The previous, penultimate part of this series (WR 236) began an examination of the response of the workers’ movement in Britain to the First World War with an account of the betrayal of the working class by the Labour Party and the unions. These organisations, in calling on workers to die for capitalism, crossed the class line into the camp of the bourgeoisie and became the enemies of the working class.
The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 was a decisive moment in history. Not only did it mark the entry of capitalism into its period of decadence but it was also the point at which large parts of the workers’ movement betrayed the working class and went over to the camp of the bourgeoisie. In country after country the social democratic parties and the trade unions, built up with so much struggle and sacrifice over the preceding decades, rallied to the national flag and called on the proletariat to sacrifice itself on the altar of capitalism.
In the previous part of this series, in WR 232, we began our examination of the impact of the wave of industrial unrest that swept across Britain in the years before the First World War by analysing the development of syndicalism and industrial unionism, showing how its militancy challenged the dominant reformism of the workers’ movement in Britain. In this part we continue this work by looking at the response of the main political organisations of the working class.
The recent ruling on abortion in the USA is above all a new attack on the living conditions of working class women, but such attacks can only be resisted on the basis of class, not “gender”.
The wave of class struggle that broke out between 1908 and the start of the First World War had a profound impact on the workers’ movement in Britain. Through the scale and militancy of the struggle the working class confronted not only the state but also the dominant trade union and political organisations of the workers’ movement. Their reformism, opportunism and class collaboration had fettered the class struggle for many years.
From 1908 to 1914 the working class in Britain threw itself into an intense struggle against its exploiters, part of an international wave of struggles across Europe, which included the mass strike in Russia in 1905. The days lost through strike action reached a level never seen before and only surpassed by the General Strike in 1926. Even more significantly, these struggles saw the workers begin to wrest control from the union leaderships and move into open confrontation with the state.
The barbaric war in Ukraine continues, as does the deafening propaganda offensive justifying the massacre on both sides. The ICC is holding another round of public meetings in various languages this summer, where we will aim to carry forward the marxist analysis of the impact and significance of the war, and in particular the questions it poses to the international working class and its revolutionary organisations.
The struggle that took place within the international workers’ movement in the first years of the twentieth century can only be understood in its historical context. While the foundation of this struggle lay in the clash between the reformist and revolutionary wings of the movement, the latter, in seeking to defend marxism, the necessity for revolution and the revolutionary potential of the working class, was also forced to confront a number of new questions that were being posed as capitalism moved into its period of decadence.
The previous part of this series, in WR 225, examined the understanding of internationalism by the working class movement in Britain, concluding that its response to the Boer War showed some serious weaknesses. We continue this work here by considering the role played by the British working class movement in the Second International in the years leading up to the admission of the Labour Party in 1908. The struggle against anarchism and for a marxist international
At the beginning of 2020, the global Covid crisis represented the product, but above all constituted a powerful accelerant, of the decomposition of the capitalist system on different levels: important economic destabilisation, loss of credibility in the apparatus of the state, accentuation of imperialist tensions. Today the war in Ukraine represents a further step in this intensification through a major characteristic of capitalism’s descent into its period of decadence and, in particular, into its phase of decomposition: the exacerbation of militarism.

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