What should have been done

Jack Conrad concludes his series of articles on the general strike

Autopsies on the 1926 general strike and the role of the Communist Party of Great Britain fall into four main categories.

First, the hard right. This is a political position epitomised by Winston Churchill (1874-1965).1 During this period he entertained visions of becoming Britain's Benito Mussolini: Churchill was of the opinion that the duce had "rendered a service to the whole world" by destroying "subversive forces" in Italy. Before the defeat of the 1926 general strike Churchill brooked no compromise with the trade unions and it is even said that he urged the use of machine guns against striking miners.

For Churchill the threat of revolution was real and palpable: "There is the greatest difference between an industrial dispute, however lamentable, and a general strike "¦ a general strike is a challenge to the state, to the constitution and to the nation."2 Because of the government's crushing victory proper social relations had been restored. The ruling class was firmly back in the saddle ... but was prepared to cooperate with and reward a defeated TUC and trade union officialdom. If they were committed to the constitution, boosting productivity and accepted a subaltern position with good grace. A viewpoint nowadays rather too honest for official bourgeois history.

Second, the bourgeois mainstream. The underlying assumption of Labour and Tory opinion alike is that in 1925-26 events conspired to take an unenthusiastic TUC into dangerously unconstitutional waters. Former Labour grandee Philip Snowden (1864-1937) wrote in his 1934 autobiography that the trade unions "needed a lesson of the futility and foolishness of such a trial of strength."3 However, the whole thing was conducted in the reasonable manner that typifies the British. Eg, football matches between strikers and police in Plymouth and gilded Cambridge students driving buses and trams just for a lark. Ann Perkins's recent book A very British strike (2006) is typical of this genre and fittingly is promoted by David Cameron's Conservative Party.4 According to this version of history the constitution proved robust enough to see off misdirected trade union power and could thereafter continue to evolve in a gradualist fashion.

Third, the 'official communists'. The Morning Star's Croydon-based Communist Party of Britain blames the "right wing" of the TUC for the defeat of the general strike. Reflecting the CPB's own reformist politics, it exonerates the left Labourites. The CPB is full of praise for the Communist Party of 1926. But there is no criticism because there is no thought. The slogan 'All power to the TUC' goes unnoted, as does the role of Comintern. Nor is there any discussion of whether or not there was a revolutionary situation in Britain.5

Fourth, the Trotskyites. Not surprisingly, they have eclipsed 'official communism' in the minds of advanced workers. Britain was gripped by a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situation in 1926 - they are clear on that. However, because of the baleful role of Comintern and Stalin the CPGB held back from criticising the Labour lefts before the general strike. Instead of banking on the National Minority Movement there should have been more efforts to build a mass CPGB. At least that is what Trotsky argued. Comintern's wrong line, he forthrightly stated, disarmed the working class in Britain, as did misplaced slogans such as 'All power to the TUC'. Trotsky and the United Opposition in particular targeted the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee and after the defeat of the general strike insisted on breaking with the TUC lefts. A tactic premised on the false proposition that Britain was on the verge or threshold of a revolutionary upsurge.

But who should have taken power in 1926? And in the name of what programme? Most Trotskyites are vague or even silent when it comes to such difficult questions. The implication is that there was a general strike road to a workers' state. It should be added that despite parroting Trotsky, today's Trotskyites dream of party unity with left reformism around a programme of left reformism. An illusory perspective and far to the right of the 1926 CPGB. In actual fact what our Trotskyite comrades produce at best are parties or proto-parties in which they, by far the majority, mimic, court or simply become left reformists. Eg, Scottish Socialist Party, Respect, Campaign for a New Workers' Party. These monstrosities are constructed in the name of securing an influx of left reformists. In fact the left reformists do not enter "¦ that is, except the disorientated or petty careerists - and then only in ones and twos.

More original

A more consistent and certainly more original approach on the 1926 general strike was developed in the mid-1970s by left academics James Hinton and Richard Hyman - then in the orbit of the International Socialists (forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party). Their thesis - presented in a jointly authored Trade unions and revolution - was that the "basic weakness" of the CPGB in the 1920s lay in its failure to understand that "objective conditions" in Britain made it "impossible" to build a mass Communist Party.6 A thesis which, of course, is unconsciously (one presumes) repeated nowadays by all manner of so-called 'Marxists'. Which is why Hinton and Hyman are still worth discussing.

Citing Lenin's What is to be done?, the two authors claim that Britain in the 1920s was more like Russia 1902 than Russia 1905 or 1917: "This was not the time to build a mass revolutionary party," they magisterially conclude.7 Instead what should have been fought for in the 1920s was a "cadre party placing primary emphasis on the quality rather than the quantity of its membership".8 Bluntly, a sect or propaganda group that keeps its 'Marxism' for private occasions but meanwhile operates in a day-to-day manner hardly distinguishable from left Labourites or petty bourgeois radicals. Given the defeat of the 1926 general strike, this "less ambitious" strategy, Hinton and Hyman maintained, would have sustained "the British revolutionary tradition".9 Presumably, the CPGB would not have succumbed to the empty leftism of the late 1920s, let alone the popular frontism of the 1930s.

Let us revisit Lenin's answers to the question he poses in the title of What is to be done? They are certainly not the ones put forward by Hinton and Hyman. The salient points of Lenin's 1902 pamphlet are as follows.10

First, the cardinal importance of theory and a theoretical struggle against economism, specifically in Russia grouped around journals such as Rabochoye Dyelo, Credo and Rabochaya Mysl. Those mesmerised by the common sense of the day - the primacy of trade unionism, localism, slow social reform - should not be allowed to hide their opportunism, legalism and revisionism under the guise of "freedom of criticism". Marxism was not outdated, as they claimed: it is the verified, scientific theory of working class self-liberation.

Second, Lenin was insistent that the scientific theory of the working class comes from outside the sphere of the spontaneous movement of the workers, such as economic or trade union struggles. The task of communists was not to rely on trade unionism step by step taking the working class to political maturity. No, communists have to develop the most advanced theory and equip the working class with a fully rounded programme that alone enables it to become the champion of all oppressed sections, the revolutionary vanguard against tsarism and a future ruling class. There can be no bowing to spontaneity or worship of the trade union activist.

Third, Lenin repeated his plan, outlined in 1901 in Where to begin?, for the organisation of communists. There had be to an end to "amateurism" and "primitiveness", by which he meant loose propaganda and discussion circles, and ineffective political campaigning. Against the tsarist secret police, the okhrana, they stood no chance. Their average life-expectancy before discovery was measured in months, sometimes just weeks. Formal democracy in the party would have to take second place to the needs of survival. Too many communists were in prison, in Siberian exile or quarantined abroad. Instead of local committees electing their secretaries from below, there would be the assignment of trusted comrades from above.

Fourth, to carry out these tasks there had to be an illegal paper published and directed from abroad. This paper would carry out polemical struggle, provide workers with the most advanced theory and organise revolutionary activity. From distribution and discussion of the paper, fundraising and reporting would arise the party. Inevitably, given the specific conditions of tsarist Russia, that initially posed not a western European mass party, but one made up of professional revolutionaries.

Yet we know that when conditions changed in 1905 Lenin was quick to urge - indeed demand - the opening up of the party to the worker masses. This, as we have argued elsewhere, in no way entailed an abandonment of What is to be done? Ruthless polemical struggle continued. Nor was there a bowing before trade union politics. Changed conditions allowed and required the combination of illegal activity with open activity, a legal press and mass recruitment. By 1907, membership of the Bolshevik wing of the party stood at around 45,000. For Lenin there was no principle involved. After all, the only 'principle' concerning party organisation is that there are no principles, no fixed set of commandments, no doctrine. The party is a tool to make revolution and guide the workers towards the goal of communism. Everything about the party's organisation must be flexible, ready to deal with new circumstances and new problems.

If we view Hinton and Hyman and their 'cadre' party in this light, we can see it is a recipe for marginalisation, posturing and failure. The reason for Lenin's 'cadre' party was dictated not by a wish for revolutionary purity, but "objective conditions" of Asiatic despotism and the absence of possibilities for open work.

How do conditions stand on that score in 1920s Britain, or Britain in 2006 for that matter? Apart from the most exceptional circumstances, we have been able to operate in conditions of relative democracy - let me emphasise, won by the working class and popular forces, not handed down by capitalism as a by-product of the development of the means of production. Communists could and do publish and sell books, pamphlets and papers with only the occasional hindrance or attempt to silence us. Indeed the biggest problem we experience on that score is from the SWP and its control-freakery. Communists also stand for parliament, assemblies and local councils - albeit, thanks to the registrar of political parties, nowadays not under our own party name. Public meetings, seminars and schools are freely organised and we operate in trade unions and campaigning organisations. That is not to forget the numerous prison sentences meted out to our comrades, the banning of the Daily Worker at the beginning of World War II or the stream of anti-communist propaganda that pours out from the bourgeois media. Nevertheless, it is clear - Britain was and is unlike Russia in 1902.

The precondition for communist organisation in Britain is not an illegal paper smuggled in from abroad, closed meetings and secret ciphers. Paradoxically the idea that we should self-limit ourselves to a small, high-quality party is in fact a way to repeat the amateur circles Lenin railed against in What is to be done? The high quality of communists comes not from standing aside from political involvement in order to keep the ranks 'pure', but from putting Marxism into practice in the form of mass leadership of workers in economic, political and revolutionary struggle. Those who suggest that a "cadre party" was all that was possible condemn the working class vanguard to a prison of the imagination. The problem for communists in the 1926 general strike was not that the CPGB aimed too high or was too big, but that it aimed too low and was too small.

Hinton and Hyman give doctorly advice to the 1926 CPGB on the basis that they know the general strike was defeated and there was no subsequent revolutionary upheaval. All they want to do is administer retrospective sedatives. Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein are from the same stable, but prescribe mild stimulants, not morphine. Had Trotsky rather than Stalin been in charge in the Kremlin, there would have been a force pushing for more criticism of the left reformists. But no more. Defeat is accepted by Cliff and Gluckstein, as one accepts the certainty of one's own death. Perry Anderson also knows "victory" in the general strike was never "conceivable" "¦ because it was defeated.11

Too much of the left concentrate on what did happen in 1926. Indeed there is a whole cottage industry dealing with local studies of the events in Stoke, Bradford, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, etc. But history should be rigorously cross-examined so that revolutionary lessons can be drawn. Marx's famous 11th thesis on Feuerbach says: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."12 Nevertheless, before action there must be thought.

History would be very easy to make if struggle was undertaken only on condition of infallible certainties. But it is not. It is driven by hope or held back by fear, just as much as the underlying objective course of development. When, for example, we study the October revolution, we do so not in order to make the banal statement that victory was inevitable because the revolution was victorious. That tells us little or nothing. Study is for the purposes of bringing out lessons. The same goes for analysis of the much more numerous examples of defeat suffered by our class, including the 1926 general strike.

Hence 'what' and 'why' must be combined with 'should'. Not in order to build some magnificent counterfactual world, but in the spirit of ruthless self-criticism. So, we must ask ourselves what the Communist Party should have done to change what was a demoralising defeat into something else. After all, the general strike did not occur in an historic epoch when socialism was materially impossible. Socialism in our era is an objective, as well as a subjective, phenomenon.

Given the dead hand of bureaucracy and government determination to inflict a strategic defeat on the working class, 1926 was far more like a stillborn 1905 than our October 1917. But need it have been stillborn? I think not.

As the reader will already have gathered, I fully accept Trotsky's stress on the necessity of building the Communist Party and a clear strategic understanding of left reformism. The latter can never be a force for socialist revolution because it is organically tied to the pro-state right and therefore the existing state-constitutional formation. Indeed left reformism often boasts of its patriotic, nationalistic and anti-cosmopolitan prejudices. Its 'national socialism' comes via the existing state and is therefore anti-socialism.

The CPGB was quite correct to fight for a united front with left reformists in the National Minority Movement and the National Leftwing Movement. But that should have been done in order to reach the masses who were under the spell of Purcell, Hicks and Cook, not to butter up such leaders and give them an unearned Bolshevik reputation. The CPGB should therefore have combined unity with criticism. If that criticism meant Purcell, Hicks and Cook breaking from the NMM and the NLM, then that would have been a price worth paying.

The CPGB should have been aware that such leaders would buckle when put to the test. More than that. The CPGB should have openly and fearlessly said so in front of the working class. That would take the form of propaganda, agitation and exposure. Every weapon ought to have been used. Doubtless criticism would have been met with indignant and defensive complaints from the Purcells, Hicks and Cooks that the main thing was practically building the movement; or that the CPGB was playing into the hands of the Labour right and thereby performing a service for the capitalist class.

But with such leaders the working class is always vulnerable to treachery. Not because of their individual qualities or foibles. Rather their social position. The trade union bureaucracy is a privileged social caste that specialises in selling the commodity, labour-power, and which thereby acts as an intermediary between labour and capital. In the last analysis that means that even the most leftist trade union general secretary has more in common with the class collaborationist right than the working class taken as a whole. Only by subordinating the general secretaries to the collective discipline of a Communist Party can that be overcome, ie, left trade union bureaucrats had to be replaced by communist fighters.

Needless to say, being clear about left reformist leaders does not mean denouncing the workers who follow them - that would be crass leftism. On the contrary, the CPGB should have done everything to link itself with the masses and win their confidence.

Concretely in 1925 that meant preparing the class for the general strike. With the general strike an odds-on certainty from Red Friday, the CPGB should have done more than issue warnings to the working class about the number of weeks that remained before the great moment and calls for councils of action. Crucially the CPGB needed a clear-sighted political strategy. That had to rest on winning the battle for democracy. The CPGB required a programme that targeted Britain's lack of democracy - eg, the 1924 rigged election that brought the Tories to power; the monarchy, the established Church of England, the unelected House of Lords; the MI5 and MI6 peddlers of the forged 'Zinoviev letter'; the dictatorship in the armed forces; the inferior legal status of women; the division and continued oppression of Ireland and Britain's rule over a vast colonial empire, whose population numbered many hundreds of millions, etc, etc. The banner of democracy had to be snatched away from the hypocritical hands of Baldwin, Churchill, Lloyd George, MacDonald and Snowden.

What alternative should the CPGB have advocated to the quasi-democratic monarchical system? A fully democratic republic, which to be real has to be defended by the armed people, and that opens the way for popular control to be extended to the point where it replaces the principle of profit with the principle of need. Not for nothing did the Marx-Engels team call the democratic republic the form of the working class state.

Towards that end in 1926 the CPGB ought to have had its sights on a revolutionary provisional government, based not on 'All power to the TUC' - the TUC was too fearful, too bureaucratic and too lethargic - but temporary power to the councils of action or anything else that carried sufficient popular legitimacy. Such a revolutionary government would be formed to replace the old regime and pledged to oversee elections to a constituent assembly in which communists would fight for extreme democracy. In other words, the coming general strike had to be politicised from the side of the workers, not just from the side of Baldwin-Churchill.

The CPGB itself needed radical change. It had to make the transition from a party of revolutionary propaganda to a party of revolutionary action, a fighting organisation that has its sights firmly set on winning working class state power through the battle for democracy. A drawn-out process of preparation which relied on international developments, crucially developments in continental Europe, but a process that would have instilled confidence among militant workers and begun to persuade them that it was in the CPGB, not in the trade unions, that their ultimate hopes and loyalties ought to lie. Of course, if the masses had begun to flood into the CPGB, to maintain them as members, to keep them in, the ban on factions would have had to be abandoned. That or there would inevitably follow a whole series of damaging and debilitating splits.

The general strike posed the question of power. It was at the very least a pre-revolutionary situation. All the classic tell-tale signs were there. Baldwin's government was willing to risk the collapse of social peace in a determination to inflict a strategic defeat on the working class. That caused widespread concern within the establishment. Eg, Randall Davidson (1848-1930), archbishop of Canterbury, "leaned towards socialist sympathies" and urged compromise.13 As a result, John Reith (1889-1971), BBC general manager, banned him from the airwaves - censorship taken into the heart of the establishment. Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that there were deep fault lines above. While Baldwin talked moderately, Churchill hankered after an elected dictatorship which would wield the big stick not only against the working class but against the splits and divisions in the ruling class. Meanwhile, Lloyd George and MacDonald readied themselves to form a conciliating provisional government appointed by George V. The middle classes were polarised between the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies and the side of the workers. As for the workers themselves, they were quite prepared to bring the country to a shuddering halt in an attempt to impose their 'proletarian economics' on the capitalist class, first and foremost the coalowners.

Old way

That meant the ruling class could no longer rule in the old way and the organised working class was ready to fight - albeit, to begin with, only with the strike weapon. Faced with such an opportunity, the CPGB should have done everything to ensure that the general strike became a real 'festival of the oppressed and exploited'. Our party ought to have, at every turn of events, put forward slogans one step in advance of the masses so as to facilitate the 'direct and decisive path' of struggle. That, in the first instance, meant the immediate and ruthless upping of the tempo of its work, and boldly and imaginatively using the nine-month stand-off to make logistical and tactical preparations. Not for an immediate frontal assault - that would have been premature. Rather for undermining, breaking apart and then sweeping away the post-1688 constitution and the monarchical-prime ministerial state and gaining a "wider, more generous" democracy that would allow the working class in the organised form of the Communist Party to become the majority. That should have been the plan.

One of the CPGB's leaders, TA Jackson, was convinced that May 1 1926 would have been the beginning of the British revolution. In the second volume of his unpublished autobiography he says: "It is my considered opinion, in the light of after-happenings, that if the workers of Britain had been equipped with a leadership at all equivalent to their splendid courage, resolution and sense of solidarity, May Day 1926 would have been the opening day of proletarian revolution. Unhappily, history shows us by many examples that, if such a chance is missed, it takes long and many years before it can be induced to return."14

No doubt he was referring to the inadequacies of the Labour Party and the TUC. Not me. The CPGB lacked programmatic clarity; it also suffered from what can only be called organisational amateurism.

The fact that the CPGB's Workers' Daily came out once, only to be halted by the blinkered printers' unions, says more about the communists than it does about the printers. There should have been a network of secret party presses ready in case of government banning, to say nothing of sectional stupidity. Less than 15 years later this was done.

Douglas Hyde - an unstable CPGB middle cadre who bizarrely turned catholic in the late 1940s - describes in his apostatical, but nevertheless worthwhile book I believed, the preparations made for the underground printing and distribution of the Daily Worker in 1939-40 in case "legal facility should be denied us".16 He says a "duplicate CPGB organisation was created from top to bottom, with a shadow leadership at every level".17 Hyde goes on to tell how he was instructed to go semi-underground in order to get "printing presses and printworkers ready in all parts of the country"; in that way, although the CPGB might be banned, we could "say illegally what could not be said legally".18

It is more than worthwhile giving a few salient details from Hyde. Having rented a "big warehouse" in Acton, he had installed "two or three linotype machines, a large flat-bed press, one or two smaller ones, a considerable variety of types and a mass of printing paraphernalia".19 Besides that Hyde established other underground printing shops in and around London: one in the East End, one in North London and two in Surrey. News­print was stored in a dozen counties. Given the technology of the day, typesetting was a big difficulty. Papers were made up using hot lead, not our neat PCs and laptops. Six typesetting centres were organised, including one in the basement of a large house in "select Kensington" owned by a titled family. Both footman and housekeeper were CPGB members and they made sure that every Sunday "two printworkers, employed in a government print works", could prepare things "in readiness for publishing an illegal revolutionary paper".20 Similar work was done by Hyde in several provincial towns, including Manchester and Glasgow.

If the CPGB could carry out such impressive measures in 1939-40, when most of its top figures were already entertaining notions of a reformist road to socialism, then it should have done better in 1926. Of course it did not do better. Nor did it do worse. To all intents and purposes it did nothing. It was ridiculous that in 1926 the CPGB had to rely on a little duplicated news sheet during the course of what was a historic general strike. It shows that our party leadership did not regard its paper as its most precious possession. The CPGB's main weapon. If our leaders - primarily the skeleton central executive committee under acting general secretary Bob Stewart - had been not just committed, but serious revolutionaries, they would have done everything to establish a catacomb of illegal presses.

A high-quality Workers' Daily that was illegal but free would of itself have had an enormous effect. An illegal communist daily that damned not only the Baldwin government, but every denial of democracy within Britain and the British empire, and therefore called for a constituent assembly and temporary (ie, provisional) power to the councils of action, would, in spite of narrow sectionalism and government bans, have set alight the imagination of the masses. An illegal communist daily that was fearlessly exposing the passivity of the left reformists and fighting for a mass Communist Party would have sent the TUC right wing into an apoplexy and would have produced many, many thousands of recruits.

An illegal communist paper armed with a democratic programme that was also calling for the preparation of a generalised uprising to overthrow the anti-democratic regime and immediate physical attacks on OMS scabs, the police and special constables would have produced entirely different results to the TUC-led damp squib.

Charles Duke of the Municipal Workers testifies: "Every day that the strike proceeded, the control and the authority of that dispute was passing out of the hands of responsible executives into the hands of men who had no authority, no control, no responsibility, and was wrecking the movement from one end to the other".21 That is why he and his ilk sabotaged, collapsed the whole thing.

The immediate problem was that the CPGB was not actively building an alternative leadership before and during the general strike. CPGB members, especially those on trades councils, councils of action and strike committees, should not have waited for revolution to some­how happen by itself, as if TUC intransigence could lead to 'all power' falling from the sky. The grooves of history have to be greased and new constitutional rails have to be laid, albeit at first in the mind. Revolutions are made. As conscious revolutionaries, the task of communists is to make the revolution. In 1926 they should have done just that. Not by naming a date and attempting some sort of a putsch. But by releasing the creative energy of the masses in the fight for extreme democracy.

The CPGB could have done well by drawing inspiration from James Connolly (1868-1916) and his Citizens' Army. Ireland being close culturally, geographically and politically to Britain.

Staging a limited uprising in the midst of general apathy is of course revolutionary suicide. But to have sent contingents of 50 even lightly armed CPGB comrades and supporters to occupy OMS headquarters, the stock exchange or even strategically located police stations in the midst of the 1926 general strike would surely have instantly set the situation aflame. Lessons should have also been taken on board from 1905 Moscow. The government was freely and arrogantly moving goods. What about barricades surrounding the London, Clydeside, Liverpool and Hull docks to stop them? The CPGB had a majority, or enough influence, on sufficient local councils of action to make that 'official'. Mass defiance involving the whole community, not just striking trade unionists, should have been organised: a rent and rates strike should have been proclaimed; self-administrating red zones created - not least in mining areas - with taxation of local shops and businesses, expropriation of exploiters, working class justice, social services and order, etc.

Insurrection is a "calculus", said Engels, with "very indefinite magnitudes, the value of which may change every day".22 "You must," he went on, "surprise your antagonists"; you must with every day prepare new successes: "rally those vacillating elements to your side which always follow the strongest impulse, and which always look out for the safer side; force your enemies to retreat".23

If - when - the police tried to break through the barricades, they should have been met with a "surprise", perhaps a combination of the tactics of the 1789 French Revolution and Cable Street 1936. Crowds of men and women behind the barricades, flower pots, bottles, Molotov cocktails and catapults aimed from the houses above, and well-trained fighting squads ducking and diving through every side street, alley and back yard. If the army was then used in combination with the police, all the better. Despite being reactionary 'diehards', the army top brass were unenthusiastic. Rightly they feared disaffection in the lower ranks.

To make sure social peace was well and truly shattered and the masses kept their sense of defiant courage and class power, workers' defence squads should have pursued the class struggle using guerrilla tactics. Hitting and running, equipped with easily hidden weapons - sawn-off shotguns, pistols and bombs - they should have been used, even in 'units' of one, to pick off selected officers, sergeants, special constables and government officials, and carry out well-chosen acts of sabotage.24 Terrorism, the bourgeoisie calls it. In fact is it is merely a particular military technique that finds its justification in the politics and political programme being persuaded. Certainly, as the Provisional IRA proved beyond doubt in Northern Ireland, the idea that guerrilla warfare has to be a rural affair is entirely unfounded. So, yes, red fighting detachments should have been used in 1926 to facilitate and then sustain the conditions for making revolution.

Sections of the TUC would have furiously denounced the CPGB - guaranteed. No doubt various left reformist leaders would have vacillated and unconsciously repeated the post-1905 words of Georgi Plekhanov: "They should not have taken up arms". Good. If we were in tune with the fast-developing needs and aspirations of advanced workers, the flow of events would cascade in our direction. The left reformists would face the choice of either breaking from their compromising programme and fighting with us, trailing behind with tut-tutting criticism or coming out against us and openly joining the right and the forces of the government. What choice they would have finally made is actually not difficult to predict. But at every stage the left reformists would have tried to divert and drag the movement backwards.

India, Jamaica, Egypt and other unwilling members of the British empire might have added to the domestic crisis with bids for freedom. Ireland might have decided not to settle for neo-colonial partition. They should certainly have been encouraged to actively renew the struggle by the CPGB and Comintern. Our slogan would have been self-determination.

What would be the results if the CPGB had fought the 1926 general strike more like Bolsheviks?

First, communists in Britain would have been able to look back and say: we are proud of our tradition; we did our utmost; we fought to liberate the working class using every weapon, using all our resources and all our strength, and did not simply wait on events.

Second, the communist tradition would have become richer, deeper and more enduring.

Third, subsequent British and world history would have been different - perhaps very different.