Short history of the Communist party
1926: The General Strike
In October 1925, the Labour Party conference again rejected the Communist Party's application for affiliation.
It also confirmed that no Communists could represent their unions in Labour Party organisations and that no Communists could be individual members of the Labour Party.
This was a signal to the Tory government. A few days later it arrested 12 Communist leaders on a charge of "seditious conspiracy." Five were sentenced to a year in prison and the others to six months, to keep them out of the battle to come.
Far from being intimidated, the party's activities intensified. Its press circulation grew and new members were made. Above all, it worked to get the movement to prepare for the next round of struggle, warning again and again that the government was determined on a showdown with the miners when the subsidy expired in May 1926.
The employers were well-prepared for the contest, but the right-wing TUC general council made no plans. Rank-and-file pressure forced the decision for a general strike from midnight 3 May in support of the miners again locked-out for their refusal to submit to a wage cut.
The nine days of the General Strike by more than three million workers uniting in tremendous class solidarity and initiative, in which Communists played an outstanding role, were among the most glorious in British working class history.
Well in advance the Communist Party had initiated the call for Councils of Action. They were set up in many areas, representing the whole working class movement, organising picketing, co-ordinating activities, issuing publicity materials and in some cases controlling transport.
The Party issued a strike sheet, the Workers Bulletin, reaching 200,000 circulation at times. Over 1,000 Communists were arrested out of a total of some 2,500 arrests.
One result of the party's contribution to the struggle was a big increase in its membership from 5,000 before the strike to 10,000 by September 1926.
But its influence was not great enough to prevent the betrayal by right-wing leaders, who called off the strike when it was strongest and closest to victory, without any concessions to the miners who battled on alone for a further seven months until hunger brought defeat.
The Communists continued to fight for solidarity with the miners, campaigning for a levy on wages to give them financial support and for an embargo on the transport of coal.
It was a tragic end to a titanic struggle, yet it stimulated the demand for nationalisation which finally became irresistible. Welsh Communist miners' leader Arthur Homer wrote later:
"If there had been no '26, there would not have been such a tremendous feeling for nationalisation after the Second World War."
For the Communist Party, the lesson of the strike and its betrayal was the need to strengthen the unions, to step up the fight against collaboration, to work for a new leadership of the labour movement and to build and strengthen the party itself.
For the right-wing, the lesson was "never again." They had not wanted the strike, had been pushed into it and called it off as soon as possible. For them, the Communists and the left were 'trouble makers' who had to be removed.
The trade union leaders set about preventing Communists from being elected to official positions. They did not want any hindrance to their co-operation with the employers who were seeking rationalisation of industry and the elimination of industrial action.
The Labour Party leaders set about a great purge of the Communists and the left in the Labour Party. They did not want any hindrance to diluting Labour's programme so as to make it more acceptable to the middle class.
The Communist Party reacted to this fierce attack and the right-wing anti-working class policies by quite wrongly adopting a sectarian attitude to the labour movement, in place of its earlier efforts to work with the Labour left.
The new line, misnamed "class against class", came from the Communist International in 1928, describing Labour as a 'capitalist party', Labour people as "social fascists" and left-wing leaders as "the most dangerous enemies" because they created illusions that the Labour Party could become a socialist party.
Such extreme sectarianism, which refused to support Labour candidates in elections where no Communist was standing, was utterly disastrous.
It alienated allies in the movement and for two years bogged down the small party in endless argument. As a result of this damaging policy and the post-general strike situation, party membership fell to its lowest level at 2,555, one third of whom were out of work.
It rose again to around 6,000 in 1931, when most of the recruits were unemployed. Communists played a big part in building resistance to the shameful treatment of the unemployed.
They organised NUWM activity around the Labour Exchanges, fought benefit cases on behalf of the jobless and mobilised for the great marches of the South Wales miners in 1927, the Scottish unemployed march in 1928 and the national Hunger Marches of 1929, 1930, 1932, and 1936.
They also pioneered the campaign for colonial liberation at a time when a quarter of the world's population were living under British rule in a vast Empire that had been conquered by the sword, and was held in subjection by the sword.
British Communists, Ben Bradley and Philip Spratt, sent to India to help build the trade unions, were jailed for conspiracy, along with left-winger Lester Hutchinson and 29 Indians, in the famous Meerut Trial of 1929-33.
The young Communist Will Paynter, later leader of Britain's miners, got four months in jail for his part in a Down with the Empire demonstration, and 20-year old John Gollan, later the party's general secretary, got six months for anti-militarist activities.
The May 1929 general election produced a second right-wing Labour government led by Ramsay MacDonald, which neither anticipated the economic crisis that broke out a few months later, nor had the faintest idea what to do about it when the havoc struck.
In 1931, when the bankers demanded a 10% cut in unemployment benefit, the Labour government split. Its leaders, MacDonald, Snowden and Thomas, went over to the Tories and Liberals to form a National government, another betrayal which had a devastating effect on the Labour movement.