National Sections of the L5I:

The Comintern, the C.P.G.B. and the Minority Movement

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Developing a communist united front in the British Trade Unions.

By Stuart King

Many of the groups on the left today have examined, with a greater or lesser degree of seriousness, the early history of the CPGB and in particular its industrial strategy in the early 1920s through the Minority Movement.

We do not apologise for writing on the same subject again today, for two reasons. Firstly the experience of the early British Communist Party, working under the direction of a still revolutionary International, is the history of a communist grouping attempting to apply and hammer out a revolutionary strategy within a working class with strong reformist traditions, a powerful trade union bureaucracy and a labour Party wedded from its birth to a policy of class collaboration. A correct understanding of that attempt, of its successes and its mistakes is essential for revolutionaries today. Secondly we believe that the political assessments emanating from the left groups are as inadequate as their politics in general providing only misdirection for communist work in the trade unions today.
We do not, in this article, attempt to provide a comprehensive historical account of the early Communist Party and Minority Movement, rather we focus on the programmatic method and tactics of the CPGB in its attempt to build a revolutionary opposition under communist leadership within the trade unions, and the impact on this tactic of the centrist degeneration of the Communist International from 1924 on, The failure to deal with this aspect of the Minority Movement has been one of the major weaknesses of most previous studies. It is doubly important to focus on this question given the confusion in the left today on what constitutes a communist united front tactic in the trade unions. As a result of this emphasis in the article we have had to severely restrict the amount of historical background contained in the text. We have attempted to provide an introduction which places the Communist Party's tactic of building the Minority Movement in a historical context, and a chronology which outlines the major events in the class struggle of the period.

Finally we ask the reader to bear with us through the fairly substantial quotes from the Communist Party and Minority Movement press. This does not make for easy reading but is necessary both to enable the reader to make an independent judgement of the method used by the Communist Party in building a united front and in order that the distortion of this method by all varieties of centrists who claim to stand in the 'communist tradition' can be clearly demonstrated.

The period succeeding the First world war were years of significant advance for the British working class. On the level of wages, full employment, mass unionisation, shop floor organisation massive advances were registered. On the political level too, the British working class finally gave its overwhelming allegiance to a working class party, distinct at an electoral level from the Liberal Party and pledged to a variety of reformist socialism. The pressure of the masses forced the cautious semi-liberal trade union leaders and the timid petit-bourgeois Fabians to go a good deal further than they had wished to go. Never were these leaders to make such radical noises as they had made in 1917 -1918.

The most crucial gain, the key promise for the future, however lay in transformation that took place on the tiny forces of British Marxism due to the world war, the working class upsurge and most importantly the Russian Revolution. Galvanised out of their propaganda sect existence by the revolutionary upheavals that altered the political face of Europe, the various splintered groupings began to grope towards a new conception of Marxism - one which saw it as a real guide to action, a method for formulating a strategy for power~ not in the distant future but in the very period opening up before them. Indissolubly linked to this new conception was the necessity to break completely with the old forms of organisation, more suited to an education club than to operating the tactic flowing from this strategy.

The British Communist Party was officially formed after tremendous difficulties on July 31st 1920. But for a whole period thereafter it was obvious that all that happened was to aggregate small sects, the Socialist Labour Party, the British Socialist Party and many tiny and localised societies.

Before the new party could be welded together the whole working class movement was hit by a massive capitalist crisis at the end of 1920 - a crisis which glaringly revealed the total inadequacy of the leadership and organisation which should have defended the class in the only way it could be effectively defended - by a resolute struggle for power.

Then, as so often at critical periods in the history of the British working class, the miners stood at the forefront of resistance to the massive wage cuts demanded by the Liberal- Tory coalition government. The working class was electrified by the seriousness of the crisis. In the preceding year the threat of a general strike, called by a national trade union council of action and supported by local councils had "headed off direct intervention by British Imperialism against the Russian Revolution. In 1920, the old Parliamentary Committee of the TUC had been replaced by a new 'General Council' whose task was to act as a 'central co-ordinating body representative of the whole movement'. A power process of amalgamation- which in 1920/21 lead to the creation of the AEU, the TGWU and the GMWU, place potentially powerful weapons of struggle at the disposal of the working class. Most immediately to hand was the triple Alliance of Miners, Railwaymen and transport workers, worked for so hard before the war and still unused.
Thus when Lloyd George announced a bill terminating state control of the mines (a war-time measure) and the employers announced drastic wage reductions, they were throwing down the gage of battle to the whole movement.

The government mobilised the reservists, despatched regular troops to the working class areas and posted machine guns at the pitheads. Faced with this show of strength and also by the eagerness of the rank and file of their own unions for action, the principle leaders - JH Thomas (railwaymen) Frank Hodges (miners) and Robert Williams and Ernest " Bevin (transport workers) betrayed the miners and indeed the whole working class. Using the pretext of the Miners Executive’s refusal of a ‘reasonable compromise’, they called off the solidarity action on Friday April 13th - a date henceforth to be known as 'Black Friday'.

The effects of this betrayal were felt in every working class home. By the end of 1921, six million workers had suffered wage cuts averaging 8% a week. By 1924, real wages had fallen dramatically; by 26% for miners, by 20% for iron and steel workers, by 11% for textile workers.

Nearly two million workers - a quarter of the entire membership flooded out of the trade unions, virtually wiping out the whole of the massive post-war increase. Unemployment lept from only a quarter of a million in September 1920 to over two million by June of the following year. The labour movement mounted no co-ordinated resistance to the effects of the crisis and the highly organised government/employer offensive to ensure that the working class bore the whole brunt of it.

A series of defensive struggles ensued, section after section being picked off by the employers until even the powerful engineers were brought to their knees in a four month lock-out - their funds exhausted and the workshop organisation in ruins. The elements of workers control won in the war and post war years such as control over overtime, were lost and undisputed exercise of all managerial functions was recognised by the union. The shop-stewards movement crumpled under the joint impact of high unemployment and the victimisation of militants following these defeats.
The young Communist Party had issued sharp warnings to the working class about the likelihood of betrayal from the reformist leaders. Under the slogan "Watch Your Leaders", the Party organ warned of the probability of a 'Black Friday'. But organisationally the Communist Party's intervention in the crisis was lamentably weak. The local branches were left to organise according to their own lights and the Party's organ 'The Communist' carried no reports of what was being done in the localities or instructions as to what should be done. Yet" the terrible negative experience of 1921 would have been lost to the working class if it had not been for the British Communist Party, particularly because it was a section of the Communist International and could draw on a wealth of experience in class struggle which no home-grown isolated national grouping could provide. At the Third Congress of the Comintern June/July 1921 the British Communist Party's tactics and organisation was severely criticised.

On the trade union front the Red International of Labour Unions pressed its London bureau for a more active intervention. In 1922 the London Bureau of RILU launched a 'Back to the Unions Campaign'. In August 1921, communists took the lead in setting up the National Unemployed Workers Committee Movement which was to play a central role in the bitter struggles of the 1920's and 30's.
But a pre-requisite of effective communist work in the mass organisations of the working class was a solidly organised communist party. The adoption by the CPGB of a series of proposals embodied in a report on re-organisation adopted by the Battersea Congress in October 1922, again paid tribute to the Party's ability to learn and the vital lessons which the Comintern had to teach. The report was the work of two relatively junior party leaders, RP Dutt and Harry Pollitt and without strong Comintern backing it is unlikely that the new methods would have carried the day. As it was considerable consultations with the Comintern were necessary to help re-found the party. The whole executive of the CPGB visited Moscow for a prolonged discussion in June 1923.
This year saw the beginnings of recovery in the working class movement, an upturn in the number of strikes and an increasing political confidence. In March 1923 a new paper was launched by the Communist Party called 'Workers Weekly' and which sold approximately 50, 000 copies compared with The Communist's circulation of 17,000 two months previously, In the General Election of November 1923, Labour became the largest single party in the Commons and over the New Year a minority Labour Government was formed.

The ruling class had managed its affairs since the middle of the First World War by a coalition of Tories and Liberals headed by the charismatic Lloyd George, an expert in the use of the stick and carrot method of dealing with the reformist leaders. Successful as these methods had been in defusing the 'militancy of 1918 to 1920 and then clawing back the concessions made in this period, after 1921, a change of strategy was required. Firstly the apparently irresistible electoral advance of Labour had to be stemmed - not so much because of what the Ramsay Macdonalds or Arthur Hendersons might do to private property as because of the upsurge in working class confidence and pressure which a clear electoral victory might bring with it.

From the ruling classes point of view a minority Labour Government with Liberal support was the safest option, Hopefully it would demoralise its supporters and do nothing to injure the interests of the bourgeoisie, In this - Balfour and Baldwin knew their opponents only too well, 'Their aim was to return to office with a powerful majority and prepare for a decisive onslaught on the workers organisations. It was against this background that the Communist Party was setting about the task of re-raising politically and organisationally the working class movement. To this end the Communist Party from late 1923 onwards was busy putting together nuclei of Communist Party, members and non-party militants into rank and file groupings, reform movements, in the mines, in engineering and on the railways. The greatest strength of the unofficial movement lay in South Wales from which base AJ Cook (briefly a party member in 20/21) was elected to the secretaryship of the Miners Federation in March 1924. A National Miners Minority Movement had been formed in January 1924 and its support played an important part in getting Cook elected. A Metal Workers Minority Movement was founded on a national scale a few months later.

How far the young Communist Party had moved from the propagandistic immobility of its early days is shown by the strategy and tactics it operated in forming the Minority Movement. It is necessary to look in detail at what this method was how it was learned and from whom.

The national Minority Movement
In taking the initiative to form the National Minority Movement in 1924 the British Communist Party was applying the tactic of the United Front in the Trade Unions, at the same time it pursued a similar tactic inside the labour party through the construction of a 'left wing'. The strategy of fighting for the united front in both industrial and political wings of the labour movement stemmed from the decisions of the 3rd and 4th Congresses of the Communist International. The 3rd Congress had recognised that the revolutionary upsurge which followed the Russian revolution and the first World War had ebbed and that capitalism had succeeded in achieving a temporary stabilisation. The minority of the European working classes remained loyal to social democracy-refusing to break with their old parties and remaining in unions which were affiliated to the Amsterdam (Yellow) International, the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). While a minority were organised in Communist Parties fighting inside the Trade Unions for affiliation to the communist 'trade union international, the Red International of Labour Unions. In such a situation the Communist Parties needed to seize every organisational avenue to ensure maximum co-ordinated action between communist and non communist working masses around the immediate needs of the class-this was the meaning of the slogan of the 3rd Congress 'to the masses' Radek pointed out that until 1920 the Communist International had used the method of direct assault:

"At that time we not only did not propose joint action with the social democratic parties, but sought by all means to split them. We placed in the foreground the slogan of the Soviet dictatorship, while now. . . we place in the foreground concrete transitional demands." (1)

It was this revolutionary use of the United Front tactic, seeking to fight alongside reformist workers on the basis of a programme of transitional demands-a programme of action which guided the activity of the early Communist Party in the minority movement.
Such a tactic in no sense meant sacrificing freedom of criticism or action on the part of the communist party. Only through ruthless criticism of social democratic and centrist leaders could communists defend the immediate interests of the working class and win the masses to communism. This was clearly stated in the directives on the United Front issued by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) in December 1921.

"The principal conditions which are equally categorical for communist parties of all countries are, in the view of the ECCI the absolute independence of every Communist Party which enters into agreement with the parties of the Second and Two and a half Internationals, its complete freedom to put forward its own views and to criticise the opponents of communism. While accepting a basis for action, communists must retain the unconditional right of the policy of all working class organisations without exception not only before and after action has been taken but also if necessary during its course. In no circumstances can these rights be surrendered. While supporting the slogan of the greatest possible unity of all workers' organisations in every practical action against the capitalist front, communists may in no circumstances desist from putting forward their views, which are the only consistent expression of the defence of the working class interests as a whole." (2)

It was the failure to carry out precisely this method that led the CPGB in the mid-twenties to an opportunist practice in its relationship to the trade union lefts and in the Minority Movement itself.

From the 3rd Congress onwards the Executive of the Comintern was much preoccupied with putting this turn into effect, having to persuade, cajole and direct parties which still clung to ultra-left and sectarian positions. (3) The British party was no exception to this. While arguing for the united front consistently in its paper, it nevertheless delayed setting up an opposition organisation in the trade unions. The basis for such a movement had already been outlined at the 4th Congress of the Comintern.

"As far as Britain is concerned, we see clearly that it would be disastrous if the party contented itself with organising its forces only within its little Party nuclei. The aim must be to 'create a more numerous opposition trade union movement. Our aim must be that our communist groups should act as a point of crystallisation around which the oppositional elements will concentrate. The aim must be to create, to marshal, to integrate the opposition forces, and the Communist Party itself will grow concurrently with the growth of the opposition. There must be established a relationship between the party organisation and the opposition, which by its very nature is heterogeneous - in such a manner that the communists could not be charged with striving to mechanically dominate the entire opposition movement.

This goal i.e. the goal of winning the working masses for communism-we must work for under these circumstances with the utmost care, definiteness, and staying power." (4)

In fact for a whole period from 1922 to mid 1924 the British Bureau of the RILU, encouraged by the ECCI took the initiative in building such a movement. 'Black Friday, the 15th April 1921, when the NUR and Transport Unions failed to support the miners in their fight against drastic wage cuts, thus effectively breaking up the Triple alliance, showed clearly that the union leaders were unwilling to fight. Throughout the mining crisis the Communist Party had mounted a campaign under the slogan 'Watch your leaders', warning that the officials of the Triple Alliance unions were likely to betray the miners.

The following year the Engineering Employers Federation locked out AEU members over agreement accepted by the AEU executive but rejected by the rank and file. The RILU organised a 'Stop the Retreat' conference attended by 200 delegates representing 150,000 workers. Following the defeat of the engineers, and other sections of workers, there was a serious decline in trade union membership. Again the RILU organised a series of conferences as part of a 'Back to the Unions Campaign' calling for united resistance to attacks on wages and hours, trade union affiliation to RILU. and the reorganisation of the trade unions into real fighting organisations.

Throughout the period up to the formation of the Minority Movement, the two papers of the British branch of the RILU "ALL POWER" and "THE WORKER" (published in Glasgow) and the Communist Party's press "THE COMMUNIST and later "WORKERS WEEKLY", reflect the development of the tactic of the united front in relation to the trade unions. The relationship of the party to a movement to transform the unions, the aims of such a movement and most importantly the debate over what a programme for mobilizing the rank and file against the bureaucrats should be, filled the pages of the party's papers and journals.

The party argued for the united front by taking as its starting point the situation facing the working class. The capitalists encouraged by 'Black Friday' were on the offensive in all industries, aiming to cut wages and break union organisation.

'The Communist' pointed out that neither the present leadership of the unions nor the old methods of struggle were capable of combating this offensive, only if the unions were transformed into fighting organs of the class and those leaders unwilling to fight swept aside could the working class defend its living standards and go onto the offensive. ALL POWER pointed out in July 1922.
"The most moderate man amongst the workers can see that the capitalist offensive has called for a complete break with the sectional tactics which characterised disputes before the war. Yet every struggle from the miner’s lockout down to the terrible defeat of the engineers we witnessed the same old tactics the same old methods. We forget nothing yet we learn nothing. Every leader of every union looks at every question not from a class standpoint, but from the narrow view of how it is going to effect his little tin pot union." (5)

The RILU-organised 'Stop the Retreat' conference was aimed precisely at building such a united front against the boss’s offensive, around a fighting programme. Clearly such a strategy had nothing in common with "dual unionism"-the setting up of break-away revolutionary trade unions. Gallagher, joint secretary of the RILU made it quite clear.

"The essential aim of the British Bureau is not to organise independent revolutionary trade unions, or to split revolutionary elements away from the existing organisations affiliated to the TUC. . . .but to convert the revolutionary minority within each industry into a revolutionary majority:" (6)

In an article entitled "Sweep them aside (Referring to the reactionary T. U. leaders- Ed), rank and file must build a Minority Movement", THE WORKER spelled out the tasks of such a movement.
"In every union the rank and file forces must be gathered
1. Around a fighting programme.
2. Around concrete demands for union consolidation and reorganisation.
3. Around the necessity for creating a new ideology amongst the union membership.
4. Around the necessity of training and developing a new leadership to replace the old." (7)

The Minority Movement proposals for "consolidation and reorganisation" of the Trade Union movement covered four main areas-the building of factory and workshop committees in the workplaces, transforming the trades councils, the amalgamation of sectional craft unions into industrial unions, and transforming the trade union General Council into a 'general staff of the labour movement'. All the demands were directed at overcoming the chronic craft and sectional divisions in the British Trade Unions.
Factory committees were to unite all workers in a particular workplace, regardless of skill or craft presenting a united front of workers to the employer’s offensive in the factories. They were to be the primary organs to fight for and put into practice workers control of production. The building of factory committees, and their affiliation to local trades councils was seen as running alongside the fight for amalgamation of the unions.

The Trades Councils were to be transformed so as to reflect the entire labour movement in a locality, and provide its local leadership. Their constitution had to be changed to allow onto them representatives of all working class organisations in the area-the factory committees, district committees of the unions, bone fide working class political organisations, the co-operative guilds, labour colleges etc. as well as the TU branches. The scourge of sectionalism and craftism which divided the working class and made a united front against the capitalists doubly difficult had to be removed by the amalgamation of all the unions in one industry along the lines of the Miners Federation and the N.U.R. At the same time the class needed a centralised leadership in the trade unions which could lead the offensive against capitalism. The TUC in the early twenties was merely a federation of TUs each jealously guarding their autonomy and power. Inter-union rivalry led to poaching of members, to one union manoeuvring with the employers against another, and to black legging by unions during strikes.

The General Council had no power to call a general strike or even sympathetic strikes, this was up to the individual union leaderships who fought tooth and nail against any erosion of their power. The fight was to transform the TUC into a real representative body of the labour movement. This meant the affiliation and representation at congress of the trade councils, and creation of a General Council which would consist of the "wisest and most aggressive fighters for the working class". It also meant giving it the power to conduct such a general class wide fight against the capitalist class, i.e. to call sympathetic and when necessary general strikes.

But the early Communist Party recognised that it was not sufficient for an opposition movement in the unions to fight only for organisational reforms. These couldn't be separated from the fight to create "a new ideology amongst the union membership" and a new leadership. Any organisational reform however radical, if it was divorced from such a political transformation could just as well be utilised by the reactionary trade union leaders to stifle the class struggle. J .R. Campbell one of the Communist Party leaders pointed this out in an article called "WATCH YOUR SLOGANS" written in early 1924. After warning that demands originally propagated by advanced sections of the movement could well be utilised by labour reactionaries in the interest of conservatism, he goes on to show how both the demand for 'industrial unionism' and for 'more power to the general council' had been perverted by labour bureaucrats. With regard to the former slogan he wrote:
"During the ASLEF strike the social pacifists of the NUR worked this slogan, which was once symbolic of revolutionary trade unionism, to death, and used it as an excuse for the most disgusting strike breaking tactics imaginable." (8)

The Communist Party and the RILU forthrightly supported ASLEF throughout the strike, the Jan 26th issue of THE WORKER running an article under the heading "A craft union which fights is better than industrial union which funks".

"In a similar way we find the slogan 'more power to the General Council' which advanced Trade Unionist have been popularising, finding favour with the social pacifist Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, which hopes to see the General Council using its power, not in co-ordinating the workers struggles but in stifling forward movements." (9)

He goes on to say:
"Our aim in the union movement must not be merely the conquest of the TU apparatus but the ideological conquest of the membership. Without this the various proposals for a concentration of power in the TU movement might conceivably mean not a concentration of leadership for class struggle purposes, but a Gompers dictatorship in the TU movement of this country. More power to the General Council means more power for good and evil and it may well be evil, if the active men do not succeed in establishing an ascendancy over the mass of workers." (10)
And in a section which might well have been written for the SWP today

"It should be clear to members of minority groups, however, that their task consists of something more than demanding slightly higher wages than the officials are prepared to demand, or by popularising amalgamation proposals. That 'something more' is the popularisation of the conception of trade unionism, not merely as a reformist force under capitalism, but as a revolutionary instrument for participating in the struggle for power, and after the struggle for power, playing a part in the management of industry.

The Minority Movement must popularise this or leave the working class to draw the inevitable conclusion that the only difference between the Left wing of the TU movement and the Right is, that the former are concerned with demanding higher wages increases, and are somewhat impatient about the slow progress of amalgamation." (11)

It was not just the membership that had to be won to such a position but the leadership of the unions as well, either by winning them to the programme of the Minority Movement or sweeping them aside and replacing them with a new leadership. Even here it was clear that:

"Every candidate for even the most insignificant post in the TU movement must be judged by where they stand in relation to the conflict of ideas that is going on in the movement…
The business of the Minority Movement is not merely to wangle positions for those who support its policy. It is the more fundamental task of capturing the rank and file, of recreating the will to fight. Only by those who go into positions of authority in the union movement having behind them a sold basis of rank and file support will be able to make progress."

In this period the party had no illusions in either right or left trade union leaders and constantly criticised their betrayals and vacillations. In October 1924 Campbell was arguing:
"It would be a suicidal policy, however, for the Communist Party and the Minority Movement to place too much reliance on what we have called the official left wing. On problems of TU organisation this element is fairly clear, on other problems it has not broken away from the right position. It is the duty of our party and the Minority Movement to criticise its weakness relentlessly and endeavour to change the muddled and incomplete left wing viewpoint of the more progressive leaders into a real revolutionary viewpoint. But revolutionary workers must never forget that their main activity must be devoted to capturing the masses." (12)
The British Communist Party set off with a clear conception of the tasks of a united front in the TU movement - it was to bring together around a fighting programme a revolutionary minority which set itself the task of conquering and transforming the entire trade union movement.. To turn unions which under capitalism were the instruments for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution into the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.

Debating the programme of the united front
Around what sort of programme could such a movement be built? This was a question that preoccupied both the International and the British party in the period before 1922-1924.

The programme debate in the Comintern is outside the scope of this article.. There were important differences over the International's programme but clearly there was a recognition of the need for each party to develop a programme-the ACTION PROGRAMME of the party-which started out from the immediate needs of the class, which was made up of 'partial', 'immediate' or 'transitional' demands, the fight for which would educate and organise the proletariat for the necessity of seizing state power. The Theses on Tactics adopted by the Third Congress (July 1921) sums up this method:

"The alternative offered by the Communist International in place of the minimum programme of the reformists and centrists is: the struggle for the concrete needs of the proletariat, for demands which, in their application, undermine the power of the bourgeoisie, which organise the proletariat; and which form the transition to proletarian dictatorship, even if certain groups of the masses have not yet grasped the meaning of such proletarian dictatorship. . .All concrete watch words, originating in the needs of the workers must be utilised to focus and stimulate the struggle for the control of production, which must not assume the form of a bureaucratic organisation of the social economy under capitalism, but of an organisation fighting against capitalism through the workers committees as well as through revolutionary TUs." (13)

This was the programmatic method used by the Communist Party in working out its programme for the Minority Movement, the communist programme swivelled to the situation facing the trade unions in the 20s. Such a programme was by no means restricted to "trade union issues" but dealt also with the question of government and the application of the keystone of the united front the Workers Government slogan.

A discussion article in WORKERS WEEKLY in 1923 entitled "TOWARDS AN IMMEDIATE PROGRAMME" followed this method in outlining such a programme.

"The only way to do this (develop a real movement which could show a way out of the crisis) is to formulate a clear programme of action that will give definite immediate objects for which all can unite." It must answer "the immediate concrete needs of the mass of workers.

A workers government must be at the forefront of our programme. But in calling for a workers government we have in mind a definite working class programme of action, which we must endeavour to force through in any case. The whole force of the working class must force the Government to intervene on the basis of State control of the banks and credit houses. Idle factories to be taken over by the state without compensation and run by the workers. Similarly all land. Workers control commissions to check the management and regulation of all production taken over by the state.

These are the demands for immediate action to meet the present crisis and must be raised alongside Minimum wage of £4 a week.
Shorter hours the 6 hour day.

Full maintenance of the unemployed at minimum wage rates.
How will the money be found it will be asked? Our answer is simple, the state can raise the money, if it will seriously begin to tax the gigantic incomes of the rich.

Abolition of all indirect taxation which burdens the workers.
All taxation to be based on income and fall on wealth.
Alongside these demands goes our proposals for the reorganisation of the labour movement." (14)

Such programmes were put forward in the WORKERS WEEKL Y and in the WORKER throughout the early 1920s. They centred on the demands for the minimum wage, the 44 hours week and abolition of overtime, on Government schemes under TU control for absorbing the unemployed, and for nationalisation of the banks and key industries without compensation under workers control. Alongside these were raised demands on the Labour Government, class on the TUC for international trade union unity; and the demands for reorganisation of the trade unions. Each demand was explained in detail in articles in the Party’s paper before and after the RILU and first Minority Movement Conferences.

The Labour Party Executive's programme for the Labour Party conferences were dissected in the pages of the paper and contrasted with the programme a workers' government would be pledged to. In this way the paper of the party and of the Minority Movement provided a coherent alternative to the programme of the reformist labour and trade union leaders and argued a fighting strategy to carry it out. This political method was not used without mistakes and corrective argument took place within the party and between the party and the Comintern.

The party's use of the united front and the Workers Government slogan during the 1922 election campaign reveals the fact that the party was still learning and absorbing the method of communist tactics and in this situation the advice and guidance of the Comintern was crucial in correcting these errors. In August 1922 the party had withdrawn all its candidates who had been adopted in opposition to official labour candidates leaving only candidates who had been adopted by CLPs or not opposed by them. They went on to urge workers to vote for the labour party and transform it into "an instrument for revolutionary progress". (15)

After the elections the central committee of the party declared that the great victories at the polls including the CPs had produced a new alignment of political forces. On the one side stood the political defenders of capitalism: on the other the Labour Party as representative of the working class supported in their struggles by the communist members in the House of Commons. (16) This opportunist use of the united front tactic, was quickly condemned at the 4th congress of the Comintern by the ECCI and by Radek at the Congress:

"How does the British Communist Party apply its united front tactics? It says', we are a section of the working class namely its left wing. Nevertheless we wish to stand together with all the other workers parties." And then the election address goes on "What is the Labour Party? The workers are fine fellows, they want to fight but the leaders are not quite so fine." And then it says "In the past as in the present there was treachery on the part of the leaders. Such treachery might happen once but nevertheless, the Labour Party is against the capitalists." By jove if this is a sample of unity tactics we had better leave them alone." (17)

Under the impact of the Comintern's criticism the party recognised its errors. A resolution at the party council in February 1923 notes the mistakes in seeing the united front tactic "as an endeavour to form a bloc of organisations instead of as a unity of the masses in actual struggle." (18) From this period through to the beginning of 1925 the party made no concessions to the Labour Party leaders. Their consistent criticism of every act of cowardice and treachery of labour leaders both right and left brought a torrent of abuse from the centrists of the ILP - Murphy in reply to a charge of the party being 'splitters' put forward the party's position, in a way which was to contrast starkly with the positions he was to be arguing only a year later:

"Revolutionary criticism becomes pre-eminently important in the working class as a means of clearing out reformist policies, changing the leadership of the movement and rousing the workers to vigorous action." (19).

A resolution appearing in WORKERS WEEKLY in February 1924 sums up the approach of the Communist Party and also, later, that of the Minority Movement to the Labour Party now in the position of a minority Government.

"The Communist Party should at once enter on a widespread campaign both for the promises made by the labour leaders as well as for other immediate slogans calculated to mobilise the class conscious section of the working class for common action. These slogans which should be simple, clear and expressive of the most pressing demands of the revolutionary workers, should be declared in a programme of action of the communist party.' It should induce workers to demand that the Labour Government adopts a "bold policy" in defence of British workers and the oppressed-especially in Ireland. Without regard as to whether a bloc of two capitalist parties might overthrow it.

In connection with unemployment-state control/workers control of idle factories
Nationalisation of railways and mines
Measures for the emancipation of Ireland, Egypt and India
Struggle against the threat of war in Europe
Measures to arouse new sections of the proletariat." (20)

Even in 1924, a debate was continuing, as it was in other sections of the Comintern, over the nature of an "immediate" programme which reflected the leadership's lack of clarity on the question.
J.P. Murphy, an Executive Committee member of the Party attacked, the concept of an 'immediate' or 'transitional' programme which he argued did not constitute a programme for socialism and was therefore reformist. He argued instead for a fight on the question of higher wages, hours etc. while arguing the full communist programme. Murphy still worked with a maximum/minimum approach reminiscent of the policies of the old SLP. This error was taken up by a writer under the pseudonym 'Practicus'. There was, he said:

"no room left for the old spirit of alternating sectarianism and reformism: which denies the possibility of the workers united front, and then after proclaiming that only the social revolution can break workers chains sees no practical immediate policy other than that of the MacDonalds or Webbs." (21)

That such confusion existed in the British party on the nature of a 'transitional' programme reflected the debate in the Comintern over the same question. Bukharin at this time was arguing a position along similar lines to Murphy's. Bukharin’s draft was put forward to the fourth congress and was referred back. It contained no immediate or transitional demands but was content to put forward only the maximum programme-the Marxist position on the state, imperialism, national defence etc. Demands relating to the united front, and the workers government were "really not part of a programme- (but) a programme of action which should deal with purely tactical questions, and which might be altered once a fortnight." (22) The question was not finally settled at the congress but referred to future discussion (23). Both these debates emphasise the importance of the Comintern for the British party whose individual leaders spent long periods with the ECCI in Moscow and at the Congresses of the Comintern and RILU. For a relatively inexperienced party like the British the debates and guidance of the Comintern were crucial for developing communist tactics in the British labour movement.

The founding of the National Minority Movement
By May 1924 the Communist Party had been convinced of the necessity to build a national opposition movement in the Trade Unions under the leadership of the party. The first Minority Movement conference represented a culmination of the work of the British branch RILU in initiating Minority Movements in individual industries and of the programmatic debate in the British party in the period 1922 - 24.

(24). In taking this decision the party was clear that the aim was to win, via the united front, the mass of workers over to communism.
"The existing organisations of the workers no longer respond to the new demands of the workers for united action to secure common demands. Hence the workers are forced into a struggle with the existing reformist leadership in order to realise their most immediate needs and demands. The growing opposition movements now springing up in the leading trade unions, industries and the Labour Party, are the first expression of the concrete raising of the demands of the workers and of a definite challenge to the existing leadership. . .

As the fight develops, new leaders will be thrown up out of the ranks of the workers, who will either have boldly to lead, or be cast aside as the workers sweep forward in their fight for the realisation of their demands.

Therefore the Communist Party, while working inside the minority movements, will on no account sacrifice its separate existence or limit its freedom of agitation and propaganda. On the contrary, while assisting and leading the workers in their everyday struggles, it considers it to be its duty at all times to intensify the struggle, and explain to the workers the real nature of the issues involved. By these means, it will win the workers to the Party in ever-increasing numbers, and prepare the working class for the real problem that confronts them, that of the conquest of power." (25)

The immediate demands and new methods of struggle which were to lay the basis of the programme of the minority movement were laid down in the manifesto and resolutions adopted by the first Minority Movement conference, held at Battersea Town Hall on 23/24 August 1924. In a manifesto directed towards the forthcoming Hull Congress of the TUC the Minority Movement points out that while certain changes had taken place in official policy since the 1923 Plymouth congress, reflected in the approach of the General Council to the unemployed movement, and in the stand made at Vienna by the British delegation for the admission of the Russian TUs into the Amsterdam International, "these developments have not been accompanied any change in the character of the whole leadership or the policy of the movement as a whole. While the past 12 months has shown the increasing stagnation and decay of the old leadership they have also seen a great revival of working class activity to which the official movement has been wholly unable to give direction." (26)
Going on to discuss the issues facing the Hull congress the manifesto says:

"The first and most important of all is that of the labour government. This is not a question outside trade unionism but the central question for trade unionism. Every question of working class advance and working class policy turns on the Labour Government, and the action of workers in relation to it . . .On every side it is realised that trade unionism is not enough and that only a workers government can solve these problems." (27)
The manifesto lists the strike breaking role of the labour Government since it came into office and declared:

"at home and abroad it has declared itself the servant of the capitalist state, and of all commercial and financial interests. It has failed to take one single step towards the only object of working class organisation the conquest of power, in order to break the power of capitalism, and establish working class control of economic and social condition." (28)

The emergency resolution on the labour government at the conference outlines a policy towards the labour government for the trade unions and working class.
"The many pressing problems facing the workers can only be effectively dealt with when there is a unifying of demands and methods of struggle. It is essential that we have a Labour Government which will act on behalf of the workers and by using the whole resources of the State make it possible for the workers to go forward in a real fight for their demands. The Government should be under the control and responsible to the organised working class movement, and the Trades Unions must see that this is done, for only then will it be possible to force the Government to act in the interests of the working class as a whole.

This Conference calls upon the Trades Union Congress to immediately take steps to bring about such control, and urges that Congress to demand that the Labour Government shall immediately repeal all legislation of a character inimical to the interests of the working class. In particular the Conference demands that the Labour Government shall immediately repeal the Emergency Powers Act. abolish the Sedition Law of 1797 and all other Seditious Laws, and refuse to use any of the armed forces of the State in any industrial dispute, or allow any police protection of blacklegs.

If the Government refuse to carry out such measures, then the workers will not fail to recognise in such refusal a complete betrayal of the best interests of the working class, and this Conference pledges itself to do all in its power by active propaganda and agitation in the working class organisations it represents to force the Government to act long the lines laid down in this resolution." (29)

The conference passed resolutions on wages, hours, the unemployed movement, Young and Women workers, international trade union unity as well as on factory committees and the trades councils. The resolution on factory committees stressed:
"Every worker no matter what age, sex, colour, creed or race, he or she maybe shall be organised and come within the protecting power of the factory committee of the concern for which he or she is working. Factory, workshop, mine, mill, garage, railway station, ship and dockyard committees must be formed to embrace all workers in the particular undertaking. The factory committees must be an integral part of the working class. Where craft unions oppose their formation the factory committees should boldly meet this opposition, particularly by becoming affiliated to Trades Councils." (30) The resolutions on trades councils argued for the councils:
“To focus, to combine under one central local leadership, all the forces of the 'working class movement.' To do this 'they must regard themselves not solely as strike' committees or local LP’s, but as the leading 'class organs' of the workers in the towns and districts for expressing every phase of the working class activity, And they must widen their constitutions so as to admit 'all' the organised forces of the workers-industrial, political, co-operative, educational and social. They must become the centres about which are massed all the local TU branches and District Committees branches of bone fide working class political organisations, co-operative guilds, labour colleges etc." (31)

The much criticised position of calling for the transformation of the TUC general council into 'the general staff of the labour movement' was not posed mechanically as an organisational device, as the Communist Party was to pose it later in the run up to the general strike, but linked absolutely to the ideological and organisational transformation of the unions.

"It must not be imagined that the increase of the powers of the General Council will have the tendency to make it less reactionary. On the contrary, the tendency will be for it to become even more so. When the employing capitalist class realise that the General Council is really the head of the Trade Union movement much more capitalist 'influence' will be brought to bear upon it, the members and officials of the General Council will be much more 'honoured', given Government jobs, flattered and bamboozled than they are at present. The capitalist class' will desire to make of the General Council a machine for preventing strikes, for holding the workers in check for ensuring the smooth-running of capitalist industry and for the soothing away any tendency to revolt on the part of the workers.

Already the General Council is a nest of the reactionary Trade Union bureaucracy, and if the Trade Union movement is to remain organisationally and ideologically what it is at present, any increase of the Council's prestige and power is likely to make it more so. This very real danger has to be guarded against. The necessity of re-organising the Trade Union movement, sweeping away the craft barriers to unity, and establishing a united class front against the capitalist class is so imperative, and is historically so completely a logical development of the Trade Union movement, that to satisfy that necessity this danger must be braved. How can we guard against it? The reactionaries desire a General Council which will check and dissipate all advances of the workers. We, of the Minority Movement, desire a General Council which will bring into being a bold and audacious General Staff of the Trade Union movement, fearlessly using its power in intelligently planned campaigns on behalf of the workers, mobilising the workers forces, re-organising these forces, fitting them in every way to fight against and finally to overcome and suppress the forces of capitalism. We can guard against the General Council becoming a machine of the capitalists, and can really evolve from the General Council a Workers' General Staff only by, in the first place and fundamentally, developing a revolutionary class consciousness amongst the Trade Union membership, and in the second place by so altering the constitution of the General Council as to ensure that those elected thereon have the closest contact with the workers and are the most trusted, most loyal, and most clear minded and audacious champions of the working class." (32)
Using the method of addressing the principle strategic and tactical problems faced by the British working class in the early twenties - ' a labour movement crippled in the fight back by a fragmented and craft prejudiced and antiquated trade union structure - the Communist Party was able to show that any serious attempt to mobilise against the employer/state offensive necessitated tackling the question of the transition to socialism. Using an action programme based on this method, consisting of a series of interlinked, immediate and transitional demands, the Communist Party was developing the ability to fight alongside reformist workers and demonstrate in action the inevitable necessity of seizing state power.

The Communist Party followed this method of work in the campaigns organised through the British Bureau of the RILU around the engineering lock out of 1922 and the 'Stop the Retreat' conference organised in its support, in the series of local conferences held in key industrial towns in the Autumn of 1922 as part of a 'Back to the Unions' campaign and in the London Docks Strike of 1923 where the London strike committee issued a programme of demands drawn up by the Communist Party. This work was further consolidated in 1924 with a series of conferences in major unions to organise a Minority Movement fraction and work out a fighting programme for the industry concerned. It was this experience in using the communist united front tactic that was codified and summarised in the resolutions and manifesto of the First Minority Movement conference.

The development of this communist united front tactic by the British party was to be cut short by the political developments in the USSR. The growing power and independence of the centrist bureaucracy in Russia under Stalin was to have a profound impact on the Comintern and the British party. The triumph of Zinoviev's political positions at the 5th Congress marked the beginning of a short ' Left-centrist' period for the International. The equating of the workers government slogan with the dictatorship of the proletariat signalled the end of the united front tactic as developed by the Comintern between 1921 - 24, and its replacement with a version of the united front only 'from below'. (33)

By 1925 the workers government slogan had vanished from the pages of WORKERS WEEKLY and the emphasis on the united front itself had been replaced with the empty slogan 'build a mass communist party'. The party was thrown off course at a crucial moment in its history (and at a crucial moment for the history of the British working class).

More disastrous still was the pressure on the party of the 'right-centrist' section of the Russian bureaucracy (the Stalin-Bukharin Tomsky faction) exerted through the Russian Trade Unions and the effects of their tactics within the Anglo-Russian trade union committee. A pressure which led to a chronic failure on the part of the British party to criticise in the working class, the vacillations of the left of the General Council and prepare it for that body's treachery during the general strike, in essence applying the united front in an opportunist rather than a communist fashion. The vacillation of the Comintern under Zinoviev left the British party without a rudder. The pressure of the Stalinist bureaucracy was to steer it firmly onto the rocks of opportunism.

SECTION II: The degeneration of the national minority movement

International trade union unity and the Anglo-Russian committee: The influence of the Russian Party
The question of International trade union unity had been central to the propaganda of the Profintern (RILU) since the adoption of the United Front tactic in 1922. A systematic campaign had been carried out since then for a unified world trade union international directed at the executive of the IFTU.

The IFTU had no interest in convening an international conference on trade union unity and broke off correspondence with the RILU at the beginning of 1923. The responsibility for splitting the world movement was demonstrated to lie with the IFTU. The national CPs and trade union RILU sympathisers continued to conduct campaigns to force the Amsterdamers to the conference table. The responsibility for continuing the united front offensive then fell to Tomsky and the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, as the Amsterdamers had indicated they would talk only with the Russian trade unions. Here also the approaches for an international conference were turned down, the IFTU agreeing to a meeting 'only on the sole basis of the rules and policies of the IFTU, a condition guaranteeing a refusal from the communists. It was in this context that co-operation of the General Council of the British TUC who were willing to support an IFTU (Russian TU Conference became an important lever against the IFTU.

Thus the question of international trade union unity became central to the British party's propaganda in 1925.

Early 1924 had seen a strengthening of the 'left' in the General Council of the TUC. The good old reformist principle of separation of 'politics' from trade unionism lead to the resignation of all council members who had taken official positions in the first labour government under MacDonald. Five members left the General Council all of them on the right wing-including J.H. Thomas and Margaret Bondfield, the two most notorious class collaborators in the movement. This significantly strengthened the 'lefts' on the council with A.A. Purcell becoming its chairman and George Hicks another left winger replacing Thomas on the International Committee. Following discussion with Tomsky and other Russian trade unionists, the General Council agreed to raise the question of world trade union unity at Amsterdam. This was done at the June IFTU, meeting, where the British delegates headed by Purcell and Bromley stopped the ICTU breaking off negotiations and moved an amendment instructing the executive to continue consultations with the Russians. (34)

It was this shift to the left in the General Council under the pressure of rising militancy in the working class in Britain (A. J. Cook was elected secretary of the MFBG (Miners Federation Great Britain) the day the Soviet delegations arrived in London) which gave rise to the proposal for an Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee from the communists. The committee was seen as part of the united front tactic, entered into from above as well as below, aimed at pinning the General Council to its commitment to work for trade union unity in front of the masses of British and Russian workers.

Undoubtedly even at this time there were very different conceptions of the purposes of such a committee amongst the leaders of the Russian party. Trotsky was fully in favour of using the committee as part of a communist united front tactic. Writing in 1927 he says:

"The creation of the Anglo-Russian committee (ARC) was at a certain juncture an absolutely correct step. Under the leftward development of the working masses, the liberal labour politicians, just like the bourgeois liberals at the start of a revolutionary movement made a step to the left, in order to maintain their influence among the masses. To reach out to them at that time was absolutely correct.

However it had to be clearly kept in mind that, just like all liberals, the English reformists would inevitably make a leap backwards to the side of opportunism, as the mass movement openly assumed revolutionary forms." (35) It was this position, which Trotsky held throughout the existence of the ARC, which led him to become increasingly concerned at the way the ARC was viewed by the majority of the Politburo and at the impact that this view was having on the young British party.

In his book "Where is Britain Going?" (36) and in a series of articles in Inprecor and Communist International, many of them delayed, some of them altered by the editors, Trotsky tried to issue increasingly urgent warnings to the British party of the dangers of sowing illusions in the likes of Purcell, Cook, Hicks and co. Despite the opportunist distortion of the united front tactic, emanating from the Russian party Trotsky still defended the value of the tactic:
"The tactic of the united front still retains all its power as the most important method of struggle for the masses. A basic principle of the tactic is "with the masses - always; with the vacillating leaders - sometimes, but only so long as they stand at the head of the masses." It is necessary to make use of the leaders while the masses are pushing them ahead, without for a moment abandoning criticism of these leaders. And it is necessary to break with them at the right time when they turn from vacillation to hostile action and betrayal. It is necessary to use the occasion of the break to expose the traitorous leaders and to contrast their position to that of the masses." (37) Such a view of the ARC committee was not shared by the other members of the Politburo.

Zinoviev's view, as head of the Comintern, was important in influencing the line of the British party. For Zinoviev the development of the British party was progressing too slowly for the objective possibilities being offered by the developments in the British labour movement, it was necessary to find a short cut to the development of a "mass communist party" in Britain, For Zinoviev the Trade Union and labour party left offered just such a possibility giving rise to his statement at the 5th Congress of the Comintern that:

"We do not know exactly when the communist mass party of England will come, whether only through the Stewart MacManus door or through some other door." (38) This approach, the opportunist side of Zinoviev's left sectarian 'united front only from below' position, saw the ARC as a short cut to revolutionising the masses, a lasting bloc between the communists and the lefts, between the Russian and British Trade Union leaderships. The result as Trotsky pointed out was that:

"The struggle to win the masses organised in trade unions through the communist party was replaced by the hope for the swiftest possible utilisation of the ready made apparatus of the trade unions for the purposes of revolution. . . out of this false position flowed the later policy of the ARC" (39) While Zinoviev saw a bloc with the left leaders as a means of swiftly revolutionising the trade unions, Stalin and Bukharin, already developing the theory of socialism in one .country were indifferent or even cynical about these perspectives. They placed the emphasis on using the bloc to prevent a war of intervention by the British government against the Soviet Union. At the 15th Conference of the Russian party (April 1925) on the eve of the formation of the committee Stalin emphasised that revolution in the West was likely to be delayed, possibly for decades, and that strengthening links with the British trade union organisation was the best method in the meantime to ensure that the British bourgeoisie did not attack Soviet Russia. Bukharin was to elaborate this approach arguing at the ECCI in May 1927 that the approach taken by the Russian party to the Anglo Russian committee couldn't be considered from the standpoint of the international revolutionary struggle of the proletariat but from the standpoint of a diplomatic counteraction to the offensive of imperialism against the USSR. This approach to the united front, put forward by Stalin and Bukharin and supported by Tomsky, was summed up thus by Trotsky:

"The new principle of opportunist exceptions "in particular important cases" can find broad application. The orientation on the opportunist chiefs of the labour movement will be motivated everywhere by the necessity of avoiding intervention.
The possibility of building socialism in one country will serve to justify the principle of 'non-interference'. That is how the various ends will be knotted together into a noose that will strangle to death the revolutionary principles of Bolshevism." (40) This opportunist approach to the united front, emanating from the Russian party and trade unions and the Comintern was to have a dramatic effect on the British party's application of the tactic in relation to the 'left' leaders of the trade unions and was to bring about the centrist degeneration of the party's work in the minority movement.

Courting the trade union left wing
The Hull congress of the TUC, to which Tomsky had been invited as a fraternal delegate from the Soviet trade unions, met a week after the first minority movement conference in September 1924. Harry Pollit, a leading member of the Communist Party, put an emergency resolution calling for a world trade union unity congress without conditions on the participants. Only two delegates spoke in support of the proposal, and the resolution was overwhelmingly defeated. However the attitude of the congress was to change considerably after Tomsky's speech in which he argued that the Russians had been forced because of their exclusion from Amsterdam to set up the RILU. The RILU he suggested "may be a good thing or a bad thing. Many people do not like it, but the essential point is that it exists and cannot be ignored." (41) He went on to say how the RILU-Amsterdam split had produced harsh language and that the communist side might have been excessively severe on Amsterdam and called for unity discussions without conditions.

Following this remarkably conciliatory speech which reflected the willingness of the section of the Russian bureaucracy he represented to ditch the RILU if it offered the possibility of reaching an accommodation with Amsterdam on reasonable terms, the General Council reopened the unity debate proposing that the congress empowered them to take all possible steps through the IFTU to bring the two parties together, this proposal was passed with acclamation by the congress.

An article entitled "After Hull -What?" written by J.R. Campbell, soon to be editor of WORKERS WEEKLY, was a straw in the wind, presaging the changing position of the Communist Party to the 'Lefts' on the General Council:

"It would be a complete mistake to imagine that they are mere right wingers being pushed on from behind by the masses.

(There were) genuine progressive elements amongst them that should be encouraged." (42) Following the Hull decision a delegation from the General Council went to Russia in the winter of 1924 to discuss the issue of unity and agreed to form an Anglo-Russian trade union committee to further international trade union unity. The delegation, in which the 'lefts' held a majority, became the 'Bette noir' of the capitalist press for their pro-soviet speeches. Purcell in particular was fond of making fiery, revolutionary speeches in front of the Russian workers. (43) THE WORKER, the Minority Movement's - paper, was led to remark, with an air of caution that it was soon to abandon:

", we see the curious position of the revolutionaries, actually having to defend the left wing of the trade union ", leadership from the right wing leaders. The left wing leaders "re either going to be forced to openly identify themselves with the minority movement or be forced to line up with the right wing against the minority movement." (44) The General Council as a whole was unenthusiastic about the ARC and the activities of its Russian delegation and attempted to delay ratification. The Minority Movement immediately organised a national conference to demand the ratification of the committee in January 1925 which was attended by 617 delegates representing 600,000 workers.

This conference undoubtedly contributed to pressurising the General Council into ratifying the ARC which it did shortly after, but it should also have revealed to the Communist Party the weakness of the lefts. The General Council not only refused to support the conference but forbade any of the TUC's Russian delegation to speak at it. Even A.J.Cook who was down to give the opening speech (in which he was to describe himself as "a disciple of Marx and humble follower of Lenin") was unwilling to break with his fellow trade union leaders and attend the conference preferring to send a written speech on the pretext of "pressure of work". (45) The conference also gave a clear insight into the relative importance Tomsky and the Russian trade unions attached to the General Council as compared to the Minority Movement. Having heard the Russian trade unions were planning to send delegates to address the conference the General Council sent a telegram urging them not to attend. Within a day a reply was received reassuring the TUC that no delegate should be sent!

Two further developments in early 1925 signalled the changing position of the Communist Party under the impact of the ARC as it was being developed by the Stalin faction. The first was the launching of a 'broad left' newspaper the second was debate between two leading party members Dutt and Murphy. In March 1925 the Sunday Worker was launched on the initiative of the Communist party. It was an "independent" paper, being controlled by shareholders including 24 ILP branches, 35 miners lodges, and 54 Labour Party branches, which set out to be the "unofficial organ of the left-wing". Its contributors included prominent TUC and Labour party lefts - including Purcell, Swales, Hicks, A.J.Cook, Waiter Citrine, John Wheatley MP, Ellen Wilkinson MP, James Maxton MP and others. The paper which rapidly exceeded the circulation of the Workers Weekly was partly financed by the Communist Party and edited by a party member. Its political line, determined by this broad alliance, was consistently softer in its criticism of the 'Lefts' of the labour movement than either WORKERS WEEKLY or THE WORKER. These developments led to a sharp exchange between two leading party members Palme Dutt editor of LABOUR MONTHLY and J. T. Murphy who was in charge of the party's industrial department. These conflicting views appeared in the pages of Communist International between February and July of 1925. Dutt, resident abroad owing to ill-health, attacked what he saw as the tendency of the Communist Party to submerge itself in the left-wing of the Labour Party. Echoing Zinoviev's shallow 'leftism' Dutt argued that the Labour Party was in a state bf decay and decomposition, and baldly counterposed the necessity of building the only revolutionary alternative - the communist party. Despite these mistaken positions Dutt nevertheless attacked quite correctly the party's softness on the lefts, an attack which was to force Murphy to make more explicit the party's new approach to the 'left-wing'. "Whereas last year we could only look to Maxton, Kirkwood, Hicks and Purcell etc. as individuals with left tendencies, now we know that large numbers of workers in Labour Party locals, express themselves in support of the sentiments they express, . . . Four questions present themselves to our party: shall we help these masses to effectively challenge the leadership they resent? Or shall we vigorously attack the prominent leaders who are typical of the movement and drive them further from us in the hope of a direct appeal to the rank and file to join us proving successful? There appears to me only one course to take, and that is the first. If we vigorously attack the "left wing leaders" we attack the mass with a similar outlook and drive them away from the party." (46)

It was this opportunist approach to the united front tactic which was to play an increasingly dominant role in the propaganda and agitation of the party. The revolutionary tactic of SUPPORTING every move made by the left leaders in the interests of the working class while "without for a moment abandoning criticism of these leaders" was abandoned. In the period up to the General Strike the party was to boycott the use of its own programme as a measure of, and an alternative to, the actions of the vacillating lefts of the General Council.

The policy of criticising exclusively the 'rights' in the trade union movement provided a cover for the inaction of Purcell, Swales, Cook and Co. during the government preparations for the general strike and thus completely disarmed the working class militants grouped in the Minority Movement when the lefts joined the right in selling out the General Strike (47).

The change in the party did not pass without comment and criticism at its 7th congress in May 1925. Challenging Campbell's political report and the line of WORKERS WEEKLY one delegate from Sheffield pointed out:

"We must in future be completely unsparing in our criticism of the reformists. It is dangerous to praise too much, without qualifications and warnings to the workers, the leaders of the labour left wing." Another expressed his surprise at "finding well known traitors and fakers amongst those advocating trade union unity." (48) Pollit reassured the delegates suggesting that "certain individuals" did indeed need to be treated with suspicion, it was dangerous however, to overstress this point. After all it was not only the British trade union leaders who were involved in the unity campaign but the Russian ones too "in whom we have complete confidence". (49) Both Pollit and Murphy argued that the surest way to safeguard against vacillation was to ' build a mass communist party which could hold the lefts to their promises.

The concentration of building a " mass communist party" combined with the reliance on the left leadership of the trade union movement, naturally led to a downplaying of the necessity of building a united front from below as well as above and also the organising of united action against the inactivity and sabotage of the official leadership. In 1925 and 1926 the united front and the Minority Movement itself no longer held such a prominent place in the pages of Workers Weekly.

There is every indication that the conferences were increasingly viewed by the communist party leadership as a means of putting pressure on the left leaders by demonstrating the support for militant policies, rather than as a focus for thrashing out the policy necessary to develop a revolutionary opposition rooted in the factories and localities (rather in the fashion the CPGB views the LCDTU today). Certainly there is little positive evidence to suggest that the party concentrated on turning the minority fractions in the unions and factories into real campaigning and fighting groups, in fact this would have only been necessary if the Communist Party had an orientation to mobilising the rank and file for action independently of the left leaders and if necessary against them.

This was the position of the party on the eve of "red Friday". With the German coal fields coming back into production following the French evacuation of the Ruhr, the temporary breathing space gained by the uncompetitive, and under-invested British mines came to an end. At the end of June 1925 the coal owners gave one month's notice to end the existing agreement and introduce dramatic wage cuts. The General Council supported the miners in their rejection of the owners terms. A national strike was called, but the government stepped in at the last minute with the promise of an enquiry and a subsidy to maintain wages at existing levels while it was sitting. The TUC withdrew the strike call on 31st July "Red Friday".

The Communist Party had been raising the demand for a General Strike, calling on the General Council to approach the TUC for further powers to call the entire labour movement into struggle, and calling on workers in the localities to transform the Trades Councils into councils of action. But even here the Communist Party had little to say as to what the councils should demand of the TUC and its 'left' members, the only warning that workers were given that the General Council might not live up to expectations was a cryptic and completely inadequate formulation: "The best guarantee against weakness and. hesitation in high places is the unity of workers in the localities." (50) After the government had backed down (or more correctly as the Communist Party pointed out - used a delaying tactic to prepare its forces more fully to smash the labour movement's resistance in the near future), the party threw all caution to the winds in its fulsome praise of the 'lefts'. In a lead article by Gallacher in the WORKERS WEEKLY "Is it a Workers Victory?" we find:

"(At the first real crisis) the leadership passed into the hands of good proletarians like Swales, Hicks, Cook and Purcell. And this proletarian leadership and the proletarian solidarity it was capable of organising and demonstrating was the real big thing that came out of the struggle. . . Swales and his colleagues were not timid, cowardly middle class place hunters. . . (quoting Swales to Baldwin) 'Alright I also am a pacifist, just as you are, and if it comes to a fight we'll use every available force to smash you and the employers you represent". THERE SPOKE THE WORKING CLASS DICTATORSHIP (their emphasis - ed) (57)

The changed position of the party was reflected also in the resolutions passed at the second Minority Movement conference in August 1925. The conference undoubtedly represented a step forward for the movement in terms of the support it was gaining in the labour movement; 683 delegates attended' representing 750,000 workers. But in terms of its POLITICAL programme and method the 2nd Conference represented a step backwards.

The method of placing a programme for action at the centre of the united front tactic, and demanding that the left leaders put their fine words into the deeds required to forward the class struggle which had disappeared from WORKERS WEEKLY by the end of 1924, was also absent from the 2nd conference of the Minority Movement. This was most clearly demonstrated in the demand for increased powers to the General Council. The positions argued by Campbell in "Watch your Slogans" and reflected in the resolution on the General Council at the first Conference, stressing the dangers in separating the call for more power from the organisational and ideological transformation of the TUC, had vanished with the party's new found confidence in the left wing of the General Council. The resolution on the TUC and the General Council says:

"This conference pledges itself to work unceasingly in all the various trade union organisations for the granting of increased powers to the General Council, in order that it can act as the general staff of the trade union movement." (52) This position was to rapidly become a call for" ALL power to the General Council" in the pages of the WORKER and the WORKERS WEEKLY in the run up to the General Strike.

There was an increasing tendency for the party to identify the left leaders with the policies of the Minority Movement, particularly after the Scarborough Congress of the TUC, de despite numerous indications that the lefts' loyalty lay else where, Murphy speaking at the 2nd Conference argued:

"Labour leaders like Purcell, George Hicks, Cook etc. have followed our lead. And the moment will come when those who have been expressing themselves in terms of what the national Minority Movement has propagated will have to openly declare themselves with this movement." (53) Of course the moment never came, and Trotsky's prediction that the left would IN FACT side with the right when a potentially revolutionary situation stared them in the face was' proved absolutely right during the General Strike.

It was the Communist Party's response to the Scarborough TUC Congress which really demonstrated the extent to which the new approach to the united front affected the party's response to the left leaders. The Congress, taking place shortly after "Red Friday" in September 1925, undoubtedly reflected the growing militancy of the working class and the impact of the Minority Movement on the trade unions, it was opened with an extremely 'left' speech by the Chairman Swales, referring to the success of Red Friday in making the Capitalists back down and calling for Congress to:

"give the General Council fun powers to create the necessary machinery to combat every movement by our opponents." (54) The Congress itself accepted a Minority Movement resolution seconded by Harry Pollit pledging Congress to establish shop committees as "indispensable weapons in the struggle to force the capitalists to relinquish their grip on industry" (55) and went on to approve almost unanimously a NMM resolution condemning the Dawes plan, opposing imperialism, demanding the withdrawal of British troops from China and expressing solidarity with "our working class Chinese comrades."

However when the resolutions became more specific the Congress was more reticent, Congress ruled out of order a resolution on the affiliation of trades councils to the TUC, did not discuss the amalgamation of unions along industrial lines, and referred back to the General Council the question of granting increased powers to the General Council.

Even so the Congress definitely reflected a shift to the left in the trade union movement. How should the party have reacted to this development? In 1923 or 1924 it undoubtedly would have responded by saying "Fine words - now for Action" and put forward its programme of action for the trade unions, measuring the results of the Congress and the ACTIONS of the 'lefts' against the urgent tasks facing the working class. But the CPGB had moved far from this position, greeting the decisions of the Congress and the 'Lefts' speeches almost euphorically. Pollit set the tone by suggesting that the results showed the Minority Movement was on the verge of 'capturing' the TUC (56) Camp bell declared in an article in COMMUNIST REVIEW entitled "From Minority to Majority":

"the Congress as a whole trod the path of the class struggle by adopting some of the leading aims of the Minority Movement" (57) A view of the Congress endorsed by Zinoviev at an enlarged plenum of the ECCI in March 1926. Only Murphy could bring himself to offer the mildest criticism of the lefts for their lack of support for Minority Movement resolutions (Swales and Cook alone had spoken in support of the lost resolutions - the "rest of the 'left wing' preferring to remain silent). In an article entitled "A Great Congress - Fighting Spirit of the TUC" he suggests that perhaps the left could "learn from the rights fraction work"! (58) THE WORKER was even clearer on the significance the Communist Party attached to the Congress:

"Gone are the days when the influence of the reactionaries was powerful in the counsel of the trade unions. The TUC marked the end of Thomasism and MacDonaldism, the end of whining and class collaborationist policy." (59) Trotsky alone poured cold water on this uncritical euphoria over the 'Lefts' victories. In a series of observations only' published in Communist International after the General Strike and then with certain phrases critical of British 'leftists' deleted, Trotsky had tried to warn the Communist Party;

"In the British labour movement, international questions have always been the line of least resistance for the 'leaders'.

Regarding international issues as a kind of safety valve for the radical moods of the masses, these esteemed leaders are prepared to a certain extent even to bow to a revolution (elsewhere) so they can take still more revenge on questions of internal class struggle. The left faction of the General Council is distinguished by its ideological shapelessness and is therefore incapable of organisationally assuming the leadership of the trade union movement", (60) And this Trotsky argued was true even of the most left trade union leaders:

"Both right wingers and left wingers including of course both Purcell and Cook, have the greatest fear of commencing the final action. Even when they verbally admit the inevitability of struggle and revolution, they hope in their heart of hearts for some kind of miracle that will deliver them from this prospect.

At any rate they will themselves put a brake on the movement, will evade, will wait and see, will refer responsibility to others, and in reality will help Thomas in any important problem of the British labour movement. " (61)

Trotsky was directing his fire against the opportunist use of the united front tactic, which in its search for a short cut to a mass party painted up the revolutionary potential of the left wing, and thus played down the need for independent communist criticism. These left reformist and centrist leaders had either to be won to communism under the blows of ruthless criticism from the revolutionaries or swept aside by the rank and file won to communist leadership. There was no third way, the lefts, because of their ideological shapelessness, could offer no alternative to the generalised system of politics provided to the 'right' by the bourgeoisie - reformism. This was particularly apparent in the Labour Party where the rights hold was never seriously threatened. The reformist division between economic and political struggle, between trade union and parliamentary work, allows room for greater verbal radicalism in the former area - where in day to day sectional economic struggle the question of political power, of government does not directly arise as the central issue except at times like 1926.

In the latter area 'politics' are divorced from any form of direct action by the masses. The exigencies of vote-catching from passive sections of the working class and the petit-bourgeois experts pressure in a conservative direction. In the unions social democratic politics could be hidden by the left leaders (in the case of figures like Cook from themselves) behind a cloud of rhetoric, secure (so they believed) that they would not have to lead a struggle for political power. For the Labour Party lefts it was different - their utterances were 'political' and any radicalism on their part would have led to furious attacks on them as violators of the constitution. Whilst the road between rhetoric and reality was shorter in the Labour Party it was a road that consequently far fewer were willing to embark on.

As it turned out the 'unexpected' happened - Purcell, Swales, Hicks and Cook were called on to lead a political struggle. The former three threw themselves desperately into the arms of the Thomas, Bevins and Co. Cook on the other hand courageously conducted the dispute as an industrial dispute, but was unwilling to expose and challenge the 'right and left' traitors who were throttling the miners. The silence from the Labour Party MPs was shattering. These Trade Union leaders - at least the first three were conscious reformists who to influence the radicalising workers adopted a 'quasi-revolutionary' mode of address and enjoyed the prestige of associating with the Russians and to a lesser extent the British Communist Party militants. When the latter offered them an uncritical organised support (via the Minority Movement) in the unions the situation was ideal. But they would inevitably fall backwards faced with a real test. The workers had to be prepared for this. Thus Trotsky could write:

"The ideological and organisational formation of a really revolutionary (i.e. communist) party on the basis of a mass movement is only conceivable under conditions of a continuous, systematic, unwavering, untiring and naked denunciation of the muddles, the compromises, and indecision of the quasi-left leaders of all shades." (62)

It was this subordination of the programme of the party in search of a political bloc with the 'left wing' of the labour movement which disarmed the communists, and therefore the working class, in the face of the activity of the left in the run up to the General Strike and their outright capitulation to the right during the strike itself. The party had quite correctly argued that the retreat by the ruling class on "Red Friday" represented nothing but a breathing space for the Baldwin government to prepare its strike breaking force, and that therefore the vital task of the trade union movement was to prepare its forces for the coming struggle.

This was a recurrent theme of the party's press between Scarborough and the General Strike. But one looks in vain in trying to find any warnings of the criminal inactivity of the General Council in this respect. Far from mobilising the most militant sections of the class to force the 'Lefts' and the General Council to implement the decisions of Scarborough and the Minority Movement's programme the party kept a diplomatic silence on the doings of the General Council, limiting itself to only the most cryptic references that the leadership of the trade unions was not all that it should have been. This was a position that finally led the party not only to argue on the eve of the strike that the working class should trust and remain loyal to the General Council but also to deny that the General Strike had any revolutionary implications at all!

Events which reflected the real situation in the labour movement came thick and fast after Scarborough. At the Congress itself the right wing on the General Council was in fact STRENGTHENED by the return to the Council of Thomas and Bondfield and the election of Ernest Bevin Of the transport workers. The Liverpool conference of the Labour Party taken place in the same month represented it triumph for the right, with proposals for completing the exclusion of communists from the Labour Party being carried by massive majorities. (63) Even WORKERS WEEKLY was forced to note:

"On the question of admission of communists as individual members the whole of the left wing was silent. None of the trade union leaders, and none of the Glasgow group, got up to speak against the executive." (64) A fortnight later the Baldwin government took the opportunity to arrest the entire executive committee (bar one) of the Communist Party, try them for sedition and give them jail sentences ranging between 6 months and a year. It was in this situation where the government was openly recruiting middle class strike breakers to the Organisation of Maintenance and Supply that the Communist Party should have been at its most emphatic in raising in every branch and workplace where it had a member and through its press, warnings of the lack of preparation of the General Council, and the need to force them into action and prepare if necessary in spite of them. In fact the closest the party's paper came to issuing a warning in this period is in its Christmas 1925 issue.

After noting the "sinister preparations" of the government and the fact that "very little" was being done by the working class movement in response, the article goes on to say the lead must come from the rank and file:

"This does not mean the TUC can stand and wait. They also must get on with their work of preparation. The General Council can stimulate by example and precept the rank and file; the rank and file can stimulate in a line manner the TUC.” (65) Even this isolated warning makes no criticism of the General Council, places no demands on the 'lefts' and outlines no actions the shop committees, branches and trades councils can take to force them to act. And at exactly the same time the Minority Movement's paper THE WORKER was carrying articles of which the following editorial was typical:

"The trade union movement is the one bright spot in the labour movement of this country. The fight for international trade union unity, the struggle for national solidarity so strikingly demonstrated on July 30th and 31st (Red Friday -editor) the rapid advance which the Scarborough conference of the TUC initiated all these bear witness to the revival in trades unionism. The trade union movement of this country has passed from the stage of being a bulwark of capitalism to being its most active opponent." (66) By February 1926, the party was forced to act given the obvious lack of preparation by the General Council. Announcing a special Minority Movement conference to be held in March, WORKERS WEEKLY argues "if the leaders will not lead, the rank and me (through the Minority Movement's conference of Action) must make them clear the road for those who will." (67) Such sentiments were not however to be found in the ensuing conference. Meeting on March 21st in Latchmere Baths, Battersea, the conference represented the high point of the movement's influence in the trade unions; delegates from 547 organisations representing 957,000 workers attended. The opening speech by Tom Mann summed the party's attitude to the general Council which was to carry through till the betrayal of the General strike. After warning of the preparations of the OMS and the fascists, Mann declares:

"Therefore prepare at once: let us have our industrial machinery ready for action. The real central body through which we must function is the General Council of the TUC. All unions should be loyal thereto and co-operate there with." (68) Certainly the Minority Movement adopted a fighting programme for the period ahead including the need to transform trades councils into councils of action, the need to organise workers defence forces, to demand the right of soldiers to refuse strike service etc. But the programme was of little use in arming the working class, since it was put entirely within the context of reliance on the leadership of the General Council.

The conference saw no warnings issued about the "general staff' behind which the working class was about to enter its most crucial battle.

The Communist Party and the working class was to reap the fruits of these disastrous policies during the course of the General Strike. Yet at the same time the party specifically renounced in advance the revolutionary implications of such a strike, a position that flowed logically from their subordination of the programme of the party to that of the left wing. Murphy writing in the last issue of WORKERS WEEKLY before the strike in an article entitled "Fighting for life - Revolution not in sight" put it thus "Our party does not hold the leading positions in the trade' unions. It is not conduction the negotiations with the employers and the government. It can only advise and place its forces at the service of the workers - led by others. And let it be remembered that those who are leading have not revolutionary perspectives before them. . . . . . to entertain any exaggerated views as to the revolutionary possibilities of this crisis and visions of new leaders "arising spontaneously in the struggle" etc is fantastic." (70) Having settled in advance the non-revolutionary nature of the General Strike, i.e. its true reformist character, the party proceeded to raise as one of its main demands the slogan "Resignation of the forgery government! Formation of a Labour Government!" (71) A demand which if taken up by large sections of workers would have channelled the strike in a reformist, parliamentary direction. The real task of the communist party lay, as Trotsky pointed out, in supporting unity of mass action in every way BUT:

"They cannot permit any appearance of unity with the opportunist leaders of the Labour Party and the trade unions. The most important piece of work for the truly revolutionary participants in the General Strike will be to fight relentlessly against every trace or act of treachery, and mercilessly expose reformist illusions. In so doing they will not only help forward the chief and permanent task of developing revolutionary cadres, without which the victory of the British proletariat is altogether impossible, but they will also contribute directly to the success of the present strike by intensifying it, revealing its revolutionary implications, pushing aside the opportunists and strengthening the position of revolutionaries." (66) Trotsky did not expect, as his Stalinist critics tend to imply, that the first great strike wave would result in a proletarian' revolution in Britain. What was at stake was whether the Communist Party and the best elements of the left wing would come through the first revolutionary stage at the head of the masses as the revolutionaries had done in 1905 in Russia. On this depended the result of future battles:

"The more widely it (the strike) develops, the more violently it shakes the foundations of capitalism, the more completely it rejects the treacherous and opportunist leaders, the more difficult it will be for bourgeois reaction to take up a counter offensive, the less the proletarian organisations will suffer, the sooner the next decisive stage of the fight will come." (72)

It was for precisely in this respect that the policies of the Comintern and the Communist Party compounded the defeat. The reformist leaders inflicted on the working class. In failing to use the united front in a communist fashion, supporting every move by the left wing leadership in favour of the working class and ruthlessly criticising every vacillation of the same leadership, and measuring every step against the real needs of the class - put forward in the action programme of the, party, the party failed to arm the leftward moving workers against the treachery of their leaders. Because of this the communists failed to come through the first wave at the head of decisive sections of the masses, broken from a treacherous reformist leadership.

Thus the communists who should have represented the future of the movement, a clear alternative strategy and leadership were compromised by their alliance with the traitors or, at best, seen as having been as completely taken by surprise by the General Councils betrayal as the rank and file workers them themselves. The reformists were thus able to deliver the working class into the hands of bourgeois reaction without any coherent opposition. The employing class made the most of their opportunity instituting lockouts, provocations and sackings of militants. The government took a series of measures restricting the right to strike and picket and workers left the unions in droves.

The Aftermath
The Communist Party's immediate reaction to the calling off of the General Strike by the General Council, an action taken by its 'lefts' as well as rights was one of shock. The edition of Workers Weekly after the strike registers this and attempts to cover its own mistakes:

"The Comintern had in fact constantly warned (sic) the workers that such was likely to happen, but even the Comintern can be forgiven for not believing it to be possible that once the struggle had begun these leaders would be such pitiful poltroons as to surrender at the moment of victory. 73 After briefly adopting a hard line of the lefts under the slogan "Cashier the cowards" 74 the party quickly returned to its previous position. The Executive Committee statement printed in Workers Weekly on 4th June blames the defeat entirely on the right wing - the role of the lefts receives no mention whatever. 75 The report of the EC meeting in Workers Weekly carries the following caution: "There will be a reaction without our party against working with left wing leaders.
We must fight down this natural feeling, and get better contact with these leaders and more mass pressure on them." 76 'The Worker' followed a similar line of not making any criticism of the lefts in a leading article entitled "Clear Traitors Out - The result of right wing policy." 77 While the Sunday Worker was happy to run a piece by Ben Turner arguing in effect there were no 'rights' or 'lefts' in the General Council, and certainly no traitors - only "men and women desiring to do what is right and possible" 78 and follow it up with an article by George Hicks, a 'left' of the General Council, arguing the strike had been a 'great victory' which shattered the 'moral prestige of the capitalist class'. 79 This in a paper edited by a Communist Party member!

It is only some time after the General Strike that the Russian party and the Comintern take a position vis a vis the 'lefts'.

That the line of the Comintern was to the 'left' of the CPGB for a period was undoubtedly due to the offensive then being launched by the newly forged united opposition. The opposition bringing together Trotsky with Zinoviev and Kamenev made as its major focus the Stalin factions responsibility for the line of the British party during the General Strike and the continued existence of the Anglo-Russian committee. On the 18th May Trotsky demanded the immediate breaking off of the ARC and attacked the failure of the Soviet trade union movement to criticise the treachery of the TUC in the run up to the strike until after a meeting of the ARC had been held. Their silence had led the British Communist Party to abstain from criticism of the General Council "partly upon offensive by the opposition which forced the Stalin faction to attempt to cover their tracks. They switched to a position of condemning the lefts while insisting that the ARC must be maintained. Articles started to appear in 'The Worker' by Lozovsky heavily attacking the left wing and the General Council. 81

On June 7th the Russian All Union Council of Trade Unions issued a manifesto condemning the left as hypocrites and phrase. mongers. This sudden change, brought about by expediency in the battle with the opposition, threw the British party into turmoil. The CPGB put off printing a translation of the manifesto for an unprecedented six weeks and Murphy complained bitterly for the party at a meeting of the ECCI on 7th August 1926. 82 The CI's criticism of the General Council and the lefts was to be of short duration - once the joint opposition had been forced to declare a truce (Oct. 1926) the old policies were resumed. At the meeting of the ARC in July 1926 - where the major item was the role of the TUC in the General Strike and the rejection of Soviet aid for the miners, Tomsky was conveniently 'ill'.

Thus the most 'respected' of the Russian trade union leaders did not have to spoil his relationship with the TUC leaders by attacking Purcell, Hicks, Citrine etc. for their betrayal, in line with the Comintern's new position. By the next meeting of the ARC in March 1927 Tomsky was back in the saddle as was the old policy of conciliating the TUC leaders. It was at this meeting that the Russians accepted the notorious non-intervention clause, the Russians promising 'unconditional recognition of the principle' that 'the TUC and its General Council' Was 'the sole representative and medium of expression of the trade union movement' and that their 'fraternal alliance cannot and must not in any way impair the internal authority of the General Council..... or infringe or limit their rights of autonomy ... or allow any intervention in their internal affairs." 83

This declaration made explicit the whole trend of Russian relations with the TUC leaders to break off the ARC at a time of their own choosing, when they had no more use for an international 'left' cover - this they did in September 1927.

The Minority Movement itself continued, much weakened, after the general strike. At the 4th Conference only 300,000 workers were represented. The trade union leaders took the opportunity of the demoralisation after the strike to launch an offensive against 'disrupters' in the unions - meaning communists and Minority Movement members. In February 1927 the TUC banned Trades Councils from affiliating to the Minority Movement on pain of disaffiliation. This was accompanied by a series of bans in certain unions on communists and Minority Movement supporters holding office. The Communist Party itself was to play into the hands of those accusing them of being 'splitters' when it adopted, under the direction of the Comintern, the 'new line' which in 1928 inaugurated the ultra-left 'Third Period'. From 1929 on the Communist Party and Minority Movement declared the unions bankrupt and breaking up.

'Red Unions' under revolutionary leadership were to be formed and the party was to assume 'direct revolutionary leadership' of strikes through strike committees. The Minority Movement was to become an alternative trade union centre to the TUC. The result of these policies was increasing isolation for the Communist Party and a dramatic withering of the Minority Movement. One result of these policies was the re-emergence of rank and file movements in several industries independent of Communist Party influence. The builders Forward Movement, a Members Rights Movement in the AEU and the London Busmen’s Rank and File Movement all developed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1932 in consultation with the RILU, the Communist Party unceremoniously wound the Minority Movement up although it lingered on in name for some time, turning instead to the new movements which had bypassed the Minority Movements sectarian rump.

The history of the Communist Party between 1920 and 1926 is a history of a party in formation - where at every stage of its development the Communist International played a decisive role. The period 1920-23 sees the party, under Comintern guidance, throwing off its sectarian and social democratic origins and learning the method of communist organisation and tactics. By the start of 1925 the centrist degeneration of the Comintern is already having its impact on the young Communist Party.

The communist united front tactic in the form of the RILU campaigns and the early Minority Movement rapidly took on an opportunist course under the impact of the Anglo-Russian Committee, through the policies of the centrist Stalin faction of the CPSU were reflected. This opportunist use of the tactic led the party to progressively boycott its own programme in its dealings with the left wing of the TUC and thus fail to build a Minority Movement independent of the trade union bureaucracy. As a result the party entered the General Strike, not as an independent communist organisation offering a clear alternative strategy and leadership to the working class but effectively as the 'left wing' of the official leadership. A position that both disarmed the party and the most militant sections of the working class in a decisive battle with the ruling class.


The history of the early Communist Party and its work in the Minority Movement is of the utmost importance for revolutionaries today, representing as it does the first and most important attempt by a communist organisation in Britain to develop a revolutionary opposition in the trade unions, under the political leadership of communists. Any grouping which claims as part of its perspective the building of a movement in the trade unions against the present class collaborationist leadership must examine and learn from the attempt by the young Communist Party to apply a communist united front tactic in the British trade unions; from both its revolutionary period and from the mistakes made in the period of its centrist degeneration. Most of the major groups on the British left today - the WRP/WSL, IMG and SWP claim to base their trade union strategy on the method of the Communist Party in the Minority Movement.

The ATUA, CDLM, the National Rank and File Movement and the "class struggle left wing" stand as monuments to the misinterpretation (and often deliberate distortion) of the experience of the Minority Movement. The political practice of these groups in their respective rank and file groupings is - dealt with elsewhere in this journal. 84 Their historical analysis and interpretation of the Minority Movement needs to be dealt with here.

The most serious attempts at drawing the lessons of the early Communist Party and Minority Movement have undoubtedly come from the Socialist Labour League (forerunner of the WRP) in a series of articles by Woodhouse and Pearce written in the late 1950s and early 1960s. 85 Even here the analysis is marred by the inadequate politics of the Healeyites.

The political errors of' the party - in terms of the policies and programme it would argue in the working class as an alternative to the reformists and centrists, receive scant attention from these writers. This isn't surprising given that even a cursory account of the positions the early Communist Party was developing in this period - its approach to the united front and its use of the workers government slogan for example - would have contrasted dramatically with the policies of the SLL in the 1950s and 1960s (and of course with those of the WRP today). As a consequence Pearce and Woodhouse tend to ignore the programme and central tactics of the party in the period, concentrating almost entirely on questions of the party and leadership. Thus the programmatic degeneration of the party is not examined by these writers and everything is reduced' to the failure of the party to provide an independent alternative leadership to the left reformist leaders in the general strike. This position underplays the role of developing a fighting movement around the programme of the united front in favour of a passive/sectarian belief that the working class would flock to the "revolutionary leadership" once they had been betrayed by their reformist leaders. Thus Woodhouse can argue that the tactic of building the Minority Movement, "was understood wholly, in the context of building the party in preparation for the revolutionary turn which the coming industrial struggles must take", 86 transposing their method of "building the alternative leadership and waiting for the crisis" on to the early Communist Party. A more recent root and branch revision of the traditional Trotskyist analysis of the Minority Movement has been put forward by two labour historians connected to the SWP(GB). 87

As would be expected from writers from this stable, their analysis views 'the party's industrial strategy through syndicalist spectacles. They start from the position that all previous writers (including Trotsky) were over optimistic about the working class in Britain in the 1920s. That there was never a possibility of a revolutionary situation developing, even in the general strike. Because the party never came to terms with this situation, of the labour movement being in retreat, but "vainly" attempted to build a mass revolutionary party, they succumbed to an opportunist style of politics." 88

Such a view represents not only a one sided view of the class struggle but at root an extremely economistic one. To believe that a revolutionary situation can only occur, indeed that a mass party can only be built, in a period where the working class is on the offensive and the ruling class "in retreat", is a recipe for propagandist passivity in the face of a ruling class offensive. It is a position which leads Hyman and Hinton to write off the 1926 general strike as a strike that could only have been a defensive trade union struggle, (a position identical to that of J.T. Murphy on the outbreak of the strike) and indeed to criticise the Communist Party's role In the strike, not for its tailing of the left leaders but for putting forward "too advanced" demands e.g. nationalisation of the mines and the call for the general election (itself a reformist demand in the context of a general strike) 89 This position, which confines a revolutionary grouping to waiting for a spontaneous revolutionary upsurge to be able to intervene in a revolutionary fashion while intervening in "defensive trade union struggles" with economic and trade union demands, reflects an underlying syndicalist misunderstanding of the nature and role of a revolutionary party. Like their SWP mentors Hyman and Hinton reject the use of transitional demands in providing a bridge from present day demands and consciousness of the working class to the conquest of power by the proletariat.

The rejection of this method means that it is impossible to intervene in a REVOLUTIONARY fashion in the everyday struggles of the working class. Where Hyman and Hinton differ from the SWP is in their "solving" of this problem. Hyman and Hinton opt for the sectarian propagandist tradition of the SLP arguing in the conclusion of their essay "clear revolutionary propaganda might have well been of more value to the working class movement than the dilution of the party's ideology in search of mass support". 90

The SWP reject this "passive propagandist" approach in favour of intervention in the class struggle, but are left intervening at the level of trade union militancy - while making propaganda for socialism. In rejecting the method of the transitional programme both the SWP and Hyman and Hinton reject not only the gains of Trotsky's Fourth International, but also the method of the Communist International and of the Bolsheviks, on which it was based. This means their POLITICAL METHOD is rooted in pre-Bolshevik tradition - a tradition of the maximum/minimum programme of Social Democracy - abstract propaganda for socialism on the one hand combined with a syndicalist and tailist practice on the other. 91

It is the programmatic method of the early Communist Party's work in the British trade unions which sets it apart from its would be centrist imitators today. Working under the constant guidance and supervision of the Communist International in its revolutionary period the party was treading new ground in two senses. It was learning to apply the united front in a communist fashion both in the trade unions and Labour Party drawing non-communist workers into joint struggle around the immediate needs of the class - while maintaining its political independence and criticism of the reformist leaders. At the same time it was applying a 'new' programmatic method - still under debate in the Communist International using 'partial' 'immediate' and 'transitional' demands in the place of the traditional social democratic programmatic method - the maximum/minimum programme. 92

The party was throwing off its social democratic and. sectarian origins learning the methods and tactics of revolutionary Bolshevism. It was this programmatic method that allowed the Communist Party to build a REVOLUTIONARY opposition in the trade unions - the Minority Movement - involving large sections of workers who weren't necessarily in agreement with the Communist Party’s programme. The party didn’t abandon its programme - for the dictatorship of the proletariat, the construction of socialism etc - it argued at each and every point that only this programme could finally overthrow the system of exploitation and develop a socialist society however it did not make this programme the basis of the united front. The basis of the Minority Movement was a transitional programme, an action programme focussed on the need to transform the trade unions organisationally and ideologically to face the employers' onslaught. It was a revolutionary programme in the sense that the mobilisation for and achievement of the demands of the programme would undermine the very basis of bourgeois power, a programme "stemming from today's conditions and from today's consciousness of wide layers of workers and inevitably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat." 93

It is this programme and tactical method - the communist united front tactic, which has been most readily abandoned in the trade union work of revolutionary groupings, no less among those claiming to stand by the method of the 1938 Transitional Programme than by those who reject it. The sectarians best represented today by the Spartacists - will only build caucuses in the unions on the basis of their programme - on the basis of workers accepting the dictatorship of the proletariat. The opportunists on the other hand keep their programme for the party members preferring to build their "class struggle left wings" or socialist currents in the Labour Party, not on the basis of a programme which attempts to answer the urgent needs of the class in the present period, but on platforms designed to pull in the largest number of 'left leaders' and left reformists. Such methods contrast dramatically with the method used by communists to build the RILU and Minority Movements between 1923-25.

Any attempt to build a new minority or rank and file movement has to be measured against the method used by the early Communist Party working under the direction of a still revolutionary Communist International. In this lies the importance of studying the history of the CPGB and Minority Movement.

APPENDIX: Chronology

1. J Degras. The Communist International- Documents Vol.1
(Frank Cass 1971) p308
2. Degras op cit p.313.
3. The KPD for instance under its 'left' Maslow/Fisher leadership appears to have come into constant criticism from the Comintern for its failure to work consistently for the united front in the Social Democratic Trade Unions.
4. Fourth Congress of CI Abridged Report (CPGB 1923) p.226- 7.
5. 'ALL POWER' July 1923. Monthly paper of the British Bureau of the RILU.
6. Quoted in Roderick Martin - Communism and the British Trade Unions 1924-33. Oxford 1969. p.29.
7. 'WORKER' No.252. September 221923.
8. 'Watch Your Slogans' COMMUNIST REVIEW September 221923.
9. Ibid.