of Bloody Mary, it sought converts above all amongst the middle classes. It was in fact a kind of Calvinism, «true religious disguise of the interests of the bourgeoisie of that time». The cities were puritan, as were the industrialised country districts; the economically active classes, the middle classes, were puritan; and Puritanism saw a steady progress in the course of the 17th century and identified ever more closely with the bourgeois interests.

In Socialism: Utopian and Scientific Engels depicts the intimate connection between the Calvinist religion and capitalism as follows: «Calvin’s creed was one fit for the boldest of the bourgeoisie of his time. His predestination doctrine was the religious expression of the fact that in the commercial world of competition success or failure does not depend upon a man’s activity or cleverness, but upon circumstances uncontrollable by him. It is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of the mercy of unknown superior economic powers; and this was especially true at a period of economic revolution, when all old commercial routes and centres were replaced by new ones, when India and America were opened to the world, and when even the most sacred articles of economic faith - the value of gold and silver - began to totter and to break down. Calvin’s church constitution was thoroughly democratic and republican; and where the kingdom of God was republicanised, could the kingdoms of this world remain subject to monarchs, bishops and lords? While German Lutheranism became a willing tool in the hands of princes, Calvinism founded a republic in Holland, and active republican parties in England, and, above all, Scotland.
In Calvinism, the second great bourgeois upheaval found its doctrine ready cut and dried. This upheaval took place in England».

We will see later on how the English bourgeoisie didn’t hesitate to use Puritanism as a pliable instrument in order to adapt it to its changing requirements.

With the ascent to the throne of James 1 in 1603, Scotland and England are united under one crown. The English bourgeoisie now has at its disposition a large national state, a flourishing trade sustained by a powerful navy, an international position almost on a par with France and Spain, and last but not least, an ideology for which its adherents will fight to the death. Nothing remains but for it but to take the power which will allow it to structure society according to its needs, and to sweep away the last vestiges of feudalism. This historical task will be carried out in the course of the 17th century.

(Part 1) - [ 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - ]





On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the General Strike we are republishing a number of articles, and excerpts of articles, which provide a kaleidoscopic snapshot of the response of the Italian Left to a momentous occasion in the history of the international working class. They present us with a view of the General Strike which goes beyond parochialism and sees the events in the context of international events, especially the degeneration of the Russian Revolution.

The official ’left-wing’ interpretation provided by Hobsbawn, described in a recent biographical dictionary as "A prominent Marxist scholar" and "authority on the history of the working classes" is shown to stand in marked contrast with ours in the article How to Write History.

Hobsbawn’s thesis is built around the indisputable fact of the betrayal of the trade union leaders, but what Hobsbawn fails to mention - and a half-truth causes more damage than a straightforward lie - is that the Communist International was equally responsible for this betrayal, because it not only bestowed an aura of left-wing credibility on these same leaders, but virtually handed over the leadership of the workers’ movement into their hands. In this, we agree with Trotski’s criticisms of Comintern policy, but if Trotski went so far as demanding a clear break with these leaders, and condemned the Comintern for failing to break with the "Left TUC" after the General Strike, the Italian Left would trace the error back to the united front tactic, a policy which Trotski had helped to formulate and which he would continue to uphold, to the extent that after the strike he continued to defend the policy of the CPGB pleading to affiliate to the Labour Party. The united front tactic, officially launched by the Executive Committee of the Communist International in December 1921, would force the CPGB into an unholy alliance with the forces of reformism, their natural enemies, and compel it to soften its criticism of reformism and therefore negate its raison d’etre - which is to provide a clear revolutionary alternative to reformism and bourgeois democracy. Rather than the united front providing a wonderful opportunity for the workers to "compare and contrast" the reformist and communist positions, the confusing neighbourliness of reformists and communists had the reverse effect in having the latter bolster the unwarranted revolutionary credentials of the former.

The Italian Left interpretation of the United Front, whilst accepting the postulates of the 3rd Comintern Congress that it was not enough to have communist parties, but was necessary to have Communist parties with strong links with the masses, differed in recommending that this linking up be accomplished in their rightful place - the workers economic organisations. Here workers could compare the communist with other class positions in the practical struggle; and here communists could work with individuals of different political alignments without producing the confusion born of formal political pacts.

The united front tactic, as endorsed by the Comintern, accepted such political pacts between parties, and in combination with the Comintern approved tactic of working within parliament, also vigorously opposed by the Italian Left, caused even more confusion as to the exact nature of the CPGB’s revolutionary programme. No amount of eloquent pamphlets explaining the independence of the communist party could take away from the damage caused by the observable fact of communists entering the parliamentary circus and becoming performing clowns. In Britain this tactic would be reduced to vertiginous levels of ambiguity and confusion by having communists stand as Labour Party candidates and enter parliament subject to Labour Party discipline and their party whip.

But omission is not Hobsbawn’s only crime, he also develops the highly dubious argument that since the Establishment was expecting and was prepared for the General Strike (and this was indeed the case) it was necessarily trying to goad the workers into an unsuccessful revolt which it could then ruthlessly crush. The upshot of Hobsbawn’s argument is that with this as the Government’s alleged intent, the workers were correct to have been so orderly and disciplined and thus foil the Government’s clever plan. This "prominent marxist scholar" thus would have us forget that the bourgeois State is ALWAYS prepared to crush proletarian revolts, and that its very existence operates as a constant "goad" to the workers. If the Government is more prepared than usual, the proletariat must be better prepared still. Hobsbawn simply wishes to terrify us with the bourgeoisie’s strength rather than concentrating on strengthening the proletariat. Unfortunately for him his argument also leads him to inadvertently negate his earlier criticism of the Trade union leaders - for who was more disciplined and orderly than they?

In the article The Comintern’s Tactics (we will publish later instalments in future editions of CL), we can see how the betraying trade union leaders had their prestige raised in the eyes of the workers by means of the Anglo-Russian Trade-Union Committee, and this is depicted as running parallel with an increasing conflict between the interests of the Russian State and the International proletarian movement.

The first trade agreement with Great Britain, signed on March 16, 1921, took place in a situation where 40% of Russian gold reserves, or #68,000,000, was sitting in the Bank of England having been sent to Britain during the war to maintain British currency. The British Government agreed not to claim or dispose of the property of the former tsarist and provisional governments of Russia sum pending a general peace treaty between the two countries. Between 1921 and 1924, the amount of trade between the two countries, as recorded by the chairman of the Soviet Trade Delegation rose from #3,4000,000 sterling to #11,100,000 and in 1924, further trade treaties between the two countries were signed, with a possible third agreement, relating to the question of a substantial loan, kept tantalisingly dangled before the Soviet delegation, with the brickbat of reparations and non-return of the gold reserves kept threateningly in the foreground.

To solve the immediate problems of a starving and war-weary population, and in order to rebuild a productive apparatus, the Russian state increasingly came to rely on diplomatic negotiations with other countries. The first treaties were signed in February 1921 with Persia and Afghanistan, then in March 1921 with Turkey, where 16 communist leaders had recently been liquidated. The policy from now on was that inter-state relations would not be disturbed by the attitude of foreign governments to communists in their own country. In May 1921, the first Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement was signed with the Soviet government agreeing to cease all propaganda that might threaten the interests of the British Empire, especially in Asia, and it was sufficient to cause Chicherin to explain at the 10th Conference of the Russian Communist Party that this marked a significant new departure in Russian foreign policy. But were not such compromises inevitable?

Lenin addressed this issue in his pamphlet The Tax in Kind (15/3/1921) where he set out two conditions for the building of socialism in Russia. In an economically backward country like Russia, he wrote, the transition to socialism was only possible on two conditions: 1/ "agreement between the proletariat, which is realising the dictatorship, or which holds political power, and the majority of the peasant population" and 2/ "on the condition that it receives timely support from the socialist revolution in one or several advanced countries" (...) "In the main, the position is as follows: we must satisfy the economic needs of the middle peasantry and agree to free turnover, otherwise, owing to the delay in the international revolution, it will be impossible, economically impossible, to retain the power of the proletariat in Russia". He went on to outline a number of less-than-socialist economic compromises, including trade deals and loans from foreign capital, which would be necessary to preserve a proletarian bridgehead within the State, whose full communist programme could then be activated when revolution broke out in the West

Lenin’s formula was to buy time in Russia whilst the Communist International co-ordinated the revolutionary movements in other countries. Once revolutions in the West had successfully installed communist parties in power in the developed West, Russia would be able to quickly dispense with commercial relations with its peasantry because modern techniques and resources from the West would accelerate the march to collectivisation by breaking down all the little small local economies and integrating the peasantry more quickly with the most modern and efficient production techniques. The Revolutions in the West would be the Fifth Cavalry which would relieve the embattled communist forces in Russia and enable them to proceed to fulfilling the full communist programme.

Such compromises wielded with the dialectical adeptness of Lenin, who never lost sight of the long-term goals of communism whilst grasping the nettle of the necessity for the Communist party to maintain the Russian State as a citadel of revolutionary resources, might have caused minimal damage under his guidance, but his illness and death at the beginning of 1924 left a vacuum which would soon be filled by men who would forget many of the injunctions that had guided his actions. Soon the interests of preserving the Russian State would be allowed to run counter to the aim of spreading revolution in the West. In 1924, at the 5th Congress the policy of supporting so-called workers government was reinforced and an increasing ’meshing’ with the leaderships of the social-democrats was urged. But such meshing appeared to be no longer with the main eye to encouraging a revolutionary outcome to workers’ struggles, but in anticipation that these same social democratic leaders would soon be forming governments: governments which might declare against an aggressive war policy on Russia and grant favourable trade concessions to the Russian State.

Such indeed occurred and 1924 would see ’left’ governments installed both in France - the Left-wing bloc under Herriot - and in Britain where MacDonald took up his place as prime-minister at the head of a minority Labour Government, granting diplomatic recognition to Russia, as well as signing two draft treaties with Russia. In exchange, the communist party would be bound still more tightly to the Labour Party and the trade-union leaders, an accomplishment made all the easier after more effective control of the CPGB had been accomplished though the ’bolshevisation’ measures which had also been passed at the 5th Comintern Congress in the same year, and which ensured that the leaders of the communist parties were handpicked by Moscow, and a regime of stifling blind faith installed, inspired by fear of being ousted rather than genuine conviction.

At the Trades Union Congress, which met on September 1, 1924, Purcell, one of the celebrated Trade-union left-wing leaders which Russia was so actively courting at the expense of the Communist Party and the Profintern, would give clear evidence of his credentials as a whole-hearted protagonist of the treaties: «The vital point is that Russia has been devastated and her economic organisation in many places destroyed. In the work of reorganisation her demand for goods of all kinds, rendered necessary by the gigantic efforts at reconstruction, makes her at once the largest customer - in fact, the greatest in Europe and Asia - and the smallest of our competitors in heavy industries. Her potentialities as a food producer make her the biggest factor in reducing world food prices. For this reason our entire weight must be thrown persistently on the side of the treaty at all costs» (A History of Anglo-Soviet Relations, K. Coates, L & W). This appeal was evidently directed at the pockets of British capitalists, and the British unemployed insofar as it hinted at jobs, and found considerable support amongst them. The only annoying thing, prompting the opposition of the Federation of British Industries was that the Soviet Government refused to renounce its monopoly of foreign trade in the interests of British manufacturers and merchants who would be prevented from increasing their booty. The Russian State then was becoming a large commercial competitor.

The triumph of the Bukharin-Rykov tendency in Russia would reverse Lenin’s view that the fate of Russian state depended on the fate of world revolution, and instead make the world revolution depend on the existence of that State. Eventually the Russian State, torn by the problems of reconstructing capitalist relations at the same time as aiming to destroy them, and swelled by a huge intake of opportunists and place-seekers lacking in genuine communist conviction, would launch a doctrine which whilst it attempted to harmonise the aims of reconstructing a productive apparatus in Russia with socialism produced instead a travesty of Marxism known as ’Socialism in one Country’; a philosophy which implied communism was possible of achievement on a national rather than international scale. The victory of the Stalinist counter-revolution which the installation of this pseudo-marxist philosophy signalled would coincide with attacks against the Russian Opposition and the Italian Left, which would eventually result in them being expelled from the Comintern under a welter of insults and misrepresentation and eventually lead to the extermination of most of the Bolshevik old guard.

The General Strike was one of the casualties of these developments, and its failure marks a definitive separation of the Russian State from the international proletarian movement: for what use the Russian State and the Comintern if it was continually going to deliver the working class into the hands of its enemies?

It is therefore difficult to think of the Comintern’s tactics at the time of the strike - disciplining the CPGB to the authority to the General Council of the TUC - as just a mistake. If this was the case - and Stalin would join the chorus of condemnation against the trade union leaders after the strike in the press of the CPGB - then one way of damage limitation lay open to the Comintern: a clean break with these leaders by disbanding the Anglo-Russian Committee. The ARC had come about after prolonged contacts between the Trade union organisations of Russia and England which had seen the Soviet trade union delegation addressing the Hull Congress of the TUC in 1924, and a return visit to Russia by an English delegation, bulging with academics and government experts, some weeks later. This move produced a dramatic rightward shift in the policy of the CPGB and suddenly the task was no longer one of getting a majority of communists onto the General Council of the TUC but rather that of pushing the current General Council forward and giving it the confidence to uphold the international unity campaign with a tacit acknowledgement that they would not be criticised by the communists. But if this campaign was defended in the name of ’international trade union unity’, since it de facto indicated a backdoor way to uniting the Amsterdam and Red trade union internationals - itself a questionable way of going about it - Stalin hoped the committee would ’play an enormous role in the struggle against all possible interventions directed against the USSR’. This cause of Trade union unity, which gave the Trade union leaders left-wing credibility at very little cost, had the effect of discouraging independent rank-and-file leadership, the detrimental consequences of which would be felt during the General Strike.

So if mistake indeed it was, rather than calculated sacrifice of the English workers movement on the altar of capitalist stabilisation in Russia, then the Comintern could go part way to remedying the mistake by splitting with the traitorous Union leaders. This would not happen, with suspicious implications as noted by Trotski in his book The Third International After Lenin: «The maintenance of the amicable bloc with the General Council, and the simultaneous support of the protracted and isolated economic strike of the mine workers, which the General Council came out against, seemed, as it were, to be calculated beforehand to allow the heads of the trade unions to emerge from this heaviest test with the least possible losses». Once the revolutionary deluge had subsided, the English trade-union leaders, typical representatives of the petty bourgeois, could clearly see who was going to butter their bread - the British bourgeoisie. They could now dispense with the left-wing veneer provided by the Russians and it would be they, not the Russian leaders, who would leave the Anglo-Russian Committee.

Macdonald in Power, and Capitalism’s Mortal Crisis are excerpts from articles published by the Italian Left in 1928 and 1929 in Prometeo, the paper of the Left-wing Fraction of the Italian Communist Party which formed at Pantin in France in 1928 after fascism had become entrenched in Italy. Like the other articles, they draw attention to the failed strategy of forging alliances with other so-called workers parties.

There are many lessons to be drawn from the fiasco of the General Strike, but perhaps the main one of all is that the communist party must at all cost preserve its independence and its revolutionary doctrine, and resist attempts to win influence by yoking itself to the bigger social-democratic parties. Any alliance between the Communist party and other parties, especially parliamentary parties, not only serves to sow confusion in the minds of the proletariat about exactly what marxist communism is, but also serves as a recipe for lowering consciousness to the level of social-democracy, not raising it to the level of revolutionary communism.

The question nevertheless remains: How does the Communist Party establish links with the masses? Our solution to the problem we will consider in another article in this issue The Comintern and the United Front.






(This text appeared in serial form in the Internationalist Communist Party paper, “Prometeo”, in August 1946, and November 1947, Nos 2-3, 4-6, 7-8)

In March 1926 the 6th Enlarged Executive met in Moscow, and Bordiga would conclude his intervention by declaring that the time had come for the other parties in the International to repay the Russian Party for having given them so much in the ideological and political spheres, and ask specifically that the Russian Question be put on the agenda of discussions for subsequent meetings of the International.

If from a formal point of view this proposal was accepted, and there was lengthy discussion of the Russian Question at the 7th Enlarged Executive and the successive plenary session of the ECCI, nothing substantial came of it since the parties belonging to the International all united around the theoretical, political and disciplinary solutions previously put forward by the Russian Party. These solutions were entirely at odds with the founding principles of the Communist International and led to those fundamental changes at the heart of the Russian Revolution which would lead to the ruthless repression of the architects of the revolution and the overthrowing of Soviet Russia, eventually to become one of the main instruments of the counter-revolution and of preparations for the imperialist 2nd World War.

Thanks to Zinoviev’s "bolshevisation" which had triumphed at the 5th World Congress in 1924, the fact is that by 1926 every party had already had radical modifications made to their leading cadres. Those currents which in 1920 with the rise of the International had flowed organically towards the same revolutionary outlet which had been affirmed in such a decisive way by the October victory in Russia, would find representatives of other tendencies stepping into their shoes. These parasitic tendencies, who just like horseflies (mosche cocchiere) (1) had hitched themselves to the victorious cart of the Russian revolution after contributing nothing to the formation of the communist parties, and lain dormant inside them waiting for their hour to strike, would inevitably rally to the cause of the encroaching counter-revolution, then in its preliminary stages, and help in the job of smashing the cadres of the International.

If we have recalled the Italian Left’s proposals which Bordiga brought before the International’s 6th Enlarged Executive, we have done so to underline the fact that this current had already had a presentiment about the seriousness of incipient events and the central point on which they pivoted: the radical changes brewing in Soviet Russian politics.

The meeting of the 6th Enlarged Executive would also be the last time the Italian Left was allowed to put forward its views as a member of the International and the Party. Within a year it had been expelled from the International along with every other opposition current, and the new conditions of admission would become recognition of the theory of "Socialism in One Country", representing a clear departure from the programme on which the International had originally been founded.

The enslavement of the Comintern to the interests of the Russian State was now a fait accompli, and rather than working towards the uniquely communist goal of real revolutionary struggle against capitalism, the Comintern now started to use the communist parties of the various nations as pawns in Russia’s diplomatic chess game with the other powers. Eventually, whenever required by diplomatic considerations, the most bankrupt compromises would be struck with the forces of centrist opportunism and the bourgeoisie.

This study, which simply aims to provide facts about the Comintern’s tactics from 1926 to 1940 and doesn’t claim to be an exhaustive treatment of such a huge subject, restricts itself to outlining the main features and progression of these tactics which we list as follows:
1) Anglo-Russian Committee (1926)
2) Russian Question (1927)
3) Chinese Question (1927)
4) The Tactic of the Offensive and Social-Fascism (1929-1933)
5) The Tactics of Anti-fascism and the Popular Front (1934-1938)
6) The Tactics of the Communist Parties during the 2nd Imperialist World Conflict.


In 1926, an extremely important event shattered not only the analysis of the situation given by the International’s 5th Congress (1924), but also the policies for Russia and other countries which derived from it. The global situation had come to be characterised by the "stabilisation" formula. Whilst the formula itself didn’t exclude the possibility of a new revolutionary wave, the tactical consequences which followed on from it in fact fell far short of preparing the International for a revival of the proletarian struggle, and the International party became the prisoner of a set of tactical and organisational formulations which couldn’t just be dropped or changed overnight.

The political process isn’t made up of a mass of different tactical devices such that the party can apply a corresponding tactic to each situation like a doctor after diagnosing an illness. The Party, a living factor of historical evolution, is inevitably shaped by the tactics and politics it employs and is equipped to intervene in a revolutionary situation only insofar as it has made the necessary preparations beforehand. If there is no preparation, clearly the party, trapped in an inappropriate political procedure, will end up getting hemmed in by it and deprive itself of the opportunity of leading the proletarian struggle.

Now, when "stabilisation" was discussed in 1924, obviously the formula wasn’t limited to a purely statistical and technical explanation of economic evolution, rather it referred, on the strength of the indisputable observation that the revolutionary wave had receded after the defeat of the German Revolution in 1923, to a political conclusion which had the additional merit of being in perfect harmony with the tactical decisions of the Comintern. These tactical decisions, in their turn, hinged on the fundamental objective of maintaining communist influence over the broad masses, and since in said unfavourable climate it was only possible to establish contacts with the masses by entering into political relations with the social-democratic organisations who were benefiting from the revolutionary ebb, the formula of "stabilisation" included the tactic of "meshing" with the leaderships of the social-democratic parties and trades unions.

When a huge miners’ strike broke out in Britain in 1926, the International had to therefore accept the consequences of previously established tactical premises. The trade-unionist leaders in Britain hastened to establish permanent treaties with their Soviet counterparts, and the Anglo-Russian Committee was forced to assume the role events had dictated.

When the strike turned into a general strike the economic analyses of the 5th Congress fell apart, and yet the tactics derived from them were kept. The International found itself not only prevented from exposing the counter-revolutionary role of the trade-unionists to the masses, but also forced to carry on maintaining solidarity with them throughout this important proletarian agitation taking place in one of the main sectors of world capitalism.

In order to get a better grasp of the International’s tactical answers to this question we should remember that the right-wing Bukharin-Rykov tendency had triumphed in Russia at the same time. This tendency, which emerged within the general framework of a political line which linked the fate of the Russian State to the fate of the world revolution, now made the politics of the communist parties depend on the necessity of that State. Thus Bukharin was able to justify the tactics adopted by the Anglo-Russian Committee as in the "diplomatic interests of the USSR" (May 1927 meeting of the International Executive).

Suffice to recall that at the Berlin conference of the Anglo-Russian Committee in April 1927 (following the Conferences in Paris, July 1926, and Berlin in August 1926) the Russian delegation, who had recognised the General Council as "the sole representatives and spokesmen of the English trade-union movement", set itself the task of "not undermining the authority" of the trade-union leaders even after the open betrayal of the social-democratic leadership during the General Strike. And it is not superfluous to recall that as soon as English capitalism had managed to liquidate the General Strike it would repay the Russian leaders for having been so obliging with its customary gratitude: by having the Baldwin Government, directly in London, and indirectly in Peking, launch an offensive against the Soviet diplomatic deputations.

In the review edited by the Italian Communist Party in Paris, Lo Stato Operaio (number 5, July 1927) there is an article on "The Executive [of the International] and the Struggle against the War" which engages in polemics against the Russian Opposition. About the Anglo-Russian Committee, we read: "This tendency [the Opposition -ed.] is revealing itself ever more clearly in the criticisms aimed at the Anglo-Russian meeting. Due consideration must be given to the Berlin meeting of the Anglo-Russian Committee and it should be weighed up attentively in an unhurried and unprejudiced way. When the ARC met in Berlin, it was at an internationally crucial juncture. The Conservative Government of England was getting ready to break with Russia. The campaign to isolate Russia from the rest of the civilised world was in full swing. Was the Russian trade-union delegation well or badly advised to make some concessions at that time with the aim of avoiding a complete rupture with the English trade-unions?". This document poses in interrogative form the question: how good were the tactics adopted by the Russian trade-union delegation in Berlin? But, as we have seen, Bukharin was much more explicit when he affirmed that in the diplomatic interests of the Russian State the Anglo-Russian Committee shouldn’t be disbanded, even if it was a committee which had served to cover-up the trade-union leaders’ sabotage of the General Strike by officially affording them recognition as the "sole representatives of the English trade-union movement".

Even official documents posed the problem in an unequivocal way: a powerful proletarian movement would be sacrificed because the defence of the Russian State required it.

Incidentally, here is new evidence of the role played by the ARC within the English movement. In an article by R. Palme Dutt on the subject of the Plenary Assembly of the English Communist Party which appeared in the review L’Internationale Communiste (number 17, 15/8/28), we find the following assertions: "We have here a decisive change in the attitude of the Communist Party towards the masses. Until now the Party has played the role of independent critic and agitator (and therefore of ideological leader) in a movement led by the reformists. From now on the party’s task is to fight the reformist leaders in order to put itself at the head of the masses", and in a note the author adds: "Sometimes it is said that we have passed from the slogan "struggle for the leadership" to "change of leadership". Not at all. In fact the slogan "change of leadership" had already been adopted before the new tactic, even when we were fighting against the new tactic, and it meant one thing: that we must substitute the "right" of the Labour Party with the "left" of the same party. At the moment the party is fighting for its own interests, and not to correct the errors of the Labour Party. It is necessary to regroup the masses behind the Communist Party and the elements which are associated with it (minority movement etc.). It is in this sense that the slogan "change the leadership" is valid for the present period".

The Party’s role in 1926 was therefore that of acting as "ideological head" of the movement led by reformists and "correcting the errors of the Labour Party". As for the "New Tactics", which will be just as harmful for the proletarian movement as the Anglo-Russian Committee, we will refer to that in the chapter on the "offensive" and "socialism".

(We will aim to publish the remaining chapters of ’The Tactics of the Comintern’ in future editions of Communist Left).

(1) ’Mosche Cocchiere’, the plural of, literally, coachman fly, is a pun on the word ’mosca’, meaning ’fly’ or ’Moscow’. The mosca cocchiera is the fly which rides on the back of a horse, as though steering the larger animal.




(Prometeo no 20, 18th of August 1929)

The 1926 English strike and the events in China in 1927 (...) both resulting from the huge upheavals in the English economy caused by the pressure of American encroachment onto the World market, these events have clearly demonstrated to the English proletariat that direct action is necessary: action which could still lead to revolutionary struggles of colossal importance for the entire world proletariat. And there has been no lack of proletarian action, and from the very beginning this action has been marked by the same features, i.e. in the printers’ movement, as those seen in the proletarian movements of Western Europe. In England, as elsewhere, it is no longer a matter of the class struggle being contained within the ’English’ limitations of respect for... legal niceties but of direct struggles in which the question of force clearly arises, and in which the proletariat clearly expresses its determination not to give in or back down whilst defending class interests. In the presence of these hugely important events, the present chief and general staff of the trade unions were in the front line in order to suffocate the movement, discovering in the process that the Anglo-Russian Committee served as their indispensable back-up to accomplish their task of betraying the proletariat’s interests. Everything the Anglo-Russian Committee has done - right up to its shameful capitulation in 1927 when the representatives of the Russian trade-unions sanctioned the shameful principle of non-involvement in the affairs of the English proletariat - everything it has done stands condemned by the initial stance it took up during the General Strike. At that time the communist party - under the banner of the Anglo-Russian Committee - instead of advocating the kind of political conduct that could have won the strike, instead of setting itself the problem of paying close attention to the developing situation, getting involved and reserving the option of issuing the movement with a direct call for a revolutionary solution, urged the English proletariat instead to prostrate themselves before labourist policies which would result in disaster for the English proletariat. The collateral support which the communist party and the International gave to the labourist leadership by means of the stance of the so-called trade-union opposition had an analogous consequence (...)

(PROMETEO no 5, 1st of September 1928)

The 5th Congress (1) held immediately after the London conference (2) and the drawing up of the Dawes Plan (3), on the triumph of the Labourites in England (4) and the Cartel des Gauches (5) in France, drew its inspiration from the central thesis of the ’stabilisation’ of the capitalist economy. Influenced by this thesis the Anglo-Russian Committee was formed and preparations were made to sacrifice the International Red Union to the labourite chiefs in the fallacious prospect of getting in exchange their support for Soviet Russia at a time when, because of ’stabilisation’, one couldn’t count on the direct support of proletarian revolutionary battles.

The Enlarged Executive of 1926 clarified the stabilisation thesis further.

Today we know the unequivocal answer events themselves provided: the great English general strike in 1926 found the communist party totally unprepared, whilst the labourite chiefs, signatories of the Anglo-Russian Pact, quietly carried out their mission of betrayal. And not only were the labourites largely undisturbed by the communists but a year later they had managed to force the Russian trade-union leaders to completely renounce any criticism, amounting to an imposition of complicity in counter-revolutionary crimes. And the English party, guided by the stabilisation perspective and caught by surprise when the strike occurred, was unable to head off the inevitable betrayal of the leaders and the English proletariat was therefore prevented - thanks to the International - from drawing valuable lessons from the experience.

The Enlarged Executive of March 1926 would allow Zinoviev, in opposition at the time, the consolation of revising the formula of ’stabilisation’ to that of ’unstable stabilisation’ (...)
Editor’s notes:
(1) The 5th Congress of the Comintern met between June 18 and July 8th, 1924.
(2) Refers to the Anglo-USSR Conference held on April 14, 1924. Two draft treaties were later published constituting a pact between the two states and preparing the way for a trade-loan to the USSR.
(3) A plan which made proposals for ’rescheduling’ German war reparations to allow payments in kind to be made.
(4) Ramsay MacDonald formed the 1st (minority) Labour Government on January 23rd, 1924.
(5) Refers to the left-wing bloc which came to power in France, under prime-minister Herriot, president of the Radical Party, on June 13th. This Government collaborated closely with MacDonald and was of a similar short duration.


On May 23rd Rinascita [organ of the Italian Communist Party in 1964] published a commemoration of the great English General Strike of May 1926, courtesy of the quill (a peacock’s quill) of "comrade" historian Eric Hobsbawn. At least, for once, we are presented with a really good example of the Stalinian and post-Stalinian art of rewriting history.

«On May 4th 1926", we read, "the English workers went on strike and gave the best example of organised solidarity [with the miners] England, and perhaps any other country, has ever seen. Nine days later, still as united as ever, they went back to work betrayed by their leaders. This was the glory, and at the same time the tragedy of the General Strike. The battle was fought marvellously by the soldiers but led by generals who neither wanted to fight nor knew how to fight.
’Lions led by asses’ was the definition somebody gave of the English army during the 1st World War, and there is an analogous contrast between the rank and file and the leaders in the army of the Labour Movement during the strike. But it isn’t identical. The "Lions" demonstrated not only their courage, discipline and steadfastness, but also the capacity to organise and show initiative, whereas the leaders revealed not so much their stupidity as their fear, fear of the workers rather than of the enemy».

What the illustrious historian omits to mention is that the English strike of 1926 did not break out in the airtight vacuum of an exclusively "national" campaign, but flared up at the same time as the great proletarian movements in China were inflaming the passions of the working masses throughout the World. Also, it wasn’t just the leaders of the trade unions and the Labour Party who were responsible for the defeat of the strike. As well as these professional traitors, the unfortunately already Stalinized Comintern was also to blame because instead of bypassing the traitors and taking a generous outburst of class struggle into its own hands, the best it could do was join the traitors in founding the famous Anglo-Russian Committee; imprisoning the British proletariat in an organ not of revolutionary leadership but of reformist reconciliation in the same way as it had imprisoned the glorious Chinese proletariat of Shanghai and Canton in the Kuomintang and later in the Kuomintang’s "left wing".

About a year later in his first speech to the Central Control Commission [ed: June 1927] Trotski exclaimed: "We told you that this Committee was ruining the developing revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. In the meantime, all your authority, the entire accumulation of bolshevism, the authority of Lenin - all this you threw on the scales in support of Purcell [the ’union left’ man]. You will say, ’But we criticise him!’ This is nothing else than a new form of support to opportunism by backsliding Bolsheviks. You ’criticise’ Purcell - ever more mildly, ever more rarely - and you remain tied to him. But what is he enabled to say in reply to revolutionists in his own country when they brand him as the agent of Chamberlain? He is able to say, ’Now look here! Tomsky himself, a member of the Political Bureau and Chairman of the All-Russian Central Council of the Trade Unions who sent money to the British strikers (1), has made criticisms of me but nevertheless we are working hand in hand. How dare you call me the agent of imperialism?’. And would he be right or wrong? He would be right. In a devious way you have placed the entire machinery of Bolshevism at the disposal of Purcell».

These things the loyal Hobsbawn cannot say, and if he did Rinascita certainly wouldn’t publish them. But when the English historian recalls the words of Thomas, the leader of the railwaymen’s union: "God help us if the Government doesn’t win!", or the words of MacDonald, the Labour Party leader: "The greater the threat, the more rigidly must the Government respect the letter and the spirit of its constitutional responsibilities" along with the revealing post-script "I don’t like general strikes"; when he recalls that the TUC only called out the "First line" of workers on strike, keeping in reserve the "second line" (the more powerful ones since composed of the metal workers and naval shipyard workers) and cancelled the strike just when they should have been brought into play; when, in a word, he recalls that trade-union and political opportunism sensed that they were directly menaced by the readiness of the masses to supplant them, and did everything to ensure a rapid and unsuccessful conclusion to the strike, we are entitled to shout in the faces of these specialists in the rewriting of History: So why did the International, which was so busy getting rid of the Left opposition precisely at that time, not lift a finger to separate itself from the trade unions, and "take the rudder of the movement" itself? Why did it let the money which Russian proletarians had generously donated for their British brothers to end up in the hands of the Thomases and the Purcells, in a word, in the hands of the traditional props of English capitalism? Why did it keep the Anglo-Russian Committee going even after the great British strike had been absorbed thanks to the betrayal of its allies? And what do you epigones do today whenever there’s a strike if not the same as those "chief sheep" of then?

Silence from Hobsbawn: and no wonder he’s silent. As far as he is concerned the most significant aspect of the English General Strike of May 1926 wasn’t its potential to spur on revolution but exactly the opposite... its legalism! For him the "extremists" who wanted "civil war" weren’t, Heaven forbid, the strikers, but... the Government officials! And if these officials were prevented from achieving this aim "it was mainly because of the self-control of the workers and the strike’s total solidarity, as strong on the last day as the first". This is the poison of opportunist betrayal: the strike is "as strong on the last day as on the first" but its strength is held to lie wholly in its "self-control"; in not seeing things through to the end. In fact the masses were ready for an all-out struggle and only needed to be given the word - we need only point to the miners’ refusal (after more than a year’s struggle) to accept the trade-union’s hurriedly concluded pact with the bosses. The masses, hitherto numbed, were ready to use force, and it was precisely the men who considered civil war a bourgeois provocation which the proletariat should carefully refrain from responding to who would prevent the General Strike in 1926 from being pushed to its ultimate global consequences. Today the same men are still at it, rewriting history by omitting to mention both the strike’s international impact (or more importantly, the impact it could have had) and the internationally orchestrated act of sabotage which marked the first blood-spattered dawnings of Stalinism; still they insult the defeated British proletariat by casting them in the role of specialists in "self-control", blindly obedient to bourgeois laws. Finally, it is the same men who effectively justify the Labourite betrayal, for if it was a matter of "exercising self-control" in order not to be provoked into falling into a Government trap, in that case the Labourites were right... to do nothing!

Hobsbawn says "the leaders kept to this position [of avoiding any radicalisation of the struggle] right up to the end of the strike and even after". Certainly the Anglo-Russian Committee continued to exist "even after" the generous outburst of class struggle had been stabbed in the back, and the International continued to back the committee as a potential "bulwark" against the menace of war, against... the U.S.S.R.! If the Committee existed today you can be sure that Hobsbawn (and Togliatti who commissioned the article) would have been party to it!

Editor’s note:
(1) During the course of the General Strike itself, the General Council of the TUC would reject the Russian union’s offer of 2� million rubles; causing Trotski to remark a few days later that this was bound to have surprised the Russian people who until then had not seen in the Soviet press any criticism of the General Council. After the strike was broken, massive donations were made by Russian workers to the miners as they continued to fight on. Trotski would make the following observations about this financial assistance in his book The Third International after Lenin: "Certainly, support of an economic strike, even an isolated one, was absolutely necessary. There can be no two opinions on that among revolutionists. But this support should have borne not only a financial but also a revolutionary-political character. The All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions should have declared openly to the English mine workers’ union and the whole English working class that the mine workers’ strike could seriously count upon success only if by its stubbornness, its tenacity, and its scope, it could prepare the way for a new outbreak of the general strike".

    Fifth Session, February 22, 1926
    Continuation of the Discussion on the Report of Comrade Zinoviev.

   Position of the Left


The united front tactic, launched by the Comintern in 1921, is still a problem of very contemporary significance for communists and workers today, because it is behind the banner of "Unity!" that workers’ struggles, over and over again, have been, are, and will be led down the path to defeat by the opportunist parties which infect the workers’ movement.

It is therefore important for communists, as political leaders of the working class (whether the workers always appreciate that or not!) to wield the slogan of unity in a precise way that leads to the path of revolution and not onto the path of compromise with capitalism, and into that bosses hospitality tent known as parliament.

In 1921, when the theses on the united front were issued, the issue of unity was conceived of one in which communists would seek to establish certain common goals with the opportunist parties, and then reveal the opportunists as traitors when they failed to take the fight to its logical conclusion. As the tide of revolution receded, it was seen as a good idea - if you’ll permit us to stretch an analogy - to hitch the cart of communism to the social democrats and hitch a ride until the next revolutionary wave came along. In order to accomplish such a manoeuvre, it was understood that the dedication and commitment of the communist parties would ensure that they were left ideologically unscathed by this dangerous manoeuvre. What this left out of account, or at least failed to take nearly seriously enough, was that the Third international, formed in 1919 was itself a sort of federation of parties, for despite acceptance of the 21 points being the condition of membership, many of the parties nevertheless included strong opportunist wings. This meant the Comintern was itself a highly unstable political united front from the very start.

The 21 conditions of admission to the Comintern proclaimed at the 2nd Congress in 1920 were designed to exclude precisely these opportunist wings, with the Italian Left foremost amongst those advocating a yet more rigorous set of conditions. But despite Zinoviev’s claim that "it will not be easy for the adherents of the centre to slip through the 21 conditions" in fact it would prove to be very easy indeed. All that was required was a verbal commitment which could be readily undermined by applying tactics which though posing as ’neutral’ in fact masked a reformist as opposed to a revolutionary programme. Thus Cachin, a main spokesman of the French Centrists at the 2nd Congress - a man who had not only been fervently pro-war until 1917, but had acted as an agent for the French Government in trying to create a pro-war wing in the Italian Socialist Party, and had co-operated for this purpose with the renegade Mussolini - Cachin would do a sudden about turn and declare his full agreement with the 21 conditions, a conversion which seemed suspect to say the least after his previous manoeuvres. He would take the 2I conditions to the Tours Congress of the 2nd International affiliated SFIO in December 1920, and basking in his reputation as a leader of the left wing of this organisation, a role he had assumed only after the war, he would soon find himself at the helm of this same party, redoubled the French Communist Party (minus the extreme right wing which split). Cachin would prove in the future to be the loyal slave of Stalin - the centrist par excellence - whilst Cachin’s co-leader of the PCF, ’comrade’ Frossard, would promptly desert the party after the 4th Congress and gravitate back to the 2nd International.

Even the very presence of centrists of the likes of Cachin and Frossard (amongst numerous others) at the 2nd Congress had prompted the left, who wanted a clear split with these currents, to raise objections which would later prove to be well-founded.

In the majority of the newly founded communist parties the centrists would gradually assume command of the new parties against embattled left-wings which would become increasingly marginalized and have their criticisms stifled in the name of ’unity’. The centrist leaders would find it very easy, when a united front with declared social-democratic parties was finally officially endorsed, to turn the reformist of their Janus faces in their direction and persuade them of the smallness of the gulf that separated them.

At the 3rd Comintern Congress in the middle of 1921, the Italian Left agreed with the conclusions which had been drawn from the March Action in Germany; i.e. it agreed that not just a high quality CP was needed, but that this CP needed to have a sound connection with the masses; and that propaganda alone would not achieve this purpose, but active participation in the proletarian economic and partial battles was required.

Where the Left differed from the rest of the Comintern at the 3rd Congress was in drawing further lessons from the "March Action". The main problems located by the Left were: "an empiricism and eclecticism which varied according to circumstances and which reflected, above all in the German party, the scant ideological continuity, which although there from the start, had been recently aggravated by the hurried merger with the Left independents. The main danger [...] was that this perpetual oscillation would eventually establish its centre of gravity following a definite swing to the right".

It is worth quoting a further, very long chunk, from the above source, the Introduction to the Rome Theses, from party publication In Difesa della Continuità del Programma Comunista (the present writer makes no claim to discovering anything original) which will clarify this stance.

"... Our determined opposition to the launching of generic and ill-defined formulations was not at all obscure and "Byzantine" but eminently understandable, and although we could see why Lenin and Trotski defended them, we would nevertheless continue to assert that these formulations lent themselves - precisely because of their vagueness in a historical phase which required very precise directives - to very ambiguous and regrettably, compromiser interpretations. A typical example of this is the slogan "winning over of the majority of the working class" as sine qua non for the seizure of power. "Of course" - Lenin would clearly explain - "we do not give the winning over of the majority a formal interpretation, as do the knights of philistine ’democracy’ (...) When in July 1921, in Rome, the entire proletariat - the reformist proletariat of the trade unions and the centrists of Serrati’s party - followed the Communists against the fascists, that was winning over the majority of the working class to our side (...). It was doing so only partially, only temporarily, only locally. But it was winning over the majority" (in A letter to the German Communist, 14th August, 1921). Not surprisingly, however, it wasn’t long before several parties, and even currents within the Russian party (causing repercussions in the International) would interpret the "conquest of the majority" to mean something altogether different - and take it to mean either the material conquest of a numerical majority by recruitment into the party (contradicting thereby the fundamental theses of 1920 on the role of the party in the proletarian revolution), or else conquest, not of the greater part of the labouring class, but of the "masses" understood in a generic sense, organised or not, proletarian or "popular". In short it would come to signify, in the most generous of hypotheses, an abstract fixation on statistically determinable levels of direct influence (or, worse still, of actual control) over the working masses; a level which would supposedly have to be reached before the balance of forces could be utilised to launch the final battle. By over-estimating the importance of simple majorities, the factors were ignored which consist - as in Russia in 1917 - of a small party managing to attain a dominant position during a critical phase of the struggle, and courageously grabbing the opportunity when it arose; a party which, though not small out of choice, was solidly anchored in consistency of programme and action inside the working class. A party is therefore quite entitled to require that a verdict the effectiveness of its activity isn’t arrived by the arid and academic standard of size. Unfortunately though it would not be long before the bad habit of "judging" parties on the basis of their membership rolls, or on the greater or lesser results attained in elections, would take hold of the International, and on such a basis the meetings of the Enlarged Executive of the Communist International (ECCI) would be transformed into tribunals, the sad prelude to future Stalinian praxis".

"Let us then pause to consider the even greater deviations from principle (fully brought to light at the 4th Congress) committed by those wings and currents which chose to interpret the "winning over of the majority" slogan to mean the most blatantly traditional parliamentarism, or else used it to confer legitimacy on their yearning to renew their waltzings with wings and fragments of social-democracy, even to the extent of organisational reconciliations. In essence the main danger which loomed was the illusion of being able to overcome temporary defeats, and of finding a short-cut to the revolution, by artificially "building" parties, to a presumed optimum size and capacity, by either merging with the flotsam and jetsam which floated to the surface after splits in the social-democratic parties; or by painful diplomatic pacts on the basis of reciprocal concessions. Thus the compact discipline of programme, action and organisation which is the one sure sign and authentic mark of the class party, was cast aside".

"That the peril wasn’t hypothetical, nor our alarm dictated by idealistic apriorisms, is proved by the fact that it was precisely at this point that Moscow agreed to discuss the terms of the PSI’s (Italian Socialist Party’s) eventual membership of the Comintern; despite the fact that historical events, branded with fire and sword into proletarian flesh, were demonstrating once again that the PSI was incurably counter-revolutionary. Indeed even as the repentant PSI ’pilgrims’ were wending their way to Moscow to confess their sins, the first of their ’pacts of reconciliation’ with the fascists was signed. By accepting the PSI’s ’petition’ to join the International, it meant accepting the worse than equivocal figure of the ’sympathiser party’ ranked on the same level as the official party and linked directly to Moscow (it is to be noted that unfortunately the ’sympathiser party’ would be institutionalised at the 5th Congress in 1924: under which banner even the party of the hangman Chiang-Kai-Shek would be accepted!). To expect the PSI, after having been justly reprimanded by Lenin, Trotski and Zinoviev during international congresses, to separate themselves from the Turatian Right (something which in fact it would not do, even at its next congress in Milan a few months later), meant questioning the validity of the original Conditions of Admission formulated in 1920; if the lopping off of the Turatian Right of the PSI represented an effective test before the founding congress of the PCd’I as proof of its total acceptance of the ’21 Points’ [editor’s note: the Communist Party of Italy (P.C.d’I) formed at the 1921 Leghorn Congress of the PSI as a split from the PSI], it was no longer effective from the very moment when the Serratian centrists and the Turatians formed a bloc at the Leghorn Congress against ultimatums from Moscow, and especially later, when in the bloody unravelling of class conflicts (even in purely economic struggles) the PSI would give a thousand proofs of its de facto rejection of what it had repeatedly condemned on principle, namely the International’s platform. Parties are not informal aggregates of individuals and groups, they are organisms formed by a real historical process, and are endowed with an internal logic which cannot be reversed or distorted without undermining the basis and conditions for their future development. The Left (whose hard work of orientating proletarian forces was directly affected by this reversal of policy) would maintain that it was useless to say that the PSI, all things considered, wasn’t as bad as some of the other 2nd International-type parties because the merger with the PSI, or with parts of it, wasn’t a national or local question (much less a stupid matter of prestige), but had to do with a correct international line. In any case, having lopped off the Right, what would the PSI consist of if not the local "Italian" variety of social-democratic centrism, enemy number one of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, precisely because of its tendency to conceal its real character of gradualist and parliamentary reformism behind a mask of verbal "intransigence"? And once the PSI had combined with the P.C.d’I. as an organised group within it, what effect would this have? Would it not replicate the inauspicious situation of a party with not so much "two souls" (as was said then) as two conflicting bodies and mechanisms; a party which, as a result, would be completely paralysed, just like the parties immediately after the war? Finally, might not this compromise with the twelfth-hour penitents introduce into the Comintern the disastrous praxis of continual backtracking, of oscillations now in this direction, now in that, in other words a tactical eclecticism which would allow the ’particularities of the situation’ to dominate over sound vision and historical foresight?"

"Tentatively forecast by a leadership known for its frankness but not inclined towards superficial judgements or hasty condemnations, not six months would pass before this second danger would take explicit shape in the Theses on the United Front approved by the Executive of the Communist International on 28 December, 1921".

"The 3rd Congress, in its bid to win over the masses, had formulated the theses on The Organisational Structure of the Communist Parties, the Methods and Contents of Their Work. The overall perspective - perhaps over-optimistic - was still that a bid for power was more or less imminent. A few months later, towards the end of 1921 (though we considered the phase already underway) the International’s view changed: it was now the bosses who were on the offensive. Because in all countries the proletariat was engaged in a vigorous fight just to defend living standards and jobs, it was instinctively taken, in the course of the struggle, beyond political divisions on the one hand, and professional categories on the other, to move onto a broader front and towards the greatest possible unity. How the 3rd International parties perceived this question at the time was set out in the Theses on the Proletarian United Front and it bears a remarkable similarity to the viewpoint which the PCd’I’ had defended since its foundation at Leghorn, i.e., agitation for a plan of tactical defence of the proletariat as a whole, which though utilising demands and contingent objectives to extend and generalise the economic struggles, in step with the elementary pressure of the working masses themselves, didn’t stop there, but prepared to eventually graft a counter-offensive on to the economic struggle, in other words, a return to the one road, continually upheld by communists and by them alone, of revolutionary action: action for which militants and workers had been prepared in the hard school of the defence of living standards. We read in the ECCI-RILU Manifesto on the United Front (January 1, 1922) «[Proletarians!]: All right, you do not yet dare to take up the fight for the new, the struggle for power, for the dictatorship, with arms in hand; you are not ready to launch the great offensive on the citadels of world reaction. But at least rally to the fight for bare life, for bread, for peace. Rally for these, struggle in one fighting front, rally as the proletarian class against the class of exploiters»".

"Understood in this sense and within these precise limits, the proletarian united front could have taken shape in the way already proclaimed and vigorously defended by the Left in Italy. The united front which we were proposing, via our union network, to the big workers confederations, was based on a precise analysis of the situation: that mass movements of the entire proletariat, when grappling with problems of interest not just to particular categories of workers or areas but to all categories and all areas, could only achieve their objectives by going in a communist direction, i.e., in the direction which we would have pointed the entire working class if it had followed us. We were sure that proletarians who entered into the fray for objectives and with methods of action compatible in line of principle with their affiliation with this or that political party of working-class origin (thus including social-democratic and anarchist wage-earners) would use the experience of the struggle itself, stimulated by our propaganda and our example, to derive the lesson that even defending a basic standard of living is possible only through offensive action, and therefore we would be seen as having prompted and anticipated the inevitably revolutionary implications of such action. But the International’s theses - even if they did thrash the point out thoroughly by reasserting that any going back to organisational ’unity’ was ruled out after the previous scissions - unfortunately didn’t stop there, but went on to approve the reinstatement of certain initiatives by the German party (shifting from one extreme to the other in a state of perpetual oscillation...) which, starting out with the ill-famed ’open letters’ to other parties, ended up making formal agreements and alliances, even though only for temporary and contingent objectives. From there it was only a short step to providing parliamentary support to the so-called "workers" governments of social-democracy, as had indeed already happened in Thuringia and Saxony and as the arch-opportunist Branting would commend for Sweden".

"It is at this point, in particular when the slogan "United front" was launched, that the differences between us and the International became particularly apparent. Our interpretation of "United Front" was that it meant joint action by all categories and by all local and regional groups of workers, by all national proletarian trade-union organisations, with a view to action which would, when the situation had come to a head, have as its logical outcome the communist directed struggle of the entire proletarian class. It didn’t mean, nor could it be taken as meaning, a shapeless jumble of different political positions and a redrawing of the boundaries described once and for all against opportunism, nor an obliteration, even a temporary one, of our specific character as a party of permanent opposition to the State, and to other political parties".

"It is true that the International’s theses would insist that the party must maintain absolute independence in a political united front. But "independence" is not a metaphysical category; it is a physical fact which not only ceases to exist in the extreme case of joint action committees or parliamentary alliances (the call for governmental alliances would come later), but also in the more benevolent case of joint actions proposed in the expectation of their certain rejection, the allegedly useful consequence being that the rejecters of the proposal would stand revealed as the class enemy. In the latter case independence ceases to exist also, since it clouds the proletarian’s perception of the clear gulf which exists, and which we have always said exists - whose existence in fact justifies our existence as a party - between the reformist and revolutionary roads; between legalitarian democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat; in short, between ourselves and everyone else. It is facile and un-marxist to say that because communists have been tempered by hard struggle, because they are in possession of an immutable programme, that to them such tactics and manoeuvres are allowable; that they could be sure of emerging unchanged and untarnished after deploying such methods. For whilst we communists are factors of History, we are also its product, and although we may wield the instrument of tactics with a sure grasp, tactics in their turn condition us, and we would be negatively conditioned by them if we were to deploy them in such a way as to go against our final objective. And what is true for us is much more the case for the masses following us, or who start to follow us precisely because we point out a way which is opposedto those indicated by our false "brothers" and "cousins"; a road which the masses must stay on, spurning all other routes, even those which appear to be equally viable "alternative" routes. It is acts, not intentions, which will conquer the sympathies of proletarians who we haven’t formally won over: and the act of offering the Olive Branch to parties which we had previously public ally pilloried; of inviting them to take part in an action which inevitably goes beyond the limits of defending the standard of living of proletarians, and runs up against the question of the State, of our position towards it, and of the formations which surround it, is an act which deprives us of that real, non-illusory autonomy which we have been at such great pains to create. Meanwhile it generates both within and outside our ranks bewilderment and dislocations which makes the passage to the illegal struggle for the conquest of power that much more difficult. Our tactical formula is that the proletarian trade-union front and incessant political opposition to the government and all the legalitarian parties, are not mutually exclusive. Can one possibly say the same - intentions aside - about the political united front?"

To this day, The Theses on the United Front are still used by almost every party which calls itself ’left-wing’ or ’revolutionary’ to excuse indulging in all kinds of compromises with social-democratic and reformist parties. And since the theses seem to be considered some kind of Ten Commandments, handed down to the ECCI by God, we’re going to look at passages from the original theses in some detail in order to expand on the points already made. Quotations will be drawn from Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International published by Pluto Press. Italics in the original text are included with our bold emphases.

"The new layers of politically inexperienced workers just coming into activity" we read in paragraph 4 "long to achieve the unification of all the workers’ parties and even of the workers’ organisations in general, hoping in this way to strengthen opposition to the capitalist offensive. These new layers of workers, who have often not previously taken an active part in political struggle, are now finding a new way to test the practical plans of reformism in the light of their own experience. Like these new layers, considerable sections of workers belonging to the old social-democratic parties are even now unwilling to accept the attacks of the social democrats and the centrists on the communist vanguard. They are even beginning to demand an agreement with the communists, but at the same time they have not outgrown their belief in the reformists and large numbers of them still support the parties of the second and Amsterdam Internationals. They do not formulate their plans and aspirations all that clearly, but in general the new mood of these masses comes down to a wish to set up a united front and make the parties and unions of the second and Amsterdam Internationals fight alongside the communists against the capitalist attack".

The united front is therefore put forward not as the programme of the Communist Party, but the programme of "politically inexperienced workers" and "workers belonging to the old social democratic parties", and it is the "new way to tests the practical plans of reformism in the light of their own experience".

Paragraphs 7 and 8 however draw attention to the fact that "the diplomats and the leaders of the second and Two-and-a-half Internationals" have also been forced by circumstances to "push the question of unity". In their case though, the adoption of the slogan of unity constitutes a "new way to deceive the workers and a new way of drawing them onto the path of class collaboration". Rather than this being seen as grounds for abandoning the political united front however, the theses argue that "the overall interests of the Communist movement require that the Communist parties and the Communist International as a whole support the slogan of the united workers’ front and take initiative on this question into their own hands. In this, the tactics of each communist Party must of course be concretised with regard to the conditions and circumstances in each particular country". The initiatives which the Comintern would take would therefore overlie the programme set in place not by the party but by the "politically inexperienced workers". In a word, rather than the communist Party guiding the workers at the programmatic level, the alleged workers’ project of an abstract unity was accepted, a unity moreover which it was accepted the social-democrats were already trying to exploit to deceive the workers and draw them onto the path of class collaboration.

Paragraphs 9 to 17 outline the different tactics recommended for different countries, and it is here that the eclecticism and contradictoriness of the theses become particularly apparent.

The theses effectively recognise the Communist party in Germany as having set the precedent for the united front which "at its last conference supported the slogan of a united workers’ front and recognised the possibility of supporting a "united workers’ government" provided it is willing to mount a serious challenge to capitalist power. The ECCI considers this decision entirely correct". The dangerous policy of investing an ill-defined bourgeois "workers’ government" - a government within which social-democrats form the majority - with a potential for "launching a serious challenge to capitalist power" is here set in place; a policy later endorsed at the 4th Comintern Congress. The danger which lurks is that of substitutionalism, which would have an alliance of reformist and revolutionary parties fulfil the role which only the Communist party can fulfil; that of launching a revolutionary attack on bourgeois power. Raising illusions in so-called "Workers’ Governments" also entails concentrating far more on parliamentary manoeuvrings and procedures than organising outside parliament. In a word, the way was laid open to the Communist party of becoming merely a left-wing component of social democracy relegated to a role of merely attempting to radicalise the social-democratic parties. The Left would warn, as we have seen, that a "Workers’ Government" which was any less than a communist dictatorship certainly served no purpose as a "step" towards communism. The only advantage that communists could derive from it would consist in confirming the accuracy of communist predictions in the minds of proletarians by warning of the imminent betrayal in advance.

The danger of a dangerous blurring of communism with social-democracy would certainly not be averted by the policy outlined for Great Britain, where "The British Communists must launch a vigorous campaign for admittance to the Labour Party". The Labour Party was already by this time a clearly defined social democratic party which in 1918 had adopted a programme and constitution, drawn up by MacDonald of the ILP, Henderson, and Webb the Fabians, which opened up the membership of the Labour Party to individuals rather than socialist organisations and trade unions. It was a stage of such significance in the evolution of the Labour Party that the book Fifty Years March - the Rise of the Labour Party, signals the change with a special chapter entitled A SOCIALIST PARTY AT LAST, and we can presume that this is an officially endorsed view since the book’s foreword, despatched from 10 Downing Street, is by the Rt. Hon. C.R. Attlee, leader of the Labour Party between 1935-55. But if the Labour Party was, at least retrospectively, aware of this significant change, not so the CPGB or the Comintern who still considered it a "general workers association for the whole country".

Meanwhile the policy outlined for the CP in Sweden was: "the recent parliamentary elections have created a situation which will allow the small Communist fraction of deputies to play a major role. Mr Branting, one of the most prominent leaders of the Second International and simultaneously prime minister for the Swedish bourgeoisie, is at present in such a position that, if he wishes to secure a parliamentary majority, he cannot remain indifferent to the actions of the Communist Fraction in the Swedish parliament. The ECCI believes that the Communist Fraction in the Swedish parliament may, in certain circumstances, agree to support the Menshevik ministry of Branting, as was correctly done by the German communists in some of the provincial governments of Germany (for example Thuringia). However, this certainly doesn’t imply that the Swedish communists should limit their independence in the slightest, or avoid exposing the character of the menshevik government. On the contrary, the more power the Mensheviks have, the more they will betray the working class and all the greater must be the communists’ efforts to expose these Mensheviks in the eyes of the broadest section of workers. The Communist Party must also set about involving syndicalist workers in the common struggle". Undermine the Mensheviks by supporting them! The theses leave unanswered whether communists should actually back Branting to get him into government, and what concessions they were supposed to wring from Branting in exchange for their support, but the way was definitely smoothed to the "workers’ government" policy which would soon be announced. As to revealing the Branting Governments’ inevitable betrayals, the CP in Sweden could equally issue its warnings without forming any ’tactical support’. Giving it support in "certain circumstances" could only cause confusion.

In paragraph 18 of the theses there is an attempt to address the obvious inconsistencies arising from outlining different and contradictory tactics for the different CPs: "The ECCI considers that the chief and categorical condition, the same for all communist parties, is: the absolute autonomy and complete independence of every party entering into any agreement with the parties of the 2nd and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, and its freedom to present its own views and its criticisms of those who oppose the communists. While accepting the need for discipline in action, Communists must at the same time retain both the right and the opportunity to voice, not only before and after but if necessary during actions, their opinion of the politics of all the organisations of the working class without exception. The waiving of this condition is not permissible in any circumstances". Accepting the necessity for "discipline in action" with the social-democratic parties, whilst at the same time guarding their independence is precisely what the Communist Parties would find it impossible to do. Where clarity was the essential weapon at the communists disposal to get their message across, instead reams of paper was wasted in explaining arcane manoeuvres which constantly involved the de-facto blurring of the lines between the communist project to overthrow capitalism, and the reformist project to preserve it.

This was the case for the CPGB perhaps more than any other party when it had to explain its attempted alliance with the Labour Party. Either the CPGB accepted the new Labour Party constitution, and accepted discipline on that basis, or no formal alliance would be possible. This was the Labour Party position. Instead of the CPGB accepting this, and merely restricting its links with the Labour Party to the realm of limited actions, in itself of questionable value, it continued to both criticise the Labour Party, and make repeated petitions to join.

On March 4, 1922, The 1st Comintern Plenum would clearly state in its Resolution of the English Question that the "salvation of the English Proletariat lies in the formation of the united front". The unity would be forged around a reformist programme (though the resolution studiously avoids calling it that) in which the workers must defend themselves against unemployment, reduction of salaries, additional hours of work, and impoverishment. Just the kind of programme, in fact, around which the Labour Party could steal the communists fire by promising to fulfil such a programme once they were elected. In other words, any demands which a social-democratic party and communist party could agree on and forge a political pact around, could be derailed at the expense of the communists, and to the advantage of the social-democrats, with the workers led to the polling booths instead of onto the path of Revolution. As if reading the Labour Party’s mind, the resolution goes on to propose that: "The English workers’ movement must increase its efforts to enhance the possibility of the formation, after the next elections, of a workers’ government". So despite the mass of propaganda which the CPGB had directed against the Labour Party, it would now have to rally support behind them and leave its own followers in a state of total confusion. And as if that there not enough, further confusion would be caused by the Comintern suddenly promoting the highly syndicalist notion of the TUC as a general staff of labour. The CPGB was thus being asked to hand over to the TUC and the Labour Party, then as always thoroughly intertwined, the leadership of the workers’ struggle and entrench their authority. Handing over authority to the leaders of the TUC is a very different matter to forming communist cells within the TUC, preserving complete freedom of criticism, and urging the leaders to pursue policies of advantage to communists. All in all it is not surprising that the new tactic as Murphy said came as a ’shock’ to the British party and at once led to a ’considerable loss of membership’ (ECCI, Fourth Congress Report, p.61). 25/3/22).

To return to the original theses of December 1921: Paragraph 19 explains that the precedent for the United Front is the various alliances forged between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks between 1903-1917. We touch on an area here which the Italian Left would frequently raise in the Comintern debates and which once again marks out its perspectives from other left-wing currents. The question is: can the Russian experience be applied in all respects to the fully capitalist regimes installed in the West? The alliances between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks took place in a situation where several classes - Bourgeoisie, peasant and proletariat - were in a revolutionary upsurge against the forces of tsarist absolutism. The alliances in the main had to assume revolutionary aspects as there was no entrenched parliamentary democracy. But in the West there was. Any alliances in the West between the communist parties and reformist parties equivalent to the Russian Mensheviks would take place in a very different situation. Up to the 1st world War, the parties of the 2nd International, representing the forces of organised international marxism, had entered parliament and encouraged illusions in the concessions which could be won from capitalism in a boom period. The definitive going over of these parties to the side of the bourgeoisie was marked by a lining up of these parties on their respective war fronts, with any militancy remaining within them expressed as an insipid pacifism. The remedy to this betrayal would be the formation of the Third International on a clearly revolutionary programme in 1919.

February of 1919 also marked the constitution of the Weimar Republic under the presidentship of ’comrade’ social-democrat Ebert. The revolutionary wave which had swept through Germany after the Kiel naval mutiny in November 1918 had swelled into a movement directed by workers’ and soldiers’ councils which in December had formulated demands for socialisation of production, and pending its replacement by a people’s militia, a purge of the army. A social democratic government nominated by the workers’ and soldiers’ councils immediately capitulated to the military when the entire High Command threatened to resign; and instead of proceeding to the immediate socialisation of production at the moment when the workers’ councils were in effective control of the workshops, it set up a ’Socialisation Commission’ with employers’ and workers’ representatives which naturally failed to reach agreement and soon faded ineffectually out of existence. Instead of partitioning the great estates east of the Elbe, it appointed another commission to study the problem. Thus all three main demands of the councils were sabotaged by the social-democratic government, and the much acclaimed ’revolution’ of the Weimar Republic arose as a monument to the workers defeat by the forces of ’social-democracy’. In January 1919, the German Communists led a series of mass demonstrations against these compromises of the Ebert Government which ended up with a number of public buildings and newspaper offices occupied in Berlin. They were driven out by force and their leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebkneckt shot. Thus did blood-spattered Social-Democracy seal its arrival at the helm of the capitalist State by sacrificing communists and workers to the great God Profit.

Any illusions about what the social-democratic parties could achieve at the helm of Government had been thus well and truly buried in the same year as the 3rd International was created. So the historical lessons of the traitorous nature on social-democracy were already there to be drawn without providing further examples by helping them get into government again. What needed to be pointed out was that capitalism had now fully developed a new strategy for derailing the workers’ movement, a strategy entrusted into the hands of a fifth column of social-democratic parties linked to the workers’ economic organisations. And if this strategy remained vulnerable to unmasking in the immediate aftermath, what better than draw the communist parties into an alliance with these parties to patch up any ideological cracks? Perhaps we can say the Comintern was simply naive, thinking that in the heat of the struggle it could become the predominant voice in a political united front. But undialectically putting forward as justification for the strategy the alliances which the Bolsheviks had made with other parties in the lead up to a revolution in a backward feudalistic country like Russia, would mask serious tactical problems under unthinking hero-worship for the Bolsheviks: a hero-worship Stalin would use to counter-revolutionary advantage when he installed the ’Leninist’ religion, with a dead Lenin as Saviour, unable to argue with any interpretation Stalin chose to put on his words.

However far we can stretch our estimation of the originally good intentions of the Comintern’s policy of the United front, we have to wonder at their inability to have fully appreciated the degree of the social-democrats betrayal, and the place they had assumed in capitalism’s counter-revolutionary strategy. The social-democrats and their agents in the trade-union movement had now become indispensable tools in the armoury of capitalism. They were not merely ’misguided’ parties of the working class whose leaders could be won over, they would instinctively use any form of united front to win workers away from the revolutionary programme and to try and instil them with a respect for bourgeois parliamentary democracy.

But not content with trying to forge alliances with the reformists on a national level, the united front theses propound that (Para 20) the Communist International "obviously cannot reject similar agreements on an international level". Once again the workers are blamed for this policy, since it allegedly "has deep roots amongst the masses". In March 1922, there was a meeting of the 2nd, 2 1/2 and 3rd Internationals. The meeting sought to wring concessions from the Bolsheviks about the treatment of social-democrats in Russia, and the Comintern delegation headed by Bukharin was prepared to make concessions and allow observers from the three Internationals to witness the forthcoming trials of social-revolutionaries in Russia and to promise that death sentences would not result. Lenin was forced to disown the delegation, deeming the price for unity "too high" (from the article "we have paid too much", vol.33, collected works), and no more attempts would be made in the months that followed.

Para 20 also warns, and there are repeated warnings throughout the theses, that the united front tactic could damage communist parties which are "not sufficiently developed and consolidated" and it is implied that a "formless united bloc" could result. Strength, unity and unity under "an ideologically clear leadership" is essential to avoid the pitfalls. It was precisely any such clearness which would be ruled out as increasing concessions came to be made to social-democracy in the name of "Unity".

Para 22 is especially revealing in that it warns of two right-wing tendencies that exist in the CI. The one still hasn’t broken with the 2nd International, and the other is keen to avail itself of flexible tactics. The theses maintain that the united front tactic would "reveal" these currents and help the internal consolidation of the CPs. In fact it would turn out that these currents would only reveal their presence by being the most enthusiastic and vocal of the proponents of the united front, and it was precisely they who would be eventually installed in the leadership of the communist parties to take the parties down the path of further compromises.

At the 4th congress in December 1922,, further modifications would be added to the United front tactic in the Theses on Comintern Tactics. In section 10, the previous united front tactics are endorsed, and further warnings issued. It is spelled out that "Any attempt by the 2nd International to interpret the united front as an organisational fusions of all the workers’ parties must of course be categorically rejected".

Whilst propounding that "the united front tactic has nothing to do with so-called ’electoral combinations’ of leaders in pursuit of one or another parliamentary aim" meanwhile "the slogan of a workers’ government (or a workers’ and peasants’ government) can be used practically everywhere as a general agitation slogan". A new dimension was thus introduced here by expanding on the weakest parts of the original united front theses (tactics for Germany and Sweden) which had tentatively, or between the lines, backed the policy of support for "workers governments". As well as forming a united front with workers parties, the way was now laid open, by using the precedent of the Russian revolution, to united fronts with other classes, a precedent which would lead to trying to win over the petty-bourgeois masses in Germany - under the pretext of "conquering the majority" - by flattering their nationalist pretensions. Meanwhile communists were supposed to carry on forging alliances with the social-democrats - who - it was observed - were forming coalitions with the bourgeois parties!

The now almost mind-numbing confusion is added to by contradictory definitions of a workers’ government. The Communist Parties, without being involved in electoral combinations, are supposed to form a tactical alliance with the social-democrats parties who have already given a thousand and one examples of their entrenchment in the capitalist camp. The alliance is now however not one of uniting around a number of limited reformist aims, but is to establish a workers’ Government with these ambitious aims: "the most elementary tasks of a workers’ government must be to arm the proletariat, disarm the bourgeois counter-revolutionary organisations, bring in control over production, shift the main burden of taxation onto the propertied classes and break the resistance of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie". Furthermore, this hypothetical red-in-tooth-and-claw alliance might even get into government through parliamentary pacts! for "even a workers’ government that comes about through an alignment of parliamentary forces, i.e., a government of parliamentary origin, can give rise to a revolutionary upsurge of the revolutionary workers’ movement". However "It is obvious that the formation of a genuine workers’ government, and the continued existence of any such government committed to revolutionary politics, must lead to a bitter struggle with the bourgeoisie or even to civil war. The mere attempt by the proletariat to form such a workers’ government will from its very first days come up against extremely strong resistance from the bourgeoisie. The slogan of a workers’ government therefore has the potential to rally the proletarians and unleash revolutionary struggle". Later on, the entrance of communist parties into such imaginary governments is endorsed, but only if "there are guarantees that the workers’ governments will conduct a real struggle against the bourgeoisie of the kind already outlined". Obviously the Social Democratic parties alone would not be able to provide such guarantees, but could an alliance of the communists with the social democrats provide it? This was the mistaken notion which was encouraged, and inevitably this would lead to fantasies about obtaining a communist parliamentary majority as a substitute for revolutionary organisation and agitation outside parliament. In a word, the way was being paved to drop the ’revolutionary’ from ’revolutionary parliamentarism’; a tactic which had defended the use of parliament by the communist party (mistakenly in our view) merely for propaganda purposes.

Support for "workers’ governments" would eventually become a slogan beneath which any number of compromises with social-democracy would be carried out. Most especially it would become evident when the Comintern began to issue instructions not in the interests of international communism, but in the interests of the Russian State. At this point the united front strategy became not one of outlining a tactic, albeit a garbled and confusing one for taking power, but one for forging alliances between the Russian State and "sympathetic" governments in order to set up trade deals to ensure the survival of the Russia State. The new perspective was that the World Proletarian Revolution depended on the existence of the Russian State, rather than the perspective, as outlined by Lenin, that the existence of the Russian State depended on the spreading of the World revolution.

The Italian Left at the 4th Congress makes only cautious criticisms in the debate on the United Front. The Italian Left’s representative, disciplined to the Comintern’s United Front theses but highly sceptical, concentrated on damage limitation by stressing that any directing organ of the United Front comprised of leading representatives of leading parties shouldn’t have power delegated to it which would overrule the various party programmes, because this would compromise the Communist party’s independence. Nevertheless it would "be prudery to decline negotiations on political as well as economic questions even with the most objectional of the opportunist chiefs". As a counter-balance to the political united front, the importance of work in the Trade-unions, workshops and factories is stressed. The discussion at that time was still a comradely discussion. At the 5th congress and in the Left’s Lyon theses of 1926, a more robust and clear rejection of the United Front tactic is developed, as revealed in our commentary on the (again translated from In Difesa...)

"In the months which followed the disaster of the German October in 1923, it would be very easy for the Plenum of the Moscow Executive of 8-12 January 1924, to blame the disaster on the insufficiencies, errors and weaknesses of the German leadership. And it would be just as easy for the latter to respond that - small errors apart - they had in fact applied, point by point, the instructions of the Comintern, which in its turn had conformed to the resolutions of the 4th Congress".

"(..) along with all this came the umpteenth "tactical switch" on a world scale. Henceforth, No more united front from above - as had been practiced by various parties, and the German party in particular, because of "a mistaken interpretation" of the resolutions of the 4th Congress, instead it was to be united front from below: "The moment has come to openly proclaim that we are renouncing all negotiations with the Central Committee of German social-democracy and the central leadership of the German trade-unions; we have nothing to discuss with the representatives of social-democracy. Unity from below, that is our watchword. The united front from below, already in part accomplished, is now feasible even against the afore-mentioned gentlemen". There was to be no more subtle distinctions between right and left-wing social-democrats".

"There was to be no more interpretations of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government as "a Government within the framework of bourgeois democracy, as a political alliance with social-democracy"; "the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ Government, translated into revolutionary language, is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat... it is never, in any case, a tactic of agreement and parliamentary transaction with the social-democrats. Quite the contrary, even the parliamentary activity of communists must have as its object the unmasking of the counter-revolutionary role of social-democracy and be an illustration to the workers of the deceit and imposture of the "Workers’" Governments created by it, which in reality are only liberal bourgeois Governments". And, finally, there is to be no more opposing "better governments" to "worse Governments": "fascism and social-democracy are the right and left hand of contemporary capitalism".

"The 5th Congress of the Communist International, held between 17th June and 8th July, would reflect the profound confusion of the parties after a disastrous two years of abrupt tactical about-turns and ambiguous edicts (even Togliatti asked that it be clearly stated what exactly one was supposed to be doing!), and the praxis of crucifying the leaders of the national sections on the altar of the infallibility of the Executive would be re-endorsed. And once again, it was the Left alone that would raise the voice of disapprobation, firmly but calmly showing its unwillingness to be distracted by local and individual fripperies. If ever there was a time when the Left might have wished to congratulate itself about the correctness of its predictions - the terrible proof being proletarian blood spilled in vain - or if ever there was a time to demand that the heads of the "culprits", the "corrupt" leaders roll and be replaced by "innocent" and "incorruptible" heads, this was the moment. But that wasn’t what the Left wanted and nor did they call for it: what they required was that the difficult task of facing up to deviations from principle be confronted courageously and the scalpel applied to those "errors" which were the inevitable result. The "heads", in other words, were only the chance expression and not the cause. "United front from below"? Fine: on condition that the loophole of the "exceptions" put forward in the initial proposal was closed, and on condition that an unequivocal statement was made to the effect that "it could never be founded on a bloc of political parties... but only founded on working-class organisations, of no matter of what type as long as their constitutions are such that communists are able to conquer the leading positions". When it comes to leadership then, there is no question of sending invitations to other political organisations, the left and right social-democrats for instance, since they are unable "to struggle on the final road to world communist revolution" or "even uphold the day-to-day interests of the working class", and, to whom it would have been criminal "for us to appear to be giving a certificate of revolutionary capacity, thus throwing away all our principles, all our work preparing the working class". Should there be struggle against social democracy "the third bourgeois party"? Certainly; but how then to justify, in that case, the new "bombshell" of the proposed fusion between the International Red Union and the hated Trade-Union International of Amsterdam? Was Workers’ Government "synonymous with dictatorship of the proletariat"? We had paid too dearly for employing just one ambiguous phrase: we called for "a third-class funeral not only for the tactic of Workers’ Government, but even for the very expression itself". We called for this because "dictatorship of the proletariat, this tells me: the proletarian power will be exercised without giving any power of representation to the bourgeoisie. This also tells me that proletarian power can be conquered only by revolutionary action, through armed insurrection of the masses. When I say Workers’ Government, it can also be understood (if one so wishes) to mean the same thing; but, if you choose not to interpret it in that way, you can take it to mean (Germany! Germany!) another type of government, one characterised neither by the exclusion of the bourgeoisie from the organs of political representation, nor one achieved through the conquest of power by revolutionary means (rather than by legal means)". In response, it was urged that was not the formula of "workers’ government" more easily understood by the masses? To which we replied: "How can a simple peasant or worker understand the concept of the Workers’ Government, when, after three years, we, the leaders of the workers’ movement, haven’t even managed to understand it and define it in a satisfactory way ourselves?"

"But the question went even deeper. The fact that in 1925 the International had shifted "to the left" could have given us cause for relief, if we had posed the problem in terms of a mean-minded revenge. But we didn’t: "What we have criticised in the International’s method of work is precisely the tendency to sway from left to right depending on the momentary circumstances, or under the impulse of beliefs on how the latter are to be interpreted. As long as the problems of flexibility, and of eclecticism... are not discussed in depth, as long as this flexibility continues to spread and new oscillations take place, a strong swing to the left can only but make one fear a yet stronger swing to the right [need we add that this is precisely what occurred over the following years?]. It isn’t a swing to the left in the present circumstances we require, but an overall rectification of the instructions issuing from the International: even if such a rectification be done in a way we wouldn’t like... yet let it be made, and in a clear-cut way. We want to know where we are heading".

"Finally, the Left declared that it wished more than anyone that there be centralisation and discipline on a worldwide scale; but such discipline "can’t be entrusted to the good will of this or that comrade, who, after twenty or so meetings, signs an agreement in which the Left and Right are finally united". It is a discipline "which must be made a reality in the realm of action, by leading the proletarian revolutionary movement towards global unity", a discipline which, to be such, "needs a clarity in its tactical direction and continuity in the constitution of our organisations, prescribing the limits which separate us from other parties". What was needed was a basis for discipline on the firm pedestal of clarity, firmness and invariance of principles and tactical directives. Before, in days that seemed long gone, discipline had been created in an organic way by being rooted in the granite like doctrinal force and practice of the Bolshevik Party. Today, the Left would declare, either discipline will be rebuilt on the collective foundation of the worldwide movement, in a spirit of earnestness and the fraternal sense of the importance of the hour, or all will lost. The Left would dare to announce to this congress (which scarcely touched on the Russian question, as though it were a dangerous taboo) that the "guarantee" against a relapse into opportunism shouldn’t be sought any longer in the Russian party alone, because it is the Russian party which has need, urgent need, of us, and in us searches for the "guarantee" which we, in vain, require of it. The time was ripe for "The International of the world proletariat to render to the Russian CP a part of the innumerable services it has received from it. The latter finds itself, from the point of view of the revisionist danger, in the most dangerous situation of all, and against this danger the other parties must give their support. And it is from the International that it must draw the main strength it will require to get through the extremely difficult situation it is grappling with".

"A great battle, but a lost battle! The debacle of the German October would accentuate the internal crisis of the Bolshevik Party. The reflux of the revolution in the West, and the facile theorisations concocted to explain it, would spawn the monstrosity of "socialism in one country". There was renewed enthusiasm for the policy of united front from above instead of united front "from below" and for waltzing with bourgeois radicalism in Germany. And in Italy, during the Matteotti crisis, Gramsci would make the disastrous proposal to the "oppositions" of constituting an anti-parliament; a proposal which not only, yet again, attributed an autonomous role to the petty-bourgeoisie, but also anticipated the "popular fronts" against fascism. The ignoble doctrine of "the means justify the end" would appear and be vouched for by a scholasticised "marxism-Leninism" which had sunk to relying on vulgar Machiavelian formulas. And so on and so forth".

The Left’s criticisms of the United front policy then can be summed up in the words the trade-union united front as opposed to the political united front. In the economic struggles that develop as a consequence of the workers’ conditions of life, the worker feels in his bones the opposition between his/her interests and those of the bosses. To passively accept the bosses justifications for inflicting wage cuts, laying off workers, cutting holidays, etc is however quite possible if capitalism and the mysterious "market forces" are accepted as immutable and eternal. Thus the worker can be left impotent and defeated even in his daily struggle for existence, unless he seeks out a different frame of reference to justify continuing to make demands for improved conditions and wages. It is thus at this point, the situation in which the worker has come against the wall of capitalist possibilities, that marxist politics become particularly relevant and necessary.

If this is the case, if this is the situation where workers will listen to marxists, is also the point at which the marxist must be at greatest pains to differentiate themselves from reformist and social-democratic solutions to the workers’ economic struggles. The reformists, with a far greater understanding than others of the importance of organising in the unions, know that this is the point where they must establish strong links with the workers. Unlike the marxists however, what they will tell the worker when there is an industrial struggle is VOTE FOR US! Thus the reformists say: get us into parliament and we’ll sort it all out for you. But they also say that they have to be "realistic", i.e. capitalism can only offer so much!

The "realism" which the reformists offer is identical to the "realism" which the bosses put forward in industrial disputes as their reason for giving paltry increases in the annual wage round and lowering the living standards of the workers.

So we have gone a full circle, both the reformists and capitalists offer "realism": and marxists by offering an escape from this capitalist realism, by offering Communist Realism, receives an audience in the working class at a point where marxism becomes indispensable. But this is only effected by attacking both capitalism and reformism at the same time. This is why the political united front, a formal alliance between the communist and reformist parties undermines the influence of the communist party rather than increasing it. It fails to appreciate that the very reason why workers listen to marxists in the first place is because they offer an escape route from the depressing defeatism on offer from both the capitalists, and their paid servants, the reformists.

Nowadays the workers’ economic united front is a distant prospect, but the essence of the policy remains the same. As long as capitalism exists, workers battles will break out against it. Within these battles, even though as a party we are minute, and our influence almost zero, we will continue to fight to extend these battles out of the narrow sectors where they first break out, in order to get our message over that these battles are CLASS BATTLES, not sectoral battles. In order to do that, we will frequently come up against conservative forces in the trade-union structure and bureaucracy, which can imprison their members in a closed loop with just the workers’ representatives, bosses, and ’full-time officials’ of one particular work-place, eye-ball to eye-ball across the table going round and round in circles. In such a case, the contest is far from even. On the one side the bosses: with the forces of the entire state at their disposal - police, army, press, judiciary. On the other side: a huddled group of workers’ representatives, either worried they’ll get the sack, or worse still, be promoted up to foreman or personnel officer - and then get the sack.

Due to the incapacity of the trade-union leaders to provide a clear leadership, because of the trade unions being tied by a thousand threads to the bosses and the state, workers’ battles have frequently expressed themselves through Rank-and-file bodies which arise in opposition to the official unions, and though frequently re-incorporated back into the union structure, they continue to reappear in response to the increasing distance of the union bureaucracy - busily showering their members with junk-mail - and the members. The appearance of these unofficial bodies, and the splits that could result from them, will be very important in forming a pole of attraction around which a class union will eventually crystallise. But as this process unfolds, the protagonists will inevitably be accused of undermining the ’unity’ which presently exists under the unholy alliance of the Labour Party and the TUC.

In Britain two paths exist: establishing unity around the Labour Party and a trade-union movement hand-in-glove with it; a combination which aims at propping up the capitalist system and containing all workers’ struggles within what is legal and compatible with it; or establishing unity around the marxist revolutionary programme, and a class party with strong connections with the working masses in economic organisations which have broken out of the strictures of reformism and are open to communist influence. The exact form of such workers’ economic organisation is not the important one, but it will have to be characterised by the real needs of the class struggle which include a breaking down of the barriers currently erected by the trade-union bureaucrats and structures. Struggles which break down the sectoral nature which capitalism imposes, quickly divests itself of an economist nature and so assumes a class nature. We therefore do not advocate a union composed merely of party activists, which would be a necessarily minute organisation with no contact with the vast mass of workers, but one which evolves out of the actually pressing necessity of working people to fight their immediate battles; a battle that can only be fought by emerging from the individual sectors within which we are imprisoned and moving onto a class level.

For those who have opted for the latter path, we offer our programme, a programme tried and tested in the heat of workers’ struggles, and formulated on the basis of the real experience of the terrible failure of the Political united front.

The Balkan War

Introduction 1997

The following article on "The Balkan War" was published in the Italian paper l’Avanguardia on 1.12.1912. The author, Amadeo Bordiga, was then a leading member of the Socialist Youth movement of Italy. It was part of the struggle being waged, particularly by its younger members, within the Socialist Party of Italy for proletarian Marxist principles. It was only this tendency, initially known as the Abstentionist Fraction, which was able to carry out a consistent fight against involvement in the First World War. This same tendency, which today we represent, was the central core, the motivating force, behind the formation of the Communist Party of Italy - Bordiga became its first General Secretary.

Only a relentless struggle against irredentism (national salvation via extending national boundaries, which had come to the fore in the Libyan War of 1912) could lay the basis for internationalism. The experience of the First World War - and not a national one either - showed that rampant militarism and fascism could arise out of syndicalism (Mussolini), the right wing could mouth phrases against war until the "nation is in danger" and then stampede to defend the national interest (Turati), and the centrists could talk about peace while not endangering the war effort (Serrati).

Those tendencies internationally which opposed the First World War were those which were drawn enthusiastically towards Moscow and the formation of the Communist International. The Comintern, from the start, took up a decisive and implacable opposition to war. It is strange indeed that that same heritage is used by all sorts of organisations as an excuse to take sides in the recent conflict in Yugoslavia, rather than defeatism and fraternisation amongst conflicting forces.

The ’Big Powers’ and Yugoslavia

The Balkan War of 1912 involved statelets on the southern fringe of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was an area of conflicting imperialist interests in which the tussles of the ’Big Powers’, reaching out towards the Middle East, found a focus in that area. Strange ideas have been spread around by bourgeois historians that a single gun-shot in Sarajevo caused the First World War. The conflicts, and military alliances, of the Big Powers was the real cause, and it didn’t really matter to capitalists where it started. The military defeat of the Central Powers (the German and Austrio-Hungarian Empires) led to the reorganisations imposed by the Versailles Treaty. The ’Balkan Problem’ was solved by incorporation of the Balkan statelets into a single country - Yugoslavia. It represented a compromise between the competing English and French interests, resolved by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. France had wanted to penetrate and bolster the Ottoman Empire, while England wanted to pull it down.

Defeated Germany, under the impact of the hyper-inflation of 1923, the Wall Street Crash and the following depression, turned towards fascism in its reorganisation and recovery of lost territories. It found a natural (but militarily an unreliable) ally in fascist Italy. The Second World War was mainly to dispute the results of the First. This time France was militarily defeated in a most decisive way, and Germany found itself the victor of wide areas of Europe. Stalin’s Russia had diplomatically switched sides, lining up with Germany to once again partition Poland (Stalinism being a rebirth of Russian national interests).

Germany’s next move was clearly against Russia, Churchill’s London knowing well in advance through its intelligence network. The change of regime in Belgrade, from pro-Axis to pro-London (while Moscow was still a firm ally of Hitler), provoked the German invasion of Yugoslavia, then Greece. The Belgrade coup was engineered by London in order to stretch Germany to the limit, especially delaying the invasion of Russia. London was worried about the prospect of a collapse of Russia, and strove to maintain it in the war against Germany. This was the traditional strategy of England with regards to Continental opponents - Europe is to be kept divided, and should one country come to dominate it, then it should be stretched to the absolute limit in order to be exhausted. This was, after all, how Napoleonic France was also defeated.

The killings and destruction as a result of the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia is well documented. Partisan movements arose supported by various powers outside of the country. London’s preference, as an instrument of the war, was that of Tito’s partisans. Support in the form of arms and agents was forthcoming from Churchill, to the point where it became obvious that Tito was his preferred choice as the force capable of meeting England’s strategic needs. The myth of a revolutionary outcome from the partisan movement, a clear falsification (would Churchill support anything proletarian?), was invented in order to justify various political ideologies, especially trotskism.

The post-war conflict between Tito and Stalin, reflecting the competing influences in Eastern Europe, was paraded around as a reflection of the class struggle. The Yugoslavian economy, pulled relentlessly closer towards that of Central Europe, then the Common Market, was adapted to forms of so-called "workers control / participation". Various outfits on the left then pronounced it socialist, a "degenerated workers state" and so on.

Consequences of the Crisis of Capitalism

As a satellite of the Common Market, Yugoslavia became a source of cheap labour, cheaper products, and even cheaper holidays. Germany’s influence was growing all the time towards to Balkans. Finally, the growing crisis of capitalism, and the upsurge of a genuine class struggle by workers, had a devastating impact on the financially bankrupt Balkans - Yugoslavia itself imploded as a nation state.

Faced with a growing hostility of workers to the price to be paid for the crisis, the different sections of the bourgeoisie, the actual owners and controllers of capital, came up with its traditional weapon, nationalism and hatred for all others. Yugoslavia was in the process of breaking down into its regional states. Serbia had been in effect the regional master, retaining its control over Montenegro and its domination of the Albanian population in the province of Kosovo. It was prepared to contest control in parts of Croatia and Bosnia, for the creation of a greater Serbia.

It is a great mistake to compare the present events in the former Yugoslavia with the events of the Second World War, even though terms used during the 40s have remerged, i.e. the Serbian Chetniks (those discarded by Churchill, as unreliable, in favour of Tito’s forces) and the Croatian Ustashe. In the 1940s Yugoslavia was invaded and fought over by external powers. In the 1990s the events are home-grown, the response of Yugoslavian interests faced with economic catastrophe. The only way to divert and involve some of the population in their plans is the playing of the nationalist card. The Big Powers are there to back up the contending players, clients by proxy, while protecting their own stakes in the area. The big difference is that this time, the real big boy, the USA, is muscling in for a piece of the action! It represents the first direct toe-hold of Uncle Sam on the European mainland.

The breakdown of the former Yugoslavian state, until then of use to all the main capitalist powers, was from the start a problem for the European Community. It became a source of instability on its South-Eastern border. The temptation of rich pickings from this breakdown was too much for Germany. The Yugoslavian National Army, equipped and trained to defend its "patriotic homeland’s borders", was extremely unreliable in dealing with popular unrest and demands for separation. The JNA’s units were only too happy to be withdrawn, almost competing to see how quickly they could evacuate back to Serbia. It was the officers connected with the former Communist Party apparatus, who saw to it that as much military equipment as possible was left for the aspiring local Serbian nationalists. Slovenia drifted out of the Federation and Croatia was recognised by Germany as an independent state; and that was that.

Serbia reacted by an alarm call to all other Serbs ’abroad’ in order to defend "their" interest against all others. Croats and Bosnians were to driven out of ’Serbian’ areas - the use of "ethnic cleansing" became a dreadful and horrific spectacle. It was a way of forcing Serbian populations to choose sides; and if they didn’t participate in these events, the resulting conflict would force others into the civil and ’ethnic’ conflict. The reliable units of JNA were used to occupy the Eastern part of Croatia - the siege and destruction of Vukovar in 1991 was as clear message to the Croats to stay in line.

Still, it was very difficult to involve the bulk of the working class in the former Yugoslavia in the obscene nationalist and racist rantings of the various contending political menageries. The reluctance of the Serbian workers to be involved in fighting their fellow workers continued throughout the rampant inflation, mostly caused by the international embargo of trade with Serbia. The sabre-rattling from the Croat leaders in Zagreb could not get the workers to participate in much more that as spectators in farcical shows of soldiers parading in snazzy modern versions of ceremonial ’feudal’ attire. This was also true, even after the shelling of coastal resorts of Split and Dubrovnik on Croatia’s much extended coast-line. Like many of the forces involved in the fighting, large numbers were of those who became involved through being "ethnically cleansed" and were fighting to go back to where they used to live.

The stage was now set in 1992 for the main drama: Bosnia. Bosnia has a "mixed" population, where the Serbs meet the Croats, with the Muslims caught in between, like in the jaws of a vice. For the Serbian nationalists, using ethnic cleansing, drove the Muslims out of villages and town, and strove to take the capital Sarajevo, in an attempt to dominate Bosnia itself. Having failed, it set up its own ’Republika Srbska’ and remorselessly set to work in connecting the patchwork quilt of territory already seized. This in the end sealed its own fate in stretching its resources to breaking point in ’surrounding’ the Muslim centre of Bosnia. Meanwhile the Croats contested the Muslim forces for Mostar. Not to be outdone, the Serbs of both Bosnia and Croatia sought to eliminate the Muslim enclave of Bihac. A three-sided fight developed with the Croats changing sides according to its own interests, at times fighting against the Muslims and at fighting alongside them. This tended to reflect the interests and stances of the observing big powers, and their deliberations.

Neither the contending nationalist forces, nor the watching big powers, could resolve any of the issues involved. No matter how the dividing lines were drawn, even with a ’multi-ethnic’ Bosnia, which the leaders of Sarajevo dreamed of, could not solve the problems. Militarily, it is an almost impossible task redrawing of battle-lines, with pockets of refugees created from "cleansed" areas. To link-up Croat and Muslim areas means driving out Serbs, and thereby playing the game of the Serbian nationalists who had started off the whole conflict in the first place.

The "multi-ethnic" solution contradicts the process begun by the Serbian nationalists, the seizing of property and businesses controlled by others, dispossession by converting people into refugees. After all, this is a thoroughly bourgeois solution, stripped of the niceties of redundancies and legal evictions. The creation of a ’multi-ethnic’ Bosnia, with the return of people to their home areas, is a direct threat to all the jumped-up little local dictators who constitute the ’Republika Srbska’, leaving aside the issue of war crimes trials. That is why there is no prospect of a reunified, national Bosnia.

The Quagmire of Nationalism

Nationalism has to be considered as a programme of the bourgeoisie. It is largely speaking the stage through which constitutes the rule of the bourgeoisie. It is the ideal form by which the population can be convinced of the necessity of defending the local capitalist class. It is through this "national" state that the idea of the identity of the interests of all classes finds its home. Everyone is supposed to have a stake in this patriotism, this guardianship of the "people". After all, it is the only mode through which the majority of the population can be persuaded of defending "their bosses" through taxation, and in times of war, through blood. Is their any other way of convincing workers to peacefully pay their taxes, and in times of war risk their lives for the interests of the big manufacturers and land owners?

Nationalism represents a diversion, a curse for the working class. It is not a stage that has to be completed before the working class can assert its own needs. In the case of Ireland, the Irish bourgeoisie has proved to be both incapable and unwilling to achieve national unification of the whole of that island. Does that mean that the historic role of the Irish working class is forever suspended because of the incapacity of "its own" bourgeoisie. Of course not!

Still less is nationalism something which the working class can use in any way - the dictatorship of the proletariat is a state form (which withers away), but has no features at all similar to the bourgeois nation state, excepting only that it represents class rule. The proletarian opposition to national oppression lies in the ending of oppression (through the ending of exploitation and the dissolution of classes) and not by a reorganisation of national states.

Lenin’s firm defence of the Right to National Self-Determination should be seen in this light. Lenin was for the breaking of the imperialist and colonial grip of the oppressing nations, rather than just for the setting up of a myriad of smaller states. He was for the freeing of the working class in the subordinated countries from nationalism, rather than having it superseded by renewed petty national conflicts.

Nationalism is also used as a weapon of intimidation – just look, the bourgeois media points out, at what chaos results when the democratic State breaks down. Massive cover is given in the mass media of all the horrors happening when the existing nation States breakdown, from the former Yugoslavia to Rwanda. The object lesson is clear: citizens can only sleep safely in their beds by the survival of the democratic nation State. Any threat to it courts disaster for all! And that threat is used to bind even further the citizenry, despite their increasingly appalling conditions through the developing crisis, even closer to the rabble which runs the various countries.

But the breakdown of national states, under the impact of the growing crisis, has created new opportunities for the big international players. At first they all wrung their hands and lamented at the slaughter going on. Serbia was busily dealing with its problems by deporting its surplus population (such as ethnic Hungarians in its north, as well as Muslims and Croats) and profiting out of the flight of Serbian refugees. Croatia was restrained by pressure from the EC because it eventually wanted to join the European Common Market. The horrific blood bath of the siege of Sarajevo was used as an excuse for intervention - threatening noises were coming especially from Paris. London strove for caution, in fact protecting the strategic interests of Serbia by ensuring that the balance of forces should not be tipped to much against the Serbs. Serbia kept looking over its shoulder for Russia to act as a guarantor, but bankrupt Russia had difficulty in looking after its own borders. The only player which has an interest in reopening the whole issue will be the USA.

The instruments of international intervention were being tested out all the time. The clamour for the United Nations involvement grew, which took the form of humanitarian aid, and the ’protection’ of safe areas (in reality disarmed Muslim enclaves). The inability of a peaceful, peace-observing force was shown on the TV screens right across the world. This was in fact a very skilful manipulation of ’public’ opinion, because it was preparing the ground for a more determined ’international’ intervention - this time through the use of NATO forces. The blue helmets of UN forces were changed for the camouflaged helmets of NATO troops - and sustained air attacks were made on Serbian positions to ’convince’ them to accept the new American sponsored solution to the problem - the Dayton Agreement. This Agreement reflects for the moment the division of the former Yugoslavia between Serbian and Croatian interests. The parody of elections, supposed to be democratic, have taken place, even though former residents will not be allowed back into their former homes. ’Ethnic cleansing’ has now been institutionalised.

* * *

The stampede to involve themselves in the nationalist slaughter in the former Yugoslavia was not confined just to the bourgeois press - others were muscling in to get in on the act.

The most pernicious role was played by an organisation calling itself the Revolutionary Communist Party and its publication Living Marxism. The RCP lives by notoriety, a worthy heir to that of the discredited ’Marxist’ Hyndman, challenging what it saw as the opinions expressed by the main capitalist leaders. It declared that before it fought its opponents, the bourgeoisie first demonises them. Therefore it opposes the demonising of enemy, and thus objectively expresses the other side’s bourgeois interests. The RCP stated that the Serbs were being demonised, and proceeded directly to represent the positions of the most blatant Serbian nationalism. An exhibition showing the slaughter of Serbs in concentration camps during the Second World War was used to justify the "ethnic cleansing" of Croats and Muslims, as an exercise in self-protection.

The most opportunistic role was played by the trotskist Workers Revolutionary Party, now dissolved, and its paper Workers Press. Seeing the collapse of Stalinism it sought to move on to this vacated ground. The WRP wanted to recreate the popular front-type of movement that arose over the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. Aid for Spain was replaced with Workers Aid for Bosnia, in an attempt to penetrate and influence that embattled enclave.

The Sarajevo regime of Izetbegovic prided itself as representing those of all ethnic origins, Serbian, Croat and Muslim, and those who regard themselves as a mixture of two or all three. This was how the concept of a multi-ethnic state was developed, as an instrument of its struggle with the surrounding forces. It is a rallying war-cry for the reunification of Bosnia, and the spilling of more blood for bourgeois rule. The "multi-ethnic" perspective for Bosnia was attractive to the USA, which was looking for its own stake in the area. After the enforced disarming of the Serbs, under the "Dayton Agreement", the USA has begun the rearming the "multi-ethnic" forces, in order to redrawn the battle-lines at a later date.

Those who continue to defend the "multi-ethnic" nature of states, whether as part of European "Equal Opportunities", or American "Political Correctness", as against the previous narrow-minded nationalism, carry out objectively the necessary reorganisations of capitalism in its drive for increased profits, and reduced costs. They also help to prepare new oppressions, more misery and new slaughters - and the further institutionalisation of unemployment, poverty and dispossession, and whatever other plans capitalism has for us all in the future.


(l’Avanguardia, 1.12.1912)

Though we can’t yet evaluate the historical consequences of the slaughter, as it draws to a close we can at least examine it somewhat objectively from the socialist standpoint.

It is said that the Balkan peoples are fighting for the cause of civilisation, liberty and the independence of peoples; it is accepted as indisputable dogma that the disappearance of Turkey from the map of Europe will be a sound basis for eastern economic and social development, and so must be welcomed by socialists. Before an astonished Europe, the fine gesture of the four statelets took on the historic physiognomy of a crusade and a revolution at the same time. It enraptured Christians and republicans, nationalists and socialists, who vied in applauding the war.

But the rivers of blood and fire which welled up from countries devastated by one of the most murderous wars on record, while exhilarating for the nationalists and the theoreticians of massacre only make us curse, and serves us as warning for the future.

* * *

Here the historical problem is set before us in all its gravity: What stance must the socialists take on so-called "wars of independence", which aspire to the liberation of an oppressed nationality from the foreign yoke?

Some would say: as history teaches us that national freedom is a pre-condition for the development of the capitalist bourgeoisie, and for the consequent class struggle which leads to socialism, socialists must look favourably on wars for independence.

We will discuss this conclusion, which is almost a sophism, with the very modest aim of unsettling the foundations of a too commonly-accepted prejudice.

First of all, the premise that the bourgeoisie needs "national freedom" for its development is not exact. The bourgeoisie only needs to take the State away from the feudal oligarchies and install a democratic political regime. The collaboration of the masses being necessary for this, the bourgeoisie tries to make this struggle popular by giving it, in cases where the aristocracies belong to a non-indigenous nation or race, a patriotic content.

So for example in Italy and Germany where, as an extra-national question, the conquest of power by the bourgeoisie was resolved with the wars of ’59 and ’66. In France on the other hand, the struggle between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie had a revolutionary character, and a fundamental physiognomy of civil war. Be it understood that these examples have a relative value, since historical facts are not so neatly classified or catalogued.

Moreover, as the concepts of race and nationality are so elastic historically and geographically, they’re always well-adapted to the interests of oligarchic capitalist groups, according to the needs of their economic development. Only after the event can sycophantic history reconstruct fantastic, sentimental motives, and create the patriotic and national tradition, which serves the shrewd bourgeoisie so well as an antidote to the class struggle.

But the Party which represents the working class has to look a bit closer. We see irredentism as no more than a cunning reactionary ploy. Even from the viewpoint - we’ll now re-examine it - which says the bourgeoisie needs to pursue its development, etc., irredentism is not justified. Nice and Trieste are more industrialised than much of Italy.

* * *

We’re not making a comparison here with the Balkan regions. We accept as a fact that Bulgaria, Serbia, etc. are more civilised than Turkey. On that basis, is there perhaps some kind of right to armed conquest of territory subject to the less-civilised state?

We’re not raising the question of whether the war is just or unjust in such a case; history isn’t justified, it’s just observed. We’re merely discussing the position a revolutionary class party has to take in these conflicts.

Does the party have to support the war, in order to accelerate the development of the bourgeoisie in a country that is still feudal?

Our answer is no, and we applaud the heroic attitude of those Serb and Bulgarian comrades who opposed the war.

In fact, this is the first reason: the war could possibly be favourable to the more advanced people, but the inverse is also possible, with opposite results; even according to the theory of warmongering socialists (?) of the Bissolati type. This uncertainty alone would suffice to turn every true friend of progress against the armed conflict. Provided, that is, they don’t still believe in God. But democracy, given time and... venality, even sinks that low.

On the other hand, even if the solution of the conflict were to be such as to give greater freedom to the peoples of the conquered territory, nothing proves that a better position would be obtained for the development of socialism. This is why:
1. The increased prestige of the dynastic, military and sometimes priestly oligarchies (in the nations that waged war).
2. The intensification of nationalism and patriotism, which delays the organisation of the proletariat into an internationalist class party.
3. In the defeated country, the intensification of racial hatreds, and of the desire for revenge against the race that was once dominant and is now oppressed, assuming it hasn’t been totally destroyed.
4. The very grave fact of the degeneration of the races after healthy men have been decimated by war, the depopulation caused by massacres, sickness, hunger, etc., and the immense destruction of wealth, with the consequent economic crisis, and the impossibility of developing industry and agriculture through lack of capital and labour.

Therefore the idea that war accelerates the coming of socialist revolution is a vulgar prejudice. Socialism must oppose all wars, avoiding captious distinctions between wars of conquest and wars of independence.

There remains a sentimental objection to remove: But then you want to prolong the present state of affairs, and the Turkish oppression of the Christians? But that’s the socialism of reactionaries!

* * *

In general, one mustn’t discuss history on the basis of sentimental prejudices. Nevertheless, we’ll counter these with some considerations. Evils are remedied by removing their causes. Now, it’s an exaggeration to say that the cause of the Balkan disorder is Turkish rule. There are many other causes. The ambition of the foremost of the vile old states, which have always stirred the fires of racial hatred. The intervention of civilised Europe, which has spewed friars, priests and unscrupulous profiteers down there, causing the Muslim reaction. But the cause is race hatred, which can’t be eliminated by means of wars. Just as the Bulgarians and Greeks have hushed up their ferocious mutual loathing, so they were able to attempt a general Balkan agreement. Can it be asserted that the Turkish oligarchy was more opposed to this agreement than the ambitious oligarchies of the four little states?

Anyway our assertion, based on socialist principles, is this: socialists have to oppose this war. If it had been strong enough to avoid the war, the International would also have the strength to resolve the Balkan question without massacres.

In declaring ourselves against wars of independence, we don’t mean to defend racial oppression.

Marx said that being opposed to the constitutional regime was not the same as supporting absolutism.

And we can accept the formula - which seems to make up half all the vast diplomatic lucubrations we’ve read in a month - the Balkans for the Balkan peoples. But, we ask, to which people? To those who emerge from the mutual slaughter, to the orphans, the cripples, and the victims of cholera! This time, the statistics show clearly what effects war has! The losses are such that it isn’t hyperbole to assert that the race will be drained of blood and sterilized for a long time to come!

The fields of devastation will remain to four gratified petty tyrants.

If tomorrow in Santa Sofia the czar, in eighteenth-century style, puts on the bloody crown of the Byzantine Empire, we hope there won’t be any socialists among those who rummage among the historical trash of a clownish history and literature, seeking a few lines for the hymn to the victor!

In the name of a greater civilisation, we curse those who for the sake of their ambitious dreams, brought about the massacre of so many young lives!

No matter how brutal the crime, you’ll always get glorification of its heroism and tradition from the eunuchs of bourgeois culture!


The present strike by the dockers in Liverpool, along with the continuing dispute of the firemen shows that the working class still has not been cowered by 16 years of Tory Government, nor by the massive levels of unemployment (in reality over 4 million). Urged to be responsive to the needs of the market place, workers were supposed to work harder for less wages. This way some sort of security was to be bestowed upon those still at work.

Ever-deepening crises show that any supposed security under capitalism tends to be only an illusion. The ’sacrifices’ previously made have not been enough to ensure adequate profits for the bosses, nor bail out near-bankrupt local and state services. The bosses, both private and public, are demanding even more insecurity for the working class - lower wages, reduced benefits, short-term contracts, agency work, and so on. It only seems to apply to the working class, not the bosses! We are the one’s supposed to carry the can for their crisis!

Determined strikes by the dockers and firemen show that sections of the working class can not be easily bullied into accepting these attacks. They are pushing sectional strikes to their limit - to really succeed means breaking through sectional barriers of trade, industry and jobs which the bosses impose upon the working class. The real way forward is to unite as proletarians (as Marx put it), those who have nothing to sell but their labour power. That is what unites us as a class - it is the role assigned to us as employees in the work place which divides us. The lessons of the dispute by the Careworkers against Liverpool City Council is an object lesson of what happens when workers allow themselves to become isolated, and so be defeated.

In the past workers such as dockers, miners, etc had been able to use their industrial muscle to defend their own interests. But the Tories, prepared by previous Labour Governments, have used the resources of the state to mechanise and reduce the workforces, like the mines and the docks. Industries which had been able to secure their own sectional interests have no longer been able to win on their own. On the one hand this imposes an enormous burden on those sections of workers; on the other hand it does mean that they have no other choice but to seek the help and assistance of their fellow workers - members of their own class.

Looking for help from other classes, as an attempt at respectability in front of some mythical ’community’, is a recipe for isolation and defeat. Appeals based upon pride in ’our industry’ or ’our city’ is really on the ground of the bosses, because they will always counter with the needs of industry, profitability and competing with rival enterprises - in reality competing against workers in other areas, in other countries.

Solidarity from dock workers in the USA, Australia, etc, has been far more important than support of Bishops and MPs, who participate in the maintenance of society, of the exploitation of the working class. Every connection which is forged with other members of the working class, whether employed or unemployed, is far more important than pious appeals for pride in ’our city’. The protracted docks strike (unthinkable years ago) shows more clearly than ever before the need for organisation within the working class that breaks down sectional barriers, that demolishes the distinction imposed and maintained by different trade unions, which so often keeps workers struggles bottled up and defeated.

The continuous attacks against the working class poses once again that our own interests as a class cannot be met within capitalism. Only through the abolition of capitalism, of exploitation, of wage slavery, can the interests of the working class (which in reality is the only class which is capable of representing the aspirations of humanity) be secured. The continued existence of the boss class means in the end only misery, degradation and insecurity. The interests of the working class and the exploiting classes are worlds apart. Socialism / communism is the only way the workers (proletarians) can emancipate themselves from exploitation.

January 1996.


The present strike by the dockers in Liverpool is almost six months old. They have ended up isolated and still outside the gates of the docks because the fight has been confined mainly to getting support from trade union leaders, Bishops, MPs, etc. Besides the continuing picketing, the only honourable part of the strike has been the attempts to forge links with dockers in other ports - and honourable support has been given. Solidarity of actions amongst workers has always been a sign of real class organisation. Appeals to other capitalist bodies to convince the dock bosses to change their minds and accept the old workforce back has come unsurprisingly to nothing.

The uneasy peace with T & G union leaders has produced nothing, except tying the hands of the strikers. The T & G boss, Bill Morris (the favoured candidate of leftist groups), has moved heaven and earth to prevent support for the strikers. All the time goods have been moved in and out of the docks by lorry by members of the same union, the T & G has done nothing at all to even hint at real support for the dockers. Union leaders may condemn the Tory anti-union laws, the offences of secondary picketing, etc - they had no intention of going that far anyway.

But in a very real sense the dockers are not alone. Other workers across the country are about to face some of the same treatment - speed-ups at work, victimisation, redundancies, wage cutting. The Liverpool City Council (part share holders in the docks) has proclaimed support for the dockers and gave the use of the Council Chamber for a Dockers Conference. This same Council is now planning to do on a smaller scale exactly what the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board did to the Liverpool Dockers. "No saviours from on high deliver"! Council workers, throughout Merseyside and especially Liverpool, face wage-cutting (as a permanent cut in salaries) and those who will remain in work will be expected to also do the jobs that will disappear, whether real redundancies or getting rid of ’frozen’ posts.

The usual refrain is repeated - if only we can balance the budget this year; the enterprise must be made solvent otherwise jobs are at risk. Once the bosses get the taste for such measures, they are invariably back for more. But no matter how many times this is done the crisis of capitalism runs on apace, and the whole sorry cycle begins again. The overwhelming majority of those who have spoken from the platform at the dockers marchers have participated in some way or other in attacks being made upon the working class. They have participated in productivity deals, called for making their own industry competitive, especially against foreign competition, and so have participated in dividing worker against worker.

The bosses, both private and public, are demanding an even greater burden be placed upon the backs of the working class. As different sections of workers, it will be near impossible to fight these attacks on our own. It is the strategy of the bosses to divide and rule, to take one section on at a time, and use that as a lesson to intimidate others.

The situation is increasing posing two questions:
1) As unionised strikes are increasingly running up against a brick wall, not the least because of the union leaders are determined not to do anything to assist the strikers, matters need to be taken into the hands of the workers themselves. In the case of the dockers strike, the suspicion is there that perhaps the T & G would be only too happy to give the strike-breakers union cards - and so re-establish the closed shop?
2) As increasingly workers are facing the same problems from the attacks of the bosses, whether private or public, real solidarity needs to be established between different sections of workers.

Every step that is taken to break down the divisions (imposed by the bosses) upon the workers in struggle is to be welcomed and be built upon. This will become the beginning of real class action and class organisation - and so become a class for itself (Marx).

March 1996.