May 1926 – a resounding success!

3 Oct

Incisive, evidence based reasoning was never Guardian writer Anne Perkins’ strong suit. Does anyone recall her argument when, with colleagues talking up all and any challenge to Jeremy Corbyn, the talentless Angela Eagle – parachuted into Wallasey by right wing coup – made her leadership bid? For Perkins it was not Eagle’s embarrassing lack of credentials, even on Blairite terms, that scuppered that bid to the short lived gain of Owen Smith. Nor was it her reactionary voting record, or bizarre antics with bricks and windows. No, Perkins saw a truth lesser mortals had failed to grasp. Angela Eagle had been downed by one thing and one thing alone: Labour’s problem with misogyny.

Nothing if not versatile, Perkins now turns her attention to May 1926, apropos a call by newbie Labour MP Laura Smith for a general strike – and Tom Watson’s response to that call. For all who see the outcome of Britain’s only general strike as one of the two most crushing blows of the twentieth century to its organised labour movement, Perkins is here to put us straight. The defeat of 1926, she tells us, is to be celebrated on the Left. Why? Because it led in 1929 to Britain’s first majority Labour Government.

Some say a decade of strikes, lock-outs and near insurrection – in a land Lloyd George had sold to the survivors of Ypres and Passchendaele as one “fit for heroes” – had more to do with that but for the sake of argument I’ll assume Perkins correct in her attribution of cause and effect. I see bigger problems with the jaw-dropping conclusion she draws from it.

The idea of the 1926 defeat (aided by a British Communist Party obedient to Stalin’s need for a right turn in the Comintern for his move against Trotsky) as a Good Thing is inane in principle: analagous to seeing the Warsaw Ghetto as a Good Thing because it led to the Uprising; or malaria a Good Thing because it drove the discovery of quinine.

On its specific terms, Perkins’ line of argument is equally flawed:

The Labour Leadership’s … recognition that every voter, not just trade unionists, chooses the government, finally gave the lie to the sustained attempt on the right to persuade voters that Labour, Communist party and TUC were pretty much the same thing … Labour had validated its claim to be a serious party of government.

A government whose 1931 Budget would impose draconian austerity and a 10% cut in the dole because, said Chancellor Snowden, it would be unfair not to ask the unemployed to shoulder their share of the burden.1 The burden, just to be pedantically clear, of the latest and severest of the crises intrinsic to capitalism’s cycle of boom and bust; a cycle which another chancellor, the hapless but newly coronated Gordon Brown, would three quarters of a century later declare – with the fall of Lehman Brothers just round the corner – vanquished once and for all.

But who am I to offer carping pedantries in the face of such dazzling analysis?  Least of all when I must conserve my energies for a review of the new book by Media Lens – Propaganda Blitz: How Corporate Media Distort Reality …


  1. Ralph Milliband covers this ignoble moment in his excellent book, Parliamentary Socialism, but if either of his sons read it the lessons were lost on them.

2 Replies to “May 1926 – a resounding success!

  1. Does she actually say ‘first Labour government’? Or does she mention the 1924 affair?
    I’m one of those who leaves the actual reading of Guardian articles to professionals with strong stomachs.

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